“You should pick your jeans up and put them on your chair.”
“Why? I’m going to put them on again in the morning.”
“Well,” my Dad said, “If there’s a fire in the middle of the night you might trip over your jeans when you’re trying to escape.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the defining remark of my teenage years. From that moment on I was convinced my Dad was mad and he didn’t know what he was talking about – whereas I, like all teenage boys, knew everything there was to know about everything.
Of course, my Dad did his best to reinforce my opinion over the next few years. “If you carry on drinking like this – ” I used to have three or four pints with my mates on a Friday night – “You’ll never be able to father any children.” And when I told Dad I wouldn’t be taking the first job I’d been offered after University, he informed me I was insane. “You could have had a glittering career in wall brackets.”
Fast forward several millennia. I am now a Father. It is the middle of December. Scarborough is colder than the far side of Pluto. Jessica announces that she’s going into town.
“Dressed like that?” As far as I can make out there are two types of trip to town: one where you are seriously shopping – requiring casual clothes – and the other where you’re ‘hangin’’ or ‘chillin’’, both of which demand the full catwalk experience. This was clearly the latter.
“Obviously,” Jessica replied.
“How many bangles have you got on your arm?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Thirty?”
“Jessica, it’s freezing cold outside. Thirty bangles are not going to keep you warm.”
As soon as the words left my mouth I knew what I’d done. Nine words. ‘Thirty bangles are not going to keep you warm.’ It was my ‘trip-over-your-jeans’ moment. I could tell by Jessica’s expression. The final confirmation she’d been waiting for. My father is clinically mad. He thinks clothes and stuff are for keeping you warm.
But I was joking. Honestly I was joking. But would Jessica ever believe me? No. In my daughter’s eyes I am now officially mad. Nothing I say for the next ten years will be worth listening to.
I was still turning it over in my mind an hour later as I slipped and slithered along the cliff top with the dog. I’d been joking. Can’t you see that, Jessica? I was joking. And then a truly awful thought struck me.
Suppose my Dad had been joking…
Suppose, when he said, “you might fall over your jeans in the middle of the night” he’d been joking? Suppose that he’d gone back into the bedroom and said to Mum, ‘That boy’s got the sense of humour of a fridge magnet.’ (Or whatever passed for a fridge magnet thirty or more years ago.)
As Dad died before we had children I’m never going to know.
A month later I’m still turning it over in my mind. I’ve always told the jeans-in-the-night story as a joke. Gulp. Has the joke been on me all the time? I don’t think my Dad was joking. He drove an ambulance when he was young. Maybe he witnessed some dreadful tragedy caused by someone tripping over their trousers?
But I’ll never know. Just as Jessica will never know I was joking. And even if she reads this – will she believe me…