Man in the Middle – Chapter 41: The Death of Patriarchy

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No 41 The Death of Patriarchy

Father’s Day. 07.30am. I sneak downstairs hoping to catch the family by surprise as they lay out a smorgasbord of gifts for me.

I’ve cleaned my teeth, shaved for the first time this week and put on fresh pyjamas because I want to look respectable opening my presents at the breakfast table.

Last Father’s Day, I shuffled downstairs a little the worse for wear and with an old egg yolk stain on my T-shirt to receive a volley of abuse from Mother, who said my slovenliness was disrespectful to the efforts of my wife, children and those who died to defend freedom in the world wars.

I want to avoid this year’s celebrations getting off on the same footing. If my family have made an effort to buy me lots of presents and prepare me a full English the least I can bring to the party is fresh breath, a pink chin and jimmy jams as clean and straight as a brand new ruler. I’m feeling so money supermarket.

I creep past Mother’s room. She is asleep, snoring gently, probably dreaming about ‘Avengers: The Age of Ultron’, which we watched as a family last night.

She enjoyed the movie but was horrified at the number of cars, houses, shops, trains, planes, office blocks and streets which were turned over, smashed up, pulled to pieces, bombed to the ground and generally messed up by the Avengers team.

‘We would never have destroyed so many sets when I was at Denham. We couldn’t have afforded the insurance,’ she says, reflecting on her war time role as an assistant editor. My daughter, who’s back from university, tries to explain the sets are not real but made with CGI and the devastation wasn’t inflicted on real streets and buildings.

‘It’s more like a cartoon than anything,’ she explains. This explanation seems to satisfy Mother.

‘The stuntmen are much better than in my day, especially that green one,’ she says pointing at Hulk as he tears up the outside of a tall office block, ripping out windows as he goes.

As I tip toe down to the ground floor, I am not worried by the fact Mother is not awake. She’s been delegating her gifting obligations to my wife or daughter for years now and has probably had her full of watching me opening presents. Or maybe she’s had a bad night with cramps.

But as I step into the sitting room, I start to feel something is amiss. The curtains are still drawn, a coke can lounges on the carpet. There are no cutesy Father’s Day cards or packages with name tags on them only the sagging balloons saying Happy Birthday left over from my son’s 18th birthday earlier in the week. In the kitchen, no one is around. There are no piles of gifts, just plates in the sink.

The place is like the Marie Celeste, devoid of life, not even a pot of coffee warming on the stove for me. I can almost hear the walls mocking me with the faint echo of my son’s last game of ‘Mortal Kombat’, finished only a few hours before: ‘Die, die, die’, it says.

This is how the patriarchy ends, then. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Not with a sold-out farewell tour to Fatherhood, but a sink full of unwashed plates. I realise I have no right to be disappointed, of course. For Millenia, women have woken up every morning and faced a sink full of dirty dishes with no thanks. Why shouldn’t I suffer the same? And, to be fair to the family, there’s been lots to organise this week: two events for my son’s 18th; the return of my daughter after months in lock down and a crunch week at work for my wife. Father’s Day was understandably just one event too many for them to think about. Perhaps they thought letting me watch both Premier League football games yesterday was gift enough?

I give myself a little time to brine in vengeful thoughts, like a Medici Pope. I invent sarcastic jokes for when the family come downstairs, but none of them quite zing:

Q: Who put the fun into Father’s Day?

A: I don’t know. I couldn’t be F***ing bothered to get out of bed that day to find out.

OR

A: I don’t know, I outsource that sort of stuff to Serco.

I realise I’m going to have to work a lot harder before I get anything into the Father’s Day Book of Jests and Japes, when my daughter’s boyfriend comes into the kitchen.

‘Morning,’ I say.

‘Morning,’ he says.

‘Father’s Day,’ I say.

‘Jeez, I had no idea. I better go text my Dad right now. Thanks for reminding me,’ he says and shoots upstairs to get his phone.

Father’s Day is a $12bn event worldwide, apparently. I don’t believe this is a real figure based on hard cash and goods. It’s just fraudulent accountants toting up the so-called goodwill value of tweets, texts and WhatsApp messages hurriedly sent by guilty family members when they realise that they’ve forgotten to put the date in their diaries.

To console myself I unwrap a couple of my favourite sausages from Huntsham Farm, who produce the finest rare-breed meats. I pop them into a pan on a low heat. These sausages will be solace enough for any Father’s Day breakfast.

I look out into the garden, any vengeful feelings slipping away slowly as the sausages spit and sizzle. The cat is sitting in the middle of the lawn, meowing. I open the patio door. The cat leans forward and picks up a dead mouse in his jaws and slinks towards me, dropping it at my feet, like a gift.

Read the next in the series – Chapter 42: Cannabis gravy