Why can’t I have taken after my father a bit more? writes Steve Canavan

I am, unfortunately, my mother’s child.

By Suzanne Steedman
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th February 2022, 12:50 pm

My dad was cool, laid back and didn’t worry about anything. If he dropped food on the floor – say a bit of toast - he’d scoop it up, wipe the dog hairs off it, and then swallow it.

He once – and I’m not even joking here – reached into the bin to fish out a half-eaten corn on the cob my mum had prematurely chucked away. The whole family watched in horror as he groped through the garbage before retrieving the cob and then, looking mighty pleased with himself – presumably for saving, ooh, at least 37 pence worth of corn – chomped the rest of it down.

I can only assume this was a product of being born during the Second World War and growing up in the era of rationing, when it was a crime to throw anything away. Whatever the reason, he must have had a hell of a strong constitution.

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Chimney stack

My mum would never do that. She is the opposite of my relaxed, carefree father and worries about anything and everything. During the storms of the last week, for example, after I announced I was driving over to see her, she rang me – and I’m going to err on the conservative side here - approximately 107 times to tell me not to come.

“Why?” I asked.

‘Steven,’ she barked. ‘For the love of god stop being so pig-headed and listen. This storm is horrific. If you come over there is every chance you will DIE.’

“Mum,” I replied, “I genuinely think you’re being a bit dramati…’

‘Suit yourself,’ she shouted before I could finish the sentence. ‘If a tree falls on your car and kills you I’ll stand up at your funeral and say how stupid you are. Your choice.’

Then she hung up.

The most bizarre, puzzling thing of all about my mum is that when I knocked on her door an hour later after a completely incident-free journey, she threw her arms around me and said, ‘great to see you love – thanks for coming’.

I swear to god she’s going senile. Or she’s schizophrenic, one of the two.

Anyway, the point is throughout my life I’ve tried to be like my dad, though I’ve always suspected/feared it is my mother, god love her, that I take after.

For instance, I put clingfilm on opened food packets (my dad would have never done this – he seemed to prefer his cheese with a spot of mould on top), I drive past hitchhikers (my dad always stopped to give lifts; I’ve always wanted to, but know, given my luck, the one I pick up will be a serial killer and, at some point along the M6, will bludgeon me to death with the bulky AA road atlas purchased in 1997 and which I have since kept on the back seat despite last using it in 1998); and I religiously lock the doors at night, often returning to a door I’ve locked moments before to try the handle again, just in case it has somehow opened itself in the previous 20 seconds (unlike my father who, on several occasions, left the front door not just unlocked but fully open; my mum, always first down, would be greeted by the sight of the door flapping wildly in the wind and would spend the next 10 minutes doing an extensive search of each room, rolling pin in hand lest there be an intruder lurking).

Then, at the weekend, the final proof came, as if it were needed, that the majority of my genes do indeed come from my mater.

There are two things you need to know as background to this brief story.

One, several years ago I read a newspaper article about how two children died when a chimney stack collapsed in high winds and fell through the roof.

Two, just before Christmas, a roofer who’d come to replace a couple of tiles, informed me my chimney stack was in a state of disrepair and I should get it rendered in the next 12 months. I nodded sagely, as if already aware, then as soon as he’d gone googled what ‘rendered’ meant.

Anyway, as you know there was a storm at the weekend and the wind was particularly lively overnight on Sunday in the area I live.

As I lay trying to sleep, the whole house creaked and made odd sounds and – as everyone else slept soundly (because Mrs Canavan quite literally doesn’t worry about anything other than whether she has a clean sports bra to go to run club in) – suddenly all I could think about was the chimney and how, in this wild weather, it was bound to collapse. Worse still, the chimney is directly above my daughter Mary’s bed.

I tossed and turned from midnight to at least 5.38am (I know this because it was the last time I looked at the clock before finally, mercifully dropping off), unable to get this thought off my mind. I knew that when the chimney stack collapsed, as it almost certainly would, my daughter would be killed and I’d spend the rest of my life knowing I was responsible.

Needless to say, the chimney didn’t crash through the roof and a fully-alive Mary bounded into our bedroom at 7am shouting ‘happy morning’ and jumping on my chest. I, on my one and half hour’s sleep, mumbled something incoherent in response and, in a state of near semi-consciousness, accompanied her downstairs to serve her daily breakfast of cornflakes, hot milk and an episode of Danger Mouse.

I blame my mother entirely for this night of angst and over-thinking. My dad would have dropped off within minutes, no matter how bad the storm and no matter how knackered the chimney.

Why oh why can’t I be more like him.

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