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OK UK?: Sure, I've Got Daddy Issues...
For You, Dad...
I lost my dad just over a year ago. My father, the quintessential Englishman if ever there was one. A man who apologized to inanimate objects, wrote letters ‘to the man in charge’ (and got some unintentionally hilarious responses!) and, sadly, a man utterly defeated by change. He never grasped the metric system, computers, answering machines, or VCRs, and DVDs put him right over the edge.
Fred was a worrier. Semi-professional. If worrying ever became an Olympic event, this was the man to lead the team to gold. He pretty much worried about everything, and in the lulls between intense worrying, would worry about the fact that there seemed to be less to worry about. He worried about his health, (with good reason) but defeated the efforts of my Mum, a former nurse and all the medical professionals, with his pill policy. Simply put, if a pill did not have an immediate effect, like an aspirin for a headache, he was not going to take it.
Now, with conditions such as gout, high blood pressure and diabetes, this was a really, really, bad policy. He needn’t have worried though; none of these conditions got him. It was sudden, multi organ cancer. True, he worried about cancer, but more along the lines of, “we’re not getting a microwave, and that’s final.”
His battle with technology was legendary. He worked for an accounting firm, mostly doing tax returns for little old ladies. He was gentle, patient and much loved by his clients. Not so much, his employers. They wanted a tad more productivity, so they decided that my dad needed a computer.
My dad worried himself through several sleepless nights before attending a computer-training course involving long days in his company’s headquarters in London. He did everything that was asked of him; concluding that filling out the forms on the computer was exactly like filling them out on the paper forms, only you had to type, not write. Looking good…
Dad then returns to work. Computer up and running on his desk, he then continues with his work, billing the hours to his ladies. At the end of the month, his boss questions his hours, as his productivity has plummeted. Instead of eight or nine returns a day, he was doing one, maybe two. Boss is baffled. Dad is worried.
After a long discussion, the problem is uncovered. My dad was writing out everything he saw on the computer screen, in longhand, on pads of paper. Why? My dad responded, “You have to, because once the screen changes, you never know if you can get that page back, and I don’t want to lose anything.”
The computer was removed, and he was allowed to quietly drift into retirement.
I had a similar problem regarding an answering machine. I would try and call my parents every other weekend, and timing from the US to the UK was sometimes a challenge. My dad refused to call our house, as a machine (robot, in his words) would try and talk to him. The challenge was with me trying to leave a message for them. My dad refused to believe that the BT phone he already had in house offered such a service, so he agreed to purchase an answering machine. I sent him the money. It was never purchased. Dad’s rationale, “if it is really important, who ever calls, will call back when we’re in.”
And, “I don’t want those sales people calling and leaving messages, that’ll just upset your mother.” So, no answering machine ever got installed.
Trying to install a VCR was an even more complicated challenge. Dad admired the TV set up at my sister’s house, so my unwitting brother-in-law bravely took up the challenge of installing one in my dad’s house. I believe it sat, unplugged, under the TV, for almost fifteen years. My dad’s problem was that he couldn’t figure out how the VCR would ‘know’ what he wanted to watch. ‘Programming,’ was something done by those, “chaps who work at the BBC, that’s what I pay my license fee for!”
“If I’m watching the news on BBC on the TV, how can something else be recorded?” was a question none of us seemed to be able to answer in anything approaching a satisfactory way, and we were, of course, stumped by the, “and they repeat everything ten times anyway.”
No one, ever, discussed satellite TV, or High Definition, in his presence.
My favorite story, as it shows the juxtapositions evident in my dad’s world, was his letter to Mars. (The candy company, not the planet.) My dad was watching ITV, and became incensed by the commercial for the “largest ever” Mars bar. “Bloody well isn’t,” he roared, and went off into his office to write a letter.
A few weeks later, he received a letter from the parent company. It very nicely explained, that this was the largest Mars bar they had ever produced, quoting the number of ounces in the product since inception. In the nicest language that some young office worker could muster, it continued, “It may be that your memories of the huge Mars bars you ate as a child are missing the fact that your hands would have been a great deal smaller.”
This statement, painfully accurate, did not mollify my father, but the enclosed coupons for two free bars certainly did…
Dear Hub Reader
If you enjoy this hub, please check out my book,
Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,
A collection of my best writings woven into a narrative on a very strange year in my life.
Available directly from: