Some of my childhood memories are about dad being all weird and having a strange relationship with his radio.
We would flock out behind him every morning, pressed against his leg like clueless kittens and he would stare out of the window at nothing for a good fifteen minutes, sipping his own made tea and smoking his own rolled cigarette, as the BBC tune in the background reached its crescendo.
During the summer vacation hot afternoons, when we pretended to sleep, the radio would transition from the news updates to the early 70s songs and then back to the news again, but dad – on purpose – would skip the songs that we craved for so much and tune into the news stations and would listen to the same news over and over again.
In my infant years, I believed, dad was an encyclopaedia and knew everything, just by listening to the news from all over the world, but in my adolescent years, I was just confused about his behaviour and doubted his ability to retain information.
The first time I brought Sarah, my girlfriend then and my wife now, over to my place, she said, “What’s with your dad and his radio?”, and I couldn’t think of a good answer and sat next to her blinking.
Then later, when she was a frequent guest to my place, she ignored dad, like we all did – in his room, turning radio knobs.
Once my elder brother gifted dad a better portable radio – brought from his pocket money, with more channels to tune into – on his 60th birthday, wrapped in a coral gift wrap, but dad did not say thanks, or I love you son, or anything endearing, instead he kept the gift on the rack beside his shaving kit. And the gift sat there unpacked for four months until a thief broke into the house and stole it.
We grew up and left home for good, found the seeds of meanness blooming within us, elder brother had a children of his own and mom passed away soon after, and we moved from the era of radio to the early era of multi-channel coloured televisions, but dad never let go of his old brown radio. He held it closer to him more than he held his own family. Even on days when the weather was bad and, he couldn’t tune into any of those four stations and when the radio did not make any sense.
Yearly visits to dad’s old house were boring; he would refuse to come out of his basement room, unless he wanted to go to the toilet using his crutch or we called him out for dinner, where he complained about the food being spicy.
His grandchildren were scared of him and whenever they wanted to play with their granddad, he would put on his grumpy face and say things like, “that’s enough, that’s enough, that’s enough, go jump on your mother”, and the younger ones would start wailing.
I tried to spray paint the old house he still lived in and I found things that he had never shown us; his army medals, his theatre certificates, his old baggy sweatshirts, his badge of honour, his expensive sun glasses and his collected souvenirs from France and Germany and other parts of the western Europe.
And when I asked him, “how come you never showed any of this to me?”
He said, “Well …” and closed the door on me and locked himself inside the room for the entire day.
I made a point not to bother him or ask questions after that. And I did not. But a few years after, I got a text from my brother, saying, dad is unwell and if I could go and check on him that would be great.
I drove for about two hundred odd KMs in panic, back to my old house, and found my childhood home not quite like I had remembered the last time I had seen it. The peeling off the paint, the patches of the uneven cement and the exposing of the bricks beneath were very recent and my spray paints on them, looked ugly and meaningless.
I went in and unlatched the door and walked past the crossbar photos of my mom as a baby and the photos of our first dog, “Bruno” and my brother’s roller skates and the corners of the hall, that used to be my “hide” spot then, but now were just full of dust and cobwebs and nostalgia.
Dad sat in the basement on his rocking chair, almost pale and lifeless in his loose pajamas and his yellow cotton half shirt, the collars of which were ruffled and torn.
I sat next to him and held his cold palm and he did this thing with his eyebrows which meant, “Why are you really here?” But I ignored his signs and embraced his face. The radio screeched in the background.