November 7, 1998
We were gathered around the kitchen table when Dad came home from work. He made his usual entrance through the side door and sat down on the fireplace to remove his boots. Shannon was over with Siobhan so we could celebrate her first birthday. She was lighting the candles on the cake when Dad stumped through the room.
“Oh, having a birthday party for the little bastard baby, are we…?” he muttered as he passed by. Shannon turned around and asked him what his problem was, but he barely got two words out of his mouth in reply before Mom seized his arm and directed him into the hallway. There were raised voices for a few moments but Dad just shook her off and trudged upstairs to stew in his discontent.
We did our best to enjoy ourselves after that. Shannon whipped out a disposable camera and snapped pictures of everyone. However, when she picked up the prints from the drugstore several weeks later, she found herself staring at pictures of an abortion protest instead. What the hell? Unbeknownst to her, Dad had dropped off a roll of film at the same time she did. The guy behind the counter mixed up the envelopes so Dad and Shannon ended up with each other’s photos.
When Shannon went to swap with Dad she found that some of her photos were missing. Dad helped himself to most of her double prints. The point that they weren’t his photos and he took them without asking was lost on him. He said he was entitled to do so because he paid for them. He further told her that he took them because otherwise he wouldn’t have any photos of his granddaughter. One of the photos ended up taped to the wall in his office. It was of Shannon, her husband Barry, and their daughter Siobhan. Except Dad took a pen and scribbled out Barry’s entire face.
That’s the way it went in the house in those days. Mom thought of the family as a democracy, but Dad yelled “this is not a democracy – this is a dictatorship!” and accused Mom of undermining his authority when it came to the kids. There was no compromising or consensus-building with him. There were to be no locked doors or secrets of any kind. Even the mail wasn’t off-limits. One day the mail stopped coming to the house. After several days Mom went down to the post office to find out what was going on. Lo and behold, there was Dad sitting in his car out front, reading everybody’s mail.
A couple of months after Siobhan’s first birthday, I noticed that Johnny’s bedroom door had been ripped out of the wall and the jamb was broken. The door was simply leaning up against the doorway with a blanket covering the exposed areas. I asked Johnny what happened and he regarded me suspiciously. Once again, my family thought I was being put to work by Dad asking questions. He was rather evasive and simply told me to ask Dad what happened. So I found Dad in his basement office and relayed my question to him.
“Oh. Yeah. I asked your brother a question and he didn’t answer me. He just turned his back on me and you don’t do that in this house.” I laughed uncomfortably. At the time I was largely unaware of what everybody was going through with Dad and I was still very much on his side. But this particular incident didn’t sit quite right with me. I went back to Johnny and told him what Dad had told me, intimating that I was still unclear what happened. He regarded me carefully until he finally decided there was no harm in telling me.
“Dad came in here asking a stupid question like, ‘why aren’t you taking care of your mother?’ or something like that. And I just ignored him. That’s when he broke my door off. So I got in his face and told him to get out before I put him through the wall.” Stunned, I went back downstairs without a word. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing.