In a small industrial city in the north of England, a young girl fell for married man. The man, father of two girls and son of a Polish immigrant, also fell for the girl. I can only assume that the feeling was mutual, at least for an evening, because they consummated those feelings and as a result, I came into being.
I knew very little about my father. Over the years I’ve heard what seems like a mountain of conjecture and half truths about him, his family, and about the relationship he had with my mother. One thing I know for sure is that my father was a member of a large Polish community in Bradford. As point of fact, he met my mother in a “polish ex-serviceman’s club” in the city centre.
I remember going there as a child, it was thick with the sound indistinguishable banter and pungent with the smell of cigar smoke and white spirits. My grandfather would drag me there on a Saturday evening with my grandmother. When I was tall enough I played pool with the other children and grandchildren. Affectionately called the “Polska” by my native Bradfordian friends, I celebrated at least four 18th birthdays there between the ages of 15 to 17.
I was a stupid kid, I don’t mind admitting it. My school wouldn’t let me back to take A-levels; I got few GCSEs and had very little interest in my education. It’s worth mentioning I wasn’t a bad student, just a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t fit in.
I was raised in a mixed Italian and Polish household, I had no real male influence in my life so I had no interest in sports or cars, and I had no interest in celebrity culture or music. I didn’t excel in anything other than drawing and an inane ability to piss people off. Thinking about it now it’s a wonder I had any friends at all. I saw school as a chore, an unnecessary punishment when in all likelihood I’d work as a mechanic or a factory worker, like the rest of men in my family.
At seventeen, faced with the threat of full time labour, I managed to find a place in community college to study Art and Design. The building was conveniently placed in Bradford city centre, a stones throw away from the “Polska”.
Driven by the desire to “fit in” I extolled the virtues of the place that would let a 17 year old drink, where the pool table only cost 20p, and that was open during lunch just down the road from our class.
Daytimes in the Polska were so eerily quiet that we were welcomed with open arms. Other than me and my friends, the only other “regular” was a thick set man called Marek.
At first appearance Marek looked like a Russian spy from countless black and white movies. He wore a long fir lined leather coat with the collar turned up, had a deeply wrinkled face, and wore thick dark glasses. They were tinted to a degree you’d swear they were prescription sunglasses, only dark at the top of the lenses fading to clear at the bottom. They made it all but impossible to see his eyes when he spoke to you, and god-forbid he spoke to you. He had a completely expressionless face and a voice like an open grave.
For reasons soon to be revealed, my clearest memory of Marek was the very last time I spoke to him. I was waiting by the bar as my friends were in the “games room” taking advantage of 20 pence pool. Marek sidled up to me (in my mind he had a pronounced limp). He paused a moment, seemingly staring at me. I stared back into the dark void of his glasses.
“You’re Edmunds boy.” The words dripped out of his thick Polish accent like tar from hot tarmac.
“Yeah, he’s my granddad.”
“I know your father, do you know that?”
I was gobsmacked. Marek went on to explain how my dad had tried to get in touch with me, how my mother had refused him contact. How my dad now lived in Australia with his family, and that he was back in Bradford the following week, and most importantly, how he’d love to see me.
It’s fair to say I was a little derailed by that conversation. My dad, it appears, wasn’t the reckless abandoner I was lead to believe. Maybe he was a little closer to the superman I had in my head? I arranged to meet Marek and my father the following week.
I spent the entirety of that week with my head swimming. Should I call him dad? Did he love my mother? How hard did he try to see me? What became of him after I was born? What were my sisters like?
The day eventually came. I feared it impossible to concentrate on anything other than the impending meeting so I skipped college. I spent the day wandering around the city centre… my thoughts turned to Dads family. I wondered if they knew about me. I wonder if my sisters were born before he met my mother or after. I wondered if they knew about their dad’s bastard son, if I was a dirty little secret. I never had the most comfortable relationship with my own family, did I really want to inflict myself upon two innocent people?
That thought carried me to the front door of the Polska that day. That’s where I stayed, at the front steps staring up into the dirty window. I thought about the man inside waiting to meet me. A human being, no superman, fallible, capable of making mistakes, potentially cheating on his family with a bastard son… Yes, I was a fucking idiot, but who isn’t when they are 17?
So, my foot on the step of the Polska leading to the front door, my head turned up to the open window, I stood paralysed. I couldn’t tell you for how long, I could only tell you that as the minutes rolled on I was overwhelmed with the urge to run. So that’s what I did, I ran to the nearest bottle, and that’s where I stayed for the next 4 years.
After my 18th birthday, already well on the road to alcoholism I learned that my father had died. I didn’t know how, I never asked. The details seemed irrelevant. Those 4 years are a blur to me now. I know I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I hurt a lot of people in an attempt to hurt myself. Things that I never talk about and things I never will.
Those four years I expected my life to be short and destructive. I didn’t just expect it, I wanted it. In my mind it was as close to poetic as a life could possibly be; the closest a man can come to controlling his own destiny.
I’ve never been the most intelligent guy, the clearest thinker or the best looking. If anything, I could define myself as a bad joke that’s looking for a good punch line. Somewhere in the cosmos there’s a book being written, and my hapless biographer couldn’t decide whether I was a cautionary tale, or a run of the mill “coming of age” drama, so he’s pretty much been winging it for the last 20 years.
I think about my days in Bradford and wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed. As some close friends have said, maybe prison, maybe death… but who really knows?
Since then, I’ve written a 5 star play, presented an award winning radio show, graduated from a top university, been a singer/songwriter, painter, actor, producer, TV presenter… I’m at a loss to tell you how, or why…
Maybe the best jokes are the ones with no punch lines at all…