• Heather Henry

The Alien in my Cupboard

No-one showed me how to be a man and no-one checked what I did.

This story is based on my actual experience of working alongside fathers experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage for some 7 years.

I am the 'some woman' mentioned .


I was only little when I saw the mums with their heads knitted together at the school gates. For a while mum got away with it and then Ciaran told Nathan and he didn’t believe it. What with it being about machetes and stuff. When you’re seven it’s hard to fathom.

Mum said dad had to move away and we wouldn’t be seeing him for a long time. Then some kid’s yelling that dad got sent down for years and you realise she’s been lying. Trying to make it better I suppose. I remember that my breath stuck in my throat and part of me closed off to survive.

Being the son of a gangster brings both cachet and shame. Kids parted as I approached, then whispered and laughed.

Mum refused to discuss it, so neither did I. That’s where the geometry set came in. That compass gave me relief. I made marks where mum couldn’t see them.

She had several drudge jobs to make ends meet. I had no Nikes, smartphone, nowt. I couldn’t hang out because I didn’t have the look.

Unexpectedly he materialises in our kitchen, all leather jacket and smelling of weed and I’m having some sort of out of body experience. ‘Hello son’ he said. I wondered who he was talking to. Mum was screeching, telling him to go…hadn’t he’d done enough. And he was spitting back that I was his lad and he’d got rights.

That afternoon someone bet me to break into a BMW and that rich guy’s wallet paid for my new threads. It felt good to have ‘brothers’ who looked out for each other. She stared at what I was wearing, waving and bawling. I just kept my head down. No-one showed me how to be a man and no-one checked what I did.

He picked me up in a different car every week. We didn’t know what to say to each other. He was like an alien in my cupboard: there when you least expected it.

Dad was charming and could make friends easily, so he got a job supporting men who were struggling. They looked up to him – the reformed criminal. His boss was some woman - too soft on him. He did well to start with. They never grassed on him when he started skipping work. But eventually she sussed him - and he just cried. He went AWOL.. didn’t turn up for his disciplinary. Instead, he posted pictures on Facebook of train tickets and pics of him down south, on the beach.

He’s in the pub having a Christmas drink with those guys a year later, when he turns to find her sitting by the pool table. Her face says that she knows that he hasn't been making sandcastles, he’s been inside.

Today I have money, respect, girls, excitement. Tomorrow I might be shot dead. I wonder what it’d be like to be normal: how I would have turned out, if my dad had stuck around.

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