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Menk, by John Doran

My Wonderful Son Has Replaced Me with a 'Cardboard Daddy'

My wonderful son has replaced me with a 'Cardboard Daddy'.

by John Doran
15 April 2014, 5:00am

My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 42-year-old who is counting down the days to his summer holiday in Tenby.

In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, "menk" is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."

MENK 66: Gone Daddy Gone

An interloper has moved onto my turf.

He’s much slimmer than me and younger as well. It looks like I’m being replaced by a younger model. Literally.

I first noticed Cardboard Daddy when I got back from a work trip to Norway about a year ago. His torso was a stiff, white A2 or A3 sized oblong, with lanky limbs made from cereal packets that had been folded out then trimmed and glued together, with the plain sides pointing out. His head was the kind of off-white paper plate with crimped edges that you use at children’s parties. He had round, blue, full fat milk carton lids instead of eyes and strands of shoulder length blue wool as hair. He had a smirk drawn onto his face and the Sunn O))) logo on his chest. He was sitting in my seat, wearing my headphones, plugged into my stereo, with my favourite mug at his side and my copy of Private Eye open on his lap.

Maria had made him for Little John; to essentially fulfil my role while I was out of the house. Now, I would argue that I actually do a lot more than simply sitting in the corner listening to music that no one else wants to hear, drinking tea, reading magazines and wearing Sunn O))) merch but I’ve come to learn in life that perceptions count for an awful lot.

To be fair to Maria, she did have the clothes, the eye colour and the texture of my hair right. Once, about nine years ago, I was in a barbers (I was getting my beard trimmed, if you must know) and the conversation turned to the subject of the international hair trade.

The master of the scissors said: “You know that wig makers use human hair, right? You can get anything up to £500 for a good head of hair if it’s in nice condition. People all over the world grow their hair to sell it on to hairdressers and people who make wigs, weaves and extensions, mainly for markets in Europe and North America.”

I asked him if he’d act as broker so I could sell my death metal length hair, which at the time stretched over halfway to my waist.

He picked up a length and examined it closely: “I could get you £25 for this…”

“Just the fucking beard please and put a sock in it,” I barked at him.

So each time I returned from a trip to Oslo or Tilburg, Cardboard Daddy would be folded up and put on a shelf in the small utility cupboard with the vacuum cleaner and the tools. But then last week something disturbing happened. I got home from work and saw that Cardboard Daddy was sat in my chair, reading the copy of the London Review Of Books which I had bought but hadn’t even had time to put a crease in myself.

'And so it begins,' I thought. 'You get in from work knackered and all you want to do is to sit down, have a brew, listen to Bolt Thrower and read the LRB but you can’t because some sexy cardboard cuckoo bastard is sat in your chair.'

And then Maria drops the bombshell: “Little John wanted to see Cardboard Daddy so we got him out.”

How can it be that I’m being replaced as a father figure already? And by someone made from cereal packets?

(Photo by Anthea Leyland)

You might not always be conscious of it but when you become a parent, all kinds of novel ideas about influence come into play.

Will I be able to influence my son in a positive way? Will I know when it is time to let him make his own mistakes? What kind of position of authority can I talk from, given various incontrovertible biographical facts about my own life? How will I influence him on certain important issues more than his peer group? When positive influence comes into direct conflict with me getting on with him as a friend, will I have the mettle to do the right thing? At what point does parental influence have the opposite effect of the one desired?

To be honest, I feel that all children are so markedly different from each other that there isn’t a neat way to answer any of these questions ahead of time. The only planning I can do is to keep on reminding myself to be pragmatic; to respond to difficulties and challenges as they arise in a positive manner and not get locked into any pre-determined proscriptive or authoritarian course of action that I stick to no matter what. My own father warned me in graphic terms – literally on a daily basis – about the horrors of alcoholism and drug abuse through most of my childhood and teenage years. Of course, it wasn’t his fault at all that I became an alcoholic with several drug habits but his determined, crusading plan to steer me safely away from these things served little positive purpose at all.

What you don’t consider, as the parent of a two-year-old, though, is that you’ll have to think seriously about these things right away. You live in this fool’s paradise where you imagine your child, who is of course an angel, not really giving you any kind of serious grief until the age of 14, looking up in awe at you as this amazing font of wisdom. However, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that children are so much cleverer and sharper than anyone seems to give them any credit for.

Recently, I was larking about in an attempt to make him laugh and he put up one hand to make me stop and shouted: “Mummy! Stop!”

(He has never once called me Daddy. He calls me mummy and then when I protest he half-heartedly calls me "Mumdy" instead.)

“Mummy, stop dancing!”

“Daddy you mean…”

“Mumdy – stop dancing. You are a very silly man.”

So much for me being an unquestionable authority figure to him until the eve of his 15th birthday.

Good for him, though. I don’t want to influence him for the sake of it, there’s literally no point. People are always asking me what music I’m getting him into – no doubt keen to hear that he has a very youthful penchant for Norwegian black metal or dystopian techno, but I’ve got no interest in this to be honest. I don’t want him to grow up to be a music obsessive, I want him to be happy and content instead. If I try to force him to listen to the Ganja Kru and Coil he will no doubt rebel by developing a love for Coldplay ten years from now.

Obviously this must sound odd coming from someone who writes about music for a living. There must be a certain degree to which I want to influence the art that I’m into and to influence people into liking it as much as me, right? Well, to be honest, I gave up caring about that idea a long time ago and as soon as I did my life became a lot simpler and more relaxed. Manipulative behaviour is a hallmark of the chronic but high functioning alcoholic. It’s the main thing that stops them from being friendless, jobless and homeless. I now fully understand that "Pipes" by Katie Gately is never going to be playlisted on Radio One. And I fully appreciate why, as well.

This is a good way to be because, on the very odd occasion anyone says that they have listened to something because of my recommendation, it always comes as a pleasant surprise. I mean, why would you listen to a music journalist in the first place? They’ve all got such fucking appalling taste in music. If ever there was an entire profession populated exclusively by people who were bullied at school for their awful taste in music and are now engaged in an unsatisfying project to get their revenge on life, it’s music journalism.

I’ve never, ever, ever seen anyone reading a magazine or a newspaper article that I’ve written on the tube or the bus. I know that water coolers up and down the land are not surrounded by people discussing my articles on Electro Chaabi, Shitfucker or Frisk Frugt. It’s best just to write the stuff and be glad I’ve expunged it from my head. I’m happy to let someone else worry about what happens next.

That’s not to say I never influence people. It’s just that it happens in ways I could never predict. About four years ago a new green grocers had just opened in Hackney and blown away by their reasonable prices, high quality and excellent selection, I tweeted effusively about the establishment. The next day I returned to the shop and it appeared to be full of people in Mayhem and Godflesh T-shirts. One guy in an Electric Wizard T-shirt and a giant beard came stumbling out of the door holding a bag of satsumas and said: “Jesus Christ mate, the fruit in there is excellent.”

And so it came to pass that when I got in from work last night Cardboard Daddy was sitting in my chair, entertaining both my girlfriend and my son. I can’t be 100 percent sure but I think that Maria had just been laughing at some amusing bon mot the flat, blue-haired fucker had just made.

“Don’t worry, I’ll sit over here,” I said, pointing to where I never sit.

They appeared to be pretending that Cardboard Daddy was tired or ill and they were tucking him in, under a Thomas The Tank Engine blanket. Making a right fuss of him.

And then, as if things weren’t already bad enough, I heard Little John say: “I love you Cardboard Daddy!”

Maria grasped the enormity of the situation and let out an involuntary gasp. I heard her whispering to Little John, “I think you should go and tell Real Daddy that you love him as well or he might get upset.”

Little John walked over to me and said, “Mummy…”

“Daddy, you mean…”

He started again, “Mumdy... I love Cardboard Daddy.”

He walked back over to the slim line intruder and I heard Maria entreat him, “No! I think you should tell Real Daddy that you love him otherwise he might start crying.”

Little John walked over to me giggling and said, “Mumdy. I love… THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE!”

I kept my composure in a stoic manner, ruffled his hair and said, “I know you do mate.”

Then Maria and him disappeared out of the room to deal with some disaster on the Island Of Sodor.

He’s great, my son. I can already tell that he won’t suffer fools gladly when he’s older – his old man included. And even if this means that sometimes this won’t make my life any easier, my heart’s already reassured that he’ll never be a follower and will always think for himself.

This warm feeling I have evaporates instantaneously when I see Cardboard Daddy sitting in my chair with a blanket over him, smirking at me.

I point out of the window: “Have you ever seen what the rain does to a cardboard man? Now that is something you should see...”

Maria sticks her head round the door. “Did you say something, Daddy?” she asks.

“No! Just clearing my throat...” I say.

Maria comes in and picks up Cardboard Daddy and carries him out of the room, I can see his grinning head over her shoulder as she carries him into the bedroom where he now lives on top of the bookcase. When did he get moved into the bedroom? Why didn’t I notice?

“Don’t get comfortable, Cardboard Daddy,” I hiss after they’ve left. “I’ve got moves you haven’t seen yet, you insufferable, bendy shitheel. I’m not going to stop until you’re in the recycling and the balance of power has been restored.”

To be continued…

Previously: Menk, by John Doran – The Panic of Someone Collapsing On a London Bus

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