Scrolling through Instagram recently, I noticed a picture my dad had posted of Smithfield market. Immediately, my heart sank.
“What are you doing in central London?” I texted him.
“Seeing a friend,” he replied, “I drove.”
“Which friend?” I asked, hoping it was one of his less “bad influence” ones.
The night before, my sister had phoned me in a thundering rage. She’d just FaceTimed our dad, to find him at a dinner party. “I don’t know how to get it through his thick head,” she said, almost in tears: “he just won’t listen.”
It’s not that my dad has been breaking any official Covid safety rules. He’s meticulous about mask-wearing (thank the Lord), and doesn’t (as far as I know) meet up with groups of more than six people. And, being quite a decent guy with almost no sociopathic tendencies whatsoever, he certainly wouldn’t pull a Margaret Ferrier and embark on a four-hour train journey having just tested positive for the virus.
Unfortunately, though, our one remaining parent is still a liability; always out, always seeing people, always up to something. And, as a man in his mid-sixties on heart medication, this is a source of constant angst for my siblings and me. Eventually parenting your parents is a fact of life. But parenting my dad out of contracting a deadly virus by attempting to police who he sees, and how, was not how I saw this going. I was thinking more … buying him warm cardigans, or making sure he takes his meds. Traditional stuff. But this – basically taking on the role of the ultra-strict parent of a teenager – is messing with my head.
I never had conservative parents. I had a mum who – when I was 13 – told me she’d rather I was smoking weed than drinking, and a dad who simply refused to be suspicious of boys I dated. So, having no authoritarian parent role models, I’m having to make up this disapproving schtick as I go along. Making my looks of disappointment sufficiently withering. Delivering the line “I will turn this car around” with some degree of believability. Although I can’t drive, and – even if I could – I wouldn’t want to encourage my dad to get into cars with people.
Boris Johnson’s dad has made headlines a couple of times since the start of the pandemic, first for travelling to Greece during lockdown in July, and – more recently – for getting caught in a newsagent’s without a mask. I almost sympathise with Johnson over this. If I was being held accountable for all my dad’s Covid lunacy, the stress would be unbearable. Our parents are running wild, and they can’t – as I’m learning – be controlled. No matter how many articles on the dangers of the virus I force my dad to read, he never seems quite scared enough. His stoicism is maddening.
Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, was recently caught breaking the “rule of six”, at a dinner party. My God, do that generation like dinner parties. While the finger is consistently pointed at young people for spreading the virus with all their partying and illegal raves, the greater threat (aside from the government’s woeful lack of guidance) must be older, more vulnerable people, constantly sitting around tables, drinking pinot grigio and bitching about how “blown out of proportion” this all is.
The collective shrugging off of Covid by boomers can, I imagine, be put down partly to their having lived through the cold war. While so many of my dad’s generation are obsessed with the second world war (to the extent that some of them seem to think they were there), what they actually experienced was an entire era of disaster-edging, with no payoff. The likes of the Cuban missile crisis cried wolf, until a whole generation stopped believing anything would ever “come to anything”. My generation, meanwhile, grew up with 9/11, the 2008 financial crash, and now … this. Disasters, for us, have been very real and present. And have probably informed the way many of us are now begging our parents to believe in them.
When my sister called the other day, in a meltdown over our dad’s persistent social life, she pleaded with me to have a word with him. She’d done “bad cop” by yelling at him, and insisting he was going to get himself killed. It was my turn, and I had to do “good cop”. I had to appeal to his emotions, and persuade him to – for our sake at least – stop frolicking around as if there isn’t a pandemic on. Which of us is more deranged, it’s – at times – hard to tell. Especially over all the crying and yelling.
After my “little chat” with him (during which I did manage to keep my cool), he promised he’d scale back on the socialising and dedicate more time, at home, to the ham radio he’s been building. I’d like to say I trust him, but I just checked his Instagram for the third time today.
• Eleanor Margolis is a columnist for the i newspaper and Diva