March 12, 2021
My grandad, Charlie Kirkpatrick, was thrown out of his home aged 17. This was his reward for coming to the defence of his mother, who was being beaten by his father, my great grandad, who was a Hull docker. This brave act not only saw him being thrown out by his father but by his mother too, no doubt shocked to find two big dogs in a house just big enough for one. Such a tale might sound odd to some, but people are odd; they constantly fall short of expectations and stereotypes, people who love - and beat - each other most of all. The year was 1918.
What was a young man to do?
Back then, you could not swan off to London to take up a career in graphic design, you really only had one choice in life; no choice, just did what your father did. But Charlie didn’t want that. Perhaps the same impulse to stand up to a father reflects a rejection of who that father was, or what his life had made him. With the war in Europe still ongoing, he did the only thing open to working-class boys who wanted to escape his set course; he joined the British army.
Little is known about his military career as he was from a generation who did not tell tales, write books, or make TV programs. I remember a distant uncle once telling me a story of escaping a POW train in Italy and how he jumped into a field, but he was spotted due to all the birds flying up in the air and giving him away. One little story told, but one I’d now love to know more. But now it’s too late.
All we know about Charlie’s military career are a few photos to piece a story now lost. We know he came to Ireland during the uprising (something I keep secret from my Republican Sinn Fein neighbour), Palestine, Egypt and India, serving through two World Wars. It would be easy - but also lazy - for me to now express shame that my grandad was a colonist soldier, an empire man, one of Rudyard Kipling ‘Tommys’. But he wasn’t overseeing the building of an empire, he was there to safeguard its dissolution.
He married my Grandmother along the way and had three boys. They brought up well, somehow instilled with his well-travelled restlessness, want, and adventure into each. He made his children well, so each left a mark on this world that would have made him proud.
I have no memory of Charlie, apart from being in a very small hushed house as a tiny child, Charlie upstairs dying. All I really know about him I could write on a Post-it note.
Why am I bringing this story up? Well, today, I saw this silly headline that women would be best served by having a 6 pm curfew for men, a stupid notion, but a sentiment that aligns with a lot of comments I read and heard during International Women’s Day. If men had a marketing department, I’d sack them, along with the women’s policy and strategy working group.
On a planet of nearly seven billion, half of them men, it’s worth considering who we are and where and what we came from. We believe that 75,000 years ago, the human population shrank to between 10,000 and 30,000, humanity going to the very brink of extinction due to some catastrophic event. And so it’s worth considering the high possibility that you exist right now only due to rape and murder and cannibalism and tribalism and war, rather than love and peace. We are all descended from slaves of one sort or another, most definitely serfs, your line once considered cattle. I say this because I often get the impression that many people’s concept of humankind is less evolutional but more Biblical.
Our ancestry is dark, muddied and bloody, one ‘fucking thing after another, but most of all, it is far too complex for the narrowest of minds to grasp; people who think in lines and columns, who can only add and subtract, and divide. But maybe they don’t wish to understand and instead use the past as a battering ram to break us in two.
And so, when I hear this narrative that men are wild animals, are dangerous, that they need to be retrained or just neutered, I think back to my grandad, only a boy really, stepping forward to do what was right, to protect his mother from his father, to act not like a beast, but like a man.