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18 June 2024  •  Society & Culture

My Pap, the Punk


By Mia Rakhit (she/her)
My Pap, the Punk

I live in this hidden house. Set back and tucked away, up a small staircase, it’s shrouded in shrubs and shadows. I’ve always thought of it as a Batcave of sorts. Grey and unassuming on the outside, masking the chaos within.

When you haul open the door, a canvas poster smacks you right across the face. Although faded from its decades spent housed within our walls, you can still make out the lettering: 


It’s never exactly read “family home”.

I remember the first time my eyes grazed across it. I was six at the time, so I naturally lacked the comprehension skills to decode what it meant. I remember somehow concluding that ‘bollocks’ was some fancy word for cow – à la bull, I suppose – and read ‘sex’ as ‘six’. So, here was this eccentric band, babbling on about six oxen roaming around a paddock. That, I obviously didn’t understand. But there was one thing I did get. Thanks to my father, I knew the Pistols were a punk band. And because they were a punk band, they must be a band my father adored. 

Because ‘punk’ has always translated to one thing – him. 

There’s this great photo of my dad that I tend to cite when I’m first explaining my lineage to people. 

He’s on this tiny white balcony, standing proud with his feet firmly planted on the ground. He’s staring straight through the lens, mouth half smiling, half not, the gap between his teeth just barely poking through. There’s a tuft of his curly hair atop his head. A mohawk has clearly attempted to be carved out, but it’s off-centre and far too short, leaving it looking sorely misplaced. 

But that’s not even the best part. The pièce de résistance – both of his arms, positioned before his body, held up by two white slings.

As someone who’s never broken a bone, I find it pretty remarkable that he went two-for-two. I’ve only heard the oral history of this accident from my mum, who tells me he tipped over a balcony. Eight metres high and probably eight beers in. 

I love this photo, because I think it radiates what punk is all about: the simultaneous aversion to life and enjoyment of it., 

The record that indoctrinated my dad into that lifestyle, he says, was ‘Strange Town’ by The Jam. A single from 1978, he plucked it from the shelves at the formative age of eleven. On it, Paul Weller’s voice sings out a battle cry to the isolated, lost and disillusioned youth: 

“Found myself in a strange town / Though I've only been here for three weeks now / I've got blisters on my feet / Trying to find a friend in Oxford Street.”

Before that single found its way into my father’s hands, he’d merely been the youngest child of a doctor and a nurse, living in Oldham, just north of Manchester. After, though, I can imagine things began to shift. Not instantly, or particularly dramatically, but a silent revelation that someone, somewhere, could articulate that pre-teen, small-town woe he was feeling. That there was something bigger out there he could make himself a part of. 

Punk is this chicken-egg situation. It’s hard to tell whether the music or the attitude came first. My dad believes it’s the latter. What that attitude exactly is, well, that’s yours to decide. To some, they use the subculture to justify a deep sense of nihilism. “No future for you!” they resign themselves to thinking. But to others, my father included, it's an attitude of swagger that’s punctuated by hope.

I think it’s easy to assume the passions of our parents extinguish when they age. Punk, in its heyday, was seen as a young person’s rebellion, a medicine to combat the tumult of being a teenager. So, naturally, when those kids reached middle age, the internal cacophony that defined their early years grew quieter and quieter, replaced with the monotonous drone of reality.

But my father has always been one for exceptions, not rules. 

When the UK Government commenced its painfully stagnant Brexit negotiations, a day didn’t go by without me waking to the following scene:

Picture my dad, glued to the television, his head in his hands. He's the Karditsa Thinker, sans the grandiosity. A dent is forming in the couch below from the hours he’s spent assuming that position, weighted down by the stress of what his homeland has become. 

Over those months, I think he managed to hurl every offensive epithet at the BBC’s coverage he had in his arsenal. The very face of Boris Johnson popping up on our screen triggered the same passionate hate that bubbles when you drop a name like Margaret Thatcher or Nigel Farage in front of him. I imagine it comes from that eleven year old kid within him, still playing The Jam on a loop. The ethos that there’s something, somewhere, bigger than this. Bigger than him. It lives on. 

There’s material evidence of that fact in every corner of my household. 

A faded Joe Strummer biography, a pile of unwashed Clash shirts, the middle name he plucked from a musician and gifted to me.

While his past still haunts our home, my dad looks a little different these days. His hair is gone, his gap is closed. His arms aren’t cast, but instead coated with sleeves of tattoos – on his left, there’s this meticulous artwork of a dragon. 

I remember sitting in with him as he got that done. I found myself doing all the wincing as the needle dotted his skin. Meanwhile, he sat there with gritted teeth, still and sombre like a pillar of salt. I initially took that unfeeling as apathy. Lack of care or concern. That generational cliché we easily cling onto when we turn to the turmoil around us, and point fingers at those older than us to take all the blame. Often, when they look back at us, their faces are cold, unfeeling. The passion that defined their youth sucked out with time.

But I know better now. When I look at my dad’s face, it’s hardened, yes. But in a different way. It’s not closed off or unfeeling, but instead, it’s calloused from years of hoping and yearning for a better tomorrow, the kind of future punk had promised him as a kid. And though that hope has been burning for forty-six years now, I don’t think it’s ever extinguished. 

That eleven year old lives on in the man who protests and who picks fights with those who fail to consider the lesser than. The man who sends me essays over text about the harms of the Murdoch media, and in an act of desperation in 2020, sent Rudy Giuliani a biting message of fury over Twitter DM. 

Those actions are small ones, and ones that you could say go on in vain. But I’ve always taken pride in being able to point to that man and say he’s my father. It’s a comfort knowing that the snarl and swagger of punk lives on today.

I’ve been lucky enough to inherit his records. They’re my fondest family heirloom. There are about forty of them that have survived all these years. Each one is lightly covered in dust, and sounds like it too. A little buzzy, a little muffled. But when that needle hits them, they still manage to cut and boom with the ferocity of punk, as if it never ceased to be in style. It’s the ferocity my father rears in every rap, every protest. The ferocity that lives somewhere in me, and somewhere still, in him too.


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