It’s been awhile since you ‘got’ one of these. I promise I was fine when I woke up, seeing all these fathers posing for pictures with their daughters and it was charming at first. But then those Facebook statuses started pouring in, and I started to get this weird, tense, pulling feeling in my stomach. Then there was that stupid Dove commercial that started playing unannounced as I scrolled past a faded polaroid of someone’s dad in red short-shorts. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to let it bother me, Dad. But my eyes are starting to well up, so here we are.
I went looking for a photograph of us, but I don’t have any. Mom brought me a few pictures when she came to visit for the wedding, but there’s only one of you. It’s at Christmas, you’re holding a camcorder, and you’re laughing. I thought about sharing it, but it feels too happy. I want to join in on all these Hallmark Holiday sentiments, to fill in my own little Instagram proclamation of love and remembrance so I can feel normal today. But I really don’t.
I mean, is it okay for me to still grieve like this? Hallmark didn’t make cards from complicated daughters like me for difficult fathers like you, so this pang in my heart is always such a source of conflict for me. I wonder if the person I miss even existed. Eight years is a long time. There’s a lot of room to fill there. I get scared that the person I remember is made up, that maybe all your nuances and quirks were things I blew out of proportion so I could have something to hold onto. Things like your love for weirdly patterned shirts and fish and chips. It’s shitty being a writer sometimes because our imaginations can make things feel so real. When I try to pull you back into the focus of my mind’s eye, I wonder about so many things, you know? Dumb shit, like if you would have an iPhone or a Blackberry, or what you would have thought about the latest X-Men movie. And what you might have worn to my wedding, and if you would have insisted on a father daughter dance. And if yes, I wonder what we might have danced to.
And then I have this super vivid flashback of driving in your really ugly green Toyota, the one the drunk homeless guy told you looked like puke. It was just you and me. It still had a tape deck, and when you were in your better moods, we would listen to The Beatles. And you would tell me that this is what real rock and roll sounded like and how difficult it was to buy their records when you were my age because of the Apartheid sanctions. I always found it so hard to imagine you being young. Now it’s even harder to imagine because I realize that you were never really old. Just burdened by an illness you were too proud to fix, drowning in the tides of sadness I still feel sometimes.
If you were still around, would we talk about that? That hollow feeling that killed you, Dad. That washed out to sea, can’t see the shore feeling. I get it too, but I learned how to swim against it. I learned how to come up for air, how to use whatever was left in my lungs to ask for help. I like to believe you might have got a handle on it all if you had just held on a little longer, that on the days where things felt hard that I would be able to call you and we could talk about it. You have no idea how often I wish you were around to talk to, Dad. Or maybe you do somehow. Maybe you’re up there watching me live, or maybe you’re nothing but scattered ashes floating on the waves of that windy Cape Town beach. I don’t know how to think about any of it anymore, not like I used to. I’ve figured out that Death is so much more complex than heaven or hell or nothingness.
After all this, I’m scared to be like you and I’m scared that if I’m not, I’ll lose you, and I’m scared to still love you and miss you in spite of everything that happened and today it feels really, really hard to breathe.
So I turn off my phone, and I sit down to write you this, and I punch away at the keys until my heart climbs back down from my throat. I breathe again. In and out. I turn my phone back on, just to text my husband to tell him I love him and that I’m grateful we have each other without any further explanation. I remind myself that not every day is Father’s Day, and tomorrow my feed will be cluttered with pictures of people’s breakfasts and startlingly unfunny Game Of Thrones memes. That until October, I’ll only see you in flashes and they won’t sting. Not as much as today, anyway. I know that the day you decided you had to go for good will roll around again, and I know it’ll hurt again too. But I’ll be stronger this year. Every year I get a little stronger.
I love you. It’s such a simple thing to say but I feel like I never said it enough. Perhaps because it felt too simple. I’m realizing now that love and grief go hand in hand, much like fondness and sorrow. I’m learning to embrace the multi-faceted nature of them both. I’m becoming more whole because of it. Thank you for that.
I hope you had a good day, wherever you ended up. I hope it’s nice, peaceful at least. You always loved peace and quiet. Happy Father’s Day.