I can’t exactly recall the memory of us sharing each other’s company. I can’t remember his face, his smell, his voice, not even the texture of his hair. All I know is the fact that I miss him every single day, and how badly I’ve learned to carry this half empty heart of mine. I swear I didn’t ask God to take his life that soon when I wasn’t done needing him; when he wasn’t done loving me. I didn’t notice his absence until one day I got into a fight with my Mom and realized I had nobody else to run to. It was when I woke up as a four-year old kindergarten student who went to school and saw all the other kids with their dads and I started questioning where was mine. The universe took him away when my conscious mind wasn’t well-built to remember him just yet; when my brain wasn’t done recording our moments.
My Mom used to tell me a story of when I was three and she took me out to visit my Dad’s big family in another city. She told me that whenever one of them asked me “Where’s Papa?” and my answer was always “He’s in Heaven now” even though the younger version of me had no idea what Heaven was, geez, even now we all still have no clue about that place, right? So, when she told me the story, I was surprised. How such little girl could say something like that, innocently and painlessly. But it’s a different case as I am now 22 years old. If people asked me where my Dad is, I’d say he has passed away, shrug like nothing awfully painful ever happened in my life, or I’d try my hardest to change the subject instead. When deep down, the grief that used to be painless is now rooting deeper inside my chest.
As I’m getting apart longer and further from my Dad, suddenly that little girl had turned into a nine-year old primary schooler. I was troublesome. All the teachers at school would consider me as the happy student who usually followed the rules. But I was poor at math, distracted by my own imagination during classes, barely did any homework, and all teachers started calling me lazy. One day I asked myself why I acted that way and my conclusions were because all my friends had their dads who would teach them everything even the hardest part of the subject. I knew their dads couldn’t always solve the problem, but my friends would still receive the support they needed. But I was alone, and my mom was busy arranging her new marriage. She got me a private tutor while I still had problem bonding with male teachers. I didn’t know how to open up about this issue because nobody ever asked me, anyway, they were all busy jumping to conclusions without actually listening on what I wanted to say. Meanwhile for my teacher, my feelings were invalid the moment she said “If we couldn’t remember the existence of the people we had lost, we couldn’t feel sad about it”. But I’m gonna tell you this anyway: it is all a lie. Yes, we can feel sad about it, cry, grieve and even mourn over it. Because we are human, we have the unfulfilled expectation that we have always longed to be filled someday. In my case, it was the desire to be loved by a father. It was the craving for my Dad’s presence.
So, losing a father at under three years old means feeling incomplete and jealous all the time.
It’s feeling incomplete because my Dad took a little part of me when he gave up his last breath. It’s feeling incomplete because if his spirit were alive by now, he would have held our vague memories that I had failed to remember. It’s feeling jealous as the sky gets darker and my friends are all lucky enough to have their dads picking them up from church. It’s feeling jealous when I saw a woman walking down the aisle with her Dad holding her hand and telling her that marriage will all be alright.
But losing my Dad has also taught me how to be strong alone. It has taught me how to warm myself on a cold lonely Christmas’ Eve and my birthday. It has taught me how to take care of my Mom and get her into the hospital when she’s sick. Losing him has changed my role as a woman. I don’t care if I’m scaring guys away with my manly attitude. I don’t need anybody to open the door for me.
But if my Dad was here like really, really here, alive…
He might not be as perfect as I picture him to be. But there would be an “I love you” in the way I’d touch his skin every single day just to notice the change of its surface. Because when you’ve lost your Dad to death, even the thing as little as the memory of his scent is enough to make you survive this life. I wish I had that kind of memory; a memory that makes me survive.