A dad I barely knew
It's been a long time coming, to this point in my life, where I can actually give myself the healthy time to focus on the loss I experienced a long time ago.
I was 13, and my Dad had been in chronic pain for a number of years, which affected his moods badly. He also worked himself like crazy, trying to do his everything to provide for our family. Eventually, his body finally gave in to all the stress that happened to him randomly, and from his own work ethic, and he developed a brain tumour.
He battled that for quite a while, but soon enough he passed away from it.
It's so difficult to think back to that time in my life, and yet reading everyone else's stories has helped me feel OK about getting back in touch with the me that I left back then. I feel like I barely knew my Dad, and the memories I carry of him, mostly, are stories my Mum has told me. For years I held an image that he was a great guy. And truly I believe deep down he was, but he had lots of his own challenges he was dealing with in his head.
His friends absolutely loved him, and he was a fantastic friend to many people, finding common ground with everybody he met, and connecting with them. He was an entertainer at parties, and in his early life he enjoyed music with a friend, at local clubs. Work seemed to get the better of him though, and by the time I was remembering things, I remember that he was working a lot and that I didn't see him too much. I remember being afraid of his temper, and making sure I didn't do anything wrong to upset him.
I know he cared for my brother and I very much, but I do feel cheated that we didn't do lots of things together as we were growing up, especially because of how young we were when he departed.
I remember a trip to the football, I remember practising for a spelling bee while he worked in the garden, I remember his music playing on summer days, and him working on a golden tan next to the pool. He had his moments of bliss, I hope, I think, at times. But he worked so much.
I feel cheated out of a lot of things, but harbor no grudges. I wish I had had a Dad around when I was a teenager, especially the kind of Dad mine could have been, without all that chronic pain and work stress. But who knows if he would have found a way to let that goodness out. So many times, I have wished that he was around so I could talk with him, hang out with him, consult his ideas and knowledge, as I work in a field that we could have discussed at length.
But it will never happen.
I'm angry that I changed so much as I grew up because of his health, and then his death, and that I didn't know I was until a lot later. I'm approaching 30 now, and honestly have done my absolute best in life to make a good, productive, honest go of things, and respect every minute as a gift, and yet I find myself falling into patterns that I learned from him at such a young age - of working too much, of not respecting home and work boundaries, and of taking the closest people for granted, and letting the outside world take priority over the internal care everybody needs to take of themselves.
For all of this, I want to have fond memories of him. He was a great guy. I know he had good times in his life, which I'm happy about. I'm sad that I don't have really joyous moments to share about our life together though, I remember a birthday when I was getting a bike, and my friends and I had to wait for him to get off a business call. I can't remember if he even made it off the call for the grand presentation of the shiny new red 10 speed.
I'm annoyed that I've had to make up a lot of how to do things as I've gone along. That kind of freedom comes at a price. I'm frustrated that I was already cornered into being independent, so that when he did die, I already had a belief that I didn't need anyone's help, and didn't want anyone getting in my space, so I never had any proper professional help. Instead, I did 1 consultation with 2 counsellors and said never again.
I regret that I couldn't visit him in the hospital, because I was too afraid, or couldn't handle it. It's this invisible mystery place - the last hospital he ended up in. I visited him for a while, and then one day he wasn't totally in reality, though talking ok, his ideas weren't normal. And I got scared, and could never go back to visit him. I never said goodbye, I never said a final I love you, well not that I knew was the last one at least, and I spent so many days sitting in the car, while my mum and brother visited him. Sitting in my bubble. Observing the world, quietly, and silently, dreaming of what those other people who have those houses - what their lives are like. Doing anything to remove myself from the reality that my dying Dad was inside the hospital.
I miss the idea of him, but I don't feel like I know enough to actually miss.
I'm disappointed that he didn't put more time aside for my Mum and for myself and my brother. But I understand his intentions, and that his love came out in working to help us at that time, and he believed into the future.
I wonder now just how this is all going to unravel, because over the years I have built up so many bridges over the canyons of unhappiness, confusion, anger, bad habits, inappropriate reactions, etc. and so now it's time to deconstruct this bizarre artifice that I have been maintaining and carrying with me everywhere. It's scary - to be deconstructing what feels like the persona that got me to where I am today, as most would perceive it as a successful station in life.
And yet, I do have a glimmer of strength and hope, as I unbuild all the coping strategies, and the learned routines, and the acquired systems, and realize that all the observation I did of happy people, of successful, and 'normal' people, only helped me to learn their outside manner, not their thoughts.
And so it's time for my own thoughts now, finally, after putting off this grief for so long, it's time to open the gate, and feel all the feelings, because most of all, I feel frustrated that I didn't have my time to do that back then, because I felt like I had to be strong for my Mum and little brother, so I went on and worked my butt off at school, did my best in everything and just got on with life, all the while not realizing that I'd missed the most important lesson of my childhood, and it was right in front of me.
To anyone considering putting off grief for any reason - not convenient, work commitments, staying strong for another person - it is not wort it in the long run, and there are always other solutions now that you can use to allow you to have the time and space you need, now, to let grieving happen. I sure wish I had had that time back then. As now things just seem much, much more complicated, and I am extraordinarily lucky to have a supportive girlfriend (though she is going through a lot too), and a very good therapist (though she costs so much that once a month is almost too often).
All the best everybody, here's to all those Dads out there.