It’s seven years today since my dad died. On the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death, Dad rang me – he rang me on each one of her anniversaries and her birthdays. I remember saying, on her seventh anniversary, ‘It feels different this year.’ ‘Yes,’ he said. And it does feel different, because it is. The loss is deep instead of raw. Life has gone on. At seven years, it’s a new stage of things.
I’ve been tossing up whether or not to write about Dad today. I sometimes feel that I talk about my parents and their deaths too much. I worry that people think that I let those events define me. That people (that you) are thinking, Can’t you move on already? Goodness me, we get it.
Clare Bowditch sings it perfectly in The Thing About Grief, “It gets kind of boring for the people who don’t yet know.”
It’s true that when I talk about my parents I am talking about dead people. But I don’t talk about them because they’re dead. I talk about them because they are my parents and because they are a part of my life.
Part of my relationship with my dad is that I miss him.
Sometimes I miss him with a pang. Like when the Floppy Adolescent glides through the loungeroom on his skateboard balancing a cat on his shoulder and I think of my dad walking around our house with our stumpy-tailed cat on his shoulder. Or when Cricket Boy comes loudly to the defence of test cricket, ‘But it’s so exciting! The game can change with any ball!’
Sometimes I miss his steady hand. Like last year when we had An Incident with the Floppy Adolescent and the mister and I walked around the compound talking it through. ‘I wish we could talk to my dad,’ I said. ‘He would tell us it’s all okay. He would say, “You’re on the right track, you’ll see it through.”‘
Sometimes I miss him because what are we without the people who know us best? There is no one else who can say, ‘Bloody hell, you sound so much like Vivienne,’ with such meaning.
And sometimes I simply miss sitting at the table with him, the newspapers spread around, wine half-drunk, coffee gone cold, food, always more food and the conversation going in endless circles.
I miss his energy and I miss his love.
But there’s much more to our relationship than a simple wish that he were here. I don’t know exactly how to explain those things. There’s a lot of the same things that there would be if he were alive. Some months ago, I came far too close to making a spectacularly, enormously awful decision. But I knew I wouldn’t do it because I would have to answer Dad. He doesn’t let me get away with being dishonest to myself. I send him emails and texts in my mind, the details of my days that I would have shared. I look at his photograph and I tell him bits and pieces. But there’s more to it than that. Something deeper. He’s just here, living with me. Every single day. That’s the best explanation I can give.
Lucky us, we had a good and a solid and a straightforward relationship so there wasn’t much in the way of deathbed revelations, but there were two things he talked about that stay with me.
Don’t be angry. Don’t be angry with people who love you and don’t be angry with yourself. Forgive people if they hurt you and forgive yourself. I have managed to let go of most of my anger and my life is better for it. I still do an excellent line in churn and guilt, self-recrimination and flagellation though. I don’t think Dad would be surprised by that.
The other thing he said: Keep writing.
Do you know the stupidest I’ve ever done and no, I will never forgive myself for it? Not showing Dad the draft of my first novel before it was published. How dumb was that? I don’t even know why I didn’t let him read it. Scared I guess. By the time I had the courage Dad didn’t have the concentration. Really dumb.
But I almost did an even dumber thing. I almost stopped writing altogether. I have no idea of why it took me so much effort to write a second manuscript. I love writing. I feel good about myself when I’m writing and rubbish when I’m not. Whatever the reason it was really freaking hard getting it to the place that it’s in now. But I did it. I got it written. Even if it never gets published, even if you never read it, I wrote it and I feel good about that. I hadn’t realised until I started writing again how unbalanced my relationship with Dad had become. It wasn’t quite that I was letting him down but there’s definitely a sense now that I can look him in the eye again.
I don’t know where I’m going with this really. I don’t have some stunning insight to share or a life-changing observation.
I think I just wanted to talk about my dad.
Thank you for listening.