So it’s Father’s Day and I’ve been thinking of all the things I gained from knowing my dad. First off, background check. My dad died five years ago. We didn’t really get on that well, but he was still an important part of my life, and even though I didn’t tell him until he was too drunk on drugs and cancer to even hear it, I did love him. It was a funny kind of love, the sort that veers into hate with the wrong look or a sharp word, but it was definitely there under my prolonged teen angst and constant confusion between what I had and what I wanted.
For a little while my dad’s death made me mad. I didn’t get what other people get. I felt like I’d been shortchanged. I’d already been stuck with a bunch of dead grandparents, and now I had no dad. I wanted someone to walk me down the hypothetical aisle, someone to put my hypothetical child on his shoulders and feed them sweets before dinner. But some people don’t even get what I had. At least I knew my father. At least he had a slim grasp of what the word ‘dad’ meant, even if to him it went along with the word ‘no’ and a stinging slap that burned red for hours after. At least he was there. At least he tried.
The older I get, the more I marvel at how hard my parents worked to keep me on their version of the right track. They wanted all the good stuff for me, and even though I didn’t want those things, I’m glad that they thought that they had raised a daughter who deserved it. My dad and I were so different though, so different that my whole life I’ve questioned whether I’m actually related to him at all. He was an omnivorous smoker with an army background. I was a pristine pacifist vegan. But the older I get, the more I think about the ways that we were the same.
We were both stubborn, both grumpy, both given to thinking that we were right and everyone else was an idiot, both vain, both smart in the pretentious sense, both bespectacled. And it makes me guilty that everything that I dislike about myself, I shared with him. My good bits aren’t my dad’s, and that makes me sad.
I only have a few memories that stand out, and they’re for the wrong reasons, like the time I brought home a dog that was running into the road. It was early morning, school rush. I’d been walking to work and I’d yanked him out of the path of a van. The dog warden was on the other side of the county all day and nobody I phoned could help me, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to take the dog home, where at least I had a lead that I could put on him while I tried to figure out what to do. As soon as I walked through the garden gate, my dad exploded in anger.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I rescued him. I need to find out where he lives. Maybe his owners-“
“You’re not having another bloody dog.”
“I know. You’re not listening to me, I said-“
“We’ve got enough bloody dogs as it is.”
“Would you stop being such a bad person for once?!” I screamed the words, screamed them. There were tears building up in my eyes. I was just trying to help, but he always thought that I had bad intentions, always thought that any good I did was a sneaky way of winning. Those words came right back when I was sitting beside his hospital bed, studying the fat veins bulging through his tissue paper skin. He was completely out of it, breathing softly into a tube, and I wondered if the same words were whirling through his brain too.
I remember him getting angry when I used the front door instead of the back, despite the fact that a Dalmatian had ripped off a chunk of my hand, getting angry because a friend of mine lied and said that I demanded a drink, when I’d told her to ask politely, getting angry when I accidentally smashed a vase hoovering, when I broke my ankle, when I stupidly stuck a knife in the toaster, when I threw up because he bought me non-vegetarian sushi.
He always had so much anger, especially for me, and I wonder how much he kept with him up until his final moments. When they said that he couldn’t come home, that he had to stay in the hospital, his mind was already gone. He would stare blankly at the television set, mouth open, not listening to the words my mum was saying to him. I made him chocolate cake and he’d forgotten it by the next day. I’d spoken to him about getting better and going to Blackpool, but when I mentioned it again he didn’t know what I was talking about. He couldn’t focus his eyes, but drifted away somewhere else, somewhere far away, somewhere that hurt.
His last words were “Help me.” And I couldn’t. It was like watching someone being burned from the inside, but without any flames to kill I was useless. All I could do was wait and watch him die. I said my last words as he was writhing against his sheets, tangling them around his legs, exposing his sucked ribs and his grey hairs and all the signs of age and weariness. I cried because he was dying, because it was slow, because he knew where the pain was taking him to, and, most of all, because he was my dad and I loved him and he never got to know.
So whoever you are, however you feel, please say it out loud, to your dad or your mum or your best friend, to your children or your pets or your crush. Time is like a road stretching out in front of us. It might look like it goes on forever, but everything is finite and you might get to the end of it quicker than you think. You need to tell the truth because you won’t get a chance after a point. Don’t wait until the people you love are bones and blurry eyes. Don’t wait until they can’t untangle the words to figure out their meaning. Let them know now, while you can. Love is only powerful if you let it out. I always wonder how much hate I could have stemmed with a little bit of honesty, by just saying the words that he never knew.
I guess it’s irrelevant now, but I hope it’s not. I hope there’s a part of him that understands, that hears the words and knows how I meant them the whole time, despite it all and because.
Wherever you are, Dad, I love you.