Over the weekend, we celebrated Fathers’ Day. And I wrote a note on Instagram to the man:
And you know, I don’t think much about my father these days. It’s been almost 29 years. The past is in the past, the present is right here, right now. We’ve moved on in life.
Plus, I was all of six years old. It is easier to forget when your memories are fluid, constantly replaced by newer, fresher ones. And I think in that sense, God was kind to me.
But it’s not that I don’t remember. Oh, how I remember. I remember the little moments. I remember the moment my mother knew that he was dead, as we walked down the hospital corridor. She wailed, a heart wrenching noise that echoed in my young mind and never left. I remember bursting into inexplicable tears at the funeral, despite not quite grasping what death was.
Back then, my mother didn’t have the mental capacity to sit me down and explain what death meant. We just dealt with it in our way – moving on wordlessly, sweeping everything under the carpet, crying into the pillow late at night.
Time passed. It was a tough, lonely childhood. I grew up too fast. I learnt to survive, by putting up a strong, impenetrable shell to hide the vulnerability, the fragility. When you don’t have a father and other kids are questioning why you don’t have a father, you can’t cry about it. It’s a sign of weakness. You act as if you are doing as well, if not better than them, and then you change the topic even as your heart aches at the fact that you are different from them. You learn about privilege and social class. You learn that your studies and your smarts are the only things you possess that can help you get ahead in life – because you have nothing else in your name.
If I ever do think about my father these days, it’s usually to wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t died.
You see, I am not a very likeable person. I was never the sort of kid who was popular or well-liked by the teacher (and probably not now either!). I never say the right things. I can be harsh and judgmental. I cannot tolerate self-indulgence and weakness. And, especially at this age, I am not afraid of ridding my life of toxic people – so yes, I am heartless.
Maybe I’ll be a little softer. And kinder. And more positive, exuding with sunshine. Sweeter. Loveable. Happier. Gentler.
I don’t know. But to understand and accept me is to know just how much life without my father has shaped me.
It’s taken a while but I think I am finally comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am, what I am and I like me for me. I still have issues with esteem – I never get why my boss thinks I am good at what I do, I don’t know if I am clever enough to finally go on and get my Masters – but I am lucky to be surrounded by encouraging and supportive people.
There is no sense of bitterness or resentment at what I had to go through. I survived. And I am thankful I did so relatively unscathed. As an educator, I think I have seen enough to know that it could have turned out worse. But I also know that this ability to live through these tough times have served me well, allowed me to grit my teeth through anything that life has had to dish up.
And now as I see my littles build their relationship with their father, I sometimes take a step back, deliberately. We fulfil different needs in their lives, I know. And I am also starting to understand just what a father does and means to his children.
By God’s grace, we will indeed be parents to our children for this lifetime.
Happy fathers’ day to my papa, wherever you may be. You were the first man that I knew and loved, the one who still makes my heart ache when I think of you.