This is a very personal topic for me. I’m very intentional in the way I share my feelings about it, and I think I’m feeling ready to share now partially because with this blog, I’ve got an appropriate platform to express reflections of this nature. This Thursday October 2nd will mark what would be my parents’ 38th wedding anniversary. My father passed away in 2002. Not that 38 has any particular significance, and usually I don’t like to put too much attachment on to dates/designated days, but it struck me the other day that their anniversary date was approaching and that it might be good for me to get some thoughts out about my dad.
I started a poem about the loss of my father earlier this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my poetry notebook with me to Paris, so it’s still unfinished. Some elements of the poem that I can remember include variations of song lyrics he used to sing: “Hello, I love you can you tell me your name?”/ “You are so beautiful to me,” / “These eyes are crying.” The poem centres on the following question, which is integral to my paying tribute to my dad:
How do you make it show without making a show?
In the past couple of years, I’ve been negotiating with myself to decide on what I feel is an appropriate method of outwardly expressing my feelings. Starting this blog was a big step in the direction of self-expression and validation of the value of sharing thoughts I’d have otherwise kept private. The particular dilemma I’ve faced in the past with sharing about my father is that I think it’s a fine line between making a spectacle of things and keeping it a secret. My dad was not one for the spotlight, and I would not want to exploit him or his memory in a way that would seem like I was asking for attention. While I know that this post and/ or a poem about him would be my story to share, doing so with intention is still integral to my conception of the best way to express my feelings in a way that I think he’d find honourable.
I used to define my identity in relation to the loss of my dad. For years, I looked to his example for the person I wanted to be; the person I wanted to become. He was intelligent, strong-willed, and selfless. It was motivating to want to be like him, and as I was young – and as is often characteristic with people who pass away – I put him and his memory on a pedestal in my mind. Now that I’m older, I can look at him more wholly, holding him at a more realistic standard. Twelve years – especially the first twelve years of one’s life – is really not long enough to truly get to know someone so influential in and integral to a person’s development. As an aside, how long is ‘long enough,’ really? I can imagine that to have had a lifetime of memories with someone would make it comparably (if not more) difficult to say goodbye (not that it’s a competition). I turned 25 in August, and 25 is a big year for me in relation to all of this. Since my dad passed away when I was 12 years old – about a month and a half before my 13th birthday – this means that every year that I continue to live now exceeds the amount of time I got to physically have him in my life. When I realized that earlier this year, it really threw me for a loop.
I like to think I inherited what I needed from my dad. I’ve retained many of his character traits, namely his seriousness, his sense of responsibility and his pragmatism. He was so pragmatic that he had the foresight to tell me one afternoon that if anything should happen to him, I shouldn’t cry because my tears wouldn’t bring him back. I upheld that promise at his funeral, as best as I can remember, as well as for a great deal of time afterward. Not in an unhealthy way, though. Or at least I don’t think so. It’s not like I would tell myself not to cry if I wanted to cry. Rather, I took his advice to heart, accepting the situation for what it was. I remember people telling me I was strong. I’ve always internalized that compliment; especially because that was an adjective my dad was particularly attached to.
I’ll never forget being in a parking lot walking into a store (Zellers, to be precise) with my dad, and asking him if Santa Clause was real. He looked at me and asked, “Do you really want me to answer that question?” A little jolted, I prompted him, “And the Easter Bunny… and the Tooth Fairy?” He just shrugged his shoulders, giving me a knowing look. Whether about life and death or about the authenticity of (harmless?) childhood lies, my dad favoured honesty over illusions.
We had the above photo from my parents’ wedding out on display at my brother’s wedding in July. I think it’s so beautiful. I was tasked with reading the intentions at the wedding ceremony. If you’re not familiar with a Catholic mass, the intentions are a series of statements with a singular response, where the reader says, for example, “We pray for ________” for the intended (e.g. “those suffering from hunger, may they find sustenance”) and the congregation calls out a response (e.g. “Lord hear our prayer”). Before my brother and his wife even asked me, I knew I’d be asked to do a reading at their wedding, as I’ve often been called upon to read at family weddings and funerals over the years. For some reason, I just knew I’d be asked to read the intentions, and would have to mention my dad’s name, since there’s always an intention dedicated to those who have passed away.
My prophecy was correct, and although I was a little worried that I’d get upset during the mass, I also felt a great sense of responsibility in having the opportunity to say my father’s name that day. That was probably the moment I was most nervous about the whole day. When it came time to read the intention, I paused, and my voice cracked a little. No tears, but I still reacted, and one of my aunts later commented on the emotion in my voice when I read it. For me it was an important affirmation of his influence, and talking about it with my aunt after, even if just for a moment, comforted me that his absence was felt by more than just my immediate family. I was glad to be able to publicly acknowledge the fact that we wished he could be there at such a milestone in our family’s story; that he hasn’t been forgotten, despite the fact that life has moved on. As an aside, we also spoke of him in our speeches at the reception, but for some reason I was more nervous about mentioning him at the church.
As I only got to personally know my dad for twelve years, I sometimes feel that I might be wrong in the way that I remember him. Memory is so fallible. I would refrain from asking my mother questions about him sometimes because I didn’t want to make her upset. Things are different now; when I have questions, I ask them, but I’m acutely aware of the fact that much of my knowledge of my dad is constructed from hearsay.
My perspective on (im)permanence was definitely shaped by the loss of my father. I learned early on that life is not what you expect; that selfless people can get sick; that you can’t take these things personally – the universe isn’t out to get you when it takes someone sooner than you’d like; that some connections last just as long as they need to, or rather, that there is no guaranteed amount of time with the people in your life, so it’s best to appreciate what you have while you have it; that acceptance and optimism are key determinants in moving forward, regardless of the particularity of the obstacle.
I’m grateful to have known my dad for as long as I did, and for the way that losing him has shaped my manner of viewing the world. Of course, I’ve thought from time to time that I would have loved to have conversations with him while growing up and as an adult. There’s an underscoring feeling of missed potential when I think of him and the relationship we could have had, but that’s simply not what the universe had planned. I use this phrasing cautiously. For years, I comforted myself with the thought that everything happens for a reason. Now, I’m less inclined to believe that it’s a pre-destined plan, but rather that there’s always something to take from what life sends your way. I don’t claim to know how the universe works, though. Or at least to be certain of it. 😉
So, this all probably sounds so super serious. That’s the other part of sharing about this; I find in discussing something so personal, it’s hard for it not to come off as sombre and sort of depressing. It’s not that I was feeling particularly sad about my dad this week, but the desire to share struck me, so I followed through on that feeling. Writing and sharing something of this nature has been years in the making, and of course, this post is just a scratching of the surface of my feelings about such a defining event in my life.
One of my favourite songs in the world is Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” which I lean on whenever I feel I need perspective. I bought a ticket to see Cat Stevens live on November 16th here in Paris. Eee! My fingers are crossed that he’ll play this song, but I won’t feel cheated if he doesn’t. I’m working on not staying attached to any one outcome, after all. 😉
“But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got,
For you will still be here tomorrow,
But your dreams may not.”
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Unrelated weekly updates:
–My mom was here until Thursday this week, and I was really thankful to be able to share experiences with her in Paris. I love her. 🙂 At the same time, having her here was a bit tiring/ bad for my schoolwork, i.e. going out every night after school, and speaking in English the majority of my time. I’m going to do my best to focus on français this week.
–My class went to go see a play on Thursday night, called « On ne badine pas avec l’amour » translated in English as, “One does not trifle with love.” I’m being made to consider ideas on life and love on a daily basis, and important lessons are coming my heart’s way these days. Expect a related post soon.
–I caught a bit of a cold this week, so I decided to just stay in on Saturday and Sunday. It was the right choice. I’m feeling better now, and ready to take on another week. This Wednesday marks one month I’ve been in Paree. Ooh la la!
–I’m going to implement a no pastries after 10 p.m. rule, at least on nights when I have school the next day. I woke up at about 5 a.m. feeling sick, after an unpleasant dream. All of this, curiously after I’d eaten a raspberry millefeuille just after 10 p.m. This is not the first time bad sleep and pastry consumption have coincided for me during this trip.