My Dad died six and a half years ago. I find it difficult to talk about him, but not for the reasons I expected to. It’s not getting overwhelmed with sadness that bothers me – sadness is what happens when you love someone and they die. What stops me is possessiveness: the memories I have of him are something precious that I don’t want to share. I don’t want to risk giving up control of what I have left of Dad, to risk exposing memories of him to judgement or misunderstanding. How could I ever give a complete picture of him? I couldn’t, and to give an incomplete one feels like disloyalty.
When someone dies, people often ask their relatives what the dead person might think or how they would want you to act. But the same part of me that resists sharing my memories resists speculating about what Dad would think. It also resists talking to him or writing to him or any of the other things you’re told will help you with grief. I’m not interested in pretending he’s still here. He isn’t. What hurts so much is that there are so many things I don’t get to talk to him about. I want to ask him how to find a way to live in the age of Brexit, Trump and austerity. I want to ask him how I stay hopeful in a city where poor people are left to burn in the country’s richest borough. I want to ask him how to direct my action and what I am fighting for – there is so much I don’t know, so much that should be different, and I am so tired. Trying to have those conversations with his memory feels like denying he’s really dead, and I need to face his absence head-on. No answer I could imagine up from my memories would be his answer.
But I’m torn: my Dad’s Dad died long before I was born, and I know almost nothing about him, because nobody talked about him. My Grandmother wrote memoirs, but only up to the time she was widowed. I don’t want everything my Dad was to disappear. I’ve met people during my time in the mental health system whose Dads were never there, or for whom their presence only ever brought fear. I had a Dad I loved and trusted, and who loved me, for 19 years. I was so lucky. What he was should not evaporate. So I find myself caught between these opposite ways of grieving, and angry that wrestling with this is my problem. Representing my Dad accurately is a responsibility I should not have. He should be here to represent himself.
Father’s Day more or less passed us by when Dad was alive – he was a journalist, and worked Sundays to prepare Monday’s paper. But this weekend I’m trying to do things that will give me the energy to live with his absence. If Father’s Day is a day when you grieve – for a Dad who died, or who left, or who wasn’t who you needed him to be – I hope you can do the same.