Part 2, When your father teaches you about yourself, the lessons you learn, the regrets you both feel, and the pieces of him that continue to live on.
This is PART 2 of a beautifully eloquent piece of writing by JoAnna (writing from New York). You can read the first half here: In the Absence of Your Father (Part 1: Lessons from Dad).
IV – Nerved (love)
In your twenties—separated by oceans and mountain ranges—is when your father will impart the importance of softness, and why pliability is a gift. Like all other lessons this is a doozy, as you had to be patient since the truth was hidden behind all the things he never said.
The calls came every Sunday because, towards the end, he spent more time wheezing in bed than watching the horses barrel down the track. Without fail, your mobile buzzed, or your landline rang, or the gloopy, underwater tone of Skype alerted you to his incoming call.
And when you picked up his melodic accent was clear as crystal, despite traveling thousands of kilometres via underwater cables to the places you were momentarily grounded. Aalborg. Bangkok. Hanoi. Yangon. Kigali. Berlin. Prague. Copenhagen.
Your time zone didn’t matter on any given Sunday. The exact coordinates never mattered to him. For two years you scheduled nothing on those afternoons because your father went on and on and on, seemingly enjoying the sound of his own voice. He had stories he liked to retell. He had thoughts he wanted to share. But one Sunday after multiple dropped calls (the connection was always the worst in Hanoi) you figured out he talks himself hoarse because he wants to glean as much from you as he can. He experiences the world anew by hearing how you move through it. Keeping you on the line is his way of seeking forgiveness.
It is how he channels everything unspoken.
It is the only way he knows how to say that he loves you.
V – Dead track (excused)
It becomes apparent when you soar over London—en route to meet your brothers to make necessary arrangements for a man you barely knew—that some men are not meant to be fathers. Being a parent is neither a right nor intrinsic fact. Or at least it wasn’t for your father and his father and, possibly, all the fathers who came before that.
There is a lot to take care of when you land in Toronto, so you clamp the lid tightly on your bubbling pot and go numb in the face of every last thought and feel. You liaise with the funeral director, picking out an urn no one wants to carry and pay for the whole ordeal. You clean out his house and throw away his possessions, save for a mask and sketch of a split-level house in the United States. Like the others, you don’t consider possible regrets until one surfaces, much later, to blindside you. The wish of having seen his body before it turned to cinder.
You should have glimpsed his face before it went up in smoke.
And although you suspect it would have been one of the hardest things to do, it may have put you on the path to deliverance sooner. Bearing witness adds a layer of permanence.
At the least, it would have made it harder for your mind to play tricks on you.
VI – Stretch turn
The years pass and you ask questions about your father, and the answers make you think you know more about him than you actually do. In reality, you have a better understanding of your colleagues, local barista, language teacher, and doorman. The island man with mahogany skin and Mona Lisa smile will always be an enigma to you.
This explains why you lean towards nostalgia—a melancholy that ebbs and flows for the father you wish you had. The father he should have been. But if there’s one thing he taught you that never lost its value, it is that everything becomes softer with time. Bending is an art. We are all malleable. Getting on with this life involves the giving up of things and shedding of skin.
And so you do your best to stop looking for answers that will never plug the puncture wounds of your heart. You stop searching for him in the streets of Brooklyn. Your father has gone, baby. He is gone. Instead, you file away the knowledge he gave you and find salvation in the smallest of lessons like,
- The things we need to carry—and eventually part with—travel in perfect circles.
- Grieving isn’t linear when it involves someone who was an apparition throughout most of your life.
- Trauma covers distance because it is generational.
- You have his knack for storytelling and eye for detail.
You know what else you will hold onto? Knowing that he loved a tailored jacket and good fedora just as much as you. It is no wonder ‘jaunt’ is your natural preference—more than ‘sexy’ ever could be. So whenever you believe you belong solely to your mother, child, think twice.
You have always been your father’s daughter, through and through.