I can’t remember celebrating Father’s Day all that much growing up. Although I do recall standing on my tiptoes to assist my siblings with bland scrambled eggs on toast (which he would proceed to cover in a thick layer of salt) and making cards with crayon drawings, glitter and pipe cleaners, it was never the all-singing, all-dancing affair it is for so many these days.
That said, I have one notable Father’s Day memory. It was a particularly balmy summer’s day, and I had presented him with a CD of The Seekers’ greatest hits – his cassette had mysteriously disappeared after a long car journey across the length of France, when it was played on repeat. Keen to test it out, we got into the car, just the two of us, and headed for a “spin” in the countryside – windows down, my gangly legs up on the dashboard. And we both sang along to the ever-familiar tunes that had been the soundtrack to my childhood.
My dad passed away six years ago. And although his health had been an issue on and off for some years, and I spent a big portion of my adolescence riding in the back of ambulances, this final diagnosis was a massive blow – and one that took effect rapidly.
As anyone who has lost a parent – or, indeed, anyone close to them – will know, you are sucked into a sort of parallel universe where the basic principles are the same, but everything is slightly distorted and the atmosphere has changed. Those on the other side of it then feel the need to ply you with unhelpful comments, usually starting with “at least...” – comments that serve only to heighten your sense of alienation because they trivialise your grief.
For a long time afterwards, it was hard to shake the bad images. To this day, I can smell the earthy scent of soil as my mum scrubbed my boots at the sink after the funeral; I can remember the icy temperatures in the hospital ward and the final few moments I had with him. And what scared me was that I was losing my grip on the positives I was so desperately trying to hold on to. I didn’t want to just think about him in relation to The End. I wanted to remember the many, many years of joy, love and kinship he provided me.
In a way, he was my first love, the incredibly high benchmark against which I compare everyone else. He was also my first true experience of heartbreak. Unlike my friends nursing their wounded feelings after ending things with their boyfriends and girlfriends, this break-up was monumental, permanent and not initiated by either party. It wasn’t just that he was no longer in my life; he was no longer in existence. I didn’t get a say in the matter.
But worse still is that even when the waters become less choppy and the pain starts to fuzz around the edges, you stand to lose more as time progresses. Even when the positive images overtake the negatives again, over time they start to erode completely. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to conjure up the outline of his face, the timbre of his voice or his odd little mannerisms, I can feel the details slipping away. It’s like looking through a camera lens and the focus being off.
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All I have in the way of physical reminders is a bunch of overly saturated photos I took when Instagram had just launched, a few emails we sent each other while I was at uni, and a five-second clip of his voice. That’s it.
Of course, what I would really like is to have him back here with me, to receive a tight hug and his unparalleled advice on my down days, and to exchange knowing smiles at the dinner table once more. But in lieu of that, I’d take the next best thing – I’d have more photos, more documentation of our time together and more snapshots that capture his unique character and sense of humour.
If you still have a dad and he’s part of your life, my advice would be this: be sure not only to cherish the moments in real time, but also keep some kind of note. Because you never know when it’ll be taken away and when the image of him will begin to fade in your mind.