tw: this does allude to cancer and death, so if that’s not your cup of tea, here’s your heads-up.
Today is Father’s Day, and it’s the second one without you here.
Honestly, I always thought the first one would be the most difficult, because it’s so fresh and raw and you’d only been gone for eight months then. Back then there was an element of it not being real, you see. I could simply kid myself into thinking that you had visited somewhere, or we just didn’t see each other. But you were still somewhat present.
Now, a year on, I know you’re gone. I’ve felt it. There’s no more waiting for a text on a Wednesday, glancing at my phone and being disappointed that the only thing I’m greeted with is emails. It still happens from time to time, though. It’s just not as frequent.
I’ve sort of accepted it now.
Although there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about you. Or do something and think you would be proud or you’d laugh and make a dry comment. Sometimes all I have to do is look in the mirror and you’re there looking back at me.
We have the same eyes, right? Just about anyway.
If I’m going to be honest, this year has been something else. I’ve bought birthday cards for both parents and only given them to one. I’ve been inundated with hundreds of marketed emails telling me ‘have you got your fantastic Dad his gift yet?’ and knowing there’s no one to give it to.
I’ve also done some pretty brilliant things in that timespan (if I don’t say so myself) and gone to pick up the phone to remember there is no number to call. And no one on the end of the line to tell. There’s the unfinished Facebook conversation that has a dead text box, reminding me that I ‘cannot reply to this message.’
Instead I’m finding you in other ways. I always panicked when you were dying that I’d forget things about you, so I scrutinised every detail of your face. Pestered you with questions like ‘what’s your favourite colour, favourite author, favourite song?’ I can’t actually remember the answers to those questions any more. The time that’s passed between your passing has felt like an age, and I feel like I’ve aged too. Aged so much from the time you actually knew me.
I get quite sad about that.
But I hear you when I listen to The Smiths, God Only Knows and your interesting (somewhat cringey) taste in rap music. I am brought memories of you when I watch Idiot Abroad, Laurel and Hardy, The Shining. I look at you on our old home videos, and see parts of you I’d forgotten. Mum brings out photographs and tells me about the you from a time before me, and I laugh. We both do.
‘Doesn’t she look lovely, Mike?’ Says Mum, commenting on my dress in one memory.
‘She’d look lovely dressed as a fishfinger.’ You reply.
And strangely enough, fifteen years on from that moment that I’d never heard before, I’m flattered.
I think, towards the middle of my life we both got lost from each other a little bit. I saw you, and you saw me, but we never seemed to meet in the middle. Admittedly a lot had changed, but suddenly you had drifted away from me and slipped through my fingers. We saw each other, but not for who we really were anymore. I mourned that.
And then you got ill, and I began mourning you long before you’d gone.
I grieved for four years about the life we wouldn’t have. I probably idealised a great deal of it, because who knows how things would be now if you were still here and things were the same. I spent four years imagining what it would be like when you passed. What it would feel like. Even how it would happen.
None of my thoughts held a candle to what it really feels like, you know.
In the time before you died, I got glimpses of the you I had missed. The one who didn’t have as many barriers.
You were angry, terrified and vulnerable. Understandably. But underneath all that, in those moments when I got to lie next to you after you’d had a ‘powernap’, or chat to you in the car on the way back to Mums was you.
After you remarried you didn’t talk about my childhood really. It was almost
‘unmentionable’ in your new life. But one day, out of the blue, you told me you remembered our first holiday as a family and how I’d fallen asleep in the dingy on the beach in Ibiza. You said how small I had looked, with this wistful-looking smile on your face. Chemotherapy had taken a lot of your memory away (you called it ‘chemo-brain’) – but this delicate memory, from thirteen years ago had miraculously stuck.
And honest to God, I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.
I cling to my last ‘real’ memory of you. The one the week before you went into hospital for the last time. We’d listened to the new BBC Music’s cover of God Only Knows, and you’d made a pithy comment about Jake Bugg being restricted to the ‘La, la, la’ section. You asked what I had on at college next week. Made sure I’d hand in my essays. Then we pulled up and I started crying.
Back then, it was because the atmosphere felt very soft but… very final. We hugged, and I noted how you hadn’t shaved again when your scruff brushed my cheek. You felt my tears. We both didn’t mention it, but we hugged for a lot longer than usual.
I got out of the car. Before I shut it, you’d leaned over and quoted Bill and Ted.
‘I will. I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
You drove off, and waved at me through the window.
Your memory to me now is seen through a slight blur. Some bits of you I can’t remember, which breaks my heart. I struggle to recall how you were before you got ill, for example. But it’s there. Your presence is always here. I’d like to think you’re seeing all of this, but I can’t be sure. Questioning the whole thing too much hurts my head.
Basically, know that I’m fine. Know that we all are. I’ve just finished my first year of Journalism at University, and I’m finding my feet. I’m still with the boy I told you I was going on a first date with. You would have liked him. I’m moving in with a bunch of great people next year, and I like all of them (so I won’t need to grow cress in anyone’s bed, like you did. Terrible.)
I am happy. The happiest I’ve been in years, actually. You don’t need to worry.
I miss you so much. More than this typed text can express. It has softened from a stab to a dull ache that flares on certain dates. I think I can accept that.
And finally, I love you. Always have, always will.
Happy Father’s Day, to my wonderful and brave Dad. I hope you have a great day.