This man is a part of my life. Even when he’s not physically here, he’s here. We have a special relationship that transcends all logic and matter. This man is my hero, but he is also my destroyer. This man makes me strong, but he can also be my weakness. This man knows how to hurt me, and I him, and along the way, we have both hurt each other and ourselves along with the other. This man makes me want to fly, but he can also bring me crashing to the ground. There is no separating this man and me. I call this man Papa.
This is not a good story, or a bad story, it is just our story.
It is the age old story of fathers and daughters, and how sometimes fathers don’t realise the effect they have on their daughters.
It is the story of my father and I.
This is part of the story that has made me who I am.
We’re too alike, but also very different. When we fight, it’s like a big explosion, and when we’re good, it’s like we’re in a bubble, just him and me. He can make me glow like no other, but he can also make me cry like no other. He was always the more affectionate parent, and in my late teens, he’d still walk down the street with an arm around my shoulder, and I’d still sit in his lap. When I think of him, he is always the life of the party. He is the kind of man who draws attention to him, and in fact thrives on that attention. One of my earlier memories is of a party at our family home, with his friends all over the place, and that big abomination of a beer tap bar thing that he had. We always had so much beer!
Just before I turned 7, life got really complicated. So began the years and years when my father would be there a moment, and gone the next. So began the years, when my mother came undone. But, as I told a friend, you have to grow up some time, and 7 is as good an age as any. It was a whirlwind. For long stretches I wouldn’t see him as he was busy with his life and then when it suited him, he would show up, and I would light up. For the longest time, I felt that he was the colour of my world and when he was gone, everything was grey. I remember bits and pieces. It was a difficult time which I remember in bits. One of the things that stood out from that time was bumping into him at a chemist with my very pregnant stepmother. That was how I knew I was going to be a sister.
That was when I realised that I was no longer a part of his family.
I was confused.
I had gone from being his princess to the person who looked in on the life that he had built. My stepmother wanted no part of me in it and he didn’t really try to give me a place in that life either. For years this was the story. He would be away when he was happy and he would come back when things didn’t go right, when he was sick, when he was jobless, when his marriage fell apart. He came like a force of nature, uprooting us from the routine we built, then he was gone, and we had to build our lives all over again.
On my 21st birthday, I found out (from my grandmother) that he had another family in Indonesia that he had not told me about and the anger that I had built for 16 years took over. I stopped taking his calls, refused to see him, and didn’t talk to him. It was not that I had stopped loving him. My love for him lived through the anger and pain, but I needed time to heal. I needed time to find myself in a place where I was not constantly waiting. Waiting for him to come home and then waiting for him to leave. I got engaged, I broke it off, moved to another country and still I didn’t feel that I was strong enough to speak to him without letting him take over my life all over again.
The year I turned 30, I called him. We spoke, we cried and without even having to try, we became father and daughter again. He sent me photos of another family that I was not part of. At least this time I was allowed some part of my brother’s life, even if only by phone. In the last couple of years, we spoke as often as we could considering the distance. When my grandmother passed, I was in my way, part of the grieving and papa spoke to my mother when he went back for the funeral. His main concern apparently, was how after all the years in university I had decided to become a yoga teacher and event manager. He didn’t understand it, but he was supportive anyway.
My baby brother knows a different man than the one I knew growing up. He might not realise this now, but among all of papa’s children, he was the one who had him around for the longest time. He didn’t know the papa who used to dance and sing along with Dan Hill. He didn’t know the papa who would walk into any restaurant and charm the waitresses with his sense of humour or the papa who loved the fast life in a casino. He never knew papa when he was wearing suits and standing in the limelight.
The relationship between a father and a daughter is so very special. Even after 10 years of no contact, it didn’t take very much for us to fix ours. A father makes all the difference, either by being present or absent. For a long time, I would love unavailable men because that was what I thought love was like. Me, waiting, always waiting for him to part the clouds and shine his light on me for but a little while, and to that girl I was, that tiny bit of light would illuminate my life for days. He might have had moments where he thought I didn’t love him enough. The truth was that I loved him so much that at times I felt that it was only when he shone his light on me that I existed. I lost my center with him because when he was around, he was my center.
On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away.
All the things we had talked about in the last few years will never happen. He won’t ever visit me or eat my cooking again. We will not hug, hold hands, or watch stupid comedies together again. His lame dad jokes are gone forever. He won’t give me away in marriage and if I ever have children, the only thing they will know about their grandfather is from the stories I will tell them.
My father, born in the year of the dragon, left us in the year of the dragon.
He had faults and he had virtues. He was my father, but he was also just a man. He made me laugh and he made me cry. He was the one with the romantic gestures, who would send flowers for birthdays and wouldn’t be embarrassed by public displays of affection. He would text or call just to say, “I love you,” and he might never have known it, but it made all the difference to me knowing that even though he didn’t understand why I chose this path in life, he loved me anyway. He was my hero even when he was sitting around in his sarong a singlet. There were good times and there were tough times. There were times when I’d think he wasn’t listening and I’d ramble on, only to find later that he’d leaked the information to my mum, the time I got (yet another) piercing while on his watch and my mum was angry at him for months, our little singalongs, the little jokes we share. Every time I hear Deep Purple’s, Soldier of Fortune I think of him.
At the end, I hope he knew that he was loved and that he will be remembered.
And the last thing I said to him?
Well, I said what I always said at the end of our conversations, “I love you papa,” and he said, “I love you too girl.”