27 January 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the death my father.
I found myself counting down the days, as the 27th approached. 20 years felt significant. I was going to write a blog on the day sharing some reflections on my relationship with him. But when the day finally came, I found that whilst I do experience writing as deeply cathartic and healing, on this occasion it was potentially going to be a way for me to escape from the emotions that were coming up. And so, writing about it faded into the background.
I was having lunch with a dear friend last week, our conversation soon led to us talking about our parents. I mentioned the 20th anniversary. I told my friend that what really struck me was how much I have changed over the past 20 years, and that the 26-year-old that I was when my father died is a distant memory. If I had changed so much over the years, then my father would have certainly done the same, had he still been alive.
It is impossible for me to accurately imagine what my father would be like had he still been here, or what the nature of our relationship would be like. It often feels like he is frozen in time, whenever I think about him. And it feels unfair to both of us to apply the eyes of yesterday to our relationship of today; albeit a non-physical relationship!
As the past 20 years have unfolded, I have come to see my father through the lenses of three chapters – childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
I find that the memories of the childhood chapter are distorted. You see many of the memories are not my own, but stories told to me by others, that somewhere along the way now feel like my own. I have many photographs from this chapter of our relationship, with very few showing my father and myself together. A few years ago my foster mum mentioned in passing that my father had loved taking pictures. She said that the reason he appeared in only a few of the photographs is because he was behind the camera. The thought had never crossed my mind. This chapter is filled with moments of laughter, curiosity, abandonment and yearning.
The adolescence chapter lasted well past my adolescence – I was without a doubt still in the delayed pages of this chapter when he died. The chapter began with a distance starting to emerge between my father and myself. When I look back it seems like I started to recognise that I was different from other boys. I did not have a word or expression for ‘gay’, but that’s what it was. My father started treating me differently from how he treated my male cousins and I interpreted that as ‘there is something wrong with me’ and ‘I am unloved’. By the time I knew for sure that I was gay, I felt I could not tell him my truth, for that would be the straw that broke the camels back. Towards the end of his life, my father was more engaging with me, but I was unwilling (=unable=afraid) to let him in. The gulf between us was so wide that I was afraid I’d fall in and he would not be there to catch me. In this chapter I felt tons of anger, blame and judgement. I also did a lot of denial, repression and numbing.
The adulthood chapter is certainly the current chapter. I do not remember when it began and I have no idea when it will end. Through the pages of this chapter, I am able to look back and make sense of the past. I am able to see my father through the lens of a fellow life traveler who had his own emotional stuff to handle – his own demons to confront and his own wounds to heal. Through this chapter I am able to look back with compassion, love and forgiveness.
In an earlier post, I recounted the tale of Lot’s wife. I shared this tale at an event recently, and one of the listeners said that perhaps ‘salt’ symbolised ‘tears of melancholy’. He said that in looking back, perhaps Lot’s wife cried and those tears followed her for the rest of her days. I cannot help but think of Lot’s wife as I reflect on my father & I. There have been moments when I feel I am going to be consumed by the salt, as I get lost in the first two chapters of my recollection of him. And then I remember this Cherokee wisdom, which says
It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes
And so the journey and chapter continues…….