On my resume it says I’m a fast learner. Quick study, that’s me. Show me a couple of times, leave me to it, and I’ll pick it up. And so I ask myself, why then, did it take me so long to learn about Dad and me?
When Dad got sick I looked upon the time we had left as an opportunity to get ourselves on the right track. We were going to repair what had gone wrong. In my head, I called it, The Big Fix. It’s was a bright and sparkling notion that I had control over and we were going to this Hollywood-style, big-budget, matinee-special of Getting It Right,
My parents live in Launceston and I live in Melbourne, it’s a fifty-minute flight over a thundering strait, but I’d come down every couple of months and hang out. I’d fix it with my presence and my care, with my patience and willingness, and Dad would fix it by appreciating my point of view.
What was wrong with us?
Bloody good question. Less than a week since Dad’s funeral it’s difficult to remember what my issues were.
That phrase is key. What my issues were.
In September, Dad, Mum and me did a Tasmania road trip. We hired a car, and headed east from the airport. Dad was sick, he’d lost weight, he needed to sleep a lot, but he was mobile, and talkative, so the driving was a lesson in local history, and old time history, and it was a lesson in what wasn’t wrong with us.
While I was driving those backcountry roads I realized Dad didn’t think anything needed fixing. That the rebuild I had aimed for was mine.
Helping dad out of the car, cooking for him, taking his arm as he negotiated steps, a curb, a doorway, it became to time to let go.
Why did it take me so long to come to this understanding?
Because sometimes I’m not a quick learner.
On my resume it says I’m open-minded.
Yet, I occasionally bring baggage to the classroom. I bring what happened last week, last year, last decade, and pile it in towering stacks all over tables, and chairs, and windowsills. Can’t see past them, can hardly hear. It’s hard to be unbiased when you’re reading from your book of past pains.
I didn’t think he was proud of me.
I didn’t think he loved me enough.
I envied the love he had for my mother. It’s true.
I had tried to let it go, actively, through thinking and reading and counseling. But the hurt kept its stiff handfuls with depression and anxiety and a tragic filter of it’s all about me. There’s a tension in letting it go and forgiveness and facing up. How do you make yourself right with aspects of your past, if to forgive is to forget? It can feel like to let it go means that it wasn’t much to begin with, thus, I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready.
Then a magic happened.
After the realisation that Dad thought our relationship was what it should be, and the first hospital visit this year everything fell away. All hurt, recrimination, he should have, he, he, he, left. I held his hand, even his fingers had lost weight, I’d kissed his hot, hairless head, I’d shaved his beautiful face, and felt none of the past. It seemed to lift from my body and brain and give me freedom to begin again.
We were two humans in the world. Suddenly I loved this human for everything, for all of it, I didn’t apply judgment – good, bad, right, wrong – we were two people, one on his slow way out, because cancer is the darkest promise, and me, finally, at last, seeing my Dad for the first time. He owed me nothing. And if I owed Dad it was to get the point where I owed him nothing.
On my resume it says that I’m never late, in fact, I call myself pre-punctual. I get my punctuality from Dad. I am always early, I always have something to read, I always take the bus before the bus that’s the bus before the one I need.
But I was way late to this realisation.
Still, as the other half of the population says, better late than never.
I love you, Dad. And thanks.
Dad sleeping with TV on loud and his beloved remote by his side.