Would it surprise you, hurt you, or appal you that sometimes I let people believe that you are dead? Or would it grieve you to know that every day you die a little bit more to me? I have already learnt to mourn you. It is selfish and easy for me to pretend you are dead. Implicit in your death lies the comforting absence of choice, yet explicit in your living moments is the active, conscious choice, the choice of absence. In your death, you are the father I never had, the hero gone too soon. In life you are unfamiliar, a man unknown and no father to me. I take fleeting comfort in the pretence, I am not a liar and my deceit upsets me because it makes me feel that I am no better you. And dear father, the one thing I have learnt from you, is that I am much, much better than you.
To soothe my anguish as a child, well-meaning relatives would tell me to forgive you, they would tell me how you cared for me, but a child cannot be fed from a diet of disappointment and lies. A child fed from such a diet hungers for the innocence it’s lost. A child cannot will the presence of her father when she feels his absence so abjectly. I was always searching for you, first in the obvious places. I thought that if I did better at school you’d show up, I thought that if swam faster than everyone else, you’d show up. I thought that if I could be better, you’d show up. In looking for you I learned to hate myself, in looking for you I learned that hope is deceit. In looking for you I learnt rejection, far worse than the rejection that came naturally to you, I learned to reject myself. Unlovable and unwanted, it was hard lesson, not easily unlearned. The world was your stage, wasn’t it father? You rehearsed the role of the broken man, you built the façade of the victim, maybe it made you sleep better at night. But a child, your child, never understood that, because you never acted for her, you couldn’t even practice the role of a father for her.
It is unkind to the absent fathers of the world to lump you with them, for you were not merely absent, you did not exist in my life. What a wonderful, artful creation; your nonexistence. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve imagined you, I wonder how it is possible to feel your nothingness so abjectly. As a teenager when I wept in front of you, my tears were real, the pain of not knowing you, of your daily rejection, was real. I sat facing you, my insides laid bare. Salty tears, the clawing inside my chest met your platitudes and promises. I want to say that you broke me but I can’t give a man I barely know that kind of credit. But you did come awfully close, I can admit that much. I can admit that you shaped me, that not knowing you shaped the woman I am today. I can admit that I’ve wanted to give you up, give up my search for you but that it scared me. I can admit that maybe I was confused at who I would be without the “daddy issues”, so much of who I am, so much of the things I am proud of stem from your absence in my life.
Thoughts of you are heavy, they weigh me down, they stir in me an unhappiness and dread but I often sought pleasure in the misery you had created. I sought pleasure at being wronged. There is such hedonism in playing the victim, I can almost understand your compulsion with the role. I tried to simply remove you from my life but the sharp end of a knife dulled before I could adequately unfather myself. Had I known which parts of me were you, I could have removed them with ease but I couldn’t choose the path that you had set out for me. I could not just forget you.
I cannot deny that I wanted to know you and that more so, I wanted you to know me. Maybe I’ll never stop wanting that. But now in that wanting there is something odd, something new for me. In that wanting lies a lightness, almost as though you have given me a gift. I don’t want to take away from your gift and say that it is unintentional, it could not be. You have acted with intent my entire life, so you must have intended the gift for me. Just as you created me, you created the gift of your absence and I am sad that I have only seen this so late. I am sad that I was a child caught up trying to heal the hurt that would never heal. Because, dear father, I am no longer that child. Because dear father, I am a woman and I am a woman that you created. Thank you for your gift.