My dream house settled on the last day of autumn. My father died the next day, the first day of winter. Both events were three months, and a lifetime, in the making. From first viewing and the stroke that left my father in hospital needing 24-hour care.
I met my father only three times, but his shadow fell large over my life. The trio of meetings were all traumatic, deepening my hurt of not growing up with a dad. I was 12, 14 and 19 years of age. I’m 50 now. He lived in one house in Adelaide all those years. I didn’t go back and he never left.
But despite the pain, layers of hurt wrapped up in anger, I held him in my heart. I have those secret places, with each special person taking up their allocated space like a neat little suitcase on a journey. Dad and I shared a love of music. His favourite singer was Bob Dylan. Like a rolling stone. He loved Neil Young too. He told me Shivers by Nick Cave’s first band The Birthday Party reminded him of me. Why… because I’m so vain, I’m almost a mirror? Maybe it was actually the sound of my name, I reflect.
It was a long autumn of waiting. A hearing about his care, where I heard his voice for the first time in many years. A video call, where I saw his face after 31 years. He looked the same, just older. Better than I imagined. He was eating chocolate and smiling, and seemed to know who I was. I regret not saying ‘I love you’, but I would have wanted him to say it back. The only words he had left were yes and no. We planned another call. He went into intensive care a few days later and never spoke again.
Everything keeps on moving, like a blur, as if nothing has changed. But his death is a quiet pause in the noise. I see it from the corner of my mind’s eye. It’s like a large ice bubble frozen in time. It reflects the light like rays of summer, and he is inside. It is silent, peaceful, pretty. I can observe it, investigate it, or look away.
The day after he died I moved into my new home. The day after that I celebrated 16 years of sobriety. My father was sober for a decade, but picked up booze again after he inherited some money. Birth, death and rebirth. Thankfully grief is a multi-tasking emotion. I take my time to ponder while I unpack precious boxes. My new house feels warm, safe and peaceful. It feels like home.
We were estranged for much of my life. But it was punctuated by many months of phone conversations, both drunken tirades and gentle amends. When he first went into hospital, I contemplated going to see him. But everything had been said already. Yes and no were the only words left.
My neck has hurt for three months. What are you not letting go of, the masseuse asked me. Everything? Just let it go, breathe out. I forgive you Dad, I repeat in my mind. I forgive you for not being the father I wanted and needed. I forgive you for everything, for it all, for every moment.
But if we choose our parents, as some say we do, what’s his gift for me? A greater appreciation for my mother, long-term sobriety, a drive to grow and change and dream. To be an alchemist and transform trauma into creativity. Like a pheonix rising from the ashes, his death is my new life beginning.
How does it feel to be on your own, with your direction home, to be completely known? It feels like freedom, Bob.