Today would have been my father’s 60th birthday. I say would have been because my father died in early February, 1993, at 43 years old. So today marks not only 60 years since he was born, but also the point at which I have lived for as long without him in my life as I did with him.
I did not have an easy relationship with my dad. In many ways he never really grew up himself, and I think he struggled to parent someone else. At one moment he would be really easy-going, laid back and fun, and at the next he would be angry and unyielding. He had demons, and in spite of all of his best efforts he never fully exorcised them.
My parents separated in 1988, and divorced a few years later. Following the separation I didn’t see much of my father. I was a teenager, and hardly all that easy to get along with myself. In the way that teenage girls are wont to do I cast my dad as the bad guy in all of my internal dramas. I was 16 when he died, alone. My grandparents found him some days later. I can’t recall the last time I saw him, it was many months before he died at minimum. Our only contact was over the phone, and usually the calls weren’t pleasant or friendly.
But that is not the whole story. The other side of the story is that my dad was friendly and talented. People who met him liked him for his unconventionality. All of the other kids thought that he was cool with his brightly-coloured, mis-matched Converse sneakers and his Hawaiian shirts. He was a self-taught goldsmith who made the most amazing jewelry in the studio at the back of our house. He was an entrepreneur and an acclaimed artist and artisan, and he cared the world for my sister and I, even if he didn’t always know how to show it.
I made my peace with my father, or at least my father’s memory, more than 15 years ago. I accepted that things likely would never have been easy for us. He would never be the dad I wanted him to be. That’s the nature of life – you play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it. I think that I have managed to do that, for the most part. My dad helped me to become the person that I am today, and I’m grateful for that. Sometimes the best things come out of the hard parts of life, which is what makes it all worthwhile. The struggle is what refines and focuses us, and makes us strong.
I learned a lot of things from my dad. He taught me about rocks and nature and music from the early 1970s. He taught me who I am, and more importantly sometimes, who I am not. Because of him I learned that I am responsible only for my own actions, and I cannot control the outcome of every situation. And I learned about loss and grief, in a way that I hope my own children will not have to. Because I plan to see my 44th (and, for that matter, my 84th) birthday.
Today I am wearing an old brown sweater that I took from my dad’s house after he died. And I am remembering the man who is responsible for my very existence with mixed emotions. I think that’s OK. Real life is not as simple and tidy as we would like it to be, and so memories aren’t, either. I have made my peace with that, too.
Happy birthday, Dad.