Originally written on April 6th, 2012
My first memory of my father is of fear. That’s not something most people say of parents, especially of fathers. A father is meant to be a protector; to be strong. He’s meant to be a foundation on which can stand the edifice of the family. It’s unfair to say that my father was not these things, because in a very real way, he was every one of those and more. I was two years old when he left us, and it was maybe the hardest thing that he could have done. At the time, we lived in South America, and he had moved to Canada alone to establish a home for us. He wanted better opportunities for me and for my sister than could have been found where we lived. So it amounts to this: he gave up his family for his family.
Fear. My father moved when I was two years old, and he was only able to afford to come back to visit us once between the time he left and the time that we were able to join him. I was young enough when he left that I did not remember him at all when he appeared at our house in Guyana, and for a time I refused to be held by him or to approach him. It took me a long time to realize how much that must have hurt him, and in a way, it might have defined our relationship for many, many years thereafter. To me, my father never seemed approachable. Although I loved him, I was always much closer to my mother. My sister, having had the advantage of a more functional memory, was the opposite – closer to father than mother, but enough like him to make their relationship one of extremes.
So, my father always seemed like a stern man to me. There weren’t many hugs, but there were enough. And I remember my father being strong when we were young – strong enough to balance one of us kids on each hand to give us airplane rides for what seemed like forever. He was strong in the way an old, weathered oak was strong. You never believed that anything could touch that kind of power. But that’s what my father was for me. There was always love, even when it seemed as though we lived separate lives in the same home. I say that he was stern, but there is one thing about him that I will always carry with me, and it’s something that I can hear even now. He had, without question, the best laugh in the world. Everyone always knew when my father was amused, and I mean everyone. Every kid is easily embarrassed by their parents, and I was no exception when it came to that laugh and to being out in public … but I eventually grew up enough to realize that it was a unique part of him and that it made him exciting, not embarrassing to be around.
Our relationship got better, as is often the case, when I grew up a little bit. And maybe part of it was because of the fact that we spent less time in each other’s company. We learned to cherish the times that we spent together rather than doing what we did when we lived in the same house, which was somewhat akin to stalking around each other like two wolves in the same forest. We still were not terribly close, but we were able to enjoy being together. We talked more, and we laughed together more often than we ever had. I missed him when he retired to Florida, but we enjoyed meeting for lunches or dinners when he came back for visits. Or he’d stay with us, even though where we lived was often too far away from where he really wanted to be. It took so, so many years to get from fear to where our relationship should have been in the first place, but now … now …
It’s almost never a good thing when there’s a message from a medical examiner’s office on your answering machine. That was the call I got from my sister that afternoon. The Palm Beach M.E. called her, and they didn’t leave a message. I knew then. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it. In fact, I absolutely refused to let myself dwell on what I knew was true. But I knew. I already knew. When I called my Dad’s cell phone and got no answer, I knew. But I refused to believe it. No-one wants to believe this kind of news until they have to. But now I have to. The second call from my sister was the one … well, it’s the call you’re never prepared for. My poor sister was so, so shattered. And now we have to figure out how to move on from here.
My father’s remains were found in his home on April 4th, 2012, after his boss called the police to do a well-check at his home. He’d failed to show up for work on the 3rd, and he’d recently come up to Canada for a check-up and to do some preparation for a procedure to address some heart issues that had developed recently. I had seen him about three weeks before he died. I’d asked him to come to the house for dinner, and we’d enjoyed a pleasant evening with my entire family. I walked him out to the car without ever dreaming that watching him pull out of the driveway would be the last time I ever got to see him face to face. I was lucky to have had him in my life for 44 years. My only regret is that I never got a chance to say a proper goodbye.
I love you, Dad. I already miss you. I hope that you were happy when you died, and I hope that you died without pain and with dignity. I’m proud to have had you for my father.