Monday, February 28, 2005

Dear Dad

I have come across a lot of stories recently about people losing loved ones, and a common theme is that there are things they wish they'd said, but now it's too late.

I was thinking about this today as I was cycling along, and I remembered something I wish I'd said to my dad while he was still alive. I don't know why this particular incident came to mind, and I did say something at the time, and quite loudly if I remember rightly. But I never asked the really important question.

So here it is. An open letter to my dad.

Dear Dad,

I know you're dead, but there's something I want to ask you. It's about something that happened when I was about 12. Well, it's about several things, really, but this is the one incident that sticks in my mind.

I'd got into the truck, ready to go down to the farm, and you casually tossed (yes, TOSSED) a brown paper package at me. "Hold this," you said.

(What were you THINKING?)

"Can't it go in the back?" I asked, and you said, "No, you hold it. I don't want it to rattle around."

So I held it. (I was a good girl. Why did you do this to me?) You got into the truck and off we went.

As we were driving along we were chatting. You went quite fast, not slowing down for bumps. (YOU DID NOT SLOW DOWN FOR BUMPS.) And at some point I started throwing the brown paper package from one hand to the other. Then I accidentally dropped it on the floor, and you frowned and said, casually,

"Oh, I've been meaning to say; you'd better be careful with that."

"Sorry," I said. "I hope I didn't do any damage. What is it, anyway?"

"You would know if it was damaged," you replied, and snorted. (You thought it was funny!) "It's detonators. And they're a bit old, so a bump could set them off. That's why I asked you to hold them."

I froze, and clutched the package to my chest to keep it safe.

You glanced sideways at me. "And don't let them get too warm," you said.

That was when I got upset. By the time we got to the farm my arms were aching from holding the detonators as far away from my body as possible and trying not to move them when we went over a bump. I had aged several years. You thought it was funny, and kept telling me not to worry, it was just a bunch of old detonators and we would blow them up on the farm. (UNSTABLE, OLD detonators, Dad. And you'd given them to your precious 12-year-old daughter to hold.)

But Dad, I SAW what happened when you decided, another time, to blow up some old detonators. Because they were dangerous, you said. Better not leave them lying around, you said. The kids might have an accident, you said. (IT WAS JUST AN EXCUSE TO MAKE A BIG BANG AND SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF GRANDMA.) You blew them up in the shed, you big dummy, and I saw the hole they blew through the neatly stacked pile of new rubbish bags, and the black marks around the walls. I saw your singed eyebrows. I heard you too, as you came into the house.

"Whoops! That made a bigger bang than I expected!" you said. I thought you'd never stop laughing. It wasn't one bang, Dad, it was a series of bangs, and Grandma and I thought the house was being attacked by someone with a machine gun. (No, we didn't know what a machine gun sounded like, but we imagined that's what it sounded like.)

I won't start on the gelignite. At least you never asked me to hold the gelignite.

Dad? Dad? Are you listening to me?

You were always doing stuff like that, Dad. Maybe you thought you were making up for the lack of movies and TV. Maybe you thought that since we never got to see James Bond confronting a ticking time bomb you'd supply us with first-hand experience of what it felt like. Or maybe the detonators weren't that old and you knew they were pretty safe but just wanted an excuse to blow something up, and you were teasing me. I don't know. I'm sure you had good intentions. (I never thought you didn't care about us, Dad. If anything, you cared too much.)

But Dad, there is something I've always wanted to ask you but never did, because every time the topic came up I was too mad to be coherent. And then you went and died and it was too late, and I've never been able to figure it out.


Your loving daughter,

P.S. I'll admit the detonators did make very satisfactory bangs when they went off, but I still didn't think they were funny.

P.P.S. Dad? Just one more thing. After your funeral your friends kept coming to visit, to tell us how sorry they were. (You made a lot of seriously eccentric friends in your last years, Dad. Where did you find them?) When they learned my name they knew all about me. It was shocking how much they knew. They told me you were really proud of me, and that you talked about me all the time. I had to pretend that I knew that.

But Dad, I'd thought you were ashamed of me. That's why I told you so little about my life after I left home. How come you never told me?


She Weevil said...

You made me laugh and then you made me cry. My dad used to take us for long walks when we were very small on precarious footpaths on some hundred foot cliffs. I wouldn't take my mother-in-law on them (well maybe I would) nowadays, let alone my kids. To quote the inimmitable Dr Phil "Dad, what were you thinking?"

melinama said...

I thought my dad was ashamed of me, too, but after he died my stepmother kept telling me how proud he was of me - and I came across stashes of stuff I had sent him or newspaper articles about me and stuff - what a waste, eh? The most loving look, maybe the only loving look, I ever got from him was the very last time I saw him, when he knew he was finally going to die from his leukemia.

You know guys who get to blow things up are the happiest guys in the world. My theory is that the happiest men are those who are still getting to do what they did when they were two - drive trucks and bulldozers, blow things up, nuzzle their heads in breasts, etc.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that you had to hear about his love for you from someone else after he was gone. I think that some men aren't comfortable with showing their emotional soft side with women directly.

Adeline said...

This is good. I appreciate this. I think about this too...Why is it that so often when our parents are proud of us, we are the last to know and many people feel vexed in their lives almost knowing that their dad is ashamed of them?

Was it Toni Morrison? Or was it Maya Angelou, I believe it was Maya, when interviewed once, the intereviewer asked to what she attributed her success...a mentor, a experience, education, an instinct or what...Her response was to laugh and say "Oh heavens none of that. The one thing I owe my success to is that every time I walked into a room, my fathers face lit up."

To me, all I can think is WOW.

It sounds like your dad was pretty awesome to me. It sounds like he just loved you alot. Ironically, I am always trying to get my husband to blow stuff up with his kids because I know they would love it and think it was fun. But we live in the city, and last thing we need is mr policeman stopping by. that wouldnt be so funny.