Dear Dad

It’s ten years today since you left, yet it’s longer than that since I last saw you. The last time was when we danced in the nursing home together, remember? First, jiving arm in arm down the hall, big band bellowing from the communal TV. Then, whirling and twirling to Bach fugues and laughing and clapping and singing while Glenn Gould’s fingers flew on the keyboard so fast that they blurred while yours snapped in the air and then I kissed you through joy and said I love you Dad and thank you and goodbye. But you didn’t leave then, well, not quite, though you were already gone.

You always wanted to hear me sing and I always felt too shy, like you’d see my innards, witness my most treasured secrets, take away my soul. But now I know you just wanted it to sing. I didn’t have a voice, but you wanted one to emerge. Last night I sang along with the Miserere by Allegri and I hit the high C. I have no idea how but my body remembered and as it soared it unlocked me and the me that died when you did. The music in me died back then because I thought all along I was doing it for you. My music was my gift to you, an offering to the father god who placed his girl-child on a pedestal and never took her down. It was a tricky place for me to be, but was strangely without condition and more about your belief in me than exaltation, so let’s just call it love, shall we? Yes, I’d like that.

Lord knows I need some balance but I didn’t know it was there all along. Sometimes it takes a different way of looking, a way of reaching for the light like a hungry plant, to see that the darkness can be avoided if only you choose life. All I needed to do was peer in the mirror: my face like yours, my eyes your eyes, my voice yours but higher, my music a cultured, trained expression of your own raw talent. Your love constant, your belief in me stable. Never pushing, only encouraging. Steady. Known. Bedrock.

That time you followed along on the footpath while I marched on International Women’s Day 1996 through the centre of town. It was so taboo then, so dirty to be a feminist, yet you clapped, cheered and smiled from the sidelines, raised your fist in solidarity with your daughter cautiously being herself, quietly finding her voice among familiars. I smile thinking about it. My belly feels warm.

And I’m glad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like my struggle through the aftermath of you going. I’m glad you never saw me this way. I’m glad you missed the fracture of the family that came undone with your leaving. You do know you held it and me together? Like psychic glue, I wonder more and more about the power of you. You missed the ascendance of idiots in positions of power both home and abroad, and senseless attacks on citizens by terror-inducing maniacs, escalating fear and fiscal folly, increasingly wasteful consumption and the election of a fraudulent orange-hued strange-haired man to the highest office on the planet. You would have been aghast, yet curious. And I’m glad you missed the smart phone, and social media’s spiralling rise and its co-opting and ruining of human relationships and language, and I’m glad you missed the music, which got much, much worse and much more boring and much less live and how you would have hated it. Especially after growing through rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles and singing in opera choruses and musicals and of course in the shower too.

And I’m sad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like the orange cat who is my constant companion. She is pretty special and full of spunk and chirrups and I reckon she would have let you pat her. And the farm with the sheep and the million yellow flowers and the snakes and the mice and the tiny town nearby that looks like it’s itching for a gun fight. But I’m not sad that you missed the disease, this dreaded thing that’s forced us into our homes, into a great disconnect that feels like death while living while we wait and occupy space, while we all hold our breath. Placeholders we are, waiting to spring into action and hug and dance and sing again, once the invisible threat is vanquished. You, as always, would have been fascinated by it, but I’m glad you aren’t here for it. It might have killed you if you weren’t already dead.

I imagine you doing your crazy dance in the loungeroom, making us laugh, knees bent, twisting inwards-and-outwards while your feet pivoted, head jerking emphatically, clicking fingers, always embarrassing us. You were such a dag, Dad, and you didn’t care. Such abandon and freedom in the body that betrayed you too soon in the end. Such wit and spark in a sharp mind that became so cruelly muddled and confused. The purity of those final days, sitting in the sun on a bench outside with you, cuddling and smiling at one other. You had no words and love needs none.

Love needs no posturing for it is felt.

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