Sitting on the train this morning on my way to work I wanted to cry then suddenly I had a warm smile.
This starts to happen when you join the club. The Dead Dads Club. It’s a club you never want to join but you never get to leave. You get welcomed by someone who is already a member, who knows your pain and can quietly acknowledge to you that there will always be a dad sized hole in your life. Father’s Day always triggers a reminder of your membership.
The point where I wanted to cry this morning was seeing a friend on Facebook telling the world that her Dad had died. She is only 25. The post was accompanied with gorgeous photos of her and her Dad when she was little and of her Dad doing things he loved. The warm smile came soon after when a well-dressed woman standing on the train near my seat picked up the phone and called her Dad. “Hi Dad, it’s me. Are you doing anything on Sunday? It’s Father’s Day, yes. Shall we come around for lunch? I’ll bring food. If there is anyone else you would like to come too just let me know and I’ll make enough for everyone.”
My dad at my engagement party, just before he died. Image: supplied.
I was welcomed to the Dead Dads Club by my friend Ash - her dad died when we were in high school. She howled when she was told, the echoes of her pain reverberating down long, empty corridors of lockers as students sat in class. None of us knew what do other than hug her and tell her she would be okay. She knew what to do when she welcomed me to the club, she said she knew my pain and that it's okay to feel it.
I had a full-body reaction to Dad’s death. It was the deepest cry and anguish I have ever felt. I couldn’t stay on my feet, my husband held me as I wept. For me the initial grief was like large dumper waves that pull you under: I lost orientation, I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t know when I would surface again. Sometimes you just get one, but initially you get a whole series and they just keep coming and you never know when they are going to stop.
My Dad died three days after my engagement party, six months before the wedding he had so anticipated.
I was born when Dad was 48 and as a teenager I joked with him he was so old we'd take a scooter down the aisle when I got married. Instead I walked myself down, with a picture of mum and dad on their wedding day in my pocket. It was a picture of them walking the same aisle in the same church.
Me with dad, and the best dad-pointails. Image supplied.
I adored my father. We had the same initials. David George and Dimity Georgia Paul. Mail would come to the house for DG Paul and even as a kid and it was obviously a bill I insisted that it would be for me and he would let me open it.
Dad was a high school teacher, a lover and constant learner of History, Theology and the English language. He reminisced to me how he was always in awe of how intelligent his father had been, a Presbyterian and later Uniting Church Minister, who knew not just his religious texts but philosophy and history so deeply. He still wished he could ask him questions. I know that wish now all too well.
The school holidays were spent at the beach, on camping road trips or whiling away days reading. Although we were a large blended family of two parents and six children, being the youngest by so far meant that the trio of mum, dad and I was a pretty tight unit. Dad was often my play mate as mum often worked the holidays.
For many of my friends, Dads were absent figures, and with my Dad being around so much they all adored him. Going through photos recently I found a picture from year 12 graduation with all my girlfriends jumping in a photo with Dad.
All packed up ready for a road trip. Image supplied.
Varying health issues became more acute after he retired in his late 60s and my mum became his carer. He still showed such a deep interest in what I was doing and even the music I was listening to.
When a parent dies there is a part of you that goes with them. Their version of you. I don’t think we can ever truly appreciate what our parents have done for us, there are so many struggles and sacrifices they just would never let you in on because their love runs so deep.
There is the guilt of never truly appreciating them when they are here, the cringe at the jokes, the poetry and the clumsiness. How I long for the sticky smudge of dad’s fingerprints on a glass of wine.
The wishing you could ask a question about something only they would know or ask for advice of what to do next, what decision they think is better. Or telling them about the things you think they would be proud of, even if they are small, because to them your achievements were always amazing.
I have started to ponder what my Dad’s version of me was. It is hard to know exactly so I have gone back to photos of me as a child, some with me and him but in particular of the ones he took of me just getting about my kid-business. Vertical pigtails, climbing in trees and stuffing my face with cake. No matter what it was each photo he took captures my father’s love for me.
So I have stopped worrying about that version of me that left with him, I have stopped worrying about the loss. I deliberately now try to say that my father died rather than we lost him because you never truly lose the people you love. That’s why we have the club.
The Dead Dads Club isn’t morbid it’s an acknowledgment of pain. And it doesn’t let society or anyone tell you how should or shouldn’t feel. Through that acknowledgement and as the pain stops dumping down on you to the point you lose your breath you are left with presence of love through memory. Love is a feeling that doesn’t leave.
I meet people all the time who knew him and sing his praises. People I never expected to know him, in particular his former students. He lives on through all the relationships he ever had.
So as that well-dressed woman on the train treats her Dad to a delicious lunch on Sunday and as all of Australia comes together to celebrate the fathers and father-figures in their lives - don’t pity us in the Dead Dads Club. Just understand that our celebration will have moments of breathlessness and tears but remind us even if our Dad’s version of us has gone our version of them lives on.