real life

'I was semi-estranged from my dad when he died. The guilt almost destroyed me.'

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If you want to know why I, an average-looking, unremarkable short woman, has the unbridled confidence of a middle-aged white man, blame my dad.

He always called me beautiful, believed in me more than warranted, and told me I was smarter than any of my three sisters (who all became doctors).

God, I miss that biased liar. I was totally his favourite child, and I didn’t realise it until after he died. I took that love for granted, not understanding it is so rare.

And I also wasted years before his death in semi-estrangement from him. 

As a kid, until I left school – the point at which dad did something that seemed unforgivable – I worshipped my dad. He was my hero.

If it would be remotely entertaining for you, I’d spend the next nine paragraphs talking about how my immigrant father, from dire poverty, made an incredible life for all of us in Australia – and yet remained humble, and known for his immense generosity and charity.

With English as a second language he loved Shakespeare – and I inherited his fascination with the written word, comedy and the media. 

My dad taught me so much, had a great sense of humour, worked hard and played harder. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me.

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But I won’t bore you further than that, especially because despite my adoration of him, there were many years as an adult when I didn’t want to see him at all.

The year I started uni, my father did a really s**t thing, and my world got a massive reality check. I discovered he was human, and capable of making mistakes.

But that didn’t mean I’d let him off easily. I was 19, and furious, and didn’t think he had a right to a relationship with me anymore.

Being ‘busy with my education’ (ie, wasting a heap of time being young and carefree) was an excellent excuse to avoid him. I’d see him very occasionally for family events, and very reluctantly.

In fact, if you look closely at this photo, this is how my face generally looked when in his presence:

I’m the one incapable of hiding my feelings. Image: Supplied 

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I avoided seeing my dad, and in some way, I knew he got it. He knew I was so disappointed in him. When we did see each other, he’d still call me beautiful, ask me if I needed money, ask me about work.

Yes, he persisted in his role as my loving dad in the face of… well, my face.

I knew of course that I still loved my dad – but he’d severed his right to our former relationship the minute he did what he did. It wasn’t an accident – he made a choice he knew would devastate all of us.

When I got married at 25, I didn’t talk to him at my wedding. At all. I was so angry still, and I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say, lest it upset me on my big day.

I not-so-gracefully allowed him a hug straight after the ceremony. Look at the smile on his face.

Dad hugging me after the ceremony. Image: Supplied. More than a decade later, years after his death, this photo would break my heart because I realise know that how I treated him that day must have broken his heart.

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Read more: Nama writes more about her wedding day guilt.

That’s the thing about death. It really does change everything, no matter how sure you are of your opinions and feelings.

No matter how sure you are that you are right.

In the last years of his life, before he died suddenly in a car accident, dad had set up a charitable educational organisation, and was spending half his time overseas. It was an amazing thing he wanted to do for his hometown, and he wanted me to see it.

I refused, even though I was secretly so proud and impressed. 

Dad’s death changed me in ways I never could have imagined. It brought me to my knees, and made me re-evaluate everything about myself – like my stubbornness and inability to forgive.

I felt deep sadness and guilt that it had been decades since I told him I loved him. That’s the worst thing about a sudden death – there are no apologies, no goodbyes. 

The things you thought you’d deal with later, that you had time for – the choice is taken away from you. And there will never be a chance to fix things.

There’s been no chance for me to say, "You never stopped being my hero. I’m sorry I pushed you away, and took your love and presence for granted".  

“Please come back just for a moment so I can tell you that.” 

Almost eight years later, I’ve only just forgiven myself. 

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-plus parenting career (sadly unpaid). You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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