Today will be eighteen Fathers’ Days since the last time I spent one with you.
I’m not the person you expected, probably.
I’m almost definitely not the one you remember.
I’ve lost the pigtails. I’ve graduated — twice. I’m writing this from my sofa, in my flat, two hundred miles away from where I last saw you. Is that weird for you? That your little girl is all grown up? (I’m only pretending to be all grown up, but don’t tell anyone.) It’s a little bit weird for me. It shouldn’t, after eighteen years, but I’m still sometimes surprised when I realise how much of me you’ve missed.
But you are still the father of a daughter.
I still see you in me.
You started my lifelong love affair with books. You tried to get me to like maths; I still don’t, but thank you for trying. You taught me how to catch a ball (badly and only sometimes) and Morse Code (that I don’t really remember). You taught me about football — did you ever figure out that I liked watching Match of the Day not for the football and not for the getting to stay up late, but for the hour in the week that we had for just us? You didn’t teach me about periods but you did teach me about chocolate cravings during them, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t many daughters who can say that. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, you taught me every Abba song ever released and I thought about that afternoon when two decades later I ended up singing them on a far bigger stage than the ones I had for the Christmas shows that you remember. It was at least half your fault that I learned how to swear before I was two, and, by the way, Uncle David still hasn’t forgiven you for that. It’s at least half your fault that I’m this height, too, and wholly your fault that I am the nerd that I am. You taught me how to tape up dialysis tubes and it was for you that I learned not to be scared of hospitals, and you’re crazy if you think that you’ve got nothing to do with where I am today.
You started to teach me how to be a person, and I wish you could have been here to see how that turned out.
It’s not on the anniversaries or the birthdays that I find myself thinking about you the most, not anymore. There have been years when June 2nd has come and gone and I’ve barely noticed — that’s me, though, not you; I was writing a prescription on Christmas Day last year and I had to ask someone what the date was, so, you know, don’t take it personally. It’s a little bit at the milestones that I should have had you there for, like graduation and leaving home and my first car. But I think about you mostly in the quiet moments, mostly when I’m at work, wandering through dark corridors in the middle of the night or on a coffee run between ward rounds or leaving at the end of a particularly bad or a particularly good day. And in the quiet corners of a church that was never and never would have been yours, but even so, when I slip away from the razzmatazz of the festivals to set fire to my thurible, sending smoke up to heaven, I send it up to you. In those moments, I sense something, someone in the empty waiting room or the back pew, and I often wonder if, if I turned around, you would be there, watching me.
I wonder if I make you proud.
I hope so.
Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad.
Have a beer with Grandad and Grandpa, and, when you smell the incense, think of me.
With all my love,