Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. This day should make me sadder than I am really. 20 years ago I lost an important figure in my life. But then again, 20 years ago I was only 9. I barely understood his presence or lack thereof. In my mind then, fathers were mostly good for sponsoring school trips which my mother had refused to pay for with no remorse. He always said yes, and that made me happier than you can imagine. I called him “papa” and only recently learned that I was the only one among my siblings who called him that. It makes me feel special in a way, kind of like how I would wash his handkerchiefs everyday when he got home. Parents make their kids do the darndest things!
I don’t remember much about him, my mum sent me to boarding school the following year. Whether the two events were co-related I can’t tell. She later told me that my letters to her were filled with longing for my father. That I felt jealous whenever other girls mentioned their fathers. I remember nothing of these letters but I don’t doubt their authenticity. I thought I was tougher than that, that the regular class beatings in school and paraffin-laced lunches had toughened my hide. But I was 10 then, still too young to really grieve. I can’t imagine the effect those letters must have had on my mother. She must have ached for me, the way only a mother can and it must have broken her heart.
Kids can be mean without even meaning to be. The fact that other kids went on and on about their dads must have affected me back then. I sometimes wonder whether it affects me now. I don’t think I have daddy issues. The need to strip to within an inch of my life and gyrate on a pole in the middle of a seedy club has never really taken hold. But those aren’t the only daddy issues a girl can have. Does growing up without a father make you seek out older, more nurturing and protective male types? Or does growing up without a father make you so fiercely self-sufficient and independent that you don’t crave one? Does it make you want a father for the kids you might have in the future and shy away from single parenthood?
There are many questions I ask, now that I’m older. Things I can look back at in retrospective and analyse deeper. They say you can’t miss what you never had. So I don’t know if I can say that i miss my father. I didn’t get the chance to know him. I wonder sometimes what it would be like if he were still here.
And so I write this letter on his anniversary,
Wondering where you are is the hardest question of all. I never knew your religious beliefs, but these are weighty matters best left to the Almighty. I am doing fine papa. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon. I would have loved to get to know you beyond my infantile memories. I studied hard in school and went to University just like you had always wanted. I got a good job and moved out of home, to pursue the bitter-sweet illusion of free will and independence. Also I finally got that bike I cried so hard for, the one you and mum flat-out refused to buy me. They call it a treadmill and it’s at the gym. They won’t let me take it home either. This makes me sad and reminds me of that painful time..
Mum is fine too and we take care of her as best we can. However, try as I might, I haven’t been able to stop her from watching these mexican soaps. It’s sad that I can’t call her in the evenings because there is always one on and she loves them so. I send her messages constantly just to interrupt her and she has since learned to switch off her phone when Alejandro comes on. Suffice it to say, I have given up and we are all at peace.
I wish you had been there for my brothers, because I think men need fathers more than we do. Sort of a point of reference of what they ought to be or not to be. My sisters don’t say much about you either. They were much older than i was when you left us so maybe they felt the pain of your loss more acutely.
We buried your mum, my grandmother, at a ripe old age and she still spoke so fondly of you it was like you were still alive. The piece of land you left us which was planted with tea now has potatoes. Sadly the Kikuyu cliché continues to haunt us all.
Every time I stop by your grave I remember you as you were when I was nine and that little girl misses you dearly. I love you papa.
Happy belated Father’s Day.