Today is the 27 July. My dad’s birthday. Tomorrow is the 28 July. The day my dad died from cancer 5 years ago. My daughter’s have been singing this song the last couple days, “when I wake up this morning feeling fine, I wake up with joy in my heart.’ Well, when I woke up this morning, I woke up with sadness in my heart. And as I sit here writing these words, I can feel the tears start to well up inside me. My relationship with my dad was at times challenging and strained. My parents got divorced when I was 2, my dad moved to Johannesburg when I was 9 and then to Australia when I was about 15. So, in some ways, I didn’t have a physically present dad even though we (my sister and I ) would see him a few times in the year. But no matter what the distance, my dad was always as involved as he could be, phoned regularly, and tried as much as possible to be a part of our lives.
I carried a lot of stuff with my dad which I was never able to fully talk to him about because I just didn’t have it in me at the time. He was always very open to talking but I would shut down to him and just couldn’t go there. My dad had his own stuff that he was carrying, stuff from his childhood which prevented him from being the man that he wanted to be.
About 10 years before my dad died, he went through a radical transformation in that he really tried to deal with his baggage and this all lead to him moving back to Cape Town to be with my sister and I, not fully making up for the guilt he had suffered for leaving us so many years before, but definitely making a huge difference. He moved to Cape Town 6 years before he died. In those 6 years, I really came to understand my dad more, to respect him, to honour him and to love him for the man that he was and the man that he had become.
My dad died when my oldest daughter was nearly 2 and my youngest just 4 months old and it was a really difficult time in my life. My only way to survive was to shut down in some way, as when you’ve got 2 little girls to look after, life still goes on and I didn’t have the time to really deal with and process the loss of my dad and truth be told I was scared to for fear of breaking down and not being able to be there for my girls. So I had to hold it together. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes it really felt too hard.
The other night, lying in bed and thinking about my dad, I had a realisation. My dad used to go on about how wonderful my sister and I were, and sometimes he would tell the same story to illustrate the point of how fantastic we were, to the point of it being a bit annoying and embarrassing at times. But I now know why. He was my biggest fan. It didn’t matter what I did, what mattered was that he was proud of me just because I was me. And that is the true unconditional love of a parent. The kind of love I got from my dad. No matter what I did, my dad had a way of making me feel like I was the best thing ever to walk this planet. And I miss that. I miss that deeply. I miss my number one fan.
Whenever people talk about being too old to change this or that, whether it’s changing patterns in a relationship, getting out of one that doesn’t work for you, I think of my dad and I know that you are never too old to change. In his 50’s, he got divorced, moved countries, changed his career path, found love, went backpacking alone in South East Asia, became a Harley Davidson rider, started yoga, meditated, changed his belief patterns and became happy. He was open and friendly to all he met, he was open to life, to learning, to knowledge, to change. Not only did he change his life, he changed other people’s lives as well. He inspired people. He inspired me. He was the first person to baby sit our daughter at 3 months old, to take her to the aquarium, to feed her while sitting at Melissa’s Coffee Shop. He was and would have been an amazing grandfather. No, he was not perfect, but he put his heart into trying to be the best person he could be. And I am so incredibly proud of him for that.
Life is short. My girls are growing up so quickly before my eyes. Time seems to be moving at an ever increasing rate. And today, in memory of my dad, I am reminded of this: Be open. Be loving. Embrace life. Change what doesn’t work for you. Appreciate each other. Love each other. Hold each other. Be kind. Be gentle. Listen. Acknowledge. Love. And as my dad used to love saying, ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff!’
Happy Birthday Dad.