On Living longer than my Father

Numbers are funny. I am often shocked by them. They don’t have much meaning by themselves, but pack quite a punch when applied to our own lives.  I like to tally up the years since a certain event: 24 years since I have known my husband.  17 years since we’ve been together. 13 years since the birth of my first child, etc. Being able to say something like, “I haven’t skied for twenty years” always gives me a shaky feeling, like I’m Rip Van Winkle waking up on the side of the mountain and realising the years of my life have inexplicably gone the way of the dodo.
As a culture I think we all tend toward this linear marking of events, these number milestones. That is why we feel the need to make a bigger deal of the decade anniversaries than the simple digits in between. Why fifty years of marriage has a nice, solid, block-like feel of an accomplishment as opposed to 47. We need these markers to be able to slide up and down our own memories.

Very soon I will be turning 38. It is one of those meaningless in-between numbers, halfway between the larger milestones of  30 and 40. It doesn’t even have to distinction of being the halfway mark like 35 (which I wrote about in this post). It is a wishy-washy number, easier to say 38 than the whole rigmarole of mid-to-late thirties. In terms of birthday cred, it is as valuable as a card and a dinner out if I’m lucky. Definitely not worthy of a celebration.
So why am I writing about my birthday? No, it is not because I am fishing for love (though if you want to send me some I won’t complain).  38 happens to be the age my father was when he died. 
My Dad in the 60s

When my daughter turned the age I was when he died (eight),I felt serious and pensive. Sort of like a “whoah, dude. I was that age when my dad died?” During his 38th year, I was certain my husband would die.. But, and this is a testament to how irrational I am on the subject, it never occurred to me that I would live longer than he did.

And in the spirit of my irrational self, my reaction is equally crazy. 
 With my husband turning 38 I carried a nugget of anxiety around that whole year, not quite believing he would survive the dreaded number. Why is this? I think it is just because that is my model. One  just does not have a father that lives past a certain date. My husband was going to expire and that was all there was to it. I would continue like my mother, a young widow with children (though she had three and she was younger than I am now when my dad died), because that was what I knew.
Of course that didn’t happen and here I am about to outlive my dad.
So how do  I feel?
I feel…bereft. And angry. More angry than I have ever been at his death. 
I know. How stupid is that? 
Me and my dad

But it’s true. My mom did such a good job of making us feel like it was a natural thing (though his fighter jet crashing would be about one of the most unnatural deaths you could imagine). Death happened and though it was sad, we could keep him alive through our memories. 
Not that that isn’t true. It is. But when people express their pity about my father dying, I’m a little embarrassed. I’ve had a good life. I have been loved. My mother did everything in her power to fill in the gap left by his absence. People were most definitely misdirecting their sympathy my way. I was fine.
Which is still true. Except that now I have to confront some truths I have never wanted to confront before. And yes, the fact that I could have believed these things at all is also testimony that I am, in most probability, insane.
1. I have had this fantasy/day dream/ fervent desire for my father NOT to be dead. Sometimes I believed it so much, I could feel him in the room. I remember one time, I was 19 and sitting alone in the cafeteria at Concordia. The feeling he was in the room was so strong I stayed longer than I needed waiting for him to appear.  
He didn’t, of course. I’m not that insane. Geez. Give me some credit.
My dad is on the left
When my mind wanders into daydreams, the first place it goes is to this scene: there’s a knock at the door. I am in the kitchen making something hearty and healthful for my children. When I answer the door I am still wiping my hands on a tea towel. It is my father, accompanied by some sort of CSIS looking fellas. It turns out that he was on such a super secret mission they had to fake his death. Then his plane crashed in enemy territory and he has been languishing in a third world dungeon up until a few days ago when a treaty was signed and he was released. Now he is home and we have an awkward reunion where I don’t immediately jump into his arms. Instead I play it cool and offer him a drink. It turns out we both enjoy scotch (I know this detail because his twelve-year old aged scotch stood proudly in our liquor cabinet until my sistersand I reached the age where pilfering alcohol from your parent’s stash and creating the Frankenstein beverage, the shit mix ,was du jour. Then it made its last voyage down the pipe along with regurgitated vodka, Bailey’s and crème de menthe.)
I know. I am certifiable. Or I watch too many spy movies with outrageous plots.
2. I am going to have to figure out how one lives after they outlive their father. Of course I know the answer: just keep on keeping on. Same old, same old. But I feel like a malevolent being has taken away my walking stick, the one I use to guide me through my life and has whittled it away. And they didn’t even make anything interesting with it- no caduceus, or long Giacometti. All that is left is a pile of shavings at my feet.
3. It might be possible that I am angrier than I ever thought about him dying. The fact that it has taken me 30 years to face this fact (yes, it is the three decade anniversary of his death as well. A whole panoply of things to celebrate, no?), shows how NOT in touch I am with my emotions blah blah blah.
But whatever.  Enough self-indulgent moaning. Get over it already will you?
So just in case you were wondering, here is how I think the discussion would go, if his ghost were to suddenly make a  special 30-year appearance at my dining room table (and yes, although he is a ghost, he still enjoys scotch.)
Me- So how’s tricks? (I would be so nervous I would resort to phrases I would never say in real life)
Dad- You know, can’t complain. Though being dead can get kind of tedious.
Me-I can imagine.
Dad- So I hear you’re feeling bereft? What’s that all about?
Me –(I take a large sip of scotch and shrug my shoulders like a petulant teenager) I don’t know.
Dad- Yes you do. Stop being so petulant.
Me- Well, maybe I wouldn’t be so petulant if you had been around to show me how not to be petulant.
Dad- (eyebrow glare).
Me- Sorry.  That was uncalled for.
Dad- I should say so. Like your mother put up with petulance anyway.
Me- True. 
Both sip at our whiskey.
Dad-so about this bereft thing?
Me- Oh yeah. It’s just that I never thought I would live to be as old as you were. It feels like an ending.
Dad- That’s stupid.
Me- I know. I just feel that now that I am older than you, my dreams of you suddenly coming back can’t be true anymore.
Dad- (Looks at me like I just dipped my tuna in my hot chocolate.)
Me- I know.

(sip more scotch)

Me- Can I ask you something?
Dad- Sure. But it doesn’t mean I’ll answer.  (My dad is a smart ass, apparently)
Me- Do you regret anything? I mean would you do anything differently?
Dad- Are you kidding? I spent the better half of my life in the sky. I flew!

And, on that Icarean note,  that is where the conversation ends, because what else is there to say after that?

My dad flew. I guess I should endeavour to do the same.

One thought on “On Living longer than my Father

  1. I don't know about confronting truths or insanity (not that I believe you're insane), but I know that it's important to articulate anger or it festers. And you have articulated your case very well. You will survive this milestone–kilometer-stone (?)–of 38.

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