This is not a Eulogy
In memory of my father
My father died a month ago. He spent his last days in his own bed, my mum holding his hand as she read him the poetry they both love. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth, Yeats.
I carry with me his delight in the campy and kitsch, his expansiveness, playfulness and his generosity. I appear to have inherited his compulsion to wander around second-hand shops on an almost daily basis, a pastime I rarely sought out when he was alive. Other attributes I will leave with him. Our relationship was fraught and often painful, so my grief now is complicated.
Being his daughter was a bit like being at a funfair – wonderful when I was young. He was exciting, vibrant and totally absorbing, much more interesting than other dads. But as I grew up I noticed that many of the games at the funfair were frustrating – I very much wanted a prize but no matter what or how I played I could never seem to win. Peeking behind the scenes sometimes revealed things rather dark and confusing. As an adult I would sometimes think ‘fuck this’ and leave the fair altogether, but I always came back eventually, hoping it might be better this time.
In recent years I realised something important – the games were rigged. The hoops at the ring toss were too small, the mechanical metal claw always dropped the toy and the coconuts were glued onto their posts. I was never going to be good at the game of being his daughter. After that it was a little easier; at least I was able to get on with playing out my life choices, somewhat liberated from the expectation of winning his approval. We all rode on a carousel of his favour, in turn idealised, misunderstood, devalued. Many people stepped (or were thrown) off the carousel altogether, but as his family we stayed on that bumpy ride. Now it has stopped and the air is so quiet and still. We are clambering down, a little dizzy, steadying ourselves and examining our bruises.
My dad, despite being almost 60 when I was born, was marvellous with me when I was little. I’ve enjoyed combing through our photo albums in the dream-like days since he died and finding pictures of us together, so relaxed and happy. He was an artist and a passionate educator, and I know that he had a profound impact on everyone he encountered in that capacity. The man was a force of nature – and at his best was transformative and magnetic, but he could also be volatile, explosive and cruel.
Things will be calmer without you around, Dad. And in some ways, quite a lot easier. However, I am surprised by how sad I feel, and by how often I find myself singing those incredibly annoying music hall songs you would would to interrupt perfectly pleasant conversations you found boring around the dinner table.
I’m glad you’re finally getting some of that ‘sweet oblivion’ you longed for in your sleepless nights. Sleep well now, the end came in just the way you wanted.