It's been an odd day today, going about my online world and seeing the newsfeed fill up with people's tributes to their fathers, as apparently it's Father's Day. Unlike Mother's Day, I don't think I've ever really noticed such an outpouring of celebration for this day before. Pictures of friends and their Dads. Pictures of friends AS Dads. Words woven together in tribute, in memoriam. Words offered in gratitude and love. In acknowledgement of mutual love.
It was wonderful to see. If I were to call my Dad today and wish him a "Happy Father's Day", he would gruffly dismiss it as a Hallmark celebration, and probably get off the phone as quickly as possible, leaving me feeling a fool for succumbing. But I genuinely saw something more important than that. A celebration, a real valuing of the role of the father and how it is played out in these times. A recognition of the real status of the father as PART of the family, not just titular head. It seemed to me, looking at it from the outside, a making tangible, on this day in particular, of real bonds of love between fathers and their children. Bonds constituted over time through repeated acts of love, through small steady supports and sacrifices and comforts. Made visible through looking at and being seen by the eyes of love. And then put on Facebook for the rest of us to see! Such are the times we live in, amen.
If I sound like I'm idealising, it's because I am. Because I think one always idealises something they haven't fully experienced. At least, not in this particular form. Because while I smiled at the warmth in the words and the images, it almost choked me to breathe as far as the pit of my stomach. Something was smouldering there, or had been really badly burned. And flames sprang up again there and began to rage and I had to shut my mouth to stop myself breathing fire and therefore started to feel like I was going to suffocate. Because most days I don't have to think about this - even though it's flowing under my life like a river of lava at every waking and sleeping moment.
I can no longer feel anything feel so simple as love for my father, because despite my efforts over thirty-seven years, my love has never been accepted by him nor has it ever been returned. Such is the curse of alcoholism, amen. One has to get on with it. One does, hallelujah. So, over time, under pressure, that innocent love, that immense love has hardened, has stratified into layers of denial and anger and disbelief and betrayal, and finally alchemised into something that feels too close to death. They say that "Grief is love with nowhere to go." So I suspect that was grief searing through me today. Grief and loss, before the loss has even occurred.
I am terrified of my father dying, because I know I will be filled with regret, and I will give anything to spend just one more day with him, and find out more about him, and I will remember all the wonderful things about him, of which there are many - his wit, his readiness to help people, his keen sense of mischief. But, having considered this before, and felt it necessary to attempt to build that vital bridge, I know that if I go down to his house to visit him - god forbid he would ever do the same for me, or call me up for a chat, or pick out a present for me for Christmas, or come and see one of my plays, or take me for dinner, or even ask me a single thing about how my life is going, and it hurts so much seeing how normal that is for so many other people - that depending on his level of sobriety he will either 1) not talk to me 2) not listen to me and repeat the same things over and over again 3) say something cruel or abusive to me which will burn the bridge instantly and leave me feeling sick and paralysed for days.
Besides, is there really a relationship anyway if it is only always coming from my side? I'd rather not fool myself. He told me once, when I was telling him my news, that he did not wish to hear anything about my life, what was I always talking about myself for? The way he always chose to see me, and interpreted my behaviour and personality, instilled in me from a young age a deep inner sensation of there being something wrong with me, something to be ashamed of, and what else was there was not worth knowing or seeing - this built me up inside in such a way that is taking years to deconstruct. He left our family stranded in the roughest housing estate in Galway, when I was 6 years old, living in poverty while being constantly subjected to verbal and physical threat and abuse. In the meantime, he spent his time and most of his money in the pubs building his image as a raconteur and local "character", but when I wanted to become an actress he used to do impressions mocking how bad he thought I was, and tell me that my brother was much better than me.
And yet, and yet - he's the only Dad I have. And there were times when he came through, or at least partly came through. Some of my favourite memories are him reading me Oscar Wilde as a child, or doing a military twenty-one gun salute at my twenty-first birthday by goose-stepping around the room popping twenty-one pre-placed balloons with his cigarette, or him coming up to Dublin and taking me out for dinner around the same time, and coming over to Glasgow when I was seriously ill and making sure I got to the doctor, and flying home with me again. (Though his Glasgow trips were always more motivated by the fact he liked the pubs there.) As his illness has progressed, these times came fewer and far between, interspersed with greater motives of selfishness, until the selfishness and delusion took on proportions of monstrousness and drove him to do and say things which overshadowed and then demolished everything that had ever been good between us. Now the whole edifice is in ruins, and I do not have the brute masochist strength to rebuild it by myself.
Which is why I can no longer even use such a day as today to celebrate the good things between us. But I can take the opportunity to let myself grieve. I am under no illusions, committed as he is to drinking himself to death, that he will ever reach a sufficient level of consciousness to acknowledge our existence, let alone how he has failed us, in any meaningful way. I feel as though he has simply given up on me, and chosen to forget that I am his daughter, so I have no choice to give up on him. And avoid him wherever possible. We are both alive, we are both walking this earth, and in spite of everything, I love him dearly, but this love will never have anywhere to go. So, in order that this learned facility to love what does not love me does not continue to break my spirit, I must begin grieving him now. I'm fully aware that one day, this choice will turn into regret, but it is at least a final acknowledgement that it has broken my heart.