When I was a kid, other kids asked me what it was like not having a dad. On occasion I felt the need to point out that I did have one, and death doesn’t equal not having existed at all. But most of the time I just pointed out that with so few memories of him, it was just normal to me for him not to be there. What is it like having one who is there all the time? They think that’s a silly question, because that’s just how things are. You don’t ask people “what is it like breathing?” And for both myself and the other person, the state of having or not having was a normal one and so not something you felt the need to stretch to describe.
For the most part it was not something that bothered me. With so few memories of what it was like before, when he was there, it was hard to put together a comparison in my head of then versus now and decide which one was preferred. Of course I would have liked it if I didn’t have a dead parent, but being so young when he died it was hard, as a child, to see how before and after were different, apart from the obvious.
When we got married my grandfather gave me away. That was fine, it was not any big heartache to me that my father was not there to do it. Perhaps because it was not something I had ever looked forward to or imagined happening one day. Five year olds are not generally fantasizing about their one-day wedding. So probably I always knew that if/when I got married, it would be my grandfather giving me away.
Neil tried to teach me to drive. That.. went. The first car he tried to teach me in was his car, a somewhat temperamental manual that you kind of had to have an intimacy with in order to work it. I couldn’t even start it. And that clutch business, jesus H. I don’t know if it was the way that Neil tried to explain it or if it was because of the way the car was, but I didn’t fully understand the way a clutch worked until I was in England and watched Daniel driving.. and wondered why he wasn’t doing it the way I had understood Neil to have instructed. Later after we came back from England he tried to teach me in Herta (auto) and that wasn’t going too terribly, I think, until the day he was directing me into the carport at his and my mum’s house. One of their cars was already in there, but it’s quite long so you can fit two in. He stood behind the other one and kept beckoning me forward. “Keep going, keep going.” So I kept going and he ended up temporarily pinned between the two cars. I believe that traumatised me much more than him and I don’t think there were many more lessons after that.
Neither of those experiences really made me feel any more bothered than I ever had been about his absence, though I do think that as an adult I understood more the types of things I had missed. But it wasn’t just adulthood that really made me feel his absence – it was motherhood. Watching my daughter and then daughters interact with their father and their grandfathers. And then, strangely, even more so as the mother of a son – seeing how his relationships with his sisters, parents and grandparents develop. There is something very special about watching the relationship your children have with your parent/s. To see the way each of them loves my mum and how she loves them – it’s a relationship that is independent of me and would carry on without me, but could not have existed without me. So it’s a wonderful feeling of appreciating the beauty of grandparent-grandchild love and knowing that I had a big part in that being able to happen. It’s not the same with Daniel’s parents, as I think that probably most people don’t feel exactly the same thing for their spouse’s parents as their own, and also with them being in England their relationships with the children must unavoidably develop differently. And it’s not the same with Neil, either. While I don’t doubt that he loves each of the kids and they all love him; I feel reasonably sure that he is not at all like the kind of grandfather that my dad would have been. So that makes me feel an empty spot, the sadness over what my children will miss because he is not here and the sadness that I don’t get to watch that and take away the warm fuzzy feeling for myself.
Strangely, I think also that as I am with Daniel for longer and longer, that also contributes to the feeling of loss. Because now I see and every day, household example of an adult male and how they “work” on a broad level. And sometimes when I am excited or sad or humoured or depressed, I want Daniel to either share it or heal it. And sometimes I want my mother. And sometimes I want my father.