Happy birthday dad, although you can’t hear me

This is the time of the year that I wish I was like those people that believe the dead are watching over us, can see and hear and connect with the living—although the thought of my deceased friends or family hovering over watching me in the shower or bedroom is quite disconcerting. I didn’t have the chance to say good bye to dad, so every time it’s his birthday that sinking feeling of disappointment and frustration with myself comes out to haunt me.

So dad, although you can’t read these words, that insane part of me insists in writing that I have always loved and always will. And there isn’t one day that passes that I don’t wish I could change history and be at your dying bed holding your hand and saying that your life mattered.

I know your life wasn’t perfect dad, but I loved you with all your prejudices and imperfections. You tried your best, you were one of the unsung heroes of this world that survive dysfunctional families, poverty and mental health issues. These heroes don’t make the headlines but they are the people that, like you, get out of bed in the morning for their daily toil, to simply do what is right.

One of the stories that always plays in my mind is of your determination to go to university without any financial or emotional support from your parents. You came to value an education you never had access to. How hard it must have been to find the will to study when sometimes you could only afford two meals a day. You overcame dire adversity to later give opportunity to those in need. I remember you driving sick people to hospital and in many situations helping the poor improve their lives.

Of course, there were things I din’t love about you, like your blind devotion to your work, your jokes about people of colour or beliefs about the role of women in society, but I learned to read you between the lines. I knew these came from a place of pain, shame and hurt and not of greed or hatred—your family hurt you a lot. I can’t forget when your mum came to visit the tiny premature twins just out of the incubator and said “oh, but they are so ugly.” I can’t fathom growing up in home like this, where your mum never noticed you needed glasses, until an older sister realised you were being picked at school for being stupid because you could not read the blackboard.

This side of you thought me not to take people at face value, we all carry a lot of baggage and have our demons to face. And you did a great job at stopping the cycle of rejection and neglect. I think the four of us felt very much loved and cared for.

There is one particular line you wrote down in the copy of The Little Prince you gave to mum when you were still dating in 1967, quoting the author: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” You saw potential in myself and in others when sometimes we saw none. You showed us to hear the voice of the heart and to respect everyone, regardless of their colour or social status—you may have spoken about white supremacy but your actions told another story. I remember when my four-year-old brother threw the house keys at a distance and said to the nanny ‘it’s your job to get the keys’. You saw the scene and told him how to treat people and to go get the keys himself. You wanted to open a workshop to give disadvantaged kids skill to get a job. You had so many dreams.

But life presented you with a hurdle too high to overcome. The nasty captain of depression hooked and brainwashed you, forcibly inducing you to believe lies over truth. It’s a shame that eventually you stopped seeing your own potential and your successful past faded in the background, no matter how much we told you were worth it. 

Life is unfair and yours was cut short by cancer. You would be 72 today. I’ll always remember you as a generous soul with many dreams and a hero that thought me how to hear the whispering voice in my heart.


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