I miss my dad.

My dad had a camera attached to him for the first 10 years of our lives.  He documented every mundane moment.   He painstakingly developed them, and kept almost every photo he took.  They live in a box in my mum’s house and have been vanishing over the multiples moves she’s undertaken since he died. I have a few of them.  The photos begin to tail off when my baby sister was a toddler.  My dad was too lost to drink then to keep taking photos. I hate that there’s scant evidence of her childhood.

There was a photo of me that he loved so much he had it blown up into A4 in dramatic black and white.  I’m about four, face on, staring fiercely into the lens. I don’t know if I’d just woken up and was grumpy, I don’t remember the photo being taken. But he loved that photo and was proud of it, and proud of the person in it. It was one he showed me often.  Even I could shyly admit I looked beautiful in it, looked, probably for one of the first times, like a child who was becoming their own person.

I tore it up one day, in a fit of teenage pique, when I was learning how to hate myself.  He was hurt. And I regretted it instantly, and I still regret it, to this day.

I think the look was a little like this one.

My dad hurt us a lot with his drinking. But sometimes I’m floored at all the little things I did to hurt him, too.  I remember, always remember, how his eyes looked when he was hurt. When he was drunk, dewy. Sometimes, they were dewy when he was happy, too.  I remember that less.

I miss my dad.  When you think of what a life is- that there is one- it brings me to my knees that his life was so brief and so desperately unhappy.  Despite us, five children. Sometimes, I think, was it because of us? Other deaths and lives don’t have that burden on their children.  People who die of natural causes and not things like alcoholism can have that gift, of a, “life well lived”. To know how cherished and loved they were, and how much they cherished and loved in return.  I don’t have that. Either way, I don’t have that and I regret it utterly. My dad was often infuriating, abusive and hurtful and in rages, I would be the same. Always his reflection, even now.

I didn’t even mention him in my wedding speech. I regret that, too.  It wasn’t a conscious omission. I wore his photo in a locket around my neck. I worried that if I talked about him, I would never stop. I didn’t want to cry, not that day, but cried later anyway, for different reasons. I wish I had let myself cry for those ones. Why, why have I spent the seven years since his death trying not to cry?  I only cry over my dad when I’m drunk. Why did I spend the years of his life trying not to? It is so hard to watch someone you love destroy themselves. Despite pleading with them, begging them, screaming at them.  Doors torn off the hinges and kicked through in premature grief, from all of us. Like I tore up my photo, he tore up the letter I wrote him when he was in a psychiatric hospital. We were asked to tell him what effect his alcoholism was having on us. And for a while, it seemed like we’d gotten somewhere. But they all went to pieces, in spite and because of. Even now I wonder if I had chosen my words too carefully.  From the back of a CD, some pretentious teenage book I was reading. Using it as a writing assignment to hide from the reality of what was happening to him and to us. Of that squalid little hellhole hospital and its yellowing rooms, and his rancid bedsheets and yellowing skin. Too blamefully, too artfully, instead of writing it from me.

The photos help. We were happy, sometimes. He was happy, sometimes. When he stopped picking up his camera, that’s when I started. He left us some money- not a lot at all- when he died. I bought a camera with mine, his last gift to me.

This picture wasn’t taken with that camera, but on his last Christmas with us, in 2005.

He wasn’t a great dad. But he was our dad.

The tattoos me and my siblings have. “Remember to live”.

He was someone who didn’t realise how much he was loved. And if he didn’t realise, then who else doesn’t?

7 Responses

  1. I worry about my mum, too. Her life has been shit as well. I want her to be happy.

  2. This made my cry. I lost my dad in 2011, 9 months after I had my daughter. He was an alcoholic too and prone to fits of rage. Like you, we were happy sometimes. The bad stuff, though,has a way of sticking with you more than the good stuff.

  3. Hello Seaneen,
    This post is emotionally moving and personal. Please consider writing your autobiography, you may be able to then come to terms with your life so far.
    If you cannot get a publisher consider self publishing on the web with your considerable I.T. skills this must be possible.
    Good Luck and keep well..

  4. You have left me breathtaken, again. Your writing is a gift I wish I could share. I thought about you last night when I went to see a play at our local theatre – it was about a an alcoholic mother and her daughter. Though I can share your grief (my dad died of cancer when I was 12), I can only imagine the anger and desperation of seeing a parent self-destruct in front of your innocent eyes.

    Please don’t hold yourself responsible for your very understandable reactions, I’m sure your Dad, if he can see you now, would be extremely proud of you today.

    I’ve been reading and watching a lot about mental illness recently and am considering the thought that maybe I don’t have an ‘illness’ as such. I mean, how can a person possibly experience the things we have seen (we meaning me with my history and you with yours), and not be mentally damaged by it. Yes, perhaps I am less ill than I thought, I’m just scarred from the grief and turbulence of seeing my family self-destruct over the years. Perhaps this is just my reaction to it all – and after all, who wouldn’t be mad to survive after such a journey?


  5. This is what happens.

  6. I can really relate to this post. My dad died in 2006 when I was 17. He was an alcoholic too. I remember once he bought me a Creme Egg, then we had an argument about something and I threw it across the room. I will never forget how hurt he looked, I have tears in my eyes just writing about it. It is difficult trying to remember somebody so close to you when the bad memories seem to come to the forefront.
    I think my dad’s biggest problem was also not realising how loved he was. And whilst I miss him terribly I always keep that thought in my mind, how horrible it must be to think you aren’t loved. My mum, sister & I tell each other we love each other now. It helps a bit. x

  7. i came across this trying to find someone else, anyone else, that understands what it’s like to lose your dad to mental illness and addiction. or how hard it is to watch someone destroy themselves having no idea how loved they are or how good things could be…or how heavily the small acts of aggression or anger i took against my dad weigh on me every day and probably will forever. this post is a light in what has been a very dark and lonely place of grief that, at times, am certain will open the earth at my feet and pull me under. thank you

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