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.
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.
He wasn’t a great dad. But he was our dad.
He was someone who didn’t realise how much he was loved. And if he didn’t realise, then who else doesn’t?