Today I am missing my father. That seems to be a strange thing to say considering it has been 33 years since he passed away. Thinking back, I barely knew him, my father. To me, he was this handsome giant with gentle hands, who brought the smell of Old Spice and Capstan cigarettes when he came into the room, who wrote me lovely little notes and placed them under my pillow on days he came home too late to see me awake. He was the superman who would take me to the beach on a cycle every Sunday and get me a huge tutti frutti cone, who would scoop me up in his arms and run with me to the doctor when I was burning up with fever, who carefully shook my loose tooth and pulled it out just so that I never felt a thing. My pappa’s hands had magic, he could make a bump on the head feel less painful immediately, he could make things out of paper, he could draw wonderfully and he had the loveliest, most elegant handwriting I’ve ever seen.
I remember the strangest things about my father, the way he sat with the newspaper on Sunday mornings, with the armchair angled just that to catch the morning sunlight, the bunches of flowers he brought home every Sunday morning and how carefully he arranged them in vases through the house, his distinctive whistle, which announced to me in the building compound that it was time to come home, how he would carry me on his shoulders so for that brief moment I was the king of the world in a manner I would only realise when I saw Leonardo di Caprio do on the prow of the Titanic, in the movie, many years later. But then, I was his princess.
When they told me he had died, I didn’t realise that I would never see him again, that I would never feel as safe and protected as I had in those nine years of my childhood. I didn’t get a chance to hug him, to say goodbye. I’m still grappling with the finality of his death. That immobile body lying on the floor wasn’t my father. It couldn’t be. My father was so full of life, so larger than life that his presence filled a room when he entered. I heard about him from people who knew him as I grew up. I patched together the father I never knew. When people told me I looked like him, I was gratified in a strange way. When I look at my face in the mirror now, in my forties, I see a female version of the face I remember. I wondered how my life would have turned out had my father been around to see me grow. I wondered if he would have been proud of me. He who raised me to be a hell raising tomboy and never bought me anything but shorts and trousers in an era when girls were in ribbons and laces, he would be glad that I live in trousers today.
I dream about him coming back, and me introducing him to my husband, my son. These are the men in my life now, pappa, I would tell him. I married a sportsperson too, pappa. My son is training to be sportsperson too. They remind me of you, they make me feel as cherished and secure and loved as you did.
Time heals everything they say. What they don’t tell you is that the pappa shaped hole in one’s heart will never ever get filled.