A Personal Essay – My Father’s Hands

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On a perfect October day, I arrive ten minutes late for my Uncle’s memorial service. There is only one seat left in the room, next to my Dad. I sidle in, ask if the seat is taken. He doesn’t immediately recognise me; I could count the number of times we have seen each other in the last ten years on one hand. We live separated by 400 kilometres; more so, four decades we have sought to reconcile in our own ill-fought ways.

As the tributes for my Uncle begin, I glance down at my hands. Mindlessly, my eyes draw toward the hands of my Dad, casually positioned in his lap. I realise they are my hands. Or maybe mine are his hands. I have never had the chance to notice this before; the protruding knuckles, the long fingers, the prominent veins. I shift in my seat, pull my hands back in closer to my waist.

For thirty-nine years, I have been angry at the man alongside me. I did not know my Dad as a child. Although we shared the first few years of my life together I have no recollection of this time, only the yawning hollow which followed until we met again in my early 20’s. I have heard his version of events, also my mother’s. The contradiction between both. I do not know whose version is true; if either. Regardless, it has been easy to blame him for not being there during my childhood years. To hold him responsible for everything that happened in his absence. To punish his absence by offering mine.

What I do know about my Dad, is his hands are good at fixing. People, in his many, many years as a paramedic. Engines. Motors. Cars. Anything In The House. Everything In The Shed. Of the fatherly wisdom he has sought to impart in the last two decades: idle hands are the devil’s playground and every man needs a shed. For many years, I hoped for those hands to fix all that was broken, and sad, in my life. Like all little girls, placing my Dad on a pedestal; the hero who would swoop in and save me from the evil villains I had been placed in the care of. Every birthday, I waited with anticipation. This would be the year he would surprise me. It never was.

I am repeatedly drawn to thoughts of grief lately; they appear in my journalling, in articles I read, podcasts I listen to, television shows I watch. It has become the resounding theme biting at my heels. I ponder the different griefs I have seen in my own life: Grief from Death, Grief from Loss, Abstract Grief. Dissect how each variance of grief has affected me. Recognise the aftermath of each that still lingers in my life; underhanded, yet culpable for the less-than-enlightened choices I have made; often still do make.

Here in this room my cousins grieve for the beloved father they have lost; I grieve for the one beside me never really found. This is perhaps what I mean by Abstract Grief – defining abstract as, “existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.” Grieving something we never had. Trying to fill our wounds of gaping scarcity with bare, empty hands.

They say the final stage of grief is acceptance. I have been holding out on this, knowing with acceptance comes letting go. Of anger. Of blame. It has felt too much like exoneration, and I’ve not yet been ready to grant such pardon, even though I know death is not interested in the illusion of time we like to clutch to our chests, as if we could ever reign over anything so supreme. Such begrudging now seems futile when surrounded by the humbleness of dying’s wake. I am not willing to accept the effortlessness of which this could have been my Dad being laid to rest. There is too much here unsaid; unfinished.

I look down at our hands again. Ours. In this moment I feel intrinsically connected to something other than myself, for perhaps for the first time I can remember. There is a grounding; an anchoring. A softening. I want to reach over and take his hand in mine, but I don’t. Not yet. I think of these things as I drive the 400 kilometre trip home. How no matter the trauma, or the grief, some things will always remain terrible. We can never change what has been. Sometimes, when all is said and done, all that’s left is acceptance.

** This piece originally published in Anti-Heroin Chic, please do take some time to check out this most stunning literary magazine **

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