What was the last thing you said to your father? What was he wearing? Where were you? What were you doing?
I was searching for my lost wallet, he had been napping, I was anxious about my chemistry test.
I was kissing him goodbye, he was wearing his housecoat, I was late, it was raining. At least, I think it was raining.
In November 2000, I said goodbye to my father for the last time. It had been a fractious, angry day. My maternal grandmother was increasingly unwell, and my mother was about to travel to the UK to see about putting her in assisted living. My brother and I were due back at our boarding school after a half-term holiday. No one could find their socks. It was just that kind of day.
My father and I had spent the day sparring over university admissions. I wanted to go McGill, mostly because it was prestigious enough and Montreal seemed glamorous to my seventeen-year-old self. My father was hoping for the University of Toronto, mostly because it was prestigious enough and he was not prepared to let me live in another province yet. We stood in the front yard, and said our goodbyes. I was angry with him because I thought he was treating me like a child and I was trying to let him know that I was a grown woman. Nevertheless, I kissed him and told him I loved him. I said I would see him at Christmas. Of course, I never saw him again.
I was back home less than two weeks later, to begin the surreal practice of packing up a life that has been abruptly abandoned. We had strange problems. What do you do with that many pairs of grey flannel trousers? How do you explain your very complicated feelings in a thank you card for a casserole? Did you ever ask what your Dad wanted at his funeral?
The problem with memory is that it plays tricks on us. As the years go by, I’m starting to realize that I am forgetting what I initially thought was unforgettable. I realize that I can’t summon the sound of his voice as easily as I once did. I have a whole lifetime of milestones that he didn’t see. My prom dress. Getting my my first apartment. Graduating from McGill (sorry, Dad).
So, if I had to tell my dad today what I am grateful for, I would start by saying thank you for giving me your adventurous spirit. Thank you for teaching me that I was born stupidly lucky in the game of life and that meant that I was responsible for being kind and compassionate to others. Thank you for insisting that I develop a nuanced view of the collapse of the USSR, even though I was eight. Thank you for teaching me CPR. Thank you for making up dozens of stories about an alien species that lived on the head of a pin. Thank you for being really good at your job. Thank you for knowing that “Baby Jane” by Rod Stewart was the number one hit song the day I was born and considering it a good omen. Thank you for crying when you lost your father. Thank you for taking me for breakfast. Thank you for making me promise to leave any man who didn’t respect me. Thank you for playing The Police’s Synchronicity very, very loud.
Thank you for saying I should go to the University of Toronto, but telling Mum I should go where I was going to be happiest.
I have now lived without my father for almost half my life. I have lived long enough to know that he wasn’t perfect; that he was dogged by serious problems. Nothing is perfect here on this earth. I try to live life without regrets, but I will always regret the time I didn’t have with my dad. I sometimes wonder what he would make of my life. I try to write down memories when they come to me. Kenneth Hope seems to be more and more a stranger, sand slipping through my fingers, reduced to photos and mementos where there was once a living, breathing human being. I wish I knew his whole story, but I can’t.
Dear reader, I don’t want to preach to you, but if you still have your father, or mother, or someone dear to you, don’t be too busy. Don’t procrastinate. Tell them you love them. Every time. Too late comes too soon.