A year following my father's funeral, I admit losing him has seldom crossed my mind. Spending 5 percent of 365 days thinking about him since his passing would be a generous estimate. Seems harsh. I must be a self-centered, ungrateful daughter, which I won't deny, but bereavement is indeed a deeply personal and complicated journey.
I am aware of my detached grief. While my sisters posted sweet messages and pictures of my dad on social media, adorned their homes with reminders of his presence, and partook in religious rituals to celebrate his life, I remained a silent, distant observer. Even with the greatest efforts, my feelings and thoughts could not coagulate into anything substantial. Grieving someone you didn't know is much like tracking down a moving target with poor vision. How is one to know what to look for? I reach for memories of haze and leave the inward journey with feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
I should honor my father by remembering the warmth of his touch, his frail body, his generosity, his winning smile, his kind spirit, and the enormous sacrifices he has made. I should seek his comforting words as I go through life's challenges. I should cry for him as I did when I was a young child, when mom's fits of anger and rage became the norm. I should want him to be here again to bemoan how life is unfair, as I did when I was an angsty adolescent hoping dad would magically show up to rescue me. For a teenager who felt victimized by her mother's mood swings and rigidity, the fantasy of living with a kind and generous parent had a fair amount of appeal.
But dad was a no-show for most of my childhood. Even if he couldn't face mom after her extramarital affair, a part of me wanted him to fight for us. So as I grieve, I am also processing the state of the younger child who didn't get the opportunity to connect with her father during those crucial formative years. It would have been nice for someone to show genuine interest in me, my accomplishments, my aspirations. It would have been nice to pedal on rocky pavement with dad behind me, pushing me to let go of my fears. It would have been nice to hear words of wisdom when neighborhood kids threw rocks while yelling "chink" and other racial obscenities. Heck, it would have been nice to just see him plastered in front of a TV with a beer on one hand and a rosary on another.
The few childhood memories I had with my father were all wonderful, but they were encased in fantasy, protected by my own survival defenses. In reality, I hardly knew my father. What I knew of him were of my own projections. So when he passed away and people came out of the woodwork to share stories of him, I was one part touched, one part remorseful for not reaching out while he was alive, one part ashamed for wanting more than he was able to give, while another - a big part - felt robbed of what could have been a great father-daughter relationship. How could it not? Everyone that knew him sung his praises, not for being remarkable or contributing to the progression of humanity, but simply for being an all-around kindhearted, generous man. If a gatekeeper in another life, my dad would have always offered safe passage.
With more time, maybe I would have experienced the man that others knew so well. With patience and maturity, perhaps I would eventually see him through my thick skull. I would see him and I would accept him, welcome into my small corner of the world. But for many reasons, justified or not, I didn't see him, not when it mattered the most.