I should be happy that you’ve been released from the demons of this life that haunted you for so long. I should feel a burden lifted from my shoulders that your long and arduous journey is done. In my mind you left this world, my world, years ago, one of your medical conditions prompting a journey home for me to prepare our goodbyes. But you held on, stubbornly for several more years. My earliest memories of us involve feeling so bonded and loyal to you, that the slightest disapproving glance or brush off would send me into a tailspin of guilt and shame. I wanted nothing more than your loving approval, and when granted, it was cherished more than the affection of anyone else in my world. And that approval hung in the balance of a lifetime of uncertainty. Your love was one of condition, and it came at a high cost. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized the price you’d paid for a tragic childhood. A casualty of World War II, you were trapped in a cycle of pain and arrested development, losing your own father at such a young age, cast about in post-war Indonesia with no ties to bind you to anyone save your siblings. You survived, and for the briefest glimpses of time, you even thrived. Flashes of who you truly were, the hilarious man behind the mustache who smelled of gin, Merit cigarettes and Brut cologne, gave me hope that someday we’d transcend all of the chaos to have an honest relationship with one another. I spent a lifetime longing for it.
But if anyone in this life typified a beautiful mess, it was you, Father. You gave me the capability to live a passionate life, and for that I am eternally grateful. We have to touch the stove before we’ll trust that it’ll burn us, and this, too, comes at great cost. You lived a life characterized by survival against the odds, and you were capable of so much. You gave me a love for steam locomotives, a curiosity to tear things apart to see what makes them tick, a sense of humor to make others laugh when I was crying on the inside. But mostly, I just wanted my dad. I wanted the Dad who built Legos with me, who, as a referee, red-carded me in one of my early soccer games, who insisted on taking me on his motorcycle to hit the open road, who refused to put on pants when we had company, who told me that he didn’t care if I wanted to be a garbage man in this life, but if that was going to be the case that I better be the best damn garbage man I could be. I loved, feared and loathed you, sometimes in equal measure. Your stories were legendary bullshit, getting furious with us when we questioned whether or not Pink Floyd was really a Dutch band, or whether or not you hung out with Haile Selassie or were a tank commander at one time. It didn’t matter, you were the teller of tales, often times half-nude and half-crocked, but always full to the brim with passion and vigor. You were a dog-whisperer long before some guy made that sort of thing famous on television; children and animals of all types were calmed by your demeanor, even as adults found you charming and baffling all at once. Your temper was fueled with glorious, righteous rage, and all of your children feared it, not because of any sort of physical manifestation, but a deep seated fear of disappointing you and earning your infamous cold shoulder.
Your children are now scattered around this country, with a brother and sister I’ve never even met, and knowing only some of your seven wives. You were a family man in the sense that no matter the situation, you boldly declared that blood was thicker than all else in this world. Each of your boys has this ingrained upon us, imprinted for a lifetime, allowing us to be bound to one another in ways that can never be undone. Damn the torpedoes of society’s thoughts, you lived life on your own uncompromising terms, pissing off who it may. And, dammit, through it all I have loved you as only a son can for his father. No matter the hurts we visited upon one another, the ties that bound us were set from the moment you brought me into this life. You will never know how much I’ve truly loved you, Father, and now that you’ve gone, I’ll never again hear your gravelly voice, accent still so thick after half a century in this country, telling me that you, too love me.
I can’t say your leaving has come too shockingly; a lifetime love affair with life’s vices cannot be unaccounted for, and in the end, the toll was great upon your body, as it would be for any of us. But unshockingly or not, I was not prepared properly. Are we ever? Our last conversation ended with telling one another that we loved each other, and I cannot ask for more than that. I can only hope that whatever peace you spent a lifetime chasing has finally come to you, Father. Please rest well. And rest knowing that throughout this life your son has loved you more than I could ever express. Know that I will love you for the rest of my years, that I will tell your tale faithfully if not a little embellished for effect, but it will be told with laughter so that the very best of you is remembered. I already miss you so very much, but I’m comforted with the knowledge that your struggles have come to an end at last.
Farewell, mijn geliefde vader. I love you.