I was 17 when my father died.
I am now 19 years past that 17. I now have more living years without my father than I ever had with him. I take nothing away from those that never knew their fathers, or have lost them through heinous circumstances. That, too, is a grief unparalleled and there is no sufficient comparison–and need never be.
This the 19th anniversary of the passing of my father, I am in a unique place. I struggle to remember him now. So much life has passed since his passing, I have done so much, seen so much, and desire so much more. There is a reason I am as driven and ambitious as I am. There is a reason why I had to become more resourceful than I ever thought–Dad. I live my professional life by these quotes:
“There is always a way to do something.”
“If you can’t get in the front door, go around to the back. If they won’t let you in the back, bust a window, and jump in.” (This quote is in regards to being told what you cannot do, or being told no.)
–Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)
In reflecting on this day, 19 years later, I am now able to reconcile and recognize his impact in my life. In 17 years, I got more than the average little girl did. By no means does this mean my father was perfect, or slave to his own ambition. It means that I can appreciate his humanity in light of adulthood. I can now unravel the Gordian knot that was our relationship. He saw so much more in me at 17, that it took me until 36 to see.
He saw the woman I would become. He saw the drive he had placed there, there resourcefulness, the forcefulness and saw the beginnings of me learning to breathe fire. He saw it first. In that shaping, I thought him unreasonable, arrogant and mean.
In the reflection of time, I can integrate that grieving self with the public one: I am just as much his daughter, as I am my mother’s daughter. There need be separation because I didn’t feel good enough for so long. I thought in order to preserve sanity, I had to only be my mother’s daughter. I thought to be adequately angry, I had to remember everything bad he said. In order to remain what I thought to be whole, I had to give him up. Ergo, it’s easier to forget.
The greatest thing God permits is us to age. In the passing of years, we see people for who they are, what they are, and the air of perfection is lost. They are more human than divine, more accessible.
What I would tell my 17 year old self if this:
Mourn. You have the right to mourn. It does not make you any less of a ‘strong, black woman’ to admit you are suffering, and not okay, and you, too, need help. Mourning allows your heart to remember what you lost. You have the right to remember. So, remember. As you remember, remember as broken as he was, he gave you what you needed to get to where you must. You’re still his girl…and that is all that matters. Go and be amazing.