We have a cultural tradition of celebrating people after they die - and why not? But I think it's important to celebrate people while they are alive. I want the people I care about to know how important they are to me every single day of their lives. So Pappa turns seventy, today, and there's no better time than the present to write a bit about how much he means to me. How do you measure something that has always been there? How do you describe something that is so central to everything that without it everything changes?
I know what it's like to be without Pappa. When I was little, he was away often, working in the bush as a forester, and I missed him terribly while he was away. I used to sleep with pieces of his clothing, and jump to the phone when it rang, in case it was Pappa calling on a radio phone and I could get to hear his voice before handing the phone over to Mum. I wanted to say "I love you Pappa" and hear him say "yes, Em" and smile audibly, which was the way he said he loved me too. I just wanted to remember that I had him in the world.
I remember the day I began calling him Pappa. I had always called him Hardy, before that, since he was my step-father, and that's how I had known him before we married him. (Yes *we* married him. My mother asked my permission first, and included me in the wedding.) But eventually I had a brother, who was calling him Pappa, and one day as I was standing in the kitchen, drying my hands at the dish towel by the big window, Mum said that Hardy would really like it if I called him Pappa, too. I imagine I was about five, and I remember thinking of the word: how strange it felt to say it, and how it didn't sound at all like the man I knew as my father. But I tried it out. I walked over to him and said "Pappa" like maybe my mouth was broken, and he behaved as though nothing interesting had happened at all. He's like that. He takes things in stride that to me seem to turn the world upside down.
And things that turn Pappa's world upside down bewilder me. We have a very hard time getting along sometimes. Let's not pretend everything is peachy. I'm extremely sensitive, and he likes strong people. He criticizes me and I turn on him with venom. I imagine he would like me to leave this paragraph out, and I can't write without telling the whole story. He's sensitive, too, of course, and we break each other's hearts all the time. But no matter how much we argue or don't understand each other; no matter how much he imagines I don't care or I imagine he dislikes me, there will always come a day when we find each other present at a time compassion is truly deeply needed, and we can give that to each other. Pappa will say "Like a cuppa tea?" Or he will say nothing at all and hug me strongly like he does. Or he will look in my eyes and say "I'm scared", and I will see his eyes rimmed pink with fear, and he'll accept a hug just until it's time to move onto something more pleasant. It's good to have someone who can walk the hard walk of vulnerability with you when it needs to be done.
Pappa didn't have to be my father. He just was. Throughout my childhood he was there for me at the times I needed him and at the times I didn't want him. He did things that made me very angry in his efforts to protect me (like being very rude to (beloved) boyfriends, and cutting down dangerous (beloved) trees...). He protected my mother fearlessly - even from me, which was not to his benefit, most of the time, but it made me love him more. He shows me consistently that he will stand for those he loves.
I love fearlessly because of Pappa. He chose to love me as his daughter. And he still does. He made that commitment and then followed through like it wasn't a choice at all. Love is like that.
Thank you for all the love and stability that you are to me, Pappa. Thank you for being mine.