32 years ago today, my father died in an accidental electrocution while cleaning the cement around the house we were moving into. Come this afternoon, it will be 32 years- to the minute- when my mother became a single parent, and had to navigate life with two small children and no clue how the hell to make it all work.
The truth is, I have no idea why I’m writing this. I was 22 months old when my father died; asleep upstairs while the rest of the family dealt with the crisis below me. The memories I have of him aren’t my own; they’re bits and pieces cobbled together from everyone else’s memories to make a roughly humanoid, shadowy shape. Something always so much more and infinitely less than an actual person.
I don’t know who he was. Oh, sure, I know his name. I can describe him, and know which features we share. I know I look like him. I know I have his temper, and his penchant for talking the way out of trouble and being a snarky little shit. I know his family history- at least a little- I know the jobs he held and how he met my mother, and all that kind of information. But what I don’t know, in the slightest, is the man that he was. Was he a good man? I assume so, given that my mother doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Was he kind? I hear the stories about how he was with my sister, and have to assume that he was. Did he love me?
Isn’t that the million dollar question?
What my father is, and always has been, is my first understanding of storytelling. After all, the stories about him grow and change throughout the years, all utterly dependent upon the storyteller, and what’s happening in their life.
He was a slut cheating on my mother and planning to abandon us. He was a devoted husband and father working to pay off a home for his family. He hated babies and maybe, maybe, if he’d lived, he would have loved me eventually. He wouldn’t let my mother switch the pressure cleaner- the machine literally killing him- off incorrectly because they’d been told it would likely start a fire, and he wouldn’t risk the little girl sleeping upstairs, even to save himself. He adored my sister and she adored him above all else- he never really held me much because she was always in his arms. I screamed whenever anyone but Mum held me, and he never really got to hold me because I refused it every time. He never left home without kissing us all goodbye, even if he and Mum were annoyed with each other. They were the perfect couple. They were your typical couple- they fought, sometimes, but in the end they loved each other enough to work through issues and come away stronger for it.
My father isn’t so much a person, but a mirror that reflects every heartsore pain in the world left behind. He’s an interchangeable character dropped into stories as required because that’s what the storyteller needs. Today he’s the hero, next time, perhaps a villain. Everything and nothing.
I do it, too. There’s a picture that’s probably not me, but I’ve claimed it anyway. The only photo of my father and I, otherwise, is of him dressed as Santa. I know she was his favourite; it doesn’t bother me anymore. But I need to have a photo, some sign that maybe that adoring look happened to me, too, not just to my sister. So I lay claim to a photo I’ve no right to, and rewrite my story to include a moment I don’t even remember.
Writers, after all, are big on that whole rewriting thing.
My father is a game of truth I’m never going to win. A collection of lies, half-truths, romanticised memories, and exaggerations that I spend far too much time trying to form into an honest image of the man who helped give me life, and who has been shaping my life well after he was laid to rest.
My father is a trickster god, and every single time I think I have him figured out, everything changes. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being Geoff, started being Loki in my head. Geoff? He’s a guy everyone knows except me. He’s the man who drew breath and lived, a man I’ve never known and will never know. There are no memories for me to cling to, no stories that aren’t contradicted by someone else’s version of events. None can be proved, not really. How do you prove what was in a heart 3 decades in the ground?
Today, the rest of my family will mourn, and I will stand a little way apart, trying to be supportive. In this, I’m an outsider looking in, unsure what I’m missing except the idea of what I never got to have. I can’t miss him, not really, so I miss the idea that maybe what I lost was a man who held my family together, and a man that, despite claims to the contrary, loved me.
If there’s an afterlife, maybe the questions will finally be laid to rest. But until then, rest in peace, Loki.
Rest in peace, Geoff.