Father’s Day is always a strange time for me, I still struggle to find it a time of celebration. It’s more a time of grief and sorrow. How do I exist in a world that my father doesn’t? My anchor to this world erased, forgotten and displaced. The man that cradled me, that held me fresh from the womb, who, with knuckles the size of walnuts and chipolata-size fingers, used to cradle my small fragile head. The man taught me many things after my mother’s passing: how to ride a bike, how to paint my nails, how to get in a fight, and how to get out of one too. He was a great dad; but his lasting legacy was the way he taught me to respect people no matter what; he taught me manners so no one would ever tell me to mind them.

It’s a strange feeling reminiscing over my loss of him, because he’s still here in some strange way. He’s still a part of me, no matter how much he may have changed since his passing, or how different he may now be. It comes every year like the sudden discovery of a melanoma, no matter how careful I am it seems to always find a way through, a way to contaminate my way of being. It still doesn’t get easier, I still sometimes slip. I thought having my own son would lessen this bereavement; developing into a father myself should somehow lessen the pain … shouldn’t it? The problem is that I long for that special time back, to be as bold as he was, as strong and determined. A dream chaser who didn’t care for the strife of this world. Not to give two hoots of what the world thinks. I wish I could be half the man he is … was … it’s complicated. The problem is that by the time I realised my dad was right, I already had a son who thought I was wrong.

I do mourn the loss, that breakdown of relationship, the constant pulling to have him back. But he’s gone. He used to be my rock, someone I could talk to about my feelings. When I was young, I used to think my dad was Superman. Who doesn’t? But as I grew up I began to see him for who he was, and I realised he was just a regular guy who liked to wear tights, high heels and a cape.

I guess I now have to learn to love him all over again.

I thought I lost him, but instead I gained a mother. I guess life is beautiful in all its complexities and varied guises, and my father was fed up living a lie. Living his life as a modern day vampire. It’s a flexible allegory as he knew death, sexual desire, underwent a metamorphosis, from the stagnation and loss of his true self, having to keep his real self a secret from the world. For fear of a hate mob, carrying their pitchforks and flaming torches, coming to rid their neighbourhood of this evil force lurking within its walls. People are scared of what they don’t understand. It’s natural, but to force their fear and hatred onto others is abhorrent and corrupt. But he was stronger than I ever could imagine. He was bolder than the mightiest hero. He chose to live his life the way he chose and was not dictated by society and bigots. He weighed up the cost to himself, to me, to my children and decided that it was either a lifetime of guilt and sufferance or a lifetime of freedom.

I went through the stages of grief — after all, I did lose a father. Some of these stages lasted longer than others and some were fleeting, but I worked through them nevertheless. I had to. So did my father. He was dying. Dying to a life he’d been obliged to live, the expectance of societal norms. A lie that was forced on him from an overly paranoid and overly masculine father who cleaved himself to the unyielding and outdated facts that a man must marry a woman and have children. My dad had to work through his own issues, a code that was working slowly behind the scenes. He worked hard to re-write it, to become the new person he longed for, and in re-wiring his system, beliefs and what was forced upon him, he was then free to become the person he was born to be. Free from stigma, free from the shackles of what life informs us we should be, free to be loved for the very first time as the person he longed to be all along. The final stages of grief are acceptance. I now accept that my dad is my mother, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ross Jeffery
is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Most often than not found collaborating with Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self with either pen or camera. He is an avid reader of an eclectic mix of fiction and is a lover of the short story form. Ross has been published in print with STORGY Books Exit Earth (Daylight Breaks Through), Project 13 Dark (Bethesda) – his work has also appeared online at STORGY Magazine and Idle Ink (Judgements). Ross lives in south Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie).