Writing letters to my dead father has been of important therapeutic value in times of dealing with my emotional distress. By doing this I can project my hurt feelings at him, as opposed to innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. In the past my consuming anger has been very self-destructive, and hurtful to those on the receiving end of my venomous outbursts. The following two letters are examples of examples of attempts to communicate with my father as a way of letting him know how I feel. It is also a way of using my writing as a conduit for the grieving process I am still struggling with.
I would only use this method of expressing yourself if you are prepared to be totally honest with yourself. Why lie on a piece of paper?. As I have journeyed through my emotions, many things have come up which I wasn't expecting, but have I accepted them as part of the process. Letter writing is not easier and it can be made worse if you don't feel comfortable with it. For those who do manage to put pen top paper I wish you continued strength in your own grieving or celebration of losing a loved one. Letter can help you find the courage and strength to re-connect.
Finally, when you read the letters you will see repetition, different tenses, and paces. I have left them un edited as I do not want to confine my feelings to something, which is grammatically correct.
Dear Dad (Aug '97)
It has been a long time since I last spoke to you. The more I try to hide my sense of despair, the more it comes to the surface. Right now I'm hurting, and experiencing the kind of pain I sometimes can't deal with. If it's not the depression, it's the withdrawal from people, or I just handle life badly. I've tried endless times to figure out what I feel so bad. It's always in front of my face, but I don't always see it, or truthfully, I don't want to see it. It's quite simple, the foundation for my life was never there, and when it was, it was too late. Time had passed to another level, and I had become a man with a missing link. you ....
... At times I feel like someone who's been robbed ..... raped .... and survived a horrific attack, only to be scarred by memories and nightmares. Sure I've done well, never been in trouble with the police, achieved a lot in my career choices, and a whole heap of external stuff, but internally I'm messed up. I've found a coping strategy in my writing and performance, but it can't make up for the fear I have of getting close to those I love. I get scared of intimacy in case I get rejected, which cuts many good people out of my life. All my life I've been rejected, either through being of mixed race, my physical size, my background, and nuff other things, which has made me, feel different. Different in an uncomfortable sense. I always feel like an outsider, like somehow I don't belong to the club of those who had their parents around them ......
.... What makes matters worse is I've reached an age now, where I try to cover it up with fancy words, and a denial of how it really feels, because I'm scared once again, of how of the things it will throw up. All my life I'd dream of the day we'd meet, and never let mum's pain or bitterness stop me from keeping it alive.
We used to argue all the time, because she wanted her anger to become mine, but I refused to let it get to me. I always gave you the benefit of the doubt, which was I know now was wrong. Imagine, waiting till my thirties to have a proper conversation with you, and then discovering you had had a stroke.
This made it impossible to share our true feelings. I was always conscious I had to hold back my anger, whilst you were always conscious of not wanting to upset me. So you tried your best to style it out. I suppose you always knew you were going to die before I could discover the truth. Those first couple of days in Jamaica when I met my family for the first time, was like climbing a big mountain, and finding the rainbow with the pot of Gold at the end of it. Little did I know a couple of days later I would be hearing your voice for the last time.
Meeting you a few times, only to return to England to find you were confined to a small urn, which I still haven't been able to see, was so hard. Dad, every day I grieve .. inside, outside, in my work, in my letters, and in my denial. I still struggle to get over it, and am always asked, if I am bitter? I don't think I am. I think the core of what I feel is loss, and the symptoms are anger, depression, and lots of other negative emotions. I mean, how am I supposed to feel? Did you ever ask yourself that?
..... For years I used to ask mum about you, and she would be evasive, which would result in an argument. It got so bad, we would argue to a point of disliking each other. I've spent many years patching things up, and trying to understand her pain. Despite getting closer to her, I cannot begin to understand the effect you had on her life, and the depth of feeling she must have experienced when you died.
You took a piece of all of us with you, which still lingers to this day. I have a son now, to go with my other children, and it's spooky, because he looks so much like me. I feel you've inhabited my body. It's as if I have become you, and my son has become me, and we are starting all over again. It's difficult though, because I lack confidence, and struggle sometimes to bond the way I should, because I'm scared, worried and vulnerable. It's as if I've lived my whole life in conflict with myself, and struggle with good things, because they're alien. My son is called ADIKA. His middle name is JOPARI. The A in his name is for Astley. So even though I didn't have a part of you, I wanted him to at least have a chance ....
... things like love, nurturing, sharing, should all be easier things for me to do, but they are the hardest. Outwardly I'm like a walnut shell, but inside I feel like a jelly coconut, waiting to be scraped away and eaten, by those who can hurt me, by prizing open my darkest fears, and releasing them into the atmosphere. I feel so helpless, useless, and internally castrated, at times, where I flounder and feel I'm drowning. I do stupid things, make rash decisions, and at times I can't express myself fully, to those I care for. And I continue to behave like I'm in control and everything's all right, when the truth is, I'm a broken man. The amount of times I am told you let go of you, move on with my life, don't allow it to get to me ... but how am I suppose to let go of something I never held in the first place? How am I supposed to move forward when I'm being held fast? and how can I not allow it to get to me, when I'm constantly being reminded by other people, what I haven't got ? Tell me Dad, how am I supposed to do that?
.... Is it because I'm older now, and should know better. I know I should. It's damaging for my health, mentally and physically. It doesn't make sense to bury yourself in the past. Yet in saying that, I'm always being told how the past affects the future.
An example, is understanding slavery as a way to look at the future, we as Black people have. I suppose the past is something to compare things to, something to refer to in a moment of confusion. A sort of clarifying and purifying process. Well my past has been full of crap .. good things .. crap .. great things ... crap .. major achievements . All the time I've moved on, I've still had the crap to deal with. So what is this crap I'm dealing with all the time? It's not having an older opinion when I needed it, from the source that should have guided me through the maze of confusion I experienced throughout my earlier years ...
.... All my life I've been a nomad, moving around from place to place, person to person, never feeling settled, and when I do, not trusting it. You could have solved that problem, by giving me the security of knowing I always had a place to stay in times of trouble, the voice on the end of the phone, the voice of reason, and so on. It's about the things we could have done together, shared, and experienced. They were taken away from me, without an opportunity to have a say in the matter. I feel I've been emotionally broken into, and have had my insides cleaned out. Look at what you've missed, my children, relationships, my achievements ... me !
... Yes ! me ... that person you probably thought about occasionally, but never bothered to do anything about. How did you live with it, locked inside your conscience? you must have been a great actor to be able to hide another human being like me, for all those years without being found out. When I was in Jamaica and I saw my photo in Granny's house, I felt so good and moved, but sad, that we couldn't have seen that picture together, and shared that rare moment. There were many rare and important moments in my life, too many to mention, all of which have shaped, defined, and been responsible for making me the person I am today.
I am a stronger person than I used to be, but the weakness comes in not dealing or facing up to the past. I've tried, by writing it down, performing it out my system, but I've never really had an objective conversation with you, to deal with it properly ....
.... I don't hate you Dad, I've never hated you. I've been hurt, and am trying my hardest, to deal with what that means. I've travelled and been on many journeys, but non greater than the internal journey I'm taking right now. It's taking me to places I didn't think existed. I've pondered for many years since your death to put my thoughts down on paper, because I was worried in case I would see things, which I didn't want to face. I've overcome that, and am meeting things head on. Imagine if you'd have taken that challenge on, to phone, write a letter, or even try and get to see me. It wouldn't have been hard would it? I remember the first time we met and I discovered I liked the same type of Jazz you did, shared a similar taste in style, and other things. It was amazing, that such a short meeting would bring about such a realisation, but it did.
That is what has always been so painful, that we could have made it, as father and son. We had all the right tools, but not the right opportunity. The amount of times in my life when I've missed opportunities, yet here was one I missed, which was not of my making. I sit and listen to friends talking about their fathers, secretly longing to be in their shoes, and share my own stories ...
...... My life is quite good now. In fact I would say it's very good. Not that it couldn't be better, but I love myself a little more, and am still working on self nurturing and surrounding myself with those who care for me. My mum is as dedicated as ever. Although you caused her the greatest pain of all. Whilst you went and saw the world, she saw poverty and homelessness.
The amazing thing is my mum's resistance, and resilience, got her through, but I know in her quiet moments, she sheds nuff tears for her past losses. My mum is a woman who you missed out on. Her potential to do great things, like bringing up a troubled child like me, can never be rewarded, but yet she deserves the highest honours. So you see Dad, I can write to you now, and be open with my feelings. I can even call you Dad, even though you weren't there enough to earn it.
You need to understand, this is about me, not you. It is about my need to at last take responsibility and say goodbye to the lead weight, which has weighed heavy on my heart. I am still on that journey of recovery and healing, but I'm still alive, and have many things to discover. There will come a time, when we'll meet up, and you can tell me all about it, but I needed to let you know a little about the person you let go, and how he has a to going for him. It's been good sharing a vibe like this, and who knows I may even be able to shed a few more tears.
Listen! take care, and we'll talk soon ... yours .. your son (And I am still your son, and will always be your son) ....... Martin
Dear Dad (Aug '97)
I hope you are well. I decided to write again, as a way of keeping up my commitment to telling you about myself. I have just returned from taking Adika to the park, and felt incredibly sad and upset. Not because the experience wasn't enriching, but it's my own sense of loss at never having you do that for me.
Just seeing my son placing a piece of bread in his tiny hand, and throwing it to the ducks, seemed like such a basic activity. But it was a huge moment of bonding and togetherness. He needed me to guide his hand towards the ducks, and I needed him to let me help him accomplish the task. I looked around the park, and felt the tranquillity and peace, which has been always lacking in my life ....
..... Prior to going to the park I was reluctant to take him, as I tried to block out the possible pleasure I could get from it. That's what it's like when you live in a state of denial. In this case, I didn't want to feel good. How ridiculous and selfish of me to think like that; not only denying yourself pleasure, but. preventing Adika from having something I didn't. That made me feel pretty lousy, as I nearly used the power I have, to deny him something, knowing he would have no rights to reply ...
.... On reaching back to the house, I talked to my partner Pauline. You'd like her, she's strong, powerful, and most of all, someone who has time to listen to my pain. I told her I was concerned about my ambivalence towards going to the park, and she challenged me, about my attitude, and said how it wasn't fair on Adika. I told her it is not easy to unlock things.
It's too painful I said. That's no excuse for not doing the right thing with your son" she said. She's right of course, but I always seem to come full circle, without a decent answer. I think deep down, I'm a coward, but in an ironic sense, as I usually deal with conflict and reaction quite well. I don't have to engage too much positive energy in those enterprises. No ! I'm a pleasure coward. That's good; I've invented a new term. I'm a raw, no nonsense, and pleasure coward. I run from good things, so I won't have to take responsibility for moving on.
.... I don't think I'm alone in that pursuit though, as many of us are scared to enjoy, laugh, experience pleasure, as all too often it brings guilt, shame, and insecurity. Who'd have thought something so basic as enjoyment makes someone that frightened? I know you were always a person who could make people laugh, and give pleasure. Although, when I met you for the first time, and you were trapped inside the body of a stroke victim, I could see part of how I am now.
You looked uncomfortable, knowing you hadn't been there for me, and struggling with not knowing the right things to say. It was strange for me too, but somehow I always felt you had cheated me again. In respect to having a stroke, meant that I couldn't challenge you, or dig deep, as I was very conscious of the way it might affect your health ....
... I can imagine we would have got into nuff trouble if we had had a chance to come together. Especially as Auntie Carmen, and Cousin Mazy, felt you and me were very much alike. Imagine that! father and son on the town, checking out Jazz, attracting attention, and sharing a good time. That's all I've ever-wanted in life, not to be rich, but to have a quality of life. I do have many good things around me, although I don't acknowledge it always, but being the greedy person I am, I could always do with more ....
... Your death at such a young age brought home how close my own mortality is. Not that I'm being morbid, more of being aware of how the impending fate awaiting all of us, accelerates the need to do things with life, and not to stand still. Many of my so called friends will be getting rude awakenings, when they wake up from their slumber, and realise they have to get on and live life. When I look at it, I am pretty sussed about the importance of living a fulfilling, meaningful, and important life. It's just sometimes, I become stuck, like a broken record, or a CD track, which just repeats itself ....
... Your death also was the incident, which moved me to another level of self-awareness. Prior to that time I was ambitious, and very driven with no need to look and assess, as I was in most people's eyes ... successful. Your passing brought me back down to earth with a bang, and forced me to face another reality. Namely, the neglect of my inner self. My first day in Jamaica was such a wonderful experience. The heat was the first thing, which got to me. As I arrived in the airport terminal I saw Uncle Victor and Aunt Nora for the very first time. It's like I had come home.
When Aunt Nora's big frame, squeezed the life out of me, she welcomed the prodigal son back into the fold. I felt at one stage, she was really welcoming you, but using me to say it to. The first thing I did, which upset Uncle Victor, was ride in the back of his truck. Like a small child, I was excited. I wanted to see things first hand. Sugar cane fields, people out walking, children playing, and the smells. The smells of Sugar cane, clean air, and a beautiful scent of freedom. I felt a load had been lifted off my back, and I'd only been in Jamaica a couple of hours ....
..... Despite feeling tired, I was alive, in a way I'd never experienced. It was so strange. All I kept hearing on the way to Kendal, was Uncle Victoria's cheeky laugh, at not understanding how I could come all the way from England, and not want to ride in the passenger seat. It was then I had my first taste of real Jamaica, when a posse of people leapt in the back of the truck for a lift. They didn't even look at me different.
They were just people glad of a lift from my Uncle. Just listening to their voices, hearing the day's stories, and sharing in that one small experience made me feel whole. Dad! for the first time in my life, I belonged to people, who belonged to me. I was so happy. Inside I knew I was on the road to recovery. It made me remember the way we looked through your photograph album when we first met, and how you showed me Granny, and all those people I was destined to meet during my times in Jamaica. When I look back on it, I know you knew things were pretty bad, and you wanted to at least give me a start on my journey back to recovery. For that I am grateful ....
Listen, I'm going to close now as I feel I need to save things for another letter. Boy have we got nuff catching up to do. I like these memories ...
Martin Glynn is a writer who has gained a National and International reputation for his work in Theatre, Radio Drama, Live Performance, and Poetry, as well as pursuing and active career as a Screenplay writer. A major part of his current work is working with men in prisons, using the written and spoken word, as a conduit for personal transformation
. More importantly he is a
a brother .
a grandfather .
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