Requiem for a Missed Opportunity

I am like my dad—the older I get the more I see it. When I was a kid I thought I didn't have a sense of humour, because I didn't laugh at the same things my mum laughs at. It took me a long time to realize that my sense of humour is sarcastic and ironic, like my dad's. (My mum always said my dad didn't have a sense of humour, either.) I'm like him in other ways, too: we shared a love of singing, of writing. We shared our insecurity, our sociability, our interest in politics and civic engagement.

Despite our similarities, we never had a great relationship. My parents had an awkward marriage, and since I was closer to my mother, my childhood relationship with my father was strained by my knowledge of the hurt he caused her. After I left home, that distance persisted, even when we travelled together. There were glimmers of the connection we could have had. Occasionally we would get talking about politics or people, I would make a joke or sarcastic comment and the phone line would crackle with his rare laughter, stiff with disuse. But soon we would run out of things to say and the moment would pass. I never knew how to conjure up those moments, or I didn't try very hard to. Despite my best intentions, I could never shake off the childish embarassment and awkwardness I felt around him. When I got married my dad sent me an angry letter about having the wedding in Toronto rather than in Saskatchewan, and our relationship never recovered. As the years passed we talked less and less, and only the topic of choral singing animated our strained conversations.

My dad was fifty-four when I was born, and eighty-seven when he died. Maybe if our lives had overlapped more, I would grown up enough to connect with him as an adult. But before that happened, my dad's mind started to fade. A few years ago I was going through some old family pictures with him—he misidentified several children in pictures clearly taken in the seventies, as people born in the forties. That was my first hint that he was starting to lose his mind. Later he fell victim to numerous scams of the kind targeted at the elderly. He grew distant and vague. Lying awake one night I realized that he was only going to get worse, that I had missed my chance have a good relationship with him. We had passed the point of no return. That was the night I started grieving for my dad.

A couple of years later, my mum and my dad's doctors decided to move him into a nursing home—his forgetfulness and inability to take care of himself were taking a toll on my mum. A year after he moved into the home, almost to the day, he died. I got the call from my mum early in the morning of September 16, 2008.

My dad and I could have been great friends, but because of lack of time, lack of effort, fear of failure, youthful stupidity or elderly stubbornness, we never were. I will always regret not trying harder to nurture those glimmers of connection. I will always grieve the loss of my father, but more than that I will grieve for the relationship we could have had.

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