Two weeks ago I was left emotionally devastated by something that was said to me; something that hurt me so brutally that it was as if I had been physically pole-axed by the words. I am sure that many of my readers know the sort of emotional response I am referring to; a response so painful that it is akin to a physical blow that leaves a person winded and completely without speech. What was said then is not as important as what my dad said to me today.
I was sitting outside, with so many tears falling from my eyes that my clothes were drenched in the places where they had landed. My dad came outside and found me like that. I loathe crying. I loathe it even more when others see my tears. “What’s up Dort?” he asked, his voice full of concern. ‘Dort’ is my dad’s own special way of saying “Daughter”. I, in turn, always call him ‘Farth’ in response. “Oh Farth!” I cried. I told him what had happened, as he put his arms around me and hugged me in the heartfelt, truly genuine way that my dad always gives hugs. That’s the thing about my dad. His hugs (when he gives them at all) are the sort of hugs that leave you knowing he means them. “Listen, Dort'”, he said, once I had finished telling him what had happened. “You’re my daughter, and I love you. I will always love you, even though you can be a bit of a silly bitch now and then”. I tried to smile through the tears, but there were more tears falling now than there had been before he came outside. You see, dad meant no offence when he called me a ‘silly bitch’. It is our father-daughter shorthand of sorts, a saying that he and I understand, and that is all you need to know. “People will always get things wrong. People will always misunderstand. People will hurt you and say some bloody terrible things about, and to, each other. If you take everything to heart, Dort, you’ll be miserable forever, and life’s too short to be a bloody miserable bastard”. To summarise, the incident that had caused me such pain revolved around a serious misunderstanding about who I am and what I am actually like as an individual.
“But dad, didn’t you ever get hurt by the things people said to you?”
“Of course I did. Of course. You hurt me. You know you did. Your mother hurt me. That little bugger of a grandson (my son) hurt me, but that was because you all matter to me. The thing is, Dort, people can only hurt you if you care about them, even if what they have said is not true. But you’ve got to be able to tell the difference. You can’t go around letting the words hurt when you know they’re not true“.
“But what about those who don’t know, dad?”.
“Puck ’em, Dort!” (‘my dad’s language is rather ‘colourful’ but his generation never swore around women. Replace that ‘p’ with an ‘f’ in order to decipher what he really meant)
“Listen. You are more like me than you know. People go off me quick. You remember that? And what have I always said? ‘I go off people real quick, too'”.
This is true. My dad is one of those rare humans that are almost extinct in some places: “The real”. My dad was “keeping it real” before that cliché ever entered contemporary speech. I suspect that he was watched by a secret society of anthropologists who had studied him since birth and finally found a description that fit my dad’s behaviour and personality. Hence, ‘Keeping it real’ was coined and entered the collective consciousness after they eventually found an accurate descriptor for such a phenomena.
“Dad. I know people often misunderstood you. I know they didn’t always know how to take you. I know that they either loved you or hated you. There was no ‘in between’ with you. But why did you go off them so quickly?”.
“Because I’ve never had any time for fools, Dort. I thought you knew that! If people don’t want to know me” (he pointed to his chest to punctuate his meaning as he said it) “Then why bother? Why bother, Dort? Because you can tell them who you are all you want. You can show them who you are all you want. But sometimes they just won’t see it. And that’s not your problem, sweetiepie. That’s theirs”.
And, because dad knew what the situation referred to, he added “So, they got you mixed up with someone else. It’s not up to you to fix that. If you change who you are to please everyone around you, you’re not you any more, and if they couldn’t tell the difference to begin with you’re not going to change their mind now, no matter what you do. And, if you try to change yourself you’re not being true to yourself, either. You’re living a lie now, Dort. And that’s wrong. You know that’s wrong. Well, you do if I taught you anything. I taught you everything I know, and you still know nothing!”, he grinned. “No. Be you, Dort. Be you. That’s all you can be and what’s wrong with you? There’s bloody nothing wrong with you. You’re my daughter; my ‘Bug Louise'” (Don’t ask. Just don’t!) “So, pull your socks up. Chin up. You’re your father’s daughter. Now get out there and kick arse, Dort. KICK ARSE! They will love you or hate you but what you think of you is what matters. If you’ve done something wrong, own up. I know you do. You always have. If you’ve done nothing wrong then don’t accept it! Simple as that. If [the person who said those painful words] knows you at all [they’ll] come good, Dort [They’ll] see who you are!”. I did not feel as confident about that outcome but I said nothing. Dad looked at me again, his brown eyes full of determined love and complete assurance in his own perception of the matter in question. After a moment he spoke again, “So, the next time someone asks how you are, say “I’m ab-s0-lutely BLOODY FAN-TAS-TIC!”. Dad would always answer the polite ‘how are you’s’ that people often mouth with exactly those words, stated with such conviction that there could be no doubt about how great he was feeling.
“Dad, why did you always say those words?” I asked. I had never asked him why he said them before now.
“Because it always took ’em off guard. They never expected it. Most people expect a reply that doesn’t mean a bloody thing! Well, I told them the truth!”.
I stopped and looked at my dad for a minute. He was right. And, by giving people that response he also let anyone who came into contact with him know that he was confident, knew himself, and that their opinion of him was their own to make, not his. My dad was ‘keeping it real’, as always.
My tears had almost stopped by now, when he gave me another one of those amazing hugs of his. Then he looked at me and smiled with the kind of paternal love that always crinkled the skin around the corners of his eyes. “I love you, Dort”, he said. “I love you. And I know you. Now, come here sweetie. I’ve got to go and see your mum. You’ll be alright. Just be you and remember. Don’t let the bastards get you down”. His arms enfolded me once more and the tears started again.
“Thank you, dad”. I said. I really meant it. “I love you, dad”. I really meant that, too!
“I love you too, Dort” he said, as he stood up and prepared to walk away. He stopped before he rounded the corner of the house, and looked back to give me one of his cheeky smiles. “And Remember. Don’t be a silly bitch. Kick arse, Dort. KICK ARSE”.
I watched him go, through the tears in my eyes. And I looked down at the little pen knife in my hands. I had held its weathered handle with the blade folded inside itself the whole while he was here. I felt much better. I knew what my dad meant. I was being a silly bitch. I realised that I am me and that is all I can be. I will be misunderstood by some. I will be loved by some. I will be loathed by some. Their opinion of me is their business, not mine.
I looked at the little knife again and brought it up to my lips to kiss the handle gently. It was one of my dad’s favourite knives…when he was on this side of Life. “Thanks, dad”, I said again, as the hilt blurred through my wet vision.
My dad died fifteen months ago.