Today would have been my Dad’s 76th birthday.
Anniversaries are strange human inventions, aren’t they? Birth and death and the life stage changes in between. A way to try to pin down that illusive and fluid construct called time into something concrete and graspable. Celebrations or commemorations of events stand like buoys in an endless ocean, mental signposts around which we organise our memories, thoughts and feelings, and with them, our very conception of who we are.
We experience time in terms of beginnings and endings, of starts and finishes and the linear flow between them. Watching the cycle of life in my garden makes me think time is probably more circular than that, and we ride the rim of it for a mere moment. A moment so brief that, at least from our perspective, it seems nothing but a straight line.
It’s easy to think of ourselves as individual objects too; whole and complete and independent from the world around us. Autonomous entities inserted into the maelstrom of life for a moment, and then whisked away again.
But my father was the literal continuation of his parents, half his mother and half his father written into every cell of his body. He himself a quarter of his grandparents, and an 8th of their parents in turn, and onwards. A long stretch of life that reaches back all the way through time to life’s beginnings. An algorithm of nature that means we all contain a fragment, a shadow or whisper, of every other living thing, somewhere down the chain. We are a mosaic of life’s successful attempts. Not in our modern DNA perhaps, but in our existence at all.
And my father stretches forward too. I am but an extension of him. The code running inside my cells, the code which determines the type of brain I have and sets the boundaries in which every measurable aspect of who I am expresses itself – my height, weight, intellect, approach to risk, gregariousness and so on – is 50% him and 50% my mom.
I am half of him. Literally. Biologically, I am but an extension of him, and his parents and theirs too. And of course, his influence remains etched in my brain. Literally knitted into my neural connectome by my experience of him in the world. His hopes and dreams, his fears, and his capacity to love and laugh and lose the plot are reflected in my world view, and always will be.
I am not a replica of my father. I am not even the identical expression of those things, but they have shaped who I am, and as a result go on to shape who my children are, and to some extent then, who their children might be. The fingerprints of my father, and his parents before him, and his grandparents before them too, remain in the world long after their passing.
As I say every year, I miss my Dad. I wish I could experience one of his all encompassing hugs and have him call me his firsty-born again. I’ve only really come to understand my Dad in his passing. Or perhaps it is the wisdom that has come from my own ageing. My father’s love was so weighted with expectation it suffocated me while he was alive. But I wish I had the opportunity for him to get to know me as I now am, to have a cup of tea over a game of Trivial Pursuit, and for me to tell him how missed and loved he is. But I don’t. So, I tell the world instead, as I remember him on his birthday. I love you Dad. I always have and I always will. Happy birthday old man.