My mother talks about my father, the way most ex lovers do.
In her words about him, there is always a remnant of a love still aching for juvenile closure.
Forever in wait of an apology, for being left alone to raise the rude interruption of her youth.
Her memories of him reek of childish nostalgia, holding onto memories that should’ve long been discarded.
And even though it’s never confessed out loud, there is a part of her that wonders what could’ve been, had I not been.
At the root of all that my mother has lost, there is me, blooming instead of their love.
The mention of his name still brings a warmth to her face. I don’t tell her; that he does not deserve it, that she must learn to let go of people who never wanted to stay.
Not only does my father live in my mother but he continues to survive in me too.
The last time I saw him, he smiled, a familiar reflection I’ve seen too many times in my mirror.
Those who’ve met us both, accuse that my eyes wrinkle at the sides, imitating his. This mouth and this nose, all scraps of his rejection.
I still carry with me all these things my father left behind.
And unlike him, I can’t abandon any of them.
Inside my head there is a library of the countless books I’ve read. Books that became great companions, distracting me from his abandonment and her detachment.
I am like this because I have a reckless father who doesn’t know how to stay gone. Who likes leaving bits and pieces of himself lying around unclaimed.
My mother tells me that as a young man, he devoured books and newspapers and dictionaries.
He even went on to become a teacher of literature to feed his appetite for all things linguistic.
I was clay in the wrong Potter’s hands, too much of me being formed from an image of a broken man, carving my insides and outsides out of rejection.
Like his other children, I’ve gone on to become a benefactor of a genetic skin disorder that has been passed onto us from him, an inheritance from his father.
When I was in high school, it first showed itself as an itchy rash but over time, it has developed into discoloured and rough skin on my legs and feet.
I hate him most when I’m holding back from scratching myself raw or making appointments with optometrists and ophthalmologists because of these weak eyes he’s given me.
I have a vague memory of him telling me once, that his mother left him as a baby. I never thought much about it then but now I understand, I am made of people who leave their own behind.
You would think knowing rejection so intimately, he would make better decisions, choosing not to become the same thing that had caused him so much grief and pain. But history insisted on having the last word, repeating itself once more.
It’s been impossible for me to miss something I don’t know. But I have always wondered. And made up stories about who he was. And wrote him letters that he never received because I didn’t even know where to send them.
Being a daughter of an absent father for me has been the absence of everything I wanted, and the abundance of things I didn’t ask for. Living with the legacy of things he didn’t mean to leave behind.
And when my mother got me an interim replacement who biology insisted I will never belong to, the fundamental and distinctive qualities of someone else insisted that I am my own father’s daughter.
That reality has forced me to embrace this curly hair that refuses to grow longer than his, also this skin that burns easily in the sun, additionally his stubby height, and what would my life be without this embedded music taste that makes me feel most alive.
I console myself by deciding that there are worse things an absent father can leave behind.
A big thank you to Slee Mthethwa for sponsoring this blog post ❤