My dad was an Olympic rower. His team won gold for New Zealand in 1968. He had children before me – a boy and a girl – who are over 30 years my senior. My dad was 19 years older than my mother, though he told her he was only 10 years older.
My dad was not there when I was born.
My dad died recently of a long, drawn-out cancer that I knew nothing of previously. In fact, I knew nothing about my dad other than the things I just mentioned.
He died the Wednesday before I came home from an overseas trip, the kind of overseas trip that changes a young person, that I decided had altered my genetic makeup. The kind where I met so many outstanding people that saying goodbye felt like reaching in and pulling out my lungs.
My mother tentatively asked me when picking me up from the airport if I had seen anything noteworthy on Facebook. She was asking because recently I had friended my dad’s 40-something son when I was drunk – I don’t know why. I don’t know why I do anything when I’m intoxicated.
For some reason, I guessed that my dad had died.
I thought the fact that he had died, in all his sportsman arrogance, was interesting. Interesting because I think he would have been shocked to figure out that he was just as fragile to human ailments as the weaklings who were not gold medallists.
I did not attend his funeral.
I didn’t take a liking to my dad, even when I was very little. In fact, a story circulates my very small family of my mum, (half) sister and brother-in-law that on my fourth birthday, after receiving expensive gifts from him (that my mum had picked out) I ran around the house singing “Daddy’s Dumb! Daddy’s Dumb!” My brother-in-law still cracks up about it, my mum is still mortified.
Even then I could see that he was arrogant and ceaselessly apathetic. He was an Olympic gold medallist, and because of this, he told my mum that he had “reached the pinnacle”.
He did achieve something that most people never do. He was strong, worked well in a team, perfected his sport.
Good for him.
For me, and many others, nothing is ever enough. We will never “reach the pinnacle” and will always strive to be better, because “reaching the pinnacle” is an ending, and we are never done.
My dad sure as hell was not done. Of the small amount I know of him, I know that he could have been braver, more honest, and a shitload more compassionate. He had not reached the pinnacle; he had reached a rest stop and decided to stay there.
I can’t say that my dad didn’t give me anything of value though.
I can attribute a fair amount of my feminism, effort to be more compassionate, my gift and curse honesty, and my aversion to all abuses of power to my absent, now deceased, father.
I can also attribute the discomfort I feel around all men, my red rage when dealing with incompetent men, and my intense surprise when a man is nice to me with no ulterior motive to an absent father, or to the absence of good men in general.
He made my Mum carry out a DNA test in order for him to start paying child support. In my mind, he stands for every man who capitalises on and gets away with careless, narcissistic, and abusive acts on women simply because they are a man.
I did not go to his funeral, because I did not have respects to pay.
I would not stand to hear other people eulogise him. He would have left a single mother to rot if she did not fight for that tiny child support instalment that was squeezed out of him by the law rather than human decency.
As much as I didn’t take a liking to him and feel largely unaffected by his absence, I still worry that some form of human experience is lost on me. I don’t feel like I’ve gone without, but I worry I’ve forgone some ground-breaking part of my development.
I don’t care that he died because, to me, he is a symbol of how misogyny has systemic consequences. These consequences are economic, emotional, and shit, maybe they are physical too. Maybe I might be less afraid of the outdoors, and my limbs in general, if my dad had passed on some of his sporty qualities.
He is proof that men get away with some absolute shit, the consequences of their shit falling on the women in their lives rather than themselves.
I don’t care that he died because he is yet another reminder that, as a woman, I am not equal to him. Not equal to the guy who mistook a rest stop for the pinnacle.
Now that he’s gone, I hope we are closer to change.