Papa. “Dad” seems too removed and cold for a man with my father’s omnipresent charisma. And, so, “Papa” is what naturally comes out of my mouth when I address him, as I sit here, thinking of him with longing that will never be requited.
Almost 10 years have passed since we lost him as we knew him in his human form. Ten years that seem just like yesterday, with pain that is fresh yet far from festering.
Now he is that mystery which lies before, beyond, below, above, inside, and everywhere else that the eyes seem unable to catch what they know they see and does actually exist. I see him on the other side of the mist, in the dappled magic of the light that comes through the dense woods. He is that silver lining around the darkest, dreariest clouds. In seeing him, I find hope where doom might be easier to grasp.
In the ripples that take shape around the banks of rivers, in those thrilling waves that bring excitement and comfort at the beach — there, too, I find Papa taking a shape, a form, and a familiar note that makes me feel like I belong, even in places and moments where I ought to feel lost.
How can one define what once had a shape, scent, voice, look, touch, feel and aura, but is now lost to an intangible presence that lingers perennially? I find myself painfully painless, mournfully matter-of-fact, and practically hopeful in words as I miss the man I owe my birth to. One half of the two who brought me into the world on November 29, 1972. Words that come easily to me, whose weight I never take too lightly, mean so little today compared to the emotions Papa brings forth. They are mere ant lines, and are by no means the outlines that define the man or the memories or the joyous sorrow that he left behind.
As a provider, nurturer, visionary, father, husband, son, neighbour, cousin, uncle, elder, citizen, bureaucrat, and go-to person for all, especially those who were bothered or marginalised by another — Papa was as good a father or champion as one could wish for. Life is often harshest to the best. Perhaps, it has an uncanny sense that it can test the best with the worst.
Papa battled some of the worst medical outcomes of life with the greatest strength. At every turn for the worse, he showed a new face of strength and courage, a new way to see through the dark, thick haze to the light beyond.
Never shy of hope, never short of brilliant, never without a smile, he was ready to shed tears when they seemed the best medicine to cure whatever ailed him. His was a masculinity at peace with his whole self. Where others saw umbra and hopelessness, he found light to share and shine towards our shared advantage. With humour he made the most tedious easy and the easy more meaningful still.
The memories are myriad, the words mortally fractured, the mind numbingly still in pain from a loss now 10 years old.
The world is a little less special with his physical absence. Papa would have not allowed the tempest to break his will. He willed, and life mostly always smiled and willed his dreams true.
And, so, here I am, mourning his loss as I mark my birth and celebrate my good luck to be his child. I find myself lamenting and smiling, crying but living — mindfully and with awareness. Aware that it is a blessing to be from him and to have seen him in action. Gratitude that it was through my parents that I was placed into this world. Papa was my champion unlike any other. One side of the caring coin that gave me the currency necessary to see opportunities in myself and all around me, and to then go after those that most make me whole and comfortable in my own skin. If ever I thought out of the norm, he was human enough to show his surprise but wise enough to find himself gliding smoothly into those roles he would have to juggle, with Mom as his partner in crime to ensure my sailing was as smooth as possible.
These special days, my birthday or those of others in the family, make me miss him even more. They get me to that place where I feel I am ready to cry. And then in a flash, Papa comes alive, and I find strength inside me, gleaned from his life and from the strength that is abundant in my peerlessly strong and sage mother. On my birthday today, as I do when life seems to be at a precarious place, it is their strength that I cling to, their puissance which I use as my muse. I am but a year older. Nothing much has changed. Papa left us too soon, but his legacy is far from diminished. As I welcome this new year, I hope to grow more in Papa’s fashion. Life will go on; it always does. Papa lives as happily as he always did!