If ever I live not as long as you
never have a doubt of what you should do
For I’ll be watching you from way up here
Guiding you without fear.
Holding onto you will be memories of mine,
Making your journey through life happy and fine.
So wear my name inside your soul,
To pick you up if you should fall
So when you encounter a perfect day
and wish I was there to watch your way,
always remember my spirit lives inside of you
to make you well and guide you through
In the meantime, as you wait
and tremble with the thought of your fate,
Just think of when we shall reunite
When all that’s wrong will be right
I wrote that poem when I was 13 years old. I wrote it for my father, who I imagined would live longer than me. I remember lying on my stomach scribbling the words down in my notebook, feet sticking out from under the blanket, shivering at the thought of my untimely death.
So concerned was I, in those panic-filled moments, that my father might have to endure a world in which I did not exist.
It was unusual, I realize now, that a 13-year-old would contemplate such a reality. But I can safely say I was no ordinary child, and most of my musings bordered on an insanity of fiction.
I worried—quite sincerely—that daddy would be lonely without me. And I believed—quite genuinely—that the poem would bring him comfort.
I tucked the piece of paper, along with heaps of expectation, into a soft white envelope, and put it in my father’s desk drawer. I never saw it again.
Yesterday, 15 years after that moment—and one year, three months, and 16 days after the opposite of my imagined fate occurred—I tried to remember what had made me feel that way such a long time ago.
It’s easy to plot our lives into time periods, roles we enact, and milestones of achievement. But who remembers what blurred the lines in between?
Nothing unnatural happened in my household. Like everybody else, I went to school, came home, ate lunch, did homework, watched TV, ate dinner, and went to sleep.
Sometimes, especially as parents and children, we get so attached to the roles we play in each other’s lives that we forget why exactly we feel so connected to one another. Why some siblings can’t be separated and others won’t stay in the same room—why some parents secretly favor one child for no particular reason—why it’s possible to fall in love in 30 seconds, or spend five hours in conversation with a stranger.
Despite any spiritual, cultural, or scientific affiliation, I have always believed that something exists—whether in time, space, or sentiment—that goes beyond the reality in which we live now. That while we patter along our daily lives, planning catch-up phone calls and summer reunions, we are completely unaware that we were always headed where we are now.
We are drawn to certain people, whether we’re lucky enough for those to be our loved ones already, in a way we can’t explain. We would do well for ourselves to keep those certain people close to us, to surround ourselves with the energy of those who make us feel alive beyond our current life.
In the time since my father’s death, when people look at me from the outside in, they plot their reactions, with no wrong intention, into those same narrow constrictions. The loss of a father—the loss of a family member—the loss of a role model. In return, my reaction always remains silence. Because how do I explain that if you were connected to one person in so many different realities, no singular emotion could express an infinite loss?
On the flip side, how could I explain that no matter the current circumstances of my life, I believe, and have believed since I was thirteen, that in some eventual place, we are standing in the same space?
Whenever I look at my little nephew, who will soon be a year new, I’m reminded of that connection we have the ability to forge with our children—and of the tragic way in which we often overlook it.
The questions we don’t ask: Why was this child born to me? Is there a reason his behaviour questions my reflection in the mirror? Have we been brought together–in pairs, in groups, in cultures–to remind ourselves of parallel journeys?
Securing that sense of oneness is just as important as any other parental responsibility. If we expect so much from our children just because they are our own blood and toil, then are we not expected to give just as much of ourselves in return? That far beyond when our parenting duties come to a close, our children might still have something to hold on to?
The poem I wrote 15 years ago came back to me 5 days ago, from someone I first met unexpectedly on my father’s 50th birthday. She found one of my father’s diaries—in which he had copied down my poem in his own handwriting—and sent me the pages.
They arrived in my hands at no particularly opportune moment. But since then, I have read my own words over and over again, to remind myself of the comfort I had intended to impart.
Every now and then, when some of the words sound wiser than my own, I can’t distinguish between daddy’s voice and mine.