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Finding my Father

Whenever I have been asked if I believe in destiny, I tend to use this analogy: 

We are the captains of our own vessels and steer our own course in life.  We make our choices and our destiny is determined by what these choices are.  We do not, however, have any control over the sea (our situations) or the climate (environment).  To be a good captain, we learn to master our vessel in the worst of conditions.  We learn to face the storms and conquer them and then repair our vessels when we are in calmer waters.  Such is life.

My biological father was a brilliant man.  In his twenties he seemed to have the world at his feet.  He was tall and good-looking with a razor sharp mind and a deep resonant voice.  People were usually mesmerised by him and he used his charisma to good effect.  My mother was born to a wealthy and respected family in England and lived a life of luxury, finishing off her education at a Swiss finishing school.  She was, and still is, a beautiful woman.  This could have been the archetypical fairy story.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love and they live happily ever after.   It should have been this way but the reality was in stark contrast.  My mother fell pregnant with me out of wedlock.  Nowadays this is not a big deal, back then it was shameful and my horrified grandmother insisted on an abortion.  (She related this to me years later, not for one moment thinking that she was talking to the 'abortion')  My mother stubbornly insisted on having her baby and marrying my father.  I thank God for her obduracy.

My dad always had a drinking problem.  I think it started when he was in the navy. He was not a rolling drunk and managed to hold down a career and convince others that he had it all together.  He embarked on a successful career in politics and was often to be heard on the radio espousing his political beliefs with a great deal of conviction.  He may have made a difference had his drinking not eventually caught up with him.  His drinking led to philandering, which in turn led to the break up of his marriage and ultimately the loss of his children.  In spite of his many flaws, my brother Rupert and I adored our father and when he disappeared out of our lives we were devastated.  My story begins when I was eighteen.  I had searched for him for a long time and finally found him.  

I replaced the receiver with shaking hands and tried to calm my erratically beating heart.  In a few hours I would see my father again after ten years of painful absence.  I closed my eyes briefly, took deep breaths and concentrated on the image I had of him.  The last time I had seen him, my brother Rupert and I had ridden with him in his sports car with the top down.  He had allowed us to stand up on the seat (which would have been forbidden by my very strict step father) and we screamed with excitement as he raced down the highway, laughing from the thrill of it.  I smiled as I remembered him lifting me out of the car and kissing my forehead,
"There you go kid.  How was that?" The other dark images kept rising up out of the sunshine that was that moment but I pushed them down.  He was my father and I loved him. 

I was unprepared for the moment of our meeting.  I remembered him as tall and handsome but somehow he seemed to have shrunk.  His broad shoulders were now bony and his face deeply lined.  His vivid blue eyes seemed to have faded and the dark hair had thinned and turned grey.  There was virtually no sign of the father I remembered and it was hard not to hide my shock.  He reached out to hold me and I hugged him but he was a stranger to me and I felt the sting of tears in my eyes.  After hugging me for a few minutes, he held me at arm's length and gazed at me with searching eyes,
 "Ah Chanti, you are a beauty like your mother.  Did you get anything from your Dad?"  I grinned then and responded cheekily, "Yes, a death wish!"  I was talking about his penchent for taking risks.  It was something that I seemed to have inherited because I was always up for an adventure and often faced mortal danger in its pursuit.  He laughed loudly and I remembered... that laugh.  This WAS my dad.

I stood at the side of the hospital bed and held his hand.  "Dad can you hear me?"  He squeezed my hand lightly and his eyelids fluttered. "Dad, please don't go?  I need you now. Please!"  I watched as a tear escaped from the corner of one eye and choked on my own tears.  I could not stay there in that hospital room and escaped to the corridor to cry with huge heaving sobs.  A doctor approached. 
"Are you family?" he asked. 
"Yes, I am his daughter." I answered vainly wiping tears from my face and trying to control my voice.  "Is he going to die?"  His hand rested gently on my arm,
"I am afraid so.  He doesn't have much more time.  Maybe it is time to say goodbye."  His eyes were sympathetic and his voice tender.  I nodded because I did not trust myself to say another word.

"Why did you go away Dad?" I asked shortly after our first meeting and long before that day in the hospital.  "Why did you leave Rupert and me?" 
"I know you will find this hard to believe Chanti but I had no choice sweetheart.  I had to leave you for your own good but I thought about you every day." he answered, his eyes pleading for understanding.  My relationship with my dad began the day of our meeting and continued for over a year before I found out that he had terminal cancer.  He had damaged his liver irreparably through drinking and doctors believed this is what had triggered the cancer.

His greatest desire was to be reconciled to my brother, his only son, but Rupert stubbornly refused to see him in spite of all my pleading.  He could not get over his own hurt at what he saw as his father's abandonment.  When I found out that our father was dying, I tried once more to convince him but he responded with, "I have no father.  In my mind he is already dead.  Good riddance!"  I could not believe his anger and felt it tangibly like a knife turning in my chest.   When my dad asked, I told him as gently as I possibly could that Rupert would not be coming to visit.  His face twisted in agony and I watched helplessly as his shoulders shook with mute sobs.

I was not with him the day he died.  The phone call came as a shock even although I had been expecting it.  The days after his death passed in a bit of a fog.  He had made certain requests about how he wanted to go.  His first request was that he be cremated and that there would be no memorial service.  He said to me during one of our last chats,
"For heaven's sake don't cry over me Chanti.  It's a happy moment and I don't want one of those memorial services.  Just have me cremated and sprinkle my ashes on the 18th hole of the Parkhurst golf club," and then he chuckled, "That hole was always the death of me." 

I nodded, smiling through tears. 

There were so many tears in those final days but there was also plenty of laughter.  Who would have thought we could laugh like that knowing that he would soon die?  We shared so much in that short time.  Serious moments, argumentative ones but mostly loving moments because we knew we had so little time left and oh how we laughed? and laughed. 
"Chanti, you are your father's daughter" he grinned at me after a particularly intense verbal duel, admiration shining in his eyes.  This was the greatest compliment he could have given me in my mind.

I wasn't going to let him go without a memorial service.  This was one time the stubborn mule  would not get his own way.  We arranged for a memorial service at the Doves and Wilmot funeral home. 

The place was filled with so many strangers but I felt completely alone in my grief.  I looked at the coffin covered with flowers and thought about his frame occupying that space.  My mind didn't want to accept that I would never see him again, never hear his voice and listen to his deep infectious laugh.  The organ music started up and I remember thinking that my Dad would have hated the somber tone of the ceremony.  Suddenly I had an  insane desire to giggle because it was at that point I got such a vivid mental image of his reaction to it all and thought about how he'd have come up with something to liven things up.  I struggled to restrain myself and put a hand over my mouth in an attempt to stifle my giggles when someone sat down next to me and reached out for my hand.  I looked up and into the eyes of my brother, Rupert.  His face so like my father's caused my heart to lurch but I smiled at him and mouthed a grateful thank you.  He nodded and turned to look rigidly ahead and I saw the unshed tears of a childhood filled with hurt gleam in his eyes.    
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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