“I heard you die twice, once when they buried you in the grave, And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.”
— Macklemore Glorious
Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my father’s passing. There were years when the grief didn’t get easier; pictures, favorite foods, and simple memories all brought me to tears and deep sadness. Perhaps, around the 6-year mark, the grief lessened and shifted slowly to comfort. I still get sad some days, but most days I am comforted because I realize I am finally carrying out his wishes (at least those he asked of me).
The manner in which my father passed was heartbreaking. He died of a stroke, caused by ongoing drug addiction. He also struggled with depression and was sad particularly about his role as a father. My parents divorced when I was 4 or 5 years old, and my dad felt he was an absentee father because he didn't see us daily. During my adult years, I tried to convince him he was a good father hoping that my displays of love and admiration would be evidence enough. Yet, he struggled with his disappointment at not being around as much as he'd hoped.
The day he was admitted into the hospital, I stood frozen and powerless in his living room as he vented with the last bit of consciousness about the disappointments in his life. I didn’t realize his health was deteriorating until I noticed his eyes roll into the back of his head.
So why am I sharing this with you? Why am I sharing sad bits about my father? Because my father felt that he could have done more with his life. However, over these 10 years, I think a portion of my father’s legacy is being lived through the opportunities I’ve had to share his insights. For example, in April 2017 I gave a keynote presentation at Springfield College in Massachusetts where I discussed how my father questioned me about my plans to use my education for community work. In March 2018, I gave a talk in London titled, “Never Settle", discussing gender advocacy in sport. The focus of the talk came from a conversation I had with my father about my career (see post 2 – Never Settle). After both, attendees spoke to me about how they found the talks moving and inspirational which made me emotional as well as feel a sense of pride. I firmly believe this was a portion of the meaning and purpose of his life.
I think a lot about that movie Signs when in the mother’s last moments she provides instructions that ultimately save her husband and children’s lives. Her legacy was the message she gave in her dying moments. Last year to commemorate the 9 year anniversary of my father’s death, I tattooed my father’s dying words on my wrist and posted the following caption on my Facebook page:
When he was admitted to the hospital he couldn't speak very many words, but he was determined to tell me the following:
"you know too much, love too much."
There was a point as he repeated this to me when he said, "I'm trying to tell you something…" and I replied, "I get it." Two days later he slipped into a coma. The truth is I didn't get ‘it', and at the age of 24, I thought I had life figured out. Life was about to show me I didn't.
The message my father gave me in his dying moments transformed how I interact with the world and myself. Love has become the foundation of my feminism and social justice orientation. It is the way in which I ground myself in this world: love for self, love for others, and recognizing that only through love can we dismantle unjust and oppressive systems. We then rebuild through mindful, caring, and community-focused work. It’s being gentle through practicing compassion and care on others and myself. My father’s words have been the glue for understanding how to engage feminist practice: bell hooks says, “love is justice” and my father says, “Love too much.” I think it’s pretty clear. That final piece was recognizing that there's not much I know. We can get caught in what we know (or don’t) which can limit how we love others and ourselves. I’m not talking about intimate partner relationships (while this is certainly relatable) but more so in doing really good community-based work. Loving practice means recognizing that knowledge is created among people and it’s not until we communicate with others in caring, open, and understanding ways that we are informed of social truths.
I miss my father tremendously and I wonder about what our conversations would be like today. But I am comforted in knowing that my words and work are his lessons and legacy.