January 15, 2005

The 12-page letter to my father

I stared down at a face so painfully familiar, yet so strange. Deeply etched with lines, it was a face that told of bitterness, loneliness and regret. It was the face of my father.

My perception of my father’s sickly appearance as he lay on the stark white bed could’ve been biased. After all, he’d left my family twenty years ago and I liked to think that he’d been nothing but rock-bottom miserable since then.

It was a week ago when I received news that my father was deathly ill. This bit I heard only because it wafted over my gossipy neighbour’s fence.

I hadn’t intended to do anything about it initially. After all, this was the man who’d abandoned us. A man who’d made me live with the thoughts "If daddy doesn’t want me, who will?" all my life. A complete stranger. Why did I care if he was sick?

I went about my usual business for the next week, ignoring what I’d just discovered till one day, it struck me. Being ill, he was probably of dying. I might never see him again. I might never get to tell him exactly what I thought of him. And he’d never see that despite his abandonment, I’d turned out pretty much in one piece and that I’ll never forgive him for what he’s done.

It was then when I decided to find out where my father was and to consider paying him a little visit. He was in my grandmother’s home. I balked at the thought of facing not only my father, but his family, all of whom I’ve not seen in years. There was a bitter taste in my mouth.

I had so many things to say that I decided to write him a letter. With my pen poised over a sheet of paper, the words tumbled out in a rush. I raced to catch up with my thoughts and wound up scribbling a letter twelve pages long. I stuffed it into an envelope and scrawled my father’s name on the front. No point in dressing up this letter.

Dumping the letter into my bag, I left to see him. On the way there, I decided to weigh the consequences of my actions. Best-case scenario: breeze in, waltz up to his room, see him looking pathetic and feeling a sudden burst of energy, successfully verbalise every single point of my letter. Worst-case scenario: get kicked out of the house, he could be dead, my car could break down. Either way, I could still make it home in time for dinner.

Upon reaching the house, I swiftly pulled my car into a shaded parking spot. Who knew how long this was going to take?

I marched to the front door and rang the bell. The door opened. It was my grandmother. She’d aged tremendously since I last saw her. Crowned with a halo of thinning grey hair, she’d lost quite a lot of weight from the looks of her clothes lifelessly hanging onto her once robust frame.

She didn’t recognize me. I pushed past her and went upstairs. She never used to like me anyway.

The house was empty. Looking around, I felt nothing but a cold sense of unfamiliarity, which was strange because this was the house I used to play in when I was a little girl.

I finally found my father. I peeked in and was taken aback by the shriveled-up figure lying limply on the bed as if death had already come. There was no movement, only shaky breaths to indicate that he was still hanging on. His eyes were closed.

I clutched my bag as my mind went into a tailspin. I had come here all prepared to attack, accuse and unearth the past. I wanted to finally have my say, to gain what little satisfaction I could after the years of bitterness. I wanted an opponent, not some sickly old man.

Staring at my father, I felt a strange mixture of disappointment and relief. Relief because despite my dramatic plan for revenge, deep down I was really scared.

I tried to fight the waves of pity and sadness that threatened to wash over me. After all he’d done, I was going to feel sorry for him? When had he ever felt sorry for me?

I decided to leave then. I could feel the slight rustle of my letter in my bag when I moved but I ignored it.

Just then, I heard sounds of young children scrambling up the staircase punctuated by a female voice. Suddenly, a woman’s face appeared at the doorway. Looking at me indifferently, she entered the room with three young children. Holding the hand of the youngest, she approached the bed where my father lay as the two older boys stood uncertainly by the door.

I couldn’t help noticing the boys’ uncanny resemblance to my own brother. I stared at them curiously. It never struck me that these children were my half-siblings - at least not until the woman mentioned the word ‘daddy’.

These were the people my father had left us for. He was their daddy, no longer mine.

I left then. It was an incredibly long drive home. The road never seemed to end and I was comforted when I finally reached my house.

I took out my angry, twelve-page letter and tore it into pieces. Why had I written it in the first place? Did I want him to read it and spend his dying days regretting what he’s done? An apology so I could laugh right in his face? Did I want him to say that he did care a little even though he never showed it, that he did think about me once in a while. Or did I want my letter to cause so much grief that his death would be speeded up?

After examining the situation, I saw that there was no point. The justice I’d hoped to obtain had been dashed the moment I saw him in that bed. He had his own demons to battle.

Despite all my arguments, there was one thought that refused to budge from my mind. What I’d really wanted to say was that despite all that had happened, he was still my father and a small part of me still cared. And it was funny because this was the one part I didn’t include in my letter.

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