Home / The Journey / Journal / An open letter to my father on his birthday

I originally wrote this three years ago on the anniversary of my father’s 67th birthday. Today would be his 70th, so I’ve decided now is a fine time to move it off facebook and onto my blog instead. So, here we go:

It feels stilted and uncomfortable to try and celebrate the fact you were born, when I’m still grappling with the idea that you ever left

I’ve thought through the morning how to rustle through the grief for a thread of celebration, to put aside the two missed birthdays behind us and instead focus on the time that you were here before that. Focusing on the idea that celebrating somebodies life and birth need not require their presence.

For your birthday I cannot get you gifts or take you for dinner, even though I have since discovered surely no less than five thousand new places I think you’d love to go.

We can’t go away together on a trip, and you have no pockets to hold your passport.

I can’t cook for you any longer, but I can spend my life scouring the tiny corners of the planet for the kinds of foods you would love to try.

I can only bring you with me in memory for the railway journeys and street food excursions, the adventures in mistranslation and the most bizarre of travel stories I know that you, and only you, would appreciate. I can carry you with me in my thoughts, and more importantly through my words and in my stories, and for that experience I am grateful.

I think you’d be happy this year. Happy for our annual birthday check-in – where we talk about our lives and our goals, where we’ve been and where we are going in this crazy life. I’d get to tell you all about the life I’m living, you’d listen with great interest as I told you about how I finally visited the Amazon. You’d immediately ask if I saw any Anacondas, and tell me some hilariously inappropriate story about lost adventurers being eaten alive, knowing full well it would do nothing but fuel my sense of adventure.

We’d talk about my job, and how incredible it is that everything you taught me, all you encouraged me in from the moment I could use a keyboard had brought me to where I am. I’m living my dreams, I’d say. I have a great life and a wonderful job, I make good choices in my life and relationships and I know how to stand on my own two feet.

You’d be so proud.

What are you reading today? you’d ask.. scoping me out for new book recommendations as you made a large handful of your own. Exchanging books became a bit of a birthday tradition, didn’t it? I’ve read so many of your books since we last spoke. I’ve kept them all and as I make my way through page-by-page I take tiny pieces of you from every character I meet. I don’t keep things, I don’t own stuff, but I kept every single one of your books.

If it were your birthday today, in person and for real, I would be looking forward to hearing about the latest addition to your miniature railroad. That land that exists as a magical other world spilling out from your spare bedroom. I’d await eagerly the latest news of the tiny locomotive making its way in a missing package from Germany, we’d joke about the world tour it was taking as we spied on the tracking number in anticipation of its arrival. Prodding you to let it expand and take over your house, tiny tracks making trails across all the walls and out into the world.

But instead, you’re not here.

And for your birthday I’m left with a million happy memories and a series of questions. Where will I next find your memory? I find you in the strangest of places – I find you in the comforting clack-clacking of late night rail journeys, and I meet you again in every geranium, I remember you in anteaters and in thistles, Thai food and mistranslated English signs. I find you in Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, Paulo Coelho. I find you when I finally discover where the missing semicolon was hiding amongst ten thousand lines of code and I laugh, I laugh out of frustration and relief and because I remember how it would make you laugh just the same.

I find you when I look at the person I’ve become, the jokes that I find funny and the ways I’ve grown to see the world. It’s in all these places that I find you that I get to celebrate your birthday. Happy birthday. Thank you for never quite leaving me, and for all the places you turn up.

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