In grade two, we had to bring in a photo of our family.
I brought in this one, taken during a cruise to Fiji almost exactly a year before my mother died.
I loved this pic - and still do - as it’s one of the only photos I have of me and my sister with both of my “mothers” in it: my real one and my grandmother who raised me.
Yet my pride turned to distress when kid after kid kept pointing to the guy holding a turtle in the middle of it and asking “Is that your dad?”
It’s hilarious now of course.
But at the time I was just devastated that this was what they wanted to focus on.
You see, I didn’t know my Dad. He and my mum split while she was still pregnant with me.
And aside from visiting occasionally when I was tiny, from age 5 (once my mum died) I never saw him again.
Well, not until I was an adult.
But the thing is, I never missed having a dad around.
I never felt deprived or less than.
The only time I really thought about it at all was in the lead up to Fathers' Day at school, when we’d have to make a card or art project for our dads, whereupon I’d feel a bit sick, shake it off and just make something for one of my uncles.
When I finally met my dad again, I was 18.
I was almost physically sick with nerves. Shaking, I met him, we hugged… and then within five minutes the tone was set.
As we ordered lunch, and it became apparent that I was vegetarian, he looked me up, he looked me down and said “Gees you must eat a lot of pasta.”
What could I say?
“Yes well I was searching for my father-shaped hole in the bottom of every lasagne?”
“While you were absent I had to make do with Papa Giuseppe?”
“Ah McCain, you’ve done it again?”
Instead I laughed weakly and ordered a salad.
It was a strained relationship right up until his death.
We were polar opposites.
When I got the phone call that he’d died, I shed a tear.
But that was it.
It was then that I realised what a privilege it is to grieve somebody. As excruciating as it is, the beauty of it is it shows how deeply you loved, how connected you were. To not grieve, like me over my dad, is actually just pretty damn sad.
When we scattered his ashes, my sister (from my dad’s first family; it turns out I have four siblings who were all adults before I was even born) told me that when she sat with my dad a couple of days before he died, he’d told her:
“I’ve wasted my whole life. And I was a terrible father.”
Now THAT made me cry.
I’m so grateful that I now have the privilege of being partnered with an incredible human who happens to also be a beautiful father, to his kids, to my kids, to our fur-kids, and who has thus taken some of the triggers out of Fathers Day for me.
That said, I’m yet to see him hold a turtle upside down.
But it’s early days.