‘My father died of a drug overdose when I was four years old’

Sometimes I’d like to imagine my dad as a billionaire or a spy working on secret missions around the world or a superhero, doing good things and helping others, writes Madi Bowman.

Sometimes it would be fun to think about what birthday cards he might have chosen for me, or what his favourite songs were.

Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like to draw both my parents on art days or address Father’s Day cards to him, rather than just my mum.
Sometimes I wonder what my parents were like when they were together. Did he love her, my mum? Did he love me? Why wasn’t he there to drop me off at school like my best friend Molly’s dad?

I used to wonder how much I looked like him. I still don’t know what he looked like as an adult – and I never knew why there were only pictures of him as a child. Sadly, the truth about my father wasn’t anything I’d ever imagined. The truth was he was a lonely, homeless drug addict who spent his last day on earth face down choking on his own vomit.

My father died from a drug overdose when I was four years old.

Missing someone you don’t know is a strange feeling. Nobody wanted to talk about my dad when I was little. To my nan, his mum, he was an angel who did no wrong. To my uncle Andy, my dad’s younger brother, my dad threw his life away. Andy was angry and upset with the path my dad had chosen. My mum says he was abusive ex who had abandoned her through her pregnancy.

To me, he was a stranger. For years I was told I was too young to know what happened. And as much as I tried to find out about him and the sort of person he was, it made me wish I could go back to pretending he was on a spy mission, like Tracey Beaker used to do.

 

 

He was very troubled, I know that. And sometimes I wonder what could lead a person down the terrible path my dad decided to take. I know people deal with pain and guilt in different ways. Maybe he thought he could never live up to being a good father, which is understandable. But the saddest part, for me, is that he never tried.

My mum has never talked to me about my dad. The mention of his name in my house turns on a tap of emotion that we don’t know how to deal with. So we don’t. I don’t talk about him. We don’t touch that tap. It seems easier that way.
My mum was only 16 years old when she had me and she’s always said ‘we grew up together’ and we have always been close because of that.
She always told me that she loved my dad but the best part about him was me.

My nan has shown me pictures of my dad but, as I said, they were always photos taken from his childhood. Although he died in 2006, I have only seen pictures of the youth he was before the drugs, the homelessness and the bad influences. I don’t know what he was like after that. My nan won’t talk about that. She is in complete denial that he even took drugs.
I used to ask her how he died, and she’s said things like it: ‘Oh, it was an accident at work.’ I used to believe that until I grew older and my questions got better and she couldn’t hide the truth from me. She’d never taken me to visit his grave as she was worried I’d get to upset. She would cry just looking at pictures.

I’ve never had a conversation with my uncle about what happened to my dad. The only time we spoke about my dad was when we went to visit his grave. If I’m honest, I’m scared to ask about him now because I fear what the answers will be.
My uncle Andy is a doctor. He was the clever one. He did well, he worked hard, he got the top grades, went to university and now he has his own business. He was the successful brother. The good brother. I have other uncles but I’m not allowed to see them and Andy doesn’t speak to them either. I don’t know why.

When we visited his grave, it was a strange feeling. There were no flowers. I remember the sky was blank and I felt, as I looked up at this vast expanse of nothing, the sky reflected exactly how I felt.
I didn’t shed a single tear at my dad’s grave. I felt nothing.

The weirdest part was that, for years, I had been using that graveyard as a shortcut to my best friend’s house. I had walked past my dad’s grave so many times and I never knew. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed his name. We stood there, me and my uncle, silent for a while. I remember feeling awkward that I wasn’t more emotional.

I think my uncle felt awkward about his emotions, too. He explained how it had been difficult to visit his brother’s grave because of the resentment he held. But, he said, he had started to realise he needed to be there for me as I’m the only part of his brother he still has. This, his responsibility to the daughter my dad never knew, is what helped him come to terms with his death.

I think I have a natural need to look for the good in people because of my dad.
Everyone makes mistakes and everything has a price. I believe his mistakes have given me a muddled sense of my own identity.

I know, too, that there is more to this story I don’t know. Do I need to know it? Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I don’t. It’s difficult.

I’m angry that I never had that father-daughter bond. I’m disappointed that he didn’t try harder to turn his life around – if not for him, for me. Did he not care? How could he be so selfish?

The truth is I’ll never get to hear his story. I’ll never hear his reasons, in his own words  – what does his voice even sound like? – and even though I wonder, constantly, if I want to know, I know I never will, and that’s the sad bit.
What a waste.

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