When I was a small child, the age of losing your baby teeth, the tooth fairy would send me letters. With each tooth or “toof,” I lost sure enough a pretty card from the tooth fairy would arrive under my pillow sometime in the night between hours of sleeping and waking and I would dust sleep from my eyes in the morning to find it tucked under my head with a two dollar coin in the envelope. Tooth Fairy was no frugal thrift, Fairy would send me beautiful cards… A 3D dolphin one, a Barbie one with pink sparkles and the classic beloved favourite – the humble teddy bear. Not simply did T. Fairy send these to me from fairy land, no no my cards were sent by cosmipolitain fairy post; marked by hand from Tibet, Timbuktu and beyond. It’s safe to say that in spite of a busy intercontinental dental schedule, the Tooth Fairy community loved me dearly and always made time to write to inform me of the status of the tooth necklace they were making.
One day, comparing fairy letters… I noticed that all the handwriting was consistent. Could it be that not multiple fairies, but my very own Tooth Fairy had been looking out just for me all these years? And then… my youthful sleuth work led me to yet another Sherlock worthy conclusion. All the cards, with their perfect handwriting, as elegant as only a fairy’s penmanship could be, were identical in font to that of none other than… my Dad’s.
I confronted my father regarding the matter immediatley and he lied through his big adult teeth about it, denying my accusations entirely. And though we both knew it was him, sure enough when my next tooth fell out – or was forced out by some string and a swiftly slammed door by my brother… there, under my pillow, would be a card.
It was a fathers way of showing a small girl, in words he might have found it hard to say in person, how he loved her so.
Sadly, I stopped losing teeth. I suppose there are positives to having a full set of pearly whites, but I can tell you for a fact – there’s a lot less 3D dolphin cards in it. And as I grew older, my father and I grew apart. It didn’t happen with one swift blow, but more a series of unloving nudges over a long period of time – and we were both to blame.
I was a silly teenager who thought she knew everything – and my Dad was a middle aged man, desperately concerned for the apple of his eye, so we said mean things to one another. I called him useless so he called me a failure. I said he was a waste of oxygen, and he said I was pathetic. People can say horrible things when they’re scared.
And it went on for, as I can recall… seven long, walking-on-eggshell years until one day a dear friend of mines father was diagnosed with cancer; and one night as she and I sat around eating chocolate, her telling me the sad, touching story of her family and her father’s struggle, she said something which changed my entire life.
She spoke of how sad she was he mightn’t get as many years as someone like me to know her Dad, and how in the last year since his diagnosis, she had made an effort to spend as much time as possible with him, her beautiful, wonderful, awkward-in-the-way-only-fathers-can-be Dad.
And in that moment, as I thought about my tatty lack of relationship with my own Father I made a choice, that come hell or high water – I would never be someone who stood at my Dad’s funeral with nothing to say. That I wouldn’t be asked one day what he was like and only be able to muster a feeble, heart breaking “I never knew him.”
And so came the year two-thousand and nine, and with it came relational hell and high water between my father and I. But one night after an argument that had become almost routine in our home, I proposed an idea.
I realized that it wasnt that Dad and I had a bad relationship, it was that we had no relationship at all – it had eroded like a cliff face constantly hit by waves over a long time, and because of that, because there was no freely given love between us – we bickered. We built mountains out of mole hills and put eachother’s faults under a microscope. So, after this particular row, I asked that we come up with one thing each other could do to improve our sorry situation.
Dad’s was easy: be tidier and clean up after yourself.
And mine? I wanted to have one five minute conversation with my Dad every day – about anything.
My father and I are both passionate about integrity… and stubbornness, so we stuck to our word; and as we did, slowly but steadily, we began to rebuild the bond between father and daughter that could perhaps have been broken forever.
It took a year, and at times in that year we both wanted to punch eachother in the face. But at the end of our arguments, which had become disagreements, which had turned in to lively discussions… there began to be laughter.
He wasn’t even mad when I reversed Mum’s car into the house.
I’m very lucky. I know that sometimes things get broken beyond repair – but my Dad and I? We got out alive. We got out better than alive in fact, we got out “fucking brilliantly,” as he would say. Sometimes I feel like me and Dad Sietkiewicz are a couple of bandits who escaped what could have been a fate worse than death, like in all the Bond and Indiana Jones movies we used to watch together, only to laugh in the face of our past and build a new life out of the knowledge of our mistakes, and an understanding that our love for one another is infinitely more important than our flaws.
So now, I live far from the first place I called home. And as I write this I have just read a letter, hand written from the man who once used to mask his love for me under the guise of a Tibetan Tooth Fairy. He writes in the same style as he did when I was a toothless, curly haired giggle-box, and to read his personality – which truly is what he puts on paper, is like reading something I would write. The jokes are the same, and I can hear his voice and laughter as i read, but one thing has changed; he now signs his love letters to me without timidity.
No masks, no fear of rejection and no monikers. Just the most incredible, ridiculous, wonderfully awkward and completley hillarious, loving human being on the planet, and the only person who could be my father.
With all of his love; always,