Today would have been the 65th birthday of my father, Robert F. Symonds. He passed away on January 23, 2000 after a battle with lung cancer.
I have my father to thank for a myriad of my personality quirks, and also for my talents. Although I didn’t inherit his ability to play guitar, because of him I learned to sing. Since I can remember, I have found solace in the act of singing, mostly to myself. My earliest memory is caught on our home movies. I was about five years old, and my father had a bunch of silent films from various Halloween nights, as well as about 90 minutes of the cats. When my brother was 8 or so, me being 5, he set up a microphone in our living room and told us to narrate the home movies. Mostly it’s just my brother and me fighting about who was going to say what, but at the very end of the tape in black and white film, he hooked up the sound (ah, technology!) and asked us to sing. Erik, my brother, chose ‘John Brown’s baby’ (note: although I would have LOVED for E to have been dressed like this in the video, alas, he was not). I chose Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me. Even now, when I look back on that tape, I know that I was singing to and for my dad.
I always sang to and for my dad, whether he knew it or not. Everything I did was for my dad. I thought that I would be the one girl to show him how important he was. You see, he didn’t know. He didn’t understand that he was a beautiful human being who had the same right to be happy as the rest of us. He grew up in an abusive home and as a result, he was unable to show us love. He said it best in something that he wrote once. He said: I never laid a hand on my children; not in anger and not in love. Still, I sang for him. I knew that one day it would click. He was everything to me.
Honestly, I don’t know if it ever clicked. He died before we had a chance to really talk it out. I don’t even know if we would ever have talked it out, had he been alive. What I do know is that there is nothing, nothing that he could have ever done to stop me from loving him. He was a deep, dark, charismatic, talented and emotionally unavailable man.
One of the deepest impressions he made on me was his love of words. I sometimes wish that I knew his favorite author or what moved him to write, but I only know what I received from him. He and I would write letters to each other, never speaking of them. I would leave them for him in his car, or at the kitchen table where he drank his coffee, and he would leave them for me in my nightstand drawer. In these letters, I would tell him how very much I loved him, as well as how angry I was at him for not letting me in. I would tell him that I still loved him, even though he couldn’t let me get close. I would tell him at 15 how he was screwing me up. I would use loving language, and foul language, and never apologize for either. He would write back to me explaining that I couldn’t understand why he was the way that he was, but that he was trying. He would make promises to me about how our relationship would be someday and I would hold onto hope that it would happen.
There were glimpses of happiness and love between us. He taught me to swim and to drive. He danced with me on a couple of Christmas Eves. I have a picture of us on such an evening. My face is in his cable knit sweater and we are looking at each other. I can see the hope in my eyes that it was the beginning of change.
The truth is that it was, but not in the way I had hoped. It was the beginning of the lesson for me that I am my own support system. There are many girls in this world that have their fathers to run to during hardship. That’s not something that I had. Still, his life was the greatest lesson of all for me.
I wanted to heal from the pain of losing my father, both as a child when hope was dashed, and as a 25 year old woman who received a short phone call from a pastor telling me that my father was dead. I tried to ask this man questions and he cut me off and hung up on me. My father had found religion and a new wife that did not appreciate his life before her. There were many arguments with her after my father’s death. I don’t mean to vilify her, really. I barely know her. We haven’t spoken in almost 10 years. Here’s what I know: she spread the ashes of my father and didn’t tell me. When I asked her about it, she told me that I didn’t love him and didn’t deserve to be there. There. I said it. I know it sounds intense, and it was intense. Still, it was a long time ago and time does mend wounds like that. So, after his death, my heart was a bloody mess, I tell you. I was heart broken, in every non literal sense of the word. I was crushed. Then came Monday morning, and I had to go back to work. I had to function in a world that I couldn’t begin to understand with a heart and mind that cried with every toss of the wind. I was in therapy, but none of it made any sense. I thought that we were supposed to work it out. I thought that it was the most unfair thing that he had ever done to me, dying like that. I thought he had some nerve. Suddenly, I was not only a grieving daughter, but a martyr as well who somehow had to function and pay the rent. I did all right, really. I found healthy and not so healthy ways of coping. I tried to appear balanced. The people who got closest to me saw that I was desperately sad. I can think of them all in this moment. They all tried to help in the best way that they knew how. As my dear friend once told me, though, I was inconsolable.
I would sing to my father then, in those dark moments. I would sing all different things, but I loved to sing ‘Amazing Grace’, and also ‘Winter‘ by Tori Amos. I would ask for his forgiveness and give him mine.
I began to need to practice yoga. I didn’t know that’s what I needed, but I know I needed to connect to my body. I needed my heart and mind to make friends.
Even though my father never laid a hand on me, as he said, he showed me that when we don’t listen to inspiration that a void will follow. I try to follow my inspiration in my life, in my teaching, in my practice. I try very hard (sometimes too hard) to listen to what I need. I’ve found that when I listen TOO hard that I miss the point completely. Yoga has taught me that everything is fluid. Blood, love and body are fluid. There is no point to attempting to clamp down on them, because nothing stops the flow. Yoga, and my beautiful, amazing, talented and shadowed father taught me that no matter how heavy the weight, that love cannot be hidden. Even without the hand of love, I know that he loved me. I know that he would have loved me better if he could have. This knowledge doesn’t stop me from feeling like my heart is splitting in two from time to time. It’s part of the grieving process, and I don’t think that’s ever truly over when a child, no matter how old, loses a parent.
So today, even though I haven’t seen his face or dark eyes for over a decade, I can feel what it felt like to be his daughter. I can feel his struggle for survival. I can hear his deep, baritone voice singing country songs. I can feel the cable knit sweater against the skin of my face. So, today my heart is splitting in two.
There is nothing that would have stopped me from loving him. It’s simply not possible.
When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?
When you gonna make up your mind, ‘cuz things are gonna
Change so fast
All the white horses have gone ahead
I tell you that I’ll always want you near
You say that things change, my dear.
Hair is gray and the fires are burning
So many dreams on the shelf
You say I wanted you to be proud of me
I always wanted that myself.
If you’re heart is breaking, let it break. We must learn to walk with sorrow in order to understand the light. This I know is true. Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you with every cell.