Gefeliciteerd met je 76ste verjaardag, papa – ik wil je graag wat zeggen

Hi papa, today you have turned 76 years old..

76! What an age, you have the perfect age to be a grandfather. With every year that goes by, the generation gap between you guys and me is growing bigger. There are so many things that we don’t understand from one another, but hey, in the end you are my parents and I love you guys.

I’ll call you in a bit, so that I can hear you pick up again with your everlasting “niks loos in de Oost” (all clear in the East) when I ask you how you are doing. You are probably going to say “Rustig” (quiet) again. Who am I kidding: you don’t really care about your birthday and you’d rather have me call mama on hers in 6 days from now. That is something that I feel rebellious about, because I know how much she craves that “congratulations” from me. She feels easily forgotten when I don’t immediately call her. I remember you once calling me, because I didn’t call her yet on her birthday. You thought I’d forget, but no papa, I didn’t – of course I didn’t – I just wanted to yank her chain a little bit.

Congratulations papa!

You didn’t care, but I’m pretty sure you like it when I call you. And that call is enough, because you have never cared about presents. You already have everything you need and if you don’t: mom will get it for you.

Ah well, there is nothing for you to need anymore, and it also doesn’t make sense to call you, because you are not there anymore.

5 years and 2 months passed by without you, papa. If I would tell you how much I miss you, you would say that I should stop exaggerating. That it’s high time that I move on with my life, or in fact: that I need to finally start living my life. I can tell you one thing, papa, it’s not easy.

Gefeliciteerd met je 76ste verjaardag, papa – ik wil je graag wat zeggen

My sadness is just as painful as when you first left me. Helpless, lost, that’s how I felt. I had already lost you for years, but you were still there – you were sitting on the couch at home. Your spot on the couch, the place that my mom’s boyfriend once sat, when she sent me a picture. I started hyperventilating, because that’s papa’s spot! You answered the phone when I called home and then mumbled something about life. We didn’t see each other much, because I moved out a long time ago, but you were there.

Numb and emptyness

Your departure slammed a big chunk of life out of my soul. It actually feels more as if someone ruthlessly ripped a piece out of my heart, out of my body and never looked back again. Never did he apologise for his ruthless behaviour and the pain he has caused.

Everytime you go away, you take a piece of me with you

Paul Young -Everytime you go away (1985)

I have felt so incredibly numb and empty. If only you knew how much I neglected myself in countless attempts to fill up that void inside of me. Oh papa, you would have given me a huge lecture. You would have told me to respect myself, that I deserved much better, but I didn’t see that papa, I didn’t see that. The only thing I desperately wanted, was to fill that huge, gaping void inside of my heart, inside of my body. Now, years later, I know myself a lot better and realize that this void is not going away, it never will – and it’s OK.

You are no longer with me, the most important man in my life is gone. For 5 whole years you are gone. I can only make things better for myself by loving myself a bit more every time that I feel sad. It sounds silly, but loving myself is not an easy thing. What I do find easy, is making things difficult for myself. If that would have been a subject at school, I would have gotten an A+. It’s a pattern, a slippery slope, like quicksand that I stepped into along the way. As if I have been punishing myself for as long as I can remember. I denied myself a lot of things and I still do sometimes. I know that it doesn’t serve me to punish myself, but apparently it does, because I keep on doing it.

Oh papa, how I would love to talk to you about this.

The most important man in my life is my boyfriend, ahum fiance, now. Yes papa, I am getting married and I feel torn about that, because you will not be there to walk me down the aisle. You would have said to not be a drama queen, because I am getting married for myself. That’s right, but I still hate the fact that I have to get married without my father by my side. I love Sergio, he is everything and more than I could have ever wished for. Still, that doesn’t erase the fact that I miss you so badly. It just feels off.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

I wanted him to see who I really am

Hach, you don’t know that, right. I don’t live in Berlin anymore. I, we, live in Barcelona for over a year now and Sergio is Spanish. Yeah papa, I didn’t end up with a German guy after all. That’s what I thought I’d always wanted, but I guess you don’t always get what you want. I got what I need. Julio Iglesias, The Gipsy Kings and excellent food play a big role in our relationship and I love it. You would have liked him!

That’s another thing: what I would give for you two to meet once. You would have probably had a lot of things to say, but well, that’s fine. I guess you are entitled to have your opinion too. The point is: for me, you are very vivid, to Sergio, you are a story. A story that I try to tell him as complete as I possible. A story about a person that he tries to understand as well as he can, but it’s not easy, papa. Even for him.

I told him about you on our third date, on your day, November 23, 2017. Yes, I can already here you mope: ah well, nice subject to bring up during a date. You wanted to get rid of him? No papa, I felt that he could be the real deal, I already had an Aperol Spritz and I guess that I wanted to find out if he would stay, if I showed him who I genuinely am. Apart from an intelligent, beautiful, sweet, spontaneous girl with a good sprinkle of drama, I am also a girl who lost her father. That part has a lot of impact on me.

Mama is ill

Meanwhile, we are together for over 2 years and are getting married in September. He didn’t walk away. Sergio is great, so everything is good in the love department.

Unfortunately, something else is “loos in de Oost”: mama is ill, very ill, a couple of years already and it’s horrible. Mama too has the big C. He Sas, don’t be a child and say cancer. OK, whatever you need: cancer. The thing is: I am scared papa, terribly scared. I can’t lose you and her, I just can’t. I don’t know what I will do. She is strong and even survived the same type of cancer in September 2018. Oh papa, how the three of us cried of relief and joy back then. No, not my mom, she doesn’t cry, but her new boyfriend does.

We were so happy and relieved, but the cancer is back since last year October. At least, she told me in October. As if it’s not enough already, she also suffers from heart failure. She’s carrying that around for quite some time already, but never mentioned anything to me. Apparently, she wanted to protect me, but when I heard about it two weeks ago, I was in shock. If only I could really talk to you right now, papa. We could have bickered just the two of us. You saying: Sas, you know your mom, what does it even benefit you to know about this, you would have only worried. I would have said that I am your daughter for crying out loud, and I should know these things. Yeah, papa, I have always felt way to responsible for you two.

New situation, old triggers

In a way I am happy you are not there throughout this whole mess. However, maybe you are checking in and you are making sure that mama still remains to be with us. If that’s the case, my deepest thanks, papa. That bloody hospital is like her third home for years now and I am sick and tired of it. Last week, we went to The Netherlands because mam was hospitalized again. Because of the chemo, she has a private room and I stayed there for two nights. We had a blast, but in the end it’s still a hospital and depressing. Next to the fact that mama is ill and suffering, that hospital brings back memories of you.

I pushed your wheelchair through that hallway as well. Mama has the same doctors as you did and I will never forget that time I needed to help you out in the bathroom. You couldn’t do it yourself anymore. That image has scarred me badly. Yes, it’s confronting all together and the thing is: I never gave myself time and space to really go through it all, to feel it. That’s biting me in the ass nowadays.

Gefeliciteerd met je 76ste verjaardag, papa – ik wil je graag wat zeggen
Do you remember papa, your 49th birthday in Disneyland Paris – 1994

Ach Sas, don’t linger around in all of these old stories. It doesn’t bring you anything. Chin up, nose up in the air, stand tall and show the world what you have got! Yeah papa, I can’t always pretend that everything is fine, you know. Since I have heard about mama’s heart condition, I feel the same way I did, as when you just left us. I have little energy to do anything and on top of that: I’m having a huge cold, because of the difference in weather between NL and Barcelona (yes, I need to complain about the weather). How I would love to sit next to you on the couch right now to talk about this.

HOW am I going to cope with this? Well, as good and as bad as I can. Again, one of you is ill and again, I feel powerless. Thankfully now, I have loved ones around me, plus Sergio is there every step of the way.

I am not alone and that’s the opposite of how I felt when you passed away. I was alone, and felt like I had to cope with it all by myself.

That whole crappy process, is something I don’t wish on anybody. Nobody deserves to be alone, let alone go through an excruciating black book like the death of a parent. And now again: the doctors don’t know how to help her at their best, mama is in pain – the fear of losing my mom, after you, completely destroys me from the inside.

Because the big C isn’t enough already

Only now, while I am writing, I realize that I have also been going through hell and back, with the both of you. Both of you sick, both of you dependent, I as an only child took so much responsibility that wasn’t mine to take on. I don’t blame you guys, but it was hard, and it still is. For the past couple of years, I kept on punishing myself, whilst looking at my life. I am 33 and still not doing what I know that I am capable off.

No wonder, because I had to deal with all this stuff. In between the time to mourn about you (that I didn’t take), to take care of my mom (that I actually didn’t have the strength or knowledge for) and dealing with myself, I couldn’t find the strength to also build a great, fulfilling life for myself. Through it all, I guess I have conditioned myself with: I just took what I could get. That was the thing with work and relationships. I would just settle for less and life went on. Does that sound weird, papa? Come to think of it: it’s quite an accomplishment that I’m still up and running.

Cleaning up my own messes

In a couple of areas in my life, I kind of made a mess. I feel as if I purposely made a mess, so that I could show the world that I AM able to clean it all up by myself. Like I had something to prove. No matter how much I spilled, I can do it, I could do it. Time after time, I gave myself a full time job cleaning up my own mess. Which left no space to actually doing something that I really loved, because I didn’t feel like I deserved it? I don’t know papa, I am just telling you how I feel. I was surviving, not living.

Exactly that, is what my coach pointed out to me last year. Yes papa, I talked to a coach and even though you might think it’s nonsense, it made sense to me. Only last year, I realized that I needed help to work through all of this. I didn’t need to do everything by myself. I didn’t want to do everything by myself. Thankful is what I am, for that epiphany, because I worked on myself and started to feel much lighter.

She told me that I had to go feel more, instead of only being in my head all the time. For years, I have been living on adrenaline kicks, with tense shoulders and a crapload of destructive self talk. Not feeling like I deserved anything, sabotaging myself. How am I even doing that? Papa, I deserve more, I think you would agree. It’s like I have been purposely keeping my head just above the water for years, so I don’t drown and that I am addicted to that living on the edge-feeling.

This realization is so confronting, but they are right. Yes, I had two coaches.

Adrenaline kicks and self sabotage

I wish I could look inside of your head, papa. Or rather, feel your emotions, in your heart. You know, that the only thing I have ever wanted was for you to see me? In my pure existence as well as in my capabilities. To get your recognition and love, I felt like I had to work so hard, too hard. When I accomplished something and I was proud, you just said that it was the normal thing to do.

Papa, I just wanted to feel loved and seen by you, but you always gave me the feeling that in order to receive your love, I had to walk through fire on a bed of nails.

It became my definition for love: something that feels really close, but is yet unattainable and I need to go to hell and back to get it.

Oh, this picture makes me so happy!

It’s the opposite of the great, flowing, fantastic relationship that I have with Sergio now. I felt like, for love I needed to suffer, it felt “the best” when I was devoting myself completely to the other person. I loved to be someone’s saviour and my whole life was about the guy in question. That felt normal to me. Toxic as fuck, we say in 2020, but I thought that was love and I didn’t know any better. O ja papa, when someone clearly liked me and it felt too easy?

I sabotaged it, potential relationship out of the window. What am I even saying: I didn’t want anybody to come close, and if they did, I already went over to the next one and started flirting again. I mean, it was not like I was official with anybody. The truth is: when you got ill, I just didn’t want to be alone.

And now you say: but in 2014, G was there, right?! Yes, he was, but he broke up with me when I had just moved to Berlin. I actually had 3 strikes to overcome: you were sick, I lost G after 3 years and I didn’t have a real home anymore. I chose to move to Berlin, so strike 2 and 3 were mine. But you passing away, that knocked me down hard.

Talking about self denial

I was completely alone and felt like, if I had someone next to me – as insignificant as the connection was – I felt worthy again. Ha Sas, don’t talk such nonsense. Of course, I only felt more empty being with someone who wasn’t actually with me. Ja of course, no shit Sherlock! A partner wasn’t a partner, but just someone I counted on to make my pain go away. Someone to fill up a void, but they couldn’t. Only I could, but I didn’t know how.

I didn’t get any support, they hadn’t signed up for this difficult situation. It was too difficult, I was too difficult. Indeed, I felt that it was wrong, that I should let go, but if I would let go, what would I have then? Myself – who I couldn’t deal with. That’s why I turned to other people in the first place. I wanted to feel wanted, I wanted to feel loved. I completely ignored my own feelings and needs and catered to that other person even more. Yeah Sas, that is a typical thing that your mom would do.

Yeah papa, I know. To me, love was: neglecting myself, not thinking about what I needed, but what the other person needed. My total focus needed to be on someone else, so I could ignore and forget what I was actually going through. If I could be what someone else needed, they would love me. Talking about keeping my head just above water….

If felt off, but I needed it

Back then, I’m talking about 2016/2017 now, I didn’t want to see what I was doing. Deep down, it felt off. The guys that I was into, that I was attracting, that were attracted to me, were all taken. But I ignored that intuitiveness, that void that screamed YOU DESERVE MUCH BETTER!! Because well, they were into me and what else did I have? I was getting attention and that’s what I craved for all of my life – from my father, from MYSELF. Since I didn’t know how to give myself more love and attention, I got it from other people.

The final straw was being the secret of a married man with 2 small children. You were what??

I-I-I know, I guess I still am his secret. Meanwhile, he has 3 children, so I don’t think his wife knows that he has been cheating on her for 3,5 months. Certainly not the smartest thing I have ever done, but he pursued me and I liked him/his attention a lot. Yeah, he pursued you because he wanted to have sex, Sas.

Just the fact that he was taken. I mean, he was already married for 10 years, gave me that adrenaline kick that I was talking about earlier. Despite of him having everything already, he wanted ME! (right)

He claimed to have this marriage of convenience, that he didn’t give a damn about this wife (hello, red flag that I totally ignored) and he told me that they would get a divorce. He wanted to be with me, hach the things that he wrote me, papa. All those stories, pictures of him and his children while he was on a holiday with his family. The times he wrote me how we would be together and how much he was in love with me. I thought I was dreaming, so yes, I believed him. Sas, what were you thinking? That he was going to be honest and tell you that he had you on the side? Men like that tell you anything to keep it going.

Papa, back in the day I wished that I could have talked to you about this. Still, I think you wouldn’t have been able to yank me out of this situation. As painful as it was, it had to happen in exactly this way. I needed him to happen to me, to attract an A-hole like that to be able, to take a cold, hard look at myself.

I am not ashamed of it, I don’t regret it, but yeah – it feels like it didn’t happen to me. That it was a previous life, a time that I didn’t love nor respect myself.

Er zijn geen woorden meer voor wat ik voel, ik heb geen woorden meer voor jou

Jazzpolitie – Liefdesliedjes (1992)

Had I not been through this, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. At the time, I didn’t get why he happened to me. To answer your burning question: the coward walked away from me. He couldn’t leave his children and just ignored me for months. He broke me into a million pieces, I let him break me into a million pieces.

The thing was: for the first time, I was the one pasting myself back together.

Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash

Learning to love myself

I realised, that the only thing I had to do, was love myself. Unfortunately, self love was something I wasn’t very experienced in. The biggest part of my life, I felt dependent on your love, papa. I had to learn to love myself and it’s still an ongoing process – each and every day. I am convinced of the fact, that I attracted a great relationship 7 months later, because I worked on myself.

I started to love myself, look at my own wants and needs. Sergio came by in November and I wouldn’t have been ready for us at an earlier stage. I would have totally sabotaged it! Sergio came by when I was ready.

I am grateful to you, papa

Never will I forget our last phone call. I called you while seated in the S-Bahn in Berlin, from the office to home. You were so heavily medicated, but you told me that you’ve spoken about me to your nurse. I remember while my tears were running down my cheeks, I kept it cool. I wonder where I have got that from, huh? For the first time in a long time, I felt seen. You were talking about how you had told the nurse that your daughter found her happiness in Berlin. For you to say something like that – I knew that it was going downhill – fast.

My losing you – is the worst thing that ever happened to me. Something that I need to deal with. I manage, with ups and downs, because you have left me no choice. You are not sitting at your regular spot at the house anymore. You don’t answer the phone when I call, I don’t find a small glass of jenever in the kitchen cupboard. There is no tea with ginseng standing on the table because you forgot to drink it. How about your red wine glass that you never wanted to clean out? It has been washed a 1000 times, but I will always remember the stains. The same with your humming through the house, and saying afterwards that you never did that.

Sure, papa, sure.

Papa, not a day goes by without remembering you and missing you.

Despite of it all, I am grateful. I am grateful that I see you in myself, on photographs and in character. I am thankful for our last phone call, grateful that you are so vivid when I close my eyes. I am grateful that I can still hear your voice, when everything turns quiet. I am thankful that I can still feel your firm embrace.

Maybe now, you are with me even more – than when you were actually here.

Pap, you hated pictures, but this one is on my desk at home in Barcelona.

Happy 76th birthday, dear papa.

I love and I miss you (like the desert miss’ the rain)