I was never a perfect daughter. I let my parents be sick with worry while I’d be running around like a wild child, associating with people I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t ask permission; to alter my appearances in ways that would leave permanent marks on my body, to what kind of boys I should or should not kiss. I didn’t have a curfew but if I did, I would have failed to follow it. Ever since I was young, I made sure my parents knew that I was in charge of my own existence. I knew how to dress myself on a cold winter day or what was a proper bedtime for a 10-year old. I made it very clear from a young age that I was going to travel the world and get as far away as possible from the small city, in the tiny country I grew up in. I was stubborn as shit. (I still am.) And for the first 25 years of my life, I believed I was inherently different from everyone in my family. I was adventurous, wild and independent.
I was never a perfect daughter, yet I longed for perfect parents. I ran around like a wild child and blamed my parents when they couldn’t tame me. I hold grudges on the tiniest things so long they grew into something big and heavy and hard to carry. There’s probably nothing special in this story, a kid wants the perfect parents and yet judges them more harshly than anyone or anything else in the world. Thus the parents, due to being just humans, fail by default. Isn’t that what we all do? And then we grow up. By the time I hit my mid-twenties I started to not only recognized my own faults as a daughter (I did not believe to be a perfect person, but before I had never really thought about my own personal responsibility in my relationship with my parents) and the humanity of my parents. I learned to forgive, myself as well as my mom and my dad.
I believe this is one of the fundamental journeys we take in our twenties, the shifting relationship with our parents from simply daughters and sons of mothers and fathers to something more equal. What happens in our thirties? I don’t know yet, I haven’t reached that far. What happens when one of your parents dies in the midst of your twenties? Well, I’m trying to figure that out.
My dad died last August. Two weeks later I packed my belongings in an unnecessarily big suitcase and moved a thousand miles from home to a new & strange country where I will be living until next summer. My grief didn’t fit in the suitcase, my grief inhabits the entirety of my world. It didn’t sit next to me on the plane, it was the air we flew through. I doesn’t sleep on the floor next to my bed crawled into ball, it is the fog that surrounds this whole city. I am not a perfect daughter, and I’m trying to let go of the regret of not being so.
My dad was not a perfect father. If I try to sum up our relationship, the first thing that comes to my mind is a Taylor Swift lyric, in which she sings “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” Despite proclaiming to be independent and adventurous, paradoxically I have always been overly careful and anxious too. I used to relate to this lyric by thinking all the people in my life I believed had made me that rebel, the boys I kissed at thirteen, the girls I called my sisters. But the truth is, that rebel has always lived within me. I didn’t run around like a wild child because someone else made me so. I didn’t proclaim to be independent from my family since I could talk because I was different than them, I was like that because I am the careless man’s careful daughter, because I am the not-so-perfect-daughter of my not-so-perfect-father. If I am like anyone else in this world, I am the near-perfect image of my dad. This is what I realized on the day he died. I found myself staring at the bathroom mirror, trying to find a hint of the father I had just lost within myself.
What I realized then, is that we don’t just look alike, but that everything I thought was so different and unique about me were exactly the things I had such a difficulty to accept in my dad. If I am adventurous, wild and independent, it’s because that’s who my dad was. My dad was a restless man, always on top of a motorcycle, traveling around the country. When my parents were younger, my mom would travel with him, but when they became parents of three children, my mother stayed home when my dad could go on adventures for days or weeks at a time. My dad needed his independence, it was at the core of his existence and he was incredibly stubborn about it. Just like I have always been, proclaiming I was old enough to do what I wanted when I was barely a teenager and definitely did not know how (or didn’t want) to make the best life decisions.
I am restless and stubborn in the exact ways my dad was. I write this sitting a thousand miles away from my family during a time in my life when I desperately need them close to me. But I just don’t know how not to be stubborn as shit. I made a decision to study abroad and then life fell apart. I couldn’t let go of the parts of me that make me my father’s daughter. He would have gone, I thought. He always did go whenever his restless, rebellious existence demanded so. And so I did too. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the two months as a half-orphan, is that I carry my father with me wherever I go. That it was him all along who made me a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter. And that despite of our shortcomings, I am grateful of my imperfect father and the flawed, wild daughter he raised me to be.