Where’s my Daddy gone?

Danny's mother Kathleen, his sister Debora, his father Martin and himself.
Danny's mother Kathleen, his sister Debora, his father Martin and himself.

It has been my intention to write about my father, Martin, for a very long time but there always seemed to be something to distract me from the job at hand. Those distractions are still there but now, finally, I have managed to put pen to paper.

The tragedy of losing a parent at an early age is incomparable and coping with this can be a lifelong task. Danny McCay recalls his experience of the day he asked..’where’s my daddy gone?’

Danny and his father, three weeks before his father died.

Danny and his father, three weeks before his father died.

It has been my intention to write about my father, Martin, for a very long time but there always seemed to be something to distract me from the job at hand. Those distractions are still there but now, finally, I have managed to put pen to paper.

Where do I start? September 15th 1977 was where it all began (or ended in the case of my Father!).

I was three, my sister one and a half and my mother twenty five. No matter how hard I’ve tried , and believe me I have tried, I have no memory at all of my father and, if I’m honest, that for me is the hardest part. To say I miss my father is a strange statement - how can I miss someone I don’t remember?

Maybe what I’m trying to say is that I miss having a father? Knowing at this stage of my life that my father loved me has helped fill that void. The presence of my three year old son in my life has helped me to understand.

For me, becoming aware of the bond I have with him, all the good times we share and the unconditional love between us helped me think about myself at that age and my relationship with my father. Looking back at all the old photographs from my birth onwards I can easily see the love and connection we shared. For me now that thought goes a long way to healing the pain but it has taken me many years to get there.

One of the first times I became really aware of his death and absence was when I was nineteen and living in England. I had no family there to act as a distraction from my thoughts.

Up until that point I was surrounded by family so although my father and his death where in my thoughts everyday, it hadn’t really bothered me that much or so I thought.

Growing up with no father seemed perfectly normal to me as I hadn’t known it any other way but of course there were times it was blatantly obvious that it wasn’t normal- Parent teacher nights, Father’s day, playground fights - “I’ll get my Ma to you” doesn’t sound as intimidating as “I’ll get my Da to you”.

Luckily enough (in my opinion) I was blessed with a sick enough sense of humour to deal with those occasions. “What are you getting your father for Christmas?” one boy asked. “Flowers,” I replied while having a little chuckle to myself. I remember a friend of mine (unaware of my father’s death) telling me with great joy that he had just got a new job in Du Pont. “My father used to work there,” I said. “Nice one,” he said. “What happened that he doesn’t work there now” I just couldn’t resist... “He died,” I said, while laughing out loud (and laughing still while I write this). There was a pause and then we both laughed. That was and still is how I deal with it. Why does death have to be so serious anyway?

My Mother very rarely spoke about my father.

In the past I would have been annoyed at this as I wanted to hear everything about him but I now fully understand that this was her way of dealing with things and I’m okay with that. I have to understand that although I lost a father, my mother lost her husband, soul mate and best friend. Widowed at the age of twenty five and left with two young children, that would be enough to drive anyone to drink! We were lucky. My mother doesn’t and never drank.

Starting to see my fathers’ death, not just from my perspective, was a catalyst in helping me understand and accept what had happened.

I believe that when we are ready (and willing) we will be given or shown what we need to help us deal with what we feel we need to deal with. Being in England really inspired me to find out more about my father and start the healing process. I shared a house with a friend whose own father had died when he was twelve. He had a wealth of memories and information about his father, something which I wanted to have about my own father. In saying that though, he also had the memory of his father dying, the wake and funeral and of the years of his father not being there when he was so used to having him there.

I often wondered which I would prefer - memories or no memories? I opted for the memories every time and I still do today. I would be happy with even one day of memories. The end result was still the same though. Both our fathers were dead!

I started to ask my aunts and uncles many questions and soon the void was being filled with stories of love, laughter and sadness. I could see a pattern developing as well. I could see that my father was a great man who loved his family and friends immensely. Surely knowing that should be enough for anybody. The knowledge that you were created in love and surrounded by love, even though it was only for a short time, is very heart warming. What also gave me comfort was when I was told that I looked like my father or that I had his personality. The spirit of my father is alive in me.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend trauma counselling, a chance to open my heart, shed a tear and great rid off the baggage I had been gathering throughout the years. This helped me a great deal and allowed me to see the whole process of grieving in a different way. I’m sure there’s a formula out there for dealing with grief but for me it was important to develop my own. Writing down my thoughts and feelings made it a lot easier to address them than having hundreds of thoughts swirling round in my head. I started to develop a deeper understanding of who I was through meditation, reiki and tai chi. This brought up a lot of emotions which I had to deal with before I could move on to the next level. “Happiness is an inside job” and if my happiness was dependent on anything or anyone outside of myself then I was letting myself in for a lifetime of suffering and unhappiness.

I slowly became aware of what and where my energy was plugged into and how that was literally draining the life out of me. I quickly learned how to call my energy back and more importantly put me first.

Synchronicity always brings a smile to my face - meeting old school friends of my father in the strangest of places hearing new stories from them brought a whole new perspective. I remember in my twenties wanting to see a family photo of me, my sister, father and mother as I had never seen one before. I asked out loud ‘Gone let me find a family photo’ and proceeded to rummage through my ‘fathers’ wardrobe’.

This was where my mother kept all my father’s stuff. Bags and bags of photos, letters, songs and music he had written -he was in the band Cricklewood Green-, packets of Embassy, No.6, the list is endless. In fact, this is where, in the early stages, I learnt the most about my father. He also had a dictionary of the “A to Z of Sex” but considering my mother may be reading this, I’ll say no more about that! Anyway, back to this photo. I was searching through his stuff and there it was, the one and only family photo. It was amazing. It’s my favourite photo. Well in fact it’s my second favourite photo as I also found a photograph of me around two months old, snuggled up on my daddy’s chest inside his dressing gown. He had a very contented look about him. I have recreated this photo with each of my children because you never know! We also have plenty of family photos.

My uncle tells the story of when they were bringing in my father’s coffin into the house, a time of great sadness and pain. He says I was standing there with a perplexed look on my face ‘Why are they bringing my daddy in a suitcase for?’ I said. I enjoyed hearing that. Whenever my father was getting buried, I was there at the graveside, I turned to my aunt and said ‘Where’s my daddy gone?’ to which she replied ‘He’s gone up to heaven’ to which I said ‘Naw he’s not, he’s down that hole!’... You got to laugh!

I’m sure things would have been different if my father hadn’t died. Maybe I would have had a brother, who knows where I would be living or what I would be doing. The reality is that he did die and I have to deal with that.

Most of our suffering comes because we have an emotional attachment to all those expectations that we have in our head and when we don’t get them, it has a negative effect on us. I know it is difficult and there are times when it gets tougher, for example when I first became a parent, I wanted my father to be there to share the joy but if I’m honest I knew he was there and he still is. It helps if we can accept the cards we have been dealt and try to do the best we can with them.

If we truly want to move on - and to me moving on doesn’t mean forgetting my father - we have to embrace both the bad and the good stuff. Learning about him enabled me to learn who I was and why I am that way. This pain of discovery is by no means easy but what’s the alternative? It takes a lot of courage and willingness to open up and deal with all that arises but real spiritual growth only comes through times of pain. A wise man once said ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’. The only thing holding us back is ourselves!