I didn’t have a Daddy. I had a Digby.

My parents divorced when I was 6 and Digby was dying on and off for a decade until he did.

Digby wasn’t like other people’s Dads. No suit; no shoes; no short back and sides. Black curly hair fell to his shoulders. Golden brown skin from secret trips to Greece or days on Durban beach. Light blue eyes sparkling with the hangover of last night’s party. Life was an excuse to escape. A game of hide, don’t seek.

Normal didn’t apply and things were topsy-turvy; inside out. Beer made you strong, children were for adult conversation, and stories about people dying were jokes. Money was funny and kept in little plastic bags. Monopoly was for cheating the bank; the street for skateboarding and the ocean was God. Homes weren’t necessary, he explained when he lived in his friend’s small boat in the harbor. Rules just didn’t apply.

I bet your dad has to go to work every day and has short hair and wears a tie?” He’d say, bouncing on my cousin’s trampoline, to my friends who’s agree. “And I bet he can’t do this!” as he’d double flick-flack in the air landing with a triumphant “Ta Daaa!” While the 11-year-old me outwardly cringed with an embarrassed “Daaaaad!” the inside me lit up and smiled. No one’s dad could jump like that. Mine was different. 

Untraditional in any sense of security, safety, or provision, my Digby introduced me to new ideas, asked interesting questions, and posed the possibility of freedom. Of a life unbound by society’s norms and expectations, of tradition and shoulds. There weren’t any have to’s with him. It was about doing what you wanted, not what others expected. Screw the consequences—we’re all dying, right? He was the Peter Pan to my Mother’s Mary Poppins. 

Practically perfect in every way, my mom kept it all tightly together, sealed with a smile. In the survival mode of securing our finances and future, she made sure everything was picture perfect, set to a strict timer for doing it right. With a smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone mindset; there was nothing as important as being a dignified lady of composure. Even if being meant seeming, you simply must act the part. The model turned home economics teacher was the brownest and the thinnest and the prettiest. Nothing impeded the routine: from Tuesday Mommy and Daddy at home to Wednesday we’re living with Granny now – the beat goes on in check. The less said, the better. “We’re getting divorced. Yes, we love you. Bedtime!”

Behind her secure mask, I sensed and felt her hurt myself. I picked it up from where she’d pushed it down. It expressed itself in my boils and ulcers, in my scratching till I bled, in my underdeveloped body, in my mass of anxiousness. I hated Digby for her, the cause of her pain. And I felt split because, although he’d been cruel to her, I loved him all the same.

This cheating liar, this embarrassment and looser, this potential beggar on the street, this better off dead beat Digby was/ is part of me. 

His blood, my blood, his bizarre humor, creative talent, showmanship; the sparkle in the eye, mine. So much of me in him and he in me. Try to stop it and I’d be torn within. His absence as a child, his death in my teens (mentioned once 3 days after it happened and never again) didn’t erase the fact that he existed because, in his place, I exist.

This man we do not mention “because it happened so long ago and it’s time to move on and get over things” can’t be erased like a dirty smudge on the pages of my history. Etched into my being is his story.

He’s part of my perception of reality. This sense I have of Digby inside of me: the ‘other side of the tracks’ in my veins pumping the Benoni* blood through my heart. I feel him in my desperate craving for freedom above all else, a need for a life that’s alternate and different, my disdain for the ordinary and expected: the suffocation I feel with traditional security. And while my surface is my mother, my shadow is my father and I’m learning how to give it space to shine.

Raised to be tame, I crave to be real.

Death doesn’t change the repercussion. I remain Digby’s daughter. I can’t pretend it away. The side effects are confusing to others: What I want makes little sense; it doesn’t look as it should. I’m misunderstood.

Part domesticated, part wild: a walking, talking contradiction. 

And at the core of my dual nature is me that’s whole. There is a version of me that’s greater than the sum of my parts. The combination of my blood and childhood and life experiences is me that is possible. 

My free will gives me the ability to become transcendent. To rise above my limiting beliefs, past paradigms, and traumatic childhood. My mother’s feelings about my father are not what defines me. I am free to embrace the aspects I choose and release those that restrict me. Adopt my father’s lust for a fantasy reality and my mother’s ability to give a good show regardless of the situation, but their combination is an original me.

I am a child of chaos and truth.

And within me is the infinite possibility of creating and shaping myself, drawing on the strength and lessons of my physical creators. My ultimate manifestation is unique to me. No one thing defines who I am. Unbound, unlimited, all possible when mindful. The complexity of the combination we create ourselves to become comes down to the simplest truth: it is our choice

*Benoni is a city in South Africa, outside of Johannesburg.

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