The Surface of My Mother, the Shadow of My Father: I Am Digby’s Daughter.
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 — his black curly hair fell to his shoulders.
Mostly golden brown from secret trips to Greece or days on Durban beach, his light blue eyes sparkled 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 everyday and has short hair and wears a tie?” he’d say, bouncing on my cousin’s trampoline, to my friends who’d agree. “And I bet that 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 me on the inside lit up and smiled. No one’s dad could jump like that. Mine was different.
Non-traditional 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 should’s.
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 tried hard to keep it all tightly together, sealed with a smile. In survival mode of securing our finances and future, she made sure everything was picture perfect, set to a strict timer of do 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.
Nothing got in the way of the routine: from Tuesday’s Mommy and Daddy at home to Wednesday’s we’re living with Granny now, the beat went on. 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 causer of her pain.
And I was torn because although he’d been cruel to her, I loved him all the same.
This cheating liar, this embarrassment and loser, this potential beggar on the street, this better-off-dead beat Digby was/is part-me.
His blood, my blood, his bizarre humor, creative talent, showmanship, 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 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 cannot be erased like a dirty smudge on the pages of my history. His story is etched into my being.
I can feel him looking out into the world through my eyes. I sense the Digby inside of me: the other side of the tracks in my veins pumping the Benoni in my 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 in security.
And while my surface is mother, my shadow is father, and I’m learning how to give it space to shine. To embrace that I while I was raised to be tame, I crave to be real. Death cannot change the repercussion that I remain Digby’s daughter. I cannot pretend it away.
The effects are confusing to others: what I want doesn’t make 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 the me that’s whole. The me that’s greater than the combination of my blood and childhood and life experiences — it’s the me that is possible.
The truth is that with our innate free will is the ability to become transcendent. To rise above our self-imposed limiting beliefs, past paradigms and traumatic childhoods.
I am not defined by my father’s failings, nor my mother’s feelings about them. I am free to embrace the aspects I choose, and release those that restrict my own unique nature.
I may adopt my father’s lust for a fantasy reality and my mother’s ability to maintain a good face regardless of the situation, but the combined effect is an original one. I am a child of truth, and within me is infinite possibility to create and shape myself, drawing from 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 be comes down to the simplest truth to consider: it is our choice.