Welcome to the dead dad’s club.
It’s that club where the price of entry is a dad that’s no longer alive.
The name kinda gives it away.
Losing your dad’s very different to losing your mum.
Anyone that’s lost a parent will tell you that.
Of course it is – they both play unique roles in our lives. Bring different qualities to the relationship. Nurture you in their own way.
When I lost my dad, I hadn’t realised it would change how the community viewed my family.
It was news to me that, since he wasn’t around anymore, the connection we had with them would also diminish.
You’re an orphan now
That’s what they told me, while my mother was sat within hearing distance.
Being a woman, her role didn’t count. Insignificant. Her presence as a parent lacked importance.
Your father’s not here, so you don’t have parents. One person represented a plural.
They began questioning how soon I’d be married off. A girl without a father is lost, after all.
She needs someone to take care of her. Someone to protect her.
She can’t possible do it herself. Find her a husband, quick!
They gave me those looks of pity. Eyes wide like saucers, like I was a helpless baby seal stuck in the mud on the beach.
We can’t help her. We already know her fate. But let’s watch anyway.
They talked about how great my dad was, and how much of a loss his death was. They didn’t know the whole story, but they voiced their opinions regardless.
They bought us food. Those that had promised it to my dad helped with the funeral arrangements.
The men would occasionally place their right hand on top of my head, signalling protection.
They’d sigh a heavy sigh and silently shake their heads.
They’d phone my mum to see how she was. They’d ask me if I needed anything. They’d help wherever they could.
The entire community gathered together to get us, and themselves, through the aftermath of my dad’s death.
And then, they left
When the 40 days of mourning were done. When the first Eid after this death came and went. When they’d reminded us enough that he was dead.
It was quiet.
And I couldn’t make sense of it.
This community, that had spent more years with my dad than us, changed.
Some of them had been raised in the same village in Pakistan as my dad. They’d played in the same streets as children. They’d made the same journey to England as he had.
They had bonds.
But simultaneously, they had bonds with his wife and children.
They raised us. Witnessed us grow from children to adults. Been guests at the same weddings. Their children had gone to school with me. We’d celebrated countless Eid’s together. When they sent us samosas, my mum would never return an empty plate. She’d fill it with pillau rice the next evening and send it back. Neighbours would trust her to babysit their children. We’d leave a spare set of house keys with them when we went away so they could watch the house. They’d helped us decorate our house. We slept in their house if my mum was in hospital overnight.
We were part of a community, and they were part of us.
But when it came to it, it didn’t take them long to reveal where their loyalties lay.
That’s what death can do
Separate. Alleviate. Clarify.
My dad was the reason why they’d accepted us. Their bond was with him, not us.
And so when he wasn’t around anymore, neither was the bond.
I felt betrayed.
When loyalty is one of your major values, betrayal’s something that happens a lot.
And then I got talking to others that had lost their dads. Those that had Pakistani origins. They told me the same story.
Dad died, people stopped coming round.
If there was a death in the wider community, their mum wasn’t told. If there was a wedding, they wouldn’t receive a phone call along with the invitation card. They were the last to know about everything. They felt isolated.
But when we shared these stories with each other, the isolation lessened.
We felt less alone. More visible. Significant.
That’s what the dead dad’s club does.
It helps you find a new community. One that won’t betray you when circumstances are out of your control.
Because the thing that bonds you? Is the thing that you can never get back.