Inspired By Father’s Day Again

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By Roy Ratnavel -

Father’s Day

Roy Ratnavel

April 18, 1988 forever will be etched in my memory. It was the first time I’d ever seen my father cry. Like most Tamil men of his generation, my father mostly lived the stoic ideal. He was the bread-winner of our tiny family, the rock against which the family could lean.

But not that day. He was uncontrollable at the Colombo airport, and came apart at the seam. I will never forget that moment. That’s the day I left Sri Lanka. He was no doubt experiencing a complex mix of emotions.

That’s the last time I saw him. He died three days later on April 21, 1988 — a single bullet killed him at the age of 53. A piece of me gone, my flesh and blood, my father, myself.

A faithful Sri Lankan, proud Tamil, who enjoyed fine food, literature, and biking. Whenever we had the opportunity, my dad and I would be on our respective bicycles. I truly enjoyed biking around with him — so did he. It was ‘The Dad Thing.’ Northern coastal city was ideal place for this. A road nestled by serene Indian Ocean, vibrant commercial activity and it was a good place for him to get away.

Ever since his death, Father’s Day became just another day for me. No frantic last-minute effort to obtain the perfect card or an attempt at hunting down a meaningful gift. It was just me and my painful thoughts. Wanting, wishing and waiting that Father’s Day passed quickly.

I remember sitting in the kitchen in Toronto, feeling suffocated by the news of his demise while yearning for a nostalgic past that I hadn’t quite let go yet. Our shared activities in their camaraderie in nature played in my mind like a slideshow. Watching Ben‐Hur at Savoy. Walking around the charming promenade along Colombo ‘Galle Face Green’ together with ice‐cream in hand discussing literature.

I miss the little things about him: the way he’d mimic historic figures — his favourite was Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jewish Prime Minister of England for his fiery words. I miss seeing such impersonation, and his sharp wit which is now a fleeting memory I try desperately to recall. Our conversations were a constant noise in my ears.

He was my first English teacher. He taught me literature — his favourite was ‘Hamlet.’ Once, he taught me how to recite William Blake’s poem ‘Piping down the Valleys Wild’ for a poetry recital contest at school during a long bike ride — I got the second prize. The kid from Papua New Guinea beat me to it.

Ever since I lost my dear friend — 24 years ago, I have been trying to fill a hole. A hole in my heart so big I don’t think it will ever close up. Walking around Toronto in the first few days after his death, with my body and mind numbed by the shock, my 18‐year‐old brain just kept thinking selfishly, “My dad is not dead, it is someone else’s and the news I got was incorrect. Everything’s going to be great again.”

I had pushed the idea of my father demise so far back in my mind that when it was finally confirmed, I was crushed. Wrapped in my own arms, my body tried its best to reject the onslaught of emotion. It was at that moment in that kitchen in Toronto the hole inside me began to burst open. Tears flowed. Anger rose. I couldn’t breathe.

Plato understood that emotions could trump reason. After the tragic and untimely death of my father, I was a living proof of that for years after this life changing incident — I was engulfed in resentment. While other 18‐year‐old boys were chasing girls and worried about university entrance, I was struggling to deal with my father’s death.

My son’s birth marked one of the many special occasions where I felt this way too. Ever since, I have felt the most raw and exposed on Father’s Day. No amount of time could ever fully heal the pain. So I wait. I wait for this day to pass and I wait for a day when I can look back on my life and be at peace with my dad’s death.

That day came on Sunday June 20th, 2010 — Father’s Day. It was me versus melancholy — as usual — I thought. But I spent the whole day with my son. A joyful 5-year old little guy who understood what father’s day was all about as exhibited by his genuine and valiant efforts.  Also he was excited about learning to bike. When I got his new bike out of the garage he was so excited, as evidenced by the wet, sloppy kisses he kept giving me.

If there’s one thing I have taken from my loss, it’s that you can find strength in vulnerability. My father’s death has made me more resilient and strong. I never thought something beautiful and positive can come out of darkest and most painful experience. I want his death to be meaningful.

More than half of my life, I have lived without my father in it, a fact I still have a hard time accepting. I’m getting there. Slowly, but grudgingly. As someone who lost a parent as a teenager, I am part of a club that no one wants to belong to. Unfortunately, there are no perks in being a member. All I hope is that he thinks I turned out okay, despite his absence.

My son once asked me what happened to his ‘appapah’ (Granddad) and I lied, “He died in an accident” to spare the kid from my nightmares. My dad’s death is, and will always be, the defining moment of my life. There are no words I could say, amount of tears I could cry or wishes I could make that will ever bring him back. Without fail, a deep ache follows.

But for the first time on that Father’s day, witnessing my son’s beaming smile and excitement in overdrive when I took him on his solo bike ride; I realized that I was occasionally doing the right things to bury the ghost of the past.

I know that my son will, once again, have the time of his life riding his bike with his dad. What more can I want for my son? It is ‘The Dad Thing.’ My dad knows. He knows my internal dialogue. It is all around, this casual talk is suddenly so full of sharp and painful edges.

With every passing day, no matter the rage inside me, no matter the pain in my heart, no matter the nightmares in my head, there is some moment, some beauty, some extraordinary display of life through a little boy, helps me breathe, helps me smile, helps me be grateful for all that I have, all that I am, and all that I am becoming.

Since 2010 Father’s Day, I have decided to cherish the memory of my father differently. I am committed to spending more time thinking about how he lived, and less time thinking about how he died. I cherish the time we had together and stop asking myself resentfully, “what if?” We both deserve that.

I am left only with memories, the photos — his mischievous smirk, the confident smile, the bicycle ride. It makes me smile fondly even in the midst of my overwhelming loss; reminding me that somewhere in this tragic epoch there will always be the life it represents, like an echo I no longer hear but swear I will never forget — who I am and what I need to do as a father.

I look forward to many more bike rides with my son along the seawall in Vancouver by the Pacific Ocean for occasional fall, and grinding of the gears, while listening to our own breathing — in, out, in, out, in, out.  A sign of living. A daily salve for my red and angry wounds.

Happy Father’s Day!

I look forward to many more.

Writer’s email: roy_ratnavel@hotmail.com

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19 Responses to Inspired By Father’s Day Again

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    Happy Father’s Day Roy. I feel your anguish and pain even after 24 years. Who says “Time is the Best Healer”? I left Sri Lanka on July 25, 1983 to escape the same fate your father had to meet. Well, enjoy your son growing up in Vanocouver, Canada. At least it is safe.

    Donald J Gnanakone
    June 17, 2012 at 10:21 am
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      Donal d It may be much safer in Sri Lanaka than Canada. You know why? Your beloved terra LTTE monkeys have been wiped out by SL Defence Forces. You can remmeber those carnages in good old days that you guys funded? heh.

      Mark Webber
      June 17, 2012 at 11:51 am
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        Mark Webber ‘’The situation of people living in the conflict zones is a far cry from the normalcy experienced in other parts of the country’’ 23 April 2012 ”But that truth cannot excuse human rights violations that currently afflict the nation as a whole; or for that matter obscure the looming threat of the cultural and political colonisation of the north by the Sinhala Buddhist majority” – Biased and Prejudiced Collection on Sri Lanka, *Gananath Obeyesekere, Economic & Political Weekly, VOL 47 No. 04, 28 January-03 February (*a Sinhalese Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University)

        eureka
        June 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm
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        I agree with you Mark, How could Tamils have libraries and Muslims have mosques in a country lead by our Hambantota brothers.

        Sandra
        June 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm
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          http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LK06Df01.html Vandalism at library frightens Tamils, Sudha Ramachandran, 6 November 2010: ‘’Thirty years after the Jaffna Public Library in Sri Lanka was burnt down by Sinhalese mobs, it has been vandalized again. Last week, hundreds of Sinhalese went on a rampage in the library, throwing books and documents on the floor. The library has been closed to visitors since the incident.’’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17805202 Sri Lanka government orders removal of Dambulla mosque, 22 April 2012:

          eureka
          June 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm
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        Roy Ratnavel, my sincere wishes to you and your family and my apologies for the trauma you had to face 24 years ago from the senseless conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils created by the likes of people as Mark Bugger and Suz displaying impunity, even after all the mayhem, in this blog, in the comfort of foreign soil. As a fifth generation direct descendant of a signatory to the 1815 Convention who represented the masses and the country then, I feel sad to see this Sinhalese Nation being usurped by a set of mixed Portuguese origin who claim to be the Sinhalese today, ably assisted by the hoi polloi to have been responsible for such crime committed against fellow citizens.

        gamini
        June 18, 2012 at 2:28 am
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        Mark Webber Island recently published two part comment by David Soysa “Can Sri Lankans Think?”. http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=53973 Don’t read it because it might offend you as the title asks the pertinent question. I beg you to ignore the piece.

        Native Vedda
        June 18, 2012 at 7:18 am
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      suz enjoy the life because i am better farther than ltte leader prabakaran taking more responsble of my own children.’roy happy fathers day’be a farther like suz.

      suz
      June 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm
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      Donald, U Say “I left Sri Lanka on July 25, 1983 to escape the same fate your father had to meet” As U’ve Never been to SL Since 1983 !!! Later U’ve been to SL Many Times & Even had Many Companies Dealing with Various Projects in North & East ??? Who Do U Think U are Fooling My Friend ???

      Kapila Kahapola, UAE
      June 18, 2012 at 8:03 am
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    National Peace Councilof Sri Lanka: ‘’The situation of people living in the conflict zones is a far cry from the normalcy experienced in other parts of the country’’, 23 April 2012 ”Unless soon reversed, there is an acute danger of national catastrophe that arises from the current trajectory of the Sri Lankan government”, 5 April 2012 ’’One of the most disappointing features of the present is the absence of a clear break with the country’s violent past”, 28 November 2011 ”When the war ended in May 2009, it was the worst that was over, but the ethnic conflict that spans more than five decades is not yet over”, 14 November 2011

    eureka
    June 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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    Table of seven Commissions and seven Committees appointed in the last six years whose reports the President has been refusing to publish, http://www.scribd.com/doc/85007346/A-List-of-Commissions-of-Inquiry-and-Committees-Appointed-by-the-Government-of-Sri-Lanka-2006-%E2%80%93-2012

    eureka
    June 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm
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    I have no words to say. i choose this to post on my FB page for father’s day. (just only this)

    ajith jinadasa
    June 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm
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    Roy: if the LTTE donkeys had not started the war in October 1987, your father and many other fathers would have been alive today. These donkeys are still shamelessly displaying their flag of guns and bullets in Toronto and London at every otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Please have a word with these donkeys in Toronto before they steal the lives of many more fathers.

    Real Peace
    June 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm
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      This BIG DONKEY ‘Real Peace’ seem not to understand, it is their like who gave opportunity and reason for the other donkies to join the band wagon of destruction. They believe they are the paragons of virtue now.

      gamini
      June 18, 2012 at 2:34 am
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    I feel sad for all these senseless blood sheddings, it could be youself, your father, mother daugter or son, bloody conflicts willingness to compromise. Is it possible for us to have a peaceful country? Please don’t blame only one side…

    Merril
    June 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm
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    Merril, Gamini, Real Peace, Ajith Jinadasa, Eureka – Please ponder Terrosist and terrorism is a by-product of the failure of our racist past and present rulers in not addressing various issues and ensure human rights are enjoyed by all citizens of this country, principles of natural justice did not prevail, it was sheer greed with power to rule under any costs by supressing the rights of minority ommunities, can anyone and should anyone suppress my/your child from entering a univeristy just because he/she belongs to a particular community, well SWRD Banda and Sirima Bandaranayake did just that initiating the flames for terrorism to be created. Can any mother or father of any religion, race or colour, tolerate if your son or daughter is not permitted to enter a university just becuase you belong to an ethnic minority, dont all parents whatever colour they belong to have the same pains, aches and heartaches, did the Tsunami, cyclones, earthslips, floods, come in search of any particular race or people, isnt planet earth made for all humans to live and cohabitate in peace and harmony, isnt variety the spice of life. WHY CANT WE ALL LIVE IN PEACE AND UNITY AND SHARE THE EARTHS RESOURCES AND BUILD UP OUR COUNTRY WITHOUT DISCRIMATION, AND STOP INNOCENT CHILDREN LOSING THEIR PARENTS AND LIVE IN TRAUMA FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. WHY CANNOT OUR POLITICIANS WHO ARE GREEDY, SELFISH, BIGOTED, CUNNING AND DESTRUCTIVE BE REMOVED FROM THE FACE OF THIS EARTH. RETRIBUTION IS SLOW BUT SURE FOR ALL THOSE WHO ARE MAIMING AND KILLINGS INNOCENT CIVILLIANS WHOEVER THEY MAY BE.

    Helena Waidiyasekerta
    June 18, 2012 at 7:23 am
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    Helena Your peaceful and harmonious Lanka is only possible, partly at least, if the racist and corrupt regime of Rajapakse is removed, but the Sinhala mass is solidly behind him, hence your pain will, I’m afraid, continue unabated.

    Real Peace
    June 18, 2012 at 8:11 am
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      Real Peace, Recent history tells that Hitler, Saddam, Mubarak, Gadaphi Ben Ali, Mugabe, Assad etcc all had elections at one time or other and once in powwer started abusing that power. Rajapakse also is now backed by majority of uneducated masses. His end will be more severe at the appointed time.

      Kodage
      June 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm
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    Well done Roy for coming out strong.. Mark Webber you DOG!!!

    Prad
    June 19, 2012 at 11:43 am
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