20 Years Has Gone So Fast…
In 2013, I went to Reading Festival, in part, to see Green Day. It was the first time I’d ever seen them play live, though I’d been a fan since my middle-brother came home with a copy of Dookie in 1994. A few songs into their set, they played the opening notes of a song that I knew would resonate with me in a way that would be different from the majority of the crowd. I didn’t mind this — everyone takes something of their own from any form of art — but there was both an excitement and a dread of that song in particular for me.
I was eight years old when my father passed. I have very vivid memories of the days surrounding the event of his death itself. It was sudden, unexpected and made all the more painful by the fact that it happened in the same year that both my sister and eldest brother married their other halves. What should’ve remained in our memories, a year of union and happiness, had a shadow cast over it from then on. My father had been taken ill a matter of days before my brother’s wedding and by the dawn of August 6th 1995, my father was gone. He was forty-three years old.
I’m writing this in 2015, somehow twenty years on, and the majority of the knowledge I have of my father as a person, who he really was, is second-hand. My mother raised me as a single-parent ever since, a herculean task for anyone. I wasn’t always a good child — I was, at times petulant, troubled and incredibly difficult to deal with, all of which I am able to see in the beautiful-yet-awful 20/20 of hindsight. I can only do my best to make amends in my life today. My mother is the greatest woman I’ve ever known and I owe to her more than I can even amass in words. Not the least of which I owe to her, are the stories of who my father was — his likes and his dislikes, his opinions and his talents, his successes and his losses. At the age of twenty-eight, I have a relatively clear picture of who this man was, most of which makes me all the more sad to have never been able to have an adult conversation with him.
My father loved Johnny Cash, had a strong distaste for tomatoes, played piano, was relatively fluent in Latin as a written language, was proud to be Irish and had a thinly veiled adoration of technology and the then-newly evolved form of video games. These are among many tiny checkboxes and notes of a personality that make up the image of the man I share my DNA with, in my memory. I stumbled onto a love of Mr. Cash’s work of my own accord, my mother informing me of my father’s love of his music as an afterthought and remarking how similar to my father my tastes have evolved. Sadly, I know a miniscule amount of Latin and am an amateur at the piano, but my adoration of video games excelled over the years into a fully-formed passion. I also still somewhat desperately cling to my Irish heritage. Oh, and I definitely share my father’s irrational hatred of tomatoes.
There’s only so much a person can piece together with second-hand stories and memories, the rest of the empty spaces you fill in yourself over time. My father spent the last years of his life working as a counselor at a drug rehabilitation centre, helping those who needed or asked for help in recovery. I never witnessed his counselling for myself, but from what I’ve learned and the stories I’ve heard from those he helped in the twenty years since his passing, he excelled at this too. He kept a flame of hope burning, no matter what happened through life, in the hope of helping others as they would want to be helped in their own time of need. I try to keep this flicker of hope alive inside me as well, each day, as there are plenty more people in this world that need help more than me.
Green Day’s singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, lost his father at the age of ten years old. Some twenty years on from that, he wrote the song ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’. While some may be forgiven for not noticing the actual subject matter of the song itself — with its politically-themed music video and the fact that the song is itself resides on an album that is more of a rock opera than a traditional album — ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ is possibly the most pure example of what it feels to look back on a life having lost a parent in childhood. In the song, Armstrong wrote the line “As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost.” This is, essentially, how it feels. In your mind, your memory itself eases up over time but it never quite fills the void that’s been created by the loss. It’s been twenty years for me and the grief is under control. My father’s death doesn’t affect me in my everyday life, but it’s something that I know deep down I will never fully forget. It was an event that changed the course of my life irrecoverably, but one that I have made my peace with over the years. I spent a decade or so wondering ‘What if?’, which proved ultimately useless. I came to learn that it doesn’t matter what could have happened, what matters is what happens next. Who do we become when things outside of our control shake the foundations of our reality?
There’s a line in ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ where Armstrong sings “Like my father’s come to pass, twenty years has gone so fast.” and while watching them play the song live, I was very aware that in 2013, I was only a couple years away from my own version of this tragic twentieth anniversary of sorts. But instead, when the song reached this line in particular, Billie instead sang “Like my father’s come to pass, thirty years has gone so fast.”
This hit me like a truck. Even in the midst of the crowd, surrounded by friends and accompanied by my girlfriend at the time, there was a wave of emotions that were triggered. While I’d been expecting to hear the line as it was recorded and was already mentally prepared to be reminded of my own life’s tragedy, I was instead confronted with the fact that this song was a deeply personal one for Billie Joe Armstrong. Just like the song says, you never forget what you lose and even then, in a field in Reading, England in 2013, Billie Joe marked the years since his father’s passing in a way that was so incredibly simple, and yet massively powerful to me. This wasn’t some rock star up on stage blindly going through the motions without a second thought. Even in a song that was written a decade previous and could very easily be played verbatim until the end of time, it wasn’t just a song. It wasn’t written to be a rock anthem. It was, and remains to me, a story of a little boy who misses his father.
My father’s name was David Wallace, and I still miss him. I always will. I had precious little time to spend with him, but I have memories that are vivid, joyous and will never leave me. Memories and stories of a man I am incredibly proud to call my father. In some ways, I’ll always be the little boy who misses his dad, but the fact that I exist today means I can become the person I want to be and pass on his spirit, his memory and even his DNA to a future generation. That little flame of hope will never die, no matter what happens. It is, in some small way, the greatest gift my father ever gave me. I’ll do my best to pass that on and keep it burning. The world has plenty of darkness, there’s always room for a little more light.