By Robbie Poteet

I remember everything about the day my dad died. 

I’d been in New Zealand for just over a week. I was out exploring the city, trudging up a particularly steep hill when my phone went off. I looked down at my phone to see a text from my mom. It said “Call me. He’s gone, baby.” 

I hadn’t spoke to my father in nearly 10 years, but we were friends on Facebook (I assumed he liked to keep tabs on me) and the rest of my family kept me updated on him. I had heard he was having some small medical issues a few days prior and decided to post to his wall.

“I heard you’re not feeling well. Get better soon!”    

He liked it.

That was the last contact I would ever have with him. 

I didn’t know how to take the news. I just walked back to my hostel and sat in my room and tried to manage the texts and phone calls from family members calling me, crying and recounting what had happened. I tried to be strong for them, I didn’t feel entitled to be sad. I didn’t feel like my emotions mattered as much because he wasn’t in my life. I just listened.

I hadn’t made a lot of friends and I’m not the kind of person to ask for help, but I had evening plans with a man that I met a few days earlier. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be around people. I texted him.

“Hey. My dad just died. I think I just want to be by myself.”

His name was Daniel. He knew I was alone and he insisted on taking me out. 

He picked me up and took me to a small get together with some of his friends. I put my best face and charm on. I’m a people person. I did what I do: I smiled and I put on the show. I drank a lot that night. Dan took me back to his house and let me sleep in his bed. He didn’t try to kiss me, he didn’t make any advances. He just held me.

I don’t think he knows it, but that act of kindness means the world to me. 

Again, why am I sharing this with you?

Because I have been smiling and I putting on the show ever since. I have been pushing people away and enough is enough. I am getting in the way of my own happiness and I have two choices: face myself or continue to sabotage myself. 

This is a no-brainer.  

I ran away from home when I was 16 and I always dreamed that my dad and I would make up and one day be close again. I felt it in my heart. I showed up to his house multiple times to try to get him to talk to me. I wrote him letters. I made phone calls. I tried.

Even though he wasn’t receptive, I tried because I knew one day that he would come around.

I pushed myself to be brave; I challenged my comfort zones and I aimed for success, so he could see me in a positive light. When I realized that day wasn’t going to come I fell apart-behind a smile. He’s gone and it kills me and I deserve to be sad about it. 

But you know what I don’t deserve to do? I don’t deserve to walk through life avoiding my feelings. I have no right to avoid facing hard situations because they’re uncomfortable. That is no way to live. My father may have lived his life being jaded, but I can not. I am no longer willing to risk what I care about because I’m afraid to have something worth losing. 

Life is going to knock us down at times, and some of us are going to get the shit kicked out of us. That is part of the experience of being alive. You have to take the bad with the good and understand that if you didn’t know what it was like to be low, you couldn’t really appreciate the high. Learn from my mistake and don’t forget to pick yourself back up. It’s great to have other people to rely on and help you during your dark times, but I think we really have to do the heavy lifting ourselves. We have to find that self love that forces us to be brave enough to face our demons. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

I, for one, have wasted too much time on the ground - I’m a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter, I will continue to be a fighter and I can’t wait to get back in it.

Watch your back, world.