At the age of 16, I lost my father to cancer. Now, seventeen years later, my family focuses on celebrating his life, but that was not the case in the months after his death. I speak of this adverse experience in every single speech I give to any audience but never go very far into detail about grief’s impact on my life’s trajectory–particularly about how my grief led to my involvement in the violent far-right. So today, I will.

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My father was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was seven–however, my parents never spoke much about the full extent of the situation. I was close to my dad and felt that something was happening. But, I was often left wondering what he did not share with me. Why was he so rapidly fatigued? Why was he making regular visits to the doctor for blood transfusions?  One day at school, at around thirteen, I told my teacher about my dad’s new reality; in return, I received a blank yet concerned look that made me realize how serious the situation was. That moment ultimately triggered the realization that something was deeply wrong, yet I still had no idea I would lose my father to cancer only a few years later.

As I continued through the next few years, my dad kept me reasonably sane, especially as I was going through high school. There is one morning before I left for school that I’ll never forget. I spoke with him for a few minutes about being bullied and my peers calling me ugly. He told me that I was not ugly; it was the people making fun of me who were ugly. I understand he was referring to their personalities and not their looks, and I have always considered his encouraging statement a reminder of who I am.

He wanted to be around for us, so his choice was pretty straightforward.

In the summer before grade eleven, chemotherapy treatments started for my father. I remember him calling my name from across the house, telling me to come to my parent’s room. I asked him what the hell I was in trouble for this time. He laughed and replied that he wanted to hear me play my acoustic guitar for him. He once told me that he enjoyed the sound of it, even if I was only playing a bunch of random notes. He also bragged about my abilities to his co-workers since he had no musical talent. Once I finished playing the guitar line for the song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Greenday, he informed me that chemotherapy treatments would begin in the next week. He explained that he was given a choice between mere months–or even weeks–to live, or he could undergo chemotherapy treatments and have the chance to be around longer for our family. He wanted to be around for us, so his choice was pretty straightforward.

Shortly after that experience, our family dropped him off at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto to start his treatments. Initially, we visited him a couple of times a week. He was still the same person then, nagging my brother and me about doing our homework and telling me that I was not allowed to date until I was at least 25 years old. However, within a matter of months, things went wrong with chemotherapy treatments. The hospital admitted him to the intensive care unit, where he fell into a coma. Because this first round of treatments did not do enough for him, despite the toll they had taken on his body, he decided to go for a second round. My family was hesitant about it, but my dad, being the stubborn man he was, wanted to try again. What I took from this experience was an example of how to be persistent, but at the same time, that did not prevent anxiety from clouding it all.

Everything became progressively worse at a rapid rate. Throughout the rounds of treatment that followed, his personality changed in ways I have trouble describing; he did not seem himself anymore. While I do not remember a lot from that time, I do know that I continued to refuse to believe that he was going to pass away.

In January 2007, we got a call from the hospital informing us that he only had, at most, twenty-four hours to live. After an hour-long drive to the hospital, my mother and I made it to his floor, where the doctor greeted us and stated simply, “He’s gone.” My dad passed away minutes before we exited the elevator. I remember emotionally detaching when I heard he passed. It’s an unhealthy coping mechanism. Unfortunately, detachment allowed me to carry on through anything at any time without the benefit of facing my emotions. Driving home from the hospital that day, I remember thinking that this is not how life is supposed to go; one is not supposed to lose a parent at the age of sixteen.

I turned grief into anger and used that anger to fuel hate.

In the months following his death, tensions rose at home, and my mother and I fought often. I began drinking, which quickly went from a habit to binging. My final year of high school went by, and I met the individual who recruited me into the violent far-right underground. He was apologetic about my father’s passing and picked up on the fact that my dad was a good role model. However, he was also shady enough to pivot the conversation right back to the violent far-right swiftly. On occasion, the recruiter forgot that my father passed away. In one experience, he stated, “I noticed that your dad isn’t around.” I knew I’d shared the story weeks before and wondered why he never remembered when we spoke. Did the recruiter care for me, or did he have a different motive? The emotional pull toward the violent far-right movement was more potent than my rationality was strong.  I turned grief into anger and used that anger to fuel hate.

Throughout the years I was involved in the violent far-right movement, I thought of my father daily. One time, when I was homeless and on the streets, an individual approached me and offered me a room at his house “at no cost.” I declined the offer as I knew shelter would come at the price of sexual favors, as opposed to money. It sucked having to choose between sleeping outside and sacrificing my body, but in that moment, I thought of my dad and knew which choice would hurt him less.

I never dated anyone while my dad was still with us; most of my friends were afraid of him, and, in hindsight, I don’t see that as a bad thing. He often joked about bringing his gun home from his job as a police officer if I ever brought a romantic interest home to the family. Still, I now know he did this because he cared and had high expectations for how others treated me.Closer to the end of my time in the ‘movement,’ I faced endless pressure to have children, which meant raising miniature white power warriors.  I had countless arguments with my then-partner as he wanted children to fulfill the 14 words; however, I did not because both of us were immature people. As a final attempt, he asked me what my father would think if I did not have children. I paused for a second so that I could avoid smacking him across the face for trying to use that against me, and I simply stated, “I don’t know, but I do know that he would probably love to rise from the dead to beat your ass for that comment.” I left my partner’s place shortly after, thinking I inherited my father’s smart mouth. My father would have replied similarly.I was able to leave the far-right entirely and safely disengage from its subscribers, behaviors, and ideology. There are a lot of things to be thankful for in that respect. Even though the grief of losing my father was a catalyst to my becoming involved in the violent far-right, what my dad taught me over the years and the example he set allowed me to avoid self-destructing further than I did. I’ve been out of my former life for close to nine years now, and while I no longer catch myself wondering, “What would dad think of this?” I see myself laughing because I know Dad would have very little to teach me about nowadays. Even recently, an acquaintance mentioned that it may be that I didn’t self-destruct further than I did because I had such a great father.