It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen my Dad, so Father’s Day can be difficult. All those ads for barbecues and razors fill me with sadness because I’m not part of the marketing frenzy this holiday presents. Instead, Father’s Day is simply a time to reflect, a time to remember my Dad and who he was and what he meant to me.
It was cancer, an explanation used too often, but there it is. He died the day before Father’s Day, when the lilacs were in full bloom and the the dichotomy of that has never left me, lilacs being my favorite flower. He’d had cancer and a heart attack before, so it was somewhat of a shock to my naive twenty-two year old self that this happened, that he could actually die.
He was a character, my father.
At times he drove me crazy, as parents are likely to do. There were moments when I wished he were different from who he was. Perspective is a funny thing, because looking back, it’s these same differences that made him wonderful.
Ah, there’s the rub, that’s what he would say.
He wasn’t perfect, but as a parent myself, I have a better appreciation for him now, knowing what the constant pressure of raising a family feels like.
And I only have three children. He had nine. It puts his fatherhood into its own category, right alongside the crazy category, but I’m thankful my parents persisted, being the ninth. Sacrifice was not fleeting, it was a way of life when you have nine children. I could not have done it.
But he was indefatigable. He thrived in the chaos of our family, he was our wise and fearless leader, larger than life and full of stories. When he laughed, he threw his head back and it could be heard for miles around. The man loved to laugh.
Looking back, he seemed to be involved with anything that came his way – the church, the cancer society, the Kinsmen, whatever that is. On top of supporting us, he made time for positions on boards and volunteered heartily – yet frequently when I was walking home in the pouring rain, his car would appear and the door would fling open. He drove around until he found me.
He appeared in unlikely places at unlikelier times, and when no one else was thinking of me, he thought of me.
I once read that when you lose someone you love, it’s like a crater landing in the middle of your life that is never again filled; you simply learn how to navigate around it. And so it is. I miss him, but I’ve learned to live life without him, as you do. The world keeps turning. Last week I was in a used book store in Washington and I took a picture of a set of books he would have appreciated, maybe I would have given them to him for Father’s Day. In that moment, I felt the hole of his absence. Grief does that, creeps up on you, and you feel the loss and the shock, all over again.
He’s gone but not forgotten. I have his blue eyes and skinny ankles. His impatience and stubbornness, his passion for words, his love of sports. I see myself reflected in him, both his good traits and his bad.
He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and especially to the fathers who are still with us in spirit, wherever we go.
Moving is a pain in the ass. That aside, it holds its share of magical moments.
My angst has a lot to do with the moving method I use. I could simply fire things into boxes, close them up, mark which room they are destined for. But no.
No, this is not the way I move. I hold each item and feel its weight, considering its worth.
My painfully slow (yet methodical) ways have unearthed treasures. Chief among them, a poem my father wrote for me on my eighteenth birthday, four years before he died. I included it in my poetry anthology under the ‘unpublished’ category, compiled for my grade twelve English class. A century ago, give or take a decade.
My father had a habit of jauntily clacking away on his typewriter at 11 pm when the rest of us were trying to sleep, the returning clang of his carriage a lullaby of sorts. Here is one of his creations:
(Note that my birthday coincides with the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, in which two war-bound ships collided, killing 2000 people.)
Dee and the Blast
What event could possibly compare
With the day Deanna chose to appear?
An explosion – a mighty blast – that rocked the earth,
Shattered homes and reduced a city to crumbling dirt.
Could an explosion mar the day
That Deanna claimed as her birthday?
The two events divided by some five decades of time
Had elements of sameness, simple yet sublime.
Both were historic events by any measure.
One brought death, destruction and desolation,
Deanna dominated with a frailty that invited consolation.
The ships met head on in the bay,
Deanna met the world by the light of day.
Her frailty she subdued as her awareness grew
Of hunks and dunks and volleyball, too.
She’s now eighteen and journalism is her thing,
The 1917 blast has lost its zing;
Deanna, on the other hand, is ready to swing.
In my afterword, I boldly proclaimed that I enjoyed my father’s poems over those of Wordsworth and, yes, Shakespeare, using the supporting argument that a poem about oneself is hard to beat. Amazingly, Mrs. Bowlby didn’t fail me.
To be totally upfront, as writing careers go mine has been far from stellar.
One month after graduating from university with a degree in Journalism, my father, a local journalist and my inspiration, died; and so did my aspirations for a writing career. I wrote about this here, in my inaugural post for this blog, in case anyone besides Mom cares to read it.
Instead I got a job that delivered decent money if not bylines, and the rest is yesterday’s news.
But since everyone loves it when old dogs learn new tricks, I have a modicum of success to report. It is really little – like a freckle on Diana Swain‘s face. But it’s the most success I’ve had since putting the perfect ratio of peanut butter to jam on my sandwich last week, or ever, so I’m rather excited.
As the rain fell and the wind blew one day, I submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail. Granted, my topic was pretty lame; it’s far from Nietzsche in scope and as always short of Austen in form. It’s about the mall.
Yet incredibly, today they replied they were using it (slow essay month, I guess). They would be publishing it this Friday, October 14th.
It took me a minute before I realized that just happens to be my dear father’s birthday, of all days. So happy birthday to my father, who was more profound and witty than I will ever be, and who never lost his enthusiasm for life.
Death is all around us. We routinely watch people getting blown away on television and in movies, read about it in books and everyday in the newspaper. But it is a different beast when it visits you personally. Nothing can prepare you for the death of someone you love.
My father died when I was twenty-two, one month after I had graduated from university. He was a journalist, and I, wanting to follow in his footsteps, had majored in journalism. I haven’t published a written word since his death, now eighteen years ago.
He was a lion of a man. Physically he was tall and striking, with an unmistakable baritone voice. He was the center of any room around which all others orbited. In our family he was undisputably the sun, and we, the children and our mother, the planets.
He was opinionated and loved to argue, hot tempered but also as excitable as a child. He lived for occasions and elections, during either of which it was not uncommon to enter our house and find him running laps around our living areas. The nursery rhyme ditty “when he was up, he was up; and when he was down he was down” applied to him perfectly. You knew which one he was the second you crossed the threshold of our house. If he was up, his enthusiasm was infectious and there was no better place to be in the world. If he was down, we tiptoed around and avoided his dark being like the plague.
He was the first person I wanted to talk to when anything happened, the first person I wanted to see when I disembarked from a plane, the person I most wanted to succeed in life for. When he died, just as I was about to launch the me that was me, all of a sudden any and all of my aspirations also died. My path in life seemed suddenly of little consequence. With no one to share my achievements with, achieving anything seemed rather pointless. He was the north on my compass. Without him, my life operated like a pinball machine, with me as the ball being batted around senselessly.
He had cancer in his bone marrow, multiple myloma is what the doctor’s called it. But he had cancer before, and had his bladder removed as a result. He had also survived a heart attack when I was young. I stubbornly thought he was invincible, right up until we turned off his life support. I actually thought once we disconnected all of those lines and tubes he would sit up and say, “it’s bloody well about time you did that!”. The optimism of youth, or sheer stupidity, I’m not sure which.
It was inconceivable to me, as we walked out of the hospital shortly after, that cars continued to drive and people sauntered on their way on the sidewalk, when my whole world had just collapsed. It was an out of body experience. Everything had changed, yet nothing had changed.
I went home, went to his closet and took out one of his favourite sweaters that still smelled like him. I privately wore it and hugged it at night, like a blanket, for weeks, until it needed to be washed and then lost his scent.
Occasionally, but only very occasionally, I have the most lucid dreams of him. He is with me again, in my life, his presence palpable. When I wake from these dreams I want to stay in bed all day, savouring and remembering every morsel of what had transpired. Had he visited me, like an angel? Had he sent me a message?
Once on the tube in London I saw a man that so looked like my father, even had his beautiful thick silver hair, that it took my breath away. I stared at him, awestruck, and when he got off at the next stop (very likely unnerved by my behaviour), I cried.
I am now approaching middle age, a time of reflection, and am struck by the difference in myself after he died. I had once walked with a purpose, striding quickly and impatiently through life. Once he was gone my pace slackened, my direction became uncertain, and I strolled uncaringly and aimlessly.
I often wonder at the huge impact his death had on my life. It didn’t leave me orphaned, after all. I still had a mother and brothers and sisters, friends and even lovers. But an integral piece is missing that doesn’t ever get filled, it just remains missing, and you learn to live, somehow, with the missing piece. Good things that happen just aren’t quite as good, the world has lost a bit of its lustre.
As I tell people, and people tell me, life goes on, and so it does, but in a forever changed sort of way.