A friend of mine telephoned me today, concerned that he hadn’t seen my name bedazzled in lights or on a byline in this paper for the past few weeks. He urged me not to give up journalism, to stick with it as storytelling and writing were my calling.
I assured him despite the Prince Rumour mill and changes occurring in other people’s lives, there was no planned career re-direction in mine.
The truth is my dad died. His funeral was on Oct. 30 in Ontario. I couldn’t get there. Northern B.C. weather, flight connections and logistics of life all got in the way. Despite my fighting every element, I had to acquiesce that I would not be part of the ceremony honouring his life. I felt left out, isolated and sort of abandoned. So, I had some downtime. I turned off my phone, stayed away from email and even got out of town for a bit.
Funerals, celebrations of life, whatever you want to call them, are a sharing of moments, a fusion of experiences and a consolidation of memories of those left behind. They are a coming together of hearts recognizing a person’s contributions. They are a reckoning of the gifts left over by a human soul.
In times of death, the point of convergence tends to be good sentiments and happy times. While my dad’s funeral focused on his life of motorcycle racing and contributions to folk music, I reflected on the gifts he gave me.
Comments at the commemoration were about what a gifted musician he was, a wonderful storyteller, great educator of life and a fantastic jokester (namely, to my mother’s chagrin and expense of 52 years married).
Each one of his children gained from his teachings and mentorship. My brother, the middle child, probably knew him the best and shared the most with him – motorcycles and business. As the youngest, my sister lived with my parents until she got married and moved overseas. She was daddy’s girl. I moved out when I was 16. We each had individual life experiences with my dad involving different degrees of separation.
But apart from the distance, he gave me the gifts of independence and resilience. I realized I have so much in common with him.
My dad went to art school in England in the 60s. He learned drawing, painting, and photography. He played music in bands and recorded albums. Some of his first live Merseyside music gigs were in “The Cavern Club,” the same Liverpool pub where he said, “some guys called the Beatles” also played.
My dad was a truly gifted jokester and storyteller who had us travelling the world. I do not remember a trip ever where we didn’t meet someone he knew from some time in his life or someone who knew someone he knew. His tales would often have strangers believe he grew up in the same Irish village as they, even though he was born in Canada.
When I was a little girl he had me convinced he was a hairdresser in Paris before I was born and that he had travelled to the moon.
As kids we hugged every word and tale he told us. After a playbill length of weekly “show-and-tells” my brother got into trouble with his teacher for lying. He told a story that our dad was a “famous” motorcycle racer. The story was true, based on interpretation of “famous”. When I was in third grade he told me that a llama was crossed between a sheep and a horse. So convinced it was true just “because my dad told me” it was presented as fact in front of the class during a project on the animal. The llama story was not so true.
As an impressionable youth, many of his interests influenced mine. He gave me my first red guitar for my eighth birthday, ingraining a love of performance and music. With one of my early paychecks I bought my own grown-up red guitar in hopes of having a commonality with him. He taught me to pick.
At journalism school where I learned the art of storytelling, I also took photography in hopes that he may see me as a reflection of his talents through his own lens. I don’t know if he ever saw it. He never said.
I took up painting in hope that we could share conversations of perspectives and colour. Our brush strokes never blended. My colours may not have been bright enough.
When I was eight, I got into trouble for “borrowing” an expensive pen he kept in his drawer. He caught me hiding under my bed, writing stories with it. He promised when I learned to write “properly,” he would give me my own pen. So, I learned cursive, but no pen was forthcoming. When I proudly graduated from J school, I reminded him of this promise. With his double-edged sense of humour deflating my heart, his quick-witted retort was that I still had not yet learned to write properly. I never received that pen from him. His promise is the ink that writes my own story.
While I wrote this hours after my dad’s funeral with keystrokes and tears as heavy as the sideways rain that fell outside. I wasn’t going to publish it. Sometimes writers write to heal themselves. But my friend’s phone call made me think. I pondered on the gifts left behind by others and how they should be grown by sharing them.
I hear the tenor tones of my dad’s voice in my son, melodic in his favourite songs. I hear my dad’s music as my daughter plays piano. I laugh at his prankster humour in my Ontario son baiting his sister that he got married and she wasn’t invited. I see my dad’s balance of perspective unfiltered through my lenses. His storytelling is in the pieces I write.
My dad is no longer on this earth, but I realize the gifts he left behind are and need to be applauded. We need to honour those gifts given to us by developing and using them. My friend’s words of encouragement lifted me out of my own discouragement. As with any consolidated memories, a fusion of moments and shared experiences, these left-over gifts should be celebrated for the lessons they teach us. These gifts left over will lead us to who we truly are and where we are meant to be. For me, that’s right here with you.