A vivid memory captured my thoughts today and along came a flood of emotion.
I recalled a scene from the past. I was standing in the reception line in the church hall, following my dad’s celebration of life—an incredible ninety-seven years! His friends, one after another in quick succession, each expressed their heartfelt condolences for my loss as they shared encounters with my dad that had endeared him to them. I was grateful for each interaction, and the unanimous outpouring of admiration for the man they all knew as a friend, neighbor, mentor, client, customer, or Fleet Air Arm veteran. Some only knew him in passing, as the “stooped old gent” from Bridge Street.
The man I call Dad.
My father was a familiar and highly respected figure in the community, and those who knew him treasured his friendship. As a WWII veteran, he was considered a national treasure, someone to be revered, and it was evident in the way others addressed him and treated him that he was. There were many genuine reasons for people to love and admire my dad. He was an engaging conversationalist with a brilliant mind—a compelling storyteller with a vast repertoire of interesting topics and real-life personal experiences. One never needed to worry about pauses in conversation when Dad was in the room. Whether the listener was a stranger or adoring grandchild, my father captured their full attention. They hung on his every word and were always left wanting to hear more—they were enthralled by his narratives.
Dad was an educator with a lifelong thirst for learning and an unlimited capacity to retain information. He was also motivated to share his knowledge with anyone who listened, and he conveyed what he knew in story form. Hence, they understood and remembered what was said. Ironically, people would learn without realizing he was teaching them. He was a multi-talented and accomplished artist and potter. He was a prolific artist who painted an extensive gallery of artistic expressions depicting his life experiences—his unique story in paint and brush strokes.
It has been two years since my father died.
How can it simultaneously feel like yesterday, but seem a thousand years ago? Because life is like that! One can be sad but joyful, be old but youthful, so why should time be exempt from life’s contrariness? On the day of Dad’s memorial service, time itself seemed to stand still while my emotions raced out of control. You might say I was overcome when conflicting feelings collided. I was happy, sad, stressed, and joyful—all at once! How can that be, you ask?
Let me explain. I adored my dad, and I missed him with all my heart. The stories people shared were overwhelming and lovely. They touched my heart and re-introduced me to my dad from their perspective. They affirmed all the characteristics I already knew, admired, and respected about Dad. He was everything they said and more. It was the more part that gripped me the most. When death stripped away all else, what mattered most to me was who he was, and what he meant, to me.
He is just my Dad.
I was thrilled that so many attended to pay respects and to support our family, yet I was sad to bid farewell to him. It signaled the end of an era. I was joyful for him to be in heaven with my mother, yet the stress of what lay ahead (settling his estate) weighed me down. Hearing all the beautiful stories of the lives my dad touched made my soul sing for joy, but a gut-wrenching sadness gripped me deep within. The loss hit home hard.
No more stories. No more paintings. No more belly laughs. That quirky grin—gone! No more morning cups of tea with him.
In his one last breath, all of who he was to me faded away. All except the memories—and my love for him. It is true that his knowledge and talent left with him, yet so much of him remains—entrusted to me for safe keeping. My father left stories that tell of bygone life and he wrote firsthand accounts that uphold historical facts about WWII, all brought to life in articulate words that paint a picture of life as it was. And, he left paintings that speak louder than words.
As I fast forward to the present, I am more determined than ever to publish dad’s stories in his biography. I started the manuscript earlier this year, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and life changed. The extended lockdowns to safeguard health and save lives, the economic turbulence, followed by outbreaks of civil unrest and violence, all added up to unfortunate and very real distractions. Ultimately, I placed my writing on the back burner.
Today, on this Father’s Day 2020, I pledge to fulfill a promise to myself—to honor my father’s memory by sharing some of what he left behind, written in his words. I’m ready to share his WWII stories. Time to write anther book—my dad’s biography.
When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.
Despite the truth in this African Proverb, perhaps I can resurrect one book from the ashes of the proverbial library. I feel sure many of you relate to what I have shared here. You all have or had a father. Our fathers each carry with them meaningful stories that deserve to be remembered, and retold.
If your father lives I encourage you to love on him. If he has passed on, honor his life and his memory.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads everywhere.