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On Remembering and Writing

My father was a writer, although if asked, when I was young, I would not have called him that. Most of the time he was at work, where he went every day, to a television studio, where he wore a tie and was a technical director. That was his real job!

When he wasn’t at work though, it was true, he was a writer; always writing, on bits of paper, on napkins, on the white edge of the newspaper he read every day. He would stare off into space sometimes at dinner, or when I was talking to him, and when asked what he was doing, he would say “thinking”, and then he would rush around trying to find a pen to write down his latest idea. When I was 8, I remember, he wrote a series of TV scripts that he read to me as books written in rhyme, books that no one else had, Even so, I still didn’t think he was actually a writer. I liked to write too and for years, I would tell my Dad that I was a writer. I wrote poems, short stories, a book when I was 10 about a Giraffe, that I wrote and illustrated, and then in my teens, a book of poetry – Pie a la Mode.

But I grew older and time marched on. College came, then the start of a career, a new house, some traveling, and 3 kids. It was a busy life and so I didn’t write much. My Dad would ask me from time to time about my writing, and I would tell him that when things slowed down, when I had more time, I would write. And he would tell me “if you were really a writer, you would be writing every day, writing something, anything”.

25 years on, I had written very little. When my Dad was dying a few years back, we shared some time together while I stayed home to help care for him. He and my mother had lived with our family for over 10 years and he had decided to die at home. Each day, I would make my way downstairs for a visit and cup of tea, and he would ask me to share a memory, something I would remember when he was gone. It was a difficult exercise but a meaningful one. I was forced to dig deep, look back and to really remember! I thought about my childhood and what I had learned from him, what I would miss. I talked about the little house he had built me when I was very young, in the basement, the one no other kid had, with a real sink and a shingle roof. We shared stories about the ice rink he had built in the backyard, the one with the wooden borders that each night, when he got home from work., he would flood; he would grab the hose; flip his jacket over his shoulder, and stand, laying down another thin layer of soon to be ice, thinking, as he stood. We talked about his love of the English language and how we had to learn a new word every day, and that we had to use a pen for crosswords, no pencil or being indecisive. We laughed about the stray dogs we had had, the paper bag puppet shows, our great road trips to New York, and how he had taught me to waltz when I was 12, by standing on his toes. He had said “you never know when a young man will ask you to dance, you need to be ready”.

When I asked him why it was important for me to remember, why it was so important to tell him something every day, he said ” when we die, we die alone, we take nothing with us, and nothing we own or leave behind really means much, it’s just stuff. The only thing that truly matters are the memories we have made, what we have left behind that others will remember, what reminds them of us, what says that we were here”. Lucky for me, because my Dad had been a writer, many of those memories were written down, in magazine articles, in published books, and in those bits of paper and napkins that we found. And, those permanent memories, the many he had written down over the years, meant that my Dad would never really be far away. I could read a poem now, and bring him back, sitting across from me, smiling, and telling me another story.

Just before my Dad died, he asked me what I was going to do with my time, once the kids were up and out, and I was a bit older. And, without missing a beat, I told him “I think I’ll do some writing”. He looked up and through a smile and with a very weak and quiet voice he said “If you are going to be a writer, you will have to write, every day, write something, anything”. When I responded, with tears in my eyes, that I just didn’t know what to write about, he replied “do what I did, write about what you know”.

I have been thinking about those words, for a while now, and I have decided to be that writer – to write down what I know, so my kids will have what I have, a memory that can’t be forgotten, one that is written down and lasts forever, one that they can read anytime, anywhere, one that means I am always here, and never really very far away. And then years from now, when they are sharing their memories with me as they say their goodbyes, they will feel what I felt, sitting there with my Dad – sad and blessed, weary and hopeful, grown and grateful.

My Dad has been gone since 2004, and hope that somewhere, somehow he can see me, and the new book.

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