The following is the second in a series on my journey as a writer, from when I made the decision to go to college and became a reporter, and all the in-between, including becoming a community playwright and actor and, finally, writing my first novel.
It was a rare night of me staying home.
There was no party call, it was mid-week and pouring rain, so I was just puttering about and eventually found myself in the living room with my dad, watching Front Page Challenge, a current affairs show in which journalists/contestants had to guess the identity of the famous guest backstage.
My dad was in his armchair by the door and I was on the couch next to it, with an end table and lamp separating us. Half the time, I was staring out the big picture window that overlooked the front yard and the bottom of Fourth East, watching the rain. He and I didn’t have these moments much anymore. It was surprising when he went somewhere that wasn’t idle chatter.
“So, what are you going to do?”
The question came out of nowhere and my immediate thought was the present. “Just staying home,” I shrugged.
Easily annoyed, he shook his head. “No, I mean what are you going to do with your life?”
Taken completely off-guard, I hesitated. My life?
He continued. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
I hesitated again, then said, “Yeah.”
“Well, then when are you going to school? I thought you were going to be a reporter.”
There it was. Again. I was being told to shit or get off the pot.
I had to consider my answer carefully because this was meaningful, and the reasons were both inspiring and heartbreaking. Even though I wanted to ignore it, to push it down in my heart and mind, I knew that I was his last hope.
Now, when I say I was his shining light, it’s not because I bought into his thinking. I love my siblings and they each have their talents and do many things better than me. But my dad had seen something in me that he believed made me different, that meant my path would not be that of a lifetime fish plant worker. As wrong as it was for him to cast me as The One and, by comparison, the others as ordinary, it had sway.
I don’t know many people, especially in my cohort, that did not wish for a father’s approval. As big of a bastard as he was, as mean and violent and completely full of shit … he was the person whose approval meant the most to me, as much as I tried to convince myself that it didn’t.
When I represented my elementary school as a winner in a Remembrance Day poem contest, he was bursting with pride at the presentation, which was held at the Legion. We had a dinner and read our poems to the members and veterans. I remember that, as a I read my poem one of the members wept. It was one of the most powerful moments in my short life and made me think … maybe I do have something.
I knew that if I went to college, I would probably get funded by the band but it would be just the necessities. My dad was aware of this and so, that night in our living room, he sweetened the pot.
“I would support you, send you extra money, so you wouldn’t just be getting by,” he said, meeting my eyes with conviction.
I hadn’t said no to him a lot in the first place and, well, I was planning to go anyway, albeit with moderate enthusiasm, and no date set. The application to Mount Royal was sitting somewhere in my room, just waiting to be filled out and mailed off.
I smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll send my application off this week.”
He smiled back, that lopsided grin he was famous for and that I can still see in so many photos, and turned his attention back to the TV. As we watched the show, I snuck occasional glances at him, trying to see through the rough surface. He was my dad but there was so much I didn’t know about him; his childhood, how he was raised. How could a man of such humour and joviality also be so cruel?
That chat would be the second-to-last meaningful conversation that I had with him. The coming winter would see him cause a tragedy that changed our family forever and made my going to college a certainty.
NEXT: It’s gone. It’s all gone.