I want to think seriously about what I can accomplish with what's left of my life. Edward ToledanoMy father was 75 when he took his final breath. I thought he would live forever. I thought there was always time to have a conversation. To dip beneath the surface of my fear of him into that place where I moved beyond my trepidations to touch the real 'him', that real man beneath the opinions and mercurial temper. The real man beneath the gruff exterior and entrenched opinions into the essence of the man whose heart beat so fiercely he pounded his fist against table tops and walls and raised his voice to be heard above the constant furor of the world grinding its gears all around him.
I thought there was more time.
I loved my father. I just never knew how to love him in a way that touched him.
It is perhaps why I have, throughout my life chosen men like my father. Not the angry part. Never the angry part, though when anger does eventually rise up, I grow silent, just like I did beneath my father's angry outbursts. I never talked back to my father. Oh, I did try. Once. But I learned my lesson. I learned to grow still, to be silent beneath the onslaught of his fierce moods pummelling at my sense of justice.
I grew silent and retreated. Sometimes, I walked away or did as I was told and went to my room, where I would bury myself inside a book. A book of magic words to take me away from the roaring of my father's voice just outside my door. More words to take me away from the roaring in my head, and heart.
I have never liked anger. Never liked being in its presence. Always feared its presence in my mind and in my life. In those instances where a man would grow angry in my life, I would retreat. Walk away or slip into that place where I am no longer visible in their eyes though they are always visible to me.
And while it is the the anger that frightens and intrigues me, it is their heart I yearn for. That pulsing organ safely tucked behind their rib cage that I cannot see, nor touch. And oh how I want to touch it. And that's the part that draws me in. The 'I keep my heart locked up behind a wall of steel' part. The 'I can't let you touch my heart just in case it breaks, or dies, or you take it from me' kind of part.
These are the men I've chosen.
Men of few words of feelings and many words of what they think and see life to be. Men of strong opinions who will not be swayed because to be swayed might make them wrong. And they can never be wrong in that place where they hold tight to their belief, to bend would be to admit defeat.
These are men who will never be defeated.
And I admire that. I admire their strength. And passion. These are passionate men. They hold onto what they are doing, never bend in their belief they must do what they do for it is all they can do to live their lives the way they want.
I admire that, just as I admired my father.
My father was a passionate man. He loved photography. And music. And animals. And words. Oh, how he loved words.
And then, the words were gone. He lay in a coma. His heart struggling to find the strength to open itself up to one more breath, and then another.
And then, it lost its beat and he was gone and I never knew who my father was.
Did he have a sense of humour?
Did he like the colour red?
I know he hated garlic. He complained about it constantly when we lived in France and every dish was laden with its pungent smell. He hated hot spices too though he loved to cook with them, sometimes to the point where he'd make dishes so hot your eyes would water and he would laugh. "I eat to live," he'd say. "Only fools live to eat."
My father hated governments and bureaucracy. He hated church but feared letting go of God. He thought many men of intellect fools. He was a rebel. Ordered Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and took great pride when the security police at the Canadian Forces Base where we were living came to investigate. He ordered illegal cigars from Cuba and stamps too. He loved his stamps. And then he grew disenchanted with them. Put them away. I never asked him why.
I wish I could.
Understand. Know. Ask.
I never asked him for advice. Never asked him for direction. Perhaps it is that I was scared he would tell me to 'look the answer up for yourself'. Didn't I know that's why we had the entire set of Encyclopedia's in the bookcase beside a much used copy of the dictionary?
I knew that. But I wanted conversation with my father. And there was a time when I would do anything to get it. Including playing dumb. Like I didn't know the answer, or how to spell a certain word.
And the truth is, there were so many questions to which I never had the answer. So many questions to ask my father that I never did. Never will.
Because one June day, my father's heart gave a giant beat and he lay gasping on the hospital floor and I came flying to his bedside to spend the last three days of his life in a circle with my mother and sisters and brother as my father lay struggling to let go.
Those three days felt like a lifetime. In those three days, all that was unsaid. Unasked. Unknown. It left.
And all that was left was the gift of life surrounded in a circle of love.
My father gave us that gift. The gift of life.
Without him. None of the four, who are now three, children in my family would be here. My two daughters would not be here. I would not be here.
Without his gift of life.
This morning, I visited my friend Maureen's blog, Writing without Paper, and was introduced to the amazing journal and photos of Phillip Toledano who recently released his book, Days with My Father.
Phillip Toledano spent the last three years of his father's life documenting his journey to "Paris", the place where he told his father his mother had gone after she had passed away. His father, Edward, no longer had short term memory and couldn't grasp the essence of the death of his wife. Telling his father his beloved wife Helene had gone to 'Paris to care for her sick brother', stopped his son from having to relive his mother's death every day, just as it stopped his father's pain of being told every day his wife of of a lifetime of love had passed away.
Days with My Father is a beautiful and provocative journey. Please, give yourself the gift of healing and take some time to journey into a world of love and remembrance. It touched my heart and soothed my spirit. I hope it touches yours.