Friday, June 17, 2011

The Story of my Father and the Greatest Gift he Gave Me

I should be in bed right now, dreaming away, but this is one of those moments where the words wont leave my mind until I get them out. Fathers Day is coming and it's time to tell my dad's story.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day.

As you all know, or kind of know, my dad passed away when I was a little girl. I don't have a lot of firsthand memories of him. My mom has told me stories over the years that I cherish as they're all I really have as a way of knowing who he was. What I do know is beautiful and I hold onto them like a rope that is holding me up, preventing my fall into the void of forgotten sentiments. I repeat the memories over and over to myself to make sure I don't forget them. To make sure I don't forget him.

Me, my dad and my grandpa. I'm pretty sure I'm thinking
"What are you saying?" since my grandpa had a strong
Croatian accent.
It may sound like I'm boasting, but I'm not. It may also sound like he had some super cool, fancy life, but it was just a happy, simple one. There was nothing extravagant to our life together as a family. I'm simply proud of who he was. That he was a good man with a good heart and a good head on his shoulders. I'm proud that he got to do something he loved in his life and that he got to live his dream as much as he could.  I'm proud of how people respected him for his honesty and his ethics, how they looked up to him, and how he stood up for what he thought was right. Truthfully, I'm also jealous that they got a version of him I was never able to experience.

Friends of the family would tell me about my dad as I was growing up. My moms friend, Jacquie Lynn, who is a spitfire and someone I've always looked up to for her independence and passion for life, always had the best stories - of everything. You would not believe the fantastical things she's done in her life, but I know plenty of witnesses to her adventures. She knew my mom and dad when they were younger and the thing she would always, always tell me is that I should be proud of the man he was. She would tell me was how tall and strong my dad appeared to everyone because he walked with confidence and conviction.

Some guy, my dad, some guy - In France
My dad never went to college. I'm sure my grandfather would have appreciated it, but my dad didn't see the need. In his spare time he worked on cars and all things guy like and taught himself how it all worked. How engines should run and things should tick. He could fix anything mechanical: Cars, helicopters, trains - you name it. This got him his job as the head engineer at work. He had the coolest job ever, in my mind. He got to fly all over the world - Japan, Italy, France, Germany -  to fix engines for everything and everyone. I think that's where I get my travel bug from, which secretly pleases me to no end. It's hard knowing what qualities you have from someone without having been able to really know them, and to know I've been where he once went and have seen what he once saw makes me feel closer to him. I recently found his old pictures from his trips to France and on the back he wrote descriptions of everything, just as I do now when I load a picture online. Getting that glimpse of his personality through them made me realize how similar we are in that sense. It was if I had written on them myself, with the funny captions and quirky comments.
I love this one. See his reflection in the window? On the
back he wrote "I was told I had to stay aware from these."
Ah, dessert! I always take pictures of food too. Just like him I guess.
He used to work on race cars and then drive them around the race track after he'd fixed them to make sure everything was working correctly. I used to stare at a plaque that hung on his hospital wall that was signed by all the race car drivers and engineers. I always wondered if he would have taken me with him around the track, if I would have gotten to hang out with the cool race car drivers. To a five year old those are the dreams of gold and silver - where your dad is the hero that can do anything and take you on cool adventures like that.

 I like the fact that none of us are posing.
That we're just living in this moment.
My mom thinks I look more like him than her, even now. Everyone else says I'm the spitting image of her, but then again they haven't seen my dad.  I honestly don't know how I got all of their features except for the dark hair that I so long to have without the use of a bottle of dye.

Of all the qualities my mom says I have of him, I don't think his brilliance is one of them. Not in the way he worked, the way he could figure out all the problems no one else could answer. She says I have it, that I fix things without realizing it. She says when I was a toddler I would break apart his radios and odd things in the house (that really shouldn't have been broken) and then put them back together. This I don't recall. I'm certain I was a perfect little angel...OK, maybe I remember a few times...

Anyway, I do think I have his silence, though. I think better when I can walk away and come back. I think better when I'm alone. When he had a tough situation he would go to his office, shut the door and think, think, think. No one would bother him because they knew this was his process. Later he would emerge with a plan that solved everything.

My mom tells me that had he lived he would have built me my first car. I'm certain it would have been pretty badass. I think I get that quality from him, the car loving part. People who don't know me always assume I'm a girlie sports car kind of a person, but I'm not in the least. I like trucks and SUV's, things with torque and power and some serious height to them. I like rims and grills and leather. I like driving fast on the open roads with my radio blaring. I like getting my hands dirty polishing the steel and conditioning the leather. I can't tell you a thing about the engine but I can clean a car like it's no ones business.

While I have never had a horrible time dealing with his death, being that in many ways we never bonded like a father and daughter would had they had more time, more years together, I still have my moments where it hits me that I have missed out on experiences that can never be replaced by anyone or anything.  I will never have the chance to have my dad scare away a boyfriend, teach me how to drive, or even dance with me at my wedding. My children will never know their grandfather and I, unfortunately, will have limited stories to tell them about him.

A few months ago I had a dream about him. You see, I dream a lot. In fact I would say I'm an advanced dreamer in any and all things having to do with dreaming, so while I've had many a dream that felt real I've never had one that was this intense. This jarring and dramatic.

I was with my mom and my dad hanging out in the desert as if it was a beach by the cooling waters of the ocean. It was an odd, out of place scene, but we were all happy hanging out together. I was reclining on the sand and my dad was next to me talking while my mom was a little further out in her own space.  This next part is what kills me.

My dad and I are talking when all of a sudden he grabs my face and looks at me in the saddest, most heart wrenching way ever. He's searching my eyes, my entire face, and emotionally he is breaking down as he starts to say, "How did you get so old? I don't understand. You're supposed to be a little girl! I don't understand what's happened! What...what have I missed? When did you grow up?"

This painful dialogue goes on for what seems like an eternity and right when I think he grasps the situation he snaps back into his former self, just talking to me on the desert beach. I swear with everything in me I talked to my father, somehow, someway, that night. In that moment in my dream, in everything I could feel and sense and grasp, it was as if my dream version of him was replaced with my real living, breathing father. Like he had briefly broken through the barriers of all time and space and was having an actual conversation with me. A conversation in which he hadn't realized yet that he was no longer here, that time had passed and I had grown up without him, and the moment that he did he had to go back to wherever he had come from.

When I was fourteen I was in my bedroom going through old family videos. I found one of me and my dad and for the first time in my life, in my adult memory at least, I heard him speak. It took my breath away, made me dizzy, to hear in a video what I never would again in real life. I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote my very first poem, for him, the one that started it all. I submitted it in competition after competition and won all of them, eventually getting it published internationally. I think my mom is the only one who ever knew that until this very moment.

After that I started writing poem after poem after poem until I had dozens of them piling up around me. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, I just never did anything about it until recently.'s so personal. I felt like if I shared it with anyone they would see into the deepest, darkest parts of my soul. They would wonder who I really was, with all these thoughts and ideas I've never shared.  And this, all of this - my poems and the book I'm working on and even this blog - all comes down to the moment I heard my dad speak. It all comes back to him. It was the cannon ball that broke through my silence, that placed pen to paper, that gave me courage and showed me what I was capable of doing. He made me realize that the one thing I wanted to do more than anything in this life, is write. This is his greatest gift to me.

Although he has left me, he still speaks to me in times when I need him the most. Last year in school we were doing an energy class where you lie down and a few people stand around you, place their hands on your shoulders, head, legs, and restore your energy, so to speak. Energy work is really not my thing, so I thought this was going to be bogus and completely unhelpful. I even apologized to everyone beforehand, stating that this probably wouldn't work on me. My friends, Josh and Sergio, were on my left and right sides, hands on my shoulders and hips. Someone was cradling my head while another person held my ankles. For about 10 minutes or so we all just closed our eyes and all the people around me focused on healing whatever it was that needed to be healed. After a few minutes, to my own surprise, I felt something. I suddenly had this sense of being rocked.

No one was actually moving me at all but for the entire duration thereafter I genuinely felt all of this love and comfort and this endless sense of being rocked like a baby in someones arms. After class Josh approached me and told me he had a message for me. He said that he heard a man's voice, someone that he sensed as a father type figure, tell him to tell me, "It's OK. Everything's OK." Josh and I didn't know each other that well yet, so when I told him my dad was dead he was surprised, but believed even more so that it had been my dad. This message, coincidentally, came at a time when my life was a bit crazy and I had a decision I needed to make and I really didn't feel like anything was OK at all.

Sergio came down the hall and the two of them proceeded to tell me how the whole time, although again no one was moving, it felt like they were rocking me. I, having not told a soul that I had in fact felt like I was indeed being held and rocked, informed them that I had the same weird sensation. In the end we all agreed that what I needed at that time in my life was apparently my dad and so that is what I got. Then I went and cried like a baby.

Since then one other person at my school has passed a message to me, after more energy work, from someone who they believed was my dad. The message was pretty much along the same lines. I believed her, as I did Josh and Sergio, since she would have no way of knowing my dad had passed away and also had no idea of what had happened months earlier. I can never thank any of them enough for what they have given me by believing in the work they do and in what comes out of that work.

Sitting here now I suddenly realize how appropriate the messages are, him speaking to me like this. It was his voice that struck me so hard all those years ago, causing me to start writing in the first place. It was his voice that I wrote about in the poem that made me believe in myself. Even in the last stanza, I just now realize this as I'm adding it below, it's his voice I vowed to listen for. More than a decade later, no video required, he's talking to me.

Life really is amazing.

While my dad can't be here with me now, a part of him will always be with me in my words. Below is the poem I wrote all those years ago. I love you, dad.

My Father's Voice 

My father’s voice was proud and strong
Within it rang confidence, strength and song
It was deep and clear and demanded truth
It held no lies and it longed for youth
My father’s voice was stolen away
By the dark of the night, by the light of the day
It was stolen by the wind and blown into the sky
Never to be heard again, set free to fly
His voice was soothing, his tone was calm
It echoes through my mind, it echoes through the walls
It can drive a person crazy, it can calm a baby’s cry
It left his soul so fast that I couldn’t say goodbye
I hear it in my sleep, in my dreams it fills my mind
It whispers through my music, it screams throughout all time
It was taken by the sunlight, as the sun shall rise and set
I will try and try to catch it for it knows it owes me debt
I’ll not give up my fight and I’ll listen for the noise
Of the whispering and echoing of my father’s voice

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Mediocre Renaissance Man said...

I love this post. Like all of your narrative writing, this is heartfelt, real and down to earth. Your voice comes through strong and clear. That's what I love about all of your writing.

I can tell that at least some of this was written with tears welling over your eyes. There are some powerful emotions lingering in your words, and I went on an emotional journey with you while reading.

More than ever I am grateful for my father, and I am painfully aware that my time with my own children is precious. Thank you for being so open and willing to share intimate, deep feelings like these with us.

When you love your audience, they will love you back.

Chantelle Says said...

Thank you Brian, that really does mean a lot. More than I can say. There was a great deal of welling up last night.

I know you are a wonderful father yourself and your children are incredibly blessed to have you as their father.