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My father maintains that the mullet is the best hairstyle.
He hasn’t heard the expression “business in the front, party in the back,” but he does describe it as the “best of both worlds,” which reiterates that synopsis somewhat less humorously.
He sported the style when he was lead guitarist in the frilly-shirted and oddly named band Cotton Donkey. Luckily, you can’t find them on YouTube, though they formed a throwback group for their 25th high-school reunion, so I shouldn’t speak with such confidence.
He’s also a man who still wears a neon-accented “It’s hip to be square” shirt. So it is with reticence that I say I’m beginning to relate to my father.
But then, I’ve always been connected to his affinity for odd short-sleeve shirts. When I was in Grade 6 or 7, Dad thought it would be a good idea to give each of his daughters the free T-shirts he’d received from a client of his architecture firm, black save for the bright orange capital letters “E Z” emblazoned across the left breast. It’s easy to guess how prepubescent boys would interpret the letters.
He also tried to lighten the mood of an eight-hour road trip by throwing dried pie-shaped dung patties at fighting sisters.
We’ve labelled his penchant for bad jokes “groaners.”
More than once he’s told my mother that her eyes remind him of “petals – bicycle pedals.”
It’s really not a case of they’re so bad they’re good; they’re just bad.
I think he gave up on being quick-witted at all times when the birth of his second daughter (me) cemented his future as a man whose only male companionship for the next 20 years would be a temperamental cat.
My father has a history of failed attempts at humour, a workshop full of half-finished strip kayaks, and a story for everything.
It’s mostly in the uncertain trajectory of his first 30 years, his sheer inability to pick a focus, that I find commonality.
He jumped from ranch hand to theatre electrician to architect, and lately he’s thrown boat designer into the mix. Toss in a brown belt in judo, several kayaks, two banjos, five guitars and a disassembled Harley-Davidson in the basement, and you’ve got a man who might as well be 12 people.
Dad has always been excited most by the process of discovery, and that’s probably why I feel so supported in my evolving career path. For him it truly is the idea, the effort, the germ of a purpose that justifies our existence.
I’ve come across people – successful people – who advised me to find one thing and be really good at it. Teachers kindly suggested my 5-foot-2 frame should pick among basketball, rugby, wrestling, field hockey and paddling. I could be an academic, too, but best to choose a specialty.
I’ve come across a similarly linear perspective in my professional adulthood. Very few people follow my father’s reasoning that dissimilar experiences actually support each other. The presumption is you select a direction and proceed to find a career (read: something that defines you), get married and have babies.
I’ve never been that way. It wasn’t my father’s road to success and it isn’t mine.
Inspirational quotes like “live every day as if it’s your last” hold no meaning to a man like him. For those who have experienced a potentially “last” day, and seek normal and numerous days thereafter, it’s an unrealistic perspective.
Two years after my father’s heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery, followed by a sternal infection that rendered him so frail he could hardly walk, he’s taking hour-long bike rides up mountains.
Though I can’t speak for his mind or his emotions, I don’t think the near-death experience changed him in the way romanticized stories suggest. He already had the traits said to be inspired by such experiences – energy, spontaneity, courage.
It didn’t take a heart attack for him to follow his passions or find his convictions.
When he was in the band, he got one of his many nicknames, the “Mangler,” for single-handedly making five drunk thieves return a stolen trailer after a particularly lively show.
He saved a boy from drowning in a frozen lake, and chased a drunk driver on foot after a hit-and-run.
It didn’t take a heart attack for my dad to leap feet first into these situations, and that won’t be the reason he continues.
My father is a dreamer. As he ages, I keep redefining what I consider “old,” because I couldn’t possibly see a man with as much life, creativity and joy as anything but timeless.
They say that as we age and gain possessions we become more conservative – if not in politics, at least in lifestyle. By those standards, my father is aging backward. I hope I can follow his lead.
We all try to move toward an ideal version of ourselves and now I see pieces of him in my path and personality.
It’s becoming clear that the symbolic version of myself is an awkwardly humorous, career-shifting life learner. And, just maybe, she’ll have a mullet.