Friday, October 9, 2009

A story

My Dad died this week, and so he is all that has been on my mind.

I've been thinking about his stories, and there are so many. And thinking about mine. It's a strange time, surreal. Every moment feels profound and empty, and everyone speaks to you in clich├ęs.

If I was watching the movie of my life, it would be a sombre part, with appropriate music, or would it? Sure I've felt sad, but there are no rulebooks for these periods in our lives, and I've felt joy more than anything else. It's caught me a little by surprise.

Joy at his determination and strength. Joy that he made a good life, and at the end of it was surrounded by so many people that love him. A good measure of a life well lived I think.

So I wanted to tell you a story, because in our culture sharing stories is what keeps us alive, even after we die. It does more than tell us what to be wary of, or what to seek out. Stories remind us why we live, and good ones remind us what to live for.

When I was in my teens, Dad would take us kayaking on the Goulburn river in winter. It's a river in Victoria Australia, fed from melting snow in the hills. The water is cold, freezing, but in winter the water is high on the bank, and it makes for great paddling.

On this particular day I'd been paddling all day with Dad, and a dozen other club members. We were exhausted, cold and wet as it had been raining a little through the day. When we reached the last bend, Dad was amongst a number of other boats to reach the side first. I hung back, and waited, wanting space and a rest.

I'm not sure what it was that made me overturn. The water was moving, but not rough at all. It was deep however, and when I went in, it was shockingly cold. My legs had been wedged into the sides of a short, low volume, one man kayak and they cramped up the instant they touched the water. My hands were so stiff and store from the days paddling I couldn't make a fist. And I started to drown, just like that. Ten feet from the bank.

I managed somehow to reach the surface, and I remember taking a breath, and seeing Dad's face. It wasn't panicked, he was running when I saw him, and the look in his eyes stayed with me, I've never forgotten it. There was nothing stopping him. I suppose you could call it determination, but it wouldn't do it justice.

He dived in and reached me, and in a tangle of arms and legs we made it to the shore. Even in my early teens I was taller than Dad, and I think I almost drowned HIM on the way back to the bank a few times!

We were finally both sitting exhausted, wet through, freezing on the bank. I remember looking up at him, about to ask about going home or something, and being struck by this incredible sense of pride, and a realisation that he was kind of a hero to me at that moment.

Now if I told you we had this perfect father son relationship after that I'd be lying. I still had the rest of my teens to get through, and he wasn't getting out of it that easily!

Still, that moment, it's amazing to me. Memories like that, are precious and powerful for kids in their teens. When you can look at your Dad like that, know he's your hero, you can overcome anything. It helped me cope with some of the uncertainty of my adolescence, it helped me grow up.

And when I had children of my own, and remembered that look on his face as I floundered in the water ... well I never really understood the determination in his eyes on that day until then.


Anna said...

That's a wonderful story. It reminds me of some reason of a passage in Steven Herrick's verse novel By The River:

"Dad bathes the wound
with warm water,
dabbing lightly at the deep cut
still oozing blood.
…That night in bed
I wake when I turn.
I see Dad
sitting in the corner of my room
reading a book under lamplight.
All night, awake,
in case his son,
who can’t turn a corner on a billycart,
needs him."

I love my dad too.

Quadelle said...

What a wonderful story. There are certain moments in relationships that define them, or crystalize what was already there. This is such a beautiful one to have and hold onto.

Misrule said...

I was at a funeral earlier this year, and was struck by a comment made during the service—that the measure of a life is not how many people love you, but how many you love. It sounds to be from what you and Penni have written that your Dad lived well, and loved greatly. Mine too—and I treasure him all the more for reading this post. Best to you.

jennylu said...

Thanks for sharing that story. It makes for a really nice digital memory of time spent with your father. I saw your tweet the other night about this incident but understand its meaning so much more now that it is fleshed out here. Your kids will be thankful you wrote this in years to come. You will too.

Tony Hollingsworth said...

Wonderful story - wish it could go into the #perfectgiftforaman initiative that @servantofchaos is co-ordinating. Book coming out soon.

Thanks for sharing this.

Mark Lawrence said...

Hi Martin, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. Please accept my deepest condolences to you and all your family. I missed your tweets the other night about your dad, so have only just caught up with the news.

I'm amazed at your ability to think straight and write, though I'm sure the flood of memories (and emotions) is flashing around you. And I'm sure you must be feeling all kinds of grief and pain.

When I lost my dad just before last Christmas, I was crushed. It was so very sudden and we didn't have the chance to see him and say good bye. In fact we were not ready to say goodbye - we were going to see him in just a week and celebrate Christmas and his and my mum's birthdays together!

I was a zombie for a few days, so I admire your ability to express what's on your mind so well.

I also envy the opportunity you had to say goodbye. Though I'm sure you'd much rather have more chances to say hello.

Thank you so much for sharing this story about your dad and you. You are a lucky man to have had him, and I think he was lucky to have you too.

The story is indeed a gift for a father, and for a son (or daughter).

The Digital Narrative said...

Thankyou to everyone for your comments, it's been much appreciated. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, but it can be a joyful thing I've discovered.


loonyhiker said...

What an awesome story! I'm so glad you had that moment to remember. I can feel the love you had for each other so strongly as I read your story. I'm so sorry for your loss and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.