Updated: Oct 17, 2020
My Dad, who died before we could be adults together, told me as a child: “You can be a writer.” Like it was as simple or obvious as “Have some dinner, you’re hungry.”
And my tiny shoulder shook with the idea. As Victor Hugo said,
“Nothing else in the world…not all the armies…is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
I bought pink pens and blank books with babysitting money.
Dad’s eyes filled up his glasses. Those big, black, nerdy glasses that are fashionable again now. I see them on men on TV, or on a man on the cover of the New York Times magazine and I think: he looks like my Dad! But no, it’s just the glasses. Not his nose - which popped out of his face like a red cherry gum ball bubble. THAT was a poem he didn’t really love.
Still, he continued to tell me “you are a writer.” And my shoulders grew strong and my pen finger calloused, as my brothers marched off to law school and my Mom kept suggesting Public Relations to me.
This is how I sum up my Dad in my heart. The one who believed in me. I don’t think there could be a spot in anyone’s heart that marks more importance than that.
Recently, I found a blank book of his. Dusty worn blue, corroded on the edges, pages thick and yellow and soft like old paper gets.
His tiny accountant handwriting crowded onto every page. Poems and thoughts. Poems!!! I never knew about this!
The writing so faded, I had to take a magnifying glass to make out the words. There are stories of love lost in his poems. These poems about love before Mom - his heart splayed out on the page. I can’t bear to read them, to see how pained he was. To learn this about him, who I knew as someone else, is like seeing a teacher at the grocery store as a kid: Wait a minute! You eat food??
What do kids really know about their parents?
I knew his favorite red button down sweater, his and Mom’s best friends. We heard stories of their silliness, their love. The bear that chased Dad around the car in Banff on their honeymoon.
I knew that during World War 2 my Dad picked up an abandoned typewriter on the battle field in France. It sat on a shelf in our basement, a curiosity that I was too immature to ask about. The rest I am left to imagine. I can imagine him ditching extra socks, food from his backpack to cram in the typewriter and carry it miles across Europe while fighting the Nazis.
But what do I know about the love letters he later composed on it? Or the special spot it may have held in his bachelor apartment or on the tiny table in his University of Chicago dorm room where- he told us - he ate only saltines and cheese because that was all he could afford?
Maybe, that typewriter gave him belief. Held a spot of honor in his heart. Telling him, with each dig into his back, and as soldier’s blisters formed on his feet : You can be a poet.
My Dad, knew how to inspire his kids: believe in them.