Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Raiding the Archives 1

I'm going to start posting some of my older published work to the blog. Since much of it pre-dates what's currently available online, it'll be my way of helping you glimpse what drives my writer's voice.

This particular piece represents the first column I published in the London Free Press. I had had a couple of previous reader submissions (called Vox Pop articles) published previously, but this one was my first seriously personal piece, and it marks the exact point where I decided writing was what I wanted to do not just as a sideline, but as a career. Thanks to an editor whose writing makes others better for simply having read his work, it ultimately led to the bi-weekly column I currently write for the paper.

I like this piece for a lot of reasons - including strong imagery, intensely personal perspective, relatable lesson - and have used it as a reference point in similarly-themed articles since. It convinced me that writing can really matter to people. I hope you enjoy it, and look forward to your comments.

Originally published Sunday, June 16, 2002, the London Free Press, as a Vox Pop reader submission on the Editorial page.

The seemingly inconsequential defines Father's Day

By Carmi Levy

Four aircraft sat on the deserted flight line, silhouetted against the brightening sky as they waited for the day's first passengers to board. The sun slowly brightened the dark blue sky behind them, turning the wispy high cirrus clouds various shades of salmon before finally breaking the horizon and beginning its slow climb skyward. A low fog covered most of the tarmac, covering an icy frost clinging to the ground in a futile attempt to avoid evaporation. It was 6:10 a.m. at London International Airport, and here I was allowing myself to enjoy this little slice of life.

As it was, I didn't much feel like enjoying the day. I was on my way to Montreal because my father was having another in a series of surgeries that have dominated his life for the better part of the last five years. As I watched the wonder of a new day breaking over a quiet airport, I thought about what he must be doing then - more than likely enjoying the cold ambiance of the pre-op area while getting ready to be cut open - and how much he'd rather be sitting with me watching the sun rise.

Over these few years, I've watched his transition from a vibrant, boisterous father to an aging, intermittently sick grandfather. The end, which children always shunt to the back of their minds as something to worry about some day, but not now, is an increasingly frightening and real issue. He'll survive this latest round, I'm sure. But the long-term pattern is clear and unwavering. It is one of frequent specialist visits, consultations, tests and scans, punctuated by the occasional hospital visit, not to mention the daily battery of pills. My dad was a superhero when I was a child. Now he's human. And mortal.

This year, my father will celebrate Father's Day while recovering from this latest round of surgery. I won't be going to a store, however, because he has all the material goods he's ever going to need. Whatever we've gotten him in the past has either been socked away deep in the forgotten recesses of his cupboard or has magically disappeared from the house during spring cleaning. I don't begrudge him at all: that's just the way we are when it comes to material goods. At some point, we no longer need more stuff.

What my father needs now are more moments like the one I had that morning in the airport. He needs to appreciate the little things that make life something more than a day-to-day existence. He needs to dispense with the grindingly monotonous routine of pills and health complaints - if only for a few brief minutes a day - to get out and smell the proverbial coffee. He needs to realize that life, despite the curves it has thrown at him in recent years, remains a precious gift. Sure, he woke up in pain this morning. But he woke up.

My late grandfather lived in a small, dark apartment in a neighbourhood most of us wouldn't want to visit, let alone call home. Yet he greeted every day with a smile because he knew that sometime that day, he would discover or observe something most of us would dismiss as trivial; something he would then share with those who loved him. At the time, the immature child I was often scoffed at the inconsequential nature of his findings. After all, who really cared that grey squirrels seemed to be better climbers than black ones? What I wouldn't give now to have him share those very same things with me today.

But time moves in only one direction. I am now a father as well as a son. And it's taken me my entire life to fundamentally appreciate what Father's Day is really about. It isn't about fathers at all. It about the relationships we form and how we share those little life-lifting moments with those around us.

Forget the commercialized sentiment of the store-bought card, the on-sale golf shoes and the overpriced dinner at an overcrowded restaurant. Call him up, drop by or even e-mail him. If you were at the airport that morning, tell him what you saw. If you weren't, share a similarly trivial slice of your life. And don't just do it on Father's Day. Make it a regular thing. He'll hold onto that far longer than the off-colour tie or cheesy gift store figurine.



Diane said...

Beautifully written. Thank you.

carmilevy said...

Any time. There's lots more where that came from. I'll gradually bring it all into the blog in the coming months. Thanks for reading!

Carolyn R. Parsons said...

Thank you Carmi for directing me to this post. It's very moving and very valid. It's exactly perfect.


The Gearheads said...

Carmi, thanks for bringing into perspective the important things in life. Although he and I have never had a relationship that thrived on constant contact, we have always had an understanding that even if we don't speak to each other for months at a time, we still care for each other and enjoy those moments we do have.


Anonymous said...

Carmi, thank you for directing us back to this piece today -- so much wisdom in such a short space!
During my grandfather's last few years, I wrote him a letter (and included a few pictures) every month. I know that he enjoyed, appreciated, and savored each one because my father gathered and kept them after his father's death. Now that my dad is in failing health, I am doing the same thing for him: letters relating snippets of our family life along with photographs.
Dad can't go out to a restaurant and certainly doesn't need any trinkets, but a picture colored by a grandchild and a newsy letter are a treasured gift.

Peace to you.