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A Father’s Words : Stephanie's Search for Meaning

August is the month of my father’s birthday. He would have been 77 years old this summer. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 58, another victim of the cruel killer that is cancer. That he died so young is sad but the fact that he died not having lived his best life is what brings me the most sorrow, and the most inspiration for the adventure that I have embarked on with my husband and my kids.

As a young man, my dad was a musician. He was the guitar player in a rock ‘n roll band in the late 1950s, and he was as cool and suave as that makes him sound. When I see pictures from that time, my dad’s smile seems genuine and full. He played a few venues in his youth and every time we passed by one of them when I was growing up, he always mentioned that he had had a gig there. He met my mother at one of these gigs. She slipped out of her house at 17 to go see him play, and they made a date for the next day to meet up again. She met him that next day and the rest is history. They married at 19 and had my brother at 20. I was born 5 years later.

When he became a father, my dad quit his band and stopped playing music. He dedicated himself entirely to building a life from scratch with my mom for my brother and then for me. He put his guitar in its case and never looked back. He was a travelling salesman and worked every day of his life. Once every two years, like clockwork, he would take us on a trip. Even if we were not rich, he took us to Disney World so many times that I cannot even count them. He took us down south, to Mexico and Cuba and to everywhere hot (even before all-inclusive resorts existed!).

After a lifetime of labour, my father retired when he was halfway into his 57 years. He loved the mundane routine of retirement: waking up slowly in the morning, going to the corner diner for his two eggs over easy with extra bacon while reading his Journal de Montreal and sipping his coffee with one milk and two sugars. He loved walking back home and deciding what he would cook for dinner, puttering around his little house, regularly spending the afternoon in movie theatres eating popcorn and drinking the can of Coke which he slipped from his pocket as the trailers began. My dad was a simple, hard-working man. He was not perfect but he was a good father who provided for his family and he made all of the reasonable decisions that one makes throughout a responsible life. In my family, we talk about his love of country music, his laugh, his passion for movies and his ability to sniff out a good deal like nobody’s business. The thing is, though, that I always thought that my father was also a sad man. We don’t talk about that part so much in my family nowadays.

I remember every Sunday night when he would get what he called his “Sunday Blues”. This meant that he was feeling dejected that he had to leave his weekend behind, disappointed that he had to trudge back into his work life for the next five days. When I young, I used to wonder what the “Sunday Blues” were and did all adults catch them.

I never knew my dad to be bitter. Rather, he was just accepting that this was what reasonable people did in life. His light at the end of the tunnel was his retirement. He looked forward to rows and rows of empty days to fill with whatever he wanted. He was looking forward to the freedom that retirement would give him to listen to music and watch movies, cook and spend time with his grandkids. So how happy was he when he retired at 57! He finally had the luxury of time which he had so longed for. He also had the time now to see his doctor about the back pain that he had been carrying for a few years. Nothing huge, just an uncomfortable sort of pain that he could not get rid off despite seeing physiotherapists and massage therapists. He did a few tests and soon thereafter his doctor called him in and told him that his back pain was due to stage 4 kidney cancer which had spread throughout his body.

Just like that, his was given 7–8 months to live. And wouldn’t you know it, 8 months later he was dead. Skinny, ravaged by chemo, delusional and incoherent from all the medication and the cancer finally reaching his brain. A couple of weeks before he died, my father wanted to have a serious conversation with my brother and I, separately. This was going to be my big talk with my father, a time (I anticipated) for him to pass on his wisdom for life moving forward. I do not know how my brother’s talk went, I never asked him. Mine went like this: we spent about an hour shooting the breeze about nothing in particular and wading through awkward silences, then he expressed how tired he was so I told him that I would let him get some rest and as I walked out the room my father said “Don’t make the same mistake.”. I was confused, a little shy and did not quite know how to respond so I nodded my head and left with those words hanging between us like blundering little puppets, graceless and gawky.

For years, those words were hurtful to me, as if he was judging what I had done to date and he considered my cumulative life actions a mistake. To be fair, my baggage did include, by that point: a failed marriage, a failed law career and a mountain of debt. Was he warning me to not repeat my own mistakes? Asking me not to be wrong again? In the end, I did not understand what he meant or why he said it and I chose to let those words go.

But in planning this Nomad Life adventure, I wonder whether his words were more a reflection on his own life than my own. Maybe what he meant was for me to dare to live my best life filled with adventure and exploration. Maybe he was warning me against his own mistakes of a life lived for the safety of a tomorrow which he never got to enjoy. Maybe he was telling me, years in advance, to go ahead and take the leap of faith into this trip that will build a lifetime of memories for me and for my family. Maybe he was telling me to not be afraid and to choose the road of exploration. Perhaps he was telling me that he knew this road trip adventure was in my future and that I should not make the mistake of avoiding it out of fear and reason.

So today, I choose to believe this version of his words and wherever he is right now, I imagine him wishing me well in this nomad adventure and doing his best to keep me safe while we are on the road from Canada, through the United States, all the way down to Panama and back.

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Unknown member
Jul 09, 2023

Great blog. I am convinced he meant that you should not make the same mistake he did in waiting for his retirement to take advantage of life. And like me, I am sure he would have been very proud in the decision you and you family took. Now I would have to have spent many hours to explain to him how a blog works and how he can follow you, but he would have been interested for sure. And probably a little envious 😉. Dad was a good father and did his best to give us a life of good memories. Don't forget the saying, 'The Apple does not fall far from the tree'. I think if his life would…

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