“Move pen, move - write me a mountain.”
A sentence among hundreds in a TV documentary some time ago about a famous performance ‘slam’ poet. I have, for as long as I can remember - and without knowing why - felt that poetry was an overblown, pretentious art form with little relevance to my life. Nevertheless I was intrigued by this programme and resolved to watch it through.
I spent much of the ensuing ninety minutes watching the screen with tears streaming down my face. This man has a unique gift with words. Not just the words that he chooses, but the ways in which he strings them together, weaves them and throws them at his audience like a warm water bomb. His audience became saturated with his word craft, swept along upon a tsunami of emotional exploration and realisation. His words overwhelmed me. Quietly, I admitted to myself that I envied him for his talent and his drive. Even as I was enraptured by his gift, I wished that it was mine.
I also write, although he and I inhabit different spheres of ability and achievement. Perhaps that’s how it should be. We have, after all, lived different lives and experienced the world in very different ways. Two things we share, however; we write about ourselves and we are moved by our relationship with our respective fathers.
I began – tentatively – to write about five years ago. My father had died, and I travelled to England for his funeral. Standing in a church for the first time in many years and – to honour his memory - speaking the words that I no longer believed, I realised that my father was gone. He was gone, and I had no idea who he really was. All I knew was the ‘Dad’ persona; the side of himself that he had made available to me and my own children. ‘Tommy’, however, was a stranger.
I’m not bitter. He was a quiet, self-effacing kind of man. Talking about himself did not come easily to him, but reading between the sparse lines of his story, I know that he led an interesting life, and was a good man who left behind many friendships.
Twelve months later, the truth slapped me in the face. Finally it dawned upon me that I must not leave my children wondering the same things about me. Somehow, my story (hopefully nowhere near its final pages) needed to be told. The resulting memoir – all five hundred pages of it – took almost three years to write, re-write, re-write again, walk away from and finally return to. It took more nerve than I had guessed to publish it, but finally doing so became an emotional triumph.
My father taught me many things - for example: how to wound oneself performing any banal household task – but his greatest teaching was entirely unintentional. His biggest lesson was to never leave unsaid that which can bring joy to others.
My words are my gift to my children.