Look Before You Leap

One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is my father. Very fitting, considering it’s Father’s Day in many parts of the world this week (not in Australia until later in the year, though.)

My Dad admitted to me a while back that he knew how his life would be described when he was gone – not: great provider, great husband, great upholder of the work ethic, sensible, conservative, forthright, but something completely unexpected – he didn’t look before he leapt.

My Dad’s father, my Grandfather, was an alcoholic and a gambler. He drank himself into a stroke, aged 52, bedridden for five years, unable to walk or feed himself before dying at 57. It was a sad end to a life that seemed suspended, as if no one had told him it had actually begun.

‘The only thing I learnt from my father was how to hide from the world.’ My Dad said it as if he was passing comment on the weather. Not bitter, not angry, but a little sorrowful the way a child says I fell over just as he is about to burst into tears.

‘I do the same thing – hide from the world – except I don’t drink. I run instead. As far away as possible.’ My Dad spoke sombrely, slumped in a chair, a life-sized rag doll. ‘When I was a kid my mother always said look before you leap, look before you leap as if I was going to spend my life jumping from high walls or over chasms. But now I know what she meant. Think about things before you do them, don’t just plunge headlong into the day, into life. Consider the ramifications first.’

I knew what my Dad was referring to. Several decisions, very quickly made. Moving from Scotland to Australia was probably the largest of those. In an instant many lives changed forever.

‘I remember standing looking at the Harbour Bridge,’ my Dad continued. ‘It was a bright day. We were in a foreign land where we knew nobody and I looked down at my three daughters whose tiny, trusting little faces were looking up at mine and I thought: ’What the hell have I done?’ I didn’t even think about what would happen afterwards, I just did it, moved 12,000 miles away.’

My Dad has leapt without looking many other times in his life, but then again, just about everyone I know has. We like to think our decisions are well-considered, not reflex actions or impulsiveness, but sometimes it is easier to run than to stand and take it.

My Dad knows this but he has trouble accepting it as one of the many foibles that make us what we are as human beings. He is full of regret, measuring how far he’s come in terms of missteps and what he sees as failures, instead of acknowledging the depth and breadth of his successes, his triumphs.

He is dragging his feet through the landscape of the past, stumbling and scrambling over what-ifs, would haves, or if onlys, instead of looking at the sweet, ordinary sunshine of the present and the glorious possibility of the future.

I get it. I really do. I am guilty on occasion of bemoaning the state of my life and blaming decisions I made in the past. My Dad took his family away from a very large extended family, to a life of relative anonymity in Australia, he has made several bad business decisions which have impacted on many lives, particularly my mother’s, and he has spent many years brooding over dreams that did not come true. He wanted to be a writer, and he has the ability, but he never seemed to find the time.

My father is a man of contradictions. In some ways he didn’t look before he leapt but in others he looked too long before stretching out his legs and jumping. His advice to me has always been follow your dreams, even when it seems hopeless, too hard, and impossible to succeed. It’s our dreams, our desires, our hopes that define who we really are and in following them we are being true to ourselves. Many decisions we make in our lives will be good ones. Just as many will be bad. Learning from our mistakes is what we should live with not tethering ourselves to the wish we hadn’t made them in the first place. So, to honour my Dad I will look before I leap, but I will also not be afraid to jump because that moment when our feet fly in mid-air reminds us that anything is possible.

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19 thoughts on “Look Before You Leap

  1. Selma, you never cease to amaze me in your ability to find not just the right words but the absolute most perfect words and phrases that reach in and grab the very core of your reader’s being.

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  2. “He is dragging his feet through the landscape of the past, stumbling and scrambling over what-ifs, would haves, or if onlys, instead of looking at the sweet, ordinary sunshine of the present and the glorious possibility of the future.”

    That is possibly one of the best sentences I’ve read in a very long time. Love the way you said that..

    There are many lessons like this in our lives eh?

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  3. My father has reached a goal of becoming an old man, something he’s been striving to achieve for several years. Mind you, I’m not talking about chronological age. He decided long ago he wanted to be a frail, old man with many aches and pains, just like his mother.

    He could have been a writer, because he could tell some wonderful stories, but someone told him there was no money in writing and he shouldn’t waste his time. There are times I can see a spark of that younger guy he once was, but then he remembers… and once again he is old.

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  4. Bravo Selma! The last paragraph of this piece (in particular) is truly inspiring.

    We need to look before we leap (yes, I’ve learned that the HARD way, again and again) but we can never be happy if we are too afraid to still believe in dreams. In not allowing ourselves to be spontaneous. What kind of life would it be if we were that paralysed to act?

    Well done dear Selma, as always!

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  5. another beautiful and touching post.. your father,, whether he knows it or not did exactly what he needed to do in order to become the man he is today… sometimes we forget that,, that we would not have been the same person,, with the same insight and wisdom and memories,, had we changed just one of the things we did in the past… in that small piece of understanding i trust,, and i am thankful,, in spite of the numerous leaps of faith that i feel have failed…..

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  6. Have you shared this with your Dad? Just wondering…

    I recently had a conversation in which one of your Dad’s opinions was expressed. “Ask yourself what you would want to do every day even if you weren’t paid for it. That’s what you should be doing for a living because you have passion for it.” This is very similar to your Dad’s advice to follow your dreams.

    It’s not very idealistic of me, but I don’t think I’ll be giving that piece of advice to my children when they go looking for careers.

    I say this because I’m a believer in achievable goals. I’ve seen too many people “follow their dreams” in the sense of wanting to be the great artiste or something like that, only to spend the rest of their live in self-recrimination over their failure. Another thing that happens is that people who are “following their dreams” often unintentionally shove the financial responsibility for their lives onto others.

    I’m not saying to ignore your dreams or assume they just won’t come true. I’m saying that there’s a fine line between trying hard to realize them and beating your head against the wall. I could go on about this for a while.

    You’re quite a philosophical person, Selma, and I enjoyed your post. As Arnold once said, “I’ll be back”.

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  7. Another beautiful post Selma, I feel for your father and for you as you try to support and be there for him. I think regrets are deadly poison. I believe every challenge we encounter shapes us and helps us grow – paisley put it perfectly to my way of thinking – no need to repeat.

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  8. There must be a deep neverending well of talent inside you that just leaks out everyday.

    Heavenly post. I wish I could talk about my father in any way like this.

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  9. Fantastic post, Selma. Enjoyable on a number of levels. Thought provoking and emotionally evoking. Well done.

    David.

    Look before you leap? -or Strike while the iron is hot ?

    Here’s a some contradictory ‘wise old sayings’ for your reading pleasure:

    Better safe than sorry – Nothing ventured, nothing gained
    Fools rush in where angels fear to tread-He who hesitates is lost.
    Don’t spread yourself too thin- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
    A penny saved is a penny earned.- Penny wise and pound foolish
    Keep your nose to the grind stone. – Stop and smell the roses
    Beware of Greeks bearing gifts – Never look a gift horse in the mouth
    Don’t cross your bridges before you get to them – If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
    Quit while you’re ahead – Winners never quit
    Patience is a virtue – Strike while the iron is hot
    Birds of a feather flock together – Opposites attract
    Clothes maketh the man – Never judge a book by its cover
    Absence makes the heart grow fonder -Out of sight, out of mind
    Variety is the spice of life – Never change a horse in mid-stream
    The best things in life are free” – You get what you pay for

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  10. A very thoughtful piece. I’ve often thought about looking before you leap. Never made any difference – I still tried to fly.
    I suppose in a way, though, we do ‘look’, but we do it unconsciously, in the times leading up to it, feeling frustrations about this and that. So when an opportunity comes, maybe we’ve already programmed ourselves inside.

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  11. CRICKET – how lovely of you to say so. I am extremely grateful.

    NAT – oh, there certainly are many lessons like that. Thank you so much for your positive feedback. I really appreciate it!

    KAREN – I know what you mean about seeing the spark. It can be really hard to watch. My Dad is unhappy with getting older, maybe everyone is, I can’t really say. I just want him to be happy, you know? Not drowning in a sea of regret.

    GERALDINE – I agree with you 100%. We do have to be brave enough to take that leap without assuming straight away that we will fail. I’ve learned that the hard way too. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed, but at least I’ve tried!

    PAISLEY – absolutely spot on. None of us would be the people we are today without those occasional leaps of faith. Who wants a picture perfect life, anyway? Not I !

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  12. RWHACKMAN – there definitely is a fine line to tread. I believe in being able to utilise one’s skills in both a pragmatic and a more idealistic way if at all possible. There’s no fun in being a writer, for example, if you don’t get to eat. On the other hand, there is little joy to be gleaned from a lifetime of being corporate fodder if that is not completely your bag. A happy medium is possible in most cases. And following your dreams can take many unexpected forms. I guess it’s just about remaining open to all possibilities. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    EMPLOYEE – I believe the Land of Oz celebrates Father’s Day sometime in September. I have no idea why it is different from everywhere else in the world. I should find out, shouldn’t I?

    KAYT – I want to be like Edith Piaf (no, no regrets) or maybe like Sinatra (regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.) I want to learn and move forward. Oh, and you are definitely right – Paisley is very wise. She is a very insightful person.

    KRISTA – it is my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for stopping by.

    BEC – I think it’s what my dear Aussie friends refer to as a load of bull. When I was at school I was affectionately (I hope) called a ‘bullshit artist.’ A talent that has never left me. Thank you for your kind words.

    DAVID – love, love, love those old sayings. Now there’s one I haven’t heard before – Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. That’s a new one on me. Something to do with the Trojan war, perhaps? Thanks for including all those sayings. Some of them would make some great story prompts.

    ANTHONY – I think you’re right. There does seem to be an unconscious decision in the initial stages. But I’m like you – I like to fly.

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  13. My Dad brought us all to Australia when I was 4 and my brother and sister were 2 and 5 months old. My mum was devastated because she was very close to her family in England while my Dad wasn’t. My dad grew up in London and had a fairly hard life. He wanted better for us, hence his decision to bring us here. He has never regretted that decision and in spite of my mum’s initial reluctance, she too is very happy to be here. It was a leap of faith, no doubt about that but back then a lot of Brits were doing it.

    We all take chances at times, some pay off, some don’t. I will always take a risk because I would hate to die wondering what if. If you try and fail, at least you know and can move on. I absolutely believe in people following their dreams as long as they don’t lose sight of the practicalities in life especially if they have others depending on them.

    Wonderful post Selma. sorry i dribbled on so long, I think I got on a bit of a tangent there for a minute.

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  14. GYPSY – you have said so well what I actually wanted to say.. I also cannot cope with the what-ifs. I always need to know. And my dear friend, you can have as long a comment as you wish. It is always a pleasure to read it!

    MELEAH – I am just so glad you’re back. Can’t wait to hear all the tales of the fun in the sun. Brilliant!

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  15. I appreciate your thoughts as well, Selma. You see, I am “corporate fodder”, but I am currently able to eat. Yes, “balance” is where it’s at. That’s why I blog.

    Gosh, I sort of feel like you’ve given me justification over here. Thanks.

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  16. RICHARD – I meant to cast no aspersions. But you know what I mean. Whatever we do for a living we always need a little more. Something for the soul. Writing, art, music, fills up the holes for many people. It’s balance all the way, baby. Good on you for blogging. I hope you get as much out of it as I do.

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