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.