Sunday, 19 June 2011

Remembering my father...

The Huffington Post’s invitation to share memories of books given to us by our fathers is such a charming idea - and it got me thinking of how my own love of reading was inspired by my father.

My father was a first generation American, born of immigrant parents. He was very bright, starting his degree in chemical engineering at the age of 16 - and although he had a gift for mathematics and science, he was also passionate about literature. I’ve never met a man so in love with words.

I didn’t see much of him when I was young – he worked long hours and travelled a lot for his job – but we bonded over books. He read to me when he could (he had a mesmerizingly beautiful, deep voice) and he and my mother starting teaching me to read when I was three years old. At my father’s insistence, my early reading was not just 'baby' books, but also Twain, Steinbeck (still a favourite), and ‘serious’ poetry....

There were some wonderful second-hand bookshops near my father’s downtown office and he loved browsing there. He brought home Oz books whenever he could find them – the wonderful early editions with J R Neill illustrations. Everyone knows about The Wizard of Oz, but even better are The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Ozma of Oz and Rinkitink of Oz. This collection was supposed to be mine, but he enjoyed them too. I loved that he could discuss Ozma’ s plans to prevent war between the Skeezers and the Flatheads as seriously as if they were strategies from The Art of War.

For my father, a writer’s style was very important; he talked about that a lot. I didn’t really understand – for me, it was all about the stories. But when I was a bit older, my father introduced me to my favourite writer in the whole world, Gerald Kersh. He brought home a tatty paperback, Nightshades and Damnations, a collection of Kersh’s short stories edited by Harlan Ellison. They took my breath away! Yes, I loved the tales Kersh told - but more than that, I loved the way he wrote. As Ellison says in the introduction, "Damn you, Kersh, for showing me, and all of us who strive to capture magic in a shot glass, how much better you are, how much more easily you can do it! ... No mortal can write this well." For the first time, I realised that the way a writer said something could be just as important as what was said – and I’m still a sucker for style, just like my old man...

My father committed suicide over twenty years ago. I still miss him terribly, especially on a day like today, or when I read something wonderful and think ‘Papa would love this’ ... and then realise he is no longer here to share it with.

If he were here today, I would probably have given him a Kindle (how he would have adored the digital age!) and I would have said: Thank you for everything – for your grey eyes (though I could’ve done without the myopia!), for your sense of humour (no one has ever made me laugh like you do), for the beautiful letters, drawings and poems you wrote for me starting the day I was born (I treasure them), for passing on your love of language and literature....

Happy Father’s Day. I love you.


  1. He was a very handsome man !

  2. You DO have his eyes! I'm sure his reading aloud and passion for literature will have inspired your own artistry with words. What a great legacy!

  3. Thank you all for your lovely comments! I so rarely have the chance to talk about my father; I've really enjoyed sharing a little bit about him. x