His highly creative father taught him chess and a love of the wild but he wouldn’t teach him his native language.
My mom told me that I’d follow my Dad around, once walking became an easy thing to do, “like Mary’s little lamb.” Perhaps I did; I’ve no personal memories of that age. For sure, I felt a lovely bond with my Dad. He often stood between me and ogre-mom. But there are many things I never told him. And he’s gone now. I can’t tell him any of the things that really matter.
Here are just a few:
Your language is important to me
My Dad was an immigrant. After growing up and surviving the war, he left Holland. As far as I know, he resisted ever speaking Dutch again. Apparently, when his parents visited us (I was two years old), he wouldn’t even teach me how to greet them in their language.
I wish I’d told him that I wanted to hear him speak it, that I wanted to learn some of it. And from him, not from textbooks or other people later.
Your history is important to me
I grew up a world away from the childhood he’d had. Europe, before the internet, was a long way away and mystical.
I’ve often wondered why Dad left Holland and never looked back. Much later, scraps of stories floated down from others. But while Dad was there to talk to, I didn’t stop to think how much his past meant to me, or the relatives we had there, or the places he’d lived.
Your stories are important to me
My Dad’s life was short, yet rich. He’d traveled to the far side of the world, in a time before the first commercial jet was built; what an island-hopping adventure it must have been.
I watched him build a house, work tirelessly in community organisations, and make impressive models for a prestigious firm.
I wonder why he did some of these things.
If I’d listened to a few of his reasons for taking the road he did, it might have helped my own choices.
You gave me a love of the wilds
He often walked in the wild parts of parks, where no one had ever cleared the old forest trees and undergrowth. Or he walked on the cleared-for-farming, grass-covered hills. Out there, it’s peaceful and quiet. He made small signs for the trees on our land, so his children would learn their names.
I admired his books of pressed leaves and flowers, carefully gathered.
Did he keep them simply because he found the green treed landscape so different from his homeland?
I don’t know. I wish I’d asked. And I never told him how I love the patterns leaves make, or the way sun filters through a forest canopy.
I appreciate you letting me win at chess
My Dad taught me chess; I never persevered, so never got much good. We read about the Fischer-Spassky battle as it was reported in the paper, and replayed some of the games. Some Sunday afternoons, we would play a game or two. I was inattentive; a poor student. But I wanted to win!
We were a lot alike, so I guess he probably wanted to win all our games too. But sometimes I managed to overcome him.
I’m sure he manufactured every win.
It was only long after we’d stopped playing that I realized I’d never told him how much I had enjoyed it.
Your design philosophy is important to me
I grew up in a home my Dad was building. It was an embarrassment to my mom; it was littered with construction mess, full of half-built things and wood and bricks. Visitors stayed away, but they missed an adventurous design.
I always intended to be an architect.
And I have spent some of my years designing homes.
But I never asked my Dad about his philosophy. Pre-war homes in Holland were very different to those in the suburb I grew up in.
I should have told him how impressed I was that he’d built a house without knowing much about the building process. And I didn’t understand, till long after, how he’d instilled in me a belief that I could learn whatever I had to learn.
And so I didn’t think to tell him I was grateful.
I love every moment we have together
Life was always better when my Dad was somewhere near. I felt safe, watched over. I know I got more difficult to corral as my teenage years approached; I wanted to break away, as children do when adulthood appears enticingly over the horizon.
I didn’t spend any time telling him how he lit up my life when he was close enough to touch.
And I know I didn’t spend enough time listening, because I remember very little of what he said to me. I didn’t tell him what he meant.
Perhaps I guessed he knew. But I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him. And now I can’t.
Don’t make my mistake
Photo: Flickr/Ryan Yibin Qiu