“Just for a second a glimpse of my father I see…”

Last week I dragged my electric guitar out of my mom’s storage locker and made a Saturday evening of playing scales and riffs that I used to spend hours as a teenager perfecting until I could do them in my sleep. Though I was primarily a bass player and a singer, when my favourite second brother abandoned music for other pursuits I inherited his axe and decided to shred my way through a few hours every day until I could sing and play a decent repertoire of heavy metal. I was really into Iron Maiden and a lot of other bands that rode along in the wake of the NWOBHM, but as I’ve mentioned before I was deeply steeped in the sounds of everything coming out of Scandinavia too – especially Finland, and especially Children of Bodom. Between the respective online forums for Iron Maiden and Children of Bodom I made many friends around the world, a handful of whom are still dear friends today.

Recently I found myself wondering how on earth I managed to get away with being a young teenager with such a flourishing online life in the early 2000s, especially with my father being the kind of man who definitely always wanted to know the crowd his children were currently running with, regardless of how totally uncool it made him (and us) look. True, my ancient but reliable old laptop was stuck in his home office because we didn’t really have WiFi back then – but still! I’ll probably never know what possessed my father to let his youngest child (his little girl, no less) go down the rabbit hole of music that on the surface seemed to be made and performed in one Circle of Hell or another.  I certainly don’t know what went through his mind when I started calling teenage boys (and a few young men) I knew off the forums and who came from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and Bulgaria my “best friends,” and I certainly don’t even want to know what he was thinking when I said a boy from the Netherlands that I had also been chatting with wanted to come to Vancouver and meet me. (That would be my first boyfriend, and he actually came two summers in a row before the relationship crashed and burned — right before my senior year. Yeah, I got away with a lot more than I realized…)

My dad and I were always close, and the “father and daughter” dates we had when I was a little kid evolved as I grew up and as his disabilities progressed. First there were long walks during spring and summer evenings around the neighbourhood, and then as he gradually lost his mobility we sat together on the front stoop or in his office while I read out loud to him. And those afternoons and evenings always had time in them for talking, and my dad was my best and wisest confidant. So maybe he saw in my eyes and heard in my voice the trust I had and judgement of character I made on these friends, and maybe not pulling out my blue Ethernet cord and sending me to an all-girls private school was his way of telling me he trusted me. And at that time in my life I think that degree of control over my friends and over the music I listened to was exactly what I needed to lock into some sense of stability during an emotionally and mentally tumultuous time.

In my last year of high school there were a lot of horrid rows shaking the walls of our home in the Valley, starting off with one in particular that was the direct result of me announcing that I had no intention of going to university and instead wanted to move overseas with my bass and my guitar and my voice and live the life of a twenty-first century heavy metal bohemian. After I was exiled to my room, I did the only thing my teenaged self knew she could do to release all the anger and frustration: I plugged in my Rhoads, cranked my stereo and my amp, and power-chorded my way through a mix-CD of Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, Metallica, Helloween, Children of Bodom, and Nightwish.

After a while my father came in to talk to me and of course I stopped playing to yell at him. Sitting on my bed and clutching my Rhoads, I ugly-cried while I tried to explain that I didn’t want to be boxed in, I didn’t want to do what was conventional, and I didn’t want to waste time when there were so many things to see and do in the world. As my yells died down to sniffles and as I fought to keep snot from dripping onto a set of brand-new strings, my dad said nothing; he remained silent for a long, long time. I broke the silence at some point with a defiant demand: “What was the point in me getting this far through life if all I’m going to do after high school is put myself into a bigger place with no friends? All my best friends are out there, Papa. What’s wrong with me wanting to go be with my best friends?”

I won’t ever forget what he said to me afterwards.  It was an explanation as to why it was important for me to get a good education without taking time off between this school and the next, why I had to set myself up for the real world and not be a broke and starving musician clinging to the hopes of making it big, and why getting a degree and entering a professional job as an adult would set me up for more opportunities anywhere in the world than going to Europe as a teenager with a guitar on my back and a dream in my heart would ever give me.

“You are my daughter and I love you, which is why I’m not allowing you to run away to Europe.  I like knowing that how I’ve raised you has made you aware of a bigger world, but you have a lot more learning and growing up to do before you can appreciate that world,” he said.

But the one thing that made me listen and the one thing that made me trust in my father was the fact that he came over to me after this lecture, put his shaking hand on my shoulder, and said, “If you won’t listen to me, listen to those lyrics you love and sing so well. Your time will come. I promise you — your time will come.”

And so, I went to university and earned a double-major in two of the most useless fields imaginable at just an undergraduate level.  But earning that degree got me a second job, and working to put myself through that degree in the first place has taught me many valuable lessons that I’ll never forget and put me into friendships that have enriched my life beyond all measure.  In that one moment during my adolescence my father knew exactly what to say to make me believe in his wisdom for just a little longer and trust in him, and I will never forget that.

When my dad passed away exactly four years ago, the European guys who, during adolescence, I had dubbed my best friends were among the first to know what had happened, and they were among my strongest supporters who rallied around me with kind words, reassurances, and blood-brotherly love. They are now men with degrees and jobs and lives and I am now a young woman with the same, but music still kept us together even though those long-discussed plans of making an overseas journey had yet to become reality. My father’s acquiescence to my choice of music and my way of making friends allowed me to keep these people in my life — and in my opinion that makes them a part of my father’s legacy.

It’s a legacy of trust and faith, of seeing the good in all things and in all people; of wisdom and understanding, of knowing when to fight for control and when to let something beloved run wild; of willpower and strength and courage, of being fearless in the face of the unknown.

And my father was right, even nearly a decade ago: my time has come.

When the heat of late summer is blown away by the cooler, refreshing breath of early autumn, I will set my heels down on ground across the sea and kick up its dust with all the surefooted strides of the confident and strong woman that the tempestuous and petulant girl has become.

I am my father’s daughter, after all.

My father, my ink, and my inheritance

On the side of my right thigh, more or less in the middle, is a tattoo:  a green infinity symbol, with one side twisting into the word “brave” and the other side adorned by a red poppy.  It is the second of three tattoos that I have, and I had it done in August 2012, some months after I said my last farewell to my father in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery here in Montréal.

I was not yet twenty-two when my father passed away on a cold February morning two days after his fifty-seventh birthday.  I was awakened by the sound of the ringtone I had assigned to my grandfather’s mobile, and the moment I heard it I knew that something was wrong.  He never called me from his mobile unless there was something amiss.  The moment I answered the call, I knew exactly what it was, and suddenly there was a tremendous weight on my young, irresponsible, and selfish shoulders:  “Please call your siblings in Vancouver and let them know,” my grandfather said.  “We have to speak with the medical team – they just arrived.”

To be the one to tell three of my four older siblings that our father had passed away was the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do, and it had to happen before I could leave my own apartment and walk the five blocks to my parents’ home in order to do what I could.  But I had no idea what had to be done.  Twenty-one years on this earth prepares one for absolutely nothing, especially when it comes to the task of laying a parent to rest, and all that such a task entails.  The following quote pretty much sums up the entire experience of being a child who is suddenly faced with this ordeal –

 “What happens when the light first pierces the dark dampness in which we have waited?  We are slapped and cut loose.  If we are lucky, someone is there to catch us and persuade us that we are safe.  But are we safe?  What happens if, too early, we lose a parent – that party on whom we rely for only…everything?  Why, we are cut loose again and we wonder, even dread, whose hands will catch us now.”

I have to say, with no small amount of amazement and gratitude, that I was lucky.  I was lucky because I had my brothers and sisters to lean on – emotionally while I waited for them to arrive, and physically once they did.  I was lucky because my grandfather was there to help me console my mother.  I was lucky because my mother had passed on to me some the tempered steel that is her willpower.  I was lucky because I had friends who let me know that I was in their thoughts and hearts, no matter how far away they were.

But most of all I was lucky because I am, after all, my father’s daughter.

Fathers are not only role models for their sons:  they are their daughters’ first heroes as well.  My father’s body – frail and debilitated as it was by Parkinson’s, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and a heart attack – housed an indomitable spirit and active mind.  Some of us have trouble getting up in the morning because we haven’t yet had a cup of coffee, or we went to bed too late.  My father literally had trouble getting out of bed in the morning because his body fought against him every day.  But each and every morning, he woke up and faced a day of intense physical suffering without so much as a peep of complaint.

That is extraordinary bravery and strength in an ordinary life.  And that is always how I will remember my father – as a brave, strong man who, despite his physical afflictions, lived a life of faith, hope, and love for the sake of his family.

I have only a small measure of my father’s profound faith, and mine is shaky at best.  I am cynical and jaded, and have been known in the past to consider love as being both arduous and futile.  But being my father’s daughter means I have more of him in me than I think or than is outwardly recognisable.  I may not have had much time with him, but I have a lifetime ahead to appreciate and treasure his legacy.

It is a simple legacy – but then again, “all the greatest things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word.”  In my father’s case, there are four words that will always come to mind when I think of him.

Bravery.  Fortitude.  Perseverance.  Strength.

And so, on the side of my right thigh, more or less in the middle, is a tattoo:  a green infinity symbol, with one side twisting into the word “brave” and the other side adorned by a red poppy.  It is the second of three tattoos that I have, and I had it done in August 2012, some months after I said my last farewell to my father in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery here in Montréal.  It is not a tattoo that was picked out of a book or drawn out of whimsy onto a napkin.  It is a reminder of my father – because to me, José Victor Olaguera was known simply as “Poppie,” and for me, he was a man who was, until his last breath, forever brave.