Today would have been my father’s birthday – a once forgettable date, lost between Christmas and New Year which led to rather a meagre birthday present haul. I never forget it now. He died twenty years ago, a few months before his 58th birthday and I still miss him desperately.
He was a painter who gave up painting for twenty years – from my early childhood until his early (and too brief) retirement. He gave up because it was impossible to combine painting with earning enough to support us. He was good at what he did and exhibited widely before I was born. Would he have ‘ made it’ if he’d carried on? Maybe. Did he regret the sacrifice ? I don’t think so.
Anyway, the struggle to find time to teach, paint, and be a family man was too much. I still have a portrait of me he began when I was about four. I outgrew the dress I was wearing before he was able to finish it, which says it all. Consequently, I grew up with the knowledge that doing what you love is a privilege not everyone can afford.
My father always fostered my ambitions, even my mad decision to give up teaching, study for an MBA and become a business woman. He thought I was bonkers, but supported me none the less.
He died before I discovered what he had always known – that I wasn’t really that kind of person. I began writing only after his death, when suddenly life seemed short, precarious and altogether too precious to waste on work I hated. I had always wanted to write ‘one day,’ but dying days are certain and ‘one days’ aren’t.
He never saw me published and never met three of my four children.
Whenever things go badly with my writing, which if I’m honest is often, I wonder what his advice would be. Would he tell me to stick with what I love, to seize the day, or to face up to economic realities as he had to do?
I have no answer to this particular conundrum: I only wish I could ask him for his.