I smell the blood of an Englishman:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
Reading those words from Jack and the Beanstalk with my dad are among my favorite childhood memories. My dad, at 5’4 on a generous day, had the ability to transform into a giant with a loud powerful voice as he read bedtime stories like Jack to his kids. He’d tell the stories with gusto as he created a magical universe of fairytales for his children.
Despite his short stature, dad became a giant in any room he was in. He loved to tell big stories and make people laugh. He would do anything for his friends and family. As a little girl I idolized this giant. He was my everything. We cooked together, read together, watched cartoons together, played Barbie together, took adventures together.
Dad grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and came to the United States with his parents and older brother in the late 1960’s. With flaming red hair and a thick Scottish accent, he didn’t exactly fit in with his new classmates in New Haven, CT. Both curious and wise beyond his years, he spent his teenage years becoming an American – driving my grandparents crazy along the way. As his family navigated the politics and social changes of the time, dad developed a larger than life persona that helped him thrive in his new country. A persona that would introduce him to a circle of good friends, the love of his life, a few odd years of military services, and the impact of relentless hard work. Also far more, sex, drugs, and rock and roll than his daughter needs to know about – though he’d recount in great detail in the decades to come.
My dad always had a lot to say. Before email, blogs, or Facebook, he’d write long letters, poems, and short stories to share his thoughts, fears, dreams, and ideas. A friend recently shared a letter he sent from his Air Force days in Georgia, his giant personality on full display through his carefully written words. His ability to develop characters, tell tales, and create political satire are hidden in piles of journals, scratch paper and notebooks. They represent his desire to connect with the bigger world, to travel to faraway lands, and create a life far bigger than the one he ever had.
By his thirties my dad had a wife, a house, and two kids. He hosted backyard parties, welcomed neighbors to our house, coached teams, worked multiple jobs, and took tiny vacations. He gave his kids endless opportunities to learn, explore, and dream big. This Scottish Immigrant was living the American Dream.
But it wouldn’t last. The recession of the early 90’s, our mom’s struggle mental illness, some misguided decisions and a lot of bad luck would cause him to lose much of what he built. A gut punch to his ego, his heart and his sole.
But the giant didn’t back down.
No, he climbed back up again and again and again. Every time he fell, he tried again.
He worked hard so his kids could soar. He battled cancer, homelessness, depression. Even when he was sick or tired he hustled to give more, do more, be more. What he lost in money, he made up for in a wealth of love for those he cared for. He shared everything he had – the last dollar in his pocket, the final medicine in his cabinet, his car, his stories, his hugs – his giant hugs.
Dad passed away this year before he was able to travel the world, become a grandfather or see his words published. He wasn’t able to gain citizenship or leave behind any hard earned money. His American dream was different and maybe so much more. This tiny immigrant from Scotland left behind a giant message for all love hard, dream big and “don’t take shit from anyone”.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We love and miss you.