It’s nearing close on winter break. I have been reading my twitter feed. Often, this time of year I have read about peoples’ tensions about businesses staying open. But it was open movie cinemas and late-night coffee shops that were family to my Dad while he was in his teens. It was these places that mattered during the long days of the holiday season when my Dad’s friends had family and warm homes, and what my Dad had were the folks in the stores and the warmth of coffee shops. I’ve written about this before.
This Fall two of my Dad’s sisters died. The August before my Dad’s grade eight year, he walked away from the family farm choosing to make a life of his own. (There is more to his story. Come for coffee, a campfire, a hike. In time, if you’re lucky, my Dad will share the details.) For years my Dad lived in an abandoned car on the outskirts of town and when the weather was poor he took comfort with caring families and in the church basement. My Dad was homeless throughout his high school years; he was homeless here, in a small city in our idyllic Saskatchewan where people just don’t allow things like this to happen, where people take care of each other… But people knew, his family knew and my dad kept telling his story.
Today, these similar stories still stay silenced.
My Dad put himself through school. More than that though, he stepped away from his abusive family and began to tell a new story.
Dad values love, family and learning. He walked away from his family so he would have a shot at these things. Dad knew he wanted these things at the age of 14. He was courageous enough to seek them then too. Dad is my hero. But not just for his past. Dad is a listening parent and the best, kindest teacher. I know, I have spent time with his students.
When I was a girl, my friends were often the kids on my Dad’s school teams. The boys on his teams were my brothers, his school kids were the kids I hiked the Qu’Appelle alongside, pulling wood-ticks off each other and the kids I played basketball with on Saturdays on the crumbling courts outside our schools. Today, when people my age get a far-away look about them, stare at me a bit too long, I usually know what will follow, “Is your Dad Al Saas?”
This holiday break, I was sitting on bleachers watching my daughter play soccer. A colleague stood beside me resting her back, her body swollen with pregnancy. She shared how she had wanted to take her kids cross-country skiing, but was just too tired. That she had learned to love skiing because she had a teacher in grade six who would load the class into his big blue station wagon, on top of the skis and take kids skiing, not returning until well after dark. She chuckled. When I told her that was my Dad, she pulled herself up onto the bleachers and sat with our shoulders touching. Later, at supper, my Dad told us stories about her skiing adventures and how she was a great storyteller; he remembers all kids.
I love that when I began coaching junior basketball, my Dad was there. It had been years since I’d played ball, I knew I needed help. That first year not only did the wee junior boys’ team make it to districts, we made it to conference. My Dad was at every game. Before the final game when Dad walked into the gymnasium the boys stopped warming up, walked over to Dad and shook his hand. He mattered. It is my Dad’s stories that the senior kids now share with the younger kids. It is my Dad’s ways of living and being with our own stories that the kids and I have come to understand is how we are curriculum makers in our learning-space.
This Fall, my Dad lost two of his sisters. Their loss resonates. These past few years, Dad’s heath continues to be fragile. Last year was the last time Dad was able to attend of our class’s Outdoor Education/Adventure Education field trips. In the classroom learning space, we leave nothing unsaid. Learning is messy, relational narrative work; life is messy; we leave nothing unsaid. My Dad is the kindest and best of men. Every decision he has made has been to put others before him.
Before you judge that in my Dad, pause – when he was 14 years old, more than 60 years ago, that same young man sat in a cinema for many years on Christmas Eves alone and held true to the that dream. My Dad has spent his life honouring stories, listening to stories, honouring his family, honouring kids’ voice, honouring me. And he did this with kindness.
Leave nothing unsaid. Listen. Respond with kindness.
When my Dad walked away all those years ago his actions gave voice to the silenced family stories in his home. His life as the kind of father and the kind of educator he has been has continued to give voice to silenced stories. After my Dad left home, my two aunts remained connected with my Dad. They loved him, and understood the need to retell his story.
Leave nothing unsaid. Listen to stories. If there is no space for your stories to be honoured, create one. Find a key person in your world, find a teacher, find someone you can trust and allow your stories to be heard. If not, find a cinema or a coffee shop and know, there is someone, this time of year, as always, who has a story. Leave nothing unsaid, lean over and begin.
Remember, that someone was my Dad. That someone is me. That someone is you.
Leave nothing unsaid.
This is our new year.