I have a little time to say some things that are important to say about my dad, now 81.
There are some people who are reliable in their ‘rightness’, who – if asked a genuinely perplexing question about human complexity and what to do next – will listen, consider and then dig deeply for an answer. Without fail, that answer rises out of compassion, intuition and a razor sharp insight into what, to most others, cannot be seen. My dad had that. It’s close to mystical for me – what he knows, almost without knowing.
We painted together, when I was a tweener. It was mom’s idea I think – but a good one. It means we were terrified together, met our internal demons together, screwed up lots, burned bad pictures regularly, found humility together. With me, 31 years his junior, he was always the teacher, always suggesting, offering, nudging. But I knew that we were also partners on the torture road to find-your-place with paint. I was glad he was with me then and I still am, now.
While dad and mom were teaching full time, raising my sister and I (which involved the normal feeding, cajoling, suggesting and exploding that parents do, but also gymnastics, piano, cello, spinning and weaving lessons; 2 orchestra rehearsals a week, piano trio rehearsals and concerts; a farm with 24 head of cattle, six goats, twelve chickens, and a half-acre garden), my parents came to every single concert I played.
Dad, in the back, front or corner of every venue, cried joy at me with a wet face beaming. I didn’t need to look – without seeing him, I felt him there.
Dad was my teacher in grade 12 french – not a good idea, since I wasn’t academic, and that’s the way he taught. It was okay though. He was also careful to carefully mention that my hair looked nice that way every once in a while, when he sensed I might be down.
In 2004 dad and I went to Scotland together. I was shocked to feel myself crying, face wet, as the Glasgow train climbed north into the rising highlands. We stayed in Oban, and later Campbeltown, where McArthurs are from. We walked the entire circumference of Kerrera, dad getting faster and faster as the hours of walking went by. I ran beside him, as I had when I was a child, trying, but not quite able to match his strong stride.
Happy fathers’ day, James Robert. I’m fu’ the ‘nu with love for ye.