My dad and I have both said things to each other and about each other throughout the years that we probably meant at the time but wish we could have taken back. I can only say that for certain about myself, though. My dad died in August of 1999 at the age of 69 from cancer that spread from his colon through the rest of his body. There’s a lot of things my dad said to me over the years that I still carry in my heart and head—words that stung like a whip and have left scars.
Though he never expressed regret to me directly before he died, it was implied in the last lucid exchange we would have. It was three words, but their resonance was enough to silence the thousands of others we’d exchanged over the years: “You’re my hero.” It’s the closest thing to an apology, a declaration of love, and a goodbye that I received from my dad before he died. It’s just a memory now, an ephemeral conversation heard by only two other people, but it takes up a massive amount of emotional space in my life.
Listening to Gord Downie’s last album, Introduce Yerself, leaves me gobsmacked and an emotional wreck. The song “Spoon” resonates most intensely right now, undoubtedly because of my own experience with a dying parent. “Spoon” captures a memory and immortalizes it in song; its words are invested with the love and joy in Downie’s singular delivery. It is a memory box, a definitive artifact Downie’s child will be able to revisit and cherish for eternity. Like my dad and I, Downie and his children may have said and done things that hurt one another, but I hope for their sake (much like with me), that the final words exchanged between them and their father brought them reconciliation, eternal love, and a lasting sense of peace.
I don’t know how things would be between us right now if you were still here, Dad, if you had never had cancer. What I do know is that in 2017, eighteen years after you died, you are still very much real to me; I sense your presence with me all the time. You are my hero, if only for the act of bravery you showed me that night. You had the courage to let love be the lasting bond between us. You chose to be the bigger man, and I am a better man for it.