When I was young, the mere sound of my dad's footsteps was cause for unadulterated bliss. We three children would run through the house in a mad race for the front door. Who would reach him first? Who would jump into his arms and be lifted high into the air, feet kicking and screaming with laughter? I trusted him the way only a child can do - completely, and with total faith. And the trust was well-founded. My dad loved us more than life.
At 13, my family went through one of those episodes that families sometimes do. At the time, it seemed as though my world was ending. In my naivete, I had assumed that life was never-changing, that I would always feel the same. But the father I had known in childhood was gone. No longer filled with joy, his lust for life had somehow disappeared. He wandered the house with heavy steps, lost in his own thoughts. He seemed filled with sadness. And I couldn't understand. Did we no longer bring him joy? Had I done something wrong? In the way that teenagers do, I blamed myself. I thought I was somehow responsible. And in my helplessness, I began to hate him, and myself. Where was the father who had once lifted me so high into the air, that I had felt as though I was flying?
When I was 25, I left my family and bathed myself in the refreshing anonymity of Toronto. I was tired of many things - the sadness that surrounded my home, the surprising sameness of my dad's melancholy, the feeling of responsibility for something I couldn't control - but mostly, I was tired of my own disillusionment. It was time to lift the veil of heaviness that I'd been wearing for over 10 years. And lift it, I did! I celebrated my independence in the sin and simplicity of clubland. Weekends seemed to pass in a glorious blur of dancing, music and friends, Saturday melting seamlessly into Sunday. Unburdened of the responsibility I had felt for so long, my family seemed far away. I was lost in a no man's land, acting as if I could outrun the shadows that followed me.
By the time I was 28, the endless nights of furious hedonism had lost their lustre. I was unemployed, directionless and sinking into an ever widening pit of despair. Disconnected from myself and my family, I laid in bed feeling sorry for myself. What was I doing? Where was I going? And who could I blame?
For as long as I could remember, my dad had written poetry. He wrote in his mother tongue - a language I could understand, but not read - rendering it as inaccessible to me as nuclear physics. Until now. He had recently translated and published an anthology of poems called Immigrants' Path II. I picked it up on a dreary Sunday morning, the day after another hopeless night of clubbing. I was soon deeply entranced by his words, one sadness replacing another:
A Life for Two Hundred Dollars
A hundred fifty dollars a month for rent -
Forty dollars for gas and electricity -
Eighty dollars for telephone and food
When we first stepped on the alien land
Our first month's living expenses totaled
Two hundred seventy dollars.
With three in the family
We left home
With only six hundred US dollars.
My two-year old daughter and six-month pregnant wife
And bold as I was,
Nothing on earth scared me then.
But it was nothing but vain-glory and arrogance.
Even the flower garden in my glowing hope was bruised
By our pauper's existence.
What a delight it was for me to challenge the unknown world!
Observing the morbid-bound faces of the Indians,
All night long I asked myself "why?"
After wandering for twenty-five years,
On Canadian Highway #1
And now gazing at paths that cut through the barley fields,
I sing 'Camelia Maiden' in my mother tongue,
And hear only a sobbing wind blowing.
Here stands a wayfarer shouting;
"Living like this, I can't go home!"