Just after I left architecture practice to establish Unmeasured, my father died. It wasn’t unexpected. He’d been unlucky to work with asbestos early in his career before it was known how harmful it was. It finally caught up with him.
Dad was outgoing, active and an extrovert who loved people. He’d frequently demonstrate his love with thoughtful acts of generosity. Regularly going out of his way to do so. His acts of love and admiration were not ambiguous, but he rarely spoke about his feelings.
Not long before he died, I received a birthday gift from him. Taped to the wrapping was a rudimentary card, and I use the term loosely. Cards were not a strong suit. On this occasion it was a piece of A4 printer paper, folded in half, and folded again. Happy Birthday Michael was scribbled In his unmistakeable hand on the front. A birthday message inside. An entirely unexpected message. It kinda bowled me over.
When it came to being vulnerable or emotive, he wasn’t great at expressing himself. As I mentioned he let his actions speak for him. He was of a generation less inclined or uncomfortable being vulnerable and more open. He perhaps saw it as a weakness like many do, I can’t say I know for sure. It’s something I’ve also had to work on. The emotional labour involved is hard work. But I digress.
I appreciated his message and expressed my thanks at that time. But on later reflection I realised how much more I appreciated and was deeply moved by his message. And you know what? I never told him that. The thing is, just like dad, I didn’t let him know in words. Expressing my gratitude and appreciation for his message.
He’d written how much he and mum had always admired my ability to take risks and leaps of faith in my life. He’d never said it before, nor had mum. In fact until that moment I hadn’t an inkling they thought it.
Dad’s message of pride and admiration was something I’d heard only rarely in adulthood. In part that’s my fault. I don’t think I ever talked in detail about my work. Hard to express pride in what you don’t know about. Visiting projects of mine he was more willing in his admiration. But of other things in my life. The more abstract things. Things that couldn’t be pointed at with comment. It seems they were left without. Unsaid.
It’s left me wondering of late, what have I left unsaid? Those things I should be telling family, friends, colleagues or anyone else that I admire, especially those people who may have no notion of their impact on me.
That scrappy card my dad gave me was a gift. Not only was it a beautiful message that I’ll forever cherish and appreciate, but it was a lesson to me. One that I’ll carry. To remind myself to let people know how I feel or think about them. In appreciation for who they are and what they do.
Image by Michael Lewarne