Thanksgiving 2012 will mark six years since Ron Shumway passed away. In life he was a harsh, outspoken man; impossible to please and constantly finding the negative in every situation. He was loud, abrasive, and hurtful in his words and tone. For a period of years in my adult life I avoided all contact with my dad because his pessimism took me to a dark place I didn't like.
In the early 1990s I set up an email account and began a regular correspondence with my mother. One day I received an email message from dad. He had been reading my emails to mom and he responded simply, "You are a good writer." Shortly afterwards and for a number of years, he sent me brochures, magazine clippings, and newspaper notifications requesting writing samples for possible publication, but I was in the midst of raising kids, running the PTA, and still holding a grudge so I didn't respond to his suggestions. I also doubted the validity of the offers and my capacity to contribute anything of value. I did; however, reopen communication with my dad.
Six years ago when he was struggling with and dying from cancer, "You are a good writer" became lodged in my head and it has been there ever since. It was truly the first and only compliment I ever remember receiving from my father. Suddenly it became my mission to authenticate his assessment of my skill. Since then, I've taken every opportunity to write. I started a blog, I wrote grant applications for schools and nonprofit organizations, I struck up a conversation with a newspaper editor and started writing weekly columns and special interest stories, and recently I returned to school working towards a degree in Creative Writing.
Writing seems to be the one thing I have an affinity for. I can more easily express myself in a written format than by any other mode of communication. When I have composed a lovely sentence, paragraph, or page, it brings me joy which is rarely duplicated by other tasks. I write to remember and record. I write to convey feelings or sentiments or moods. I write because something inside me desires to find its way out. I write because it is the connection I have with my dad. He recognized writing was something I needed long before I did. His confidence in my ability to string words together on a page established a father/daughter relationship which spanned the last 20 years of his life and granted me the opportunity to love and respect him beyond life.
Since dad died, each phrase I construct, each sentence I craft is, at least in some part, directed to him. It is a marvelous and miraculous thing to feel his approval. For me, writing not only converses with the living, but also communes with the dead.