A gift to Dad on his birthday

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 55 years young.

I say “is” because December 6 will always be my Dad’s birthday; I say “would have been” because he’s not been here to celebrate his birthday with us in five years.

The first birthday he was gone was five months after his car accident. I feared the day almost as badly as I feared the dreaded one-year anniversary.

I took the day off work, I went out with friends to do mindless Christmas shopping, and we took my Dad’s dad out for dinner at the Mandarin, my Dad’s favourite place to binge on Chinese food. We purposely left an empty chair at our table as a painful reminder of his absence.

I remember crying so hard on the way home from the restaurant that I became hysterical and had to pull over. As I was choking and gasping for air through my full-body sobs, I couldn’t stop thinking that it just wasn’t fair.

I felt so sorry for my grandfather, who was out marking his son’s birthday yet his boy wasn’t there to share it with him. I’ll never forget the sadness in his eyes or the hopeless tone of his voice. His only son was gone and he was never coming back – to him, it was a fate worse than death.

Fast forward four years and here I sit at 7 a.m. eating leftover Chinese food and thinking about my Dad. Not much has changed – he’s still gone, but the tears are under control and the cuisine is still inspired by him (although perhaps a poor choice for breakfast).

While each passing year has become more “normal”, I still miss calling him, meeting him for all-you-can-binge Chinese food and having him act surprised and grateful when my three siblings and I would pay for his dinner.

Three years ago, I started writing a book about my Dad’s passing and my subsequent journey. Yesterday, I found the query letter I sent to an agent about it – he asked for an exclusive when the manuscript was finished. I was thrilled someone was interested and started writing every day. I was convinced I would have a draft in 12 weeks.

Today, the manuscript sits at a mere 25,000 words; Dad’s death and my subsequent journey remain largely untold.

I have the support to get it done; Patti Hall is a memoir coach who has been mentoring me and subtly kicking my ass every now and then by way of “why aren’t you writing?” and “use me, I’m here!” messages.

I don’t have an answer as to why it’s not done, other than the fact that it seems daunting to do. A whole book? What if no one cares about my story? What if it never gets published?

Meeting with Patti again this week while she was in town has made me realize the biggest and scariest “what if” is “what if I just didn’t write it at all?”.

No one would know, really, except myself and a handful of others who knew I was writing. But I would know. And I know I would be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t give it a valiant effort.

So, today, on my Dad’s 55th birthday, I’m giving him the promise of a book proposal this year. I will write his story and his choices and our relationship and my journey in the hopes people will be inspired to make the same decisions and different decisions. I will submit it to agents. I will not be disappointed if it doesn’t get picked up.

OK, scratch that last bit – I’ll be disappointed, but even if it doesn’t, I did all that I could. In the meantime, I’m going to finish my chow mien and deep fried shrimp (which, by the way, are not-so-great the next morning) and put together a plan to make this happen.

Happy birthday, Daddy. You’re desperately loved and missed every year.

 

29 years, 29 lessons

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows I’m a bit of a birthday diva. One night of drinks or celebrating isn’t enough – I generally extend the party over the entire month of February. Although it’s the shortest month of the year, for my friends and family, it probably feels like the longest.

This year, it’s my last 20-something birthday…. Or my first (of many) 29th birthdays – however you want to look at it.

To celebrate, I’m going out with friends (again) and sharing some of the most important things I’ve learned over the past nearly three decades. Whoa.

  1. Getting old is a privilege denied to many. I’ve lost enough people in my life and wished I had more time with them. Instead of wishing away my birthdays or whining about getting “old” I truly celebrate it. All. Month. Long.
  • Loyal friends are hard to come by – hang onto them. In our professional and personal lives, we’re constantly meeting people. It’s not hard to find folks who share similar interests, or who will grab a drink after work or go for a walk on the weekends with you. Loyal friends are harder to come by – they’re the friends who defend you behind your back instead of stabbing it and will check in on you instead of simply saying ‘let me know if you need anything’ because they know you need help but won’t ask for it. Cherish these friends – they’re few and far between.
  • Time is a great healer for a lot of things except my paralyzing fear of spiders. That only seems to have gotten worse.
  • Family is forever, but they won’t be around forever. Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives we let weekly phone calls slip and emails go unanswered. Since losing my Dad, I’ve made a valiant effort to try and stay in better touch with my family. No one on their death bed said they wished they stayed in less frequent contact with those who love them.
  • Changing how other people feel or think is about as plausible as me giving up wine – it’ll never happen. Learning I have no control over what other people think of me or how they feel towards me has been a hard but important lesson. I can’t make someone like me just like someone can’t make me feel a certain way towards them. It’s crummy, but it’s true.
  • Having a passion is as important as oxygen – we need it to feel alive. Getting back the ice after a 10-year hiatus was one of the best choices I ever made for myself. I didn’t realize how much I loved it – or missed it – until I laced up my skates and just did it. I may not be the best skater in the world, but I love being on the ice and have a hell of a lot of fun making an idiot of myself doing it. It gives me purpose outside of work and adds another layer to the complex, hormonal monster that is Alyshia.
  • Giving back is essential. If you’re reading this, you have access to either a computer or mobile device – you’re miles ahead of more than half the people we share the world with. We sometimes get caught up in our own miniscule problems like shitty Wi-Fi connections or not having enough money to go out with friends with the fourth time in a week that we forget there are people who are fighting for their life every day. Some of my most satisfying and memorable experiences have come from giving back – it’s an amazing feeling to know that in some small way, you can help make life a little easier for another person be it through donating time, money or other resources.
  • Health, like time, can’t be bought. All the money in the world means absolutely SFA when you don’t have your health. You can only drink to excess, smoke, eat chocolate for dinner and not exercise for so long before it starts to catch up with you.
  • Fear is great motivation. I made a lot of choices over the past couple of years that scared the shit out of me. I made them because I knew they were the right choice without knowing where my next step would be. For a compulsive planner like me, it was terrifying but so far, it hasn’t killed me. And I’ve learned a few things along the way. So, embrace the fear and go for it. You’ll get there, I promise.
  • Saying ‘no’ without offering any explanation is incredibly liberating. I’m kind of a ‘yes’ gal. I say yes to coworkers, to friends, to family and commit to things I know I probably shouldn’t take on but do anyway. It’s caused me stress, tears and heartache. I was always worried if I said no once, it meant no forever. Now, I’ve realized it’s OK to say no and not feel bad or feel obligated offer an explanation.  Sometimes, the answer is just no – end of story. And trust me, people will ask you again.
  • Never underestimate the healing powers of a good cry and a tub of Luna and Larry’s chocolate peanut butter ice cream.
  • My body doesn’t bounce back after a night out on the town quite as quickly as it did when I was a teenager. A round of shots when I was 19 meant the party was just getting started.  At 29, it’s a punishment – it’s a sure fire way to guarantee I’ll be hugging the porcelain god later and dragging my ass around the entire weekend trying to recover. And partying on weeknights? I’d rather get a Brazilian than deal with a hangover at work.
  • There’s no shame in having a night in, even if it’s a weekend. Spending a night in on the couch binge watching Orange Is The New Black in my Winnie The Pooh onsie doesn’t mean I’m necessarily missing out on anything spectacular if my girlfriends are on the town… except maybe a wicked, weekend long hangover (see above).
  • Crosswords are nearly impossible to complete without cheating a little bit. Sometimes, you just have to turn to your trusted friend Google for the answer. Yes, I’m a communications professional but I’m a terrible thesaurus. I mean, how many ways are there to say fight, seriously?
  • Confidence goes a long way to helping you get what you want, be it landing a job, getting asked on a second date or just being approached by someone who needs help. If you’re not confident on the inside, fake it til’ you make it.
  • Learning to cook more than three meals is key to surviving living on your own and not becoming the size of a house Especially if one of those meals is KD. Plus, it impresses dinner guests when you can whip up a signature dish that doesn’t come from a box and has more than two ingredients.
  • Cheap wine is not always bad wine and expensive wine is not always good wine. Sometimes it takes trial and error to differentiate between the two. Accidently picked up a bottle of sub-par vino? Pair it with some cheese and girlfriends – they’ll help it make it bearable.
  • On that note, a good, trustworthy, reliable girlfriend is worth her weight in gold. I’m fortunate to have a great group of gals I can call on when I want to go out, need to vent, or just be brought back down to reality. I wouldn’t be where I am without the ladies in my life and I’m eternally grateful for their friendship…. And their wardrobes, which I occasionally borrow.
  • Before you can truly enjoy the company of others, you have to appreciate your own (Thanks Auntie Sandra.) If you can’t stand being around you, how can you expect other people to? I was 25 before I took myself out to the movies solo and 27 before I went to a restaurant to eat by myself without a book or phone to distract me. I wish I’d done it sooner. Escaping daily distracting to spend a bit of time your own and inside your own head is a gift too many people deny themselves. Without distraction, you can think, you can process, you can reflect, you can just be you without having to worry about everything else around you.
  • Trying to keep up with The Jones’ is like trying to roll a boulder up a mountain. It’s hard, it’s exhausting and if you keep at it long enough, it’ll eventually destroy you – and your bank account. Family and true friends don’t give a crap if you’re wearing Prada or second hand, as long as you’re happy and being true to yourself.
  • You only have one pair of feet – take care of them and they’ll continue to carry you where you need to go. Crappy shoes make for angry feet, hideous bunions and painful blisters. I learned this lesson the hard (and sore) way.
  • Just because something has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say. Sometimes changing things up leads to better things. And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll got a good story out of it.
  • A relationship has to go both ways. When one person gives more effort, passion or understanding most of the time, they’ll eventually start to feel taken advantage of. You may not agree with or like everything your partner does, but at the end of the day, they’re still human and they’re choosing to be with you as much as you are with them. Reciprocate efforts, be respectful, show affection and be empathetic – or you’ll risk losing them.
  • Worrying about things or situations that may or may not happen is a bigger waste of time than watching Glitter. Anxiety is something I’ve battled my entire life and have only just gotten control over the past few years. I’ve worried about what other people may or may not think, I’ve worried what they’ll do, I’ve “what if’d” every god damn situation in my life, right down to what would happen if I sent a particular work email, which resulted in me thinking I’d lose my job, be sued by someone who didn’t even know I existed and end up on the streets. Seriously. All of the energy I’ve wasted worrying about stuff that never happened or was something I had no control over could power the city of Beijing for a year. If you can’t control the outcome, let it go. Things will happen as they’re supposed to, both good and bad.
  • Sudoku is impossible to master.
  • Your outlook is a choice. There are some things beyond our control – whether we’re 6’1 or 5’2 or whether we inherited Aunt Jean’s crooked nose. But how we look at things is something we are definitely in power of. Being positive and focusing on moving forward and improving instead of dwelling on nonsense issues speaks volumes about who you are as a person. Positive people attract positive relationships, situations and experience.
  • Forgive yourself as easily as you forgive others. You wouldn’t hold a grudge for the rest of your life against someone for making an innocent mistake, so grant yourself the same courtesy. Mistakes are part of being human. And, sometimes, they’re kinda fun to make on purpose.
  • Coming up with 29 things that I’ve learned was really freaking hard. 

What’s the most important or meaningful lesson you’ve learned?