You passed away yesterday, on June 16 and left a void that cannot be filled in the hearts of the people you loved. Anyone who knew you will know exactly how incredibly huge this void is for my mom, brother and me. You were everything to us. I know anything I ever did was done to make you proud of me, proud of the fact that I was your son.
You told me on the phone a few weeks ago that your “voyage was coming to an end.” I cried. To console me, you laughed and said, “It’s okay. Don’t worry. Every sailor must step off the ship eventually. My turn is now – nothing more to it.” And that’s what you were: a merchant marine. I was the son of a sailor, listening to your amazing stories of life at sea and faraway ports. It was the stuff of dreams. Your trips took you across the globe but your favorite place in the world was Argentina…Buenos Aires.
You went there in the early sixties, at a time when the whole country was in chaos. I once asked you how bad it was. You talked about buildings with bullet holes in them, the secret police snatching people off the streets and drunk tanks equipped with water pumps. You once told me that you had never sobered as quickly as the night you were thrown into one of those. The rules were simple: either you pumped the water out or you drowned. Lucky for us, you prevailed. Of course, there were countless of these stories, way too many to fit here. I could write about the time you were drugged in San Francisco, the murderous prostitutes in Rio or about a friend of yours who was beaten senseless by the police in Santos. You told me he never recovered from that beating. He suffered reoccurring headaches, memory loss and breathing difficulties. One morning you had found his shoes next to the ship’s handrail in the stern. He was gone, swallowed by the ocean, never to return. The memory of that moment never left you. You were seventeen at the time, merely a boy.
Yet you loved the sea. You never got tired of it. I remember spending hours on end with you on the beach just looking at the waves, listening to the roar. Whenever we took a ship anywhere (we did this a fair amount), you and I would always go for a little stroll on the deck before turning in. You’d have a beer; I’d have a coke. I remember looking at you, how the wind was blowing your hair all around and how fixed your eyes were on the horizon. You smiled at me and pulled me close. A big bear of a man, you could fit a little kid in your arms completely. Mom used to joke around that once you hugged me, she could only see my hair. She was right! You hugged me hard but I loved it. Those moments when it was just the two of us were magical. We told Mom we would go to the beach for half an hour but ended up staying for two. It was the stories. You were such an amazing storyteller. Time flew by. Once in Hanko, passersby stopped to listen. They were as mesmerized as I was. I can honestly say that I never wanted these moments to come to an end but of course, they did.
Having traveled extensively yourself, you wanted to take your family on vacations around the world. You always said you wanted your sons to see more than just the neighborhood they were from. We did, thanks to you. You took us on so many trips but the one that comes to mind right now for some reason is the vacation we had in Florida in 1985. I remember turning thirteen that summer. You bought me two records by The Beatles from that trip: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. They were going to be my birthday present. I was ecstatic. Then, a few days later, I got yet another present from you. You had bought me a Sony Walkman and had gone to a friend’s house to tape those two records, so I could listen to them while on vacation. “We don’t have a record player here and let’s face it, three weeks is a long wait,” you said, patted me on the head and smiled. You always found a way to make people feel special like that.
Anyway, whenever on vacations, we were always busy driving around, attempting to see and experience as much as we possibly could. You always planned our days the night before. It didn’t matter where we were, we could just enjoy the ride. You’d take care of everything. “Every hotel room has at least one good table,” you used to say and I have this image of you in my head, sitting by that “good” table with a map and a notebook. You always made sure we got to where we were going safely.
This was pretty much the way you approached life as well, with careful planning that usually went completely unnoticed by us because it was always done so discretely. You were our man at the helm, our captain. Whenever I consulted you about big decisions in life, you always had an answer close at hand. “I was wondering when you’d come and talk to me,” you would say with more than a hint of laughter in your voice. I didn’t always choose the road you recommended but that was fine with you. You would look at me long and hard and then you’d say, “Okay but that’s going to be by far the harder road.” That was one of the two phrases I heard so very many times over the years. The other one was, “Don’t do as I have done, do as I say.” I wish I had listened to you more often than I did, Dad. You turned out to be right usually. Your predictions were spot on, nearly every time.
Out of all the important things that you taught my brother and me, music was the one gift you gave that changed both or our lives completely. Who would have guessed that your two sons wouldn’t just become soulmates but also a rather successful songwriting team, writing quite a few radio hits over the years. Maybe that came from you. Weren’t you the one who always said that if you are going to risk disappointment then at least reach for the stars? We did and not just with music but with everything we ever did. Whenever I lost my way in life and was ready to quit and give up, you would always find your way to me and say, “Get up. You’re my son. You can fail but I won’t allow you to quit. That’s a luxury reserved for other people’s sons.” Thanks to you, I never quit and always “earned my way out,” an expression you were very fond of.
Dad, I can’t believe you are gone. I honestly can’t. You battled cancer for many years and yet you never complained even once or cried, at least in front of your children. And you never ever quit or gave up. You practiced what you preached until the very end. A far stronger man than I am, you left this planet just as you always lived, completely and utterly unafraid of death. Regardless of our differences, you meant everything to me. Any song I ever wrote, I wrote for you to hear. We both had a quick temper and as result, fought a fair amount over the years but luckily, never forgot to say how much we loved each other even in the heat of the battle. My favorite memory of you is when we had a huge disagreement about me not wanting to go to college. You weren’t going to have it. You lowered your glasses and said, “I love you with all my heart, son. I want you to know that because what I am about to say might give you the idea that I don’t.” For all it’s worth, I never felt you didn’t love me, never ever.
Dad, I will continue to try to make you proud. I can’t call you anymore or visit you but even now, I can feel your presence and that’s a great comfort. Today, I will celebrate you by adding one of your favorite tracks to the playlist, “Sailing” by Rod Stewart. Mom told me it’s the track you want to be played at your funeral.
So long, sailor. To use a phrase you made your own, “I love you so much that it can’t be measured with the arms or hands of just one man.” You used to say this after I asked you to show me how much you loved me when I was just a little kid. Now, I am saying it to you. Goodbye Dad.
You can learn more about Rod Stewart here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tommi Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in. To him, they are a way of life.
You can check out his current band The Impersonators here:
And the music of his previous group Carmen Gray here: Spotify