I miss my dad. Not always, and less often than at first, but today. It has been over twenty one years since he died. I had young children then and my grieving was balanced by the duties of fatherhood. I have mementos. Things that I inherited that were his. Things that remind me of him and our connection. Things that recall his presence.
I was listening to a radio program called “Ideas” on the CBC yesterday and the episode was called “Haunted”. One of the interviewees was Daniel Goldstein who made art from various things that reflected his feelings of loss as a member of a community that was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. He used a phrase that I may have heard before, but this time I was prompted to retrieve the episode and listen more closely to make sure I was understanding him correctly.
The phrase was: “presence of absence” to describe his haunting artwork. My spine tingled. This oxymoron hit home. He put into words much of what I love in life. I love deserted spaces, liminal spaces. I love things that have been tossed aside, but remain. I seek out ruins and cemeteries. My pinterest “likes” feeds me rusty train engines and deserted theatres, abandoned subway stops, classic cars and trees growing out of cars and the like. I am waking up to the fact that the reason I like all of these things is my predilection for presence of absence. I imagine what was there before, I may romanticize what was there, because there is no real way of knowing.
I am reminded of photos of derelict barns that my friend Percy takes, the realist art of Alex Colville, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Songs like “Torn Screen Door” by David Francey also come to mind.
Perhaps I love to bask in melancholy. I don’t necessarily feel melancholic or nostalgic, but to witness others that recognize this beauty gives me comfort.
As I googled “presence of absence” the word “Saudade” kept popping up
Saudade is a Portuguese word that is almost untranslatable. The best way to describe it is: the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly but know you can never experience again.
I love word play, and in 2004 when I first looked up the word “Saudade” (a word I had seen in Bossa Nova titles (Chega de Saudade, etc.) I realized that the feeling actually was embodied by a song I was writing then called “So Dad…” which was a conversation with a ghost. I was hoping that they were pronounced the same to complete the pun. Apparently in Portugal they pronounce it “SO Dad Jay” which annoyed me, but the Brazilian version was close to “so dad”. I am with Brazil on this one.
Saudade / So Dad… Ian G Hanchet So Dad… I look in the mirror some days I look in the mirror some days and I see your face Looking back (2x) You lived your life well and As far as I can tell I got the best of you, I got the worst of you Right here So Dad… I can hear your voice some days I can hear your voice some days When I’m yelling at my kids (like you did) (2x) Then I remember To treat them warm and tender But with a firm hand, I understand So Dad… the shadow that you cast Is pretty big The shadow that you cast is pretty big But it isn’t all dark So Dad… the fire in your veins went out The fire in your veins went out But though we part, you left a spark (chorus 1) So Dad… I grew up under your wing I grew up under your wing And I may have stayed too long So Dad… you gave me a voice to sing You gave me a voice to sing But you let me sing my own song You did your job well and As far as I can tell I got the best of you I got the worst of you Right here So Dad… the last time I kissed you The last time I kissed your forehead It was already cold You’d stopped… Growing old… So Dad… A little bit of you lives on A little bit of you lives on in your prodigal son I’m only a little boy, Just a little boy I’m your little boy still, I’m your little boy still ©2004 IGH
2 thoughts on “Presence of Absence”
This essay was beautifully written and your lyrics produced saudade in me. Took me right back to my dad. Well done.
Thank you very much!