I was once asked to write a memorial article for my father for a haiku journal. I was not in the right state to do so. Depression and denial still hung over my head, and I felt that I was not competent enough in haiku. Now, twelve years after my father’s passing, I feel ready to write about him.
He was not your typical father. A Hungarian-born wizard (real or not, I never quite figured out) rock musician, science enthusiast, philosopher, film director, semi-professional cyclist, casual Zen monk (though he did live in a monastery for one year, not speaking) and bohemian, he was cool wherever he went. His charisma was clear, and he was either smart or had a certain knowing that others missed out on.
His parenting style was not demanding—he allowed me and my twin brother to find our own sources of creativity and enjoyment. Even though he was the founder and editor, from 1984 to 1988, of the first haiku journal in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Haiku Zasshi Zo, and a pivotal member of the haiku community, he rarely spoke a word about haiku to me.
Maybe it was his Zen practice, or his practice of philosophies he read about, but he didn’t want to be one of those fathers who told his children what to do in their future. He was more of a friend to me, usually in a jokey mood, playing practical jokes on me and others throughout the day. He had a warm smile, a red beard, mostly blond hair, and thick glasses. For most of my life, I remember him being plump—a kind of Santa Claus who didn’t enjoy the North Pole, but the moderate temperatures and culture of the Northwest.
Though he was a distinguished haiku writer and editor—being the go-to guy for haiku in the Northwest for a long time, a catalyst for American haiku publishing through Haiku Zasshi Zo, and his work being printed in now famous compilations of haiku and haibun—I almost never saw him write haiku. I would look through his journals, which he happily let me read. They were dotted with souvenirs like cards, leafs, flowers, receipts, and oddities. As a kid, reading about my father’s travel adventures was magical. My admiration for my father grew with every page.
He would go on long bicycle rides, mostly across different U.S. states and in different areas in Canada (one such trip was from Seattle to Chicago). Sometimes he would leave for months, and I only admired him more, as his absence was replaced with my imagination of his adventures.
My awe of my father lessened in my teenage years, though. I became more involved in my psyche and was dealing with depression. My grades started slipping in school, and I lost interest in socializing. Ever since my parent’s divorce when I was 11 years old, I had become more inward-looking.
Though I visited my father only every other weekend after my parent’s divorce, we still remained close. The weekends I visited were a mix of bowling, pizza, video games, camping, bicycling, and sometimes reading. He had a huge collection of books on topics ranging from eastern philosophy, Hungarian history, botany, and as many other subjects as you can imagine. He was a renaissance man, curious about almost every discipline, and did his best to be knowledgeable in each subject he was interested in. He did not get a full college education, but easily absorbed information—believing in self teaching rather than learning from a teacher. In this way, he was an idealist—sometimes to his own detriment. But one could easily say he stayed true to himself, which is something the majority of people cannot claim.
When I moved in with my father after receiving failing grades in high school, I was seeking an avenue to express myself and to be true to my communicative nature. Being surrounded by his books and journals eventually got me inspired to write something of my own. I had written some poetry now and then, but by looking over his library, and being bored of my homework most of the time, I started to write lyrical poetry and later haiku on a regular basis.
When I was about sixteen years old, I had written my first twenty-some haiku and brought them to my father. He was surprised and joyful that I had chosen to write haiku. He looked at each one only for a few seconds and told me which ones he thought were haiku. Out of these poems, he chose one that he said resembled haiku. Instead of bogging me down with technical jargon, he took the intuitive route, instructing me by a simple “yes” or “no.”
Besides these talks with me about the haiku I wrote, he rarely spoke about haiku with me. He was not even keen on sending his work for publication, and declined the honor of lecturing about haiku in Japan on invitation. He seemed more interested in writing and its process, and supporting others who wanted to do the same.
He was and still is a paradox to me. It seemed I knew everything about him, yet there was always a mysterious side that I could not predict or understand. He was uniquely himself, and no one else.
A short time after my high school graduation, which was managed in large part because of my father’s help, he passed away in his sleep due to a sudden diabetic attack on New Year’s Eve. When he was found days after his passing, he was seen smiling, with the Diamond Sutra open by his bed.
Each New Year’s Eve, I am uncertain how I should feel. As the years go on, I feel less sadness, and more in tune with who my father was. I have learned from his good and bad, and this teaching has taught me both to be a man and a haiku poet. This book, a collection of poems by my dad, and me, is not only heartfelt, I hope, but necessary to honor someone who has sown the seeds of my life.
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