My father, Roger Warner, died last month in Calgary at the age of 67.
Being a self-effacing guy, he left explicit instructions that there be no memorial service, that his body be cremated as inexpensively as possible, and that his ashes be disposed of with no undue fuss. But he didn’t leave any instructions precluding the creation of this memorial website:
I don’t have any illusions that the brief biography I’ve posted there, let alone the handful of his stories, poems, and articles, will find much of a readership. My father wasn’t a famous person. In the 1960s he was a DJ at several western Canadian radio stations, then an announcer at CHCH-TV in Hamilton. Subsequently he worked for various branches of government, writing speeches and managing public relations for low-profile ministers and ministries in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Regina. In the 1980s he launched a general-interest newsmagazine in Saskatoon, Bailey’s Illustrated Monthly, serving as its editor and chief contributor. But Bailey’s put out only a handful of issues before folding. After some lean years freelancing in Vancouver in the 1990s, dad wound up running the marketing department at a small technical college in northern Alberta, where he spent the last decade or so of his working life.
Through his thirties and early forties he wrote stories and poetry in his spare time, always hoping to get something published someday, maybe a children’s book. But he didn’t finish much, only a few short pieces, which he rarely showed to anyone. By the time I was a teenager he’d largely given up fiction. Still, he was a big influence on me. My band was named after one of his poems. One of my songs is an abridged re-telling of a long-running bedtime story he improvised for me as a child. Another song, written for his sixtieth birthday, commemorates a comment he once made about looking in the mirror and being surprised to see his grandfather looking back at him.
Like my father, too often I’ll start writing without having any idea where I’m going, then abandon what I’ve written when my momentum runs out. Like my father, I’ve cultivated a reputation for imagination, but too often I shirk the labour required to actually be imaginative, concealing my laziness behind a patina of forced whimsy. Dad often repeated the aphorism that “no man is entirely useless, for he can always serve as a bad example”. As a former heavy smoker, drinker, and over-eater who at one point weighed over 500 lbs, he wished to serve as a bad example to me, and for the most part his example was scary enough to keep me from duplicating his mistakes. Of course in his humility, empathy, and utter lack of ill will toward anyone, he was much more valuable as a good example than he ever was as a bad. I can only hope to live up to the standard he set as a person. But at least I can try to exceed the standard he set as a writer, and when I die, leave behind something more than a slim folder of half-finished stories and poems.