Fathers and Daughters

Lily Gontard

Fathers come in different shapes, sizes and temperaments, and some provide their daughters with writing material that is ocean deep. In two memoirs, the daughters who grew up to become writers discover who their fathers are—or were—by sharing their respective fathers’ remarkable stories. Alicia Priest’s father Gerry was an adventure-loving rockhound who made headlines across North America as the man convicted of The Great Silver Yukon Ore Heist of 1963. In A Rock Fell on the Moon (Lost Moose), Alicia decodes the enigma of Gerry Priest, the taciturn father who had electrified her childhood with adventure and drama. For the first ten years of her life Alicia lived in the mining town of Elsa in central Yukon. She describes life as idyllic and Elsa as a place full of wonder. Her Ukrainian mother Helen was a stark opposite to Gerry: small of stature and outgoing. The story that Priest tells is about the heist, and also about the relationship between her parents, facilitated by the numerous letters her parents wrote to one another. I was at the start of Chapter 17, the ‘incarceration years,’ when I learned that Alicia had died two days previously of ALS. The news hit me hard because I had become deeply connected to the story of her childhood and to the struggles of living with a parent who had gained notoriety as an infamous Canadian criminal. Priest’s story gently unfolds with almost perfect measurements of tension, revelation and intimacy without sentimentality.

At the other end of the morality spectrum, Jael Ealey Richardson’s father Charles (Chuck) was a driven and über-gifted young football player who refused to compromise. Jael Ealey Richardson begins The Stone Thrower (Thomas Allen Publishers) by giving a lack of self-identity as the motivation for her book. She uses words like “watery,” “disoriented,” and “lost” to describe how she feels; for her, it is her father who holds the key to her own identity. Though not recruited by the NFL, Chuck went on to make headlines as a star of the CFL, and in 1972 was the quarterback who led the Hamilton Tigercats to victory in the Grey Cup. While Ealey Richardson was growing up in Toronto’s suburbs, her sports-celebrity father didn’t speak of the civil rights movement in the Ohio of his own youth, or of the unjust society he’d lived in where privilege and human rights were based on your skin colour. My knowledge of football is limited; what hooked me was The Stone Thrower’s dual storylines: the daughter’s quest for self-discovery balanced by the story of her father, a man who believed in his skill and potential, and who never compromised to achieve his goals. Ealey Richardson reveals her father to be a compelling human being. Silent and strong, his youth was filled with friendships and a young man’s adventures; he did what needed to be done. As Ealey Richardson unearths her famous father’s hidden history and comes to understand her own identity, what had seemed watery becomes rooted and firm. A final note for religophobes: be warned, Christianity guided Ealey and his daughter, and is an essential part of understanding their personal journeys.

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Lily Gontard

Lily Gontard is a writer whose fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in magazines including The Puritan, Cirque and Event. She lives in Whitehorse.



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