My Father the Leprechaun

by Allen Roy MacPherson

1. Opening Pandora’s Box
“Malo accepto stultus sapit
(trouble, experienced, makes wise, a  fool)”
– Erasmus, ‘Pandora’s Box’, Adagio

My father had a favorite green suit. My mother hated it with as much passion as my father loved it. She called it his leprechaun suit (because of its color). However, he was always insistent that his ancestors were Scottish and not Irish (and leprechauns are Irish). But his insistence had nothing to do with leprechauns, for my mother never referred to his suit that way in his presence (as far as I knew, for I was not always in their shared presence). It had to do with his Scottish heritage which he was proud of. The other McPhersons on the island (we lived on the Caribbean island of Jamaica) spelled their surnames exactly like that (with a ‘Mc’). He insisted and was passionately adamant about it that our surname be spelt Mac.

He never encouraged me in his vices of wine, women and song (and more), because he was a good father, but at the same time he dismissed all my early career choices (commercial artist and writing respectively) as “that’s a hobby not a career”. My mother consoled me often, explaining that my father was both a failed artist and a failed writer (one painting hanging in his study, a clipping of one his newspaper articles in an otherwise empty scrapbook and a clipboard of the carbon copies of some of his poems were the only remnants of those early forays of his). He was also a failed musician, failed travel agent, which landed him in prison – for fraud – and he also made a failed – and probably frail – attempt at the priesthood. He eventually put all that aside and became a trade unionist and labor movement leader before switching sides and becoming a successful Human Resources manager,  or Personnel Officer as we used to call it then (his nicknames was infact ‘P’ and ‘Personnel’ for that reason). He was also a lecturer on the same subject at a learning institute that he founded. He became very wealthy but filtered those funds back into his favorite pastimes, wine, women and song (and more).

He actually rarely drank wine, his preferred drink being odorless but creepingly potent vodka, a preference I share with him (and I’m feeling for a drink now but cannot afford it as I also share his eventual decline into poverty from wanton spending, living and wastefulness). I never knew he was involved with women other than my mother until I was 20 and found hundreds (it seemed so but let’s say, many) photographs of half-naked and fully naked women in a small box in his office desk drawer (I was looking for the latest issue of his usually-hidden Playboy magazine and I will still swear today that I was only interested in the articles in it). He was an avid photographer, as I also became, but he never pursued it professionally or artistically (while I have won a few awards for it as well as my writing and would have won some for my paintings if the caretaker/gardener at the Jamaican Cultural Development Commission, who promised me he would make sure my paintings made it into the competition after I reached too late on the last day for entry, absconded both with my fabulous canvases and from his job.) I knew some of the faces in the photographs. Secretariies, female family friends, business partners and colleagues in the H. R. industry, but two stood out. A color photograph of a young lady topless on a long chair in his office, which I never knew could collapse backward into a bed until I saw it in the photograph, and a black-and-white photo of a toothless, obese woman, who was old enough to be his mother, posing completely naked, reclining pseudo-aesthetically on some statk, rugged rocks at an anonymous beach, in the harshest of uncomplimentary sunlight; a very artistic photograph, I thought then, regardless of its subject. I hid that box far in the back of his desk drawer because I knew my mother also occasionally passed through the office. Of course, she was not in any of these photographs and could not have been as she was a puritan and a saint, who if she had stuck to her baptismal Roman Catholicism and not switched to Anglicanism could have been beatified while still alive for her immaculately conceived purity. I went searching for the box another day (because they were more interesting than the Playboy ‘articles’) but never found them. I thought my father may have discovered my discovery, and moved them, but my mother told me years after (and after my father’s death in an automobile accident) that she found the box and, because she knew I occasionally passed through the office, she did not hide it as I did, but burnt it and all its contents.

2. The Half Has Never Yet Been Told; Tales of My Father, Told and Untold

My father never spoke about any other woman but his wife, my mother, nor of any of his other invisible children, nor of his failed travel agency and the shipping line that defaulted on their agreement, after he paid them, nor his time in prison after. He never spoke about his failed attempt at priesthood but did not pressure me, as the rest of the family did, to follow that course. He never spoke about his failed songwriting career (he was only a lyricist and played no instrument) but ignored my youthful years in the neighborhood garage band as second lead singer, lead songwriter, keyboard player and occasional guitarist). He sometimes, but rarely, spoke of his writing but disparaged my poetry, even the poems I won National Awards for. He spoke technically and with pride about his own paintings though I only remember one completed one, of a boxer, and another half-finished one of my mother’s niece. He begrudgingly admired my paintings and drawings, spied on me doing them and never commented on my technique (because, I will say with confident conceit, I was admittedly, in everyone’s opinon as well, better than him. I destroyed most of my artwork after a quarrel with my greatest admirer, my mother, to spite her. Of course, I only spited myself, the only remaining pieces being a few sketches which I have, and three stolen oil paintings that some unemployed gardener has hanging on the living room wall of his shantytown shack). He was extensively and prevalently better than me with women, though I also inherited his extreme love and libidinous attachment to them (but I remained single) and whilst he had years of bad luck with vehicles (another story) involved with multiple, uncountable  accidents (remember he drank; and so do I but) I don’t drive and have never owned a driver’s license (which doesn’t mean I can’t be killed in an auto accident as well). He often spoke of Admiral Horatio Nelson and Napoleon as well as Napoleon’s arch-enemy the Duke of Wellington (of whom he was named after, Wellington being his given name), only because of their short stature and his. Nelson was 5’4″, Napoleon a supposed 5’2″ (but most likely five inches more than that) and the Duke was actually 5’9″ and inch or more than my father, who was the same height as my mother. I, on the other hand, am a 6-footer (my mother always insisted that I was 5’11 and three-quarter because only Jesus was 6ft, though I – and religious historians too – doubt that). He also admired Martin Luther King and Gandhi (the two go hand in hand), Churchchill, Lincoln, JFK and RFK. I actually admire the same people and maybe influenced by him, am not so into Garvey as a National Hero of Jamaica (which he is, so I say that quietly. My father was more outspoken about it. My mother shared our beliefs as well but she was soft-spoken in every way and on everything). He spoke often about my spiritual hero the Apostle Paul and interpreted Jesus’ words in a lasting – for me – and different way from everyone else before or since, revealing the real, Socialist, mendicant, militant man-of-color Jesus (not a black man but a brown man, like my father, but I’ll soon get to that). Both of my parents disdained James Dean as well as my idolizing of him. My mother spoke of the dashing, swashbuckling english actor Errol Flynn, who she may have encountered as he owned property and sometimes lived nearby to where she spent some childhood summers. My father only spoke of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Mickey Rooney (and this had to do with their shared physical stature as well).

Most of what I know about my father came from others, mostly my mother.  Other than what she knew from first-hand knowledge, she also got from others, including his own supposed friends, as well as rifling through his pockets (which she had a right to do before tossing the clothing in the washing machine) and, on one occassion, from a letter he sent to a newly acquainted New York lover, whose address he didn’t get correctly, and so was returned to sender (who was at work when the postman brought it, but whose wife, my mother, was at home and received it. He never got it because I found it among her possessions, not his, after her death). His life, by his lips, was the proverbial ‘half that couldn’t be told’. He started stories but couldn’t finish them because the conclusion (both of the story and of my surmising) ended with an illicit liason with a lover. My patient and tolerating mother once said to me, “You’re just like your father. You keep telling me the same stories at different times over and  over again [forgetting that it was told before]. The only difference is that when you retell the story it has the same ending as before. Every time your  retells me a story, though it is the same story it always has a different ending”.

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