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”.

3. Ad/Vice 

“The worst vice is advice.” – John Milton

Though my father discouraged many of the paths I wanted to pursue, dismissed others and ignored some, he did give me three pieces of encouraging fatherly advice, though they were really more suggestions and parental requests than advice or encouragement. They weren’t delivered all at once but through out my pre-adult life.

Firstly, he said, “You should always go to church like your mother does.” He never went to church but offered assistance wherever he could, including paying for the renovation of the pastor’s rectory. As a youngster, I always thought he had a falling-out with God.

Secondly, he advised me, “You must never dye your hair”. I had started greying from in my teens.

“It’s a sign of distinction” he liked to say, and touching his receding hairline and his pated baldspot, he sometimes added this story, “when I was a young trade unionist, I earnestly prayed to God to give me some grey hairs to make me look older so the older opposing employers [all either English expatriates or Middle-eastern Emigrants in thoses days] would take me seriously and not treat me like an upstart. It seemed to me that God was a bit hard-of-hearing because he gave me this cursed balding head instead. But then he later blessed you, my son, with what I requested. Never dye those grey hairs”. When I was 48, which now, 11 years later, doesn’t seem so old, I was unemployed and desperately in need of a job and by then almost completely grey. A prospective employer suggested I dye my hair. Affronted, without thinking, I blurted out, “Only clowns color their hair”. I could have maybe told him calmly, “My late father’s one request before he died was that I never dye my hair and I have to honor that” but unfortunately I have always been impulsive. Shoot first, ask questions later. The prospective employer explained that he dyed his hair. I never got the job.

Thirdly, my father demanded, “Never write your name as McPherson and never let anyone write it that way either. If they do, insist that they correct it, because you’re Scottish not Irish.” I am in fact, Jamaican.

A friend once told me this “Most men usually have one of these four vices: cigarette-smoking, womanizing, drinking and gambling” then he added “your father is the only man I know who have all four”. I only smoked for two-years of my life and only menthols like my father smoked because I couldn’t handle the harsher, non-menthol ones (like the local Craven A, the most popular in my country). My father smoked all his adult life, cigars more than cigarettes and pipes most of all. He died from a car accident at 70 and not from lung, lip or throat cancer. In truth, his cause of death remains inconclusive, though, in my opinion, only due to a confused coroner. I was in the courtroom, during the Coroner’s Inquest, and heard him use the word ‘Maybe’ and/or the phrase ‘May have been’ at least six times in his statement on the determination of the cause of my father’s death.

The maybes and may-have-beens included according to that so-called specialist expert, “blunt force cranial trauma”, “ST-elevation myocardial infarction”, ‘circulatory cardiogenic shock, or physical shock due to acute stress disorder or cold shock”, but he especially doubted the latter and mostly doubted the others thinking that “it more likely may have been lethal trauma caused by deceleration”, but most likely “may be respiratory impairment as a result of immersion or submersion in or under a liquid, complicated by extreme low body temperature with aspiration of vomitus, and/or ARDS, which is acute respiratory distress syndrome.” Then he clarified that for the confused judge and jury, half of whom were dozing, the other half sleeping, “that is, Yo’Rhonor, drowning. Drowning with death.” Death by drowning, I interpreted that to mean.

My father could not swim. Therefore he could not teach me to swim.

“Non-swimmers rarely drown”, he informed me, “it’s swimmers who drown, because they are confident and get overconfident and go to depths and distances where even angels fear to tread… water.”

I never learned to swim. He died from an automobile accident but not by it. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. This was, because he had stopped the vehicle. He did this, even though he was on a bridge. He had been drinking and driving and was still drinking. The other driver had drunk more and was still drinking more and driving. The impact sent my father through the front sidewindow, out over the railing of the bridge, falling over 300 feet into the water below.

He was not alone. She was unconscious but alive. I had seen her before; half-naked, she was sitting on a collapsible couch in my father’s office, in a long-discovered, now-destroyed color photograph taken by my father. She was no assistance to anyone, not my mother or myself, nor the coroner’s court. Her only ever comment on the accident was, “I never knew he was married!”. The other driver had blacked out before the crash. To my consternation, the droopy jury let him off the manslaughter charge and the bored judge fined him JMD20,000 for  exceeding the speeding limit and JMD50,000 for driving under the influence of alcohol. JMD70,000 (USD510) for my father’s life. 

4. The Leprechaun Suit

“Having a habit definitely doesn’t make you a monk
Nor does having Clover Green in bed make you an Irishman
But if you come up short you might as well be a Leprechaun
Or maybe consider becoming a celibate ol’ monk.”

“The Leprechaun’s Suite” -A. R. McClurichaun

I drink just as much as my father did but I handle it better. I’m never drunk after drinking; he was, always. I definitely inherited the gambling gene from him, but the numbers are not in yet on which one of us that demon destroyed the most. I inherited a lot from him inherently but not physically except for ugly toenails. I am a black man, while he always insisted he was a brown man, famously telling a female American immigration officer who, in correcting his presented form, wrote his color as ‘black’, “Take a look at my shoe”. The officer looked down.

“What color is it?” he asked.

“Black,” she answered.

“Now take a look at me.” I think she may have had a tough day and couldn’t be bothered. She left it as ‘brown’. (I haven’t travelled to the United States for 31 years but I somehow think they have removed that section from the form). He was not a Pan-Africanist nor a Back-To-Africa supporter, smoked cigarettes, but not weed, and despised Rastafarianism, Rastas, including Bob (Marley) and especially Peter (Tosh) both of whom I loved and admired (actually knowing the latter). My father, however, was a  Black Nationalist deeply involved in the labor movement and the so-called ‘politics of change’ especially before Jamaica’s independence, but not as much after because he was very anti-communist and thought the socialism being preached promoted here was closer to the Russian model while pretending to be the British one. He didn’t see the need for Ebony magazine because “the White Man does not have an Ivory magazine, and doesn’t feel he needs to and if he did we would accuse hom of  racism.” He was a student of Latin and claimed erroneously that he could use that knowledge to dissect every English word and know the meaning even if the word was new to him. However a lot of the English language also has non-Latin Anglo-Saxon (which is basically German) roots. When I testingly asked the meaning of negro (now a badword), he answered “From Latin, it means black”. This was in the 70’s before the word was passé.

“So are you a Negro?” I asked.        

“The White Man says so” he answered, “but he is more Pink than White and I, I am a brown man.” He was not alone in the country. Many of my fairer-complexioned compatriots are nicknamed ‘Brownman’ and ‘Browning (the women)’. Some with a tip of straightish nose and a hint of straigtish hair mixed with more than a dash of ignorance sadly call themselves ‘White’. Locally and colloquially they are called ‘Jamaican  Whites’ for once they land on American shores their inherent blackness is harder to hide. My father, in 1950’s fashion, brushed and greased his hair til it appeared shiningly straight, but those waves would curl on the shores of the nape of his neck, revealing its true texture. He however did not want to be White. He was very patriotic. The colors of our national flag are Black Gold and Green, which brings me back to his favorite green leprechaun suit which my mother hated so much, often wearing it with a green tie and yellow shirt (for the Gold? His brownness and inert blackness ‘repping’ for the Black? Maybe. Who knows?)

This, though, is what I know I about that green suit. In mid-March 1974 my father traveled to New York on business. On a slightly blustery Sunday morning, he dressed up in his favorite green suit and stepped out of Hotel Wentworth onto the pavements of West 49 Street in search of a bar to have a few drinks, but only a few, as funds were limited and mostly dedicated to the business he was there for. He noticed the proliferation of people wearing green, like himself but didn’t pay it much attention. He was intent on his drink. A few blocks away he turned into an Irish pub. Everyone there was white but suprisingly they all greeted him loudly and with smiles as if they knew him before. Before he could an order a drink, the bartender enquired what he wanted. Vodka, of course. The group who had ordered it for him, lifted their green caps – those who were wearing – and gave him the thumbs-up, which he returned with a mouthed ‘thank-you’. After that drink, another one came, from another group, with the same silent pleasantries. They were kind, but a rowdily loud but he was not worried. They didn’t look like thugs or hooligans, seeming more mature than that, in both age, manners and dress. Soon, some of the patrons drew closer to him. One asked, “What’s your name, my friend?”

“MacPherson” my father answered. His new acquaintance seemed overjoyed about that and repeated to the others, “McPherson. That’s his name.” It began to echo through the pub as one group shouted his name to another. More drinks began to come his way. When some patrons couldn’t hear because of the din, the others spelled it out for them, “M-C-P-H-E-R-S-O-N”. My father never told them his name was Scottish not Irish. He never told them it was spelled Mac and not Mc. Although that may not have changed anything based on the celebratory mood they were all in. He asked the bartender “Why this enormous generousity?”

“You’re wearing the green” the bartender answered, “and you’re a Mc. You’re half-irish -“

“Yep” my father answered, before the bartender finished.

“And half-black?”

“Yep, yep” my brown-complexioned father answered.

“It’s St. Paddy’s Day”, the bartender explained. After that night’s extended drinking spree, my drunken father had to be escorted back to his 46th Street hotel  by two young Irish-American girls, whose names he remembered only as ‘Mousey’ Brown and Ginger, which i suspect was really only their color. That became one of his stories that had no conclusive ending, but from that time until his death, he planned all his business trips for mid-March and always made sure my mother packed that favorite leprechaun green suit.     

“Wearing green
Doesn’t mean
You’re Irish,
Or have kissed
The Blarney
Got the Gift
of Gab
Or from Tír na nÓg,
Or the Tuatha Dé Danann
Or a green-suited Leprechaun.
It Just means today
Is St. Paddy’s Day”

’17 Green’ – MacSewell M. McKie

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