Dad dropped out of high school and joined the navy when he was 17. Having no experience with boats he quickly learned he was prone to seasickness and lost two weeks of his life barfing while trying to complete his duties. This was a lesson that he would relearn decades later when he took a job as a deckhand out of Bamfield and was forced to hitchhike home from Prince Rupert.
The only action he saw while in service was the experimental bombing of a couple islands and getting mugged at knifepoint while in port in Jamaica. As he told it, Dad’s navy career was mostly about drinking in port with the guys from the ship and trying to meet women. . . which is how he ended with so many tattoos.
My favourite story I used to have him tell was about the morning he awoke to find he had a new banner across his chest. It was held up by swallows on either side and in the middle, it twisted where it was clearly meant to hold the names of two star-crossed lovers. Since Dad didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, it just had his name on one side – Syd.
Dad was embarrassed by his tattoos to some extent and never wanted us, kids, to make the same mistake he had. But I loved that his tattoos represented a life before us. They were just one reminder of the other experiences that had built to who he was as a father. And while he was flawed like the rest of us, I loved him and could have listened to the stories of his youth all day long.
Instead of heading his advice – as you tend not to do with parents – I got a tattoo of swallow about eight years ago, as a tribute to him, on my left bicep. After he passed I got a second swallow on the same arm. Finally, the other day, while I was sitting on the couch doing nothing in particular, it occurred to me what I would write in a banner if I had one. And so, I made another appointment.
Dad loved the Eagles, we listened to them on vinyl growing up and would sing their songs while out fishing. They had come to play in Vancouver many times and I always wanted to take him, but I was always too busy. Life would frequently get in the way and I would always think ‘next time.’ Finally, I made it happen. Dad and I went to see the Eagles. They put on a fantastic show, telling the story of their history, the inspiration behind their albums and songs, and of course, playing all their hits. It also turned out to be the second to last time I saw him alive – and one of my most cherished memories.
When he passed, Take It Easy, seemed like the perfect anthem for his life. A message about not getting hung up on the breakdowns in life told through an upbeat, vibrant harmony with witty lyrics. We sang it at both his memorial in Bamfield; over a hundred people gathered on about thirty boats at the mouth of the harbour, and again in Mexico; around a guitar on the beach. The words are even etched into the lid of the handmade wooden box that still holds some of his ashes.
One of the first times that I visited Bamfield alone after Dad passed, I went into the old garage and grabbed a handful of his CD’s to listen to on the way home. The CD on top was 60’s Jukebox Hits and I threw it in, expecting to hear Rock Around the Clock – but Take It Easy played. He was always giving me shit for putting his CDs back in the wrong cases (sorry Dad). It goes without saying that whenever I hear that song, I think of him. It has become a powerful way for his memory to stay alive within our family and community. I occasionally get texts from friends telling me ‘your dad’s song is playing.’ My cousins even stopped on the corner in Winslow Arizona for a photo op. Just writing about these memories makes me smile.
I got the words ‘Take It Easy’ tattooed on my banner for Dad, but also as a reminder to myself to make more time for what’s truly important. It is easy to get hung up on the small things in life and miss the bigger picture. These stresses contribute to depression and other health issues. Buy the concert tickets, take a break from work, take a walk outside, stop thinking that being busy is what’s important in life. These are lessons I’m learning – and that’s part of the reason these words are important to me.
On my drive home from Vancouver, Take It Easy came on the stereo. I smiled. Dad once told me that he liked that I put so much thought into my tattoos and that they had meaning. He had always felt like his were carelessly acquired. But I still love Dad’s tattoo stories the best – seriously, who gets drunk and wakes up with a chest tattoo? Syd Baker did.
Tattoo by Trevor Shea at Three Point Tattoo.