Every conversation with my father (my ‘step-father’ technically, but we both loathed the word), Dorsey Bailey, began this way. And it was my cue to be quiet and listen up. Because every time I did, I gained a kernel of wisdom, a new perspective, a powerful lesson on how to be a compassionate and joyful human being.
Not all “Now Shannon”s were of the fully-loaded get-out-a-pen-and-paper-you-gotta-remember this sort. Some were simple reminders to lighten up and quit twirling your hair (that one came at age 16).
But as I mourn his recent passing, I am recalling, with great awe, how spot on he was with his “Now Shannon”s time and time again:
- Because he listened patiently first, assessing what state I was in just prior to a “Now Shannon”. Was I sad? Cocky? Naively enthusiastic? He took it all into consideration to determine the best approach in getting through to me.
- Because he eradicated any potential shame. He empathized with me at 5 years old as I suffered a series of youth-related bladder infections and discreetly brought home the biggest box of Pampers he could find, without discussing my condition with my brother or sister. It was just between us, and nothing to be ashamed of.
- Because he lauded the privilege of guiding me – too young to gain entry – through a lovely park in Vancouver B.C., admiring the sky as my older siblings and mother explored the indoor planetarium. Dorsey made certain I understood I wasn’t missing out on anything, but rather discovering the God-given beauty right smack above our heads on a clear starry night.
- Because he modeled the joy of making a connection with another human being at any time, any place, in any situation. I smile as I recall how enamored servers at a cozy Italian bistro (Portofino I think it was) in London’s Camden district took painstaking efforts to conclude our meal with perfectly shaped hearts atop our cappuccinos. No other table received such a thing. And it didn’t require a higher tip or special request. The hearts were simply a creative way of saying thank you for expressing a genuine interest in the hard-working blokes serving he, his wife and daughter a delicious meal. No one who ever came in contact with Dorsey could escape his charm. “That’s my boy!” “That’s just beautiful!” accompanied by a giant smile and pat on the back were daily natural forms of expression from this extraordinary man who came in contact with passersby – strangers or not. To Dorsey, there were no strangers. Only human souls. And only Dorsey could make frequent use of “Baby Doll!” and get away with it. Even the most diehard feminist would bask in the genuine sincerity behind it.
- Because he knew beauty. Where to find it, how to create it, and when it was sorely lacking. A visit to the Seattle Design Center with Dorsey was the mother of all field trips. Showroom by showroom we’d go, greeting proprietors honored by his presence, carefully selecting the most ‘copacetic’ – his word, not mine – color scheme or black lacquered credenza. He appreciated, and encouraged my penchant for fashion. How many men in their 90s instantly notice the leopard print skinny belt I added to a work suit at the last minute to give it a little pop? “Nice touch my dear, and the patent leather shoes work too!” Lifelong clients of his around the world are mourning now, surrounded in their homes by his beauty and creative genius.
- Because he never wavered. My midlife “Now Shannon” sit-down saved my life. Observing the sparkle dim from my eyes, the healthy pounds fall away, my joy in expressing myself – through spoken or written word fade away, he sat me down and told me it was time. Time to change course, trust my inner knowing, and courageously charter a new path as a single woman. I did, and later found authentic love, and now wake up every day thanking God, and my dear Papa, for giving me a level of joy and self-love I did not believe possible.
Dorsey. My heart is broken wide open. And from this day forever forward I will recall, with the fondest of memories, the valuable “Now Shannon”s you’ve guided me with. And I promise to hold your spirit within me until the day I die.