Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

Celebrating my father

Posted: May 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 6 Comments »

People ask me why I named The Allen Prize for Young Writers after my dad. Was he a writer? Did he give me special encouragement or support to write? The answer to those questions is complex. No, he wasn’t a writer; he was a welder and entrepreneur. In some ways, yes, he did give support–but not, I think, of my writing; rather, more of my being. My father and I were very, very close. I was his spoiled baby and he was my sun. When he died in 1995 I cried for a day, non-stop, from Edmonton, Canada, to Toronto, to Piarco, as I flew from the city where I was doing an exchange programme in women’s issues to the city where I was born and had lived all my life with him. He gave me a love of reading and gave me typewriters. That would have been enough. But he also left me the money with which I started the NGO that is named after him. For those things, I honour him.

Yesterday The Allen Prize had its first awards ceremony. It took place at the home of one of our board members. The venue was a gorgeous home with a sprawling patio facing a swimming pool, the kind of place my father used to go to to install his massive galvanize water tanks and tank stands, driving his jitney up through their gates in his ever-present Wembley tennis shorts and polo shirt (he had them in all possible colours and wore them daily, rain or shine, to work and at home). I sometimes went with him, sitting around or playing while he and his workers installed the tanks, finding trees to climb as they worked and drank water from the sweating bottles the homeowners would set out for them. Yesterday I looked around at the dozens of people, nicely dressed on padded chrome chairs watching their children getting prizes for writing stories, poems, scenes. I wondered if Daddy would have been proud of the celebration in his name.

I concluded that, yes, he would have been. He might not have understood it, but he would have liked that someone was doing it. He was a man of action and a generous man, but a man of no patience. He would not have been able to sit through an hour-long ceremony but he would have given money towards it if he could, in the same way that he gave money to his neighbourhood for christenings, bazaars, the church–but never went to the things he supported.

When I was little, my father acquired a portable typewriter and a secretary to try to whip his office into shape. The secretary didn’t last very long. (Was it the dust and grime of a muffler shop and water tank manufacturing plant that got to her, or Daddy’s inappropriate behaviour? He was a lech, that one, and even I knew it, even then.) But the typewriter stayed, and I claimed it for my own. A few years later, he took me to Ashe’s on Edward Street in Port-of-Spain to buy me a “new” one. It was a second-hand baby blue SmithCorona Coronet electric, something like this:



I must have been 11 or 12, because all through Form One I remember typing up stories, poems, plays on it. There was something wrong with the key pressure, so the keys hit the paper too hard and made tiny holes in it. You could hold the pages up to the light and see right through the holes. It was like watching little stars in the night sky.

I wrote all the time and I would run triumphantly through our houses (he lived with his wife in another house…long story, for another post) or his factory looking for someone to read my latest masterpiece to. He always listened. He never criticised them; I don’t know if he understood or even liked them, but he listened, which was enough to keep me writing. When I was old enough to think about going to university, I spent hours poring over material from colleges I’d written for information. I picked a programme and asked if I could go. It was in Santa Barbara. Creative writing. He took days to tell me no. After he died, I found the school’s brochure in his personal documents, with some maths scribbled at the back. I think he would have sent me if he could.

So, no, he wasn’t a writer. But this celebration of young people and their gifts is his legacy to them.

After he died I wrote this poem for him:


I still miss you Daddy

your strong, big hands

hard and rough from the iron you welded

holding my small, soft one

your laugh

dragged out deep and gasping

from your solid round belly

your soft curly hair

the stubble of your unshaven cheek

and the sweet musk of Old Spice

of your Sunday evening shave.

I miss your lap

where I used to sit so long ago

twenty years haven’t wiped it

from this mind now cluttered

with other memories

I miss your short pants and jersey

a uniform for you

and the broadsheet papers

you read and read

your big gold signet

RA in raised capitals

so sure of who you were

no other jewellery mattered but that.

When I buried you

I bawled like a baby

your baby

I still am



6 Comments on “Celebrating my father”

  1. 1 wizzy said at 11:37 am on May 15th, 2011:

    Absolutely beautiful and tenderly written.

  2. 2 j said at 7:31 pm on May 15th, 2011:


  3. 3 j said at 7:32 pm on May 15th, 2011:

    goosebumps and awe

  4. 4 Trinidad & Tobago: The Man Behind the Allen Prize · Global Voices said at 1:03 pm on May 16th, 2011:

    […] The Allen Prize for Young Writers, Lisa Allen-Agostini honours the memory of her beloved father. […]

  5. 5 Le Ciel et La Terre | | Trinidad & Tobago: The Man Behind the Allen Prize said at 1:10 pm on May 16th, 2011:

    […] The Allen Prize for Young Writers, Lisa Allen-Agostini honours the memory of her beloved […]

  6. 6 Trinidad & Tobago: The Man Behind the Allen Prize @ Current Affairs said at 1:47 pm on May 16th, 2011:

    […] The Allen Prize for Young Writers, Lisa Allen-Agostini honours the memory of her beloved […]

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