For as long as I can remember, I have always known my father as a listener. If I ever wanted to find him, all that I had to do was use my ears. Whether it was BBC radio, cricket commentary, classic reggae or his Louis Armstrong collection, the spaces my father occupied were always thick with sound, and thus easy to find.
I genuinely do not know how or why my father developed this affinity, but I do know that it eventually led him to discover something that would become a staple in both of our literary lives: audiobooks.
Sometime in the early 2000s, my father started bringing home strange plastic boxes, boxes containing cassettes full of stories about strange people in peculiar places and odd situations. At the time, these stories were so foreign and magical to me: researchers raising lion cubs in Kenya, zoologists studying brown hyenas in the Kalahari desert, an eccentric travel writer struggling to cope with the exotic nature of the land Down Under.
I remember curling up against the speakers of our stereo set with one of those plastic boxes open at my feet. I would sit there for hours, I guess, listening intently as my living room transformed into the places that I could only reach with books. I was too young to read those big books then, so my father’s audiobooks helped me to explore my rapidly growing imagination.
And so it went as cassettes gave way to CDs, and CDs fell to the iPod, the Kindle and Audible. Soon enough, my father was a proud owner of a growing digital library of BBC podcasts, audiobooks, music and goodness knows what else. I am ashamed to say that I felt embarrassed by this sometimes. While girls my age were listening to Justin Timberlake or Neyo, my father was filling my iPod with podcasts and books. I lived in the shadow of my father’s tastes, and I would openly resist at times. I mean, what kind of nerd listens to Homer’s Odyssey instead of music on the way to school?
Strangely enough, my father’s affinity for audiobooks actually helped me over time. When we studied Shakespeare for English Literature, my father lent me his speakers so that I could play A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my class, which made studying the classic so much easier. When I started my A-levels, I made friends – not lose them – because of my father’s audiobooks. As it turns out, other young intellectuals were just as interested in my father’s narrated books as I was.
Now that I am a writer – unpublished and unpopular as I am – I have learned to write to the rhythm of the narrative in my head. My mother may have helped me to learn the basics of writing – grammar, punctuation, the alphabet – and how to love, appreciate and respect books, but my father was the one who taught me to pay attention to the sound of the words.
“Listen to the language,” he would always tell me as he handed me an iPod filled with even more BBC podcasts, “listen to the way the people use the words. It may help you in your writing.”
I rarely listened to those podcasts. Over time, I found myself rejecting my father’s offers for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, his advice stuck with me, and I realise that even now as I write this piece, the voices of many narrators come to me to guide my writing – lending their voices to me as I try to find the perfect tone, rhythm and mood. Sitting among those voices, however, is one silent spectator. My father, I realise, has been my sound critic. Even though he has never read much of my writing, his presence lingers among the many voices of the many narrators in his library, and in my head.
My mother may have sparked my love of reading, but my father gave me helped me to develop my writing style. Even now, when the voices inside my head waiver, I tuck myself in bed and immerse myself in sound until the words can flow from me again. I let those voices guide my fingers as they have for over a decade.
And I know that among them, there is one silent, constant listener.