Found my Dad in Milan the other day...He passed away when I was 13.

Let me explain.

Since losing my sister last year suddenly and unexpectedly to cancer after she battled a rare genetic liver disease for nearly ten years, I can very easily say that I now live with a heightened level of sensitivity. I pay more attention now. I value people more. I understand the concept of time. I want friends and family to enjoy their time with me. I want to enjoy my time on the planet. I want to have more adventures with my mom and my sons. I want to live more. I have a friend who received some not so good news about his health yesterday...I literally wanted to crawl into that space of grief with him and wade around in the puddle with nothing more to say than, "Dammit. This blows." Think they call it empathy. I've got loads more empathy now.

My family is no stranger to loss. My dad passed away when I was 13. Car accident. Here he is as a young fine thang...

Ballard Dean McPherson
or as I called him even when I was tiny
"Dear Old Dad"

The upside to paying so much more attention now is that I find little nods and winks from my dad and sister all the little details. This past weekend I went to Milan...

Photo: Daniele Tamagni

And right outside this castle space I heard an old, familiar tune that conjured up so many memories...

of my dad in cutoff green Adidas shorts and a part in the right side of his short cropped 'fro hovering over the barbecue pit, my sister always on beat, perfecting her breakdancing skills, my mom relaxed in a lawn chair on her second glass of iced tea, waving to each car that went by, and me having a snack with ribbons in my hair. The memories are so vivid, so tangible. It was just yesterday, wasn't it?
That song was played by a street performer banging away on a bucket with two sticks to the beat. What a gift.

It was the second one I got on my trip. The first came when I stumbled upon this vintage market close to Via Santa Sofia. It's only open on Sunday mornings...

Now if you know me, you know vintage is my thing. I had only so much money in my pocket. I threw all caution to the wind.
#YOLO, right?

I snagged some good stuff, ya'll.

Schoolbooks from the 1950s

Vintage touristy books from Signora Carla, who was adorable

And these beauties
Journals I wasn't completely sold on until...

I opened the page of one and saw the calligraphy

My dad was the type of parent that was tough on his kids. He wanted my sister and me to be excellent. On point. I never received presents like dolls or normal playthings from him. His gifts, I now realize, were always purposeful...jacks, thinking games...crayons and colored pencils--calligraphy sets.

My father had gorgeous penmanship. It was truly enviable. My mom would often sigh, "Ahhh, your dad has such nice handwriting." It was a skill I'm sure he took a great deal of time practicing and perfecting growing up, and without saying a word, he transferred that love and skill to my sister and me.

I'd sit for hours watching the Care Bears and tracing Old English letters with a pen I dipped in real ink, making blots everywhere in undesirable places. My dad would urge me to pay details. When I coloured he'd give me little tips and hints..."Softly," he'd say. "Color softly." I was small and didn't realize the lessons he was giving me, but they stuck.

Point is, Milan awakened a space and time in me through that song and the treasures I found that reminded me that it's not just through our stories that we teach our children, and remain in their hearts forever; it is through our passions as well.

Sending love and light to my sister and my father this sunny morning in Rome. Miss them both profoundly, but happy to still delight in their gifts and interests.

I will have Phil, the illustrator I work with most often, depict my father as a street calligrapher through which Kofi (The Ghanaian Goldilocks) learns the art and beauty of handwriting...on the streets of Milan. The upcoming book is called Kofi Goes to Milan.

And in that way I will share the passion for calligraphy that my father shared with me
with his grandsons.


  1. wow, I love your deep love for life and your strength..

    1. Thank you so much Adriana for taking the time to read the post and leave your thoughts; both mean a lot to me.