I have a box where I keep things that for largely sentimental reasons I'd rather not throw away. I say that because there are some things that while I do not necessarily wish to keep, I also cannot part with.
I own one paper back copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The binding has all but come undone. At this point the front and back covers only act to keep together loose pieces of paper. The first time I read it I first had to make sure that not only were all the pages in order but that all the pages were present.
I cannot remember exactly when I got it; sometime in the blur that is the first half of high school. While sorting through boxes that have been packed away and moved from place to place since before I was born my father pulled out a mortar and pestle that seemed to mean a lot to him and this book. He handed it to me while saying that it had really impacted him when he read it. It's one of the few things he has ever directly given to me and the only book he has ever recommended. He didn't elaborate.
At the time I spent most of my free time reading. Even I only vaguely knew it was a form of escapism, most people just assumed it was a passionate hobby. To this day I think that was the only time he tried to reach out to me within my own hobbies. Even at the time I recognized that.
For those who have not read it, it's a story of a seagull with higher aspirations than the day to day struggle of living. Given a seagull's rather limited life opportunities Jonathan pursues the joy and purity of flight. He is ignored, bullied, and ostracized. He finds peace in isolation and refines his craft. Later he literally ascends to a higher plane of existence where he is given a new body better designed for flight, a new flock of seagulls who better understand him, and a teacher. In the end he returns to his old life, his old flock, to be a teacher in his own right.
I was older before I really began to understand that my father was profoundly disappointed in his life. Life happened, pushing him from place to place, shaving away the number of options available to him. And all the while he cradled the shattered remains of the dreams he once had.
The book is ultimately about acceptance and growth but I don't know if he ever emotionally got passed the chasing of a dream. I wonder now if in handing over that book he was not only trying to share something with me but also passing a baton. I don't know and this is now just another question I can never, will never ask my father.