It was my 28th birthday the other day. Life is funny. One day, you’re a free-spirited 18 year-old west coast kid with face piercings and a sorry attempt at a chinstrap beard—and then BAM!.... before you know it, you’re an “adult” [def: a large, old child with responsibilities who has to pay full-price for grilled cheese at restaurants] living in suburban Ottawa with a wife and a sleeping baby. The crazy part: in many ways, you’re still just as mystified by the notion of a real world as the 18 year-old was, the only difference is that now you’ve tried enough things and made enough mistakes to have a generally translucent idea of how you might want to fit into the world.
On my birthday morning, before anything had really happened, I received an e-mail through my website from a man named Henry. Henry is an elderly man from the UK who was writing to inform me that his best friend of 48 years, Malcolm Everett, had passed away this past August at the age of 82. Malcolm Everett was a man I briefly met during my busking days in when I still lived in Vancouver. He had become a genuine fan of my music during his visit to Canada in 2012, and we passed a few e-mails back and forth that summer...
Henry went on to tell me that he had inherited Malcolm’s enormous record collection, and that he was actually e-mailing me to let me know that my record was one of Malcolm’s favourites. He recalled Malcolm sharing some of his fondest memories of his trip to Canada, specifically the one in which he felt so moved by a street performer’s music that he walked up to to hug him afterwards. To this day, I am honoured to have been the recipient of that hug. Those are the types of connections that make art successful. I truly believe that. If art can make somebody feel something, anything in a way they never have before, it has served its most basic purpose. Henry’s e-mail reminded me just how important music is to me. I want to be able to share those types of moments with other human beings for the rest of my life. Henry signed off with: “He was my best friend for 48 years and I just want to thank you for making him happy when he saw you when he was in Canada.”
Shortly after reading that e-mail, I found myself lying peacefully on the couch with my three week-old baby napping on my chest. Unfazed by the pool of regurgitated breastmilk accumulating on my shirt, I laid there listening to her tiny little rhythmic breaths, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized in that instant that I actually have the power—through the choices I make and the actions I carry out in my own life—to be the best possible father I can be to her. I may never be the perfect father, but I can choose to be the best father that I, Mark Fossen, am capable of being. It was a beautiful moment of reflection as I recounted the types of lessons I have had to learn in life that I still find valuable today. After sifting through memories of my greatest adventures and all of the dumb shit I did in my early twenties, I dug a bit deeper and began to consider all of the people who have had profound impacts on my life. The list is very long so I won’t tackle it here, but that got me thinking of what it truly means to be a good role model. One overarching idea really stood out, and that is that you just can’t learn anything worthwhile from a hypocrite (well, except how to be super fucking annoying). The most inspiring people I have ever met are the ones who carry their own torch but choose to share that light with others, as opposed to the ones who simply tell you that you must have light in order to see where you’re going.
In general, I think it’s easy to get lost somewhere between where the heart already knows it belongs and where the minutiae of day-to-day life might lead us to believe we should be. We all have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and lifestyles to satisfy, but its heartbreaking to think that we could live our entire lives believing that’s all we are capable of. We are full of so much more than that.
It is no mystery that pursuing a career in the arts can be daunting. There is no clear-cut path to success, the rewards are often not monetary, and every artist’s definition of success is different. Many artists give up on their art because they feel the pressure to find a “real job”. I am definitely guilty of this. Despite playing out regularly, going on busking tours, and releasing self-produced budget EP’s, I have been pursuing it halfheartedly because I've been afraid to fully believe in myself. It’s crazy. I have somehow managed to live the last ten years of my life convincing myself that I don’t have what it takes to be an actual artist, but somehow in the process of pursuing a whole bunch of other shit I just didn’t care as much about, I actually became one! The issue is that I have never once given it as much attention as it really deserves. I have always been pursuing something else, just in case, for fear of failure or something. Of course I know now how completely ridiculous that is, and that failure doesn’t work that way. In everything I’ve done, music has always been there so prominently in the background that I have often forgotten about the foreground. It took two full rounds of postsecondary education, many odd jobs, a few heartbreaks, plenty of travel, lots of busking, many shitty gigs, and a hefty amount of crippling self-doubt to finally learn that the only “real job” any of us have in this life is to discover the thing that really makes us feel alive, and just do lots of that thing until we are old and grey. The world needs us to be the truest possible versions of ourselves so that others can be inspired to have the courage to be true to themselves. Of course it won’t be easy, but as the old adage goes, nothing worthwhile ever is. It will be really fucking challenging, but what’s wrong with that? I just think that if you’re going to work really hard at something, it should at least be something that puts a smile on your face every day.
During my daddy-daughter nap yesterday, I realized that my biggest fear is that one day I'll be trying to explain to my daughter the importance of listening to her heart and pursuing her passions in life, and then subsequently have to also explain to her why I never did. I never want to have to do that! I hope that my kids grow up to be brave and open-minded, to make informed choices, and most importantly to follow their hearts and stand by what is dear to them. But what kind of message would I be sending them if I wasn’t able to say I did the same for myself? Or worse, that I gave up on my dreams so I could be a better parent to them. That irony would stink. No, thank you!
The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. I finished a long and existentially burdensome university degree, I became a father, and for the first time in my adult life I feel like I feel like I’m as close to where I’m meant to be as I ever will be. I consider myself very lucky to be able to make a decent enough living doing what I do, but it is time to step it up a bit and start putting more meaningful music out into the world. Not for me, but for my little Lucy and any other tiny people to come.
I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Malcolm Everett, and to thank his best friend Henry for reaching out to me. I will be forever grateful, and I will never forget the feeling I had on my 28th birthday for as long as I live. Thank you both.