Just Once, No More

In this vulnerable, honest, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Charles Foran offers a brief and powerful meditation on fathers and sons, love and loss, even as his own father approaches the end of life.

Dave Foran was a formidable man of few words, seemingly from a different era than his sensitive, literary son, Charlie. Among other adventures, Dave had lived in the bush, been snow-blinded, hauled a dead body across a frozen lake on a dog sled, dodged a bullet from a rival, and gone toe-to-toe with a bear. Aspects of his life were like tall tales while others were more somber and enigmatic: A decent father to Charlie and his siblings, and a devoted husband to Charlie’s mother, Dave was a tough, emotionally distant man, prone to gruff cynicism and a changeable mood. As Charlie writes: “He struggled most days of his life with wounds he could not readily identify, let alone heal . . . Not only did my father never get over what had happened to him as a boy, he didn’t try. Men usually didn’t try back then. Their families just had to deal.”

When Charlie turned 55, his father began a slow and, as it turned out, final decline. And Charlie felt something he'd never imagined before: a mysterious desire to write about his relationship with him. On the surface, the motivation was to help lift an inchoate burden from his father’s shoulders, to reassure him that he was loved. But there was also another, more personal motivation. “Late into the middle of my own lifespan,” Charlie writes, “sadness took hold of my being . . . I wanted to say so frankly, never mind how glib it sounded, how uncomfortable it made me.”

In spare, haunting prose, Just Once, No More pulls on these threads—unravelling a fascinating personal story but also revealing its universal context (suggested by the title "Just Once, No More," a quote from a poem by Rilke that applies to all of our brief lives). With its skillful prose, humour, affecting intimacy, and love of life even in the shadow of death and uncertainty, this short but very full book presents a nuanced, moving portrait of a fond but distant father grappling with the end of life as his son acts as witness, solace, and would-be guide while shakily facing his own decline. What story can we tell ourselves and those we love, this memoir asks, to withstand the insecurities of self and the inexorable passage of time?