Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755 (or possibly 1757, such is the fickle mistress that is history where even the first line of a life ends in an asterisk) on Nevis in the British West Indies, to a father that abandoned him and a mother that died with Alexander in her arms. Alexander Serebriakov was born two centuries later in 1964 in Moscow, the Soviet Union, to a mother whose father abandoned her and a father whose own father went missing in action in the Second World War. These wisps of similarities are woven through all of us allowing us to find brotherhood across the centuries and continents. The two Alexanders combined for just over a century of life, forging in their own allotted halves of this time two very different legacies. In 2017, one Michael Serebriakov, born in 1986 in Budapest, Hungary, to two bright university students who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, had his life profoundly shaped by the two men.
My father had a typical Soviet childhood. Both his parents were in the workforce so he was mostly raised by his grandmothers. But normality was tossed out the window for the rest of his life when my grandfather earned a foreign business post for three years in a port city on the west coast of North America. For a Soviet child, three years in Vancouver had turned his life upside down.
Hamilton had a similarly transformative experience by sailing west. At the age of 17 (or 15, as previously mentioned) he arrived in New York to a country on the brink of revolution. It inspired a young mind to work for the prosperity of his nation, and his service during the American War of Independence and then in the cabinet of George Washington as the Secretary of the Treasury earned him the title of an American Founding Father and his face on the ten-dollar bill.
My dad earned no such accolades, but he was no less of a dreamer that would beat a path to any goal he set for himself. After three years, when his father’s posting expired, he was told to let go of any fantasies that he may have indulged in. It was the mid-seventies, and a capitalist country was simply out of reach. If the three years felt like a dream, that’s because they were, and like with any dream, it was time to wake up.
Stubbornness was a trait that came early to my dad, and he held onto to his boyhood fantasies. Vancouver was home. Canada was the place where he would forge his future. He held onto this for the 15 years it took for the Soviet Union to fall. And then another five years before he got a chance to vacation in Vancouver, revisiting all of his old favourite places with childlike glee. And then he took that determination into an immigration process that lasted three years. A quarter century after he was told to forget it, Alexander had moved his wife and two children to the country of his dreams, to the place he knew all along that their lives would flourish. He would be given less than twenty years to enjoy the fruits of his success.
My dad passed away in May of 2017, just days after his fifty-third party after a battle with cancer. And battle it he did until the very end, always trying to put his concerns for his family ahead of himself. One of the last coherent things he said was apologizing to my grandmother for leaving her daughter, his wife, all alone. That’s the kind of man he was. Full of caring for his loved ones, even if it that caring had the ability to overwhelm the object of his affection.
Any way you spin my feelings, his death had left a massive crater in my life. Father’s Day came and went, so did the start of a new hockey season, and then the premier of the next Star Wars movie. Each jolt a painful reminder that he was gone.
I spent months in confusing oscillation between grief and anger, with brief spurts of calm that would be quickly trampled by another gloomy stretch. Everything I had strived to improve in myself over the last few years fell completely off the map. I stopped writing, stopped exercising, stopped learning Spanish. I filled my time with junk like aimlessly scrolling reddit just to keep my brain from getting too stimulated. I had dug into my rut, and was quite comfortable in it, thanks very much.
That had all changed because in 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a New York-born composer, lyricist, playwright, and actor of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage had premiered his newest musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton. My awareness of Hamilton the musical trickled into my life slower than I would like to admit. Through some online discussions and articles I’ve heard whisperings of a musical that had cast a black person to play Aaron Burr. Knowing what I know now I think it’s a great disservice that that’s what was talked about, and not the entirety of the colour-conscious casting choices that were a big part of why the musical has become so inspirational.
In early 2016, I missed the Hamilton question in the online Jeopardy audition test, not knowing which musical the song “The Election of 1800” appeared. Funny, two years later and I’m singing along to the words with my four year-old son. And then I saw it in the news again when the Broadway cast called out American Vice-President elect Mike Pence and his administration for the atrocious ideas that they represent. There’s really no excuse for me not to have gone off and learned everything I could about the musical at that point, but that’s neither here nor there, and it at least put it firmly on my radar at that point.
Fast forward to September 2017, when a series of events lined up in such a way that I had a lot of time during my morning commute, so instead of wasting it on whatever frivolities I was into at the time, I listened to the whole Broadway cast recording on Spotify. I never expected a piece of musical theater to blow me away but there I was, putting the soundtrack on at home for the whole family to listen to.
My wife had already started doing so ages ago, because she’s generally ahead of me in these things, but now Hamilton was a real presence and even my son started saying no to the usual Disney playlist and insisting that we play Hamilton on repeat, even in the car.
This all reached its crescendo in early November. It was about a week after my birthday, and the holidays were fast approaching while I sat under my own personal storm cloud feeling anything but jolly. I was working from home and in the other room I heard my son playing and singing, though in a voice that bordered on yelling: “Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton! ALEXANDER HAMILTON!”
I thought had struck me. Internet searches were performed. Discussions were had. Questionable financial decisions were made. And suddenly my wife and I found ourselves in possession of two Hamilton tickets in Seattle in March. The Hamilton exposure at home went up. That entire weekend was spent listening to nothing but the soundtrack during any available moment.
And then something happened. Something I didn’t notice until almost a month later. I brushed the dust off my unfinished short stories. I started playing catch-up in my Duolingo and Memrise apps. I read more diligently. I was able to focus more at work. Whatever inspiration was contained in the musical, and trust me, if you’ve listened or watched Hamilton you know inspiration is contained in every other line, it had awakened something in me. It began to clear the fog out of my mind. It set me back on my path and made me remember myself.
The key to all of this isn’t even one of Hamilton’s lines, it’s one sung by Aaron Burr, delivered so powerfully by the talented Leslie Odom Jr.
“I am the one thing in life I can control.”
And so I did. The musical reminded me that for all of life’s unexpected setbacks, for all of its twists and turns and tragedies that lead men like Hamilton and my father to build legacies in lands so far from where they were born, one must never cede control. Alexander Hamilton fought against his political enemies, the most dangerous of which was probably himself. Alexander Serebriakov resisted the currents of history and kept his dream alive for his children. Both affected the world in their own unique ways.
To my father, thank you for inspiring me to put family first. If there’s any piece of your complicated self I will carry forward with me it’s that. And to Alexander Hamilton, thanks for inspiring Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose efforts to present your life with a contemporary lens have given me the strength to carry myself into the years ahead.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.