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Friday, June 13, 2014

This one's for you, Dad


Dear Dad: I know we aren’t really big on heart-to-heart talks, but it’s Father’s Day this week and I just want you to know how I feel.
Growing up with you wasn’t always easy. You had a short temper and I did a lot of tip-toeing around trying to stay out of your hair. Raising my own kids, I tried to keep them quiet so as not to disturb anyone. Someone pointed that out to me one day – that it wasn’t normal. I loved it when your 2-year-old grandson moved in with you. He was loud and wild and free and he softened you up for the rest of us. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you are a grandparent. You don’t have the quick temper anymore. Your patience grows longer. At least that’s what I’m hoping, because I have inherited your short fuse.
Now that I’ve watched a few kids of my own grow up (I won’t say I raised them because they pretty much raised themselves), I want you to know I appreciate the rules you set while we were growing up. Some of them may have been unspoken; I can’t remember.  I think you passed some of them on not with words but by example:
-          Do the right thing.
-          Be kind to animals, always.
-          Work hard; then goof off.
-          If it’s a nice day, try to be outside in it.
-          There is no reason to sleep in past 10am, ever.
-          Nothing good happens after midnight.
-          If your dad hasn’t met him, you shouldn’t be getting in a car with him.
-          No matter what time of night you come home, always find your Dad and kiss him goodnight.
-          If you are in trouble, call your Dad. He won’t ask questions until the next morning, after the smoke clears.
-          Everyone is good at something. Don’t compare yourself to others.
-          A good work ethic, strong character and sense of humour are more important than good breeding, a Master’s Degree, fortune or fame.
-          Laughter is better than multi-vitamins.
-          Hugs heal.
My memory is sketchy and fading but thanks to family photos I do remember a few Father’s Days from the past. In one, you are sitting on our front step at the little bungalow on George Street, bare-chested and brown. I am the skinny boyish kid beside you in the pixie haircut, handing you something in a shoebox. You are smiling that big crinkly-eye smile. Wish I could remember what was in the box.
I made you an ashtray, at least once. You also received ties as Father’s Day gifts, and you actually wore them. Whether in a suit or t-shirt and jeans, you still hold the title of best-dressed man I have ever known. I bought you many, many books over the years, and watched you devour them in about three days per title. You were a speed reader. I have inherited that habit. I started buying you books with more pages so the gift would last longer.
Later on, gifts were related to boating and snowmobiling: two of your favourite things. I now have maps of the Big Rideau system marked up with “nice picnic spot” and “swimming hole” in your handwriting.
For the past six Father’s Days, I have had no Dad to buy a gift for. I might go visit your resting place, and then I might not, because I don’t really feel your presence there. I feel you when the whole extended, blended family is gathered around the dinner table, cutlery is clinking and the girls are laughing. Or after dinner, as we sit on the back porch watching the cows come in and the sun go down. The guys light up a cigar and the girls get out the guitars and sing in harmony. I know you would like to be part of that moment.
The steady pain of losing you that sat on my shoulders for a few years after your death has morphed into a steady, comforting presence. I miss you, but it is true, what “they” say. You will always be with me.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We will spend it thinking of you, and celebrating the way you would, by enjoying the great outdoors, with family.


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