It’s almost Father’s Day and for some reason, this year, I am missing my Dad – a lot.
Dad’s been gone for 15 years. His passing, of a sudden, massive heart attack, was a huge shock to many. He was 69 and anyone who knew him would have expected him to live another 30 years. He was still pinch hitting for his Liniment League teammates, for Pete’s sake!
His own mother, my Grandma, lived well into her 90s and they were very similar.
Both approached life head on and attacked anything they did with 110% enthusiasm. Both loved being around people and had energy for days, especially when it came to helping others. But Grandma’s worst health transgression was a heavy salt habit (liberally sprinkling everything white before even tasting her food).
Dad, on the other hand, was a long-time smoker (closeted in his later years, but he wasn’t fooling anyone) and when his symptoms began, he figured it was lung cancer. His x-rays showed nothing of the sort, though, and his doctor, for some unknown reason, gave him a clean bill of health without ever checking his heart. I’m still bitter about that.
As a child, Dad was my hero. Although I do remember being spanked once or twice, he was very much a “fun” Dad. As the youngest kid (Rob and Laurie were 7 and 10 when I came along unexpectedly), I was his little tagalong, and he rarely went anywhere without taking me with him. Whether we were out for coffee, stopping at the Co-op for some necessity, or visiting one of his many friends, a stop at Samels store on the way home for a 5 or 10 cent bag of candy was a given. The only question was whether I would be allowed to spend a nickel or a dime – it usually depended on my behaviour that day. (Mrs. Samels usually talked him into the 10-cent bag, and let me go behind the counter to make my selections.) Dad rarely said ‘no’ to me.
I spent countless hours with him in his garage, where he let me wear my own welding helmet as he worked on some new steel creation, taught me how to hammer a nail, and introduced me to his collection of tools.
Dad also envisioned himself a bit of a hobby farmer, so I grew up with horses, cows, chickens, cats and dogs. He tried it all, with varying degrees of success. Our three calves, felled by pneumonia, are still buried in the pasture, where Dad made three little crosses at my request. His love of country life and animals meant I was encouraged to find my passion there too, and I did, in horses.
Some of my fondest memories are of being outside, with the horses and Dad, after supper on a summer evening. I would ride, or groom my horse, or do my chores, while Dad puttered around in the garden or fixed something. We’d work amicably on our tasks until he’d say it was time to go in. I have a distinct memory of one such evening when we were about to head inside and make some popcorn, and I remember feeling that it was a perfect moment. If I close my eyes I can take myself right back to that place and almost smell the country air.
As I got more involved with horses, I found my tribe in 4-H and my parents, by default, found theirs too. Summer weekends were spent travelling to local fairs where I’d participate in 4-H competitions with my fellow horse friends and Mom and Dad would set up our camper with the rest of the parents. Those weekends were the highlight of my childhood from the ages of 11 to about 15. They were when I had my first drink and smoked my first cigarette.
They were also the entry into my tumultuous teenage years, where I put my parents through some very rough times. During these years, Dad and I butted heads with regularity. Mom and I did too, but Dad had a temper, and so did I. I remember Laurie saying it scared her how I would stand up to him, because she was always afraid to. Not me – I pushed him to his very limits.
Our relationship got better as I entered adulthood, but we never regained that closeness. Still, Dad was always there to help me with whatever I needed, always with the right tool for the job. Once, after remarking on a metal fire pit I’d seen in the Canadian Tire flyer, Dad said “I can make one better than that” – and he did. We still use it, 25 years later. He built things that lasted.
And he was a great grandpa. The same things that I loved doing with him as a child, he now did with my kids. His grandchildren never pass up an opportunity to reminisce about adventures in Dad’s shop. He had patience for days, and he taught them the same things he taught me – how to hammer a nail, how to use tools safely. On the night of his funeral, Lindsay and Scott – who were 12 and 14 at the time – headed out to his shop, donned their safety goggles, fired up the table saw, and cut up a few pieces of 2 x 4…just to feel closer to him.
Now, I look at our Evie, his great-granddaughter, and can’t help but think about how much he would adore her. He loved all children, and they loved him.
Dad wasn’t perfect – far from it. He didn’t drink every day, or every week, or even every month. But when he did, he got embarrassingly drunk – there was no middle ground. I now know that he was an alcoholic, even though I didn’t back then. His Dad was, too.
His beliefs were black and white – and he was always right. He would argue a point endlessly. He sometimes made hurtful comments without meaning to, and would try to make up for it by making a joke, which of course only made things worse. He wasn’t one to say “I’m sorry”.
He was a terrible mechanic, but didn’t realize it. He collected junk that he hoped to find a use for someday. He started projects and didn’t finish them, like my playhouse that was finally ready when I was 16, and my horse trailer that sat unfinished in the garage long after I’d lost interest in horses.
He was like a bull in a china shop, often plowing full steam ahead into a task before considering there may be a better way to do it – a trait I inherited. (Our friends call me “little Kenny” for good reason!)
He was also extremely generous, with both time and money – even when he didn’t have much of either. When you couldn’t squeeze a nickel out of Mom, Dad would always spot you $10 or $20. He’d drop everything to help a friend. He was proud of his kids, even though he didn’t always say it. He always helped with the dishes. He taught me how to use tools, and how to put things together, and how to read instructions. (He also taught me to drive, which was a disaster until Laurie thankfully took over).
On his last Father’s Day, I stopped by to give Dad his gift – a blue spruce tree. When I arrived, he was reading the paper and didn’t look up until he was finished. I was a little hurt – I figured he could at least put his paper down and acknowledge my presence. When he did finally look at the tree, he seemed pleased, but I left feeling a little snubbed.
Three months later, Dad was gone. And it took me a few years before I realized his behaviour that day likely didn’t have anything to do with me. It was Father’s Day, and he missed Laurie. How could he not? And how could I not have been more sensitive to that fact?
I miss my Dad. I wish we could have a conversation about all the things I’ve done since he’s been gone. I’ve realized he and I are aligned in our beliefs far more than I ever realized. I wish I’d spent more time talking to him as an adult, like I did when I was a kid and he was my hero.
To this day, when I see an older man with perfect posture, wearing a uniform of navy ‘work clothes’ and packing a pocket full of carpenter’s pencils and mini screwdrivers, with a measuring tape hanging off his belt, I am sure, for just a moment, that it’s him. It takes my breath away, and a wave of sadness hits me every single time.
But I also know he’s with Laurie, probably telling her some corny joke, and that makes it a little easier.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.