My Dad died 35 years ago this December when I was 34 years old. He’s now been absent from my life for longer than he was in it. That realization saddens me, and not just today — on Father’s Day. Often I lament he did not live to witness the wonderful events and successes that occurred for me after his premature death.
Three years ago, I posted an article about my Dad’s abiding influence on me. In his loving memory I repost it today.
The first Father’s Day in the U.S. was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Washington state. However, it took 58 years after President Wilson made Mother’s Day official for President Nixon to sign the public law in 1972 making Father’s Day a permanent holiday. Now many countries declare the third Sunday in June as a day to honour the contributions of fathers.
On this special day, I write in a context of acknowledging how fortunate I am in my parents, both of them, through no choice of my own. While Mom was transparent, Dad was opaque, harder to understand. My brothers accept for the most part my description of Mom; I’m less confident when it comes to portraying our Dad. Perhaps they experienced a different man. Because just as mothers and sons often form a special bond, so too do fathers and daughters.
I cannot recall a time when I did not feel deep love from my Dad. We didn’t always see eye to eye; for example, my partner Jack was not welcome in our home in the early ’70s, so disturbed was Dad by my living in social sin. That caused a fracas, as well as a short-lived marriage. But he was, from my earliest memories, my biggest and best champion who gave me the following gifts:
- Confidence. Arguably you cannot give anyone confidence, yet, through his constant encouragement, his aspirations on my behalf, his evident pleasure in my accomplishments — no matter how small — Dad helped me grow strong. When Mom suggested I become a nurse, he said be a doctor. Although I decided after high school to take a “gap year” (the expression hadn’t been coined), he made sure the University of Alberta sent me an admissions letter, so determined was he that I pursue higher education. Years later a few female friends said they received little support — moral or financial — from their fathers. After all, they were girls! And women’s lib was in its early years. He read and praised my freelance writing assignments, even when the topics — numismatics and contact lenses in Reader’s Digest, for example — likely bored him.
- Communication skills. Dad spoke and wrote well and, by example, hoped we’d do the same. He filled my mind with inspirational quotations at home and in frequent letters once I left (“This above all: to thine own self be true…”). When I was frightened to speak at school, he taught me the value of story-telling. He narrated an enthralling account of the Atlantic passage of slaves, describing the brutal and unsanitary conditions on the ships, in which hundreds of Africans were packed tightly into tiers below decks for a voyage of about 5,000 miles. I repeated the story and was the star of our grade five class! For a day.
- Egalitarian values. Dad told us about vying for a position in the medical school at the University of Manitoba. He was ashamed to be admitted while a more deserving young man, Monty Hall, was not, given the quota on Jewish students. In the ’50s, he drove once a week to the Morley Indian Reserve, taking one of us along for the ride. As he tended to the health needs of the community, we played with our peers. He possessed a good sense of humour while making clear ethnic jokes were not kosher in our home. Nor was swearing!
- A work ethic. Not especially entrepreneurial Dad nonetheless brought out this trait in his children. He cut off our allowances at a young age, challenging us to devise ways to make money. I formed “The Syndicate” with two brothers and we pitched projects — washing the car, weeding gardens, cleaning windows — for pay. Dad also used his influence to get me, at age 15, my first job that required a S.I.N.: waitressing at The Waffle Shop in downtown Edmonton.
- A safety net. Simply put, I could always rely on my Dad — for support, in all respects, for empathy, for a safe haven, as a confidant.
At age 47, Dad faced the aftermath of the sudden deaths of his father and my friend Ingrid. He experienced his own grief but also watched darkness engulf me. Unable to cope, he had his first heart attack. And that’s when I learned about his low life force. Lying in a hospital bed, he confessed he wanted to die. Although he survived for 15 years, he would have embraced death at any time.
My father aimed to set me up for an enriching life. On this day, I say a heartfelt thank you. ♥
P.S. I would not be my father’s daughter if I did not include one of his many quotations, which I can still bring to mind decades later. This one, by William Wordsworth, seems suited to our sunset years:
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…”