It’s funny how the memories we have of someone don’t aways match up to real life or at least not the way other people see life or themselves or each other. After my father passed, I began looking through old photos of him, to remember and feel I still had a piece of him around, but the man I saw in those photos was not the same as the image I held in my mind and I wondered as time passes and he is gone for longer and longer from my physical world if the image in my mind would mold to that of photographs or continue to be something different. So on this Father’s day I wish to lay down what I remember of him now and the lessons he taught me in life. Perhaps they will stay the same or perhaps they will change as my own life changes.
My father was not a perfect man, as none of us are. Some have called him a golden boy, others a playboy, some saw him as a teacher and others a sportsman, some knew him for his love of drinking and dancing and some for the quiet solitude he found in nature and the peace of his country home. My earliest memories of him are at that country home when I was just a wee child wandering through the magic of the world, embraced by the love of those around me. I remember him in many ways; with his hands deep in the soil of the gardens or behind a chainsaw or hammer, waxing our skis in the early hours of the morning preparing to take us small children out to explore the stillness of the rising sun on prairie snow, dancing in the living room carefree with so much joy and sitting on the couch with him late at night when he had returned from work. These early memories are imprinted upon my memory almost like a dream, a dream of the father I knew I once had. But in any life these things change and the majority of our shared lives together he fell short of this dream. I now know that he did what he knew to do with his own experiences and imprinting. We are all a product of our raising and our cultures and though my dad was a markedly sensitive man there was no platform for him to learn to embrace this, except for time and the many lessons his life presented him with.
His life lessons did lead him to embrace and honour that sensitive man more thoroughly and I am so grateful that the last five years of his life came so much closer to the first five of mine. Despite all the pain and hurt, conditioning and hiding, we were able to connect and find joy in our shared experiences. This was the time that I truly got to know my father and the dream turned into a reality and this is what I wish to carry on in my heart and share with my children when they ask of their grandfather.
- Be Gracious, Thoughtful and Kind – while he was in hospital just a few weeks before he passed I asked him what his guiding principle of life was. After shaking his head at another probing question and some quiet reflection this is what he came up with. Though I know this was an ideal and he did not always live up to it, in so many ways he did. Throughout the challenges of losing his job, going to court and then to jail and finally his illness, he managed to be so gracious, thoughtful and kind. He would help others when they needed it and constantly was on the look out for making someone’s work easier or more efficient. Every day that I visited him in hospital he would thank me for being there and helping him. For the first time since I was little I felt validated by my father.
2. Connect with Everyone- my father was a very social man. He loved people and could easily connect with them and learn about their lives in the time they spent together. In the hospital he knew all of this nurses, doctors and aides names and stories. When I was young I remember one day driving down the highway and he stopped to pick up a First Nations man, loaded up with bags and a scruffy appearance my father innately trusted this man and welcomed him into our vehicle. I initially felt uneasy by the appearance of this man, but as my father broke out into conversation with this man, I remembered that we are all humans playing this game of life and we each have so much to offer no matter how we look, what we say or where we come from.
3. To be smooth- Anyone who knew my father would have heard him say “be smooth” and this was something he truly embodied. Sometimes it seemed phoney to me like he wasn’t dealing with his shit and sometimes I am sure it was. But he had this way about him of keeping going with a smile on his face no matter what happened; injuries, job losses, separations or accusations. In the last two days of this life he even managed to conserve his energy and each time a new visitor came by he would muster up some strength and smile at their presence. He remained smooth till the end.
4. To take care of myself- My father like his father was a man who knew how to survive; camping in the backcountry, building houses and furniture, fixing old things. dealing with emergencies, he knew how to be self-reliant and throughout my life he instilled this in me in two ways. The first by teaching me these many skills when I was a child and the second by not being present as a father when I was coming of age and so I learned to find my own way.
5. Enjoy the good things in life- Bobby loved things, beautiful, well made, high class, delicious, food, wine, beer, cars, sports equipment, stereos,…. He loved it all and he definitely left all of his kids with a sweet tooth for nice things, but also an appreciation for caring for your stuff. He instilled in me that if you buy well made goods and took care of them, then they would last you a life time and your mind and body would be happier for the beauty that surrounded you and the nourishment that you provided it.
These are the things that sit with me now in my mind and heart as the memories of my father. They may change and perhaps more will come with time, but they are true now and in moving through my grief, writing this has truly helped me connect, reflect and convolesce. Thank you to those who take the time to read this, may it move you to reflect and perhaps inspire you to heal your own grief. And most of all thank you to my father who helped to bring me into this world and share these many memories and lessons over our lives together.