I spent the first eighteen years of my life living with a stranger—my father—and since the birth of my son 24 years ago, I’ve been slowly getting to know that “stranger”, as I am gradually becoming him. Sadly, my father passed away only a few months before my son was born, yet his presence appears stronger with each passing year, as I see my father in almost everything I do. With Father’s Day quickly approaching, once again I have cause to connect the dots in my life and reminisce about how my relationship with my father has cast such a wide shadow over my life.
I am the youngest of five children, and there is gap of 17 years between my eldest brother an me. After my mother left when I was nine, I was raised by father at a time when single-parent families, let alone ones headed by a father, were not the norm. My memories of my dad are very different from the memories of my older brothers and sisters—It’s as if we were raised by a different parent entirely. I thought I would share with you a letter that I wrote to my father containing three important life lessons I learned from him.
Not a day goes by where I don’t feel your presence in my life, and ache at your absence. I see you in me when I look at the prominent veins in my hands, wrestle with my thick head of salt and pepper hair, or even catch a glimpse of my pronounced French-Canadian nose. When I was sorting through some of your things after your death, I found your hidden stash of Aqua Velva cologne tucked away on a shelf in your closet. I can vividly remember giving you each and every one of those bottles for Father’s Day, and how year after year, you received my present like it was a gift from the Magi.
I’ll never forget the day I broke your heart. It was the night of the year-end hockey banquet, and I was receiving an award from the league president. Once again, you managed to escape from work for a couple of hours just to be with me. In my childhood self absorption, I chose to spend the evening sitting with two of my friends, and left you sitting surrounded by people you didn’t know. The morning after the banquet, mom took me aside and told me how upset you were. That was the first time I realized that even a little boy like me could could wound a big man like you. It’s a lesson I never forgot, and one that I took to heart with the birth of my own son.
You commanded so much respect from those around you, but little did they know that you had a poor, alcoholic upbringing. There is no doubt that you managed to build a life and a family even though the odds were stacked against you. You battled your own demons of depression and alcoholism, but at no time did you allow them to destroy you. One of the greatest regrets in my life is that you were not alive to help me battle those same demons. Even though you are no longer here physically, I draw on the strength of your lesson daily, as I’m reminded that I am not my past, and that I have a choice to build any life I want.
You were an incredible paradox because to many, you were a man of commanding power and authority, but to the few who knew you dearly, you lived a very “small” life—You were most at ease when you were home surrounded by your children, and so you rarely traveled far afield and seldom were a guest in someone else’s house. Maybe it was the simple fact that you came from “nothing” that served as a constant reminder that extravagance and comfort were not to be trusted. As you lay dying of cancer in a palliative care unit at the age sixty, you taught me one more lesson before your passing. I have come to treasure every moment I spend with my wife and son, and I’m ever so careful not to miss the opportunity to enjoy a “comfort” or “extravagance” with them while I’m still able.
I love you dad, and I carry you wherever I go.