My Dad died today.
Well, actually my Dad died on this date 38 years ago, September 19, 1975. Four days after my 23rd birthday. He had just turned 50 years old three and a half months earlier.
Some years I weep my way through his birthday on June 2nd; some years it’s September 19th that causes me the greatest pain. Others, it is near Christmas, his favourite time of year. But mostly, I just miss him.
I don’t think of him everyday anymore, but when I do I most often think of him with joy, and love….not tears.
There wasn’t much left unsaid between us when he passed. We were close…buds. We talked…a lot. When I left home, we wrote letters….I still have them. One of my few real treasures. We talked about vehicles; music; boys; family ;God; life in general….and death.
My father was raised Catholic. He was excommunicated when he left and later divorced his first wife. He did his best to and tried raise their son on his own, but eventually, doing what was best, he left the child with my grandparents to raise. Years later, after marrying my mother, he joined her church. He was never a very religious man but he was spiritual and thought and talked about religion often. In my own exploration of various religions, he was the one that supported me, I remember discussing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other faiths with him and asking him what he thought of them. I have never forgotten his answer. He told me that he believed religions were like the spokes on a wheel and God was the hub. We were all trying to get to the hub, we were just all taking different paths on our own journey. He encouraged me to find my own answers and seek my own truth , but I think he was secretly happy when I didn’t become Catholic. He didn’t have much use for the church that had abandoned him and his young son.
I was a tomboy growing up, and I think, subconsciously, it was so that I could do ‘guy’ stuff with my Dad. He taught me how to shoot a shotgun so that it didn’t take out my shoulder or knock me off my feet. Odd, because I don’t remember him hunting other than one time. Perhaps that once was enough. He made me a bow and arrow once and taught me how to use it…not with much accuracy, but I could hit the target.
The first time I ever hitch hiked was with my Dad. The car broke down, so we hitch hiked home. My mother was not amused.
My father was extremely musical….his whole family was. Dad never read a note of music, but he played just about every musical instrument you can think of…all by ear. I have vivid memories of Saturday nights at our house when my parents’ friends would come over and they would play and sing the night away. Dad played several types of guitars, the accordion, a mean harmonica, organ, piano and I remember there being a violin (fiddle) and a banjo in our house, but I don’t remember him playing either although I am sure he did. How he made us giggle when he’d play a tune on a washboard, or a comb with waxed paper over it! He loved to sing and had a beautiful baritone voice. Unfortunately, I never inherited any of his musical prowess.
Dad had a keen sense of right and wrong. The lectures we would get before Hallowe’en night! ‘Don’t you dare touch any fishing gear, or anything a man earns his living with’…he’d admonish days before, knowing the 12 foot high road blocks we’d be building in the middle of the street. He was a man who was both tough and fair and somehow he managed to balance both deftly, with his family and with others.
His sense of humour was infectious….and once he got you laughing it was hard to stop.
Like many of his generation, Dad only had a grade 8 education, leaving school early to either help support their families or join the armed forces. He did both, and again like many young men, he lied about his age to join the army as a teenager. He never saw any active duty overseas during the war, but he was still a hero in my eyes as I looked, many years later, through the photos of a handsome young man in his uniform.
The man was brilliant, and hard work was his creed. If you couldn’t pay cash, you didn’t need it. That applied to cars, clothes, furniture. I was 14 when we got our first refrigerator!
Dad fished; dug clams; did odd carpentry jobs; ran boats to the US Eastern Seaboard; and he tended lighthouses as a relief keeper until he finally got a job as the main keeper. He converted an old fish shop into a garage, complete with a service pit (which flooded on high tides). There, the ever present cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he changed the oil, fixed the brakes, cleaned the carburetors, and did all manner of other repairs on vehicles for people in the community. My father served as a Village Commissioner and volunteer Fire Chief.
He loved to dance and taught me the Round Waltz, the Charleston, Polka and many others. I taught him the Twist, the Mashed Potato and the Monkey.
This man with so little schooling taught me so much in our short lives together. Most of my cuss words are his legacy, but so too is my style of parenting and the unconditional love I have for my children; my joy of the Christmas season; my contentment being in nature; my work ethic; my sense of service and of giving back. He taught me that all I had to do was look around…there would always be someone that would have more, and many more that would have less: especially if I knew what really was important.
My Dad died today….or so it seems. But his spirit lives on in the faces and hearts of us, my sisters and I; his girls. No tears today Dad….just a long walk in the park with my memories.