Anniversaries We Don't Celebrate

Three years ago my father died.

He was young, and a year and a half before, he was afflicted with a disease that he beat. It was March 17th when I found out: a few days after my 29th birthday, and two weeks before his 55th. He told the oncologist he would indeed go through the chemotherapy and radiation because he had a wedding to attend that Fall. He went through the treatment and beat the disease once, attended (and did a reading at) my wedding, danced with his wife, my new bride and all our family friends.

A few months after that, the disease came back, but in a slightly different form. Weakened and sick once more, he underwent a new round of treatment, one which saw him succumb eventually because of that treatment, but not the disease. It was a 17-month rollercoaster. Even in his final days, the doctors were amazed at the strength of his heart. They didn’t know the half of it.

He was everything I wanted to be: family man, loyal worker, funny and outgoing – the guy you could count on to get things done, whether you were a friend, or a son. He instilled a sense of value in me, and a sense of commitment and of utmost compassion. When I needed something, he was there for me. When I only thought I needed something, he’d be there to show me that perhaps it wasn’t a necessity. But I never felt like I went “without”. He was good to me. He was good to my brother, and my mother. Fair, loyal, ultimately supportive.

We traveled when I was young. Dad worked for an airline. When I was 10, he woke me up at 5AM one day and told me to get dressed, as we were taking a trip to Toronto (a two hour flight away). I asked why. His reply: Just because he wanted me to see it. We spent the day exploring the downtown, checking out Maple Leaf Gardens, and he bought me a hamburger. I don’t remember a lot of that trip, but I remember talking on a payphone to a great-aunt that I’d never met. We came home after supper and it was as though this was a perfectly normal occurrence.

He was forced to switch jobs within the airline, and subsequently, we had to leave our home. We picked up and left Central Canada when I was 15. I spent a week driving across the prairies with him to go look for a house that we could only assume my mother would be happy with (she would). That week my dad and I became “friends” in addition to father and son. Eating out at various restaurants and spending time exploring strange communities, I like to think that I was a better traveling companion that summer.

He endured one more job shuffle over a 5-year period, and then took early retirement. Not ready to get out of the workforce, he looked around for other jobs, but nothing struck him as particularly useful. He decided he should go back to school. High school, that is. You see, he’d dropped out when he was 17 to get a job and travel (luckily, the airline satisfied both). He told his mother he’d finish high school someday. He enrolled at the same high school I’d graduated from two years earlier and embarked upon a full-time grade 12 program. After the first day, he came home and told my mother that he felt out of place in his dress pants. They promptly went out and bought him some jeans.

His teachers would look at the class list, see our surname and immediately expect that the person in the class was a sibling. My father reveled in the fact that he was “Mike’s dad”. He also enjoyed debating with the Social Studies teachers about recent history: The Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They said he brought a unique perspective to the small-town high school. A year later I applauded with held-back tears of pride as my father walked across the stage and received his diploma.

He re-entered the workforce, getting a job he probably didn’t need the diploma for, in an industry that allowed him to be both in the office, and close to the airport – he just couldn’t stay away from his roots, I suppose. His boss has since told me that he couldn’t have asked for a better, more dedicated or diligent worker. They became good friends. At my brother’s wedding last month, he told my mother that my father’s passing left him feeling like he didn’t ever want to make friends with anyone again, for fear of losing them like he’d lost my father.

I miss my father; that goes without saying. I recognize my mother’s strength in both getting through and getting by over the past three years. I don’t say it often enough, but I’m happy that my brother can be close to my mother to lend a little family support. Visits “home” are surely different since dad died; I’ve taken both boys to the cemetery so they could “meet” the grandfather they never knew. I hope that someday they’ll sit still long enough to hear about him. I don’t imagine that will be anytime soon.

Three years later, and as we prepare for the big move, I look around at my life and my family and start to make the comparisons between the two of us. We both had two sons, both moved to a suburban neighbourhood with a toddler (he didn’t have two boys yet, when we moved), both worked the day-job so we could live comfortably but not spending lavishly… I wonder: Am I the kind of man he would have wanted me to be? As a father and husband, am I all those things I believed my father was? I suspect that he knew that if he led by example, all those good things would rub off on me.

Posted bythemikestand at 10:41 AM  

12 stepped up to the mike:

Sassy said... 12:26 PM, August 03, 2006  

Your dad sounds like a wonderful person, and I have confidence - even through our limited interaction - that you are exactly the kind of man he would be proud of.

I love that picture of you two, it's so wonderful!

Tanya said... 2:05 PM, August 03, 2006  

Mike you are a great guy and an obvious loving husband and father. who wouldn't be proud of that?

I always enjoy reading your blogs but this one was especially touching. now I need to find some kleenex.

lildb said... 2:52 PM, August 03, 2006  

gah. I keep reading touching posts when I'm in this ridiculously hyper-emotional phase.

not to say that it's your fault I ran into your blog/this amazing post. although, maybe it is. maybe you just shouldn't go around being such a good tribute-writer, so I wouldn't be crying right now.

sigh. your father would be honored to know of your feelings. but I'm sure you shared them with him. still. lovely post.

TinaPoPo said... 4:05 PM, August 03, 2006  

This is beautiful.

Steph said... 9:42 PM, August 03, 2006  

*wiping tears away*

Mike - I lost my mom to breast cancer 9 years ago in April. I struggle with the same kinds of questions every day.

I think it's normal to try to be the kind of person your parents hoped you would be. When you've lost a parent it becomes even more important. I think the fact that you're wondering these things out loud is evidence enough that you are the kind of caring, compassionate person of which a father could be proud.

The best thing to happen to me this year was to visit my uncle (her brother) in Alberta and hear him say, "You remind me of your mother so much now, that it's almost eery.

Jessica said... 11:31 AM, August 04, 2006  

What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father. I always love to hear stories about people how had positive experiences as children directly because of their parents.

I suspect that, not only would your father be proud of the type of husband and father you are, but that in the "rubbing off" of his qualities, traits and values, he lives on within you.

gingajoy said... 4:25 PM, August 04, 2006  

my own father had triple bypass 3 years ago--mercifully, all went well, but lord does it make you reflect and ponder on what life without that person would be.

this post is an amazing testament to your Dad and who he was (the High School part--that takes a big man).

and it's a testament to you too--of course he would be proud. what's not to be proud of?

jess said... 12:59 AM, August 05, 2006  

I love that picture of your dad and you, actually the whole post. It is really beautiful and a wonderful tribute.

Christine said... 9:10 AM, August 07, 2006  

my husband lost his father, too, and struggles with many of the same questions you do. we, too, have been to the cemetary to "meet" the father-in-law and grandfather.

themikestand said... 8:10 AM, August 08, 2006  

Thanks for your kind words and supportive comments, everybody. Of course I'm proud of him, and of course I see certain things in myself that were primarily influenced by him. It's very sad that my kids don't get to meet him, and I will never know how he'd be with them, but who says you get to have it all, eh?

Dustin said... 11:48 AM, August 08, 2006  

You had to put the picture at the end, didn't you. Well I'm officially emotional for the rest of the day.

Outstadning post.

jenny said... 2:54 PM, August 16, 2006  

Wow. Not sure how I missed this entry, although now I kind of wish I hadn't read it at work. Got me all teary eyed. Beautiful post, lovely sentiment, wonderful family. I'm sure despite your loss, you consider yourself very lucky.

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