Tuesday, 2 April 2013

My Father

Please indulge me as I comfort myself with memories of my father.  You see, it was 22 years ago today that he passed away from lung cancer.  He was a dynamic man with a very strong personality.  It was very sad to see him diminished by this terrible disease.  He was 6' 2" tall and was always very strong and could be intimidating when he drew himself up to his full height.  The cancer reduced him to a mere 150 lbs (this from a man who was 200 and didn't  look "big").

He was diagnosed with lung cancer on November 30, 1990.  They gave him anywhere from 3 weeks to 4 months to live.  They offered him the option of experimental chemotherapy which would give him a 30% chance to live.  At the time, he said 30% is better than 0%.  So he opted for chemo. He spent Christmas 1990 in the hospital but they did give him a day pass to come home for Christmas Day.  I remember Dad going through the chemotherapy on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 1990.  My then boyfriend (now my husband) and I visited him in the hospital before leaving to visit my future in-laws in another city.  I remember my dad hooked up intravenously and as the chemo went into him, he had a basin to catch his retching.  It was awful and is the reason I had such a hard time with facing chemo 21 years later.  He did the chemo route for 6 sessions.  It didn't work.  All the chemo did for my dad was reduce the tumours slightly, but at the end of the 3 week cycle they would start to grow again.  It was the Wednesday before Easter (March 27, 1991) that the oncologist stopped the chemo and said there was nothing more they could do for my dad.  My dad was desperate to want to live.  He had 2 children (myself and my brother) being married in the summer of 1991 and he wanted to make it.  He chose to dose himself up with 80 vitamin C pills a day because he heard that vitamin C could cure cancer.  We (my future husband and I) visited him on Easter weekend 1991 and watched him choke down these vitamin C pills.  They would come back up as soon as he got them down.  It was heartbreaking to watch as he swallowed pills and then cough them back up.

On April 2, 1991, I was getting ready to leave my apartment to go to a nearby village and teach piano lessons for the evening.  The phone rang just as I had my coat on and about to walk out the door.  It was my mom calling to tell me that my dad had passed away that morning.

That's the background of 22 years ago today.  Now for the memories which help to give me comfort.  They say that time heals all hurts.  It doesn't heal the hurt but it does dull the pain.  But there is still pain and loss.  I remember my dad in various roles.  He was an autobody repairman by trade.  As a little child, I thought the sun rose and set on him.  He was my super hero.  He was so big and strong!  When he was filled with adrenalin he could lift cars.  He could tear off car doors.  Even at his funeral, there was a story of him going into the church boiler room to help remove the old boiler so that a new one could be installed.  There weren't enough helpers and he was ticked.  He was just recovering from a heart attack so he had to be in his 40's.  He told everyone to stay clear.  He went and closed the door.  The ones that were there to witness this event, told about hearing all this banging and grunting.  Then it became silent and the door opened to show my dad holding a sledge hammer and breathing hard.  He told everyone they could all help clear out the pieces of the old boiler.

My dad loved to go camping.  He loved having campfires and he loved playing with children.  He is the one who taught me about nature and to recognize different trees.  He also taught me how to recognize different animal tracks in the woods.  I can remember him on Sundays after church.  My mom would be making lunch and Dad would have me on his lap while he read little stories from the pamphlet that came home from Sunday School each week.  When we were all young children, my dad would get on his hands and knees and would be our "horse".  My 2 older brothers and I would climb on Dad's back and he would travel around on his hands and knees giving us a ride.

My mom's parents lived in the country.  As a little girl, I loved when Dad would speed up to go over the hills of the country roads and make our tummies lurch and tickle.

I also remember when he was in his late 40's, he had an angioplasty procedure done to clear his arteries.  He and my mom had a trailer at Carson's Camp in Sauble Beach.  The camp had just planted little cedar treees to make hedges between the backs of the lots.  They were maybe 2 or 3 feet high.  My dad was feeling so good after his procedure that he had to show us by hurdling the cedar trees!  We were a little afraid for him but he came back out of breath with a big smile on his face.

My dad loved stock car racing!  He introduced our family to watching live stock car racing at the various local tracks.  I remember my first time going to a race.  I was so excited because Dad had been taking my older brothers a number of times before we all went as a family.  I remember sitting in the stands and recognizing a boy from my kindergarten class (so I must have been 5 or 6 years old).  We went to the races regularly as I grew up.  I remember Dad helping to do body work on friends' cars during the week and then we would go watch the races on the weekend.  Eventually as teenagers and young adults, we would join Dad on Saturday nights up at Sauble Beach to go to the Sauble Speedway races.  He introduced my cousins to racing.  It became a family event and was so much fun.  Dad was a regular and got to know the track staff.  He was so proud when oldest brother entered his own car into the "Spectator Race".  This was an opportunity for people to enter their street cars and try to win a race.  There were only ever 2 vehicles on the track at a time.  The only requirement was that the driver had to wear a helmet.  I never saw my Dad so excited as my brother raced his car around the track.  When my brother won the race and then continued to beat the other entrants to win the Spectator Race Trophy, my Dad cheered the loudest.  I remember as we left the parking lot to head back to Dad's trailer at Sauble Beach, that my dad raised the trophy up through the open sunroof and cheered and yelled as he shook the trophy.  He was very much like a little kid.  To this day, my brother has that trophy on display.  I still watch the Daytona 500 every year and feel a little closer to my Dad.

Dad lived life to the fullest.  He was a very passionate man and sometimes we would feel his full wrath.  He apologized to me when he was diagnosed with the lung cancer and I was able to spend some alone time with him.  He felt all his emotions fully.  When I was a teenager, he had season's tickets to the Kitchener Rangers OHL games.  We sat 3 rows up from the ice.  This allowed my dad to heckle the players and the referees.  He loved it when the senior referee in the league was officiating the game.  The ref always answered Dad back when he heckled him.  Dad loved it!  One of my dad's favourite moments during his illness was when a few of the Kitchener Ranger players came by to visit him at home.  They brought a hockey stick which the whole team signed.  He loved it and it sat in the living room for the rest of his time on this earth.  Dad wasn't one to say how proud he was of his children.  We often didn't realize how much he cared and how much he felt about our accomplishments.  Only twice do I remember him "being proud" of me.  He didn't say anything directly to me but two different times I heard him bragging about my acitivities/talents.  One was when I used to sing the national anthem at the hockey games.  He would always take an opportunity to tell his friends that his daughter sang in front of 5,000 people.  He always cheered the loudest when I finished the anthem.  The other time he boasted about me was when he was telling a friend that I had made it onto a local television show called "Bowling For Dollars".  He was so excited and proud that I was getting strikes and in a tie with my opponent.  I eventually lost but he was very proud.  This just brought back the memory of when I was 13.  I was in a provincial championship (5 pin bowling) and I came in second place.  I wasn't bowling as well because I was feeling ill with all the tobacco smoke in the bowling alley.  This was during the 70's when smoking was allowed indoors.  My dad recognized I wasn't feeling well and he walked me up the stairs to the outside to get some fresh air.  Even though I came in second place, I do remember him being very proud of me.

When I found out about his diagnosis, I went ahead and ordered my wedding invitations.  I wanted his name on them and I wanted him to see them.  I also bought my wedding dress well ahead of the wedding.  I remember he was in the living room on the couch.  This would have been in January or February of 1991.  I had my wedding dress and I wanted to wear it for him.  He didn't want to see me in it as he was convinced that he was going to get me down the aisle either by walking or in a wheel chair.  I insisted on showing him the dress on me.  I'm so glad I did because it was the only time he saw me in it.  You see, my wedding was on August 10, 1991.  It was so hard to walk down the aisle without him.  I would have loved to have him there.  I managed to keep my composure as my brother walked me down the aisle.  That was until I saw my grandma (Dad's mom).  She was cryiing hard and I could only look at her and try to extend my compassion and sympathy.  I know that Dad saw me get married from above.  You see, he used to always honk his horn at wedding parties and he liked to squeal tires.  During a prayer in my wedding, we heard the squeal of tires just outside of the church.  I couldn't help myself.  I chuckled out loud (even during a prayer) and on the wedding video (where you can hear the squealing tires) you see me smiling.  That's because Dad was there!!  He would have loved the dance and the reception.  He would have been laughing the loudest at the various stories that were told.  He would have been "dancing up a storm" as he loved to be on the dance floor.

I wish Dad could have met my children.  He would have been totally smitten with my daughter.  I believe he would have spoiled her rotten.  He would be proud of all his grandchildren.  At times I see my Dad's expressions cross my son's face and I feel comfort and a sense of sadness.  Dad would be proud of all his own children as we have been successful adults.  People often say that time eases the pain of losing a loved one.  I can honestly say that after 22 years, the pain is still there.  It's not as sharp as it once was but it is still a dull ache.  As life events happen, I feel the keen sense of loss as he misses out on seeing those events.  Throughout the year on the anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, I still miss him.  Today is particularly poignant and difficult as the Easter weekend has fallen on the exact dates.  Dad survived the Easter weekend as he was able to see all his children.  He didn't see my one brother until the Easter Monday, April 1, 1991.  He died the next morning on April 2, 1991.

So here's to you Dad.  I may have been difficult going through the teenage years and we didn't agree or even like each other at times.  I wish you had lived long enough for me to reconnect as an adult.  We started to reconnect while you were sick and for that I'm eternally thankful.  Our healed relationship was just much too short.


  1. A beautiful tribute to your dad, Cathy. How sad that he died so young, and in such a tragic manner. It would have been wonderful if he'd had a chance to enjoy his grandchildren, and every other stage of life. But I'm sure he's watching from above...

    1. Thanks Martha. I do think he sees everything from above but....we still miss him. It's been important to show the kids his picture and teach them the dire consequences of smoking. Anyway, thank you for your comforting words on the anniversary of his passing. You're a good friend.