Posted by: Rob | June 17, 2008

Belated Father’s Day Musings

The body has “memory”. Especially where traumatic life events are involved. I have been feeling it in my body for the last while. This will be for the second repeat since the original happenings. But that’s a story for another day.

Recent developments with my father-in-law’s health (Ann’s dad) have prompted me to think about all the loss that’s occurred in my life lately. I have phrased it to my girls that we went for so long without any major loss in our family, that now it’s like some kind of bad karma payback that we have to experience so much all at once We lost their Mom in August ’06, then their great-uncle Raymond in August ’07, their grandma in December ’07 and, most recently, their poppa in February ’08. It’s been a bit too much to process all at once.

But our first “close to home” loss was when my dad died in ’94.

I’ve read quite a few Father’s Day tributes in the last few days. I hadn’t thought about my own dad in a while and I was moved to jot down a few things about him.

We were living in Caney, Kansas then, a little “city” just north of the Oklahoma state line. Dad had been ill for quite a while – years even. We had been home the previous summer and had stopped in Calgary to visit with him. He wasn’t doing that great, but he’d always been game, had had several brushes with death already, so I figured he’d be hanging on for some time yet.

I was wrong. There was no middle of the night phone call summoning us home. I got the news by telephone after the fact from my younger sister. It was a Saturday. I was at work at the Farmland Refinery in Coffeyville taking my turn in the Saturday dayshift plant supervisor role. I had stopped by my office at one point and had a phone message. Shelley had called and left a message asking me to call home. When I did so, she said that I needed to call my sister. I hung up and called my sister and learned that our dad was dead. He was 56.

My dad was the youngest boy and – I think – the middle child of seven. He never spoke a lot about his childhood. Most of the information he shared was in the form of short vignettes describing the adventures and misadventures of he and his siblings as they were growing up. His dad – my grandfather – was a conservation officer with the then Department of Lands and Forests and, as such, was away from home a lot. That, of course, left his mom – my grandmother – with the job of raising and disciplining seven boisterous and exuberant children.

I got the impression that there was a fair amount of dysfunction in the family. There were also allusions to events of a darker and less talked about nature. A lot of what I “know” is pieced together from overheard bits and snippets over the years. I have never been told forthright about some of the events that occurred over the course of my dad’s life.

My dad’s oldest brother died young under circumstances that I can only describe as vague. I know he was killed. It seems it occurred in an incident of street violence and I know my dad was present. Whatever occurred, it left permanent scars upon my dad and resulted in him being essentially outcast from the family as the black sheep.

It is difficult to paint the picture of what my dad was like. He was very complex and multi-faceted. He had some genuinely good qualities, but he also had some bad ones. The latter were likely tied tightly to the internal demons he constantly wrestled with. He essentially had a substance abuse problem with alcohol. In retrospect, it was likely his way of “dealing” with the accumulation of event after-effects from his life. Unfortunately, alcohol only lowered his inhibitions and allowed the demons out to rage at will. Many times this was not pretty. My exposure to the rages was probably a little bit limited but, none-the-less, the scars are with me yet today.

I am the oldest and a male and, like any dad, he took great delight in having a son. I am not sure that the fact that I am diametrically opposed to him in most, if not all, aspects was ever cause for disappointment though. We were like night and day. He was outgoing and gregarious, an extrovert’s extrovert. I was shy, quiet and reserved. He was boisterous and aggressive and subject to outbursts of temper. I was not and, although I learned to exhibit displays of temper from him, I soon learned it was not something to be proud of and taught myself to keep it under control.

He loved to hunt and fish and as soon as I was old enough and big enough I accompanied him on many expeditions. He taught me a lot about the woods and about nature. He was a curious paradox at times, though. He never worried about game limits – I guess he figured they didn’t apply to him. Yet, I remember one time he felt I needed to learn a lesson.

We’d been out grouse hunting in the back woods of northern Ontario. It had been a warm day and we’d seen nothing. I had a relatively new shotgun and was eager to try it out. As we entered a clearing that had been used as a camping spot, I saw a whiskeyjack flitting about. I asked if I could shoot it for target practice. I didn’t look at my dad as I asked this, but he said, “Sure.”

After I’d blasted the whiskeyjack into oblivion, my dad then asked, “Now, what are you going to do with that whiskeyjack?” I said, “What do you mean?” He went on to give me a lesson in how we only kill those birds and animals that we will use for food. He explained to me that the whiskeyjack wasn’t doing anything to anyone, and that it was not something we would use for food. I felt pretty terrible after that lesson.

Most of the lessons I learned from my dad were more of the “what not to do” or “how not to be” variety. And, although my perspective on our relationship was more along the lines of “I just want to know you are doing alight” and less “I want you to be an active part of my day to day life”, he was my father and I loved him. For good or bad, he had a significant influence in shaping the rough aspects of who I would eventually become today.

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Responses

  1. Parents are difficult when they are dysfunctional. Perhaps it is a blessing that he didn’t hang around any longer than he did and get even more cantankerous. My mother died suddenly, too, although she had been an alcoholic too. But it ain’t easy.

  2. whenever i read (or write) these reflections on my parents/family – and how they play into my “core”, i eventually wander over into “what the hell have i done – lately – to screw up my children?” i may not have made the same mistakes, but i’ve certainly created a few new ones!

    it’s hard not knowing what happened in your fathers family. i have quite a bit of insight into both of my parents lives. but there are missing nuggets i’ll never know.

    There will, perhaps, be a few “important” things in my life i’ll take to the grave – sparing my children from knowing and me from telling them…

  3. […] about our fathers. Indeed, I posted my bit here. Others have posted their bits, including Annie, Rob, and Daisy Fae. Today, though, I want to talk about Granddads. I was fortunate to have two of the […]


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