Saturday, March 28, 2009
LIFE OF MY FATHER - 28
Within three months of his return from his Sarnia trip, on September 5, 1979, my father was dead from a massive coronary. He died in Mannville, Alberta while on a bicycle trip. The news left everyone in the family in shock, as he seemed to be in excellent health.
I have always blamed his death on his exertions while on the bike trip to Sarnia. I believe he must have been aware of the risks before setting out, however. When he spoke to us about his plans for a canoe trip with his friend, George Hamilton, he mentioned that canoeing in Lake Winnipeg would be risky, for example, but insisted he would be more than happy to take the trip in spite of the risks.
When I first considered beginning this blog, I found the idea a bit intimidating. Once having made a start, I would be committed to continue without knowing at all where the undertaking would take me. Eventually, I overcame my fears, mainly because I felt it was something I should do.
As it turned out, I found it was not only worthwhile, but actually very rewarding. Over the weeks, I became immersed in the life of my father, learning new things about him, looking at photos for the first time in many years, pondering the meaning of various events, and trying to understand how he may have experienced them. The result of this reflection is that I feel I have come to know and appreciate my father in a new way. Certainly, I see him now more as a fellow human being rather than only as a parent.
I hope that readers have found my father's life interesting and that, for those who knew him, I have drawn a picture of my father that is consistent with the man they knew. If anyone wishes to add or amend anything, I hope they will contact me.
At this point, I think some concluding thoughts would be appropriate. What words would describe the kind of person he was? Is it even possible for one person to truly understand another? These are my issues as I try to compose this final entry.
When I was a child, and my father a young man, I saw him as moody, stern and remote, except on those rare occasions when his face would light up as though the sun had suddenly emerged from the clouds, and he would suggest doing something for fun. Whatever disappointments he was suffering from then, he must have come to terms with later, because he gradually mellowed and became warm and jovial as he aged.
Perhaps being outdoors every summer working on bridges and highways and running his own show may have brought him a degree of contentment. After he retired, he and my mother often went to the Lions' Seniors Centre in Edmonton for dances and other activities. They made friends and had a very active and enjoyable social life.
Once, as a young adult, I had a friendly argument with my father about his views on personal achievement which I found quite harsh. He believed that anyone could make good with sufficient effort. I mentioned a family I knew who came to Edmonton from Newfoundland. I often wondered what would become of their six young children, particularly their sweet six-year-old daughter. They had very little money, and there was not a single book in their home.
My father and I were speaking specifically about his contention that anyone could obtain a university education if they were willing to put in the effort as he had done. I was working as a Social Worker at the time, and thoroughly disagreed with him. I pointed out that perhaps he failed to take into account the advantages he had started with - literate parents, books in the home, etc. - when he made this claim. Of course, he disagreed...
One had to admire him, though, because he would never brag about himself and he truly regarded all people - except the lazy ones who he often railed against - as essentially of equal value. I think this egalitarian perspective was reflected in how he reacted when someone congratulated him. He would almost blush from embarrassment, seemingly unable to take credit for anything extraordinary.
My father loved Canada as a land of opportunity. He placed it between Britain and the US, believing it had the advantages of both without the negative attributes of either. He rarely ever spoke about his Belgian cousins or what his parents and grandparents had done there. When asked, he seemed reluctant to talk about it. He never expressed pride in being of Belgian descent. I therefore grew up in ignorance of Belgium yet with great curiosity about it.
A few other things about him worth mentioning are his love of a physical challenge, his personal reserve, his enjoyment of good conversation, his interest in history and in the world around him, and his contentment with a simple life needing only a good book (non-fiction) and music to listen to.
I mentioned in an earlier post that my father found it hard to express affection. In the mid-1970's while I lived in Britain, I had a friend to whom I mentioned that I could not remember my father ever saying he loved me or hugging me, nor had I told him I loved him. This was not to say, however, that I could remember having felt unloved. My friend believed it was very important for me to express my love for my father, because of how awful I would feel if he died with this left unsaid. In my next letter to him, I told him I loved him. He then wrote back and said the same to me. The fact that we never spoke these words to each other says something about our relationship.
I hope that in publishing this account of his life, I have been able to set these inhibitions aside. Please look on this description of my father's life as a testament of my admiration and love for him. For me, it has been a very worthwhile thing to do, even as belated as it no doubt is.
In the photos are:
1) From left to right, my maternal grandmother, my father and my mother at my sister, Suzanne's, for a barbecue, probably in the early 1970's.
2) Family members somewhere in Edmonton around 1979, likely during a visit of my father's brother, Albert. Back row, left to right: Terry, my sister's husband; my mother; Uncle Albert; Jeannette, his wife; cousin Don, son of my father's sister; Joe, husband of my cousin Roseanne. Middle row, left to right: my sister, Suzanne; Suzanne's daughter, Colleen; and cousin Roseanne, Uncle Albert's daughter; front row: Catherine, my sister's daughter; Jason, my son; Lise, my cousin Don's daughter; Thelly, my cousin Don's wife; and my cousin Roseanne's two boys.
3) Family members in 1974, left to right: Suzanne; her daughter, Catherine; our mother; our father; our maternal grandmother; Suzanne's daughter, Colleen.
4) My father in his kitchen.
5) Family members in the early 1970's: Anna, cousin Tony's wife; my mother, my father's cousin, Tony; me; my father; my grandmother.