“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.” — Markus Zusak
Dad was the oldest of two children. He excelled at annoying the crap out of his younger sister Shirley. Yet, he still managed to remain the apple of his Mom’s eye. He adored his Mom. “She was a great woman,” Dad said with great emphasis. “A hard working woman —And boy could she swing an axe.”
Being a determined farm boy, Dad was always up for a challenge. He went straight from the field, and right to the oil patch working as a rig hand. When the rigs ran out of jobs, he joined the Navy on a whim. He travelled the seas from San Francisco to Singapore. On shore leave in Victoria, B.C. he met his future wife, Gail.
Then my Dad’s father, Walter, injured his leg in a farming accident. Dad received a compassionate discharge from the Navy to run the farm. When Walter’s leg healed enough to work, our Dad got a job as a timber cruiser. His performance led him into a position working as a Forest Officer for the Alberta Forest service.
During the next five years, at separate intervals, Dad became a proud/confused father to three bouncing/ squealing baby girls. During this time it was with great pleasure he earned his pilots licence by taking night classes.
After a few years of working in the bureaucratic bungling of a government job, Dad escaped the red tape. He bought the family farm off of our Gramps. He worked it for many years until he decided he had enough of cow poop and tractor exhaust.
He retired to British Columbia, with his second wife, Gil, to a life of fishing, curling, and golfing. He even had the occasional game of ‘Why the hell did I play ball? I can hardly walk‘, with a slow-pitch team called the Brew Crew, in Robson B.C.
Dad never considered the possibility that cancer might be the thing to snuff out his life. I’m not sure why. After a lifetime of smoking he should have known the big C would be the logical result. Oddly enough it didn’t take hold in his lungs, it took root in his bowels. They operated, gave him a colostomy, chemo and radiation. He toughed it out. Even though he would have preferred a bolt of lightening rather than the long drawn out treatments making him feel sicker than the illness itself. It was a shocking experience after a lifetime of good health.
When the cancer came back, it sapped his strength and ate away at his body. It angered him, “I look like a goddamn concentration camp victim,” he would say. And he did, I could have learned every bone in a human skeleton on my Dad. Yet he breathed.
He spent his last days staring out the window watching the river meander. I could see in his wistful gaze he wished for the strength to toss a fishing line, and hook a fish one last time. The constant drone of the T.V played, sports, or news. And then for some bizarre reason ‘My Five Hundred Pound Life’ became a short term favourite. He would sip on his coffee and pull deeply on his cigarette finding comfort in those small things.
I asked if he had any regrets. If there was anything he would have liked to change in his life.
He pondered the question inhaling another lungful of smoke. “No,” he said as he paused tilting his head, and tapping the ashes off his ciggy. “Well— I don’t think so. I’ve had a pretty good life.” He nods slowly. “A pretty good life.” And then he gives me a grin, weathered and worn. The familiar smile that all his friends and family loved, the one inviting you to smile along. And of course we all would. That was Alvin, my Dad in his final days. Gil’s cinnamon buns for breakfast, a good cup of coffee, and his smoke. He was a simple man, satisfied with the abundance of ordinary things. Nothing fancy for him in his faded, flannel, thread bare, plaid shirt, his favourite attire— with of course a pocket to hold all the lighters he would inadvertently borrow when looking for a light.
It’s a painful process watching your Dad whither away. He was my hero when I was young. I thought the sun choose him to shine on all day long. I remember being a bobbling child and following his light around just to feel it’s warmth. He walked with giant step, and towered over all things. He was the most handsome, athletic, brilliant Dad that anyone could ever wish for. I felt bad for all the other kids with ordinary Dads.
As age often does, there came a time I saw my Dad as a mortal. He struggled, but he did the best he could. He taught us the basics to succeed in life. First and foremost, he instilled a strong work ethic in his girls— Holy Hannah— the work ethic. Later in life Dad said, “I know I was hard on all you girls, but it’s important to do a good job.” It’s true. If I would have played football, I would have gotten many ass slaps for a job well done.
Growing up on the farm Dad taught us how to drive, disc, rake hay, give a strong left hook, hammer, paint, shoot, fish, and run the grain auger while keeping our body parts safe. He taught me to skidoo—but I missed the part on avoiding trees. He taught us how to dance to the oldies, the jive. I may have kicked my sisters inadvertently. He schooled us on poker, and how to lose the entire contents of your piggy bank at poker. All great lessons.
When he became a grandfather, he literally beamed when spending time with his grandkids, a sunflower would have swivelled on it’s stalk to follow the glow in his heart.
My Dad died at the age of 76, one year ago today. He was the oldest, young hearted person, I ever knew. He is deeply missed. For such a slender fellow he sure took up a big space in our hearts. God Bless Pops.