Tag Archives: father

Winter Elegy

My father passed away eleven years ago this week, at the tail end of an unusually frigid winter much like the one we’ve just had.

I don’t know which season was his favourite, but he relished each of them. He didn’t fear or curse the cold — he took us cross-country skiing and walking in the snow whenever he could, until that last winter that he spent sick, in and out of hospital. We drove on icy roads and trudged in winter gear from the parking lot to visit him.

I wasn’t thinking about it then, but I suspect that’s when I began to hate winter.

For a long time he didn’t know it would be his last, only that he was very sick…and he was never sick. But he knew the possibility was there. He was not afraid.

When I was young, I used to love playing in the snow. Building forts, sledding, pretending I was an Arctic explorer or a princess in an ice castle (the budding writer at work). Later I tried skating and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing was always my favourite, the clean sound of the skis in the snow, the glorious sensation of flying, the sleeping trees and pure white all around. I’ve done some of those things since he died, but nowadays I mostly just trudge.

On the day of the funeral, the winter finally broke, with a sky of clear Alberta blue, meltwater running in the cemetery. I like to think it broke for him, but then he didn’t mind the snow. Maybe it broke for us.

Even now, at this time of year I get melancholy. I still like a clean snowfall, crunchy snow and a clear winter sky, but as the season wears on, it wears at me too. I wait out the last cold days, just enduring the late-winter storms. Waiting for March to pass and spring to arrive, and life to come again.

 

Watching Movies With My Dad

Yesterday was Father’s Day, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad, who passed away just over ten years ago.

For Mother’s Day, I told you about how my mom passed on her love of books to me. My dad wasn’t much of a reader (at least not of fiction — being first a Lutheran minister and then a pastoral counsellor and trainer, he read a lot of work-related non-fiction). But what he did love was movies.

When we were little, he used to take us to the Princess Theatre, a venerable, old-fashioned place with a balcony and a red curtain over the screen that was raised and lowered for every show. They showed children’s classics on Saturdays — Disney animated films, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island. We saw the newer Disney movies, too. I remember all three of us kids being completely obsessed with The Lion King.

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Memories Less Travelled

This week is a little unusual for the blog. First, I was unexpectedly without Internet for several days, so I missed posting on Monday for just about the first time ever. Second, I’m taking time out from travel blogging for a special post.

This week is the anniversary of my father’s passing. He died ten years ago tomorrow, on March 14, 2003, after a short battle with cancer. I can’t believe it’s been that long already — it’s strange to realize how many experiences I’ve had that he never got to see. He never even knew that I moved to Toronto, and it’s been my home for years now.

I don’t think about him very often anymore. When I do, I have my favourite memories and impressions, the ones I go over and over, like a string of rosary beads. But he was more than those few memories, and if I don’t hold onto the rest, they’ll be lost. So here are a few more sides of my father to add to that string of beads…

He knew everybody. He was a pastor first, then a hospital chaplain and a trainer of other chaplains, so he met a lot of people. And he remembered them all, somehow. I wish I knew the trick. He used to take his children on long bike rides through the river valley trail system, and inevitably he would run into an acquaintance. They would stop and chat, and we would be annoyed and also a bit amazed. (Side note: I can’t talk anymore. A few weeks ago I visited the Taj Mahal, and guess what? Someone I knew came up and said hi!) At his funeral, the church was packed, and the entire front pew was full of pastors in robes, come to pay their respects.

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Lessons From My Father

You know the saying — that people must be ready to reinvent themselves and adapt in order to survive in these competitive times.

My father had that covered long before the concepts of “recession” and “self-publishing” were everywhere.

In his first life, he was a farmer. He grew up on a mixed cattle and grain farm in Alberta, driving tractors and combines. Old red barn, falling-down granaries, sloughs, windbreaks, fields of grain, hay bales stacked up in long rows, one-room schoolhouse, all of that. (You can see photos of the farm at McKinney Photography.) Even when he left the farm, he worked with his hands for a while, surveying, fixing cars, on his way to a blue-collar life.

Except that’s not where he ended up. He went to seminary and became a pastor, then a pastoral counsellor and a teacher of other counsellors. By this time he was living in a big city, a father of three. Growing up, I was struck by the physical contrast between him and my uncle who took over the farm — one comfortable in suits and ties, the other weather-beaten and fond of plaid, yet with faces so similar they were almost doppelgangers. He took us into nature when he could — vegetables in the garden, hikes and bicycle rides, camping trips in the Rockies — but he had become a city boy.

But that’s not the whole story either. When his marriage to my mother ended, my father moved to a small town. He kept on the same career track and made sure to see his children as often as he possibly could, but otherwise his life changed completely. He remarried, and got acquainted with everyone in town. His new house backed onto a stand of trees that occasionally hosted deer. He cycled to work along quiet trails, then went out for long rides on the highways outside of town. Not only did he start a new vegetable garden, he became an expert in composting. In some ways, he had come full circle.

Of course, it wasn’t a full circle. To say that would deny the hardships he faced along the way, and underestimate the peace he was finally able to claim.

He was a thinker, a teaser, an outdoorsman, a keen observer of details, a teacher, a storyteller, and a wonderful father.

Today is the ninth anniversary of his death. He had only a few short years in the last iteration of his life. But I’m grateful he had them.

I hope to face the changes in my own life with the same adaptive spirit and resilience as my father had. After all, the prairie runs in my blood too.

If you liked this post, I’ve also written about my mother (who is very much alive) on the Turtleduck Press blog at My Mother, My Hero, and about the lessons I learned from my mother’s mother: My Grandmother’s Legacy.

If you’d like to read about love and loss in rural Alberta, check out my (free) short story Lonesome Hearts, also at Turtleduck Press.

What lessons have you taken from your parents’ lives?