Sunday, February 24, 2008

To My Dad

I went along because of the soda counter at the back of Woolworths. They made the best vanilla shakes in the world. Dad promised that we would stop there on the way to his appointment at the hospital. Rarely did we ever do anything where it was just him and me. I've never really known what to say to my father, he's never really known what to say to me - so the ride into Nelson was quiet.

We went to Woolworths, as promised, and I had a shake as my father just wandered through the store. I sat there and watched him and for the first time I saw him as others saw him, as just a man. A quiet man. A gentle man. But just a man. He came to gather me and we went to the hospital. He was getting something injected into his knee. As it turned out later he had been misdiagnosed and the treatment he received that day was exactly the wrong thing to do ... and in about an hour would cause him incredible pain. And in about a year, would cause him a permanent disability.

It started to snow. The road between Nelson and Salmo was a typical British Columbia road, sharp turns, steep drop offs, terrifying hills. Maybe twenty minutes into the drive, my father pulled the car over to the side of the road, bent over hands resting gently on his knee, and cried in pain. He ordered me out of the car and behind the driver's wheel. He slid over to the passenger side and told me that I'd have to drive back to Salmo.

I had never even sat in the driver side of the car. Fear welled up in me. They called me 'sissy' for a reason, I was not full of adventure and was easily spooked and frightened. I looked at him imploringly. "You can do it, you have to drive."

He explained to me about the various pedals I'd have to push and then told me to just steer the car. Miraculously, I pulled onto the road smoothly. I don't think I drove over 20 miles an hour the whole way back. I know I didn't say a word - who can talk with a heart beating where the voice box should be. I managed to get us back to the house and pull the car into the drive way. By then my dad had passed out with the pain.

But he went to work the next day. Limping and wincing, he went to work. Because that's what men did, they grimaced and went about their day. Only months later he would need an operation that would 'cure' the problem but leave him with a permanent limp and the inability to walk long distances. But I never saw him as having a disability.

Becuase he just grimaced and went on doing what he was supposed to do. He was a husband and a father and he provided. That's what he did. He did it well. I never once heard him complain about his disability, talk about it in any real way, so to all intense and purpose it didn't exist. Not that he was a 'disability denier' just that he was called to do something else, something that required him to be more than just a man - to be a husband and a father.

God knows life at home was as violent for him as for the two boys he raised, but he just grimaced and went on. He provided. That's what he did. That was his ethic.

That's what he passed on to me.

For the longest time I didn't appreciate the gift. But this weekend, having taken work home with me to do, and doing it sitting in Ottawa in the early morning- because that's what I'm called to do - I realized it was a much bigger gift that I ever imagined.

I thought this story was about the first time I drove a car.

But it's not.

It's about the first time I understood selflessness.

I was 52 when I first sat in this wheelchair, but the attitude I'd need to survive the transition was borne years and years ago.


Joyful Fox said...


Your tribute to your dad is beautiful. Sometimes it's hard to honour or even see the incredible things our parents have done when we see through eyes of pain or anger or injustice.

We are all a product of our upbringing although we are influenced by so much more.

I think it's incredibly freeing when we can see the beauty of our heritage, especially when it's clouded by the flaws of humanity.

I enjoyed your post and I'm cheering for you.

Kei said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

Unknown said...

A splendid tribute indeed.
It made me think of my own father who was sometimes criticised by my sisters because he worked such long hours in the evening, and who was constantly defended by my mother with these simple words: he is doing it all for you.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes sifting through our memories of childhood, we are able to see through our pain and realize that there is much positive to it too. Unfortunately, I didn't find the positive until after my dad was gone.

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing

moplans said...

Amazing Dave.
It is surprising how often I think I know what the story is and then realise it is really about something else.

Anonymous said...

My goodness Dave! This seems to define so many men of that generation, my own father included, "clouded by the flaws of humanity" as Joyful Fox so eloquently put it.Beautifully written. from p.t.

Anonymous said...

My Step Dad(who raised me) passed away two weeks ago. I got to see him though other people eyes. What a blessing it is to see those we love as who they really are and not through kid coloured glasses.

He was always in chronic pain and struggled with heart, lung problems as well as diabetes. No one talked about that though. We all talked about how much he loved and gave and cared for others.

It is amazing how those with disabilites and chronic pain see to have the gift of empathy in ways those of us without can never understand. Thank you for sharing your storey.

Hooray for the dads of this world!!