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.