Friday, May 29, 2009

Dad's Legacy

Note: I wrote this a couple of hours before the funeral, and it's intended audience is one that knew my father very well which might make it difficult for anyone who didn't to understand. Still, perhaps you'll gain some idea of the sort of man my father was, and so some measure of insight into how I became the man I've become.

Yesterday I was sitting in the workshop my Dad spent so much of the last few years building. Not doing anything, really, just looking at it, remembering the day we put up this piece or that, remembering how that one time his hand slipped with the saw or the chisel or the knife and blood went everywhere, at which he’d shrug and, not bothering with so much as a bandaid, carry on like nothing had happened. Dad’s hands and arms always had self-inflicted cuts and scrapes and the occasional black thumbnail from a wayward hammer, and while we’d all know about it when he incurred the wound, afterwards he’d say not a word of complaint. He never showed pain, no matter how much it hurt. Bad food, bad weather or bad service and you’d never hear the end of it, but pain? It was as though he didn’t notice it.

The workshop … it’s a mess right now, tools scattered everywhere in the sawdust, just the way he left it, and that’s fitting. Dad was always on our cases to clean up after ourselves, and almost never took his own advice in that respect. To the charge of “Who left this lying around?” as often as not the answer would be, “Dad, that was you.” It’s not that he was lazy, anyone who knows him even a little knows that charge would never stick … it’s that cleaning bored him, so as soon as he finished making one thing he was all too easily distracted by a new project. He always had several things on the go at once, especially after retirement when he had the time for them, and you can’t go many places around the house without stumbling upon a reminder of that. Sitting up there in the workshop, holding a half-finished police crest he’d been carving, it was as though he’d just stepped out for a moment, to go pick something up at the hardware store or maybe just take a break for a bit in his easychair.

If there’s one thing Dad loved more than wood-carving, it was nature. He never needed an excuse like hunting or fishing to spend time in the outdoors; for him, the simple pleasure of being out there with the trees and the rocks and the water was enough. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happier than when we was out in the canoe, paddling around the lake and catching sight of a beaver, a heron, or a larger-than-expected fish … or sitting at the top of Rock Dunder after a long hike, enjoying the sunshine and the unobstructed view of the forests. Even winter didn’t stop him: once the ice was thick enough to walk on, he’d be strapping on the skis and shepherding the children through a long excursion into the cold. One of my earlier memories is seeing Dad powering on up ahead while I struggled along in his tracks, cursing the cold he was oblivious to and oblivious to the natural beauty he was so exhilarated by. One day I remember him telling me, while I was in that awkward stage between boy and man and trying to figure out what it meant to be the latter, that there was nothing wrong with a man shedding a tear because he was overwhelmed with the beauty of morning dew in a spider web.

You’re getting the sense maybe that most of my experience of him was very different from yours. There’s a lot of people here today for whom my father was colleague or comrade, who saw him mainly in one uniform or another, and while I was certainly aware that my father wore those uniforms it wasn’t something that he really brought home so much. To me he was always just Dad, and if he also happened to be an officer of the military and of the peace well, what was so special about that? I’ve been finding out the last couple of days just what was so special, about him, about how he touched the lives of those around him, about what he meant not just to his family but to the wider community and world around him.

When you’re as close as family often are, you can be afflicted with a strange myopia, blind to things that are obvious to everyone else, and perhaps as a result you don’t always see eye to eye on everything. My father and I have certainly had our differences, but then he’d argue with anyone, about anything. Fact was he loved a good debate the way other men loved a good bare-knuckle boxing match, but only because he loved things like truth, honor, duty, all those big old-fashioned ideals that people often talk about, but he tried to live by, and for the most part did. His lived his life by them, and he tried to influence others in any way he could, in every way he knew, to do so as well because he knew that the more we did, the better the world we could have. If you think back to your own interactions with him, whatever they might have been, I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about and … now … if there’s one thing above anything else that we might call his legacy, that, I believe, is it.