In life we celebrate milestones annually, but we seem to focus on specific years a bit more. First anniversaries, or 5th, 10th, 20th etc, they somehow seem a bit more important than a 6th, 11th or 21st. I’m not sure why we do this, but we do, and today I found myself doing the exact same thing.
Ten years ago today, my father, William Arthur Gregor, passed away at the young age of 56. Dad had a massive heart attack in his car at a red light in Sherwood Park, and like many of you who have lost a loved one; I can vividly remember my older brother, Colin, coming to find me and telling me the news. It was shock, devastation and complete sadness.
Wild Willy, a nickname us boys gave Dad, was a healthy guy. He didn’t drink often, had quit smoking and was active running the farm, but his number came up. The morning of his funeral I typed out an email to my friends asking for their thoughts and prayers, and releasing my thoughts helped me cope, and every year since I’ve sent out a letter in his honour.
For most young boys, your father is your first hero. He seems larger than life, strong enough to hold you up on your bike, tie your skates, scare the monsters out from under your bed and hopefully make you laugh and feel safe. Dad was all those things, but he was so much more.
If you never met my father, I can tell you he was one-of-a-kind. He had lots of energy and enthusiasm. He loved to tell jokes and stories. He was kind to everyone he met. He loved his wife, kids, sister, nieces, nephews, grandkids and, wow, he could dance up a storm.
He was the epitome of what a real man should be; strong, loving, caring, sensitive, stern when necessary and a fantastic role model. He put his family first and loved my mom unconditionally for all 31 years of their marriage. He asked her out in a post office, three weeks later they were engaged and four months later they married. It was a quick romance that blossomed into a long-lasting love.
The hardest part of dealing with my father’s death has been seeing the void it left in my mother’s heart. She is an incredibly strong lady who has completed her Doctorate, become a professor at the U of A and still runs the farm since his passing; but nothing will replace his love for her.
I consider myself blessed to have had my Dad in my life for 27 years. We got along great, had some tremendous battles in the farmyard and laughed a lot. In the past ten years I’ve realized how lucky I was to have him, but also what an incredible impact he had in my life without saying much. Dad was never a big guy to lecture and he only offered “fatherly” advice when you asked.
It was his actions that impacted me more than his words.
When he did offer his advice it was well thought out and honest. The shitty part about death is how final it is. I never get to hear his laugh, watch him dance with my mom, play with his grandkids or share a beer on a Saturday night.
And now ten years later as I write this letter my tears flow just as freely, if not harder, as they did the day we buried him. My tears are a mixture of pain, sadness, grief and joy. When I spoke at his funeral I didn’t want the theme to just be sadness and grief, and today I still feel the same.
It is amazing how someone I haven’t spoken with in ten years can still influence my life.
When I watch fathers playing with their kids, opening doors for their wife, or just interacting with their family I instantly think of Wild Willy. Most times it makes me smile, and the odd time I feel ripped off that I don’t have that anymore, but then I stop the pity party; because there are many who have it worse than me. I can say with all honesty I never once felt that my dad didn’t love me, and it is sad to think that isn’t always the case for others.
As the memories fill my head and the tears escape my eyes, I’ve come up with ten life lessons I learned through him.
SHOW YOUR WIFE YOU LOVE HER EVERYDAY
Three months after dad passed, I walked into the house and found my mom sitting in the back entrance staring at an ice scraper. I asked her what was wrong, and she started to laugh/cry. Every winter morning when he left for work, Dad would scrape the ice/frost off of her car and start it for her. Every morning she said. She couldn’t believe how much a small thing meant to her and how much those little things mean in a relationship/friendship.
Big gifts are great, but the little things are what keep a relationship moving. Remember to show your loved ones how special they are. Guys, I urge you to show your children the proper way to treat a lady. I can say with pride that my brother has learned those lessons well and is passing on the same lessons to his kids. My sister must have been watching too, because she chose a man who loves and cares for her and their kids as well. My father would be very proud of Colin and Eric in the men/fathers they have become.
MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
You may have heard about Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist, he created Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basically it meant that people satisfy their needs at different levels. At the bottom level is the need for food and shelter. To further satisfy your needs you need to love, respect and so on. At the very top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs was something he called Self-Actualization.
According to Maslow only a fraction of people in the world ever reach this level. I think he said it was only 2% of the population.
My brother and mother told me a story that leads me to believe Dad reached that level.
Just before my father passed away, he and Mom were driving home one evening and he turned to her and said, "Pearl I never would have dreamed I would have so much in life: A loving and wonderful wife, terrific children, grand-children, and a huge farm. Life has been incredibly good for me," he explained.
There is no doubt in my mind that he meant every word of what he said and that he truly reached a level of acceptance in life, or as Maslow would say -- Dad reached Self-Actualization.
My dad made sure my mom always drove the new car, and he always put himself last. In the mid 80s when times were tough he went four years without a new pair of jeans. He didn’t care, my mom would stitch up the knees, but he made sure we could play hockey and that she was always well dressed. He put other’s needs before his and by doing so he felt happier.
He was a selfless man.
USE THE WHITE GATE
Dad wasn’t perfect which made him human, but he rarely held a grudge. When I was 15 I started to work a lot with Dad in the barnyard, and over the years we had some vocal sparring matches. He was a mechanical guy and could fix all the machinery, while I was more in tune with the animals. Needless to say we didn’t always see eye-to-eye in the barnyard.
He had no patience with the cattle, and I had even less when it came to fixing tractors so you can imagine how some days went. We never physically hit each other, but often our language was less than respectful. Don’t get me wrong, we had lots of laughs (more on that later) but there were days when we both reached our boiling point.
The strange part was at the end of every work day, we had to make the long walk from the barnyard to the house. There is a long alley way with fences on both sides from the barn down towards the house, and at the end of lane there is a small white gate. As we would walk towards the house he’d pipe up, “Son, I shouldn’t speak to you that way,” or I’d start with, “Dad I shouldn’t talk to you like that…,” we’d look at each other, sometimes just shrug our shoulders and say nothing or more often we’d let out a laugh.
Dad started this “tradition” by explaining to me that what happened on the barnyard side of the gate stayed on that side of the gate. Once we walked through the gate and into the yard, we wouldn’t discuss it. And rarely, if ever, did we. I still struggle at times understanding how we were able to just inhale, take a deep breath and move on. But to this day, when I walk through that gate I’m always reminded to let things go, and don’t carry an argument to a place it doesn’t belong.
If you and your Dad are struggling or arguing, find the strength to let it go. It won’t be easy, but if both of you agree to move on from it you might be surprised at how good you feel. If you are a son or daughter, remember that your Dad is much older and set in his ways. Be the bigger person and break down the wall. Carrying resentment in life will only lead to futility and unhappiness.
Here is a passage from a book I just finished reading, God Never Blinks, I think it sums up resentment quite well. This quote was from an unnamed minister.
“If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even when you don’t really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don’t believe it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate and understanding and love.”
You don’t have to be religious to try it. What is the worst that can happen? That it might work?
DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
I could write for days recalling the conversations and shenanigans Dad provided for us, whether it was at the dinner table, outside, in the car or even in Church. Dad was always a character at the table, and he never took himself too serious; Hell, he let us call him Wild Willy.
Dad wasn’t Catholic, but Mom was so we went to church as a family. Church represented family time for me, rather than the preachy stigma some people have about it. I remember sitting in the pew at St. Vital church in Beaumont on many Sundays. When I was about eleven I was daydreaming in the pew, not really listening to what the priest was saying. As I stood up for one of the readings, Dad is beside me and when I’m upright he subtly gives me an elbow poke to the ribs. This starts an elbow sparring match that went on, secretly we thought, for a good ten minutes. Back and forth we’d try to give each other a shot.
Finally Mom looks over at us, “Bill stop it,” she whispers/growls. Like any eleven year old, I start giggling and he then gives me one last blow with a bit of extra sauce on it. In the car on the way home, Mom looks at Dad and says, “I don’t need four kids in church you know.” Dad looks at her with a mischievous grin and states, “He started it.” Well, even Mom couldn’t contain herself and she starts laughing. Dad had an unbelievable ability to have fun, even when some thought it would be frowned upon.
Don’t get me wrong, Dad took church very seriously most days. He got baptized in his 40s and actively participated in church, but he never lost his fun ways, even in church.
SUPPORT YOUR KIDS
Dad never showered us with gifts; instead he gave us his time. He was at every hockey game my brother and I played up until my brother left for the WHL. And even then, he and Mom would make many trips to watch him play. Dad loved watching his kids. He went to many of my sisters basketball, volleyball and rugby games.
He rarely gave advice, unless you asked for it, and then he could recall every play. When I got older I realized how much it went to me for him to be there. It is almost a subconscious support. When we are kids we look in the stands to see if our parents are there, but in our teens not so much. But even as a teen, it was comforting walking out of the dressing room and seeing him standing there waiting to drive me home.
Maybe it was the car ride home that was so great. We spent many nights listening to the legend, John Short, talking sports on the radio. We’d listen and then Dad and I would comment on what was said, or many times we would just listen.
One of the few times that I really missed my father was the night I drove home after finishing my first show on the radio. I had to pull over on the side of the road because tears blinded my eyes. How I wished he could have heard me that night, and even though I know he would have been really proud, I longed to hear what he thought.
Eight years later I still catch myself driving home from my show wondering what he’d say. Sometimes I close my eyes and remember the dark nights, driving back to the farm and listening to his views on sports and it warms my heart.
Remember to support your children. Those memories of my father make his absence much easier. I can close my eyes and hear his voice and almost every time it makes me smile now rather than cry. Leave your family with lots of memories and you will live in their hearts forever.
DON’T USE THE PAST AS A CRUTCH
My Dad and his father never had a real close relationship. It was a different era, and my grandfather was a pretty stern man. He loved his kids, but he didn’t show it all the time. I never met my grandfather, he passed away when my Dad was 24, and one day in the barn, when we were laughing not battling, I asked why it was so important for us to get along.
He told me he enjoyed spending time with his son no matter what we did, and because he and his father were never able to share a laugh together that we had to make up for it. It was one of the rare times he ever gave me any “fatherly advice”. He said he never wanted to make the same mistake with his kids. He wanted us to be able to laugh with him, and even at him, if it was in good fun.
He said that we don’t always have to be a product of our environment. Just because he was raised without a close connection to his dad, didn’t mean he had to be the same with his boys. Too often many of us want to use that reasoning in our lives. While it is hard work to break those cycles, I am forever grateful that my Dad felt it necessary that he would. Life can be shorter than you expect, don’t let your pride, or fear, get in the way of making a move, or saying words, that show you care.
NEVER FORGET YOUR INNER CHILD
In this fast-paced world we live in now, we rarely stop to smell the roses. I know I’m guilty of it all the time and I try to remind myself to enjoy life and not worry how others will look at you. Dad seemed to live by that.
I remember a wedding our family went to when I was about 21. There were little bubble bottles on every table and the bride and groom wanted people to blow bubbles on them. Well, it was all kids out on the floor except my dad. He was in the middle of it, smiling with the kids, laughing with them and blowing his bubbles. He was a fun loving guy. My Mom reminded me of that story once and said as she sat watching him she fell in love with him even more. He didn’t do it to be funny or get attention; he did it because he enjoyed it. He was so great at having fun and embracing the child within. Many of us guys think we are too cool or too mature to do certain things, but I think we might be missing out on more than we know. And if it makes the woman in your life fall more in love with you when you do it, then the benefits are even more worthwhile.
SHARE WHO YOU ARE WITH YOUR KIDS
Whenever I hear an Elvis Presley song I immediately think of Dad.
Growing up in the 80s I was a big fan of heavy metal and rap. I know a strange mix, but that’s what I liked. Shout at the Devil, by Motley Crue was one of my favourite tapes (yes we had tapes, no CDs) and I used to listen to it on the way to my games to pump me up.
Dad never complained about the music, in fact he started to like it. But he made a deal with me. He’d listen to the Crue (seriously he called them the Crue a few times) if I’d listen to some of his music. He introduced me to Elvis Presley. He had the best of Elvis on tape, and I realized quickly why he was the King. That boy could sing.
When Blue Suede Shoes would come on in the truck, Dad would crank it up and we’d belt it out. I was 15 /16 at the time, and I’d never dare sing anywhere else, but in the truck with Dad I’d sing along. In The Ghetto is still one of my favourite songs to this day, and anytime I hear it or another Elvis tune I can picture Dad in our 1982 blue Ford pickup belting it out.
At the time I thought it was cool that Dad liked my music, but he also introduced me to things he liked. Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper were some of his other favourites and, while I’m not a music aficionado, I sure liked their beats and rhythm.
Kids want to know what you liked, even when they pretend they don’t. We all strive for that connection with our parents, and once we reach adulthood it helps build that bond even more. Even though Dad is gone it still allows me to feel close to him at the most unexpected of times. Hearing a song on the radio by the King or Buddy or BB and instantly it brings a smile to my face as I picture him belting out a tune, or seat-dancing along to the beat.
And when I hear one I still song it out loud, probably off key, but it is soothes my soul even when I’ve having a bad day.
PROTECT YOUR LOVED ONE’S FEELINGS
The hardest and most rewarding thing in life is to love unconditionally. Parents seem to do it easier with their children than with their spouse, but when you work at it and commit to being loyal and supportive to your spouse it makes your life much happier. At least that’s what I learned from Dad.
I was around 23 or 24 one spring afternoon when I pulled into the yard at the farm. I walked into the house, but no one was inside. Dad’s truck was in front of the garage so I knew he was must be in the barnyard. I quickly changed into my farm clothes and walked up the lane to the barn. I yelled out his name and he replied, “In the back corral.”
I continued up the side of the barn around to the corral and there was Dad kneeling over Sinroy. Sinroy was born on the farm 22 years earlier. He was a red Arabian with a two-inch wide white stripe that stretched from the top of his head to just above his mouth. He was my Mom’s horse. He was born to Lady, a huge grey mare, and while we had many horses growing up, Sinroy was Mom’s favourite.
She quit riding him regularly many years earlier, but we kept him and rode him and Taco, a black mare, now and then. I approached Dad and realized Sinroy was in rough shape. He was 22 and he couldn’t get up.
Dad wasn’t a horse guy, but when he looked at me the pain in his face was evident. We knew what we had to do, and I went to the house to grab the gun. With one quick shot he was gone, and we loaded Sinroy onto the front end loader and took him deep to the far back quarter and buried him.
I asked Dad why he was so shaken up. We’d had many animals die on the farm, and had to put a few out of their misery, but Sinroy really bothered him. “Your mom loved that horse. I don’t want her to know what we had to do. It will eat away at her and I want her to remember him in a good light. We will tell her we found him dead in the corral.”
I never recall my Dad telling a lie before, but in this case he felt it was the right way to try and protect her heart. It was an innocent fib, that didn’t change anything meaningful; instead it allowed my Mom to think her trusty steed passed on peacefully. Mom has a real soft spot for animals, and she can’t stand to see them in pain. Dad knew this and he did make it much easier on her.
It might sound strange that a memory like that could have a positive impact on me. I’m sure there are better examples, but you never saw his face. He said when my mom hurt, that he hurt, and he always tried to soften her pain. (She never knew the story until I sent her this earlier this morning). Made her laugh and cry.
That is true love in my books.
You can’t protect your loved ones from never experiencing pain and suffering, but there are times when you have to soften the blow so it feels more like a pinch than a full shot to the gut.
MAKE SURE THEY KNOW YOU LOVED THEM
Every year when I sit down to write this, I am so thankful that I had no regrets or doubts that Dad loved me. I couldn’t tell you the last time he actually said the words, but he didn’t have to; his actions always did.
My father passed away on a Friday. The one thing I am most happy about is that two days before he died he called me out of the blue. Dad and I didn’t talk on the phone very often; we didn’t have to. I went to the farm almost every weekend and normally he would call and ask me to pick up something for him on my way home.
I remember his call that Wednesday night like it was yesterday. He just called to see how I was doing in school and how I was. We never had these types of talks on the phone. At the end of the conversation he asked me about my dating life; something he had never done before. He reminded me that family is the most important thing you will ever find and that I should take a chance sometime and put my heart on the line. Of course, I almost passed out hearing this, since it was the first time we ever had discussed that sort of thing.
After I hung up I remember thinking “what the hell was that all about?” I didn’t think much of it until he passed away two days later. That year my dad had "winterized” the farm early. I believe he knew his time was coming, and before he was to go he wanted to make sure I was doing okay.
That phone call has made his passing so much easier for me, even now ten years later. He went out of his comfort zone and wanted to make sure I was alright. I’m sure it was hard for him, because we never did that, but I’m so thankful he was strong enough to reach out to me that evening.
For many men, and women, it is hard to show emotion. Don’t let your fears get in the way of telling those you care about how important they are. You don’t want to live with regret if something unexpected happens.
I write this with the hope that through your actions my father will somehow know how much he meant to me and how much I love him.
If you are lucky enough to see your father give him a hug or just spend some time together this week. If you live in different cities call him, ask him how he is doing and tell him you love him. If that is too tough, maybe just show him this email. Dads go home and kiss your wife and hug your kids. Spend some quality time together.
Thanks in advance for those who follow through on my request. I know there are many who have lost their father and my heartfelt condolences go out to all of you. Keep his memory alive in your heart, soul and mind. If your Dad is gone, make sure you call your Mom today, because I’m sure her pain is much worse than yours.
Dad, I love you dearly. I miss your sense of humour, your zest for life, your laugh and most of all your company. Please watch over all of my friends, family and especially your soul mate; Mom.
Love your son, Jason
I leave you with this song from George Strait that sums up exactly how a father should feel.
One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor