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Remembering Dad

Nineteen is one of my favourite numbers. There is no special reason other than I like how it looks, and I wore it a few years in hockey. I was 19 when I met my first girlfriend. I also bought my first vehicle; a 1982 Ford EXP when I was 19. It was a good year.

I always connect numbers with moments and experiences in my life. I’m lucky to have a very good memory and I can recall dates, times and past situations quite easily.

However, my connection with one of my favourite numbers and the past intersects in a way this year that I wish wasn’t necessary.

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Nineteen 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 seemingly a healthy man. He drank very little, had quit smoking a few years earlier and was active running the farm, but his number came up. We still don’t know why exactly. He’d gone for a physical a month earlier and was given a clean bill of health. I rarely focus on the “Why,” instead I’ve always concentrated on who he was.

For most young boys, our father is our first hero. He seems larger than life, strong enough to hold you up on your bike, tie your skates, 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, he was one-of-a-kind. He had lots of energy and enthusiasm. He loved to tell jokes and stories. He could speak fluently in Donald Duck, and somehow I inherited that skill. He was kind to everyone he met. He loved his wife, kids, sister, nieces, nephews, grand kids and, wow, he could dance up a storm.

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My father was the epitome of what a man should be; strong, loving, caring, sensitive, stern when necessary and a fantastic role model. He put his family first and loved my mother 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.

They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last month. The hardest part of his death is seeing the void it left in my mother’s heart. They were madly in love. He was her biggest supporter, and I’m in awe every day of how strong my mother has been for the past 19 years.

She got her Doctorate. She has written two books and has a third one coming out next year. She still lives at the farm. She mows the two acre lawn, cares for a massive garden, has 25 cows and deals with all the daily hassles of running a 230-acre farm. It is amazing.

Her attitude reminds me of a favourite quote from the legendary movie Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice; get busy living or get busy dying,” Andy Dufresne.

Mom’s heart was broken, and a part of it still is today, but she chose to live a fulfilling life. She is a true inspiration to our entire family.

My loss was never the same as my mom’s, just different.

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Nineteen years ago I found myself sitting at my computer on the morning of his funeral trying to sort out my thoughts. I was trying to type out a few coherent sentences which I would read later that afternoon, but I ended up writing a short email to my close friends.

I asked them to do me a favour that day and today I will ask you the same one.

When you have finished reading this please find a moment to connect with your father. If you are lucky enough to be able to see him today, or this week, please give him a hug, spend some time together and most importantly tell him you love him. If you don’t live close please call him and ask how he’s doing. Fathers never tire of hearing from their children. I can say from experience you rarely know when it will be your last conversation, so be sure to cherish the time you have with each other.

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I hope through your actions, my father will see and remember what a wonderful impression he made in my life, in my heart and how much he is missed by our entire family.

NO REGRETS… 

I’m a fairly philosophical person. I don’t dwell on “what ifs” and when Dad passed I was heartbroken. However, I knew he wouldn’t want me feeling sorry for myself. I could cry. I could mourn. I could be upset, but he wouldn’t approve of a pity party. I’m lucky, I never had regrets about our relationship. I knew he loved me and I believe he knew I loved him. If you and your father aren’t on great terms, try to improve your relationship. You don’t want any guilt when he’s gone.

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There is no right way to deal with grief. We all deal with it differently, and where we are in our life at the time likely impacts how we feel. My sister Rachel turned 21 four days before Dad died. She’d been married a month earlier. I’m sure her birthday wasn’t as fun for a few years, but thankfully her second son, Ian, was born September 22nd, so now she has two celebrations to focus on.

My older brother, Colin, was 30 and married with two young boys. Dad’s death impacted him differently. He was a father, and until you become one I don’t think you can truly understand how it changes you. I was 27 and single, so we were all at different stages of life and we dealt with death differently.

I can’t tell someone how to grief, because I’m not in their shoes. The one thing that worked well for me was talking about my dad. I was living on my own when he passed and for the first three or four years many nights I would lie in bed and talk to him.

I would tell him what I was doing, and I recount some of my favourite moments we shared together. Speaking to him kept his memory alive in my head and my heart and it made me feel better.

Sometimes I would laugh out loud in the darkness of my room thinking of him rolling down the ditch while we fenced. He was on crutches due to hip replacement surgery earlier that year, and he wasn’t supposed to be doing much. He never could sit still, so he came out to supervise me and a few buddies while we strung barbwire.

An hour into fencing, he felt we weren’t pulling the wire tight enough so he jumped into action. I was about 100 yards away on the tractor. We used it to pull the wire tight. He was at the other end to see how taunt it was. Well the wire snapped and Wild Willy lost his balance and tumbled down the ditch. I jumped off the tractor and started running towards him. A few seconds later a crutch came flying through the air followed by a few choice words. Typing these words still makes me laugh. He was such a character.

Do whatever make you feel comfortable to mourn the loss of a loved one and don’t feel embarrassed about it.

BEING A FATHER… 

My son Beckett turns six in few months, and becoming a father is one of the greatest joys of my life. It is a big responsibility, and every man who becomes a father should try to do their best and be there for their children.

Things are slowly changing, but I still get irked at how society views fathers. Too often they are portrayed as simpletons. I loathe that perception. Men desire love and affection just as much as women, and the role of a father is just as important as that of a mother. Taking an active role in your child’s life will give them a better foundation for success.

It is also very fulfilling to be involved with your children. I’m blessed to wake up most mornings with my son. He is so happy the minute his feet touch the floor. He wants to play cars, or trains, or read books, or play road hockey or wrestle. His enthusiasm for life makes my day better.

He is now starting to help make his breakfast. One morning he woke up before and when I came in the kitchen he had put his pancakes in the toaster, filled up his water glass and taken the syrup out of the fridge. “Dad, I can make my own breakfast. Well, not eggs or oatmeal but pancakes and cereal I can,” he beamed.

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Watching him gain his independence and try new things is a joy I never understood until I experienced it. I love listening to him tell me stories of what he learned at school or what activities he and his friends played during the day.

The small moments add up into one big memory, and even though I haven’t heard my father’s voice in 19 years, I still feel his presence because he took the time to be present in my life.

I will admit a small part of me wanting to be an active father in my son’s life stems from fear. I try not to think about it, but it creeps in from time to time. Because my father passed so young, I’m worried the same might happen to me. The fear doesn’t own me, but it is there and envisioning not being with Beckett and my wife Traci is worrisome.

I know it is wasted energy worrying about it, and I do focus on living a healthy life so my odds are better, but every year I get older I find those thoughts enter my mind a bit more frequently.

The majority of time I am focused on making memories with my family, but if you worry about leaving your family too soon, you aren’t alone. Men rarely talk about our fears, but remember you aren’t the only one. If you are a father now, I’m sure a few of your buddies feel the same way. And if you aren’t a dad yet, just wait, that trepidation will come. It’s okay, just don’t let it overwhelm you.

THANK YOU 

Men, you have so much to offer your wife, partner or children. And if you don’t have kids (enjoy the alone time haha), you can still inspire your nieces or nephews or others around you.

Most men aren’t great at praising one another. I know I’m not, but I’d like to say thank you to all the fathers who are taking their role seriously. You make the world a better place.

Later today we are celebrating my younger sister’s 40th birthday, and I know we will all think of Dad. I will thank him for embracing the responsibility of fatherhood. He took it serious and that gave me and my siblings a strong foundation of love and support. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we have a solid support system around us.

Loving someone is the most powerful thing we can do. My father did it and I’m very proud to watch how engaged Colin is with his wife and children as well as my brother-in-law’s Eric and Rob with their families, and my father-in-law Doug, who raised an incredibly caring, loving and patient (she married me) daughter.

Many of my friends are the same, and most importantly many men reading this are giving their kids the love and support they need to make a positive impression in the world. Luckily men today are encouraged to spend more time with their kids.

It helps them, but in my experience, I find being around my son has made me a happier and better person. If you aren’t actively involved in your children’s lives, take a moment and ask yourself why? If you need to mend a fence, then go for it. It might be uncomfortable at first, but telling them you love them is a great way to start the healing process. If you are at odds with your father, reach out. You will both feel better.

Once again, thanks in advance to those who follow through on my earlier request. I offer my condolences to all who have lost your father, or mother. I hope your heart is still full of their memories.

If your father is gone make sure you call your mom, because the void in her heart is likely much deeper than yours.

Dad, I love you deeply and miss you. Thank you so much for taking the time to shower our family with an endless supply of love. And for passing on the art of talking like Donald Duck, it makes Beckett giggle endlessly. I think of you often and your memory is alive in my heart. I look forward to seeing you again one day and I hope you are proud of me.

Please watch over all of our family and friends, my lovely Traci and especially your soulmate; Mom. She misses you so much.

Love, Jason