It was a Sunday in February of 1986. Winter had released her icy cold grip on Leduc, Alberta and warmer weather was arriving. Five months later we moved back to my favourite place in the world; our family farm just North of New Sarepta. But on that February morning, Dad asked if I wanted to go for a drive. The two of us, down to Calgary to watch my older brother Colin play hockey. He was 15 and playing Midget AAA for Sherwood Park.
We were a middle class family, probably lower middle class, and road trips were not the norm. I said yes and within a few minutes, we were off in our red 1975 Cutlass Supreme. I loved that car, mainly because of the white leather interior.
I still remember us blaring Dire Strait’s Brothers In Arms album on the drive. So Far Away, Money for Nothing and Walk of Life. Three killer tracks to kick off the album and we both loved it. We played the entire cassette twice on the drive to Calgary and we sang the parts we knew, and did the usual humming when we didn’t know the lyrics.
After all the violence and double talk
There’s just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life.
Mmm, you do the walk of life.
The Walk of Life. So fitting.
Moments like that with my father, even 35 years later, still fill my heart. Our memory is one of our greatest gifts, and I hope you take the time to make memories with your children or your parents. When they are gone, the memories can get you through the day.
Earlier this summer I took my six year old son and my wife Traci to my father’s grave. It was the first time for either of them. I’ve told my wife many stories about Dad, and my son knows what a wonderful, caring man the grandfather he never met was, but I hadn’t been to his grave site in over 10 years.
My father, William Arthur Gregor, died of a sudden heart attack 20 years ago today. He was 56. It was a Friday, and he was in his car at a red light. He nudged the car in front of him, and thankfully a Good Samaritan was driving. He got out of his car, realized Dad was in distress and called 911. He remained with my father until the ambulance arrived. Thankfully Dad didn’t die alone. The empathy and kindness of a stranger still warms my heart 20 years later.
Dad was buried four days later, and two things remain vivid in my mind from that day. He was loved by many people, because of he how he treated them with love and respect. His sister Carol, our family, his 25 nieces and nephews, his friends, the friends of his three kids, parents he’d met through his children’s sporting activities and those he worked with all paid their respects. It was comforting to know he’d made such a great impression on many.
I also remember standing over his grave watching them lower his casket in the ground. I stood right on the edge, by myself, and remained there until everyone was gone. I pictured his smiling face, his hearty laugh, him dancing with my mom, him talking in a Donald Duck voice and how lucky I was to have him as my father. Today, it takes a few seconds longer to remember his face, but it is still there in my line of sight. It is hard to describe how I miss him. It is a combination of pain, sorrow, happiness, laughter and longing all wrapped up in one.
Most of my best memories of Dad are from the farm, my sporting events or family gatherings. I went to his grave the first few years after he died, partially because I felt I was supposed to go there. But when I was there I never sensed his presence. So I stopped going. Some days I’d wonder if it was the right decision. Was I disrespecting him?
I don’t believe I was, because every time I go to the farm, which is often, I can feel him. When I’m in the barn I remember us feeding pigs, or nursing calves, or when he fell over in laughter when one of the cows my uncle was boarding at our farm, catapulted me up and out of the pen onto the cement floor. I can still picture him laughing so hard he had to brace himself against a pillar to stop from falling. We had a lot of laughs; and the odd argument in the farmyard.
But this year I felt my son was old enough to go to the cemetery and I really wanted Traci to see where Dad was laid to rest. His grave is at the St. Vital Cemetery in Beaumont. The church where his eldest son Colin and five years later his daughter Rachel were married. We had his funeral there. It is amazing how one place can be home to immensely different moments. Two lives beginning as one or saying goodbye to another.
The Walk of Life.
The joy of having a six year old in the cemetery, or any place for that matter, is they don’t just see one thing. As we walked over to his gravesite, Beckett was quiet, but once we got inside and around the gravesites he wanted to “find where Grandpa was. When he saw the name, Gregor, he said gleefully, “Dad, I found him.” He didn’t think of the heartache, instead, he was excited. It made me smile.
I spoke briefly to Dad, but then we walked around the cemetery. Beckett was amazed by some of the headstones. Some were very intricate, beautiful and big and dated back to the early 1900s. Different lives, different ages. Some as old as 97 and others less than a week old. A friend’s sister. Another friend’s parents and grandparents. A sombre place, but one where if you look past the initial tone you can see love and laughter.
On our way home we stopped at a bakery and ate chocolate Long Johns; Dad’s favourite. Another great memory he left for me. Some of the smallest connections with loved ones can help them get through a day after you’re gone. Never forget how powerful your actions are to those who love you.
Twenty years ago, on a Tuesday morning, I sat at my mom’s 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, which I know is very hard this year, please give him a hug, spend some time together and most importantly tell him you love him. If you can’t see him, 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.
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.
This year’s letter is longer than usual. If you can’t read it all, or will skim over parts, you won’t offend me. I will never write one as long as this again, but as I started I kept adding, and eventually, I came up with 20 life lessons I learned from my father. Most of them came through his actions, as he wasn’t big on speeches or telling you how to do things.
Here is what I learned from Dad. Some might not resonate with you now, or ever, and that’s okay, but hopefully, a few give you pause.
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, 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, grandchildren, 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-1980s 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.
WEAR YOUR FAVOURITE CLOTHES
I still picture the hole in his favourite blue button-up sweater. Maybe the proper term is a cardigan, I don’t know, but man he loved that light blue sweater. He wore it around the house all the time. He never wanted a new one. Said he didn’t need one. His was fine. He grew up poor, so he didn’t need new things all the time. He jokingly said he’d never find a better sweater. I associate that sweater with him smiling and being happy with what he had.
USE THE WHITE GATE
Dad wasn’t perfect which made him human, but he rarely held a grudge. When I was 14 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 alleyway with fences on both sides from the barn down towards the house, and at the end of the 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 read years ago, 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?
SHOW YOUR LADY 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.
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. One day, when I was about 11, 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 10 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 11 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.
LOOK OUT FOR OTHERS
Usually, someone else has it worse than you. Losing Dad when I was a month shy of my 28th birthday was hard, but my baby sister, Rachel, turned 21 five days before he died. Almost half of her life has been without him. I’ve met many people over the years who lost their father when they were really young. They, like my sister, likely had a more difficult time handling it.
Empathy for others is important, and Dad had a lot of it. I don’t remember how old I was, maybe 12 or 13, and we were downtown Edmonton, which was rare. Dad and I were walking along and a man stopped him, he was in tears and needed a bus ticket to see his dying mother. Dad drove him to the bus depot, and bought him a ticket. I don’t recall how much it was, but maybe $20, which was a lot in the early 1980s, especially when Dad had lost his job a few months earlier.
We didn’t have any extra money, but I remember driving home and Dad saying something along the lines of, “If you can help others do it. It will help you as much as them.” It was short and quick, like any of his rare fatherly advice talks. It is odd how that stuck with me, and it was the main reason I started the Gregor Foundation (We supply a new suit for high school grads who can’t afford one) in 2014. I think of Dad every year when I see a boy stand in front of the mirror, wearing a new suit and beaming with pride.
Dad was not a scholar. He didn’t graduate high school, but did earn a Recreation Superintendent Certificate by correspondence later. He wasn’t a book person, and my mom, who was a teacher and later a professor, realized Dad had a slight learning disability when he was young and likely why he didn’t like school. When my parents moved to the farm in 1973, he barely knew the difference between a horse and cow. He asked his six brother-in-laws for advice on how to fix tractors, and he was often on the phone with the technician at the John Deere outlet in New Sarepta getting tips on how to fix his tractor. We didn’t have a lot of money, so Dad had to fix things on his own.
One of the proudest moments of his life occurred around 1991 was when my mom’s brothers started calling Dad and asking him for advice on how to fix a tractor. He felt so proud they would ask him, when so many years earlier he knew nothing about farm machinery. He taught himself through trial and error. Never be afraid to learn. You are likely smarter than you think.
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 sister’s 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 mostly we would just listen.
One of the few times 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. I still do 20 years later. My first on-air gig occurred four months after he passed.
This many years later I still catch myself 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 rather than cry. Leave your family with lots of memories and you will live in their hearts forever.
HAVE A DAD “SUPERPOWER”
My dad could speak fluently in Donald Duck. It was unreal. Whenever he needed to get us to calm down or laugh, he’d start talking like Donald and instantly I’d laugh or cheer up. It was amazing. I asked him how he did it, but I don’t recall him telling me. Somehow I inherited that ability, and now I speak Donald to my son. He thinks it’s great, and it gets me “cool dad points” when I do it in front of his friends. My son tries it now, and it makes me smile. Passing on traditions, or odd skill sets, is a great way to make your kids remember you.
PLAY WITH YOUR KIDS
Dad and I wrestled often. I have memories from when I was six always going into his bedroom and wrestling on their bed. He’d laughing say “flea bites,” as I pretended to punch him. Boys and men show emotion and feeling more often with physical expression. A hug is good sometimes, but so too is an elbow smash. He made me believe I could toss him off of me to avoid a three-count, and many years later I am doing the same with my son. Now that I’m the father I realize how much it bonds us. I need it as a father and a man, and I loved it as a boy. It was bonding and togetherness disguised as wrestling.
DON’T USE THE PAST AS A CRUTCH
My Dad and his father never had a very close relationship. It was a different era, and my grandfather was a 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, and I asked him 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 rarely 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 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.
EAT YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD
Dad loved popcorn. He made it on the stove with butter and a pot. I can picture him rolling that pot on the stove so nothing burnt. It makes me laugh picturing him shaking his hips as much as the pot. And then he always offered to share. He always made enough for everyone, even though Mom would only have a few bites. I picture him eating his popcorn with butter on his cheeks and a huge smile on his face. He loved his popcorn. He also loved that it was inexpensive.
In 1984 my Dad lost his job and was out of work for almost six months. He’d had a well-paying job for years in the oilfield, but the patch dried up for a few years and he eventually got let go. Mom was a vice-principal, so she became the main source of income and Dad became the caregiver. He cooked, he cleaned, he took his kids everywhere and he got to spend a lot of time with his four-year-old daughter.
You have to remember, society wasn’t as accepting of a man in this role in the 1980s. It was hard, but he never showed his frustration, instead he dressed up with Rachel and went to Halloween at playschool and did a lot of other things with his kids. I didn’t learn about our financial hardships until many years later. Our parents did a good job of shielding us from that, but seeing how Dad adapted rather than get angry and upset showed me that our path in life will likely be filled with the odd pothole. Don’t let it control you. Make sure you remember what is important. Your happiness and the comfort and happiness of your loved ones.
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. Later in the night 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 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 men 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.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO CRY
Vulnerability is a strength not a weakness. I recall seeing my father cry at his father-in-law’s (my grandfather) funeral. I’m sure he had cried prior, but I’d never seen it before. Dad was my hero, as many fathers are to their sons and in that moment he showed me it was okay to cry and express grief. It was the first time I saw many of my uncles cry as well. I had just turned 18, a complicated time in your life, and that moment seeing many of the men I looked up to and respected being comfortable and capable of showing their feelings gave me strength.
Many of the best lessons require no words.
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 or Itunes) 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 or 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 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 soothes my soul even when I’m having a bad day.
LOVE YOUR PETS
We had many dogs and a few cats over the years. As a farm kid, you learn quickly about life and death. One of our cats got ran over on the lease road beside our house. I was seven when I found it. One eye bulged out. One dog, Tippy, got ran over. Another, Buck, was shot by a neighbour for chasing cows.
The Walk of Life.
But Chucky was a very special dog. He was a cockapoo, and quite the character. We initially got him for my younger sister when we lived in Leduc. I was 12, but Chucky and I became very close. He eventually slept on my bed every night. We moved back to the farm and Chuck loved it out there. He thought he was a farm dog who could herd cows. He’d follow me in the barnyard and bark at the pigs and chickens.
I’d moved out of my parent’s house for two or three years and Chuck was now 12. He was having a tough time eating and Dad took him to the vet. The vet said his teeth were rooting, but he wouldn’t survive surgery. Dad called, told me the diagnosis and said he’d be taking Chuck to the vet the next day to put him down. He asked if I wanted to come. I met him at the vet, and Dad told me to go in the room with Chuck and say goodbye. Man, I loved that dog, and I had a real good cry as he drifted off. When I walked out the office, tears rolling down my face, Dad put his arm around me. “Chuck was a good dog. We all loved him, but he really loved you. I’m happy you came. He was happier with you beside him.”
Geez, 23 years later and that memory still chokes me up. Dogs and Dads. A great combo.
BE A GOOD STORY TELLER
Dad used to regale my brother and me with stories of his childhood. Dad had Legg Perthes which led to him having hip and leg issues growing up. For two years he was on crutches. But that never slowed him down. He was a champion swimmer, and he was a very active teenager despite the crutches my late grandmother told me.
His best stories were about growing up in Devon, Alberta. He had many nicknames for his friends, or foes, and my favourite was about a guy he called, Fluff. Fluff was a big kid. Dad wasn’t. He topped out at 5’9”.
He was in junior high and on crutches. Fluff used to stand at the top of the stairs when kids came in school and as Dad walked by, Fluff would slap/flick him in the back of the head. It infuriated Dad, but he was on crutches and Fluff was quite a bit bigger.
Well, one day, Dad has had enough of the slaps/swats/flicks and as he comes of the stairs, Fluff gives him a swat. Dad, turns around and smacks him with his crutch. Fluff goes tumbling down the five stairs (they weren’t that many, so it wasn’t that dangerous).
Dad races off on his crutches. He added a lot of colour to these stories and how standing up to Fluff was one of the greatest moments of his teenage life. The hilarious part was a few years later I was playing hockey in Devon. They had this huge defenceman, who wasn’t very fast, but was at least 200 pounds in Bantam. He caught me once against the boards and I could barely breathe. Thankfully I avoided him the rest of the game.
Driving home from the game, Dad asks me how it went. “It was fun. Did you see that huge D-man they had? He crushed me one time,” I said.
Dad looks over…”That was Fluff’s kid.” I couldn’t believe it. And for the rest of the drive home he told me another story about Fluff. They watched the game together and had talked about their lives growing up in Devon.
Fluff, I never learned your real name, but thanks for the laughs. Your stair story was one I’d heard many times and it always made me laugh. Dad told it with such flair, colour and excitement it always had my brother and I laughing.
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 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 his story made 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. Mom never knew the truth until I told her about 10 years ago. It 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 punch to the gut.
MAKE SURE THEY KNOW YOU LOVED THEM
Every year when I sit down to write this, I am so thankful I had no regrets or doubts that Dad loved me. I don’t remember 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 (I was at NAIT) and how I was. We never had these types of talks on the phone, usually they were in person at the farm. 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.
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 his family was doing okay.
That phone call has made his passing so much easier for me, even now 20 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.
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.
Wild Willy, I love you deeply and miss you always. 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. Your memory fills my heart.
Please watch over all of our family and friends, my lovely Traci and especially your soulmate; Mom. She misses you so much.
Love, your son Jason