10

Cherish Your Father…

It was a Saturday night. The energy in the room was more intense than usual, and then with one crack of the bat and the now infamous line from the great Tom Cheek, “Touch ’em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life,” the tension faded and jubilation took over.

It was October 23rd, 1993 and Joe Carter hit a walk-off home run to win consecutive World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. It was also my 21st birthday. What a night. We were at my friend TC and Karen’s house. My hockey teammates Nemo, Horse, Schlonger, Heavy D, Cracker, Chicken — and a few others with unprintable nicknames — were there.

I like to tell myself my birthday was the main reason we got together, but I think the Jays game was likely the driving force. Turning 21 in Alberta didn’t have the same importance as turning 18, but it was still a milestone birthday as now I could legally drink anywhere in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed a good party, still do, and as I sit here writing this letter my 21st birthday floods my memory.

I love math. I like numbers and often I connect things through numbers.

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Twenty one years ago today, my father, William Arthur Gregor, left this world at the young age of 56. He had a massive heart attack sitting in his car at a red light in Sherwood Park. Luckily, a kind Samaritan in the car in front of him, which Dad had gently nudged into, called the police and then stayed with my father so he wasn’t completely alone during his final breaths. A simple gesture by an unknown stranger still warms my heart today.

Dad had quit smoking a few years earlier. He wasn’t a heavy drinker or overweight, but unfortunately it was his time.

Five days later on the morning of his funeral I couldn’t sleep and decided to write an email to my friends to release my feelings. Every year since then I write out my thoughts in his honour, and hope that it somehow lessens the void in my heart and the hearts of my family. I asked my friends a favour then and today I will ask you the same.

When you are finished reading take a moment to connect with your father. If you are lucky enough to be able to see him today, or this week, give him a hug or just spend some time together. At the very least call him and ask how he’s doing. Dads might never say it, but they love hearing from their kids. If you are in a different city, give him a call and tell him you love him. I hope that through your actions, my father will see what a wonderful impression he made in my life and he’ll know our family misses him dearly.

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Thank you in advance.

When I think about my 21st birthday party I smile. I’m not sure if I was wearing my incredibly awesome bright blue pants, but I probably was. My teammates were a bit more conservative in their clothing attire and I took a lot of jabs for those pants. But, man they were unreal. I felt so confident when I wore them. So much so that the barbs never bothered me. In fact I loved it. If your buddies aren’t chirping you I don’t think they really love you.

I don’t remember any specific memories from that night, other than we had a great time celebrating the Jays win and then laughing and partying later at the bar. At that time in my life I was all about hanging with my childhood friends or my hockey buddies. Both groups were awesome and the memories of those years and times together bring me great joy.

I was 21 and care free and life was great. Six years later when my father suddenly passed life was rather different. I had gone back to school at 26, a humbling experience, as I was looking for a career change and opted to take Radio and Television Arts at NAIT. I was in my second semester when Dad passed away.

My father died around 6 p.m. that Friday night, and I took the following week off school for the funeral and to mourn and grieve. I didn’t know how to process my emotions at the time. I’m rather outgoing and comfortable in social settings, but over the next few days when many family and friends came to the farm to offer their condolences I spent a lot of time away in the barn. I pretended there was work to do, but really there wasn’t. Dad had already winterized the farm. It was like he knew his time on earth was coming to an end.

I do remember sitting in the barn and replaying many of the meaningful moments Dad and I shared together in the barnyard. How he’d put a five gallon bucket over the head of a rooster every time he entered the chicken house, just to irritate the fowl. Or the time he had to put down mom’s favourite horse Sinroy. Or how he laughed when a rank cow catapulted me over the top of the pen and onto the concrete floor. I sat in the barn for hours trying to remember every moment we shared together. Funny or painful. I didn’t want to forget his face. His voice. His laugh. His sparkling eyes.

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel sorry for myself because I lost my father. I know many of you reading this have experienced a similar loss, and in many cases probably much worse, but at certain times his void is very painful.

I’ve learned to accept that, but I’ve also learned to embrace those emotions. It reminds me of how much he meant to me, and I hope that when I die my son will have similar feelings, because it will mean I made an impact on his life and soul.

I have received many heartfelt and compassionate emails in response to this letter over the years. I’m humbled by the loving words men, and some women, have written about how they could relate. However, this past July I received an email that really connected with me.

With permission from Tom, I will share it with you.

Jason,

I wanted to take a moment to thank you. We’ve never met. I’ve listened to your show for years, and for the last nine or so years I’ve read your annual letter about your father. That letter ended up changing my life. 

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Fifteen years ago I moved away from Ontario. I will spare you the details, but my father and I had a big blow out and I haven’t seen him since. In fact the last time we spoke was in 2009. Anger, pride, stupidity, whatever you call it, I allowed it to take over how I viewed my father. 

I got married in 2015, didn’t invite Dad, and in 2017 we had a son. I remember the letter you wrote about becoming a father and everything you said was true. My son brings me so much joy. Just being with him makes me happier. It is a love that is hard to describe. 

My son turned three on September 25th, 2020 and the next night as we said our usual goodnights and I love yous, he asked me where my father was. I’d never spoken about him to my son. He knew his maternal grandfather, but not my father. I quickly changed the subject and left the room. His question stuck with me and it brought up a lot of emotions. I didn’t have a good answer and I didn’t want to lie. Then a few days later, I read your letter about your father at Oilersnation. He’d been gone for 20 years and you listed 20 lessons you learned from him. 

You mentioned forgiveness and if the reader didn’t have a close connection to their father at the moment then reach out and “extend an olive branch.” Your words, combined with my son’s questions, made me realize I needed to do just that. 

The next day I called my father. I had to ask my sister for his phone number since we hadn’t spoken in 11 years. 

When he answered I said, “Hello Dad, it is Tommy.” He always called me Tommy not Tom. Then I said, “I’m sorry for being angry Dad. I want to talk. I want you to meet my wife and son.” There was a long pause and suddenly I heard my father cry. I’d never seen or heard him cry. Deep sobs, and within seconds I was crying as well. We cried for many minutes, and could only really muster up the words “I’m sorry” between sobs. 

Then he said he wanted to talk as well. We spoke for over three hours that night. A few days later we did a zoom call and he saw my wife and son for the first time. Since that night we have a zoom call at least three times a week. Due to COVID we couldn’t go see each other right away, but this past June he flew out to see us. 

I don’t remember the last time I hugged my father, but when we embraced at the airport I felt a lot of anger go away. There are still some scars there, but the healing is going well. On behalf of a 68-year-old man, his 42-year-old son and three-year-old grandson we want to say thank you. I’d read your letter for years, but last year I was finally able to honour your request. I sent my dad your article a week after we first spoke and he said it was beautiful. Dad is actually moving to Edmonton in October so we can see each other more often. 

Thank you for the encouragement. I’m happy to have my father back in my life, and I’m equally excited to see him play with my son. They adore one another and our lives, despite the pandemic, are better than ever because we have reconnected. The love you and your father had, gave us a new chance to love. Your father would be proud of your amazing ability to express yourself. Thank you.

Tom.

Anyone who knows me, knows I cried reading that email. I’ve always felt blessed that I, along with my brother and sister, had a close relationship with my father. I’ve seen over the years that isn’t always the case with everyone, but Tom’s email really made me smile. I told him he should be proud. The letter might have been the final small push to call his father, but 99% of that call came from within his heart and soul. If you are can relate to Tom, then be strong like him and let love in and release the anger. It likely will be difficult, and a bit scary, but hopefully it works out for you like it did Tom and his father.

CONNECTING IN DIFFERENT WAYS… 

I was reminded of Tom’s email a few weeks ago when Beckett (my seven-year-old son) and I, along with my brother Colin were at the farm visiting mom. After we’d finished rebuilding a fence and stacking round bales, we came in the house for a snack. Mom wanted to show us something. She had tracked down the video of her 25th wedding anniversary.

I’d never seen it before. One of her friends is in the process of digitally enhancing it to make it look better, but she wanted to show Beckett the video right away. Our family has a tradition of doing “mock weddings” at milestone anniversary parties. For this one I dressed up as a woman priest and my mom wanted Beckett to see me in my long blonde hair (wig), white dress with my English accent.

He laughed while I presided over this wedding, but then the camera panned the room and showed my parents. I haven’t seen any live videos of my father since he passed. I have pictures of him, but I hadn’t seen a video of him in over 21 years.

Suddenly there he was. Breathing. Laughing. Smiling. We watched the short mock wedding and a short song that my siblings and many cousins sang for our parents. From the angle of where the camera was located I only saw his side profile. I couldn’t see his entire face. And l felt this odd twinge that I wasn’t ready to see him face on just yet. Thankfully Beckett wanted to go and I was able to just get up and leave.

As I drove home, I couldn’t stop picturing Dad. How badly I wanted to hug him. To hear his hearty laugh. But I didn’t want to watch the video anymore. I can’t properly explain how I felt. I was caught off guard with seeing him. I knew he’d be there, of course, but when the camera panned the room and suddenly he was alive in front of my, albeit on video, it took my breath away.

I’m looking forward to seeing the updated version. To hear his short speech, and to just see him smile, laugh and breathe. Admittedly, those emotions caught me off guard. Ever since he passed I’ve longed for one more day to speak with him. To see him. To hear him. I just needed to be ready, because it will be emotional for me. I wanted Traci to be there when I see him, even though I haven’t told her that. She is hearing about it for the first time reading this.

I’m excited to watch it now. I want Traci and Beckett to hear his voice. To see his face and his gestures. I’ve told them many stories about my father, but to actually hear and see him. It gives me chills. For the younger people reading this, you have to understand video wasn’t easily accessible then. None of our family had a cell phone when my father died in 2000. Mom had dial up Internet at the farm.

I’m not a tech guy. It is odd to think I never even thought about watching a video of Dad. He lived on in all the crevices of my memory. He’d pop into my brain when I was doing things that reminded me of him and it made me smile. But getting to see him will be special.

And that is what reminded me of Tom’s email. He and his father had the chance to see each other, but didn’t for many years. Thankfully they are making new memories now, but I encourage you to not take your father’s presence for granted. The ugly truth is he could be gone tomorrow.

If you are a father, make sure you take the time to create memories with your kids. Play with them. Be present. Laugh with them. Tell them your goals, your fears and what you love. That way when you are gone they will always be reminded of you when they see or do the things you discussed.

Once again, thanks in advance to those who follow through on my request. I offer my condolences to all of you who have lost your father this year, especially Brady, Jace and Caden. Your father Chad was a wonderful man.

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. I look forward to hearing your voice and seeing your face on video soon. You are still in my heart and your actions inspire me to strive to be a better husband and father. Thank you for showing me how to be a great father and husband. I hope I can do the same for Beckett. Please watch over all of our family and friends, my lovely Traci and especially your soulmate, Mom.

Love, your son, Jason