A Loco Viewpoint
Friday, January 04, 2013
I must tell you about my Dad. When I was a wee lad I was admittedly, a bit afraid of him. He was a stern, no-nonsense military man; as huggable as a porcupine. Dad was quite willing, however, to read the newspaper every night, lying on the floor, so small fry could climb aboard and use him as a jumpy toy. I would imagine all my seven siblings had the experience of using Dad’s strong back as a pretend horse, camel or spaceship, whatever we fancied at the time, just as his thirty-plus grandchildren and almost twenty great-grandchildren became fond of doing.
Dad had very clear ideas on what it meant to be a “real man”. He was definitely old school and would never allow his sons to be anything but tough, strong and assertive; three things I still aspire to be, with little hope of succeeding. I recall when I was about ten or so and had decided I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. Mom, being the wonderful, supportive mother she is, and always has been, quickly and enthusiastically gathered together all her old makeup into a plastic carrying case. The only thing she knew about acting is that actors wore makeup and by gum, she was going to do her best to see that I had makeup to chase my dream.
When Dad found out about the castoff cosmetics, however, he was beyond livid. He would have had to calm down about a dozen notches just to be outraged.
“No son of mine is going to put on makeup!” he roared. “You’re going to make him into a pantywaist!”
Of course, being a “pantywaist” was, apparently, the most horrible fate to befall a man and Dad was adamant I would not be one, whatever it was. I had no idea at the time what “pantywaist” meant, but it sounded awful. The makeup was quickly thrown out, along with the plastic case.
Dad’s tough exterior took a lot of hits, over the years. The changing mores of society were hard to keep up with but Dad did his best to accept them, albeit slowly. When his daughters would give him a hug after a family get together, his tense, alarmed body reportedly made embracing him similar to hugging a telephone pole. Eventually, however, he learned to relax and enjoy these hugs and even began to let his sons hug him when parting, something I never thought would happen. Son hugs for a time were still somewhat forced on him and one had to almost sneak up when he was sitting and give him a quick squeeze from the side.
One day after a family get-together, when it was just my brother Ian and I, remaining from the mob that had been there, Dad made a startling statement.
“I think it’s time we men stopped being silly and we should hug, too,” he announced to us two very astonished sons. “However, since I am new to it, we should practice.”
So, Dad, Ian and I discussed the rules of men hugging men; a minimum one-foot gap between belt buckles, no lingering, and hearty slaps at the end followed by discussions concerning power tools or hockey. We then rehearsed a number of times until we all felt more-or-less comfortable. After that, Dad was an enthusiastic hug recipient and would even occasionally initiate an embrace when meeting or parting with loved ones.
Dad was always willing to try new experiences, and it was a good thing that he became proficient at hugs, as embraces were quite customary in an initiative he embarked on in 2005. I had written a play called “Calmar: Zero to Fifty in Ninety Minutes” and was having trouble getting actors for the show; particularly male ones. Having press-ganged two of my brothers and both my sons into service we were still short. Dad decided, since the project involved his two favourite things on earth, his family and his precious town of Calmar, he was excited to join in.
Two days before our first performance, when we were just getting down to the short strokes and fine details, the directors, John Perry and Carl Smith, on loan from the Wetaskiwin Waterworks Players, called a meeting. They had brought a contingent of seasoned theatre people to help us look as professional as possible. We were introduced to a seamstress, a stage manager and, brace yourself, a makeup person.
Trying not to single out Dad who had a rather panicked look on his face, the makeup lady impressed on us all that foundation and powder were absolutely essential so the stage lights won’t cause our pale faces to become washed out.
“Does anyone have any questions?” asked the makeup woman. Dad’s hand shot up immediately.
“How about if everyone just throws in a dollar or two and I’ll go buy the makeup for everyone to share,” Dad volunteered. It was one of the most delicious moments in my life.
Dad passed away on December 17th less than a month short of his 90th birthday. In a loving family like we have, there were, of course, tears, many which have yet to fall. Along with the sadness, however, there was also great joy as we talked about the amazing legacy of this great man. As great a loss as we felt, Dad’s indomitable, resilient spirit has been imbued in all his progeny and we talked and laughed at a million “Dad” stories together to salve our gaping wound.
If I could be half the man he was, I’d be twice the man I am.
A memorial will be held at the Calmar Legion on January 19th at 1:00 PM. Donations to the Alzheimer’s Society in lieu of flowers would be appreciated.
other articlesMotherhood is not for me
Playtime Once Again
Sleep Disorder, Cupcake Style
How to live to be 91
A Woman’s Prerogative
One Frozen Cupcake
The Hip Revision