I have always just assumed that as children we view our parents differently than when we know them as adults. While I recognize this may not be the case for some, it is only logical to believe that this is a relative statement for many. As a boy, my world revolved around my comic books, my G.I. Joes and both my parents. Friends were most welcome, but to be honest, they more or less interfered with my playtime. School was quite often a boring internment and most of my siblings were a somewhat inconvenient distraction. I cherished my Mother and I revered my Father. When my Mother passed away, a part of my life faded forever from me. I held her in such high regard that the emotional hole left from her death seemed to chisel itself deeper with each passing month. My grief long ago found its place, but there is not enough topsoil on the planet to fill that void. Her exit found many with a gaping chasm where our hearts used to beat.
"Do you remember the time your heart was moved to tears?
Can you look back on the moment after all these years?
On the moment love broke through and heaven seemed so near
Do you remember the time your heart was moved to tears?
Keep holdin' on
Never letting go
We're not far from the end of the road
In a moment love broke through and heaven seemed so near
Do you remember the moment your heart was moved to tears?"
(Do You Remember The Time. Amy Grant 2002)
My Father was left rather empty-handed. He was broken, damaged and you could tell from the aura about him that this wound would never scar and heal. He had to decide whether to live or die, to continue or to perish, a decision on which he still goes back and forth, depending entirely on the day. When I was a kid, my Father was without a doubt the strongest person I knew. He always seemed to have so much control, although his stoic and calm demeanour in no way masked his love for his family, particularly for his wife. He was fiercely loyal, completely reliable and a sound provider. In spite of his gruff exterior, one could often find him playing with his children and even the neighbour kids. Every winter he would ice up the backyard so his children could have their own space to skate. He taught us all how to glide, although I must admit that skating was never my forte. There are black and white photos of him and I from the 1960s, taken as he taught me how to hold a hockey stick and stand on twin blades of steel. It was always the strangest thing for me to see the childlike wonder that possessed him on such occasions. I feared these moments had disappeared forever when my Mom passed away.
With few exceptions, I have spoken to my Father every day since my Mother died. The closeness I once shared with her now flourishes between him and me. It is not only my duty to watch over him, a promise I made to my Mother the year before she passed, but I take great pleasure from the friendship we have cultivated out of all the shit life can bring. My daily phone call to him finds a mixture of sorrow, joy and resolve. He has chosen to carry on although he doesn't like it one bit. Over the past four-and-one-half years, he has continually demonstrated that life goes on even when we wish it would not. He is constantly out and about with my sister, travelling from garden shop to thrift store in search of goodies and bargains. He celebrates holidays such as Easter and Christmas with a commitment to honour his wife and the family they created together. The box in which her ashes rest greets fresh flowers every week and her memory thrives like a memory should. Over the last few years, day trips to my current home of
have found him wandering through
antique shops hunting for treasure. He often points out little traces of her so
very noticeable in the items he has discovered. In August of 2013, my Dad, my
sister and her son Matthew stopped at my apartment to pick me up, then we all
headed across town to the St. Jacobs Antique Market, located mere steps from
the famous St. Jacobs Farmer's Market in Kitchener . It is here that hope
began again. Waterloo
"This old guitar taught me to sing a love song,
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry.
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days.
It helped me make it through some lonely nights.
What a friend to have on a cold and lonely night"
(This Old Guitar, John Denver 1974)
He just stood there like a four year old. His eyes were glazed over with a certain kind of joy and his mouth hung open like a garbage chute. He seemed enchanted, if even for a moment. Pinned to the wall, behind a sheet of tempered glass, that black 1961 Harmony six string guitar caught his imagination like a Red Ryder BB Gun would. He was almost dazed and rather confused. I had never seen my Father like this before. In my youth, he was always a hard working man. By the time supper was over, he rested heavy on the living room floor. Weekends grew busy as his five children grew older and he appeared to have little time for anyone including himself. I never once concluded that he was unhappy. I recall moments when the spirit of his family, and the Spirit of his God, blended as laughter and love and even glee at some points. Until he discovered that guitar, I had never seen the child within him like I did on this day. Seeing my Father come to life like that had an incredible impact on me.Less than a week passed and that guitar found itself in a safe place among my own treasures. It took no convincing for me to purchase this antique as a Christmas present for him that year. It was in most excellent condition, a condition confirmed when I took it in for a final tuning before sealing its fate. Come November, I hid it inside a 55" television crate, crammed with cardboard until it could not move. The case which had come with it ensured safe storage. The shiny silver gift wrap covering the box met black ribbon, a large silver bow and his Christmas card. For over a month it sat nestled near my Christmas tree. I could hardly wait to give it to him. It was my wish that it not only gave him something completely self-absorbing to do but I hoped he would recognize that even after my Mother's death, some things are still worth living for, especially music. Growing up he had played. The antique banjo he would strum upon still rests in the piano room of his home. It has joined the autoharp and glockenspiel my Mother played that are nestled carefully on top of that old
Christmas 2013 came and went without a hitch. The guitar found its place in his living room and on his knee every now and then. It was the nicest, and one of the most expensive, gifts I have ever given anyone. We were both well pleased. That briefest, smallest of moments when he first became enchanted left a lasting impression on me. I will never be able to forget the look on my Dad's face when he first fell in love with this lady. I am now convinced that through all the pain and all the loneliness there is a part of him very much alive. He would argue that his end is near, but anyone could say exactly the same thing. It's not the time you have left that matters. It's what you do with that time that counts. To have given him but one moment of joy amidst the chaos means more to me than almost anything sweet I have known in this life. I will be forever grateful that I was given the opportunity to give him that.
"What if I told you?
You have the power
To give someone hope
Far beyond their wildest dreams
What if I told you it’s right there in your hands?
In your hands
It's hard to imagine
How something so small
Can make all the difference
Tear down the tallest wall
What if December looked different this year?"
I have come to realize that people don't really change. They simply wither. The person we were as a child is supposed to be who we become once again. In between, we age and convince ourselves that we are different. All of our life that occurs in the middle is simply evolution and confusion. We are supposed to die young, even when we put it off for as long as possible. It matters little who the middleman used to be. All that matters is who you turn out to be. What matters is who you become. The glimpse of my Father's innocence that I was so lucky to have the occasion to witness has convinced me. Seeing without judgment, experiencing the now, these are the qualities spoken of by so many religious and spiritual leaders. Yes, we are supposed to put childish things behind us. Seeing the world as a child does not demand that one should act like a child. It is this innate sense of innocence that is required should one wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is the greatest tool for surviving God.My Father is a man of great Faith and great conviction. For me, he represents the truest sense of how a person of his Faith is supposed to be. He has survived regardless of any abandon he may have suffered through. If you ask him just how he remains, he will tell you that this is what Faith can do. You grow up thinking that there comes a time when your parents can no longer teach you anything else about life. Society even convinces you that eventually you switch roles and they become the child while you must be the parent. I am not surprised, at this stage of the game, that I continue to learn from my Dad. Through all the pain, all his agony, he is still, deep within, essentially the same. He has been so all along. In the end, grief does not kill, it grows us stronger. All that remains are small moments, childlike innocence, and for some, an old guitar.
"What if we all just
Give this Christmas away
If there’s love in your heart
Don’t let it stay there
Give this Christmas away
And your life will be changed
By the gift you receive
When you give this Christmas away"
(Give This Christmas Away, Matthew West 2010)