My dad’s birthday is this week. I wrote this post about him in response to a challenge to “blog about great parents”.
My dad didn’t tell me how to live a life of courage and integrity. He showed me, in how he lived his.
When I was nine, and my siblings four and fourteen, he left the appliance service company he worked for to go into business for himself. With a wife and three kids to support, it took a lot of guts to forego a predictably steady income to branch out on his own, but he thought he could make a success of it and he did. He loved fixing appliances, but he wouldn’t do it evenings or weekends. Those times were for his family. He ran “Powell Appliance Service” out of our station wagon, with my stay-at-home mom acting as his answering service. He earned his customers’ loyalty by dealing with them honestly and with respect. He could have earned more than he did on the calls he made to their homes, but he wasn’t about making as much money as possible, just doing the best job he could (of everything he undertook to do), and he earned enough to provide his family with a good home, a cottage, and opportunities for a little travel.
My dad’s example helped give me the courage to make a go of living the financially unpredictable but independent life as a freelance writer. His area is things mechanical and mine words, but his example of learning by doing – some I witnessed and some I heard about in the stories he told of his life before I came along – taught me that I could do that too, learn by doing. So I could say that he’s at least partly responsible for the fact that my body of work spans many genres.
My dad was handy around the house when we were growing up, and after my sister and I married men who were not, he continued doing odd jobs for us: fixing our appliances, of course, or a leaky tap, installing a dimmer switch, or building a deck. He still takes being a helpful dad seriously. Just the other day, he came to my house and replaced a kitchen tap. He’ll be 84 years old this spring, but there he was, on his back with his head under my sink, reaching up into the dark with his tools while I held the flashlight. If only my ability to write could be of some use to my kids! (Well, they have been featured in some of my books; perhaps that’s something?)
Still living independently, my dad volunteers for the Red Cross, delivering Meals on Wheels to shut-ins twice a week, sometimes three times a week when they need someone to fill in on short notice. He has been doing that for thirteen years. Golf season is about to start up soon and he’s keen to get back out on the course. I hope that when I’m in my eighties, I’ll be as resourceful, active, and as unselfish as he is.
Part of his being a good dad to me and my sibs was being a good husband to our mother. In one of my favourite photos of them together, they are dancing and laughing. (Was it on the occasion of my brother’s wedding, when I didn’t know yet that I was expecting my first child, and their first grandchild, who would later be born on my father’s birthday? I think so.) When my mother’s health began to fail, he took care of her in their home for as long as he could. She lived in a chronic care facility for the last seven years of her life, most of them in a private room. This meant, for my dad, living pretty frugally and eventual concern about whether his savings would support him through his old age, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
After my mom died, my dad had the good fortune to have a wonderful friend and companion to share his days with, a lovely Scottish woman who made him laugh again and kept him young. Sadly, he lost her to cancer last year, but he was her best friend and he kept her company on her long and difficult journey. He faced that loss, too, with courage because “you have to”.
It seems I have not inherited my dad’s patience with the frail or ailing, but I am hoping, still, to learn it from his example. And I hope that as I face more and more the loss of loved ones, that I can do it with the same strength of spirit that helps my dad go on living his life.
I used to think my dad would live forever. I began to face the reality that he won’t three years ago, when he had his first small stroke. He has lived and is still living a good life, a life he can be proud of. He embraces life fully each day, especially on days when the morning sun streams into his apartment, but the thought of passing in his sleep does not frighten him. I wish for my dad a peaceful passing when his time comes, but I hope his health will hold and he’ll be with me for a good long time yet. I take comfort in knowing that in some ways, he will be with me always.