Fathers Day is not a given, it needs to be earned.
Writing about my own father may seem like a good idea with fathers day coming up, but as I sit here I am wondering what the heck am I going to write? My mom left my dad when I was twelve (the oldest of six). Do I write about when we were a family or do I write about an absentee father?
My dad played hockey in Saskatoon in his younger days and was fond of saying that “Gordie Howe used to carry my hockey skates.” He enlisted into the army and served with ‘The Princess Pats Light Infantry Division’. He also played some hockey overseas before being deployed to Italy. Going to war changes a person, maybe it changed my dad as he would never discuss what happened over there.
Coming home he got back into hockey.. there is the story that has been told of his trip east, his ticket was paid to travel by train to Toronto with his buddies (Tony Leswick comes to mind) to attend a hockey camp for the NHL. He was a drinker and a gambler as well as a womanizer and he was fond of saying “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
Once on the rink though, all bets were off! He played defense and his best skill was getting the puck out of the corners and maybe that is where he got his nickname “Slugger.” Most everyone called him Slug because of this prowess of slugging it out in the corners. If the going got tough send in Slug.. he would come out with the puck every time, or so I was told by one of his buddies.
He never made it to that camp, seems he got into a card game with friends on that train and they tied into the whiskey. They were having such a great time they decided to get off the train in Winnipeg and keep the party going. So ended any NHL dreams he may have had, one of his buddies Tony Leswick, went on to play for the Chicago Black Hawks.
Mom was pregnant with me when they married and moved to the west coast. We did a lot of traveling in those years, my dad couldn’t seem to keep a job. He was a hockey player in the minors leagues (Vancouver Canucks 46-47) and I have often heard the story of my mom, eight months pregnant, climbing over the boards to rush to my dad’s side when he was hurt in a fight. That musta been quite a sight to see.
A memory comes to me.. back in Saskatoon in an earlier grade (we moved between BC and Saskatchewan several times while I was growing up) attending St Marys Catholic school. One of the nuns sending me to the principal’s office, where Walter Podiluk gave me the strap (I have no idea why.. I’m sure I didn’t kill anyone). I do remember to this day refusing to ever go back to school again, I was soooo humiliated.
My dad finally cajoled me into returning and he walked with me all the way back to that school (nine long blocks in those days, before school busses) and I think he had words with old Walter Podiluk, I was called back into his office, and got a sorta.. apology from him.
There’s a mental picture of my dad walking home, down the Street from working the docks on ‘Lulu Island in New Westminster, BC’. I can still see all us kids running to greet him, he has the biggest happiest smile on his face. He loved us a lot I think.
A memory of him taking me to get my first new dress at age 11yrs for the Mayday festivities at school on Lulu island. That was a big deal for me and I was so excited. I still remember that dress, a pink sleeveless with a little white collar. He knew nothing about shopping but he let me pick out the dress and he paid for it and I was thrilled.
My dad was a great cook (mom was not) and we always seemed to thrive when he was around, which wasn’t often because he worked two jobs to keep us fed. With six of us kids that’s a lot of mouths, isn’t it? The second job he worked was as a bartender and that was maybe a mistake, my dad and mom fought a lot.
Being a joker and a charmer he was a very sociable person. He had a quip for everything. When I asked him about his medals from the war he said they were for being first in the food line every day. Asked about his injuries to his backside and he’d quip “I got shot running from the enemy!”
Everyone loved my dad.. I loved my dad more than my mom, and I hated my mom for leaving my dad. I realized years later she really had no choice.
My dad forgot all about us kids when she moved us back to Saskatoon, that was a bitter pill to swallow. How does a man disconnect from six children that so obviously loved and adored him? I know he loved us and I know we loved him. To this day I still don’t understand how a man can do that?
I have a theory about absentee dads and their daughters. When we grow up without a father’s love I think we seek it in men we meet and we seek out those that reject us. We strive to make them love us to prove we are lovable and a lot of us end up staying in bad relationships.
Having a strong mother can counter-act that but you would have to be an extraordinary mother. With a brood of six kids that can be difficult, and my mom was ill-prepared for the life that befell her. I did have contact with my dad in my later teens even living with him for a spell. I was somewhat of a handful by then and turns out I needed to find my own way, after all.
When my dad passed away at 69 yrs of age, I traveled to be at his bedside. I sat with him throughout the night but didn’t get to talk with him before he passed. I did let him know that I forgave him for not being there for me... and that was maybe more for me.. than for him.
He was my dad and even though I still don’t understand a lot of things, I still loved him.. that little child in us that never grows up, perhaps?
If you are a dad with daughters reading this.. please know this, you are the most important man in her life, and your guidance and love are going to be instrumental in her future well-being and happiness. I wish for you strength and wisdom and a Happy Father’s day!