I am grateful for my dad.
There are a lifetime of reasons why, but let me share just a few. He taught me a fair amount of what I know about living in this world. These lessons weren’t always easy to learn. But so many of the important ones aren’t.
My dad is tough as nails. Like, he might be a superhero. If it came down to him vs. Wolverine, I wouldn’t bet on Wolverine.
He’s the guy who, as a cop, was not afraid to have fights with biker gangs. Who went into a biker clubhouse by himself to arrest the leader he’d been looking for, no time to call for backup, and who, a minute later, walked out of the clubhouse with the gang leader by the scruff of the neck, and the entire gang standing dumbfounded not knowing what to do against this one-man army. He’s the guy who loves nothing more than a good smash-em-up high speed chase (for a good cause….of course). He’s the guy who, when the call for ‘a domestic’ came in and the guy was inside yelling about killing cops, he stood in front of the door with a shotgun and met him straight-on while the guy swung an axe at his head. (Mental note: Never bring an axe to a gun fight….) He’s a real life Dirty Harry, and taught me everything I know about courage, about standing up for what you feel is right, and don’t let anybody intimidate you. “The Queen’s shit stinks just like anybody else’s”.
He’s the guy who built houses by himself, faster and better than the crew of guys down the road who “never get anything done because they’re always stopping for a smoke break or a Timmies run.” He’s the guy who I built a stone wall with when I was in my 20s and in the prime of my life, and I couldn’t keep up with him. I also could barely move the next morning because I had never worked so bloody hard in my life and my muscles were like “nah….sorry dude, we’re done…”. But it was a damn good wall and we made several thousand bucks in a couple of days of hard work. “You gotta put some elbow grease into it!”
He’s the guy who, the day before his heart surgery, just couldn’t sit back while his neighbour struggled to shingle his roof, so he climbed up the ladder, shingles slung over his shoulder and blocked-heart pumping away, to show him how it was done.
He’s the guy who never accepts Reality-as-it-is, but always looks past the surface, into the inner workings of whatever machine, relationship, person or situation, and figures out how to make it better. He’s the guy who took over a struggling door&window factory and, in a year, increased profits by 700%.
He’s the guy who thinks outside the box so easily it’s as if “the box” doesn’t exist. He’s the guy who showed me you can take the front off someone’s house in about 5 minutes with nothing but a hammer and a crowbar, and if you need to put in a window, get a chainsaw and cut a damn hole in your wall. There are probably more sophisticated ways to do it, but they sure aren’t as much fun as a chainsaw.
He’s the guy who taught me how to do donuts in a car and get yourself out of a slide on a slippery road, enjoying yourself all the while. How to have fun riding in a tractor bucket, but don’t screw around and be an idiot cuz you’ll get yourself killed.
He’s the guy who, when his police partner was murdered by a couple of hoodlums on a theft-and-murder-spree, spearheaded a massive investigation across multiple jurisdictions, went toe to toe in the courtroom with famed defense lawyer Clayton Ruby, and won. He’s the guy who put murderers and rapists behind bars, and wasn’t afraid of them when they’d served their time and got back out, because, if you fucked with him or threatened his family, you’d lose. He’s the guy who, when an affiliate gang of Satan’s Choice threatened to bring their gang down on his ass, retorted “I’ve got at least 5000 guys in my gang; bring it on.”
He’s the guy who turned our pickup truck into a dump truck. Who rebuilt an old Ranchero that had been rusting in a field for decades. Who can drive anything on wheels or tracks, from a snowmobile to a boat, a backhoe to a bulldozer, as easy as falling off a log.
When the doctors told him his hip-bone was so eaten by cancer that he would have to wait until chemotherapy was over and maybe, if he was lucky, he’d be walking again in a year and a half, he’s the guy whose hip-bones fully healed while he was still undergoing chemotherapy (which was apparently impossible), and walked around the ROM with me a mere 6 weeks later. He’s the guy who has had tumours grow around his spinal cord, dozens in his legs, his bones, his skin, his brain, and he beat them all. For almost a decade he has kept up this fight. And even when he’s exhausted, he’s the guy who still cracks a smile and lets me know he’s happy to see me again. He’s the guy whose Will is stronger than any pain threshold, who never gives up, who never says “I can’t…”
He’s the guy who showed up as the ‘arresting officer’ when my buddies and I hacked our school’s computer system and caused chaos. When he walked into the Principal’s office in his uniform, my buddy Mike and I looked at each other and thought “oh shit.” But he’s also the guy who, a few years later, told me he was also laughing inside, thinking “yep, that’s my boy…” We had a good laugh about that. We’ve had good laughs about a lot of things.
He’s the guy who seems to know everything, and even after I got my Ph.D. and became obsessed with the political system, he’s the guy who has always been right — always — when predicting the outcome of the next election.
He’s the guy who would help anybody, anytime, if they needed it. The list of people he’s had a positive impact on is longer than I’ll ever know. He’s the guy who just does it, not for glory, but because it’s the right thing to do.
He’s the guy who can always make you laugh, not because he’s trying to, but just because he is who he is, he says what he says, and if it goes out of fashion, too damn bad. He’s the reason I still say to my kids things like “You got ‘er, Pontiac”, even though they have no idea what I’m talking about.
We haven’t always seen eye to eye. In fact, most of our relationship for the past 30+ years has been an ongoing “friendly debate.” We have different opinions about pretty much everything. And because of this, my dad taught me the importance of talking to people, not arguing. Listening and accepting that the other person HAS a logic, even if it’s not a logic that you agree with. He taught me to think about my beliefs, don’t be afraid to defend them, but also don’t be afraid to listen to what the other person has to say. He’s the guy who taught me to never think I know more than someone else, and if you really want to understand the way the world is, go talk to the guy pounding nails on a roof, because even though he might not have book smarts, he lives in the real world.
We haven’t always been close. Several months usually pass, sometimes a year or so, between us talking to each other. Neither of us are very skilled at keeping in touch. But, when we do make contact again, it’s good. I always have known that, whatever decision I make (even though I’m probably wrong — hahaha), he’ll accept it. Sure, he’ll point out what’s wrong about it, but still, he’ll accept it, and “passive-aggressive” just isn’t in his vocabulary.
He never plays games with people’s feelings. If you don’t like his opinion, that’s your problem. At least you know where he stands and there’s no need for guessing if he’s judging you. If he is, he’ll tell you. But he’ll also accept you. And if/when your decision doesn’t turn out so hot, he’s the guy who will laugh with you, and then help you out.
I didn’t always listen to his advice, but as I get older, I realize my life would have gone better if I HAD listened better. Some of his lessons though, did shape me deeply, and I consider them among my best qualities. He taught me the importance of having integrity. Figure out what your values are, and then live by them. Don’t be full of shit. There’s enough of that in the world. Figure out Good and Evil, and choose Good. The bad guys are badder than you can imagine; don’t be naive. But don’t be scared either. Fight the good fight. So when your time comes, you can go to the Great Beyond knowing that you stood on the right side of the line, and held your own.
I remember wrestling with him and my sisters as a young’un. I remember him pulling our toboggans behind the snowmobile, while we hung on until our fingers and toes were numb, having the time of our lives. I remember snowplowing and Risk and watching car chases on TV. I remember working with him in the garage, in the barn, in the field, on construction sites. I had my first beer with him, building a barn together for a local guy who owned the Sub shop we used to go to (best roast beef subs in the world, I’d still say).
I remember asking him once, a couple of years into battling cancer, what he had learned from the experience. He answered, matter-of-factly, “I learned that when the shit hits the fan and you really need people, most of them won’t be there for you.” It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I felt a bit deflated for a moment, I must admit. Then he continued, “So you sure appreciate the ones who are.” And that’s my dad. He tells it like he sees it. If you screw up, he’ll let you know. But if you stick to your guns and do your best, he’ll let you know that too. He hasn’t told me very many times that he’s proud of me. But I remember very clearly the times he did, and I know he wasn’t bullshitting.
I remember talking to him about death when my existential awakening happened and I just couldn’t accept that it’s all going to end someday. He listened, over and over and over, as we worked together on some project. No matter how much anguish I needed to pour out, he listened, and offered whatever advice or perspective that he could. And if I didn’t always accept it, I knew he meant it. I knew he did his best, and I know he loves me.