Tuesday, August 3, 2010


My father does not know his sons.
Often he has asked me who my brother is.
Now he asks who I am,
And who the man is sitting next to me,
My brother.

He is frightened. At times he's been paranoid.
I reassure him constantly that my brother is not stealing.
My mother managed his affairs before my brother did.
It has been so long since he could manage his affairs himself.
The year my mother became sick aged him most.

The winters he pushed her wheelchair around the hospital.
The years he returned to church.
He talks to me now of the priest.

A terrible time, the depression
My mother said. It changed him.
Made him as he is, she said.
Some stories we did not know.
My parents shared so little outside themselves.

As a teen ager what he saw and what he did
There was hunger in those years.
He told me the tough times, driving logging horses.
His eyes would look at painful distance.
That was after he left home in anger with my grandfather
My grandfather, the Reeve.

His mother died in childbirth with his brother
The one who became a military police
While dad was the RCAF bombardier.
"They said it was a submarine, but I think it was a whale,"
he said of a mission off the Pacific coast.

My step mother was a fine woman too
Farming in northern Manitoba was a hard life.
My father the oldest son,
Then his brother whose birth he thought had caused
His mother's death
And then step brothers, good men, but different.
Cowboys, loggers.

When my grandfather died,
the lawyer stole the money and the farm
Millions stolen by a lawyer protected by laws made for lawyers.

Years later I'd meet children of other Minetonas farmers
We'd talk of that lawyer, the millions stolen, their losses, and ours,
So many years before Hillary Gate
Less directly stole billions of farmers hard earned money.
They actually said he stole while she was never convicted.

Dad worked with a salesman alcoholic
His drinking destroyed their business
After many years of Dad's commitment and sacrifice
The business closed and Dad was very anxious then

But he and mom rallied. Their business together thrived.
Veteran's Affairs was good to it's own.
Life was good those many years.
Retirement, the motor home, Good Sam, his canoe and fishing,
Mom's mink coat and years of world travel.
In the end they loved the cruise ships.
And sailed the seven seas.

"I'll be 90 soon," he says. He's turning 92 in a couple of weeks.
"It was good until I was 80," he says. "Losing my eyes was the worst."
He tells me of his back.
I remember years ago he died and I resuscitated him.
I always wonder why I chose that time to visit the hospital,
Finding him comatose. Anaphylactic shock,
Another time he had a bad reaction to a medication
Leaving my mother in a fit of rage and driving night and day
To tell me all about it.
Calling his doctor. Calling so many doctors over the years.
The good ones were easy. The bad one wasn't so easy.
Threatening a colleague is frowned upon but I've done it.

Modern medicine has saved so many of our family
And I became a doctor remembering the doctor
Who came to the home and calmed my mother and father
When I could not breathe and antibiotics gave me back my breath.

"Where are we," he asks when we have travelled to Quebec,
I tell him and he says, "I thought we'd gone to Winnipeg."

I think it's St. Boniface, he remembers.

Mostly I tell him about my dog and we talk of Sonny, his dog.
He remembers my cat. "She sings," he says.

When Mom was dying there were those who tried to take their money.
Old people terrified would kill for a veteran's pension.
My brother and I saved him from going to the grave with her.
She'd sustained us all and loved us all, equally, but him first and foremost.
"He was always her man," her sister would say.

He had congestive heart failure then.
A friend had put in his first pace maker when his doctor
Insisted it was 'gas', the one I threatened.
Mom and I talked.

In the end my brother and I were parents.
Dad would rally. He flew out with Ron to visit me.
Ate the moose I'd shot and said it was best he'd had.
Had told me he'd wanted to taste moose one more time.

Wanted to live in British Columbia except they told him
They'd not have health insurance. It was a cold year in Ontario.
"I don't like the snow," he'd said.
But ideas came and went. He seemed safe and secure.
"I want to ride the train again," he said.
Reminding me of all the trips he'd taken us on as kids.
I loved the train. He and mom came out to see me on the train.
I drove him through the mountains and he told me of the war years.
He was stationed in BC.

He was hang gliding and motorcycling in his 70's.
He told us after my mother died.
"I was afraid you'd tell your mother," he'd said.
The wives thought they were off hiking or seeing.
His cousin played Johnny Cash on guitar and sang with me.
I'd guess he was the bad influence
But riding bronchs with Dad and his friends that week in Saskatchewan
I'd say my father might have been.
My Torontonian mother with her civilized Eastern and Baptist ways
Made him the man he was as much as her love.

My brother and I, the dog and he would go hunting and fishing.
Then it was Dad and me and my brother's dog that would hunt for years.
It's always been so good to be with my father in the old pick up truck.
He made us feel so safe as kids even in the Cold War
And the Cuban Missile Crisis. Men always turned to him for support.
A natural leader. I worked for him. My brother did too.
I loved to hear all the men I worked with speak so highly of my father.
"He's a fair man......best boss I ever had.......worked alongside the men.....didn't just talk and wear a suit....he always knew how to fix it, even when the blue prints were wrong.....never cared what a man's background was, what colour, whatever, just if they were honest and worked."

He liked to garden in his later years. Mom had been the gardener but when she was gone he grew tomatoes on his balcony.

I ate one today. This morning when I went to his room to accompany him to breakfast. The taste of that tomato burst in my mouth.

The men respect him. The women all like him. For years I've heard from women, "Your father is a very handsome man." I'd not seen it. But he'd always been a gentleman and liked in the church. He had a priest and a minister as a friend and helped so many charitably with his time and skills. He liked to tell stories about the clergy not knowing how to fix roofs and how you'd think they'd be closer to God if they did. And fixing a roof he'd become close to the priest, the years he drove around the province of Manitoba selling lightbulbs and roofing material to small stores.

My brother and I am who we are thanks to him and Mom. We can never repay the gift of life their love gave.
I am forever indebted to this man of men.
He was hard on me. I left home because we fought at 17. I was so angry then. And wrong. Years later he'd tell me he didn't know and no one told him.
There's so much a father doesn't know.
"Don't worry about having children," my mother told me. "You've saved so many children and helped so many lives, I just hope you'll make time for yourself."
Dad cried when she died. They'd been inseparable.
Her wishes were his and his wishes were hers.
For 50 years they'd struggled and compromised and worked together
Raising a family, pillars of community, working and making businesses.

I owe my work ethic to them. All the years I lived in hospitals and lived for medicine and lived for practice and squeezed the good times into the constant years of medicine and sick wives and their dying in laws.

I asked dad for lunch one day and asked him about why his marriage worked and mine didn't. "I don't know son," he said. "I don't understand your mother at all sometimes. I thought you chose good women but I didn't like their parents, the drinking and such. I've only really known machines in my life. Didn't trust horses as much as I trusted machines. Take your car. I remember you just bought it new. But listen to this door. You can hear it needs oil. You don't seem to hear that but machines need maintenance and maybe that's where you go wrong with women too. Your mother says it's because you're always worried about your patients. Your mother has been good to me. Not that we haven't had our fights. It's just that she's different somehow. I don't know why you're asking me about this."

He's settling down in that way one does. He used to argue with me just to see if I 'still had it in me." "See Lady Hay I can still get the kids worked up," he say and I'd later, much later, think of myself playing with my puppy and wonder why I took it all so seriously.

If only I could have those years back. All the library time, the wards, the darkness and the nights without sleep. Night after night at bedsides. And all those languages of pharmacology, biochemistry, epidemiology, neuroanatomy and on and on. I've forgotten so much more than I've learned and yet day in, day out, I answer the questions right. My colleagues and I agree and more often than not they ask me. Even though I dye my hair.

Dad comes and goes. We talk weekly on the phone. He sometimes knows the prime minister. It doesn't matter. He says my brother hasn't been to visit in weeks and doesn't remember his nephew and I talked together on his phone only days ago.

Mom knew us all when she died. She knew us better than we knew ourselves. Dad knows us in a different way. We known each other well over half a decade. Going on sixty years for me and then some for my brother. Yet the dreams of us began in WWII when mom and he met.

WWII. That and the depression changed him. Changed all of them. As the Cold War changed us.

Dad's brain may change but his mind and soul and heart are still the same. He's the biggest man I've ever known, the finest and wisest and most true.

He'd want to be known by his actions. His is a legacy of love.

I'm afraid for him as I know for all these years he's been afraid for me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

No comments: