Tag Archives: Father

Hockey Dad

This isn’t about hockey dads. It’s about my dad….. and hockey. My father passed away 4 years ago today. I write a blog about him on this day every year. They started off really sad. Now it’s just random memories that I don’t want to forget. I know my last post was about my dad too, on what would have been his 80th birthday. Apologies to anyone who reads this blog, but I just haven’t been writing lately. I’m sleepy a lot. I like to doze off on the couch more than I like to write. Sad but true lately. Anyways, this isn’t about hockey dads. It’s about my dad….. and hockey. Oh I said that.

I went to the home opener of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night with my sister. The 100th season of the Toronto Maple Leafs, therefore the 100th home opener. It was a lot of fun. They paid tribute to a lot of the former Leaf greats. Players who had been honoured by the team in the past, but never got their numbers retired actually got their numbers retired, so no Maple Leaf player will ever wear those numbers again. Some great names…. Tim Horton (who coffee enthusiasts will know of), Bill Barilko (who Tragically Hip enthusiasts will know of), Ace Bailey (who I believe is my grandmother’s cousin, or something like that…. I should ask my mom to log onto ancestry.com to verify), Johnny Bower (who became a player scout when he was older, and my dad saw him in a half empty arena once, and sent me up to him to ask for his autograph even though I had no idea who he was at the time), Red Kelly (who served as a member of parliament while playing for the Leafs…Whaaaaa???? Did you know that? I just found out yesterday), Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming (who at the very moment I was old enough to start watching and understanding hockey, were basically the only 2 reasons to bother watching Leaf hockey, and more contemporary heroes like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin, among others. Such a fun presentation. Was totally worth missing a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game for.

But did I in fact miss a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game??? NO I DIDN’T, thanks to technology. What I’m about to say will not surprise anyone that is even the least bit astute when it comes to cell phones and technology, but I watched the game ON MY PHONE!!!! I never gave a shit about tech, but I just got my first iPhone, and stuff that was blowing you guys away 10 years ago is blowing me away right now. I was walking towards the arena with a crystal clear image of the Jays game ON MY PHONE. Like George fucking Jetson, I have arrived in the future!!!!!

Those seats we sat in were my dad’s seats. He was a season ticket holder for like everything. Leafs, Jays, Argos, The Royal Alexandra Theatre for crying out loud. The man loved his season ticket subscriptions. He didn’t go to all the games, but he knew enough people who would share the games with him, so he’d just go to a few, but he got all the season ticket holder perks. Once he was even the ‘season ticket holder of the game’ which is a nice honour for long time seat holders. They toured him around the building, introduced him to the crowd, and gave him a Leafs jersey with his name on the back. My sister was wearing it yesterday.

In the 80’s when times were good, my dad would get 11 pairs of tickets per season for himself. Always fair and equitable, that meant he would rotate who he took to the game. Between my mom, sister and I, it would be a 4-4-3 split. The person who only got the 3 games would get first choice, and would choose a premium opponent. The dream was to see a young Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers, or maybe a game against the Montreal Canadians who were great non-division rivals. I always took 4 tickets. I didn’t care who they played. I was there to see the Leafs. A horrible fucking team for most of the 80’s but I (like my father before me) was a optomist, and always believed that they would win, even though their skill level was at a clear disadvantage pretty much every time they laced up their skates. Sometimes my mom would get lazy and just give me one of her games because she didn’t feel like going downtown, so if I played it right, I might have gone to 5 games a year. In 2016, if you want to know how much those particular seats cost for 11 games….. well you’d be well on your way to paying some kid’s college tuition I would think.

I loved EVERY weird part of that experience. From the minute we left the house. Even down to the car we drove. My dad used to work as a Fleet Administrator for a pharmaceutical company, and got a company car as part of the deal. It wasn’t always the same one though. If a different make or model came into the fleet, I suppose it was important for him to ‘test them out’, so you never knew what kind of car he was going to be driving. I loved sitting on the Gardiner in traffic, talking about the Leafs, and getting excited about the game. Parking like a kilometre away from Maple Leaf Gardens to save a couple of bucks, but it allowed for a nice walk in the city, which I otherwise never saw at that age. Walking through Maple Leaf Gardens, and looking at all the black and white photos of all the old Leaf players, and if we had time, stopping to look at each one. He would buy me a program every time, giving me yet another resource to fuel endless amounts of useless hockey information into my brain. We’d go out to our seats, and you could see the haze of cigarette smoke in the upper parts of the facility (I know it sounds disgusting, but I miss that smell). A few times if we got there really early, we might go down to the Gold section and watch the players shoot around. If you were standing in the right spot as they came off and asked the right guy for a hockey puck, you might get one. Now that I think of it, I have no idea how we pulled that off, but my dad was a really likeable guy, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for things. 5 minutes of chatting up an usher could always come in handy. I don’t think that’s why he did it. He just liked talking to people. I think the saying “The world is your oyster” is kind of dumb, but the world absolutely was my dad’s oyster, always. We’d go back up to the Green section to sit in our aisle seats right at center ice. We’d watch the game until the first intermission, and my dad would chat up another usher, always remembering their names and what they had talked about last time. Then if he saw I was getting too bored, he’d try to work me into the conversation. Then we’d watch the 2nd period, and after that was over, we’d go to the concession stand and buy Fruitella candy. So delicious, and I feel like it’s the only place I ever saw it. It might be in every store, but I only ever ate it at a hockey game. By the third period, somehow, the Leafs would always still be in the game. As horrible as this team was, they always played great when we were there. I remember it would drive my dad nuts when people would leave 3 or 4 minutes before the game was over just to beat the rush. We would always stay until the end, and then wait for the 3 stars of the game, and he’d take the heat from my mom if it was a school night. Then the long walk back to the car. At that age it felt cool to be walking around downtown late at night, like I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. Then the drive home where we’d re-hash the night, or I’d nod off in the car.

It was all fucking perfect somehow. I miss my hockey dad.


A Short Story On (What Would Have Been) My Father’s 80th Birthday

I usually dedicate a post to my dad every year on the anniversary of his death. Usually because I’m sad on that day, and writing something about him seems like good therapy. Today I felt like moving it to his birthday. After all it’s a milestone birthday. This isn’t the best story. It’s not the worst either, it’s just the memory that popped into my head most recently, and I felt like sharing.

I’d tell you the date, but I don’t remember, and can’t find it in my archives, but it was in the last year of my father’s life, and I really want to say that it was in the last few months. Of course, none of us knew at the time, as my father died of a heart attack quite suddenly at the age of 76. 3 days before my son was born (BUT THAT’S ANOTHER CRAZY STORY). This not-so-crazy story involves my father being invited to go skating. It doesn’t sound like a big deal on the surface, but it was to him. Ryerson University in Toronto had invited him and a select group of others, I believe season ticket holders, to be some of the first to skate on their new hockey rink at Maple Leaf Gardens (where for my readers who aren’t from here, is where the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL team had played for decades before they finally moved to their new facility at The Air Canada Centre, leaving Maple Leaf Gardens to be turned into a huge grocery store, but also finally the home of a smaller arena which is where Ryerson plays their hockey games.)

Why was my dad invited to skate on this new rink? Another incredibly long story for another time, but my father was a great hockey player. A goaltender whose teams twice won the provincial championships when he was a kid. He played some junior hockey, and then went to Ryerson where they won the provincial championship. Unfortunately the NHL only had 6 teams at the time, so while he was an elite player, he wasn’t elite enough for that, so he went to England to play professional hockey there, only to have the league fold just as he arrived. That kind of squashed that particular set of dreams, but goalies didn’t wear masks in those days, so no professional hockey meant less pucks to the face and teeth for my dad. There’s always an upside.

Some of his earlier notoriety came with some perks down the road. 50th anniversary celebrations for the championships he won as a kid. Small towns don’t forget that kind of stuff. Ryerson inducted the provincial championship team (who also were undefeated… I left that out) into the Ryerson Sports Hall Of Fame. Then a couple of years later inducted my dad, who the same year actually played soccer for them and also won the championship, and was the Ryerson Athlete of the Year that year. So he was kind of a big deal there. After these HOF honours and being a naturally friendly/chatty guy who probably expressed interest in the new arena etc, he was invited to go for a skate before it opened to the public. He invited my sister and I to skate as well.

My dad was stoked about this skate. I wasn’t. I was excited that he was excited, but I was not excited about my old man (literally and figuratively) going skating. My old man didn’t think he was an old man. To be fair, you wouldn’t have thought so either if you knew him. He played about 20 years younger than his actual age. He was well-kept although not fashion forward, so if he ever gave his age away, he did so with his polite, old school country boy charm. He was always ready to have a conversation with a random stranger and was never sloppy. His athletic prowess continued into his golf game where he was killing 280 yard drives up until the day he died. He had no reason not to be excited about going skating.

I fucking dreaded it. I’m not gonna lie. I’d been skating with my wife a few months earlier. We were at some public skate at the arena where the Toronto Maple Leafs have their practices. We had seen this old guy with no helmet and 70’s skates get on the ice, and after a couple of laps he had fallen, and I didn’t see it, but there was blood and he needed to be attended to. I’m sure he was probably fine, but he didn’t look like he should have been out there. That was my instinct. My other instinct is that my father shouldn’t be out there either. I asked my mom one time when the last time she figured he’d actually gone skating. She didn’t think it had been that long ago, but when she described the circumstances under which he’d gone, I dated it back at least 25 years. When asked if she was concerned, she gave me a dirty look and assured me that he was gonna fly around that ice like Brian Orser.

Finally I confronted my dad about it. Subtly, I didn’t want to rain on any parades, I just wanted to let him know that I was concerned. He told me he would be smart about it, and if he thought he needed help, he’d hold the boards. I remember my wife who is the most safety conscious person I know, asking if he would wear a helmet, and urging me to urge him to get one. This man didn’t even wear a helmet when playing hockey at a fairly high level. There’s no way he’s wearing one for a skate.

The day came. My family came downtown and we ate at a pub that was down the street from where I worked. My dad never drank a drop of alcohol in his life practically, but I used to take him to this place before we would go to football games. He liked that they served Bangers n Mash because it reminded him of his time in England, so now we had to go there all the time. He’d gotten his skates sharpened. His 50-year-old goalie skates. Yes, those ones. We laced up and were ready to go. My dad, sister and I got out onto the ice, while my mom looked on. We took some pictures. Mine on my shitty Blackberry camera, so they are awful quality, but it’s better than nothing, although now I’d kill for some great photos of that moment. My dad stood by the boards and smiled and we got our photos done. When it came time to skate, it was kinda funny and sad at the same moment. My dad’s skating skills which had been dormant for decades, did not magically appear, allowing him to zip around the ice like I’m sure he thought he could. He really hung on to those boards and moved really slowly. He put on a brave face, but it was painful little dose of reality for him. He wasn’t often reminded that he was an old man, which I’d say is extremely fortunate, but time caught up with him on this night. My mom too. She really couldn’t believe that he didn’t just start skating like back in the day. The main thing for me is that there were no injuries and we were able to share that memory with him. It meant a lot to him, and none of us had any clue how close to the end it really was.

He and I changed our skates in the men’s change room. Without everyone around, I thought I’d ask him how he thought it went. He told me how he was surprised how wobbly he felt out there. I didn’t want him to feel bad, but I did give him shit. In a funny way though. I had to let him know just how old he was, and that he shouldn’t let the fact that he’s so fucking handsome cloud his judgement when it comes to his personal safety etc. He laughed like he always did when I gave him shit. Like I will when my son gets to the point where he thinks he’s smarter than me. These kids are swimming around in your balls one minute, and the next thing you know they’re trying to tell you what’s what. It’s the circle of life.

What I love about this story is the amount of (occasionally irrational) confidence my parents have always displayed. I don’t often recall either of them communicating any sort of self-doubt to me. They both have always had the built-in belief that they were going to be successful in whatever challenge or endeavour that they took on. That’s one of the best things they ever passed on to my sister and I. Now that my father is no longer with us, I look at that as the last time that he could have chickened out of something, but he didn’t. He was gonna skate around that rink with his old legs, and it wasn’t even gonna be an issue in his mind. I love that that’s how he went out.

ūüôā


My Toronto Blue Jays Stories Volume 3

Me, My Dad, and The Toronto Blue Jays

We’re a couple of days past the 3 year anniversary of my dad’s passing. I try to honour him with a blog each year, and I’m a couple of days late this year. I was in Vegas, and while I don’t mind using my wife’s iPad for certain things, typing isn’t one of them. I need that old school desktop computer when I write. It’s just how I get down. I had pledged to write a series of Toronto Blue Jays related posts, celebrating their first post season appearance in 22 years, and while my tradition of writing about my dad takes precedence, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The truth is, I’m a Blue Jay fan first and foremost because of my dad. He was the first one to put me on to the Jays. Boy did they suck at the time. My dad was a loyal fan though. While the Montreal Expos were the far more interesting Canadian team at the time of my initial baseball awareness, it didn’t take long for me to cross over to the Blue Jays and their mighty moustached All-Star pitcher Dave Stieb. This was close to 35 years ago. I’ve never looked back. To celebrate, here are a random selection of thoughts and memories regarding my father as a baseball guy.

– From the time I was a baby, he would sit me on his knee and watch sports with me on TV. Watching a sporting event with my father was awesome if you enjoy watching someone go through an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve always been an enthusiast of colourful language. My dad hurled obscenities at the television set on a regular basis. It was a stark contrast from his actual personality. Fairly laid back, and extremely friendly to anyone that had the pleasure of knowing him. Didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, wasn’t violent. How does a guy like this blow off steam? He yells at a TV set. “You f*ckin donkeys!!!” “Get your arm out of your ass and throw the f*ckin ball!!!” You know….. stuff like that. My mom would get embarrassed if there were other people in the house. He’d try to tone it down a bit by replacing ‘f*ckin’ with ‘friggin’, or my favourite and an original I believe which was ‘frinken’. After a while she’d give him shit, and he’d start pleading with her. “But dear, if they would just………” I have friends that can do great impressions of him based on what little outbursts they may have been lucky enough to see. I’m honoured to have had this man introduce me to the game.

– He was a reluctant but well-loved baseball coach. I started playing little league baseball when I was 6. He took me to the majority of my games and practices. I gotta send a shout out to my mom, who will read this and remember all the times that she had to drive. Let’s say that between the two of them, they always got me there. My dad coached me a few times. I’m not sure it was ever by design, but once he’d done it once or twice, they’d keep asking him. He’d usually step in if someone else fell through. We had a strange dynamic as coach/coach’s son. He had a pet peeve about little league sports. It always drove him nuts when a guy would coach a team, and let his son play all the ‘cool/fun/challenging’ positions on defence, and hit clean up, particularly if the coach’s son wasn’t that good of a player (which happened all the time). He felt like the coach’s son should be treated like just another player. That’s not to say I didn’t get a chance to play cool positions. I did, but I was a fairly capable player. I never took the spot of someone who deserved it more. My dad took things even a step further. When the team needed to get yelled at, I basically got yelled at. He was too nice to yell at another parent’s kid, but if he felt like the team needed to be more focused, he’d generally give me shit for something. I actually loved him for that. He set it up so that my teammates never resented me for being the coaches son, but liked me because I probably took some of the abuse that they might have otherwise gotten. We had our battles, but never stayed mad. Overall, we had some great times competing together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

– He took me to my first Blue Jay game. We played the Minnesota Twins. I think it was a school night, because I remember some debate about whether he should take me or not. It was a crappy game as I recall. We played the Twins and lost either 7-0 or 7-1. We were sitting down the right field line at old Exhibition Stadium in a section that actually had metal benches with numbers on them as seats. The accommodations were no better than they would be at a high school or little league game, yet this was a major league ball park. Brutal. The only thing I remember about the game was that Leon Roberts hit a double for us, and that was maybe the only exciting moment in the game. That’s a pretty obscure name. Upon further research, he only played for us in 1982, so I was 7 years old at the time. Interesting Jay fact…. He was later traded for a young prospect named Cecil Fielder. Wikipedia rules! We would go to many more games over the years. Most more exciting than that one.

– He taught me the difference between a regular season 3-game series, and the World Series which was the only series I’d heard of at that point. I remember being in the bathroom while my dad was shaving. ‘Guess what son? The Jays swept the series against the Mariners.’ ‘Does that mean they’re going to the playoffs?’ ‘No son….they’re in last place’

– He taught me that while at a game, you need to keep your eye on the ball, and if a screaming line drive is hit towards you, don’t touch the ball unless you’re sure you can catch it, because it will hurt like a sonofabitch. I watched him learn that the hard way. Then when it was my turn to get a foul ball years later, I just waited for it to bounce out of a group of fans that went after it, and when it rolled down the stairs I just leaned over and picked it up. Thank you aisle seats. Thank you Rance Mulliniks.

– My dad got to go to a fair number of conferences in the States for work. Every time he went to a different city, he would always get me a t-shirt for that city’s baseball team. When it was all said and done, I had lots of them, but never really wore a Jays shirt.

– I alluded to his temper while watching games. I feel bad that I talked about it so much, in what was supposed to be ‘nicer’ piece, but if you know me, then you know I love the funny stories the most. This is the quick story about where my Dad was when Robbie Alomar hit the legendary home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1992 ALCS which changed the fortune of the entire franchise, and in my mind is the most important home run in Blue Jay history (which I’ve hotly debated this week, especially after Bautista’s homer last week which is 3rd, and Carter’s walk off in 93 WS 2nd). I remember this game was one of those annoying afternoon games where you have to rush home from school to watch it. I must have skipped a class or something, because I was at home in front of the TV. My dad got home at some point and started watching. In hindsight, I don’t even remember that much about the game before the home run. I just remember that it looked like once again we would come up short against Oakland, and not go to a World Series, and Dennis Eckersley was at the time the most un-hittable relief pitcher in baseball, so this game seemed to be on ice. My dad had gotten so frustrated with the Jays earlier in the game (maybe the 5 run third inning) that no amount of swearing at the TV was going to fix this situation. If we weren’t there, he would have just changed the channel, but we were watching intently, so he left the room, so appalled with them that he convinced himself he didn’t care what happened. We were down 6-1 in the 8th inning when the Jays started their comeback. They scored 3 runs in the 8th to make it a 6-4 game. I went into the other room to tell my dad what happened, and convince him that he should come in and watch the 9th. Oh no, he wasn’t coming in to watch those useless assholes. He was still huffing and puffing over the 5-run third inning, and wasn’t about to forgive them for it. I gave up and went in to watch the 9th. Alomar ends up hitting a 2-run homer to tie the game, and send it into extra innings. Never a more dramatic moment in Blue Jay history, and my stubborn dad sat in the living room pretending not to care. I laugh my ass off every time I think about it. They would go on to win their first World Series that year. He came around in time for the next game.

As happy as I am that the Jays have gone on such an incredible run this year, I really wish my dad was around to see it.

I miss you dad!


He Didn’t Know

My father died this day 2 years ago. When he woke up in the morning that day, he didn’t know it would be his last day. When the alarm clock went off, he didn’t know it would be the last time he’d listen to CFRB talk radio. When he had his last breakfast, and his last cup of morning tea, he had no idea they would be his last. When he did his morning routine, and picked out a suit for the day, and consulted his wife on which tie to wear, he didn’t know that was the last suit he’d wear. When his wife read him my blog, and he laughed his ass off (thank goodness it was one of my better ones), he didn’t know that would be the last one he’d ever read. When he kissed his wife good-bye and told her what time he would be home for dinner, he didn’t know he wouldn’t be home for dinner, or that he wouldn’t see her again. When he drove his car to the train station and found the most ridiculous parking spot outside of a Tim Horton’s, that was nowhere near the station parking lot, he didn’t know that less than 12 hours later a priest would be driving me around for over an hour trying to find that car (unsuccessfully).

As his excitement mounted for the birth of my son, his first grandchild, due to arrive the following day, he didn’t know he would never get to meet him in person. He really didn’t know that a year later, his daughter would provide a second grandchild. When he saw us for the last time for a family dinner a few days prior, he didn’t know it would be the last one. When he went golfing for the last time, he didn’t know that it would be. The last ballgame he watched, the last restaurant he ate at, the last time he went to church, the last time he drove up to his hometown. He did all of those things, and entered all of those places with the same smile and enthusiasm that he’d always had. He didn’t know.

Sad.

Here are a few other things he didn’t know. He never knew loneliness or abandonment. He was well-loved, and a very popular guy. He never experienced the kind of disease and illness that take many lives in such a slow, painful and unforgiving way. He died fairly quickly, without a lot of advance notice. In a lot of ways it was a blessing. He died handsome in a suit, and a lot of people aren’t fortunate enough to go out like that. While trying to cope with this I’ve always reminded myself that I don’t think I would have liked to see him deteriorate. To have some extra time with him, would it have been worth it? Probably. I really wish he got to see his grandchildren, but not if it meant that he would be too sick to enjoy them. Not my call though.

What if he knew all of these things? When he was going to die approximately. When he would experience all of these ‘lasts’. Would it have been better? Would he have enjoyed those moments any more? Or would they have just been filled with incredible sadness and grief. Who knows? I just instinctively feel like somehow I was lucky to have as much time with him as I did, but without having to watch it all fall apart slowly. I kind of like that the last time I saw him didn’t feel like the last time.


The Night My Father Died

I’m rolling up on a year now since my father passed away. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you’re probably used to humor and lightheartedness (at least I hope that’s how I come across… maybe a little angry and ranty sometimes??). I’m not necessarily trying to switch gears here. I do have a story though, and the timing to tell it seems appropriate. It’s not a blow for blow recount of what took place, but more of a story within a story that lead to a moment that was crazy enough to write about.

The evening started for me while I was still at work. I was working a retail job, and we’d had a ‘Friends & Family’ type of event that involved ordering a bunch of product and having it shipped to our location, and then a whole bunch of my friends would stagger in over the next couple of days to pick up their stuff. I was trying to get out of there, but as I did, a familiar face would walk in, we would talk, and I’d help load up their vehicles. This was to be my last day before some vacation time that I had booked. My wife was to be induced into labour the following morning, and I was expecting to be a father for the first time. Ironic. My wife’s friends (a family of four) were picking up some things, and offered to drop off at home, which was on the way for them. I had taken the train to work, so I accepted. As I was helping load up their car, I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket, but I couldn’t grab it in time. Then it went off again. My sister had texted me, and left a phone message saying that my mom wanted me to go over there right away. This obviously wasn’t a social visit. I messaged back, and asked if there was anything wrong. ‘Just come right away’ was the response. We were just getting into the car, and getting on the road. I asked my friend if he wouldn’t mind dropping me off at my parent’s house instead. It was actually easier for them location-wise anyways. He agreed and asked if everything was OK. I said I wasn’t really sure, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t. I called my sister to ask her what this was all about. She wouldn’t tell me, she just kept repeating that mom wanted me to come over there right away. “Where’s dad?” I asked. ‘Just come over.’

This was the most awkward car ride of my life. I didn’t see these people too often, and there would have been plenty to catch up on, but I couldn’t focus. I had to figure out why my mom wanted me to come over right away. She obviously had something that she needed to tell me face to face, that couldn’t wait. It was her specifically that asked for me to come over (not her AND my dad), and she put the gag order on my sister. The question surrounding my father’s whereabouts wasn’t being dealt with which told me my answer would come during that face to face conversation. It couldn’t happen soon enough. I was trying not to completely unravel during this car ride. Their kids were in the back. They were being cute. I just couldn’t focus. I’d kind of explained that there was a family emergency, but I didn’t tell the driver that I thought my father was dead.

There was no reason to think that he would have died this night. He was 76 years old going on 66. In great shape, with a modest amount of health concerns, none of which looked like they would spell the end. Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that nobody would say where he was, or why he wasn’t involved with this chat we were having. If something had happened to him, like an accident, I would have been headed for the hospital I figured. This just didn’t feel right. I had to text my wife to let her know I wasn’t coming home right away, and why. I don’t know if she was just so pregnant that she couldn’t focus, or because she knew I was in a car with her friends, but this was one time that she didn’t ask me a bunch of questions. I was grateful, because I had no answers.

We approached the house, and there were two cop cars outside. My fears had almost been completely confirmed by this point. I thanked my friends for the ride. I walked into the house, and saw 2 cops, my mom, and my sister. “Where’s dad?” I remember saying, even though I knew. Maybe there was still a chance that this wasn’t really happening. They asked me to sit, so I sat. The police officers explained what happened, which is another story for another time. To summarize, he had a heart attack on the train. There were people there that knew First Aid, and they assisted him right away. They were kind to him. An emergency crew was waiting at the next train station. They worked on him for a while, but couldn’t revive him. He was gone.

It sounds crazy, but I found all of that strangely reassuring. When I saw the cop cars outside, I thought maybe he had been in some horrible accident, or been robbed and killed or something awful. Him leaving us quickly and relatively painlessly seemed kind of nice. Like if you HAD to go, and we all do…… that might not be so bad. Not so nice for the rest of us, mind you. After a few emotional moments with my family, we started working the phones. My mom and my sister make lists and start executing tasks when in crisis mode. I, cut from a different cloth, try my best to sink as far into the furniture as humanly possible, and hopefully disappear altogether.

I called my wife, and told her the sad news. In her condition, she could have gone into labour right then and there, but she did a good job staying calm. I decided to call everyone else the following day. We had a couple of visitors that night including a close friend of my mom’s, and the Priest from our church. They were both wonderful at calming everyone down, and just being there. We all had tea. We talked about how nice it was that he didn’t have to suffer. We talked about how awful it was that he died potentially the day before the birth of his first grandchild (The grandchild took an extra couple of days to get out, but as far as we knew, it was going to happen the next day). When that would come up, they would look at me like ‘Oh my god, this must be EXTRA CRAZY for you’. It probably was, but I wouldn’t know. My brain was on auto-pilot, and I was having an out-of-body experience, but the real me was floating around the universe somewhere trying to cope with all of this new madness.

The night was drawing to a close, and there was something on the list that my sister and I needed to tick off that night, as unpleasant as this task seemed. My father had driven to a train station earlier that day. His car was still there. We needed to get it before it got towed. The Priest stepped up, and told my sister that he’d be happy to give me a lift out there on his way home so she could stay home with my mom. So off we went.

My father went to church just about every Sunday. He was active in the Church, and well liked by all. There was a time when we all went with him. We still would on certain holidays, but for the most part he was on a solo mission. I didn’t have a problem with this church, I just am not that religious in general. I do love this particular Priest. I think so highly of him as a person, and as a professional, that I would totally recommend this Church to ANYBODY who happened to live in the area, and feel inclined to go. They are very inclusive, and everyone is welcome. This is also where my wife and I got married.

So we’re driving to the train station, and it’s about 11 pm, so most of the cars have left the parking lot. It should be easy enough to find my dad’s car, and I’ll just use the spare keys to drive it home. To my home actually, because remember earlier in the story that I didn’t have a car at work today, and got a lift to my parents. We’re talking about the events of the day, both still blown away by what just happened. We arrive at the parking lot of the train station. Here’s where the fact that I’m completely ambivalent about cars doesn’t come in handy. I know what kind of car my dad drove, but I couldn’t pick it out of a crowd. Luckily I did have one of those door locking remotes that makes the lights flick on. We drove around the parking lot to take a closer look at some vehicles that may have fit the description. It wasn’t there. This station had 2 smaller lots as well, so we drove over to them and had a look. It wasn’t there.

This was going to be a bit awkward, but I knew that in the coming days especially, I was going to be spending a lot of time reminiscing about my dad, and telling, and hearing stories of his life. I didn’t think it would start so soon, but this situation left me in a position where I had to explain one of the quirky details of my father’s personality……. to a priest. My father never liked to pay for parking. He had a well documented history of leaving his car in some of the most creative places imaginable to avoid paying for parking. For years we walked and walked and walked and walked from parking spots to whatever event we were attending. Only recently when my parents had started to get older and didn’t get around as well, did he bite the bullet, and start parking closer to things. My dad would walk for 25 minutes from a parking spot to save $5. It drove me crazy when I was younger. I was telling the Priest this as we were going up and down the streets nearby. The truth is, this car could be ANYWHERE. It could be in one of these apartment buildings, it could be at a store, it could be in front of somebody’s house.

SIDE STORY: In 1992 The Toronto Blue Jays were in the World Series for the first time. Torontonians know only too well how starved this city is for the success of one of our major sports teams. My father who was a season ticket holder at the time, sprung for one game in the World Series. It was Game 5, and he took my mother (he had 2 kids, so you can’t just take one of them……so he took the wife….. I can’t get mad at him for that, although I am a RABID baseball fan). These seats of course were purchased before the series began, and I’m not even sure how much they set him back. I know he chose game 5 because there was a chance they could win the World Series that game. If he took game 7, the series might have been over already, and he wouldn’t get to go. As luck would have it, the Jays were up 3 games to 1, and game 5 was in fact a potential clinching game where they could become World Series champions for the first time ever. My parents would have been there. In those days he would park a good 15 to 20 minute walk from the stadium. There were a few businesses on a street nearby, and figuring that business hours would be until 5 pm or maybe even 6 pm, he would swoop in afterwards, and park in one of the employee’s reserved spots. Cheeky bugger! He did this for years. In 1992, the Toronto Blue Jays were World Series Champions, but unfortunately for my dad (and fortunately for me, who for the price of a donation to the food bank, was allowed to watch game 6 at the stadium on the Jumbotron with 50,000 other fans, even though the game was being played in Atlanta), the Jays didn’t win the Series in that 5th game. There was a sad trot back to the car, and I would imagine a much sadder trot to the pound to get his car after it had finally been towed from the parking lot of whatever business he decided to leave it at, complete with my mother ripping into him for the entire journey.

So there I was, not a regular church goer, with a Priest driving me around looking EVERYWHERE for my dead father’s car, and trying to get home so I can get a good night’s sleep (yeah right), so I can become a father for the first time the next day, when I had one of those moments of self discovery. This COULD be the worst moment of my life. Only if I chose it to be. I remember thinking at the time that I would HAVE to write about this someday. I don’t know if I will ever feel the full magnitude of the human experience quite the same way I did that week. Is it a bad thing? No, it can’t be. I loved my father. That’s the only reason I feel as crushed as I do right now. He was an amazing man. If he wasn’t so amazing, I wouldn’t be so crushed. If you were to ask me if I would take less amazing in exchange for less crushed, I say no way! So this surreal (the most overused word in self-expression….. sorry, but nothing else describes it better) experience of driving around aimlessly, a drive which included going to a completely different station as well, turned out to be a fun way to end the night. The priest and I had some laughs at what had to be the most bizarre moment either of us could recall having. I would have been super mad at my father for his parking shenanigans, but he had passed away that day, so all I could do was have a laugh, and shake my head. Good ol’ dad saved the ultimate parking fiasco for his last day on earth, and I was fortunate enough to be part of it. Exhaustion prevailed, and the Priest drove me home. I felt really bad for him. He must have to do this kind of stuff all the time. It was past midnight. I slept (surprisingly), took my wife to be induced the following day, and while we waited to go into labour, we went for another quick look at the train station. As I pulled out of the last parking lot, I was about to give up again, when suddenly at a traffic light, I spotted a car with a familiar licence plate. It was my dad’s car. Parked in front of a Tim Horton’s that had no drive-thru, which is as ballsy as it gets. I jumped in his car and drove it back to my mom’s place, while my wife (due to give birth that very day) drove our car behind me.

It was the beginning of the most intense week of my life. We mourned, we planned a funeral, we received an outpouring of support that I can only describe as exponentially phenomenal, and in the middle of all that, we managed to (after 2 agonizing days, but that’s another story as well) add a new member to the family that had just lost one. I consider myself fortunate to experience so much of what life has to offer, both good and bad, and survive to tell the story.


My Father’s Eulogy

When I first started this blog, I vowed to write a blog entry every Monday.¬† I did so for 27 weeks, which is over half a year, and nothing short of remarkable by my standards (considering attention span isn’t near the top of my resume).¬† The day after I wrote my last post, my father passed away suddenly while riding home on a train.¬† It appears to have been a massive heart attack taking everybody in his world by complete surprise.¬† He was 76 years old, but looked much younger.¬† If you lined up¬†a hundred¬†76 year olds and were asked to pick out the ones you thought this would happen too, he very well could have¬†been the last man standing.

If that doesn’t seem heartbreaking enough, his first grandson (my son) was born 3 days later.¬† He was very excited about the prospect of this, as we all were.¬† My little guy came out big and healthy, but with a hefty burden.¬† He is blissfully unaware of this, but there is an incredible void that has been left in our lives, and we look to him to fill it.¬† He’s doing an admirable job already.

I don’t think anyone would blame me for not writing a blog last Monday.¬† It’s an emotionally complicated time to put it very mildly.¬† Mind you some of the best writing does get done during these times, but I’ve opted for sleep when given a spare moment.¬† I did actually do some writing last Monday believe it or not.¬† I was tasked along with my sister and a close friend of my father’s to say a few words at his funeral which was on Tuesday.¬† My portion of that is currently folded up on a few pieces of paper with the type of horrible penmanship only I can boast of.¬† I thought it might be a nice idea to type this up, and post it for anyone that might want to read it.¬† That will also conveniently cover my blog post for¬†another week.¬† I don’t think I’ll be able to put this one in the humor section though.¬† My mom told me that he did read my blog the morning he passed away.¬† (The one about dogs not liking people).¬† He got a kick out of it from what I’m told.¬† It was nice to hear that.

Without further ado…..¬† This is more or less what I said at his funeral.

“I would like to thank everybody for their support this past week.¬† Family, friends, co-workers, classmates, teammates, and members of the church.¬† I’m overwhelmed, but not surprised.¬† As most of you know, my wife gave birth to our son….Ken’s grandson on Friday evening.¬† They’re unable to be here as they are recovering at home, but my wife wanted me to say something on her behalf, as even though her absence is understandable, it’s quite devastating for her not to be here as she loved my father very much, but she also wanted to thank everybody for their support during the major life events that have taken place here.

When talking to all of you this past week, the one main theme is how terrible it is that he¬†didn’t get a chance¬†to see his grandson.¬† It’s OK to feel sad about that, but my father was the type of person that would have preferred a happy celebration of his life today.¬† He was a happy, positive man who would always look at the bright side, and there was plenty of bright side for him to look at.¬† So rather than focus on what he didn’t get a chance to do, here’s what he did get a chance to do……

He got a chance to grow up in the beautiful Muskoka area where the air is cleaner, the people are friendlier, and now everyone that’s not from there wants to pay top dollar to own a cottage there.

He got a chance to play hockey, and was quite a player.¬† When he was a youth, his team won the Ontario championship on 2 different occasions.¬† Coming from a small town in those days, that was a big deal.¬† When he went to Ryerson¬†University, his team went undefeated for an entire season and won the championship.¬† Then he ‘tried’ soccer, and that team won the championship in the same season.¬† Since he was the goalie for both teams, he was named Ryerson’s¬†Athlete of the Year.¬† He is now a 2 time inductee into the Ryerson¬†Sports Hall of Fame, both for his contribution to the undefeated championship team in hockey, and as an individual athlete.¬† I mention a lot of the sports stuff because a lot of the people I talked to yesterday saw some of the pictures and said ‘I didn’t know Ken played hockey’.¬† Of course not.¬† He was very modest, and wouldn’t have ever brought it up in conversation unless asked about it.¬†¬†Or as his hockey coach said to me yesterday ‘he showed, but didn’t tell’.¬† To put it in¬†perspective for non-sports fans, 4 of his amateur sporting accomplishments have been celebrated 50 years after they happen.¬† Anytime you remember, never mind celebrate something 50 years after it happened…… it’s kind of a big deal!¬† I’m nowhere near as modest as he was.¬† I get a lot of mileage out of these stories.

He got a chance to marry the girl of his dreams, spent 47 wonderful years together, and had 2 children, both of whom turned out alright.  He got to do a fair bit of travelling to many great places, and has friends all over the world.

He got the chance to golf which was his only real indulgence or vice.¬† He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, and he didn’t spend money on himself, but he golfed.¬† Every chance he got.¬† The powers that be blessed him with the ability to hit the ball 300 yards, well into his 70s.¬† They didn’t necessarily give him the ability to keep it on the fairway, but that always gave him the chance to go into the bush and rustle around for a few minutes so he could pull out half a dozen golf balls to replace the one he lost.¬† If you were ever on the golf course and having a slow round without knowing why, there’s a good chance he was out there in front of you.

He got the chance to be good to people.¬† He volunteered his time.¬† He used to help raise money for Unicef.¬† Lately, it’s been the church.¬† He worked as a greeter, helped out with the banking, and even drove an elderly gentleman around to his appointments.¬† If you were his friend, family member, casual acquaintance, or someone he just met randomly at the store, he was fascinated by you.¬† He loved hearing about you, and it wasn’t an act.¬† He was like that all day every day.¬† There was no ‘on switch’.¬† He had the magical ability to make whoever he was talking to feel like the most important thing in the world at that exact moment.¬† You could be talking about a blade of grass, and he would hang on your every word.¬† Imagine that was your father?¬† You could see how one might get to be a little obnoxious ūüėČ

He was loyal to everything and everyone he valued.  He was a meticulous Virgo too.  Every job he did, had to be done right.  Even if he was serving us dessert.  If he had to divide up a pie or cake, there were high level mathematics going on in his head to make sure everyone received an equal slice.  God forbid someone would ask for a smaller piece.

His hellos¬†and goodbyes were legendary.¬† If you came to the house, he was like a friendly dog (only he smelled better), but he couldn’t wait to get you into the house.¬† After you left, he stood on the porch and talked to you until you almost had to cut him off, and then summer or winter, he would stay out there and wave at you until your car was no longer in his sight lines.¬† EVERY TIME!

I can’t begin to describe what kind of a son, husband, father he was, and what kind of grandfather he would have been.¬† Based on some of the clues I’ve given here, I’m sure you can put the pieces together.¬† We’ve had a great life together!

My final thought is…… If there were such a thing as human cloning (and it weren’t soooooo frowned upon), I think he would have made an excellent prototype.¬† I would love to live in a world full of Ken Austins!”

Thank you.