Tag Archives: Ryerson

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.

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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.