THE BLOG

My Main Man, My Dad

06/16/2013 07:40 EDT | Updated 08/16/2013 05:12 EDT

I've been giving a lot of thought to Father's Day this year. A friend recently lost her dad. I'm sure Father's Day won't be an easy day for her and I hope she and her family spend their day enjoying happy memories and making a few new ones.

My dad's 82. That means he'll soon start telling everybody's he's 83, because around about six months from his birthday, he begins rounding up - a funny little quirk he's had for as long as I can remember.

Anyhow, he's 82, but most people would swear he's years younger. It's easy to tell he once had jet-black hair, because much of it remains on his head and is actually still black. Until recently, he went to the Y five mornings a week to work out. Dad was a convert to the Y, joining a year or two ago when his former club closed. He liked the facilities, but never quite adapted to the rush-in, rush-out nature of the Y compared to his old club, where the men would linger for coffee or breakfast after working out. He missed the camaraderie. Sure, it was nice, but it just didn't feel the same.

At his former club, he and his friend were the venerable old men of the squash court. They didn't run around much, but they knew how to make YOU run. Invariably, they managed to beat guys half their age by whacking the ball into a corner time and time again and standing back when you dove to make a shot you'd almost inevitably miss.

My dad had a tough start in life. My grandfather was a travelling salesman. In 1930, he and two of his sisters left behind Scotland to come to the New World, landing in St. Catharines, Ontario. My grandmother, pregnant with my dad, was to follow with my aunt and uncle later. However something went awry, and Granddad was soon back in Scotland and the aunties wound up in New Zealand. My dad hear that story for the first time a shortly before he immigrated to Canada in 1956 - strangely enough, to the very city where his father had hoped to put down stakes a quarter-century before.

When my dad was five, his father got ill and he died when my dad was 10. My dad's memories of his father - a man who had romantic dreams of travel and prosperity and fancied himself something of a latter-day Robbie Burns but spent his final years in bed - are vague and, I think, something he perfers to keep to himself.

My dad left school at 13 to work, as was customary of the time, to help support his family. He apprenticed as a joiner and later fulfilled his mandatory service to King and Country as a sailor in the Royal Naval Reserves. He worked for 52 years, retiring on his 65th birthday.

Most of us lucky enough to have their fathers consider them their hero. I'm no different. But mine actually is one.

During a howling storm in the mid-Atlantic, returning from Virginia with a load of high-end cars for the U.S. Embassy, the aircraft carrier my dad was aboard listed in the swelling sea. He and his captain were the only two on deck and they struggled to save the cars from being crushed against each other as the boat rocked in the massive waves. His captain got a little too close to the edge and nearly went overboard. My dad grabbed him and pulled him to safety. When they got into port, the captain shared the story with a local paper. My mother (a brand-new bride of just 22) only learned about it when the ladies she worked with in a jute mill saw the story in the paper that morning.

That clipping is long gone. My mother can't remember which paper it was (other than the fact that it had the day's racing form in it) and my father can't recall that he ever knew. Which is too bad; because since we surprised him with a custom-made kilt for his 75th birthday, it's the one thing he doesn't have that we'd love more than anything to give him.

My father made my mother, my brother and I his whole life as a young man. In his elder years, that's extended to include his daughter and son-in-law and his three grandchildren. He patiently taught us to drive; then surrendered his car. He loaned us money to get us out of jams - sometimes just a quick $50 on the sly, for larger matters, always in consultation with "the boss" - and helped us with innumerable projects at our homes.

My dad can't sing to save himself, but after a few sips of "the good stuff," he sings "The Wild Colonial Boy" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IU4z6TBa-oand "Hi Gee Up Ma Cuddy" with reckless abandon (and a few makey-up words, as my mother will say). He has also fostered in my brother and me a love of "Honky the Christmas Goose" that (apologies to Johnny Bower) also involves a few changed words.

Despite not really having anyone to pattern being either a husband or a father after, my dad has done a great job. He and my mum just celebrated their Diamond Anniversary in February. He taught us to be loyal, fair and kind. To admit our mistakes. That real men laugh (only with, never at women) and cry.

And whether it's a somber occasion or a celebration, always leave a bit of room for the good stuff.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! Lang may yer lum reek.