Now to understand the type of home I grew up in, one needs to contrast the contradictions of my father. At one end this was a man who took joy in preparing squirrel pelts and at other times what the most rules bound and state indoctrinated person I have ever met. One of the lasting memories I have of my father is it being after lunch in the middle of summer and wondering what my dad is up to. I have been surviving the heat by escaping to the basement and playing video games. I go where I know I will find him, the garage. Now I expect him to be doing some wood working or sorting some tools for plumbing, something typical. Instead my I come out and find him skinning dead squirrels he has found on the side of the road. He has one pelt already laid out on the flat of his table saw, and he is in the middle of the second skinning. Now it might seem odd, but we are not hicks, we live in the suburbs, but he has his green Tilley hat on and he loves every minute of it.
As I come out and go, “why in the hell are you skinning squirrels?”
He gets his typical fighting embarrassment smile, and responds, “for the pelts”.
“Okay, um, why do you want squirrel pelts?”
“To show kids”
No, of course running through my mind is, why not show them a live squirrel or a stuffed one…. but this is my father. A wannabe-hick trapped in suburbia. Asking for a reasonable explanation is just futile.
A second thing one has to know about my father is that he is absolutely connected to water in all of his major loves in life, outside of finding road kill and keeping it to show kids. There was this hawk in our freezer for two years, but that’s a whole other story for a different day. Anyways, back to telling you about Dad and water.
Everything that matters to my dad outside of our family has water. My father is a fire fighter, so he uses water to put out fire. My father’s trade just like his father before him is that of a plumber, so bringing people water. My dad also really loves to canoe and go swimming. Our major moments of coming together that I remember are extended family canoe trips. The major expense at our house is a pool. For a man so in love with water and all things associated with it, of course we need one. My dad loves to grow plants, and anyone familiar with the process knows watering plants is a significant part of the process. Lastly my father has an absolutely love of fish and building aquariums. He has 5 in our basement, and will spend over an hour standing or sitting and watching the fish in his aquariums. So yes, water is quite an important part of his life. I’m not sure if he really realizes it, but I do. When it comes to honouring him as he passes on to the other side, I will definitely have to do something with water for him.
Now my father is also very much a man’s man, he fits the stereotype, but there is warmth there that is not in other people. Though I think this is a product of who he hangs around. He is a firefighter and the men there are quite stereotypical. I actually blame most of my sexism on the men my father was friends with. I blame him for not taking a stand against them. I rarely if ever remember my father being explicitly sexist. However, I do remember particular friends of his doing so, one in particular Greg. I could lay blame on him for definitely educating me in both racism and sexism, even if it was under the guise of being a joke. He used to openly boast about beating up fags on shore leave while in the navy. His sons and I thought this was the coolest thing at the time. If I can blame my father for anything, it is for exposing me to men like that. Men who I at the time thought were great, but now I think are weak and pathetic. It has been a long struggle to come from a sexist, racist, homophobic upbringing to be part of a community that openly defies these false and oppressive mentalities and structures.
One example of Greg’s sexism was that he and his sons were able to openly call their mother 86; this was a nickname referencing her IQ. Everyone just seemed to laugh this off, but as a youth and kid, we took this at face value, what could just have been a joke, it enforced internalized sexist attitudes that stick with me until this day. It wasn’t that my dad ever was this explicit but he let it happen and by allowing this was just as complicit in my learning of patriarchy, racism and homophobia.
My father’s weakness was in his lack of desire to reject these teachings and learnt disrespect.
Despite these inadequacies, my father expressed love and care for me, more than any stereotype of manhood can allow. When I was young, he would kiss me goodnight along with my mother and I felt loved and appreciated as I fell asleep. He rarely, if ever, used or threatened me with physical violence to keep me in line. If anything my father consistently discouraged this type of action on my part. I didn’t need any encouragement to fight, it was a natural state of being for me to bleed and chuck knuckles.
On the other hand, I can credit my father with giving me the base of my value system. My father showed me what it meant to live by a code of honour that was about serving the community. That is what being a good firefighter was about, putting your life on the line for others. It was about self-sacrifice. My father does embody these qualities of a warrior. As a kid I was scared my father wouldn’t come home from work. My dad has never talked about the close calls or the danger, he has a quiet confidence in his abilities and is very humble about his place in society, and he sees it as a duty, not something to brag about. But he is very quietly proud. I admire him for this. We definitely do not agree on what is good for society sometimes, but the dedication with which we approach social life has parallels. He taught me to take ownership of the community I am in. He taught me it was a duty to care for people at any time, even when it was inconvenient for myself.
The lasting memory of this was when we were travelling down the highway in Toronto and we passed a 3 car crash, and there were only police on the scene. My father pulled over to the side of the road, and unlike the 100s of cars that passed by, he got out to help. I watched as he saved these strangers lives. He went to work on people who were dying while our family waited for him to return. We waited as he dedicated over 2 hours of our time to saving their lives. My father was soaked in other people’s blood. He saved a woman’s life that day from death and he didn’t seem to beat an eye. I remember a paramedic coming to our car and saying to us, your dad will be here soon we are just cleaning him up a bit. In the background a helicopter ambulance was landing to pick up the woman he saved. My dad returned to the van and we didn’t really have to say anything, we continued on to my Granny’s house, he sent his message loud and clear to me. You have a duty to care for others, one day I hope to live up to this expectation.
Even inside this value system there are things I did not agree with. My father was a bit too unquestioning and naive in his acceptance of law and government. He shunned me for over a month when I got caught for spray painting on government buildings; to him this was an attack on where part of his source of honour came from, the state. In this my father and I will always disagree.
I Still Love you Dad…..