My dad (a sort of Valentine’s story)

I’ve had quite a roller coaster relationship with my dad. Although he was living with my mom and me, he was rarely home and never had the patience to show me how to ride a bike or skate. Later on, he would traumatize me while driving and his lack of support left me too scared to drive again for 21 years. My earliest childhood memory is seeing him work in his home office. He was such a stranger to me that on the very rare times my mother would choose to leave me in his care, I would scream my lungs out desperately trying to change her mind.

I remember him yelling and being angry often, mostly about work, then later at my mom, then at me.  I saw him stubbornly keep his job at a company that couldn’t care less about him. Each week he would show me his pay-check and explain how less and less money he was making, but due to misplaced loyalty and fear of the unknown, he kept hanging on. He finally lost his job when the company went bankrupt, taking his hard-earned pension with it.

One thing was always clear; his work  and his clients (whom he called his friends) were more important than anything else, including my mom and myself.  My dad had what most of us will probably never get – a job he loved passionately. I will always envy him for that.

My dad wasn’t a good dad, but his dad was worse. He was a violent drunk who left a deep, painful imprint on my dad’s psyche and soul. Knowing about his childhood helped me to understand his behaviour, but the pain was still there.

I left home in my early twenties and instead of shouting matches, we began to have reasonable conversations over the phone every week. We talked mostly about the only “safe” subject: sports. Thankfully, our favourite hockey and baseball teams were there to give us some form of a relationship. We built, ever so slightly, on that.

Our “new” relationship was not without issues. I remember him driving away and leaving me alone in a parking lot after I went grocery shopping, because I was five minutes late coming back. He needed 1:30 to get ready for work he said after, and  I got in the way of that. I was 25 at the time and to this day, I remember how utterly abandoned I felt, the last of many times before.

In my mid-thirties, I moved to another city and things changed again.  Our phone conversations got longer and better, even with my waning interest in sports. Then the TV show Dancing with the Stars started and to my giant surprise, we had one more interest in common.

Along the way, he stated ending his phone conversations with “je t’aime bien”. It’s not I love you, it’s more “I think you’re OK”, but I took it. My heart and mouth needed more time to say it back however. Later on, he discovered email and started writing to me every couple of days.

He is much less angry at life now and never guilts me into visiting more often or coming back to my birth town. He says he wants me to be happy and if living where I do gives me that, he’s all for it. To me, this is gold. On the phone, we talk more. He just recently got rid of the “bien” after “I love you”.

Dad is 81. He just sent me a Happy Valentine’s Day – I love you email. Our relationship will never be something wonderful like in the movies. He will never make me feel safe. But we were fortunate to be allowed enough time to arrive at a place where I know he’s giving me all that he possibly can. I know he loves me, and he knows I love him back. That’s damn good to me.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

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Ice Sculpture – February 2008

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What Do You Do?

I recently came across a 2012 article by David Wong, which gave me a good kick in the pants. It’s from a blog with a readership “heavy on 20-something males” which might be why I hadn’t come across it before. It proves though that it’s often worthwhile to explore outside our comfort zone.

The article title is 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person (quite an ambitious title). [Before you click on the link article that follows, please know that the side is heavy in ads and widgets and often froze on my screen: article link.]

The premise of the article is that you can’t just sit and complain that you are a good person who doesn’t get any breaks in life; you need to do things that provide others with what they need.

The tone is blunt (ex. No 6 – The world only cares about what it can get from you) but for me, it drove home the message that we’re not on this earth to feel entitled, but to action initiatives that benefit others, on a variety of scales. And if we get on with doing this that make other happy, we might just make our lives more fun in the bargain.

I also came across the book The most good you can do : how effective altruism is changing ideas about living ethically by Peter Singer. Some of its tenets: get the highest paying job you can, this way you’ll be able to give more and it’s better to give a sizeable amount to save the lives of 50 people far away from you (ex. providing them with malaria preventing nets), than to give to your alma mater, the public library, etc. which do not save lives. If you arbour on some level a need to do give back, it may make you want to evaluate donations in a different way. [Disclaimer, I will continue to donate to my public library!]  It also offered a number of information sources/sites that evaluated the level of efficiency of charity organisations. I especially liked http://www.givewell.org/about.

If you need more inspiration, there is also the book Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie otherwise known as the founder of TOMS Shoes. The company gives a pair of shoes to an impoverished child whenever a pair is sold and gives the profits of each eyewear piece they sell to “to save or restore the eyesight for people in developing countries” (Wikipedia).

Three pieces of writing that inspired me to accomplish more for others in a new way.