He deserved better.
I delivered his eulogy, a mixture of bitterness, supressed anger, and trying-too-hard humour.
Our relationship had mellowed over the twenty-plus years that had passed since I had been a teenager. That I had been cocksure and a bit of an asshole had been forgotten by me by the time it came to stand in front of that church, a hundred or so people doing their final duty for a man they could have only barely known.
The eulogy went well. My eldest brother said it was the kind he would be happy to receive. Little did he know—only three or four years later I would not be asked to deliver his; that honour went to a sister-in-law who couldn’t be bothered to ask anyone of his life before meeting her sister, as if nothing that had occurred during his first twenty-some years were of substance.
The eulogy for my father had its moments, a few well-placed jibes that were well-received. A last-minute decision to pass around bags of licorice all-sorts—he died with a bag of them in his pocket—was also appropriate to the circumstance.
And while I truthfully admitted out relationship had healed as I aged—the living room dust-up and bleeding nose—his—seemingly forgotten—I did reveal a bit too much of my truth within those twelve or fifteen minutes.
I should have instead said how grateful I was for his having adopted my sister and me, after marrying mom. He didn’t have to—we could have stayed living under his name without going through the legal process, but he accepted us fully and gave us his name. I should have allowed that he took us from poverty in a west-end, welfare apartment, one smelling of fish sticks and vapo-rub, to a comparative suburban dream, a newly built house and neighbourhood, annual driving holidays, and the semblance—if you didn’t pry into the darkness—of normalcy.
Dad was an alcoholic, without doubt. But he raised five kids, only three his own, after being widowed before he was forty, and gave as much affection to his stepchildren as he did his own—not a lot, mind, but equitable.
I don’t recall ever being referred to as a ‘step’ child more than once. Dad and mom saw to it that we were just ‘the kids,’ no definitive descriptors allowed.
I should have mentioned his quiet dignity, when sober. He was meticulous about many things—tools, both functional such as his soldering iron, and those associated with his retirement hobbies including stained glass production.
He was a careful, quiet, and dignified eater, always the last to clear his plate. I never understood until later why he ate so slowly as if savouring each morsel, himself a child of the Depression and its associated years—waste not, want not, and all that.
Did I create an accurate picture of my dad in the week following his death? I think I could have done better, less dark humour, my over-used, self-protecting device, and been more generous with his positives, those qualities that inexplicitly brought my mom and he—and consequently two broken families—together.
He was a keen, light-footed dancer. Smoother than I could ever have dreamed of being, a product of an age when people truly danced, not just moved semi-rhythmically to rock ‘n’ roll.
He was a fairly sharp dresser. He had this one suit that looked like a sofa exploded, but he pulled it off, and he favoured cardigans and sharply-creased pants that shimmered as he moved: I don’t know if he ever bought new clothes while I lived at home. He didn’t appear to ever change his wardrobe.
He loved bowling, and I mentioned that in my eulogy. He was a good, consistent 5-pin bowler, one who took his time on the approach, delivering the ball with the same form frame after frame. He bowled a 450 once, a perfect game at Bill Mosienko’s lanes in Winnipeg, an impressive feat to the eyes of a ten- and eleven-year old kid. Influences endure—I have vintage Mosienko cards on display in my basement.
While he could be unexpectedly cruel and slip into rages—see, I still can’t do it—he could be equally gentle. One day when my brothers excluded me from some weekend activity—and who could blame them, me three years younger than the closest in age—he and I spent a quiet afternoon hanging out at the house. I don’t recall what specifically we did, but an emotional wound was provided the salve required. I wish I had learned the art of mushroom picking from him—I miss them fried with butter and pepper, as only he did.
He did toss a ball with me a few times, summer evenings well spent. He loaned me his old Ford Courier truck, and his Lada, throughout my 17-19 years. The baby poo yellow-brown truck left me stranded on more than one occasion, but it got me around for a few years; I left it in the driveway when I moved out.
Dad had a quick wit, one that could turn cruel with rye and beer, but which helped me learn about puns and wordplay. I don’t recall him reading too much, and in fact he was quite mean to me always having my ‘nose in a book—separatist!’ But he read the Journal each evening upon arriving home, and he would pour over technical manuals and instruction sheets when immersed in a project.
He must have loved music and if he didn’t necessarily influence my listening beyond old Boots Randolph albums stored in the wooden, console stereo, his 8-tracks—Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, and country hit collections—along with the ever-present CFCW formed a soundtrack of my youth that provided fallow ground for future roots music explorations.
Mom and dad’s marriage had been far from perfect. Dad’s drinking didn’t help matters, but neither did mom’s precarious mental health. She was often a sharp, spiteful person behind our home’s doors, and I imagine his ninety minutes at the Waldorf tavern after work daily—and on Saturday afternoons—were a form of self-preservation for dad.
They were cruel to each other, each likely blaming the other for…what? Their lot? Their collective misery? Yet, they stayed together, not for the kids but because they knew each was the best they could do. Or maybe they felt they deserved each other, a punishment—ended only by death—for whichever personal crimes they had committed toward each other.
I wrapped up his eulogy with a statement along the lines of ‘despite his flaws, he did the best he could with what he had.’ That’s the truth, I believe, and really its all any son should expect from his father.
I wish I had concluded his eulogy with that final line; I think we do expect too much of our parents, and it is only with the passing of time and the maturity it brings that we realize our expectations are—often—irrational.
I guess fifteen, sixteen years later, I have the understanding that all of us contain streaks of goodness marbling our many shortcomings. I have since delivered my mother’s eulogy, and my mother-in-law’s as well, and have improved with each, finding a better balance and representing their lives more fairly.
He wasn’t a great man, and he wasn’t always a nice man.
He deserved better. Maybe he deserved this.