Monday, February 12, 2007

Here's to you Dad

The past month has been a stressful one for me. On January 8, my dad was admitted to St. Micheal's Hospital in Toronto and the prognosis wasn't hopeful -- he would not be going home again. Dad had been ill for several years -- he had suffered a couple of heart attacks, and later developed Lewy body dementia. But his final decline starting at the beginning of December was rapid and I don't think anyone in my family was really prepared for it.

My family spent January with my father at the palliative care unit at St. Mike's. For me, it was as if we were frozen in space and time while the rest of the world surged around us. It really was surreal. Finally though, my dad's time came to an end. I will carry the memory of that night with me for the rest of my life. My brother sent me a text -- saying that the nurse had told him she didn't think he had much time left. He also called my mother and sister to let them know. I arrived first and about a half an hour later my mother and sister. Within five minutes of their arrival my dad died. Typical of him -- he politely waited for us before making his final exit.

All of us had time to think about my dad's life over the course of the past month, and I think for each of us his life inevitably has a different meaning. He certainly did have a full life: growing up in Toronto during the depression he didn't let poverty set him back, he took up skiing, a sport normally reserved for the rich. He won a scholarship to the Royal Military College; fought on the front lines in the Korean war; had a long and distinguished career at Atomic Energy of Canada and the International Atomic Energy Agency; serving as the Chairman for the Renfrew County Separate School Board. His personal life was also full -- he was an avid cross country and downhill skier and also played tennis and squash. I can remember all of the ski and camping trips we went on as kids. There were also longer vacations -- the trips across the breadth of Canada -- from Peggy's Cove to Stanley Park, we saw the entire country by car and campground.

Following his death, I wrote his obituary, so I also spent some time thinking about how I could encapsulate his life in a few short sentences. At first, this seemed an impossible task -- compressing 78 years of existence in such a short space. But then I really thought about my dad's life and a common characteristic became evident the more I thought about his life. My dad was a real adventurer. He was always trying to discover what was beyond the horizons of his universe, physical, spiritual and intellectual. Underlying his need for adventure there was also a real commitment to service -- to his family, his community and his country. He assumed burdens beyond what most of us are capable of -- certainly beyond my own capacities.

In part he did it because he wanted to make the world a better place for his children. In part, I also believe it was driven by his love for Canada. He believed that Canada is the greatest country in the world, and wanted to make it even greater -- for all Canadians. And he wanted to do his part to make sure that it was.

Hopefully, the memory of my dad will stay as clear in my mind as it is today and that I will spend a lot more time thinking about his life in the days and months and years to come. And hopefully, in my own small way, I will be able to make the world a better place for my family and for all Canadians. I think the country would be a better place if there were more adventurers like my dad. So here's to you dad -- love you always.