It seems to me that fathers are less easily forgiven than mothers. Carrying, birthing, feeding, and nurturing a child covers a multitude of sins, and rightfully so. My experience tells me there is a natural bond between a father and his biological children but that bond is much looser and requires, possibly, a greater degree of maintenance. Some of the very first memories I have of my father are of him secreted away in the basement of our home fashioning Christmas treasures for his children. I still remember the wooden castles I received from him along with the workable miniature catapult and the buckets of plastic warrior figurines.
I also remember camping trips where my dad would roll out his bedroll in the back of our station wagon while I slept in a tent, sometimes alone, but often with a sister or two. I have a memory of playing something like Trivial Pursuit around a campfire with him and my sisters (Robyn and Alison). He’d ask a question and we’d guess the answer and I wanted so badly to get those answers right. I think he sensed this in me and so for Christmas one year I received the full 15 volume set of thin Charlie Brown’s Cyclopedia. I read them all. Also on that camping trip I recall the battery died in our station wagon. We were stuck, in my child’s mind, in the middle of absolutely nowhere on a lake with no other people along a dirt road very seldom travelled. To me we were doomed. My dad, it seemed, was not much bothered and we just waited to hail, eventually, a passing pickup that could give us a jump.
My dad was brave, and smart, and kind except when he was not. Once I was fighting with a younger sibling and my dad intervened. Those interventions were always loud and scary and painful. I was getting older though, my early teens or preteens, and I left the house in a rage. I was never coming back. I wandered the neighbourhood for a time before I realized the futility of that activity and returned home determined to have it out with my dad. I was becoming a young man that could nearly look my father in the eye and naively believed this made me something of an equal. We stood toe to toe in the living room and exchanged a few heated words. I said to him “what will you do dad, hit me!” He might have but what I recall was far more powerful than that. He escorted me to his bedroom and sat me down on the edge of his bed and then lowered himself to my level. He spoke for a while. I can’t say I recall all the words he said but I do recall these words “Son, I love you.” That was enough for me and we embraced. I think that day was the day I left my childhood behind.
Some future reader may think to judge my father but I caution you. Today we tend not to strike our children and we think that enlightened. Maybe it is. My father came from a different time. He was raised by grandparents that fought in the first world war and by a mother who would not have the support of his father at at time when society was not very accepting of that. He would have the benefit of a step-father from about 6 to 16 before an untimely death. So, my father learned to work hard and to do hard things. He was and is a brave man, indeed, he was endowed with a bravery I think seldom seen today. He saw something good in the two missionaries that came to his door when he was 16 and he pursued that goodness. It took him to Idaho and Utah and away from everything he knew at a time when that separation was severe. Our modern electronics have gratefully robbed us of that type of sacrifice.
The first time I recall seeing the ocean it was in Prince Rupert, British Columbia with my dad. The summer I turned fifteen my dad loaded me into the car for a week and we drove out to Prince Rupert together. We stopped at every creek and lake we could find to do some fly fishing. We took our time there and back and we caught one lousy fish. He’d want me to be sure to say that he was the fisherman that landed it. I’m sure he was. It turns out we are terrible fishermen. I’m okay with that. We only ever saw the ocean from a distance. My father is a brave man but also wise. He hates the ocean, and heights, and anything fast. For all that, I’ve no doubt, he’d dive in, or climb high, or hold on if it were ever necessary.
A few short years later we made a similar trip. This time we drove north to Fort Nelson, British Columbia where we would spend some time visiting my sister Robyn and her growing little family. On our way home we were camped for the night and were chatting at a picnic table. This would be our last trip for some time. I’d received a mission call to Southern California. Our trip was winding down and we could both sense that this would be the end of an era. I would be gone for 2 years and accessible only by letter. I recall with clarity his words to me. “Son, you don’t have to go. You know that you can stay here and that would be okay.” It was a tender moment. There was no way, truly, that I could stay and be happy with myself. He knew that and so did I but what he communicated to me was that he loved me no matter where my choices would take me. I did not need to earn his love.
My father is not perfect but he is the perfect father for me. He taught me by example to give freely and love openly. At odds with the generation that raised him he learned to be vulnerable and has passed that vulnerability on to his children. There is no love without vulnerability. If you asked for my father’s help he would be there, to those that would borrow of him he’d freely give. To me he gave time and his ear. To his children, his grand children and his great grand children he’ll be a patriarch worthy of emulation.
I love you too, dad.