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Middleground

End of a era -- goodbye dad

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My dad passed away on Sunday at the age of eighty-five — a few months shy of eighty-six.

He was a preemie, born in 1932, the sixth child of a large and growing French Canadian family. His mother died giving birth to number ten so his father had to remarry fast in order to find a caretaker for his young children. She bore another six kids to up the tally to sixteen, twelve of them female. My dad did not like to discuss his childhood but it was easily evident that it was not a good one. He had to work at an early age to help his dad support the family, working at a saw mill at the age of ten and then helping his dad with the farm when he got home. Furthermore, he longed for the loving affection of his mother that had passed, never to be replaced by the cold treatment of his step-mother. He entered adulthood a broken person.

When dad met my mother, he was a relatively old bachelor for those days. They married when she was twenty-three, and he, almost thirty. As far as I can remember, it was not a good union. Mom was the perfect house wife; happy to cook, clean, and rear children while dad found a good job at a factory. Mom was a devout Catholic who firmly believed that marriage was for life, while dad, a not so good Catholic, spent many nights drinking and philandering. My parents argued a lot—particularly after dinner—that my brother and I would go outside in the back yard to get away. We would still hear them bickering through the open windows, but at least we got to play on our swing set when they did. I remember my best friend and neighbour, Shayna, ask why my parents hated each other so much. I didn't know what to say. I was about six years old yet still remember how her words made me feel. It was the first time I realized that their behaviour was not normal.

My brother and I were spanked (me, deservedly more than he) like most kids from our generation. Today, I don’t see it as anything negative or something that marked me as an adult. If fact, I have come to appreciated my dad’s incredible talent of being able to navigate a car with his left hand while flailing away with his right all the way to the back seat. Admittedly, the kid seated behind him got the brunt of the fury; as dextrous as dad was, he didn’t possess arms of gorilla proportion. Brother and I would fight for the back seat opposite of dad (fondly referred as ‘the safe side’) and that, of course, would spark the anger would lead to the spanking fury in the first place. A vicious circle, no doubt.

I remember some really good times with my dad. He used to toss me up in the air and catch me and also let me ride him like a horse throughout the house, like we were racing in the Kentucky Derby. He also let me sit on his back while he was doing push-ups; I was convinced that he was the strongest man that had ever lived! As my brother and I aged, he would take us tobogganing in the winters and fishing in the summers. Good time were had by all. I look back to those times with much fondness. Unfortunately, that is most of the happiness I can recall when detailing my history with dad.

A few times—out of the blue—he did some thoughtful things. As far as I can remember, I had some sort of pencil or crayon in my hand, using anything available as my canvas. As I grew and started to become a more serious artist, he observed that I needed an easel. He gathered some materials, and, without even making any sort of plan, concocted something that was extremely functional. My dad was extremely good with his hands and quite creative; much more so than he even gave himself credit. Then again, he rarely—if ever—gave anyone else positive reinforcement, including the artist for which he carefully crafted such a useful tool. I cannot remember any time he told that I was talented, let alone that my artwork was good. Not once.

He was never one to be positive. Always a rain cloud over his head where it was everyone else's fault for anything not going right. He was the type of parent who didn't think his kids should get any better than the cards he was dealt. For instance, when we got Christmas presents, he saw us as spoiled rotten. He made us feel bad about his burden to provide the basic necessities let alone anything more. Sometimes, I’d sass him back with, “well then, you shouldn’t of had us,” which would usually result in some type of retaliatory anger.

His negativity was hard to live with let alone the fact that I was a female. Dad grew up in an era that saw women as second-class and his views never wavered. For instance, he paid for driver’s ed when my brother turned sixteen, and when I became of age, he told me that he didn’t think I needed to learn how to drive. It was also obvious that dad preferred his son when it came to pretty much everything. If my brother was unable to do something he wouldn’t even bother the try me. Through the years we’d joke that our parents loved him more. When the joking subsided, a lingering feeling that it was mostly likely true always burned inside me.

I was a fairly gifted athlete but he never offered any type of encouragement whether it be financial or emotional. All my bikes were second-hand, and, when I started to play tennis, I had to use an old wooden racquet until I was able to afford—thought babysitting and odd jobs—a more modern racquet. When I got good enough, I had made my high school team in grade ten. Before the regional competition, he told me that there was no way in hell I was going to win anything. The next day, I not only came home with the gold in both doubles and singles, I also qualified for the eastern provincial championships. Instead of eating his words, he buckled down ever harder. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of ‘the competition will be so much stronger and you’re going to get your ass kicked.’ He was sort of right — the competition was better, but… I still won! I can remember as clear as day walking up my drive with my gold medal in tow, eyeing my dad with vengeful eyes as he worked in the garage. As I got about 3 feet close, I flashed him my medal before throwing it at him as hard as I could. After some bleeding and much cursing, a slight scar had eventually formed on his forehead that became a permanent reminder of that glorious day. I am still not sure what made me more proud; winning the tournament or proving my dad to be so wrong.

It’s one thing to not get positive reinforcement from peers and friends. It’s truly another to not get in from your own flesh and blood. It does not matter if you’re five or fifty, an offspring will always naturally look for support and approval towards those who made them. If most of those needs are not met, then to me, that’s about as messed up as it gets. I cannot fathom how an entity who created another entity could feel jealousy, apathy and spite towards their very own creation but that’s the hand I’ve been dealt. I certainly could have done better but I certainly could have done worse. It is what it is and I cannot change anything — not the I would want to, anyway. I feel all the circumstances and adversity have helped shape me into the person that I am today — flawed but empathetic, instinctual, thoughtful and passionate.

Goodbye dad and thank you for trying. You were part of the creation of two legacies that would do most proud, I think. No doubt your greatest achievement.
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  1. DiAnna's Avatar
    *hugs* We had more in common than I ever dreamed. You're one of the brightest, talented, empathetic and stoic individuals I know. I'm so sorry you were not cherished as you deserved to be, and I'm also so very sorry for your loss. That's the thing about parents; we may not like them, but deep inside, we never stop loving them and wishing they approved of us. My condolences to you and your family in this very sad time.
  2. Superfly's Avatar
    Same here - funny how so many women our age were treated like that by our fathers. I guess it was how they were raised. Women were second-class. We were never quite smart enough, or pretty enough, or funny enough. But that's OK, because I would not be where I am today without the slings and arrows from my parents.

    Neither would you, my sweet friend. I'm sorry for your loss.

    <3
  3. Middleground's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by DiAnna
    *hugs* We had more in common than I ever dreamed. You're one of the brightest, talented, empathetic and stoic individuals I know. I'm so sorry you were not cherished as you deserved to be, and I'm also so very sorry for your loss. That's the thing about parents; we may not like them, but deep inside, we never stop loving them and wishing they approved of us. My condolences to you and your family in this very sad time.
    It's no surprise to me that we're kindred spirits, Di. Thank you for the kind words -- they mean a great deal, especially coming from someone as awesome as yourself.
  4. Middleground's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Superfly
    Same here - funny how so many women our age were treated like that by our fathers. I guess it was how they were raised. Women were second-class. We were never quite smart enough, or pretty enough, or funny enough. But that's OK, because I would not be where I am today without the slings and arrows from my parents.

    Neither would you, my sweet friend. I'm sorry for your loss.

    <3
    It makes me feel better to hear from others who have had experienced similar upbringings. Thanks SF.
  5. Trippy Trekker's Avatar
    Condolences on the passing of your father. You have really good writing skills! You wrote and shared a beautiful and touching tribute! From my perspective you grew up to embody many admirable attributes.... pretty, bright, strong, warm, funny, graceful, honest and loving!

    While most of the credit goes to you, I give some credit to your mean old dad.
    Peace to you and yours! May your Best Times lie ahead!
  6. digsbe's Avatar
    So sorry for your loss Middle.
  7. Middleground's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Trippy Trekker
    Condolences on the passing of your father. You have really good writing skills! You wrote and shared a beautiful and touching tribute! From my perspective you grew up to embody many admirable attributes.... pretty, bright, strong, warm, funny, graceful, honest and loving!

    While most of the credit goes to you, I give some credit to your mean old dad.
    Peace to you and yours! May your Best Times lie ahead!
    Many thanks, TT. You made me all warm and fuzzy.
  8. Middleground's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by digsbe
    So sorry for your loss Middle.
    Thx, Digs.

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