Monday, July 6, 2009

This One's for my Dad

Hello to all you Blog fans

Once again, wanting to participate in Words on Water was just the inspiration I needed to do some more writing (see beginning of previous to post if you've no idea what I'm talking about). As the last WOW was very close to Father's Day and to the start of summer, last months theme was "Father and/or Summer". Here is what I wrote for my Dad.

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My Dad joined the Navy when he was 17. His parents put him on a train in Alberta and send him packing to Cornwallis, NS. After training, he was posted to the Naval base in Victoria, BC. He met my Mum when he was 21 and they married within months of meeting. By the time they'd been married for 4 years, they had 2 kids; me and my brother Scott.

My Dad was away at sea for a great deal of the first 14 years of my life. Sometimes it was only be for a few days. For a few months he would be away during the week and home on weekends. For one year though when I was in early elementary school, he was on shore leave and was home with us in the evenings while my Mum was at work. But at least once every couple years, my Dad would have to go away for up to 4 months at a time. I remember many a tear filled dawn when my Dad would come into my room to say goodbye. The hugs were never long enough, the tears came even though I tried to hold them in and saying I love you over and over never seemed to the exact way of telling him how much I would miss him. But it's what I did and he did it too.

This of course was a day in age where the wonder of email and cheap long distance did not exist. We would be lucky if we talked to my Dad once when he was away. However, my Dad always did what he could to let us know we were in his thoughts while we were apart. His specialty was notes. When I would get up in the morning after he'd left, I would always find a note written in ink crayon on the bathroom mirror. Lovely words like "I love you and will miss you. Take care of yourselves." would hover above a carefully drawn desert scene (my Dad loves to draw camels and palms trees). If possible we would preserve the note on the mirror for the entire time he was away.

The bathroom note was just the beginning. In every cupboard, and closet, in drawers, in our cloths, mixed in with our toys, in the pantry and even with the cat food, we would find notes. "Pet Rocky for me." "Thinking of you!" "Mmmm Cookies!" But best of all, my Dad would leave notes in places he knew we likely wouldn't go to for months. One year he went away in August and was due back sometime in November. Near Halloween, while rummaging under the stairs for decorations we found a note on our pumpkin lamp,"Happy Halloween! See you soon!".

My Dad also wrote letters. When he had to go on course in Halifax, the letters would arrive in regular envelopes on regular paper. But when he was away at sea, the letters would be written on mint green self adhesive paper (paper the exact shade of green as his uniform shirts at the time) and stamped from faraway places like Hawaii, Fiji or Thailand. One time he sent me a letter from New Zealand. In it he'd drawn me a picture of a cute, wooly sheep. "There are more sheep then people in New Zealand," he wrote "and this one is for you." He also never failed to tell me how much he missed me and loved me and how proud he was of me for all that I did.

My Dad coming home from a long trip was always a day of high excitement and not just because he was finally home, but because it usually meant we got out of school early and got PRESENTS! I wasn't greedy or expected a lot of gifts, but it was so exciting to get wondrous gifts from far off lands; a jade bracelet from Hong Kong, a hand painted fan from Japan, a real boom-a-rang from Australia. One time he brought home an electrocuted Gecko that he'd found in a toaster in Malaysia.

When I was 14 my Dad was transferred to Ottawa and the long trips to sea stopped for 4 years. Except for a monthly trip to Victoria, my Dad was home with us during our rough high school years and it was wonderful. We moved back to Victoria the summer I finished high school and the trips back to sea began again; but not for too much longer. In 1995, after nearly 30 years in the Navy, my Dad retired. I asked him not too long ago if he missed it or thought that he was missed and he said, "Leaving any job is like pulling your finger out of a bucket of water." He meant very simply that there is always someone to replace you.

I feel however, that this is just my Dad's enormous modesty talking. My Dad was highly respected in the Navy and excelled in every position he held. He sailed on 5 Canadian Destroyers during his time and moved quickly up the ranks. The final position he held was that of Coxswain on the HMCS Winnipeg of which he was part of her first crew. One summer when I was about 9 or 10 he sailed on a number of smaller ships called Mine Sweepers. The Mine Sweepers he sailed on that summer were all named after Canadian Rivers. One of the ships was called "The Miramichi". For some reason, my Dad gave me the badge from his uniform that said Miramichi on it. I hung it up in my room on my cork board and I remember feeling very proud that I could say the name properly. I still have the badge. It's on our fridge. The day my husband and I decided we would be moving to the lovely town of Miramichi, I fished it out of a bag of memories to show our daughter the name of her soon to be new hometown. I find warm happiness and perhaps a bit of "meant to be" in that fact that I've carried with me for well over half my life the name of the other coastal city that would bring me great joy.

When my Dad was in the Navy the engine rooms of the older ships were hell; hot, loud and hard on the body. The ships themselves were highly poisonous as they were filled with asbestos. Many men my Dad sailed with died soon after retirement at the age the 55 of cancer or other health problems caused by years of working on the ships. My Dad liked to tease us by saying "Be nice to me...I only have - years to live". It was darkly funny, but it scared me because it seemed to be true. However, in June of this year my Dad turned 60. His lungs are clear, his heart is good, his arteries clean and he is currently working at his 3rd job since retirement. I never take my Dad still being here for granted. I know I've been blessed to have a father who has taught me to be proud of who I am, to find happiness in all my accomplishments and to be brave. He gave me my smile, my sense of humour and my strong work ethic. He instilled in me the love music, taught me how to laugh at myself and told me to never walk with my head down because everyone is equal. He sometimes says that he wishes he could have been there for me more, but I never felt neglected or unloved. I say a prayer of thanks everyday that he is still here, and now, instead of joking that his time is almost up, we joke that he's well past his expiry date.

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Until next time,
enjoy a life of
Cin

2 comments:

Lori Kittelberg said...

You should edit this down and send it to the Facts and Arguments section for the Globe and Mail.

Foster said...

great stuff, cindy!

i too remember those notes your dad wrote, and loved them.

your dad's biggest impact on me though was the day he made us go back and pick up our litter on the side of the road...i will never forget that, and am now a hardcore anti-litterer as a result.

i also appreciated his patience, as you 'waited' for me when i came to visit when we were 16...i'm still working on getting that kind of patience.

cheers to your dad! hopefully he'll be more like a fine wine, get better with age, with no expiration date in sight!