Today is September 28. For me that day has always been important as it is my father’s birthday. Dad would be celebrating 94 years today if he was still with us. It was always a good day, because as dad got older he loved having his birthday and he loved all the fuss we would make about it. He would say that he really didn’t care too much about it, but he really did like it. Last year I called him and his health was failing. But he was not too weak to tell me all about how his Member of Parliament Scott Andrews stopped at the house to wish him a happy birthday. He was very excited about that. The best gift each year on Dad’s birthday was always his joy in the moment.
When Dad turned 80 we had a BIG party for him at the local community center. He was unaware of it happening and thought he was going there for a ‘talent show.’ I was living in London, ON at the time and made the trip home to celebrate with the family. We drove him and mom to the hall that night. Before we brought him into the room I turned to him and said, “Dad this is not a talent show. This is your birthday party. These people are here for you” He said ‘No, it’s not.” I said, “Yes it is. Now we are going in.” He said, “No, I’m not!” I said, “Yes you are!” We opened the door to over 100 people singing Happy Birthday. While reluctant at first he soon started to enjoy the party. There were great speeches from family and friends in celebration of his long life. His MHA was there as well. Mr. Lloyd Snow was proud to present Dad with a set of cuff links with the provincial logo on them. These became a gift that Dad gave to me that I wear today with great thanksgiving. That was a great night. At 80 we were all keenly aware of the fact that Dad was not getting any younger. We all made great efforts that evening to let Dad know how much he was loved, and he knew it. After that we had great celebrations with him each year.
Ten years later we found ourselves planning a 90th party. This time it would be an open house for a man who was still quite healthy and fit. Again, lots of people came by and Dad had a great day. The party was in late August at brother Robert’s as we were all together at that time. He was in the back yard taking hugs and kisses and handshakes as quickly as they came along. What a great day that was as well. Dad then made his last trip to Ontario and enjoyed a 90th birthday party here in Tecumseh, with over 100 of his friends from this parish. Again, he enjoyed every minute of it, especially the hugs and kisses. And again, a speech from a Member of Parliament, our own Joe Comartin. Dad was a BIG TIME Liberal. He told me that he “really liked Joe. He is really nice for an NDP man!”
I really miss Dad today. I know that we are all missing Dad today. To top it all off, it is the dreariest and wettest day here in a long time. I walked away from a very wet cemetery earlier today having completed a funeral. I could not help but think how much I would like to visit my father’s resting place today. I could not. So I turned to the journal that I have of his. It was gift for father’s day from us when Dad was 81. It was full of questions for him to answer. It came back to me after he died. It is a real treasure as Dad wrote so many of his thoughts and memories within its pages. Near the back is a question;
“What was your favourite way to spend a rainy day?” Here is what he had to say…
“My favourite way to spend a rainy day was to go to my workshop and build something and wait for the sun to shine so I could get out and work around the place. Years ago, I would go trout fishing on rainy days as I found it the best time for catching trout.” Dad spent hours in that shed building things. He was a great builder. He built models of many boats, he built 50 full size boats, he built lazy susans, he built bow tie shelves, he built picnic tables, lawn furniture, wheel barrows, toilet paper holders, napkin holders, cutting boards, beef bucket openers, and humptees (stools). When we were kids he built toys for us that we often enjoyed more than anything we could buy in a store. When it rained he retreated to that shed and he built, but rarely did he build for himself. More often he built things for others, and of course we were the great beneficiaries. Each one of us children can look around our home and find something that was built on one of those rainy days that dad wrote about. There is a metaphor for life in there was well. When the proverbial rains fall on our lives, can we retreat to our workshops and build something while we ready ourselves for the days of sunshine that will no doubt follow? That is what I am hoping for on this raining day in South-western Ontario. Perhaps today I can find a way to build love, build hope and build goodness toward others. I guess to do that I will take the last piece of advice that Dad writes in the book.
“My advice, to others about life to remember is to Love each other and to get along with your neighbours. To be industrious and not to be afraid to do the work that God put you on the earth to do. Be alert and always ready to help others. Look after your children and grandchildren and most important to love your spouse and to do all the things to make your marriage a happy and joyous one.”
I love you Dad and I miss you so much today. But I need only look around and I see all that you built on those rainy days, chief among them a great family with a strong sense what it means to ‘be alert and ready to help others.’ Thank you for giving us all of that…and today I can say how very happy I am that you had 93 birthdays. I thank God for the gift given in you.