For some people, Father’s Day can be an emotional minefield. Some grew up without fathers. Others had the misfortune to have abusive or, at best, neglectful ones.
I was fortunate. My Dad was a loving man who did everything he possibly could for me, and for my mother.
My memory bank if full – full of love, full of laughter, full of life – thanks to the man I so admire.
Born without sight
He was born with congenital infantile glaucoma – in other words, really bad sight. He was virtually blind in one eye, and could barely see out of the other. When he was a young boy, he was playing with a stick and injured his ‘good’ eye. In the early 1900s surgical techniques were both primitive and dangerous and, with both optic nerves damaged, the doctors and my grandparents decided that he would lose both of his eyes.
He was one tough and determined little boy, My Uncle Hubert told me tales of the trouble they got into around the little farm in Albert County where they grew up. He also told me of the amazing skills my Dad had, even as a teenager.
Haying season on a farm is a critical time of the year. As a blind child, there were some chores Dad wasn’t able to do. He did, however, learn to drive the team of horses that pulled the hay wagon down from the fields to the barn.
“It was something to see your father turn that team and wagon around and then back them up the ramp into the hay loft,” Uncle Hubert said.
I’ve seen that ramp and I don’t think I could have done it!
Dad went to the School for the Blind in Halifax, NS. There he learned to be both an accomplished pianist and a piano tuner. In his final year of study he was sent out around the city to tune pianos in people’s homes.
Forty-five years later I was studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Dad came to the city, by bus, to visit me. The part of the city where I had my minuscule apartment hadn’t existed when he was living there.
I borrowed my boyfriend’s car and took Dad on a tour of the city. Once we got into the centre of the city and I told him we were on Spring Garden Road, he knew exactly where he was. We set off to visit an old friend of his who still lived in the same home as he had when they’d been students together. I followed Dad’s directions, “Turn left here, two more blocks, turn right. It should be the third house on the right, number 23 – it used to be blue I think.” Sure enough, we were right in front of our destination – and it was blue.
Humour makes life worth living
Dad’s sense of humour was legendary.
A new piano tuning client called one day and sounded quite upset. “I have an appointment to have my piano tuned tomorrow,” she said, “and I’ve just learned that you are blind. We live on the second floor. How will we get you upstairs?”
Not missing a beat, Dad replied, “Madam, I can not see, but my legs function perfectly well.”
He was always a busy man. He couldn’t just sit and do nothing. When my son was a little boy I asked Dad to babysit one night so I could go out on a date. David was bathed and tucked in bed and I got ready to leave.
My guest arrived and met Dad. After a few moments of chit chat, we headed out to go to a movie. As I closed the door behind me, I switched off the lights in the apartment. My date was appalled! “That’s the rudest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about and then I started to laugh. I said, “He’s blind. He doesn’t need the lights on.” When I was growing up, the last sighted person to leave the room turned the lights out, whether Dad was there or not. I laughed all the way to the car.
When we got home from the movie, since Dad was sleeping in the living room on the hide-a-bed couch, we tiptoed into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. While the machine dripped its elixir into the pot, I grabbed the utensil drawer that was always stuck and gave it a mighty yank. It flew across the room, spewing silverware everywhere clanging and banging enough to wake the dead.
Looking for something to do to pass the time, Dad had gone through the kitchen and had soaped all of the sticky drawers so they’d slide better and then, in the lower cupboards, had hung hooks for all of my pots and pans to give me more room. Good thing I made enough coffee for three of us!
Growing up with a blind father
I grew up with a blind man in the house and it was a good thing. I learned that a disability isn’t necessarily a handicap to life. I learned that a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have joy in your life and give joy to others. My Dad belonged to various organizations, could beat most people at cribbage and definitely humiliated me in the bowling alley. Then again, I not good at a lot of sports and never have been.
He enjoyed a good laugh, often at his own expense. He loved his family and the varied and many pets I dragged home over the years. He cried when each of our cats died, although I’m not so sure he was distressed when Hammy the hamster kicked the bucket. The little bugger bit him many times.
My mother spent the last three years of her life in the extended care ward at the Regional hospital. She had Alzheimers, Parkinsons and she suffered several strokes. Through all that time Dad would take the bus across town to visit her almost every day. In her mind, she thought that, when he left to go home at night, he was, in fact, heading out ‘on the town’ with other women, living the high life. This is my Dad – the man who never drank. The thought was ludicrous.
Then she decided that not only was he living the high life, but that he’d had an affair with one of the nurses on her ward. Not only that, but they’d had ten kids! When she told me that story I decided I’d best speak to the nurse quickly because, in her demented state, you never knew what Mum might say.
The nurses on that ward were wonderful people. They personified kindness and patience. When I told her about my mother’s fantasy, she said, “Your Dad’s a great guy and we all really like him a lot. But, I think he might be a bit old for me.” We had a good giggle over that. Then she asked, “How many kids did we have?”
“Ten,” I said.
“Oh my,” she replied. “There must have been a lot of twins and triplets! I’m only twenty-three years old.”
Yes, it’s Father’s Day, again, and I’m glad to have this annual reminder. I think of him often, but this is the day I focus on those memories. That is his immortality.