“Fill your buckets!” he urged, “it’ll be lots of fun!”
I didn't meet my Dad until I was 3 years of age. After a break-up with my birth father my Mother and I had traveled from western canada to the maritimes to stay with my grandmother until my Mother could get her life back on track. It was through friends of my Grandmother that my Mother met my Dad. They had dated a few times when one day Dad was driving up Union St. and seen my Mother walking and crying and carrying me in her arms as I was ill with a high temperature. Mother had a fall out with Grandmother that ended with Mother finding herself on the street with nowhere to go. He piled us into his car and took us home, where he lived with his parents and brother. They were never apart again until the day he died.
They set up house together and a year later my sister Cindy was born, Dad's first child. Two more sisters were to follow. So Mother and I went from just the two of us to me having a wonderful step-dad and 3 beautiful half sisters. We never thought of each other as step or half of anything. We were sisters and Dad was my Dad. Until Mother would remind me that I was not really a part of that family. That was the ONLY time it ever came up. If you missed "For The Love Of A Mother" written on Mother's Day, then any negative references to my Mother can be explained in that story. But, this writing isn't about my Mother, it's about my Dad.
A man of quiet strength is the best way to describe him. Shy and wary until he got to know you a bit. He was focused and determined, hardworking and loyal. To me he was the best thing that ever happened in my life.
When as a child if I fell and scraped a knee he'd always laugh. Not in a cruel way but it was his way of telling me to be tough and strong and also to try and make me stop crying. It would always end with me half crying and half laughing with a runny nose pleading for him to stop.
When a boyfriend broke my heart he'd see me crying and offer to punch them in the nose. Again, I'd end up in half tears and half laughing at the vision of him pounding the pavement looking for a boy to knock out.
Another time he did go after a young man for shooting me with a dart rifle. It was all in fun and I wasn't an actual target of violence. The boy was a friend who was with another friend and seen a bunch of us girls hanging out on a neighbourhood street corner - they decided to show off. It was a cool, fall evening and I was wearing a red woolen jacket. I was 14 years old and fully developed and I was always being teased by the boys. Well, my friend with the dart gun decided he wanted to see if he could 'hit one' from about 100 yards. I didn't take him seriously and stood there telling him he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from 2 feet away. Well, he missed, sort of. The dart hit the inside of my left arm which I didn't even realize until later, when at home removing my coat my Dad noticed something on my arm. The wound was a huge round bruise with a good sized hole in the middle of it. Before I knew what was happening he was out the door dragging me behind him up the street to confront the boys and their parents. The boy who actually did the damage got off scott free as his father always protected him, even from things like this. His accomplice didn't fare as well and was given a ban from hanging with the other boy ever again and given a two week grounding.
This was my Dad. Shy, quiet and only at ease when with his family. Yet he would step out of his comfort zone if someone was hurting his family, his daughter, his child. Me. And how I loved him for it. There was only one person he was helpless to defend me from and that was my Mother. Like the rest of us, he was terrified of her.
I hadn't seen my Dad or family the last 7 years of his life, until the last couple of months before he died. I'd not talked to them because of the damage My Mother kept trying to do to my life. For the sake of my 3 sons I had to pull away again, and I was angry about it. I wrote my Dad a letter chastising him for letting "her get away with it." It wasn't a very nice letter and I'd never spoken to him like that in my life. My Mother took that letter and ran with it and after so many years had finally turned Dad completely against me. I was written out of the will, the whole nine yards was laid down, I was completely stripped from the family. My Mother had won her life long battle of turning Dad against me. Or so she thought.
I spent some time with my Dad in the hospital and his home before he died. When visiting him one day in the hospital he asked if I would wheel him out for a coffee and a cigarette. It was a warm, sunny August day. I wheeled him far away from the entry doors so we could be alone. We had a talk. I told him I was sorry for the letter. He said he knew that. He told me that he was sorry too, for not shielding me from my Mother. I told him I knew that. I told him I loved him and thanked him for all the years he took care of me when he never had to. He said he should of never married her but that he felt bad about me, this little girl that needed some stability. He felt guilt too, because he'd never step in between Mother and I. She wouldn't allow it. He said he should have done more. He also told me I was the black sheep of the family, " In a good way." he said. Then, " As you got older you always went against the grain I am proud of you because of it. You've got guts and go by the beat of your own drum. Don't change that Nat." He told me he loved me. I seen him a few more times after that with the last time being in his home. It became impossible to visit because of Mother. She made it miserable for him if we spent time talking. To make it easier on him I let some space between visits. They only lived a few blocks from me and I could be there in minutes if need be. The night before he died my Mother had the priest come into the home and then called the rest of the family to say their goodbyes. Relatives were looking for me asking where I was. Mother refused to answer. She hadn't called me. The next morning my phone rang. It was my Mother, all she said was, "Daddies gone."
There was no funeral. Only a grave side prayer and his shoebox of ashes dropped into a small hole. This was told to me as I never attended. I was reminded by Mother that I wasn't a part of the family. So, while the family grieved as a whole, I grieved alone as I had my sister Cindy's death a few years prior. It was one of the loneliest times of my life.
Dad was a saint to have lived under the rule of my Mother. I can't imagine what it took to not pack it in and just leave. I suspect he stayed for his girls. We were not just his family, we were his life. Had he not been in mine, had other things occured to change the course of my life ... I wouldn't be who I am today. Dare I say that I'd of been more like my Mother. What a frightening thing that would of been ... to the world.
So today is Father's Day. I have wept through this writing but not because of anything bad but, because of how much I miss him. How I hunger to breathe him in just one more time, how I ache to hug him tight and whisper "I love you Dad." far removed from Mother's ears.
Today is very much like that fall day when Dad and I had our chat sitting in the sun. The sky was blue, very much like today. The sun was brilliant and warm on our shoulders. We sipped coffee and smoked. We were relaxed in that moment and were free of any fear. I felt at moments there was something he wasn't saying but, when he told me how proud he was of me and that he loved me as his own, then, what he gave me far outweighed what he was holding back.
As I look out the window on this sunny Father's Day the cove lays empty, the tide is out and low. A bumble bee crosses my window interupping my view. I watch him buzz across the glass looking for the way outside. His purpose is to be out there, not in here. We all have a purpose in life. The bee's purpose is to find pollen to bring home to the hive, to his family. Much like a Dad providing for his family. Dear reader, if you are a Dad and not just a father, never forget it's more than just feeding your family or putting a roof over their heads. It's also about the impression you make on your children. And believe me regardless of who the stronger personality is that your offspring will walk away with whatever you instilled in them, one way or the other. Any man can be a Father but it takes someone that's real, genuine, devoted and loyal to be a Dad. I'm relieved to say that I am most like my Dad.
It will be 15 years this September since he passed. Funny thing is I can still see his face. I can still see that brilliant smile and his laughing blue eyes. I can still see how he always held one arm across his chest when he laughed. I remember everything about him. But most of all it's the love he gave to me when he never had to. He could never be my father, he was better than that. He was my Dad.
You can always find me at the next high tide.