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Reflections on the passing of my dad

28 Jul

My dad passed away on Saturday.


It’s been a crazy few days finding a cheap but well-timed flight to Canada, and making arrangements for my dogs. I am amazed and awed by all the people who offered some help, or wanted to but would be out-of-town. I am also thankful that I made it to 50 before losing a parent. So many of my peers didn’t.

In the same way that weddings make people think of romance, funerals make me reflective. Whether in words or deeds, I learned a lot from my dad and I’d like to share some of his lessons with you.

1. You can fix almost anything.  My dad had an amazing workroom. It was full of cool tools. I’m sure he knew this, but I loved to go in there and touch stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I grew up watching my dad fix almost everything around the house. I don’t think I ever saw a repairman come to the house when I was a kid. My dad built a playhouse for my twin sister and I and installed a working phone system.I don’t possess anywhere near his level of skill,  because of his example I have changed my own faucets, fixed my toilet,  installed new lighting systems and, just last week, repaired the handle I broke off my stove. I rely on Youtube for much of the instruction, but the inspiration is purely from my father.

2. Language is beautiful. When he heard people using foul languageI remember my dad saying, “There are so many beautiful words n the English language, why would you choose an ugly one?”. That’s not to say he didn’t curse or get angry. But I have funny memories of him calling people “turkey” in the 70’s and reading the poetry of Robert Burns. Maybe that’s where I get all this from.

3. History is cool.  Growing up, family vacation usually meant camping and visiting places of historical significance: Old Fort Henry, the Royal Ontario Museum, Quebec City, the historic jail in Goderich, any pioneer village. I’ve had my picture taken near a lot of cannons.I remember when he dropped me off for the first time at the University of Toronto and he saw the campus of Victoria College, he was impressed by the sense of history that was there. Maybe all this is part of why I majored in history.

4. Education is important. My dad never finished high school. That was normal for his time. But he read a lot and instilled in use the sense that doing well in school was important. Once,  inspired by a friend who got money for god grades, my twin sister and I suggested this to my parents. We were told that we wouldn’t be paid for grades, but were expected to do our best. If our best was an A, great. If it was a B or C great, as long as we worked as hard as we could. Even into grade 13, my parents went to back to school nights and conferences. In 1969, my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedia and had them into the new millennium. We learned to use them to look up anything we needed to know, whether for school, or because we were watching a movie and there was a reference to something from history that left us wondering. We Googled before it was Googling.

5. Offer help to those who need it.  My dad was a Freemason and the Master of his lodge. He often left early so he could drive and pick up an elderly gentleman who no longer drove. It wasn’t convenient for Dad, but it was worth it.

6. Be on time and have a sense of humor. I have funny memories of getting ready to go places. If the plan was to leave by 7:00, Dad, Andrea and I might be in the car early, ready to go and Mom would walk out the door right at 7:00. We knew this, but, we’d giggle and ask Dad to honk, to hurry her up. Sometimes he’d oblige us. Mom was very patient with us and Dad knew just how far he could take that joke.

7. Stand at attention when you hear the bagpipes. Gillespie is a Scottish surname and we learned to love the skirl of the bagpipe. My Dad loved all kinds of music, in addition to bagpipe music. He loved Linda Ronstadt. But I also learned about Nina Simone and classical music from Dad. He had an amazing record collection. When I was at the University of Toronto, he would sometimes ask me to go to Sam the Record Man to bring back something particular. I got to explore parts of that store I might not have ventured into on my own and discovered some things I might not have otherwise.

There’s more I could write, but these are some of the things that come to mind first. Dad’s funeral is on Saturday and there will be some Linda Ronstadt some Robbie Burns to send him off.

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