As a very young child, perhaps three or four years old, I used to walk out the gate in the back fence sometimes, to wait for my father to come riding down the back lane on his bike. I’d missed him while he was at work.
He rode his bike to work year-round back then, even though we lived in a part of the world known for bone-chilling sub-zero temperatures, and for winds that could power half the country if harvested. We didn’t have a car yet, but as much as I’m sure it was enormously inconvenient for my mom at times, we hardly noticed. The ride in the back of the wagon they pulled us to church in was just fine, and when I was eight years old, we got a 1964 Valiant, which my father taught me to drive a decade later. By that time it had a clutch that sometimes needed a little teasing to work properly, but I still drive a standard.
I promptly parked that Valiant on a hill, and being an adolescent girl with no understanding of transmissions and things, neglected to put it into first gear, and (if you can believe this) to engage the parking brake. I was utterly mortified to come out of the building and find the trusty Valiant a short distance down the hill and nestled in the branches of a large tree. (My children have since ruined some of my possessions; I now understand the patience and grace it took to weather these things; thanks Dad.)
It was a beautiful wide-open space to my parents though, southern Alberta, a place to leave behind the terrors of WW2, a place to build a home of their own—which my father did, from scratch, evenings after working all day—and to plant a garden to feed us with abundance. We had the freshest vegetables in season, which we snacked on directly out of the garden. There is nothing like sun-warmed tomatoes off the vine, or sweet southern Alberta corn, husked and eaten raw. Then for the rest of the year, we enjoyed the ones my mother pulled out of her basement cool-room, a refrigerator-like pantry my dad had built in our basement.
Years of abundance, years of hard work for my parents. But hunger never leaves you. Though my father has always preferred tools and screwdrivers over the garden or the kitchen, he now volunteers weekly with the Fraser Valley Gleaners, where he goes to chop tomatoes and onions and anything else that has been donated by grocers and farmers, which is then dehydrated for soup and sent to the hungry around the world, millions and millions of servings every year.
A deeply engrained work ethic never leaves you either. A few weeks ago, when they were here on a visit, Mom and I left him to dig up some sod while we ran to the store to pick up some bushes and flowers. We’d planned to be gone for just an hour or so, but I made him promise to stop digging at the half-hour mark to have a rest, and have a glass of water. He’s strong and fit, but still; he’s 83. I poured the water, and Mom put it on the deck railing, and made sure he knew it was there. She knows him, and knows that if having a drink of water means taking off shoes to come inside, it definitely won’t happen.
When we got home, there was a large mound of overturned soil, about six feet by six feet, in the corner of the yard. Dad, by this point shirtless and clearly overheated, was still jumping on the shovel to get yet another turn of sod. The water glass sat on the deck railing, untouched.
I made him sit down and drink a vial of Ginseng and a glass of water while I prepared a little lunch. He had his single slice of bread with a sardine and a side of red cabbage, and, thirty minutes later, still looked overheated and exhausted. I liberally salted some cucumbers and, putting on my bossiest self, made him eat a few slices (he limits his salt intake) and told him to go rest.
An hour later, he came up freshly dressed and perky and, were it not for a coffee date with
his sister, would have gone right back out to continue digging.
That’s my dad. I didn’t fully inherit his determination to get the job done completely and
immediately, but I did learn from him a few things about working hard, about being resourceful, about compassion for those less fortunate than myself, about the values of community and faith and integrity and unselfishness and honesty, just to name a few.
Thanks Dad, and Happy Father’s Day.