Dad was 6'4". His huge hands would effortlessly lift us to sit, literally, heads and shoulders above everyone else. And way, way down there on the ground would be those thick-soled, heavy, brown brogue size thirteen shoes he polished religiously every morning before work. I can still see him hunched over at the stairs, those big hands swiping the brown wax from the round, flat tin can with that re-used rag.
I remember the sound of those shoes; the weighted scuff on the stairs in the evening as he came up to say good night. My two sisters, Renee and Suzi, shared one room while I shared a room with Shelley. We would all hear the footsteps and duck under the covers, excited as all get out, well aware of the tickling that lay ahead. We’d lay in quiet delirium as he went to the other room first, the girl’s squeals of delight raising the bar. Then it would be our turn and we’d be hysterical before the tickling even started. We’d roll and twist and kick and turn but there was no escaping those gentle giant hands. It became the most anticipated ritual of the evening.
Dad was glad his feet were big, he said, because he would never be out of a job. He could always stamp out forest fires. We were glad because those shoes were the first and best ride we ever had. With little toddler arms wrapped around his lower leg we’d sit facing backwards on his shoes, one of us on the left and one on the right. We’d fly through the air and land; fly through the air and land, giggling as he tromped all around the near universe.
Come to think of it Dad was always giving us a ride somewhere. Mike, my older brother, and I came home for lunch in elementary school. So did Dad. We’d always beg for a ride back in the afternoon. There was an alley short cut to school which iced over in the winters. It went straight for a block or so behind the church then made a big round right ninety degree turn followed fairly sharply by an even larger left ninety degree turn around the slough by the skating rink. “Dad, please …” we’d whisper conspiratorially. Mom never suspected, as Dad slowly stepped on the gas around the first corner, corrected and in making the second corner let the car slide into a full three- sixty, Mike and I grinning from ear to ear. We never said a word to anyone.
In true flatland tradition Dad gave us rides on the toboggan -behind of course, the car. We lived on bald ass prairie but that wouldn’t stop him. With three kids facing backwards on the wooden toboggan thirty feet behind the car he’d tow us as we swerved side to side on an icy farm road, tearing in and out of the ditch, bumping up and over the culverts. With our mitts frozen into a perpetual curl under the side ropes we were too cold, too excited and too scared to yell “Stop!” Eventually someone would tumble off and run like the Michelin Man to make a flying leap back on to the toboggan as it was starting to pull off already, again.
We had a boat, too. I guess Dad loved all things that had motors and went fast. I can still see him - the cigar dangling happily from his fingers, the wind blowing in his hair, the warm sun and a perpetual half-smile on his face. At the end of a long day of waterskiing, driving five wasted, sleepy, sun-kissed kids home, he’d insert the Oldsmobile GM eight-track and croon along to “There’s a Kind of Hush” with Herman’s Hermits, or “Cracklin’ Rosie” with Neil Diamond, tireless in his love of life.
I think Dad was contemplating how he was going to find a way to give five kids a full ride to university when, driving with my Mom to Edmonton in March, 1974 they were involved in a car accident that took his life. Mom grieved for the love of her life while miraculously recovering from a fractured cervical spine, returned to nursing, and raised five teenagers to adulthood. She became both Mom and Dad and to this day she is my hero and heroine.
I have cerebral memories I can recall at a whim—Dad’s “go big or go home” attitude, his love of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Toronto Maple Leafs, cherry pie and DQ chocolate dipped cones. But it is hands and feet, cars and cigars that flash into my consciousness like a growing pain, at will, distinct and primal, when I least expect it—like walking behind a tall broad shouldered man, outside on a warm summer evening and catching the scent of his cigar. I will walk behind him forever.
I know that daughters need Dads in ways that Dads will never fully comprehend. More than likely Dads need daughters in a beautiful dance of synchronous reciprocity. And I suspect that while not every man in my life has embodied all or even any of these characteristics, he is, fairly or unfairly, always measured against them.
(Part 1) | Part 2