Time fades away...
It was five years ago today that my father passed away. Sure doesn't seem like that much time has past, proving the clock moves faster with age.
In his memory, I have posted nearly two dozen photos spread across his life on Flickr. Here's a few stories to go along with them, even if he hated tributes like this.
Dad always said A Christmas Story was an accurate reflection of his youth, which this picture bears out. The crying kid, the scary-looking Santa...all that's missing is a request for a BB gun. I suspect this was shot at Eaton's around 1945, slightly early for the Punkinhead books I flipped through at my grandparents.
A couple of shots from the early 50s. On the left is his dreaded childhood suit. Except for the end of his teaching career, I rarely recall him heading off to the classroom in jacket and tie and this explains why. The city was still in its stiff, stuffy "Toronto the Good" phase as he grew up, which helps explain his loathing towards TO as he aged (he mellowed in later years). Next to him is his sister Judith, who died in a playground accident when she was 9. There are other pictures of them where the resemblance between them and childhood shots of Amy and I are eerie.
The picture on the right appears to have been a family trip to Niagara Falls. My great-grandparents are shown: I was named after the man on the right, who farmed outside of Blackstock. The farmhouse still exists, on a road now named after the family.
Football loomed large in his life, whether as a player at Leaside (1959 shot on left) or coaching at Amherst (1980 shot on right - he's in the middle row, second from right, wearing under his jacket the yellow Adidas track suit that would be in style now). Good luck tearing him away from college games on a Saturday afternoon, which is why I have 1980s Prudential Insurance commercials burned in my brain.
Non-football weekends involved a trip in the car, with CBC Stereo (Eclectic Circus, Max Ferguson, Air Farce) to keep us company on Saturdays, WJR's Patterns in Music, WWWW's Country Music Countdown or classic rock on Sundays. Always went to Windsor on Sundays to pick up the New York Times, groceries at Remark Farms and indulge my need to explore every back road in Windsor and Essex County.
Dad got around in the 60s. His chronology after graduating from U of T in '65 is a blur: a short-lived attempted to earn an MA at Western, teacher's college in Toronto, museum researcher in Ottawa (he claimed to have accidentally stepped on Dief the Chief's foot while working there), first teaching job at Eastern Commerce, running a swimming pool in Leaside.
In January 1969, he escaped Toronto for good. Apparently it came down to a choice between teaching posts in Parry Sound or Amherstburg.
He made a wise choice.
Within a few months, he was dating one of the secretaries. By October, they were hitched. From a speedy courtship came a loving marriage that lasted over 30 years.
General Amherst yearbook shots from '69 and '72. His casual attitude to school authority is evident here (keeping the principal out or about to attack the department head), which helped in his popularity with students. He loved the classroom and continued to act as a resource for students after he went on sick leave. He was an animated teacher, not afraid to walk across desks, reenact battles or provide his imitation of King James I (whose tongue was larger than his mouth). I come by my loopiness naturally.
Where did it come from? Was it his way of fighting against the stifling conformity back in Toronto? Was it a natural rebellious streak? Was it the times? Was it the bullet lodged in his nose?
The latter explains the 'do from '74. This may have been his only attempt to compensate for this thinning hair.
A big change happened in 1975: me. Here's our first Christmas together. I wonder whose antics Mom is more amused by.
Pounding the pavement on Markham St during a visit to my grandparents, summer of '78. On these trips, I followed along as he visited old haunts or browsed in the used book stores that lined Queen West. Running up turrets at U of T, eating burgers at the Eaton Centre, looking at the same books on every trip, digging through mounds of old stamps, seeing if I could keep up as we walked up Beverley and St. George...
One of the last pictures I have of Dad, from my cousin Shannon's wedding. Creeping infirmities had slowed him, but couldn't keep him down. He grew more social, discovered the fine taste of coffee and beer, travelled more and reconnected with his past. Every time I came down for a weekend, we'd cross the border and try crazy new restaurants he read about in the paper. We'd return with stacks of $1 records and other treasures. He'd scan the Toronto papers for events he thought I might be interested in. His urgings landed me in Arts House at U of T and he was always there on the phone whenever I had a panic attack while writing an essay or needed to vent at the latest shenanigans at The Ontarion.
Mostly, he wanted me to keep an open mind about the world around me...unless the people involved were a-holes.
Dad may have only been around 58 years, but he packed in several lifetimes. I hope I'm accomplishing the same. Wherever he may be, I know one thing: he's smiling at how Paul Martin's career destructed. - JB