Oh, to have one more pint with Dad

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS | OPINION - GARY MA­SON

This Fa­ther’s Day, I will once again think about the times he and I spent shar­ing sto­ries along the shore of Lake Erie

There’s an old bar on the shore of Lake Erie that be­came a favourite of my fa­ther’s.

His en­thu­si­asm for the place de­vel­oped af­ter my mom passed away in her early 70s, leav­ing him to put­ter around their home by him­self. It was my el­dest sis­ter who started tak­ing him for week­end drives to Crys­tal Beach, near Fort Erie, Ont., where there was once an amuse­ment park our par­ents took us to when we were kids grow­ing up in nearby Chippewa. And it was on one of those trips the two of them hap­pened upon the Palm­wood.

In one light, it could look like a stale and di­lap­i­dated old lake­side dive that had long reached its best-be­fore date. In an­other, it could be viewed as a joint of lam­en­ta­ble faux Poly­ne­sian dé­cor, but one over­flow­ing with char­ac­ter and hip at­trac­tion. The staff came to love the sight of my fa­ther’s beau­ti­ful, weath­ered face and was eas­ily charmed by his warm, pleas­ant man­ner. Any time I flew in from Vancouver to visit, I hap­pily took up the job of tak­ing him there, trav­el­ling along the back­roads of his child­hood.

When I first started this rit­ual, we’d have a cou­ple of pints and some­thing to eat and our server would come over and ask if we wanted one more. We’d shoot each other a look that said: “We prob­a­bly shouldn’t but … what the hell.” We would talk about ev­ery­thing: how his daugh­ter-in­law and two grand­sons were do­ing back in Vancouver; the za­ni­ness of B.C. pol­i­tics; the lat­est out­landish thing Don Cherry had to say; and, oc­ca­sion­ally, even the Sec­ond World War in which he fought. I can eas­ily con­jure an im­age of Jack, laugh­ing, hand to his mouth, try­ing not to spit out the beer of which he had a mouth­ful.

My fa­ther was not a declar­a­tive per­son. He never tried to im­pose his will, be­liefs or opin­ion on any­one; he was a gen­tle soul. He dis­pensed his wis­dom in bite-sized morsels. If I was strug­gling with a prob­lem as a young man, he sel­dom told me what to do. He would ask me ques­tions in­stead. His skill­ful in­quiries of­ten led me to the an­swer for which I was look­ing. I’ll tell you, it’s a hel­luva shock to wake up one day and re­al­ize that voice of rea­son and knowl­edge is no longer there.

When I look in the mir­ror, I see him. I have the same shock of un­ruly white hair. I will find my­self sit­ting in a chair, one leg folded un­der­neath me, as he of­ten did. I will some­times shud­der af­ter speak­ing aloud, so fa­mil­iar is the sound of his voice in mine. And yet, in many ways, I’m not any­thing like him. I will never be able to take a bro­ken wash­ing ma­chine apart and make it run again. Or tune up a car. Or com­plete the morn­ing cross­word in less time than it takes to fin­ish a cof­fee. I will never pos­sess his equa­nim­ity or courage. We of­ten ag­gran­dize those we love. In this case, I don’t. It is both a bless­ing and a curse.

I of­ten tell peo­ple that I mea­sure the last use­ful years of his life by our trips to the Palm­wood. We started go­ing when he was in his late 70s, I guess. At the be­gin­ning, we’d stay at the bar for a few hours be­fore head­ing back to his place. Then one year, we only stayed for a cou­ple. He was tired. I took note. A cou­ple of years af­ter that, he was down to one. We’d stay an hour and when our server asked us if we wanted an­other, his hand would go across the top of his glass. I hated it.

Be­fore I knew it, I was push­ing him into the Palm­wood in a wheel­chair. The fe­male servers doted on him as if he was their fa­ther. He’d have a sleeve of Cana­dian and strug­gle to fin­ish it. And then it would quickly be time to drive him back along those coun­try roads he knew so well, a trip he would mostly spend look­ing out the win­dow in si­lence. The last time I would pay the old bar a visit was seven years ago, for dad’s wake, where the beer flowed and the sto­ries did, too.

This Fa­ther’s Day, I will once again think about the times he and I spent there, when the sun was out, the waves crashed against the shore and nei­ther of us wanted the af­ter­noon to end.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.