April 22, 2012

On A Personal Note...

A few days ago, in a circumstance that could be considered cosmic intervention, I had two milestone events occur on the same day.  The first was not a surprise, I celebrated my 50th birthday.  Despite my best attempts to thwart Mother Nature it came in on little cat feet just like Carl Sandburg's "Fog".

The second was not a total surprise either but the timing could not be predicted.  My father died, one day short of his 86th birthday.  He had been battling Parkinson's Disease for a very long time and had been deteriorating rapidly in the last months.

My father and I were not close.  In fact I had not seen him in fourteen years.  He was not present during much of my youth and by the time my parents reached the inevitable conclusion of divorce we were locked in a standoff.  With age comes a sort of acceptance and my teenage anger cooled somewhat, but we were never friends.

Despite our differences in just about everything, I admired my father.  He was born in Berlin, Germany, during the height of the Weimar Republic to a Jewish industrialist and his trophy wife.  My father and his brother lived in relative luxury until the rise of Nazism forced the family to flee with just the clothes on their backs.  My grandfather was interned in Bournemouth, England, and my father suddenly found himself in a schoolroom surrounded by hostile English speaking classmates.  A few years later, with World War II raging, my grandfather died and my father, at the age of 16, assumed the role of breadwinner.

When the conflict was over and transatlantic travel resumed my father left England for Canada.  He settled in Montreal and worked for the Canadian subsidiary of a British manufacturing company.  He eventually made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he met my mother and remained for the rest of his life.  It was in the home that my father designed and built that my sister and I were raised - a spacious house on the water where we sailed in the summer and skated in the winter.

My father loved machines and could fix anything.  His passion for automobiles caused him to buy a Jaguar XK140 sports car as the family car.  Not exactly a practical choice but one that turned heads when my mother sped by with a German shepherd dog and a baby on board!  I don't ever remember a handyman coming to our house.  When my father came home from his business travels we were all mustered into action to build, maintain or repair whatever had broken during the week.  This was his version of "family time".

His lack of formal education haunted him until he committed himself to earning a degree in mechanical engineering while continuing to work full time.  It took a lot of determination and many hours shut away in his study preparing for the full complement of exams, but he attained his goal in his early fifties.  He wore the iron ring of Canadian engineers with well-earned pride.

I do not mourn for what our relationship might have been, it was what it was.  I write this as a tribute to a man whose story bears telling - someone who overcame some very substantial obstacles to attain his dreams and an example of what determination can achieve.  Rest in Peace.

My father and I, 1963

No comments: