44

Fatherhood is a blessing

I was 27 years old. I was in my second semester of the Radio & Television Arts Program at NAIT. It was a Friday evening and my good friend Jeff and I had gone to the Oilers preseason game, and then out on the town for some fun. We met up with our regular crew of boys after the game on Whyte Avenue and eventually found our way to Cook County Saloon.

It was 12:30 in the morning. I was about to check my coat when my older brother Colin appeared in the entrance. He was married with two young boys, and I was shocked to see him at the bar. He smiled when he saw me and said, “Come outside, we need to talk.”

I’d had a few drinks during the evening, which was normal. I was single and had a great group of guys who I hung out with almost daily. We had a lot of fun.

I followed Colin out to the parking lot and he turned around, looked me in the eye and said, “Dad is gone. He had a heart attack.”

Colin was always a great older brother. We never fought as kids. We looked out for one another, but he was always the more mature, responsible one. Seventeen years later I’m still amazed how he handled himself in that moment. He delivered those eight words with calm, compassion and empathy.

I was in shock. We hugged. I cried. I quickly went inside to tell my friends I had to leave, and then I jumped in the car with my brother, my little sister Rachel and their spouses.

It was a 35-minute drive to the family farm near New Sarepta. Much of the ride home is a blur, but I vividly remember my brother explaining what happened.

Our father, William Arthur Gregor, passed away in his car in Sherwood Park 17 years ago today; he had a massive heart attack. Thankfully it was quick. He was at a red light and he bumped into the car in front of him. The driver got out and noticed right away Dad was in trouble. This good samaritan called 911 and stayed with my father. A police officer was first on the scene, but Dad was gone by the time he arrived. He told my brother a stranger stayed with Dad. He didn’t die alone, which this many years later is very comforting.

We never found out who this kind soul was, but I hope he knows how much his compassion towards my father meant to our family then and today. Thank you.

Dad had his annual physical in August and the results said he was in good shape. He quit smoking a few years before his death. He wasn’t a heavy drinker or overweight, but unfortunately it was his time.

There were long stretches in the ride home to the farm where no words were spoken. There wasn’t a lot to say, but my only question was, “How’s mom?”

My parents had a whirlwind romance. I still smile when I think about the craziness of it.

They met in a post office in March of 1969, were engaged three weeks later and married on August 23rd, 1969. They had 31 wonderful years of marriage before his heart gave out. My eyes still fill with tears just writing those words.

Rachel was married one month before Dad passed away. I’m grateful for both he got to walk her down the aisle. Mom and Dad had worked incredibly hard, sacrificed a lot to give their three children every opportunity, and they were supposed to travel the world and enjoy life together. Their love affair shouldn’t have ended prematurely.

We arrived at the farm and when I walked in the back entrance and saw my mother sitting at the kitchen table. That’s when it hit me the hardest. She was strong on the outside, but her eyes told the truth. A part of her died that night.

Five days later on the morning of his funeral I couldn’t sleep and decided to write an email to my friends to release my feelings. Every year since I’ve written a letter in his honour, and hope it somehow lessens the void in my heart and the hearts of my family.

Today I ask you for one favour.

When you have finished reading this, please find a moment to connect with your father. If you are lucky enough to be able to see him today, or this week, please give him a hug or spend some time together. At the very least call him and ask how he’s doing. Fathers rarely say it, especially the older generation, but they love hearing from their kids. If you can find the time give him a call and tell him you love him.

I hope through your actions, my father will see and remember what a wonderful impression he made in my life and in my heart and how much he is missed by our entire family.

Thank you in advance.

KEEP LIVING 

In the kitchen, eight hours after my father had passed, I hugged my mother tightly and from that moment on our relationship changed. I’d always respected and loved my mom, but I never felt like I needed to protect her. She is a very strong-minded and incredibly intelligent woman. Dad was her support system. Of course I helped to weed her garden and do things she asked, but as we hugged and cried in the kitchen, I felt I needed to be more supportive.

Since then we’ve had conversations and interactions which likely wouldn’t have occurred if Dad was still here. There can always be a positive from a bad situation. Six years later I, along with my siblings, sat proudly in the crowd at UBC convocation watching our mother receive her Doctorate. It was the first time I understood how parents feel proud of their children. We still chuckle about it now. Mom taking the stage in her gown and us three frantically taking pictures and smiling at her like she did when we graduated from grade one or high school.

There have also been some unexpected conversations.

Two years after Dad’s death we needed to order some hay for the cows. Somehow we had grown the herd to 70 cows, and we needed more feed. Mom was determined she would take care of it. She searched for the best deal and then drove west of Edmonton to purchase some. She struck up a conversation with the guy selling the hay and when he found out mom was a widow, he suggested if they had a “roll in the Hay” he’d give her a major discount.

It was not the story I was prepared to hear. I wanted to beat the hell of him, but it was good to see my mom know a man still looked at her that way. In her words, “She still had it.” She never took him up on his offer. But she sure enjoyed telling me that story.

We’ve shared many great times together, but I wish she could have had more time with Dad. She has a wonderful life. She has a tremendous garden, enjoys the farm, has many great friends and family, has traveled the world and seven grandchildren ranging in age from four to 21, who she supports by going to their sporting events and dance recitals and having them come to Grandmas for help with their homework.

But I still see the void in her heart. It sucks, because it will never be replaced.

Gentleman make sure you tell your wife/partner how important they are. My father’s love and dedication to his wife is still apparent today through her actions. When men talk about leaving a legacy I’m not sure there is a better imprint to leave than one filled with never-ending Love.

BEING A FATHER 

Everyone deals with death differently. I wouldn’t tell someone how to act, because we all grieve differently. My sister was recently married and just turned 21 when dad died. I was 27 and single and my brother 30 with a loving wife and two young boys. We all dealt with it differently then and still do today.

My brother was mad for a few months. He felt robbed, and now that I am a father of a soon-to-be four-year-old I completely understand his emotions. Having children of his own made him truly understand all the sacrifices it takes to be a great father. He felt an even tighter bond with Dad after becoming a father; but in an instant that was gone.

I’m a fairly philosophical person. I don’t dwell on “what ifs” and when Dad passed I was heartbroken. But I knew he wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for myself. I could cry. I could mourn. I could be upset, but he wouldn’t approve of a pity party. I’m lucky, I never had regrets. If you and your father aren’t on great terms, try to improve your relationship. You don’t want any guilt when he’s gone.

I’ve always missed Wild Willy (nickname his boys gave him), but this past year I felt the void more. Our son Beckett turns four in December and he is an active three-year-old. I’m blessed to be able to get up with him every morning. When he is ready he yells, “Dad, I’m ready to get up.” It has become our special time.

Every morning is a new adventure with him. If I wasn’t home for bedtime the night before he tells me all about what he did the previous day, or what he plans on doing today. Often we lie in his bed and he just shares his three-year-old thoughts.

I love it. It is such an innocent time and it is very peaceful for me. Often we read a book before we get up to eat breakfast, and usually it is one he has memorized so he reads it with me. I cherish those moments, because it reminds me of my father.

I recall him and I wresting, which now Beckett and I do regularly. My dad spoke like Donald Duck, and so can I. When I speak to Beckett in my Donald voice he loves it. “Daddy you are funny,” he giggles.

I made a pledge to myself to appreciate these moments, because they could end in an instant. I know that might sound morbid, but it is true. I’m aware of what can happen, and it scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to leave my wife and son prematurely. I probably should ask my friends who have lost a father earlier than expected if they feel the same, because I fear it, but I’ve yet to broach the subject.

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t dominate my mind, but it is there and I’ve chosen to try and use it positively. I work out in hopes it will keep my heart healthy. I try to eat well, so my body is healthy. I feel better when I do both, but I also hope it allows me more time with my family.

Hearing the word Daddy has altered my outlook on life. I feel I have a responsibility to live up to that name. And I’m inspired by men who strive to be loving, caring and involved fathers. It is more important than we think.

THANK YOU 

Men, you have so much to offer your wife, partner or children. And if you don’t have kids (enjoy the alone time haha, you can still inspire your nieces or nephews or others around you.

The male species isn’t great at praising one another. How often have you told a man you’re inspired by how he cares about his children or how he treats others?

Today, when I have a beer later tonight and think of my father, I will cheer all of the men who embrace the responsibility of fatherhood. My father did it, and I’m extremely proud of how engaged my brother Colin and my brother-in-law’s Eric and Rob are with their children. And my father-in-law Doug, who raised an incredible daughter, and showered her with love and support.

They are great role models as are many of my friends and even strangers I see interacting and loving their children. It is easy to only notice the negative in the world, but every day I observe great things happening, and it really warms my heart to see men displaying love and affection. Keep doing it.

Once again, thanks in advance to those who follow through on my earlier request. I offer my condolences to all who have lost your father, or mother. I hope their memories still warm your heart.

If your father is gone make sure you call your mom, because the void in her heart is likely much deeper than yours.

Dad, I love you deeply. Thank you so much for taking the time to shower our family with an endless supply of love. I think of you often and your memory is alive in my heart. I pray I am around for Beckett as long as you were for me.

Please watch over all of our family and friends, my lovely Traci and especially your soulmate; Mom.

Love Jason

  • OilCan2

    My dad took me to the first ever event in “Edmonton’s Magnificent new Coliseum” on 10 NOV 1974. I still have the ticket stub. $9.00 for a seat at the Oilers home opener in the lower bowl.

  • McRaj

    Very well written and touching Jason. Each year when you write this letter here, even if it helps to improve one relationship, or bring one smile to the face of a father, the message has been delivered. Thank You for this contribution to “real life” as it is much more valuable than any sports article any day.

  • positivebrontefan

    Jason, you’ve inspired me to share a bit…

    I called my Dad last week for this very reason, it’s ridiculous, he lives just north of here, an hour and a half away, and yet I haven’t seen him in a couple of months. So, I called him out of the blue on my way home one day, and he was busy, ironically, he had just pulled into a farmers yard to unload some round bales. He apologized, but said he would call me back. I could hear the happiness in his voice to hear from me, him and I butted heads a lot when I was a kid, now looking back, our relationship changed as well when my first daughter was born, suddenly I understood why he took a firm stance with me on situations I at the time felt unreasonable and stupid. Turns out we are a lot alike and I do love him and Mom dearly. They know we are busy raising our kids, and they raised five of us, and they think they are imposing on our busy lives if they bug us to come out. My kids are now in junior high sports, and are doing well, my oldest finished fifth overall in Provincials in shot-putt, and my parents love coming out to watch them play. I learn something about them every-time they come out to watch. Who knew my Mom played basketball in high school? Seeing her watch my daughter play basketball was more fun than watching my daughter play basketball. My Dad had never played basketball, no time for that on the farm, and he had lots of questions about the rules from my Mom and she had all the answers and more. I had never seen that side of my Mom before and it was cool to see, she’d always just been Mom to me.
    Anyways, to re-enforce what Jason said, take the time to hang out with your parents while you have them. My Dad lost his father when he was in his late twenties as well Jason, and looking back I can see a lot of the same appreciation for the time he had with us when we were little as you are describing with your little guy.

    And yes, Dad does haul round bales, it’s not a joke, and if you need hay, he is in this area from time to time, he’ll find you a deal and won’t hit on your Mom.

  • “Hearing the word Daddy has altered my outlook on life. I feel I have a responsibility to live up to that name. And I’m inspired by men who strive to be loving, caring and involved fathers. It is more important than we think.”

    Jason: For me, this is the most important nugget of truth that grabs my heart every time you write about your dad. There is nothing more important — not wealth, not fame — we can strive for as men because being a good father becomes a legacy that lasts long after we are gone, whenever that time comes. Being Sam’s dad is the most important thing I will ever do.

  • Bad.Mece

    Thank you Jason. I look forward to reading these each year and, in the past, hoped that I was being a father that would inspire similar sentiment from my children. Unfortunately my outlook this year has tragically changed as we lost our youngest son in an accident in June. Your point about cherishing time with your parents is valid as well as being a great father. I would just add the emphasis on cherishing the time with your spouse and children because you never know when they may be taken from you. We tend not to think about losing our children because that is not the natural order of things. I have lost a father and a brother and can tell you that losing a child is a whole order of magnitude level of grief. One saving grace is that, like you, I have no regrets. I love all my children unconditionally and do my best to let them know how much I love them and how proud I am to be their father. I try to make as much time as possible to participate with them in their interests (even if they are not my own). I spent countless hours with a lacrosse stick in my hands teaching and coaching both of our boys even though I had never really held a lacrosse stick until my mid-30s. I cherish those times and the game because that is when I have had some of the most meaningful conversations with my sons and we learned a lot about each other. I could go on and on but I will wrap up by saying that truly dedicating myself to being the best father I could is helping me come to terms with my loss even though it also means the pain of the loss is so great.

    • Jason Gregor

      So sorry for the loss of your son. I could not imagine, and yes time with all our loved ones is very important. And good on you for and your wife for having the strength to remaining positive towards your other kids despite an enormous loss. God bless your family.

  • slats432

    I lost mine 24 years ago. 15 years after losing my mom. The thing about being a young man when you lose your dad is that you feel like “But..but, I am not done needing your advice?” It took years to get over. But once I was over it, I still tried to make him proud. I tell people that I can’t even remember him making a mistake. I never had a “What the heck is dad doing?” moment.

    To this day, whereever I go, and whatever I do, his guiding light of integrity, honesty, caring, kindness, hard work, carry me through life and allows me to know I have come from a good place, and it is my obligation to help make the world a good place for everyone else.

    I wish everyone could have had a dad like mine.

  • Derian Hatcher

    In August, my son moved to BC to play Junior hockey. He loves the game like nothing else in life. He has told me several times that being on the ice is his “happy place”. I miss him more than I ever thought I would. The ironic part is that this exactly what my wife and I have been preparing him for (not the hockey, but being on his own, away from home). It’s a weird irony that you try to give your kids the skills and tools they need to live life, then when they use them and leave the nest, it’s a bit of a tough pill.

    My dad and I have planned road trips to watch him play a game that my dad introduced to me, and I in turn, introduced to my sons. We all love the the game, and it has brought so many good times as well as a few harsh life lessons.

    So Jason, and everyone else – thank you for the reminders of what’s important in life. Being called “Dad” is a gift.

    • LotusSpirit

      I’m in the same boat, I can’t even imagine what it would be like or how differently my life would have turned out if I would have had such amazing parents. Thanks for sharing.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Well written as usual, Jason. I read your dad post *every* single year. It’s very touching. It’s very honest. I really appreciate it. I can’t believe it’s already here. It feels like I just read last year’s a few months ago.

    This past year has flown by for me. My wife and I welcomed a baby boy last October. So now we have a 2 year old daughter and a nearly-1 year old son. It’s the best. I love being a dad. It’s often exhausting. It’s just the best. I love my kids. so. damn. much.

    I too applaud all the great dads out there. Not all dads are great. Mine wasn’t. My relationship with my dad is not the best these days. You’d think that having my own kids would encourage me to improve that relationship, but sadly that’s not the case. When I meet up with my dad, it sort of feels like meeting up with an uncle: I realize that we were each others’ entire world at one point but it was a long time ago and now he’s mostly just a family member with shared memories. I’m not angry with him. I just not very close to him. If anything, having my own kids now reduces my desire to improve the relationship with my own dad because:
    – I know first hand how rewarding your kids can be. How could *he* give up on us?
    – I just don’t have much time these days. I rather invest my valuable time in my own kids.

    Anyway, just wanted to give you some perspective from a dad who doesn’t have a great relationship with his own dad. Perhaps it will provide more motivation to be a great dad yourself, though I doubt you (and other great dads) need more motivation 🙂

  • Thank you for this read. My chest always feels heavy reading stuff like this as they always remind of my relationship with my dad and family and what’s important. I’d be lying if I said I never take my father for granted and always appreciated him for what he did(and continues to do) for me. I’ll admit, as a kid I yelled at my dad after he came home from a long, tiring work day several times and I probably still do to this day. What I’ve learnt is we all have things we regret when it comes to our dads but in the end the “thank you”s mean more then the “sorry”s.

  • smiliegirl15

    My dad will be gone 13 years in October. Even though I don’t have kids of my own, I have 5 nieces and nephews whom I adore. So I don’t “get it” 100% but I was always closer to my dad than my mom and I still feel his loss. I think of him every day.
    I see him in my youngest nephew especially and I feel sad that he never got to know them. They would bring him such joy. He would have loved playing with them so much. When I see my two brothers with their kids, it really warms my heart. They are farmers with farmers’ hours but both are fantastic, hands on dads. They take the kids with them when they can. Spending hours on tractors or combines were such fun for us as kids and these ones are lucky enough to do that too. Quality time is the best gift.

  • Shaner

    Thanks Gregor, I lost my Dad to cancer when he was 52 years young. It sucks, I miss him terribly and wish he was here to share the moments with his 3 grandchildren. It’s been 15 years that he’s been gone and it hurts like it was yesterday. I know that I will see him again Rev. 21:3-4 brings me comfort. Thanks for the article!

  • haboiler

    Hi Gregor
    I read this article every year and it has inspired me every time, especially as I have become a Father as well. This year is especially poignant for me as my Mother passed away last evening. I thought I understood before what you were writing. Now its even more so. Thanks Jason.

  • Shameless Plugger

    We don’t always see eye to eye on this site Gregor, but I’m truly touched by this article. I’m expecting my first born in less than a month. A baby boy is going to be entering my life. I can’t express how excited (terrified) I am to be responsible for a little human. This article makes me believe I can do a great job. Thank very much for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

  • SaskFan

    I’ve only been reading this site for a couple years, but every year I enjoy reading this post. My father and I have always had a bit of a strained relationship, but every year after this post I end up contacting him and letting him know how much I love him and appreciate all the things he does and has done for me.
    As always well written Jason and thank you for posting.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    Man, I came here for hockey analysis, not surprising emotions and an urge to call my dad and wife. That’s altered the flow of the day, certainly.