When I think of my father, I remember a man who was kind and generous, but stubborn and suspicious by nature. Someone funny and fun-loving, but a little quick-tempered. A loving husband and father, but a man who, occasionally, took things a tad too personally. In short, my father was a complicated and colorful man – and, really, what else would you expect from someone who grew up in the Montreal of the 30’s and 40’s, riding the streetcars and getting into all sorts of trouble with likes of Blackie, Skeeviks, and a bunch of other guys with nicknames right of the The Little Rascals.
My father would reflect back fondly on those days, and many of the stories he’d tell us would echo that colorful and complicated personality. Like the time he and his sister Antoinette received a bunch of his favorite chocolates: Cherry Blossoms (you know, those chocolates with the liquid maraschino centers). Of course, being his favorites, he finished his off in no time. My aunt, on the other hand, saved hers, lining them up all nice and neat on the kitchen counter. Eventually, when she finally got around to eating them, she was in for a surprise. They were empty. Not the boxes, but the chocolates themselves. Someone had gone through the trouble of carefully cutting open the bottom of each individual chocolate, eating the liquid enter, and then putting them back. The story had a happy ending for my auntie Antoinette though. My father eventually bought her a bunch of Cherry blossoms to replace the ones he had eaten. Mischievous but thoughtful. That was my dad.
Later, when the second world war began, he felt honor-bound to enlist in the navy – but not responsible enough to tell them the truth about his age: he was 16 at the time.
He was, by all accounts, a bit of a ladies’ man (my grandmother would chase the girls off their property with a wooden spoon) and yet, when the right woman came along, he was perfectly happy to commit to married life and, later, fatherhood.
Every day, when my sister and I were growing up, he would come home from work at approximately 5:15 p.m. every day and prepare dinners like roasted stuffed chicken, Duck a L’Orange, and Lobster Termidor – but was at his happiest chowing down on simpler fare: pork hocks, Chinese buffet, and, of course, KFC hot wings. And he loved his Cheese Puffs. I remember dropping by the house unexpectedly one day, walking by the kitchen, and catching him red-handed – actually, orange-handed AND orange-mouted – dipping into his hidden stash.
Yes, my father loved food – even later in life when he was loving it maybe just a little too much. His doctor advised him to follow a strict diet. No more bread. No more pasta or fried foods. It would be steamed vegetables and lean cuts of meat from hereon in. That lasted about two days. My mother tried – steaming those vegetables and cooking those lean meats – but my father would have none of it. He’d complain. He’d skip dinner. And, eventually, my mother gave in and cooked him the things he would actually eat. Of course, when they’d go back to see the doctor, there was no hiding the fact that he hadn’t been following his diet. The doctor was understandably annoyed and called him on what he’d been eating: the breads, the pasta, the fried foods. To which my father replied: “That’s just the way my wife cooks.”
He slowed down considerably in the last few years of his life and he wasn’t able to get around like he used to, but being homebound wasn’t a problem because, as much as my father loved people, he loved relaxing at home even more. I’d call every night from Vancouver and, he’d be in the living room singing along to country tunes I’d never heard of, or “Watching Kramer” as he’d call Seinfeld, or in the kitchen watching my mother fix dinner, or spending time with his best buddy, Max, his cat. Still, he remained kind, generous, fun and loving – but stubborn, suspicious, touchy, and quick-tempered. Age certainly didn’t temper that wildly varied personality.
So, in celebrating my father’s memory this Father’s Day, I remember him –
Not just as someone modern enough to enjoy good sushi, but a man who used antiquated expressions like “pop, “Play the Iggy” and “Wouldn’t that jar your preserves.”
Not just as a terrific dancer, an accomplished cook, and a great guitar player, but a a man who, one summer while my mother was in Italy, had to do the laundry for the first time and ended up working up a sweat ironing towels.
Not just as a man who was generous enough to sponsor his wife’s sisters so that they could come to Canada, but as someone who, as a kid, ate a spoonful of chicken fat he’d mistaken for pudding and then tried to convince his sister Jeanettte that it wasn’t pudding, it was delicious, and she should try some too.
I remember him as a complicated and colorful man.