Let’s Talk

Hey. Just a warning: This isn’t an easy read. It wasn’t easy to write, either.


Today is January 25th, when Bell, inspired by a spirit of boundless compassion*, will give a pile of money to mental health initiatives, so long as you tag your discussion correctly. So… here’s my 5¢ worth, I guess.

As some of you know, my dad recently died. He was in a nursing home for years before he left us, a victim of pretty severe dementia. So in a way, he died twice: once in the mind, slowly falling away over years, and then in body, later, more quickly.

Even before the dementia became apparent, there were hints of depression. Maybe things could have been different if he’d spoken up, or if we’d asked the right questions. (Let’s talk, Dad.) Hindsight is, of course, always 20/20, but Dad just wasn’t the type to talk about these things. (Neither am I, really. Not usually.)

I’m like Dad in a lot of ways. I look like him, I sound like him, and many of his mannerisms and turns of phrase are deeply ingrained in me too. We both love science fiction. We both lack a spleen, thanks to a genetic condition whose name I never learned.

But I’m also unlike him in a lot of ways. I do my best to go to the gym, which I think he might find a foreign concept. I don’t like canned peas (grey salty sadness pellets), I enjoy kiwifruit and yogurt, I read the occasional fantasy novel.

Sometimes—not very often, but sometimes—I wonder if his fate is my fate. People tell me that it’s not, and I do my best to listen.

 

* I imagine there are tax benefits, too.

Memories of JJ, 7 — Sartorial splendour

Dad

If you knew Dad, you knew he had his own sense of style. He wore moccasins as much as he possibly could*. In the summertime, if he wasn’t wearing moccasins, then he was barefoot. (Well, maybe sandals.)

At work and at play, he’d wear blue jeans and a button-up short-sleeve shirt. Later, after I’d left home, he discovered denim shirts. There was always a pen or a mechanical pencil in the shirt pocket, and usually a tube of Certs. (Remember Certs?)

The only time you’d see his legs was at the beach, in a bathing suit**. Otherwise, like I said: jeans.

* I wore jeans and moccasins at his funeral. It just seemed right.

** Which reminds me of another fun time. We were camping up at Blue Lakes. My sisters and I were swimming, and the water was cold. Like, my thumbnails turned blue cold. Dad, from the shore, asked how the water was. “Fine,” we said, and he ran in. And then complained all the rest of the weekend—and for years later, let me tell you—about his damn kids lying to him.


My dad passed away recently. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little memorials to him. This is the last one in the series, but rest assured, I’ll probably mention him again. Thanks for reading.

Posted in JJ.

Memories of JJ, 6 — Tar Fumes

(This one’s Susie’s, but I’m stealing it.)

Dad was, shall we say, not a fan of The Simpsons. (Neither is Mom, for that matter.)

Susie was home for the weekend, or maybe for the summer. She was downstairs watching The Simpsons. It was the episode where Ralph falls in love with Lisa, and makes the mistake of telling Homer that he’d do anything for Lisa.

“Anything?” says Homer. Aaaaand smash cut to the scene above.

Just at that moment, Dad walked into the room. He laughed. And as I’ve mentioned before, Dad didn’t generally laugh aloud unless something really tickled him.

Susie gave him a Busted! look.

He still refused to watch The Simpsons, though.


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 5 — Dietary quirks

Dad

Everyone’s got things they like to eat and things they’d rather not share a planet with. For instance, I love lasagna*/** and loathe turnips.

***

How do you eat your French toast? Butter and syrup, right? Maybe some whipped cream and berries, yeah? Not Dad. No, he’d butter it, add salt and pepper, and then slice it up and dip the pieces in strawberry jam.

I asked him once why he ate it that way. “When I was up North,” he told me, “I’d never had French toast before. Someone told me it was like scrambled eggs mixed into toast. So I reasoned that you put butter and jam on toast, and salt and pepper on eggs.”

Try it. It’s delicious. (Raspberry jam is also a great choice.)

***

Dad hated yogurt. Hated it. For years I wouldn’t eat it, because I assumed he was right. (He told me once that it looked, and I quote, “like the end product of a sick horse.” But he enjoyed cottage cheese. Go figure.)

Also he refused to eat kiwis. “I’m not putting something in my mouth that’s that shade of green.” I used to really enjoy eating them right beside him. I’d even exaggerate the smacking sounds that are pretty much de rigeur when you eat kiwi.

(Hmmm. Reading this back, it appears I might be a terrible son. Oh well. Je ne regrette rien.)

* I don’t much care for Mondays, either. Maybe I’m Garfield.

** Also, Dad taught me how to make lasagna Florentine, which is the best. Maybe I’ll make some this week.


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 4 — Resemblance

I look a lot like my dad. Everyone tells me that. (At the care home, on the day before he died, one of the administrators, meeting me for the first time, said, “Yeah, you look like him.” With the gallows humour I also inherited from dad, I thought (but didn’t say) Hopefully you mean before, because I scarcely recognized him anymore.)

I sound like him, too, and have pretty much since my voice quit cracking after puberty. More than once, when I lived at home (or, later, was visiting), I’d answer the phone and have someone call me JJ and ask me if I’d like to go for coffee, or if I could grant an extension on a computer science assignment*, or something like that. It always seemed to throw the caller for a loop when I’d say “Uh, hang on,” and give Dad the receiver.

The other day, I was washing my hands in the bathroom sink, and I happened to look up at my reflection. Something about the set of my mouth—a little wry smirk—and the stubble of a week’s worth of not shaving, combined with my eyes under, let’s face it, shaggy old-man eyebrows, really looked a lot like he used to. Back when he was my dad, not a lost stranger living in the care home.

I look like him. I sound like him. I carry on.

* That only happened once, I think. As tempted as I was to mess with the caller, I handed the phone over to Dad.


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Posted in JJ.

Memories of JJ, 3 — Keys

Dad

Let’s not talk about how he’d clean his ears with his keys, OK? Let’s just not.

Instead here’s a story from my days as a high-school student.

I was one of the nerds* that worked on the yearbook. One day, at home, I realized I’d forgotten something in the yearbook office. It wasn’t anything of serious consequence—I hadn’t left my French homework or anything like that—but Dad had to go get something from the wood shop, and so I went with him.

Dad had a master key to the school, because he was the type of person that had a master key to the place where he works. (I asked him one time why that was; he shrugged and told me “People trust me” with a little lopsided smile.) Once he’d retrieved what he needed from the shop, we stopped in next door at the yearbook office… where his master key refused to work.

After a couple minutes of jiggling the key and jiggling the doorknob, he pulled out the key, examined it up close (raising his glasses up his forehead to do so), and said, “Huh.”

Then we went back into the shop, where he fired up the metal grinder normally used to sharpen chisels. He filed off a little bit of his master key. Sparks flew, briefly.

The newly-reshaped key worked, and I was able to retrieve my forgotten item.

I spent the next few weeks trying to decide if Dad was a locksmith manqué or a wizard. (Eventually I realized that a wizard probably wouldn’t clean his ear with a key.)

* Dweebs? Geeks? Whatever, we had fun. Name me another group that got high** on rubber-cement fumes on their lunch break.

** Well, giddy, at any rate.


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Memories of JJ, 2 — Solicitors

I was about twelve. Dad was watching the news on CBC. There was a report about prostitution, and the reporter made the point that, in Canada, prostitution was legal, but soliciting a prostitute wasn’t. I was old enough that I had a handle on what prostitution was but I was confused about solicitation. So I asked Dad.

He explained that solicitiation meant, in essence, a prostitute offering sex for money.

“Oh,” I said. After a moment I asked, “So why do they call him the Solicitor General?”

Dad laughed harder than I think I’d ever seen him laugh in his life*. He never did answer my question.

* One thing I inherited from Dad is the way he laughed. He would find a lot of things mildly funny, enough for a smirk or a smile, but you knew he’d really been tickled by something if he guffawed, loud and usually with little warning.


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Posted in JJ.

Memories of JJ, 1 — Ketchup

We went to McDonald’s every time we were in the city. Dad didn’t like the food, but we kids all did. So he would sigh and pull in to the parking lot and we’d all cheer from the back seat.

The ketchup packets had just about enough in them for an order of fries. If you really squeezed it out, you could make do with a single packet. Two packets had way too much. Waste not, want not. So I got pretty good at squeezing every last molecule of ketchup onto my fries.

On one visit to the Golden Arches, I rolled the ketchup packet, starting carefully from one end, making sure every last drop went onto a fry. Finished, I discarded the tightly-wound tube on the side of the tray. Dad, who had been watching me without my really noticing, sighed and said, “And yet you can’t do that with the toothpaste.”

I’m in my forties now and I still think of this every time I’m getting to the end of a toothpaste tube. (Or a ketchup packet.)


My dad passed away recently. I’m going to be posting little memories of him for the next little while. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.