[Ed. note: this FanPost originally ran on June 17, 2012.]
I wrote this piece on Father's Day 2010 in Ottawa while visiting my Dad and Stepmom. In the 60s and 70s, my Dad was a beat reporter for the OHA/OHL Oshawa Generals for the local Oshawa Times paper. While this piece doesn't deal totally with hockey and when it does, it is the loosest definition of hockey possible (the 80s Era Toronto Maple Leaf teams). Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there.
I write this while at my Dad's place in Ottawa. From his computer sitting in his computer chair. In front of me is a silver tumbler which he got for his tenure at the now-defunct Oshawa Times. For years he has used it as a holder for pens (some working, some inkless), scissors, unsharpened pencils and stubs of erasers. Behind me is a bookshelf with one row consisting mainly of photography books and jazz guides. The Boris Spremo book, the photographing sports how-to text---he's had these ones as long as I can remember.
I remember them from the bookshelf in the bedroom of the place on Buckingham Street in Oshawa. They followed him to the apartment on Gibb Street. Again on the bookshelf in the bedroom. And these places they had parks nearby. In the parks we would find an empty diamond and he would hit grounders or pop flies to Luc and me on Saturday afternoons when we were with him. Maybe slo-pitch tourneys would occupy the diamonds and we would find an empty patch of grass and throw the ball around there. And when we were softballed out, we would go back and Dad would always have a rum and coke. He said nothing tasted better after throwing the ball around.
He enjoyed a rum and coke when watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. He made us a concoction consisting of ginger ale, orange sherbert and a little milk and it was good . Always in a green plastic cup--maybe he got them as part of the separation agreement. And growing up in the 80s on Saturday nights on weekends with Dad meant watching the Leafs play. And the Leafs in the 80s were godawful. Godawful enough to make Luc become a rival Habs fan. Godawful enough to make me emigrate fanwise and become a Caps fan from the age of 7. But Dad stuck by the Leafs as they went through coaches like hookers go through johns (Nykoluk, Maloney, Watt, etc). But still Dad would talk about Leafs players, odd things that stuck in my head: Greg Terrion was from Marmora (where his parents lived at the time) so you had to like him, Bill Derlago picked his nose on the bench, Brad Smith (aka Motor City Smitty) was just damn fun to watch (maybe because he didn't wear a helmet). It was his hockey reporter/photojournalist side from the 1970s coming out. It still does now when he gets caught up playing multiple hockey pools every season. Luc inherited the hockey pool gene. I never did--not being able to separate my fan self from a poolie self.
I separated myself from Dad somewhat emotionally as a teenager. Maybe all teenagers do with their parents. Only seeing him every other weekend and two weeks straight in the summer helped in this pushing away I did. I found him too nervous, too prone to worry. He sweated the small stuff too much according to my adolescent eyes. Mom says now that I was impatient. Truth be told I likely was. I tried so hard to see the differences between us. It never led to outward conflict--there were never shouting matches. Dad and I aren't fans of conflict. There was just a distance: sometimes awkward, other times just there. Sometimes silence says more than shouting.
Dad moved to Toronto when I went to York University in the mid-90s. The photography books and jazz texts followed him to the bookshelf in the bedroom of the apartment on Jackes Avenue. He met my now stepmother Joan at the Globe and Mail where he worked as a copy editor (mainly in his beloved sports section, for a period in the less beloved foreign desk). A couple summers he was kind enough to let me stay at his place between years at university as he stayed with Joan. Joan was and is good for him--she made him happier, less worry-wartish. He embraced life. He even started cooking more. He expanded his standbys of spaghetti and chili with various meat loafs and tenderloins and started preaching the gospel of the slow-cooker. He hasn't made that Saturday, weekends-with-Dad childhood-staple sloppy joes since, or if he has it's been kept on the down-low.
Dad eventually moved in with Joan on Prince Arthur near St George Station in Toronto.The photography books and jazz texts in tow, of course to find home on another bedroom bookshelf. I moved to Kamloops BC. Now the distance was physical and emotional. I would call Dad. Dad and Joan called me once to ask if it was alright if they married. I replied something similar to "Is it Ok with you two? You're the ones getting married." My overwhelming consent granted, they did so. I am happy they did. They are good for each other and enjoy each other's company. Dad is a lot happier.
I moved back to Toronto in 2001. I started working at the record store on Queen Street. One day I decided to see if Dad wanted to do lunch since I was only a few subway stops away. We ended up going to the nearby Duke of York pub near his apartment. We talked. Nothing groundbreaking. I couldn't even tell you what we talked about--probably some sports, probably music, maybe some movies. I could tell you the pub likely had tennis playing on its TVs as it always seemed to when we went for lunch there and I probably ordered a cranberry juice or iced tea as I usually did. But something obviously synched that day. Dad and I started doing lunches weekly or bi-weekly, depending on our schedule. One day I was over and Dad said aloud I am really glad we started going out for lunch. So was I. My grandfather never fails to mention to me how glad he is that I started going out to lunch with his ex- son in law.
My father is a nice man. My mother (his ex-wife, need I remind you) says he is. My grandfather (his ex-father in law) never fails to mention how touched he was that he went to my grandmother's funeral 19 years after my parents' separation. How he saw my dad approaching in the parking lot of the funeral home and was very touched that "Wayne decided to be there for Grace". Dad's mother was a very nice woman. Mom once said to her "Your problem Phoebe is you're too nice". My grandma replied "Well I am not going to be nice anymore!". My father would probably dislike hearing he is nice. I know I shudder a bit when I hear it said to me. Maybe it's a Walters thing. The thing is, it is true: my father is a nice man. I hear it in the lilt in his voice when answering the phone these days. I have always heard it or envisioned it when he laughs or smiles when he takes a drag on a cigarette as we talk on the phone. I see it in his smile and when his eyes twinkle when he picks me up from the Ottawa Train Station.
Yes, Dad lives in Ottawa now. He and Joan moved here after retiring from the Globe and Mail. It's a beautiful house. Lovely gardens they maintain---well Joan does most of that; Dad says he looks after three flowers. I miss seeing Dad as much as I used to. I miss the lunches. During this past hockey season, I called him many times just to talk hockey and the Caps. He was patient enough to let me ramble on about them. Probably more patient than I was as a teen with him. But even though he is almost 5 hours away from me I can still everyday see his smile and his smiling eyes and hear the lilt in his voice saying "Hey guy" or "Hey tiger"(when I was younger). And I still see the spines of the photography books and jazz guides on the bookshelf behind me that have followed him everywhere just as the memories and love for him have followed me and continue to do so.