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In Praise of a Good Man

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I'm of an age that I can look back with some perspective on my father. At one time I saw him as someone who was never there for his son, an absent father. And that is what he was. He worked ten hours a day, six days a week in a disreputable tavern in the west end of Toronto. Of course, being that he was working from noon until midnight, I never got to see him, let alone get to know him.

There was a time I resented the fact that he wasn't there for me. And the few times that he was, he never hugged me or talked with me. He didn't know about such things. A poor excuse for a father, I told my therapist, and he agreed with me.

It never dawned on me until years later that we were poor and it was the only job he could get if he wanted to keep a roof over our heads, that he was too tired and preoccupied to be the good father I had demanded he be.

But now I am older and wiser, and realize what he did give me and what a good man he really was. I remember my older sisters saying how they wanted to marry a man like my father. I remember going over to the Rondun Hotel were my dad "slung beer," and one woman telling me what a wonderful man my father was. "He gives respect to every woman no matter what kind she is, and he never swears," she informed me.

I realize now how much of this he passed on to me, not in words, but simply in the fact of who he was. I have been in a wonderful marriage for years, happy and in love with my wife, just like my dad was with my mother. I can see now that this respect and love for women is the biggest and best gift my father gave me.

And I realize now that I might have been a bit of a disappointment as a son. My father, a baseball fan, gave up taking me to ball games when, after stuffing myself with hotdogs, I wanted to go home. "What a dumb game!" is what I remember saying to him. I guess now I can forgive him for not coming out to watch me play high school football.

In truth I was my mother's son, and my dad didn't quite know what to do with me, but to his credit, he did find a way. When I was in my late teens, getting ready to go to university, my dad took a week off. It was the summer I couldn't get a job and was desperate to find some way to earn my university tuition.

It was in late August, and my dad dragged me off to the race track. I couldn't imagine anything more boring, but he showed me how to read the Racing Form, what to look for in a winner, how to bet the daily double, how to bet for place and show. By end of the week I had won enough money for my tuition fee.

That summer, my father taught me how to gamble: knowing when to take a risk, when to cut one's losses, never to renege on a bet and never ever bet the milk money. A skill that has proved useful throughout my life in ways I'm sure he never imagined.

He was a man who kept his word and could be trusted. This I came to sense when I talked with some of the habitues whom I'd meet when I went over to see my dad at work. They use to tell me that he never spoke out against them, never fought with them, would even lend them a few bucks if they were really down on their luck. They respected his honesty and directness, and because of him I was given a certain position of respect. I was always introduced as Ernie's boy. That carried a certain weight. And I was proud to be his son.

Of course as I grew older I saw him as inept and old fashioned, taciturn, and clumsy. Yet now when I look in the mirror, or more often, when I hear myself laugh or greet a stranger on the street, I realize that I have become my dad. It is something I feel good about. In his way, he showed me how to be a good man. What more could a boy ask of his father?

-Austin Repath is a writer and philosopher. Visit austinrepath.com to read more of his work.


posted at 11:02:23 AM

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