Today is November 11th, Remembrance Day, and a fitting day to write about my father, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 31 years. Every year, I watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on tv on CBC, and though I think of current events and past veterans, it is my father who takes center stage for me in my mind on that day. He is the main character, the principal hero in his crisply pressed military uniform, with his stripes and medals, standing proudly, representing his country and all those values that he held and continues to hold dearly.
My father was born on October 13th, 1945 in Sudbury, Ontario to a French-Canadian mother and father. I don't know a lot about my father's childhood, but I do know things weren't always easy, that money was sometimes tight, that his father had a problem with drinking, and that his mother worked long hours to pay the bills. My dad doesn't talk much about his childhood. I know that at a young age, he was hustling in a local pool hall, finding a way to earn his own much-needed money. I know also that he wasn't successful at school, despite his obvious smarts, dropping out in grade 9. The act of joining the military at 17 years of age I think was, in many ways, a ticket out of the limitations he was facing at the time. Joining up revealed a few other things about his personality as well: the ability to make radical changes and take on big challenges, the desire to defend core values by serving his country, and a deep-seated urge to grow into his potential and spread his wings.
As I think of my father today, through the lens of the army brat I once was, I have many vivid memories of him as a military man. There he is, spit-shining his boots at 9pm, getting them ready for work the next morning, cigarette dangling from his lips, face tense in concentration. There he is again, standing in front of an ironing board as the early evening spread itself across the living room, turning his shirts into perfectly perfect fabrics, getting ready for the next day. Always getting ready for the next day. And always happy to get ready for the next day, never miserable about it. As a child, I understood that my father loved his job, and found meaning in it. As proof of this, in the mornings, my father would whistle and hum as he went about his rituals before work.
In another memory, there he is, walking around in the Officer's Mess one night, the place he was in charge of running. We lived in Lahr, Germany at the time and my dad, who had begun his career in the infantry as a cook, had risen in the ranks and was now a Master Warrant Officer whose job it was to take care of all manner of events and goings on in the Officer's Mess-- a position of significant responsibility. He had gotten me a job that night as a "cigarette girl" (I was 16 so I guess old enough to carry out such duties), someone who walked around with small elegant trays of cigarettes, offering them to the officers and officers' wives. I remember for the first time, looking at my father through different eyes as I watched him work, and witnessing the respect and genuine liking his subordinates showed him as the night went on. I saw that not only did he like his job, the people he worked with seemed to like him. A lot. I had a newfound respect for my father and his work after that night.
I have a few other memories of my father, sitting on the edge of my bed the morning after an argument that happened the night before during my late turbulent teen years (this occurred more than once), lightly waking me up with his hand and saying, "Sorry about last night. We're okay, right?" In this memory, he sits there, in his ever perfect uniform, ready for work, his kind eyes looking into my own sleepy ones as I struggled to wake up. Looking back, I understand that it bothered him to leave things messy and unfixed and so made the effort before going to work to fix things with me. I cherish this memory of my father because it says so much about him as a man, and as a parent.
When I left Winnipeg at 20 to move to Vancouver, it was my father who drove me to the airport, again in his military uniform because it was in the morning, before work. We had a coffee together in the airport lounge. We sat across from each other, he in his usual outfit and I in mine. I don't remember what I was wearing at the time but it was probably something black, being the deep-thinking artsy wanna-be that I was. We didn't say much to each other beyond talk of weather and travel details, yet the space between us was heavy with feeling. I remember there was so much I wanted to say to my father in those moments before I left, and I'm sure there were things he wanted to say to me too, but it was hard to say them, and so we didn't. To this day, I remember the jumble of feelings I felt as I waved goodbye to him, holding back tears. I remember his eyes were dry as well, but I could see in his expression that his tears were closer than they had ever been with me before. In this memory, he stands there waving back, crisp and efficient in his uniform, and I love him fiercely.
My father served 31 years in the Military. He began as a private and ended as a Chief Warrant Officer, the highest level one can attain as a non-commissioned officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. When I think of my father and how successful he was in his career, I am filled with awe, respect and admiration for him. His career achievements made him a success story, triumphing over humble and shaky beginnings, and leading him to a life of meaning and satisfaction. He loved his work, and was good at it. He showed unwavering commitment to the values of order, peace and freedom. The military was a huge part of his life. So today, on Remembrance Day especially, my father holds a special place in my heart, and in my mind's eye standing there at attention, in his perfect military uniform, ready for work.