Great gifts from Dad

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I'm thinking about my dad a lot this Christmas season. He's been dealing with dementia for the past seven or eight years, and it has progressed to the point where he can't walk, talk or eat solid foods.

He's dropped to just 99 pounds, his cheeks are sunken, and he often seems agitated.

And no wonder. The disease is slowly robbing him of his capacities, and it's stealing him from us.

Dementia can't take what Dad has given me, though.

And those gifts are on my mind this Christmas, particularly since he lives at a long-term care facility in Corner Brook and I won't be with him physically during the holidays.

What Dad gave me could never fit under a tree, be purchased at a big box store, ordered online, or be made by human hand.

The gifts are the many lessons he taught me. Not one was spoken, all were by example.

The value of hard work is one example.

My father ran service stations, an auto salvage yard and a used car lot.

He busted his butt at each place, and I still picture him coming home from the scrapyard physically exhausted from the day's toil.

From his aches and pains, his constant bad back, it certainly wasn't a labour of love.

No, he worked so hard to provide for his family, to make our lives better and give us opportunity.

I now find myself trying to do the same, although I'm fortunate enough to love journalism and rank it the second greatest profession, next to being in U2.

And that's ultimately because of Dad, too. He taught to me to love news and newspapers.

As soon as he walked in the door after a long day, he'd sit and read the paper.

Then we'd often discuss the news at supper, often with "Here and Now" as the soundtrack.

It was his interest that sparked mine and led me here.

Dad also taught me compassion and kindness.

He made zero fuss about it, but he was a generous man who helped the less fortunate when he could.

My earliest memory of that was from my childhood, when he was taking his four kids out to buy new Tonkas - the all-metal ones, not the plastic ones of today. He invited a neighbourhood kid to come along and bought him a Tonka, too. The boy was over the moon with delight, and I'm pretty sure he has never forgotten it.

I haven't either. The Tonka Dad bought me that day is one of the only toys I still have from childhood (the other is a Fonzie doll). The dump truck continues to serve as a reminder that giving is better than receiving.

Dad also showed me the value of humour.

He was generally a pretty quiet, serious, blue-collar type - especially when working or in social situations with people he didn't really know - but he could be completely foolish.

I can still hear him laughing out loud at TV shows like "The Two Ronnies," teasing my mom about everything, or singing the most awful version of "Happy Birthday" you've ever heard.

I'd do anything for him to be able to sing that again. I've spent the last 20 years carrying around a tape recorder, but never managed to record him once.

Often, when I'm writing a column and trying to be humourous, I wonder whether or not Dad would laugh at a line.

He definitely wouldn't be laughing that I wrote this about him. In fact, he'd be a little ticked. He wanted nothing of the spotlight.

But in this season of lights, I want his to shine bright, to say thanks and Merry Christmas.

Dad, I'm thinking about you.

 

Reach Steve Bartlett by email at sbartlett@thetelegram.com. On Twitter, he's @SteveBartlett_

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