A life lesson in kindness
Happy birthday, pops. Run DMc. Too Tall McCall. Big Dave. Moose. So many other nicknames. My dad was in many ways a average guy who was also known by many because he was a gentle giant who loved a story, a laugh, a beer, and a chance to make a memory with a new friend. He had a deep booming voice and an outstanding duster. I wish more people had the chance to meet him because he taught me some important lessons.
My dad would've turned 70 today. I see a lot of him in myself and in my son resemblance wise. I picked up a lot of his good traits - smart, kind, love of reading; while avoiding pretty much all of his bad ones; smoking, drinking, diabetes, cheering for the Packers.
My dad wanted nothing more than to be an RCMP officer. Due to troubles at home as a teen, he left early and had to work hard right away but got there and did it on his own terms. Becoming an RCMP officer in a high cost of living area (in our case Burnaby, British Columbia) doesn't lead to a lavish lifestyle. Add in chain smoking and spending your waking hours alternating between beer and black coffee, and times are tight.
Despite not being the wealthiest man, and having an ever growing and very involved in athletics kid, my dad was still known religiously as "a guy that would give you the shirt off his back."
If you were stuck on the side of the road, he pulled over. If you were hitchhiking, he stopped and gave you a ride. Not the most advisable to many, but when you're a 6'5 260 pound mountie with a moustache and hands the size of a baby calf, it's all good. If you were hungry, he made sure you ate. If you mattered to him, he wrote you letters or would listen if you called and needed someone to vent to.
When you're a kid, it takes time to see past your own nose. To recognize the challenges and triumphs of others and how their lives may differ from yours. Lots of patience and repetition is required for a kid to truly get it. I am trying my best to teach my kids empathy at an early age, because it really does make the world a better place for them and for others.
My first true exposure into my dad's innate respect for dignity and humanity; and desire for equality came when I was 11.
Growing up, I started out massive. I was tall and wide for some time before I became tall and lanky and then tall and wide again. As such, football was my first love. And my dad's one true love.
Coming over from New Zealand at 9 to live with my dad, I had no idea what football was. He had to teach me the game and how to excel one day and one step at a time. But with being huge and having a rugby background, it was a short learning curve.
My dad went from coaching me to coaching my teams. As he loved to learn, he quickly rose up the ranks of coaching credentials, and became level 4 certified. He was credentialled to coach university or CFL, but used that certification on 9-12 year olds with mushroom cuts.
When I was 10, I had a friend on my team named Blair. Blair was funny and tough as nails, as he had two older brothers who would pound him into oblivion. He had a mom and dad who came to every game and practice and cheered him on relentlessly. They were short on lavishness, but rich in love and unity. Blair and I would have sleepovers and wrestling matches and play Super Nintendo and eat pizza pockets. He was small, but sparky and a total wiseass. I was big and quiet and studious and we made a great pair. Kind of like Vincent and Michael in Twins.
When I was 11, Blair was on my team again. But his parents weren't around. And he was a real asshole. When I tried to talk to him, he called me names and made fun of me. Fine, whatever. I'll find a new friend. Fuck that guy.
One day, my dad and I went grocery shopping. My dad was picking up way more food than we usually bought. No idea why. Maybe he's hungry or avoiding a return trip in the near future. Maybe he hit big on a 6/49 ticket.
All of a sudden, we are driving the wrong direction on the way home.
"Dad, where are we going?"
"To Blair's house."
"Why? He's such a dick this year. I don't talk to him."
"Mind your own business."
I wasn't one to talk back to my dad. So I sat and stewed. When we got to Blair's townhouse, my dad told me "wait here." He grabbed a few bags of groceries out of the back, put them on Blair's front step, and knocked on the door. He then got back in the car and pulled out and waved at Blair's older brother when he opened the door quizzically.
"Dad, why did you do that?"
"Do you think you're old enough to understand why Blair is so angry this year, Jerm? If I tell you, will you promise to not tell your teammates?"
"Blair's angry this year because his dad is gone. He left with his lady coworker one day and never came back. They haven't heard from him in months. His mom had to pick up as much work as she could for them to survive and the boys aren't getting enough to eat. Us 6 coaches each chipped in some money to pay his team fee because Blair needs football. He needs normalcy and friendship. He's angry because he's hungry and he doesn't understand what's happening."
Wow. This was a huge eye opener for me. At the time, I was the only kid in my circle with one parent. I thought everyone else had it easy and I was the only one 'in the suck'. If you had two parents and they didn't smoke and dressed like they actually lived in the 90s, then you were basically a made for TV movie in my eyes.
The next day, I called Blair. I asked if he wanted to come over after practice and hang out. He said sure. He ended up sleeping over for three days .
My dad left for work at 4:45 AM and wouldn't; get back until 7 pm. He told our basement tenant Victor who kept an eye on me in exchange for reduced rent when my dad was working that Blair was to be considered one of the kids moving forward and that was that.
From then on, I carried an important lesson with me.
I'm not the only one who struggles. I'm not the only one who has shit circumstances. I'm not the only one who could benefit from feeling like someone cared. Others had it worse than me.
My dad hammered the golden rule into me. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. I was too scared to defy him, so I absorbed it and lived it from a young age.
Reading Slam Magazine in 1996 and a story about Kevin Garnett, it talked about his friends from rural South Carolina living with him and him flat out stating in the interview "when I struggled they struggled. When I shine, they shine." That stuck with me too. When you grow up in tight times with similarly circumstanced people, you're in it together. Through thick or thin.
Fast forward to today. I'm not special. I'm human. Just taller than most other humans. My bills are paid, my lights are on, the heat's running and we have food in the fridge and cupboards. Other people aren't so lucky. And they exist in my world. Not just on tv or social media for a sympathetic tongue cluck and a muttering about politicians wasting tax dollars by not making them a priority. And because of my dad, I'll never forget that and I'll help others out when I can. In whatever way I can.
For the last couple of years, I've been performing a random act of kindness on his birthday to help keep his memory alive. Three years ago I walked into the Montana's around the corner and randomly paid the bill secretly for a dad dining with his family. Two years ago I went to the bar and ordered two Molson Canadians (his favourite). I drank one, left the other, and left a $100 tip with a note explaining why. Last year with the pandemic and all, my kids and I picked up 40 cheeseburgers and fries and handed them out around the Centre of Hope.
This year is different. We are on a mandatory quarantine because my son was exposed to a positive covid case in his kindergarten classroom.
in honour of my dad's 70th birthday, I was able to send some money via e transfer to a friend from back in the day, who grew up with me in the old neighbourhood when my dad was around. They were having a hard week, and I was able to fire over some cash for groceries. Just like my dad did for Blair and his mom and brothers when they needed it to. He would've done it today if he was alive and caught wind that this person was rationing food. It was an honour to do it as a posthumous birthday gift for my dad, because he taught me lessons I'll never forget. Lessons that have made my life amazing despite its challenges. I've been able to feel real impact and the creation of hope by caring and making a difference on a human level. I treat others the way I wish to be treated, because my dad showed me the value in doing it, and the universe took care of me in the low times when I needed it the most. What goes around came back around when I met my wife and had our family and got the happily ever after. Like the wave at a sporting event I hope to once again attend one day, it's my job to stand up and contribute my part when needed.
So I'll always pay it forward. Thanks, Dad. Happy Birthday.