Eleven has been my favourite number since I can remember. I had short affairs with some higher ups like 17, 19 and 23, but 11 has always been the number that made me feel the most confident. It is strange how a lucky number can impact our psyche or our minds, yet today on the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing I have an eerie mixture of confidence and yearning.
Eleven years ago today, my father, William Arthur Gregor, passed away at the young age of 56. Dad had a massive heart attack in his car at a red light in Sherwood Park. He had quit smoking a few years earlier, wasn’t a heavy drinker or overweight, but sadly it was his time.
The morning of his funeral I found myself anxious and uptight so I sat down and wrote an email to my close friends. I’m not sure what caused me to write down my thoughts that foggy morning, but once I started typing and released my inner feelings I felt better. In that email I asked my friends for their thoughts and prayers, but most importantly I asked them to tell their fathers they loved them. I hoped that through their actions my Dad would know how much I loved him.
Today, after you’ve taken the time to read this, I ask that you do the same.
On the first anniversary of Wild Willy’s (nickname my brother and I gave him) passing, I sat down and wrote another email. I felt a tad nervous that people might think it was corny or self-serving, because that wasn’t my intention, but luckily that wasn’t the reaction I received. That year and every year since many people have sent me their own stories filled with heartache, fun-loving memories and words of gratitude.
I’ve kept many of them, and from time-to-time I go back and read them, and for a short time the void in my heart and soul from Dad’s death seems smaller. With every passing year I find that I’m closer to being in the majority, rather than the minority, when dealing with the loss of a parent. Every year someone I’ve met casually or in passing has lost their father, and often after sending out this letter they send a response outlining how they can relate to my feelings.
It sounds strange, but over the years I’ve realized those responses soothe my soul. I will tear up reading them, often because their pain seems so much worse than mine, but also because they are so genuine and real.
Too often we feel we are the only one struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, when it is so obvious that isn’t the case.
Sharing those emotions is what we long for, but rarely are we able to express them. Even those who are strong enough to share their feelings frequently still don’t do it often enough. Many of us simply bottle up our emotions and decide that we can function while they stay locked away.
Sadly, that rarely leads to happiness.
Writing this email creates a mixture of laughter and heartache, but most of all it fills me with a feeling of undying love for and from my father. The wonderful thing about genuine love is that it truly never goes away, and the actions we show today WILL live in the hearts of our loved ones forever. I’m not sure I believed that until I lost my father.
Today crept up on me much quicker than in previous years. Some years I dreaded thinking about it, because I wanted the pain to subside and not think about him. Other years I bordered on excited as the 29th approached, because I wanted to recall all the joy he brought to my life. This year I really just wanted to be able to speak with him and get some advice.
I’m sure all of you who have lost a loved one feel the same way, but during those rare momentous occasions in life we really yearn for their wisdom, love and guidance.
I met the love of my life, Traci, this year and over the summer I knew she was the one and I proposed ten days ago. We’ve all felt love at some point in our life, but when you feel that “this is the one” love it is both exhilarating and frightening. I wanted to ask him for some fatherly advice, because I knew he’d have a good response. He met my mom in a post office, got engaged three weeks later and then married four months after that. He knew how to embrace the sweaty palms, butterflies and empty pit in your gut and turn them into positives.
He wasn’t afraid to take a chance at love, and for the entire 31 years of my parent’s marriage their loved never wavered.
I had some serious questions I wanted to ask him.
How do you really know she is the one?
Why do we speak in a quieter tone or cheesy voice and often toss in a pet name when addressing her?
Will I ever have any closet space?
Do they make blankets where one half is eight inches thick to keep her warm and my half a normal thickness?
Will I actually feel better if I talk about my feelings?
Dad would have had an answer for all these questions, whether they were the right answer is debatable, but he would have had some interesting responses.
Seriously though, the hardest part of death is that it is so final. It leaves us longing for more, especially when we lose a loved one earlier than we expected. I am extremely thankful that even though he couldn’t tell me the answers himself, his actions left me with a great blueprint.
My father wasn’t afraid to show his love. He never said I love you very often, but he didn’t have to because his wife, kids, extended family and friends knew how he felt.
Dad was chatty as hell, but he wasn’t great with emotional words. He always bought mom a card for her birthday, their anniversary, holidays or special occasions. The cards always had long, meaningful messages in them, but only two words were his; at the top of the card it said, Pearl and at the bottom, Bill. Nothing else.
One day we stopped at the mall to pick up some stuff. As we walked past a stationary/card store he said he needed to get mom a birthday card, and that I should go pick up whatever we were getting. He said to meet him back here when I was done. Twenty minutes later I walked back to the store and he was still looking for a card. I couldn’t believe it.
“What’s taking so long,” I asked. He looked at me and said, “You can’t rush these things. I need the perfect card for her.” It took him at least another ten minutes before he picked out a card. While driving home I asked him why the card was so important.
“I’m not good at writing out my feelings, so I need to find a card that tells your mom exactly how I feel.” “Why can’t you just get a blank card and write out what you feel,” I blurted out. “I’m just not good at it, but I know it is important so I take my time until I find one that reflects how I feel about her.”
I remembered that story while looking at the chicken scratch I’d scribbled on the card I gave Traci before I proposed. I bought a blank card and wrote what probably turned out to be incoherent gibberish, because I was so nervous. I thought that was the romantic thing to do.
A few days later after the shock of her saying yes subsided, I remembered my mom’s reaction when she read cards from dad and how she would always have a big smile; look at him and voice, “Thank you.”
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t his writing, but those words were his true feelings. Dad never wrote the mushy, romantic stuff because that wasn’t in his nature, but he showed my mom how he felt daily.
He made her coffee, he scraped the frost off her car every morning before leaving for work, if she worked late he always had dinner waiting for her, and he often bought her flowers. The card normally just read, LOVE BILL.
If you can’t write how you feel make sure you show the woman how you feel. Ladies don’t fret if your man isn’t a future Hallmark-writer, cherish that he takes the time to find a card that expresses for him how he feels about you.
Last year I wrote about the ten life lessons I’d learned from my father, and now as I look ahead to marriage, and maybe fatherhood, I re-read them and asked myself if I was living up to them?
I’ve found that I need to regularly remind myself about what truly is important in life. It is so easy to get caught up in the rat race of life, and how technology has made it very difficult to find quality time with our loved ones.
How often do you talk to your wife, husband, kids or friends while looking at our phone? Often as they talk we are waiting for a text or thinking about sending one? Most of you might say that’s not me, but you’re likely guilty of it on some level. If you aren’t then your teenagers definitely are, and you know you how frustrated an unappreciated you feel when they do that while you try to talk with them.
Try turning your phone off the minute you walk in the door and leave it off for an hour. Then try two hours and so on. You’ll find that you actually communicate with your loved ones and listen to what they say.
Traci and I had to agree to shut our phones off, or leave them at home if we went out to dinner or a movie. The crazy thing is we realized we rarely missed anything. None of the texts, tweets or BBM messages was life changing. If you feel naked or freak out without your phone, maybe it’s time to try some actual human interactions.
I’m not saying we go phoneless every day, but the times we agree to shut off our phones we seem to connect much better. There are no distractions and that helps.
Dad never had to deal with these issues, so I’m not sure how he would have reacted, but every era has had their share of technological temptations, so try to ensure that you are controlling them and not the other way around.
Ironically one of my proudest moments of this past year was when I received a text from my friend Paul. He never met my father. He sent me a short text that I still have saved in my phone, “I scraped off Leah’s (his fiancé) windows this morning. Thought of your dad. He’d be proud.”
I hope he was, but I know I sure was. My eyes welled up with pride and nostalgia because I pictured him scrapping mom’s windows, and I thought about how much she missed him doing that for her. Never forget to do the little things to show your wife you care, and don’t forget to say thank you if your spouse continually does those small special acts of kindness.
Over the years I’ve had many fathers send me emails stating how they hope they are making an impact in their children’s lives like dad did to me. This annual letter has taught me that most men want to know they’ve positively influenced their kids, but it seems many of us forget to tell our dad’s that.
One of my biggest regrets was I never told him. He knew I loved him, but I’m not sure he knew how much I learned from him. Unfortunately I’ll never get that chance, but hopefully you do.
It seems society focuses more on ensuring we tell our moms we love them, because they like to hear it. Of course they do, but rarely, if ever, do sons tell our fathers. I’m not sure why that is. We did it as kids. Your young kids do it now, and when they look at you and say, “I love you daddy.” it melts your heart. Regardless of you age your father, while he might not show it or say, still yearns to hear those words.
So why do we assume that as we get older our fathers don’t need or want to hear that anymore. Few guys would ever ask their kids to say it, so even though your father probably knows you love him, why not tell him? More importantly why not tell him how much he has taught you and how much you appreciate him.
I think you’ll be surprised at his reaction. He might not tell you directly, but he’ll tell his wife and your mom will likely tell you how much it meant to him. The next time you tell him, he’ll likely be able to tell you himself how much it means to him. Dads if you are reading this don’t be afraid to thank your kids. They all know you’re a softie at heart even if you pretend you’re the tough, rugged guy all the time.
I write this email with the hope you can help my father know how much he meant to me, and how much I truly miss him. I hope through your actions of love towards your father today, and in the future, that he will somehow see that eleven years later I still miss him dearly.
This year I ask you to take the time to tell your father how much he means to you. Thank him for taking you to hockey, football, soccer, swimming etc. Tell him his work ethic is inspiring. Thank him for showing you how to treat a lady properly.
If you and your father don’t have a great relationship right now, ask yourself if what ever you are arguing over is truly worth it? Don’t wait until he is gone to mend the fence. The first step might be awkward, scary or downright gut wrenching, but you’ll feel better for it.
Keep in mind he comes from an older generation, and likely one that taught men they were weak if they expressed any emotion, so you’ll probably have to make the first move. He likely wants to mend the fence, but is to scared to say or do anything.
If you are lucky enough to be able to see you father today, or this week, give him a hug or just spend some time together. At the very least call him and ask how he’s doing. Dads might never say it, but they love hearing from their kids. If you are in a different city, give him a call and tell him you love him.
Many of you are now fathers, and I encourage you to always show an interest in your children’s lives. I think the true measure of a man is showing those he loves that they have his support and love, no matter the situation. While your kids might not say it to you, we all loved looking in the crowd and seeing the face of our father or mother at our games, concerts, recitals or at the dinner table when they asked how school was.
It is comforting and the best gift you can give your kids is YOU. Don’t forget that when you are busy “providing” for them.
Thank you for reading this, and for taking the time to follow through on my request.
For those who have suffered the loss of your father, recently or at any time, accept my deepest sympathies. If your father is not with us anymore, make sure you call your mom instead, because I guarantee the void in her heart is much deeper.
Dad, I love you dearly. I miss your smile, zest for life, laugh, your undying love and your life lessons. If you could let me know about those magic blankets with two different thicknesses I’d be grateful.
Please watch over all of my friends and family and especially your true love, Mom.
Love your son, Jason
I leave you with a song from Phil Collins with a message most fathers would want their kids to know. “Look over your shoulder and I’ll be there.”