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Writer-s-Bloc

My father laughed

By Ross Freake

Today should be called Dad’s Day not Father’s Day; anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.

Today, we honour that someone special, who was there at the creation of our life, and stayed around to nourish it and help it grow, who was there for the school plays, hockey games, graduations, marriages, all the highlights of a well-lived life.

The female gives life, and the male teaches their offspring how to live it; he’s the model of what the daughter will seek in a mate, and for what the son will become as a man.

“Because the female is the image of life and the male is the image of achievement, the woman’s body is the basic body. It is the body out of which life comes. The male’s body is a body to defend the basic body, to set up a field within which it can function and bring forth,” mythologist Joseph Campbell said in This Business of the Gods.

The female — because she had to nurture, cook, watch the kids and co-operate with her neighbours — needed to multi-task and maintain relationships. 

Evolution shaped the male differently. The hunter, the killer, needed to be cold-blooded, with a narrow focus, to be oblivious of everything except the sabre-toothed tiger or the enemy from the next village. If his mind wandered, he left his genes on the killing field and doesn’t have descendents to receive or give  a Father’s Day card or tie today.

There isn’t much demand for tiger killers now and skill with a spear isn’t transferable in the Twitterverse. The role for which the male was designed has been made redundant by the relentless march of evolution and societal change. Instead of fighting lions, he battles existential angst as he awaits his next evolutionary role.

Will Iron John become a metrosexual? Will King Arthur put the sword back in the stone? Will John Wayne hang up his spurs?

As he awaits his next assignment, the male can look back with nostalgia to a time when he knew his place with certainty, to that pivotal point, unmarked and unheralded, when he became what is described on Father’s Day cards.

“As (German philosopher Jurgen) Habermas points out, what separated the first humans from apes and hominids was not the economy or even tools, but rather the invention of the role of the father,’” Ken Wilber writes in A Brief History of Everything.

On that pivotal day, instead of just sowing wild oats and then hanging out with the boys at the local watering hole talking about it, the male became provider, protector and problem solver.

Such a male was my father, James Samuel Freake: Oct. 8, 1924-May 26, 2012.

I was very young when I met him and, frankly, he didn’t impress me that much, but after following him around for a few years, I learned how to dig a well, how to row a punt, how to build a house, how to cut-throat fish and how to skim the cod-liver oil from the top of the barrel before drinking it.

My dad – fisherman, logger, builder – knew his place; he knew the meaning of his life. On Fogo Island, on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland, that meant, among many other things, being able to build his house, the furniture in it, and how to fix the fishing-boat engine when it inevitably broke down with night and gale-force winds coming fast.

He was dad to six children, poppy to 13 grandchildren and Poppy Jim to a herd of great-grand children and one great-great-grandchild. As was fitting for someone raised in the oral tradition — no radio, no TV, no electricity, no running water —  he was a story teller, but he wasn’t much for giving advice or heart-to-heart talks.

Maybe because he knew I wasn’t receptive to either. Wisdom is often knowing what not to do and what not to say. Showing is better than telling.

And he showed me three important things I hope I have passed along to my sons: love, a strong work ethic and a sense of humour. Oh, how he laughed.

Whether he was the teller or the tellee of the joke, before the punch-line was finished, laughter convulsed him. It started in his eyes, lit up his face and ran down his body like St. Elmo’s fire, ending with him cocking his right leg and, and in an oddly effeminate gesture, slapping it with a very large hand.

Dad must have known laughter is the best medicine because he was never sick and was hopping around on rooftops into his 80s. On the second-last day of his life, he was demanding to be helped out of bed.

Just as he had a good life, he had a good death with his children bustling around the home he built, and Betty, his wife of 64 years, sitting beside their bed as he took that dying exclamation, that final ahhh, that sound of creation.

Unlike our dads’ generation, boomers don’t have the same certainty of their role and their place, and if TV is today’s prophet where they are at best lovable klutzes, they just might be going the way of the appendix.

In The Alphabet Versus The Goddess, Leonard Shlain quotes from The Second Sex by French writer Simone de Beauvoir:

“Killing made (the male) transcendent, elevating him above his previous existence, giving him purpose and meaning and an exciting task.”

While the male often feels superfluous in a society that demands he be more relational and sensitive, more feminine, there is still one thing, one word when uttered by the right person can make him again transcendent: Dad.

Thanks, dad. Thanks for being my dad; thanks for loving me, and thanks for doing the very best you could.

In one of our last conversations, I told him that.

Ross Freake is a West Kelowna freelance journalist.

 



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