Most of us have parents or guardians of some sort. I’ve yet to meet anyone whom has arrived at adulthood without a ‘teacher’ of some sort. But did you know that your parents likely had a much different upbringing than you did? While I had pondered this over the years, the depths of it were never understood, or appreciated, until recently.
My Dad often talked about his five-mile walk to school, in the snow, with no lunch. This seemed to be a common theme from his generation. But I have learned more about my Dad’s past in the last two months, than I’d ever thought possible. Dad is now 77 years old. I had always understood that his younger days were much different than mine. While I knew a lot about my maternal roots, I knew very little about Dad’s background. All I was ever told was that he was working from a very young age, didn’t have the best relationship with his father, and he and his 10 siblings “didn’t see a lotta’ love growing up.” But after having some personal time with Dad, he has been opening up to me a lot about his deep past.
Dad really never liked school. After the nuns kicked him out, he asked the milkman one day if he could join him on his delivery runs. The man let my then 11-year old father come along and learn the route. As dad familiarized himself with the procedures and route, the man eventually let dad do the deliveries himself. Imagine that: a kid teaching himself how to drive a stick-shift, Milk truck in the early 1950’s. Dad said he would have to slide off the seat to reach the pedals. Like, were there no cops back then?? Better yet, the guy who hired my father would let Dad go alone, while he got drunk in the pub all day. It all just sounds so insane! Not surprisingly, Dad said he never got in an accident.
Around age 13, Dad’s father said: “If you’re not gonna’ be in school, you’re comin’ to the (coal) mines with me.” My grandpa, Bob, was a big-shot at the mine – 18 Colliery – in New Waterford, Nova Scotia. It was required for one to be 16 before entering the mines, but Dad was only 13. He said his father pulled some strings, and had a lady from their church falsify documents so he could get hired.
Dad has told me horrific stories of being in that narrow, dark pit for up to 16 hours a day – every day of the week. He said if he woke up on weekends, and his mom had his lunch waiting for him on the table – he knew he was going to work! Dad also described how everyone in the coal mines used chewing tobacco to keep the black soot from sticking to your throat, and to provide some moisture.
Aside from the abuse and neglect witnessed, my Dad has always had a very positive outlook on life. Not only did he have a great work ethic, but he has always been a true, self-taught gentleman to my mom. Dad moved to Toronto in early 70’s, and got a great job driving bus for the city. This was a job that I knew he had so much pride in, as he took road safety, public transportation, and customer satisfaction seriously. He worked many hours to provide for our family, and never seemed to show the stress he must have felt. Also, he mentioned how he never had a single public complaint filed against him the whole time.
Around 1983, Dad was in a terrible bus accident. During a snow storm that removed the streets, he was told he had to do one last trip. Pleading with his superiors to cancel the trip as per the weather, he was instructed to carry on. It was a decision that changed the course of his (and our family’s) life altogether. During extreme white-out conditions, Dad was rear-ended by a semi-trailer, resulting in only one significant injury: Dad’s back. It wasn’t until years later that he would realize that the accident had a much bigger impact on his life than just his broken back, however.
We never went without life’s necessities because of him, and never knew what neglect or abuse were. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years back, I can notice a decline in Dad’s health. Even after falling several times, he will be the first to tell you: “Oh I’m alright…no complaints.” This man seriously never complains. Even though he has sustained many blows in life – his childhood (or lack thereof), worker’s comp., financial stresses, Parkinson’s – he refuses to stay down! His resiliency and determination have motivated me to want to be a better person everyday, always thinking of OTHERS before myself. Dad has taught me so much about so much: faith, family, fitness, love, life-lessons, and forgiveness. One thing I know for certain, is that I couldn’t be the person I am today were it not for my Father. Your legendary story, Dad, has saved me from many low points in my own run at this game of life. Many times I have wanted to throw in the towel, but I have felt your strength within me, pushing me.
My Dad had a rough life; bittersweet, you could say. But because of his amazing attitude, he has prospered. One of his famous life-lines is: “Never look back!” I live by this, as I myself have been consumed by past, sabotaging beliefs many times. I have learned that pitying oneself will only lead to more self-pity, and that you always have to realize the beautiful potential in life.
My generation will never know hard work like Dad’s generation did. I have had some crumby, downright demoralizing jobs which I have literally walked away from. If I reached a point where enough was enough, I just quit….because I could. I did so without consulting anyone, and usually found another job quite easily. Many of our forefathers didn’t have this option, and I feel a bit selfish even admitting this. Nowadays, we work where we want, when we want, and we generally get treated pretty fairly. So many “capable” people simply choose NOT to work because they don’t have to. Our complex and confusing system takes care of those who wish not work as long as you can find a reason not to. Yes, today we have it pretty easy.
They say our parents are our first teacher’s in life. I don’t know how someone can teach something, however, that they themselves have never been taught. How on earth does one simply start loving, if they haven’t seen a whole lot of it?? Dad, I don’t know HOW you became the generous, considerate, hard-working man you are today, but I want you to know how truly, truly, truly proud YOU make me to call myself a TURNBULL. Thank-you!