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Richard John was born March 6, 1929. The fact his parents married in the weeks before his birth saved him from being labelled “illegitimate,” at a time when such labels were a curse. It did not save him from the resentments of his father, who viewed this son as the root cause of his many troubles.
Richard’s was a difficult childhood. Chronic asthma, exacerbated by the acute poverty of depression times, meant long summer days were spent gasping for breath, sitting upright in a chair. Nights saw him confined to the same chair, for his lungs would become so congested, lying down was impossible.
When Richard was 10, his mother left, whether by choice or by request, he never knew. But he loved her. He found out where she was staying and secretly, would ride his bike to see her.
For her birthday, he saved money from his paper route and bought a box of chocolates. But when he knocked at her apartment door a neighbour told the boy his mom didn’t live there any more. Richard never saw his mother again.
Psychiatrists today would describe his family as “dysfunctional.” But Richard never talked to a psychiatrist. He didn’t cling to how he was wronged. He didn’t point fingers, or talk about his problems, or ask “why?” He made a different choice. He had faith in God and he chose to focus on his blessings. He worked hard and was honest to the core. He developed a wonderful sense of humour and kept a positive attitude no matter what came along.
Eventually, what came along was a gift. It came in the form of a beautiful girl named Virginia. She literally danced by him one night at Hamilton’s then hot spot, The Alec. “That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he told the friend at his side. And it was.
In Ginny, he found his soul mate. Also the product of a tragic up-bringing, she was determined to be better, not bitter. She had long wavy hair, a cute figure and a vibrant smile.
She found Rick intelligent, well-mannered and interested in so many things. He was also romantic. He taught her about the constellations.
They waited two years before they started their family. Then in quick succession, four children came along; two boys, two girls. “A millionaire’s family,” people would say, and Rick would agree. Though his job wasn’t what you could call a career (he was a shift worker at a local steel mill) he felt like a millionaire, and he made sure his family knew it. His greatest pleasure was his wife and kids. They knew that too.
When the kids were grown and gone, he’d call them and start each telephone conversation with, “When you comin’ home?” They went home often. It felt good to be there. For it was a place of laughter, understanding and acceptance. In a word: love. As his children married and grandchildren came along the laughter and good times increased. The small house stayed small, but it never felt that way. It only felt full. Of love.
After years of living on a shoestring and saving for the future, he took an early retirement. He and Ginny started to travel, the culmination of lifelong dreams.
When they weren’t travelling, they contented themselves at home, with their garden, long hand-holding walks and games of dominoes or cards over coffee.
But seven months after his 70th birthday, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He met the diagnosis with courage and battled it for almost five months. Two surgeries. False hopes. His weight dropped and dropped. Finally, a doctor’s confirmation of his family’s worst fears; the cancer had spread.
At that point, Ginny said she was taking him home. The doctors, seeing her resolve, didn’t argue. It was three days before Valentine’s Day when Rick was transported there by ambulance. But before he left the hospital, he arranged for the delivery of Ginny’s favourite roses. The card read, “It’s so good to be home with you again!”
From a hospital bed in the living room, my father continued to give love and to focus on all the blessings God had bestowed upon his life. He showed me, by his powerful example, that joy is truly in the journey of living, not in some hoped for destination, and it’s the love you give, not the love you get that counts. It was, for me, his greatest legacy.
Only two-and-a-half weeks after my mother brought him home - on February 29, 2000 – dad died.
Mom was holding his hand.
Versions of this reflection on my father’s life were previously published in The Mississauga News and in ChristianWeek.
I really enjoy my children’s friends. Almost without exception, I find them to be funny, interesting people. And since they appreciate my kids, well, I appreciate them.
On a recent visit home, my eldest daughter Stephanie was silently reading email, when she suddenly laughed out loud. Of course I was curious as to why, so I asked, and she shared the contents of her friend’s note. It set me to laughing too, so I asked Steph if I might share it here. She checked with her friend, and they’ve both given their blessing.
Here is the original text:
“back when we were looking at condos there was a possibility of one on the 14th floor. well, my father informed me the ladders on fire trucks only reach 10 stories. so his plan was to take me to mountain equipment coop. and (oh yes, this happened) buy me ($600 worth of) mountain climbing gear. helmet, rope, body harness thing, the works. and then some wall climbing/ knot tying lessons. the purpose? so i could propel off the balcony and down the side of the building in the case of a fire. boing, boing, boing.”
Now that’s what I call a caring dad!