Happy fatherless day to me. Yay!

My father’s day weekend started off pretty much as you’d expect for someone whose father is dead, deceased, expired, extinct, kaput. It’s like Valentine’s Day when you’re single, times a hundred-thousand-million. Because at least you can find new love; you only get one dad. Unless your dads are gay. Okay let’s move on.

Two years ago, and every father’s day before that for as long as I can remember, I wrapped yet another jumbo pack of golf balls, a silly poem and a pack of gum. No more. Callaway and Top-Flite sales have plummeted since Jim Combden retired his clubs.

Take a look at me now. There’s just an empty space. Nothing left here to remind me… except all the happy people celebrating their dads who are so awesome and wonderful and, oh yeah, ALIVE!

Father’s day is now just a shot in the guts, reminding me (as if I don’t already know and think about it daily) that mine is gone. I once again blame Hallmark for inventing a holiday to sell corny, overpriced greeting cards without considering how much it costs to send a card to heaven. One stamp costs 60 cents… oh, and your god damn soul.

Ironically, when I was a kid, dad used to feign death for entertainment purposes. It was one of his go-to pranks that never got old. I’d come home from school to find him lying there on the floor, his hands perfectly crossed on his chest, his trademark smirk on his face. It’s still funny, in spite of today’s reality. Speaking of Hallmark, and speaking of pranks, I wish I’d get a card in the mail with a great big “GOTCHA!” on the inside. These past 18 months, dad has just been punking us, hiding in the bushes on the 11th hole of the Gander Golf Course. Not gonna happen; dad never could hold back a punchline.

Father’s day weekend: blah.

But then I saw the rabbits.

I was on my way to the Relay for Life at the MUN Field House, where I would be doing laps around the gym for 12 hours to help fight cancer in honour of my dear old dad. Just after I had taken the ramp to get off the TCH, two brown bunnies darted across the street right in front of my car. One on the heels of the other, they scurried into the thick greenery and were gone. A reason to smile. Make that two.

They say your sense of smell is the sense most linked to memory. I close my eyes and I can still smell the Tinkerbell make-up I kept in my jewelry box, and my scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake figurines, and the scratch-n-sniff stickers in my sticker book (mmm grape), and the delicious chemicals of that plastic Raggedy Ann Halloween costume.

But most of all, I can still smell the rabbits.

Clinging to the back of our old black and green Jag Arctic Cat, I watched dad lumber through the knee-deep snow to check his snares for rabbits. The unlucky furballs were soon dangling from the beams of his store (that’s Newfie for shed), frozen in their last earthly stance, paws pointing in all directions. The next day, they’d be still hanging there, stripped of their fur down to the purple, sinewy muscle. (“All fluff” my ass, huh bunnies?) The store smelled perpetually of rabbits. Even in the summer, it hung in the air. Was it the stench of death, or fur, or raw meat? I’m not sure. To me, it’s the smell of a happy childhood.

On Saturday, though, the rabbits I saw were free and fast and full of life. And instead of one lonely rabbit, there were two. I instantly thought of dad. Was he speaking to me on this day before father’s day, as I was about to go kick some carcinogenic ass?

And get this – on the way home from the event the next morning when St. John’s was barely awake, I saw… a dove! Okay, that’s a lie. It was a white plastic bag flapping around in the wind. But it had a life about it. An American Beauty, if you will.

Oh come on. Who am I kidding here? Dad is not speaking to me from the great beyond. He’s not sending me messages from a voodoo lounge in the clouds, with Hemingway throwing back shots at the bar and Shakespeare practicing his bank shot in the far corner. He’s not showing me anything; I’m finding it myself, because he taught me how. I see things more clearly than ever through the eyes that he gave me.

Guess we should teach our children well. Not by instruction, but by example. Because it sticks. Actions speak louder than words, and lessons last much longer than the human body. Fucken cancer.

And our kids are not the only ones picking up what we’re laying down. I can only imagine how many students dad inspired during his 30 years of teaching English lit. Knowing dad was extremely sick, one of his students sent him a thank-you note to express how much he had inspired her. Her note arrived 10 minutes too late. But I got to read it, so it was not in vain. And dad knew she had become an English teacher herself, so he probably suspected that he played some small part.

This past week, cancer claimed the life of popular local businessman, Albert Hickman. My boss, Gary Wadden, also a successful businessman, was compelled to write a full-page tribute in The Telegram, exclaiming how Albert had impacted him as a young entrepreneur – simply by how he conducted business and how he lived his life. With integrity, humour, compassion, a family-first philosophy, and a flashy tie.

We are mere mortals. But the light we emit is absorbed by others, and continues to shine long after our candle has burnt out. (Wow, that’s some cheesy metaphornication there, Elton John. Let’s try it again with less fromage.) My dad saw deep meaning in ordinary things. He talked about it. He wrote about it. Some called him a weirdo; some called him a poet. He put it all out there, fearlessly. And I saw it. Every day. So even though he’s gone, I see the beauty. There is still goodness. There is still humour. There is still life. (Not a bunch of fruit in a bowl. You know what I mean.) Because of what I learned from him, largely by simple observation, I am well-equipped to find reasons to be happy in this fucked-up, fatherless world.

“And that’s the day I knew there’s this entire life behind things. This incredibly benevolent force who wanted me to know that there was no reason for me to be afraid… ever.” (American Beauty)