This is the first Father’s Day since my dad died 10 months ago. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to be inundated for the past couple weeks with reminders about celebrating fathers. And yet, it has given me some space to grieve for him a little more, in a different way than the immediate, heart-wrenching emptiness. This grief is more about gratitude; gratitude for every gift my dad gave me for the 42 years that he was in my life. And no, I don’t mean material gifts: I mean the things he taught me, showed me, and helped me to develop in myself. My dad, you see, was a feminist (without ever using the word, or probably even thinking about it). Growing up I never questioned, for even a second, that girls couldn’t do the same things as boys. My dad taught me how to mow lawns, to build things with my hands, to drive a car, to kick a soccer ball with my left foot. He equally encouraged my love of science, of literature, and of sports. He supported me in literally everything I did, my whole life. When I cast back in my memory to hear his voice, the phrase that immediately comes to mind is him exclaiming, “Oh, that’s great!” in response to something I had done or achieved. That, and his big infectious chuckle.
My dad instilled in me at a young age an insatiable thirst for reading and writing. He was always reading. He was the President of our small town local library, and volunteered there once a week. I loved sitting behind the big desk with him and stamping and filing the cards, exploring in all of the aisles, and sequestering myself in the kids’ section to voraciously read Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and Enid Blyton books. As I got older, my dad introduced me to books like The Peter Principle and Stranger in a Stranger Land. I was probably the only kid in my Grade 7 class who had Robert Heinlein on my summer reading list. We browsed second-hand bookstores together and would spend hours digging for gems buried in dusty bins and on rickety shelves. I am one of those people who does not own a Kindle, because the smell and feel of paper books is too elemental, too dear to me. When I was around ten I started writing – first on a typewriter with an ‘e’ key that stuck and caused me to constantly use yellow correcta-tape to erase the extra e’s, then on a word processing typewriter that stored one line of typing at a time before printing it, then on our fancy Apple computer that had word processing software and a dot matrix printer. My dad taught me how to use that software, and how to insert clip art into the family newspaper that I produced monthly (called The Holland Chronicles, and noting important world events like when the baby frogs started “singing” in the spring, as well as personal features like why I was obsessed with my brother’s new stuffed elephant). I also wrote “books” – 15-20 page mystery stories heavily influenced by the books I loved to read, always featuring three girls who grew older with me and solved the mysteries themselves. So many worlds experienced and created, because of him.
And of course, there was my running. He came to countless track meets, cross-country races, and road races, ever since I was in grade school. He would sometimes run with me, and he would always help with my training: he figured out that our somewhat circular block was almost exactly 400 meters, and before I had my license and before GPS was a thing, he would drive for miles with me in the countryside to map out training routes with the odometer. I think I remember the day that I got too fast for him: we were on a run together, and he told me to run ahead – and he then ended up flagging a ride home with my uncle. We laughed about that for years. He and my mom came with me to the Toronto marathon and rode the subway alongside me as I ran, popping up at random places along the course to cheer me on. Because of my dad’s influence, running has always been fun for me – I have always known that it is something I can do well, but that it’s ok to do it for the joy of it, too. He taught me to be joyful. He lived the example of appreciating simple pleasures, the value of hard work, the importance of kindness. Just days before he died, he expressed to me and my brother that he hoped that he had shown us to always be kind. That, to him, was simply the most important thing.
My dad, in his quiet, thoughtful way, raised me to be kind, yes – and also a strong, independent, intelligent woman. I don’t hesitate to take on new challenges, whether in my career as an environmental science professor, or in my “hobby” as a now ultra runner. I laugh, a lot. I write – lots of academic things, but also personal things like this blog. So on this Father’s Day I grieve his loss, but also celebrate his life – and understand that both this grief and celebration are suffused with gratitude for all that he has left with me.
He gave me the world, and the tools and confidence to carve my path in it: what a great gift, indeed.
About the Author:
Tara has been running since high school cross-country, and is still going strong as a Masters runner. Since moving to Squamish in 2013, she has fallen in love with trail and ultra running and can usually be found gleefully galloping through the forest and up and down mountains with her amazing pack of trail sisters. She runs for the Distance Runwear Project team. In her off-trail life, she has a Ph.D. in Geography and teaches environmental science at the University of British Columbia.