Sitting on the concrete stairs, sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette, he said, “I hope you never come to understand that kind of hate.”
As I grew to become a young woman and now a wife and mother, I’ve come to understand just how much my relationship with my father has shaped me into the woman I am today. My father was always somewhat mysterious to me and I learned to accept that mysterious quality as a part of him and a part of our relationship. He left our family when I was a young girl and I wrote about that period of my life in “sins of thy father”. It was a confusing time for both my father and I, but somehow we were able to salvage what little time we had and spent quality time during the remaining years of my father’s life. My hometown was Montreal, Quebec where my father resided until his death, and I had moved across the country to British Columbia living with my mother as we journeyed through our new family life that she created. We moved to BC when I was fifteen and every year my brother and I would hop on a plane and visit my father for a minimum of two weeks. My favourite memories of my father was our time sitting on the concrete stairs at the front of the house. I would get up early in the morning, grab my smokes, my coffee and join him on the concrete steps to steal some alone time as we talked about anything and everything(memories).
My father served in the Canadian Navy during the second world war. Growing up I understood that his time in the war was a major part of his life, but not something I really thought about until I learned of the atrocities during the second world war in school. At the age of seventeen my father was itching to go to Europe and offer his services to combat the evil that was growing overseas. My grandparents gave my father their blessings and off to war he went. He was part of the Canadian Navy convoy that protected allied supply ships going to Europe that held men, equipment, weapons, food, medical supplies, and so much more, to the front lines. He saw many things and the vintage pictures he had in his possession, depicted his naval life and the men he served with in various European locations, had an eery silence to them and my father added to that mystery and silence by never talking about the war.
I found out by eavesdropping on my father’s conversations that he did talk about the war to certain people, but never to his daughter. Once a friend of ours dropped by to visit and while sitting over coffee in the kitchen, my father and his friend suddenly started conversing in french. I was not completely versed in the french language and I think my father figured I would not be able to understand what the two men were talking about. I knew enough french to understand that they were talking about my father’s time during the war. The story I picked up was about the men he served with when a German ship was blown out of the water and what happened when the ship he was on picked up the survivors. I’d rather not share the story, but I was shocked because I always thought that the Canadians were the good guys. Listening to his story, I immediately realized that there were some things that I could not possibly understand.
The next day during our morning coffee, smoke and concrete stair routine, I asked my father if I understood the story correctly. He was surprised that I understood that much and told me that essentially I had the story correct. I shared my disgust for the story and he said to me, “honey, there are things you don’t understand and war is one of them.” “What do you think would happen right now if your whole family was blown to bits, how do you think that would change you?” I told him, I couldn’t imagine that happening in this country and told him that I thought the Canadians were the good guys. “The war did terrible things and watching ships blown out of the water by the enemy, knowing our brothers were on those ships brings hate to good men and makes men do and think things that they thought they would never do.” “I hope you never come to understand that kind of hate and I hope your children’s children never understand that kind of hate either.”
Sitting on those stairs that morning, I came to understand my father’s mysterious ways and why he was the way he was. A good friend of his once told me that he loved my father because he was a loyal friend and would give you the shirt off his back, but God help you, he said, if you crossed him. A trait of my father’s I’ve learned to curb over the years. I’ve learned the hard way that not all friends or family have your back and some go out of their way to betray. I’ve learned to forgive and move on, but true to my father, I never forget. My father was the first man I trusted to bare my soul to and I could tell him the good, the bad and the ugly. He always listened, never judged and all these years after his death, some of those conversations still come back to me. As I age, I realize that the short time my father was on this earth and in my life, shaped me into the type of woman I am today. I crave for more time on the concrete steps to reconnect with my father who truly understood me.