Saturday, February 4, 2012

For My Dear Daddio - Life's Lover

I took this photo of Dad at the celebration of his 85th birthday...

My dad, who died a year ago on this date, was a rare bird. Try as I might to sum him up, he evades the easy category and swims out of every net I fashion to capture him. (he has done it just now - a swimming bird or a flying fish?) In this, my writing blog, I'd like to remember two of his qualities - his inventiveness and his discipline. A painting general, a lover of the works of Robert W Service, Robbie Burns, Shakespeare, Sharon Butala and Walt Kelly (creator of Pogo); a aficionado of national parks, and apple pie - Mo Morrison was known far and wide as an eclectic lover of life - in his words 'a lucky guy'.

His inventiveness was legion. When we were children and under his watch, every task became a game, and  lose its duty flavour becoming something fun. I wish I could say  it was the sheer fun of playing that caused my dad to be the inventive game-playing man he was, but no. In reflection, I believe it was because he had been a leader from a young age - a bomber pilot as he entered the twenties - he simply knew he would be more likely to get folks to work or learn if he added fun to the package. No matter - the lesson was learned, the tasks completed and all with good cheer. Now, less I paint too pretty a picture, I must tell you that he could be a picky bastard by times. To this very day, I cannot pick up a broom but I feel a tremendous wash of resentment surge through me. And so, dear reader, that lesson was 'don't pick up a broom' and I have learned it very well.

When we moved from Oakville to Ottawa in 1967 (being Air Force we moved every couple of years)  he knew it would be more difficult than usual - we three kids were all in high school and weren't so prone to packing up our old kit bags and hitting the road. We had boyfriends and girlfriends and clubs and stuff. Instead of he and my mother choosing a home, he made a game. He sat down with us and made up a tremendous list of what an ideal home would look like, with points for this or that (fireplaces, closeness to schools etc...) and then we all trooped from home to home. He made us part of the process and in those days, that was an unusual parenting technique.

Later on when he retired, his back gave him problems. He had to have surgery and afterward was to begin a habit of exercise which he never abandoned. He rode a stationary bike, which could have been such a tedious thing, but he made a great game of it. He rode around the world, mapping his route and figuring out where he was, using the radio to tell him of the weather in Revelstoke or Kathmandu. I believe he'd circumnavigated the world twice  latitudinal- fashion and once by the poles. I would phone him on a Sunday and ask where he was, "oh, thought I'd take Route 66 this time and I just saw a road runner whiz by!"

When mother died, he gave up drinking, and had some time to kill so he started going back to church, a habit he had fallen out of. He had been painting and decided to marry three of his loves - painting, writing and philosophical research. He would attend a church in the Ottawa Valley area, paint it, and write a short 'review' of his experience. He had a column carried by local newspapers for many years, called 'From the Back Pew' in which there would be a drawing of the church with his observations. He eventually published a collection of these writings and pictures, called A Month of Sundays.

He often told us that he battled insomnia with editing. He would fashion a letter to the editor and make sure it was properly punctuated etc... I have not gained his editing skills and know that he'd be on this piece with his very fine-toothed comb, tskking and sighing.

These are just a few examples of his inventiveness and they are intertwined with his discipline - how to do the right thing. He accomplished much in his time on earth and believed that there was an inherent joy in being a good person - a lucky guy. Both he and we kids were lucky when he found his second partner in life, the wonderful Stella. I think, in his dark moments, he believed that he was undeserving of the love shown to him. Perhaps as the eighth child of a family that struggled in the depression, he simply couldn't believe that there was enough to go around. I would suggest that he made his luck and showed us, his family, that we could make our luck too - with love, discipline and a little inventiveness - the world was ours.

Here is a poem by one of his favourite writers, Robert W. Service:

Heart o' the North

And when I come to the dim trail-end,
             I who have been Life's rover,
This is all I would ask, my friend,
       Over and over and over:
A little space on a stony hill
            With never another near me,
Sky o' the North that's vast and still,
               With a single star to cheer me;
Star that gleams on a moss-grey stone
                Graven by those who love me --

There would I lie alone, alone,
            With a single pine above me;
Pine that the north wind whinneys through --
            Oh, I have been Life's lover!
But there I'd lie and listen to
    Eternity passing over.


Liza said...

Oh Jan, such a lovely and realistic tribute. Thinking of you today.

Bish Denham said...

Fathers and daughters, a precious, special bond. You've given us a nice glimpse of a remarkable man. (My own dad's been gone since 1989. I still miss him and get misty eyed sometimes.)

Emma said...

Poignant and sincere. I felt kind of elevated to be human.

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - What a lovely, lovely post! You've really drawn a special picture of the relationship you had and of a special person. Thanks for sharing.

Cousin Keith said...

Great picture of Uncle Loyd and wonderful memories

Jan Morrison said...

Thank you for the nice comments Liza, Bish, Emma and Margot. I miss the guy and it is good to connect with my memories of him.

Thanks Keith - it was comforting to write.

Faith Pray said...

What a beautiful post. I love reading about your dad. The bike mapping is amazing, and so fun, and his painting series sounds so interesting. I'm in awe of the way we grow and become who we are - in part because of our parents. Thank you for sharing him with us.