Sundays are tough

During the last 10 years or so, my dad would occasionally come to Toronto in late January for a big executive meeting of the Ontario Football Conference (OFC) – he was one of the Vice Presidents. This is what my dad did in his retirement – built a whole football program at the competitive rep level. You know, instead of like, gardening.

Anyway, these meetings would start on a Friday night and then go most of the day on Saturday. For a few years in a row, the OFC put the out-of-towners up at the Royal York downtown. Fancy.

Even though he had a meeting to get to on the Friday night, he would always plan to have cocktails (aka wine) in his hotel room with me. I would head out of the office a bit early that day and meet him at the hotel.

It was a kind of fast visit, maybe an hour or so, but it was something I really looked forward to. I’d like to think he did too. He would bring snacks and wine – red for him and white for me – and when I got there, it was just the two of us. That might seem unremarkable to those who come from smaller families or whatever, but for me, alone-time with Dad was a rare treat.

We would sit and chat about the usual stuff, and by chat, I mean he would pepper me with questions; how’s work? How’s (insert guy’s name who I was seeing at the time)? How’s Bec and Brookie? Is Fish (who is a person) still involved in football in Guelph? What do you think of this or that? I’m really impressed with David’s blah, blah, blah and I talked to Christina the other day and man, she’s just like grandma, it’s non-stop entertainment with that one; updates on the grandchildren and Carolyn and her work, and of course, a detailed breakdown of whatever construction was going on in Peterborough and so on.

He would definitely tell me at least one or two stories I’d heard 27 times before, but I would listen and smile and laugh, usually because the story was funny, but also because it was so delightful to hear my dad tell it and see the pure joy it gave him.

After a while, I would head home, and he found his way to whatever conference room his meeting was in. I can remember thinking that I was so lucky to have a dad who went out of his way to catch up with one of his kids. Well, to catch up with me.

In the summers, whenever the Peterborough Wolverines were playing Toronto, I would meet him at the football field and we’d watch the game together. He’d introduce me to the coaches and parents, etc. who I didn’t already know, and every single one of them would say something along the lines of “Oh, you’re Angela, the singer, the one who lives here! I’ve heard so much about you!”

Dad and I wouldn’t really talk much during the game. As my mom says it was like talking to a brick wall. So, I would just immerse myself in the game and watch my dad watch the game.

After the last game and as the players and coaches headed back home on the bus, Dad would take me out for dinner. He’d always say, “get anything you want, Ange” and wink at me. He’d order something predictable for him, and a glass of red of course. He’d flirt with our server, laughing his little ‘Ernie’ laugh (as in Bert and).

We’d have similar conversations as we did in the hotel in January. And while I never got the sense he was divulging secrets to me or saying anything he wasn’t going to recount to Mom when he got home, it felt so private.

You know that thing of when you realize that your parents are actual, real people, not just your parents? Well, even though I’d come to that realization years before, it was these little moments alone with Dad when it was just so clear to me that he was so much more than my dad. I mean, he’s still my dad and he definitely asked ‘dad’ questions, but I would get little glimpses of how others saw him, how people responded to him, how much he was respected and revered, and who he was as a person, outside of his role as my dad.

I miss those solo visits with Dad. This time of year, especially on Sundays, I always feel a little homesick. Yes even at my ripe old age and having not lived at home for over half of my life I still get homesick sometimes. Let me live my life!

And Beyonce help me if I catch a football game on TV – it’s over. Just the sound of football being played makes me think of my dad. Dad, Sunday family dinner and football are pretty much what fall means to me.

It makes me think of cold, crisp fall days, standing on the sidelines watching dad and my brother on the field, or depending on how old I was, the cute boys in their tight football pants.

I’ve never considered myself a so-called ‘daddy’s girl,’ but perhaps these little visits were the closest I ever got. I had all of Dad’s attention and it was just so damn special. There’s no better word, as trite or corny as it may sound.

I miss my solo dad visits; I miss his Ernie laugh and I especially miss the excitement in his voice over the phone in the weeks leading up to our visit when he would go over the plan with me at least 14 times.

I miss my dad

I had no idea what to expect when my dad died. I’ve read a lot about grief but it’s something that is deeply unique to the one experiencing it and something you simply cannot understand until you experience it. I’ve read that it comes in waves, that time does heal, that eventually you adapt to your life without them and move forward. I’ve also read that it never really goes away, that there is no “getting over” the death of a loved one. I like to imagine that the grief gets smaller and smaller still, so that you can carry it with you instead of being consumed by its infinitely vast void.

The truth is, it’s hard to say where I am in my grief right now. It just happened a few weeks ago, not that there’s a timetable for grief. In the immediate days after he was gone, it was surreal. I told those who asked how I was doing that it felt like it wasn’t real life: this is something that happens to other people, not us, not yet.

It was as if my family and I were suspended in a sort of protective bubble, floating above our bodies on earth, our bodies who were going about the business of…what you do when someone dies. We busied ourselves with all the details of making arrangements and decisions about how to celebrate my dad’s life in the midst of a worldwide pandemic – you know, the usual.

We were (and still are) experiencing our loss personally while also rallying around our mom and each other because it’s a collective, shared loss, of course. Being together helps. Loving each other helps, crying together helps, talking about dad helps. I suspect it always will. I’ve never been more grateful to have heard dad’s stories a million times over the course of my life. We can all recite them pretty much verbatim. We teased him, mercilessly sometimes, about repeating the same stories to us over and over. Now we understand that it’s a gift he gave to us.

How we decided to honour my dad, both privately and publicly, was beautiful and perfect and the exact right thing. And yet, it feels like it’s not enough.

Well, of course it’s not enough. Enough would be having him here with us. It was too soon, it wasn’t his time yet. But the universe had other plans for dad whether we were ready or not. And there’s nothing to be done. He is gone, and there is a giant hole in our family.

I’m surrounded by him everywhere in my home, in my memories, in my experiences. It’s both comforting and devastating. I’m trying to focus on the comforting, but I do feel the devastation too. When I was cleaning up some stuff on my balcony the other day, I looked up and saw the lattice partition dad made for me just this summer. When I was reorganizing my kitchen, I re-discovered the hole he had drilled right through the drywall when he was mounting the shelf he made for me. That one made me laugh – we laughed a lot when it happened. I remember telling him that whenever I looked at that hole I would always think of him. I was right.

I recently put together a bar cart I ordered. Putting furniture together is not my forte. But I was determined to do it by myself – I’m not sure why. To prove that I could do it? To feel like I accomplished something? I hadn’t had that feeling in a long time, so maybe that was it.

It took me three hours. The instructions said it should take about 30 minutes. There was some swearing, lots of talking to myself, some laughing at myself, at my total ineptitude at this particular task. And there were tears. Probably five or six times, I got frustrated and wanted to give up and I burst into tears just wishing my dad was there to help me.

I miss my dad. I wish he was here. But his sweet moment has come and gone and I will carry him in my heart for the rest of my life, until my sweet moment in this world ends.

It’s all decided for us, this world has only one sweet moment set aside for us.

– Queen, ‘Who wants to live forever’