Monday, 11 November 2013

Regrets and My Dad

Christopher Richardson, NL born film maker, created a documentary called Regret. He says most people regret things they haven't done rather than things they have done. It's true, I think. I don't regret decisions made like going to the convent. Life has unfolded in wonder-full and unimaginable ways. Life is good. I'm not sure how I got to be 67, but there we are. 

I do regret not hugging my Dad good-bye the last time I saw him.

Dad died of a massive heart attack Friday in Easter week, April 16, 1993. No chance to say good-bye. I had invited him and Mariette to come to Lachine, as Holy Week was mmm... busy. He said he couldn't, but asked if I could visit them in Longueuil. So, I gathered up my alb to wash at their place, and went for lunch on Brodeur Street in Longueuil. 

We had egg salad sandwiches on white bread. I sat on the couch, he in his chair a few feet away, TV on as usual but neither of us really watching it. Not really talking much either. Dad knew he was dying, but didn't bother to tell me. If he had been someone unrelated to me, I'd have sensed the cues with my ever over-vigilant gut. But we miss things with those closest to us. I couldn't imagine him dying. I didn't see it. Didn't want to. Though he said he got out of breath walking to the corner. Though he didn't feel well enough to drive to Lachine.

When I was ready to leave, we stood and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I sensed he wanted me to hug him, but I was always ambivalent about Dad hugs, and so I just kissed him. I turned at the bottom of the six stairs and looked back at him and Mariette for another goodbye. His gaze was sad - I thought (always one for interpreting or misinterpreting what others were thinking) that he was disappointed that I didn't hug him. I often felt he was disappointed in me. From the wisdom of 67, I don't think he was. Now I realize he knew he wouldn't see me again.

I regret not hugging him that day. I regret not knowing him or understanding him as well as I am beginning to now. On CBC radio recently, an author (don't remember his name) said we probably are all ashamed of our parents at some point but not all of us are willing to admit it. Yes. Dad was weak in some ways. He also had many talents. He was artistic. Liked to draw. Painted different types of whales on our kitchen cupboards. Explored heraldry and painted shields for St. Mark's Church, Longueuil and Holy Trinity, South Bolton. He was sensitive and easily hurt, though he came across as tough-ish. I was ashamed - of many things - and I wasn't aware enough or centred enough to fully appreciate his strengths. What kid does? Still ...

This may be the missing piece I've needed, without knowing it, in order to write about our family stories and "Grandpa Didn't Die in Uruguay." Pondering regrets - pondering Dad, I realize that although I can't make up for the past - my search for his father was for him. Me, too, of course. I regret that he doesn't (I guess) know that I found his Dad. And his/our ancestors back another 4 or 5 generations - I feel as if I've done it for him. Found him. Found myself. Found family we didn't know we had. 

There are still mysteries about Grandpa Mac, some of which I may never solve. But knowing something of Grandpa Mac's background - the toughest of Scottish Presbyterians - having an inkling of the stern rigidity at home, school, and church when he was growing up - knowing that Dad grew up in a similarly rigid and violent household and with the lie that his father had died in 1923 ... Not surprised that Grandpa broke out of the rigidity with a certain amount of vengeance. And Dad, too, in his own quiet ways.

I don't mean that writing or understanding somehow removes the regrets. Nothing can re-do that day. Maybe it's sort of like a funeral - we gather to grieve, to celebrate a life, to give the person back to God - we're maybe sorry for not saying "I love you" often enough, for things said and left unsaid, done and left undone. We can't go back, but we begin again. A new life, when we hope we'll tell those we still have in this world that we love them. We'll do things differently.  At least we'll try to. 

So, Dad, I regret I couldn't/didn't hug you that day. I'm mad at you for not being honest and, presumably, trying to protect me from your impending death. I wish I'd understood you better. But I found your Dad. I hope you know. He was as complicated a man as you were and even more secretive. 

Now there are less secrets and I'm thankful.

Dad, wearing his Macgregor tartan tie.

Grandpa Macgregor ... ummm .. are they related to each other?

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