In his books of essays “Figures in a Landscape”, Paul Theroux has an essay about his Dad; I have read this piece many times over always hoping that I could do justice to my Dad even half as well as Paul Theroux. Alas there is no way.
However, my Dad certainly deserves my best modest try.
Dad was a third generation Canadian. He was born into a very destitute family in Montreal, and the poverty into which he was born affected him all his life. He was for many years an angry man, with a terrible temper. This temper, fueled by the years he was dirt poor as well as his horrendous marriage to my mother, was his worst flaw. I have long forgiven him for that.
My Dad had no brothers or sisters. He was an extremely dedicated son. Both of his parents were chronically ill for 14 years and Dad visited the Royal Vic Hospital twice a day for over a decade. The entire burden fell on his shoulders and he bore it like a trooper. He never ever complained. I am sure that the overwhelming burden fueled his anger.
My Dad barely finished high school. He was too poor to get a university education. He did not read a lot, except for the Montreal Star. He did not have an academic mind, yet he was an exceptionally bright man.
My Dad was a fighter pilot in World War 2, a professional football player for Montreal Alouettes, a designer of ladies lingerie, a salesman and a late life entrepreneur who opened his own very successful business at 61. He retired at 70 and lived like a king with his South American wife, who spoke Spanish to her kids, which drove him crazy. “Estella, how about a bit of English, for Christ sake`.
My Dad had a wonderful sense of humor; He could make anyone laugh at anything, almost at the drop of a hat. He loved hearing jokes, telling jokes and watching comedy. He was a very funny man.
Phil was a man of extreme contradictions. He did not speak one word of French (he could not learn languages at all), and he resented language policing in Montreal, especially at his business. “I served in the RCAF, so I am not about to agree with someone telling me what language to speak, for Christ’s sake”. Yet my Dad added, “If I were French, I would ban English completely.” And he meant it.
Dad also used to tell me about his bombing missions over Germany, of which he was proud, adding that “you need to go to Germany and learn not to adopt any of my biases. Christ, if we all adopt our parents` biases the world would be an ugly place”.
My Dad always, always, stood up for the little guy-the parking attendant, the gas pumper, the newspaper man, the milkman, the cashier. Once we went to fill up gas and the attendant was drinking coffee inside and slow to move, and my Dad said, “I don’t blame him-who the fuck wants to pump gas when it’s 30 below”.
My Dad had something to say about almost every politician-Kennedy was “a stick-man from way back, and his father was anti-Semite”. Nixon was “the poor bastard who got caught.” The Queen of England “did not run away during the war but she stayed put and joined the war effort”. Dad claimed that “Khomeini needs to be knocked off because he is dangerous”. Dad always voted for the Liberals. The New Democratic Party were “almost communists”; the Conservatives were “not good for minorities ” and the Social Credit Party (that favored printing money to cover the deficit) were a “bunch of raging lunatics”.
Dad loved watching boxing on TV. “Hey, let’s open the idiot-box to watch two people beat the shit out of each other”, he would say to me on Saturday night. Sometimes, he would ask me if I would agree to have “the be-Jesus kicked out of you for a million dollars”.
My Dad was an atheist, through and through. He would often refer to religion as “that religious shit”. Our home was not kosher. I was sent to a Protestant school. Not a Jewish school. He showed no respect for any Jewish tradition. Yet when his Dad and his Mom died, he went to pray at 5 am every single day for 11 months “to show some respect, for Christ’s sake.” Then he added, “When I croak, you don’t need to do that”. I would come with Dad almost every morning during these mourning periods. He would joke with the rabbi or cantor (every day as we arrived, he told the cantor that he was a “pure heathen“), and often complained that “breakfast would be better if there was some bacon around”.
Dad of course went to synagogue on the Day of Atonement, and gave me a transistor radio so I could keep him informed of the sport scores. “Don’t let anyone catch you listening, or I will disown you”. I asked Dad why he went to synagogue to atone if he did not believe in God, and he told me “just in case I`m wrong“.
My Dad did not have good hearing; he claimed it was not his problem. He was scared of doctors and admitted it. He was petrified of dentists, and insisted that no anesthesia be used, because “no fucking way anyone is going to put a needle into my mouth”.
Dad smoked two packs a day of Export A and subsequently developed emphysema and throat cancer. When the news came out that smoking causes cancer, Dad claimed that it was a “communist conspiracy”, but may have “a grain of truth” to it.
Although Dad was very unhappily married, he wanted naught. He was very tall, he was handsome, and he was a ladies’ man. He was extraordinary charming.
My Dad was a caring father most of the time and a very loving father for most of his later life. He was a dedicated grandfather who taught his grandson to drink beer and swear. He bought his granddaughter lots of pink dresses! He loved my late wife very much. `She ain`t no housewife, but she is a wonderful woman`.
The longer we both lived, the better our relationship became, and we enjoyed many many good years together. At times, I miss him terribly.