My dad passed away from cancer 31 years ago today. I was just finishing my first semester at university, a young single parent struggling to get my life back on track. I was devastated at the loss of this quiet, steady man who had, in many ways, been a kindred spirit.
I was probably closer to my dad than either of my siblings had been (and they both know I was Dad’s favourite child!!!! - heheheheheh. Sorry, Big Sis!). As the youngest of three children, and with my siblings leaving home in their teens and my mother doing volunteer work that took her away from home, I was the only child who got to spend much time alone with my dad doing the day to day things necessary for human existence.
My dad and I also shared a love of music and singing and a love of fishing. I was his sidekick who held the tools and wielded the brush when anything needed fixing or building or painting around the house. He allowed me to be the tomboy that I was – teaching me to use the tools, giving me the task of mowing the grass, helping me to cast a fly. It was also dad who told me about deodorants and mouthwash and who answered my infrequent questions about sex and babies (though back in the 50s and 60s, sex was not something one talked about, so answers were elusive to say the least!).
He was no push-over, this dad of mine. I had to account for any grade below an A on my report card, I had to sing in perfect pitch, and I had play in perfect tempo, I had to saw and nail with precision. Sometimes that was tough – he taught me to be a perfectionist, which has oftimes been a bane rather than a blessing. I am far from perfect!
My dad was also the one who would not let me have a cat or dog when I was growing up. My mom talked him into a bird, though it was clearly mom’s bird and I wasn’t much interested in it – I wanted something of my own. Finally dad broke down and got me a turtle – one of those little tiny ones that were so popular in the early sixties. Of course, in a very short time, I had killed it with too much handling and too much food.
When Sammy (the turtle) died, I saw a glimmer of the compassion that I was to inherit. It was a dark, miserable night with torrential rain. I was frantic at the thought that Sammy’s body might be disposed of in the garbage and devastated that this little turtle had lasted less than a couple of months in my care.
My dad gently took the turtle from me, wrapped it in soft cotton batting, placed it in a little box……and with me watching from the doorway he pulled on gumboots and slicker and in the pouring rain he dug a little hole in the back corner of the yard and buried my little Sammy. And then he lashed together two twigs in the form of a cross, and placed it at Sammy’s grave.
It was years before I got another pet – not until I was out on my own, a young married woman renting a house. I was ignorant then, too. Our unspayed female was left outside during the day and became impregnated by a dog that jumped the fence. My husband and I knew nothing about the length of canine pregnancy and went camping one weekend, leaving a 12 year old neighbour boy to look after her. We came home to 10 puppies who had been born under the deck. The boy had fished them out and put them all on the deck – in the middle of summer, in the hot sun, with no shade. Two of them died.
A few weeks later, we went away again, leaving the pups and mama indoors and arranging for someone to come in daily. We came home a week later to a disaster – our dog watcher had not cleaned up any poop or pee, the pups had chewed the furniture and the cupboards and the walls and the doors, and the mama was frantic. We decided it was time for them all to go, pups and mama, and gave them all away without home checks or questions. Today I am horrified at our ignorance and lack of responsibility – and equally appalled that I don’t remember anybody ever questioning our actions.
My views on responsible animal care have changed, and there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t learn and grow. And that comes back to my story about my dad –- one thing he instilled in me was a thirst for knowledge, a commitment to education, a belief that the answers are out there if you just do your homework and use common sense.
In the words of Maya Angelou:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
I’m doing a lot better now, Dad. My critters all think so too.