my father’s gift   22 comments

Posted at 12:33 pm in Uncategorized

my father in 1953 – about two years before I was born

Today, I was going to post a few photos and an update on happenings here at the house. Instead, I’ll hold the photos for a few days, and post these instead, as they actually do relate to what is going on here.

By day, I have been working on the woodlot and trail project. Weather permitting, I get up early and take saws, weed cutter, extension lopping shears, and other tools, and head into the bush for the day. This property is about 2 acres, with an irregular shoreline that runs for several hundred feet. The vegetation and woodlot are very dense and likely have not seen much maintenance over the years – probably not for several decades. Unfortunately, in this region, the wild cherry trees are, for the most part, badly diseased. There are many of different sizes on this property, and most should really be taken down as they are quite unstable. I have been sawing down the ones that I feel comfortable with, and marking the larger ones to have taken down by an arborist later this summer.

This past week, I bought a new weed cutter machine. I also bought a changeable brush cutter head. The weed cutter saw plenty of action on Thursday and Friday as I used it to hack a trail through very dense blackberry canes. It did an awesome job, and that was just with the weed cutter head. In fact, the machine is so aggressive and effective, that I have decided to return the unused
brush cutter head as I know it’s even more aggressive and fearsome, as it somewhat resembles a Ninja’s shuriken weapon on the end of a pole. Maybe that’s not such a good thing to be using.

my father’s racing car around 1952

Anyhow, in the midst of this week’s activity, I’ve dropped by at my closest neighbours’ place a couple of times. They have ceased to be surprised by much of what goes on over at my place, but they do ask how it is that I know how to use all of these different saws and machines, or how to fix this or that. The simplest answer is probably that my Dad always encouraged me to try just about everything. He involved me in his construction and repair projects from the time I was kneehigh to a grasshopper. As I grew older, he showed me how to use various tools. By the time I was 18, I was working beside him repairing automotive radiators when he started up that business after retiring from the corporate world in Montreal in the early 1970s. He taught me to solder with torches, and use all kinds of other tools. When we built our house and barn, he taught me most of what I know about plumbing and electricity.

my father’s racing car around 1952

As a teenager, he taught me how to drive a car, start and run boat motors at our cottage, and operate a farm tractor and loader. I learned how to use all kinds of power saws, chain saws, etc…, and to be unafraid to use them, but always respect them. Now that he is gone, along with my husband, Don – both of them taken away from me at an early age by terminal cancers – I am left having to do everything on my own. Life would have been more of a struggle for me – and definitely would have allowed fewer options and opportunities – if I had not learned so much of what I know from my Dad. He did well to have shared so much of his knowledge with me.

my dad and I in 1956 with the rockinghorse that he and my mother made for me

The other thing he taught me is that the words, “I can’t do that” don’t belong in my vocabulary. I can’t recall even one instance of him saying he couldn’t do one thing or another. He expected the same from me, and never looked back to check and see if I wasn’t doing what he had just shown me. He just knew that once I was shown, I would manage to do that thing one way or another.

my dad around 1990, building one of several radiators destined for vintage airplanes being restored by Parks Canada for the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa

When he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, I came home to help him navigate through the world of hospitals and chemo. It was the natural place for me to be. During that few months, I also learned to build the grain sparging mills that he was manufacturing, so that he could pursue cancer treatment without havng to worry about his business. In the end, I was also his primary caregiver so that he could stay out of the hospital in his final days. It was very difficult for me as he was my Dad, and also among my very closest friends. Sometimes I wonder why he left – the man who could fix anything and put everything right – couldn’t fix himself and left it up to me to take charge. When a short few years later, Don was also diagnosed with terminal cancer and I had to do an even harder thing in caring for my husband and best friend, I think I found the answer. My Dad’s death prepared me for an even more difficult challenge. I often think of how, if not for caring for my father first, I might not have been as able a caregiver for Don.

Now that I am alone, I sometimes wonder if there is anything to be learned from all that has occurred. I will be the first to admit that, many times as I look back at the whole thing, I wonder whether there was any point to what we all went through. In truth, in retrospect, how things ended still seems nasty, ruthless and stupid. However, as I carry on alone, there is one redeeming thought that prevails. It is that, perhaps my ability to keep going in the face of all of this outrage, can show some other person who is facing their darkest hour, that it is possible to survive and carry on. If so, then that is the gift from my father – that I can pass along.

my father working on a generator in a communications tower in northern Ontario in the 1950s

Written by bev wigney on June 19th, 2011

22 Responses to 'my father’s gift'

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  1. What a touching story, and those are some fine old photographs! I feel lucky that my folks are both still alive, and my ex-wife as well. No grandparents left, though.

    Larry Ayers

    19 Jun 11 at 1:36 pm

  2. This is fascinating, Bev, and inspiring. I remember my father teaching me so many things about tools, lumber…a thousand things. The one thing I remember most clearly was his constant admonition to me: “Let the saw do the work, son!” It took me a long time to get that down!


    19 Jun 11 at 2:20 pm

  3. Yes. A father’s love is a gift to be treasured. Your father clearly loved you and loved life. Wonderful photos to see on Father’s Day. Great racing car photos with your father in car 23 and what looks like people sitting in the trees watching the race in the second photo. (-:

    Your ongoing story of surviving and carrying on is a gift and honors your father and Don in every way. Thanks so much for this today!


    19 Jun 11 at 2:55 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing this Bev. Sounds like your dad was a great guy and teacher. Really enjoyed the pictures. Why does it seem that the ones that offer so much in life are taken so soon. My dad was taken when I was 12, but I shall never forgot what he taught me and how that he packed up his family twice and headed to Arizona hoping to settle there in the end, but finally brought us back to Maine.


    19 Jun 11 at 4:32 pm

  5. *


    19 Jun 11 at 6:18 pm

  6. Thanks everyone! Yes, I am very glad to have quite a few nice photos of my dad.

    bev wigney

    20 Jun 11 at 6:02 am

  7. Such beautiful photos of your dad, Bev. They tell a wonderful, loving story. You are very lucky to have learned so much from him.

    robin andrea

    20 Jun 11 at 10:00 am

  8. so tender. Wonderful loving fathers are such a gift <3

    Boo Mayhew

    20 Jun 11 at 6:43 pm

  9. What a great tribute to your Dad. It’s too bad that all Father’s do not have the talent and patience that your Dad had….it would make for a better world.


    21 Jun 11 at 9:46 am

  10. Beautifully expressed Bev. I do believe you are proof of how their life’s energy keeps it’s place in this world. They taught you, and you continue on.

    I too, feel like I was taught to continue on. My mother always reminds me that I am made from tough stalk. I never really like hearing that, as I feel like she’s telling me that I can endure anything. I don’t always want to endure anything. I sometimes want to bend and break, but as I sit here, surviving, I see that she is right.

    I have often struggled with the whole concept of having reasons for all the bad, or difficult, things that life presents us. I feel like I have learned all that I need to in the endurance category. Yet, I already see how my moving forward is helping so many others do the same.

    This was a lovely testament to your father, and to Don as well.

    Nicely said.



    21 Jun 11 at 11:10 pm

  11. Thanks again everyone. Dan, you are ao right about how the gift of teaching someone how to do something, lives on and on. It is that old teach a man to fish and he will feed himself thing. I csn’t emphasize this enough. Knowledge really is power, and by gathering knowledge, we do empower ourselves, even if we do not ever make use of that particular skill. What we gain through learning is to have confidence in our capabilities. as I look back on my life now, I realize that, even though I have always been a shy and reclusive person, I have been strong and confident in other ways that have seen me through some very hard times. Perhaps that is the message I can pass on to others – that regardless of what has happened our past, if we return to our base – the person we are at the center – we can and will carry on.

    bev wigney

    22 Jun 11 at 5:41 am

  12. Such a lovely tribute…. We seldom realize how much we learn from others until we are put to the test. I am so impressed by your journey. You are an inspiration.


    25 Jun 11 at 10:19 am

  13. Hi Bev

    A beautiful tribute to your father and all he meant to your life. The photos are really lovely and evocative. I find now, that I never know where old photos, music, books will take me, what thoughts, feelings, and memories they will conjure up. Good luck with your landscaping.



    26 Jun 11 at 5:23 pm

  14. There could have been no finer tribute to your father than this post, Bev. The photos and your loving words show just what a remarkable person he was. In putting the confidence and skills he shared with you to work, you are keeping his legacy alive – you are keeping the love alive too.


    27 Jun 11 at 6:04 pm

  15. my Father taught me how to do all that stuff too, but I’ve regressed to the point where it takes decades of thought experimentation before doing a single repair. There was the wobbly newelpost in Pipers House where last month I finally finished a repair that I’d begun in 1979… Aleta and I have got to perk up before the houses fall down around us.


    29 Jun 11 at 9:40 am

  16. fred – the worst of it is that our houses decide to fall apart around the same time that our bodies are doing the same!

    bev wigney

    29 Jun 11 at 10:06 am

  17. Bev, it’s all in the teaching. What’s passed on has repercussions, and it behoves every last one of us to ensure the legacies to those that follow are the the best we can muster. (Lord knows there’s enough bad that gets shovelled on in perpetuity by the mean-spirited and plain malign… like every kind of prejudice, laziness and ignorance under the sun… so setting positive behaviour patterns by example must be what we all aspire to.)

    I long ago gave up trying to make sense of the universe in the traditional terms of any religion. The creation myths help us give order to the chaos, lending form to something that is so beyond imagination that we have to make stories to comfort ourselves as we stand contemplating the abyss. It’s a wonderfully diverse creation we’re all a part of, but it has no morality or sense of fair play. Those qualities are our own constructs, and our attempts to impose them on the universe we inhabit must risk disappointment when things start going haywire, as with disasters, sickness and death. For me the closest I get to any comfort is in the notion of humanism, and the depth and breadth of mankind’s collective kindness and wisdom. What we get in the end is nothing to do with what we have done or what we might, in a just universe, deserve. Kindly people can die in terrible circumstances while the cruel and wicked often appear to thrive for too long. Nature gives and takes back. She is profligate and unrelenting. But when our time comes, we’d better believe that we are leaving the best of ourselves behind, however great or modest our achievements. (I believe the television repair man who does his work well, is one with the surgeon who heals and the philosopher who shines a light.) The knowledge that our lives have been well-lived must serve as comfort over whatever horrors, or sweet reliefs, pave the way to our graves. Compassion and generosity of spirit should be the practices of a life-time, and those qualities alone running deep in our hearts must leaven the bitterness of a cruel-seeming universe. My greatest fear is that when my moment comes, I will stand bleating into the darkness, ‘Why me?’ That would be the worst kind of self-pity and a relinquishing of all I believe in.

    Your father left you a wonderful legacy of skills, the best parts of himself he had to pass on. You’ve taken them and used them richly. Whatever you create of them in your own life must be different, and what you pass on will be used by those you touch, in ways other than what you might imagine. Whatever plans we have will ultimately be thwarted. Whatever hopes we may harbour will evolve differently to how we expect. Life is an improvisation, and for that I’m grateful. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t want to be hobbled by my own paucity of imagination. For me chaos has added a certain piquancy. I’ll take whatever comes my way and try to make the most of it. You know the old adage. If life throws eggs at you…

    bake cakes!

  18. Clive – Wise words and much appreciated. I agree so much with what you have written about the comfort of the notion of humanism. If one thing has come of my experience with my father and Don’s illness and death, it is to try to be there for others when they are going through tough times. I well recognize the value of even the smallest of kindnesses when things are not going well. It costs us so little to share something of ourselves with another. Both Don and my father were quick to show kindness and share knowledge with others. The best way I can think of to honour them is to carry that forward. Still, it is strange to go onward alone as my life has been so greatly changed by their absence. However, these days I try to make a place for others to come and go. The space which was once occupied by Don and my father is very large and can accommodate many.

    bev wigney

    11 Jul 11 at 8:29 am

  19. Ahhhhh! Your house has many rooms! (-;

  20. Ha! Yes, that is a good way of putting it! A room for everyone who wants or needs one. (-:


    11 Jul 11 at 4:11 pm

  21. Bev, There cannot exist on this planet – a woman – a girl – who would not wish for the incredibly beautiful relationship you shared with your remarkable father.

    . . . after Clives touching, poignant, wise survey of life and the human challenge . .

    I’ll leave this line from Archibald MacLeish’s J.B.

    Blow on the coal of the heart.
    The candles in churches are out.
    The lights have gone out in the sky.
    Blow on the coal of the heart
    And we’ll see by and by . . .


    17 Sep 11 at 5:14 pm

  22. Yes, that is just how it seems…

    bev wigney

    17 Sep 11 at 5:28 pm

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