Saturday, June 16, 2007

Remembering the very best of fathers

WITH FATHER's DAY on Sunday, OK Corbett remembers his own Dad -- Angus Willard Corbett -- in the following column about "a wonderful, simple man and the best of fathers," who died in Calgary on Sunday, July 30, 1989. Although it's been almost 18 years since his death, this condensed "letter," which has appeared in numerous publications in North America and beyond, was "my way of remembering and honouring the most gentle of men."
Dear Dad:
It's only a short time since I heard the word.
Mom called at 2 a.m. on that Sunday afternoon and said you were slipping fast and then she called back at 4, crying.
It didn't quite register that I wouldn't see your smiling face or that twinkle in your eye. That my UNO partner wouldn't be around any more.
How did it feel dying, Dad? Was it painful as you crossed over to the Other Side? Remember when your Mom and my grandmother died of a broken heart after Grandpa passed on? Didn't she ask you, 'Willard, can you you see the Rock of Ages?' And you replied, 'Yes, Mom, I can see Him.' I know you couldn't, but you were always the devoted son.
Mom said you passed on with a smile on your face. She misses you, after all you were together 52 years. Oh, more than that. 'Remember, she used to keep house for Grandma and Grandpa. She couldn't stand you at first, you were conceited and a real fancy Dan, then, weren't you, Dad?'
But somehow love entered the picture and as a result you and Mom raised me and my brother, Garry, and we didn't turn out that bad.
Dad, you didn't give us boys much notice. Garry was up near the fire line near Lynn Lake, Manitoba for nine straight days, handing out cheques to those poor Indians. He had been sleeping on the floor of a government building. Me, I was just getting ready to go to The Sun. I still work those strange hours, but I love my job.
Well, after Mom's call, Garry up in Lynn Lake and me in Mississauga, grabbed the first flights out to Calgary. He actually got there three minutes before me.
Larry Dahl picked us up. You know, Larry? He's the preacher at the North Hill Church of the Nazarene, the young fellow with the holes in his socks. You were like a father to him. He always called you Dad!
Sunday night and Monday were like old times at home. Garry and I were forever teasing Mom, saying things that made her blush. Tickling her neck. My, you would have joined right in. It was almost like you were still down at the Fanning Centre and we hadn't visited you yet, except for writing your obit Monday night. The obit went in to the Calgary Herald and the Truro Daily News.
I meant it when I wrote that never has one come through life with such caring and compassion as you, Dad. Always quick with a smile and a twinkle in your eye, you enriched all those whose lives you touched. No one said an unkind word of you or you they.
During your last 20 years, your health failed, but your spirit never waned.
Please stop crying, Dad. You even wept at Lassie reruns.
Reality really set in Tuesday when we had to go to Foster's to make arrangements.
At night, Larry Dahl came over and he wanted to know the real Willard Corbett, the man behind the smiling face. He'd learn of your skill as a fine furniture finisher in Bass River, Nova Scotia, and being a janitorial supervisor at Gulf Oil. I'm sorry that in my immaturity I tried to impress some of my football and wrestling pals by telling them you were an oilman. Of course, I finally grew up and accepted you for being you -- a simple, gentle and unsophisticated man, who worked so hard to keep his family together.
Thursday. At the church, your family sat in the front pew. Your casket was closed, at your request. I remember, you saying, "I don't want anyone looking at me."
Of course, you know that we sang two of your favorites -- "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace" -- and there was a solo: "How Great Thou Art." Rev. Dahl preached about your love for people and your love for your family. And you were always there for your boys.
I know how happy you were that day, when your hulking sons, picked you up, bodily, and carried you along a Calgary street. How did you, being so short, ever have two sons as large as Garry and me?
You know that Garry and I were pallbearers and as we struggled with the casket down the church steps, I'm sure I heard you say: "Two hands, boys, two hands."
At the Queen's Park Cemetery, it was so difficult to say goodbye to one who had taught us so well. Even later that night, your boys wanted to visit you on the hill. Garry said, "I bet Dad's lonely." But the cemetery gates were locked for the night.
I know I'm lonely. So is Garry. And so is Mom. We'll survive, but the memories of the best father in this world and the world beyond, will remain.
I love you, Dad!

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