My father was born in Liverpool, England in 1937. His parents ran a post office there.
When he was in the local high school, ‘grammar school’, he was one year away from Paul McCartney, who he thought was a nice chap and always thinking about his music.
Dad got a Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Mathematics from Oxford, and came to Canada to work. He was hired by McMaster University here in Hamilton, and met my mother when he started attending the same church as she did. When McMaster got their first computing machine, my Dad was one of the first faculty transferred to a Computer Science department.
From my first memories of him, Dad was always very soft-spoken and calm. He walked a bit slowly, had a permanent hump or hunch in his upper back, and didn’t drive because he was blind in one eye and didn’t have any depth perception. He would get from our house on Stanley avenue to campus and back every day, though, and I think I got some of my attitude about public transit from him. For a while, when I started going out to special schools with gifted programs in Westdale, near the university campus, we would sometimes be on the same bus in the morning or afternoon.
In the fall of my senior year of high school, Dad fell when trying to climb back up the basement stairs, and ended up in hospital, and caught a bad infection while he was there. He ended up with a tracheotomy and got a little portable text-to-speech machine with a keyboard because he wasn’t able to talk any more, and he could never really get around entirely on his own after that. But he still had a great attitude about life, especially once he got back home.
Eventually, Dad’s health got worse again and he had to go into a long-term care facility at Saint Peters, a little while before I got a full-time job and my own apartment. I tried to make time to head down on the bus to see him, but it was always a bit depressing to see him in the hospital bed, and try to figure out what word he was trying to type out – his motor skills weren’t good enough for the text to speech machine by this point, so he would point out letters on a big laminated typewriter layout card, and that was frustrating for both of us. I do regret that I didn’t take more time with him when I could.
In the spring of 2004, I took a train trip out to Saint John, New Brunswick, because my brother had won a hotel voucher there and decided that he wouldn’t be able to use it. Soon after I arrived, I heard word from my brother that Dad was having some problems, that he’d been transferred from Saint Peters to the General hospital. After hemming and hawing over it, I decided not to try to change my train back home until there was more news.
I took the train back at the end of the long weekend as scheduled, and when I got back to Hamilton it was clear that Dad was getting worse. I went to visit him in the General that evening, went into work the next day, and got picked up at work by a friend of my Mom’s from her church because she wanted me there at the hospital. The doctors told us that Dad’s heart and other organs were failing, and they could keep him alive on the machines for a while but there would be no coming back.
My sister and her branch of the family came up from Kitchener, we talked about it, agreed to turn off the life support and leave him on enough drugs that he wouldn’t feel any pain. He died with all of us around him.
Dad was a brilliant man, and very well read in many fields, particularly theology and the sciences. He loved to watch many sports, and spent long hours working out tables and sheets of cricket statistics that none of us could understand on the home computer or paper printouts. He loved watching sports on television, and listening to CBC radio. I was introduced to several of my favorite radio programs from listening with him, including ‘Quirks and Quarks’ and ‘The Vinyl Cafe.’
I miss you very much, Dad.