"Do you want your father’s watch?" Surprised, my first instinct was to refuse because I have one of those modern watches that speak to you and accompany you in ways other than time.
Dad had passed away the day before. His watch had been taken off a few days earlier because the strap was making bad marks on his already irritated and atrophied skin.
"A souvenir, you know." I nodded, reached out and put the watch in my right pants pocket. All day long, while we were already reminiscing about the last moments, already starting to sew the quilt of our memories, I dipped my hand into the pocket and caressed the jewel.
That same day, Mom presented me with his brand new Kanuk, which he had worn only two or three times on his way to the hospital for treatment. She also took the opportunity to give me a comfortable cotton vest that he had not worn either.
I wear a medium; these clothes are loose fitting, especially since dad was heavier before his illness. However, they fit me quite well.
I was both uncomfortable and touched. Uncomfortable because although I am the only boy in the family, I thought the brothers-in-law could benefit from these clothes. Touched because the objects are an extension of a person’s identity even after death.
Trying on the Kanuk, I hugged myself tightly to reconnect with my father’s presence. I almost burst into tears, and my sisters smiled at me.
Back home, I went to a drawer to get the other, much older watch that my father had given me. A Bulova with cracked glass. Dad had exchanged it for the new one he had bought with Mom.
I understood at that moment the voluntary but spontaneous power of mourning. What Mom was doing was taking control of her new existence. This appropriation will take time, especially after spending sixty-six years with her man. It will be hard because when I get back to my apartment, I can already feel the waves of the last days and all the gestures and words I will have shared with dad. I imagine that this swell will be all the bumpier for Mom.
Dad died in his house. During the few days I spent in Sainte-Croix, I observed the dedicated work beyond the professionalism of the doctors and nurses. We exchanged with them, and gave them our smiles and good humour to say thank you. They are overwhelmed in a healthcare system that struggles to understand that it is cheaper to provide care at home than to rely on hospitals that are always too far away.
I did not wait for my father’s death to recognize his legacy. Already at work, to the colleagues I accompany, I repeat the same question he used to ask me when he called me: "What is beautiful in your life that concerns me?
Of course, I don’t go so far as to say, "Hi, little boy". A greeting that I believe he also said to his grandsons. This sentence belongs to us, and it testifies to the gentleness of this man.
I want to offer as a tribute, not my words, but a lengthy excerpt from the letter he wrote to us on their 45th wedding anniversary, twenty years ago. He had written it without anyone knowing and wanted to read it to us before we started reading ours.
Letter to my children
On my mother’s day, you, my children, expressed the desire that I write something about you. I am taking advantage of this today since you are all here together.
I said to myself: I will listen to my heart and try to tell you some of what I think; this is not a custom for me because I am a man with only one friend, your mother, and I don’t need another.
You are not my friends; you are my children and will always be my children.
I always knew that I would have children; that was part of my vision of life.
I am a man born on a farm, so close to nature.
This was my first school of life. To evolve, as a young man, I looked at nature and the way my father functioned in the face of it all. Because my goal was to evolve and advance, I would need to have children. I had to choose a companion and a friend because I am very independent and lonely and like it that way.
You may say that I am macho, but if it is so, I accept it.
I chose a companion, but I still had to seduce her, as is human nature. I wanted her to be beautiful, tall, independent, able to walk by herself, good with her hands, a good cook, intelligent, and in love. I also wanted her as a friend because she would be the only person I would dare to confide in. She had to be able to let me live my life because I am not a man who can live with a handle on my back. I wanted her to be perfect.
There is a saying: seek, and you shall find. I had no trouble getting girls. I was looking, but I couldn’t find love in them.
One morning at the Arthabaska factory where I worked, during the break, I saw the marvel I was looking for. She was working in the house next to the factory; she had gone to shake a carpet on the gallery. I said to myself: this is her, I want her, and I will have her. You’ll say damn macho again!
I left the girl I had. I still had to conquer Irene, but I knew I could do it.
And it is now forty-five years that she is my friend, my mistress because your mother is a real woman, which was essential for me.
I love the woman who is your mother; if I could keep her, I would let her free of her actions. I told myself that if I caged a precious bird like her, she would die; I wanted to keep her all my life. She is special, your mother; I wanted her like that.
So I had everything I needed to start a family. The rest, I didn’t think about it, I was unconscious, but that’s me.
I told her that I would sell my car and that we should get married. I took her by surprise, and she said, "yes."
For a long time, I have been asking my spirit for wisdom, peace, serenity, health and confidence in life, and myself. I had health and confidence in myself.
You know, when I am with my children, I am always with the most beautiful and the finest. I mean it when I say that. Because you are so different, unique and wonderful.
You do not belong to me because I did not choose you as my children. You chose me as your father.
I am very grateful to you. You have allowed me to evolve in this life. You are my birds, but I never wanted to put you in a cage because you were too precious. I would have destroyed you; I love you too much.
We should never regret our past experiences because everything we experience moves us forward. Still, we can look back to know ourselves better.
You were unhappy whenever someone wanted to put a handle on your back and put you in a cage. Don’t let it happen again because life is too short, and you don’t owe anything to anyone.
Love life, and it will love you, have confidence because everything eventually passes. Ask, and you shall receive. Life is worth living.
I am in my sixty-eighth year. I thank God that I have been blessed with children like you. It has allowed me to grow up.
When I analyze my life, I can say mission accomplished. I did what I had to do; I loved a lot, and I did my best.
But I would like to live to see you and my grandchildren evolve. I owe it all to the good fortune of having a wife, a mother, a friend and a lover who wanted to make a life with me. It was not always easy for her!
Thank you, Irene, you are my most precious, I love you very much, and I owe you a lot.
Thank’s dad. I love you.