Me and My Dad

Here’s the thing: my dad was always there for me; in a pinch, you would’ve wanted him in your corner. I think if I relay a handful of incidents where he ‘saved’ me in one way or another, you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s go back to 1963. At that time I’d been out of high school for a year, and had gone through a couple of disappointments and – shall we say – “flip-flops” – as to what I wanted to do with myself. My first plan, which had been to go to commercial-art school, had fallen through, since I didn’t get admitted. Then I got a job as a sort of stopgap measure while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. I took art courses at night, but really had no direction in mind. Meanwhile I spent most of the money I was earning on clothes. (Hey, I worked next to Ogilvy’s – who could resist? Not an 18-year-old fashion maven!)

Eventually I got the idea that I wanted to go to fashion-design school. However, I didn’t have the money for tuition, which had to be paid up front. Guess whom I hit up for the cash? Yup! Cleverly I waited until Dad was well rested and in a good mood, and then I very gingerly approached him. See, I felt as though I were undeserving – I felt like a dilettante.

“Dad,” I began, “um, the thing is, well –”

“Come on, Ell, what is it?!”

“Er, well there’s this great fashion-design school and…” I proceeded to tell him in a rush about the hopes and dreams I had, and about this school that would help me achieve them.

He said Yes. Thanks, Dad!

The second incident happens to feature money, as well. In 1976 my ten-year marriage ended, and my ex gave me substantial child-support payments each month. In 1978, at tax time, I had a family member prepare my income-tax returns. By this time, I had been receiving child support for an entire year.

My brother-in-law’s brother, the tax preparer, phoned me when my returns were ready. He sounded mournful. “Uh, I have to tell you something. You owe a lot of taxes.”

“What?! What do you mean? Why!?” I squeaked.

It seems no one had bothered to tell me that child-support payments were taxable. I owed a few thousand dollars – 1978 dollars – to the federal and provincial governments. Needless to say, the money was long since spent!

Well: I did what any smart, sensible young woman would have done in those circumstances. I sat down and cried.

Then I tried to figure out how on earth I’d raise that incredible amount of cash. My first thought was to sell my diamond engagement ring. Silly me, I thought I’d get plenty of money for it if I went to an auction house. I learned a hard truth. What something is “worth” has no resemblance to what you actually get for it from an auction house, pawn shop or the like. I sold it at a terrible loss, and cried some more. I still needed lots more money for the tax man.

So I went to Dad. I told him my sad story. He kissed me on the forehead – his favourite spot – and said of course he would give me the money. He wrote me a cheque then and there (and cashed a GIC the next day to “repay” his chequing account, I learned). Thanks, Dad!!

Now for my last anecdote. This one goes beyond money. In fact, it goes above and beyond a father’s “call of duty” altogether!

We had gone in my car to visit my brother who lives in Chateauguay – Dad, Mom, my two kids, and me. At afternoon’s end, we left and were driving home, heading for the Mercier Bridge. Just as I caught sight of it looming up in the distance, I started to hyperventilate.

I should mention that this was back in the early 80s, when I suffered from unpredictable panic attacks. Bridges were not my friends. Strangely, though, I’d been okay when we drove to my brother’s place, but coming back was another story. The bridge looked sooo high, as if it were ascending to the heavens… Trembling, I eased over to the shoulder of the road.

“Wha… Why are we stopping?” piped up my mother, from the back seat.

I took a deep breath, turned around and said, “Oh, um, you know those anxiety attacks I told you about? Well I seem to be having a bit of one right now. It’ll go away. Just… gimme a minute.”

So there we sat. And sat. My kids, in the back with Mom, were really great; they knew about my problem and were very patient and sweet about it. My mom kind of alternated between worry and impatience; I could guess what she was thinking: “How long are we going to sit here?!”

But Dad? He was very mellow, as he sat next to me in front. He didn’t say a word, just had a little smile on his face.

A couple of times I prepared to ease into the slow-lane traffic, but my breathing sped up and so did my heart rate – I just could not do it! As we sat there in the car, I finally admitted defeat. “I guess one of you is going to have to drive us across that bridge,” I said.

From Mom: “Oh, no. We don’t have our licences anymore.” (They had belatedly bought a car when in their 40s, but had given up driving now that they were in their 70s and no longer working.)

Suddenly from the front seat beside me, speaking for the first time throughout this ordeal, my Dad said, “Okay. I’ll do it.” He got out and came around. I took his place.

Mom was not happy. I guess if my father hadn’t been with us, we’d still be sitting there to this day, on the side of the road leading up to the dreaded Mercier Bridge.

He drove us across. I covered my eyes. He wasn’t the best driver in the world, okay? But we made it – thanks to his generosity and loving spirit.

Thanks Dad …for everything!

Mom & Dad
Ida and Sam – my mom and dad, circa 1982

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