Four Button Down Shirts
I’m the youngest son, the second sibling to have an Old Testament name in a White Anglo Saxon Family. This is my first entry for the Caregivers Blog. It’s my turn, as I have been recently visiting my father on my own over the past couple of weeks. Youngest Sister has been away at her cottage taking a much needed break. Not only from being the primary force of taking care of my Dad, but from her job – she is involved in the business of sport and the countdown to Canada’s involvement in the Olympics in London has been finalized.
I enjoy it, the solo drive down to Niagara listening to music in my car, stopping at Whole Foods in Oakville – or checking out some music stores in Hamilton, buying a shirt at a mall I’ll never come back to.
Sometimes I get a little choked up on the drive back. I pull off the QEW, get out of my car, and have a cigarette at the edge of a field.
Along with my exotic name I shared a sense of entitlement and ease in my relationship with my father my other siblings didn’t have the luxury of knowing. Growing up in rural Quebec, my older two brothers were at boarding school so Dad and I shared a secret camaraderie with the necessary allegiance and humor required for living with three women, one of them my very powerful mother.
He seemed to me to be somewhat of a dandy, with his Mercedes, fine clothes and fancy gadgets and cameras from business trips to Japan in his study he allowed me to explore. He wasn’t around a lot when I was little. He eschewed playing sports with me to taking me to the Boat Show or Auto Show at Place Bonaventure in Montreal. We would chuckle like kids while crawling through yachts and luxury cars he could never afford. He took me on business trips where I was impressed how he’d navigate strange towns and hotels with ease, and impress waitresses with his grace and choice of wine at family restaurants off the highway. When he had his meetings, often with the administrators of churches , he’d allow me to wander the town on my own, exploring music stores, army surplus and record shops unsupervised.
He walked through life with an aristocratic air. His job didn’t seem like work at all, and I think he planned it that way, like exiting an automobile with the sophisticated European clunk of the door closing behind him – or catching a cab in a Camel Hair coat. I never saw him rush, never saw him stressed. He did, however have an excited way of whistling with his breath while shaving before another adventure away from the family for a few weeks abroad. As kids we giggled at this behind his back and imitated him frequently.
I see so many similarities to my father in myself, his narcissism, subtle humorous racism and his ability to manipulate and charm, just about anyone into feeling at ease, coaxing a laugh – and his love of women.
To this day my high end condominium is filled with gadgets, computers and musical instruments he could only have dreamed of if the technology in his time allowed it. In my teenage years and twenties I detected a fiendish jealousy he had of my seemingly roguish lifestyle – at that age he was supporting his mother and extended family during the depression working as a church organist.
My parents were of a generation that didn’t feel it necessary to occupy their children’s lives with activities from dawn until late into the night. They were also tired, they were in their mid 50’s when I hit puberty. I developed a creative little world of my own, staying late in the darkroom with my photography after school or participating in the Theatre Arts Club.
They were frugal with money. We never had anything slightly resembling a current trend in clothing or running shoes – thankfully there was so much less pressure then for a child to have these things. I had not received a dime from him since I was 16, I’m now 50.
However, this past year, things got difficult for me. I took a leave of absence from work to deal with addiction. Without asking, and without skipping a beat, my father wrote me a cheque to the tune of $10,000 for a recovery program. In addition to this he has agreed to cover my legal expenses after losing my job. He has always had a bit of a ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ attitude. Two weeks ago he proudly announced that he had never had to work in a cubicle. Although he sided with the underdog, he looked down his nose at the conventional suburban working man. He would say to hoots of laughter at the dinner table that bowling alleys smelled like a ‘Taxpayers Armpit’, cravats are for ‘urbane arseholes’… and ‘There’s one thing worse than a racist, and that’s a Mexican’.
When I walk into the elegant lobby of his seniors’ residence, it feels more like boarding a cruise ship from another era. Parked among the potted ferns and palms everyone is engaging and friendly. I feel somewhat of a celebrity here and I’m sure he does too.
Sometimes I’d find him asleep on his bed, mouth open, with his hearing aids out and his false teeth beside the bed – like a papery corpse. This time he’s showered and excitedly responds to the first knock. We have a great lunch, albeit of tiny portions. His tablemates are gregarious and full of truly interesting stories. I beg for more, share mine and generally impress.
He insists I come to his room before the drive back, he says he has something to give me. He meticulously picks through some drawers among ridiculous pullovers he’ll never wear that my Mother brought home from the charity stores she volunteered at over the years. On the bed he lays out 4 perfectly pressed Oxford Cloth button down shirts from L.L. Bean. Two white, two light blue. He said he’s worn them for 45 years and is too skinny now to do them justice. I recall a family trip to Maine when he and my Mother bought them , among other things, long gone now, when I was 10 years old.
He wants to try one on one more time to make sure. I open one out of its cleaner bag as well.
Shirtless, he’s a harrowing sight, I try to look away, but help him into it. We stand side by side in the full length mirror. His shirt looks like an oversized pajama top, with his neck poking out of the collar like a buzzards.
Although the collars and cuffs are a little faded – mine fits me perfectly.