I have had, essentially, three fathers. There was the father that I grew up with, my stepfather, a difficult and violently abusive man, albeit one who did his best, I think, despite his apparent blindness to the damage he was inflicting on his adopted kin. His method of raising a child had come from Victorian-era parents, one of whom passed very young, while the other stumbled into abusive drunkenhood, where she remained until she popped her clogs. He’s still alive, my stepfather, and still very much in denial. The less said about him today, the better.
Then, there’s my biological father, Brian. Now, as much as I did not know him, what I did learn in that short time together in Mexico in 1996 was fascinating. He was a bit of a rogue, an adventurer, a drunkard (he was 6-drinks-in at 9 a.m. on the morning of our first encounter), a soldier of fortune, a Grand Master of one of the most powerful Masonic Lodges in the Western Hemisphere, an inventor, a raconteur, a restaurateur, and a profligate planter-of-seed (I have nineteen brothers and sisters, sixteen by him). If he’d been born in Elizabethan England, he would either have been a celebrated privateer or a hunted highwayman. Or a publican. And, in short order, doubtless one of the first [white] Australians or one of Jack Ketch’s customers.
Although Brian’s relationships with my other siblings and their mothers may be a wee bit contentious, it was obvious how proud he was of all of us and how much love there was in his big, albeit flawed, heart. In the end, though, it wasn’t a flawed heart that got him. It was a much-abused liver. Too much tequila, too much scotch, too many screwdrivers. Rest in Peace, old man. I wish I’d gotten to know you and all of your flaws a lot better.
Last but by no means least comes my de facto surrogate father, TSRP. Thomas Stewart Reid Peacock, Cmdr., RCN, (Ret). I met Stewart (or “Mr. Peacock” as he remained until after I left school and the military) when my dynamic with my stepfather came to the attention of the authorities. At that time, it was decided that putting distance between us would be the safest and happiest course of action. I was a 10-year-old, however, and had never been separated from my family. To me, this was unimaginable. As much as I dreamed of the heavens opening and swallowing my stepfather whole, being removed from my mother, my sisters… just not something a boy like me fantasised about.
Yet, off to Cliffside Preparatory School for Boys I went. In tears. In the dead of winter. I was in hell from the get-go. Immediately targeted and bullied by certain senior boys, initially shunned by the majority of the juniors, if it weren’t for one of the kindest, most understanding and encouraging human beings that I have ever met, the outcome might have been considerably different. Instead, though, and with Stewart’s mentorship, I came to relish my time on Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island. I kayaked, I rowed, I played rugby, I climbed mountains (well, one, but constantly), and, eventually, at the end of my last year I took home every single academic prize possible, including the coveted General Knowledge Trophy. I went from crying and shivering in the school’s pond while the school’s bullies forced me to smoke cigarettes to – a year later – having enough strength and confidence to hit one of those same bullies in the back of his head with a basketball so hard that he fell over, and then standing over him, staring him in the eyes until he got up and walked away, cowed. (I also, less meritoriously, took up smoking of my volition. It made me “cool” and was one less thing my tormentors could abuse me with.)
Stewart passed in 2003. I last saw him in early 2000. Very early. I spent New Year’s Eve with him, in fact. Of all the places in Canada that I could’ve gone, TSRP’s small Victoria apartment seemed the only logical place to raise a glass at the turn of the century. I liken it to spending time with a combined form of father and grandfather and uncle and mentor. I miss him to this day. Over the years, we took a few trips together, he and I (though we never fulfilled his desire to smoke a joint, something he thought he “should try, at least once, to see what all the fuss is about”), and I inevitably came home from those journeys enlightened. Gruff, funny, learned, dapper, even-tempered, and well-liked by everyone who ever knew him, it is he who is the model for the father that I hope to be, whether that be to my godson, Raiden, to my daughter, Isabella, or to the beautiful munchkins that my lovely wife-to-be and I will be having someday soon.
On one of my sojourns at his home in his latter years, he pulled out an essay that I had written, I believe in Gr. 6 or 7, an illustrated history of Captains Cook and Vancouver and their journeys of discovery. He gruffly informed me that it was the best thing that he had ever read from any of his students, even if my “story structure was a bit under par”. He had held onto it for close to 25 years. It was at this moment that I realized, with tears in my eyes, that my mentor was also my surrogate father and that our friendship was just as important to he-who-I-looked-up-to as it had always been to me.
To all of you, to all of us, Happy Fathers’ Day. May we all carry forward the torch lit by those gentle men in our pasts, lighting fire in the bellies of those sons and fathers-to-be, lighting joy in the hearts of our daughters and mothers-to-be, and setting noble examples for all who look up to us.