Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Letter to my Dad

Today is a sad day for me.  Exactly one year ago today, I woke up, got ready for work, went to work, then proceeded to drive home after picking up my daughter.  As we sat there, my phone rang with my uncle's number.  "He never calls me, so what's up?", was my original thought.  Well, in about a minute (it all seems like such a blur now), my aunt informed me that my Dad was killed in a motor vehicle accident.  Those of you who have lost a parent know exactly what happens.  You are left in a state of shock, disbelief, and an overwhelming sense of despair and sadness.  It is a sadness and pain you may have never felt before in your life and it is something that you will never forget either.  This past year has been a tough one for me and my two sisters, Mavis and Elsa.  Losing a parent is insanely hard, but we have all been surrounded by many great friends and family and have felt great support and love through this past year.   

Those of you who know me for my sports writing (like this blog) and know me from either coaching with me, being coached by me, or being a team mate, want to ask the obvious question?  What sport did your dad enjoy the most? 
Wearing my "Big Bay" style hockey gloves.
I bet he was a big hockey 
fan.  Well, to be quite honest with you, my dad wasn't a big sports fan, and his involvement with hockey was primarily through my involvement.  As a teenager so into sports, I have to admit that sometimes I drug my dad into the sports world a little too much.  However, he was a willing participant even if the cost of my sports probably cost him a lot.  He once told me he'd rather be picking me up at the rink rather than the police station so sports were good for me to be involved in.

My dad grew up in Northern Alberta near the town of Lac La Biche and in particular, he was born and raised in a place called, Big Bay (the nearest railroad station is listed as Barnegat as it says on my dad's birth certificate).  Dad was a pretty smart kid.  He would never say it, but consider this.  He didn't start school until he was 10 years old and spoke very little English (Cree was his first language).  In spite of this, he did 6 grades in 4 years, and probably would have went further, but as was the case for many 14 year old's who stood 6'1" and weighed close to 200lbs, he went to work.  One highlight of his time in school though, was his time playing baseball for the school team.  He played first base, could throw a ball a mile, and he could hit it a ton.  I'd say he was a 3-tool player from what I gathered, and he did all he could to teach me the basics of playing ball.  I often remember standing in the yard with my dad and sister playing catch and dad encouraging us both.  My sister was a pretty good ballplayer when we were kids and she and I played one season together and we both did pretty well.  I think we were both happy to get our ball uniforms and our dad was pretty proud to see our names on the back knowing he gave us both our start in the sport. 

Uncle Archie's company sponsored many sports teams
and some of them went to to win National titles.
However, my dad didn't always have the time to sit and watch sports and before I was born he would often go and visit his cousin, Archie, who was a sports nut and loved to watch hockey.  It drove my dad nuts because Archie wouldn't talk to him while the game was on.  Archie, who I called Uncle Archie, who tell me years later, that my dad would leave his place frustrated as Uncle Archie wasn't good company.  He thought it was absolutely hilarious, that my dad's son, would totally emulate his behaviour once I grew up and started watching sports of my own.  To hear my dad tell the story was a treat as  my dad was an excellent storyteller and had a memory like an elephant. 

Well, I soon began playing sports and when we made our move from the province of my birth (Alberta) to my adopted and forever hometown of Fort St. James, BC, the best thing in the world happened; I got to play hockey.  I was a late starter at 9 and the other kids on the ice started much younger, but my dad listened carefully as my coach said I should get new skates, so that weekend off we went to Beck's Hardware and my dad carefully laid out a small ransom, so I could get a brand new pair of molded Lange skates (I'm wearing them in the picture to the right). 
Me as a PeeWee wearing my beloved Lange Skates
My coach also told my dad that I should go to public skating and just skate as much as I could, so my dad, for the next 4 consecutive winters, would drive me to the old Fort Forum, give me a dollar and say he'd pick me up at 8:10 precisely (public skating went from 6:00-8:00).  When you consider that admission was 25 cents,
 a large pop was 35 cents and a bag of ships was 25 cents, my Friday nights were awesome growing up.  As I skated lap after lap chasing dreams of being the next Lafleur (and later on chasing the cute girls around the ice), a strange thing happened.  I got better and better on the ice and I actually became a hockey player.  Through it all, there were my parents helping me every step of the way.  Driving me to practices, games, footing the bills for fees, equipment, and doing all they could to help their hockey mad son.  My dad though sometimes used this to his advantage when he told me splitting and packing firewood and hauling water would make me stronger and a better player (Yes, my dad was Dallas Eakins before there was a Dallas Eakins), and it did. 

Whatever sport I played (and I played a lot of them), Dad was always there to help me along the way, and he like me cheered for the Oilers, Eskimos, Expos and Blue Jays.  It was our common theme and we would chat about who was good (Gretzky, Coffey, Warren Moon, Gary Carter, Josh Donaldson), who was bad (Carson, Pocklington, Vernon Wells), and who we totally disagreed on (Hall, and too many to mention).  As I got older and moved away from home, our calls were often about the Oilers and the Blue Jays and it was good for me to chat with him about sports. 
Dad with his Sportsnet-Focused pair!
After our daughter was born there was more talk about her, but my dad laughed when he held his 
grand daughter on his knee while Sportsnet was on TV, and she turned and intently watched the highlights playing on the screen, and all at six months of age.  He smiled a sly smile, pointed at her and said, "I can tell this is your kid!", and he went into his story of Uncle Archie watching sports once again all the while laughing at his pride and joy, his grand daughter.    
I can't tell you now, just how much I miss those phone calls, especially now with the Oilers having a player like Connor McDavid.  His brilliant play reminded Dad and I so much about the Gretzky days, and how I saw the Oilers win 4 out of their 5 cups while watching with my dad.  That was the topic most discussed on our last year of calls.  It seems trivial to others, and to some they might wonder why of all the things I miss, that stands out the most.  Well, to me, my dad was also my coach in sports and life.  He coached me very hard in the game of life, but he also loved me harder.  You see, my dad was not what you would call overly affectionate, but I always knew he had my best interests in mind.  Like a good coach, he knew when to push me hard (doing adult chores as a child), and when to loosen the grip (letting me go skiing when I had time off for Christmas break).  Those phone calls were just a way of asking my dad advice and to check in and see how my life was going.  As I get older, I reflect on how our relationship that went from hotheaded prima dona me, to one where I enjoyed being around my dad more than just about anyone else.  I wanted to please him, to show him that he did a good job raising me, and that I was someone he could be proud of.  Those calls were my affirmation.  My rewards.   

That begs the question I put forward earlier, was my dad a hockey nut and a sports fan.  Not necessarily.  However, he was one of my biggest fans, and he was a coach unlike any other I have had in my life, and what you see today when you see me, is the reflection of that. 

I miss you Dad, and I will always Love you! 
Your Son 

1 comment:

Bruce said...

A fine tribute, Ben. So sorry for your loss.