Yesterday would have been my father's 88th birthday, tomorrow will be my 50th. My father was probably a theist, …but it wasn't who he was, nor did he or my mother ever impress their beliefs on us. My father did stress reason, critical thinking and logic; as far back as memory serves me. I was never condescended to, nor did I ever once seem him condescending towards a single person in my life, same with my mother. Whatever their beliefs were they would have told me if I asked, but I never felt the need as I was never a believer. Why discuss a "non-belief" at all?

Still, my father was a Veteran of two theaters of battle in WWII, a (very) staunch secularist, a very vocal human (all humans) rights advocate, proponent of Canadian multiculturalism and a contributor to many of the policies that became codified in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Priviledges. Amongst his great contributions to society, he, along with Sam Aykroyd (yes, Dan's father) helped author the often referenced "Pitman Report on Racism and Visible Minorities", after which they both contributed to the first draft of the Privacy Legislation. That was during a short time he was between positions in the '70s.

He spent his whole life working for "the greater good".

That "greater good" is a legacy left, after life.

Death need not be an end to consciousness

Living memory is an afterlife for those still

conscious in our thoughts.

I will have this memory of him until my life

comes to an end.

Whom ever reads it may remember

it as well.

A real afterlife doesn't need god(s) a heaven or a hell; it does however need legacy.

…what will be yours?

When my father died in late 2002, I was in shock, everything is still a blur up to landing at the Regina airport after a very long and lonely flight. It was early December and fiercely cold; that crisp, almost electric-dry prairie cold.

My aunt Esther picked me up at the airport, I was the last of the kids to arrive, ...we drove back in silence, which was unusual because my aunt and I are/were two peas in a pod, and usually talked each other's ears off, but at these times, our family can tend to be stoic about sadness.

When we got home, I came through the patio doors and right in front of me was this man, a stranger... He was a small man, bald, looking to be in his late '60s, he was smiling, ...a truly radiant smile, I mean he looked like a saint or an ascetic. He shined. I was introduced to him and I shook his hand mumbling a greeting and locking eyes ...for just a moment, after which he handed me a sheet of paper. He then passed by me and left, having already said his goodbyes. My aunt put her hand on my shoulder and said, very quietly, "you should read that". I was still standing where I was when I had come in. I looked down at the paper now oblivious to my family around me and I began to read. It was this man's "story".

I will try to tell it as best I can from memory, I only read it once. I wish I still had it but like many of my possessions, it's lost to all but memory. The story began with how he had been orphaned at 14, he told of the circumstances of loosing both parents. he was an only child. He then described climbing the steps of the orphanage alone after being dropped off, still in shock. At 14, almost a man, but at that moment, a scared and lonely little boy, ...an orphan.

He entered the orphanage and bumped into a tall man who smiled, said hello and asked, "What are you going to do with the rest of your life?" The boy stared at his feet in silence and after a few moments, he stepped sideways and tried to walk around the man who repeated his question; not in a demanding way and still smiling warmly. This scene repeated itself one more time.
Then the boy looked up and said, "I don't know". The man took him by the shoulder and walking him into the building said, "Well, you're 14, almost a man, and I wanted to know because you may be with us for two years but when you turn 16, you will have to make your way in the world, sooo... what do you want to do with the rest of your life?"

The boy said, "My father worked on a farm all his life, what do you think I should do?"

The man considered for a moment and asked, "Let me see your hands." The boy held up his hands and the man took them in his own and said, "you have very slender hands, not really suited to farming, perhaps you could learn to type, we have a typewriter here, you may use it if you like."

The man explained that typing was a skill that could lead to many different job opportunities when he had to leave the orphanage, and that it would be a very valuable skill if he decided to stay in school or even attend university some day. The boy did learn to type and did stay in school, and as a man attended university and after, he became a writer. He wrote for three newspapers and also wrote three novels. At that point in his life he was semi-retired from the papers but, still writing books and teaching.

The "man" who asked the question was my father, who had worked at the orphanage as a social worker for a few years, where he also met my mother, who was a nurse there. After they were married they fostered over 20 kids in the year before my older brother was born, 1952.

The piece of paper was a reprint of an editorial the man had written for a newspaper in his home town in British Columbia as a tribute to my father, after hearing about dad's passing. He flew out to Regina to pay his respects to him, ...and to us.

The last few lines are what touched my heart so deeply.

The small, smiling, radiant man had written:

"All of my life, not a day passed without thinking of this wonderful man and how he changed my life at a point when I was so vulnerable, so alone, so young."

So I ask you all this:

What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

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Comment by Becky Glynn on April 12, 2012 at 8:39am

Happy Birthday Richard!  Welcome to Club 50. What a wonderful legacy and an incredible story to share with us.  Thank you.

Comment by Steph S. on April 11, 2012 at 5:15pm

Hey there Richard!

I wanted to stop by and wish you a Happy Birthday! Your father sounds like a wonderful man. I wish I had a father like yours.Thanks for sharing your special memories with us.

Are you doing anything special for your birthday today?

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 11, 2012 at 1:25pm

Oh Richard, Your story just overwhelms me. I can hardly get my breath. What incredible parents you had and what splendid memories. Their legacy shines through you and sharing this with me/us gives far more than I can say to celebrate your birthday! May your day and life be full of love and joy and a legacy to pass on to your children as well. I knew there was something special about you. 

Comment by annet on April 11, 2012 at 12:04pm
Your dad sounds like he was an awesome guy.

Happy Birthday Richard! All the best. Have some fun today!

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