Father’s Day approaches. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had a patriarch to cheer on (my dad died in 1999). But as I consider the upcoming event, I’m reminded about my own upbringing. It was less than desirable.
In the Introduction to my latest book, “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life”, I include, “I grew up in a family on the crossroads of Main-Street & Normal. My parents were the kind of compliant folks who never ventured outside the confines of how they were supposed to be. Seems there was some kind of rulebook that authorized the canons of life, and woe betide the person who dodged it.”
That does a pretty good job of describing my family. Quiet. Reserved. No out-of-the-box thinking. And perhaps because of those strictures, it’s why I’ve played the game very differently: I simply didn’t respect my parents’ approach enough to echo it in any way.
I suppose I can’t really blame my dad. He grew up as one of four brothers and a sister in a wealthy, but cold, household. (The sister died in her early 20s; by a strange turn of events, I would come to learn a family secret: Jean killed herself after her father – my grandfather – refused to let her carry on with a lad she was smitten with). My father and his brothers existed in a strict, low-spirited, affluent home that lacked for nothing due to my grandfather’s hard-earned riches… nothing that is, except for warmth. My grandfather was a dour, serious, strict man who abstained from alcohol and was a workaholic: at one point, he not only ran the family law firm (Kingsmill Jennings) but was also president of Bulova Watch and Canada Dry – at the same time. The siblings were expected to address him as “Sir”. That’s right: not Dad, not Pop, not… Sir! How’s that for a warm, convivial family environment?
In the midst of the Depression, when so many people were struggling just to put a little bread on the table, my grandfather bought a large property in downtown Toronto to raise his family; it would become known as Mooredale House. This large estate exists today as a community centre and operates a daycare that I took my boys to back in the day. (My dad came with me one morning when I was dropping off the kids to the home he’d been raised in. I remember he was shocked that where the daycare was situated was where the stables had been. “Your kids go where we kept our horses!” he exclaimed in disbelief.)
As far as I could tell, my grandfather had very little to do with raising his children. And his wife, my grandmother, was also very staid and uninvolved. So, my dad grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth but learned nothing about life or bringing up kids. He had little to go on. I guess by natural instinct, he doted on his two daughters (my older and younger sister) when they came along, but pretty much ignored me. I grew up wanting a brother in the worst way.
My mother’s upbringing started out being more normal. Her dad, my maternal grandfather, Edwin Mills (Ted) Cockin, was a Brit from Yorkshire. He was a delightful, kind and caring man, and one who enjoyed spending time with me. He worked for the Department of Transport in a straightforward job and never made much dough, but he was creative. (I’ll keep this short but my favourite story about Granddad Cockin was how, having arrived in Canada and venturing up to Muskoka, he was so taken with the Lake of Bays area that he struck a deal with a local farmer – Mr. Pretzel – whereby he traded his car for the farmer’s log house, and as part of the deal, had it moved to the lake’s edge where it became the Cockin family cottage. “Big Timber Lodge” is still there today.)
I guess mom was raised to be somewhat competitive. She yearned for a better life and married my dad knowing his access to money could be a good start. But she quickly realized she’s have to “wear the pants” in the household because he could not be relied on for decision-making. She became a tough nut to crack. She was stoic: we were told to avoid complaints and shun meds. If you had a headache, you dealt with it: mind over matter. I joke when I say “If we had an aspirin a year, it was a bad year!” (Actually, I don’t mind having been raised this way: it’s stayed with me and I do think we over-medicate ourselves these days.)
Mom was a tough task-master with big expectations. I was told to study law, join the family law firm and then become the next Prime Minister of Canada. Just like that. Easy, peasy. Problem was, none of this appealed to me. It did set in motion a level of antipathy between me and my mother that lasted a long time.
Now, I’ll grant you it may not have been in style back then, but I was never told that either of my parents loved me. Frankly, I don’t think they did. But it would have been nice to hear.
Moving forward, I’ve tried to correct the deficiencies of my own upbringing. My kids (including in-laws) and grandkids sure know how much I love them.
I – and they – wouldn’t have it any other way.