How do you remember your father?

Ruth Griffiths

If you have a living father, you are fortunate. For centuries, many children grew up not knowing their father except by reputation. But today’s fathers are more present than ever.

Sometimes the father was absent since before the child’s birth. During the years of the Great War and the Second World War, many Canadian children knew about their soldier fathers only through letters and maybe a photo. Family members filled in the gaps with stories about the absent father. Tragically, the man who returned was sometimes so changed by his experience of military conflict that no one really knew him anymore. And some never returned.

The Baby Boomers, children of the post-war era, might not have been war orphans but often in urban settings they were “work orphans.” Families flocked to the suburbs that required long commuting times for the “bread winner.” In a TV documentary, one man recalled: “If I woke up early enough, I could see his car backing out of the driveway and if I stayed awake long enough, I could see him for five minutes before I went to sleep at night.” Work had captured the father just as surely as war had captured the previous generation of men.

 Women now make up a greater percentage of the workforce and the stay-at-home daddy is more common, although not always applauded. Fathers are spending more time at home due to underemployment or working from home. How will their children’s memories of father be different than the previous generation?

Although we lived in town, my father was a farmer when I was a preteen, so he was usually at home. During seeding and harvest, he was just as absent as the commuting fathers of my city cousins. But Dad made time to stay connected. I remember the trips to town with a load of grain. He bought me a stubby bottle of Orange Crush to drink while we waited to unload our hot and dusty truck. My brother and I rode “shotgun” on the stoneboat while Dad drove the tractor out to the slough to get water. He taught us the differences between wild grasses during long hours roguing acres of Russian Wild Rye Grass.

I was fortunate to have known both my grandfathers. My mother’s father was musical. He entertained us by playing the spoons and the comb! I remember the twinkle in his eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. He was always busy in his garden or fixing something around the house in Burnaby.

My father’s father was a great gardener on the farm at Star City. Often I was recruited to pick pails of raspberries from four rows that went on “forever!” Grandpa Wilson liked to give me a “whisker burn” kiss. He taught me the joys of brown sugar sandwiches for breakfast.

Fathers had to be disciplinarians but grandfathers were slower, like kids. My father remembers walking with his grandfather, Henry Wilson. He had a characteristic cough and pushed stones out of the path with his cane.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, let us appreciate the ways the role of fathers have changed for today’s children.