My dad, Peter Klewchuk, was a father like no other, though I’m sure many can say that about their own dads. He wasn’t a perfect man, but as perfect as they come. When I look back at his journey, I see a man who didn’t ask for much, even though he had lots to offer.
His was an immigrant family—three brothers and one sister—living in a two room house in Stony Mountain, a penitentiary town, about eleven miles outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He and his brothers slept on one bed, in a horizontal fashion. His sister slept on three chairs placed together. They may have been poor, but they all excelled in school.
Peter was always at the top of his class, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have problems there. When he drew a map by hand, too beautiful to believe, the teacher strapped him, accusing him of tracing it. He was also left-handed, another no-no, and he paid for it with more smacks across that hand when he forgot to use his right.
And then, in grade nine, he made a mistake that cost him any further education. After recess, instead of returning to class, he went to play ball in the school basement. That ball reverberated through the floors and into his classroom. He and his friend were strapped severely for that infraction.
Dad decided that was enough, and even though he loved poetry and literature, he quit school that day. His friend wanted to quit, too, but his dad told him that wasn’t an option. Mr. Blackburn, my dad’s teacher—the one who’d strapped him—came to my dad’s house, and begged him to return, even promising to tutor him after school. Dad was stubborn. It didn’t help that my grandfather, thinking he could use another pay check, encouraged his son to work alongside him in the town’s stone quarry. Life was even harder after that, and my dad almost died when he got caught in the quarry’s chute.
By the time he reached his late teens, he was tall, dark, and handsome. Girls chased him, but he wasn’t the type to take advantage. A lover of music, he played the violin by ear, as well as the banjo, and saved what little he kept from his quarry earnings to buy both instruments. He was also a natural athlete, teaching himself how to swim in the gravel pits, and ski on the local hill on barrel staves.
When he married my mother at the age of 28, it was 1938, and the depression had taken its toll. What little money he’d earned and saved, he’d passed on to his father, who had promised him the land next door to the family’s two-room house. He never got it. What surprised me about my dad was that despite the breaks, he was never bitter. An honorable and honest man, he believed in the Ten Commandments, and always treated his father with respect right to his dying day. I never heard an unkind word from him. Just disappointment over not finishing school.
So, Mom and Dad toiled all their lives, taking jobs that meant working seven days a week and then some. They scrimped and saved, and by the time the 50s rolled around, they were doing pretty well, with a rooming house and another piece of property they rented out. Dad still worked at the meat packing plant inserting salt brine in pork bellies, but he never lost his love for the written word, and would quote Tennyson, Wordsworth and Kipling to me, poems he’d memorized in his school days and had never forgotten.
One thing though. He was as unlike his father as day is to night. He was gentle, full of humor, and love. He showed that by sharing his delight in noticing the new growth on a balsam tree in spring, diving with me for rocks that we’d throw into the sandy-bottomed lakes of Manitoba, tickling me when I tickled him, teaching me to throw a ball and drive a car, and sending me all those newspaper clippings when I moved west with my family.
He may not have left a mark on the world, but he left a mark on me. It’s almost twenty years since he passed, and I still tear up when I think of him and how much I miss him.
If there is something I can impart to others about this coming Father’s Day, it’s to treasure those you love, to take the time to stay connected, as life takes them away all too soon.
I love you, Dad! Happy Father’s Day, wherever you are.
How about you? Any tributes to your dad that you’d like to share? Any special memories?