"I'll show you what to do!" - Dad, on numerous occasions
For as long as I can remember, Dad was always teaching us how to act. Sometimes it was with actual lessons. More often than not it was by example. We watched, listened and learned. Dad was always patient and kind, even when he was laughing at our mistakes.
I clearly remember struggling to learn to ride a bike; Dad insisted that I ride around and around on the front lawn until I could ride one handed, signal left and right, stop, navigate around bushes without putting my foot down. Only after that was I allowed to venture onto the street. And was there a little oral exam too about traffic rules?
When I graduated (if you can call it graduating) from bicycle to car, again Dad taught me, sitting in the passenger seat, calmly (for the most part) giving instructions.
- See all these trees lining the road? There are little kids hiding behind those trees just waiting to jump out into the road to catch their ball. You've got to watch all the time.
- Just remember. The moment people get behind the wheel they turn into idiots. You've got to read their minds.
- Okay, let's do some parallel parking. Oh good, here's the perfect spot. (I would NEVER choose such a small spot now, even though I learned my parallel parking lesson well and was able to squeeze into the tiniest spots.)
- Whoa whoa!! what are you doing?!! Put the brakes on. Put the brakes on!!
And then there were the lessons in fairness. Not actual lessons per se. Maybe they weren't even meant as lessons. My friends would talk about which of their siblings were "the favourites". I couldn't comprehend. As far as I could tell, each one of us was the favourite. We were all equal.
We always dined together in the evenings, Dad sitting at one head of the table and Mum at the other. Our conversations were lively and full of laughter. And we always had dessert. Dad liked dessert.
Generally, it was fruit. Canned fruit, more often than not: cherries, half plums, or sliced peaches. Dad would arrange all the bowls in front of him and carefully serve so that each bowl had exactly the same amount.
With the fruit would come a grammar lesson. It was always the same grammar lesson, Dad's recollection of his introduction to conjunctions in grade school: "They had cake but we had fruit." He couldn't get over the unfairness that THEY got to have cake while WE had fruit. Why couldn't everyone have cake? And then he'd hand out the bowls of fruit and we'd happily pick up our spoons to eat our dessert, all the while being thinking about the unfairness of life that THEY had cake but WE had fruit, but not really minding because fruit was good too.
Every so often, dessert would be pie. For cutting the pie on the first night of pie, Dad, the engineer, always asked us how many degrees we'd like. (I don't remember ever not knowing how many degrees there are in a circle or what 30 degrees looks like.) And he'd pull out his protractor, to make sure it was the exact number of degrees. On the next night, with left-over pie, out came the protractor again. Calculations would be made (using one of the several pens and little notebook that Dad always carried in his nerdpack breast pocket) and then the pie would be cut into equal slices - everyone getting exactly the same amount.
This past Christmas, Dad was very ill and incarcerated in hospital for quite some time. Did he complain? Did he whine? Did he protest that it wasn't fair? No. Once again, I was learning from my dad how to act. With grace. With dignity.
Even though I cannot believe that I will never again see my dad on this earth, I know that as I reflect on the many (so many, I can't even begin to count them) happy times we spent together, I will still be learning from Dad just how to live. I hope I can do so with as much grace. With as much dignity.
Tuesday 19 April, 2011: L. Ralph Morris, adored by all - died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. He is survived by his beloved wife of over 60 years, equally beloved 4 daughters & 4 sons-in-law, and just as equally beloved 3 grandchildren & 1 granddaughter-in-law.
"Ralph: a Remembrance" by TPH; Memorial Service Remembrances; Remembrances of Margaret and Ralph