By Adam Williams
As I get older, I realize I learned all of life’s most important lessons from my dad.
When I was a kid, it was the usual stuff: play nice with others, don’t talk back. He taught me how to fish, how to throw a baseball and, despite the fact I’m still not very good at it, how to play hockey.
He gave me a love of words — ironically, I’ve never found the words to thank him for instilling me with it.
The best memories of my childhood are of falling asleep to the tale of Long John Silver as he read chapters of Treasure Island.
Twenty years later, I still have the same copy of the novel on my bookshelf.
As I became a teen, the lessons obviously became more complex.
Instead of sports and playground etiquette, it was working hard and the value of a dollar. In the Williams family, we changed the oil in our own vehicles, we didn’t buy things we could make ourselves. To this day, I cringe every time I pull into the drive-thru at Mr. Lube. It kills me to buy a coat rack I know I could make.
There were no easy outs in my family — if I wanted something, I could get a job and pay for it myself. If I fought with my brother, there would be consequences (for years, a hole in the wall was a constant reminder of why were no longer able to play mini-stick hockey in the basement).
My dad taught me how to laugh at myself, too, how to graciously be the centre of stories that never seemed to go away.
“Rocket Ron,” as we call him, was always doing something to make our family laugh. More than 10 years later, my cousins still talk about the time he tripped over first base at the family baseball tournament, the night he tried to hide a pocketknife injury from my mother by sticking his hand in his mouth. She caught him when he tried to have a conversation with her, his hand still in his mouth.
More than any other lesson, though, my dad taught me that anything less than my best wasn’t good enough — but, my best would always be good enough.
It didn’t matter how many Cs I got in my first year of university, as long as I was going to class and studying. It didn’t matter how often I ended up on the bench during my brief hockey career, as long as I was trying.
I am now 28. My dad is 63.
The Rocket is teaching me what it means to be brave.
A few months ago, dad was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. He was told he had a few months, maybe a couple of years, to live. It was devastating for our family. How could a man so full of life, who had never missed a day of work in his life, be so sick?
I write about cancer on almost a monthly basis, about the bravery of those fighting it, the sadness of those losing the battle.
But, while we in the family were feeling sorry for ourselves, the Rocket went to work. He has undergone chemotherapy treatments without a complaint and avoided the loss of his hair by pre-emptively shaving his head.
If he feels sorry for himself, he certainly hasn’t shown it. At my cousin’s wedding a couple weeks ago, he was as happy as ever — sneaking a rum and coke when my mom wasn’t looking, posing for pictures with the family, bald and all, sharing a dance with his wife of 34 years.
In the face of a fight the doctors say he will eventually lose, my dad hasn’t quit. He said he’ll fight to get every day he can, to see every possible Christmas, to celebrate every birthday.
I’m sad to be losing my dad. I’m sad he probably won’t see me get married, angry he likely won’t be there to see me publish a book. And, I’m disappointed the Edmonton Oilers, his team, are so far from winning another Stanley Cup.
But, I’m happy to have this time with him. I’m stunned by the strength he has shown, thrilled to see him still laughing and cracking jokes, even if they’re at his own expense.
I’m happy to have the opportunity to tell him I am who I am because of him, that I love to read and write because he taught me how, that I will never quit on anything because he never did.
Growing up, my dad taught me all kinds of lessons. He was never afraid to say “I love you.” There was no better reward than hearing the words “I’m proud of you.”
I hope the words mean as much to him today.
I love you, dad.
I’m proud of you.
Adam Williams is a columnist for Kamloops This Week.