Wednesday, February 02, 2011

An Ode to George 13 / 30

I changed his name to protect his privacy, but the odds of him even hearing that I wrote this, let alone actually reading it, are about a billion to one, so its probably not necessary.

George is my father-in-law.  He's still on this side of sixty, and he is one of the best people it has ever been my honor to meet.  We'll start with the obvious, he raised my wife, and helped to shape her into the woman that I fell in love with and fall deeper into love with every single day.  For that alone, I owe him a debt.

George recently retired from his job, where he worked for decades doing hard physical labor as a pipe fitter in Vancouver.  For the last few years of his work, he was in constant pain, daily agony from the problems he's had with his knees.  Yet despite pain so debilitating that most people would never stand again, he got up every morning, long before the sun rose, to go to work.  A job where he was respected and looked up to.  By all accounts, he was the de facto supervisor of the crew he worked with, and he was the one who tried to train the younger people coming on to the crew.  He disdained the engineers who would come to the worksite, after trying over and over again to explain to them why their plans wouldn't work, and the crew he worked with learned to take his advice over just about anyone else's.  He was respected and very well liked.

His retirement, I believe, has been hard for George.  He's worked hard, all his life, and he's overcome a lot of adversity in that life.  For him to be idle is a challenge.  And so, when he first arrived here in Halifax, he went through a period of adjustment.  Far from working ten hour days doing hard manual labor, he was now a bit adrift, and got bored fast.  When he noticed that he was putting on some weight, he knew he had to change something.  And so he joined the gym.

The other men at the gym refer to George as "a legend".  He put in three hours at the gym, every day, until he finally got his knee surgery.  His pants fit again and the suspenders he bought have been put away.

Before he went for his surgery, he started looking for things to do.  And, as our house was a bit neglected by its previous owner, he managed to find a few.  Like digging a three foot deep and thirty foot long trench so that our rain water waste could be properly drained away from the house.  Or doing the same thing in the front yard when he got upset that the walkway stones were heaving too much in the winter.   Then he decided that the deck enclosure needed some work, and fixed that.  Then he was upset that the clothesline frame was too far from the deck, so he dug it up (it was buried three feet down with a big concrete base) and repositioned it.  Oh right, then there were the steps he installed in the back walkway, so that he and his wife wouldn't have to walk up an incline and possibly slip.  Then he removed a completely useless door and frame from the hallway in the basement.  Built a new flower bed for the side of the house... you get the idea.

The truly remarkable part about all of the work that George did was that he found / scrounged almost all the materials from either his other jobs or from materials left over after I was working on something.  Other than some gravel which he had delivered and some wood for the flowerbed, he achieved all his finished products without making even one trip to the store.

For that alone, I admire him.  I can't hang a picture without going to Canadian Tire three times.  But it goes beyond that.

George is a man that my sons look up to and love.  One of Griffin's first words was "papa" and seeing the love that he has for his grandfather makes my heart ache.  When George is working on any project, he invariably has one or both of his grandsons there helping him out.  And with a patience that I can only dream to one day have, he involves them in his projects, letting them help out in whatever small way they can, regardless of the impact of that help upon his final job.  The boys run to him for help and hugs, and he gives them both with a side helping of love.  That my sons have this tremendous man in their lives makes me feel so blessed, both for them and for him.

When I redid the bathroom shower recently, I was at a loss for how to complete the work, once I saw just how bad the rot was.  In a near panic, I asked George if he would come and take a look, and just give me some advice.  He did both, and gave me some help in tearing out the rotten wood.  But once he saw that I had it in hand, he backed away.  I think it was actually hard for him to do so, but I saw two things in him when he did:  first, that he was in considerable pain from his recent knee surgery, and secondly that he saw I needed to tackle the project on my own.  Despite that, he came up a few times to look over what I had done, and made a few suggestions.  And, far more meaningfully to me, he complimented my work.  He told me I had done a great job.

Growing up, I didn't really have a father.  I had a man in my life that had the title, but he was never a father to me.  His disdain for me, and for all that I did, was almost palpable.  I hated him then, and have no use for him now.  But when George told me I'd done a great job on the shower stall, and that he was proud of me, I damned near cried.

I was home today, sick with some odd flu, nausea and nasty muscle aches.  Mother Nature chose this day to drop about a foot of snow in our fair city.  And at about five o'clock tonight, as I was trying to get off the couch and stretch, we heard the scraping of a shovel on the pavement.  There, wrapped up against the wind, was George, shoveling all that snow off our two driveways.  And when I try to say thanks, he'll brush it off and make like he hasn't done anything at all.  But he has.  He, and his amazing wife, have made this house a home for our family, have given our sons a connection to their larger family, and have enriched our lives in so very many ways.

In a very odd way, I discovered my fathers late in life.  For the three decades or so, I didn't have anyone that I wanted to call "Dad" in my life, and now, at age thirty eight, I have two.  Two men who have shown me more about being a man and a father in the last three years, than anyone else did in the preceding thirty five.

So thanks George.  Thanks Dad.

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