Born on the dining room table at the farmhouse in Bracebridge, Ontario, Dad was the youngest of twelve children (nine boys and three girls). Premature at birth, he was taken to the hospital inside the doctor’s little black bag. In those first weeks Dad’s sisters would take turns holding him at night, resting their feet on the wood stove; heating their bodies, which would, in turn, heat his. When it was time for him to eat, they fed him with an eyedropper, and as Dad loved to say, “…now they use a funnel!”
Some of Dad’s favourite boyhood memories were of life on the farm with his brother Ken; how Dad cut Ken’s head open with an axe while they were chopping wood, and my grandfather shaved Ken’s head, tapped up his wound, and then sent them to finish the wood before going to see the doctor. And then there was the time they decided to help their Dad remove a tree stump by jamming several sticks of dynamite around it; thankfully they forgot the blasting caps! And I cannot forget the story about how Dad decided to help straighten a post in the cellar by hitching up one of the horses to help, and the cellar collapsed. Dad and Ken were stuck eating tomatoes for days on end.
When Dad was five years old, his mother died of a stroke, and Dad’s sister, Shirley, stepped in to help raise Dad and Ken until their father re-married. This created a very strong bond between Dad and Shirley, one that lasted throughout their lives. Some of my favourite vacation memories are of driving to Sudbury to stay with Uncle Shirley and Aunt Ross, as we use to call them – Dad’s idea, of course.
Dad doted on his sisters, and he never passed up an opportunity to see them. I remember going to Aunt Shirley’s house for a couple days. I was working on family history and Dad decided we should stop by Aunt Chick’s house in Bracebridge on our way to Sudbury. At the time my Aunts were not on speaking terms. As we pulled into Chick’s driveway Dad turned to me and said, “Don’t tell Chick we are going to see Aunt Shirley”.
After our visit, we got in the car, and drove the rest of the way to Sudbury. When we pulled into Aunt Shirley’s driveway, Dad turned to me and said, “Don’t tell Shirley that we saw Aunt Chick”. After our visit, on the drive home, Dad decided to swing by Mary’s cottage, and of course, as we pulled into her driveway, Dad turned to me and said, “Remember, you cannot tell Mary that we have seen Chick and Shirley”.
He was always a peacekeeper.
My Father was the life of the party; you always knew he was in the room. No matter where you were. He wasn’t obnoxious; he was charismatic, friendly, and fun. And sometimes he was a little crazy.
These are some of the characteristics that made Dad a great salesman.
Many of you know Dad as Captain Coleman. He worked for Canadian Coleman for 35 years, and I can safely say that he lived the Coleman brand. Over the years my Dad has smashed, shot, chopped, and stomped competitor products, and presented his victims with brand new Coleman replacements. Our garage had more camping equipment than the local sporting goods store, and the funny thing is, Dad didn’t like to go camping. He went to the Father & Son camp, and loved it, but his idea of camping was a hotel room without air conditioning.
We never went on family camping trips. Dad was more into road trips, a side effect of being a salesman.
I had several opportunities to work with Dad as I was growing up. As a teenager I would go with him to trade shows, hanging out in the Canadian Coleman booth, and watching my Dad wheel and deal with customers. I loved watching him, and I learned a lot about sales, and how to deal with different types of people. I went to shows in Nova Scotia, Ottawa, Toronto, and New York City. He taught me how to change lantern mantles, use a camping stove, and how to erect a tent in less than 2 minutes.
Dad did a lot of crazy things while proving Coleman had the best-made products, including riding a canoe down a ski hill – which I do not recommend doing!
Dad’s work ethic was rock solid. I remember the summer that I worked in the office with him. While everyone started work at around 9am, Dad would usually wake me up at 4am and tell me to get ready for work. I spent a lot of early mornings in the office as my Dad got a jump on whatever work he needed to do. It was normal for him to go to work really early; something he passed on to me.
It was while working for Coleman in Alberta, that my Dad met my Mom. At the time Mom was working for Woodwards, and Dad use to call on her boss. In fact, he introduced them.
My Mom changed my Dad, for the better. She was a member of the church, she wanted the church in her life, and he did whatever he needed to do to make that happen. For years, Dad was a dry Mormon. He basically lived the gospel, but he wasn’t baptized.
It wasn’t until after Michael was born, that my Dad packed my Mom, and my brothers and I into the car, driving us to the church. Mom had no idea what was happening. Why were we at church? It wasn’t Sunday. When Dad asked if he would say a prayer, I think Mom almost fainted. It was during that prayer that Dad asked Heavenly Father to help his baptism go well. That is when she found out. I think that was probably one of the best gifts he ever gave her. It was an act of pure love.
Dad loved the church. Over the years I watched him serve others, no questions asked. If someone needed help, Dad was happy to do whatever he could, without passing judgement. When we were growing up our house was always filled with missionaries. I can remember Dad setting up a target range in our basement, and after eating dinner took twelve missionaries downstairs, handed them airguns, and let them shot little metal animals as much as they wanted. Christmas was especially fun when we lived in Mississauga and Brampton as we almost always had ten to fifteen missionaries sitting around our table.
After Dad retired from Coleman, he and Mom moved to Alberta to be closer to my grandmother, and Dad worked for a high-end furniture store, which was owned by a member of the church. A store that had like 50 or more lazy-boy chairs inside it; a dangerous thing as Dad was gifted with the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time.
Dad’s craziness and humor definitely had its share of the spotlight at Bowden’s Furniture. And for a year or so, he and I worked there together. Dad was always making jokes, laughing, and goofing around, but I will never forget the time he surprised Ted.
Ted was another salesman. He was Mormon, and he was as straight as an arrow. Life, for Ted, is either black or white. There is no grey. Ever. Very stanch. It was Ted’s birthday, and I was working at the store. Dad was coming in later in the day. Most of us, including the owner, were at the cash desk talking when the door dinged. A customer. Or so we thought until we turned around and saw Dad dressed in my Mom’s blue and white polka dot dress. Randy and I could not contain our laughter, Ted was… offended.
I will never forget the look on Ted’s face as Dad pranced up to him, stuck out his belly, rubbed it, and said, “Hello Ted, what has it been? Eight months?”. Dad then went to touch Ted’s shoulder, and Ted told him to go away and walked off. It was the best joke, ever. When I called Randy to inform him of Dad’s passing, he talked about his favourite memory of Dad, and that was it. And once again we could not contain our laughter.
When Dad and Mom moved back to Orangeville in 2011, Dad’s Alzheimer’s had already started, although it would take at least two years for a doctor to officially recognize that he had the disease. While many people associate Alzheimer’s with forgetting a family member’s name, there is so much more to the disease. For one, it creates a sense of innocence.
Over the last 18 months, we had re-discovered things with Dad, and relished in his innocence. I remember the day we took him to Caledon East for a burger, and introduced Dad to sliders. Holy wow, he loved those things. A couple days later when I asked Dad what he wanted for dinner, his eyes lit up, his hands danced in the air, and he slowly said “slippers”, with a smile creeping across his face. “Do you mean sliders?”, I asked. Yes, “sliders….”. It was too funny.
Dad loved making people happy. As a family we groaned every time we took him shopping, or out to dinner, and he pulled out his blinking reindeer nose; waving at kids or trying to shake their hands. He would buy flowers for his pharmacist, and tell the cashier at Zehrs that she was gorgeous. When I asked him why, he said, “Did you see the look on her face? It made her happy!”.
And that was my Dad. He was forever doing things that made others happy. He is one of the best examples of pure love and service. He was always my strength, even when he was not my favourite person. This past week has felt very surreal. I’ve had a hard time believing that he has passed on, but at the same time I am acutely aware of the void that his death has created. I know I will see him again, and that he is looking down on us today, and for that I am grateful.
I love you Dad.