June 14, 2013 by T. Gregory Argall
In June 1989 I was very nervous. I was getting married the following month, but that’s not why I was nervous. I was nervous, terrified really, because when I got married I would also suddenly become step-father to a fifteen year old and I had no idea how to deal with that. I thought I didn’t have a clue about how to be a father and I felt certain that I would do everything wrong. I was just 22 years old myself. The math surrounding the whole situation was just ridiculous.
Then, on Father’s Day, three weeks before I was to marry her mother, Michelle came to me and gave me a hat with “New Daddy” written on it. I realised I didn’t have to be a father, just had to be a dad. I could be a dad, I thought. I had a dad and he made it look easy.
Oh, dopey me, thinking that being a dad was easier than being a father. I had the whole equation backwards. Any man with functioning tackle can be a father, but it takes a special dedication, commitment, and heart to be a dad. But it is oh so worth it. The following year I became an actual father, with the birth of my son, Robert. But thanks to Michelle I already had some experience being a dad.
It wasn’t always a smooth road. There were definitely some rough patches (there always are) but they didn’t last. I still have a lot to learn about being a dad but I’ve got two wonderful children to help with the lessons. And we’ve got their Mum to keep us studying. We’re not perfect, but as a family we’re damned close to amazing. There are no “half-siblings” or “step-relations” in our house; we’re just us and we’re a family.
Michelle is married with children of her own now. Her kids call me Grandpa because that’s what you call your mom’s dad. It is the most beautiful word I have ever heard.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a dad. His name was David Wallace Argall, but people called him Dave. He also answered to the name Grandpa. I called him Dad. To my shame, I sometimes treated him like he was just a father, but he never stopping being a dad. Even at my worst as a son, I was never able to break him.
I learned a lot about being a dad from him. Because the universe is built on irony, I didn’t realise just how much I he’d taught me until it was too late to thank him. One of the most important things he knew and shared is that awe and wonder are everywhere if you just look.
This is the tribute I read at his memorial service…
“He’s at peace now.”
Seems an odd thing to say about a man who was never really not at peace. Dad was all about peaceful.
You can see it in his sketches and in his photographs. All those sunsets he photographed. Not a lot of action in those pictures, no dynamic movement, no zing, no pow. Just nice, peaceful pictures that you could look at for hours.
He’d sit on the rocks at Grundy Lake with his camera, waiting for just the right moment, the exact second when the sunset was at its most beautiful. And, click. Another photo on the wall.
He had a great eye for peaceful scenes.
Not that he wasn’t passionate about some things, as well. He was. He was just peacefully passionate. A low key but determined enthusiasm about the things that were important to him.
Like laughing. Humour was a huge part of who he was. He taught me to laugh and it’s a skill and gift that has served me well, both emotionally and financially. He knew that in order for a laugh to mean anything, it must be shared. Keep a laugh to yourself and it’s useless. He also taught me about the Power of the Pun, but I’ll spare you that lesson today.
He was passionate about his family. He and Mom were married for 53 years. Fifty-three years. That’s a truly inspiring number. And he loved his sons, my brothers and I. He didn’t take out full page ads declaring a loud, brash pride in his kids. That wasn’t his way. He was proud of us, but in a peaceful way. In individual conversations, you couldn’t get him to not talk about his family. When he wasn’t retelling old jokes, he was talking about his sons.
Another passion, his name. Argall. Being an Argall was important to him.
There are only about a thousand Argalls in the world. I know this because I think Dad counted them once. I honestly don’t know how accurate that number is, but I’m confident it’s pretty close.
If Dad gave you a fact, odds are he verified it first. Especially when it came to Argall facts.
He loved tracking the family history, tracing it back over centuries. He could give you dates and names and places and give you a great sense of where our name has been and how it’s all connected.
He was great at finding connections, and connecting with people. He believed that everyone was connected in some way, and he seemed determined to prove it.
There’s an old saying about how there are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet. Dad epitomised that.
He had a knack, an almost supernatural ability; he could meet someone for the first time and within minutes, just through casual, get-to-know-you conversation, he’d discover that the two of them dated the same girl in high school, or that their cousins were best friends, or that they had sat beside each other in a movie theatre in 1952. Whatever.
Something in each of their pasts connected them. And he could find it like that. It was an amazing thing to see.
One time, years ago when I worked security at the City Centre, I was in the mall chatting with a cop that I knew. Dad was passing through the mall, saw me and came over to say hi. I introduced him to the cop and three minutes later we knew that as a child the constable had spent some time with his grandparents living up north in Thorne, Ontario and had fond memories of the ginger snap cookies baked by Mrs. May in the house on the corner. Mrs. May was Dad’s mother.
Three minutes. Three minutes of conversation and he found a direct link not only between the cop and himself, but also between the cop and me; our whole family.
It was an astounding ability he had. It would be scary if it wasn’t such a beautiful thing.
One thousand Argalls in a world of, what, six billion? Seven? One thousand to seven billion. That’s a humbling ratio. Kind of gives you some perspective on your place in the world. Just a drop of water in a huge lake.
From Dad’s perspective, though, the important thing wasn’t that he was just a drop of water. The important thing was the ripples from that drop of water. The ripples could reach all the way to the far shore, then come back again.
That’s what we are, all of us. Ripples. Drifting out from him, across the lake, reaching the far shore and coming back again.
To where Dad is waiting with his camera, waiting for just the right moment, when the sunset is at its most beautiful.