I’ve had a complicated and fraught relationship with my dad and often wonder why it is we still talk to each other. We fight about everything from the political to the practical – from feminism, to most aspects of how I run my day to day life, to why my front door is hard to open – “But it’s my front door dad!” My brothers and I all benefit from the jack-hammer-like insight he is incapable of not sharing. He claims to be an equal opportunity critic.
His criticism of us is driven on the one hand by expectations founded on the belief that we could do anything, on the other, by incomprehension of ways of being that differ from his own. He’s the king of the backhanded compliment. “You look great Aviv. That’s so much nicer than the dress you wore the other day.”
It would have been far cheaper for my dad to have gone to therapy rather than the rest of us dropping all that cash dealing with the dad-related issues. But men of his generation didn’t. While he’s many interesting and amazing things, “in touch with his feelings” or anyone else’s, is not among them.
My father might be the most unique person I know. The expression “they broke the mold” would imply there ever was one. He’s 80 years old and he ventures into every day with the energy, expectation, patience and attention span of a five year old - getting more done in a day than people half his age.
His collection of traits lends itself to so many comparisons. He’s a renaissance man, minus the grace the image conjures and more by enthusiasm and passionate curiosity than by vocation. He’s a human volcano bubbling with ideas, unpredictable, hot and fiery, inclined to blow. He’s the embodiment of chaos theory, patternless patterns, consistently inconsistent.
Many of us have ideas. Wouldn't it be funny if…? Wouldn't it be exciting to…? Wouldn't the country run better if…? But few have executed, tried, or tried to force others to see so many to fruition. What follows is a sample of the long and eclectic list of his accomplishments and projects.
• He's been an off-Broadway producer
• He started Canada's first mail order pharmacy business in Ontario
• He studied French and ran a campaign for Canadian unity in the 1970’s
• He answered an ad and with friends bought a blueberry farm
• He has worked for many years to have marijuana legalized (but has yet to try it)
• He worked for two "Out of the cold" programs
• In the 80s he sought the nomination for the Federal Progressive Conservative party (not worrying that a dearth of social graces and a Tourette-like need to say-it-like-it-is might be impediments to political success)
• When we were kids he instituted the 20 chews per mouthful rule to slow the lightning pace of our dinners
• He carves stone animals out of found granite using diamond-tipped drill bits and installs them in their natural habitats
• He has traveled, hiked, or biked through China, Thailand, Norway, Ecuador, Turkey, Alaska, Australia, Africa, Argentina.
• He spent a year investing my brother's childhood 10,000-penny collection back into the Canadian economy a few pennies a day.
• He heads up the Harbord Collegiate alumni club
• He has been a member of the Toronto Star’s Community Editorial board and published a number of articles
• He’s involved in organizing against anti-Semitism in Canada
• He blogs here
Unlike many men of his generation, his friendships cross racial, geographic, religious, sexual orientation and age boundaries. He loves people, collects them, brings them together, gets involved – really involved- in their lives. He organizes weekends up at the cottage inviting people in their 20’s and in their sixties, cops, artists, pilots, gay and straight, English, French, Chinese or Spanish speaking. It wouldn’t occur to him they wouldn’t have a great time together. And they do!
He feels compelled to solve people’s problems - although lack of patience prevents him from actually understanding them in any detail. While his problem-solving technique often consists of yelling at you over the phone, then coming to your house to yell at you, he's well meaning.
Impatience drives the man. Drives him right past thoughtfulness. Leaves skid marks on people’s feelings, parks itself in the middle of their dinner hour. If it’s off-putting he doesn’t seem to notice. When he gets an idea or solution to a problem, and he gets them all the time, he can’t wait. The calls go out at 7:00am or 11:00 pm. His impatience is balanced by a spontaneous generosity that extends far beyond family and close friends.
Sometimes his ideas are inspired, indeed visionary, and other times just wacky. We were once walking along the path at the cottage and he swept his arms toward the trees. "This is such a mess, you should clean it up.” “But dad it's a forest”. That day, the mess was troubling him.
I’ve often wondered whether he’s proud of who I am and what I’ve done? He’s rarely forthcoming with compliments, inclined to skim over achievements and move directly to areas requiring improvement. Why linger where there’s no work to be done? It’s fitting really for someone who is incapable of just being. He is consumed with doing. He's the anti-zen. The goal is the goal – the path, the quickest route to it. Why bother smelling the roses? He knows they smell.
When I recently told him I was planning to take another year off work to keep writing, – unpaid this time - his response surprised me. No yelling, no criticism, no “are you crazy this is so irresponsible.” Just unbridled support and enthusiasm.
“That’s great Aviv. You’re a really good writer. I’d love to see you make something of this.” Silly I guess but regardless how old I get I still seek the affirmation. While his encouragement often takes the form of pushing, poking, prodding and soft-core condemnation I’m willing to take the pain with the gain.
I hope to look back on my own life and see even a fraction of the passion for life he throws into each day. If I could wish something for him it would be to linger on the path he has built, appreciate the scent of the flowers he has planted, and enjoy the friendships he has sown.