Our father passed on three weeks ago on April 24. Arthur Carlton “Carl” Phillips was in his 88th year. That he lived such a long life could be considered a medical miracle given the litany of health conditions he experienced: arthritis, gout, blood disorders, shingles, strokes, prostate cancer and heart attack. By the end of his life, he was on a mind-boggling concoction of prescription drugs! But this isn’t his story! Not at all!
You could say a lot of things about our father. From a career standpoint, he spent over 30 years with the Ontario Provincial Police, serving in Wasaga Beach, Burks Falls, Bala, Bracebridge and Lindsay. Although he was a very good police officer, he sacrificed his career in order to stay close to his family. Fathering six boys, including one who is mentally handicapped, could have that effect on someone.
He was a carpenter/handyman extraordinaire, building or renovating pretty much every house he lived in. He was also very artistic, particularly with wood. He was a great duck carver! He was also a hobby farmer for a period of time and an avid outdoorsman. He really enjoyed fishing, especially in a Algonquin Park.
On the personal side, he was the epitome of integrity, doggedly principled. He was also quite stubborn [according to cousin Marilyn, a trait shared by many in the family] and hypercritical, very much a perfectionist. Watching baseball or hockey with him could be a trying experience!
He was a strict disciplinarian and emotionally aloof. He was not one to hug his children, nor did he ever tell me or my brothers that he loved us. He had a different way of showing his love. He intensely supported our athletic endeavors and he backed us up when we were being mistreated by others [although, not without first reminding us to stand up for ourselves].
I didn’t always get along with my father. As a strong minded, mischievous and covertly rebellious youth, I regularly got in trouble with him. We had a strained relationship for several years, but eventually got over it.
The healing of my relationship with my father took place in three stages. First, was time. They say time heals all wounds and in our case it did. Second, was understanding. I needed to understand two things, first, that my father was extremely sensitive and this sensitivity manifested in his extreme behavior, and second, that my father was doing the best he could with what he had learned. He was harshly punished by his mother and as far as he knew, this was the best way to raise well behaved children. Third, was spiritual. I believe that on a soul level my father chose not to be overly loving with his children so that we could learn the true meaning of self love.
As he got older, dad expressed more and more pride in the accomplishments of his sons. He also expressed enormous pride in his grandchildren! He really did love his grandchildren, perhaps because he felt less pressure to be the perfect parent. I was visiting him about a year ago, when he got a phone call from his eldest grandchild, Natali. He ended the conversation by saying, “I love you too Natali!” It was the first time I ever heard him say, “I love you,” and it took a grandchild to get it out of him!
My fondest memory of my father! When I was about seven or eight years old, he and my brother Al and I arrived at the Bala arena one Saturday morning for a hockey game a half hour away in Mactier. Dad was the only father who showed up, so he piled all 12 kids present in the car, complete with hockey equipment and drove us to the game! I don’t recall the outcome of the game, but it was sure chaotic in that car [at least as much as a strict disciplinarian police officer father would allow]!
My second fondest memory! We were at my niece’s wedding in the Dominican Republic several years ago. One day, it rained constantly, so we stayed inside playing Texas Hold ’em poker … and drinking! At one point, dad, not a heavy drinker, was feeling the affects of a little too much scotch. He was hanging on to a pole in the middle of the room asking for someone to get him another drink. My brother Ben said to him, “if you can say it, I’ll get it for you!” The best that could do was “Ca shumun ge me a sc … sc …! He didn’t get the drink, but he did get the death stare from my mother who was none too impressed with his drunkenness!
My proudest memory! After our mother developed ALS and became bedridden, dad fearlessly stepped up to the plate to to take care of her. After 60 years of mom looking after him, he had to learn how to cook meals, clean the house, do the laundry and do the shopping, all the while, tending to our mother with the same protectiveness as a mother bear taking care of her cub. It was the best shape he had been in for years.
Unfortunately, after mom passed on, dad became inactive and very fearful, contributing greatly to the deterioration in his physical and mental health.
Perhaps the most telling thing about our father was something he revealed to my brother Al several months ago. He told Al that he really wanted to be a farmer, but unfortunately, when he came of age, our grandparents were not in a position to sell him the farm or take him on as a partner. And so, he became a police officer. I/we found it interesting that he had never mentioned this before [Al confirmed with dad’s sister Eileen that this was the case]. He never complained about his lot in life. Never acted like a victim over his missed calling. He just did the best he could at what he was doing: a husband, a father, a police officer, a carpenter, a renovator, a hockey coach, a duck carver, a fisherman, a hunter and occasionally, someone who had a little too much scotch to coherently ask for another drink! And oh yes, a hobby farmer!
Know this for certain dad! We love you now, we loved you when you were alive and we miss you!