Friday, March 27, 2009
Something to Shoot For
It's been ten years since we lost my father. Ten years to the day since our family's final goodbyes at the bedside on a warm spring morning. And ten years since his hometown lost a man whose devotion to his community and neighbours was second to none.
And the city of Ottawa loved him, too. Trying to run even the briefest of errands around town with Drew Shouldice always took at least twice as long as one would expect. It seemed impossible for him to turn a corner anywhere in town without running into an old friend.
I have been wanting to write something about my father to mark this anniversary, but have been unsure as to what form it should take. This certainly does not need to be an obituary, and there is already enough written out there by people who lost loved ones at too young an age. I don't need to tell you that life is short and that each day should be lived to its fullest. Instead, I think I'll pass along what remains the most enduring lesson I took from the 18 years I had with him.
Granted, there was a lot that I picked up in observing how my dad lived his life. The importance of shaking a hand over throwing a punch, why we should remember people's birthdays, and how wearing a tie and walking with purpose can get you past almost any security guard on the planet were all tidbits I picked up along the way that have served me well to this point. Still though, there is one lesson that stands out above all others.
I have previously said that my father knew a lot of people, and this is certainly true. He also knew a broad cross section of folks - from cabinet makers to cabinet ministers - and never stopped making friends as he went. However, no matter who he was dealing with, and no matter what the context, my father treated everyone he came into contact with the exact same way. That is to say that his levels of respect and compassion never varied. This is the most enduring lesson I took from my father, and if it doesn't speak to the character of a man then I don't know what does.
Indeed, be it the cable guy, my friends playing road hockey or the mayor of Ottawa, Dad gave everyone the time of day, and was never too good to be friendly or too busy to be kind. If I were to read a transcript of my father's side of any conversation he ever had, I do not know that I would be able to tell you if he was talking to the new kid working at the grocery store or a decorated veteran of the second world war. And yet, he somehow managed to always be genuine as he did this, without talking down to people on the one hand or being too familiar on the other.
If this sounds like no big deal, I would ask you to do the same while you go about your day. The reactions you will get and the connections you will develop as you treat everyone you meet - everyone you meet - with the same respect that you would wish for yourself will show you that it is, in fact, a very big deal. That my father lived this way every day for his short-but-wide 52 years explains to me why there was a line stretching down the block from the funeral home in the days after he died, and why he is still sorely missed.
And so today and everyday I reflect back on this lesson, among others, and the man from whom I continue to learn. The path I have chosen differs from his, to be sure, but the principles remain and for that I am grateful.
Thanks, Dad. Tonight I raise my glass to you.