My father was born in Radisson, Saskatchewan on June 14, 1912. He was one of 14 children born to Norman and Una Babcook. He was once struck by lightning (in Fielding, Sk), fought in WW2 (and lost a brother, Roy, who was a member of the Seaforth Highlanders and died in April 1945), worked on the farm until after the war and then headed for Vancouver (where he met my Mom). He was an edgerman in sawmills when I was born, and kept moving around when they became unionized in the 1960s. He later worked for Husky Oil and then CN in Maidstone, Saskatchewan until they retired him and then worked into his 70s when his health finally began to fade.
My Dad was a great guy. He had a wicked sense of humor, miles of common sense (‘talking with Dad’ was pretty damn important when I was a young man, saved me in so many ways) and a tremendous outlook on life. He showed me how to enjoy life, how to be a stand up guy, and the importance of being a good Father. The truth is, or at least my truth is, much of being a good father is actually being there, when kids need to talk with Dad. He taught me that by doing it for me. He was there for me, and I’m there for my kids. Learned behavior. Huh. Dads.
My Dad collected things, I found out later a lot of the kids who went through the dirty 30s collected random bits their whole lives. For my Dad, it was string and nails (I straightened nails for him even into my teens) and pencils. Isn’t that crazy? I wish he were here today, I’d buy him all the string and nails and pencils his heart desired.
My father gave me baseball. When he was a young man, there was a time for work, a time for school (not much, though. Those Saskatchewan kids of that era really didn’t have a chance for education, at least many of them), and a time for baseball. My Dad played in a pretty good hardball league when he was young (the same league the Detroit Red Wings would later ban Gordie Howe from playing in each summer) and he was a catcher. The son was not the athlete his father was, but the beauty of baseball transcends timelines and can be appreciated on many levels. I love hockey, but my first love is baseball and it’s due completely to my father and how he took the time to teach me the game.
I’ve told you the box story (summer vacations were always insane) and I believe I’ve told you the Frank Mahovlich story (the Leafs ended a lifelong relationship with my family the day the Big M went to Detroit), but I’ll tell you another one. Here’s a story about my Dad and conflict, and a man named Keith Schwartz.
My brother had a helluva time with cow’s milk, so we had goats. We lived 17 miles north of Maidstone (if you turned left at the Allan’s store we were two miles up) in the old McLaren school (I think it was called the old McLaren school, memory fades). Anyway, Keith Schwartz was our neighbor and a helluva nice guy. The first spring we were there, my Dad was breaking ground on our property for a garden, and he had a small tiller, a shovel and two dumb kids to help. One day, Keith Schwartz is driving his tractor down the road with a discer (he’d been out summerfallowing fields) and—it’s important to know he’d barely met us—and he gets out of the tractor and yells at my Dad to ‘get the hell out of the way.’ Three turns with the discer and we were golden. Small thing, but that tells you more about Saskatchewan and the people who live there than a month of Sundays.
Back to the goats. That Halloween, someone stole our goats. I say ‘stole our goats’ because that’s what Dad said, ‘someone stole our goats!’ and Jesus Murphy he was mad. I remember being really upset, you know I loved those goats (goats are ornery animals, never get one as a pet, but they grow on you). My Dad waited a day, and then another.
Then do you know what he did? He drove (my brother and I went with him, no idea why) to Keith Schwartz’s house. Got out of the truck, and told Keith Schwartz he didn’t care who took the goats but they better be back by morning or there’d be hell to pay. Keith Schwartz didn’t have one damn thing to do with it (we found out later the culprits) but the goats were back the next day.
My Dad. Problem solver.
Ira Babcook died on June 14, 1992 (his 80th birthday) and my boy was born a little less than two years later. My daughter came along two years after that, and both spent lots of time with my Mom before she passed in 2009. I hope Mom and Dad are in heaven today, having a coffee, and talking about their sons and making plans for the day. I hope they see our happy family and see just how much they meant to me, and how much impact they’ve had on my two kids who haven’t budged out of bed to wish their old man a happy Father’s day.
Thanks, Dad. I miss you, see you someday.