Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Garth Rattray | My father's priceless impact

Published:Monday | June 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Father walking son To school

My father transitioned six years ago, several days shy of his 84th birthday. Among his fine qualities were his magnanimity, honour, bravery, dedication, brilliance and fatherhood. My father had three of us. I am the oldest, then came my sister, and after a long hiatus, my brother.

My parents were married for many years, but being eccentric about certain aspects of his life, my father chose a different path (my mother's verbatim expression) when I was about 13 years old. Without any provocation or disagreement, my father simply chose to reside elsewhere. Consequently, he began a visiting relationship with the home, which he faithfully maintained.

My sister and I started out life in Greenwich Town (sometimes called Greenwich Farm). It was a poor but peaceful community. The citizens got along well. He dubbed himself "the richest poor man alive" because he went to extremes to ensure that, in spite of his extremely modest salary, we had the comforts of a lower-middle class home. He would work most nights, 'roasting' (Americans call it 'moonlighting') to make this possible.

Because of his terrible experience with poverty while growing up and because of his giving ways, he was extremely kind, sacrificial in fact, to other needy neighbourhood families. Whenever he could not stretch the money to get us, his children, the toys that we would have loved to receive, he would always say, "... even if I can't buy you toys, you will always have me".

By the time my brother came along, we were in a middle-class community. Things were better, but, as I said, my father decided to live a separate life altogether. In spite of this, he never failed to provide for us, his three children. We were fortunate to have a mother who worked as a teacher but dedicated her entire being to us, even today as she approaches 92 years old.

Although my father was away from home, he made certain to impart very important life lessons. He shared his good and bad experiences so that we could vicariously learn of the pitfalls that could await us and therefore avoid them.




He shared life's lessons from the experiences of others to widen our knowledge base. We learnt about the lure of romance and the heartache that it often brings. We heard about the terrible price for dishonesty and the rewards of being honourable. We learnt about the consequences of our actions and the joy of being kind to others.

The subtler things that he imparted included respect for everyone because we are all equal. And the flip side to that is that we grew up without fear of anyone else. No one, no matter how rich, influential or powerful, can intimidate any of us, because our father was beyond intimidation. He was brave in many ways and this translated into the ability to keep his head when others would lose theirs.

He was not into traditional religion, but he lived by strong spiritual beliefs. He found 'religion' too rote and confining and sought to learn about and understand God in a more personal way. The older he became, the stronger his faith grew.

In general, criminality is inversely related to the role that fathers play. I implore all fathers - biological fathers (live in or otherwise), stepfathers, surrogate fathers, godfathers, and father-figure mentors - to take the paternal role in the life of one or the lives of several children (especially the boys).

For whatever reason, even if fathers are not present in the home, most children need a strong male figure to become fully developed. In spite of his unusual life, we benefited enormously from his influence; we all turned out just fine.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.