COLUMN: Tales from the Gravel Ridge – Remembering and reflecting
For many Canadians, the third Sunday in June each year is the day when we pause to reflect specifically on fathers. For many of us the opportunity to do so with our father is long gone. I am reminded of the poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” written by the English poet John Keats in May, 1819, in which he observes that the figures on the Grecian urn will never age. In some respects this image reminds me of my father who died when he was a mere 64 years old. Memories of my father, Cornelius Heinrich Falk remain crystal clear for me. In spite of some health concerns, my father had not truly aged when he died on August 25, 1959, after a very brief illness.
My father’s memory remained sharp throughout his life, as did his enjoyment of history, and his love of good music. One of his practical strengths was his aptitude for mental arithmetic, and his meticulous facility for record keeping. I have no doubt that he could have done well in any of a number of careers and professions where his strengths in this regard could have been put to good and meaningful use in his life.
Life however does not always evolve in ways that permit us to flourish as we might wish. My father was born in what is now Ukraine, in 1895. World War I caused serious disruption in his world, and before it was over, the Russian Revolution brought about irrevocable changes in the lives of the peoples of Ukraine, and throughout Russia. Death and destruction, and personal losses became commonplace. Such experiences have a way of traumatizing lives, perhaps especially for the young.
Although I know that my parents were always grateful for the opportunity they were given to make a new home in Canada, the decision to leave the land of their birth was not without its challenges. My father was almost 34 years old when my family arrived in Manitoba in 1929. A new language and new customs faced this young immigrant family, as it had for many others. And the fact that the 1930s were a time of serious economic depression worldwide made starting up in a new environment extremely difficult.
What remains especially meaningful for me, and continues to grow in importance in my mind is my father’s sense of responsibility and concern for the well-being of his family. His children were dear to him, and he had an indisputable sense of the importance of family, both his own but also his place, and ours, within the extended family.
At the time of my father’s death, I was not old enough to have a serious appreciation for the strength that my father had shown throughout his life. His extraordinary capacity for resilience and adaptability, along with his ability to accept circumstances that he could not change, continue to astound me. Now, many years later, I have a better understanding of how courageous my father was.
When we begin to realize that we no longer have anyone who can answer our questions regarding our own family’s stories, we owe it to those of us who are still alive, and to those who are no longer with us, to educate ourselves. By learning about the historical and political circumstances surrounding our parents’ lived experiences, along with the sociological and spiritual challenges that faced them, we can appreciate how those circumstances influenced their view of the world as they found it.
Honouring our fathers also brings with it an obligation, and indeed a privilege to honour those among us who, in spite of not having had a meaningful father relationship in their own story, have nevertheless shown themselves to be compelling father figures in their respective families.