Books that changed my life: 04 – Childhood’s End

Note: This blog originally appeared on

This is the fourth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man

After discovering both Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, it felt like someone had applied the jaws of life to my brain, cracking it open and filling it with all sorts of science fictiony goodness. It didn’t take long to start discovering other SF geniuses.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey

And the next one was a doozy. Arthur C. Clarke. Though I hadn’t realized it, I was already slightly aware of Clarke’s works, through the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie, that infamous Kubrick/Clarke collaboration. My father had taken me to see it at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on one of our weekend visits. I would have been a hair over five years old at the time…which shows you how much my father’s decision-making skills were impaired by that time. Who the hell takes a five-year-old to 2001?

Still, he did. I kinda didn’t get the whole monkeys part at the time, and the ending completely eluded me (still does). But that middle hour? Hell, that was cool. Spaceships!

Childhood's End

Childhood’s End

So, now, about six years after that, I stumbled on a battered paperback copy of Childhood’s End and, I looked through the first few pages to see if he’d written anything else–the best resource a pre-teen had to look for additional works, because I always hated those funky little library drawers filled with books all catalogued by the Dewey Decimal System. Back then, I counted myself lucky if I found the SF section. The Dewey Decimal System was as much a mystery as…well, as the ending to 2001.

Glancing through the list of the author’s other works, I saw 2001. Well, that was enough for me. This would be my next brain-blaster.

Childhood’s End had all the earmarks of what I would consider a classic story at the time: Aliens (and, though they were somewhat menacing, overall, they were here to help us. And that was cool in its own right), and kids who changed, who evolved, who became greater than their parents and greater than the sum of their parts. Oh, and the end of the human race as we knew it.

Now, I’ll admit that my first reading of the novel left me more than a little confused. It had some racially-charged moments when the Overlords stepped in to stop the reverse Apartheid in South Africa. And there was the whole Ouija board thing that signaled the change of the children was coming. As well, the entire end where the children transformed and left the earth on a burning column to join the Overmind confused the hell out of me.

Still, I knew I was reading something important. Something fantastic.

How did this book change my life?

Unlike Bradbury, Clarke dealt a little less with the people and a lot more with the big concepts Extraterrestrial beings that oversaw the evolution of entire planets’ civilizations. Travel not to the Moon or Mars, but to planets 40 light-years away.

Hell, this was when I figured out what a light-year was (the distance one travels over the course of a year while traveling at the speed of light. It works out to about 6 trillion miles or a hair under 10 trillion kilometers).

He also dealt with the end of the world. The end of mankind and its ascension to the stars. This was big stuff.
arthur-c-clarkeSo, for those keeping score, Erich Von Däniken gave me a good bullshit radar, more of a life skill than anything, but still… Then Robert A. Heinlein gave me adventure. Ray Bradbury helped me understand the deeper emotions and the human condition. Each one gave me a sense of wonder, but each one kept it mostly relegated to our solar system.

But Clarke gave me the universe. He gave me aliens that were actually alien, not human-like people that came from another planet. Later on, he fired my mind again when I read one of his many famous quotes: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

He stretched my mind. He actually stretched it more than it could actually go, because, as I said, I simply didn’t get all of what he was saying. But it didn’t stop me from trying, and it just made me go to other areas of the library to look some of the stuff up. Like what a light year was. But he’d stretched my mind, my imagination so wide that it never came back to its original shape. I was now open to a hell of a lot more and wanted to learn more so I could understand more.

So, he also gave me a real thirst for knowledge. Knowledge of any sort.

Thank you, Arthur.


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words?

What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.


Adonis and the blind date

I’ll beg forgiveness for my absence from this blog lately.  There’s events going on in the background that have taken up a lot of time that, hopefully I’ll be able to talk about shortly.  In the meantime, you have to settle for the same old idiocy that makes up my life.

Before you ask, I’m going to state right up front, that all of the below is true.

Way back, long before the days when I became the studmuffin I am today (okay, I can’t eventype that without choking), I was terribly shy when it came to asking girls out.  Pathologically shy.

Okay, I flat out couldn’t do it.

A friend of mine at the time, a very sweet and funny Irish girl known as Dee-Dee decided she had a friend who would “be perfect for me.”  I’ve since learned to dread those four horrible words and, anytime anyone has suggested them to me about someone, I’ve learned to run screaming in the other direction.  I also learned to never go on blind dates again.  All because of the events I will now illuminate for your enjoyment.

Because I was reasonably awkward, I only agreed to the blind date if Dee-Dee came along with her boyfriend.  Turns out her boyfriend couldn’t come, so I got a male friend of mine to tag along to make it a nice even boy-girl-boy-girl thing.  There was no romantic intentions considered between my friend and Dee-Dee.  To protect his anonymity, let’s refer to my Scot-born friend as “Al” and leave it at that.

The arrangements were made and at the appointed time, I picked up Al, then, still in sweating trepidation, went to meet Dee-Dee and my date.  I confess I’ve completely forgotten her name, so let’s call her Eve.

I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised when she came to the door.  Petite, with long brown hair and a pretty face and prettier smile.  I’m sure the happiness I felt was balanced by the disappointment on her end seeing a 6-foot, 3-inch tall, 140 pound stick man as her date.  Oh yeah, she hit the jackpot all right.  But she seemed pleasant enough, and we all clambered into my 1972 dark green, ugly-as-sin, big-as-a-cruise-ship Ford LTD.  By the way, this would have been around 1984 or so, and those dozen years had not been kind ones to the Green Monster (as it was known).  So, I’m guessing that may have been strike two against me with Eve.

Now, what you need to know about Dee-Dee and Al at this point.  Dee-Dee was a very happy, bubbly jokester with a thick Irish accent and a hilarious sense of humour.  Al had fully adopted a Canadian accent, having come over as a very young child, but could break into a thick Scottish brogue at the drop of a hat, and his sense of humour, while a little on the nerdy side (like mine) was razor sharp.  While not the most comfortable around girls, when there was no pressure on him to be an Attractive Male Companion, he could relax and be himself, which he did here.

As for Eve, parked up front in the passenger seat with yours truly, she seemed a little quiet, but I put that down to the same nerves I felt at having two observers in the back seat scanning for any signs of romantic spark.

The plan, as devised by Dee-Dee, and in retrospect, should have  been my first clue that the night would not go as planned, was to go to a bar in the north end of Oshawa.  Full disclosure here: I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t do drugs.  Never have.  So a pre-anti-smoking law smoke-filled bar full of patrons consuming alcohol?  Not my best location for wooing.  And while my dancing skills are on par with a three-legged dog cursed with a case of the shits, it would at least have been a good distraction here.  No dance floor.  Can I get a strike three?

Amen, brother.

Anyway, I parked the Green Monster around the back of the bar and we headed in.  Dee-Dee and Eve ordered up some drinks, Al ordered a Coke (he also didn’t drink) as did I.  I dutifully bought the first round.  I mean, good lord, I was rolling in the dough, working at Arby’s at an astronomical $6.25/hour.

Oh, I didn’t mention I worked at Arby’s did I?  Strike four.

Anyway, to give us some “get to know you” time, Al and Dee-Dee moved over to another table, actually one of those table-top Pac-Man games.  Al was addicted to the damn things.  As I heard him play and Dee-Dee whooping, I turned my attention to the attractive girl in front of me.

Again, full disclosure, I  was lousy at talking with women, so my guess is the conversation was awkward, stilted and horribly boring.  We quickly determined that we have extremely little in common but resolved to make the best of it and at least have a fun night out.  You know what?  I was fine with that arrangement.

If only she had stuck to it.

I think the mistake I made in the verbal contract was not spelling out that we at least have a fun night out as the group of four.  Instead, she quickly mentioned getting a refill on her drink.  I offered to buy, but she said no, don’t worry about it and, glass in hand, headed to the bar.

And never came back.

She found a rather stunning male specimen at the bar and chose to at least have a fun night out with him instead.  Now, I didn’t give a shit that she wasn’t interested in me, but at least have the decency to tell Adonis that she’s kinda stuck with someone tonight and get a number.  Or come back over and say the plans have changed and she’s hanging with Adonis and the other Gods for the evening.  Either would have suited me.

After a while, Dee-Dee became aware of the situation and, though the three of us had a good time, I could see her consistently happy mood fall away by degrees as she became increasing peeved at Eve for her rudeness.

After a couple of hours, we decided to pull the plug on the evening.  Dee-Dee went over and told Eve we were leaving and Eve told her she would just be a minute.  We gathered our coats and headed toward the door.

After fifteen minutes of standing there like a group of losers, no Eve in sight, Dee-Dee said she was going to go get her.  I said I’d do it.

I walked up to her and Adonis, got the obligatory stare from the God where he measured me up and down and found me wanting.  I ignored him and spoke clearly and firmly to Eve.  “Dee-Dee, Al and I are leaving,” I said.  “Now.  If you want a ride home with us, you need to come.  Now.  If you want to stay and hope that Studley here offers to take you home, fine.  Decide.  Now.”

She said she would come with us.  She just wanted to get his phone number.

The three of us left the bar and headed around back to the Green Monster.  Eve took another solid ten minutes to drag her now-nowhere-near-as-attractive ass out to the car, with Studley in tow.  I figured she was going to tell me she had decided to ride with him instead, but no such luck.  Dee-Dee, by this time, was alternating between fuming in anger and apologizing to me.

The two of them, Studley Adonis and Eve stood in front of my car and talked.  “Fuck this,” I said and started the car and put it in gear.  Eve gave me the stink-eye, but got the message and stomped–yes, honestly stomped–to the car and got in.  She plopped truculently in the seat.  Dee-Dee proceeded to tear a strip off her and, well, to be honest, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to drive.

Then, Dee-Dee stopped and stared out the front window in disbelief.  Adonis had pulled his car out and blocked me.  He drove a very new, very nice, very shiny, jet-black Trans Am.  The kind that had the gold trim.  And he was blocking me.  Dee-Dee began swearing a rather endearing stream of Irish-accented invective, Al expressed disbelief in a rather profane way, and Eve…yeah, Eve smiled.

Adonis sat in his high-performance machine, staring at me and then he laughed.  He pointed at the Green Monster and he laughed.  I looked over at Eve, and she smiled wider.

I looked back at Adonis, brought my hand up, shoved it sideways and very clearly, so he could easily read my lips, said, “Move.”  I can still see his perfectly-shaped head with its stylish blond hair as he tipped his head back and laughed again.

I looked back at Eve, also sporting a wide grin.  “You honestlylike this asshole?” I asked, but didn’t give her time to respond.  I pulled the stick down toDrive and hit the gas.  The Green Monster met the Trans Am in a squeal of metal, lurched a bit, but I fed the gas a bit more and couldn’t help but laugh maniacally at the look on Adonis’ face as I pushed his car out of the way with mine, slid past him, the entire driver’s side of my car squealing against his front passenger-side fender.  I finally broke clear of him and, all the side trim on my car dangling like broken insect antennae, I sped out of the lot to the screams of Eve.

“Are you crazy?” she yelled.  Dee-Dee kept yelling, “Right on!  Right on!” and Al howled with laughter.

Truth to tell, once I got out to the street, the logic portion of my brain reasserted itself and I immediately thought of several things I should possibly have considered sixty seconds earlier.  Eve had his phone number.  He probably got my plate number.  I willfully destroyed his car.

But seriously. His car versus the Green Monster? What did he think would happen?

Eve refused to talk to me the entire way home.  Dee-Dee and Al congratulated me all the way home.

I never ever did hear anything from Adonis.  Either I lucked out or it was too dark to get the plate. Or maybe it was just the universe levelling back to true.

Surprisingly, I never got a second date with Eve, either.

But I gotta say, every time I went out to my car and saw those massive front-to-back scrapes and dents along my car?  I smiled.

Eat shit, Adonis.  I won.

I got shenked by Nate

Apparently I’ve been Shenked by Nate.  That is, Nate Shenk over at ShenkItUp who’s tagline is “Wanna get shenked?”.  He got nailed, so he’s passed this along like some sexually transmitted disease to me.  A real sick internet “hashtag you’re it!” sorta thing.

So…here’s apparently what I must do to get myself out of this mess…

  • I must post 11 things about myself.
  • Answer the questions asked by the tagger (Nate).
  • I must tag 11 other bloggers to continue the game.
  • Create 11 new questions for the bloggers I then tag to answer.
  • Inform each blogger that I have tagged them.
  • Post the rules for the tagged bloggers to follow.

Let’s see what damage I can do here, all right?

11 things about myself

  1. When I was little, I tended to plug up toilets with alarming regularity (pardon the pun).  Apparently that’s one gene I’ve managed to pass along to the Boy, which you can read about starting here.  Anyway, my mother tells the story of our family going out to a nice restaurant.  Luckily, we’d eaten before I asked to go to the washroom.  But my mother looked on in horror as I came back out of the restaurant, a seeping trail of water from the overflowing toilet flowing along behind me.  Apparently she paid the bill and got us out of there.  Pronto.
  2. When I was about four, we owned a gas station/restaurant.  One night, my black Lab, Dino (named after Dean Martin), was inside the gas station customer area and I was standing just outside.  Dino jumped up, both paws on the window of the aluminum door that separated us.  He wanted out, but me, being four, decided to play a game with him.  I tapped at the glass and he went back to standing, staring at me.  Then he jumped up again.  So I hit the window again.  Down he went again.  We continued to do this, with one slight difference each time.  Every time I hit the glass, I hit it a bit harder.  Until I put my entire right forearm through the glass.  45 years later, I still have the scar that runs from where my thumb meets my wrist then runs in a slow arc back to the middle of my forearm.  I probably should have gone to the hospital for stitches.  I don’t remember a hospital at all (though I’m sure I went there eventually).
  3. I was Tobin Higgins until I was legally adopted by my step-father around 1972, at which point I became Tobin Elliott.  And I gotta say, Tobin Higgins sounds freakishly foreign to me now.
  4. When I was ten, as I was bending down to pick up a baseball, my best friend, Jimmy Baldwin–completely unaware of what I was doing–was attempting to hit that same ball with a bat as hard as he could, golf style.  He did hit the ball, but the follow-through landed the bat straight into the space just below my nose, breaking one front tooth in half and pushing the other one backwards 90 degrees.  The lower part of the broken tooth tore a new hole through my lower lip, giving me a permanent Harrison Ford scar (really, they’re damn near identical).  It also sent cracks up the front of my skull.  The good news is, I lived.  Jimmy felt horrible, but I never held it against him.  Stupid accident.
  5. I have a sister I haven’t really talked to in 29 years, and a brother I haven’t really talked to (except for a massive blowout about a year ago) in 15 years.  I essentially consider myself an only child.
  6. I was the very horribly bad lead singer in a band called Chunka Fudge (from the 1984 Oh Henry chocolate bar commercial).  I think we practiced twice and played once.  And then we were done.  Trust me, the world is better without Chunka Fudge.
  7. I used to carry a bent fork in my jean jacket pocket.  Not really sure why…I remember I found it outside a restaurant and picked it up (can’t remember what the hell I was going to do with it), but I ended up taking it home, discovering it in a pocket, washing it, then folding it over where the business end met the handle, then tucking into my jean jacket pocket and buttoning down the top flap again.  All that was visible was the four tines.  Though I got a lot of questioning glances and a couple of “why?” questions, no one ever seemed concerned over it.  I wore that fork in the jacket for a solid five years.  I don’t know where it is now.  And no, I still don’t know why I did it.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.
  8. I’ve never really drank alcohol.  I think my sum total imbibing amounted to half a beer once.  There was a period when I was 17 or 18 that I kind of got bugged about it, so one weekend when we were camping, I finally relented, said, “Okay, gimme a beer.”  Everyone was excited.  I popped the cap, held the bottle by the neck and said, “Okay, you all ready?”  They agreed they were, smiles all around.  I turned the bottle 180 degrees and they watched the precious liquid spill into the thirsty dirt.  They never offered again.  When I left town for school, I would attend parties, and, just to stave off the explanations and hassle, I would just go into the kitchen, grab an empty bottle, pour some water in it, then walk around with it.  No one ever bugged me.
  9. I’ve never smoked or done drugs.  The closest was keeping a lit Colt cigarillo in my mouth to light firecrackers during a firecracker war.  But, like Bill Clinton, I never inhaled.
  10. Up until I moved away from Oshawa and to the small town of Barry’s Bay, ON, between grades 10 and 11, I was pathologically shy.  I typically had one friend and I was the guy that everyone picked on in school.  That all changed in Grade 11.
  11. Apparently I can do anything.  When I was about 20, I was horribly undecided about what I wanted to do with my life.  A wonderfully helpful woman at the Unemployment Office (now, in our politically correct times, is called the Employment Office) offered to run me through a battery of tests that would test my skills in language, math, comprehension, pattern recognition, manual dexterity and the like.  It took a full day, but, she assured me, it would help me narrow the field and determine what I was good at.  I don’t think I’ve seen the look before or since, but she looked chagrined when I came in for the results.  Turns out I was above average in all areas.  It didn’t eliminate anything.  I remember her saying, “Tobin, you could literally be a garbage man or a brain surgeon and everything in between.”  Fast forward twenty years to 2002 and I went through a different battery of tests for the company I work for, but they measured virtually all the same things except for manual dexterity.  Apparently I again scored in the top third percentile.  My director looked at me as said, “You are capable of doing anything you want.”  So why is it I still can’t I figure out what I want to be when I grow up?

Nate’s questions

1. What is your best response to people who criticize your writing?

“Nobody forced you to read it.”

2. What country (other than America) would you like to live in?

Well, I don’t live in America, I live in Canada, which really can’t be beat.  But if I could choose one other place?  Venice has captured my attention in recent years, though I’ve never been.  I’m gonna say Venice.

3. Do you think rap music should be considered music?

Sorry, “rap music” is an oxymoron for me.  Just ain’t my style, but neither is country, or whatever that shit that Celine Dion sings.

4. What TV show do you watch that you’re embarrassed to admit to?

I’m really not embarrassed to admit I watch anything, to be honest.  I don’t know…maybe something from my deep dark past?  Like…The StarLost?  The show that even Harlan Ellison removed his name from?

5. Would you rather be trapped on an island with Oprah, or Nancy Pelosi?

I’d take anyone over Oprah.

6. Do you believe that the world will end on December 21st? If so, what do you plan to do on December 20th?

No, I don’t.  But if I knew it would, I’d be buying up a whole lotta shit on that “don’t pay for one full year!” deal.

7. Most embarrassing moment that you’re no longer embarrassed about?

Wow…it’s pretty damn hard to embarrass me.  Maybe the time I got conned into walking around at a pool party interviewing the guests (I was maybe 22) while somebody videoed it.  As I started talking to a very pretty girl, someone finally sprung the trap…they yanked my bathing trunks down to my ankles.  On video.  What did I do?  Continued to ask her questions which she simply couldn’t answer.  When she walked away, then I pulled up the shorts.

8. Do you believe that the government should legalize marijuana? (hehe you don’t have to answer, I just wanted to mix things up a bit). If you don’t want to answer that, do you believe that the legal drinking age should go back to being 18? Or 16, like it is in Germany?

Yes to legalizing marijuana.  Legal drinking age?  How about some smarter rules around it, demystify it so it’s not such a gigantic act of rebellion?  We’ve let our kids drink in the house since they were fifteen.  The result?  The Boy couldn’t care less about it, and the Girl rarely drinks, and only in moderation.

9. What would be the first thing you purchased after winning $300 mil in the lotto?

A huge round the world trip for my family.  But I’d also have a little something waiting for me when I got back.  A 1963 split-window Corvette.

10. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say Lady Gaga?

That she puts the “gag” in Gaga.

11. How many siblings do you have? Would you of liked more, or less?

Answered above.  One brother, one sister.  I would have liked one of each with a lot more intelligence.

11 bloggers tagged to continue the game

The bloggers tagged who are now under sworn oath to do what I just did are as follows:

Pat from Nine Day Wonder

Noelle from Bound by the Word

Elizabeth from The Garden Gate (I got you before you got me…nyaah!)

Michael from Michael Lorenson (Mike, I’m doing you a favour by giving you daily blog material!)

Ruth from Ruth Ellen Parlour

Deepam from Deepam Wadds

William from Random Musings in Time

Jessa from The Terrible Secret of Space

Kevin from Kevin Craig

Notwriter from The Not Writer

UD from The Ongoing Adventures of the Undisciplined Writer (just cuz I haven’t seen a post from them in a loooooong time…proving she lives up to her title!)

Having said that, I know many bloggers hate these things…feel free to ignore if it will lead to panic attacks, stress, grey hairs, earthquakes, floods, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lowered sex-drive, baldness, or the beating of baby seals.

The 11 Questions for the Tagged Bloggers

  1. Why do you blog?
  2. What country (other than your current one) would you like to live in?
  3. Who’s the best band/artist in the world?
  4. If you could have a conversation with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose?
  5. In the course of your day, you hear a message from God (or your deity of choice) telling you to leave your job, family, and life and live as a fisherman (or woman) on the Nile.  There’s no doubt in your mind it’s truly God speaking to you.  Do you go?
  6. You have one week to live.  What do you do in the seven days left to you?
  7. Your deity of choice (and if you’re an athiest, just go with me here) is holding a Celestial Interview.  You’re allowed only one question to Him/Her.  What would it be?
  8. Has the Earth been visited by aliens?  Why or why not?
  9. You can have any occupation in the world.  What would it be?
  10. What’s the difference between an orange?
  11. Define the universe and give three examples.
    (okay, those last two are just me having fun, but go ahead and answer if you’ve got the cojones)


Yesterday and tomorrow are my father’s 87th birthday.  Turns out he always celebrated his birthday on Feb 8th, but in his later years, found out he was (at least on paper) born two days earlier.

He’s been gone since 1983.

Bill Higgins was never really much of a father.  I came along nine years after my brother and sister.  And no, I wasn’t a mistake.  Apparently my siblings really wanted a younger brother or sister, and my mother wanted one more child.  From what I know, my father seemed to express some interest as well.

And yet, not long after I was born, my father left his wife and kids with a newborn baby and went on a job to a remote corner of the world for the better part of a year.

That was his job.  I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but he worked for a company that flew to various areas of the globe, such as Africa, the Arctic, Greenland, Trinidad, etc and found areas to mine resources.  His job was to make sure the aircraft they used stayed in top running form.  From what I can tell of his old Super-8 movies, he had a lot of downtime.

Left him a lot of time to feed the alcoholic monkey on his back.

And yet, the things he saw.  The people he met.

I still have a book, From My African Notebook, by Albert Schweitzer that has, on the title page, an inscription:

“a Mr Higgins avec mes bonnes pensez, Albert Schweitzer, Lambarene, 4 juillet 1962”

Just one of the amazing people he met.

My father was one of the smartest men I ever knew.  Some of the stories my mother tells me I know are misremembered.  For instance, she told me he drew up plans for a plane with wings that could be folded.  She’s told me on many occasions that if he’d had the confidence, he could have had that patented and made millions.  But when I look it up, the first folding wing design was patented in 1913 and has been in regular use since the late 1930s, when my father would have been less than fifteen years old.  My guess is, he likely saw the planes and figured out on his own exactly how that would work and designed it straight out of his head.  That I could believe.

Why do I think he was capable of that?  Because he created a one-man hovercraft all on his own.  He took a starter motor from, I believe, an old Lancaster plane and used it to drive a fan inside a large inner tube also taken from a plane’s landing gear.

He also built many doodads and geegaws at home that entertained me endlessly.

I remember some great times with dad.  I remember him sitting me in our La-Z-Boy, manipulating the various vibration motor speeds in the back, seat and footstool to take me on a plane ride.  My favourite part was always when all engines were pushed to full and he angled the seat back as we left the runway.  I remember trying to replicate that experience on my own, later, and never ever being able to duplicate it.

I remember how he used to call me “Tobe”.  I remember his smile.  His laugh.  I remember his handsome face, the swoop of his hair.  I wish I had even one picture of the man.

I remember a time, just shortly before he and my mother split when, for no reason that I know of, he took an afternoon off, drove me out to a park or field and we just walked and talked.  It seemed like hours, but it seemed like seconds.  I can’t remember anything we talked about, only sunshine, green grass and a feeling of absolute contentment, a rarity with my father.

Most of the time, I remember him with a glass in his hand, filled with a golden liquid.

After my mother divorced him, I remember all the weekend visits, which always seemed to go the same.  He’d pick me up from mom, buy me a model car or plane, we’d go to a movie that he’d always fall asleep in, then, when it was done, we’d head back to his sister’s, my Aunt Ev, where he lived.

Typically, he’d fall asleep there as well, and Aunt Ev would feed me, clear a space for me to assemble that model, and get me to bed.  Then the next day I’d be back home with another model for my collection.

Then there was the time he took me out and he scared the shit out of me.  I wrote about it briefly here.  After that, I stopped seeing my dad.  It was my choice.  I was likely no more than six or seven, so not even two years since the split.  I never knew how dad felt about it.  He never called, he never wrote.  He dropped off the planet.

Mom remarried when I was ten and the man she married, Bob Elliott, legally adopted me.  I had to meet my dad in court, as he had to give his consent for my name to be changed.  I remember being shocked at how grey his hair had become.  When he leaned down to talk to me, I saw how his nose had become swollen and lumpy, like a red golf ball, from all the drinking.

“You sure you wanna do this, Tobe?” he said.

I can’t remember my response, but I know I told him I did.

“Okay,” he said.  He didn’t fight me.  He didn’t hug me.  He didn’t even put a hand on my shoulder.  He just gave me away.  He would have been 47 then.

Again, I never heard from him for a few years.  About two or three years later, I’m now collecting comics on a regular basis, and I used to head to downtown Oshawa for some of them.  I remember parking my bike, and walking past a billiard hall.  A man came out, staggering drunk and bumped into me, hard.  He turned to look at me.  Then he sneered and kept walking.  My father had not even recognized me.

It wasn’t until five years later.  I’m now about eighteen and I’m hearing that my father’s doing better.  He’s finally gotten the drinking under control, has found a job and moved to Calgary.  He asked my mother if he could write me and we started up a brief correspondence.  I remember his chickenscratch handwriting and his poor spelling.  He always apologized for both in every letter.  The thing I remember most from any of those letters?

“If you decided to do a bit of body building you wouldn’t have to take nothing from no one, but I’ve learned being rough gets you no where.  Only if it’s really necessary.  A smile is more intelligent than snarling.”

I don’t know if it’s apparent to you as someone who didn’t know him, but all I can see is two sides of a man warring with himself there.  Trying to give me words of wisdom, but still bumping up against his ingrained nature to fight, to lash out.

I went and visited him that summer.  I’d planned to try and stay for the summer, but I fled back home a week later.  What I’d seen was a man who needed to down half a bottle of booze to quell the shakes enough to get him going first thing in the morning.  I saw someone I couldn’t recognize as the once-brilliant man that could take me on plane rides in our living room.

I kept up a half-hearted correspondence for a while after that, but it fell off.  I guess that was me giving him away.

In September 1983, we got a call.  My father had collapsed in the streets of Calgary.  Someone stole his wallet, so by the time he got to the hospital, he was a John Doe.  And his organs were shutting down, his body had had enough.  He slid into a coma.  Somewhere along the way, a nurse managed to get a name out of him.  I don’t know if he mumbled it, or came out of the coma.  I don’t know.  But they were able to trace that name back to Oshawa.  His sister, my Aunt Ev.  We got the first call that he was dying.

Shortly later, we got the call.  He was gone.  He was 58.  He died on my brother’s 30th birthday, Sept 20.

Because he’d left no will and his family refused to do anything about it, my mother, now divorced from him for 16 years, went out with my brother and cleaned up his estate and arranged for his ashes to come back to Oshawa to be buried with his mother.

He was buried on my 21st birthday, Oct 6.

I never faced up to my complicated feelings toward my father for years.  Then, I was driving from Port Hope to Oshawa with my then-girlfriend, now wife, when a song came on the radio.  Mike + the Mechanics’ The Living Years.  It’s a bit of a syrupy song, but certain words cut through me.

I wasn’t there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

And there, on the 401, it all broke inside me.  I pulled off and basically lost it for quite a while.

I’ve since dealt with it.  I’m still pissed with him.  I’m angry that he gave up.  On me.  On his marriage.  On his future.  On his life.

I’m angry for all those conversations we missed.  Deep conversations, stupid conversations, disagreements in the way we see things.

I’m pissed that he checked out before he could see my kids, his grandkids.  I think he would have adored them.

But mostly, I just wish he was around so I could tell him all this.

And I wish I could know what he thought of the choices I made, the life I’ve made for myself.  I wish I could show him that, despite all the stupid choices he made, all the mistakes he made, that he did end up teaching me, even if it was learning what I didn’t want to do with my life.  But he still taught me.  And in the end, isn’t that the job of a father to his kids?

He wasn’t much of a father, but he did give me life.

Happy birthday, Dad.  I wish you were here to enjoy it.