Message to Heaven, "Thanks for everything Papa."

It’s almost Father’s day and I have a confession to make.  As a kid growing up, I did not appreciate the tremendous effort that my father poured out on us kids.   Only when I was a parent myself did I understand.  I occasionally expressed my appreciation to him - but not enough.  When he died suddenly and tragically,  my chances to say thank you were abruptly over.  

My parents arrived in Canada with two little kids, my sister and me.  They had no language skills, no recognition of their vocational training and no family supports.   But my father had a great drive to survive and thrive and he was no stranger to hardship. 

As a young Lithuanian soldier in WWII, he was torpedoed in the Mediterranean, and floated on a piece of debris for 8 hours with burning oil slicks all around him before being rescued.  He was shot in Egypt and would flex his arm, to show us admiring kids, the dent where the bullet went in, and the same with his leg, but he got that one at the Russian front.  He also had a harrowing escape from East to West Germany.  There he met my mother, also a refugee, married and had two kids and, following his dream, we emigrated to Canada.  

He knew how to strategize and to work like crazy.  Starting off as a laborer, he eventually built his own construction company and a very comfortable retirement.  He built a good life for his family, and guided us with a firm Eastern European hand.

He was 79 years old when he was driving through a familiar railway crossing.  Witnesses said that the crossing guard-arm came down on the roof of his car, and he hit the brakes and stopped on the tracks.  The commuter train that was barreling toward him could not stop.  His car was spun around three times and he suffered multiple skull fractures.  He was airlifted to a trauma hospital.  All the family rushed there – my sister bringing my very devastated mother.  We were all heartbroken when he died 12 hours later, never waking from his coma.

When someone passes away, we often reflect on the meaning of their lives.  We try to understand who they were and what made them tick.  That's probably why I went to Lithuania a few years ago, and finally understood the lovely culture and values that my parents were raised in and passed on.  My parents instilled many of those solid values in us which shaped us for good.  Thank you Mom and Dad for teaching us to value :

Ingenuity: Where there was no tool or no way, my father could design something out of nothing and, with determination and ingenuity,  solved the craziest problems - a very Lithuanian trait.   Once he raised up a whole bungalow house roof using a jimmied levering system that us (now) four kids and my mother operated while he dashed around on a homemade scaffold nailing it in place to create a second level.  

A strong work ethic:  If we assigned to hang out the laundry, and instead we were goofing off, a cuff on the head made us remember we all needed to contribute.  It has served us well. 

Language:  My father spoke five languages and insisted we speak German at home.  Today, science tells us there are great brain benefits of speaking other languages.    

The value of family:  We were taught to always to watch out for our siblings and to make them a priority because they were family and will always be there.   It’s true, they have been there for my good times and bad!  Thank you all too.

Today, I honour my father, for a job well done.  

Today, I smile and I say, “Thanks for all the good things you passed on Papa  – not just to me but as a blesing all the way down to your great-grandchildren.” 

 Hermann Ludwig Bender    Lithuania 1921 - Toronto 2001

Hermann Ludwig Bender  

Lithuania 1921 - Toronto 2001

And I can see him just smiling right back!