I arrived at my parents’ house on the following Thursday evening shortly after seven o’clock. My mother met me at the back door with a smile; “Hello, Tom”, she said as she leaned forward to give me a hug. “Come in out of the cold; your Dad’s in the living room by the fire”.
“How’s he doing tonight?” I asked as I hung up my coat on the coat rack just inside the door.
“Better than he was earlier in the week; the last dose of chemo was especially hard on him. Go on in; I’ll bring you a cup of tea in a little while. I know he wants to talk to you by himself”.
My father was sitting in his armchair by the fire with a blanket around his legs; he looked up as I entered the room. “Come in, Tom”, he said with a smile; “Sit down by the fire. Excuse me if I don’t get up”.
“You stay right where you are, Dad”, I replied as I dropped into the armchair across from him. “How are you feeling tonight?”
“Not too bad. How about Lisa; how’s she doing today?”
“She’s staying at her Mum’s house; we brought her home from the hospital Monday, but she’s still pretty sore, and I think she feels very scared and fragile. I expect she’ll go back to Christ Church on the weekend”.
“What about the boyfriend?”
“He’s been remanded in custody”.
“Good; I was afraid some bleeding-heart judge might let him out on bail”.
“Well, it was a very savage assault”.
“How on earth did she get involved with someone like that?”
“I’ve learned that it’s a common pattern; children who grow up with abuse often fall into abusive relationships themselves”.
“Wasn’t there any sign of what was going on?”
“None at all. He’s a smart young man, a very good student, with a good family background – all that stuff. Wendy was the only one who picked up any danger signals”.
“She knew what was going on?”
“No, nothing as definite as that; I just remember her saying to me once that something worried her about Mark and Lisa; she couldn’t put her finger on it”.
“I suppose that, having been through it herself, she knew instinctively that all wasn’t well. What doesn’t make sense to me is why someone would stay in an abusive relationship”.
“It’s hard for me to understand, too, but I’ve been told it’s a common pattern. I suppose people’s feelings are divided; they can’t let go of the love they still feel for the abuser, so they try to pretend to themselves that the situation isn’t as serious as it actually is. Wendy told me that when she was still married to Mickey she often felt that if she could just try harder to be a better wife, things would work themselves out”.
“We live a sheltered life, don’t we?” he said.
“I expect you’ve been with Lisa a lot this week?”
“Yeah; Wendy and I both took Monday off so we could be with her, and their house is only a five-minute walk from my school, so I’ve been able to pop round and see her at lunch time and after school, too. But things are getting busy now; school goes down for the holiday next week, and we’ve got report cards and things like that to get ready”.
“How are you getting along with her?”
“Alright, I think. She wasn’t too pleased Sunday night when I found her, but at that point I think she was still hoping she could keep it a secret. Once she let go of that, it got a lot easier for us to talk. Emma’s got the day off tomorrow; she’s going to spend part of it with Sarah and part with Lisa. You’ve probably heard that Sarah was moved to a rehab hospital yesterday”.
“What about Rick? I haven’t seen him for a week or so, but I hear the date for his preliminary hearing has been set?”
“Yes, it’ll be in late March. I understand he plans to plead guilty to the two main charges”.
“That’s what I’ve heard”.
My father stared into the fire for a few minutes, the flames casting a yellow and orange light on his face; I could tell he was gathering his thoughts together. Eventually he looked at me and said, “Tom, there are a lot of things that we should talk about, but I want to start with something really practical: my will”.
“Yes. I’m very concerned that Emma be able to finish her education. However, since we had that unfortunate quarrel here back in November, I’ve thought a lot about the question you asked – whether I intended to help Rick’s children with their education as well. At the time I said I didn’t, but of course a lot of things have changed since then. If Rick goes to jail, things will very difficult for his children. But whether or not that happens, I’ve decided that I do want to help all of my grandchildren with their education”.
“That could turn out to be very expensive”.
“Expense is not a concern”. He smiled at me; “You’ve never asked me about my financial situation – and that’s to your credit, by the way. I was very wrong to insinuate that you had only come back to England to get a good share of my money after I’m gone”.
“Did you say that?”
“I did actually, only a day or two after you moved back here. I feel very guilty now about that. But anyway, let me fill you in on my financial situation, so I can give you an idea of what I’m able to do, and what I want to do”.
“My father died a very rich man, and as you know my mother died not very long after him. He had made a lot of money in the practice and he had invested it very wisely. He was able to leave each of his four children a sum of about three hundred thousand pounds”.
I was astonished; “I had no idea…”
“No, of course not. I haven’t made a lot of noise about it, and in fact I’ve never used my father’s money; I’ve simply continued to invest it, and in the eighteen years since he died I’ve been very fortunate in my investments. The three hundred thousand he left me has now become almost a million pounds. And that’s entirely separate from my own earnings from Masefield and Marlowe, which are going to be quite adequate to provide comfortably for your mother for the rest of her life”.
I was speechless; I had known that my father was a wealthy man, but had never suspected anything on the scale he had just outlined to me. He saw my amazement, and for a moment I saw a familiar self-satisfaction in his eyes. But before I had time to feel the old resentment, he continued, “I know you’ve got concerns about me funding Emma’s education; you’re afraid of written or unwritten conditions I might impose. Well, if it’s at all possible, I want to set your mind at rest on that score. First of all, the likelihood of me living to see the end of Emma’s education is very, very small, so I won’t be in a position to try to exert any influence on her. Not that I would want to, anyway; I’ve got a lot of respect for her good sense”. He paused for a moment, then continued, “And for yours as well, despite some of the things I’ve said. But in case you still have doubts, I’ve asked Jack Marlowe to write specific language into the bequest, stating clearly that the gift is unconditional. I’m proposing to leave Emma a sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, to be used for her education. If any of it is left over when her education is completed, it becomes an unconditional gift to her, to help her get established in her chosen career”.
“That’s an enormous sum of money, Dad”.
“I’m in a position to do it, and I’d really like to do it for her. But I know you’ve had misgivings about this, and I’ve come to realize – perhaps a little late in the day – that I need to respect your wishes. So I want to ask you if you’ll let me help Emma in this way. I’m prepared to write any language you wish into the bequest to assure you that this is an unconditional gift. I should also tell you that I’m prepared to make a similar bequest to each of my grandchildren, including the one I’ve just found out about – Lisa”.
“Dad, that’s a hundred and twenty five thousand pounds!”
“Yes, I know that, but I can’t take the money with me, as you Christians keep reminding me, and I want it to do some good for my family members if possible”.
My head was spinning as I struggled to come to terms with what I was hearing. The possibility of Emma’s Oxford education being fully funded by my father was momentous enough, but there was also his insinuation that he would not need to leave any of his investment capital to my mother. Even after estate taxes, if Rick, Becca and I were going to be splitting a million pound bequest between us, the sum each of us would receive would be enormous.
“I’m sure this is all a bit overwhelming for you, Tom”, he continued, “and I realize I’m not giving you a lot of time to think about it, but I would like to think I have your permission to leave that bequest to Emma”.
“Does that twenty-five thousand include the six thousand you’ve already given her for next year’s tuition?”
“I think I’d better take that into account, hadn’t I, or it wouldn’t be fair to the others”.
I hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Alright, Dad – it’s obvious to me that you really want to do this, and of course I’m profoundly grateful to you for it”.
He shook his head; “It’s the least I can do”.
“Are you going to tell them?”
“I hadn’t really given any thought to that. I wanted to talk to you about it, because you had such strong feelings on the issue; I suppose I ought to talk to Rick about it. And of course there’s Becca to think about; if she and Mike get married and have any children, I won’t want them to be left out”.
“Can I suggest that you don’t talk to Lisa about it right away? I think it’ll be a lot better to get to know her a little first”.
“You think it might seem as if I was trying to buy her affections?”
“Something like that”.
“You know, Tom, I don’t think I’ll talk to any of the grandchildren about it”.
“Okay; so you’d rather I don’t tell Emma?”
“Let’s just leave it as a surprise, shall we? And thank you – thank you very much – for agreeing to let me help her”.
“No, I’m the one who should be thanking you, on her behalf and mine too; the money will certainly make our lives a lot easier”.
“Good”. He sat back a little in his chair, straightened the blanket on his knees, and looked across at me with a serious expression on his emaciated face. “Well, that may turn out to be the easiest part of our conversation”.
“There’s a lot to talk about, isn’t there?”
“Yes”. He looked away for a moment, and I could see that he was gathering his thoughts again. Then he looked at me and said, “Since Rick’s accident you and Emma have been carrying a lot of burdens for our family”.
I shook my head, but he raised his hand and said, “No, there’s no need to downplay it. From the very first day, whenever help has been needed, you and Emma have been right there. I’ve seen that, and I’ve thought a lot about some rather hasty and hot-headed things I said to you back in November when we had that unfortunate quarrel here”.
He gave a little frown, looking away from me into the fire again. “As I recall, that day I told you that you were ‘insolent, stubborn, and self-centred’”. He looked up at me; “I was wrong to say those things, and I want you to know that I don’t feel that way any more. I’m very sorry, Tom”.
“It’s okay, Dad”.
“No, it’s not, it’s very serious”. He paused, closing his eyes and running his hand over his face. “We’ve had a very bad history, you and I, and there are lots of things I regret. I never really understood you, and I don’t think you ever really understood me, either. But I ought to have tried harder to understand. One thing I’m particularly sorry about is that I made no effort to come to visit you while Kelly was still alive. I look at Emma now, and I realize what a remarkable woman her mother must have been. Your mum talks about how much she enjoyed spending time with her and her family at the time of your wedding, and of course Becca was always telling us about Kelly’s kindness to her. I deeply regret that I didn’t even make an effort to get to know her better when she came over to visit us”.
“Kelly was a remarkable woman; I was a very lucky man”.
He looked across at me, and I saw the sympathy in his eyes. “You must miss her a great deal”, he said gently.
“I do. So does Emma”.
“Tell me a bit more about Kelly’s family; you always talk about them with such affection. In the past I haven’t really taken the time to listen to what you had to say about them; I’m very sorry about that”.
“What would you like to know about them?”
“Well, I remember you saying that her grandparents moved to Canada from Russia. Start from there”.
So I told him the story of the suffering of the Mennonites in Russia in the early years of Communist rule, and of how so many had tried to escape. I described for him how Kelly’s grandparents, Dieter and Erika Reimer, had arrived on the prairies in the early 1920’s, how they had cleared land and farmed with other Mennonites in the Spruce Creek area north of Meadowvale, how they had raised their family in the bush, speaking low German at home and high German at church, and how Kelly’s grandfather had been one of the first to learn English so that he could better relate to the non-Mennonite world around him. I talked about how Will had gone to university in Saskatoon, a Mennonite farm boy, and how he had somehow managed to do well at university while hanging on to the essentials of his faith. I talked about how he had taught in Rosthern and Wakaw before coming back to Meadowvale to teach, and had eventually become the principal of the school.
“We know so little of Mennonites in this country”, my father said when I was done; “All we know is what we see in films, with people in plain clothes living in colonies separate from the world around them”.
“Well, that isn’t a bad description of the world Will grew up in. But he was able to think through his faith and decide what was important and what wasn’t. There are still some Mennonites who take a much more separatist stance to the world, but there are others who’ve decided to take the plunge and get involved. Will was like that, and he and Sally taught their children that way of living”. I told him about Joe and his family, of how we had become so close over my years in Meadowvale, of the late night conversations we had shared over pots of coffee while I was still finding my way into the Christian faith, and of Joe’s patient and thoughtful answers to my questions. I told him about how Kelly had gone through her own period of doubt as a teenager, and had stopped attending church for eight or nine years.
“How did she come back to her beliefs?” he asked.
“Mainly through Joe, actually. A lot of teenagers want to have all the answers, with every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. In those days, Kelly was like that, but for some reason Joe wasn’t. When she was in her early twenties they started talking about ultimate questions, and Joe helped her see that there are many issues on which absolute proof is impossible. But I also think her return to Christianity had a lot to do with relational things; she might have thought her parents’ faith was naïve at one time, but she didn’t see a great deal to rebel against in their way of life, and she and Joe and Krista were always close”.
“Like you and Becca”.
“In a sense, but Kelly and Joe were a lot closer in age; she was only three years younger than him”.
At that moment there was a quiet knock on the door, and my mother slipped into the room with a tea tray in her hands. “I brought two cups, in case you want one as well, Frank”, she said, putting the tray down carefully on the coffee table.
“You know, I think I might try a cup tonight. It’ll probably still taste like gunmetal, but it might do me some good anyway”.
My mother poured tea for each of us, handed the cups to us with a smile, and said, “I’ll leave you two to your conversation, then”.
When she was gone, I looked across at my father and said, “Talking about sisters and brothers, tell me about your family, Dad. When you were young, were you close to the others?”
“I was close to Arthur; of course, he was only one year younger than me, and we did everything together”.
“That was when you lived in Cowley, was it?”
“Yes, in the old house”.
“The place with three storeys, and bay windows?”
“You remember it, do you?” he said with a smile. “I thought you’d have forgotten!”
“I don’t think I saw it very much after I got into my teens”.
“No, we didn’t take you there very often. My father wasn’t there very often, actually, until he retired”.
“So you and Uncle Arthur were close?”
“Yes, especially during the war years. My father was off in the Navy, and my mother was very busy around the house, so in the evenings Arthur and I would take our bikes and ride for miles. In those days, of course, no one had very much, and we had to take our pleasures where we could find them. You and Owen actually reminded me of Arthur and me when you went tramping around the countryside together. I remember you coming back late on summer evenings, full of the things you’d seen and done. Arthur and I were like that”.
“But now you rarely see each other”.
“Yes, it’s a pity life has to do this to us, isn’t it?”
“You make it sound as if it’s inevitable”.
“It seemed inevitable for me”. He was quiet for a few minutes, sipping halfheartedly at his tea, grimacing a little at the taste. Far away at the back of the house, I heard the sound of my mother’s piano.
“I know that it wasn’t inevitable, of course”, my father continued. “We could have chosen a different way of life for ourselves. I expect it seems inconceivable to you that we didn’t. But we’d come through a war, and life in this country was very hard in the early 1950’s. Everyone was working hard to try to keep their heads above water. My father worked long hours, but so did lots of other fathers I knew. Well, perhaps not quite as long as my father”, he added with a smile; “He was already rather single-minded about his work, and I admired him very much. He was also a very forceful sort of person around the house. My mother never had much to say about the way things were run; once my father made his mind up, that was the way it was, and she never questioned it – at least, not in my hearing”.
“So you were always going to be a lawyer?”
“Yes – there was never any question about it”.
“Did you ever wish…?”
“That I had been able to go into some other field?” He smiled wistfully; “I was actually quite interested in music when I was a teenager”.
“Mum told me you were quite knowledgeable about classical music”.
“We had a music teacher at school who fired my interest. I had a Saturday job, and I saved my money and bought classical music records. The music teacher – his name was Mr. French – gave me good advice about what to buy. I had quite a sizeable collection by the time I married your mother”.
“Did you ever think about going into music professionally?”
“Only very occasionally. I sang in choirs in school, and in university too”.
“I didn’t know that, Dad”.
“Yes, Mr. French had a way of bringing people together and inspiring them; I really responded to that. And at Oriel I was in the chapel choir”.
“The chapel choir!”
He smiled mischievously at me; “I was being somewhat inconsistent, wasn’t I? Yes, I was already moving towards agnosticism, but being in the chapel choir was one of the best ways of making music at Oriel in those days. And I loved the music, even if I didn’t believe the words. English church music is some of the most beautiful ever written – I still believe that, even today”.
“Lisa likes sixteenth century choral music, especially Gibbons and Byrd”.
“We’ll have something to talk about, then”, he replied with a smile.
“Actually, she has quite eclectic tastes when it comes to classical music – all the way from Bach and Beethoven to Sibelius and Vaughan Williams”.
“I’m a little surprised to hear that she even likes classical music at all; I suppose I shouldn’t stereotype young people, though, should I?”
“Dad, I was amazed to hear that you liked classical music – or, at least, that you were so knowledgeable about it”.
“Well, I’ve never said very much to you and Rick and Becca about the past, have I? Probably because I regretted losing touch with it myself. I expect your mother’s told you something about that”.
“I went to work for my father, you see. Perhaps things would have been different if I’d worked in a different office, but my father was only really interested in one thing, and he believed that you could only be successful in our kind of work if you had that kind of single-minded commitment. And it certainly worked well for him, from a professional point of view; he built a highly successful firm, and he was a very, very wealthy man when he died”.
“But there was a price to pay for that”.
“Of course there was, and when your mum and I were first married I was determined not to pay it. I’d accepted the path he’d chosen for me, and I didn’t regret that – I enjoyed the Law, I always did, and I was reasonably good at it right from the start. But of course your mum and I had other things in our lives that were important to us, and somehow I had thought we’d be able to retain some balance”.
“But it wasn’t to be”.
He looked away at the fire, the wistful expression back on his face. “I blame myself for that; I ought to have been able to stand up to the pressure”.
“I’m sure it was very difficult, Dad”.
He glanced across at me; “You say that from experience, don’t you?”
“I didn’t mean to criticize…”
“No, I know you didn’t”.
We were silent for a long time, sipping our tea and listening to the faint but clear sound of my mother’s playing at the back of the house. She was playing a Mendelssohn piece, one that I recognised, and I was sure my father was familiar with it, too.
Eventually I said, “Dad, can we talk about 1982?”
He nodded; “We probably should”.
“One thing you said back in November was very true; you reminded me of how I lied to you and Mum about getting a job in Reading. I was wrong to do that, and I want you to know that I’m very sorry about that”.
“I expect you felt you had little choice”.
“I was sure that if I stayed in England you’d keep putting pressure on me to leave teaching and go into the law – or, at least, to fall in with your way of doing things, which I was determined not to do. And I was also sure that, if I told you from the beginning that I was thinking of moving to Canada, you’d do everything possible to put obstacles in my way. Perhaps I was wrong, Dad, but that’s how it looked from my point of view”.
“I’m sure you were right. It seemed very clear to me that you were ruining your life, and I’m sure I would have continued to try to bring you to your senses and get you to see things from my point of view. And I’m sure that if I had known you were planning to move to Canada I would have found ways to stop you. I was quite convinced that you were wrong and I was right. I still felt that way when you moved back here in August”.
He looked away; “Things don’t seem quite so black and white to me any more”, he said quietly. “It’s taken me a long time to open my eyes and see what a good life you obviously built for yourself in Canada. That’s become a lot clearer to me over the past few weeks”. He gave a heavy sigh. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to be successful in my career and make a lot of money so that my family can have a good life. Rick’s done the same thing; I taught him very well”. He looked up at me again. “But it hasn’t worked out the way I hoped it would, has it? All I’ve been able to do is make things difficult between my children and me, and look where Rick has ended up”.
“You can’t blame yourself for Rick’s alcoholism, Dad”.
“No, but I can’t help wondering what drove him to it. And it isn’t just his alcoholism, Tom. Like me, he’s never been very good about closing his office door and going home to do things with his children. You, on the other hand – well, I confess I’ve thought of you as a failure in many ways, but when I watch you and Emma together…”
His voice trailed away, and he stared off into the fire; I waited, knowing instinctively that he had not finished. After a moment he looked up at me again. “I was trying to do what was best for you, you know? I really believed that. I thought it was important to give you some financial security, so that you could have a good solid start with your education and your professional life. And I really did think that the best way you could provide for yourself was to follow me into the legal profession. I know you think it was all about building a lasting dynasty at Masefield and Marlowe, and I can’t deny that that was part of it, but it wasn’t the whole story”.
“I don’t doubt that, Dad”, I replied quietly.
“Thank you; I’m very relieved to hear you say that. Not that I’m trying to defend all of my actions, I hasten to add”.
“We’ve both done things we weren’t proud of, I expect. I know I shouldn’t have lied to you about my move to Canada; I know you must have been very hurt when you discovered the truth”.
“Not as hurt as you were when I struck you with my cane. There was no excuse for me to behave in that way, no matter how provoked I may have been feeling. I’ve listened to you talking about Wendy and Lisa suffering at the hands of Wendy’s husband, and I’ve thought about how easily I could have been in his shoes. I’ve always had a bad temper, as you know. Most of the time I’ve been able to restrain it. I ought to have restrained it that night, too. I’m very sorry, Tom; the memory of that night has haunted me for years”.
Suddenly I was unable to speak; I looked away for a moment, struggling to control my emotions. I guessed that he was feeling the same way; out of the corner of my eye I saw him take out his handkerchief and blow his nose loudly.
Eventually I looked across at him and said, “Let’s put it behind us, shall we? We’ve both got things to reproach ourselves with from that night, but I’d rather move on”.
“So would I”, he replied gruffly.
At the back of the house, my mother had switched to Bach; I saw him listening, and said, “Would you like to go back and join her?”
“In a few minutes. Let’s talk a bit more first; there’s so much to be said, and who knows how long we’ve got to say it? I want to ask you about Emma. Have you two always been as close as you are now?”
“We’ve definitely gotten closer since Kelly died, but we were always pretty close as father and daughter, even back to the days when she was a little girl. In fact, I think it might have started the first time Kelly got sick. Emma was just tiny then; we had to wean her from her mother’s milk so that Kelly could go into the hospital for surgery. Joe’s wife Ellie helped out a lot, and so did Kelly’s mom, but at the end of the day it was often just Emma and me, while Kelly was having her treatments”.
“That must have been a harrowing time”.
“Yes, it was very stressful”.
“I remember when Becca came back after she spent that first summer with you. Of course, I wasn’t around very much to hear what she had to say – busy at work as always – but I remember her clearly one evening talking about how serene Kelly was, even though she’d just come through a potentially life-threatening battle with cancer. Becca couldn’t seem to get over her serenity”.
“Kelly and Becca were alike in that neither of them had ever had a sister, and they really came to love each other like sisters – even though Kelly was eleven years older”.
“And now Becca and Emma are like sisters sometimes, aren’t they?”
“Well, anyway”, he said awkwardly, “when I watch the sort of relationship you have with Emma, I feel quite envious. I regret the fact that you and I were unable to enjoy that sort of relationship. More than that – I regret the fact that it was mainly my manner that was at fault there”.
“Well, perhaps we can make up for it now, Dad”.
“Yes”, he replied with a smile, “Perhaps we can! I would really like that”.
“So would I”.
“Not that we’re not going to argue any more!” he added with a wry grin. “I’m sure I’ll still act like a stubborn old man from time to time”.
“I’m sure I’ll still act like your stubborn son, too!”
He shook his head, and I saw the tiredness on his face. “Arguing’s all right, from time to time, but I don’t want to fight any more, Tom; I haven’t the energy for it. Do you think it’s possible that we can get out of this forty year rut we’ve been in?”
“If we want to get out of it, I think we can”.
We looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then he said, “I also really do want to meet Lisa. I understand that at the moment she’s probably not in any condition to make a trip out here, but I do hope that before too long it’ll be possible for us to meet”.
“When she’s well enough, I’ll bring her”.
He put his empty teacup down and said, “Well, shall we go and listen to your mum?”
“Would you like to?”
“I think so – not that there aren’t lots of other things we could talk about, but I’m getting a little tired, Tom, and I’d like to listen to your mum playing before I go to bed”.
“Would you mind helping me get up out of this chair?”
I took his hand and helped him to his feet. When he was standing upright, he continued to grasp my hand. “Thank you”, he said; “I don’t mind telling you that I was rather apprehensive about this conversation”.
“So was I”.
“Well, it wasn’t anything like as bad as I thought it might be”.
“No, it wasn’t”.
“I’d like to do it again before too long. There are things I’d like to tell you about, and there are more things I want to ask you about, too”.
“I’d like that”.
“Good. Well – let’s go to the piano room, shall we?”