I’m lucky to still have my Dad around. His health isn’t the best anymore, and I live far enough away that I only get one, maybe two visits a year. But yes, lucky, and even luckier that he’s started to share more of his military stories with me now, more than I ever knew growing up. Here’s one that, left untold, would have made that UN flag on the wall in the Legion in Souris a little less interesting. Enjoy your own father, and the memories, this father’s day, and always.
“That’s a nice United Nations flag your Legion has on the wall over there, Dad, it looks authentic.”
“Of course it is – I gave that flag to the Legion myself when your mom and I retired here.”
“Oh, did they give it to you for your tour in Egypt in 1974? That’s nice.”
“Give it to me? Hah, not exactly, not officially, if you know what I mean.”
Dad’s in his 80s now, widowed and living with his new partner in Souris, Manitoba. I was visiting and we were at his Royal Canadian Legion branch when we had this conversation. And no, I did not know what Dad meant about how he acquired a real UN flag. Time to find out. But first, a little background.
I was born into the military because my dad joined the Canadian Army at 17 in 1955 to avoid the farming life of his family. He almost wasn’t accepted, being small, even underweight, but the recruiter said, “I’m sure you’ll grow.” He said they made him shave every day in the army, but he didn’t yet need to.
He also didn’t grow much more, but he was so athletic and wiry that after a few years in the infantry, he became a PTI, a Physical Training Instructor, which, in those days, meant you had to be a top performer in multiple sports and disciplines. My father was a boxer, a gymnast, played volleyball, softball, hockey, any sport; and had too many military and even Canadian championships to mention. In retirement, he curled. He always did and still does golf, nowadays aiming to “score his age”.
As a child, I never realized how special my father was to our military community. In addition to his day job of training the troops, he also did double-duties in the recreation life for families. He taught swimming lessons, coached ball teams, and refereed hockey. He supervised summer camp instructors, gave gym classes in our schools, and was president of curling and golf clubs. As I grew older, I realized that everyone on base knew my dad, the “Rec Spec” sergeant. It was even embarrassing sometimes: I remember him showing up to be an examiner for my swimming lessons (back when that was done), and the little girl beside me whispered, “Look at that man’s arm! Look at his tattoo!” I was confused. “What about it?” I asked. I’d seen dad’s military forearm tattoos since birth. “There’s a naked woman on his arm!” She was shocked, so I was too embarrassed to admit that he was my father.
Another time, there was no denying my father to my friends. Dad was refereeing hockey and my boyfriend, Don, was playing. Small rink, big crowd for the Saturday night Seniors league game. I was in standing room behind the seated row above my mother, just behind the penalty box, with other girlfriends. Now, Don was a spirited 18 year-old defenceman, and no stranger to that penalty box, so it wasn’t unusual for the referee, any referee, to find something amiss to send him there. Tonight though, Don was not in agreement for some reason with Dad’s whistle blow. The call being made (I knew all the referee hand signals at a very young age), Don cursed a blue streak, much of it personally directed at my very own father, and heard by all in the rink as he skated to the box. My father calmly skated behind him to the timekeeper, and as they both arrived, Don vigourously threw his stick into the box ahead of him. Then my father made the waist-chop signal and I knew, he got an extra 10-minute misconduct. My friends gasped and consoled me, “Oh dear, I hope he lets you keep Don as a boyfriend!” Things like that. As for my mother, she carefully kept herself looking away, to not burst out laughing, she told me later. As for my father, when asked later, was the swearing why he gave the misconduct? He replied calmly, “What swearing? I gave the misconduct for throwing the stick.” Don and I have been married for over 40 years now; just saying.
“So Dad, how did you get that UN flag?”
“I was visiting an outpost to deliver some sports equipment, and asked the Captain there why the flag was all twisted up. He said it was tangled and no one could get up there to untangle it. I told him, I can shimmy up and do it. He laughed and said, sure you can. But if you could, I’d give you the damn flag, and buy your beer all night. So I did. And he did.”
Yup, that’s my dad.