By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 19) – Six weeks ago today, I wrote a difficult but important blog about my late mother, Sandee, rehashing the two-month interval between her cancer diagnosis on Nov. 8, 1995 and her death on Jan. 1, 1996. In the blog, I targeted readers fortunate enough to still have their moms – imploring them to never waste a precious moment, and to unleash all of their love on Mother’s Day. I miss the late, great Sandee in any circumstance, but particularly on such special occasions as today (or my birthday), when that phone call always came first thing in the morning.
Thankfully and blessedly, Father’s Day is one I can still celebrate with my dad Irv – alive, robust and appearing generally younger than his 77 years (he’ll be 78 in August). Beyond the healthy patch of white hair, the ol’ man doesn’t look a lot different than he did a decade ago, or even back in 1974, as I think you’ll attest by viewing the photos below. I hope I can age as gracefully as he has.
In the final blog I wrote as an employee at THE FAN-590 – a reflection of my first 23 years at the radio station (and, as it turned out, an obituary of same) – I described my father as “simply the nicest person I’ve ever known.” There is not a shred of exaggeration in that claim… and I’ve been lucky enough to know a stadium-full of nice people in my life. To this day, I have never heard anyone utter a mean-spirited word about my dad, and for good reason: there isn’t a mean-spirited bone in his body.
If he’s been faulted or criticized for anything through the years, it’s his excessive generosity (if there is such a thing). The only uproar he ever causes is when someone grabs the dinner-cheque before he can get to it; I’ve seen it happen maybe three or four times in my life, and it isn’t pretty.
Anyone that knows dad chuckles at his one foible: he can be as stubborn as an ox (that, too, has mellowed with age). But, his warm, caring nature always prevails.
A quick story: We were in Pittsburgh – mom, dad, my sister Cori and I – for a family wedding way back in June 1972. I was 13 years old and had never been that “deep” into the United States. I was obviously big into sports and the Pittsburgh Pirates were the defending World Series champions; such players as Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Richie Zisk, Al Oliver and Dock Ellis were among the biggest names in the sport.
On Saturday night, the Pirates were hosting San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium and I was invited to go along with several of my teen-aged cousins. But, dad wouldn’t allow it, even after mom practically begged him to let me go (he was a tad over-protective and felt a 13-year-old shouldn’t be roaming around a strange American city without adult supervision). Needless to say, I was bummed out and spent the night moping about the hotel, as I recall.
The next day, after a late breakfast, dad said, “C’mon, let’s go.”
“Go where?” I asked.
“Just c’mon,” he repeated.
We walked to his car and he drove us into Pittsburgh for the Sunday afternoon Pirates-Padres game (we were in Monroeville, about 20 miles east of downtown). Dad had no idea where the hell he was going and I remember we found ourselves in a one-way tunnel… heading the wrong way! But, he managed to locate Three Rivers Stadium and he bought the best tickets available: just to the left of home-plate in the second deck. I remember the Padres wore brown road uniforms with yellow trim (God, were they ugly), and one of the big sluggers on San Diego was a player named Clarence Gaston, who’d be referred to by his nickname (Cito) 20 years later here in Toronto. We couldn’t stay for the whole game because the wedding started at 5 p.m. and we had to get back, showered and dressed. But, that was dad… he knew how disappointed I’d been the night before and he wanted to make up for it.
My love of sport comes from dad. He took me to my first Leafs game (vs. Detroit, Dec. 5, 1966) and my first Argos game (vs. Ottawa, Sep. 20, 1969). In 1971, he bought us a pair of Argo season tickets on the open (south) side of old CNE Stadium and in the late-summer of 1975, he purchased a pair of Leaf season tickets in Sec. 30 of the south mezzanine Blues at Maple Leaf Gardens. Such items were a wee-bit less expensive back then (a single ticket in the Blues in 1975-76 cost $6.60), but coveted nonetheless.
When mom died in ’96, dad had it rough – more so than he typically let on. He wouldn’t look at another woman for more than four years until his best friend and business partner – Bernie Kraft – suggested he get together with this lady named Susan. Dad trusted Bernie and consented to call Susan. Within two weeks, the sparkle, brightness and gleam in his appearance – vacant since my mom’s death – had returned. Susan gave dad back what he deserved most in life: happiness… you can see it in his smile in the photos below. He and Susan were married in November 2000 and they are such a beautiful couple; we had a great dinner with them tonight.
I hope you hung out with your dad today and spared no superlative in telling him what he means to you. If you no longer have your father, I offer my deepest sympathy and truly wish that a flood of happy memories sustained you on this otherwise difficult day.
I’ve been blessed to have my dad for more than 52 years. I know he won’t be around forever. But, neither is there any mystery about my feelings for him. Don’t allow mystery to cloud your relationship either.
And, please enjoy these photos of my father through the years:
DAD HAS ALWAYS HELD ME HIGH IN LIFE, BEGINNING WHEN I WAS EIGHT MONTHS OLD IN LATE-1959.
DAD AND I WENT TO THE VAST MAJORITY OF ARGONAUT HOME GAMES BETWEEN 1971 AND 1977. HERE, DAD HOLDS UP PROGRAM AND INSERT FROM ARGOS-EDMONTON GAME IN OCTOBER 1974.
FROM A 1972 SCRAP-BOOK OF MINE: THE ARGO SEASON TICKETS WE HAD AT OLD CNE STADIUM; THIS FROM THE SEASON OPENER AGAINST OTTAWA WHEN Q.B. JOE THEISMANN (NO. 7) BROKE HIS ANKLE.
DAD AND MOM IN HAPPY TIMES IN LATE-’70s.
HERE’S ME AND MOM IN EARLY 1991, JUST BEFORE I GOT ENGAGED TO MY WIFE, SUSAN. THE SWEATSHIRT I’M WEARING IS FROM THE 1990 SOCCER WORLD CUP IN ITALY… SUSAN AND I WERE THERE ON THE TOUR IN WHICH WE MET.
ALWAYS HAPPY AND PROUD TO BE AROUND IRV; I LOVE HIM TO DEATH.
DAD POSING HERE IN A RESTAURANT LAST DECEMBER WITH HIS GRANDCHILDREN: MY SON SHANE AND DAUGHTER LAUREN. THEY, TOO, ARE HAPPY WHEN HE’S AROUND.
DAD WITH HIS WIFE SUSAN: THE WONDERFUL LADY THAT BROUGHT HAPPINESS BACK INTO HIS LIFE.
DAD AND SUSAN EARLIER THIS EVENING, AFTER DINNER AT YORKDALE. KINDA CUTE, AREN’T THEY?