Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario




You’ve met my mom already in a round-about way when I wrote about her kitchen and her nose job.  I’d like to introduce you to my dad, Howard.

Ok, now what…

Well, then, let’s try this tack: stick to the facts.

Dad was born.  In Smith’s Falls, I think, in the early 1920’s. The details are sketchy, not because I’m lax, but because I don’t know. That’s the way it was in our house. It was made abundantly clear that children are seen, not heard, and heaven forbid you should display any sort of curiosity. He had siblings: I know only of one sister, but I think there were others.

Jean and Howard were married in the early 1950’s. Don’t know the anniversary, it was not celebrated. They moved into mom’s childhood home that her father built. Several of mom’s nine brothers and sisters lived with them, too.  Not sure for how long. Why not? Well at the risk of repeating myself, I don’t know. I do know now that there was a disagreement / personality conflict / McCoy-Hatfield feud that meant I did not spend time with my cousins until I was ten or so.

The house that grandad built

The house that grandad built

Our family was his second. His first wife died. We didn’t know why, from what, when… nothing. His daughter lived with friends of the family. Why didn’t she live with us? Another mystery.

Dad had a business that he ran out of the basement of our home. He repaired televisions and radios. At some point previous, he worked as a jeweler. His hobbies were photography and CB radio.

OK.  That wasn’t so bad.  Let’s flesh this out a bit.

Oh!  I almost forgot. Dad had polio as a boy. Again, I know nothing more than that. He walked with a severe limp because one leg was shorter than the other. He needed to buy two pairs of shoes, one sized larger than the first so that he would have complete pair that fit. This was not only an inconvenience, it was an expensive one. Dad was not too successful with his business. In his defense, transistor TV and radio were being replaced by solid state technology. No one needed his services.

As I wrote last weekend, Mom was the breadwinner in our family. Fortunately, she needed only to walk a block and half to the high school. And the grocery store was directly across the street from work. Dad would not let mom learn to drive. He took her out once a week to the grocery store and that was it for her social life out of the house.  That and church on Sundays. Without dad. Not that she had any time to socialize, she was too busy with the kids and chores. Dad would peel the potatoes for dinner, and warm up whatever was leftover from the weekend meals. As soon as I could wield a potato peeler and be trusted with a stove, those jobs were mine.

Here’s a typical day in the Wilson household:

  • Rise and shine
  • Dad sets the table, boils the water for instant coffee, and pours the cold cereal in summer, makes hot cereal in winter
  • Meanwhile, mom makes all of the beds, tidies up, and dresses for work.  If the breakfast is ready before she is, one of us was delegated to go out to the stairway and holler up: “Did you fall in?” Mostly she played along, but once in a while, she’d snarl back some sort of retort.
  • Breakfast done, Dad makes his second coffee and takes it to his shop downstairs.  After dishes are done, we kids and Mom head out to our assorted schools.
  • At lunch time, Dad surfaces from the basement and heats some soup or maybe baked beans from a tin, makes some sandwiches, boils water for tea.
  • Mom comes home, we eat our lunch and help dry the dishes while dad goes upstairs for a nap.
  • We all return to our schools.
  • After school, we kids get home before mom and finish our paper routes or watch some TV.  One of us, usually me, peels the potatoes, and sets the table.  Dad is in his shop.
  • Mom arrives home, puts together dinner, dad surfaces when called, eats his dinner and then goes upstairs for a nap.
  • Kids play outside or inside, do homework, or watch the tube. But quietly until dad has finished his nap.  He returns to the basement. Any extra-curricular activities that we children were involved in were within walking distance. Dad would not take us.  Mom spent her evenings helping us with homework, sewing, baking, cleaning.  She often brought work from the high school home, too.
  • At nine o’clock he surfaces as we kids go to bed.  Except eight o’clock for Hockey Night in Canada, every Wednesday and Saturday, no ifs, ands, or buts.  No matter what we are watching, he comes up from the basement, plunks himself down in the recliner and changes the channel.

I’ll let you do the math to figure out how much face time we had with our father.  The only time he’d break from this routine was to “lay down the law” if he heard things getting out of hand upstairs.

I am conflicted. What to tell you next? Most of my experience of my dad is perhaps one that I’m not ready to recall. So, should I just point, click, delete this little nugget? Or type away and see what transpires. Guess you will know about the same time that I do. But before I continue, I want to make sure that I don’t give the wrong impression. Dad was a troubled man. He was not as vile and monstrous as some. Still, the fear, hatred, and contempt I felt toward my dad were very real.

Categories: Mom and Dad


25 replies

  1. Relationships with Dad’s. That’s a tough one. The Dad’s our our generation went through some troubling times with the depression and WWII, and your Dad had polio, too. I hope you manage to digest it all and let go. Have you ever heard of the Emotion Code? I have a friend who is a certified Emotion Code practioner, and here’s her web site: I don’t know if you’re interested in these types of healing therapies, but they can be quite helpful and liberating. Good luck and thanks for you honesty!


  2. Thank you so much for your feedback! Dad certainly was not alone in his parenting style of the day. This bears out time and again from listening to with our “cohorts”. I wish I knew more about his upbringing. I know nothing about his family, his parents. And that is not hyperbole.
    I will write more about what I’ve come to learn about my relationship with Dad. I think I’ve managed to find peace, but that might be just the layers of time damping the hurt.
    Thank you, too for link. I’ll keep that in my back pocket. All the best, and again, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


  3. This makes me very sad. I loved my dad, as well as respecting and admiring him enormously. He was born in 1905, money was tight to non-existent, and he was ultimately recognised internationally for his services to education. Maybe it was this view of life from all angles that made him so tolerant, broad-minded and understanding. Whatever, our father-daughter relationship enriched my life immeasurably. I’m so sorry you missed out on that.


    • Thank you for your very kind words, Helen. If I test the words “yes, I am sad, too” they don’t ring true. Either I’m “over it” or as I wrote earlier, insulated from it by time. However, I am glad that you had a positive experience with your father. You were blessed.


  4. My Father Mac was born in Smiths Falls in 1915 and his brother Carl in 1921. They probably knew or knew of your father. Their father William ran a household much as you describe.


  5. Thank you for talking about a subject shied away from for far too long. Every family has one or more persons similar to your dad. Reading this helps us all feel more normal and free to talk about it as we should be. Thanks for finding my pages. Happy writing!


  6. To say we both come from dysfunctional families would be stating the obvious… yet I said it anyway… cohorts? Nay, soul sisters, now comes to mind.

    I suspect you think something along these lines, “Well, my childhood patently sucked, and yet it made me the strong resilient woman that I am today, so where would I be without that? I must tell my story so that others can see the bright side of suckiness…”

    Me, too.



    • So very, very true.

      I find myself wanting to diminish my voice so that it does not appear that I am whining or equating my much milder experience to the unimaginable violence and betrayal that were felt by legions of children. Yet I know that my experience is as valid as theirs and the scars are as real. And yes, I want people to know that there is a place of brightness that comes with time. Thanks for writing here. It means so much to me that you do.



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