One of the wisest men I ever knew never graduated from high school.
He was a painter – and I don’t mean one of those artsy guys who get government grants to draw triangles.
I mean he was a tradesman, a man who worked hard his whole life painting homes and schools and factories.
He used colour to make the world a little more beautiful one brush stroke at a time.
And all the painting and scaffold building and climbing that went with the job, also made him strong.
In his older years, he would take great delight in challenging “young punks”, as he called them, to arm wrestling matches.
He won easily every time.
So why do I say he was wise?
Because he taught me a lot about what was important in life.
For one thing, when I was a teenager he taught me about the importance of education. He did this by getting me a summer job in factory that was so dark, so unbearably hot, so noisy and dirty I figured it was built from blueprints provided by Satan.
When I complained about the conditions, he said, “Well if you don’t want to work in a place like this for the rest of your life, stay in school!”
It was good advice.
He also taught me about the importance of loyalty.
A die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan, he stuck by his team even during the long drought of the 60s, 70s and 80s, decades during which the team was about as successful as a Michael Moore diet plan.
Yet, loyalty to his country superseded all else.
When the Red Wings finally won a Stanley Cup in 1997, their first in 42 years, I thought he would be deliriously happy.
But he wasn’t.
When I asked him why he wasn’t celebrating
winning the Cup, he replied with an answer that would have made Don Cherry proud: “The Red Wings have too many God damned Russians on the team.” Detroit
Ironically, one thing this wise man never taught me was how to paint.
And that’s just as well because it meant I could always turn to him when I needed some painting done.
Not that I ever had to ask.
Whenever I moved into a new apartment or house, he would always show up on my doorstep, a brush in one hand, a can of paint in the other.
Of course, like any craftsman, he never tolerated amateurs messing up his work.
And so one time when my wife and I picked up brushes to help him paint around our house he looked at our work with a pained expression and declared: “Please don’t ‘help’ me.”
All this is coming to my mind because a few days ago, that wise man passed away.
I will miss his painting skills, his wisdom and his love.
He was my dad.
I figure right now he is standing on a cloud, a brush in one hand, a can of paint in the other, determined to make heaven look just a little more beautiful, one brush stroke at a time.
He is also probably telling God, “Please don’t help me.”