It has been 20 years. Our dad died on December 7, 2001. He died alone – a terrible and preventable workplace accident – in the darkness of an underground gold mine 1,388 kilometres northeast of his home in Grande Cache, Alberta. Dad wasn’t big on formal education, he always told a story how he left school in Grade 8 to work in a Cape Breton coal mine. But oh boy, was he streetwise and experienced.
A few years prior to that tragic event, I wanted to take a gap year between high school and post-secondary to find my path into adulthood. A scrawny, go-getter, 17-year-old kid moved to Edmonton three days after graduation in June of 1998. My goal was to retake some high school courses to improve my grades and enrol in Computing Science at the University of Alberta. After a year of part-time work as a short-order cook (read: fast food) I figured I’d move back home so I could concentrate on my scholastic dreams. Thankfully, my parents were supportive of my decision, so I packed up and went back to G.C.
Maybe he was disappointed in me or maybe he was pushing me to be the best that I can be. I wasn’t home but a week and Dad sent me back to Edmonton on the Greyhound bus. He read a newspaper article on a “computer school Microsoft-or-something” (as he called it) offering a pilot program, a bursary, and a chance to go through a fast-tracked one-year course with IT job placement possibilities. “Go get it!” he told me enthusiastically.
There I was, in a blink of an eye, back in Edmonton. In a quiet grey-walled room, I found myself interviewing with the director of the school with my application in hand, giving my absolute best effort. It was a short one-purpose trip, so I boarded the bus back home shortly afterwards. Whirlwind couple of days, I got the acceptance call. I don’t know who was more excited, me or him. There stood my gruff coal miner dad, with tears in his eyes.
“Guess it’s back to Edmonton,” I said through a smile. A short and unforgettable summer unknowingly became the last one I spent with my dad. I realized long after his death that he wanted me to get an education, to do something different with my life. Our careers couldn’t be more different and he was pushing me, always pushing me.
I miss him. In closing, I’d like to share something my brother Mat wrote: “May your miner’s lamp forever light your way.”
Dad, see you again someday. Thank you for helping me board that bus. It seems like ages ago.