A Bittersweet Legacy

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 Carolyn here: Michael Quiring, one of the therapists here, is one of my favourite people. His dad has been struggling…I’vbeen asking him about his dad’s health for years. Michael’s dad became acutely ill a few weeks ago. I spoke to him early last week…the situation was grave, and the odds were stacked against recovery, but his dad had already remarkably made it through extremely difficult days. It was just a day or two later that we found out that Michael’s dad, Henry Quiring, died. I went to the funeral on Sunday and was struck at the profound way in which the family honoured and remembered their dad fondly and honestly.  I asked Michael if he would share his story, and if I could share his story on my weekly chat with Dahlia on 680CJOB.  It’s complicated to grieve the death of your dad, when alcohol was already stealing parts of him for decades. The compassion they had for him was evident too. 

My father would have been sixty years old today.  I wish we got to celebrate his birthday one more time.  Although, this is that chance, isn’t it, to celebrate him? Celebrate my Dad’s life…It’s bittersweet.  I want to honour my father…and let the light of his life flare before all of you.  I hope to do him justice.

My father’s tale begins far from here on a farm in Russia.  Born into what would become a large Mennonite family with six siblings.  Dad had many stories to share from that time that always left my brother and I wide-eyed and bewildered: how Dad lived in an allegedly real fear of gypsies finding them alone and kidnapping them. The time that my dad was fatally ill as a child, the doctor said he couldn’t do anything, and so my Opa ventured to try a seemingly insane alternative medicine route – he slaughtered a calf and placed my Dad’s naked body inside the still-warm stomach for a few hours – miraculously it worked. He talked about how the family had to keep their Christian faith very secretive – one of Dad’s aunts was once caught and imprisoned for several years by the government for merely teaching Sunday school.

My Dad and some other kids would sometimes run out into the starlit Russian fields in their underwear under the cover of night in a sort of primal revelry.  We used to have a vast, untouched field beyond our backyard several years ago.  My Dad used to walk it late at night and remember his early years.

When Dad was 11 years old, the whole family uprooted and came to Canada to find a better life.  That transition was difficult for everyone.   Dad could barely speak any English and yet was thrown into a fully English education system.  As I understand it, my Dad took it particularly hard and fell into a bad crowd. I was shocked in my later years when Dad chuckled and shared with me that he used to be one of those guys who lifted car stereos.  He even spent a few hours in a cell due to his mischievousness and defiant attitude towards the authorities.  Dad was quite the rebel in his teens and early adulthood.  The why still puzzles me a bit – I think there are parts to my Dad’s story that he never wanted me to hear – and I am okay with that. 

What I am grateful for is that there were people who had an unassailable love for him in that time. In my Dad’s most reckless days, Gary absolutely refused to give up on my father.  Dad told me recently that he once had a vision of himself surrounded by a ring of light with the revelation that Gary was interceding for him.  This mentorship left a deep impact on my father – it left a mark that never would leave him until his dying day. I know this to be true because I always grew up knowing my Dad as
someone who tried to pay that forward.

Henry was ever the mentor.  

It seemed like there was always a younger fellow in Dad’s life who was struggling to get their life on track that Dad was trying to steer towards God and a virtuous life.  Even in the hospital in this last week, I saw him bonding with one of the health care aides who was exhausted in his own walk of life.  Not only did Dad have many examples from his own mistakes to draw from, he had much wisdom to offer out of his deeply introspective nature; but what really drew people to my father was his gentleness.  His gentleness was born out of the grace of God that he knew so well.  

Perhaps because he was so keenly aware of his own failings, he all the more accepted the people around him wherever they were at.

Fatherhood was an extension of this mentoring heart.  I’m not sure I have ever met a more sincere father. We had a happy childhood because of how much Dad strived to become a good father. Dad loved to watch his boys play sports, help us with school projects, take us camping, teach us how to frame a house.  In elementary school, I remember being a little inventor, and would come to my Dad with blueprints to make a peddled go-kart or a secret escape rope-line from our tree house – Dad was always there to help my dreams become reality. Henry poured out himself into Chris and I, out of his deep love for us.  We are the fruit of his love and dedication, and he continues to live on inside of us – his gentle/loving/reassuring voice is an anchor to us when the storms of life bear down on us.  

Quote by Michael Quiring, therapist and son: Every son desires to know that their father is proud of them: Chris and I were lucky enough to have never doubted this.

Every son desires to know that their father is proud of them: Chris and I were lucky enough to have never doubted this.

My Mom always told me that she was looking for a man who would love her and never leave her.  She chose well.  Dad was faithful to her and never failed, every anniversary, to buy her one rose for every year they were together – 38 years together.  My mother told me that Henry’s legacy with her is that, he taught me the true meaning of how to love and be loved.

I cannot tell Henry’s story without mentioning his love of building. He completed post-secondary schooling in carpentry and spent the better part of three decades in the craft. He was the type of man who liked to do a quality job and take pride in the work of his hands. I marvelled at those hands as a boy, so powerful and calloused – as tough as leather.  

I was fortunate enough to work alongside him last autumn as we installed new flooring in our home.  Mike, the master carpenter!” he would say to me.  “I learned from the best,” I would reply.  Of course, by this time my father’s health was waning, his vision blurred, and his energy a tenth of what it once was.  I become his hands and eyes, while he guided me with his seasoned knowledge and gentle reassurance.  

It is hard to see your father’s strength fade. Quote by Michale Quiring therapist and son

It is hard to see your father’s strength fade.

If there was one regret that Henry had it would be that he never found the strength to completely conquer his addiction to alcohol.  My Dad used to drink pretty hard in his early adulthood, and for the love of his family, he set aside his habit for over 15 years.  Sadly, in these last several years, my Dad lost the will to keep it at bay. Eventually it cost him dearly.  

Addiction is a thief. It steals your very self from you. Quote by Michael Quiring, therapist and son

Addiction is a thief.  It steals your very self from you.  

An ardent prayer of my family for the last while has been that Henry would regain his integrity in his last days. The irony of his passing is that my Dad actually quit drinking six weeks before finding himself at the ICU in St Boniface Hospital a couple days after Easter Sunday.  

The timing of it all is meaningful to me.  

It means that Dad was sober for about 40 days leading up to Easter, which roughly coincides with the Christian season of Lent, where one abstains from a habit of their choice leading up to Easter in the same way Jesus fasted in the dessert for 40 days.  Wittingly or not, my Dad participated in this season.  

In this time, an old familiar light rekindled in his eyes.  He started making exciting plans for the future, and showed renewed vigour for life.  In the last few weeks my Dad repaired relationships and brought our family closer than it has been in a very long time. Just as in the Easter story, my Dad seemed to come back to life for awhile.

For that, my family and I are eternally grateful.

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