What can a son truly ever say about his father on a day such as this? What can anyone write that might reflect the feelings experienced on losing their father to death and the more beautiful beyond? Since his heart attack four years ago, I have found myself reflecting on what I would want to say before all of you here today. I have contemplated deeply the words that express about the man we all came to know and love in our unique ways. For some people who know him from his places of work, perhaps you might remember his attention to details, his agility with a soldering iron, or his ability to focus on the little gears and cogs found in the machines that surrounded him. From typewriters to photocopiers to fax machines, computers and eventually debit machines, Norman Chandler was a master of the objects that most of us will never understand. He repaired what most of us could only throw away.
Norman was a complex man. Even those who knew him best may have found themselves shocked to see this quiet, reserved man with the low voice suddenly glide across the dance floor like an angel of mercy, or begin to pull molten sugar into hard candy. He might randomly demonstrate his expert oyster shucking skills or share stories with you about moments you might never have expected him to experience.
For his cousins and uncles, Norman was the boy who never went far from “down home”, and who ate his lunch with Mary and Honey on a daily basis until that part of his life was no longer possible. He was the boy who loved to go fishing, play softball and participate in the local militia reserves.
To my mother, Norman was the man of the house who found time to mow the lawn, who ate his dinner before we could even sit down at the table, and then chase the dog through the house until he retreated into the basement where he would build imaginary worlds for the model trains that he collected or into his bedroom to repair the broken watches that kept time still. To my mother, Carol, he was her life partner with whom she was inextricably connected and with whom she brought two sons into this world.
To my brother, Norman was the father who dutifully coached him softball in the summer months of our childhood. He was the father who transported Scott to gymnastics, who collected every ribbon, trophy and newspaper clipping, and who eventually became a gymnastics judge simply to be able to spend more time with his son. He was the father Scott called when his sump pump broke down, when his Christmas lights blew the fuse box, or when he needed to know what to do when something exploded. Norman was proud of Scott, and they were cut from similar cloth; their love for each other and understanding of each other was clear; it was beautiful.
Indeed, my father was loved by many, and he undoubtedly touched people’s lives in ways that I could only begin to fathom or share with any of you here today.
Again, I found myself reflecting on his death as I rode my motorcycle on a busy Toronto highway on Tuesday morning; I attempted to begin to understand my relationship and love for him. As I dodged speeding cars and navigated the obstacles before me, I came to realize that our relationship was just as complex as Norman himself.
My father never had the benefit of knowing his own father. The world that he was born into in 1945 was much different than the one I came into in 1973. I am certain that he always did the best he could for me. I am certain that he was the father he imagined for himself. I also know that I must have driven him crazy from the very beginning, if only because we were so different from the start.
It is not that we did not love each other deeply, but rather that by our very natures, we saw and interacted with the world in opposing ways. If you did not know us, then you might not see our love, but if you did, then perhaps you realized that those opposing forces were actually complementary forces that tied us together just like the Chinese symbols of Yin and Yang.
So while my brother learned from my father as a role model, perhaps I learned how to be a man from my father in contrast to what he did and who he was. Perhaps it is fair to say that I became the man I am today because I wanted to prove to my father that my way, my path forward was just as good, if not better than the one he chose. Certainly all sons aspire to show their father their worth, and because of my love for him I wanted to show it most by being different than he was.
So my father taught me the value of reading about far away lands of magic and adventure, because he saw no value in reading words that would not teach him how to repair a watch or rebuild a Lionel train. He never understood why I had so many books or why I went to university to study about ideas, languages and philosophies that got me nowhere in the world he understood.
My father taught me the value of constantly pushing myself to become more than I was the day before, simply because he was happy and content with who he was from the very beginning. He knew who he was, and that was more than good enough.
My father never wanted to travel farther than Florida or Bangor, Maine, which pushed me to travel from deepest, darkest Peru to the Sahara Desert. He taught me the value of going far beyond into the boundaries of home, because he saw that as being unnecessary when all things important to him could be found at home.
My father liked nothing better than to sit with a large fish n’ chips or a very plain hamburger, which made me want to consume as many strange foods as possible. When I came home to visit and prepare exotic dishes for my mother, Norman would excitedly exclaim that the mere smell of garlic was making him sick. He taught me the value of trying new things because he preferred the old, safe standards.
My father made me, in contrasting aspirations, into the man I am. Indeed, as I reflect on myself, I see just how important my relationship with Norman was and will be for the remainder of my life. He was the best father he could have been to me, and while he is no longer now with us as he has passed into another, perhaps more world, he will always be with me as he is as great a part of me as anything else that I have found in this world. Indeed, as my brother read, “you made me what I am”. As we leave here today, I hope that we all realize the worth of the man we came here for today, as I am sure that Norman Chandler has brought each one of us here many memorable moments to make our lives richer for having know him. He will be missed, but he will be remembered.