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This Acorn

September 18, 20229 min read

The Story Of My Father

Sometimes we hold ourselves back in our businesses because of how we are raised. Some things are conscious and some are ingrained. We can change our perspectives should we choose. This is a story of my father and the legacy he left along with a powerful epiphany around who I am.

Dad, when you were just an acorn, you fought hard for the light and water to grow. Your roots began in Africa. Born and raised in Kenya, you spent your formative years in boarding schools, experienced wealth, and then loss when everything was taken away due to a family tragedy.

In your school days, the teachers beat you for wrong answers on tests, literally standing over you with a stick as you wrote. You ran miles to evade school bullies, and became one of the fastest runners in your school. A natural entrepreneur and opportunity creator, you sold candy to kids in the schoolyard, saved a small fortune, and selflessly gave money to family when it was needed. Every day, every year, you fought and found light to grow.

When you left school, with fire in your belly and nothing to lose, you joined the army and became an elite paratrooper. When you set eyes on Mom, you knew she was the one. As the story goes, you asked her out every day for weeks, until finally, out of sheer exasperation, she said yes. On that first date, you said, “You are the woman I am going to marry.”

Just as you pursued Mom, you went after all your dreams relentlessly. I’m not sure you ever took “no” for an answer. Mom finally said yes to your marriage proposal, and the two of you moved to Canada. Shortly after, you married in the small town of Dryden, Ontario, where you landed briefly before moving further west for opportunity. There you put down another root, and the sapling continued to grow.

In Edmonton, Alberta, you and Mom created more opportunities. While you went to flying school, proficient at shorthand and multitasking, Mom worked as a secretary to help make ends meet. The two of you lived on canned potatoes and made do with wooden crates for furniture. One of your first jobs was flying in the bush. Mom, straight out of London, complete with go-go boots and trendy hair, was often alone in the company-owned log cabin for days. Together, you made it work.

You wanted a better life, and you made it happen through sheer determination. When no one in the airline business was hiring, you went to the main commercial airline’s head office, and asked to speak with the man in charge. When the secretary said he wasn’t available, you said you’d wait. The secretary left her desk for a moment, and came back to an empty lobby. You had snuck down the hallway and knocked on the head honcho’s door. His name was Toby. You introduced yourself, and said you needed a job. You told him if he hired you, you would name your firstborn child after him. He liked your tenacity.

When you knocked on that door, you opened a world of opportunity for our family. You not only chose my brother-to-be’s name, you also put into motion years of adventures, stories and good times.

Dad, you were passionate about living the good life, craved adventure and excitement. While so many were busy keeping up with the Joneses, you planned our family’s next adventure. We spent months out of school living in huts on beaches in Thailand, riding mopeds in Greece, waking up to Christmas in Hawaii, climbing in Kenya, and driving through France.

You did things that embarrassed me. Now, I find much joy in the memories. You tightly held my hand in an elevator while you sang an African war chant for everyone to hear. You knocked on doors in France, asking strangers if we could pitch a tent in their fields, creating lifelong friendships in the process. In many ways, you turned water to wine. You created opportunities and friends, and rejoiced in others’ stories, successes, and precious moments. You manifested your dreams through sheer grit and determination. Although you would likely have quickly dismissed manifesting talk, you were a master at creating what you wanted.

Your mottos were:

“Buy, buy, buy! Never sell, never sell, never sell!” This saying was in regards to real estate. Although you did sell, and then lamented about it for years, much to Mom’s chagrin.

“Cash is king!” was another favourite.

“Education is key, education is key, education is key.” You had a way of repeating things to bring them home.

The all-time family favourite was: “Keep it cheap and simple.” (We actually had a T-shirt made up for that one.) In truth, you weren’t cheap, you were generous. You took care of those in need, shared windfalls with the family, opened your doors to acquaintances and strangers needing a meal and a warm bed.

You laughed hard at your mistakes. Like the time you put the roof of the shed on upside down. Or when you showered in Nepal, washing at the villagers common water station. Getting rid of the dirt and the grime from your journeys all the while villagers pointing, laughing and staring then slowly becoming hysterical with laughter as a llama peed directly from the ledge above the waterspout onto you. You did not laugh in that moment, you were horrified. But you taught us to look back at life and take humor from mistakes, hardship and life’s twists and turns.

Most times when I think of you, there is a touch of pain with the memory. A loss I still feel. Not just for losing you, but also for my lack of understanding of who you were, until it was too late.

Dad, the loss I felt when you passed was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was as if I’d been hit by something large, that hit leaving a gaping hole. Near the end, everyone but me knew you were dying. I suppose deep down somewhere, I must have known too. But far deeper than that was the belief that you could never die. You were too strong in life, too big a character. Your stories and laughter boomed in rooms. When you passed away, the hole you left… well, let’s just say, I realized that you had filled much of the space that shaped and defined me.

Of course, people said that losing you would get easier with time. Many years later, my grief has softened. In some ways, losing you has been a painful gift. Like a sapling under a mighty oak, shaded and unable to receive enough light to fully grow, your passing helped me to allow in more light, and to grow faster and stronger.

Near the end, by the river, when you were still well enough to go for a walk in the sun, you apologized to me for your extreme parenting. It was an apology I would not accept. I told you there was no need to apologize, that I loved everything about my childhood, and wouldn’t change a thing. Dad, if you can read this tribute to you, I get it. I accept your apology, and I still wouldn’t change a thing.

You were passionate in living a good life, a life full of adventure and excitement, and you took all of us with you. You wanted the best for us. You led us up mountains, through valleys, onto beaches, into deserts, onto islands, and to countries all over the world. You showed us all this life has to offer. You told us to go for it, and gave us a head start. You wanted us to take advantage of all of the privileges you worked so hard to achieve.

Perhaps one of the biggest gifts you gave us was marrying a woman who loved you for all your idiosyncrasies, character and extremes. A woman who moved as one with you, supporting you, loving you, adventuring with you. In return, you loved her hard, took care of her, and made her feel special every day. A shining example of what it is to be a supportive partner, she was your secret weapon, and you knew it. Brilliant and beautiful, Mom demonstrated that a woman could be adventurous and feminine. She rocked hiking boots and high heels, and Dad, she still does.

At your celebration of life, your loss filled the room. Many joked that if you’d been there, you would have had everyone busy rock picking the nearby field. No matter who visited us on the farm, whether they were eighty-five years old or five years old, they picked a few rocks. You loved that. Everybody loved that.

As we grieved you, person after person approached me with praise for you.

“Your dad co-signed my first mortgage when no one else would.”

“Your dad helped me with my first business.”

“Your dad was a great man.”

“Your dad is the reason I live in the Yukon.”

“Your dad changed my life.”

The list of genuine and much-deserved praise for you went on and on.

Endless praise.

Relentless praise.

I was so hard on you, Dad. I thought you were so hard on me. When I was a teenager, you used to laugh before saying, “One day, you will have teens of your own and you’ll understand.” Well, Dad, I get it. You have probably been laughing pretty hard for a few years now.

With two teens in the house and a husband who works hard like you did, more than anything, I wish I could go back in time. If I could, I would give myself a little more understanding and openness so that I could fully appreciate you when you were alive.

You, the mighty oak, always let in enough light for this sapling to grow. The sheer immensity of your size and strength weathered me from many storms and mighty winds and allowed me to grow deep roots, my trunk strong and my branches reaching tall towards the sun.

As that realization hits another truth follows in quick succession, the ironic, mind-bending epiphany that this acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.


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Jennie Potter

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