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The best of fathers

FALKLAND, B.C. — In this age of dysfunctional families, stability is an uncommon word.

However, I’m one of the fortunate ones, who have had loving parents of integrity.

While my mother, Anne Corbett, still lives in Calgary, looking after “the old people,” as she
says, my father, Angus Willard Corbett, died on Sunday, July 30, 1989.

He was born in Bass River, Nova Scotia, on Dec. 3, 1908.

Although he’s been gone for more than nine years, I think of him every day and sometimes I see
his face in others.

He was a wonderful, simple man and the best of fathers, and shortly after his death, I wrote
this letter as my way of remembering and honoring the most gentle of men:

Dear Dad:
It’s only a short time since I heard the word.

Mom called on that Sunday afternoon and said you were slipping fast and then she called back at
4, crying. You know, Dad, it was only the second time I ever heard Mom cry. The other time was
when we had to decide to put you in that nursing home, the Fanning Centre.

It didn’t quite register that I wouldn’t see your smiling face or that twinkle in your eye.
That my UNO partner (even if you cheated every so often) wouldn’t be around anymore.

How did it feel dying, Dad? Was it painful as you crossed over to the Other Side? Remember when
your Mom and my Grandmother died of a broken heart after Grandpa passed on? Didn’t she ask you,
“Willard, can you see the Rock of Ages?” And you replied, “Yes, I can see Him?” I know you
couldn’t, but you were always the devoted son.

I was reading Dr. Moody’s book, “The Light Beyond,” and it talks about going through a tunnel and
into a Light. Did you see it? The bright light and the feeling of being at peace?

Mom said you passed on with a smile on your face. She misses you, after all you were together
52 years. Oh, more than that. Remember, she used to keep house for Grandma and Grandpa. She
couldn’t stand you at first, you were conceited and a real fancy Dan, then, weren’t you, Dad?

But somehow love entered the picture and as a result you and Mom raised me and my brother,
Garry, and we didn’t turn out that bad. You know that you have to refer to him as Dr. Garry A.
Corbett, now. He’s got his doctorate in psychology from a California university.

Dad, you didn’t give us boys much notice.

Garry was up near the fire line at Lynn Lake, Manitoba for nine straight days, handing out
cheques to those poor Indians. He had been sleeping on the floor of a government building. Me,
I was just getting ready to go to The Sun. I still go to work those strange hours, but I love
my job. It’s better the second time around at The Sun. Remember, Dad, how Edmonton was such an
unhappy time in my life?

Well, after Mom’s call, Garry up in Lynn Lake and me in Mississauga, grabbed the first flights
to Calgary. He actually got there three minutes before me. They delayed us from deplaning
because of a severe thunderstorm. Lightning flashing around. They say they couldn’t unload the
baggage until the storm cleared.

Larry Dahl picked us up. You know, Larry? He’s the preacher at the North Hill Church of the
Nazarene, the young fellow with the holes in his socks. You were like a father to him. He
always calls you Dad!

Sunday night and Monday were like old times at home. Garry and I were forever teasing Mom,
saying things that made her blush. Tickling her neck. My, you would have joined right in. It
was almost like you were still down at the Fanning Centre and we hadn’t visited you yet, except
for writing your obit Monday night. The obit went in to the Calgary Herald and the Truro Daily

I meant it when I wrote that never has one come through life with such caring and compassion as
you, Dad. Always quick with a smile and a twinkle in your eye, you enriched all those whose
lives you touched. No one said an unkind word of you or you they.

During your last 20 years, your health failed, but your spirit never waned.

Please stop crying, Dad. You even wept at Lassie reruns.

Reality really set in Tuesday when we had to go to Foster’s to make arrangements. Of course, it
was just like you to have everything arranged. You did that back in 1980. The multi-colored
blue casket you ordered was out of stock, so your family picked a metallic blue one.

Of course, Mom had to check out the material of every casket in the funeral home. “My, isn’t
that a lovely color of pink?” she would say. As for me, I just wanted to get out of there. I
could hardly breathe.

Later, in the day, we ordered the flowers. I know that $350 is a lot of pay, but you’re worth
it and more, Pops.

At night, Larry Dahl came over and he wanted to know the real Willard Corbett, the man behind
the smiling face. He’d learn of your skill as a fine furniture finisher in Bass River, Nova
Scotia, and being a janitorial supervisor at Gulf Oil. I’m sorry that in my immaturity I tried
to impress some of my football and wrestling pals by telling them you were an oilman. Of
course, I finally grew up and accepted you for being you — a simple, gentle and unsophisticated
man, who worked so hard to keep his family together.

While I’ve written at least a half dozen columns about Mom, about her miracle when God healed
her of MS (multiple sclerosis) when I was 12, and how you and Mom had Garry 10 months after the
miracle, but I wanted to write this letter to you to tell you how both your boys felt.

I know that the Lord had Wednesday night planned, when we went to the funeral home. It was such
a cold feeling that flowed over me, when I saw you there. They had your hair straight back, so
I ruffled it a bit, through my tears. Just as Mom, Garry, Uncle Donald Linkletter, some others
and me were crying around you, an East Indian service somehow got piped into your “room.”
Instead of tears, it all turned into laughter. You didn’t want us to be distraught. It was just
like you.

Thursday. At the church, your family sat in the front pew. Your casket was closed, at your
request. I remember, you saying, “I don’t want anyone looking at me.”

Of course, you know that we sang two of your favorites — “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace” — and there was a solo: “How Great Thou Art.” Rev. Dahl preached about your love for people and your love for your family. He even illustrated his sermon, using one of the chairs you helped
build at the Dominion Chair Company and an intricate lamp, so lovingly put together by your
hands. Those woodworking genes weren’t passed onto your sons.

Your boys also spoke. I know you were nearby, with tears rolling down your cheeks. How you gave
your all to Mom and me and never said a word of discouragement through her long illness. And
then your own battles with asthma and diabetes. Then Garry came into our lives and when he had
grown to a teen-ager, you took him bowling every Friday night, after midnight, after you were
exhausted from a long shift. Then your support of Mom when she went to university to gain her
teaching certificate. It was a sacrifice of love. And you were always there for your boys.

I know how happy you were that day, when your hulking sons, picked you up, bodily, and carried
you along a Calgary street. How did you, being so short, ever have two sons as large as Garry
and me?

You know that Garry and I were pallbearers and as we struggled with the casket down the church
steps, I’m sure I heard you say: “Two hands, boys, two hands.”

At the Queen’s Park Cemetery, it was so difficult to say goodbye to one who had taught us so
well. Even later that night, your boys wanted to visit you on the hill. Garry said, “I bet
Dad’s lonely.” But the cemetery gates were locked for the night.

I know I’m lonely. So is Garry. And so is Mom. We’ll survive, but the memories of the best
father in this world and the world beyond, will remain.

I love you, Dad!

Your No.1 Son,


(My mother gave me the name, Kerwood, after the wilderness writer, James Oliver Curwood. Others
call me Kaye.)