Keep your chin up – a tribute to my father

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Dad posing in front of the Acadia – Halifax harbour, 2014

My father, Reginald Keith Robicheau, died last night. He was 79 years old. I cannot make it to his funeral. I will use this space to pay a tribute to his life. I loved him dearly and he was a wonderful Dad to me but I said my good-byes to him while he was alive. When you live so far from home, this is part of the deal. ย It’s hard but I’d rather focus on savouring all he gave me.

There are two great lessons he taught me. They are things that he always said to me and my brother Keith and sisters, Susan and Laurie.

“Keep your chin up” – was what he said when he wanted to encourage us. And, “Where’s your common sense?” – came out when he wanted us to question our own behaviour.ย 

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My grandfather’s fish market.

My father lived his entire life in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. His father was a fisherman who had his own wholesale retail fish market. His mother came from across the Passamaquoddy Bay in Robinston, Maine and from good people who had good habits of domestic management, etiquette and neighbourliness. She was educated, proper and genteel.

As ideal as that might sound, my father’s childhood was riddled with the uncertainty of living with a father with severe alcoholism. He was an only child and there was much humiliation and much work in his destiny. His childhood was cut short as he often had to be the man of the house. In his high school years he rose at four or five in the morning to drive to meet the fishing boats before going to school. He was trying to help his father’s business stay afloat. His teachers did not wake him if he fell asleep in school.

My grandfather joined AA when my oldest sister was born. He did not want to cause the same harm to another generation. Except for a few memorable slip-ups he did not drink in the 40 plus years I knew him. His business did well, he and my grandmother were able to build a small home which she lovingly cared for and my father finally had some peace. He volunteered with his father in the local Lion’s Club for many years.

 

Dad worked for Fisheries and Oceans Canada from the time he was 18 until he retired at age 52. He never got to go to university so he had to stay a technician. Every six weeks he went to sea for two weeks. A few years ago we visited Halifax harbour and saw the small ocean-going research vessels that he worked. He told us stories of staying up all night picking at ice with an axe so the ship would not capsize in perilous winter trips to Newfoundland’s Grand Banks.

Once he retired, I don’t think my father every set foot on a boat on the ocean again. His favourite place in the world was a long skinny lake called Digdeguash where he had built an 800 square foot camp, in 1970, for us to enjoy for the best years of our youth and our children’s youth.

 

People in the west and in Ontario have summer homes and cottages. In the Maritimes we have camps. This was my father’s slice of heaven. He called it his sanctuary. We all learned to waterski here and so did our children. Over the years, tubing became popular and kayaking and fireworks and every grandchild learned to run an outboard motor with Grandpa.

 

He also took the time to teach them to fish.

 

He loved to forage for blueberries and patiently pick them over so my Mom would make him a blueberry pie.

 

Dad kept a huge garden at the camp. Freshly shelled peas were his favourite food. I’m so grateful to be the daughter of a gardener. And even more grateful that he helped me build my square foot gardens in Calgary and that he was around to give me advice when I needed it. He was an organic gardener. He loved to drag seaweed off the beaches and dig it into his soil. And he was a devoted composter. He gave away bushels of tomatoes each fall. He just loved to grow things and sometimes got a bit carried away.

 

Lobster was right up there – along with anything grown in his garden – as his other favourite food. He was a master at cooking and preparing the lobsters so that everyone could break into them as easily as possible.

 

In the last few years, he really grew to love when we would go for special dinners at The Rossmount Inn. He always ordered the exact same thing – chef Chris Aernie’s haddock. However chef Chris prepared it, Dad knew it would be mouth-wateringly good.

 

Dad loved St. Andrews and serving his community. He was a town councillor for many years, a cub scout leader, a Lion and a devoted volunteer at his church – almost single-handedly running their lobster dinners and rebuilding the church basement.

Retirement at age 52 gave Dad a whole new lease on life. He was talented with carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and motors. Our home was a shell when Mom and Dad bought it and Dad worked on it continuously for the 55 years he lived there. This summer when he knew he wouldn’t live much longer he had a new roof put on, the entire exterior painted and a new front walk installed so my Mom would have it ship shape after he was gone.

 

 

Dad loved to sit in the sun room on the back of the house. We’ve always had a cat and our cats always loved joining Dad in his chair.

 

 

Of all the things my Dad loved about life he loved his family the most.

 

 

He especially loved his wife of 59 years, my Mom, Gerri.

 

Dad was quiet. He loved nothing better than to be around us and to have us home but he liked to be in the background. If he could be near us, but doing something, that was just right for him. He was best one-on-one and knew a lot about what was going on in the world.

He read Time magazine, Macleans, National Geographic, The Saint John Telegraph Journal and The St. Stephen Courier faithfully. He was liberal-minded and accepting of others. He wasn’t always the greatest husband as he had his own struggles with alcohol but he was a wonderful father.

He expected the best from us always. He expected us to go to university and to realize the dreams he never had the chance to pursue. He was so proud that all four of his children got that chance and that we all are successful in our chosen fields and in our family lives. He never really got over me moving to Alberta but he was a good sport about taking the train out to see me every few years. He hated flying but he even did that once – just to spend more time with his youngest grandchild and to help me with chores around my home.

The last week, Dad grew weak. We all knew it was coming. He’d been given a terminal diagnosis last March.

Yesterday, he got up, sorted the mail, paid the bills and balanced his cheque book. He sat in his favourite chair. When he realized he was having trouble breathing and couldn’t get out of the chair, my Mom and sister took him to the hospital. He was made comfortable and passed away surrounded by family – including my sister’s dog – within a few hours.

What a blessing to have had such a father. I love you Dad and will cherish everything you taught me and every moment we had together – always. Wherever you are going, keep your chin up. Wherever I am, I promise to use my common sense and to savour it all.

 

59 Comments

Filed under Grief, Joy

59 responses to “Keep your chin up – a tribute to my father

  1. Susan van Wynen

    Dear Karen,

    What a lovely tribute to your father. It sounds like he was a wonderful man. I am so sorry for your loss. The death of a parent is on of the most profound rites of passage on our human journey. My heart goes out to you.

    Hugs and God bless,

    Susan Van Wynen

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Smith

    Dearest Sister Karen,
    You are a gifted writer and have paid a beautiful living tribute to our most wonderful Dad.
    With All My Love,
    Senior Sister Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Smith

    Oops my eyes failed me – meant to say loving tribute.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erin McKenna

    Karen, your words are heartfelt and beautiful. Reg was a lovely man. Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of your wonderful father. Hugs xox Erin

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sheryl

    What a beautiful tribute Karen. I am so sorry for your headache now.
    With love, Sheryl (Adams)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. karen
    your dad sounds like a wonderful guy; how lucky you are to have such sweet memories and beautiful pictures to remember him with.

    sending my sincere condolences to you and all those who loved your dad

    hugs
    su
    ps – i feel like i have benefited from his wisdom too!
    i do recall someone telling me to ‘keep my chin up’ not all that long ago, and i have reflected on that simple phrase many times since!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Suze.
      Keep your chin up can mean a lot of things but Dad raised us to find our inner strength and believe in ourselves.
      Keep calm and carry on or keep your chin up.
      Same thing maybe?
      Love you,
      K

      Like

  7. Roger Delbaere

    Karen,

    What a loving tribute to a wonderful man. Thanks for sharing his wisdom with us. It inspires me to be a better father to my son. Sending love and comfort your way.

    Roger

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Barb Murphy

    Oh, Karen…
    This was so beautiful and, having spent time with your wonderful dad, both in St. Andrews as well as at your family camp, I can truly appreciate everything you have written. I can still hear his voice!
    You were blessed to have such a good dad and I am so very sorry for your loss…
    Sending you love,
    Barb

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Carol Van Tassel, Clayton, Joyce, Blair, Brian and families.

    What a wonderful tribute to honour your father in this passage. He was loved by many in our town and although a very quiet and private person he was always giving of himself. Our sincere condolences to your entire family.. The Van Tassels.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dianne Holowisky

    To Karen and family,
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this sad time.
    From your tribute your Father sounds like an amazing man.
    How lucky you were to have him in your life.
    Dianne and Gillian Holowisky

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Karen – I’m so sorry for your loss. No matter how old we are or how prepared we are, it’s still so hard to lose a parent.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Karen, such beautiful memories of your father. Keep them close forever. Hugs to you my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Vinton Clift

    Wonderful Karen! As ‘townies’ ,a piece of all of us dies when someone like your father leaves us. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Barbara Connolly

    Blessing to you and your family my dear friend Karen. Losing a dad is not easy but writing this beautiful tribute is a wonderful way for all to embrace your dad and all his goodness while on the beautiful place we call home.
    May your Thanksgiving be filled with wonderful memories of his presence in your life.
    Your dear friend,
    Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Keith

    Hello Karen.
    So sorry to hear that Reg passed on. This tribute is absolutely beautiful – a quiet, deep man indeed – he was very proud of all of you.
    Hugs, thoughts and prayers to you all. xoxo
    Keith & Brenda (Pierce)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. cvanbrunschot

    Such a frank and beautiful tribute to your father. I am sorry for your loss. Take care of yourself, Karen.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Claudette Tremblay

    Dear Karen ,we all know that some day our parents will leave us . It is never easy no matter how old we are .
    Thinking of you ,Claudette
    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Elan Chandler

    What a wonderful tribute to your dad….beautifully written. So sad for your loss Karen…..chin up like Reg would say. ๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ’–

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Krysten Eldridge

    This was beautiful to read. I didn’t know your father well but Geri was my teacher in hairdressing school and I love bumping into her and hearing about Reg, her children and grand children. I am so sorry for you and your families loss. You are all on my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Vikki MacDonald

    Beautiful words and photos Karen.
    So very sorry for the loss of your dad.
    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Maxwell Lawrence

    Karen, it has been a while since we talked. But have often been in my thoughts. Love and admire the strength of character of your gene pool in giving us the insight of such a man called your Father. Our Prayer of comfort we send you and your family.
    Maxwell Lawrence.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Claire Boudreau

    Hi Karen,

    Saddened to hear about the passing of your Dad. A beautiful moving tribute youโ€™ve written. Thank you for sharing the story.

    Clairex

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Praveen Syal

    Hello Karen.
    I am really sorry to hear about your Dad. Mine & Preeti’s thoughts and prayers to you and your family. Stay strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Jocelyn

    Oh Karen thank you so much for this! It brought back so many amazing wonderful memories. I was so sad to hear of the passing of your Dad. He was such an amazing man.
    Thanks again for your amazing words,
    Love and hugs,
    Jocelyn

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Cindy Doucette

    Dearest K: I am so sorry for your loss. I couldnโ€™t stop reading your beautiful words. You painted a vivid picture of your Dad….a real human being who lived a full life. How lucky he was to be so loved. Like Barb, I have memories of the camp too…and your Dadโ€™s welcome hospitality. You come from such strong Maritime stock Karen. Iโ€™m so glad to have met your Dad. Please give my love to Gerri. I love you My Friend, Cindy xo

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Rita Vienneau(Bourque)

    Thank you Karen. I am so sorry for your loss. This tribute is beautiful and so true to the man I loved. He taught me many early lessons in life. How to catch the “biggest” trout in the lake( though my grandma Marg would argue that one!),ride my bike and roast the perfect marshmallow! My most cherished childhood memories of are him, your family and the camp. I will be eternally grateful for this kind man who opened his heart and home to a young girl so many years ago and became like a second father to her. He was truly an amazing and will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Sending you all love and warm hugs. Rita

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww Rita,

      I was thinking about you and Monique especially. He loved his little Bourque/Carson daughters so much. And we loved you as our little sisters.

      Sending you all the love in the universe Rita Alexina.

      K

      Like

  27. Monique Attal

    What a beautiful story Karen! He really was a great man, the best godfather I could have asked for. Thank u for sharing this touching tribute. He was lucky to have such wonderful children! Thinking of you. Love you, Monique

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Karen Thank you for sharing, I learned so much about the quiet man I knew growing up around your family. I will miss him and so will our church and our Town. God Bless all your family… my thoughts and prayers are with you at this time and always. Kate Akagi

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Prem

    My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family Karen. May God give you the peace that you seek. Our most heartfelt condolences. The loss of a parent is never ever easy ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    May God rest his soul and may he be cherished in your memories forever.

    Prem & Rinku Syal

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Mike Shields

    So sorry to hear from the family of your Loss Karen. They directed me to this and your graceful view with your memories and life brought me to tears.
    We love you. We appreciate you and yours…

    Like

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