Spontaneous moments are my favourite, especially when they change the course of your day.
I had a spontaneous moment last Tuesday. I’m still smiling.
My father and I had an early morning trip to Hamilton to transport a friend to hospital. It was a difficult morning, emotionally. As we left the hospital, the sunrise broke over the Hamilton skyline. I knew what we had to do.
Hamilton harbour is home to the HMCS Haida, the last remaining of the Royal Canada Navy’s eight Tribal Class destroyers. Today it is a National Historic Site, a reminder of the sacrifice, courage and tenacity of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Known as “the fightingest ship,” the HMCS Haida was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, serving in the Second World War, two tours of duty in the Korean Conflict, and in the Cold War. Her legacy of goodwill missions is equally impressive.
The Haida remained in service until October 1963 and on the decommissioning voyage, its final 18 months at sea, a young sailor named Gary Waterhouse was on board.
Seeing my father stand next to this intimidating vessel made me realize, there is a whole side to him I don’t know.
We couldn’t get on the site (we maybe trespassed), but close enough to share this moment.
It’s hard to believe a destroyer was his university, where he earned his electrical trade hands-on while holding on quite literally from his post atop the ship as fire control for radar weapons.
Someone gave my dad control of the button for serious weapons. This baffles me.
I saw his post where he would hold firm for hours, unsheltered from the elements or frozen waters, and the cage he climbed down when his shift ended, which he said was nearly impossible in rough seas.
His mess, the fourth porthole starboard, is where he slept in a hammock stacked four high, with his shipmates crammed into that space. The hammock, he explained, prevented seasickness by buoying the sway of the ship at high seas. I was green just at the thought.
His classroom included ports around the world, oceans and seas, even the Bermuda Triangle.
While I thought I was a smartie-pants for graduating university in the big city, my father enrolled willingly in the school of hard knocks on the high seas.
And I’m confident my wildest pub nights had nothing on his rowdy adventures.
My father explained how the Tribal Class were named after Canada’s First Nations. The Hereditary Chiefs of the Haida Nation gave their namesake ship a Thunderbird flag in thanks, an important honour.
But for most of his military service, my father served on the Nootka.
While his time in the Royal Canadian Navy was a small part of his life, it remains a big piece of his heart.
From him, I learned the importance of knowing my history, the honour in remembrance, the pride in peacekeeping.
That freedom has a price, but showing gratitude is priceless.
Thank you for your service, Dad.
Keep sharing your stories.