Although I grew up in my father’s house, I know very little about him. He wasn’t a man that shared much of his life with anyone.
Richard was such a complicated man that to get through him will take a few posts.
The most that I ever knew about my father came after I had obtained my foster care records from the Alberta Government and when I examined my father for Federal Court in 2013.
Richard himself came from a dysfunctional household.
His mother, Margaret Winiandy, had been through Holy Angels residential school for Indian Children in Fort Chipewyan, AB.
Grandma had a drinking problem. She also had an affinity for the church.
Knowing now that she had been through residential school as a kid explains a lot of her issues.
Richard had two brothers. His eldest brother Norman was full Cree. Both Richard and his younger brother Douglas were from Margaret’s second marriage. By the time Richard invited his mother into the house to raise my brother and I, my grandmother had married a third man, Andy Anderson.
My uncle Doug had his Metis status, and in 1990 Doug encouraged me to apply for my status. Richard forbade this. My father would get very upset if you ever suggested to him that he was half Cree.
Richard’s father, Arthur Herman Gill, split when he was young and his mother moved her family from Peterborough, ON to Fort McMurray, AB.
Richard attended grade 1 through grade 9* at St. John’s Separate School in Fort McMurray, AB.
*Richard stated in 2013 that he had completed grade 9. Marie, my mother whom I tracked down in 2013, stated that Richard and my uncle Al, Marie’s brother, both had to take academic upgrading as both only had grade eight. Neither had completed grade 9. It was through this academic upgrading that Richard and Al became best buddies. And they enrolled in the Navy together and became inseparable until about ten years later.
As a kid, what I remember the most about Richard is that he was quick to anger. Asking him questions was akin to walking on broken glass.
Just after we moved to CFB Downsview, I had asked him for help with my math homework. We were still living in the LDH at 94 Sunfield Rd, so I know I was going to Sheppard Public at the time. I think the math question was something along the lines of long division. That was the first time he had ever hit me with a closed fist. It was a couple of days later that he tearfully apologized and said that he was going to take a math upgrading course and that he’d be able to help me with any math homework. That was another one of the many Richard promises that would come to naught. Yes, he took the upgrading course at York University and Seneca College, but knowing math and knowing how to teach math are two very separate issues.
Like most kids, I think I took an interest in electronics and mechanics to be closer to my father. But, this was a foolish endevor in my case.
Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t learn my electronics from him. Yes, his interest in electronics intrigued my interest in electronics. But most of my skills I got from either Radio Electronics, Popular Electronics, or the Radio Shack hobbyist books.
By the time I was 14, I was repairing arcade video games, pinball machines, and jukeboxes. I was honing my skills with real world technicians. Dorian was probably my greatest teacher. House and Winston would be second and third.
My father couldn’t teach. He could redicule. He could humilate. If you made a simple mistake, you were a fucking idiot. That’s just the way things were.
I remember asking him once how to do the calculation to determine the gain of an amplifier stage and he got seriously bent out of shape.
When I moved out of the house just after my 16th birthday, I went to work servicing video games, pinballs, and jukeboxes full time.
Electronics though was never a serious interest of mine. Yeah, I understand it. But no, I don’t get any pleasure from it. Pursuing your hopes and dreams was never something encouraged in Richard’s house. I don’t honestly know what I’d be doing today had I been encouraged or supported in my interests back then.
When I was 15 years old, I bought a 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit for $175.00 with money from my after school job repairing video games.
The car was a piece of crap as one could imagine. Floor pans were rotted out, rocker panels were shot, engine had a shot head gasket.
But it was my car. I even had it registered in my name. Just couldn’t insure it, and couldn’t get plates for it.
I bought the car so that I could get a membership at the base auto hobby club. My hope was that my father would come over to the club on the weekends and help me work on it.
In the days after it was brought homes, he pulled the head off the engine one weekend in the parking lot over by the PMQs. He said that he’d clean the head and block and then he’d put the head back on for me. He told me that I could watch, but that I had to stay out of his way and not ask questions or annoy him. That’s not what I wanted. The reason I bought the car is I wanted to learn how to work on cars. I didn’t buy the car so that I could watch him fix it for me.
In 2011 I tried tracking down my uncle Doug to see what he remembered about CFB Namao from 1980. Turns out that Doug had died in 2010. In speaking with Doug’s widow Yvonne she said something interesting about my father. She said that Richard was the type of guy who would always help, but if you asked for his help you had to stand back and stay out of his way because if you tried to help out as well or pointed out that he was doing something wrong he’d get very upset almost like a little child.
So one afternoon after school I sat out behind our PMQ with the head upside down and clamped in the Black and Decker workmate. I was following the instructions in the service manual that I had bought. I had even gone over to crappy tire and bought head gasket removing solvent and some knives made specifically for scraping head gaskets.
You’ll have to excuse my English, but holy fuck did Richard ever lose it. “Can’t you fucking do as you’re told”? “I told you I’d fix the fucking engine for you, I don’t need you fucking things up!”, “Don’t you understand that if you fuck this up, there’s no fixing the damn thing?”.
It was a $175.00 car that cost him nothing. He just didn’t get it.
Bill Parker overheard this exchange. He waited until Richard went into the PMQ. He told me to go put the engine head in the car and he’d make arrangements for my car to be towed to the auto club and then he’d help me work on the engine and get it fixed up and running right.
Bill Parker was a navy buddy of my father. They had served together on some of the ships at CFB Shearwater between 1963 and 1968.
When we lived on Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, I remember going for visits with the Parkers, and staying over at their house on occasion.
In 2013 I would make acquaintances with a woman named Pat Longmore who had been in the Royal Canadian Navy. She knew my father, she knew my mother, and she knew the Parkers. And she had some rather interesting information about the visits to the Parkers.
I’ll have more to say about the Parkers and Pat Longmore in a later post.
The autoclub was fun. Normally the club only gave out memberships to service members. But as Bill Parker was the president of the club, and Bob Wrightson, another former navy buddy of my father was the treasurer, rules were bent and I got a membership.
I was even supplied with a set of licence plates to put on the car to fool the base military police. Uninsured and unregistered vehicles were not permitted on a Defence Establishment, so the auto club had a collection of plates to thwart the MPs. The MPs at the time had to manually run plates if they wanted to run them. And this was time consuming, so they usually didn’t.
I had fun at the auto club. Tore the engine completely down and spent a month rebuilding it. Learnt how to do clutch jobs. Learnt how to do brake jobs. Brazing and TIG welding sheet metal was interesting. All these skills I learnt from the other guys in the auto club. Other members would pay me to do brake jobs on their cars.
Richard had an early ’80s Cadilac at one point while we lived on CFB Downsview. The car started to develop a fuel leak infront of the rear driver side wheel. The car was hard to start when the fuel leaked out. The car had two electric fuel pumps. One fuel pump was in the tank. The second pump was outside of the tank just in front of the rear wheel arch. Richard pulled up to the autoclub one weekend at the autoclub when I was there working on my car. Richard mater-of-factly pulled the car into one of the bays. He told me that he wanted me to look under the car and see if I could pinpoint the leak and then he’d deal with it. I slid under the rear of the car and he would cycle the ignition on and off to trigger the fuel pumps to prime. I started moving the hose that went between the pump in the tank to the external pump. When I moved the hose it split open and sprayed me in the face with high pressure gasoline. Bill Parker grabbed me by the ankles, pulled me out from under the car, and ran me over to the eyewash station and started washing the gasoline off my face and head. Bill had me take my gasoline soaked shirt off. Richard? Richard thought this was the funniest thing he ever saw. Richard told me that all I was supposed to do was find the leak, not make it worse.
And that’s the way Richard was.