My late father-in-law was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a lawyer. I didn’t know much more than that, other than he was incredibly smart and athletic. I knew he’d done some volunteering and that he was a highly-regarded member of his community in Whitehorse. But that’s it.
But I’m thankful that I got to know that much.
I met Brian shortly after my wife and I started dating back in 2003. My wife’s parents had driven to Victoria and we had the chance to meet at a hotel diner to have a meal and I was – as a guy meeting his girlfriend’s parents usually is – nervous. I’d never really had this situation come up in my life before, as my past girlfriends either never lasted to the point where a meeting occurred, or the parents weren’t together. This was a first for me, and I was happy it was happening just as much as I was nervous about it.
I think Brian was a quiet man. At least he was for as long as I knew him. He certainly was at that meeting. That made me more nervous. I had the sense he was taking the whole thing in, getting a read on me. Luckily, I was already so nervous about the whole meeting that I didn’t really get any more nervous by him giving me the “what’s this guy’s deal” litmus test with his eyes. He may not have been as intent on interrogating me with his look as I may be revealing here, but it sure felt like it.
The meal was enjoyable, and I was happy I got the chance to meet my wife’s folks before they headed home. But before they left, I was told that we’d be driving their truck to Whitehorse when we visited. Brian then showed me the ins and outs of the largest vehicle I was ever going to drive, all while I was trying to process how the trust of driving it was given to me so quickly and trying to keep notes on what he was saying. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to drive my own mother’s car and here was a man whom I’d met only a couple of hours beforehand giving me the keys to a very, very big pickup truck.
We drove up to Whitehorse a few weeks later, a journey that deserves its own story at some point. When we got there, I spent some time at my soon-to-be-in-laws’ cabin, drove their all-terrain four-wheeler in a really tiny desert and boated with Brian on Tagish Lake. He showed me the device that showed where fish were underneath us, let me steer us across the “tree line” separating the Yukon from British Columbia and we did so with very few words coming from our lips. In fact – and not surprisingly – I did most of the talking. I was wondering when he’d ask me about “my intentions with his daughter” and start to lean into me about who I was, where I’d been and what my future plans were. But he didn’t. That kind of freaked me out. But only “kind of” because we were on a boat in the middle of one of the most serene places I’d ever been.
That said, he did ask me if I found out about the governor on the truck, the device that kicks in when you reach a high enough speed that it clocks you back down to a “reasonable” level. I admitted, sheepishly, that I did. He just smiled and kept steering the boat.
When I met Brian, the cancer was already in him. It stopped its progress for a bit, but then it really came on quickly. My wife and I had barely been married when it was noticeably taking Brian away. Brian passed away in the summer of 2007, two years and five months after our daughter was born. He never got to meet our son.
There are days where I think about Brian a lot, which is strange because I barely knew him. Yet he’s one of the first people I am thankful for, because without him I wouldn’t have the life I have today. I have a wife whom he helped shape, kids who keep his spirit alive and values that seemed to shift my way at a deeper level than ever before because of those few times we spent together.
I’m no Brian, but I’m going to be a son-in-law he can be proud of.
Friends of Brian who knew him and have met our son say that he has his eyes. Not the colour, not the physical appearance of them. But he has that way of looking at you that reminds others of Brian’s…way. I certainly hope my boy has more of Brian in him than that, although it’s a pretty good start.
I never really got to know Brian. I really wish I did. He gave me more to be thankful for than I could have ever dreamed of having.
Thank you, Dad.
Tagish Lake – Alan Vernon