Written by Michael d’Eça, B.A., LL.B.
Hello everyone – it’s an honour for me to be able, at the ripe old age of 71, to say a few words about my dear father on the remarkable occasion of his 100th birthday. That adjective – “remarkable” – means “worthy of being noticed – especially as being uncommon or extra ordinary”.
Is it really so extraordinary for a Canadian individual to turn 100 in the year 2023? Well, I looked it up, and the answer was surprising. Turns out that, according to our latest national Census in 2021, there were nine and a half thousand people 100 years or older in Canada, out of a total population in excess of 38,000,000. And 81% of those centenarians are women. Based upon that information – and using my own extra ordinary math skills – I was able to determine that turning 100 happens to one man out of every 20,000 people; that works out to five in 100,000 – and a mere fifty men in an overall population of a million! Now that is uncommonly extra ordinary.
And that’s a good starting point to talk about my Dad, who is an uncommon man. Born in the beautiful Himalayan town of Shimla, India, and raised mostly by hired help, Dad’s childhood was less than ideal. At age 7, he was sent off to boarding school – an experience that was, to put it politely, somewhat unpleasant. In his autobiography, he himself describes that period as follows: “Rigid Catholicism was the order of the day. Regimented schedules. Strict discipline.
Corporal punishment. An all-male environment. No love. No compassion. Line up for everything. Yes sir. No sir. Please sir. Won’t happen again, sir…”
So, Dad’s formative years were tough – and, one would reasonably expect, not an environment conducive to preparing him to be a loving and kind father.
Thankfully, as it turns out, not so at all!
As further background, let’s keep in mind that corporal punishment was still a common, accepted form of discipline in the 1950’s. In our house -yes, Mom would sometimes give us a whack or two – but Dad, never! His disciplinary approach was to use logic, argument, and overwhelming intellectual superiority to convince you of the error of your ways!
Now – as I’m sure all of you who know him well have noticed – Dad is an introvert. He’s perhaps a little too comfortable in his own company, and not likely to spontaneously regale you with stories, jokes, conversation, or advice. So what, you may ask, was he like as a father? Or to put it another way, besides not hitting them, how was he with his children?
If I had to give a one-sentence answer, it would be this: When I was growing up, my father was a quiet, gentle, religious man who believed in the power of logic, in the art of persuasion, and in the need to work hard in order to achieve success.
Of course, I have various specific memories of happy childhood times spent with Dad – and I’d like to share a couple with you:
First, a very clear recollection of Dad’s amazing artistry. We had a favourite TV show – The Lone Ranger. He was a mysterious introverted cowboy who, when he put on the tiniest of masks – just barely covering his eyes – suddenly no one could recognize him. But, when it came to bad guys, he let his guns do the talking.
Anyway, I would regularly get Dad to draw me a picture of the Lone Ranger. Now, you’d think he’d just draw a one-dimensional basic side shot of a guy wearing a ridiculously tiny mask and a big cowboy hat, with silhouetted guns drawn, ready for action.
No, not Dad. He drew the Lone Ranger directly facing forward, looking you in the eye, with guns drawn and the barrels pointed towards the viewer. Very dramatic – Very three dimensional – VERY IMPRESSIVE!
My second memory: Dad – who’s always been fairly reserved – loved a comedian named Jonathan Winters, who was extremely popular in the 60’s. If you had a variety show on prime time back then, you’d better book Jonathan. As a result, Dad – and his children – got to see him fairly regularly on the likes of the Dean Martin Show, the Andy Williams Show, and others.
So, it was an auspicious night in our house if Jonathan Winters was on the TV. Looking back, for us kids, the biggest thrill was being with our father on the couch, all of us literally falling over with laughter! Even as I recount this to you, I remember that childhood feeling of joyful abandonment, sitting beside my Dad! And I’m pretty sure those experiences also served to influence and sharpen in each of his children our sense of what constitutes good comedy. Hey, it’s gotta be funny if Dad’s laughing!
I’m not going to take up too much more of your time, so let me just quickly list a few of my father’s most splendid accomplishments:
First: Champion Weightlifter, winning several major competitions, including – in 1947 (at age 24) – the Indian National Championship. No small feat!
Second: Marrying our Mom, Lorna, in 1948 – sadly, the marriage didn’t last, but in their heyday – they were a complementary child-raising team: introvert and extrovert; reason and passion; cerebral and salt of the earth. The mix was both potent and effective.
Third: Deciding to emigrate to Canada in 1951 – pretty damn cold in the winter, but a young, prosperous, peaceful, welcoming country of opportunity. His children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all those generations yet to come are so, so grateful.
Fourth: Marrying Elizabeth in 1984 – they successfully combined their lives and interests in such a way as to enhance the positive qualities of each other, and to support one another through life’s challenges, joys, and sorrows. A shining example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
And finally: Published his autobiography – “One Man’s Journey” – in 2022, at the age of 99. Hitherto, Dad had never been one to talk much about the past, so you can imagine the family’s excitement when – at long last – we each received a detailed and fascinating 152-page memoir, commencing on July 11th 1923, and ending with a photo of his 99th birthday party, accompanied by Shakespeare’s telling inscription, “what’s past is prologue”.
I’ll close with the following observation: Dad, you passed with flying colours the test each of us is assigned when we enter this earthly plane: To make the world a better place than we found it. Nowhere is your success more evident than when looking at your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All – every single one – decent, loving, hard-working citizens of the world, each in their way striving to make this beautiful, imperfect home of ours a better place. Thanks, and congratulations to you, Dad – love you.
And thanks everyone for your generous and kind attention. I must add a particular thank you to our special guests in the Spirit Gallery, located just slightly above all the rest of us: Dorothy and Claud, Dad’s parents; Julian and Pam, his siblings; Elizabeth, his wife – now free and patiently waiting; and my beloved brother, Stephen (who, by the way, helped me prepare this talk).