An unintended legacy leaves a long shadow

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.

Pericles

By Faye Bayko

I don’t know what my father hoped his legacy would be, but I know it probably wasn’t the one he actually left.

A fractured family would not have been his goal. He would have wanted his children to continue on together, a solid unit standing strong against the uncertainties of life. But he possessed neither the skills nor the confidence to build the foundations for such a unit. Instead, he allowed his insecurities to rule his actions and the result was a family divided.

He was fourth of eight children born to first-generation Canadians. Both sets of his grandparents had immigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and settled in Manitoba where there was a large community of Ukrainians. Finances were tight and my grandfather struggled, first moving his family to British Columbia then back to Manitoba in search of stability.

With three back-to-back pregnancies, my grandmother’s resources were also stretched and dad, as the middle one, suffered. A lack of proper food stunted his growth and bowed his legs, the results of what his doctor later attributed to a case of childhood Rickets.

My grandfather handled the stress of providing for his growing family by striking out with whatever was at hand, bruising bodies and spirits. Dad left as soon as he could. At 14, he became a farm labourer on neighbouring farms, then rode the rails to Alberta. It was there, on a ranch outside of Calgary, that he found a stable family life and a mentor worthy of the name. Until war broke out in Europe.

Like so many men who served in World War II, my father came back haunted by the experience. The emotional impact of the devastation of war and survivor guilt combined with that of his abusive childhood to create a ghost that walked beside him for the rest of his life.

That ghost made it difficult for him to be what he wanted to be – unafraid.

When he married and started raising his own family, he was able to keep the ghost hidden. My siblings and I were given a wonderful childhood. There was no repeat of the abuse my father had grown up with. But when we started aging into teenagers things changed. He became moody and inconsistent. We weren’t kicked out of our home, as he had been by his father, but there was a pulling away. It was as if he had drawn a glass shield over himself. We could see him but we couldn’t reach him.

That shield, over time, became more and more opaque.

It’s been 10 years today since he died of prostrate cancer. I’ve never marked any of the anniversaries, until today. I couldn’t. I was too hurt by the things he did in the last year of his life. But, now, after 10 years, I can see that he had been doing those things for years. I just hadn’t noticed.

I wish I had seen then what I see now. Because maybe, just maybe, I could have helped him be less afraid and his legacy would have been that of a family standing strong together.

I may not have stopped my father from leaving the same legacy as his father but I have made sure I don’t carry it forward and make it mine. Unlike my parents and grandparents, I have educated myself and been ready for most of the trials involved with raising a child through to adulthood. Does that mean I didn’t make mistakes? No. I made some whoppers. But I hope the skills I’ve gained, and the attitude of being unafraid of facing and tackling problems, will be my legacy.

About Author

Faye Bayko
I am a writer and photographer currently working out of Vancouver, BC.