Dad, also know as Milan (Mike) Simic was born in the former Yugoslavia on a small farm. I remember on my only trip to the farm how we had to cross the river by ox cart to get there as the road had been washed out. It was up a small road and felt like being up hill all the way or at least it seemed it to a young boy. It is hard to believe that with these humble beginnings that one day this man would have a family and live thousands of miles away in a foreign land. That he would own properties in Canada and several US states. Own businesses and become an entrepreneur despite picking up some life threatening illnesses during the war.
Dad was made from the old cloth, the one that says that you don't show your emotions no matter how tough things get. Maybe that came from being in the war as a teenager and having to fight his way for survival. It was at age 75 that my father first said “I love you" to me. Having waited forty plus years to hear it, it was surprising when it did come.
Only once in his 79 years did Dad talk about “the war", WWII. We had long ago learned of the affects of the war on his health: the tuberculosis, asthma, breathing problems and Parkinson's disease. However, for him to reveal a scar at the back of his head from a bullet wound was quite new. This man who had fathered four sons may not have been a father at all. How startling.
During this lone session he told me about being a prisoner of war. After being captured he was kept with his captors and toured around Europe until a prison camp was found for him to be detained at. One of the tactics used by his captors was to keep them in a small-contained cell. He said that there was so little room in the cell that you could not even sit down. This was done to thwart any escape attempts and keep the prisoners tired and lethargic. Every once in a while the captain would come to the cell and pull out his pistol. It would not be unusual for him to randomly kill one of the prisoner's to keep them in line. I cannot image the fear my father and the other prisoner's felt.
Dad knew 6 different languages including Russian, German, Polish, English as well as his native tongue. I'm sure he developed this during the war years.
One of four sons I remember at his funeral service thinking to myself how each of his four sons picked up on one of Dad's traits. The oldest Alex received the skill to work with his hands and his passion for farming. Even at age 77 Dad had the largest garden in the neighbourhood. He received great pleasure each year from trying to grow an ever larger pumpkin than the year before. I remember taking one of these to the senior's home where Dad stayed and the awe that the staff and other residents shared when they saw one of these monster pumpkins.
Son #2, me, picked up on his entrepreneurial spirit. No wonder I have had eight careers in my life and love to play; from Certified General Accountant to business owner I followed Dad's entrepreneurial path as he was once a mechanic, truck owner operator, general store owner, and real estate agent by the time I was 13 years of age.
My brother Mike followed Dad into a life in the armed forces as a mechanic eventually becoming an officer. Mike has had numerous tours of duty and like Dad got to see the world on many oversees trips.
One of his visits was to Italy for a work related function. During Dad's funeral service he spoke about the time he was telling him about this work in Italy when Dad said “I was at that same town during the war” apparently under the command of a famous general whose name I have forgotten.
Son number four now a TV station manager inherited Dad's keen hunger for news and his thirst for knowledge. Dad loved to read the paper. In his later years with eyes failing and despite glasses he would use a magnifying glass to read the newspaper.
Here are some of the things I will always remember about Dad.
His pride. He was so proud of being Serbian, Canadian, of his wife, his son's, his work, and being a member of the Legion. I remember during the last Poppy Campaign he was involved in being out on a bitterly cold day standing in front of a store with his uniform and cap on, when many people years younger would have packed it in. He wouldn't have quit, it was not his way.
Dad the road warrior. Dad loved driving. He would drive 1500 miles to Florida as if it was a Sunday drive. He made that trip so many times that I'm sure he lost count. On one such trip I was doing most of the driving. All trip long he said “I've never been here this fast before.” On our way back and in Ohio we get pulled over by the police. I looked at the speedometer and I was just slightly over the speed limit and at a loss as to why I was pulled over. It turned out the speedometer was faulty and it was showing us going 10 miles an hour slower than we were actually going. We both had a good laugh after I paid the $75.00 dollar ticket there at the side of the road.
Kentucky Fried Chicken was Dad's favourite takeout food. Any time we went to the hospital in the next large city from ours (we lived in Virgina, Ontario, that is, population 500 when all the cottagers were there) we would stop at the restaurant. It was always finger licking good to him.
Life in Virginia meant having animals. At some point Dad (we) had cows, pigs, chickens, geese, sheep, horses and so on, in addition to all the stray dogs and cats we would convince Mom and Dad that we should save.
Bruno the bull was Dad's pride and joy. For a bull that was fairly short as they go Bruno was wide and powerful. He would knock down most fences and we were forever chasing after him in the neighbouring fields. Like Dad he was a character and like Dad he had a mind of his own that you could not change unless he wanted it that way.
Dad the meticulous dresser. Even in his senior years and when most people get more casual in their dress Dad was always dressed to go out. He would always have a kerchief, comb his hair, and dress up to go anywhere. Only at home on the land did he wear work clothes. Before he got in the car he always cleaned the windows and made sure the headlamps received a wiping.
The fire pit. Being from the old country Dad would do pig over an open fire the old fashioned way. Of course at that time the spit was turned by hand. He and I and other family members spent many an hour developing calluses on our hands doing the proceedings just right.
Dad had to be the luckiest person I knew. He actually won a $1,000.00 prize in one of the lotteries which is more than most people do. I remember one time when he was at one of his hospital stays they had a bingo going on to amuse the patients. It seemed like every second “Bingo” was Dad's. I was somewhat embarrassed that no one else seemed to be winning.
Dad the grandfather. It seemed that when the Grandchildren came along Dad mellowed. He had developed a patience that he did not have while we were young. Maybe the stress of moving to another country to make life better for his children and the strain of raising four children was now over. He had a greater appreciation for life and was quick to say thank you and show his gratitude for all that was done for him. It was an incredible transformation that unfolded before my own eyes.
The final years were the most bonding and rewarding for me. It was my turn to return the favour of caregiver. I remember one time dad receiving a phone call. I don't know what was said however at this point Dad did have some dementia. After the call he said that some friends of his were picking him up to go ice fishing. This was strange as Dad had not gone ice fishing for years and it was now ten o'clock at night. I decided to wait him out. I turned on the TV and said let's wait for your friends. But Dad had staying power on his side. At midnight with no signs of his friends he decided to head out on his own. The lake was a mile away and he had no fishing gear but he was undaunted. Off he went.
As soon he was out the door I scrambled to get my coat and followed him staying just out of his sight. He crossed the road and headed down the boulevard. Fortunately several hundred feet down the street the lighting stopped and he decided to turn around and come home. Oops I was caught. I grabbed a shovel and pretended to be shoveling snow as he came up to me. He said “need a hand” and I pretended I did, giving him his own shovel. There we were at one o'clock in the morning shoveling snow. The many trips to the hospitals and ultimately the passing of both parents is replaced by fond memories of moments like this. Those special moments between father and son.
Thanks Dad for being my dad.
December 16, 1925-2005