A love letter to my daughter and my father
By Stephen Trumper
Around 9 p.m., on the final evening of November, we are trekking our way toward Toronto’s Union Station.
Winter is moving in but hot–blooded me is still in shirtsleeves and pleased that, so far, no well–intentioned person has stopped us to ask, “Isn’t he cold?”
Behind me, pushing the wheelchair, is my awesome and feisty daughter Hannah. Earlier, I had met Hannah at the convention centre, where she had spent much of the past couple of days representing Azure, the publishing company for which she works, at a major design trade show. It is growing late, and she is hungry, so off we go in search of food and a quiet restaurant.
I am a city boy at heart and mightily enjoy an evening stroll through high–density Toronto. We take our time, rejecting any place with a lineup. We curse one location—a small but yummy higher–end pizza chain infested with inaccessible tall tables and chairs (hello Pizza Libretto on University Avenue).
We eventually find ourselves at a branch of Fran’s, right across the road from the Sony Centre. After dinner and much talk we head home, via subway—the Yonge line—to Bloor station. That’s where we meet trouble. Riding the city’s transit system at peak times is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for people with disabilities who are less than robust and are not accompanied by a feisty daughter.
In the jam–packed confines of Bloor station we patiently wait for the eastbound subway alongside masses of able–bodied passengers who, on the arrival of the next train, push, jostle and ignore us, greatly impeding our way to the subway doors, which abruptly close inches from my toes. By now Hannah is ready to run the wheelchair over the toes of everyone left on the platform who even tries to get in our way on the next train’s arrival.
After hopping on without seriously maiming anyone, Hannah positions us right by the operator’s enclosure (we are in the first car) which, in theory, should allow us a direct route to a relatively no–fuss exit onto the platform.
The train slows as it enters our destination station, and Hannah moves more fully behind me. She unlocks the brakes and steers us toward freedom. But there are still numerous able–bodied passengers ahead of us, also anxious to escape, blocking our path, with one notable exception: a bearded gentleman who had witnessed our predicament at Bloor station and has been keeping an eye on us ever since.
Finally, there is an opening.
The bearded gentleman directs people away. Hannah tilts me back—one safe way to get a wheelchair over the gap—and we are on our way. First, come my toes. Then, both feet and footrests, followed by calves, knees, thighs…
Suddenly, abruptly, the subway doors start to close. I am about a third of the way out. Hannah is still on the train. The bearded gentleman is on the platform looking shocked, angry.
In what seems like a millisecond, Hannah has me back in the train, back on four wheels, while pounding on the door of the driver’s enclosure, demanding that we be let out. Though it takes an uncomfortable few seconds, the doors do reopen and we venture out, much relieved.
Growing up with a disability makes you incredibly aware of, and grateful to, the people, particularly your parents, siblings, friends, even medical folks, who protect you from harm. Not only do they try to protect you from physical harm, they do whatever they can to keep emotional harm at bay, not an easy task in a world that is often cruel to people with disabilities.
My father’s approach was to keep talking to me. We spent a lot of time in restaurants talking, including at the Fran’s on College Street and a Harvey’s, now gone, located across the street from the long-term-care residence where my wife and Hannah’s Mom, riddled with Alzheimer’s, now resides.
My Dad was always candid, seldom minimizing a problem, but always reassuring me that I could handle anything that came my way with wit, smarts and aplomb.
These lessons had a huge influence on the way Hannah was raised and now, as we adjust to day-to-day life without the third member of our tight little family unit, I can only sit back and marvel at the wondrous person Hannah has become, someone who loves and protects me and her Mom, while I, ever the Dad, will always love and try to protect her—even though I well know that she will handle anything that comes her way with wit, smarts and aplomb – to which she adds her own blend of grace, determination and feistiness.
As I have told Hannah many times: It is an honour to be her Dad.
Stephen Trumper serves on the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation. He is an independent writer and editor. He is also a journalism instructor at Ryerson University.