I loved my dad. I was 15-years-old when he died. My brothers, Michael and Paul, were 18 and 13 respectively. It was Easter weekend, four days before Paul’s birthday. Michael picked us up from school and drove us back to our house in Montreal. Some of my aunts and uncles were there waiting for us, heads down, faces ashen. Mom sat us down and tried to break the news. She couldn’t find the words, but we understood.
Dad hadn’t been living with us at the time, so we didn’t see him often. He was kicked out of the house a few months earlier because he was abusing drugs, pain meds mostly. His addiction grew to be too destructive for the family, so he was forced to leave. It wasn’t the first time, but as it turns out, it was the last.
My day-to-day in Montreal didn’t change much after the funeral. The remaining months of the school year passed without incident. Michael began working in construction. He was waking up at 5am every day to commute to work. He matured a lot the year following Dad’s death. I think we all did. None of us were too sure how Paul was coping. He was so young, it was difficult to gauge the impact. He seemed a bit lost and still does to this day.
I was a quiet kid before dad passed and I spoke even less afterwards. Any minute I wasn’t in school, I was in my room playing video games or tinkering with computers. In retrospect, it was time well spent; it led to a career in software engineering. Mom was concerned though. The following summer, she arranged for me and my cousin to live with a host family in Munich for a month. She said I needed to get outside more, away from computer screens. I didn’t want to go but wasn’t given a choice.
The family, whose names I sadly can’t remember, were a kind, rural German family who didn’t speak much English. My cousin and I took German lessons in the mornings and explored the city in the afternoons. I was a picky eater at the time; I ordered lunch from the same basic “schnitzel semel” cart every day. One evening, we visited my uncle who lived not far from Munich. He’s a semi-eccentric world traveler who makes a living doing odd jobs and selling things on eBay. I was told he and I would have a lot in common.
I didn’t realize it at the time but my trip to Munich had a big impact on me. It was the first time I got to experience anonymity. Back home, I had literally a thousand relatives and extended family. Abroad, no one knew anything about me. When no one knows who you are, you can be anyone you want to be.
I left home two years later to study at the University of Waterloo. My undergrad was a coop program that rotated me between school and internships every semester. Of my 16 semesters, I spent 7 of them in other countries: 2 international exchanges and 5 international internships. I graduated with a minor in International Studies, which I accidentally earned due to my time abroad. By graduation, I was certain of the kind of adult I wanted to be. I wanted to be a traveler, a nomad, a person who is open and willing to explore, get lost, and adapt to a new environment.
If dad hadn’t passed when he did, I would have never gone to Munich. Without Munich, I wouldn’t have applied for international exchanges. Without those exchanges, I’d still think that “traveling” meant vacationing in Florida to escape the Canadian winter.
I loved my dad. He was a kind, loving, intelligent, and generous person who brightened the lives of so many people. I’d give everything I have to speak with him again for just a few minutes. He’d be so proud of the men my brothers and I have grown to be. If he had not died, though, I wouldn’t be as be as free…or as adventurous…or as curious as I am today. I wouldn’t be a nomad.