My Princess

She came into my world on October 2nd, 1977 and changed my life forever.

Her birth was momentous for several reasons. Back when Chris was born fathers weren’t allowed into the delivery room. I had to stand outside the entire nineteen hours of Janice’s labour listening to her moan and call out for me. With Heather things had changed and I was allowed in, although Dr. Thicke cautioned that he had lost more men in the delivery room and told me if I felt queasy I was on my own.

Dr. Thicke was a riot. He had always been our family doctor. His son, Alan (yes, Robin’s Dad) inherited his Dad’s warped sense of humor. Heather was born with a cleft lip, but Dr. Thicke said not to worry and that a bit of make-up would cover it. He lied, but he didn’t want to ruin our special moment. He then asked me if I wanted him to add a few extra stitches to Janice. Then, as he stitched her up he was singing Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder because we were keeping him from flying his plane up north. The biggest mistake I made, one I would pay dearly for in the next few months, was that I cradled Heather and walked up and down the hallway trying to get her to stop crying.

The next rather emotional moment was when Janice’s Dad first saw Heather. His reaction at her cleft lip was really scary. Of course he had been brought up in a time when a cleft lip was for life and he worried that this would be an emotional scar for Heather forever. We assured him that Dr. Thicke had not been worried about it at all and said it could easily be fixed so you would never notice it. He had lied.

On a first check-up Dr. Thicke told us the truth and asked if we wanted her to have the surgery right away. He said he had consulted with one of the top surgeons in Canada who was prepared to operate right away. I couldn’t stand the thought of exposing this tiny little baby to surgery, so I asked him if it was really necessary to do it right away. He said it was much better to wait until she was older, but that most parents want it done right away to show off their new baby. To me that was the last reason to do it and we wanted to do what was right for Heather.

When she was just a few months old she got the dreaded colic. She just cried and cried, twenty-four hours a day for three months. Although Janice stayed home with her and I worked, the only thing that would soothe Heather was for me to walk up and down the hallway, cradling her in my arms, just like I had after she was born. Those were three very long and trying months until she finally got over it and started sleeping again.

The day finally came when we had to go down to Sick Kids to have the surgery. Heather was always such a happy baby and I still remember her big smile as they took her away in the elevator. It was a gut-wrenching moment, but when you are at Sick Kids and see all the tragic children in the cancer ward and the burn ward you realize just how lucky you are. I still remember little Jason who had been burned over ninety percent of his body in a gas explosion. He didn’t even look human but he was the happiest, bubbly little boy despite his injuries.

After Heather’s surgery the next momentous thing was the panic phone call I got from Janice’s Dad telling me that Heather had fallen and I had to come right away. I rushed to their place, opened the door and there was Heather in Dad’s arms. She saw me and broke out into her usual smile, except this time her face virtually parted as she had broken all the stitches. Dad felt so bad and thought he had done a terrible thing but I told him not to worry. Off we went to Sick Kids again and they stitched her up all over again.

Unlike our very strong-willed and always getting into trouble son, Heather was a dream child. Chris was very involved in hockey and we seemed to spend every waking moment in an arena somewhere. It was a much different time back then and Heather used to wander all over the arena, meeting people because she sure wasn’t shy, proudly showing off her Cabbage Patch dolls to anyone who would listen. We never worried about her because she had every parent on our team looking after her.

My marriage had ended long ago, so as Heather grew older we started doing more things together. We always invited Janice along but she never came with us. Heather and I would go biking on the great trails around Brampton as often as we could. We had a great day at Professor’s Lake sailing and we spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve skating at Gage Park with a gazillion families, drinking hot apple cider out of a big kettle over an open fire and skating. It was like a picture postcard except Mom wasn’t there.

Her first life lesson was when she asked if she could spend New Year’s Eve at her friend Melanie’s house. I was never too fond of Melanie because she seemed a little wild but I knew Heather had never given me cause not to trust her judgment so I let her go. Later that night we get the call to take Heather to the hospital because she’s been drinking and she’s really sick. When we get her to the hospital the doctor warns she was close to alcohol poisoning and it could have been fatal if we hadn’t got her to the hospital in time. I still remember driving home in silence and she finally asked if I wasn’t going to say something. I asked her if I needed to and she said no. I knew she had learned a valuable lesson at a young age and she was unlikely to ever drink that much again.

In all the years as a child she never needed any discipline. She was a really good kid with a good head on her shoulders and she didn’t need it. The only time I struck her was a slap on her face when she said her mother was a bitch. She knew that regardless if it was true she had to always show respect for her mother. Lesson learned.

There were so many, many good times with Heather. One of my favorites was when I surprised her with tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Even back then they were ninety-seven dollars so it was going to be a very special night. It was the experience of a lifetime and we loved every minute. When it was over I bought her the CD and it was always a hoot to hear her blasting it with a bunch of girlfriends in her room.

After I had driven out west to see my parents Heather and Chris came out for a three-week vacation. We had such a ball doing everything. Heather was just as fanatical about dirt-biking as Chris was and my Dad rigged up pegs on the back wheel for her so she could sit behind me. On the way home one time I took a wrong turn and we ended up going down the incredibly steep power line instead of the road. I would ask her to get off at the top of very steep inclines and I would slide the bike down and then she would get back on. I was so careful not to panic her by saying we might not make it, but she never doubted it for a minute. I wish she could have had her own bike because I know she would have loved it.

As happy as their vacation was, it ended on a really sad note. Both kids told me that they had never seen me happier and that I should stay out west. They said it was obvious that my marriage was over and that I had tried my best to make it work. I just couldn’t believe that my beautiful daughter wanted me to be thousands of miles away from her. After I dropped them at the airport I found a secluded spot and cried for hours. It was one of the lowest points of my life. Despite her advice I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her, so I returned to Ontario and wasted a few more years. She has been right all along.

There were too many sad moments. My ex insisted on starting screaming matches and every time I would calmly ask her to save it for later or for when Heather wasn’t home. After the scream-fest I would go up to check on Heather and find her sobbing. It always broke my heart.

After I finally gave up and realized my marriage had been over for years I made the decision to go out west to spend what time my mother had left. She had been diagnosed with fifth-stage melanoma and wasn’t expected to live six months at best. The day I left Heather, although I was certainly sad and cried my eyes out at leaving her, I really thought she would come out for vacations and I would see her. I had no clue that it would be the last time I ever saw her and I haven’t seen her for more than twenty years now. I think about her every day and miss her so much. She was, and always will be, my Princess.