My father died two days ago on a Friday June 13. He was month shy of 76.
(see the life and death decision thread). So the pain of that experience is still intense.
He was the quintessential self-made man. Born to extreme poverty in a town in the Czech Republic, he learned and taught himself many skills.
As other people mentioned the railroad, his grandfather was also a railway conductor on the Praha - Vienna line which passed through our historic town of Tabor. But because his grandfather drank, and sometimes missed the train coming back from Vienna he lost his job and the family fell on hard times. My dad literally went to school barefoot for a while. Even though his family was poor, his childhood was very interesting at the age of 7 when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia to the age of 13 the schools were closed, so for him it was kind of an extended holiday. Thankfully there wasnt much fighting in Czech. until the end of the war, when he witnessed an allied air raid on train full of Hungarian refugees. They were locked in the cars and were unable to escape and he saw a lot of dead people and children
images of which never left him.
At one point his dad was sent to work in Berlin and managed to send back home cartons of cigarettes that he saw a German soldier taking from the Red Cross packages. My dad would steal a few cigarettes from the place his mom hid them and would use them to barter to get things. But the things he got were kind of funny, he traded one for a fountain pen even though he wasnt going to school and didnt need to write. He just liked the idea of a fountain pen. He also took his fathers only hammer and got the blacksmith to turn it into a tomahawk in exchange for a cigarette.
He later apprenticed as a printer and that became his life trade, although he was a skilled machinist and loved to tinker he devised a foil stamping attachments for printing presses which we still use in our printshop to this day. He was a paratrooper in the Czech army, a kind of special forces at the time, and as we was an army man he got the dream job of his life when he was put in charge of the Army printshop in the southwest Czechoslovakia. He later said that in case of a Russian invasion of Germany, he had the authority to take over German printshops for propaganda purposes. He was booted out of the Army in 1968 when he organized and printed thousands of flyer protesting the invasion and occupation of the Soviet Army.
Also in the 1960s he handbuilt a log cabin by a river, which we used for many summer vacations. Because he built the cabin with his cousin
at one point for privacy they decided to cut it in half and move it 200 ft over. So he and mom built wooden rails and smeared grease on them and flipped the cabin and pulled it over. For years afterwards people would ask him how did he ever nail it together (with the nails sticking from the bottom up). (The frame was upside down)
he took his wife and two sons on a trip to Yugoslavia and from there we escaped to Canada where he had an aunt. My parents left everything behind and were charged and sentenced to 16 & 18months in jail in absentia for leaving the country illegally. Starting over with nothing in Canada they worked hard in many jobs until they eventually moved to Vancouver and continued in the printing industry. At age 51 in 1983 he was laid off from his job and started his own printing business which my brother and I joined and are still running to this day 25 years later. He got to see communism fall apart and the wall come down and made at least 15 trips to his homeland and travel around Europe. At the time he delved into his ancestry and managed to go back to 1585.
He also had the foresight to write his lifestory which Im now translating for my daughters.
He was a strong intelligent, charming man of humour and loved to see the funny side of things. One one trip to the Czech republic dad and mom were in her hometown church. She was in the chapel and he decided to go have a look outside in the graveyard. And as he stood looking through the entrance gate, in the corner of his eye he thought he saw a gravestone move and tilt just slightly. There was also a grunting sound as well 'uuhhhhh!' And when it happened again With a chill running down his side he thought this is stupid Im logical man this cant be happening. The grunts got louder this time with some cursing and swearing and it turned out the local caretaker adjusting the headstones..
He was multitalented as well, he loved to play guitar and sing 'tramp' songs which were popular in his youth. He also painted and over the years did many paintings of places of his youth and inspired me to get into oilpainting and sculpture as well.
It was a priceless treat 4 years ago to join them on a trip to the Czech republic with my wife, and let them know they were going to be grandparents.
He became a grandfather twice over with our two daughters and they really brightened up their lives. His health started failing 2years ago, even then in his 70s he started a major renovation project on his house, and when he recovered he saw it completed.
A month ago he went into hospital with an infection but gradually got weaker, we fought for him and then a few days ago when he lost his speech and fell into a semi-conscious state we chose to put him into palliative care and make him comfortable. At one point in the evening before he died with tremendous effort he looked directly at me and shook my hand and my brothers hand. He was saying goodbye and thanking us for being his sons. My mom thought he got more relaxed and was singing later. She could just make out the melody - it was 'hes got the whole world in his hands.'
As someone pointed out so well, he went out with a song in his heart and his loving family around him. As painful as it was it was an honor and privilege to be with him till the end.
Goodbye dad I love you and will always miss you.