Theresa Coles is from Montreal, Que. She loves spending time with her family and friends, drinking wine, and her Twitter account.
I’ve written this letter so many times in my mind, ever since you were diagnosed with cancer and decided not to proceed with treatments in October of 2016. A “thank you for being you” letter, an “I wish we had more time” letter, a complete letter of gratitude to you. So, before time runs out, here it is.
You were never the type of dad who sat us down to teach a lesson or give advice like they do on TV, where at the end of 30 minutes all our problems were solved and we’re onto the next scene. Maybe that’s because you never liked the big things and the grand gestures—you’re so private, and so humble. Of course, you also never had to: You’ve lived your life as an example.
I think about how kind you are, how there isn’t a person that’s met you who wouldn’t agree with me. You have earned so much love and respect in our community. Your involvement in local football with the Chateauguay Raiders, which spanned the course of 30 years, left everyone in town knowing who you are. You’ve had your hand in it all at some point—registration, the food, and the equipment, which was your pride and joy. Remember when you turned old football helmets into planters, and you filled them with flowers and hung them proudly?
All my life, I’ve had friends tell me, “I saw your dad today, I went up and said hi.” You have a smile and an attitude that attracts everyone to you. You’re always there with a grin, ready to say hello when you hear someone calling out “Mr. Coles!” When you took early retirement, and became a stay-at-home dad, you also became the emergency contact for every kid in the neighbourhood; you’d be the one to pick someone up at school when they were sick.
You are incredibly generous. Many people appear as such on the outside; they’d give you the shirts off their backs in public so everyone can see how good they are. But you are the man who, away from prying eyes, will offer all that you have to someone. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been home and you’ve tried to give me food from the pantry to take home, only to have mommy yelling, “No! We’re actually having that for dinner.” You’ve given me taxi money for as long as a can recall, a $20 bill slipped into my pocket to make sure I get home safe. You’ve given your car, your furniture, your house to your kids. I have never bought an appliance myself; you’ve always given me yours. You’ve given it all within our family to make sure we are all happy and thriving. You’ve never once asked for anything in return.
You’re the dad I was never embarrassed to have drop me off or pick me up at a party, the dad I have always hugged and kissed goodbye no matter who was around. The dad who made my friends and I Bagel Bites at midnight because we wanted a snack, and fried bologna in the morning when my friends stayed over. The dad who would pitch a tent in the backyard during the summer so we could have extra fun sleepovers with our friends. The dad who always makes sure I have enough to eat, and enough wine to drink.
You’ve always gone out of your way to make us happy. When I was in high school, you took me downtown to the Eaton Centre, so I could meet my idol and biggest crush, Kurt Browning. I had never missed a day of school up until then, but you let me leave class just for this moment, knowing how much it meant to me. I remember crying so much afterwards, from excitement, from the embarrassment of not remembering my own name, and just pure joy. “I bet he’ll never forget you,” you said to me, and I believed you, dad. I still believe Kurt Browning thinks back to that day when a shy girl with sweaty bangs approached him- a girl who could barely speak coherently to him—and smiles at the memory.
I remember how excited I was when you took me to buy Doc Marten boots when I was 16. I still have them, and wear them often. Each time I do, I think about that day, driving into the city to go to the discount store, and finding the wildest, most colourful boots, and you not even batting an eye. I loved them and thought I was so cool, so you did, too.
I can only count a few times you haven’t supported me—the time I pierced my nose against your strict orders not to, and that day I wore my hair in those little ponytails to the mall and you refused to talk to me. Looking back, those ponytails weren’t a good look for me anyway, so I’m actually with you on that one.
You’ve hung pictures on the walls of every apartment in which I’ve lived. You call me when chocolate milk or Kraft Dinner is on sale at the grocery store. You walked me down the aisle, laughing, telling me there was no way I would trip over my dress, because you had me. You sat with me while I sobbed when my marriage ended, reminding me that I was lovable and loved and that there was always a place at home if I needed it.
It’s all these little things that make us, and everyone we know, love you. But it’s also the big things you do that you don’t notice—like your love for mom. The two of you together are every romantic story and fairytale combined, and then some. Your age difference of 18 years never stopped you. Bringing in your three teenage children to your relationship didn’t stop you. It was love, and that’s all that mattered. You love mom more than anything in this entire world, and she, you. You are truly best friends, a team that has stood together united for 40 years now. The images of the two of you sitting at the kitchen table doing the crossword together every single week—in pencil first!—is a simple, meaningful memory I treasure. And lest we forget that you and mom were party animals too once upon a time: I’ve seen you dancing on tables on more than one occasion at the bar, having the time of your lives. You always had the most fun and the greatest laughter when you’re together.
Dad, you’ve raised wonderful kids, beautiful, intelligent grandchildren, the most precious great-grandson you could ever imagine, and a brand new baby great-granddaughter who I know you can’t wait to meet. Your life hasn’t always been easy, but it is full of love. I can only hope, Daddy, that you’ve felt it too—every ounce of love, respect, kindness and admiration we all have for you. I hope you feel it inside, and are proud of the tremendous life you have lived. You’ve genuinely had it all.
So maybe you do love the big things and the grand gestures, after all. You just thought they were little.
With all my love,
Theresa—one of your three favourite daughters.
Terry Coles passed away on Feb. 9, 2018.
This essay is part of Maclean’s Before You Go series, which collects unique, heartfelt letters from Canadians taking the time to say “Thanks, I love you,” because we shouldn’t have to wait until it’s too late to tell loved ones how we really feel. If you would like to see your own letters or reflections published, send us an email here. For more details about submission, click here.