Today, July 8th, 2014, marks the 1st anniversary of my father’s passing. In his honor, I decided I would attempt to write a bit about him, because he was my biggest hero and an example to live by. (In the first picture he was in his 20’s.)
My father was born the day before Christmas Eve (23rd of December) in 1939, the day when Finnish II Corps launched a failed counter-attack against Russia in Winter War. On that day 361 Finnish soldiers died, 777 were wounded and 190 men were declared missing in action. It would be months yet, before the war would be over. His mother was a refugee from Karelia, the part of Finland that was eventually lost to Russia in a peace treaty and his father never acknowledged him as his child, officially. He was assumed to have perished in the war, but my mother found him, when I was little. We met with him once, but he refused to admit being my grandfather, even though it was quite clear.
When my dad was two years old, he was with his grand mother, stopping to warm up in the hallway of an apartment building when a nice lady invited them into her apartment for cup of coffee to get them out from the cold. My great grandmother and the lady got into talking and my great grandmother eventually told the lady how my grandmother was struggling to care for her children and that she was going to give my dad up for adoption. The lady, a nurse herself, took pity on the two and suggested that she and her husband would take the boy in. They were well off and comfortable and could certainly provide for the boy.
After a little while, my dad found a new home with the nurse and her husband, who in his lifetime ended up owning “nearly half of the city” and starting up a successful business involving car tires, which is still in business today (though no longer in the family).
When my dad was little he was sent off to Sweden for some time, to get away from the war (World War II). He used to tell me stories about how he snuck up once or twice to ride Marshall Mannerheim’s horse, when he was in town. Marshall Mannerheim was one of Finland’s greatest military men and Finland’s 6th president, ranked as the most respectful Finnish man of all time, even today. I’m not sure if those stories were just stories, or if there was truth to them, but knowing my dad, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true. He also remembered the bombings of his old home town, Mikkeli, and how one fell on his neighbor’s yard, only a small distance away from his home. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like.
In school, my dad never seemed to do too well. He was more interested in practical matters and whatever young boys were into at the time. When he was on the 4th grade, his teacher, in frustration exclaimed, “You would be better suited to handle a broomstick!”, which caused him to take his books, bin them and leave the school – for good.
My father eventually entered military, as all Finnish men must around their 18th birthday. Despite being a stubborn, independent and sometimes difficult to handle kind of a young man, he advanced to the rank of corporal during his service in the tank battalion. He was the leader of his unit. He used to always fondly remember his time in the army, making many jokes about that life as well. He remembered that back then, they were (more or less jokingly) instructed to shoot first and ask questions later, if they saw or heard something unauthorized during the night watch. He also recalled getting into trouble for napping in the ammo storage when he was supposed to be doing his duties… and he remembered sometimes sneaking out of the base at night to play pool with his friends. A young rebel, he was…
While studying in my current home town, Tampere, he met my mother, who was also studying here. They fell in love and soon married, followed by the arrival of my older sisters soon after that. As a young man and father he lived a life akin to that of James Bond, if you ask me. He drove fast cars, piloted planes and captained ships – and he was a semi-professional rally driver, racing cars and motorbikes – as did my mother, who had also been reading the maps for him. There are still some pictures (somewhere in mother’s possessions) of their old cars and even a picture of my dad driving a porsche in Italy, where he had been invited for a test drive. My mom recalls the times when dad came to pick her up – on a plane. How cool is that?
My father was always a fearless and brilliant man who went with the times, instead of against them, like my mother sometimes seems to do. My father, even at the age of 70 was on top of his game when it came to smart phones, computers and gadgets. He was always the “support pillar” of our family, always the one to help anyone who needed it, always ready to offer advice and assistance. He built his wealth by himself, with hard work, providing for his family the best he could. When the economic crisis hit Finland in the 90’s our family slowly began to know what it meant to have to struggle. My father took it better than my mother, but I know it was hard for him too to watch everything he had worked to build slowly start crumbling down.
Despite the financial difficulties, he would not stop giving his all to his family and friends. He would always seek to be there for everyone who needed it and he would keep a cool head even the times when I called him and told him that I was afraid I couldn’t make rent because of money being so tight, once I was living on my own. He always said that everything would be alright – and it would always end up so. He just had a knack for sorting everything out, knowing which strings to pull, who to call and what to say. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if it weren’t for him. And I would certainly not be where I am now, if it were not for him.
My father was also always a stylish man, well dressed and well groomed. You can see in the picture above his old trademark RayBan aviators he always wore – even to parties, like my niece’s confirmation, at which the picture was taken in. The man I see in that picture is the man I remember the best. Graying hair, smooth skin, strong eyebrows and a slender frame. I don’t remember him as that skeleton of a man he was for his last couple of years. The bald, frail old man. In my mind he will always have his hair, his smile and his life.
What I always remember the best of my dad, besides the aviators, are his gold necklace plate and his black stetson. He wore a stetson nearly all the time and I took the liberty of asking for those two things from his belongings after his passing.
I was always daddy’s girl. As the youngest, the “evening star” of the family (as I was called), I know I held a special place in my dad’s heart. There’s nothing he wouldn’t have done for his little girl and he did adore me as much as I adored him. He raised me to be an independent, capable woman with a mind of my own and the will to fight for what’s right. He taught me I am capable of doing whatever it is I put my mind into and that I can succeed in life regardless of what life throws at me. He taught me a ton of anything with an engine in it and he took me flying with him when I was little. He let me captain our boat, back when we had one, though I wasn’t legally allowed to do so yet. Sometimes I tell people that I was the son he never had. Despite my love for makeup and beautiful things, I’ve also always been the most boyish of all of us three girls, taking an interest in the things men usually take interest in and often being better friends with boys than with girls.
My dad was such a brave man. He was a fighter. He never gave up. He went through several cancers, 8 ½ hours of surgery well past his 70th birthday, knocking on death’s door more than once, yet always bouncing back. When most people would have given up, he still got out of his hospital bed, stood up and went for a stroll, even though every step taken was pure agony. Nobody deserves to go through what he had to go through. He was the kindest, sweetest and most caring man, he, if anyone, would have deserved a good, peaceful death at an old age (73 was is not old). Even on the day of his death, he looked forward to the future, firmly believing he could conquer his cancer one more time. Despite having been in pretty bad shape for a long time, his death still seemed to come out of nowhere. I wasn’t at all prepared. I was so certain he would be with me for at least another 10 years. I remember when my sister called me to tell me and I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I honestly still can’t quite grasp it.
After his passing, I thought I was going to lose it. I’m not kidding. I kept seeing him everywhere, everyday. Somehow, everyone looked just like him all of a sudden and I could have sworn I saw him walking on the side of the road near our house on more than one occasion. For months, I saw him everywhere. Not a day has gone by since his passing that I wouldn’t have thought of him. I still feel very surreal. He has visited my dreams many times and the dreams have felt so real that they make it even harder for me to come to terms with his passing.
I best wrap up this lengthy story now.
Here are a couple songs which remind me of him. Both are by The Wailin’ Jennys and the latter, Long Time Traveller, was played at his funeral as I had requested.
It was from my father that I inherited my thick, dark brows, my nose, my blue eyes, my lips, my funny teeth and my stubbornness. And I’m grateful for all of those things.