Happy 65th Birthday, Papa Lou!

You don’t have to read too deeply into the blog to know I’m a daddy’s girl, though and through. When I was growing up, my mother would often comment that though I look just like her, I’ve got a LOT of my dad in my personality. I’m not sure what she meant; I mean, the only thing we really have in common is the the sense of humour. Oh, and the stubbornness, and maybe the optimism. Oh yeah, and that ridiculous need to be loved by everyone. And the obsessive tendencies, the temper, the loquaciousness, the gregariousness… okay, maybe I can see her point. 🙂

My dad was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, on May 29, 1944, just before the end of the second world war, the only child of Maria Katarina, a German, and Henry Donders, a Dutchman. He was born when my grandmother was 41 years old. When he was still very young, the family moved to Tilburg, Holland. Post-war Holland was not a very friendly place for a Germans, and my grandmother told stories of people throwing rocks at her while she was pushing my father in his pram.

My father loved music from an early age, and formed a pipe-and-drum band while he was still in elementary school. When he was ten years old, his family emigrated yet again, this time to Canada. He arrived in London, Ontario speaking not a word of English, and his family lived at first with his uncle and his family.

By the time he was attending Catholic Central High School, he had bought his family’s first car. It wasn’t the most reliable of vehicles, and on more than one occasion he fed it an ice-cream cone to keep it from overheating. His stomach was also rather unreliable due to an ulcer, and the nuns who were the teachers at Catholic Central were vexed by his standing permission note to leave class any time to go for a milk shake to settle his burning stomach. The nuns were already unimpressed with my dad, though, because by the time he was in high school he was playing music professionally in night clubs — even though he was far too young to drink. While in school, he traveled with his high school band back to Europe, where he was greeted by the members of the same pipe-and-drum band he’d formed as a child!

Catholic Central was also where he met Frances, the woman he would marry in 1966. The first day he drove her home from school, she repaid his courtesy by reading a letter from another suitor the whole way home! I guess stubbornness as a family trait has come in handy a few times.

My dad has had a variety of careers, many of them while struggling to supplement his career as a drummer. He was a taxi driver; he had a printing business that printed the menus for McDonalds; he sold encyclopedias door-to-door. He was good friends with Daniel Lanois (yes, that Daniel Lanois, the one who has produced records for Peter Gabriel and U2, among others) and his brother and used to hang out in their Hamilton recording studio. Eventually, though, he and Danny parted ways as my dad had a young family to support. Musicianship gave way to salesmanship in the 1970s, and my dad took on a career as a professional fund raiser.

Looking back, I can see where I get my stubborn tenacity and obsessive tendencies. Once my dad turned to sales and fundraising for a living, he applied himself with a vigour that led to him being salesman of the year several times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Once my dad decides he’s going to do something, by god he does it and he does it well! I love this about him.

As many of you know, he got sick in the early 1990s from Hepatitis C, from the ‘tainted blood’ scandal. He had a liver transplant in 2001, and when they removed his liver they found it was riddled with cancer. I still shudder to think about it.

A man is so much more than his day job, though. In my humble opinion, the true measure of a man is in the lives he’s touched, and especially those he’s shaped by influence and by example. I look at my brother, who is one of the finest examples of mankind I know, and I see my father’s best work. I see the love between my parents, even after 43 years of marriage, and I am in awe of the endless expanses of true love.

Growing up, I always knew I could count on my dad. He dedicated himself to his family, and I’ve defined my role as a parent on the foundations I learned from his example. When I look back on my youth, I remember the simple joy of spending time with him — sometimes driving the countryside as he took me along to the various schools he was working with, sometimes on the little boat we had when I was a teen, sometimes just sitting on the back deck watching the sunset. My dad has been my safe harbour, my sounding board, and my inspiration. A lifetime ago, at my first (I call it the ‘practice’ marriage) wedding ceremony, we danced to Bette Middler’s Wind Beneath My Wings because I couldn’t then and still couldn’t think of a song that better describes our relationship. Except that maybe we’d be jostling each other for that spotlight. Hey, I come by my love of attention honestly!

And yet, of all the gifts my father has given me, the one I most treasure is the genuine warmth and affection that defines his relationship with my boys, and with my brother’s children. Is there a greater gift than unconditional love?

Happy birthday, Papa Lou. You are loved beyond words.

Papa Lou turns 65!

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

8 thoughts on “Happy 65th Birthday, Papa Lou!”

  1. “Wind Beneath My Wings” is also the song that I associate to my Dad! Makes me cry everytime I hear it.

  2. Beautiful! And your Dad’s childhood portrait evokes Lucas through and through, don’t you think?!

  3. I just commented on your new photo post also…

    I didn’t realize that we shoot with the same camera (I think), and it seems that we have something else in common. Our dad’s both had liver transplants. Scary stuff, eh? The difference is that my dad died in December.

    Give your Papa Lou an extra squeeze.

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