11 years ago my dad met a homeless man outside a Tim Horton’s and bought him coffee. Before he left, he gave the man his business card and told him to call if he ever needed to.
When I lived at home with my parents I don’t remember a day that the phone didn’t ring. I’m sure there may have been a couple over the past 11 years, but there certainly weren’t many. The phone would ring during dinner time, and we would wait until we were finished eating before listening to the slow and raspy voice of Kenny drift through our answering machine.
He was the same age as my dad, but with fetal alcohol syndrome he morphed from man into something like a son to my father. Christmas day Kenny would come over to our house for brunch – my dad would tie a napkin around his neck and slowly help him get food on to his plate. He never said much. Often he’d somehow manage to bring Christmas gifts – I remember the necklace he gave my mom.
Kenny was like a son to my dad but I couldn’t tell you what he was to me. I guess he seemed like he would be the person who would always be there. The one who would be on our answering machine when I came home from University. The one who would be there for Christmas brunch.
Those 11 years were not easy. My dad has a way with dealing with difficult people – something I’ve grown to appreciate now that I’m no longer the difficult one he’s dealing with. Kenny tested limits – but he didn’t know any better. In and out of jail, the hospital, homes, and the bar even when we had no idea how a man with an oxygen tank made it there. The idea of consequences was something that could never make sense to him, so it was my dad who was there to talk him down every time something went wrong – which was pretty frequently. Nevertheless, Kenny had a special place in all of our hearts.
Somehow, through it all Kenny attempted to learn to play guitar. Sometimes his phone calls would be “thank-you’s” and “God bless you’s”. I remember him calling three or four time’s in a row – first to ask for my dad who I said was not home – then to ask for my dad again, to which I repeated he was not home – the next few phone calls were him calling to tell me he was sorry he had already called more than once. He meant well.
My parents have stories of Kenny that will last forever. It’s no secret that he spent much of his life struggling – it’s also no secret that the joy he experienced throughout those past 11 years would not have been created without my dad.
Kenny passed away today. My dad lost something like a son. And in a very strange way it’s all okay, because Kenny’s not suffering anymore. It’s been a long time coming, and I think my parents will miss our phone ringing for a little while – but while Kenny was thankful for us, it’s amazing to see how thankful we all were for him.
Rest in peace Kenny.