One of the first things asked after meeting someone for the first time, is “Do you have any children?”. I used to answer by saying that I have a daughter. But in the past few years, I usually respond by saying, ‘no’ because I find it too difficult to talk about her with strangers. Previously, I only shared the following story with a few close friends.
Back in the late ’60s, while in high school, I met and fell in love for the first time. I was eighteen, and she was sixteen. During the summer of ’68, my parents moved from our home in Oshawa, Ontario to Georgetown, Ontario, which is about an hour’s drive. But I didn’t have a car or a driver’s license, so I decided to stay in Oshawa for my last year in high school so that I could be close to my girlfriend.
When I told my parents that I wouldn’t be staying in Georgetown with them, they tried to talk me out of it and said to me that they wouldn’t support me and I would have to do it on my own. At the time, I was working part-time at the Agnew-Surpass shoe store at the Oshawa Shopping Centre (OSC). I made about 65 cents an hour but only worked on Thursday and Friday evenings after school, and Saturdays.
Fortunately, my girlfriend’s father owned the Colonial Restaurant downtown, so I was also able to get the odd meal by working at the restaurant, in the evenings, washing dishes.
Initially, I spent a few nights sleeping on the couch at my girlfriend’s place but then was invited to stay at her sister’s home in north Oshawa. I remember the address, too – it was 109 Iroquois Street. I don’t know how much Vicky and Jerry charged me for room and board, but it was only for a few months. Gerry wanted me to pay more, and I wasn’t making enough working part-time, so I had to find somewhere else to live on my meager budget. However, I liked Vicky and Gerry, and I understood the realities of life – nothing of value is free, except love.
I found a place behind the Midtown Mall on Nassau Street – at the home of Mrs. Simpson, a widow. I knew her son Robert (Bob) – we worked part-time at the Loblaws grocery store at the OSC when I was in grade 9.
My room at Mrs. Simpson’s was in the basement, but meals not included. My rent was $12 a week, so I had to skip school a few days each month to work full-time at the shoe store, to supplement my income. My room consisted of a bed, couch, and a black and white television that didn’t work. There wasn’t a stove or fridge, and I washed and shaved in the laundry tubs. There was also a metal shower stall and a small closet. I had a private entrance, but it was never locked. We didn’t lock our doors back then – which would be reckless in today’s world. But I was happy to have a place of my own.
There was a Dominion grocery store in the Midtown Mall, and they used to have a hot dog concession at the front of the store. Hot dogs were 10 cents, and my daily meals often consisted of two or three of these. At the mall, there was also Gambles, a discount department store that sold coffee for just 5 cents a cup. I was always skinny in those days, and now probably undernourished. And as mentioned earlier, I got some meals at the Colonial Restaurant, when my girlfriend was working after school.
I’m also ashamed to admit that some days, I went without eating and got to the point that I would sneak upstairs into Mrs. Simpson’s kitchen and steal a couple of slices of bread – no butter – just plain bread. And if Bob Simpson is reading this, I hope he’ll understand and forgive me.
It was probably the second month of attending the high school that year when Mr. Williams, the principal, called me into the office. He informed me that I would have to leave school because my parents were no longer living in Oshawa and because they no longer pay property taxes, I wasn’t allowed to continue at the school and would have to go to my parent’s place in Georgetown. I remember going back to my classroom to get my stuff and say goodbye to my best friend Eric )Nick) Nichols.
I was devastated and didn’t know what to do. I remember leaving school that day and crying in the parking lot. I didn’t know what to do or where to go to find help. But the one thing that I knew for sure – I wasn’t going to go to my parent’s place.
I can’t remember exactly how I ran into Dave Powless, who was one of my dad’s friends. Most of my dad’s friends back then were buddies he served with, in the Ontario Regiment during WW2. Dave was either on the Oshawa school board or had a connection because he said he was going to make a few phone calls on my behalf. A few minutes later, he told me that I could go back to school! I was thrilled.
I don’t know what Mr. Powless said when on the phone, but I suspect he probably reminded whomever, that my dad was a veteran, who lost his eye in the war. My dad was also a life long resident of Oshawa – born and raised on Ritson Road – so maybe, that was the reason the school board allowed me to return to school.
After I graduated high school, I started to work at my friend Dino Demori’s men’s wear store.
Dino was from New York City and had moved to Oshawa with his dad when his parents divorced. Dino worked on the assembly line of the car plant at General Motors. He also worked part-time, selling cars at Peleshok Motors in Ajax, a town a few miles west of Oshawa.
Dino had been working hard, holding two jobs to save money for his dream – to open a men’s wear store. He was probably in his twenties back then, and he impressed me. To go from working on the car line; selling cars part-time and having a couple of guys boarding to help him with the mortgage on the house, to opening his clothing store! He was a self-made man, and that’s what influenced me to always believe in myself and to never give up on a dream.
By the way, I met Dino, who was a friend of my girlfriend’s brother-in-law Jerry, who used to board at Dino’s home on Philip Murray Avenue, before he married Vicky. We become friends, and he asked me if I would come to work with him, if and when he opened his store – and I agreed. We also became best friends.
I used to go with Dino to Spadina Avenue, in Toronto, to check out clothing suppliers. I was still working part-time/full-time at the shoe store until his store opened in the Midtown Mall. So my first full-time job after graduating high school was working at Dino’s Mens Wear. It’s also where I bought my first suit.
Dino let me buy clothes in the store for his cost, which was great for me. But Dino was struggling at first to build the business, and it was difficult for him to pay me, so I got a job (in the same mall) at Gambles Department Store, which was a chain of discount stores from western Canada. I became the department manager of the Men’s and Boy’s Wear Departments at the tender age of nineteen. My salary was $85/week, so I was finally able to realize my first dream – to marry my girlfriend!
With my first pay cheque, my girlfriend and I went to Burns Jewelry store on Simcoe Street to buy her an engagement ring. She picked out a beautiful solitaire diamond ring, but I only had a few dollars to put as a deposit. The manager of the store asked if I wanted to open an account at the store, and I happily agreed. We left the store with my girlfriend wearing the ring, and it was just like a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, our favorite movie. But I also remember wondering how her father would react when he found out we were engaged.
I got the answer a few days later.
My job at Gambles wasn’t anything that I had planned when going to school. Before meeting my girlfriend, I had many dreams of what I would be doing when I was finally out of school and on my own. Working in a store wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention or words to that effect. And besides, being the department manager of a large, discount department store at the tender age, nineteen seemed to me to be a significant accomplishment, and I was proud of myself.
And although I didn’t have a car or much money yet, I was engaged to get married and couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family. But it wasn’t going to happen right away because my fiance was still in high school. However, it was one step further along the path to adulthood, and it felt like I was standing on top of the world!
My Ma wasn’t thrilled when she got my letter in the mail. Yes, we used to communicate by snail mail in those days. I never had a phone in my room – so the only way for me to communicate with my folks was by the pay phone in the Midtown Mall or by writing letters. And although my parents loved my girlfriend, they were against me getting married at such a young age. But I made my own decisions now, and I wasn’t ever going to change my mind.
I’m not sure how long after we got engaged that my girlfriend met me after work, one night to tell me something important. I remember that we were standing behind Gambles, under a light, and she said to me that her father had forbidden her to see me anymore, and she handed the engagement ring back to me. And although I have had broken bones before, the pain in my heart was nothing that I had ever experienced before. It was like having a hole in my heart, and all of the tears I shed would not drown the hurt or pain.
A few weeks later, I took the bus to the lake and went to the pier of the Oshawa harbor where my girlfriend and I used to go with her dad to watch him fishing for fish (smelt) at night, with a large net. And that’s where I threw the ring.
We never saw each other again.
Years later, my friends, Alice and Peter told me that my former girlfriend had married a rich man who owned an apartment building in Toronto. The news didn’t cheer me up – the feelings of hurt were still raw – even years after the split. But as they say, life goes on, and your heart heals.
It was several months before I was able to think about dating again. But there was a cashier at the Shopper’s Drug Mart in the mall that used to chat with me when I went there to buy cigarettes. She worked there part-time while going to school. She told me that she knew of me because she went to the same school as my girlfriend.
We went out for a few dates, and then things got intimate, although without any emotional attachment. I spent a lot of time at her place because I got along really well with her parents. But she was an only child, and was very spoiled and used to getting anything she wanted.
Several weeks into the relationship, she told me she was pregnant!
It was the summer of 1970, and in those days, when you got a woman pregnant, you had to leave town or get married. I wasn’t going to leave town, but I knew that I wasn’t in love with her. But it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, and shortly afterward, we told her parents. To my surprise, they were both thrilled! So we got married in August.
I remember the day of the wedding; my best man was Dino. My youngest brothers were the ushers. My parents, although not happy that their twenty-year-old son was getting married, attended the wedding and met my inlaws for the first time. I hadn’t told them that my fiance was pregnant. In those days, nobody admitted that they were getting married because of being pregnant, and only the closest of my friends ever knew why I was marrying her.
The other thing that I remember from the wedding was during the interval between the ceremony and the reception. It had been a large wedding in the morning, and there was a pool party at lunch at my new in-laws. I couldn’t hold back the pain in my heart any longer and went to the spare room feeling sick inside. My dad came looking for me, and when he found me in the room crying, he asked what was wrong?
‘I’ve made a terrible mistake, dad!’ I don’t love her – we only got married because she’s pregnant,’ I sobbed.
‘Well, you did the right thing. Now, you need to go back outside to the party and be with your wife.’
Initially, we stayed at my inlaws home on Bloor Street in Oshawa. I still didn’t have a car yet but took the bus to work or got a ride from my father-in-law.
About two weeks after the wedding, I came home from work and my inlaws were in the kitchen at the table and Bert, my father-in-law was crying uncontrollably. And so was Jenny, my wife’s mother (I was never able to call either of them Mom or Dad – it just didn’t feel right).
I asked what had happened and learned that my wife of two weeks had gone back with her ex-boyfriend, and was staying with him at his parent’s place. She told her parents that she didn’t love me. About a week later, she came home – apparently at the insistence of the boyfriend’s mother. I took her back even though it wasn’t in love with her – I did it because I was going to be a father. We decided to try to make the marriage work.
Meanwhile, my job at Gambles was going great. I was now making $100/week and had been given the Fabric department to manage, in addition to the Men’s and Boy’s Wear departments. Working retail is a difficult job – long hours, understaffed, and no overtime pay. I was beginning to see that there wasn’t much to look forward to at Gambles, in terms of future advancement. I was working ten-hour days, six days a week – and no overtime for management.
One day, while having coffee with one of the supplier representatives that used to visit the store each month, I was offered a job on the road as a wholesaler representative for sales agency representing buttons and zippers and a line of high-end velvet fabrics. It was the Spring of 1971, and I still didn’t have a vehicle, and the new job offer included a $175/week draw on commission.
My territory was all of central Ontario with everything north of Toronto. I would have to spend one week a month doing the North Bay to Timmins territory and another week on the Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie territory. I called on department stores and independently-owned fabric stores. In the established customers, I would check the racks of buttons and zippers and re-order replacements. My commission was 5-7% of the sale, and I paid all of my expenses, which included: car lease payments, gas, and repairs, hotels, and meals.
Finally, an opportunity to get a car and a place of our own! I accepted the job.
I leased a brand new Ford car from McDonald Ford in Oshawa. The two GM Dealers couldn’t come close to matching the Ford deal – even though Oshawa was the head office of General Motors and a significant number of people worked in the several plants. Most of my uncles worked there, so it was a bit embarrassing. But the lease fit within my budget, and that was a priority.
We got an apartment in north Oshawa, and I finally saw a glimpse of the future, and it looked bright!
I spent a couple of weeks on the road with the sales representative that I was replacing – who was moving back to England. He explained that it usually costs $100/week for expenses when doing each of the northern territories, which meant that I would have to sell a lot of buttons and zippers and velvet to break even. And I still had to pay for the rent and food and living expenses and my wife wasn’t working.
But to make a long story a bit shorter – in the first six months, I made over $11,000! And l was learning to be a successful salesman – I worked long hours and traveled many miles each month because I was afraid my commissions wouldn’t cover the pay advances I received each week.
On March 26, 1971, my wife’s water broke, and we rushed to Oshawa General Hospital. On the way, I noticed a robin – the first I’d seen that Spring. I thought that ‘Robin’ would make a cute name for a child (boy or girl). A few hours later, my daughter Robin was born, and I was the happiest person in the world.
But the happiness was short-lived, and my life was about to be shattered again by deceit.
The marriage seemed to be working, although I can’t remember feeling any of the excitement or passion that one usually associates with a loving relationship, I know that I was beginning to be proud of what I had overcome in the previous two years. I was twenty-one years old and had a family, a new car, and my only boss was the clock on the wall.
It was a few months after we moved into a townhouse in south Oshawa when I noticed the change. Suddenly, our infrequent intimacy became non-existent, and I spent most nights sleeping on the couch.
It’s difficult when your hormones are racing at full speed, and then suddenly – celibacy! But I figured it had to be due to be some form of post-childbirth trauma. But Robin was almost two years old, so I assumed that something else was the source of her unhappiness. I spent most nights sleeping on the couch.
One weekend, my buddy Bob Simpson invited me to play golf with him at his company’s golf course in Toronto. Bob got married and was working at IBM in Toronto. (Readers will recall the story I wrote about Bob and me traveling to Washington, DC to visit his girlfriend – here is the link: Another Love Story
We had just played two or three holes on the golf course, and I was standing in the middle of the fairway, getting ready to swing the club but stopped when a sudden flood of terror began to consume me – and I didn’t know why. All I knew was that something was wrong, and I had to go home immediately. I quickly apologized to Bob and the others and walked off the golf course!
I started driving home with an urgency that I didn’t understand. I just had this overwhelming feeling that something was wrong at home. When I arrived, my wife was in the kitchen, sitting at the table and crying. I asked what happened while my eyes scanned the room.
She replied that she was depressed and said that she didn’t want to be married anymore. She said she didn’t think that she even wanted to be a mother either. She also said that she needed time to think.
I suggested that she go and stay with Leslie, my older sister, who was living in Kitchener, Ontario. That way nobody would bother her, especially her mother, whom she seemed to hate.
Several weeks passed by, and nobody knew where my wife was staying. She had remained with Leslie for a week or so but had left without saying where she was going.
I had already moved out of the townhouse and put the furniture in storage. Meanwhile, Robin was staying at my inlaws place, and I stayed at my parent’s home in Georgetown.
My wife eventually moved back to her parent’s place. She had run out of money – she’d also ran up a lot of bills on my credit card while she was on her ‘adventure’. A few weeks later, she called me and asked if she could come to my parent’s place to talk to me – her father let her use his car. I agreed.
My Ma told me that I should think hard before deciding to go back with my wife, but I just wanted to have things go back to normal.
When my wife arrived, we talked, and I agreed to move back to Oshawa. But we decided to stay at a motel in Brampton on the way to Oshawa to celebrate getting back together.
We had been in the motel room for a few hours and had had a few drinks. Things started getting intimate, but before anything could happen, she suddenly almost passed out. She was drunk – I had never seen her like this before. I tried to get her from the floor, but she was only semi-conscious. She started calling me Andy and did so repeatedly.
When she finally sobered up, I asked her who Andy was, and she appeared shocked. I said goodbye and drove back to my parents.
A few weeks later, I got a call from a woman by the name of Heather, who said she was a friend of my wife. She told me that she had come home from work early one afternoon and found my daughter Robin sleeping on the couch in her living room. She said that she then went to the bedroom and caught her boyfriend in bed with my wife. I asked her who her boyfriend was and she told me his name. She also told me that my wife had been with several other men.
I contacted a lawyer, and he advised trying to get an affidavit from Heather. I also decided to go to Oshawa and get Robin. I told my inlaws that I was taking Robin for a few days to visit with my parents and me and packed a bunch of her clothes and toys. However, I had no plans of bringing Robin back and went back to my parent’s place to fight the custody battle that was sure to erupt.
A few days passed before I called my inlaws and told them I would be keeping Robin with me at my parent’s place. At the time, they said they understood and agreed that Robin would be better off living with me. But after a few days, all that changed and they were now taking their daughter’s side.
Over the next few weeks, the battle for custody dragged on and I was contacted for an interview with a social worker, to assess my parenting skills and abilities. A similar interview was conducted with my wife. Both of the interviews were examined by a judge, who made the final decision on who would be awarded custody.
I remember crying when I got the answer from my lawyer. So did my dear Ma. The court said that despite my wife’s wanton and scandalous behavior, it didn’t mean that she had lost her ability to care for our child.
I drove Robin to her grandparents’ place in Oshawa and told her I would be coming back to see her. I remember her reaching her arms out to me and crying. I tried to reassure her that I’d be coming back, but I’m sure that my tears told her otherwise.
I divorced Robin’s mother in September 1973 – it was uncontested. My child support and visiting privileges were set out by the court. I would get Robin every other weekend; two weeks in the Summer and on alternating Christmas/New Years holidays.
In 1974, I became a partner in a new, wholesale textile company. At the time, I was self-employed as a manufacturer’s agent for Champlain Textiles in Montreal. I covered all of the major department stores and a few of the larger, independently-owned fabric stores in Ontario. Jack Alper, was also working at Champlain and he had previously owned his own textile company. We became good friends and he introduced me to Bobby Dundas, who was also a manufacturers’ agent. The company that we started was called Barry-Sue Fabrics and it was located in Toronto. Jack named the company after his two children.
I moved to Vancouver and would be responsible for the accounts in western Canada and Bobby would cover Quebec and eastern Canada. Jack would run the warehouse in Downsview and look after the Ontario accounts.
My first apartment in Vancouver was furnished and was at 1190 Alberni Street. But I only stayed there for a couple of months until my furniture was shipped from Ontario. I then moved to 1260 Nelson Street. For the next 18 months, I traveled throughout the western provinces, prospecting for new accounts. The business was going great and I was driving a sporty 1975 Trans Am.
I was beginning to enjoy my life as a bachelor, living in the most beautiful place on earth. I even had the phone number of a potential blind date. One of my former customers from Timmins had given me the girl’s number and said that she was very cute. And although I had never been on a ‘blind date’, I decided to call her. When we spoke on the phone, she sounded interesting. We agreed to go out for drinks and you’ll never believe what happened! I wrote about the date – here’s the link: My First Blind Date
I was getting back to Toronto every few months to see my daughter in Oshawa and visit my family in Georgetown. However, it seemed to me that I was the only person working – and there were many arguments between Jack and me. He also wasn’t paying me a salary – he was just paying my business-related expenses and giving me a lot of promises. So I quit the business and our friendship and walked out the door to join the unemployed.
But I never filed for unemployment. I was too proud for that.
And I was too tired of traveling and living out of a suitcase. Maybe it was time to move back to Ontario and find a new career. I wanted to live closer to home but I couldn’t bear to live in Oshawa again – too many bad memories! So I temporarily stayed at my parent’s place in Georgetown.
On my first day looking for a new job/career – I got hired! I had to take a significant cut in pay but at least I wasn’t going to be traveling and living out of a suitcase.
But you won’t believe where I found employment.
To be continued.
Update: (June 23, 2019) I am going to postpone writing the last few chapters. Some of the events are still too painful for me. But I wanted to leave Robin and Sapphira, my six-year-old granddaughter, whom I’ve never met – my own ‘father’s day story’ and hope that one day, they’ll read my story. And I will definitely finish this story one day – just not today. Hope you’ll understand. ~ Danny
Dedicated to Sapphira
Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):
Boulder to Birmingham – lyrics
I don’t want to hear a love song
I got on this airplane just to fly
And I know there’s life below me
But all that you can show me
Is the prairie and the sky
And I don’t want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
I was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire
And I stood on the mountain
In the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn
I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
Well, you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I’ll survive
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety-five
And pretend that it’s the ocean
Coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby, do you know what I mean?
I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
Songwriters: Bill Danoff / Emmylou Harris
Boulder to Birmingham lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc