January 31st, 2020

My father, the force of nature

Mo Bro Sam Wilson remembers his father’s ‘optimism, perseverance, charisma and pure genuine, human kindness.’
Prostate Cancer | In the Barber Chair

Thunderstorms. Cracks of blinding lightning, colossal, earth-shattering roars of thunder, the unceasing downpour of rain, howling gales of wind. Relentless, persistent, unfaltering, powerful, vast, purely impassioned, a force of nature. Every time it rains and I hear those unmistakable sounds synonymous with a coming storm, I think of my dad. It’s a metaphor my late father, Christopher Wilson, used to say but reserved it only for the purest of heart, incredible, passionate, utterly impressive people he came across in his life. It’s a phrase that a humble man like himself would never use to describe his own character but there is truly no other way to define the man my father was; an absolute force of nature.

My father devoted 40+ years of his life to be a champion for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. He dedicated his life to the non-profit sector and gave part of himself to so many different causes. Establishing one of Toronto’s first co-op housing facilities in his mid-twenties, running advocacy campaigns for dozens of non-profit organizations in Canada & the US including causes extremely close to his heart like the Canadian Lung Association, helping to achieve the ground-breaking creation of Canada’s Air Quality Management System.

He was the embodiment of optimism, perseverance, charisma and pure genuine, human kindness. He taught me everything I know about empathy and charity; putting those less fortunate before our own needs. He was what it means to have unparalleled selflessness. He co-founded Project Life: War Orphans Rehabilitation Program, an organization dedicated to bringing war orphans from war torn countries, children who had lost everything, and bringing them to the US & Canada to have a summer to just be kids again. He would visit Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia & Herzegovina; all active warzones - and in only the way that my dad could, he would breathe life into these families, that there was hope for their children in the US & Canada through the amazing work of Project Life. “We are their family, and we are going to take care of them, and that includes you.” This was the first instance of my father instilling in me the most important lesson he has ever taught me, and one I carry with me every day: it is our sole duty to take care of, and fight for those who are less fortunate or disadvantaged than us.

sam and his father, christopher wilson 

My dad had a year long battle with prostate cancer before his life was eventually taken by a second, much rarer cancer; neuroendocrine cancer metastatic to the liver. I had been doing Movember for 7 years before my dad’s diagnosis, largely because of his brother, my uncle Mark who had been living with progressive metastasized prostate cancer.

After a battle of over 10 years we had to cope with another heartbreaking loss - Uncle Mark lost his battle with prostate cancer in October, 2019. It’s always been a cause I’m passionate about but with my dad’s passing a year ago it has become something I have integrated into my life.

Ultimately, my father’s life was prolonged by an entire year because his prostate cancer was caught and treated early. It was just a horrible fate to have the second cancer take his life. You don’t think about it very often – but one more year with a person who means so much to you, whom you love with your whole heart is an incredibly long time. It’s an amount of time that, now, I would do anything to have one more year with my dad. It’s this sentiment I carry with me and try to share with anyone I can: know your own health; physical and mental. Know when something is not quite right, know that it is okay to talk about it, to share how you feel, to know that it’s okay to be not okay. For too long has the stigma around men sharing their feelings and emotions been squashed by societal pressures and foolish expectations of the “traditional man.”

To put it bluntly, it has been a rough 1.5 years. My father's death, my uncle's death 3 months ago - this has been one of the darkest periods of my entire life.

So this is me opening up; I don't have clinical major depression, but I battle depression in little bursts. I'm fine for weeks at a time, doing stand up comedy, making fun of my coworkers, making stupid Instagram videos and then all of a sudden I can be completely unable to function, consumed by the thoughts of my dad's last days, his last words, the last things I got to say to him. I struggle with this in every day small reminders. The Shania Twain song I hear in a coffee shop, remembering how my dad used to laugh at my jokes or poke fun at me, his prayer beads I wear every day. I really, really struggle.

“He taught me everything I know about empathy and charity; putting those less fortunate before our own needs. He was what it means to have unparalleled selflessness.”

It comes and goes with varying levels of intensities, exactly like thunderstorms. But that’s the thing about depression and thunderstorms - when they come, and they will; you find shelter and that can be isolating. But you don’t have to be alone when you take refuge, there’s enough room in there to let other people in – because of what Movember means to me, I’ve learned to talk about the pure, raw emotions that come along with those thunderstorms. I’ve learned about the power of having loved ones and uncharacteristically kind strangers to share my shelter with, to share my dark days with and suddenly it doesn’t feel so isolating.

Thunderstorms will never stop existing, but how you take your shelter can be changed and adapted and one day they will stop being these intimidating, dark, ominous moments, they will be a reminder of just how much that person meant to you, the everlasting impact they left on your life, chances for you to share your loved one’s legacy, and for me – thunderstorms; the lightning, the rain, the wind, the power of thunder, will always just be my dad reminding me to be my own force of nature.