Why The Mustache – or – Uncle Bastard

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I’m going to participate in “Movember” again this year. In fact, I’m cheating and I’ve already started (not that you could really tell). I have been asked why several times already – well to get technical, I’ve been asked “dear God, why?” – and I want to tell you. But, in order for me to do that, I need to tell you about my Uncle Rory.

Rory, my Dad’s eldest brother, was…different…than the other men in my family. My Dad was stalwart, honest, true, believed that a man should always keep his word (especially if he shook on it) and if someone reached out to you for help you were honour-bound to reach back.

Rory was not many of these things. He could be kind, when it suited him, but he was seldom honest, and you never knew which version of him you were going to get when he showed up at your door. But he was a dynamic personality who drew other people to him like city pigeons to a dropped French-Fry. He was adventurous. Poetic. He had traveled widely and had seen much of the world, and was eager to tell you how he felt about it.

He had left home when he was seventeen and joined the Canadian Navy. It was unclear whether Rory had enough of the Navy, or the Navy had enough of Rory, and they parted ways after he’d spent three years sailing about the world, mopping floors and visiting foreign brothels. He’d been many things in his life; a cowboy on a working ranch, a real-estate agent, a minister and a Biker for Jesus.

He had also been a drug addict living on the streets of the lower east side of Vancouver, and told me the secret to getting high off a bottle of (recently stolen) shoe polish was to drink it really fast and then hold your mouth shut with both hands so your stomach had time to absorb some of the alcohol before you puked it all out.

The thing that really drew me Rory was that he was willing to talk to me about things that my father wasn’t. One of the first little gems of wisdom Rory laid upon me was delivered while we were walking down the street when I was about twelve years old.

He turned to me, with a very serious expression, and said, “Tyner, I have something to tell you. And I need you to listen.”

I nodded, rapt.

“If a woman is ever giving you a blow-job, and bites down, you have to cuff her so she doesn’t do it to the next guy.”

With only the vaguest idea of what a blow-job might have been, I could do nothing but nod again.

Despite some of the more misogynistic or chauvinist things he told me, Rory taught me some important lessons. He told me that love was important, and it was just as important to make sure the people you loved knew it. He told me that it was the things you didn’t say in your life that you regretted, rather than the things you did say, because if you hold something back there may come a day when it is too late to say it. He also told me that I didn’t have to believe in the things he did, but to consider very carefully what I believe, and when I had my mind made up to take a stand and stick to it.

Rory had a dark side to him, although I never saw it. My mother hated him, and called him “Uncle Bastard” when he wasn’t around. My father knew his brother’s faults, but also trusted him enough to know that he wouldn’t hurt me and so didn’t try and dissuade me from having a relationship with him.

Despite his faults, Rory loved me, and made sure to tell me whenever we parted ways.

When I was in my late teenage years, Rory began to develop a pain in his abdomen and had difficulty urinating. A series of tests revealed that he had prostate cancer. The treatment recommended to him by his doctor was castration, removal of his prostate and heavy doses of estrogen. Rory – being who he was – declared that he would rather die than be “unmanned.”

And so he did.

It didn’t happen all at once, but by small degrees, over a course of several years, Rory got sick. He first lost weight, then had trouble with his energy, had to sell his motor-cycle because riding it made him dizzy, and finally couldn’t get out of bed. The cancer had made its poisonous way from his lower organs, metastasized into his spine, and finally made its way into his brain. His wife (the fifth of his wives, actually…), Hailey, had called me to tell me he was going into Hospice. But, before I could make arrangements with my boss to get away from work and go see him, he was gone.

I’ve done the Movember thing before, and this year I’m going to do it again. The mustache is not fun – for me or anyone who has to look at me – but I lighten it up by naming it (his name is Benson, and he is a gentleman).  Each time I let it grown, I remember the dynamic man who had such a huge impact on my life and was taken from me by a cancer that is often diagnosed too late, is difficult to treat, and generally claims its victims anyway.

Rory told me he was proud of me every time we met, and that he loved me when we parted ways. I guess this is my way of saying, “I love you back.”

 

 

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