Wednesday, January 6, 2016


My father was born in 1920. The oldest of three children, his father was a shoe salesman in Toronto. In 1936, in the middle of the Depression, with the family shoe store failing, my grandparents told their 16-year-old son upon finishing Grade 10 that they could not continue to afford for him to stay in school. Angry and rebellious, my father and a buddy of his bought a car and travelled to California.

With nary a dollar in their pockets, they shot pool and hustled their way across America. My dad was a smart guy, skilled with a pool cue. They had an amazing adventure. My father left as a teenager filled with dreams and returned as a man with a greater sense of the world. He ended up working for his father in the shoe business, eventually falling in love, marrying my mom, and starting a family before the beginning of the Second World War.

Growing up in Toronto, I learned that my father had wanted to be a lawyer but never finished high school—because he never had the opportunity to do so and realize his dream. Starting in 1940, the first of his 13 children over the next 19 years would be born, and he had a family to support. Higher education was not part of that equation. But when he had time off, he loved to read books: biographies, business books, fiction books, political thrillers, and science fiction books, he loved them all. The rise of paperback books in the 1940s only exposed him to more opportunities for inexpensive entertainment. And as the years went by, many of those paperback books had been kept in our basement “library.” I shared my dad’s love of reading, particularly of science fiction books, when I was a boy and early teenager, and I loved that connection with my father.

My father died suddenly, at age 57, when I was only 18 years of age. Due to a series of unfortunate events, we lost everything, including the home I grew up in, and we moved into a rental apartment. We packed up all the old books and stored them in a neighbour’s garage until we could have a bigger place. I managed to grab a small handful of some of the books, particularly the science fiction ones. When our neighbour’s garage suffered a terrible flood that destroyed all of those books, the few that I salvaged were all that remained of my father’s old “library.”

I too had a dream of a higher education, but my family could not support my pursuit of higher education. Fortunately, it was no longer the Depression, and we had lots of resources to allow me to get that education. Between student loans, grants, and bursaries, I managed to get two degrees before finally reaching the path toward my dream career by gaining acceptance into dental school at the University of Toronto. Clearly out of money, I joined the Canadian Forces, which paid for my education, and upon graduation, I was sent to Calgary, Alberta.

When my contract ended, I worked as an associate in a shopping mall dental clinic. I worked open mall hours, all year-round, and when the Christmas holidays rolled around, as a member of the Jewish faith, I told my Christian colleagues to take Christmas off to be with their families. I told them that I would work and requested a week off of my choosing some other time. Everyone was happy with this offer, and for four years, I worked between Christmas and New Year’s, manning the “fort.” And in those weeks, I went for walks, I read books, and I twiddled my thumbs; people tend to not want routine, preventive dentistry done during the Christmas holiday period. I saw a few emergencies, the odd student home for the holidays needing to get work done, but largely, it was unproductive time.

When I purchased my own general practice from a dentist who had retired, I decided that between Christmas and New Year’s, the best place for my team to be was with their families. For 22 years, I have taken the week off between Christmas and New Year’s and have referred any emergencies to the shopping mall dental clinic where I used to work. Everyone has been happy with this arrangement.

And for me, taking time off means taking the time completely off. It’s my time to kick back and pick up some books. And I like them all: business books, biographies, sports books, political thrillers, and, my first love, science fiction and fantasy books. We’re doing some renovations to our basement, and before we packed up the contents to put into storage, I chose a couple of those old paperbacks for me to read during this holiday period. And now, at age 57, I am reading some of the books that my father read so many years ago.

These books may not be the height of literature, but they are an entertaining way to pass some time, relax, and stay connected to my dad.

May your days off never be a grind.

Warm regards,

Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD

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