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On fathers: Paying tribute to those in my life and career

Like many of you, I am enjoying the new mini-series, Kenobi, that brings back Ewan McGregor as a middle-aged Obi-Wan Kenobi. Living in exile on Tatooine, Kenobi is keeping a watchful eye on young Luke Skywalker, son of Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader. Perhaps one of the most famous “father-son” relationships in cinematic history, the story of Luke and Vader is legend. But the story of Kenobi, Luke’s adoptive father one might say, is sure to please many a Star Wars fan.

Previously, I have written about the importance of mentors and being “raised” by nurses. So, as we mark Father’s Day, I thought it only fitting to mention the fathers in my life and career.

Being a father is relative. I have a father (OK, maybe not Anakin Skywalker but you get the point) and I became a father. Being a father is one of the most important roles in my life, which also includes being a husband, brother and son.

Although most of you will never meet my father, he is easy to describe. He is basically the Don Cherry of insurance salesmen. He is loud, brash and opinionated. He has views that sometimes make my eyes roll, but at his core he is a good man, a good father and a proud Canadian.

Every year for Christmas, he would buy me Don Cherry’s Rock’em Sock’em Hockey. I would watch them repeatedly, exhorted by Cherry to “let’s go!” and big thumbs up that I still mimic to this day. This fuelled my love of hockey, passion for Canada and still does both today. And, yes, Cherry does deserve the Order of Canada.

Sometimes being a father is symbolic. I have written previously about my mentor, Ciaran Sheehan, whom I consider to be the “grandfather of palliative care” in Windsor-Essex. Some might consider someone like Larry Librach to be the founding father of palliative care in Ontario. I was proud to receive an award in his name in 2017 for leadership in community palliative care from Hospice Palliative Care Ontario (HPCO). Rick Firth presided over the merger of Hospice Association of Ontario (HAO) and Ontario Palliative Care Association (OPCA) in 2011, forming the current HPCO. As such, Rick could be considered the “father of hospice care” in Ontario.

While Dame Cicely Saunders is responsible for the modern hospice palliative care movement, Balfour Mount is widely recognized as the “father of palliative care.” Dr. Mount opened Canada’s one of the first palliative care units, in Montreal in 1974, and coined the term “palliative care” from the Latin “to cloak.”

Jose Pereira was an early mentor in my career and his role as a founding father of Pallium is a key to the promise of using education to increase access to palliative care across Canada. Its LEAP (Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative Care) are excellent resources for health-care providers.

Francis Ryall was the father of four children. A nurse, Francis graciously presented at a LEAP session I conducted in 2015 to give the learners perspective and to remind them why they were giving up a weekend in the name of learning and education.

I never met John Dale, but he is the father of Anthony and Nancy Dale. I have written about John and the importance of ending the postal code lottery for palliative care in Canada.

While I did not start the Palliative Medicine Program (PMP) at the Hospice of Windsor, I was proud to help expand it. Started by Charmaine Jones in 2000, I took over in 2006 and we expanded to two physicians when Jim Gall joined in 2008.  But the real credit for the explosion of our program goes to Gordon Giddings, who was one of the founding fathers of the Year of Added Competency (YAC) Postgraduate Year Three (PGY3) program here in Windsor. As a result, we have trained PGY3 trained palliative care physicians since 2012.  We now have 12 palliative care physicians in Windsor-Essex, with other graduates now working in London, Sarnia, Hamilton and Ottawa. Despite the fixed and false narrative that we can’t train enough palliative physicians, Windsor seems to be doing just that. Although, to be fair, we haven’t trained a single Royal College palliative specialist because Western continues to deny that Palliative Medicine is a specialty.

As a proud “father” of our program, I am pleased to see our graduates flourish. Perhaps one of my proudest moments came when a student, Thomas Burgess, cared for Kyra Roberts at the end of her life when I was in Toronto for OMA-MOH negotiations. And now I am proud to see Sheri Bergeron take over the mantle of medical director at the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County as we begin a new rotational model of leadership.

Too many times in my career, I have sat on couches and listened to stories about fathers and sons who are estranged.

My job gives me an interesting perspective. The simplest lesson I have learned is this: At the end of life, it is not what we have done that we remember most, but it is the things we did not do that we regret.

For two years, we have isolated and been estranged from our families in the name of public health. As we emerge from this pandemic, as we move toward the endemic phase, it is time to reconnect with family and loved ones, and this includes fathers and their sons and daughters.

This weekend, I will enjoy watching my son, Owen, playing lacrosse in Milton, more fun for me than the most expensive Leafs or Raptors tickets. Sitting in this arena with parents watching our sons and daughters is the best kind of entertainment that money can’t buy.

Perhaps one of my favourite photos of my son came from his daycare in Windsor.

Owen’s tribute to his dad.

I love this photo, except they got it backwards.

My favourite quote about fathers and sons comes from Superman, both the 1978 Richard Donner film and the 2006 film Superman Returns.

You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you. Even in the face of our deaths, the richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel, all this and more, I … I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own. See my life through your eyes… as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father … the son. This is all I … all I can send you, Kal-El.”

Owen Cargill receives award from Mayor Drew Dilken for raising more than $1,000 for vaccine research selling a comic book he wrote.

Top photo: Darren Cargill and his son, Owen.

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Darren Cargill

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Dr. Darren Cargill is a fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians of Canada, and American Association of Hospice Palliative Medicine. He is the past medical director for the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County and lead physician for its community-based Palliative Medicine Program. He is one of only two certified hospice medical directors in Canada and has his designation as a certified Canadian physician executive.  He received HPCO’s Larry Librach award in 2017 for excellence in leadership and advancing palliative care through mentorship.

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