Frederick William Harris
- Born: 21 Mar 1935, #7 Thyra Avenue, Toronto, Ontario
- Marriage (1): Margaret Rose Weidman on 8 Oct 1955 in Toronto, Ontario
- Marriage (2): Sandra Joy Redmond on 12 Oct 1974 in Salvation Army Citadel, Scarborough, Ontario
- Died: 9 Jul 2010, Hamilton, Ontario aged 75
- Buried: 14 Jul 2010, Pine Hills Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario
Cause of his death was C.O.P.D.
Fred W. Harris - Memorial Speech
Written by: J.F. Harris
July 14, 2010
My name is Jim Harris, I am Fred's nephew, the only known son of his eldest brother Frank.
I realize that it is important to be brief and attempt to summarize my Uncle's 75 years of life on this earth…this may happen, or it may not.
I know that many of his relatives are somewhat lost for words and are not too sure of what they should say about my Uncle. What is right for the occasion, what is proper to say, what is respectful, loving, and appropriate?
So, bearing this in mind I have chosen to take a different angle when I speak of my Uncle Fred. I do realize that speeches such as these have been offered up far too much lately. Over the last ten years our family has been ravaged by the steady deaths of our own. In all honesty I have run out of things to say - I am just as tired of standing in front of all of you and talking as you are of hearing me talk. I honestly wish, like some of you probably do as well, that I wasn't giving this speech. But, this is the reality and it is what's happening…so I will try to summarize not just the life of my Uncle, but the reality of what were the lives of not only Uncle Fred, but his brothers and their families as well. I do hope you understand my motives. I assure you they are ones of respect and love for all of you.
These words are for the children of Frank, John & Fred.
My life has been enriched by the presence of my cousins….all of them. There were four Harris brothers….Frank, John, Jim & Fred. All had children aside from Jim. In all there were 11 children, that we are aware of, born to these men along with 3 stepchildren that came into the picture at later dates.
All of us were primarily raised by Frank, John & Fred as our paternal role models…and I say all three because that is exactly how it was. When we were children the brothers usually operated as a team with regards to family and child rearing. Their spouses were also members of this team as well.
At times the Harris team functioned like a well oiled machine, at other times it was a broken down wreck awaiting the scrap yard. I deeply loved my Father and his brothers, and they were all a force to be reckoned with throughout their lives. Their actions, words, deeds and intentions were not always thought out, delivered correctly, or even rational…but they were our reality and our law. Most of us still struggle with the actions, words, deeds and intentions of these brothers to this day. Were they good? Were they right? Were they enacted for our better interest, with love and protection being at the forefront of their minds? Most of us really aren't sure. On days like today, in situations like this…all of these memories come to light and all of the past is now the present. Emotions are charged, words are strained, and all are paying particular attention to what everyone else is saying. This is normal, this is life, this is death, and this is grief.
My Father, my Uncle John and my Uncle Fred were just like us. But unlike us they did not, or at least did not feel, that they had a family to look too for validation of their actions, words, deeds and intentions. Their father died in late 1939, their mother remarried quickly to a local fish monger that was not very good with either her or the children it seems. Their mother died in mid 1947. From this time onwards they lived without any form of guidance or teaching….in truth it all started much earlier. How can my cousins and myself hold these men accountable for anything they ever did…be it positive or negative? They were a lost crew, living in wartime/post war Scarborough enduring a life that no one would envy. Uncle Fred got lucky some would say. He was relocated to Manitoba to live with his Aunt Grace & Uncle Keith for several years as a child. Grace and Keith had their hands full with Fred….he just would not stop running away. Not because of anything they did, he just wanted to be with his brothers. They always were a team…they always fought, but they always forgave each other. In retrospect it has always amazed me how they functioned dysfunctionally. That is such a cliché these days…dysfunction…but I am not using it as a cliché…and anyone here that remembers will vilify me when I utilize this currently over-used term.
Three men, in positions of great responsibility to their spouses and their 11 children - using only what they know to carry the great burden of husbandhood & parenthood. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially when they started these lives in the pre-counselling and awareness period of the 1950's.
Many of us may not see it, but it was there. Efforts were made by these brothers…efforts not easily recognized or even admirable; but if you really knew them deep…it was there. My mother once said that allowing your father to hurt your feelings is just plain stupid. This never made a lot of sense to me until I had a child of my own. Until I faced the frustrations of parenthood. I will remind you that I, as well as Peter, were the luckier cousins primarily because we were second marriage babies and also because of the decency and guidance of our mothers. What my Mother meant was what is the point of letting yourself be hurt by a man who has not known love & security…a man that raised himself, a man whose skin was thick from a life of loss, a man whose heart was buried so that it may live on, a man whose eyes were blind to beauty because the sight of it was so unfamiliar that he did not recognize it until it was too late. A man like my father, like my uncle John and like my uncle Fred.
It is sad to know they sometimes wounded us, but it is wonderful that they sometimes loved us. Never were we happier than when they loved us. My cousins and I know love, because at least we saw it at certain times. It was earned, it was clean, it was beautiful and it was perfect when it happened. The tragedy of it all is that it didn't happen near enough. But it happened, and we all remember those times like crystal….which is more than my Uncle Fred and his brothers could say. They stumbled through emotions, they wrestled with feelings, they craved the words to express their hearts…whether they did it in a way that was acceptable and within our translation is up for debate.
My cousins and I all know what love is, we know what is right, we deeply appreciate kind words and we crave love and appreciation because of these brothers. That's something to be very thankful for. I know that we cherish those that cherish us.
It is so easy for my cousins and myself to blame our apparently cold fathers and our over compensating mothers for our mistakes in this life…but that is such a cheap way out isn't it? It's a lie, a cop-out and overall a cowardly act. We are all grown, we have families of our own, and most of us have made similar mistakes with our own children as our fathers did. How many of us have stood alone after saying something awful and thought…where did that come from? I can sometimes hear my fathers voice and words leaving my mouth…and I know better. What's my excuse?
The Harris brothers taught my cousins and myself some very important realities during the 82 years that they overall occupied this realm - demonstrate your affections, say your sorry, kiss your family, say I love you, be humble, know that you must watch your words, don't burn your bridges, do not act in passion and repent in haste, and most of all….value and hold on to those that love and need you.
They taught us these lessons very much by accident as we watched them lose, regret, hate themselves, and impose a sort of self-created and apparently purposeful life of emotional isolation that they would refer to as pride if asked. Really, what else could they do given their reality. In their later years most would say that the Harris brothers softened up to the point of being user friendly. Oddly enough, when any one of them displayed a tender side most of us did not really know what to do. I myself had to leave the room at some point with each one of them when behaviours like praise and appreciation were displayed because I needed to think about why it was happening. I am glad to say that after a few times I began to drop my defences and appreciate these words and thoughts…but it was a new language. I think all of my cousins understand what I am saying here.
Where would we all be without their teachings? We may live lives of ego, looking for the perfect love that does not exist. We might have spent years being dissatisfied with our families because they weren't as good as the ones we were raised in. We may have become overly competitive spoiled brats that are never happy with their lot in life. We wouldn't know how to lose, which is a very important part of life. We may not understand how to deal with rejection, how to laugh at our own stupidity, learn by our errors, and how to be resilient when life deals us a bad hand. Because of my Uncle Fred and his brothers I know that my cousins and myself can handle anything in stride, we don't fall down and stay down, we live life as if it is a great gift, we can laugh in the face of catastrophe, fight in the face of adversity, protect our own, stand strong regardless of what happens and we also know when it is the right time to turn it all off and go to stone - a skill that is not easy and should never be underestimated.
I dearly loved my Uncle Fred and his brothers…I shall forever miss their strongly etched faces of great character and strength, their big laughs, their always interesting stories and behaviours; but mostly I will miss the very painful reality that they are no more, my cousins and I are alone with our souls and deeds now - time to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves, no excuses. My Uncle Fred was the last male bastion of his tribe, and I shall never forget how wonderful he always was with me. I have so many stories due to his presence in my life and I have gotten many laughs sharing these stories with others. He was somewhat of a legend…a black sheep he always said. I said it must be hard to be a black sheep when you live amongst those three wolves you call brothers. He thought that was funny; he always thought I was funny, how could I not miss anyone that thought that of me.
I thank my Uncle Fred and his brothers for being such a large part of my life, for making me what I am, and for teaching me so much by the self-sacrificing deeds they endured. I especially thank my cousins for knowing what I am saying and being the only people that may actually like this speech and have any idea what I am talking about. We are all fine, good and wonderful are we not?
My Uncle and his brothers merely sowed what they reaped… and yes, that saying has intentionally been inverted; think about it.
If we never forget where we came from, we will always know where we are going.
Thank you all for coming today.
Frederick married Margaret Rose Weidman on 8 Oct 1955 in Toronto, Ontario. The marriage ended in divorce in 1973. (Margaret Rose Weidman was born on 26 Aug 1939 in Toronto, Ontario.)
Frederick next married Sandra Joy Redmond on 12 Oct 1974 in Salvation Army Citadel, Scarborough, Ontario. (Sandra Joy Redmond was born on 27 Dec 1947 in Hamilton, Ontario.)