In honour of Father’s Day, I’m reposting this piece from last year. All the best to those remembering their fathers today, living or dead.
The son of Russian Jews, my father was born to David Berkman and Vera Elstein in Regina Saskatchewan, 1924. I don’t have any pictures of my grandfather; he and Vera divorced when my father was very young and she apparently cut him out of surviving photographs. But his work as a furrier survives in photographs of my father in tiny fur coats.
By 1934, they were living in Ottawa where my grandmother worked as a saleslady at the Madame Louise Hat Shop on Bank Street which was run by David, also the proprietor of Berk’s Dress Shop. Vera also worked with fur, and was an accomplished dressmaker. Unlike my maternal grandmother, she wore wigs, nail polish and makeup, exotic clothing, and was something of a style maven.
My father attended Lisgar Collegiate where he was known as Bunny Berkman, a nickname my grandmother gave him.
He was an excellent trumpet player and led a student combo that included Mort Katz, who still gigs around Ottawa.
After graduating from Lisgar, he went to Queen’s University as part of the class of Meds49 where he apparently had a very good time. The reverse of this photograph has a woman’s name, phone number, and address on it.
He did post-graduate studies in Cardiology at Georgetown University under Dr. Proctor Harvey, and returned to Canada to begin working at the Ottawa General Hospital.
He married my mother in 1958. I was born in 1960, my sister Frances in 1961, and my brother John in 1964. My parents bought a cottage in Quebec, north of Ottawa, in 1967 and we spent many summers there. My father was the main family photographer and so there are not a lot of photos with him in them. Here’s one of the five of us.
He was an introvert, but well-loved by his students, winning a teaching award at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. He was intrigued by technology, built a Heathkit television and audio components, learned to program on an early Apple computer, scoured record stores every Saturday for new jazz releases (sometimes taking one of us with him and often “losing” us), and continued to play the trumpet on his own and, from time to time, with his friends.
He died in 1986 of cancer of the duodenum, predeceased by his mother in 1980.