Who made you? A salute to my grandfathers.

As I prepare for my ride to Conquer Cancer, which is now only two weeks away, I can’t help but think about why I am so excited about this ride. This ride raises money for something that effects us all.

Cancer took both my grandfathers. So let me tell you a little bit about them so I can express why this ride is so important (and emotional) for me.

Hal – a.k.a Papa

I have to say that a only have a few memories of my dad’s dad. I called him Papa. My dad often tells me that I’m actually quite a bit like him in personality. He liked routine, and order, just like me, but he also knew how to have fun.


Unfortunately he passed away when I was 6, so I don’t remember those things about him. I have vague memories of him, while he was sick. And I remember his funeral. But that’s it. That’s all my conscious memory will ever be of him, because cancer took him before I got to know him.

Richard – a.k.a Tato

When my mom’s dad died in 2005, it was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. And this post is tough for me to write, because I still miss him so much.

Tato Hawaii

Some of my first memories were with Tato, at his old farm house where he’d tell jokes that no one understood, both because they were probably lost in translation and because we would laugh so hard you couldn’t understand what he was saying. But even if you didn’t get his jokes, Tato could cheer anyone up with his relaxed attitude. He had a way of making everyone feeling welcome and important. I think that was the best thing of all. You never felt left out when Tato was around.


I often think about how my grandfather made me the person I am today. Here are just a few examples of why I will be riding in honour of the most influential person in my life:

He taught me to learn. In grade four, I literally couldn’t read. While the rest of the class was reading novels (perhaps this is why I never like Harry Potter), I was always struggling. I found out I was at a grade one reading level, and instead of making me feel dumb, or lazy or any of those other feelings that my teachers and peers made me feel, Tato would make drive me every single day to a summer tutoring program. He made sure I got caught up, helped me with homework, and even encouraged me to learn French a few years later. His craving for learning taught me I can’t how important education is, and that over coming challenges is just a matter of will.

He taught me to explore. Tato loved to travel. Having fled Poland in World War II he had family all over the World and always saw it as an excuse to visit another part of the world. He took me to Toronto when I was five, and my first trip to Europe was with Tato, Kitty (my grandma), and my cousin James, when I was eight. One year before he died he took me to Hawaii, and he signed me up for surfing, because it was what the locals were doing. That’s what was so cool about him. He was always wanting to try new things, whether it was a new restaurant or a new country, and he explored whenever possible. Sometimes we would just go driving for a whole day to see somewhere we hadn’t seen before. He felt that travelling was learning and that we need to explore to understand those around us.

My grandparents and I on a trip to Europe.

My grandparents and I on a trip to Europe.

He taught me to laugh out loud. As I mentioned earlier, Tato was never shy to laugh at at something he thought was hilarious. As someone who has a tendency to be shy about emotions, I think this was an important lesson. Tato would tell you how he was feeling. He  would laugh loudly, and while at the time I was embarrassed in public, each day I hope I can laugh as loudly as he did, at things that most people over look.

My first wave ever. Huge, I know. Tato was the one that signed me up for surfing.

My first wave ever. Huge, I know. Tato was the one that signed me up for surfing.

He taught me to be generous. My grandparents didn’t have much, but that would never stop Tato from making sure he had done everything in his power to make you happy. Whether his generosity entailed buying you something he felt you’d appreciate (even when it wasn’t your birthday), or saying thank-you for something that most people would just expect you to do, Tato always gave all that he could. I remember how happy he could make my grandmother, just by surprising her with flowers; usually just on an average afternoon. While most men think flowers are only for birthdays or anniversaries, Tato thought more about how could he make any day special.

I aspire to have as great a relationship as my grandparents. Loving with all his heart made their relationship so successful.

I aspire to have as great a relationship as my grandparents. Loving with all his heart made their relationship so successful.

When Tato died, I was horrified. I had found out only 6 months before that he was sick, even though he’d known for about two years. How someone, who had literally looked after me everyday for as long as I can remember, could just be taken from me that fast was way too much for me to handle. But they had caught his cancer too late, and all he could do was enjoy his time. The fact that he still woke up everyday, and laughed and loved with all his heart, despite knowing that cancer was going to take him, demonstrates a courage I can’t even fathom.

The last photo I took with Tato, NewYears 2005. He died shortly after.

The last photo I took with Tato, NewYears 2005. He died shortly after.

I hope that in two weeks when I ride I can honour the lives of my grandfathers that were taken by cancer. I hope that the money I raise will make a diagnoses a warning and not a timer. I hope that I can ride while keeping in mind every memory that made Papa and Tato two great people.

So here’s to Papa – although I don’t remember much about you, I know that every story I hear about you makes me laugh and makes me wish that I could have had just a few more years to know you better. Here’s to grandparents spending more years with their grandchildren, and fewer years with cancer.

And here’s to Tato – for all that you taught me, I will forever be grateful. Here’s to people no longer being burdened with cancer.


This bike ride is for you. Let’s make cancer history.

Donate Here.

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