I’ve thought a lot about how to tell you about my father. Some of you knew him longer than I did. Some of you only knew him through stories you’ve heard about him.
Everyone has a story and my dad definitely has a good story.
My dad’s story began in Hungary–the only child of Lily and Leslie Grunwald born at the end of the Second World War.
With few surviving relatives, they remained in Hungary until the revolution in 1956.
At 11, my dad became a refugee—he and his father escaping through the night time with nothing but a suitcase and a Hungarian winter salami to bribe the Austrian border guard. This was all a great adventure for Peter.
He would joke with friends and family that he, too, went to camp as a child–refugee camp–even learning to ski in the Swiss Alps where all the children were taken for a 3 month “holiday.”
He and my grandparents eventually made it to Toronto when my dad was 13.
There was no such thing as ESL back then so he relied on the good graces of his new Canadian friends to teach him the language, which he picked up quickly and over the course of his life, mastered, probably better than some whose first and only language was English.
He lived down in the Annex for the remainder of his childhood attending Huron Public School, Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto.
While in university he took up international folk dancing, where he met the lovely and diminutive Maxine Solsberg.
The courtship was only about a year long–especially after Maxine’s father asked Peter whether or not he was going to ask his daughter to marry him.
Maxine accepted his proposal, with Peter sealing the deal by tying a string around Maxine’s finger in place of an engagement ring.
The wedding took place in the Solsberg’s backyard after a blustery late-August storm. On the menu was chateau Briande.
The next day the newlyweds were in Windsor where my dad began law school.
Over the next seven years my dad graduated law school, began practicing civil litigation and most importantly, became a father to a boy and two girls.
The 1980’s began with a move back to Toronto.
For my father, the next two decades were filled with the peaks and valleys of being both a parent and a child.
He was never shy about sharing his opinion and did so readily, especially when it came to the choices we were making.
From university courses to our life partners, he freely shared his views.
As young adults we may not always have appreciated or welcomed his thoughts, but they were always well-meaning and showed he deeply and truly cared.
My mind is full of images that epitomize my father.
I can picture him sitting behind his desk at work with the dictaphone held close to his mouth.
I can hear his conversations with my grandparents in a mysterious language that I can now recognize a mile away—even though I don’t understand a single word of Hungarian.
I can hear his nasal inhale when he picks up the phone and says, “Good morning, how are you?”
I see his night table covered in books by the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and Leo Tolstoy.
I can see him on his hands and knees tidying up the flower beds in the backyard on Digby Court.
I can see him watching my gymnastics performances from the sidelines—his pride practically oozing from his pores.
I can picture him watching a soccer game on TV or poring over the Globe and Mail Style section on weekends while munching on a box of matza. Yes, matza! Or a giant bowl of shelling peas.
I can see the top of his balding head as I stand on his shoulders and hold his hands in the waters of Georgian Bay, as I prepare to somersault into the water.
Holding his hands…I can see myself climbing on to his thighs and flipping around on the dance floor at simchas I don’t remember. But I remember dancing with my dad.
I remember dancing with my dad at my wedding. In our backyard. This was as much my dad’s wedding as it was mine. His involvement in the planning of the details was extraordinary.
And of course I can picture him at the head of the dinner table on Friday nights asking us how our week went and who wanted a glass of wine.
He’d eat my mom’s homemade chicken until there was a pile of cleanly picked bones on his plate.
Friday nights were less about religion and more about tradition for my father. He wasn’t a religious man. He never read a word in Hebrew, but he respected following a Jewish life.
2004 marked a seminal moment in my father’s life when Quinn, his first grandchild, was born. This is when he became Pete. Not Zaidy. Not Nagypapa. Just Pete.
Pete would see his love for music, books, food, theatre, sport and travel personified, not only in his children, but also in his grandchildren.
Five grandchildren! Quinn, Ezra, Annie, Levi and Jackie.
News of Pete’s cancer came on New Year’s day 2012. I’ll never forget it.
As we prepared to welcome Levi and Jackie into the family, my father was staring down his own mortality. How cruel life is.
If cancer was a bull, Pete planned to grab it by the horns and ride it out as long as possible.
Only two months after Levi’s arrival and Pete’s surgery, he was on a plane to Florida.
And that was just the beginning of Pete’s travels over the past four years.
He also made it to Argentina, Spain, Italy, Colorado and most recently a road trip through the Southern States with my mom riding shotgun.
But some of his best trips happened right here at home.
Trips to the hockey rink. Trips from daycare back to the house with the kids safely loaded into the car. Trips to school concerts and ballet recitals, soccer games and graduations—some as far away as Denver. Trips to the cottage. My father never missed an opportunity to spend time with his grandkids and celebrate a milestone.
What most people would consider banal, my father considered a true gift. Time with his grandchildren and children—something he knew was in limited supply for him.
Just this past February he was back on a plane to Vail, skiing with his children and grandsons. Even his oncologist marveled at his stamina.
Bike riding, tennis and skiing helped him stay strong these past four years.
But it was also my mother who cared for my father when he was at his worst that gave him strength.
Even through her own cancer battle, my mom has been a rock. A matriarch in every sense of the word, my mom has rode this physically and emotionally exhausting rollercoaster with my dad in her own quiet way.
I am deeply saddened by my father’s death. We all are.
I dissolve into tears at the thought of a world without him.
His influence on my life, the life of my siblings, my children in particular was so profound that he leaves behind a void that cannot be filled.
I can torture myself and let my mind wander to all the moments in the future where he will be greatly missed.
But I have to try my hardest—we all do—to wander back in time to all the vivid memories we shared with him of a life well lived.