Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 58 - The Bonds of Friendship

The week following my homecoming was a bit hectic.

I decided that the thirteen million should be split between Bryan and me. The first thing we decided to do was set up separate trust funds for Josh and Mark - one million dollars each to start with.

Andy suggested that we set up the company with a grandfather enterprise under which would come our programming company. James and Mom thought that was a hell of a good idea just in case we ventured into other areas that could be set up as limited companies. That way if one of the companies went belly-up, it wouldn't affect the grandfather enterprise that would be holding the purse strings.

Even Bryan agreed, however we did disagree on the name of the company. Bryan wanted, Davis-Callahan Inc., and I wanted Callahan-Davis Inc. He won.

With the best advice from the family, the cashier's cheque for the hundred million was also split into joint accounts - 50 million into a six-month term deposit, 25 million into a three-month term deposit and the rest to remain in a current business account.

The TD Bank was more than happy to set it up with Bryan, Mom and I as signatories, just in case either Bryan or I weren't available in an emergency.

Bryan had his ear closer to the rail than I did as far as recognizing prospective programmers in the Calgary area. We both realized that with the amount of programming work that we envisioned being created, we couldn't do it all by ourselves. My experience in creating eMemories and the amount of time it took was evidence of that. It would take forever for any new final product to reach the public and start producing a return on the dollar.

With that decision made, Bryan decided to semi-retire from his job. He felt that if he worked mornings until one in the afternoon, his workload could be shared with the others in his office until they found a replacement for him. Bryan's conscientiousness wouldn't allow him to tell his boss to 'take this job and shove it' just because he came into a lot of money. His reasoning was that it would give him the afternoons to scout around for office space that we could start using after New Years.

Mom had some good advice - she told us that regardless of what it was for, get a receipt for everything - even a cup of coffee or unrelated business items including camping gear - from now on and keep them in chronological order, preferably with a note on the back to explain what the purchase was used for. In a conference call with Bryan, she said she could sort out what we could use for tax purposes and that we'd thank her later because it would save a lot of money with the tax department later on.

I guess the bureaucracy of big business was going to impose its ugly head on our lives.

After another week of preparation, I pulled up outside Josh's school in the Jeep. It was a Thursday afternoon, but the next day was a Professional Development day for teachers and there were no classes which provided the students a long weekend. On the roof rack were a pair of canoes and the back was loaded with our rucksacks and one very excited dog.

Sensing his master's pending arrival, Brutus's ears perked up and his tail began to wag as he stood on the passenger seat and stared intently at the crowd of kids exiting the school for a long weekend.

Josh was easy to spot as he came bounding out the door wearing his trademark carefree grin. He ran to the Jeep and climbed in as Brutus began to administer his typical afternoon greeting.

"Hey Dad," Josh said happily after Brutus settled down and he was finally able to speak. "I've been watching the clock all day."

"Me too son," I replied. I pulled out of the driveway and headed for the highway. Our first stop was the Burger house to pick up Sean and Jake. I'd spoken to Dana a few days earlier and from what she told me, her boys were just as excited about the trip as Josh was.

"Too bad Mark couldn't make it," Josh said.

"I wish he could have come along too. It's not like we couldn't afford to fly him out," I chuckled. "He said he had to be there for that Cadet weekend though. That boy has officer written all over him."

"Does he ever!" Josh said. "He'll outrank me in no time."

"Somehow I think you'll come to outrank all of us one day Joshy."

"You never know," he said with a smile and shrugged his shoulders.

Traffic during our drive to the Burger house was surprisingly light and we made it just ahead of our scheduled arrival time. I rang the doorbell and was amazed when the door flew open immediately as if mounted on springs. A smiling Jake was on the other side.

"Hey guys!" He said happily and bumped knuckles with both of us.

"Hey Jake, how are you doing bud?" I asked.

"Pretty good Tom," he replied. "I'm really looking forward to this weekend."

"Me too," Sean added as he came into the room followed by Al and Dana. Two other boys that I had never met were with them as well.

Josh and I bumped knuckles with Sean and shook hands with Al and Dana.

"This is Glen," Dana said.

I offered Glen my hand. "Glen, it's good to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from Josh," I said.

"I've heard all about you too," Glen replied.

"Well, I'm not really as bad as you've probably heard," I said causing him to smile. "I'm really sorry that you aren't able to make the trip with us."

"It's ok," Glen said a bit sadly. "We have a lot to do getting ready to move into our new place."

"I'm glad to hear that," I replied. "You must be Garth," I said as I offered the smaller boy my hand. He was a cute little guy who looked just like a miniature of his older brother.

"Knock Knock," Garth said with a silly grin.

"Who's there?" I replied.

"Cargo," he replied with a bigger grin.

"Cargo who?" I asked.

"Car go beep beep!" Garth replied and burst out laughing. He ended up getting us all laughing, not at the joke, but at his delight in telling it.

"How are you doing Tom?" Dana asked with a great deal of motherly concern in her voice.

"I'm healing nicely," I said and held up the fiberglass cast on my left forearm. "Healing top side too," I added pointing to my head.

"That's good to hear," Al said.

"You won't believe what he did to try to deal with the fear from that day," Josh chuckled.

"What?" Sean asked with a bemused look on his face.

"He jumped out of a plane!" Josh replied.

"You did not! Did you?" Dana asked.

"I sure did," I replied and explained the reasons behind it.

"I guess whatever works for you is what you need to do," Al replied wryly.

"What was it like?" Jake asked, the interest was evident in his voice.

"Don't even think about it young man," Dana admonished.

"It might be fun," Jake pleaded.

"It was fun. It was the scariest thing that I ever did, but by the time I landed, I wanted to go back up and do it all again," I replied.

"I think it's pretty cool," Sean said. "Your uncle who we made the website for was a paratrooper, so there's kind of a connection."

"You're a smart cookie Sean," I replied. "I thought the exact same thing. By the way, it looks like we've succeeded thanks in no small part to you and Melissa. Our MP along with Mark and Bryan's MP are going to submit a bi-partisan motion asking the Governor General to award the VC and they expect it to pass unanimously."

"That's wonderful news," Al said. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," I replied.

"Are you guys ready to go?" Josh asked, anxious to get on the road.

"Yeah, we've got all the stuff on the list," Jake said. "Thanks for the new rucksacks and the Under Armour."

"Oh yeah, thanks for that stuff," Sean said.

"You're both more than welcome. I wanted us all to have the same gear. Mark said that Under Armour is great for sports. It wicks away sweat and moisture."

"Cool," Jake said.

"Can you wear it with a.... you know?" Sean asked a bit reluctantly with Dana standing there.

"You mean a cup?" Jake blurted out with a big grin causing his brother to blush slightly.

"Mark wears it when he plays baseball," Josh said. "He wears a cup because I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to get his-"

"I think that'll do Joshy," I said to all the laughter. "We get the idea!"

"You boys have fun and stay safe," Al said.

After Sean and Jake hugged their parents, they went out to the Jeep to load their bags.

"Something I wanted to run by you," I said to Al and Dana. I told them that I'd purchased a brand new Cessna 172 and I asked them for their permission to take Jake and Sean up for a ride on our way home.

"Oh they'll love that," Al said. "It's ok with me."

"They say it's safer than being in a car so I'm good with it," Dana added.

"I'll give each of them a chance to sit in the co-pilot seat and actually control the plane," I added.

"They'll be on cloud nine," Al replied.

"If you can get Glen and Garth up to the Brampton airport, they'd be welcome as well."

"You'll actually let us fly your plane?" Glen asked astonished.

"Sure, why not?" I asked. "A friend of Josh's is a friend of mine. Besides, I'll be sitting right next to you in case you get into trouble."

"I'm sure we can get the boys up there," Al said. "We can probably pick up your nephews as well if you want."

"Yeah, can Richard and Matthew come too?" Garth asked.

"As long as their mom and dad say its ok, its fine with me," I replied.

"Have you got a second Glen?" Josh asked.

"Sure," Glen replied with a puzzled look on his face. Josh, who was carrying a manila envelope, followed Glen to his room while I went outside to make sure that Jake and Sean were successful in loading the Jeep.

Al and Dana followed me outside where the boys, having loaded the Jeep, were playing with Brutus. Brutus immediately ran to Dana who he had never met and sat offering her his paw. He had previously met Al at summer camp when he dropped off the boys.

"What a beautiful dog," Dana observed as she patted his head.

I took a couple of minutes to tell them how we came to adopt Brutus and his sister Daisy.

"That's an amazing story," Al said. The boys have been after us to get a dog since they spent a week with Brutus and Daisy at camp."

"Brutus and Daisy are two of a kind," I observed.

A few minutes later a smiling Josh and Glen joined us outside. "All set kiddo?" I asked.

"All set," Josh agreed.

"We'll see you on Sunday," I said to Glen and shook his hand again.

We all said our final goodbyes and then we hit the road. We wanted to try to get to Algonquin Park before it got too dark. We planned to camp in one of the highway corridor campgrounds that night and then canoe into the interior early the next morning.

"So Sean, you ready for the bears?" Josh teased.

"Don't start on the stupid bears again!" Sean replied in mock anger.

We spent the next hour exchanging small talk and bantering back and forth amongst ourselves. It was very much reminiscent of the time that we spent together at summer camp and I think all of us relished every moment of it.

"I'm sure that I know the answer to this, but are you eating machines hungry?" I asked as we neared Webbers.

"It depends. You're not cooking are you?" Jake giggled.

"No, I was going to feed you guys uncooked Ramen noodles," I chuckled.

"They probably aren't any worse raw than they are cooked," Sean observed.

"I know what's coming up.... we're nearly at Weber's." Josh exclaimed.

"Oh yeah! Mom and Dad stopped there on the way home from Tonawonka!" Jake said. "They have great burgers."

"We'll have dinner at Weber's. It'll be my treat," I said. "For most of the rest of the trip its freeze dried Mountain House meals for us."

Luckily, there wasn't a huge lineup at Weber's and we were able to order our food in less than ten minutes. The four of us devoured the food in no time. When I couldn't finish my onion rings, the remains were snatched up in seconds by three hungry boys. After giving Brutus a chance to do his business, we hit the road again and continued our trek north. By around 6:30 PM, we arrived at the Canadian Tire store in Huntsville. The store is located right near the turn-off to Algonquin Park.

"Hey I remember this store from last summer," Sean said.

"Yeah, we're only about half an hour away from Tonawonka," Josh replied.

"The camp will be deserted now of course," I said. "There probably won't be too many people at Algonquin either at this time of year."

We picked up a few last minute supplies including a few more Mountain House meals and an extra canister of Propane and then we drove off on the final leg of the journey to Algonquin Provincial Park. Around us, the leaves were already turning and the vibrant colours were dramatic in the setting sun.

By the time we arrived at our campsite, it was just about dark. I left the Jeep running with the headlights on as we unpacked and setup the tent. We left our rucksacks and all of our food in the back of the Jeep and we took our sleeping bags inside with us. The tent that Josh and I had picked out was made for cool weather and had a silver thermal liner inside it that would recirculate heat. With four bodies inside, it would stay quite comfortable even in very cool weather.

Once camp was setup, we built a nice bonfire and cracked open a package of hotdogs and a bag of marshmallows. The boys collected four long sticks and sharpened the ends so that we'd each have a nice toasting stick.

"Got any good stories for us tonight?" Sean asked.

"Maybe," I replied as I stuck a marshmallow on my stick and held it to the hot coals at the bottom of the fire. "Camp fire time is always one of my favorite parts of a camping trip."

"Me too," Josh said as he leaned against my side.

"I'll bet you that all the way back to caveman times, guys would sit around the camp fire and shoot the breeze. Unlike women, guys aren't really programmed to 'share their feelings' and that sort of thing, but around a campfire, it's a bit different. It's a time for guys to bond."

"I loved the camp fire nights at Tonawonka. The best was when we went up the mountain," Jake said.

"That was always my favorite part too," Josh agreed.

"Are you really ok now Tom? We were kinda worried about you," Sean asked.

"I'm really ok now Sean. My arm is a bit sore, but other than that, I'm ok. Thanks for asking."

"The things that people do to each other are just awful sometimes," Sean continued.

"I saw a lot of really bad stuff that day, but saw a lot of good stuff too. I saw strangers coming together to help each other out. I saw people risking their own lives for others without giving it a second thought."

"Just like you did," Josh said.

"Some good things came from that experience as well," I said. "There are going to be some really big changes in my life and Josh's life and the lives of the rest of our family. You guys are close friends so it's going to affect you too."

"What kind of changes?" Jake asked.

I told Sean and Jake about what had happened to me on 9/11 and told them about the money that I'd received as well as the loan to start our business.

"That's amazing!" Jake shouted. He then began to rhyme off a list of things that he'd do with that kind of money. Some of his ideas were actually pretty good, especially those that involved helping other people.

"That money means that nobody that I care about will ever go without again," I said. "You guys are friends so that includes you too. We'll always be there for you guys. Our whole family will be, even though we're planning on moving, we'll only be a phone call away."

"Where are you moving to?" Sean asked with a bit of concern in his voice.

"Calgary," Josh said. "The whole family is going to live in Calgary and we're going to open the business out there."

"I don't want you guys to worry though." I continued, "You're going to see Josh and Mark and the rest of us often. There's email and phone calls of course, but we have the means to fly you guys west to our place even for a weekend now and then and we can fly out here to see you too."

"We may be moving pretty far west," Josh said as he placed a hand on Sean's shoulder, "but we will always be friends and we'll see at least as much of each other as we do now."

"I even bought a plane!" I added.

"You bought a plane?" Jake asked incredulously.

"It's a small one," Josh said. "The kind that Tom can fly and that Mark and I are learning to fly at cadets. It's a Cessna 172 Skyhawk."

"That's too cool," Sean said.

"As luck would have it, your mom and dad agreed to let you guys take a flight with us when we get back on Sunday. They're going to meet us at the Brampton Airport with Glen, Garth and the twins."

"You guys rock!" Jake said happily.

"I meant what I said though guys. Don't worry about the distance between you guys. I know how close you and Josh and Mark are and I'll do whatever I need to in order to ensure that you get to spend as much time together as possible. I mean it too. If it means chartering a plane to fly you out after school to stay for the weekend, I'll do it."

"Thanks Tom," Sean said. "Thanks for the offer, Tom, but I'm sure Dad and mom wouldn't mind flying us out," Sean said.

"For sure thanks!" Jake added.

"I'm sure they wouldn't mind at all Sean but I just wanted you to know that the offer exists."

"You guys are going to love flying," Josh said. "It's like the ultimate freedom. It's very different in a small plane too."

"Sean, something else to think about. You have an amazing talent when it comes to computer programming and if your parents are ok with it and it doesn't interfere with your school work, I'd be willing to offer you a part time job working for the company as our web programmer. Jake, I'd even offer you the same job that Josh and Mark and the others are going to do.... test our programs and give us feedback on how you like them."

"A real job programming your website? I'd love to!" Sean said and bumped knuckles with Josh and me.

"I'd love to help out too," Jake added with a big smile.

"We know someone who you might want to use if you need some computer graphic work done," Sean said, as he and Jake exchanged grins.

Sean and Jake brought Tom up-to-date on Glen's computer skills as a graphic artist.

"That's great. I'll talk to your parents as soon as I can when we get back."

We sat quietly for a few minutes watching the fire, listening to its gentle crackling sound and munching on marshmallows. Around us, the sounds of nature were in abundance.

Finally Jake broke the silence. "So tell us why you jumped out of the plane!"

"It was kind of a healing thing," I said. I took a moment to tell them about Ken and his advice to me. "By giving myself another jolt of that same fear and giving it a positive outlet, it's helped me to deal with what happened. When something like that happens, your mind insulates you from the event and blocks out the fear, but it eventually catches up with you."

"That's like soldiers who come back with that stress disorder," Josh observed.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder. Exactly kiddo," I replied. "It was also, as Sean observed, a way to connect me to my uncle."

"That's right, he was in the Devils Brigade," Sean said. "I saw that old movie in history class and it made me think of you guys."

"Why did they call it the Devil's Brigade?" Jake asked.

"It was really called the First Special Service Force and it was made up of elite commandos recruited from the Canadian Army and the United States Army. It was the first bi-national Special Forces unit of its kind. From their first engagement until their disbandment, they never lost a single battle. It was the Germans who called them 'die schwarzen Teufel', which means the black devils."

"That was because they used to blacken their faces with shoe polish when they went out on night patrols," Josh said. "The Germans meant it as an insult, but the commandos thought it was a badge of honour."

"They even had special stickers made up that had the unit crest and the German phrase 'Das dicke Ende kommt noch' which basically means "The worst is yet to come". When they went out on patrols or engaged in battles, they'd leave those stickers all over the bodies of German soldiers and their wrecked vehicles and equipment. It was supposed to frighten and demoralize them and it seems to have worked," I added.

"That's amazing," Sean said. "They should teach us more stuff like that in history class and make it more interesting."

"Hey cool, it says here that they named a highway after them," Jake said as he looked at the screen of his cell phone. "It's Alberta Highway 4 and Montana Interstate 15. They call it the 'First Special Service Force Memorial Highway'. It was chosen because it was the route selected to carry the Canadian volunteers south to join the American recruits at Fort Harrison."

"I didn't know that," I said. "Thanks Jake."

After we finished the package of hotdogs, I suggested that we put the fire out. "I have something cool to show you," I said.

"Is that a wolf howling?" Josh asked as Brutus let out a low growl.

"There's wolves here as well as bears?" Sean asked.

"Wolves won't hurt you," I replied. "There have been no more than a small handful of wolf attacks in Canada and most of those involved wolves in captivity. Wolves would just as soon leave you alone."

"That's good to know," Jake said sounding a bit relieved.

"You city guys don't get out much do you?" Josh kidded causing Jake to pull him into a headlock. I smiled broadly as the three boys wrestled around while I put out the fire. Even Brutus got in on the act.

"You guys grab your flashlights, but don't turn them on unless you have to," I instructed. It was pitch black out already and above us, a bright sparkling canopy of stars cast a faint glow down upon us. I led the boys down the trail into the woods a short ways. We kept our voices to a whisper until we reached the place that I had in mind. It was a small clearing that I had visited many times before.

"Listen carefully," I instructed. I then cleared my throat and made a passable wolf-howl. Sure enough a moment later, we heard a real wolf answer back. It was faint and the wolf was probably quite some distance away from us. It got Brutus' attention. The fur stood up on the back of his neck and he let out a howl of his own. Once again, a distant wolf answered.

"That's amazing! It's like we're talking to wolves," Sean said.

"Except we don't know the language and we're probably talking gibberish," Josh observed.

"Yeah and the wolf is sort of saying WTF?" Jake said with a chuckle.

"It could be too fellas," I added, "that the wolf is telling us that we're in his territory and to watch where we step."

Josh tried it next and the same wolf answered him. Pretty soon all three boys tried their hands at it and by the time we were done, they had all experienced nature on a pretty intimate level that they had never experienced before.

We headed back to the tent after conversing with the local wolf pack. We had an early start planned for the next morning and I wanted to make sure we were all properly rested. It was a beautiful late September evening with mild temperatures and I hoped that the comfortable air would help us all sleep soundly. I set the alarm on my watch to wake me up ahead of the boys. I wanted to get a good hearty breakfast into us before we headed out.

"Goodnight Dad," Josh said. "I love you."

"Love you too son," I said and hugged him firmly.

"Goodnight boys," I said to Sean and Jake.

I awoke bright and early the next morning to the sound of my alarm chirping. Thankfully, my arm was inside my sleeping bag, which muffled the sound so that it didn't disturb the boys. I carefully climbed out of my sleeping bag and got dressed. Brutus was the only other soul in the tent who was awake at that hour.

I opened the tent flap to let Brutus out to do his business and I went to the back of the Jeep to retrieve the items that I intended to cook for breakfast that morning along with the camp stove and pots and pans.

After lighting the stove and putting on a pot of water to boil, together with the coffee pot, I lit a small fire in the fire circle. Brutus was busying himself chasing squirrels and chipmunks not to mention various insects and things that visited our campsite that morning.

I began to prepare what I knew was one of Josh's favorite camp breakfasts and I was certain that Jake and Sean would enjoy it as well. It's a hearty breakfast designed to provide the kind of food energy that you would want to begin a wilderness canoe trip. I started heating oil in a frying pan and when it was hot enough, I took four English muffins and cut holes in the middle so that they resembled doughnuts. I then placed them in the hot oil and broke an egg into the centre of each one. I then began to fry up thick pieces of Canadian bacon in a second pan and after cutting the muffin holes in half, I tossed them in as well. I used a pot to begin warming up a can of beans in tomato sauce.

Needless to say, it wasn't more than a few minutes before the smells of the cooking food had the intended effect. I heard murmuring from inside the tent and moment later a sleepy looking Jake unzipped the tent and stepped out.

"Morning Jake," I said and smiled brightly.

"Morning Tom," he replied and stretched. "That smells good."

"I think you guys will like this," I replied and handed him a cup of coffee.

Josh emerged next and gave me a big hug. "Oh good, gas house muffins with bacon!"

"I knew it was your favorite and I figured that Jake and Sean would like it as well." I handed Josh a mug of coffee as well.

Sean was the last to emerge from the tent. "What'cha cooking that smells good?"

"Morning bud," I said and handed him his morning coffee.

"It's something called gas house muffins," Jake informed him. Josh filled him in on the details as I began to serve our breakfast.

"Oh man, this is good," Sean said after taking his first bite.

"With all those beans, I can guess why they call them gas house muffins," Jake laughed.

"That's why we only have them for breakfast. We wouldn't want to stink up the tent!" Josh replied.

While we ate, I fed Brutus some of his kibble and I'm pretty certain that he received more than just a few table scraps from each of the boys. He was definitely a happy dog that morning.

After we ate, the boys cleaned up and did the dishes while I began readying our gear and breaking camp. Today's excursion included a drive to Algonquin Outfitters at the south end of Lake Opeongo and we'd park there, then take the water taxi a ways north to a point where we would hit one of the portage trails that would lead us back to the Outfitters within a couple of days. Once there, we registered with the Outfitters and informed them of our route and intended date and time of return.

"All set guys?" I asked as I hefted my rucksack and picked up my paddle.

"Oh yeah," Josh replied.

"I'm ready," Sean added.

"Let's roll," Jake said.

We were all carrying our personal gear inside our rucksacks and the group gear including the food and cooking equipment was distributed amongst us. Josh and I would take the lead canoe and Sean and Jake would follow. Brutus would take turns riding in one canoe or the other.

I had selected a route that required minimal portaging and offered the maximum opportunities for paddling. We had packed light enough that portaging wasn't going to be too arduous, but since Jake and Sean were beginners, I wanted to choose an easy and enjoyable route.

The water taxi dropped us off at the trail head and after a final check of our gear, we boarded the canoes and began to paddle our intended route. It was still very early in the morning and a lot of wildlife was still very active. By the end of the first hour, we'd seen three moose, a pair of beavers, and a whole array of smaller critters.

About an hour before lunch, we reached our first portage point. It was only about 200 meters long and it was actually the longest portage that we'd have to do. I was quite impressed with Sean and Jake and how well they were keeping up while paddling and I was even more impressed with how they handled the first portage. Both of them were strong and physically fit boys and they carried every bit of their own weight throughout the trip. Although hefting the canoe up and down on and off my shoulders made by healing arm a bit sore, I did manage.

"You boys did good this morning," I said as we began to prepare for lunch. "I'm proud of all three of you."

"Yeah you guys don't look like newbies at all," Josh added.

"It's amazing how many animals we saw," Sean replied.

"I still can't believe how big those moose get," Jake said thoughtfully.

"What's the plan for this afternoon?" Josh asked.

"Once we finish up with lunch, we'll paddle to camp site 29a which we've reserved. It should take us until about 4:00. Then we can have a swim and settle in for the night."

"Cool," Josh replied.

"What should we have for lunch?" Jake asked as he reached into his ruck and pulled out a number of packages of Mountain House freeze dried meals.

"I'll try the chicken stew," Josh said.

"The teriyaki chicken with rice sounds good to me," Sean said.

"Ok, I'll split the chicken stew with Josh," Jake said.

"I guess I'm joining you for teriyaki," I said to Sean.

Each package contained two servings of the main lunch entr‚e. It was extremely easy to make. All you have to do is boil up some water, pour it into the package, shake it up, seal it, and then let it sit for ten minutes before serving.

"Wow this stuff is actually pretty good," Jake observed after taking his first bite.

"Yeah, it's better than IMPs and MREs," Josh laughed.

"What are those?" Jake asked.

"Military field rations," I replied and then explained exactly what they are. "They actually aren't bad at all. I brought some with me so we can try them later if you like."

Once we finished the main course, I pulled out four foil packages from my pack. "Anyone for an ice cream sandwich?" I asked.

"Ice cream? Out here?" Jake asked with a raised eyebrow.

"It's freeze dried," I replied and handed him a package.

Josh and Sean also accepted packages from me and tore into them.

"Um.....yeah," Josh said skeptically as he tapped his ice cream sandwich with his finger. "It's hard as a rock!"

Sean took a bite out of his. "It's not bad at all. It tastes just like an ice cream sandwich, but it's not cold."

That afternoon we reached our intended campsite right on schedule. The site was picture perfect. We were camped on a small point of land on the edge of a small lake. We could sit around our fire pit and watch the comings and goings on the lake. It also offered a number of promising looking fishing holes. After beaching the canoes and setting up camp, the four of us went for a swim in the small lake.

I had just put on my swim suit when I saw something streak past me as Josh and Sean laughed hysterically. I turned just in time to see Jake's bare butt disappear into the water with a splash.

"Uh Jake, when I said swim, I didn't mean skinny dipping!" I said trying hard not to laugh as his head popped out of the water.

"Holy cow this is cold!" Jake shouted and Sean and Josh, both wearing swim suits, dove in after him.

"N-n-n-n-o kidding," Sean stammered.

"Look out for shrinkage!" Josh hollered with a laugh.

A sheepish looking Jake emerged a minute later and went to the tent to get his swim suit while I joined the boys in the water.

Knowing how cold it was from the reactions of the boys, I almost didn't join them but I decided to jump in anyway. My cast was waterproof so I didn't have to worry about it. The water was surprisingly cold. I should have expected it given that it was late September but I had hoped that the unusually warm fall had kept the water at a more comfortable temperature. "I don't know about you three, but I'm getting out and getting a fire going," I said as I exited the chilly water just a couple of minutes later.

Pretty soon I had a roaring fire going and the four of us huddled around it warming ourselves up, drying off and getting dressed.

"Dad, do you think there are any fish in here?" Josh asked.

"Probably, I was thinking about dropping a line shortly after we arrived." I opened my pack and removed a small collapsible fishing rod with a reel attached. I also pulled out a small box containing a number of small lures and rubber worms. I set up the line and cast out into what looked like a deep pool just off the point of the campsite.

Nothing happened for a few minutes and just as I was about to reel in and try a different lure, there was a flash of silver near the surface, and suddenly something was tugging my line.

"You got one!" Jake said excitedly.

"Reel him in," Josh encouraged.

I reeled the fish in and it turned out to be a nice pan sized rainbow trout. The four of us had a good laugh as Brutus sniffed at the fish and then jumped back and barked when it started flipping and flopping on the ground.

"Are we going to eat him?" Sean asked.

"I'd suggest cleaning it first, and then cooking it, but yes," I said with a wink earning myself an eye roll.

For the next hour, we passed the small rod around between ourselves and by the time we were ready to start preparing supper, we had six decent sized trout.

"Josh, how about you show these guys how to clean the fish while I get everything ready for tonight?" I suggested. Josh was pretty good at cleaning fish, but I didn't know how much experience Sean and Jake had with the process. In the end, the three of them did a pretty good job of preparing the half dozen trout for the two pans.

"I'll bet that was a lot better than Mountain house," I said after we finished the meal.

"I've never had fish that good before," Jake replied.

"You should have seen the Arctic Char we caught way up north," Josh said and he proceeded to tell them about our trip across Canada and the stops in the far north.

"You guys have done a lot together," Sean observed thoughtfully.

"We have," I said. "We plan to do a lot more and I'd like to include you boys as much as I can too."

After another glorious and clear autumn night, we awoke bright and early on Saturday morning. We dined on Mountain House scrambled eggs and oatmeal along with some powdered orange juice and then we once again stowed all the camping gear, and took to the canoes. With the boys all being such strong paddlers, I deviated a bit from our route and took a more scenic path through a number of smaller streams and ponds. We ended up doing a couple of extra portages, but it was well worth it. I got the sense that the whole experience was giving all of the boys a greater appreciation for nature. By the time we turned in for the night, we were all thoroughly exhausted.

Sunday was going to be a short day at least as far as canoeing went. We broke camp at 7AM and by 10AM, we arrived back where we started at Algonquin Outfitters on Lake Opeongo. We loaded the Jeep and headed back towards the park gates. The mood was a bit more subdued than it had been on the way in, but everyone quickly perked up when I reminded them about the plane ride to come.

The drive home from Algonquin took just under three hours including a stop at Weber's. We arrived at the Brampton airport at 1:30 PM and by the time I emerged from the Cessna dealership, keys in hand, the boys were raring to go.

"Ok guys, we've got about an hour before your parents arrive with Glen, Garth and the twins, so let's get this show on the road," I said.

We entered the terminal, I paid to have the plane fully fueled, and I purchased a number of items including three extra headsets to ensure that the passengers would always be able to hear what was going on and to talk to one another as well as to the pilot. I also purchased a handful of pilot wings and pairs of aviator sun glasses. Josh grabbed both his and my flight bags from the Jeep and I led the three boys out to the tarmac where the plane was parked.

"That one's ours?" Josh asked as he ran to a sparkling new Cessna. The aircraft was painted white with red highlights and it had stylized Canadian flag graphics painted on the sides of the fuselage. On each door, just below the window stenciled in military fashion were my name, Josh's name, and Mark's name. We'd add Bryan later when he solos for the first time.

"That's ours kiddo," I said.

"It's got your names on it and everything!" Sean said enthusiastically.

"How fast does it go?" Jake asked.

"It cruises at about 120 knots and it's never exceed speed is about 165 knots."

"Wow, that's fast!" Jake replied.

Jake and Sean watched with interest as Josh and I made our way around the aircraft doing our pre-flight inspection. Even though it had been fully checked out by the dealership, we did a very thorough inspection ourselves. Just as we finished, the fuel truck approached and filled both wing tanks to capacity.

We climbed into the cockpit. I took the pilot's seat on the left, Josh took the co-pilot's seat on the right, Sean sat behind me, and Jake sat behind Josh.

"This is so cool!" Josh said enthusiastically. I'd ordered the full avionics package which included a modern "glass cockpit" where most of the old analog gauges had been replaced by a number of full colour LCD screens.

"It looks complicated," Sean observed as he leaned forward from the back seat.

"Not really," I said. "You don't really need to pay much attention to most of these instruments most of the time."

"Mostly it's the yoke, the rudder and the throttle," Josh added.

'That's my boy,' I thought to myself and smiled. Sean and Jake didn't know it yet, but they were each going to get a chance to actually fly the plane.

It took us a couple of minutes to get everyone strapped in and get their headsets plugged in and activated. With the headsets, Josh and I could talk to other planes as well as air traffic control and we could all talk to each other without having to shout.

After activating the radios and the GPS, I started the engine. It roared to life instantly and I could feel its raw power as I began to taxi us towards the active runway. I stopped just short of the runway skirt and did a "run-up" test of the engine just to ensure that everything looked and sounded good. While I did that, Josh handled communications.

Brampton airport is an uncontrolled airfield so there's no tower, but we did announce our intentions to other aircraft in the area.

"Traffic Charlie November Charlie zero-three, hotel tango foxtrot holding short runway 18 departing southwest," Josh said into the radio. I glanced back and both Sean and Jake looked suitably impressed. Hotel, tango, and foxtrot are the phonetic alphabet words for H, T and F - the last three characters of our plane's registration number. It's similar to the license plate on a car.

I turned my head and checked that there were no aircraft approaching for landing and I taxied onto the skirt of the runway.

"Traffic Charlie November Charlie zero-three, hotel tango foxtrot on runway 18 for takeoff departing southwest," Josh said and then he reached down and throttled the engines to full power and the mixture to full rich as I released the brakes. The plane began to race down the runway and then it gracefully lifted into the air.

"Positive rate established," Josh said to me. "Retracting flaps. Approach and landing beacons to off."

"Thank you," I replied.

"This is so different from being in a big plane," Sean said through a massive grin.

I glanced over my shoulder and Jake was gazing out the window and staring at the rapidly shrinking objects below.

"Twenty-five hundred feet," I said. "Lean the mixture for 120 knots indicated at 75% throttle," I instructed Josh.

"Roger, leaning mixture for 120 knots indicated at 75% throttle," Josh replied.
Truth be known, a Cessna is so easy to fly that a co-pilot is really not necessary, but I wanted to involve Josh and we made a heck of a good team. I could tell that he was thinking of everything that I needed or wanted him to do before I even asked him to do it.

"You have the aircraft," I said and took my hands off the controls.

"I have the aircraft," Josh replied and he took control.

For the next twenty minutes, Josh flew us around showing Sean and Jake the highlights of the Caledon hills from the air. Below us, there were miles and miles of farmlands, crisscrossing roads, gleaming ponds, lakes, and a great deal of forest.

"Josh, let's head back and have you swap seats with either Sean or Jake," I said.

"Ok," Josh replied. "Do you want control?"

"Negative, you bring us in," I replied. Since I had become an instructor through air cadets, it was legal for him to carry out a landing with passengers on board with a student pilot license so long as I was in the seat next to him.

Josh skillfully brought us back to the airfield and we entered the circuit for landing. "Traffic Charlie November Charlie zero-three, hotel tango foxtrot entering left downwind for landing runway 18 full stop," he announced to other aircraft.

Josh flew a nice tight circuit and we ended up lined up right on the runway's centerline.

"Traffic Charlie November Charlie zero-three, hotel tango foxtrot on short final runway 18, full stop," Josh announced into the radio. A moment later, he executed a perfect touchdown and taxied over towards the air terminal. We stopped the aircraft and he climbed out and swapped seats with Jake.

"Ok Jake, I'll get us onto the runway and then you're going to do the takeoff," I said.

"What?!?" he asked incredulously. "I don't know how to fly!"

"Taking off is real easy and I'll guide you through it," I said.

I taxied us into position and handled all the radio calls. When we were lined up on the runway, I told Jake how to proceed. "Ok bud, push the throttle all the way in," I said as I directed his hand to the throttle knob. "When you feel the nose wheel rise up, very gently pull back on the yoke and keep your hand on the throttle until I tell you to let go."

Jake nodded nervously did as I instructed. Pretty soon we were barreling down the runway and then we lifted gracefully into the blue autumn sky.

"Nicely done Jake!" I said and held up my hand for a high five.

"That was awesome!" he said as he slapped my hand.

I got us up to altitude and then once again I let him have control. I showed him how to keep the aircraft flying straight and level and how to do turns. I operated the rudder pedals and I let him control the yoke.

"How about it Sean," I said. "Ready for your turn?"

"You bet!" was his enthusiastic reply.

I assumed control of the aircraft and once again we landed briefly to allow Jake and Sean to swap seats. As with his brother, I let Sean do most of the work on the takeoff.

"That was one of the best takeoffs I've seen," I said to Sean. He was grinning ear to ear and I could tell that the praise was doing wonders for him.

"There's Mom and Dad!" Jake announced and he pointed to what appeared to be a toy Lexus parked in the parking lot near the terminal building.

"You want to say hello to them Sean?" I asked.

"Ok but how?" he asked.

I got on the radio and announced that we were going to overfly the airfield. As I approached the airfield, I dropped us down to about 500 feet and I instructed Sean to rock the wings from side to side as we passed over the parking lot at 120 knots. He was positively glowing when he turned to grin at me afterwards.

"We buzzed them!" he shouted.

With that, I assumed control and brought the plane in for a landing. This time I taxied to the parking area to give us a break before we went back up with Glen, Garth, and the Twins.

Right away, the twins were running at Josh and me. "Uncle Tommy! Uncle Josh!" they squealed in unison. Right away Josh and I had a bundle of boys in our arms.

"Did you see us fly over?" Sean shouted as he ran to Al and Dana. "Tom let me fly the plane. I did a take-off and everything!"

"Yeah, I did too! It was the coolest thing ever," Jake agreed as he caught up to Dana and Al.

"The great woodsmen return!" Al said as we approached with the twins in our arms.

"How was the trip?" Dana asked.

"Fantastic," I started to say but was interrupted when Jake took over and at what seemed to be dizzying speed, brought everyone up to date on the highlights of the trip.

"These guys are pros," I said as I put a hand on Sean and Jake's shoulders. "Maybe next time we can take a longer trip."

"For sure. Maybe next time we can go for a week," Josh added.

Sean and Jake both grinned and bumped knuckles with Josh and me.

"We can go up in your plane again too, right?" Jake asked.

"You bet," I replied. "You guys would make great pilots!"

"How about it Glen," I said. "Are you ready to take to the air as well?"

"Yeah!" was his reply.

"Ok, we can take three so Garth, do you want to ride with your brother?" I asked.

"You're going to fly though, right?" he asked causing us all to laugh.

"Yes I'll fly, but I'll let Glen do some of the work. I'm sure we can let you do some steering too if you want." The smile on Garth's little face was priceless.

"Can we go now too?" Richard asked impatiently.

"Tell you what, I can only take three at a time so why don't we let Mr. or Mrs. Burger go this time and next time you and Matthew can go together?"

"OKAY!" Richard and Matthew answered together.

"Ladies first," Al said, and motioned for Dana to join us in heading for the flight line.

"You're not going to do any loops or anything are you?" Dana asked.

"No, not in this plane. It's not made for aerobatics. It's a very safe, reliable and forgiving aircraft."

"What do you mean forgiving?" Glen asked.

"I mean that if you make a mistake, it's easy to fix it. There aren't many things that you can do in this plane that you can't recover from if you've got enough altitude or speed."

The four of us boarded the plane with Glen in the co-pilot's seat. Dana sat behind Glen and Garth was excitedly bouncing around like some kind of pinball in the seat behind me.

As I had done with Sean and Jake, I walked Glen through the takeoff and he performed extremely well.

"Nice job Glen," I said. "You just might be a natural."

Glen turned and smiled brightly at me. I think my praise was almost as uplifting to him as the experience of flight.

"Look at all the stuff on the ground!" Garth said. "The cars look like dinky toys!"

"You like flying?" I asked him.

"Yeah, it's like Superman only we have a plane," he said.

"Isn't that kind of the idea of Superman, that he doesn't need a plane to fly?" Glen asked.

"I guess so," Garth said. "It's also kind of like being in a car only we're really high up," he replied and we all got a good laugh out of it.

I let Glen make some turns and try a few basic maneuvers and he did pretty well. Before we landed, I wanted to give Garth a chance to control the plane so we carefully got him out of his seat and he managed to wriggle his way onto his brother's lap.

"Take hold of the yoke Garth and be very gentle with it," I instructed.

He got a serious look on his face and his brow creased slightly as he took hold of the yoke.

"Very gently, move the yoke to the right just like a steering wheel," I instructed.

"Ok," he replied and did as I instructed. The whole time I kept my hands on the pilot's yoke just in case. I let him make a few turns before it was time for us to land and give the twins and Al a ride.

"That was a very nice ride," Dana said to me after she climbed out of the plane. "You did really well too Glen and Garth!"

"Thanks Tom," Glen said before he climbed out. "I've never done anything like that before and it was really cool. Josh was right when he told me you were a good guy."

"You're a good guy too Glen and I'm glad that you and Josh are friends." With that we shook hands and he exited the aircraft.

A minute later, a very excited Richard and Matthew climbed into the rear seats of the plane and Al Burger climbed into the co-pilot seat.

"This is pretty high tech," he observed. "I didn't expect that in such a small aircraft."

"I ordered the whole advanced avionics package," I said. "I wanted all the top of the line flight and safety gear."

"I love the paint job too. Very patriotic."

With that, we took off for a short twenty minute aerial tour. In the backseat, the twins were as excited as they always were when they got to fly with Uncle Tommy. In the co-pilot's seat, I could see that Al was enjoying the experience as much as his sons had.

After we landed, I taxied right to the hangar space that I had rented for the plane and fully secured the aircraft. I made a brief notation in my log book and then picked up my flight bag and headed out to meet everyone in the airport restaurant.

"Dad, we ordered you the veal on a bun. I know that's your favorite here," Josh said.

"Thanks Son," I replied and bumped knuckles with him.

"Guys, I have a couple of special presentations to make," I said. Everyone turned to look at me and I continued. "In recognition of your first and definitely not your last experience in taking off and flying a real aircraft, I'd like to present Sean, Jake, Glen and Garth with official Brampton Flying Club pilot wings, aviator sunglasses and captain's ball caps."

I stood up and pinned a set of wings on each of their shirts and handed them their hats and sunglasses. I had done the same for the twins, Josh and Mark after they flew for the first time.

"Thanks Tom," Sean said. "Thanks for an awesome weekend and for this." We exchanged a firm handshake.

"This has been like the best weekend ever. Thanks Tom," Jake said and bumped knuckles with me.

"I wish I'd have been able to make it on the canoe trip, but getting to fly your plane was great," Glen said. "Thanks."

"Does this mean that I'm a real pilot now?" Garth asked.

"You need a bit more training yet I think," Al chuckled.

"Yeah you need to be a bit older too, but those wings mean that you've done something that most other eight year olds haven't," Josh said and ruffled his hair.

"Tom we want to thank you too," Al said and offered his hand.

"You've been very kind to our sons. I know that what happened to you in New York was awful, but you've come back and what's happened to you since couldn't have happened to a better person," Dana said and hugged me briefly.

"Thanks Al and Dana. I enjoyed this weekend as much as your boys did. They were a pleasure to have around and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to take them with us again.... camping or flying. It's like having younger brothers around. I was always the youngest in my family and I like the feeling of being the big brother for a change."

"Dad, we have something for you too. Mark, Sean, Jake, and I came up with the idea and Glen made it for you this weekend. I don't know how he did it so fast, but it's amazing," Josh said.

"We were thinking about your dad, your granddad, your uncle and the website. Mark told us about a painting that he saw of what looked like marching modern day soldiers with ghosts in old uniforms marching behind them. It gave us the idea for this."

Glen handed Josh something that appeared to be a picture frame wrapped in plain brown paper. Together they pulled the cover off and handed it to me. I took one glance at it and I was rendered speechless for a full minute as I took it all in.

Glen had done a marvelous job. It was a hand drawn picture that had been done with what appeared to be pastels. The detail was incredible and I couldn't fathom that it had been done in such a short period of time. It was done from a photograph of me receiving my Star of Courage medal. Josh and Mark were beside me and the Governor General was reaching forward and pinning the medal onto my lapel. What really made the picture so powerful was that standing behind me with a hand on my shoulder was the ghostly image of a man in a Toronto Police uniform representing my dad. Behind him were two more ghostly figures, one wearing a WWII era Royal Canadian Air Force uniform representing my granddad and the other in a Canadian Army uniform of the same era with the markings of a lieutenant representing my uncle.

"Boys," I stammered. "Boys I don't know what to say. This is just incredible. Glen you did an awesome job of creating this and Josh, Sean, Jake.... you guys along with Mark.... I don't know how you did it, but somehow you captured exactly what I was feeling that day. I felt my dad's presence with me and you've captured it perfectly in this picture."

"Glen, you've really outdone yourself this time," Dana said. "I wondered what you were working so hard at all weekend."

"This is an incredibly thoughtful gift boys. I'm proud of all of you," Al said.

"We wanted to show our appreciation for this summer and this weekend and lots of other things too," Jake said.

"Yeah, Jake's right. Thanks again for everything," Sean said.

"Dad, you know how I feel," Josh said and hugged me tight.

"I do indeed Joshy," I replied and I picked up my cell. "I gotta call Mark."

"He's here Dad," Josh said and held up his phone where Mark was on speaker phone.

"Marky.... son, thank you kiddo," I said. "You have no idea what this means to me."

"Actually I know exactly what it means to you," Mark replied. "I know what you mean to me too."

"Ditto bud," I replied.

After we finished eating and talking, we went about our separate ways once again. Sean and Jake went home with the rest of their family while Josh and I, with Brutus in tow, boarded the Jeep.

"I truly am the luckiest man alive," I said to Josh. "It's been said that you can gauge the measure of a man by looking at his friends and his loved ones. I couldn't ask for better friends and a better family than you guys."

"Mark and I couldn't ask for a better dad either," Josh said.

"Nor could I ask for better sons. You two are the perfect sons in every way. I love you son."

"I love you too Dad."

I looked to the future with more optimism than I had in a very long time with Bryan by my side. We had plenty of challenges ahead of us, but I knew that as a family, we were only going to grow stronger and closer. I knew that the future held the promise of greatness for our sons and I knew that the next step on our journey was the move west.


The characters Al, Dana, Sean, Jake, Garth and Glen are from the story After the Game by Felix P and are use with his permission.

Click here to watch the song That's What Friends are For http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtGF2m102Wg


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