Educator, labour activist, machinist, father. Born on April 21, 1935, in Ambato, Ecuador; died on Feb. 13, 2014, in Toronto, of lymphoma, aged 78.
It was Jan. 12, 1972, and the military was in control in Ecuador. We feared the worst because our father, Carlos Escobar, had not come home for dinner. A high-school principal, and a member of the Socialist Party, he had been organizing a teacher’s union. As darkness fell in our small Andean city, a pack of men in riot gear smashed into our home, searching for him in vain. Ten days later he reappeared, tired and shaken after hiding at a relative’s home.
He kissed his wife, Blanca, and said goodbye to his six children. He left with a small suitcase, in search of a better life and freedom, making his way to Canada where his best friend had moved. It would be four years before our family joined him in Toronto. He often said the separation broke his heart but not his spirit.
Although Carlos was a teacher who loved to paint, read and write poetry, he earned a living for his family in Toronto by working with his hands as a machinist. He taught his three sons and three daughters that no job is demeaning and that even in the most difficult conditions you can find honour. “Life is not like a coin that you flip in the air,” he would say. In other words, live life with purpose. Behave with integrity, be loyal, be fair, be kind.
He attended evening classes to learn English, mainly so that he could help his children with their school work; he was proud that all six went on to postsecondary education. He was also involved in his community, creating cultural and social events to highlight all that was good about Ecuador. And he was an active member of United Steelworkers of America, serving as a shop steward and in other union roles to defend workers’ rights.
Despite the tribulations of life, he was an optimist. He would wake up whistling and often dance around the living room while telling stories of his youth. He and Blanca created a warm and welcoming home, open to family, friends, friends of family and friends of friends. Once you walked into their home, you became part of the family or friends for life.
His two favourite things were family and food, so when they were combined he was in heaven. Each family celebration would begin with him standing to give a speech, welcoming visitors and affirming his pride in his family. He loved to cook meals and do the ironing. He would sing or whistle while he hemmed his children’s pants. Well into their adulthood, he enjoyed tying his sons’ ties.
When his kids played soccer, his was the loudest voice of support. He would take his children, and later his grandchildren, for private walks so they could spend time alone together. One of the earliest memories of his youngest son, Andres, was being taken on a walk around High Park at the age of six; they didn’t exchange many words, but words weren’t necessary. After retiring at 65, Carlos was able to spend time with his six grandchildren, playing soccer, offering Spanish lessons and discussing history.
In 2008, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and given three months to live. But he was stubborn and clearly believed it wasn’t his time to go. His cancer went into remission for six years, allowing him to visit Ecuador twice. Carlos lived each moment of life to the fullest, inspiring others to do the same. A few days before he died, he cited the words of his favourite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “I discovered, to my joy, that it is life, and not death, that has no limits.”
Ximena Escobar is Carlos’s middle daughter.