Harold Fallding wrote his first publishable poem at age 14 in Sydney, Australia. Seventy years later, the retired University of Waterloo professor began writing his final poem while propped up in a palliative care bed at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph. The unfinished epic poem, titled Male and Female, was an attempt to solve a riddle the distinguished professor emeritus had struggled with all his life.
Hal, as he was known to friends left behind when he immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, had been a sensitive teenager with no athletic talent. He was clearly out of place in macho Australia.
In his 30s, Hal met Peggy Hardy, a brilliant scientist and vice-principal of Women's College at the University of Sydney. He thought she could somehow inspire him to be more masculine and he could draw out her femininity.
What he never realized was that his tenuous hold on conventional masculinity is precisely what made Hal such a delightful husband, father and friend. Hal recognized the career of his wife, a biomedical science professor, was as important as his, and he helped his three daughters flower into confident young women who never considered there might be limits on what girls can do.
In his poetry-writing youth, Hal forged deep friendships with other men outside the macho mould. One boyhood friend, now 84, travelled halfway around the world to play hymns on a piano keyboard in Hal's nursing home room a few weeks before his death.
At St. Joseph's, where Peggy also spent her final months before she died of Alzheimer's disease in 2004, a staff member swears she has never seen such a loving husband in more than 30 years on the job. Several health workers left his daughters notes saying he was the gentlest man they'd ever met.
The dying man's last poem goes on for several pages about the traditional joys of God-ordained heterosexual love and reproduction. Then, on a fresh page, the last written words of someone ready to leave this Earth wander off in an utterly different direction:
If we float to highest heights and/ downward sweep/ our piercing gaze, we see/ a strange transformation/ that sends bright clouds of alteration.
Clouds playing musical chairs/ her chair for me and mine for you/ till all the colour in our sets/ has changed to other colours too/ and the androgynous iridescence/ brushes in background,/ live like the northern lights.
A close friend of Hal's recently declared him "a great man." To those who knew him most intimately, he was more than that; he was a great human being.
Helen Fallding is Harold's youngest daughter.
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