The Red Tool Box

My dad was born in Cambellton, Newfoundland, the youngest of 7 kids. His mom died of cancer when he was very young and his father was not well. This caused Dad to drop out of school early and go to work in the logging camps to help support his family. He eventually got married and moved to Toronto. There he had two kids. But an unfortunate car accident in Scarborough left him seriously injured and he had to go back to Newfoundland and live with my mom’s parents until he recuperated. That took two years. Eventually he went back to work as a carpenter, had four more kids and settled in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. It was always his dream to return to Toronto. 

Dad didn’t earn a lot of money. He worked six days a week and as much overtime as possible. With five boys and a girl, there were many hungry mouths to feed. We never had much in the form of material goods. I, being the youngest of the five brothers, wore hand-me-downs until I outgrew my siblings and I needed my own clothes. 

One consequence of the car accident was that my dad was left with an impaired heart. He spent much time in and out of a doctor’s office and hospitals. We lived with the fear of Dad having a fatal heart attack all of our lives. But he kept working and striving for a good life for his family. Eventually, in December 1971, my dad decided to sell everything he had and move us all to Toronto. I remember arriving on my birthday, December 19th, at Union Station blinded by the bright lights of the city. It was bitterly cold and we settled in an apartment on Keele Street, in Downsview. Everything was so different from what I was used to. But then and there began a new life for us all.

In the later years of his life, Dad suffered from Alzheimer’s. The last few years of his life were not the best. He lived in a long term care nursing home and his declining health made life very difficult. Though always a fighter, my dad finally called it quits and left us in a peaceful sleep. The day was August 19, 2004. He was 79. That was five years ago.

On the anniversary of my dad’s death, I happened to go down to the basement of our house. We moved eight months ago from a detached house with a finished basement to a townhouse with an unfinished basement. Needless to say, there is a lot of stuff in the basement of our townhouse that used to have a place in our house, but now is mixed among a lot of things. I was putting up some shelves in my daughter’s bedroom and needed a few wall plugs. As I fumbled around, hidden underneath a bunch of junk, I saw a small red metal tool box. 

Many years ago when I was visiting my dad at his apartment in Markham, he pulled out of his closet a red tool box. He called me over and said he wanted to give a few tools that he no longer had any use for. So he filled it up with a hammer, various screw drivers, a saw and some other items I never knew what they were for. I took the red tool box home and brought it downstairs to my storage area. Over the years, the red tool box lost a lot of its contents, became dented and eventually forgotten, until now.

My dad never accumulated any wealth. When he died he had $10k in his bank account and that was the extent of his life’s savings. That money was applied to the cost of his funeral. None of his children received any financial inheritance. Unlike many of my friends who talk about what they have inherited and are expecting to inherit, that was never an expectation of mine. But what I did inherit was that red tool box.

As I opened that worn red tool box, and looked at some of the tools in it that had belonged to my dad, there was a striking realization that my dad’s sacrifice became my opportunity, and that was what I inherited from him. He sacrificed his life and all that he had to provide a greater opportunity to his kids, so that their lives would become better than his. The tools he gave me were not made out of metal or steel, but were carved out of his daily labour. My dad was a man of strong conviction, knew what he believed, and was loyal to his beliefs and to his family. He taught me to have a strong work ethic, what was right and wrong, not to let people take advantage, and to work hard and strive for excellence. He properly prepared me for life. Then I wondered, what have I done with my inheritance? Would my dad be proud! 

I decided to fix that red tool box, clean its contents find the rest of my dad’s tools and put them back in it. I keep it as a reminder of the sacrifices he made on my behalf, and to thank him for the opportunity he gave me. 

Last year at our annual CMA Past Chairs Dinner, one of the guests gave me a book to read. It was a history of CMA Ontario. While reading it, I was impressed by the story of the founders of CMA Ontario. It was amazing how a small team of people, with no money, no infrastructure and no materials, managed to build the foundation for what has become a great accounting designation today. It was amazing to read the record of their sacrifice, as they were all volunteers, and of their commitment and dedication.

 I have the pleasure as the current President, of celebrating the success of CMA Ontario. We have approximately 25,000 members now (students and certified CMAs). We will be moving soon to 25 York Street with 27,000 square feet of space, half of which is dedicated to our new Professional Development Institute and the other to administration. We have expanded member services, professional programs and research. But it is our founder’s sacrifices that have created such opportunities. I hope each CMA member does not forget about the sacrifices that were made to create opportunities for us, and that we leverage on our CMA inheritance to continually build a great organization and designation. 

As a member of CMA Ontario each one of us has been provided our own tool box that contains all the resources required to build a great career and life. Let’s not let ignore it. Let’s use it.