One of the many poignant stories coming from the Portapique murders involves the Tuck family: mother Jolene Oliver, father Aaron (Friar) Tuck, and their 17-year-old daughter Emily Tuck, all senselessly and horrifically murdered in their house that Saturday night.
As we try to wrap our heads around the tragedy, male violence — “a pandemic in its own right” — has rightly become an area of focus.
Aaron Tuck’s life offers an important counterpoint. Aaron was once a troubled teenager, was caught up with the law, and landed in prison. But with a desire to change, and with the help of people who loved him, Aaron turned his life around and became a responsible husband and father.
Doreen Coady met Aaron Tuck through a friend, Gloria Rogers; Aaron was Gloria’s son. I contacted Doreen after reading a blog post she had written about Aaron.
Doreen told me she doesn’t think it would be proper to get into the details of Aaron’s childhood, but she did acknowledge that “he definitely had a dark and damaged upbringing, and he was pretty open about sharing that, too.”
Aaron “never fit anywhere,” said Doreen.
Doreen Coady had troubles finding her own way in the world, and so started to think about her upbringing, and about parenting. Gloria had gone through similar struggles, and had some bad relationships with men, but Gloria eventually worked through those issues successfully.
“Gloria was identified to me as somebody who could probably help me because she was an elder in the community.” Gloria became a “mentor” to Doreen.
One result of Doreen’s journey was her 2019 book, “100 Moms 1000 Tips 1 Million Reasons.”
And then Doreen started writing a follow-up book about dads, which will be published next month.
“I was stuck at 99 dads,” said Doreen. “I asked every dad I knew and I could not find one more dad.“
But then her friend and mentor Gloria died, and Doreen asked Gloria’s son Aaron to be the 100th dad. He agreed, and Doreen spoke with Aaron for the book just last month.
That’s when Doreen learned how important Gloria’s husband Angus Rogers was in Aaron’s life. Angus became Aaron’s stepdad when Aaron was a teenager.
Aaron wrote an account of Angus for Doreen’s book, part of which reads:
When I got ‘out’ [of prison], Angus put a wrench in my hand. That changed everything. Together we worked on a Mustang. He gave me what I needed; he rearranged my world. Angus was the Father I always wanted. He taught me what a man should be. He taught me to cut the grass and fix the mower. He later put me in a small engine repair course. He was the biggest influence in my life.
“What a sweet voice Aaron gave to that sometimes difficult role of the stepdad,” said Doreen. “He did a great job in talking about how someone paying attention can really turn your life around. He was humble in that he recognized who really looked out for him. His mom had some difficult partners over the years. And Angus was a very soft and gentle, beautiful man.”
Angus was a devout Catholic, said Doreen.
“He was actually at a time considering going into the priesthood. And whenever you went [to Gloria and Angus’s house], you would have to take your hat off and say grace at the table. I know that they went to church all the time and did rosaries for people with candles for people and had this really intense belief in God.”
I asked Doreen if Aaron became religious, and she recounts a moment at Gloria’s funeral.
“I said, ‘you know, I wish there was a heaven.’ And [Aaron] said, ‘let’s just believe like she did. And let’s pretend they’re in heaven,’ and I found that moving when he said it. And I find it moving now.”
With a stepfather who taught him what to value, Aaron met Jolene.
“Finding Jolene was the first thing,” said Doreen. “And once he had someone who loved him by choice, who truly loved him and didn’t hurt him, then he could blossom. Then he could get root. And then she had his baby. And then he needed nothing, not even electricity. He didn’t need anything after that.”
Some years ago, Aaron inherited property in Portapique.
“He was pretty secluded back in the woods,” said Doreen. “He had a lot of pride of living off the grid. And that’s what he wanted to do.”
I asked Doreen if she thinks Aaron’s desire to live off the grid in this town no one’s ever heard of before last week is a reflection of trying to deal with his difficult childhood.
“I do,” she answered. “He really never fit in anywhere. And you know how we can be both dark and broken, and we can also be great and loyal and loving. And there’s definitely that for him. They lived without electricity and water for a long time. And to find a partner who would be willing to do that. And a teenage daughter who would be willing to do that. And the three of them pride themselves on living off the grid. It takes, I don’t know, I can only speculate that anyone who makes that choice — I’m not speaking for the girls — but as a man and a leader of the family, if you’re making that choice, I can only speculate that you have things happening.”
Aaron doted on Jolene and Emily. Here’s more of what he wrote for Doreen’s book, about being a dad:
- Teach independence. Make sure your children value their worth and know they can handle anything.
- Teach them how to live off the land. Emily can build a cabin or a composting toilet. She can chop wood and run a chainsaw. She appreciates the land and can survive in the wilderness.
- Make sure they value themselves. I respect my daughter and treat her Mother the way a man should treat a woman, the way I want my daughter to be treated. I put Jolene on a pedestal, and I want the same for my ‘little girl.’ I want to her know she should always be respected and hope she will never accept anything less than the utmost respect from anyone.
- Expose them to music. Coming from the East Coast, I introduced Emily to fiddle music. She loved it and wanted to play. She learned very quickly and found she had a unique talent. She could play anything she touched. In no time she learned both harmonica and clarinet and even developed an ability to read music.
- Show and talk about affection. Start and end each day with “I love you.” I remember I always wanted to hear that from my Dad, but he never said it. I wanted to make sure my daughter heard it from me every day. I always hug her.
- Be truthful. I never lied to my daughter, even if she didn’t like the truth or when the truth was hard. When her fish died, I had to tell her. I think we have to teach about life and death.
- Don’t take life seriously. Have fun. We do a lot of fun things together. I love when we go off-roading together.
- Teach them what you know. She loves learning about the trades and customizing things. We’ve been working on a ’77 Pinto since she was three. She loved using a wrench as a toddler. She still loves learning about carpentry and welding. I love teaching her and enjoying how great she is.
- Deal with your child differently at every stage. They are always learning, changing and growing. Your approach should also be learning and changing and growing. Sometimes they need to learn things from their Dad and sometimes they need to learn things from their Mom.
- I try to be the Dad I always wanted to have. Angus came into my life as a teenager. He taught me how to be a Dad. I try to be like him.
A video of Emily playing her fiddle for the Nova Scotia Kitchen Party for COVID-19 has understandably resonated with Nova Scotians.
“I was talking to someone who said that Aaron used to bring Emily to her fiddle lessons and sit there and watch her and beam,” said Doreen. “And then the other side of Aaron is he’s so gritty. He’s so rough around the edges. You would never imagine that he would carry her off to fiddle lessons and sit there with pride and watch her play.
“I mean, one of the things that struck me is my father, he didn’t know anything about me. Aaron knew everything about Emily. He knew she was gonna be a welder. He knew what she could build. He knew what she liked to do. He knew about the fiddle. He knew about school. He knew about her boyfriend — he liked him. He was so connected in all areas of her life. She was just the apple of his eye.”
I think of Emily’s boyfriend, and what he must be going through now.
“Aaron talked to me about her boyfriend and he really liked him,” said Doreen. “Which I thought would be interesting because Aaron is so rough around the edges and Emily being so precious to him. I was so surprised and happy to hear that he was a really good guy. And he restated that Emily could handle herself regardless. So that’s not something every parent gets the comfort of knowing that my kid can handle any relationship.”
I asked Doreen if she thinks Aaron instilled that confidence in Emily.
“Yeah, yeah,” she answered. “When you watch the video of her playing the fiddle and when she’s finished and she goes, ‘there’s some fiddle for ya’ — I just get goose bumps, it is just the sweetest thing. And it says so much about their love and respect for each other. And I think that’s probably a pillar of the parenting. Is that because he respected her as a person, he didn’t see her as a kid. He wanted to make her into a really competent adult.”
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I had to stop halfway because it was too much.
I finished it though, very good. If good is the right way to describe anything about this sad time.
What is striking to me here is that the murderer seemed to find financial success, with all of the
things that money could buy, but was not capable of this type of love.
It seems all of the people he killed were loving, lovely people.
Well done Tim, just amazing writing.
Teary – yup – big tears just flowing down my cheeks.
lovely, thank you
There’s some father for ya. An important counterpoint, indeed.
Many thanks to Tim for this wonderful (and heartbreaking) tribute — and to Doreen for making Aaron very proud, no doubt, to be her “100th dad.”
Beautiful piece. I look forward to reading 100 Dads, and especially this chapter.
Thank you for this story of promise in the midst of such great loss. How love ~ “when I got out (of prison), he put a wrench in my hand” ~ can manifest beauty – Aaron used to bring Emily to her fiddle lessons and sit there and watch her and beam.
Thank you for the Halifax Examiner
Very moving article Tim. RIP sweet family
He had a PhD in humanity, something he learned in life and not available at your local university.
Tim, thank you so much for this emotional and moving article. What a wonderful, sweet Dad he was. Let’s all believe he is in Heaven with Emily and Jolene. I do!
Tim, this is one of the most moving articles I have ever read. Just stellar work, my friend. I’ve stepped back a lot over the past several years and pretty much totally gave up following media. But recently as I began searching for reports regarding covid19 I realized that I owed it to you, and myself, to support real journalism because it matters. All the best!