For anyone that knew Silvio Mattacchione, they knew him as this renowned figure in the world of racing pigeons and specialty book publishing, having made significant contributions to the sport of pigeon racing through his extensive research, and many publications. He is* by far one of the foremost authorities in North America on this topic; a respected and sought out area expert on this subject and on breeding, training, and racing these remarkable and under-estimated birds.
When you think of pigeons, you think of these simple and annoying birds in the city that truly have no conception of personal space when it comes to walking civilians. What my dad saw was the beautiful abilities of these underestimated animals that, to an acute few, have remarkable talent, strength, and endurance.
What people saw was this exceptionally business-savvy individual who was hard-working and a wealth of knowledge when it came to these birds. What I and my three siblings saw was just our dad. The dad who spent hours outside in his garden cultivating his yearly harvest of fruits and vegetables and his beautiful flowers. The dad who used to read 600 pages a night until 3 AM on anything and everything. Year after year, his grass was always that much greener and lush. Driving up our driveway in the middle of the summer to the smell of fresh-cut grass and seeing my dad on the tractor on the opposite side of the field is one of my favourite memories. He was an encyclopedia of everything to us. Grade 5 math, easy. Grade 10 history, he’d take you back to the beginning to make sure you really understood. First-year Shakespeare, he didn’t like Shakespeare, but could he ever make an argument in his favour. Keeping an aloe plant alive, that I surely killed in a week - keep in mind this is a plant that survives in dry climates - and not telling him about it for a month because I couldn’t accept defeat; well, he brought that back to life in half the time it took me to kill it. As many will agree, he is* the strongest, hard-working, business-savvy man that anyone would meet in his field. But he is* also the most compassionate, forgiving, and loving dad. Proud of his heritage. Supportive of his family. A true fighter with the memory of an elephant.
As many know, our dad was dealt a blow in 2023. In April, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. And for the last year, he has fought immensely to survive. My family almost lost him twice, and still, he persevered. He was determined to beat his tumours…We never saw this coming. We never had a chance to process it. And now, we have to accept …
This was a hard journey. We had some amazing people support and love him and our family. We also had many people show us - and much to my dad’s sadness - their true colours resulting in him distancing himself. But regardless, my dad was a fighter. He fought for his family. For my mom. For us kids. And most importantly, he fought for himself. He made the decisions he had to make despite his tumours being stubborn and merciless. And he fought them as best he could.
As I sit and write this (December 18th, 2023), he sleeps before me. Gently snoring. And while everyone begs for updates and criticizes our family for not giving more - (I’m sorry, everyone, but sometimes we had nothing to share. Nothing left to give.) - a lot of the time, our dad didn’t want his journey shared and asked us not to. Why, you might ask? I truly don’t know. When we’d ask, he’d shake his head and say, ‘Not today.’ A part of me believes it was because he was the storyteller of the family, and he - like all of us - believed he’d beat this and he’d be the one to regale his story.
Today (December 18) we spent time finishing his last article together, and as I worked through it with him, it reminded me of the years I spent in high school and university writing stories for English. He’d always say to us, “One sentence, one thought.” As we worked through the article, it was my turn to slow his mind down: “One sentence, one thought, Dad.”
This last article I helped him with, he wrote: “ …he has what I call true “Stock Sense”... Some people have this gift, but the majority do not…You either have the stock sense, or you do not.” My dad had it in spades. It was a gift. He had an eye for it. Whether it was his storytelling, writing, knowledge of the birds, or just general random knowledge (I bet none of you had extensive conversations with him at the dinner table on string theory), my dad had this amazing gift and instinct.
When we were growing up, he always wanted us to fancy his birds as much as he did. I remember he gave me a bird. We named it PC (President’s Choice - we thought it was funny), and he became both my pet and his racing pigeon. Dad taught me how to toss, hold, feed, and generally train him. When he saw me, he became that bird that would swoop down and land on my shoulder, and I thought that it was the most incredible thing. Then one day, he was gone. And Dad told me it flew away, and we lost him. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how little that made sense. A homing pigeon flying away and getting lost? It turns out Dad shared him for breeding. I was so upset with him. And yet, it became one of our favourite shared stories to tell together. With perfect choreography, we could tell this story.
People who do or do not know our family have an unfair assumption that our family might not have cared about his passions. But Dad had many passions, and we all shared in them. Just like our mom's passions. Sports (like him), dancing and music (like mom), writing and storytelling (like him), cooking (like our mom). We loved watching the birds, and while we may not have all fallen in love with them the way he did, we respected them, loved his passion for them, and admired him for everything he did.
My dad loved his animals. His birds. The hardest decision he ever made was sitting my brother and me down and telling us after his diagnosis that he was ready to let them go. We both asked him “are you sure”. We thought we could handle them and when he was healthy, he could take it back up again. But, his confident response of: “No, I can restart my loft with any two birds I want and do it all over again” made us also confident that he could. But still, it was the hardest decision we knew he ever made. And it was the hardest decision that we had to support him on. Like I said, he had an eye for it. He knew how to develop the best pedigree’s of birds, and he knew when it was time to let go.
Today (January 29th), my dad passed away at home. The one place he said he always wanted to pass at. I have this image in my head that he is sitting up in Heaven on a beautiful property between a few trees watching the sunrise and set, like he did at home, watching his birds.
But there are no words that could capture how my family and I feel. My dad was the man with all the words. He always knew what to say. How to say it. How to write it. And while I follow in his footsteps writing, I am at a complete loss. My dad lived a full and beautiful life. He was the smartest man in the room and he veiled it behind a quiet and observant demeanor, and a cheeky smile.
Everyone knew him as this renowned figure in the world of racing pigeons. But he was my dad first.
Dad, I write this for you. In honour and memory of you. You are loved. You will be missed and this article will live forever in the pages you were so proud to write for.
We love you, dad