Home » Shoulder Down: "I found my dad dead when I was just five years old"

Shoulder Down: "I found my dad dead when I was just five years old"

June 8, 2024

How Masters athlete Todd Payette is bidding for the NABBA world title

WHEN he was five years old Todd Payette found his dad slumped over the wheel of his car. He had killed himself overnight.

One of three children, Canadian Payette was raised by a strict mum, who belittled his efforts to better himself, often calling him: “King shit of turd island.”

Next Saturday, Payette, now 55, will bid to win the NABBA world championship in Linz, Austria.

Should he achieve his lifelong dream, he may even treat himself to a Harley Davidson Sportster 1200. Just a week out from the competition, Payette told frontdouble.com: "It has been my goal to give 100 per cent to this contest prep. The hernia that had held me back has been repaired. No more pain, time to go all out.

"While it is my intention is to win, bodybuilding is subjective; the only thing you have control over is oneself. I have reached my goal in terms of giving 100 per cent. That in itself is a win. Life is short. Own it. Live it well and go all out."

In 2021, Payette wrote and had published a book about his trials and tribulations, called ‘Shoulder Down’.

Here, in the build up to that NABBA world championship in Austria, frontdouble.com is serialising parts of the book, starting today and continuing over the next few days. It is an incredible story.

"The moment they told me he was dead, the pain was immediate and intense..."

“When your father is an alcoholic, things were not all rainbows and sunshine. When we lived in an apartment, Linda [Todd’s sister] and I shared a room. I remember us looking at each other as our parents had awful fights. Both of us were terrified of the yelling. I would ask her to make it stop and she would motion for me to be quiet as we hid in our beds. It was scary. Sometimes things would get smashed. I hated it, hated the feeling of fear. The next day, nothing would be said and life would carry on.

“We eventually moved out of the apartment to a duplex in Elmwood, a tough blue-collar neighbourhood in Winnipeg, just across the river from the much tougher North End and on a busy street. We had a yard! With swings and a sandbox, to our delight. My dad had a garage for his car, which made him very happy. We had our own rooms and it was all very impressive to me. It seemed things were good for our little family.

“Sometimes dad didn’t come home. I suppose many of the fights my parents had were about him vanishing for a couple of days. We were not allowed in our parents room, especially early in the morning. I had a pretty good system for finding out if he had come home. I went to the garage. If the car was there, he was home, life was good. My little world made sense.

"Sometimes he came home in the wee hours of the night. I always woke up when this happened. I never was a good sleeper and have sleep issues to this day. We had a ritual for when he staggered in – I would greet him and tell him I was hungry. I always had two choices: milk and cookies or cereal. He would fix it up for me and sit with me until I was done. Then he would bring me back to bed and stumble off to his room with mum. He always did this. Every time, without fail, if I woke up.

"I called out to him, louder: "DADDY?!"

"Sometimes we would talk a little as I ate. Sometimes not. Just him and I. It was always apparent to me that he was at least a little drunk and sometimes a lot drunk. That did not matter to me. It didn’t scare me. It was our time together without my mum and, better yet, without my crying baby sister and without Linda, who I saw as the “perfect” child who never got into trouble. Just father and son.

“1974. It was a beautiful warm sunny Sunday morning. I was the only one awake and Linda was at church with a school friend. After a bit of cereal and some morning television, it was time for me to check the garage to see if dad was home. If he had come home in the night, I had slept through it as there had been no cereal or milk ritual.

“Our garage was a two-car garage with lots of room and had that familiar smell of oil and gas, as many garages do. As I approached the door, I noticed a sound coming from within. It was our car and it was running. The image took me by surprise. There was dad, slumped slightly to the left in our big blue Pontiac, door closed, window open, engine running. I remember an awful feeling as I called out weakly to him: “Dad?”

“No response.

“I opened the car door and climbed on his lap. Something was wrong. I called out to him again, louder: “DADDY?!”


"It felt wrong to leave him but I had to get help"

“The fumes started to make me feel ill and something told me to turn off the car. I suppose watching every move my father made served me well, as I knew exactly how to do it. I wasn't feeling so good from the exhaust and I shudder to think what could have happened had I not turned it off.

“It felt wrong to leave him. I tried shaking him, calling to him, hugging him and turned on the radio loudly. I didn’t want to leave him. After several minutes and with great effort, I knew I had to get help and had to tell mum.

“I ran into the house full speed and burst into my parents’ bedroom. I was shaking and could barely get the words out. “Mummy, daddy is in the car, he’s asleep and he won’t wake up!”

“Everything that happened immediately after was a blue of sirens, fire trucks and an ambulance. To this day, I feel quite bad for the fighfighter who came to speak to me. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said to me: “Son, I am very sorry, your father had died”.

“The pain I felt in my stomach was immediate and intense. There was nothing I could say. I simply ran to my room and curled up on my bed and howled. The pain would not stop. I was screaming.”

Follow frontdouble.com this coming week for more excerpts from Payette's brilliant book, as we chart his epic journey to the NABBA world championship in Austria.

SHOULDER DOWN can be purchased by clicking HERE.

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