Identity – Counting the Cost
Below is a post I wrote over two years ago and describing the remarkable toll on families politics can take, especially for those with younger children. I include it here because of a request from someone who is thinking of running but wanting to read it again. Part of knowing who we are is knowing our own personal limits of what we are willing to sacrifice for the privilege of politics.
The Swing is Gone
I arrived back in London a few hours ago – midnight to be exact – after travelling from Ottawa through Toronto. With the Foreign Affairs Committee schedule being moved back for the foreseeable future, this journey home will be repeated far too often.
My wife Jane had phoned to say the kids wanted to sleep in our bed so that they could still see me when I arrived. I quietly came in the side door, placed my backpack on the floor, and gently walked into the room. There they were – my son, twin daughters, and my remarkable wife – all spread out across the bed in various states of slumber. Unexpectedly, I choked up and quietly exited. How could I be so blessed and cursed at the same time?
For all of you wondering at these words, you need to know that this is the life of an MP, and despite what you think, it’s hardly a dream job, especially for someone family oriented. And it’s brutal on the emotions. My son Ater had called me Wednesday night, wondering why I couldn’t have come to his championship volleyball game. He’s from Sudan and he loves his Dad like a hero. Trouble is, I felt like a chump. My effort to explain to him that I had to stay in Ottawa and meet some ambassadors that evening had little effect. I wished him good luck and that he could tell me all about it when I got home – chump again. Two weeks ago I had missed all the parent/teacher meetings that had been held at the school – Ottawa again. My daughter Abuk had her hockey game, which I missed. Hardest of all, Jane has been sick for two months, attempting to manage an impossible series of events as she helps the kids, runs the food drives for the food bank, and attempts to get all the complicated travel arrangements completed for our large team heading to Sudan in January.
Disappointed and lonely, I went to the one place that Jane and I love the best in our home – the porch swing. Our front porch is large and beautiful, and each evening when I’m home, or daytimes in the summer, we grab two glasses of Bailey’s Irish Cream and talk about the day. The kids come out, see that we’re swaying back and forth and dash back into the house, claiming: “It’s Mom and Dad’s alone time.” It’s a visible spot and every day cars pull up to drop off food for the food bank. Others drop off donations for Africa. And, increasingly, passersby take the opportunity to come up and talk about anything, including politics. That private space is increasingly becoming public.
But I was saddened to see that the porch swing had been put away for the winter. I stood outside for a moment looking at the sky, and started counting in my head the number of MPs that I know from all parties who know exactly what I’m talking about. I thought of those still in the air, winding their way to the interior of BC, the Yukon, or the east coast. Some wouldn’t get home until noon, would have a day in the riding and to see their family, and then it would be back to the airport for the journey to Ottawa. I have it good compared to them.
I know MPs don’t get a lot of respect, but often it’s because people don’t comprehend the sacrifices paid. One of them, a good friend, does this journey every week, with only a day and a half at home, just after his wife has suffered a miscarriage. Another is having trouble with one of his children in school. Still another feels her marriage slipping away. Say what you like, these dedicated servants from every party, work ridiculously long hours for such little respect. It’s true that we are paid well, that we frequently behave badly in the House and that our partisanship is worthy of objective criticism. But we are spouses, grandparents, sons and daughters, siblings and parents and the toll is extreme. To all of them I say “thank you” for the kind of dedication that even sees you sharing times with your family with the many events that require your presence in the riding.
My swing – our swing – is gone. My family is inside and I’m here on the porch, cold and typing away. It’s best if you love this job; it makes the sacrifice a tad easier. I don’t, but I do deeply care for people for whom life has taken a harsh turn. If it was my family curled up in that bed that was in destitution, I would hope that some MP would rise to their assistance, regardless of the sacrifice. I don’t like the political life, but it is one of the best ways to bring the greatest amount of good to people in need.
It’s time to find a place in that tangle of bodies to grab some sleep before a breakfast at 7:30 with a local politician. God, I miss the swing.