The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: fatherhood

Century Thoughts

MEMORIES OF HIM DROP FROM THE SKIES like snowflakes lightly touching the ground. On December 15th, 1916, a rather frail baby was born in a home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – an arrival that, in part at least, led to my own journey.

Lloyd Durward Pearson was my father, and that obscure birth 100 years ago today launched him into an era of seismic happenings. He was born in the middle of the First World War (1914–1918), and looking back on it now I realize that he never really got the chance to enjoy a comfortable youth. Like millions of his generation, he entered adolescence on the heels of a world conflict that cost 17 million lives and a further 20 million wounded only to face a Great Depression that drove millions of others into poverty, including his own parents and five sisters.

Then, just as he stood on the threshold of a career and perhaps a family, the next great global conflict – World War Two (1939-1945) erupted and his personal dream lay in ruins.

But not his ideals. His belief in a better world led him into the conflict where he met my mother at a dance in Edinburgh, Scotland, while on leave. They married shortly after, spending their wedding night in a green Scottish pasture because there literally was no room in any of the inns. After five years, he was severely wounded in action and shipped back home.

Following the war it took him years to fully recover from his wounds, but at last he succeeded, becoming part of the great middle-class boom in the post-war years. We never owned a home while I was with them and the tentacles of poverty were always hovering, threatening. But with both Dad and Mom working we became more comfortable.

It is difficult to skip over the millions of occurrences that transpired during those years, but I’ve come to see my father as part of what journalist Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” It wasn’t so much because of what that cohort achieved economically that made their contributions significant, but how what they experienced spiritually and morally shaped their lives – and those of their families. What else should we have expect from a generation that had to face two world wars and a crippling depression – all at the time they were endeavouring to achieve adulthood?

I have come to see myself as a product not of my parent’s economic potential but as the beneficiary of an ethical ethos that believed poverty represented a sin of humankind, and that waging the struggle of peace to divert war was a noble aspiration.

Dad never got over the two world wars and another decade of the Depression. He never could fully enjoy what wealth he was able to acquire because he was old beyond his years before he ever became economically comfortable. And so he could never remain isolated. The world had to be made better. Neighbours in need had to be helped. Kids needed an education. Communities had to have a heart not just houses. And, to him, Canada had to become the example of what the world could be if people just respected one another’s potential and right to share the same land and opportunity.

In the end, my Dad had seen too much, endured untold tragedy, to be happy in his material comforts. If he was alive today, on this his 100th birthday, his thoughts would naturally drift to Aleppo and Mosul, to the homeless and refugees, and to those who opted to live their lives for others. The rigors of life had fashioned a wise human with scars, physical and emotional, out of him and he would never be content just enjoying his birthday.

And, so, I will try to live this day in the same fashion. A man born a century ago and who departed this life some 40 years in the past, will continue to teach me lessons and humble me with his commitment to others. In another two years my mother will would have reached her century mark, if only she hadn’t passed decades ago, and I will learn from her anew as well.

This is just the thing about being human: those who have gone on before us still have much to teach us and memories to stir in our consciousness. And blessed are those children, like me, who get to experience the belief that we live our lives best when we live for things greater than ourselves. If that understanding came from those who are no longer with us, then the greatest things in life will never leave us, but hopefully fashion us to struggle to give this world a chance in a troubled time. Love you, Dad, for this, the greatest gift that can be offered – life with meaning.

More Than DNA

Fathers-Day

“THE HEART OF A FATHER IS THE MASTERPIECE OF NATURE.” Really? Antoine Francois wrote that a long time ago, but I sense I have fallen far short of that kind of nobility of soul. Because fathers never stop learning, it is almost impossible to arrive at anything near a “masterpiece”. Fatherhood itself is a series of rites of passage – births, first days of school, graduation, marriages, grandkids – which, no matter how many times they are experienced, leaves one with the feeling that we never get it quite right.

Most people are cursed with the idea that if only they could acquire something externally that they would be better people. Extra money, a better job, more patience or kindness, a sense of purpose – these are the usual suspects rolled out as objects worth procuring if we are to be more complete as humans. Because children, as they mature, constantly press the boundaries of their respective worlds, fathers always have to respond to so many challenges over the years that it can easily leave one with the sense that they can never be good enough to be the “masterpiece” dad.

Fortunately, in the great Circle of Life, there is a remedy inherent with humanity that eventually exposes the fallacy of such thinking. Over the years we come to realize that the great virtues of personality are not something external for which to reach but impulses that reside within us that must emerge over time. The cure for our underperformance is already housed in the very desire we feel to be better fathers to our children. The great religious teachers, moralists, and philosophers have always shown the way on this but in the pressures of living they are lessons often overlooked or forgotten entirely. The belief that we are better than our performance would indicate is one of the great drivers in human progress – and in fatherhood.

In this is the great genius of life and guardianship. We don’t become better guides for our children in order that we might assist them through life. It is actually the opposite: their very presence in our lives is what makes us fit to supervise their journey into adulthood. Those who witnessed the life of Abraham Lincoln never comprehended the depths of his soul until they saw him rolling on the floor with his children. The tenderness of such moments transcended the pressures of leading in wartime and introduced the world to a man of vastly deep treasures of human compassion.

In a very real way it is our children, through the very experience of raising them, that make us fit to mentor them. Love is not only the greatest parenting strategy there is; it actually is the great former and shaper of the parents themselves. It is their children that call those deep resources within their moms and dads to live at such a level where love can be free to operate.

For this reason many of us will never get over our fathers. We were never meant to because we, as their children, had a hand in raising them, in broadening understanding, in deepening their hearts. God put children in our lives for that very reason. People don’t become perfect, then have kids. They are blessed with parenthood and then learn to fill that responsibility as the years progress.

With seven children blessing my life, it is likely that any real strength of character or compassion that I have shown was refined by their very presence in my life, gracing my years and making me a better person. For all my failures, I have succeeded when they have been free to shape me. And now that I have four grandchildren, it is likely that such a refinement will continue until my final breath.

At times I wonder what it must be like for my kids to have walked along with me in this life. How do they see me? For all the benefits they have brought to me, have I sufficiently helped in preparing them for the rigors of life? Do they see me as a companion or some kind of distant moral instructor? I would hope it is the former, because that is what I have desired most. I have always concurred with Martin Luther King’s great observation that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But that bending best happens in companionship and friendship, and I can only pray that my kids see me in such a light.

It is my ultimate hope that my relationship with my children is more than just about DNA. That’s a natural passing on of the building blocks of life. But the other stuff – the love, respect, gratitude, lessons learned, and just sheer companionship – is what I hope they can perceive. To a very large degree they raised me, protected me, drew out some of the better parts of me. On this Father’s Day I can only thank them for their ongoing love and faithfulness. I have become a better man for their very willingness to engage with me and point me in the direction of a better humanity. On this special day, if there is any gratitude to be expressed it is from one blessed father to his remarkable children.

Confessions of a Hockey Widower

Jane and AbukAccording to the Urban Dictionary, a “hockey widow” is “a woman who is married to a man who is so obsessively involved with hockey that it keeps him away from home.”  That’s me, except technically I’m defined as a “hockey widower.”  And I’ve got issues.  This time of year, I feel I’m in a state of permanent grief.

It started years ago, not too long after we were married, when Jane said, “Glen, you okay if I join a pick-up league and play hockey on Friday afternoons?”  Seemed okay to me.  When she was in school she played hockey instead of figure skating.  By the time we were married she could skate rings around me, so it kind of made sense.  And I wanted to be a complying spouse.

What she didn’t tell me at the time was that it was a men’s league.  A short while later, Doug, a friend,  said to me, “Hey, I played hockey with Jane last week.  She’s really good.”  “Wha …?”  I uttered, like a fool.

After that, every Friday through the winter months, I sat with the other spouses in support of our better halves – me the only male.  I mean there was only so much talk about health foods, things at work, latest shoes, kids, and spas that I could handle.

I should say here that I have no interest in hockey – nada.  I’m a football guy.  The ribbing I constantly endured from the firefighters because my wife played hockey never ended.  I did my best as a supportive spouse, but, well, you know.

And then wouldn’t you know it – Jane got our Sudanese daughter Abuk into it.  It was my fault really.  I would pick up Abuk after school and take her to the rink where Jane was playing.  She’d be really proud of her Mom, I thought to myself, little realizing that I was in the process of aiding and abetting another hockey animal.

How bad is it?  Well, let’s put it this way.  Jane and Abuk played all winter and, thankfully, that season ended a month or so ago.  Then Abuk joined a 3-on-3 hockey league and that goes on for … O forget it; I don’t really want to talk about that.  And now she’s also signed up for ball hockey – it never ends.

Let’s talk television.  The London Knights are in the playoffs, as are Toronto and Montreal.  Just last week, when Jane and I would usually watch the tube to wind down, all three teams were playing on the same evening – unbelievable!  I couldn’t handle all the channel changing and went out onto the couch to sulk – which I did, very well.

This is how marriages hit the rocks – or in this case the boardsJ  How much is a husband expected to endure?  It’s supposed to be a partnership, right?  I do the dishes and the laundry, clean the house and repair the deck, as is my privilege and responsibility as a mate.  But where’s the partnership in this hockey madness.

Of course I’m proud.  Jane is always a topic of discussion, especially when spectators come up to me at her games, saying, “Is that a woman out there?”  I nod, responding, “Yup, that’s my wife.”  Then they get this funny look on their face and it’s humiliating.  I complain.  I moan.  I sulk.  But deep down I’m grinning from ear to ear.

And what can I say about Abuk?  How does it get to be that a four-month old slave kid from Darfur ends up on the skating rinks of London, Ontario and playing her heart out – just like her Mom?  What a transformation.  What a privilege.

I’m writing this post in the evening, as Jane and Abuk sit in front of the television watching the Canadiens.  But what about me – the husband?  The Dad?  (Sigh).  I hope this post garners me a bit of sympathy, but I know it’s not likely.  I’m okay with hockey being our national sport – I get it.  But it’s taken over our household like some new pet dog that never stops barking.

“Ninety percent of hockey is mental and the other half is physical,” the Great One once said, in a play on words.  Well for me it’s 100% emotional – pride and pain, time and torment, joy and jilted.  Here’s hoping you’ll understand.  I need some attention.

Update:  I just finished a coffee with my friend Gord.  He just informed me he’s looking forward to playing in the men’s league with Jane every Monday through the summer and fall.  I came home and asked her if it’s true.  “Yup, I started last Monday,” she answered.  That means she’ll be in hockey until October, when her regular season begins.  Twelve months a year.  See what I mean?

A Dance For the Generations

Today’s the big day, as I head in shortly for the six-hour operation to have half of my stomach removed. It could have happened a couple of weeks ago except that an issue of vital concern preempted it – the wedding of my daughter Kimberly. I’d asked the surgeons if we could postpone the procedure so that I could be there for the big day. They graciously relented and it became one of the great events of my life.

In so many ways it’s doubtful that a father ever stands as tall in accomplishment as the occasion when he walks his daughter down the aisle. There’s simply little else to compare with that moment. She was radiant, excited, and absolutely wanting to get on with married life, as you would expect.

Speaking during the reception, I reminded those attending of how Michelangelo spent hours attempting to perceive the image in the blocks of marble that eventually formed part of his magnificent legacy. Other sculptors of the day attempted to impose their will, their respective vision, on the material, but Michelangelo instead believed that there was a vibrant form inside waiting to get out and he carefully spent months, years even, unleashing it. As I saw Kim that day I realized that both her mother and I had approached her in a similar fashion – an awesome life waiting to discover its own potential. As I took her arm to proceed down the aisle, I recalled Anne Frank’s own observation from her moving diary: “Parents can only give good advice or put their child on the right path, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

I was there the moment Kimberly was born, but on her wedding day she had burst out of her confines and become a remarkable presence and a gift to life. She had done it – took the best that we, and others, had to offer, but then developed them herself into a life that was fully ready to take on the future in goodness, compassion and zeal. What can you say as a father when you stand facing your daughter on her wedding day and realize that she has moved past you in potential? I was humbled in her presence – totally. Life had worked as it should. She was ready for her future; my past had been fulfilled.

We gave her love, but her thoughts were her own. We provided shelter but not her personality. She picked her marvelous mate, not us. She selected her future and we were inspired by her choices. When I kissed her and guided her to the hand of mate, Drew, I realized again that in some ways she was never fully our daughter. She was Life guaranteeing its own good future.

In so many ways Kimberly had accomplished the task life had given to her – it wasn’t just about parents producing children, but children producing adults. I had matured through her and had benefited through her growth. Fatherhood had become a long, slow letting go that started at the moment of her birth. But I received a fully grown woman as a consolation; my daughter had become my friend. My heart was somehow beating outside of my own body, inside the life of a daughter who will far outlast me.

Let me be truthful. I loved walking her down the aisle, just as I did speaking during the ceremony and the reception, but the moment I waited for more than anything else was the chance to dance with her – just the two of us – at the reception. In preparation, I had selected “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. It was the only song that made any sense after I realized what she had become. The moment the first strains began she moved on the floor towards me and the rest was magic. “I love you so much, Kim,” were the only words I said – the rest was gloriously lost in the rhythm of life. To watch us dance was to hear our hearts speak.

And then the moment of wonder occurred when all seven of my kids came up on the floor and we danced together. The circle of life was not only complete; it was full – and moving. When the three grandkids came up and joined us, I couldn’t help but wonder, What are the chances of this – together with them all, dancing as one?  My dancing partners were my promissory note to life, reminding me that, for a time, I lived and I mattered. It was all as God intended; I moved within my own narrative, fulfilled.

You’ll see some pictures at the bottom of this post that somewhat tell the tale of that dance of generations. I don’t mean to impose them on you, and there’s no need for you to view them if you’re not interested. But it was one of those magic moments that occasionally surprise us in life and these photos tell that story. They will be what flood my thoughts as I move into the operating room. By thankfully giving me that weekend, the surgeons guaranteed a more fulfilled patient. The memories will sustain my spirit and be there to greet me when I awake. I danced with all my kids and my grandkids just prior to a new challenge set before me. Can there be any greater inspiration? Can God be any kinder?

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