Category Archives: memoirs

What gets passed down…?

Here are some questions and thoughts I’ll put down while they occur to me:

What gets passed down?

From father to son: is it that men don’t show weakness, or admit to making mistakes? Is it that boys don’t cry?

From mother to daughter: it is that the mother’s relationship with her own father is the only father–daughter bond worth tending to? 

From father to daughter: is it that the parent’s needs outweigh the child’s? 

From mother to son: is it that no matter how much you search for me, you won’t find me. I was never there to be found.

Souls chase each other, maybe endlessly, seeking answers to their private questions, demanding that their anguish be recognized by someone.

Proxies may play the role at different stages.

An old drama, never finished. Conversations seem to barely begin before the actor gets yanked from the stage.

The Director has a sick sense of humour.

I really want my money back.

Remembrance…

Our Remembrance Day just passed recently here, and I did spend some time thinking of my Dad and my maternal Grandfather, and some other things…

My Dad, James Evan Love, served in the Canadian Army as a young man during World War II, and later in the RCAF. I was born late in my Dad’s life, so I have no direct memory of his military service or military life, but he always spoke proudly of his military service, the friends he made, and the education and experiences he had. I think military life really suited him.

As a young man, my maternal grandfather, Ernest Huntley Clarke, tried to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (World War 1), but was released on medical grounds. So, not long after that rejection, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and served as a Mountie all over Western Canada from 1918 to 1948. My mother was born in Victoria, BC in 1931.

These two men and their past service were the reason that Remembrance Day has a personal resonance. For the past two years, I’ve gone down to the Cenotaph in Victory Square to take part in the Remembrance Day ceremony. This year, I slept in and just watched it on TV.

It used to be a passion of mine to record my family history in my blogs and  in a family tree, but in recent years, I have mostly given up that responsibility.

Not long after my Mother died in 1995, I felt a strong urge to record my family’s story. Something in me felt a burning desire to record our stories before they were forgotten. I would have been about 29 or 30 at that time. I was happily married since 1989, my career was exciting and unique, I had just started paying for my own condo, and I still felt like a creative person – almost like an artist-designer.

Well, now it’s over 20 years later, and I’ve practically lost my drive to write the family story. Originally, it must have had something to do with being young and driven, feeling like a standard-bearer, feeling like the one to whom this responsibility had been passed; feeling like I had to be the wise and responsible young man.

There came a day in my mid-to-late forties when I realized that of all the feelings I had about my parents and my upbringing, resentment and regret were the predominant ones. I simply resented our failed family and our unhappy, chaotic upbringing. After the true depth of my Dad’s secret crimes had been discussed and processed, I grew sick of it all. Sick of feeling afraid of him, and sick of my mother’s silence, absence and mental illness. My largest feelings became that they were just broken, selfish people, and it became hard to generate love for their memory in my heart anymore.

The other night, I tried to remember the month and year that Mum almost died from alcohol poisoning. This is a major mile marker in the road of my story, and something I’ve talked or written about a lot over the years. And I couldn’t remember when it happened. That was kind of terrifying. I’d always prided myself on my memory, and my ability to tell a story. Now, as I’d originally feared, little pieces of the narrative were starting to grow weak and fall away. Was it disuse, or just age? I turned Fifty last March.

Maybe I’ve burned out on Mum and Dad. Dozens of years after their deaths, perhaps we’re finally estranged. Maybe I’m the last one practicing my own oral history, and I’m starting to lose the words to the passage of time. Maybe it’s a natural way to let go of old baggage.

All I can think to do to counteract this is to keep writing it down. But now, I’ll tell myself the truth: I’m writing for my own sake – not for anyone else’s.

Days of Wine and Regret…

Movies or music that speaks to you plucks old strings that are personal; a matter of past influences and conditioning, present circumstances, and futures you used to want.

The movie “The Days of Wine and Roses” is (IMHO) overly dramatic, a sixties romance, showing people drowning in alcoholism, and in their binges, reverting to helpless, childlike despair.
It had been recommended to me, and I ran across it tonight on TCM.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Days_of_Wine_and_Roses_(film)

But among its hollywood love-theme about a couple trying to rebuild their lost love and innocence, it did surprise me with a few paralell themes from my own life:
A drunken mother who accidentally sets fire to her home,
a father who loses his job, then loses his wife, and then struggles with sobriety.

Those kinds of things happened around me and my sister.
But real-life leaves scars on top of and under the skin that Max Factor can’t conceal. No retakes. No redemption.

Nobody talks, reconciles, or gets back together. They just stay hurt, and gradually go numb in their respective neutral corners,
and leave their loose ends for law enforcement, healthcare, and social workers to sort out.

Just days and days of Sherry and Port. No romance. No sweetness.

Seventeen, and Untethered…

It was 1983 and Christmas was coming, but Dad’s heart attack came first on December 21st. It was a terrifying wake-up call.

He fell out of bed at maybe 5:30 or 6am, all tangled up in his sheets. We were on Christmas break, just a few days before the 25th. I think most of my shopping was already done and I’d even gotten the tree up too.

It was that built-up feeling, that low-level anticipation that accumulates around you in the air, in the clouds of people’s laughs dissipating as they talk about it. It builds up under car tires on the street, and in the folds of coat sleeves bringing bags home from the mall. Christmas excitement and with it, Christmas stress.

So something broke inside my Dad and he fell out of bed early that day. Instead of being woken up by his voice saying “come on son, time to get up”, I heard him call out my name, loud and shaking. He sounded desperate and I found him laying on the floor wrapped in his sheet, trying to get untangled, telling me to call an ambulance. My sister heard us, and we yelled at each other to call 911.

The ambulance arrived and two large paramedics carried Dad downstairs in his t-shirt and briefs, and one said “Oof. Big boy.” He must have been at least 240 pounds and over 6 feet tall. The Love men were all so much bigger than me. In my shock at seeing him helpless, I still remained proud of his size.

Whether agreed or discussed, I don’t know, but my sister stayed behind at the house and I went in the ambulance with Dad. His eye were wide and he was soaked in sweat, and probably frozen stiff in the sub-zero morning air. It couldn’t have been 2 degrees out – probably more like minus 2.

In emergency at Burnaby General, I stayed with him for an hour or more. He looked at me with the scaredest face I’d ever seen on him. It was his true self, which I perhaps I’d never seen before. His face said “I’m scared to hell” but his voice said “I love you son”. I tried not to cry and to not let my voice shake, but he saw and knew that I felt the same way he did. We held hands the way brothers do, with that underhanded grip that looks like the beginning of an arm wrestle. We clenched hands tight and I told him I loved him too. He said “I’ll be okay. You go home and take care of your sister”, so that’s what I did because I always did what Dad told me to do. Right then I didn’t know what else to do. I needed him to tell me.

I left his ER bed and phoned Kim at home, and through her crying and my shaky words, we discussed what Dad had told me, and I said I was coming home.

When I walked out the doors from Emerg, I felt a wave of fainting, and jammed my back up against the building as my legs gave out. I slid down into a crouch as everything went grainy, snowy blue, and a bell rang hard in my ears. I gasped for breath and waited until my head cleared and the ringing stopped. It was too much. I had to get home.

I don’t remember a Christmas that year. I remember drinking with my friends in our livingroom and a lot of awkward fucking silence. The townhouse was the same space it had always been, but Dad’s absence was a huge damned elephant. That first night, my sister and I each spent the evening at different friends houses, talking and being consoled. I went to my friend Jamie’s and drank with his family. His mum cried for my sister and me, calling us babies. Her slightly drunk but sincere motherliness has always stuck with me. Kim and I had each found somewhere to be around friends.

I began listening to “Pink Floyd, The Wall” on my Walkman every night. I’d lay in bed too wound up to sleep, and would live through the scenes from The Wall, with all those sad Father and Mother images and the character of poor Pink, the lost boy, losing his identity and losing his mind. I was afraid of the future and beginning to hate the world more than ever. Other times, I just felt lifeless and depressed.

During the day I was the dutiful son, making daily or bi-daily visits to the hospital or to the grocery store. I kept shit running at home the best a responsible teen could. During the night, I felt alone, bleak, and lost. I was untethered and a big part of me was depressed and stressed. I wished for everything to just be over. I wished for someone to love me, and help me feel secure. Life sucked more than it ever had before, and I couldn’t imagine a future.

Dad gradually got better over the weeks, then months. Then he got worse (four strokes) and did eventual, continuous rehab until he was able to move and kind of control his left arm a little and speak more clearly. It was a long, slow process of not knowing what the next day would bring, but i was really proud of his progress, and his face showed that he was too. I will always have gratitude to the Activation Ward in BGH for the therapy and support they gave Dad.

A counselor at the hospital told me I was handling events that adults twice my age could not, and this made me feel proud. But i was feeling depressed, dog-tired, and emotionally lost.

I had Dad’s debit card and he told me his pin, so I kept the house stocked with food and wrote cheques for him to sign to pay the bills. He always trusted me. Still, we were just teens – kids really – so he never knew that we partied our asses off in the house, or that I sat in his recliner drinking beer and playing The Doors really loud on his stereo. The cat was away, and the mice were 15 and 17. The cops came once and warned us. After that, we settled down a bit. My poor gentle neighbours heard a lot of shit.

Dad had always smoked about a pack a day, and he drank every night. He never really did any exercise, never had friends over, and never did anything but work. I also believe he harboured a lot of guilt for the abuse he gave my mother, and her emotional collapse into depression, and the other forms of abuse he visited on us.

By the time of his heart attack in ’83, my Mum had been a patient in Riverview and a ward of the province for a couple of years already. Dad had basically stopped going in with us to visit her by that point, claiming back pain. He would just sit in the car, wait for us, and smoke. I resented him for it, and thought he was an awful coward for not going in with us. I felt like I had to compensate for him. I did not understand what he might have been struggling with emotionally. This stress was probably a major factor in his health collapse. Looking back on him and his pride and ego,I’ll bet Dad felt like his family was a failure – maybe his failure. And in many ways, we were a failed family, but that was never solely his fault, even if it was his burden to bear. I won’t forgive him for things he did, but I will still feel compassion for his suffering and near-death collapse. I still respect his strength and stubborness.

When Dad did finally come home again from the hospital, he was walking with a cane, holding his head up, but really he was kind of broken-down and had a hard time noticing things on his left side, like our well-meaning neighbours who awkwardly tried to welcome him back.

Within a month or two, he went on a serious drinking binge and caused himself a bad stroke, and went back to hospital. He just couldn’t stop drinking. He rehabbed again, and finally quit smoking and drinking, but also fell down in the shower in hospital and fractured his hip (plus, had another stroke). He never walked again after that, confined to a wheelchair, and settled into a private hospital. I didn’t let him go, but he became one of my weekly errands. He never came home again.

A vision of alternate lives, in alternate homes…

Each of our lives is ours to live, but some of us need support and care to help us live it in a safe and fulfilling way.

After three months of physical and emotional trauma, my brother-in-law is finally transitioned into an excellent long-term care hospital. He’s been through a lot of pain and difficult changes, but I think where he is now may be the best hospital in the city, a place where he can begin to settle into a new weekly routine, and start relying on consistent, professional support and maybe even a healthier lifestyle.

I won’t use his name here, because my goal is not to tell his story, and his story was never mine to tell anyway. The reason I mention him is that trying to be with him through his surgery, through his worries and legitimate fears, through his physical recovery, and through our family (re)bonding, I’ve been granted a poignant reminder of the special needs of those who are wheelchair-bound.

This line of thought leads me back to where most of my journalling usually leads me – to my parents.

The hospital I’m thinking of is focused on the needs of wheelchair-bound people – those with physical disabilities, and to some degree, with mental or emotional issues as well. I can so picture my mother Angela booting around in a motorized chair, getting music therapy  – maybe trying to play an instrument again – and laughing and interacting with a few people. This is probably where she should have been, but her reality was not like this at all.

Angela’s brain damage in the 70s didn’t destroy all of her personality – she was just lost inside a mental fog of lost memories and anti-depressants, I think. She didn’t have much quality of life in Riverview’s long-term care ward, as far as I ever saw. (She was in one ward or another out there, over the course of fourteen years. I visited her so infrequently in the last few years, that I must admit to not knowing what her life was like at all.)

In the early nineties, she fractured her hip (a “compression fracture”, whatever that is) and I’m sure this killed any chance of her walking again. But there were perhaps ten years before that where I supose she could have been physically capable of walking, but she was always situated in a wheelchair, motionless (sometimes with loose cloth straps on her skinny arms), and you just take it for granted. You believe she’s like that for a reason – that she’s not able to walk. But even in the early 80s when she was first admitted to Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, I kind of think there was no approach to holistic health care.

Perhaps the psychiatric hospital medicated her to help alleviate her mood swings, or to generally pacify her and make her more manageable or compliant, but it’s equally likely in my mind that they may have had little mandate or funding to address physical therapy or explore how movement, music and activity might have improved her quality of life. All I ever saw was a woman sitting tremoring or rocking in a wheelchair, never speaking, and seemingly interested in nothing. That’s no damned kind of life.

My Dad also lived in a hospital during his last six years. He settled into a little private hospital called “Carlton Lodge” (now “Carlton Gardens”). After suffering and rehabbing through five strokes and a fractured hip, he had retained all his mental faculties, but they were trapped within a beaten, weakened and partially paralysed body.

Some of the happiest times my Dad had in his last years were when he began going to a recreation centre attached to a local church. He socialized among some peers, and enjoyed the antics of some of the livelier seniors, who would crack jokes that would make him smile. Generally, my Dad didn’t seem to know how to socialize with others, and may have been struggling with the alcohol-fuelled depression and the deadened moods that we all felt at home. He probably needed external stimulation and someone intelligent to discuss things with, but in his care home he was mostly just stuck in the company of people who were 20 years older than him, and often suffering various stages of dementia. So, he bonded a little with the staff, whenever he could.

My bro-in-law has many physical challenges to contend with that keep him in his wheelchair, but his mind is lively and he is keenly  aware of his situation. He also needs lots of stimulation, and to maintain some level of independence – to live life on his own terms. He has it in his new hospital-home, and I have high hopes for his eventual adaptation and improved peace of mind.

So the lesson I’m being reminded from watching my brother-in-law’s experiences are:

  • Being involved with others is key to maintaining some level of hope, joy, and general mental health. (Don’t isolate yourself.)
  • Being physically active, and physically healthy supports your spirit as well as your body. (Don’t stagnate yourself.)
  • Being intellectually and mentally challenged keeps your mind in good shape. (Stay curious.)

I guess the focus must stay on vitality, on enablement, on being able to do things that make you happy, that give you a sense of satisfaction or independence and pride – of getting enough support so that you can have a life of your own. I wish for those who are able to try and make it for themselves.

When Mum escaped with me, to see Star Wars.

In 1977, I begged my folks to take me to see Star Wars. My Dad didn’t go to movies (in fact, he didn’t do much of anything aside from work and buy groceries), but my Mother decided to take me.

It was maybe May or June of 1977. An ad for Star Wars was playing on TV and I was jumping up and down, saying “This is it! Can I go to see Star Wars?” I really lost my shit over it. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever been excited about anything the way the Star Wars movie had excited me. I wanted to see it so much, and I really wanted my Dad (family authority and sole car driver) to know how strongly I felt about it. The movie was new and exciting, and it was calling to me. I had to go.

Dad said something like he wasn’t interested in some space opera. I remembered that he listened to country music, and wasn’t into science fiction or fantasy or anything fun or imaginative. (However, I would recall years later how his eyes would light up a bit when he’d talk about physics or technology, or how he told me that as a kid, he used to enjoy those Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon movie serials. Ironic.)

So, Dad didn’t take me to see Star Wars. But something really cool happened. My Mother took me.

I need to explain why this was such a big deal. Telling you the story of why requires that I tell you a bit of the recent history of my family up to this point.

My mother, Angela, had been an only child, and she had always been particularly close to her father – maybe even a bit dependant on him. Ever since her Mother died in 1971, Angela and her father probably needed each other more than ever. He lived in Victoria and she in Vancouver. In her heart, I believe that no man was as important to Angela as her Dad. This was probably obvious to my father James, and I suppose it would have grated on his pride and sense of authority. James didn’t consider himself second-best to anybody, living or dead.

But in 1977, Angela’s father did die, and a huge portion of her heart went down into the grave with him. Already a manic-depressive and an alcoholic, Angela slumped into a deep depression, never leaving the house, and spending most of her time either upstairs in her bed, or downstairs, laying on the couch with her back to us. Even in healthier days past, she’d never been all that communicative with my sister and me, and had never seemed suited to any degree of parenthood, but she became even more remote and non-commuicative after the loss of her beloved Dad. She gave up trying to have any kind of life, she gave up on interacting almost entirely, and gradually she gave up on eating as well.

She had succumbed to her own darkness, avoiding her family and even daylight itself. She’d get up during the night and raid the fridge to make a sandwich or to drink, or maybe she’d vomit in the bathroom sink (or on the carpet if she didn’t make it). It was no way to live. I think that Angela hated her life and was in the gradual process of trying to get out of it by drinking herself to death.

While all this was happening, my sister and I swallowed our worry, fear or dread, and did what our Dad seemed to do: walk around the problem, not talk about it, and try to make it seem inconsequential or even somehow normal. But it wasn’t normal at all. Angela’s darkness had her wrapped up tight.

So that’s why it was such a rare and delightful surprise to find myself walking with my Mum down Granvillle Street on that sunny day. She had put on makeup and white gloves to mask the colourful scars on her face and hands (the result of a terrible housefire while she was pregnant with me, about eleven years earlier), and she’d worn her pretty mink jacket, as if she were going to a Broadway premiere. She’d dusted off her class and self-respect for everyone to see, and I was so happy and proud to be with her that day.

We went into the Vogue Theatre, and sat down inside an audience that had an electric energy throughout it. Everyone was talking and the whole space buzzed and hummed with anticipation. The lights went down, and as the coming attractions played, a shower of ice and popcorn rained down from the balcony above us. I’d never seen anything like it before.

Then it was the movie! First the black screen, then BAM! Logo! Horns! Trumpets blaring! I was out of my mind. Mum was sitting right next to me, but for the next couple of hours, I was long gone in that galaxy far, far away. That one movie made all fantasy movies important for me in a new way. I wanted to escape from my home life into new, exciting and rewarding worlds whenever I could, and as often as possible, I would.

And maybe Angela wanted to escape too. As a little girl, she had loved The Wizard of Oz. She identified with Dorothy, and maybe she’d even fancied herself something of a Judy Garland. Under her sad scars from third-degree burns, Angela had once been movie star beautiful. In her youth, she’d sung and acted in local theatre in Victoria, and could play piano and violin with great skill. She had once been lively and beautiful, but always dogged by manic-depression and then alcoholism.

Maybe her connection to her father had been her compass bearing to happer, earlier times – glory days in another life, long ago and far away. As she got older and her life got unhappier, she wanted to escape, I suppose. Perhaps when Poppy died, she felt there’d never be any rescue for her. Maybe with that she wanted to die too, perhaps to even be with her father again. I will never know.

But for that one day, perhaps she saw a chance to escape in a happier way, to see a story that resembled a movie she’d loved as a kid. So, she escaped with her son, and took him to see Star Wars. It was the last thing we ever did together as Mother and Son.

A number of months later, Angela would succeed in drinking herself right to the edge of death, ruining her liver and suffering permanent brain damage. If she’d stayed home for 24 hours more, she’d surely have died in her bed. She did survive, but with permanent brain damage, a loss of years of memory, and a somewhat different personality than before. She was permanently transformed. Her next eighteen years were lived in a variety of hospitals and care homes, particularly Riverview, where she died in 1995.

This is why Angela getting up off the couch and dressing up to take me downtown was such a big deal. It was something I wanted, and although I’ll never know if she did it for me, it was probably something that she wanted too: an afternoon’s escape into fantasy heroics and ideals so that you could forget the dead-end darkness that waited for you back at home.

When I watch Star Wars, I see myself in Luke Skywalker. When I watch The Wizard of Oz, I see Angela Love in Dorothy Gale.

A beautiful blossom, and a community to nurture it.

These words will be my attempt to capture the joy and delight of watching a friend and former colleague unfurl like a crisp, white sail on a very special day.

I first met Carol when she interviewed for a co-op programmer position at Vancouver English Centre (a large ESL school in the Yaletown district of Vancouver). We needed a programmer and DBA, and I’d convinced my boss to hire a co-op student. Carol’s grades and programmng training were strong, but having interviewed a number of enthusiastic young students in the past, what stood out for me was her interpersonal skills; she had a sensitive emotional intelligence which I’d not seen in her peers. So, Carol signed on for an eight-month co-op appointment and she rapidly became not just a technical resource to me and our staff, but also a warmly-liked (and to some, beloved) member of our school’s little technical team.

Still in her mid-twenties at that point, Carol had many observations about life, and was still in the midst of deciding which path she might take in her career. As she told me about her life in China before her family came to Canada, and about her life as a student at Simon Fraser University, she aways emanated a hopefulness, lightness and buoyant optimism that easily eroded any of my jaded experience and cynical world-views. In short, in spite of any worries or questions that may have been facing her, Carol always smiled, appreciated her life, and held a hopeful, positive approach.

Over those eight months working together, Carol became a joyful “little sister” figure to me, inspiring me to be at my best as her mentor and supervisor. I’m about ten or eleven years older than Carol, and have had some experience managing small teams in other companies, but I’ve always wanted my working relationships to be that of equal humans who happen to have different experiences. I try to remember that regardless of our different backgrounds, each of us is an expert in something, and so, each is worthy of respect. Carol would sometimes tease me and refer to me as her teacher or mentor, and we’d laugh as I stroked my long, imaginary wizard’s beard.

I cannot recall if I ever gave her advice of any real value, but we talked about beliefs a lot – belief systems, values that were important to each of us, and events in our families or personal experiences that influenced us. Carol had her own ideas about values and morals, and her inquisitive nature and life experiences led her to consider Christianity as her preferred value system.

After her co-op term was completed and she graduated from SFU, she found employment nearby, doing programming and testing for a large software company. She had settled into the beginning of her career and transformed from a student-learner to a skilled knowledge worker and engineer.

After that point, Carol and I generally lost touch for many years, finally connecting again in the last few years via LinkedIn, and then Facebook, where I discovered that she had an eye for beauty and a talent for photography. It was in Carol’s close-up photographs of flowers and plants that I caught a glimpse of her curiosity and her idealism: her love of simplicity, purity, and iconic symbolism. Maybe all the world might be found in the heart of a flower, or in the right moment of light cast upon a statue in the park. I could see that Carol had calm patience, a good eye for detail, and a steady hand.

When we finally shared lunch at my work a couple of months ago, my little Chinese sister bounded into the foyer like a reindeer on Christmas morning. Rarely have I felt so touched and welcomed as by Carol in that one, enthusiastic greeting. Once again, I felt that familiar glow of unbridled joy that was dear Carol. She told me I was still her mentor, and we laughed about my continued yet unlikely candidacy for that position. After we had a happy lunch catching up on each others lives, she invited me to attend her wedding. As my jaw hung open, she laughed, telling me that her fiance was also named John. I beamed, telling her how very happy I was for her. Now, her joyous leaps and bounds became even clearer to me: this was the major happiness in her life, and she was truly the happiest I’d ever seen her. The young lady who’d wondered to me about philosophy and values had found them within her Christian faith and, through her church community, she’d also found her life partner. Carol had indeed resolved her personal patterns and closed her circles. She seemed to truly  have found the things that she needed to complete herself on a personal level.

My wife and I sat in the church, and witnessed the community and camraderie around us. The mothers of the bride and groom held hands as they walked to the front and lit a candle together – a most heart-warming and beautiful symbol of family unity. We watched the groom and his party walk with head held high to the front, and finally, Carol and her father walked gingerly down the aisle, walking in carefully-timed steps, as if on eggshells. Carol was an elegant, beautiful vision in white satin and lace, and she seemed in that moment to embody the idealistic virtues that she’d demonstrated in the past.

My impression is that this new couple are surrounded by loving family and friends, and grounded in a very strong community. Such caring support bodes very well for their future happiness and success. What a lovely couple they make, and how happy I am for dear Carol.

It’s indeed a joy and an honour to witness the moment when someone you’ve known is unfurled into their fullest, best self, like a crisp white sail in a strong wind.

The Ebb and Flow of Curtis James

Today, as I often do, I saw Curtis James pan-handling at Stadium SkyTrain station. Normally he’s a fairly upbeat, even cheery fellow, but he was different today. He was quite agitated with humanity.

“You’re not in your usual spot, out front there today”, I observed, dropping a little change into his upturned ball cap. It was weird to see Curtis standing off to the side, shaking his head and not smiling or interacting with people. Usually he was quite social.

“People are mean today. They don’t care,” he said bitterly. “I’ve had it – to like, like this!” He raised his hand above the level of his head. He was fucking frustrated, the poor guy.

His fingernails were long, dirty and hooked like claws, making his hands look dangerous. I wondered if anyone ever took care of him.

“Aw, people can suck sometimes, yeah,” I tried to sympathize. I’d never seen Curtis so obviously impatient with the apathy of his fellow man. I speculated that maybe he hadn’t gathered any change today, or maybe he’d just felt ignored.

“Don’t let ’em get you down, man. You stay positive.” The words came out automatically and sounded hollow even as I said them.

“Yeah, I need to change my outlook,” he muttered, working on convincing himself.

“Find that happy place – your happy place.”

Curtis’s face changed from disappointment to resolve, just like that. His energy picked up, and he looked at me with furrowed brows and serious eyes. He began quoting something inspirational from the bible, and I found us both walking down into the SkyTrain station together.

He was resilient, and was starting to mentally self-correct. “You take care of yourself now,” I said, starting to turn away.

“God bless you, brother,” he said, patting my shoulder. He was happier now, and gave me a big open yellow smile. I smiled back and meant it, and Curtis exclaimed “John Love!”, which was the nicest compliment I’d gotten all day.

Everyone has a shitty day sometimes, no matter who you are.

 

Remembering Dad’s Birthday…

Remembered Dad’s birthday again. Sometimes it feels like it’s slipping away.
I remember the man at different times.

I remember when he taught me to lace my runners when i was eight. He taught me the shape and sequence of tying them myself.
Later, when I twisted my ankle badly, he put me down on the couch and i felt cared for.

I remember him being the boss at his job, commanding respect with his inherent authority. At home, he was the boss too, and hated criticism and was not wrong.

I remember being a teen. He taught me how to punch, and he let he practice my one-two, left-right punches on his open, calloused hands. I wasn’t as big or confident as the other guys, and he wanted me to defend myself. He made me feel strong and proud, like a young man. There was no defense from him though, if I ever crossed him or challenged him. He did punch me once in anger, and it hurt. When I didn’t look up to him, I might feel fear of him.

I remember the contradictory lessons. The words he spoke were right, fair and ethical: “Respect the rights of others”, he would preach, and we tried to understand. But some of his words were sometimes racist, and some of his actions had no self-respect in them, or were downright hurtful to others.

He had difficulty with women, yet probably yearned to put them on a pedestal. He had serious, intelligent thoughts, yet being aďdicted to alcohol made him seem less intelligent. He loved his siblings and spoke warmly of being a kid and playing with them, but he rarely phoned any of them, and never wrote.

You were my hero, old man, from when I was old enough to walk until your heart attack and numerous strokes took away your ability to walk. By the time that your body had broken down enough and it stopped obeying you, I was beginning to live my own life at 19, and didn’t have to obey you. Then, when i loved you, you were a busted-down, but sweet and harmless man, staring off dreamily into past glories, remembering how great you once were. If you were bitter or hurtful, or had resentment or anger in your voice, I could tell myself it was maybe your own karma coming back to haunt you. I didn’t have to listen, and now I would never fear you again. Damage and near-death had rendered you a docile and toothless old tiger. Now I feared for you, not from you.

You built our family, and you played a huge part in tearing it down, directly and directly. I stood by you when you needed me, and I needed you to need me, Dad. If you learned from the mistakes you made, you didn’t admit it, but I could see the damned regret in your eyes.

I may be bitter about how some things happened, or wish that we’d had more years together, or that, most of all, you and mum could have stayed healthy and in love, instead of resentful, hurt, and physically and emotionally separated for the last 15 years of your life. It was what it was, and you and mum take many truths with you, that we’ll never see.

So this is this year’s memorial to you, Dad. My contradictory, heroic, villain of a father. Your sweetness comes with some bitterness,  but I hold my head up for having been your son once, about twenty-six years ago.

“All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

My street-panhandler friend, Curtis James, was on a real funny rant today, outside Stadium SkyTrain:

Curtis: “Doctor Love! I should call you Doctor Love!”

Me: “Sure man. You wouldn’t be the first. I do make house-calls.”

Curtis: “You should be Professor Love!” Then he thought for a moment before continuing. “Naw, you know, you don’t need a doctor of science degree, or a masters of math degree, or a bachelors of arts and science degree. You don’t need a PhD or a Doctors of anything degree. What you need is an E.D. All anyone needs is an E.D.!”

Me: “An E.D.? What?”

Curtis: “Everyone should have an E.D.”

Me: (Starting to chuckle) “Naw man, I don’t want E.D. Anyway, they have a little blue pill for that.” No response except for Curtis’ confused expression. Then he was off again on his universal idea.

Curtis: “You need to be a Doctor of Education, that’s all you need! Then you’re the doctor. ED – the Education Doctor! That’s all you need man!” By this time, Curtis has really gotten me laughing.

Me: “I think that the good teachers want you to really learn how to learn, to be able to teach yourself, to learn face-first from life.”

I shook his hand and wished him a happy day.