Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What We Both Saw

Zero tolerance for bullying! I hear that so often, and when I hear it, it is said with determination and there is fire in the eyes of the speaker. They say it. They believe it when it's being said and they know it's the right thing to say.

But that's the problem with all of this isn't it?

Words.

Sometimes they have meaning.

Sometimes they don't.

I was watching kids playing in a pool, it was a summer camp activity. I knew this because there were camp staff with them in the pool. I could easily identify them as camp staff because they all wore singlets with the words 'camp staff' on them.

Right in front of me I saw a bully standing under a devise that, when full, dumped a blast of water on whoever was below. He was centered directly under the dump bucket and was taking, to his delight, the full impact of the water. There were kids around him, pushed in close, who were taking the left over splash. The brave ones tried to get closer and the bully elbowed them hard and they moved back. This was his and he was keeping it.

This was seen.

I clocked three of the camp counselors notice this.

But nothing happened. They made no move. Two shook their head in disapproval, but that was the extent of their action.

But there was a boy, with a disability, who was in the pool, several feel away, who saw what I saw. A bully using force and entitlement to take from other kids the experience of a direct blast of fun. His elbows and his attitude were his weapons, his expectations of inaction by the staff was an integral part of his strategy for domination of that area of the pool. The kid with a disability saw all this.

He was accompanied by a staff. He got their attention and he pointed. It looked, from my viewpoint on the other side of the glass, that he didn't use words to communicate. He pointed, they saw and looked away, he pointed again, and they looked away again. He was getting frustrated and it showed.

"Tell the staff,""Tell someone in a position of authority" is one of the strategies we teach children, people with disabilities, and each other. It's a common sense strategy. If you see or experience bullying, or violence, or abuse, report it.

But bullies, and aggressors, and abusers, know that 'zero tolerance' often means 'zero acknowledgement' that people will simply 'not see' what they 'don't tolerate.'

That child, the one with the disability, was the one kid in the pool that did what needed to be done. He clearly took responsibility and because he did he SAW what was happening and he took action.

But that's where the action stopped.

Then, the whistle blew and the kids clamoured out of the pool.

I saw the bully standing, smiling from the fun he had. I'm not sure if that fun was the water bucket or the fact that he had it to himself.

He won.

Everyone else lost.

And he knew it.

Zero tolerance doesn't exist if there is zero determination and willful, purposeful, refusal to see what won't be tolerated.

And maybe we need a new strategy.

Maybe we should be promising something different, not 'zero tolerance for bullying' but 'zero tolerance for inaction' to the issue of bullying, abuse and social violence.

That's what I'd like to see.

That's what I'd like to experience.

That's what may make the world a little bit safer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Story Unprompted

My father joined the Canadian Forces when he was 19 and served overseas during WWII. This was something he never really talked about with me, even though, as you can imagine, I tried. I was interested in where he'd been and what his experiences were and he was interested in not talking about it. I understand many vets were reluctant to tell their stories and my father was one of their number.

During his time in the hospital he did talk a little more about being in the war. I had brought up the movie "Dunkirk" and he said that it was good for people to remember. Then he talked a little more about his experiences, not much but more.

I want here, in this last post I'm going to write about my Dad, for now, I want to remember a brief conversation I had with Dad about the war when I was just becoming a teenager.

First though, let me say that I never heard my father utter a racial epithet. I'm not saying he never did, I don't know that, I was a boy and know only how he spoke around children, I no nothing of how he spoke around other men, but I never heard him. This is noteworthy because, of course, I heard those words elsewhere and I heard them used unchallenged. It was somewhere around 1964 when I was about twelve that I had a conversation with Dad that I have always remembered and in a sense, it has guided me.

We were speaking about a report on television about racism. Out of the blue, and without any of my persistent questioning, Dad told me a story. He said that when he enlisted he expected to find camaraderie amongst his fellow recruits. He did. This was a war with Germany. His was a German last name. He found himself expelled from the social life of his unit. There was another fellow experiencing the same thing. A black man, also Canadian, also enlisted, also excluded. They hung around with each other at first by chance and necessity and then by choice. They liked each other. But my dad notice that while he was socially excluded, his friend experienced exclusion accompanied by force. Dad never felt endangered, but he knew that his friend did. He hated that.

My dad said that the saw first hand what prejudice did to people. He had tasted it but he'd seen the full measure of its cruelty inflicted on someone he cared about. 

That was it.

I wanted more.

I didn't get more. I don't know what happened to this man. I don't know what his name was. I don't know if he made it through the war.

I did know, though, that war changed my father. Both on the battlefield and in the barracks my father got a glimpse of the various kinds of horrors that humans do to humans.

I'm not sure why he told me that story that day.

But it mattered to me.

Then.

And now. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Father's DNA

I don't know why I found it so hard to ask, but I did. It took me several weeks, or maybe even months, to make the call. But I did.

A little over a year ago I joined a big study done through one of the major hospitals in the city of Toronto. It was a study involving what doctors lovingly call 'morbid obesity' and I had been approached to be part of that study. The study consisted of filling in a lot of questionnaires about life and weight, some of the questions being quite personal.It also involved an interview and a blood test.

The people running the study, well I guess I should say the nurse who is my contact to the study, is a truly kind individual who has never treated me with anything but real respect. She is easy to talk to and takes a genuine interest in me as a person. A while ago I was informed that they had found something in my DNA that they were zoning in on as it seemed to be present in others like me as well. So I was asked to consider asking my family to participate in the study by providing DNA samples.

Yikes.

That's a really personal request to make of someone.

And, it would involve me making myself quite vulnerable in talking about the study, about my weight and about the process of gathering DNA.

I finally made three calls.

I called my mother first. I explained to her the study, I explained what she would have to do, I explained why I thought it was important.

She agreed. Quickly and absolutely.

I called my father next. He was in the hospital and I could hear the sounds of the daily goings on in the ward behind him as we talked. I told him all he had to do was spit in a tube and that was the end of it. He said, "I guess I'll spit anywhere you want me to." That was that.

Then I called my brother. I left him for last after informing the nurse that my parents had said yes and did they want my brother. They did, I called. He like the others agreed quickly and easily.

As my father grew more ill, my brother called and said, "If you want Dad's DNA sample you better have them send the equipment quickly. I wrote the nurse and email, gave an address and encouraged her to send the DNA kit quickly.

It was clear, to all of us, that Dad would not wait for the mail to deliver the parcel with the materials that were needed for the study.

The night before he died, my brother, his wife and my mother had stayed at the hospital in the evening leaving the next morning. My brother sensing that he should go back, did. An hour before my father died, they discussed the DNA test and how much it seemed to mean to me.

They called the nurse and explained the situation. They asked if it would be possible for them to collect a sample of my father's DNA for the study. The nurses at Campbell River Hospital have been incredibly kind and compassionate through my father's long stay and they didn't blink an eye at the request. The nurse hurried out and then came back and took the sample.

It was done.

Minutes later my father died.

This act of generosity on the part of my brother and my father, in the minutes before my father's death astounds me.

Astounds me.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Father's Slippers

When I was a boy. An immature boy. I had no idea of what real adult love was like. And I had no idea of how my own cruelty would stay with me, permastamped in my memory.

This is a story of the boy I was.

And the man that my father was.

It was Christmas. I had bought, probably with my mother's assistance, my father a pair of slippers. I am convinced that, if not for slippers, fathers may never get a gift. Anyways, they were wrapped and put under the tree. On Christmas morning my brother and I woke to a bounteous harvest of presents under the boughs of the tree.

I remember little of the gifts that I got, or the dinner that we ate, or the activities of the day. I remember only one scene. It was of my father opening my gift and putting on the slippers. I was delighted by the fact that they fit perfectly. My father expressed how he'd never had a pair of slippers fit quite so well.

I was chuffed.

I noticed when Dad got up to go to the kitchen that it looked like the slippers were much too tight. When he sat down, he took them off and discovered that there was paper tucked into the toe of each slipper. He pulled them out and I laughed at him. I thought him silly. I thought him dumb. How could he have not noticed that the paper was in the slippers. I acted like an arrogant, foolish, bully. My dad said nothing of my behaviour, but I remember the look in his eyes when he looked from the slipper to me.

It was only later that I realized that my father had pretended a good fit to please me. He wanted me to feel happy about the gift that I gave him. He wanted me to have a good Christmas and so he put up with a bad fit, he was acting gracious and kind.

And I mocked him.

As an adult I understand how, sometimes the gift we want to give to others is our appreciation, our gratitude, even if the fit is a bit tight.

As an adult I understand why my father did what he did.

And because I understand that, I understand how mean and stupid I was in response to my father.

But I learned.

The pain I feel for having been that boy at that moment has taught me something.

About grace.

About kindness.

About how to be a good man.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Gift

I remember the exact moment that the picture was taken. Joe and I had been visiting my father in the hospital and just before we were leaving, I asked if I could have a picture taken with him. He agreed and that set about the monumental task of moving things around, in a tight space, so that I could get myself and my wheelchair into position. So, while that happens, let me give you some back story.

My father, when he died, was 93 years old. Joe and I have been together for 48 years. That means when we got together in 1969, a few days before the Stonewall riots, my father was 45 years old. They were different times. In our corner of the world the preferred slur used about gay men was 'fucking gear boxes,' and, though it may not seem it from reading the words, they were always spoken with implied violence.

It was a time of hiding. The idea and concept of 'coming out' was foreign. But there Joe and I were, barely 17 years old and living, hiding, in plain sight. We denied any accusations regarding our relationship. Good friends and buddies we were. Our first year together we both decided not to go home for Christmas, to break away early, to establish ourselves both as independent and as a couple. It was a rough holiday with a lot of people very angry at us. We had a lovely dinner.

So, in my home, there was simply silence about Joe, about our relationship. The silence was absolute. I couldn't live with so much silence and with so much of my life being hidden away, so I went home less and less often. Other things played into that but I need not go into that here.

I told my parents when Joe and I got married a couple years back and the response was that they thought we already had been married. I said that I wouldn't have gotten married without their knowledge. The silence had finally and forever, been broken.

When Joe and I visited my father in the hospital Dad treated Joe with respect and ensured that he was always included in the conversation. It may have been the first time that I saw Dad fully comfortable with Joe and it felt good. Then, I asked for the picture.

I'm finally beside the bed and I lean over. I place my hand on the bed for support and was surprised to the point of shock that my father took my hand. He doesn't do that. Joe, never good with electronics, was struggling to take a photo. After a few desperate tries I could see his growing frustration. My hand was holding my father's hand the whole time and he made no effort to pull away while Joe fiddled with the phone. I then said, "Joe you'd better take the picture quickly or people with think we're on a date here."

My father cracked up. He laughed loudly and Joe snapped the picture.

I will remember that photo because it's of my father holding my hand and laughing at a gay joke.

Many people have commented on how happy my father looks in the picture. I think he was happy. Not just because of the joke, but because, for all his earlier misgivings, he knew that I was loved and cared for and he need not worry about me and my future. 

That was his gift to me and mine to him.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dad

Photo Description: I am sitting beside my father in his hospital bed. He is holding my hand and we both are smiling.
My father died yesterday morning.

I went to visit him when he fell really ill a bit ago. During our visit we had a chance to talk and there was something, quite private, that I wanted to say to him. I don't think that we know what to thank our parents for until we are well into adulthood, I wanted to do that, and I did. That felt like an accomplishment, but it also started a series of conversations, over the phone with him. Conversations that I will now miss dreadfully.

Over the next few days I plan on writing a bit about who my dad was, or at least who he was to me, as his youngest child. But right now, I concentrating on learning how to live in a world without having a 'dad'. He lived so long that I almost believed that he's always be there.

Monday, August 07, 2017

A Moment

I was pushing towards the washroom, rushing, when I saw a young mom with her son. He was looking up at her talking. Then he looked and saw me. He came to a dead stop. His finger went up, pointing directly at me. He called for his mother to look.

She looked down and saw him, thunderstruck, then saw me.

"Yes, honey, he's different than you, she said, "He's wearing a green shirt and you're wearing a blue one."

He looked at her with a "What The Fruit Loops Is Wrong With You" look on his face.

She, however, just continued on, him in tow.