Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's a Man's World

With Arms Wide Open - Creed

"Well I don't know if I'm ready
To be the man I have to be
I'll take a breath, I'll take her by my side
We stand in awe, we've created life"

There was a time when my children came home from school on the Friday before Fathers day with hand-made gifts and cards meant for Dad and addressed to me. Now, I don't know if it was a good or bad thing that my children thought of me as a mother and a father. How was I like a father? Is it because I was the bread-winner, the disciplinarian? I have no idea. I don't know what it really means to be a father. In fact, I am probably the last person in the world to write anything about fathers. Particularly anything in praise of the vocation of fatherhood. My own father died when I was 2 years old and there was never a substitute that came into my life until my Grandfather took on the role. However at the age of 12 he was still to me a grandfather and I rejected him as a father figure. I felt a stronger connection and love from a man I knew virtually nothing about. His departure was not his choice. 

The same can be said about the father of my children. Living with me, in some ways, he had it made. I however needed to be a wife and a woman as well as a mother and homemaker. So I asked him to leave. So again, not his choice. But the difference was that he chose to make his disappearance 24/7/365. That I cannot comprehend. How does a man walk away on his own flesh and blood with no provocation. I suppose it could be compared to a child being turned over to be adopted by someone more fitting than themselves. That would be hard enough to do at birth, but after 8 years of living with and raising someone. Hell, I couldn't do that to a dog - let alone my own babe born of love. For today no matter what I think of the person - at one time I believed the feeling to be mutual love and respect. But the loser in all of it is not the children in this is the sperm donor...for that is all he is to them. By his choice, not anything I have said. I chose the higher road and let him dig his own grave. I did not need to bash him or any other man to prove a point. For not all men are him. 

With my eyes open, I saw other men who were awesome fathers. One of the best, wasn't a father at all. He was the best example of a man. He took every great quality of a father, man and friend and shared it with someone who needed to see it and experience it. He was a Big Brother with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Organisation - he was a volunteer. He came into our life at a time that my sons own father was idolized in his eyes. Brian showed my son what it meant to be a real man and a husband. Brian didn't have children of his own and I didn't personally do a background check on him, but I do know that he had a stable family life and good parental role models himself. What I thought and knew about Brian didn't matter very much because I saw what he was giving to my son. I don't know what they talked about over the years, just where they were going and what activities they were taking part in. I used the time that my son was with Brian to spend some girl time with my daughter. We got together with Brian and his wife for birthdays, Christmas and summer BBQ's. They were both great people and I was thrilled to have them in our lives. My son was all of 12 years old and barely reached Brian's shoulder when they first met. Recently we had the opportunity to get together again and 10 years later the relationship between them has blossomed from man-boy to man-man and my son towers over him. The mutual admiration they have for each other is a blessing to see. Brian is the best example I know of the best a man can be. 

But I don't think that anyone knows the measure of a man more than Burger King with KFC running a close second. Ah yes...the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And to that end, Burger King is poised to launch the Bacon Sundae. You read it right - a Bacon Sundae. A salty-sweet dessert comprised of soft vanilla ice cream swirled with both fudge and caramel sauces, sprinkled with crumbled bacon and served with a full strip of bacon for dipping. While my stomach turns with the thought of the grease and fat, the men are rushing to get in line. Burger King has long been known as the purveyor of calorie bombs for the male species unconcerned about nutritional quality. In fact shortly after some bad publicity surrounding it's sky high calorie and cholesterol counts in some of the main menu items, it suddenly seemed a lot harder to locate the "home of the whopper" in the suburbs. New healthy fare hit the neon billboards and for a time the image was changing. The bacon sundae has shot all that hard work all to hell. Somehow I don't see the physically conscious 20-30 something male rushing over for a bucket of calories to add to their 6-pack abs. Or you can keep your toned body for eternity in a box after chowing down on the heart attack in a wrapper - Run on over to KFC for their Double Down which boasts a mere 540 calories and 1,700 mg of sodium, don't forget to add a large beverage and french fried artery cloggers. It's a good time to be a man!

I feel sorry for men. They sometimes seem to get the short end of the stick. In custody battles, the court favours the women. In many communities there are womens' shelters and groups abound to service the needs of women. To be fair, the fulcrum is still not dead center when it comes to balance among the genders and women have a long way to go to achieve equality in most areas. Qualities revered in men are still frowned upon in women like strength and perseverance. On the other hand, most men struggle with the expression of emotions or admittance of problems they may not be able to solve for themselves. I am glad to see that men are willing to admit that they aren't perfect and I wait for the day when women don't have to be either. The media that bombards us daily perpetrates the gender specific roles and qualities. The television is chock full of commercials for womens' products - shoes, clothes, beauty, personal. But truth be told, with the svelte models hocking the products, the commercials probably appeal more to the male viewers. Much like Victoria's Secrets. While we may feel good wearing their products, the men reap the benefits of our heightened self-esteem. Except for a few Calvin Klien ads, the same is not true when roles are reversed.  

I for one continue to appreciate the man for his differences as much a for his similarities. I may not have had a lot of positive experiences with the man as a father but I know there are good ones out there and I appreciate you sight unseen for I have been privvy to your efforts. I know some of your children.  Most men can be fathers, not all men can be Dad's! So for all the earthly Dad's and the ones gone on to another realm...Happy Dad's Day! 

For all the people like me who took on both parental roles either by choice or circumstance, maybe we should start a new celebration in keeping with the changing face of the family in the new generation. The acceptance of same-sex marriages is growing and many included children. The typical family is becoming a thing of the past. So for the first time ever...I wish you all a very happy Non-gender Specific Parental Role Model Day!

Non-Gender Specific Parental Role Model Day!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bruised Not Broken

Not Broken - Goo Goo Dolls

I am deeply touched by the number of people who have reached out to try and take my hand and guide me from the dark abyss that I have stumbled into. I heard your phone messages and they left a lump in my throat listening to the concern in your voices. I read your messages with glassy eyes clouded with tears. My mind still feels as though I am surrounded by a think fog. 

I don't know how to reach out to someone in a time of need. There have been times that I tried and was soundly rejected or abused for my weakness. It is different when those that you reach out to are the family who bore you and love you unconditionally. Or even those partners who have come into your life to stick by you through thick and thin. Like it or not, my reality is that for the past nearly 40 years I have fended for myself and had no one to rely on but myself for emotional and financial support. Save for those brief personal relationships that left me wondering why? So, in times of darkness and despair I turn inward. I shut out anyone trying to get in and put myself in my own place of safety. There is only one person that I can count on to help me and that is me. My safety is behind my wall that I built to shield myself from pain. The people who were sent to ensure my personal safety didn't understand that being with other people doesn't instill a sense of security for me but a feeling of supreme loneliness. I am not so stupid as to assume that I am the only person who has ever experienced loss of family but the difference I see is the absence of support afterwards. Hindsight truly does have 20/20 vision. But I can't go back in time and change who I have become and how I cope with my reality. 

Looking back, it is funny how quickly I can let go of my need for solitude as soon as I feel like I am accepted. Perhaps the need is so great that I open myself up too quickly and leave myself vulnerable but that is one for the psychiatrists couch. Hell, who am I kidding - I already know that I do that, the psychiatrist would only help in changing the behaviour not identifying it. Due to the loss of family at such a young age, there are under-lying attachment issues. I am afraid I will be left alone. I am worried that I won't be liked. Social phobia would be the proper text book title. Although paradoxically with just the inkling of acceptance and I run blindly in. Sometimes I trip, sometimes I am tripped. Perhaps I am a sucker for punishment or simply that eager to share my life with someone but I never quit playing that game. It's a challenge and one that I welcome.

I possess an unabashedly optimistic view on the goodness of people. I have a faith born of the teachings of the Catholic Church and the morality instilled upon me as a child and the adult belief in Karma. Put it all together and I steadfastly believe that what goes around comes around and that I don't need to seek revenge to avenge my character. The Golden Rule states: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you". That is wonderful in theory except, I followed the rule and came across a whole lot of people who under the shroud of Catholicity did the opposite. I couldn't treat a sewer rat the way that I was treated.

There are a lot of problems with this mindset. First and foremost, with respect to Karma. What the hell did my family do to deserve the sadness and tragedy endured? While pedophiles are free to live amongst us with the protection of anonymity and financial freedom provided by the government. Secondly, what did I do to deserve the treatment I received at the hands of my employer the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board to be specific. People abusing their positions as educators are left in classrooms to warp the minds of the children they are entrusted to care for. Teachers who couldn't spell ABC are evaluating your children and then going on to tell them that the Great Wall of China was torn down. "Heels" was likely in an early morning drunken stupor when she confused the Berlin Wall with the Great Wall - my god, I am still making excuses for her ineptness. But the lowly employee had to sit there and listen to the poison filling the impressionable minds and say nothing. For she was the stupid one - she is I. But for everything they said, they could never fault my work ethic. I was threatened with bodily harm by students - nothing was done. I brought the abuse of drugs and alcohol within the school walls to the attention of the principal - nothing was done. My utmost concern was for the education and well-being of the students - I complied with everything that was requested of me. They couldn't attack me professionally, so they attacked my character. They are the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and they are bullies who don't know the first thing about practicing what they preach. 

The real kick in the pants is that while I once sat in the drivers seat of the bus running down the road of my life, now I sit in the the shitter! It stinks! We all want some control over our lives and I have none. It was recently said to me that living with this uncertainty of the past 1 1/2 years would have the best of us experiencing anxiety. Some days it is just to much and I fall under the weight of it all. 

My spirit may have been broken and my dreams ripped out from under me, but my soul remains. With time I will rise again - like the Phoenix. Just one question - Is the Phoenix like a cat with a specified number of lives? I may be running short...

Monday, June 04, 2012

I Must Stay and You Must Go

Leave It Alone - Moist

Fate has the ability to take something away from you and leave you absolutely powerless to do anything about it. Fate can be cruel, fate can be beautiful. Fate can put you in that spot at that perfect moment in time when you will meet and connect with your soul mate. Fate can also take your world and shake it up like an ant in a jar and leave you dizzy with fear and alone to pick up the pieces. You want to put the tattered shreds of your life back together again but it's unrecognizable. Fate and I are not exactly on speaking terms. Fate has scattered the parts of me all over the highway and left me alone to die. In many ways I made decisions on my life before fate had a chance to intervene, I stopped the hurt before it could catch me. Sometimes I was successful but I will never know if I ran before the sun could shine down on me. Admittedly I was a little gun shy.

A lifetime ago - 28 years - my brother Ron passed away in a hospital in Thunder Bay Ontario. He was 21 years old and had been battling Hodgkins Lymphoma since he was 9 years old. With Ron's passing, I was officially the last surviving member of my family of 6 and I was 22 years old. It was not a title I wanted hoisted onto my shoulders. Fate had other plans. In a very bizarre way, however, Ron's death was easier to deal with because I knew it was coming and I had plenty of prior experience dealing with having the heart and soul being ripped from me. But on the other hand it was and is a lot harder because I had the tiniest glimpse of the kind of man that he could have become. I had time to get used to him being a part of my life. I had the opportunity to get to know him as more than just an annoying kid brother. 

Ron is a person who I have elevated to stand proud atop a pedestal while I gaze in awe from below. He didn't make it well known and downplayed it when the subject came up, my brother was a true hero. By definition a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds - Ron was not a man but a child of 11 years, nor was he recognized for his courage. But he should have been! In the seconds following the horrific and deadly accident that befell the family on March 21st, Ron was able to find his way out of the burning wreckage that had been flipped onto it's rooftop. Ignoring danger to himself, he returned to the blazing hot metal shell to offer his help. Trying to comprehend what had happened and what to do, I felt a tugging on my sock and it was pulled off. The tugging continued until I was able to squirm my way out. In the darkness of the night fueled only by the brilliant orange flames, my brother showed me the way out and pulled me to safety. And he wasn't done, he was on his way back having gotten me a safe distance when emergency personnel arrived and stopped him. Even they recognized the danger in his heroism but it was quickly forgotten in the enormity of the tragedy that the light of day showed. 

I have no right to be called strong because compared to my brother I am but a wet piece of spaghetti

Again in the months before he died, Ron let go of the burden he carried on his shoulders and focused his attention on the well-being of me. Of course, hindsight having 20-20 vision, I realized that he knew his end was near. After more than 10 years of battling the cancer demon that would rear its ugly head with no warning and suck a little more life out of him, he was tired. I bore the scars of the tragedy our family had endured for the world to see and question - Ron, was like you - on the outside but hurting on the inside. No one knew how much it hurt to be a young boy sick and without his mother. No one knew that he had given up the fight to live - except his doctors. No one knew he had quit treatments that might have prolonged his life. No one knew the futility he felt trying to hold down a part-time job at McDonalds only to be let go because of his frequent absences for treatments. No one knew the hassles he had at school because he was away so much because he was sick. He carried so much weight upon his shoulders. He never told me how scared he was that he could never hold down a job because staying healthy required so much of his time. It was a different time then. In the 1970's and 1980's a child growing up with cancer was more of an anomaly, today you would be given every consideration to pursue treatments at your workplace or school. Not then, not for him. And although the guardian grandparents were much more supportive of him than I, they were a sorry substitute for the compassion and loving nature of our mother. With her, we may have both seen a brighter future. 

But it is what it is. Fate. And I can't change that but I can mourn my loss and wonder what it might have been to have a hero and friend like my brother in my life today. For no matter how much time passes, thoughts of Ron will always bring tears to my eyes and my heart aches like it was yesterday that I said Goodbye. The world was a richer place for having him in it and a lot emptier and sadder without his grace. I have memories that will never dim with thoughts of Ron - I wish you all had the same opportunity to know him.

Snows of New York - Chris De Burgh

One more note on the subject of my brother. In the last days of his life, he became very moved by the poem Footprints in the Sand. He found a lot of comfort in the words. I feel a similar tug at my heartstrings in the word penned and sung by Chris De Burgh.

"In my dreams we walked, you and I to the shore,
Leaving footprints by the sea,
And when there was just one set of prints in the sand, 
That was when you carried me;

You have always been such a good friend to me,
Though the thunder and the rain,
And when you're feeling lost in the snows of New York,
Lift your heart and think of me;"

Thank you to my brother, Ron who always walks by my side and shines a light to guide me when I feel lost...