This is a question I've been asking myself for a long time now.
I am the youngest child of three. My parents are Beverley and Stanley. My siblings are Ellen and Jordan. This I've always known.
I never knew my father's mother, as she died as a result of an accident in 1960, ten years before I was born. My dad's father died when I was a boy of 7 or 8, and I barely knew him. Well, I knew him in the way that a young boy knows their grandfather, who comes over once a week for fish dinner and then I'd put my pyjamas on and we'd drive him home.
I was fortunate enough to know my mother's parents until they died, my grandmother when I was 21 and my grandfather when I was 23. I knew them the way a young man knows their grandparents, in that I would seem them at family functions and holidays, where we would kibbutz a bit, from what I remember. We would go over to visit, for dinner (home-made macaroni & cheese, with bacon!) or to hang out and play gin, or watch the baseball game (usually the Blue Jays, whom my grandfather quite liked) or Wheel of Fortune, or whatever. Sure, there was the time when I was an adolescent, or thereabouts, and I slept over at their place for New Years, and my grandfather asked me if I wanted some prune juice. We'll leave it at my being up into the wee hours of the morning, but not for celebratory reasons.
I'm eternally grateful for my mother talking to me when I was about 15, and saying that her parents weren't going to be alive forever, and that I should make sure that I didn't have any regrets about not having visited with them. And a few years later my grandmother almost died on the night of her 75th birthday, or the party, I don't remember which it was.
Up until she died, I cherished going to hang out with my grandparents, often on the way home from university. I went to school in-town, and I was able to stop off at their place to chat, play some cards, watch some TV or go grocery shopping for them if the weather was foul. That said, I still never really got to know my grandparents as people. I never asked them about their childhoods in Shettleston (Glasgow) and Toronto. I never found out my grandmother's journey via ship from Scotland to Canada and her instant love affair with Coca-Cola upon her arrival (though it was Coke or Pepsi in her later years, whichever was cheaper).
I've heard stories from my mother, my aunt (my mom's late sister) and their cousin, but I never thought to ask those questions when my grandparents were alive. I'll chalk it up to being immature, self-centered and male. I don't dwell on it much, nor should I. I've certainly heard stories from my father's childhood, where he grew up in Kensington Market, a part of Toronto that was once full of Jews, and recently said goodbye to the last remaining Jewish merchant (it really is a market) in the last month, as he sold his butcher shop. I've heard stories from my mom about a lot of things too. Stories of my grandparents as parents, and also a few stories about my grandfather as a boy. He grew up in Toronto and his family was all here too, unlike my grandmother, who left Scotland at 18, leaving behind siblings (except for her brother Bill (I don't know who came to Canada first, Agnes or Bill) and sister Elizabeth, AKA Bessie – who came to Canada later in life) and her parents, and never saw them again.
I suppose my quest for some sense of who I am began in grade six. That was when the seed was planted, as my teacher, Mr. Tindall, spent a good deal of time going through my report cards from JK to that point, and put all the relevant information into a hand-written document which I still have. He pointed out that my intelligence would seem to be such that the regular school system wasn't challenging enough for me, and that's why I was continually disrupting, distracting and otherwise getting myself into trouble. My parents only found out about the Gifted test the day before it was to take place. Long story short, I entered the Gifted program in grade seven, leaving behind my friends and local school for one further away.
This posed a problem, as I was not socially ready to handle the change in making new friends, and I had never learned how my brain worked, or I had never learned how to learn. I got by on my ability alone and had no clue what it was to work. I struggled for some time, probably until at least into grade ten or eleven. The Gifted program focuses on questioning.It's not about 1 + 2 = 3, but rather the reasons why. The student is asked/forced to think in class and can't really just get by on intelligence alone.
This saved me.
Otherwise, I suspect I would have dropped out of the local high school (which was just at the end of our street) instead of thriving (in as much as I allowed myself to thrive) at Earl Haig. At Haig I was surrounded by people smarter than me, people who were talented in all disciplines of the arts, and people who all hung around with each other. I learned about not just the books and courses, but about myself. I went from being a jackass to being a class clown, but starting to become a more socially aware individual.
Thanks to a few friends and a girlfriend, I started to express myself more. To be more aware of that which I was not: gay, female and black, specifically. Instead of listening to the rock music that seemed to surround my “old life”, I was listening to New Wave/Alternative and Rap. It was the mid-to-late 80s and it was beautiful. I don't know too many people who liked high school so much they'd go to school early and stay late.
Sure, school life was made better because I was skipping classes and getting intoxicated in one way or another, and the parties at Haig were legendary.
While I didn't exactly give it my all, I certainly got myself into where I wanted to go for post-secondary. In retrospect, I should have gone to the University of Toronto (downtown) or Ryerson for journalism.
But I didn't.
Instead, I went to the cold, grey, desolate campus of York University. I wanted to be in business. I wanted to be rich. My pre-BBA changed to Political Science in 2nd year, and I added Mass Communication as a Double Honours major in my 3rd year. I decided in my final year that I wanted to be in advertising, since I was a pop culture fanatic and I could write.
(Or so I thought.)
A three year course in advertising meant that I knew I could succeed in any of the three streams of advertising, but I only wanted to be a creative, and write. I saw that it was a soul-sucking, and painfully difficult, world to enter and continue along. I waited tables for a year and by chance ended up in sales for a couple of years, selling anything and everything you could put a logo on.
I was pretty successful and would have continued to be even more so, but I wasn't fulfilled. The world of the dot come beckoned, with a downtown address (versus the industrial wasteland suburbs) of exposed brick and big windows. I was going to become a millionaire, and get my parents cars and send them on vacations and buy a downtown home and gut/reno/retrofit it.
Needless to say, it didn't happen.
But, what did happen is that I learned a little more about myself. Shortly after turning 30, I found out that my borderline high blood pressure wasn't borderline anymore, and I was going to be starting on medication.
I decided that if I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke, I wanted to “go out” on my terms.
I quit my job and sat on my butt for the summer, and then I volunteered in a few classrooms at the feeder school to Earl Haig's arts program. I wanted to “pay it forward” for what Mr. Tindall had done for me, and I wanted to make a difference.
I was accepted to teachers' college at OISE/UT (I had applied in '97 without having done any research and was promptly rejected by York and U of T's programs), and I was finally going to be going to school downtown. My going to school as a “man”, and not living at home with my parents, and not working throughout the school year, threw my personal finances into turmoil.
I'd never been happier though.
After putting so many teachers through difficulty (truthfully not on purpose) I was now able to see that this was wanted I wanted to do. Teach grade six. Right out of teachers' college I was hired by the Toronto District School Board (the only one I applied to!) and placed in grade 5/6 class at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park.
As inner city as it can get in Toronto. It was a rough ride, and after a month I was transferred down to kindergarten because of a staff restructuring based on student enrollment numbers. I was there for six years, with the last year being a grade 4/5 class, and a very difficult year. I know that should I return to teaching after my year off, it will be for kindergarten, as my personal life suffers much less that way.
At most stops along the way, I've made some phenomenal friends. I can count friends from just about everywhere I've been for work or school. In fact, some of my best friends are the ones I've made since I started to have a better understanding of who I was. From Saul (camp) to Emily (school) to James (bike ride to Montreal) to Marcos (professional course) and the many others I count as friends, they understand me.
As much as someone can understand me. After all, sometimes I don't understand myself. I view things differently than most, and I can thank people in my life for offering different ways of looking at things. I have met some of the most amazing people as a result of being involved with Jodi, for almost four years now.
As most of you know, my father is 80, and hasn't been well of late. When Jodi floated the idea of taking a year off (she had a paid sabbatical year coming up right after we got married) it seemed profoundly bizarre. Initially, she was going to do a masters in some form of English or Education, and I figured I'd work and we'd take a few fabulous vacations in the Winter and March Breaks and Summer.
Instead, we're in the early stages of five months in the UK, Europe and Israel. I had a really hard time packing up my life (literally) in Toronto and putting it into a storage locker. I had a really hard time saying goodbye to my father, not knowing if I was going to see him again, considering he almost didn't make it to our wedding, and that night was back in the hospital.
I had a really hard time leaving Toronto because I felt like I was abandoning my mom, even though I only see her about once a week. I knew I could leave my friends, because thanks to email, Skype and Facebook, they're never really that far away.
Thus far, this has been an amazing experience.
I've been away from home for almost four weeks now, and while I'm out of sorts because I don't have a chance to cook and/or bake in my kitchen with my utensils, spices, pans, pots, etc.....I can deal with this.
Living out of a rucksack/backpack is something that I've learned to deal with. I'm now used to looking like a tourist and subsequently being ignored by all around. At least at home I get a look or two from a female or male.
Not now. Not here. Oh well, I'm married!
Jodi has been the perfect person to do this with, as she's been to many of the places we're going, but we're doing a lot of different things that are new for her. As I near the end of this ramble, and I've digressed from where I was headed (as is par for the course), I’ve decided to share this to perhaps give some of you a better sense of me. I plan on continuing along this vein, perhaps as an attempt at self-help, perhaps just to share.
Regardless, there will be more to read, and more for me to ramble on about.