Sunday, June 19, 2011

For My Mom and My Dad


I've been climbing in and out of the cigar tube a lot lately on my way to and from not-so-secret science geek bunkers dotted around the country where peer reviewers are fighting it out to the figurative death over the ever diminishing success rates for grant-funded basic biomedical research.

I have written about this before, and I will write about it again, but that is not what I want to talk about today.

Instead, I want to talk a little about my Mom and Dad.


As I have also written before (see below), my Dad spent his entire adult life working for tow-boat companies hauling all manner of stuff up and down the westcoast, from Alaska to California, and sometimes even Hawaii.

And he was pretty well paid for doing that job, especially once the 1970's arrived.

And while I know that part of the reason for my Dad's increasing salary, which helped make it possible for me to go to college, a first in our family, was the damned good job he did as he began to work on ever bigger boats like, say, this one, I also know that in large part I owe my shot at a higher education to his union.

How do I know this for sure?

Because I also know that my Mom, who was climbing the ladder working in ever bigger branches on ever bigger jobs with ever bigger responsibilities of one of our country's biggest banks at the very same time my Dad was hauling logs, got paid comparative peanuts for doing her non-unionized job.

But that does not mean that my Mom's passing down of her ability to be analytical, sometimes in the extreme, did not help me get to college too and, maybe even more importantly, help me become a full-fledged science geek in the end.

Anyway, the point all this is that labour matters.

As does collective bargaining and the right to take job action and try and make that collective too.

Which got me to wondering if I would have crossed the line at YVR, especially when almost all of the media blather cranked up about how to avoid any and all delay if you were a passenger, when the Air Canada ground workers went out recently.....

Now, just to be clear, I am not a union member.

But I do belong to an 'association' (an association that has done a damned good job for its members by the way, despite what many of my co-workers say) so I like to think I wouldn't have.

Crossed the line, I mean.

Anyway, below is my now traditional F-Day post for my Dad....


I really do live a charmed life.

I have a wonderful wife and two great kids.

I also have a job I actually like, where most of the time I get to do what I want while working with people (also mostly kids) to produce stuff we are all really proud of.

And that job pays me well; not hockey player money well, but I make more than I ever dreamed of. Which, of course, means that I make just enough that we can afford to live in our own house within the Vancouver city limits.

In fact, I guess some might say that I am upwardly mobile enough that I should quit all my complainin' because I'm one of the lucky ones that actually benefits financially from many of the 'rich folks first!' policies of Mr. Campbell et al.

But here's the thing.....

I am most definitely not one of those 'ladder puller-uppers'

You know, somebody who's got theirs, and now says, "Screw you Jack," to everybody else.


I'll tell you why.

It's because of my Dad.......

My old man was a Union man.

And the folks in the Union fought like bastards...and they fought constantly, usually for the tiniest of things in each successive contract...things like an extra quarter percent on a COLA clause, or one little add-on like an extra free filling per year on the dental plan.

And when I was a kid, especially during that time when I was a barely no-longer-a-teenager-aged kid, I thought the folks from the Union were just a little bit off their nut....all that energy going into what, exactly?

After all, it was the 80's, and Dave Barrett and the Socialist Hordes were long gone, and the Wild Kelowna boys were rolling along, and Unions were bad, and Expo was coming, and Trudeau was going, and John Turner was hiccupping, and Mulroney was lurking, somewhere off in the distance....

....And if you were a half-bright, apolitical science-geek kind of kid like me, breezing your way through college and thinking about graduate school, you laughed when you saw the boy wonder from Burnaby, Michael J. Fox, shirk his Family Ties and ape the young Republicans while making fun of his willfully neutered Leftie of a Dad on the TV screen...

....And if you were that kid, you thought that you were living in a golden age that was tied, not to the social democratic reforms of the past, but to the coming of Free Trade and the promises of the Reaganites from the South...

...And from that perspective you sure as heck didn't always get the irony of Bruce Springsteen singing about the plight of the working class in 'Born in the USA'.

But now that I have spent a good chunk of time in USA where I started a family of my own before coming home, I do get it.

I understand that my Dad spent his entire adult life hauling logs up and down the West Coast, working his guts out to help keep the robber baron families rich because he had to make a living to support his own family....

....And I get the fact that, because of the Unions, my family's standard of living gradually improved, bit by bit, over the years so that by the time I had grown up to be that callow young man described above my parents had saved enough to help me go to University....

....And I get the fact that I was the first one in my family who got to go to University....Ever.....And it wasn't because I was so damned smart....

....And I get the fact that, while my parents' limited financial help and support was important, it would never have been enough to get me into the same good schools if I had arrived on the scene a single generation earlier or, perhaps, later....

....And I get the fact that those Wild Kelowna Boys, and all the other neo-cons that have come since, have been doing their damndest to destroy the dream of a University education for all, and instead have instituted an elitist education for some and one-trick-pony Technical training for everybody else.....

....And I get the fact that, if it wasn't for folks like my Dad and the other lefties of his time, my current world, one in which I make a living with my eyes and my mind wide open, would not be what it is today.....

....And most of all, I now get the fact that my Dad was, and is, my hero.




G West said...

Thanks Ross,
I take it you still have your dad around; mine's gone.

He was a prairie farmer, a small farmer, and he took me as a kid to hear Tommy Douglas speak - and although he wasn't a union man, I think he taught me the same lessons your dad did from a slightly different point of view.

I know he'd be turning in his grave (if I believed in such things) about what's happened to farm communities all across the province where he's buried and what's about to happen to the Canadian Wheat Board...

Thanks for sharing.

Alison said...

Hi Ross
I come by to read this every Father's Day.
Thanks again,

Ian said...

Great post and a great tribute. And the sax break on Jungleland? Thanks for that, too.

Danneau said...

My Dad was an architect, built houses mostly for folks who were pretty well off (had to afford a new house and an architect to plan and oversee the building), but was also lefty in his personal outlook (he once did a set of basic plans in exchange for a half a pig) and increasingly lived light on the land. He and my mother were a pair and left us a legacy of openness and generosity that has to be the underpinning for all the union fighting. Dad passed away in 1998, Maggie followed last October, but they're with me all the time, both for the love and encouragement they gave all of us, but also for the lives they lived as an example.

Your story in engaging and poignant and I owe you thanks for the words about your parents and what they went through to make their way, and yours, reasonable. I'm keenly aware that my work now is to help ensure that my stepson and his kids have at least some vestige of the opportunities that I had.

Again, thanks.

RossK said...

Thanks everybody!

I'm always amazed by the generosity of spirit of all who comment on my less politically 'fervent', but more personal, posts.

And if we can't thank those who matter most most publicly, what the heck are we really doing that even remotely matters anyway?