Sunday, June 19, 2016

For My Mom and Dad.

For those of you who have been stopping by here since the dinosaur days....

Why this post again?

'Cause it's a tradition (with little bits and pieces, one of them musical, added on each year)...

That's why!



As is usual at this time of year, 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/fundamental research (stay-tuned for that, by the way, because I think it is soon to become big news given that the federal minister responsible has just announced a review of government policies and programs on that front).

Anyway, 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 west coast, from Alaska to California, and sometimes even across the water to 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 peanuts by comparison for doing her non-union 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.

My mom passed away early last fall after a long, slow decline that left my Dad doing a whole lot of the work and the worry after his days of working for a living/pay cheque were long done.

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 that 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.

Photo at the top...My Dad and my youngest brother C., getting ready for a highly ritualized Samuri Fishing Rod Sword Fight (to the death!) up at Spectacle Lake at the top of the Malahat on Vancouver Island in the early/mid-70's.
Photo at the bottom...My Mom with somebody's kid, probably one of my much younger cousins, at the picnic table in our daisy-filled old back yard on Monterey Ave. in Victoria that was the scene of a thousand-and-one-before-and-after-dinner soccer and/or cream-'em games (although the latter were more often in the front yard for some unfathomable reason) also probably from the middish '70's...And if I'm wrong, rest assured that my brothers will be sure to correct me!



S.Davis said...

Beautifully written Ross. My Dad was also a blue collar guy, a union welder in the Bay Area in the 40's,50's, 60's,and 70's. My Mom also worked during those years,she was a "Rosie the Riveter" in the Richmond Cal. shipyards and later a computer maker for Beckman instruments. However Beckman laid her of one year prior to her being eligible for a pension. Oh by the way she had been actively trying to organise a union at the company.I been a teacher for 31 years now and have watched a generation of kids denied the type of education they need and deserve. I had a student on Friday tell me that his older brother said that if he asked his boss for a raise his boss would say bye and have a nice life. Well of course I seized that teachable moment to explain what being in a union means. When a person is alone you can be exploited ,but when you stand as a group you have a voice. I also pointed out to him the benefits we as a society enjoy thank's to the sacrifices of union people before us. As i hope we settle our own strike soon I will not sacrifice the lessons my own Mom and Dad taught me.

RossK said...

Thanks SD--

How did you make your way from the Bay Area to here?


Eleanor Gregory said...

Well said, Ross K. When I think of the limited financial resources I had when I was 18, I know I was lucky to be born a generation earlier than this generation finishing high school. Back in those days, 1st UBC tuition was about $460 per year, books about $50 or $60. I had burseries and scholarships from high school that paid almost all of the tuition, and part time earnings from a summer job from which I was able to save about $600 by the beginning of the fall term. My daily budget covered bus to and from campus, one coffee and one cinny bun. I packed my lunch. Not possible to go to university these days on so thin a dime.

S.Davis said...

I was(am) a Vietnam war resister. I made my way to Nelson where I met my wife of 42 years. Warmly received except for a few old bigots. As I recall I wasn't alone in the good old Kootenays. Ha,Ha!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross. I more than enjoyed your Father's Day tribute as I can relate. I was 5 years old when my Dad came home from WWII; in fact, remember it like it was yesterday. Because he'd been away for so long, I didn't even recognize who this man was walking down our driveway carrying a rucksack on his back. He'd been dropped off by the train in our little downtown and had to walk about a mile home - no taxis for vets in those days.

Having a wife and 4 kids, his first priority was to get a job and the Hammond Cedar Mill was hiring so off he went. Those that found a way not to join up already had the best jobs so the starting point was on the 'green chain', a gut-wrenching one.

This experience introduced him to a union (IWA)and his commitment to the rights of workers was firmly established. As the family expanded I was fully aware that University wouldn't be in my future, living out in the Fraser Valley and the only unis were UBC and UVic. However, he taught me that work ethic was extremely important and I was lucky because when I graduated from High School, we could always get a job, not like today. I did finally get to a University but it was after I was married and had my children and that served me well in my career.
I will always appreciate what my Dad COULD do for me and that was to instill a life-long interest in learning, an interest in politics and the obligation to vote and a concern for those who are not as fortunate as I have been.

RossK said...



I'm not sure I would have gone either if the tuition had not been $540 the first year at UVIC. That low barrier is definitely rising.

And for all those that are worried that their kids will lose out because they will not be going to Harvard or McGill, or UofT, or even UBC, for their undergradate training - except for certain fields [i.e. finance or law] it really doesn't matter. As someone who is now an arbiter of this stuff, I know that what really matters is what comes later.


Ahhhhh....So glad you came!...Not sure you would be able to now...We have a very good friend who spent his entire teaching career in the Richmond school system (met him while C. and I lived in Berkeley when I was a post-doc)...He and his partner are recently retired and have moved up the coast to Mendocino county...Boy, does he have some war stories (and stories of great triumph too).



You said....

"...I will always appreciate what my Dad COULD do for me and that was to instill a life-long interest in learning, an interest in politics and the obligation to vote and a concern for those who are not as fortunate as I have been..."

I feel exactly the same what about what my Dad did for me...It really was exactly like that...He allowed/encouraged me to be the kind of kid that would read Kurt Vonnegut's entire ouevre before I was 14.


Thanks everybody!


e.a.f. said...

great post!

Unions did give us a decent standard of living. Back in the day, the I.W.A. ensured a lot of our parents made enough money for us to have nice homes, decent food on table, medical and dental care, paid summer vacation also. It changed our lives and how society moved forward.

Our parents benefited. One parent in the Union. another parent in management in a Unionized work place. The line there was, if it weren't for the union, management wouldn't be getting a raise.

I remember a person I worked with who used to tell us about his Father going on strike for 5 more minutes for a coffee break at a car manufacturing plant in Ontario, when he was a kid. When we were young adults in Vancouver, everybody had a 15 min. coffee break, but many never knew how we got there.

RossK said...


There's a whole lotta forgetting going round.

Which, I guess, is to be expected when nobody has a labour reporter anymore and all the major media organs are willingswallow the press releases (and worse) from the EconomicFreedomFooFighters like it was caviar.


Anonymous said...

The real sad fact of our present time is that many of our younger people will not have the same standard of living we, the older generation, have now.
Organist labour has been beaten down with the help of the corporate media and a society that doesn't care and is ignorant of the reason and history of why unions exist and need to exist.
CBC had an excellent documentary on the 50th anniversary of the first contact won by the workers in a steel mill in Hamilton Ont. I was called "ON THE LINE" and was produced by Bob Carty.
You won't find it in the CBC archives,you will have to track down Bob himself to get a copy.
Well worth listening to and, in my opinion, should be played in every Canadian class room at least few times during ones education in hopes it might sink in as to why Unions are important.
By the way, I have owned and ran a multi-million dollar business in Alberta and BC and am one of the few business persons that realize that people making Mcwages don't keep our economy going.

RossK said...

Thanks CGHZD--

You may be one of the few, but you are not the only, even historically....Heckfire, didn't Henry Ford have something to say about wages and economies and buying power and all that?

I remember that doc by Mr. Carty.

I'll try and track it down.


S.Davis said...

Fond memories of the 60's in the East Bay. Cut my musical chops playing Funk and R&B at clubs like the Continental in Oakland ,the Ark in Marin and the
Dakota on San Pablo Ave. I can imagine how hard it must have been for you friend teaching in Richmond Unified.The tax base evaporated and Prop 13 killed a lot of things.Just got back from our union study session and you can tell littler e that there is no school on Tuesday. Fartbender claims the Gov made movement on wages. Well that's true,from 7.25 DOWN to 7.0!

RossK said...

Thanks SD!

Hey, speaking of the East Bay and chops...Have you read MChabon's latest?


Anonymous said...

Re Henry Ford. The working conditions at Ford auto plants were so horrendous that the employee turnover was around a couple of hundred percent. The only way to retain employees was to pay them more. It actually cost less in to pay more because of lost production and employee training cost.
Ford was an antisemitic union hating thug that was no friend of the working man.

SD said...

I haven't read it yet but have read some other reviews. I used to live off of Telegraph on Ashby. Also tended bar at Kips when we went back In 76 for a year.

RossK said...


We lived in the flats, off Gilman between Hopkins and San Pablo...


Don F. said...

Thank's Ross,
Reminds me of why I like to read your posts, they are sometimes special and in the best way.
I think this is the first I've heard of your mom's passing? Please accept my belated condolences. My father was a Cape Breton coal miner, who I remember seeing bandaged from head to foot after a cave in on more than one occasion, only to return as soon as possible to get back on the payroll for his family. That generation of men, yours and my father's, set examples for us that are more valuable than gold. It is their example that we follow. Though my father has been gone many years he is a part of my every day as I ponder decisions I make.
Your father I'm sure is proud of you and your family, proud to have been part of that. Proud of what you are as a person and father yourself.
Happy Father's day yo you Ross.
Don F.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of your mother...mine passed away suddenly a week before Christmas. The one who knew you best. Take care and don't fret the pendulum always swings back. Enough people are feeling the pain, more so now then before the last election. Housing affordability/over debtness will be a main issue, as the status quo seems to be a growing issue, especially with the feds about to intervene.

Lenin's Ghost said...

Timely post, Ross.

Found out an hour ago that my wonderful mother has cancer and she is too weak for an operation. Don't know how long she has or any details. Not that unexpected as she has declined a lot over the last few months. Not sure of details yet as she is far away.
Came to your site as a mental distraction and boom!

Sorry but I just had to let it out.

Beautiful post.

Thank you

RossK said...

Thanks so much Don--

Hope you had a good Father's Day also.

'Tis true - first time I've written about my Mom's passing. I really do have to get back to writing more that isn't directly political.


Thanks Anon-Above--

I hope sure do hope you are right about that pendulum thing.

Holidays do seem to be the toughest time for dealing with the loss.


Aww geez LG.

Really, really sorry to hear about that.

Prefer to think of myself as a the digression guy...But I'm happy to fit the distraction man bill when required

Hope you can go see your Mom soon.


Lenin's Ghost said...

Thx, Ross. Don't like to drag personal online but a weak moment. Thx for the understanding.
Leaving......on a jet plane.....on Friday��

RossK said...



Come back for the distraction any old time.