I’m actually feeling extremely reflective today. Unless you live in a Canadian cave, hard to miss the extra celebration this July 1st for Canada’s 150th Birthday! Yep, in 1867, the nation of Canada became official. Not exactly the same place back then, thank god. In fact, I can vividly recall 1967 when we had the Centennial. There was a unique logo of the Maple Leaf, the main symbol on our flag, and interesting nobody criticized it like they are the one for 150! There was an official theme song, “The Canada Song” or as I will always call it, “Ca-Na-Da”, written by Canadian band leader, Bobby Gimby. The year of 1967 was filled with all the tributes you’d imagine and thousands of legacy projects were funded by the Federal Government. The mood was celebratory and the entire nation seemed unified and harmonious! Of course, I was seven. What did I know?
Today, Canada’s population is just under 38 million. In 1967, just over 20 million. Much of our increase is due to immigration. I find it truly fascinating that millions have come to Canada, the majority fleeing war, terrorism and other inhumanities with the dream of becoming “Canadian”! If you have never been to a Citizenship Ceremony, you are missing an event sincerely heartwarming and inspiring. The pride, the joy, the sheer love for a country that isn’t even theirs is remarkable.
I travel the world as a speaker and of course, everybody loves that I am Canadian. Sorry, but we’ve all heard the cliche about backpackers from the United States sewing Maple Leaf Flag patches on their gear when travelling abroad to receive a warmer response. That’s not a cheap shot at Americans, by the way, but a fascinating exercise in curiousity. Why is being Canadian so cool? Okay, this blog isn’t about that, although it’s good to be cool! This blog is about appreciation!
i have written and spoken often about my hometown of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I suppose it’s a slightly weird concept to imagine what a person’s life may have turned into had they been born in a different place, to a different family, in a different time. I have received a huge benefit in this concept. I was, if you don’t know, born to a different family than the one that raised me. Again, this blog isn’t about that but as a reference point, it’s quite profound. I have the rare benefit of knowing my birth family having met them in 1993. I did it as a sincere gesture of “reconciliation” with my birth mother, Sophie (I’ll respect her privacy and leave out her last name). Again, not the theme here but I reached out to a woman who had been forced into a circumstance she didn’t ask for. She had been suffering severe nausea or “morning sickness” with her third pregnancy and the newly available anti-nausea medication, “Thalidomide” had snuck into the Canadian medical community offering a miracle cure for morning sickness. In early 1960, Sophie consumed two small pills hoping for some relief. She didn’t like how they made her feel so she stopped but not before her third child, “me”, would suffer the consequence as the drugs didn’t allow my arms to grow. Old tale, I know, but my point is, this “is” an old story. This was a different “time”. The value of an armless, deformed baby was practically nil. So when I was born that Summer, I was also given up by Sophie and her husband Peter (he passed in the early 80’s), who I never met.
For 32 years, I was content with the knowledge I was adopted by Hilda and Jack Law as an abandoned newborn. I couldn’t have wished for a better family if I’d found a Genie in a Bottle! I thrived in my hometown of Yorkton and embraced being a Saskatchewan Roughrider Fan and a Proud Canadian. Even in 1967, I knew how special my life was and mourning having no arms was the very last thing on my mind. In 1993, my wife and business partner, Darlene, were planning our wedding in Yorkton, thirty minutes from Melville where Sophie lives. It was a small celebration but in fact, the discussion of who to invite actually got to the subject of my birth family. I had no idea who they were but in small town “anywhere”, people know stuff and if they don’t, find stuff out pretty quick. We didn’t actually even consider inviting this unknown woman but Darlene suggested it was the perfect time and occasion to reach out to make contact and hopefully meet. Most important, it wasn’t about “me”. It was all about “her”.
I will, of course, never experience the grief of having a “Thalidomide Baby” but have written and spoken about it a lot. I’ve even strongly suggested the true “Victims” of Thalidomide were not the deformed babies, but the mothers. They had to deal with the reality as a thinking, mature, adult not to mention the effects on the baby’s siblings, extended family and friends. Entire communities had to deal with the shock of these births and the smaller the community, the bigger the effect! Darlene kept it simple. You plan a meeting before the wedding so you can focus on the real reason for meeting her which is to give her a form of closure and as a hopeful bonus, create a different future. What Darlene’s brilliance made me understand is by meeting face to face with her and whatever family she may have, I am holding out an olive branch to say; “You need not feel any guilt or anger by the injustice you may feel you placed on me! I do not hold you responsible for my missing arms. I am not bitter you gave me away at five days of age! I need you to know, without any question or doubt, this is not your fault! In fact, the courage it took for you to give me up is the greatest gift you gave me! Thank You!”
That’s what we did. That’s what I said. I used the pending weddding as my reason for “Why Now?” as my new wife and life was in need of a complete “reset” so time to tackle this very personal issue. By the way, we have kept in touch, although I’m sure not as much as Sophie would like. The point is (finally), “Are You Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday on July 1, 2017? Are you proud to be Canadian. Do you believe we live in one of the best nations on the planet? Have you put up a Maple Leaf Flag, dawned a red and white shirt or hat with “Canada” on it? Are you planning a community event, having a parade, going to a picnic, singing “Oh Canada”? Do you realize how fortunate you are to call Canada home?
Today, Aboriginal Leaders across Canada are instructing their people not to celebrate Canada’s 150th. They have even set up a teepee on Parliament Hill to symbolize 150 years of injustice, racism, poverty, substance abuse and incarceration all at the hands of Canadians and our government. Ironically, the freedom to protest is one of the greatest benefits of a democracy and Canada itself. I believe they have their point of view for their own reasons and as a human being, I will respect their opinion. But I will never agree with it! You have probably seen me struggle with this subject, some even accusing me of being anti-native or racist. Fine. Believe what you believe but wouldn’t it be nice if you respected what I believe? But again,this blog isn’t about this, although the news headlines this morning made me mad. This blog is about “A Choice”!
i didn’t “Choose” to have no arms! Sophie didn’t “Choose” to have a deformed Thalidomide Baby. Sophie did “Choose” to give me up for adoption, not my “Choice” either. But Hilda and Jack Law “Chose” to take me home. They “Chose” to celebrate my life, not mourn what was “missing”! The community of Yorkton “Chose” to embrace me and with that element came inclusion and acceptance. The most profound “gift” I ever received was…”The Power of Choice”!
Write down this quote please. It’s mine. “The only thing in life that is truly free is the choice of our attitude. How we live starts there and no matter what we are faced with, how we react is everything!” My Mom, Hilda Law had her own quote. A reporter doing a story on my life in 1961 asked her a pretty good question. “What do you think happened to this poor little boy?” Mom’s answer was typical Hilda Law…”We don’t care what happened but we care deeply about what’s going to happen!” She believed that. My Dad and her husband, Jack, believed that, and they taught me to believe it. Remember, I’m not a complete idiot. I know Canada isn’t perfect and I certainly know I’m not, nothing is. But on July 1st, 2017, I “Choose” to celebrate how far this great country has come in 150 years. I am very, very proud to be “Canadian”, even have a maple Leaf tattoo on my leg. I am very committed to making Canada even greater and I will do that by focusing on what I can give this great country, not what it can give me! Happy 150th Canada” 🇨🇦👣