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Monday, January 14, 2013

Appearance trumps reality...the new norm in character assessment?

“I’m not changing. That’s not possible. I’m Irish, we’re stubborn.
“Just got to find somebody who likes that brand, I guess. I’ve got to find a fit, if there is one.”
(Quotes by Brian Burke, as reported by Rosi DiManno, in Toronto Star, January 12, 2013, in piece entitled, “Maple Leafs’ new ownership gives knife in Brian Burke’s back another twist: DiManno")
After just 3 1/2 years at the helm of the 'best hockey franchise in the world,' according to most analysts, Brian Burke has been ousted, by the new owners, Bell and Rogers, who together now hold 75% of the shares of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, the owners of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors.
As a fellow Irishman, perhaps a little more removed from the Irish ancestors, I know precisely what Burke means about being both "stubborn" and "not changing". For the first half century on the planet, I was as compliant as a willow tree in a hurricane. And I knew where and how to both bend and even to twist when I found out where the wind was coming from. There were different low-pressure sources beginning with a mother, also in large part Irish, the offspring of her father both of whose parents came from opposite sides of the 'north-south' border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mother's paternal grandmother was Roman Catholic, while her paternal grandfather was "Church of England" and upon their arrival in Carleton Place, in eastern Ontario, they were visited, as the family story goes, by the local Roman Catholic priest. They arrived in Canada around the year 1865. And, of course the priest was present to apprise them 'that their marriage was invalid' a protestant having married a Roman Catholic. Upon learning of his mission, the lady of the house, my mother's grandmother, abruptly ushered the cleric out the front door, off the property with the command, "And do not set foot on this property ever again!"
Some spunk in that woman! And long before women's liberation was a glint in the eye of a twentieth century siren! And that woman, along with her husband, proceeded to produce ten children, none of them raised Roman Catholic!
And then there was my grandfather's only daughter, my mother, ironically a graduate of the nursing school at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto in 1931, warmly invited to become a proud member of the delivery room staff of that august institution, having impressed the nuns with her professionalism, her commitment to duty and her boundless and indefatigable energy. She would never tolerate less than absolute and complete disclosure of the truth in any situation, even if such intolerance brought her into immediate conflict with peers, supervisors or her children's teachers and principals, as it frequently did.
In one reported conversation, when a particular mathematics teacher was underperforming while instructing one of her offspring then in grade eleven, my mother railed against the principal, himself a math graduate, for even deeming to consider this teacher worthy of hiring. Her vitriol, it is reported, became one of the more often repeated stories among her work colleagues in a small Ontario town, presumably to the chagrin of the principal who was attempting, in vain, to maintain his perfect public image.
In another "legion" story, my mother demanded that my father accompany her out of a local house party where alcohol was getting the better of the male host, who had just abused his well-respected spouse, publicly. Not willing either to stand by and say nothing, or publicly to confront the miscreant husband, one of the local medical profession with whom she worked, she marched my father to their shared apartment, with the fiat, "It is either the booze or the marriage, but you can't have both!" I was not even contemplated at that time, but to my knowledge, from that date forward, there was never a bottle of alcohol in their house.
"If someone decides to walk off the town dock, are you going to follow them?" was a question posed to me and my sister, so many times it became a kind of chant in our house, as if to instill a depth of independence and resistance to being led "astray" by a mother whose tolerance for much of what was then extremely mild teenage misdemeanours in the 1950's.
A trained soprano, she would not become a member of the church choir in the church the family attended; however, she was happy to accept an invitation to participate in a community choir in another church each year when the Messiah was rehearsed and performed. The local representative of what was then dubbed Emergency Measures Organization, in response to a perceived threat of nuclear war during the cold war with the Soviet Union, she was probably one of the very few in the town who considered the threat seriously, preferring 'not to walk off the dock' others chose. In her retirement, she became president of the local Canadian Club, where, during her last meeting, when she needed to make a housekeeping announcement in the middle of the luncheon, she barked, "Give me your attention!" as if she were commanding a brigade of rebelling soldiers after a night of partying. The crowd of 100 plus, grew instantly silent, probably wondering what was likely to land in their ears.
Underneath that brusque veneer, my mother was a platinum model of both character and compassion whose outrage could be and often was abrupt, scathing and even hurtful, yet never dishonest or inauthentic. Her compassion, on the other hand, while often secret and even anonymous, continues to find the light of day, through stories never before uttered while she was alive, because now the recipients are coming out of the woodwork to tell us.
"Stubborn, and not about to change," is a manner I have become increasingly comfortable wearing, given the kind of insulting behaviour, including libel, slander and innuendo that has been flung in the direction of too many of my compatriots, by people whose righteousness had grown so tight around both their skulls and their waists that they have exploded in judgement with impunity and apparently with immunity from the mostly "gagged" audiences who refused to confront those needing the come-uppance.
Like my mother, Brian Burke is much more than a blustering, even blue-tongued hockey executive; he  is a community-minded and community centred leader whose complexity is not compatible with the public relations model of propriety that holds sway in too many quarters in the twenty-first century in some parts of Canada and the United States.
Let's hope Brian Burke finds a place where he does "fit" and that he does not lose sleep waiting impatiently for such a place to appear. In a society drunk on or drugged by political correctness,  especially among the male 49% of the population whose spines seem to have been removed over the last quarter century, (except the curtain-draped outliers like Don Cherry who gives the masculine persona a bad name), there don't seem to be any places left that respect the kind of blunt, frontal and antagonistic demeanour, although inside there is a depth of compassion and tenderness, that can be found among the Brian Burke's of the world.
It is not difficult to imagine how players, the important actors in the game of hockey, would respect a man of his type, style and substance; it is also not difficult to imagine how some executives would find his very being "demonic"...based almost exclusively on appearances, certainly not on any in-depth knowledge of the man.

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