Tuesday, November 5, 2019

#20 Men agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (knight-errant/warrior #b)


Warrior archetype is the archetype of destruction, yet in full expression “only destroys to make room for something new and fresh and more alive.”
His is an act of creative destruction—he doesn’t tear things down simply for the pleasure of doing so. (from artofmanliness.com)
Knight-errant has broken away from the world of his origin, in order to go off on his own to right wrongs or to test and assert his own chivalric ideals. He is motivated by idealism and goals that are often illusory. (Wikipedia)

While I concur with Frankl that humans are not driven by archetypes, nevertheless, these metaphors are relevant in helping to parse patterns of behaviour, even if those patterns are not “visible” or even conscious at the time they are being deployed. There is also considerable seeding of life patterns that takes place, both consciously and unconsciously/inadvertently, in one’s family of origin, and the length of the respective shadows of various parenting modelling patterns varies on the virulence/hope engendered by parental attitudes and behaviour, and how we perceive them as children, adolescents and young adults. That is the long way of saying that our biographic history plays a significant part in how we live our lives.

From a very early age, I was made aware of a profound contrast between the person of my mother and the person of my father. A retail manager, responsible for supervising a staff of some dozen, higher in summer when tourists infused the local economy, lower in winter when local business relied on a shrunken market, my father exuded a kind of equanimity, good humour and dependability both at home and in the workplace. On the other hand, my mother the nurse, exuded bursts of high energy and intense anger, bitterness and harmful judgement of others that would never have found a place in my father’s consciousness. Superficially, and stereotypically, my father’s image was of sensitivity, compassion, integrity and dependability. On the other hand, mother’s was of turbulent, industrious and judgemental tempermentality.

Trying to find a path between my family’s Scylla and Charybdis,* I found nooks and crannies of difference, very early, between each of them and me. On one hand, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the prodigious whirlwind of baking, sewing, gardening, talking and cleaning that stemmed from each of my mother’s days. On the other, I warmed to time with my dad, joined in his love of sports, especially Saturday night hockey on the radio with Foster Hewitt, and respected the way those who worked for him spoke of him. Conversely, I thought that my mother’s perfectionistic pursuit of cleanliness had to have come from the operating rooms in hospitals where she trained and later worked, believing the two sites were not valid comparisons. Similarly, as far as my father’s reliability, dependability and persistently rising sales curve was concerned, I deeply believed that his income, without profit-sharing, company shares, incentives and enhanced responsibility could and should have been amended, if only through his more assertive and confident self-advocacy in annual negotiations with the company owners. I also intuited that at least a portion of “her” anger and disappointment resulted from his passive/aggressive tendency; and his self-effacement could well have emerged in part from his close and turbulent association with “her” overpowering, even frightening threats, withdrawals and emotional storms. Certainly, I believed then in my adolescence, and continue to hold all of these years later, that my father failed, by omission, to take reasonable steps to negotiate a more significant status for his contribution to the success of the hardware store in such potential instruments as profit-sharing, shares, incentives and even potential partial ownership.

Memory fails to generate precisely the first time I objected to something ‘she’ said or did. I do recall protesting her engaging in smoking DuMaurier cigarettes (I recall the red package!) and my protest, “I wish you would not smoke!” to which she replied, “If God did not want us to smoke, He would not have created tobacco!” My incredulity gagged any response; only later did I deeply regret not have countered her flawed argument, that ‘God also created’ poison ivy, for example, and that was not ‘good’ for anyone.

At about the same time, I recall an incident which, on reflection, conjures images of the early incubation of that knight-errant/warrior. In grade nine, I had received a poor grade of 63 in the Christmas exam in history, a mark I knew would cause repercussions of anger, disappointment and punishment from ‘her’. Also, coming from Toronto to visit over the holiday, my father’s sisters, my aunts, were a welcome interlude of kindness, generosity and likely calm in a season that was frequently, if not normally, turbulent as a direct consequence of what could only have been a combination of fatigue and tension given the complexity and extent of the preparations mother undertook alone. Putting the convergence of the holiday, the upcoming hope implicit in the visit and the predictable explosion should that “63” be announced prior to the day, I decided to withhold disclosure until after the aunts had departed. On the day of the discovery both of the mark and the withholding, my mother’s anger boiled over. I had received a new Spalding nine iron as a Christmas gift of which I was in ordinately proud and happy. Immediately upon learning the fullness of my “failure” and “withholding,” she picked up the golf club, bent and then broke it over her knee and pitched it down the cellar stairs.

Of course, I was heart-broken, angry, disappointed, and probably instantly vowed revenge. Privately in my room, I penned a letter to those Toronto nurse-aunts, detailing this story, my disgust at the kind of family and treatment I was experiencing and wondering, in ink, what I should/could do. Of course, I informed neither parent of my action in both writing and mailing the missive. And also naturally, the moment ‘she’ found out about my “betrayal” of her, especially to these two women with whom she was in a private and personal competition, she exploded again, this time in physical, emotional judgement of my “deceitfulness”. As whistle-blower on the woman known as mother, I had ventured into the fraught territory of disclosing a family secret. At no time then, or at any time for the ensuing half-century did ‘she’ ever acknowledge her ‘part’ in the drama, nor did she ever offer an apology. Decades later, those aunts resurrected that letter, returned it to me with the comment that they were resistant to taking action by invoking the family services agency, fearing both the direct impact on me and the indirect impact on them of my mother’s potential reaction. Clearly, whistle-blowers take considerable risk, even if and when their cause is both honourable and just.

I have already noted, earlier, the story of my knight-errant/warrior departure from the church, provoked by the bigoted homily from the Balleymena bigot. It also had serious and potentially professionally sabotaging repercussions. (see #19 in this series).
During a one-year stint at the first school in which I was hired following the move from my home town, I participated in a teaching model that involved three English teachers, each of whom were assigned to one class of grade thirteen students. Weekly, in what was then an innovative “Large Group Instruction Room” (the LGI), one of the three instructors lead the three classes in what was advertised as an introduction to large classes in university and college, where many of those students would study in their next school year. The topics selected followed closely the outlined curriculum, although occasionally, a slight variance, a kind of spontaneity, was permitted and even encouraged. One such variance came my way when I was given the opportunity to surprise both faculty and students. I chose the theme of “isolation” and alienation, and brought three pieces of literature into the discussion: Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, W.H. Auden’s The Unknown Citizen, and T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. I mention it because I fully appreciated the students’ engagement throughout the class, and the deep mark the class has left in my more happy teaching-moment film in my mind.

It was in another of these LGI sessions that the Head of the department was proceeding with his prepared notes, already three-quarters of the way through the process. These classes were two periods in length, requiring student concentration for extended time periods. At this moment, the principal of the school walked into the classroom. Instantly, not only did the teacher welcome the principal to the session, a completely appropriate gesture both for his professional reputation and for the sake of letting the students know of the presence of the authority figure. It was what happened next that triggered my anger, and my knight-errant/warrior. This “head” was overtly and unabashedly ambitious, intent upon impressing the power structure that prevails in small town education establishments in the hope of his own future “success” in attaining additional status, responsibility and income. His return to the opening of the class, and then proceeding to “bring the principal up to speed” by outlining the totality of his then hour-long presentation, and thereby subjecting those ninety-plus students to the boredom and the insult of having to listen to the whole lesson a second time, for  his personal ambition’s needs, completely unnerved me. I stormed out of the room, and burst into the office of the assistant head, decrying the obsequiousness of the ‘head’ and vowing, privately, to take the first opportunity to transfer to another school that came my way.

Easily bored, and knowing I needed conversation, discussion, debate and the pursuit of ideas, both inside the classroom and outside among neighbours, colleagues and friends, I perceived a dryness in the absence of a social life in our then family. Having attempted to introduce such people and concepts as Rotary exchange students into the family, in a belief that people from other countries could and would enhance the experience of teen and pre-teen daughters, and failed dismally, and having also failed when proposing dinner invitations to friends, I recall uttering words to this effect: I cannot exist with only sixteen-year-olds in my life; I need the association of adults, and am therefore going to work in the Man’s World on evenings and weekends. Another act of rebellion, another expression of the knight-errant/warrior, I was proposing a solution to what I perceived as a personal need/scarcity, without, at least as I considered it, risking the continuation of the marriage.

As a unilingual English speaking sales clerk, I ventured, periodically, into conversing in French with the occasional customer whose first language was French, in a store in which no other worker could/would take the risk. I have often joked to now fully bilingual daughters, (the beneficiaries of French Immersion classes from grade six onward, two of them having completed French undergraduate degrees also, a third who practices her second language in a secondary classroom of her own) that I once “sold suits in French” in their youth. Their embarrassment and modest ridicule at the disparity of my French accent, compared with their proficiency, evokes memories of that risk-taking that seemed only normal in the doing.

The invitation to pinch-hit for a colleague about to take a sabbatical from his teaching post and his part-time television interviewer/reporter work came while I was engaged in the haberdashery business. A lunch interview complete with an offer of $5 per interview and $10 per meeting ushered me into the television station, as a free-lance, obviously untrained, and “green” reporter/interviewer. That began a dozen-plus-year adventure into municipal politics, the occasional interview with provincial and national political figures, a newspaper column and several years’ writing and recording radio editorials for airing in four stations. The ‘water-mitty’ character inside my imagination had already found expression when I entered basketball coaching in my first year of teaching at Appleby College. Again untrained, without a single course in Phys Ed., with only a single year’s experience as a high-school player, I accepted the challenge of coaching the junior varsity team, where expectations of both coach and team were quite limited.

Naturally, writing critiques of local municipal leaders’ decisions, or their failed opportunities, plus interviews with, for example a federal politician whose government faced protests from Alberta about the existence of French language on the Cornflakes’ boxes (Canadian history keeps repeating itself, without abatement of racism, perceived victimhood, and perpetual perceived injustice, no matter how valid!), or protesting the building of a retail shopping centre on the bypass, as opposed to the downtown core, focused the development of a clarity, and a muscle of political empowerment that I could not and would not have found if I had been elected to some office. Specifically, in the middle of the public debate over the proposed shopping centre, when I was loudly vocal in my opposition to that bypass project, the radio station manager “took me for a walk” our behind the building. It was a May afternoon, and I recall it as if it were yesterday. “You have to be taken off the air immediately. The company is about the lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue, if you continue. The person representing the Northgate Square project has threatened to withdraw all advertising if you are not silenced.” Of course, my personal circumstance and this threat were never disclosed publicly. The public likely could figure it out, anyway, given my obvious disappearance from the local airwaves.

The referral of my name as a “news source”, unbeknownst to me, and certainly without my consent, to the producers of W5 at CTV by a downtown businessman, following the construction of the shopping mall, in order to pursue what was then considered by some to be “illicit” money in their project, resulted in an interview with one of the hosts and his producer in the Windsor Arms dining room in Toronto. I invited the then deputy mayor, a local criminal lawyer, to accompany me to the luncheon and departed after brief introductions. The story never aired, we were told, because network lawyers considered it too “hot” for airing.

Similarly, and still with local politics, I had to testify in a local courtroom, in a trial in which the elected mayor was being tried for election abuse. I had been offered a permanent position as Public Relations Officer in a joint proposal between the local hydro, the local school board and the city, the whole idea merely a figment of the then mayor’s imagination, as a bribe if I would commit to write all of his campaign material. No such position existed, nor was such a position even in discussion. No one had even before, or since, spoken of such a proposal. Nevertheless, a clear quid pro quo it was and remains. Unfortunately, the lawyers acting on behalf of the claimants against the defendant mayor never rehearsed any interaction I had had with the defendant and so, they never asked me the pertinent questions about that interaction. Whether it would have been cogent to their case, is mute today. My brief appearance as a witness, however, seemed so benign and insignificant that even the defence attorney refused to question me.

To be continued…

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