My father was a shoemaker.
He always said, “I have two loves: my family and my shoe factories”.
Dad came from a large family of 8 siblings born to his parents in a transcontinental love story that began in Lin Lithgow, Scotland and was completed in Montreal, Canada.
He was not a tall man, but he was big.
He was a big thinker, a big believer in human potential and he was bigger than big hearted.
I am six foot three, and he was no taller than five foot seven but from where I stood, I always felt I looked him squarely in the eye my entire life.
I never saw him fall short of his desired accomplishments. He was that guy who had the discipline and focus to grab the brass ring. Whether it be on the golf course, the dance floor or the board room, when he set his mind to something he worked until he achieved his goal.
Slowly over the last ten years of his life he, like all of us, began to have things taken from him.
The shoe factory was the first to go.
Together he and I fought until the last possible moment to save that factory.
The macroeconomics of the day, made the labour intense manufacturing of women’s fashion almost impossible in north America. I remember noting even our the Italian confreres, an industry with more than 900 years of history were forced to move their factories to China.
I will never forget the moment on the phone when I revealed to him that our bank of 45 years decided they “no longer wanted to be in manufacturing”.
So they “pulled the plug”.
His shock at the first evidence of “cancel culture” was silently palpable. A forty five year relationship tossed aside with but a few words.
Later that day I found myself alone as I heard the life of the machines bleed out of the compressors that I turned off for the last time.
When one falls from a position of prominence to one of uncertainty there are only two options: bitterness and fear, or growth and recovery.
The bounce from privilege can precipitate a temptation to blame and seek fault.
There is a flow that emanates from that place that meanders through arrogance, entitlement, and blame. Founders and their families board a tippy canoe and try to navigate the unfamiliar waters often spilling into substance abuse, mindless consumerism, and confusion surrounding how to enjoy the ride after the theme park closes.
Sometimes the canoe flips and leaving its occupants relegated to deserted iles. Where they remain trapped by a refusal to accept the principle that all suffering is anchored in attachment to form.
In other cases, individual entrepreneurs recover to friendly shores albeit sometimes only after they are re-awakened partly downstream by the splash of the cold water on their face or even complete immersion for just long enough to make them rise to the surface with a will to live beyond simply existing.
My journey took a circuitous path through many of these stops and until his death, my father watched me paddle my own tippy canoe.
Gratefully, along the way I was blessed with an understanding that it isn’t the destination, or even the journey that defines us, but rather, it is what we do with the paddle we are holding.
Dad had a framed needlepoint on his wall, that his younger sister gave him.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”
Shit happens, things change, people disappoint and hurt us. We are even misled by our forefathers who often scar us in error.
Those inevitable scars can inspire us to turn inward and rise or outward and withdraw.
Of late, my own journey has taken me further from the wreckage of my past and the ill-fitting masks I used to cover the man I was and no longer want to be. Yet I have found myself struggling with the wisdom to know the difference surrounding a situation I have lately been forced to accept and requires the courage to change.
I’m reluctant to re-surface past personas, who may have previously served me well when called to action, to bring forth change.
I have a verse of Bonnie Raitt’s haunting song “One Part Be My Lover” on repeat in my ears
He’s like a boxer who had to retire
After winning but killing a man
He’s got all the moves and none of the courage
Afraid to throw a punch that might land.
I found myself thinking of my father’s needlepoint, as I was driving over the mountain the other day, and spontaneously veered left to the place my father was laid to rest.
I haven’t gone there often as I fundamentally don’t believe that place is where he can be found.
But yesterday I just inexplicably found myself there, crouching in front of the monument and talking to out loud?!?
As if afraid to feel foolish I repeated:
“Look, I know you’re not here, but I wonder if you can guide me. Help me take the path that serves the greater good, best.”
Really, I know… I know, you’re not here, but I just hope to be reminded of your approach.
I know you’re not in this place Dad, but come find me will ya? I could use some help with this one”
Now, I haven’t ever had a posthumous conversation with him, and I’ve visited that site only a couple of times in almost 10 years, so not expecting an answer I stood and walked back to my car. Cuz he isn’t there right?
But Before I got back to the car, I had an afterthought… “uh, maybe you might listen for an answer”?
I turned and walked back.
With the spring wind rustling the trees and the sun on my face, I felt serene.
And then from well within I had a thought… no…. it wasn’t a thought– they come from between my ears- this reveal came from my center.
“Through Love you will find true Wisdom.”
A while ago I made the choice to accept the things I cannot change, and I have rarely been short of courage, in the face of things that need changing, but I have long since struggled with the wisdom part.
All of the sudden, this was such a clear revelation that it felt like finding the last piece under the couch, of the puzzle left on a table after the family had gone, following the Christmas Holidays.
I walked back to the car and understood how to govern myself with the challenge I am facing.
“I need to continually audit my actions to ensure they are sourced from a place of love for when I do so, there is no fear present, and I am serene.”
Getting behind the wheel I drove 100 meters.
I stopped on the mountain side as something dangling in a tree, caught my eye.
A tiny pair of christmas elf shoes hung on the roadside.
Completely out of place …right?