It’s Canada Day today. Aside from family birthdays (because, well, cake and ice cream), it was my father’s favourite day of the year.
It’s also the first Canada Day that we will spend without him. You may have noticed that the blog has been pretty quiet – we’ve been dealing with his loss, and there have been other priorities. However, I wanted to post today – partly because it’s Canada Day, and partly because it’s a day so filled with memories of him.
My father was a proud Canadian. Not in the ‘rah-rah, wave the flag and beat your chest’ kind of way, but rather in the ‘I’m secure in the knowledge that I live in an amazing place in the world, and I will celebrate that every chance that I get.” A historian with an insatiable thirst for the stories of others, he was also a world traveller, who thought there was nothing more exciting than meeting people and exploring places across the globe – but he always made that experience an exchange, and everyone he met came away with a greater sense of what it meant to be Canadian and who we are as a nation.
Being a Canadian was part of my father’s identity, and he took it seriously. He never missed voting in an election, he worked in the public sector as a high school teacher, Vice Principal and Principal, he participated in his community and (most importantly) he believed in demonstrating good citizenship every day. If that meant that you helped a neighbour who needed a ride to the bank, or you volunteered to coach a basketball team, or you served on a board of directors, then you did it. To be a good citizen, in my father’s eyes, meant that you were involved. There was no sitting on the sidelines for him.
He also believed that travel shaped our own identity, because it helped us to realize that we are not alone in our world, and that there are millions of others, living different lives from us, and that it’s possible to live your life differently and to be happy. Canada, he used to say, is not a melting pot like the United States. We are a mosaic, a stained glass with each piece beautiful in its own right, but together they create something brilliant. During the Vancouver Olympics, a slam poet named Shane Koyczan recounted a poem he has written entitled “We Are More” and my father loved it. It summed up what we as a nation needed to recognize about ourselves – that we have a rich and varied history that we must be proud of, but we are more than our past, and our future will continue to make us great. He especially loved the line “don’t let your luggage define your travels” – for him, it captured that belief that you take who you are with you, but you allow where you’ve been to expand your view.
don’t say you’ve been there done that
unless you’ve been here doing it
let this country be your first-aid kit
for all the times you get sick of the same old same old
let us be the story told to your friends
and when that story ends
leave chapters for the next time you’ll come back
next time pack for all the things
you didn’t pack for the first time
but don’t let your luggage define your travels
each life unravels differently
and experiences are what make up
the colours of our tapestry
we are the true north
strong and free
and what’s more
is that we didn’t just say it
we made it be.
~ Shane Koyczan, “We Are More”
So, today, Canada’s 146th birthday, my family will celebrate in the way that my father would have loved … we will be together, we will laugh and share memories, eat cake and ice cream (because there’s always an occasion for cake and ice cream) and then, as dusk falls, we will make our way to the beach. There, my niece will take over the job of lighting the bonfire, where we will roast marshmallows and tease each other, making s’mores and sneaking ‘raw’ marshmallows out of the bags to my mom. When we are pleasantly full, we will finally sit back and watch the fireworks in our hometown, and know that my father is watching them too.
Happy Canada Day, Dad. We miss you.