Thursday, 26 November 2015

Happy birthday, Nicholas Bumblebee

When I told the gang at the Press Club I was pregnant, they just looked at me like I had two heads.

"You're having a baby?"

Ok, I guess I didn't measure up back then as motherhood material.

In fact, if I am to be perfectly honest, I didn't ever think I'd be a mother. I didn't really like kids that much. So me being pregnant came as much a surprise to me as anybody else.

The pregnancy was a bi-product of a relationship I was having with Mr. Big. I actually wanted to have Mr. Big's baby, and so there I was, nearing 30, unemployed thanks to Brian Mulroney's trashing of all us good Liberals, drifting.

A baby seemed like an ok thing to do until I found something else.

And so it was I began the three decade journey to where I am today. Startlingly, I am a mother of three and grandmother to one and a half children. (The second one, the Baby Flo will be hatched sometime in April.)

Tomorrow marks the birth date of my first spawn, Nicholas Alexandre, a boy conceived in love, and raised by two parents who now detest one another, parents who haven't spoken for nearly a decade. Nick turns 30 tomorrow, which is miraculous considering I nearly lost him half a dozen times, first to his father and step-mom, then to drugs and loose women. He's been on an adventure alright and because of that adventure, he's well seasoned for his age.

Everything started off good. He is half French, half English born on the prairies. We thought he could have been prime minister, but he had other ideas.

Nick was born without a thyroid gland, and was diagnosed with an 18 month developmental delay. Looking back, I think they were a bit conservative. The delay was more like 18 years, which he spent trying to sort things out.

When Mr. Big decamped for another vagina, he took Nick with him which was a terrible mistake. Nick and his stepmom locked horns at all crossings. She burned him with an iron and made him eat a steady stream of Beefaroni in the garage. When he threatened her with physical harm, Big took him and dropped him off at a boarding school which has since been shuttered because of horrific tales of abuse. A couple of years ago, Nick and the other kids won a multimillion dollar class action suit against the school. Didn't matter, the damage had been done.

I got him out of that school and we battled. He took to the street, slept in parking garages, left high school. Fortunately, he turned himself around, graduated high school and went to university, but he continued to battle his demons and poor choices.

It took baby Skylar to wake him up, and since she's been in his life, he's turned it around.
He's also benefited by the love and support of his partner, Sara, who has woken Nick up to his potential. Today, he works as a departmental manager at Walmart. He has published two books of poetry, while I have published no books.

He is a kind and sweet young man, and I am proud to have known him all these years.

I've realized in my dotage that having Nick and his sibs has made me a better person who is less obsessed with my own sad, silly little life. I am proud of them. They are my life's work.

They are a gift from God which keeps giving.

And Nick, well, he's the icing on the cake. A wizard, a true star.

So happy birthday, November 27th, Nicholas Bumblebee.

Keep on rockin' in the free world.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Cancerarma: A funny thing happened on the way to surgery

Yesterday, I asked you all to pray for my friend who was having oral cancer surgery at the Ottawa Hospital.

Your prayer must have worked because today she's sitting up in a cushy private room, with all her toys around her: the cell phone, a television delivered immediately to her room, and her iPad. You might say, "Wow, she looks excellent considering she had an eight hour operation which involved resecting her tiny mouse mouth. It's like they did nothing at all to her!"

If you were thinking that, you would be half right.

You see, she didn't have the surgery after all.

That's because minutes before the surgeons were able to get  their mitts into her mouth, she fell. Fainted in the bathroom. Hit her head.

I was expecting to hold her hand, look into her eyes, tell her everything was going to be cool, and then retreat to Starbucks for a bun and a cup of cappuccino. Instead, I was rushed to her bedside, as her eyes rolled into the back of her head. A big bump was percolating on her head.

She looked at me and said, "Did you remember to pack my slippers?"

The nurses looked like deer in the headlights, as they rushed around, and hooked her up to every machine imaginable. She had the blood pressure of a rattle snake. Her face looked luminescent, her eyes akimbo.

This was not good. Not good at all.

The anesthetist and the surgeons all looked at each. They didn't know what to do.

"Do we need a neuro consult?" one asked.

"Maybe we should phone the E.R."

The phone rang and the anesthetist answered.

"I consulted my colleagues, and one said we should go ahead, the other one said to stop," he said. "To be honest, I'm really not sure what to do."

"What do you think?" the surgeon asked us. For a split second, I felt like Dr. Gregory House. Meanwhile, my friend was still looking for her slippers in her head.

In my best authoritative voice, I answered.

"I think we should go ahead. She's been steeling herself for this for weeks and it's scared the bejesus out of her."

We sat there watching all the other patients bid goodbye to their loved ones. We were the last ones, like we got to the airport ten minutes too late.

In the end, she didn't have her surgery. We spent the day in emergency instead.

It seems the head bump was fine, but her sodium and electrolytes were seriously low, and so the docs decided not to operate. And that was why she is sitting pretty in a private room at the Ottawa Hospital today while a murder of internists surround her bed, drain her fluids and inject her with new ones.

I wondered what would have happened if she hadn't bumped her head. Would they have gone ahead?

That is my question for them today when I go back to the hospital. I suspect -- or hope at least -- that they would have tested her levels that morning, but who knows?

In any event, it didn't happen. And that's a good thing. As I explained to her, she was like a car that had no oil, or no water in the radiator. She's been chugging along for months on fumes. By the time the surgery actually happens, she'll be topped up and ready to roll. She'll have had the 66 year bumper to bumper.

So by the time she actually has her surgery, she will be in shape for it.

I realized later, the angel must have given her a nudge. She was trying to protect her from imminent and undetected danger.

As for me, my appointment with Starbucks never happened. I had to settle for bad cafeteria coffee and a bite of my friend's shepherd's pie which appeared to have been molded out of leftover pate.

Surgery will have to wait for another day.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The upside of cancer

The cartoonist Ben Wicks and I worked together for several years on books about a bunch of strange topics: literacy, harassment in the workplace...and mutual funds. When putting together the harassment book, I asked Ben if there was any topic -- death, taxes, war -- that he couldn't take, turn on its ear, and make fun of.

He thought for a moment, and then he said, "Cancer, I don't think I could make fun of cancer."

A few minutes later, he handed me a bar napkin with a cartoon scribbled on it. It was a man on a bed looking up at the Grim Reaper. The caption read, "Can I get a second opinion?"

There is not funny about cancer, but then, everything is funny about cancer. We have to view cancer with a twinkle in our eye, and a spring in our step. Without humor, how would we ever get through cancer?

I've realized this over the last few months, as I've shepherded a dear friend through the over-bright hallways of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre, to meetings with doctors and all the vampires at various clinics who take things from you: your temperature, your blood and tissue. I've watched scopes going down, and viewed vivid photos of the inside of her nose and her mouth. These are things that cannot be unseen.

It's ugly business, and so it's important to take along the most inappropriate, naive, and irreverent side kick possible. That's me. The stand up comic at the back of the room, the person who must be relied upon to make a joke at the worst time.

My friend has serious, but treatable oral cancer which has to be about as ugly a cancer as a person can get. Her tumor is under her tongue, it's symmetrical and hard to get at especially as she has a tiny, tiny mouth, as her surgeon noted.

"What does that mean?" she asked me.

"Basically, you have a mouth like a pug," I explained.

The tumor is small and tenacious. It will require the breaking of her jaw, the removal of part of her jawbone as well as some teeth. The lymph nodes on her neck will have to go, too. But thanks to the team at the Ottawa Hospital, she will have reconstruction, which involves the taking of tissue from her forearm to rebuild a new bed for her tongue. Then she will have speech therapy.

That's a lot to take in for anybody but all my little friend wanted to know was whether she would get a television in her room. Oh yes, and she's worried about her dad who is at the Queensway Carleton Hospital on the other side of town at the end stage of his life.

I love so many things about this woman; she has endured so much in her life. She looked after her ailing -- I mean really ailing -- husband working two jobs, waiting on him, supporting his every need. When he died, it fell to her to look after her Dad who is 87 with his own tumor.

It's cancerama in her family. She just can't get a break.

Despite her own cancer diagnosis a few weeks ago, my friend has been dutifully driving across town every day to be by his side.

"What if he dies while I'm in the hospital?" she asked me.

"It's like being married and worrying about whether your husband is cheating," I said. "You'll drive yourself nuts worrying either way, and all that worry won't stop him from cheating."

Weird, I know. But I have very few connections to the subject of cancer. People in my family have died from it, but they did so at afar. I have no personal stories on the subject, no reference points to consider. I know about death alright, but I know nothing about sick, really.

I suppose I could have gotten involved with friends who had cancer but I didn't. I was too consumed with my own worries, and the people never seemed to be close enough. Even my mother died at a distance, years ago, while I went about my life in total denial.

Maybe it's age, maybe it's survivor guilt, but lately, I've been open to helping others, a little more. Watching my friend and her selflessness has given me the resolve to do better things with my life, be less myopic, less obtuse.

And so there I was roaming the hallways of the hospital, among the newly diagnosed, the survivors, the re-ups, and the ones who are checking out. Some have that deer in the headlights look about them, but they are soon taken under the compassionate wings of survivors who all have their own unique stories to tell, and advice to give to newbies.

It's an awesome dance, really.

This whole cancer journey has been an eye-opener for me. All I know about doctors is what I've seen on television. The doctors in real life are different, but the surgeons all really do look like they came off Grey's Anatomy! The oncologists seem to be human not the two-headed bastards I've heard about, the ones who do not care about their patients, have no empathy or sense of humor.

Maybe we just got lucky. Maybe the surgeons at other hospitals aren't as well coiffed or lighthearted. Maybe the medical schools are finally giving a course called "Doctor as a Human Being 101".

For what ever reason, we seemed to have hit the jackpot.

My friend's surgeon came in, wrapped his arms around her, and enquired, "how you doing, sunshine?"

The nurses, technicians, even the parking people, have been fantastic. They make everybody feel as good as they possibly can under the circumstances. They've even taken my friend's bad habits in stride, giving me a wink when she admitted she hadn't been able to stop smoking.

They've heard the song and dance before.

Thursdays at the Cancer Centre are smokers' days when people who have smoked for 40 years do the perp walk in various stages of disfigurement. I wish I could bring my kids who smoke into the waiting room just to give them a look at Christmas future. The weirdness is, a lot of people who have cancer keep smoking. They are definitely a tribe unto themselves.

I don't blame them, can't blame them. I have my own demons to explore. We're all human, victims of our own foibles, and vices whether it's drinking, drugs, sex, Jo Louis or bombs of Coca Cola.

It's what makes us interesting, colorful, tragic.

On Tuesday, my friend will take that short journey to the operating table and come out the other side as a new person, both physically and psychologically. She will take to wearing scarves, I imagine, learn to like Ensure for a bit, figure out how to use her new mouth and wait until she can get a bridge to replace those six teeth. She's a tough cookie, and she's my hero, and I'm not going to let her down.

It's the upside of cancer, I guess, knowing how much people love you and want you to survive.

There's also that positive word she heard during her pre-op, the word not everybody is lucky enough to hear: treatable.

And so we begin.

If you've read this far, then I've got you. Booga, booga!

Last joke I promise. Just a favor, if you please.

If you have a minute on Tuesday, November 24th, we'd appreciate it if you would take some time to send us a prayer, and a wing; get all the angels on our side, send in the reinforcements.

It's gonna get ugly, a red sky in the morning sort of deal.

But there are blues skies, rainbows and unicorns and Justin Trudeau on the other side.

I've told my friend that. We're going to kick cancer's ass, and hand it back.

We ain't no sissies.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Graham Richardson: Last anchor standing

Amidst a groundswell of support for Carol Anne Meehan, the felled anchor of CTV Ottawa's supper hour newscast, sits Graham Richardson, the last anchor standing who must be greatly regretting his decision to leave CTV National News a few years ago. He must be wistful, remembering his time as Los Angeles Bureau Chief and his sweet job working in the Ottawa Bureau.

Now he sits alone at the anchor desk engaging in mindless chatter with this guy, the weekend anchor and part-time elf who has the unbelievable moniker Matt Scubie. Graham must be thinking to himself he is one degree away from being asked to do humiliating dress-up gigs himself.

Richardson suffered another humiliation yesterday with news that he will do double duty by being forced to rip and read copy at the radio station CFRA every hour in the afternoon in addition to anchoring the supper hour news. Imagine having to walk into CFRA and look the newscasters in the face, the ones who used to be news personalities but who are now reduced to simply rewriting copy from the Ottawa Citizen and calling up the Ottawa police desk sergeant for traffic updates.

It must really, really suck for all of them. So perhaps Carol Anne was lucky. At least she left on a high note, her dignity intact with her thousands of fans penciling their names on a petition to bring her back. At 59, Carol Anne will be much better off entertaining offers from P.R. companies around town than she would be having to get dressed up as Mrs. Saint Nick and humiliating herself.

I haven't switched channels in protest. I'm actually enjoying watching Graham squirm in his seat while sharing silly jokes with JJ Clark, the erstwhile snowcatcher who is just one tap dance away from personal obscurity.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Graham Richardson move on. Bob Fife's job is up for grabs in the Ottawa news bureau. And Graham might be hoping that his reputation hasn't been tarnished too badly by playing relief pitchman to Max Keeping who recently went to his reward.

Everyone would be much better off seeing the back end of Graham who has the personality and warmth of a turnip (unless he's ass kissing Daniel Alfredsson). I'd like to see him replaced not by Scubie but by Mike O'Byrne, the last anchor standing from the old days. The audience would resist knifing him because at least Mike is charming and is happy to rub elbows with the public.

Not like Graham who is unapproachable and rude in public. I am biased because the first time I encountered him was a few years ago, when I was delivering press releases on behalf of a charity. I was trying to get through the door, and instead of opening it, he slammed it in my face. Guess he was too important back then to pay attention to an old lady with her arms full.

Since then, I've watched Graham weekly sitting grimly on the spinning bicycle at my gym, looking forward, marching through the place with his head down like he was afraid  Harvey Levin and TMZ would take a picture of him in his tights.

Truth be told, Graham is rude to everybody. My friendly husband, who has cred as a former CBC and CTV cameraman, once tried to engage him in a conversation in the locker room. They did have shared history, after all. Scott said Graham looked at him like he was insane for wanting to talk to him.

We don't want that kind of anchor for the supper hour news. We need someone who actually likes people, and is happy to engage with them out in public. Max always did. Ditto J.J. and Mike O'Byrne.

Perhaps it's not Graham's fault. He had big shoes to follow after Max. He probably thought he could bring some dignity to the job by turning CTV Ottawa news into a Cronkite-like affair.

Unfortunately, that's not what people want here in folksy Ottawa.

Call us old fashioned. We'd prefer an elf named Scubie to Frosty the Snowman.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Bell Media and the senseless slaughter of local news

As the voters in the last election demonstrated, hell hath no fury like a Canadian scorned.
That is why the Big Giant Heads at Bell Media are getting a snootful of anger over the firing of popular radio and television hosts across Canada.
And so they should, the rat bastards.
In our neighborhood, what was once called the Ottawa Valley, viewers unleashed a can of whoopass over the Internet yesterday over the firing of Carol Anne Meehan, the long-time anchor of CTV Ottawa's supper hour program.
Carol Anne has been at the station once called CJOH-TV for 27 years. She's a survivor who managed to keep going through the shooting death of sportscaster Brian Smith and the tragic death of her own husband Greg Etue. She survived through the terrible deaths of Bill Paterson, Leigh Chapple and CTV stalwart and community booster Max Keeping.
She's even survived Graham Richardson, a two-toned sidekick with less personality than Harry Reasoner, if that is at all possible.
Yesterday, Carol Anne and Carolyn Waldo, the Canadian Gold Medalist who subbed-in for sports, were both given three days to decide whether they would stick around. They were given the option of taking lesser jobs presumably ladling soup in the cafeteria.
Both opted out of the Bell bundle.
Carol Anne told the Ottawa Sun yesterday that she could barely speak when told the news. She was too upset to even say goodbye to colleagues. She went to her office, picked up the photos of her children and left the building, after being treated about as well as Charlie Sheen would be by an ex-lover.
The scuppering of long time talent is nothing more than nickels and dimes for Bell Media, a company that conducts itself like pre-ghost Scrooge at Christmas time. It is a heartless beast, the kind of company that makes us all ashamed to be Canadian, one that scoops up little companies, and tears them apart as a Great White Shark would do a swimmer.
To be fair, Bell Media warned us all that perfectly coiffed heads would roll if the CRTC didn't let it pick our pockets just a little more to make us pay for local programming,  The company has made good on that promise over the past couple of years by eliminating key jobs at radio and television stations.
But we weren't prepared for yesterday.
It's as if Bell Media wanted to show how completely bereft of humanity it could be. If this were the Hunger Games, Carol Anne was our Katniss Everdeen.
Bell would say, what's up with that? Canadians lose their jobs all the time at companies that are highly profitable. Banks get rid of tellers, manufacturers get rid of widget makers and high tech gets rid of what they consider expendable talent. And we are sad for these folks because they may be our relatives or favorite customer service people.
But the media is different.
They get us through tragedies, and help us make sense of the world around us.
When people like Carol Anne are sent to slaughter, it's personal for us.
Radio personalities like Rick Gibbons and Steve Madely (did he jump or was he pushed after 51 years?) at CFRA get us through our lunch hours, and help us get up in the morning. We welcome them into our homes and cars and offices. They become friends to shut-ins and the elderly.
Every night for two and a half decades, we ate supper with Carol Anne Meehan. We met her at countless fundraisers where she always had a warm smile and something nice to say.
We walked along with her on her difficult journey after she endured tragedy in the newsroom and within her own family. We marvelled how she could have such a busy job and raise two fine youngsters. She never complained, she was always there in the chair.
Bell Media took those people away from us yesterday, and put them down like sad cows at an abattoir.
It was a senseless slaughter, and people are angry and some will rise up and change the channel.
But that's not the solution. Bell Media wants us to drift away from local news.
Why? Because local programming may be right and good, but it doesn't make them any money.
They want us to watch HBO and Crave.
It's called Pay television for a reason.
If we want to hit Bell hard, we need to be strategic.
We need to punch them right in the digital box and Smart Phone where they live.
We need to say goodbye to Bell Fibe and to Bell phone services and say yes to smaller independent providers. We need to urge the CRTC to open up the market.
In the end, it probably won't matter much.
Thanks to its monopoly, Bell will still make money.
And Carol Anne and Carolyn will still be out of jobs.
All we can do is wish them well.
And tell Bell Media to stuff its HDMI cables where the sun don't shine.

Sign this online petition asking Bell to reconsider. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris Attacks: Embrace the light, ignore the darkness

Who among us remained unmoved watching the images of the French under attack?
How could a person not feel anger, and utter cries of revenge?
From the terrorists' points of view, this means "mission accomplished".
They can explode bombs and fire into crowds within days.
Or they can do nothing.
Regardless, they have caught our attention.

Terrorists train us to be afraid, to look around, to be suspicious of our neighbors.
Even if it never happens again, the damage has been done.
They have successfully sown their seeds, and thanks to the power of social media, everyone in the world knows their power.
There are those among us who are calling for unflinching retaliation against those who commit evil deeds. They want us to close our borders, card everyone, and destroy and obliterate whole communities. Pit one human being against another. Put our needs before those who live in rags and swim in sewers.
But there are more of us who ask "what can we do? how can we help? how can we become more generous?"
How much more can we love?

I choose not to worry or be afraid.
I choose life, and compassion.
I choose not to worry.
To paraphrase Jesus, "who among us will add one more hour to our lives with worry?"
I will take a plane and a train.
I will offer my hand to a stranger.
I will make a meal for a Syrian refugee. I will offer a Syrian child a backpack full of hope for the future.

The terrorists will laugh as attendance at sporting events and concerts dwindle.
They will cackle at the news that nations recoil and choose to ignore the pleas of women, men and children.
If we embrace our fears, they win.
If we go to the place in our own lives that is full of pettiness, anger and revenge, they will win.

We must do the opposite.
Bring in as many refugees as we can manage.
Go about living our lives with gusto.
Help a neighbor.
Because that is who we are.
Terrorists operate from a place of darkness; we operate from a place of light.
They believe the glass of compassion is empty; we believe our glass is full.
They look at what they can destroy; we ask what more can we do?

Those with evil in their hearts cannot take away our compassion.
Or our love.
They may shoot and kill some people. They may blow up buildings and cause chaos.
But there are more of us than there are of them.
I have to believe that.

Ring the bells that still can ring...

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day: Letters from the dad I never knew

"What's in the box, Mommy?" my six-year-old daughter Marissa asked, presenting me with an aged wooden chest I had brought home from my mother's funeral.
"These are letters your grandfather wrote Grandma after the Second World War," I explained.
Her eyes grew wide with the exciting prospect that she had found buried treasure under my bed.
"Will you read them to me?" she asked.
It was a moment I had dreaded ever since I found the packet of official-looking blue and yellow Canadian Forces letters underneath my mother's sweaters in her cedar chest several months earlier. In the 36 years I knew my mother, she had never shown me the letters or revealed the fact they even existed. I opened the box and began to read the letters, nearly 40 years after they had been written.
That day, thanks to the curiosity of a six-year-old, I finally met my father.
I never knew Russell Sidney Simpson. Never heard his voice. Never saw him smile. Never knew if he hated fish as much as I do.
I was eight months old when he died on a lonely stretch of country road near St. Catharines, Ontario, pinned and crushed to death after he lost control of his car and it rolled on top of him. My Uncle Doug, a tow-truck driver, was called to the accident by police, who hadn't told him he would find the lifeless body of his younger brother in front of Woodland School. Doug Simpson told me later he had survived the war and had hauled many bodies out of cars, but he could hardly stomach the three-kilometre drive to my mother's house to tell her the news.
As a child, my mother showed me the story of my father's death in the St. Catharines Standard, along with the gruesome black-and-while picture of an overturned and crushed car with what looked like a steady stream of blood trailing from underneath.
Russell Simpson, cherished father of Bobby, 6, Gary, 3, and eight-month-old Rosalie, was killed instantly at the age of 32, only a year after finally getting his discharge as a peacekeeper from the Canadian army. He was survived by his wife, Vera, who ironically would have to support her children for the next 16 years on mother's allowance because her husband had not been killed on active duty. He did receive a pauper's funeral and burial at an official gravesite with a hundred other dead, but my mother never forgave the army for turning her into a welfare mother rather than giving her the honour of being a widowed soldier's wife.
The only memory I had of my dad was a black-and-white picture that my mother kept on top of our secondhand television set. It stared at me when I went to school. It was there when I came home, a grim reminder of a soldier's life lived.
Every day, I was reminded of my dad when I walked to Woodland School and stared at the spot where I imagined he had died.
So traumatized was I by his death, I refused to acknowledge his passing. I told everyone at school my dad was a farmer -- and got away with it all through public school.
My mother rarely spoke about my father, so I had no real sense of him. Mostly the stories were told with an underlying bitterness by a woman who had been driven to the brink of bankruptcy, and who eventually was hospitalized and administered shock treatments to relieve her depression.
To my mother, Russ Simpson was a dreamer who really couldn't make it in the real world, so he always turned to the military for structure and steady employment. He was a man with a love of the spirits in his morning coffee, who made her pregnant just by looking at her.
My mother never remarried after my father's death, to my knowledge never had a date.
"Men are too much trouble," she would reply when asked by her teenage daughter why she never remarried.
The image I had of my father was left by her favorite story. She had gone shopping at Loblaws, leaving my father to mind his infant daughter in the car. She returned to the parking lot only to find Rosalie sleeping soundly -- by herself. Furious, my mother stormed over to the parking attendant, who informed her that Russ had asked him to mind the little girl while he went to the Mansion House for a pint. Faster than a speeding bullet, my mother flew into the tavern and hauled my dad back to the car.
This was the image I had of my dad: a happy-go-lucky, luckless rounder who could never hold a job. It was an image fashioned by an equally luckless woman who later told me she felt her life was ruined by the war, my father and three boisterous children.
So, reluctantly, Marissa and I began our journey to find the father and grandfather we never knew.

We joined Russ Simpson in the winter of 1954, somewhere in the woods in Germany, busily repairing 75 trucks and pulling guard duty at all hours.
What we found was a very different man than my mother described, a cheerful and sensitive guy in his 30s who desperately missed his wife and infant sons, and who craved and cherished every letter from his wife and sisters.
He was a man who, like his daughter, loved books and the theatre, and he wasn't a bad writer. He relished his trips on leave to Scotland, where he bonded with a host of relatives and took tea with countless aunts and uncles.
On the darker side, he was a tortured soul who hated the army and couldn't wait to get home to his children and escape the endless boredom and routine. He was a moral man, a decent man, who always complained about the antics of his mates.
"One gets pretty bored over here, especially when you don't go out," he wrote from Soest, Germany. "But I can't be bothered, as all the fellas want to go out and have a few and start looking around for women.  Though I have not been always been a perfect angel myself, I can't and won't be like the rest, or perhaps I should say the biggest percentage of the guys.
"I like to go out and have a few drinks and try to forget a few things, but I can't see how some of the guys that are married, and from what I can gather, have very nice wives and kiddies, can go ahead and do the things that they do and make damned fools of themselves. With you and the kids to look forward to, I haven't any inclination to bother with them."
Like many lonely soldiers, my father drank to forget the loneliness he felt so strongly in his heart. He often wrote about his concerns for my mother and their debts, and went so far as to apply for a compassionate leave, only to be turned down because my mother had finally paid off the debt.
This infuriated him, and he lost any respect for his superiors and the army.
"Just to give them something to think about, I have requested that I relinquish my stripes, as I shall be taking my discharge as soon as possible. Under the circumstances, I see no reason why I should continue on in the army. I have been called in and they have tried to talk me out of it, but I am quite a stubborn person. Under no circumstances will I re-enlist until after I get home."
Stubborn and self-destructive, I thought -- just like his daughter.
He did get home, of course, and he made another baby with my mother. But, sadly, there were never any words written about this baby Rosalie. After my dad died, my mother stopped taking pictures of her children because she no longer had someone who wanted to look at them. She had hundreds of snaps of my brothers as babies. But there would be no baby pictures of Rosalie.
Did he love me as much as my brothers and my mother? I guessed I would never know. As I put the letters back in the box, I stumbled upon a letter with different handwriting than my dad's from an elderly cousin in Scotland who sent words of regret upon hearing of his passing.
"He must have been so pleased when you both got a lovely wee girl," cousin Ilsa wrote in an old lady's handwriting. "He spoke about his cousin at Inverness getting a wee girl and how he wanted one of his own."
It was then that the tears came. I was finally able to mourn my dad, because I knew him -- and I knew finally that he loved me.
I was full of sorrows, both for my mother and my father and their tragic lives.
Poor Dad. Full of dreams, always brimming with hope and optimism. He would have been very sad to see how my mother suffered in her pain and lost dreams. She never made any money, though she was able to break out of welfare and get a job making sweaters in a textile factor. The strain of the job left her on a disability pension at 58, and she died a lengthy and excruciating death at the age of 68 due to a bowel blockage the doctors didn't find until it was too late.
My dad would have been proud of my mother for raising three children who grew up on welfare, then went on to professional careers. Today, Bob is a successful stockbroker, Gary is a school principal and I am a professional writer, who is now able to tell my dad's story for all the veterans, and the widows and orphans of those who serve.
Because of Dad's letters, I look at Remembrance Day differently than I have in the past. When I see those soldiers marching down the street, I see Russell Simpson in the faces of every one of those veterans and wonder: Did anyone know him?
Thanks to my mother and her habit of saving every card and letter, I now know my father and Marissa knows her grandfather. And thanks to my father, I finally have a family.
Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad. I hope you are together at last in the land of the spirits. We here in the land of the living miss you, and always will.

This story appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, the St. Catharines Standard and many others in Canada on Remembrance Day, 1998.