The Birthday Boy
On Saturday, July 18, we had a birthday celebration for my son, Parker, his 40th. The actual birth date will be August 8 (8/8/69) A day which looms large in my life.
Sandra, his wife ,arranged the occasion and chose the date which I guess was suitable for most of the people coming from afar. Family came from Charlotte, N. C. , my brother, his wife and one of his daughters; Toronto , my sister, her husband and two of her sons (one from Montreal) ; Bellingham, Wa, his mother and Vancouver, BC, his aunt.
After a family meal at Parker and Sandra's home there was a party at Club Calumet in Sturgeon Falls at which Parker's many local friends and colleagues could come and join the celebration.
Sandra prepared a power point slide show she projected on a sceen. It was a celebration of the highlights and occasions in Parker's life with his family and friends. I had loaned Sandra a box of
photo's I had and I was pleased she included many of them. It was all well done and obviously a loving jesture on Sandra's part, as was the whole occasion which she planned and executed. My job was to show up.
I had heard, from one of the grandchildren, that I might be asked to say something at the party.
I waited for an official request and even nudged Parker about it a couple of times but I never was asked so I assumed my participation was not part of the program.
I did spend the week thinking what I might say if I was asked. Here are some of my notes.
1. How forty years has flown by.!
2. I remember the day of his birth. It was a wonderful occasion. I was my usual cool mellow self while my friend Johnny Frazier, from Jackson, Mississippi, who lived with us, was excited enough for everyone. I played my role, learned in Lemaze classes and kept Shaun focused, encouraged and everyone aware of the contraction timings. Six hours from first contraction to birth and Parker made his entrance, all 10 pounds, 2 ounces of him. (We were to be denied having a small baby to care for.) I don't know how the mother felt but this child birth thing seemed really easy.
3. I have many regrets in my life but when circumstances saw me a single parent of a two year old, I never hesitated to take on the task and never regreted doing so. My life became devoted to raising a son, before all else. We were a family, a small family but a family just the same. I only once remember wishing his mother was present to take over. It was a Christmas party at my aunt Billie place. Parker got sick and threw up on her white furniture, not once but twice. My mother was enjoying herself and did not step up to help. I guess my many admonitions to her ,that Parker was my responsibility and she could be the grandmother but not the mother, paid off. The thought passed my mind. "Shaun, here is your child, he needs his mother." But of course, I dealt with it and got past the mess. Some things in life you just cannot hand off.
4. I had very clear ideas about how to raise a child. Like I am with all children, when they want to express themselves all else stops to focus on them. Many a time I haved asked an adult to wait while a child had something to say. My child -centered life included playing children's games a lot. It also included talking to Parker as if he were an intelligent person. I seldom had to discipline him. I remember once putting the fear of God in a young teacher who dare to discipline him, leaving me with a child suddenly not wanting to go to school. In no uncertain terms I told her I did not give her permission to discipline by child. He could be reasoned with. She was to notify me if she ever found him otherwise. She dared not do it again.
For years, when I tucked him in at night, we talked about the day; what was good, what went wrong and why. I was never afraid to admit I had been wrong and apologize. I often told him I could back down and change my mind because he was an only child and I did not have to be tought to impress other children. I was always determined to be emotionally present for Parker as my mother was with me and my father, who never told me he loved me, was incapable of being. He was frequently hugged and kiss in those early years. Even now, I might kiss him although kissing someone with a five o'clock shadow is strange. I shouldn't complain, Parker has never known me without a beard.For being emotionally close with him in those early years, I have always felt I was more mother than father to Parker.
5. Parker was always a sensitive perceptive child. He had his emotional moments after visits with and departures from his mother. The best I could do is recognize his sadness and support him. Like all children he learned to deal with such hurt. He was never shy to tell me if I said something unfair about his mother, which I did occasionally. He helped me from giving into my mean spirited self. His mother and I worked hard to always be supportive of Parker and not involve him in out struggles. I admire her for this and thank her. She could have made life very difficult for me and even early on denied me the opportunity to be a full time father. It seems our child centered up-bringing paid off. Parker turned out to be a responsible human being, friend and colleague to many. He also proved to be a good husband and an excellent father. All of this,I like to think refects well on me.
6. Frankly, I was lucky. Raising Parker was as easy as raising a child can be. He has never had any major illness. He has never gotten into any problems that so may teenagers seem to do. He has always been self-reliant. I don't remember having to ever help him or encourage him to do his school work or other chores. Perhaps, this is the result of years of me saying, "This has to be done and there are only two of us here, either you do it or I have to do it." He often stepped up and did what had to be done. Early on he learned not to let me do his laundry or tidy his room. He has always been fussy about his things and his clothes. It only took a couple of disasters in the laundry before he declared he would do his own.
7. Moving to River Valley was a dream Parker and I shared in the beginning. He was 11. I had admitted to myself that I wanted to own a farm. As a child I tried to get my father to buy a farm near the center of Mississauga. We could have had one for $50 and acre back then but his attitude was I have trouble cutting the lawn what would I do with a farm. As a single father with no one to please of work for other than myself and Parker I decided to come and look at the property in River Valley. For me it was a dream. I always wanted a farm with a river crossing it. It was also adjacent to the Temagami Wilderness area. How romantic is that. Canoeing was my passion. It was the perfect place. On our second weekend checking it out I asked Parker, "What do you think?" "Let's do it!" was his immediate response. We did it. Little did either one of us realize how difficult it would be. For a number of years, we played at and worked hard at farming. Parker came to hate the hard work but he seldom complained and did a man's job when he was still a child. It was a subsistence living at best and I worked at whatever I could to be able to do it: teaching, labouring, electrical work, logging. For a number of years, I even took in foster children, still thinking I was God's gift to child rearing. Did those troubled kids teach me where my limits were! It did help with the cash flow but I paid an emotional price for those years and learned that not all children were like Parker.
8. I could have remarried a couple of times but for one reason or another it didn't work out. For many years, Parker never seemed to really warm up to any of the women I brought home. He had a mother, with whom he had a special relationship, and he didn't need another mother. Usually his opinions he kept to himself and only in subtle ways did he make them known. There was the one time though, when he wrote on the bathroom mirror with my friend's lipstick, "Fuck Off!" And we found her clothes thrown outside the door. My polite, respectful 9 year old child showed me another side of himself. That relationship did not last much longer.
I came to like my life and was not easily persuaded to adjust it to accommadate a woman. If someone showed up, fine. If not, I was not in the hunt.
9. I could go on but I won't. A father could not be prouder on how a child had turned out and become a man with a satisifying life. I think Parker often managed this in spite of me but I like to think I did some things right and I had some positive influence. I fondly remember one proud moment for me, when Parker's Pee Wee hockey team won the brig game. Before joining his teammates in chaotic celebration he skated across the ice and shook his coaches hand. It was a thoughtful classy jesture for someone so young. You make me proud many times, Parker, very proud.
With a little polish, these ideas could have been fashioned into a speech.
I did manage to speak to Parker on the way to my car and tell him how proud I was of him, without getting all emotional. He said, he knew. That was the important thing.
|From Tossing Pebbles in the Stream|
The Birthday Boy last year at the family reunion
|From Tossing Pebbles in the Stream|
The Birthday Boy, forty years ago.
My niece Andrea and my sister Penny
Two days later the family gathered at the cabin
Parker's oldest son, Dylan sharing a moment with Heidi. Yes, she came to the party, too.
Penny, Shaun (Parker's mother), Travis, Parker's youngest son, Aunt Diane, and Olivia, (Parker's daughter