stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


As a father, I had to learn to share my past with my sons to help them live their own lives, John M. Richardson writes

Email this article Print this article
Monday, June 18, 2018 – Page A17

My son is heartbroken. A romance that turned unexpectedly serious has fallen apart.

They say goodbye. There are texts, phone calls and Facetime. They say goodbye again.

He has never felt like this before. He doesn't know what to do. He looks to my wife and me for advice.

We tell him strong emotions are part of being human. I reach for a few clichés and try to remember something Emma Thompson once said about a heart having to accumulate scars in order to love.

It all seems so inadequate. My wife suggests that I open up and share with both of my sons, aged 18 and 21, stories from my own young adult years.

"Haven't I already done that?" I ask.

"They've told me that your past is a mystery," she says.

"They say that it's like you've jumped from childhood to adulthood with nothing messy in between. There's nothing for them to relate to."

What I always thought was good parenting has apparently reached its limits. It's time for a new approach. But I just can't do it. "A good father keeps the focus on his kids' lives," I say. "He doesn't turn the attention back to himself."

I think about my son and his unhappy state as I go to visit my aging parents in the northeast of England. I stay with them twice a year, to check in, to help out and to refresh the feelings of guilt I harbour at living on the other side of the Atlantic as they navigate old age.

My father is a retired marine engineer. He is also a storyteller. Over the years, his storytelling has come to dominate the few relationships he has remaining.

He has stories for every occasion and for every topic. As they unspool, one after another, energy drains from the room like the fall of light.

On the first morning of my trip, my parents are visited by their GP and a psychiatrist.

"I've always enjoyed your stories," the GP tells him, "but recently, I've grown concerned."

It seems that my father's stories have become untethered from reality and tinged with paranoia.

My father smiles politely and nods his head. He appears bemused and unsure of where this is headed.

The psychiatrist administers a memory test as my mother, sister and I watch. My father struggles to answer the questions, but then I have a hard time with some of them also. Maybe it isn't so bad, I think.

But his memory seems stuck in the past. He says that JFK is President and Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister. The doctor makes a tentative diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

A follow-up scan will later reveal a brain pockmarked by disease.

At the end of my stay, my father and I have breakfast before I take the metro to the airport. He looks at me with watery eyes and asks how long I will be in Ottawa.

"I live in Ottawa," I tell him, unaccustomed to seeing the Alzheimer's manifest itself so clearly.

Perhaps it is because he is unsettled by my departure.

"When are you going back on the ships?" "I don't work on the ships," I tell him. "I'm a teacher."

"Of course you are!" he says, shaking his head and laughing as though an obscure fact had slipped his mind.

I will never know when my father's Alzheimer's first took root, which of his stories are true and whether the storytelling itself was a symptom nobody recognized of an undiagnosed neurological disorder years in the making. But on my way to the airport, I reflect upon what I do know.

I know that my father's love is the unspoken bedrock to my life and to the love I share with family.

I know that his stories arise from feelings of failure around a career that never matched his intelligence, creativity and sense of self-worth.

I know that his stories have long since prevented us from having a meaningful conversation.

I know that on the next visit or perhaps the one after that, the stories will stop.

Watching the postindustrial landscape of my parent's world go flashing by the metro's rain-streaked windows, I realize that my wife is right. I am not my father, and being a good dad to my sons now means sharing a few stories of my own.

At dinner the following night, I tell them about the many pages of love poetry I wrote for my high-school girlfriend and confess to the betrayal I coldly delivered when she came to visit me at university during first year.

I tell them about the whirlwind of classes, romantic euphoria, crisis and heartache that characterized four years of undergrad.

I tell them about falling in love with a woman just as she came out as a lesbian, about following romantic interests to Stockholm, Oxford and Paris, about sleeping with one of my best friends and ruining any chance of a future friendship, about relationships that shifted from infatuation to familiarity, contempt and revulsion.

To put my stories in context, I tell them about the nights of ecstatic carousing, about my scorn for my hopelessly provincial small town, about my aching belief in the beauty and wonder of the future that lay in wait for me, about my optimism, my cluelessness, my dreaminess and arrogance.

Then, I tell them about spotting their mom across a university theatre during play rehearsals and about asking her to marry me on our first date, on bended knee in a crowded subway station during rush hour north of Toronto. I tell them about my total conviction that she was the one for me and that I would never let her down or hurt her. I tell them about the ever-deepening love that makes possible the life we have built together for our family.

But these are only my stories, I tell them. Learn from them. Take from them what you will. Your own lives will be different. You will have your own stories to tell.

John M. Richardson lives in Ottawa.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers

Have a story to tell? Please see the guidelines on our website, and e-mail it to

Associated Graphic


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Eric_Reguly Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page