With Reflection and In Remembrance
Good Morning, Wacheya!
In these roles that some of us have with additional responsibility, we can at times subject ourselves to forgetting we are not immune from the personal impact of life and the interactions of others. As I get older and chalk up more and more lived experiences, being grounded by others becomes more and more humbling. Indeed, on two different occasions these past few weeks, being humbled and honoured would not be strong enough sentiments to appropriately describe my experiences. Trust me, adhering to the very sage advice that both as a supervisor and colleague I have often given others (for me personally over the past decade) is unquestionably humbling. I think perhaps upon reflection, it isn’t so much a question of acknowledging that, as much as it is a question of whether we are willing to see it? And perhaps even more importantly, showing ourselves to be a bit vulnerable and allowing others to see that we are human too, regardless of title and position.
But when it is you, yourself, facing directly into the mirror and having to abide by the very same offering of guidance, it is very different. That is when you tell folks that they need to put “Family First” before they put all else. Usually this is within the construct of work, or professional responsibilities. Sometimes it occurs when we are facing professional commitments that we may feel compromised, because we also might have something pulling on us at home, in our personal lives and within our very own family. To be very candid, there were two different occasions in the past few weeks when I had to say to two of my Senior Admin team members that they had to put themselves and their families first; and they did of course as they were advised. But it felt very different two weeks ago last Sunday, when I received a call myself from my parents telling me that my own Dad was having some serious pains in his stomach and they thought it might be a “good idea to go into the hospital and get looked at.” At the time and in that moment, it was both weird and also not a big deal (or so it seemed) because nothing is ever wrong with Dad. He is not even 70 years old yet, walks about 10 miles a day, and was out moose hunting only a week before, so what could be wrong??!! In fact, we have on occasion been confused for being brothers and not father/son…which doesn’t say much for how his only boy is aging does it?!
Even when I was told on that Sunday evening Dad was going into emergency surgery to have his appendix removed did I actually sense that it could remotely serious. Except it wasn’t his appendix, it was something else that led into a very bad surgical experience. Two days later after masking my concern through a Board meeting, and then again with my Senior Admin team, and continuing to try and convince myself that he would be fine, I finally relented. To be fair, his condition had caught all of us off guard; nobody was expecting this. I really didn’t want to have to go back to see what was going on because I was convinced he was fine; and besides I had so many commitments that Friday and weekend. I mean I had a staff meeting at Bayside Secondary with the staff there later in the morning on November 1st that I was looking forward to. I had been invited and was really looking forward to meeting and speaking with all of our CUPE folks and connecting with them before that even. Later in the afternoon I had been invited to Prince Charles Public School in Trenton to share some work that I had done on FASD. And to round out the day and over the weekend, I was supposed to teach the Supervisory Officer’s Qualification Program (SOQP) course at the Education Centre with candidates from around the region coming to Belleville. So it was really not a good time for Dad to get sick all of sudden and out of the blue.
But here is the thing, by Wednesday afternoon it had become clear that Dad was not doing well, and that his initial surgery was rendering his condition very grave, as in very, very serious. I was actually visiting Prince Charles School in Belleville when I took a call and was told how serious it was. The principal clearly knew something was up from my facial expression I guess, and so when I explained only a fraction of what was going on, she turned and looked at me and said something that I have on literally thousands of occasions myself imparted to others: “Family First Sean, I know what I would be doing.” I called my Senior Team together and told them I needed to make it back to be with Dad who was deteriorating. Shockingly you know what they told me: “Go, you need to go and be with your Dad.” I called the Chair of the Board and explained with some level guilt, and she said the same thing “Family First, be with your Dad.” I called schools I was to visit and CUPE representatives…and all gave the identical response. The SOQP folks: Family was the priority, not them. It wasn’t hard hearing the message “Family First.” I’ve been saying that to others for years, and will continue to. But faced with actually accepting that and living that myself; well, that was a lesson that no course, or book on leadership, or procedure could ever teach me. Not a religious person, but admittedly more a spiritual person of the Indigenous perspective, I even asked for a higher power to intervene on that Saturday night and give us a few more years of fishing and hunting trips, and even a few more baseball and football games. Dad’s recovery will be a very long time and I believe he will recover; but in the meantime, he has given cause for his (at times) stubborn son to realize that we all have to reflect and consider what is really important and what is “just” important. Judging by the emails from so many of you about your own family experiences and those of your parents, many have learned this firsthand, and so with gratitude I want to say thank you.
If there is a time that Family and loved ones makes us reflect and remember, it is usually around significant events or personal dates. Most commonly these are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and one that has always had special meaning for many….Remembrance Day. It is always a day that has had prominent meaning for me, being the grandson of a Veteran of WWII, and still able to recall with clarity and vivid detail attending the cenotaph. I like many of you likely recall seeing Veterans and the “stories” on their faces, and impression of pride, honour, valour, and remembering. So it was with some level of enthusiasm that I accepted to go to Trenton High School for their Remembrance Day Ceremony at the school auditorium this past Monday. In fact, I think excitement to actually go to Trenton for Remembrance Day for this northern boy might be more appropriate as a description. The service, jointly presented and coordinated by staff and students was exceptional, and stirring. Pictures of Veterans both far and near, and with some of their loved ones and family members actually from the community or even the school in the auditorium, at times made the atmosphere virtually palpable. But without question, and unlike anything I have ever experienced came towards the end of the service when the student emcees shared that we would “now have the song Highway of Heros by the Trews played for the audience.”
What happened after that, I will never forget in my life. The song is well-known, it’s symbolic meaning for this area and the community of Trenton and CFB Trenton, its families, our families, our students and our staff undeniable. And something that many people including myself have only ever seen on television, the actual honouring on the Highway of Heroes. But as the song started to play…the entire student body, I mean every single student, stood and sang the song together, right on cue. I suspect the students of Trenton High School are like many other teenagers attending high school around the Board, and across the province trying to navigate that increasingly complex teenage world. I also suspect that many of the kids that attend Trenton High School have challenges and face situations that most kids elsewhere do not; and I also will speculate that the staff of Trenton High School are very well-aware of many of these challenges their kids face…both in school and at home. But for those brief four minutes while that song played and those kids sang, all I could I think of was how proud they should be of themselves, how proud their teachers and staff were, how proud their principal must have felt. The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board was made proud by the kids of THS, and I’ll tell you what…on November 11, 2019 I had to have been the proudest Director of Education in Ontario because there was nowhere else I wanted to be than in that auditorium, that morning. I know that in every single one of schools and in communities extraordinary staff were doing equally extraordinary things with our kids, and I promise you we will celebrate them all!
We might find ourselves at times getting caught up with the “busy-ness” of our work and also our personal lives, but these past few weeks have driven home in a very visceral way the importance of Family, remembrance, reflection, and stopping to realize life’s lessons if we only are willing to stop and smell the roses. I thank you out there who have been motivated to share with me your thoughts for the future and your hopes, and I encourage you to keep them coming,. We are now well into the beginning of a great journey and one where we will all learn and grow together.
Miiweh, take care, and have a great weekend.