“I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains shielded in centimetre-thick skulls into communication.” Paul Kalanithi, WHEN BREATH BECOMES air WHEN BREATH BECOMES air, Paul Kalanithi’s elegant mémoire about death and dying, is not […]
Which is enough
It took years of thinking about it, and a year of talking about it. So, when — at my birthday dinner at Hidden Tiger, while I was sipping a very fine martini– my son gave me a card and said: “I’ll take care of it “, it was time to get it done. A tattoo. The appointment was with local artist and co-founder of Graffiti Gallery, Pat Lazo.
The Fleurs-de-lis is for my French heritage. My father’s family was from the area around Paris. My mother’s mother’s family from Ardeche- in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in south-central France. It’s a symbol for light and life and French royalty. And, how could I resist: De Lis (le)
The line is translated from a poem by a young man I knew. My son has the same line: Alive Which is Enough (in English) on his back.
The young man died over ten years ago at the age of nineteen. At home. While his parents watched the World Series in the family room. My son read a eulogy at the service.
Another young man – part of the same cohort of best friends and friends of best friends died just over a year ago. At the Forks, while riding his bicycle with friends. I was at that service too.
And inbetween, so many in that circle of friends (and oh yes, I’m well aware- far beyond) have been lost to us. Young men, especially. And here I am, Alive, with a damn fine life, people to love and be loved by and Lord knows that is enough.
Hug your dad this Father’s Day; hug him especially hard. For many (of us) this Father’s Day, there are no dads to hug, no fathers to fete, so for those who have a father here on this planet, hug him or both of them, or all of them – hug them hard and love them long.
Hug your dad for everything he’s done for you and in spite of all the things you may have wished he had done, but he did not.
Hug your dad and give him a whole lot of slack this Father’s Day (and every day if you can) because he is doing his best, and some days that will be amazing, and some days, perhaps not so much.
Mothers, give the father of your child(ren) love this Father’s Day and as much as you can every day, because, they – like you — and all of us — are imperfect humans, hoping and striving to do the best they can.
And give a huge, big hug to fathers everywhere who see the world in a different way (the how many Cheerios can I stack on my poor, little defenseless baby’s nose- kinda different way) and are going to make you laugh til you snort the tea/coffee/other right out of your nose and across the table.
My son- whom I know will be an amazing (almost all the time) father one day, has a good father to love. He still misses the grandfathers, though, men we lost two decades ago, and grandfathers we still miss.
Grampa Herb- his father’s father, made me laugh, debated first year psych with me, and taught me how to ride a horse. I will love him forever.
Grampa Rene – my dad- was mostly absent, but loved us a million percent, although it was just before he died that he was able to say “I love you.” What an amazing gift is that!
Some days, I grieve the loss of fathers in my life. And, Father’s Day is always a little tough. But tough is good, sometimes, and it gives me a reason to take time. Take time to think, remember and love the life I’ve had.
And this Father’s Day, when my son is with his dad and we are both thinking of the grandfathers, I’ll take some time to sit by the garden– the Herb garden– and salute all that is good about Father’s Day.
Nothing. No thing. Nothing will make you – compell you, in fact, to really engage with another human being like motherhood. Real engagement, not simply a slogan or a communications strategy, is human, at times messy and always worthwhile. It’s what being a mother is all about. That experience, and the skill one learns from allowing oneself to be truly human, makes for powerful, authentic impact.
These past two days at the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) annual national conference, CPRS2015 Engagement + Impact, this year in magnifique Montreal, Canada, I’ve been listening to insightful presentations and talks about communications. I’ve been in the communications business for a few decades now, and I can truly say that nothing prepared me for being an authentic comm pro, like being a mother, however.
There is no “spinning”, no “message packaging” no “comm strat” that will serve any communications/PR person as much as the ability to be authentic and real. And, that authenticity, that vulnerability as it were, scares the bejeesus out of folk. (Not just PR folk.)
Today (June 1/15) the Globe and Mail’s Monday Morning Manager column is about conflict and how to manage it, and that relates directly to being authentic, and communicating and engagement. When we are open, transparent, “real” and genuine, we risk conflict. That can be a frightening thing. It can also be one of the most rewarding things in the world.
Tonight, I treated myself to some TLC. That meant a decision not to join the very fab event (plus delicious dinner) my conference colleagues are attending. Instead, I reviewed my presentation for tomorrow, did a little yoga in my room, weights in the fitness centre, then hot pool/cold pool therapy and a light sauna. In a word: ahhhhhhhh.
Then a bit of a late dinner and glass of wine: an Austrailian vognier. I have a tiny bit of French, but use English most times in Montreal, and the waiter, after the general “salut” etcetera, spoke to me in English…calling me “dear”. I ignored it a few times, then said, “Excusez-moi, mais…I would appreciate it if you didn’t call me ‘dear’.
He was taken aback and apologied. It’s okay, I replied. And then he called me “lady”. I said nothing.
A moment later he came back and apologied again. It’s okay I said, I should explain. You would have to be very close to me, or my father…otherwise it is disrespectful to a woman…and lady, it’s even worse. We laughed a little and talked about differences in French and English.
I passed him as I left the restaurant. Merci beaucoup, I said. Et bonne nuit. I meant it. I was appreciative of our discussion. Conflict can become real conversation. Try it.
Hearts and flowers will always be a part of my world, but as the motherofason (and a human being who happens to be a woman) I know that mothers are comprised of many things. I think we’d all be healthier and happier if we’d give ourselves, the mothers in our lives and the others too…just a little slack, and realize that being human is a complex state of being; nothing less than amazing and nothing more than human.
An English poet, one of many who have tried to put human beings in tidy boxes , coined this ryhme in 1820: almost 200 years ago, and for some reason, we still cling to the sentiments. Truth is girls aren’t always: “Sugar and spice and all things nice…” And really? “Snips and snails and puppy dog tails…that’s what little boys are made of…”
This Mother’s Day, feeling sentimental and tired yet hopeful and happy, I suggest we give our mothers a break and our kids too. I will always miss my Mother on Mother’s Day, and my French Nana too. Neither were perfect moms. I adore (and like and love my son) yet sometimes I feel disappointed. And that’s useless and unfair. I am getting smarter, however. If there is something I really, really want, I just tell him. If I don’t tell him, I don’t expect it. Amazing how well that works. (Women, try it with all the men in your life!)
This year on Mother’s Day, I miss a dear, dear friend who came into being a mother the same time as I, and we travelled that amazing, beautiful and sometimes hellish road together until just months ago. When our kids were babes, I remember her confiding that on the commute from New Market to Toronto (where she was completing another degree) she felt so conflicted about pursuing her own interests while wanting to be a “good” mom. It wasn’t just the idea of putting her son in child care so she could go to classes that made her question her mothering ability. With her baby son content in the car seat behind her, she simply wanted an hour of quiet thought. But, shouldn’t she be engaging her child with clever rythming learning games and song instead? Was she a bad mother? That’s just what an amazing mother she was.
This Mother’s Day, I salute all mothers, wishing you a day that is just right for you. As for me, I’m sorting through old photographs, going to the gym and doing my taxes. This year, due to scheduling conflicts, my Mother’s Day is being postponed until tomorrow. That’s imperfect perhaps, but perfectly fine with me.
It’s officially spring- whether it looks like it or not in your neighbourhood. The snow is gone in these parts (it’s not quite April, so there is plenty of time for a good blizzard, however) my spring and summer conference and engagement calendar is filling up ( please come and see me at the CPRS Impact + Engagement conference in Montreal May 31 to June 2: more about that later) and my son, you may remember- the one with the oft severely cropped hair- has grown a stallion. It’s the man-version of a ponytail, but you didn’t hear that from me. I love it; but it’s strangely close to the “long-hair” man looks that were so in style when I was young, and that’s a little unsettling.
The formerly cropped hair was the catalyst for an incident I wrote about a number of years ago about my teenaged son going out looking a little like a hood…okay, a lot like a hood. It started out with the hair, and then the tough looking clothes (a fashion statement- we’ve all been there at one time) and ended with the mother’s real concern: I was afraid to see him looking tough. I was afraid that something bad might happen to him. But that’s not what I talked about- at least not at the start. I started talking about the very cropped hair and the very tough looking sleeveless shirt…and well, before I realized what I was really concerned about, I’d pretty much fallen into the “you’re not going out looking like that” mother speak. Happily we worked through the tough: your point of view v my point of view part to the reconciliation of we are looking at this from different POVs, and we are okay. Perhaps you’ll adjust your thoughts and actions a little and I will as well.
How often that happens in other communication and engagement! I’ve seen many companies (in the news or up close) batton down and lay low when there is any controversy. When a company withdraws from the discussion – whatever it is- the public- from concerned neighbours to agitated stakeholders to uninvolved bystanders does what human beings always do in the absence of information: they make up their own stories. And made -up stories do nothing to foster good relations- of any sort.
I’ve learned that the tough exchanges often bring us to a better relationship: personal or professional. This authenticity is important in the public relations and communications world, and it’s often avoided. That doesn’t serve anyone.
When PR and Community Engagement really works is when it’s entered into with a real desire to connectd. When that happens…great relationships can happen. If you’ve worked through the tough parts of communication- of any sort- I’d love to hear from you. In the meanwhile… Happy Spring!