July 20 – so young

361/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Back in the day, my Accounting teacher told me that in life there are three definites: death, taxes and car accidents.  That hit me.  I didn’t know about any of them at age 17.  I learned about taxes pretty quickly – take home vs gross pay – pretty ugly.  Yes, I’ve had my fair share of fender benders – small accidents thankfully.  I did not experience any immediate family loss until well into my 40s.  Yes, so very rare and very fortunate but I did attend funerals prior to this.  Sadly, as a teacher, they were of my students.  I have been teaching high school since 1991 and have taught well into the thousands of young minds.  They are perpetually 17 or 18 years old to me.  Lives full of potentiality!  A lot of them feel like extended family because I get to know them as young adults since I teach grade 11 and 12.  With the advent of social media, I have gotten to keep in touch with them and get to see what they are getting up to in their lives and I vicariously take pride in their successes and when there are failures in their lives, I also feel that sense of loss.  Thus to hear/find out that these young, amazing people have passed away well before their prime was something that I was not prepared for.   The one that struck me the most was Chris.  He was in my and the school’s (Burnett) first graduating class ever.  Chris had it all.  Height, model looks, girlfriend on his arm, athleticism, university acceptance, amazing family and a wonderful and humble personality.  Always respectful to me and constantly smiling and just an all around nice guy.  This is exactly who I wanted to have as a son if I ever had a son (which would happen a couple years later).  The day that I heard that he was killed in a car accident shortly after graduation devastated me.  This was the first death of a person I had known.  It was a student.  There should be distance.  This should not affect me.  I didn’t know him that well.  He was just in my class.  I tried making the excuses but it did affect me.  He was like a “child” to me as are many of the students that I teach and end up bonding with.  He was an amazing young man with his whole life in front of him.  He has stuck in my mind.  He has forever affected me.  Yes, there have been other students.  None as young as him yet none of them any less important but Chris was that special young man.  Chris made me realize that in my career as teacher, the students that I work with will also affect me just as much as I affect them and all I wish upon their graduations is not only for their happiness but that they lead long and happy lives.  Yes Chris, you are gone, but you are never forgotten!  Thank you for coming into my life and showing me that teaching is more than just teaching – it’s about connections, memories and relationships.

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June 4 – quips and quotes

315/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I can’t jump on the Muhammad Ali bandwagon.  I never watched boxing.  Yes, I knew who he was but nothing more than that until I saw some of his quotes surfacing on my Facebook feed as well as on internet pages in the last couple of days.  I am not a guy who generally likes quotes.  I am not a teacher who has motivational posters in his classroom although I am a fan of the self-created metaphor.  I don’t really have a motto that I live my life by.  I am agnostic; thus, not influenced by any doctrines.  I’m a very apolitical person generally unless there is something that I need to be educated about.  I take pride in being myself and trying to be a better person along this journey of life.  One thing that I was told growing up was that no one would look out for you except yourself – basically, you are #1 (or that’s the way I interpreted it).  I don’t currently recall who had said that to me and I don’t even believe anyone in particular said it explicitly but perhaps it was several people in my life who had interpolated that quote in order for me to get through some of the tougher times in life.  I may have embraced it a little too literally as I am the first to espouse my own virtues but why not? 🙂  As I read Muhammad Ali’s quotes, there’s a lot of them all about self-empowerment – some may say that that is a form of vanity but I’d wholeheartedly disagree.  If you don’t believe in yourself and take pride in your accomplishments, why should others?  There’s definitely some sort of charisma that comes across when someone has a solid sense of self.  Yes, there is of course a blurred line between self-confident and cockiness but I think that line is decided by the receiver and not the sender.  I am glad that I was given the advice to believe in myself as it has greatly helped me overcome the obstacles that life has thrown at me.  And just maybe I might start opening up to and living my life by other quotes/mottos – got any good ones for me? 😉

May 31 – to my dad

311/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  This one’s a tough one.  I can only put it off for so long but tonight is the right time.  My dad passed away 3 years ago on the 26th of May a few days before his birthday which is today.  He would have been 80 today.  I have mixed emotions when it comes to my dad but through therapy, I have learned that those emotions, although valid, are of my own perspective and not because he did anything wrong consciously.  My dad was a paranoid delusional schizophrenic – he thought the government and all its agents were after him and by extension the family and thus he did not abide by certain rules and we were not allowed to live in the way most people live.  However, back in the 70s and early 80s, no one really knew all that much about mental illness and the myriad of diagnoses.  His own brothers and sisters denied he had a condition and lay blame on us (myself, my sister and mother) for fabricating tales about him.  He could get jobs but because of his delusions, those would soon end.  Eventually, because of things I’d rather not delve into, he ended up being institutionalized at Riverview Institute.  I was around 6 years old.  He was in and out of Riverview – sometimes on a month release, other times because he would “escape”.  This was our life for the next decade or so.  During this time, a feeling of resentment grew in me.  I would see dads and sons everywhere: playing ball, helping ride bikes, walking to school, cutting the lawn etc.  Upon a few of his unsanctioned “leaves”, the proverbial white van showing up at our house with my dad being taken back in a strait jacket is etched deeply into my memory.  I was embarrassed and neighbourhood kids made fun of us calling us the “retard’s kids” – oh damn, this is getting pretty tough tears welling up – but through it all, he was my dad and I had to remember that.  When he was finally diagnosed properly and on meds that managed his condition, he came back into our lives on a full time basis.  I finally had a normal dad for the most part – yes, he still had delusions and would talk to himself but less so.  He got a good paying job.  Worked hard and a year later, my parents had their third child – my younger sister.  I will admit that I was ambivalent towards her as this sister ended up with two more or less functioning parents and much more of a normal life than I had.  I had a very superficial relationship with my dad in that I guess I blamed him for not being around and thus, in turn making me feeling I was less than adequate.  I blamed him for not giving me the male role model I needed.  I was jealous of the new family dynamics when he was back.  I was upset that I didn’t have a normal childhood and laid all blame on him.  I know now that he did not do any of this!  He did not leave us willingly and consciously.  He did not abandon us because he didn’t love us.  He didn’t talk to or not acknowledge our existence because he didn’t care.  He didn’t hold down jobs because he was lazy.  He had a mental illness.  He was not in control.  Damn, more tears!!!  He worked hard.  He saved up money.  They got a brand new home.  New cars.  New “toys”. A new life.  Being the dad/granddad to my son that I never had.  Yes, I felt like I was on the sidelines looking in but I was also an adult and had to get over it.  I am 100% sure that my dad made me into a stronger person.  I needed to go through all of that to be the man I am today – phew, more tears!!  Towards the latter years of his life, I was able to let go of my resentment.  No, we did not have a movie-like wonderful ending – more like an ongoing telenovela/Bollywood drama where we were good for this week’s episode but that hole in my heart for lack of a father became much smaller in diameter.  Yes, I have never properly thanked him, told anyone I loved him, acknowledged him or even yet grieved his passing but this gratitude post is a start, albeit a public one, that my dad, given all he had to go through, ended up teaching me about life, struggles, being responsible for self and not letting your past dictate your future.  I love you dad for giving me life and caring for me in your own way.  Thank you for moving to Canada, marrying mom and creating something here and leaving behind a great inheritance both financial and emotional for the three of us children moving forward.  I still have a lot of work to do on myself in regards to father/son bonds but wherever you are, I am no longer angry or resentful – I can honestly say that I do love you and what you did for us.

May 26 – time of need

306/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Today is anniversary of my dad’s passing.  It has been 3 years.  I am not ready to write about him (that will be done next Tuesday on his birthday giving me time to think about the gratitude post).  Tonight I want to honour all the people who came out to give their heartfelt condolences during that time.  We knew it was going to happen as he was hospitalized and immobile for over a year and it was no way to live out your final days but that is neither here nor there.  All the friends and relatives who came and helped us with the arrangements and the Punjabi traditions around someone’s passing were greatly appreciated.  All the people who helped my mom get through it by literally supporting her during her time of need.  All the cousins who had already gone through a similar experience and figuratively and literally held our hands through the process.  My school board for allowing me two weeks of paid leave for funeral and grieving alleviating that aspect of stress.  Friends’ kind words and encouragement through that time.  I had never experienced a death of a family member until I was well into my 40s and regardless of age, one is never prepared especially losing an immediate family member.  I am very glad that I had people to fall back on who gave support in more ways than one.   I had done my best to support my extended family when they had lost an immediate family member but now I have more compassion and understanding from going through it myself.  The shock and subsequent grieving around losing someone is hard but the people in your life can make the process a little more bearable and to each and every person who was there for me, my sisters and my mom, I thank you.

April 21 – Prince

271/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I heard about Prince’s death this morning from a friend who came by my classroom.  My heart sank.  I was devastated.  Thankfully, my class was working on individual assignments so I could take time to process.  I loved Prince like no other!  People had/have their musical idols – Bowie, Lennon, Cobain, Mercury, Houston, Jackson – all amazing no doubt but Prince epitomized music for me.  He was my idol.  I love music but his music spoke to me on a different level – it was funk.  It was rock.  It was soul.  And it touched my soul.  I loved his image too and he, other than David Bowie, was a male who kept on reinventing himself with look after look – something I have done since I was a young adult – he made it normal for me as a teenage/young male to change up how I presented myself.  I idolized him.  He also made it acceptable not to have to be hyper-masculine to be a male.  He had attitude.  He oozed confidence and sexual bravado.  He didn’t take shit.  He talked smack about whatever he wanted to.  He wore his androgyny proudly.  He did it his own way regardless of what anyone thought. He was Prince.  Everything about him, I loved – and have come to emulate consciously but more subconsciously.  He produced for other artists and after hearing their collabs (Sheena Easton for one), I became a fan of that artist but the reason was the Prince sound.  His videos were iconic – When Doves Cry and Kiss are etched into my memory as are dozens of others.  His signature voice – the falsetto (Camille voice) morphing into his deep natural voice and the amazing production of his songs equaled perfection.  No matter what you called him – Prince, The Purple One, The Kid, The Artist Formerly Known As, Symbol – you can’t deny his talent.  I didn’t understand how people were moved by a celebrity’s death, someone they didn’t know, until today.  Perhaps it reminds me of my mortality as I grew up on his music in the 80s and now I’m 50 and he was only 57.  Perhaps he felt like a member of my extended family as he was always there musically and visually to get me through life’s moments.  Perhaps his songs resonated so deeply with me as they formed the soundtrack of my teens/young adulthood.  Whatever the reason, I’m gonna miss the musical genius but I take comfort in the fact that I have his music to remind me of his talent and what they meant to me.  I concoct a purple martini in your honour and salute you!

April 20 – loss of loved ones

270/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I was one of those rare, dare I say lucky, people who did not experience any personal family loss/death of a relative close relative until I was in my early 40s.  Yes, I had a maternal grandfather die when I was about 10 years old but I had only known him for about a year and was a bit too ego-centric to know any different.  Yes, I had both paternal grandparents pass away but they were in India and I had only met them two – three times in my lifetime.  Yes, I had distant uncles and aunts pass away as well but no impact on me.  The commonality – there was not a long standing established relationship.  Their deaths, sad yes, however did not impact me emotionally.  Over the last 6 or so years though, I have experienced the loss of people close to me.  The only person who was an immediate family member was my father (gratitude post to come) but I was affected by three people from my wife’s family: her cousin Aman, her cousin Jeeti and extended family member Gudi.  Because of my experience with death, I naively just assumed that older people are the ones taken and I’d never hear of someone younger than me or around my age passing away.  I had known them all for well over 25 or so years.  All three of the aforementioned had families with kids – 2 of the 3 with kids as pre-teens or younger – leaving behind their spouses and children and families.  I had never grieved, never been to a funeral and never had anyone I knew closely pass away.  With respect to their families, I will not go into any details about the loss but I was deeply moved by all three – Aman and Jeeti much my juniors and Gudi a few years my senior.  I had a great relationship with Aman – he lived in Golden and would always make me feel at home when I came to visit.  Show me the town (okay, the pubs 🙂 ) and joke around.  He was also very honest and forthcoming and I appreciated that about him.  Jeeti was the smart cousin I remember from my wife’s family – I remember her in her farm attire, braid and glasses and then through her marriage and birth of her kids.  Gudi was the friendliest woman I’ve ever known – she could walk into a room and end up sparking conversations with anyone and everyone.  She once told me that she came on Facebook just to read what I posted as it started her day off with a smile but she’s the one who made me smile.  Their deaths affected me in that I realized the frailty of life and how really short it is.  Older people die and it’s understandable but they have left a legacy but when (relatively) younger people pass away who had so much more to leave, that is much harder to comprehend.  I am honoured to have met these three people and it still shocks me today when I realized that they will not be sitting at that front desk, cooking that food with their sisters or laughing and dancing up a storm at a party.  Thank you for being a part of life and teaching me that there is (sadly) an end but it’s the “you” and who you were that matters the most.