July 22 – U

363/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Wow, only 3 more gratitude posts left including this one!!  When I started this journey a year ago, I was a little nervous as to if I would have 365 people to thank.  I didn’t want it to come down to posts such as thanking my mailman for the flyers he delivers in that they were the ones that led me on to some awesome deal!! ; )  Early on in these posts, I started hearing from friends that so and so had made “the list”.  I didn’t understand what that was until I was told that it was my “gratitude list”.  That put some pressure on me to say the least as there was now a “list”.  I didn’t want it to be a list and I didn’t want it to be some type of contest.  Then I heard that some people mentioned they were in the 80s and others were in the 200s!  I do have to make it clear that I haven’t had an order as to who I thank and thus whatever number gratitude post it was has no relation to ranking.  Most posts are the night before or a couple of days before.  Yes, I saved my dad for his birthday as I did with my children for theirs, my mom was first because well she is my mom but save for them and the final two gratitude posts, no one had a day or a number.  The list by the end of Sunday is far from complete.  I could thank another 365 people who got me to where I am today and this is what today’s gratitude post is about – to all of the people I didn’t name and there are hundreds of you that have impacted me!  So many former students, co-workers past and present, family members, inlaws, bosses, professors, fellow students, random strangers, neighbours past and present, friends, backhanded gratitudees (bullies and the like), service providers, celebrities etc, etc – just so many people who have made me who I am and to all of you un-named in this past year, you are part of this gratitude journey just because you were not personally mentioned here doesn’t mean you weren’t recognized by me.  To all the new people that will come in to my life, thanking you in advance as some of you will change and influence me in new ways.  Thank you to all of you who came along with me on this 365 day journey as well.  Your encouragement and support has gotten me to this end point.

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July 12 – you did me wrong

353/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  How cliché? 😉  But it is so very true – I totally understand and live by that motto.  Everything that I have been through in my life has made me the guy you know.  Yeah, my life was tough but I know people have had it rougher.  I accepted my fate in life and dealt with it.  What I do wish though was that I had support growing up.  Yes, as I wind down these posts, I must throw in one final back-handed gratitude post to people who, without your non-care (for lack of a better word), made me even stronger.  You all should know by this time that my dad was a paranoid delusional schizophrenic.  We, as kids, were told to keep it hidden.  Deny it.  Don’t talk about it.  This was told to us by our mother.  But she was forced to tell us this as her in-laws wouldn’t accept/believe that their son/brother/brother-in-law had a mental illness.  I recall overhearing my mom being lectured that she was making things up and she had to stop phoning the police when my dad would lose it on her.  I remember also being told as a teenager that I was in collusion with my mom by having my dad institutionalized for that decade or so.  I was in shock and I had so much anger at my dad’s family.  They saw things from the outside.  We lived things from the inside.  As you may also know, my sister and I were in foster care for a short period.  We were living with different relatives at other times when my mom would be hospitalized because of my dad’s violence.  The anger stayed with me for most of my life.  I had to see these people at my dad’s funeral – these people who never were there for us growing up.  Any one of them could have stepped up and been a father figure, a true uncle but that never happened.  On my 18th or 19th birth year, my mom wanting to take me to see my paternal grandparents in India – I was lectured to by my uncles there that my mom and I (once again colluding) to steal my dad’s wealth and property there – no, they had no clue about the poverty we actually lived in growing up as my dad put my mom on an allowance and so she had to hold down multiple jobs just to care for us but I listened and festered.  I, however, did learn that three of his other siblings (two whom had committed suicide) were also afflicted by the same mental illness – I got a better understanding of my dad.  I was forgiving of my uncles and family in India as they did not have the same knowledge level as my dad’s Canadian family.  I have 100% forgiven my dad because none of what he did was in his conscious control but I can’t forgive my dad’s immediate family here in Canada.  You could have made a difference.  You could have acknowledged that there was something wrong.  You could have supported any of us, all of us.  Yes, you lay blame on us.  I’d like to think I’m a bigger person and can move on but I’m not that good – I can’t forget and I definitely can’t forgive.  I will say though that you have taught me a life lesson that not all family is there for you. Yes, this gratitude post might come off as very bitter but I think I’m entitled to this one.   I am so that much stronger in spite of/despite you and for that, you get the backhanded thank you!

July 10 – the people in your neighbourhood

351/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I’m always fascinated by one’s environment and the kind of impact it has on one in regards to character formation.  I grew up in the 70s in Northwest Richmond BC – a predominantly white community with a few ethnic families.  We were told to assimilate by both our parents and by the community at large and we did.  My street – Riverdale (like the Archie comics – yes, I’m dating myself) – was host to a very diverse population in regards to socio-economic status, family types, and even ethnicities.  I remember almost every kid who lived on the street and I’d love to say that they were wonderful and left an amazing, lasting impression on me but I can’t say that.  With perhaps an exception of one or two, most were not pleasant to me.  However, that also helped shape me into the guy I am today.  My neighbours and yes, it’s my blog so I’m gonna name you – brothers Daryl and Ken R who lived right next door to me made my life a living hell (more so older Daryl with Ken following his lead).  They would spraypaint racist epithets on our driveway and no form of cleaning truly erased what was said literally and figuratively as it has stayed with me to this very.  Daryl would vandalize our home: windows broken, rip off our laundry off the line and I would have to go hunt it down on the street, throw all sorts of trash into our yard and have his buddies over to spit at me from their deck while I (remember that I am extremely overweight and nerdy) had to cut the grass.  Daryl would make fun of me when my dad would be taken to Riverview, he would say the worst racist things to my mom and I would yell back and he would laugh at my face.  My mom told me to ignore them and do what I had to and just keep the peace and although I was angry at Daryl and Ken, I did what I had to and took the abuse.  They involved neighbourhood kids like Candace and Todd, Arif and Shafik (yes, that Shafik if you live in Richmond) to join in and yes, they joined in.  There were others but I need to get off this bitter train before I start giving them all their own compartments 😉 The neighbour kids across the street, although not involved directly, saw how very unconfident I was and did their own things – siblings R, P and K, and K and her sister – nowhere near the extent of Daryl and his followers with physical things but more psychological.  At the time, along with the bullying I suffered from (see post #15) in school, I hated my life and just wished I didn’t live there but I got through.  As with that earlier bullying post, I became stronger – a Survivor.  Everything I am today is on a subconscious level in spite of all of my tormentors.   I haven’t really thought of these neighbourhood kids until today and just happened to Facebook find a few of them as I was writing this and was tempted to send them this link but I am above all that – yes, I named you and I needed to do that and yes, I hope some of you who read this post and are in touch with them will forward it to them but I am beyond the Riverdale neighbourhood kids today and so much better off given what you put me through as I am that much stronger.

June 24 – familial bonds

335/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Sometimes a person doesn’t even have to have a direct impact on another to be having an impact on that other.  Does that make sense?  Let me explain.  My wife’s family – especially the cousins – have been close to us.  We have seen them grow up and become young men and women and then move on to join the ranks of parenthood and now their children are becoming teenagers.  Sandy is one of those cousins.  I remember going to Golden, BC and to a duplex where Sandy and her siblings all met me for the first time – the guy who married their cousin.  I remember Sandy being a young teenager with long light brown hair.  Although, due to proximity (Golden and Vancouver), we all would get together at family functions.  Then Sandy stayed with us a year while going to school.  She had a great influence on our daughter Natasha and to this day, Natasha, and also Ethan, look up to her.  They watch the way they raise the kids and use both of my kids as role models but in a respectable way.  I watch and see how both my kids and their kids get along even though there is a large age discrepancy.  I watch how advice is being given and I see the maturity exhibited by both sets of kids.  Sandy has done a great job with her kids but also with mine.  Even though my wife has no sisters, Sandy is like a younger sister to her and the first aunt that comes to my kids’ mind when they think about going to a family home to hang/have dinner – “let’s go to Sandee musee’s house!”  Thanks Sandy for being a great part of our family and being there for us all.

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 29 – the girl who lived down the street

309/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.   If you’ve been reading these gratitude posts, you’ve probably gleaned that I wasn’t the most confident young man during my pre-teen and teenage years.  Lots of things conspired against me to keep me from reaching my potential in my younger years – so not lovin’ who I was because of my ethnicity (being made fun of) and my weight (being bullied for it) and my nerdy looks (being beat up for it) and my dad’s schizophrenia (being made fun of) but it was just something I got used to but never truly accepted.  There were many reasons why I got through those tough times: my love of listening to music, focus on schoolwork, escape into television, push of my mom etc.  However there was also this person that I would see on my daily walks to school that also helped.  I was fascinated by her.  She lived on the same street as I did and I saw her from my elementary years walking past her house all the way to my university years being at the same bus stop.  I never once spoke to her in all that time even though I was enthralled by her.  Why?  She was probably about 5 years older than me.  She was Indo-Canadian.  She was very Indian.  She wore flowers in her hair.  She had a long braid.  She was heavy-set with a moon face.  She was not Canadian born.  She wore heavy Indian make-up.  She flounced when she walked.  She oozed confidence.  I was stunned by her.  Not her physical beauty as I did not find her attractive – oh wait, Freud might say I did on some subconscious level 😉  Rather, I was inspired by her self-assurance.  At that time, I was ashamed of my ethnicity as I lived in a very white community and had no role models but here was this person who obviously and rightfully so reveled in her heritage.  She was rotund and damn did she own it and did not let it own her.  I remember being at a wedding reception that she, with her family, was also at and my aunt, that mean aunt that I wrote about earlier, was making fun of her and this girl confidently ignored her and tore up the dance floor.  I was stunned!  I was inspired.  I honestly think she, on some subconscious level (yeah, Freud you can have this one), made me accept my fatness and my Indian-ness – I didn’t rock it like she did until much later – and I have her to thank for me finally accepting and rocking what was genetically given to me!

May 20 – Indian? Punjabi? Sikh?

300/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  This is not about a person but about an entire group of people.  Today, as the chair of the teachers’ Professional Development Committee, we organized a day of being exposed to and understanding the different cultures that make up our student population.  Of course, we could not hit every cultural/denominational group but we focused on three:  Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh.  We traveled to the mosques and temples and I learned so much about the Muslim and Buddhist faiths that I had no clue about before.  But the greatest learning I had was of my own heritage – the Sikh culture.  Our guest speaker couldn’t be there but fellow Punjabi Sikh staff members stepped up and totally schooled me!  I had no clue of their knowledge level about our background and what a background we have.  Perhaps I didn’t learn so much as rather, I was being reminded of my Punjabi Sikh heritage which is truly rich and multifaceted.  I am the first to admit that I have shied away/been embarrassed of my (ethnic) Indian background growing up in a very ethnically similar culture until the last decade or so and I haven’t even thought about my cultural/religious background ever and how it has shaped the man I am today.  I can truly say today that I am proud to be a Punjabi man – albeit, the atypical Punjabi man but I am so very glad that I have a rich cultural background where we live large, love large, give large, sacrifice large, and celebrate large.  I didn’t realize until today how fortunate that I am to have this amazing heritage with its rich traditions that I love being a part of.  To all my Punjabi Sikh family, friends, extended relatives, students, and strangers – so very glad and appreciative that I am a part of this wonderful, unique, collaborative!  I love being ethnically/religiously/culturally diverse!

April 22 – motherland

272/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Today’s gratitude post is not about a person.  Today is about a bunch of people – a culture, traditions, a way of life and being – my motherland.  This morning and afternoon, I attended a Professional Development workshop about First Peoples’ (First Nations/Aboriginals/Indian) past and present so we as educators could better understand what they had to endure in residential schools/land rights in the history of Canada to where they are today and what is happening to their people.  Being an ethnic person, I had a different take-away experience as I started thinking about my “people”.  I don’t recall if I have admitted this but I coined my own moniker when I was writing my blog for the Vancouver Province newspaper – The Whitest Brown Guy.  I know very little about my heritage and culture.  The school that I teach at is about a 1/3 Indo-Canadian and the boys especially (in my classes) give me grief about being “too white”.  It’s friendly banter but today got me to thinking about my ethnicity and heritage and I have to admit that I am very proud that I have such a great heritage.  Even though I was born in Canada, my ancestors come from a land full of people with diverse cultures and traditions – my specific one being from the northern state of the Punjab.  I wasn’t very proud of being ethnic growing up because I was different – I was marked and it was easy fuel for the bullies.  Did I want to deny my ethnicity?  Hell yes – anything to get away from the turmoil of the teen years.  But here I am today proud of my heritage and where I came from.  I no longer deny who I am and who my people are.  I am only one aspect of a very diverse culture and that diverse culture is only one aspect of who I am but it has shaped me and for that, I am thankful for all that my motherland is and represents.  I am Ethnic.  I am Minority.  I am Indian.  I am Punjabi.  I am Indo-Canadian.  I am Me.  I am proud of my heritage!

April 18 – latin lessons

268/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Back in 1991, I was enrolled in the teacher education program at UBC as a student teacher.  I loved it.  I tried hard and the rewards paid off.  The practicum wasn’t that difficult for me as I had great advisors and although I did have a couple of unique experiences that I’ve written about such as never being evaluated by my advisor ;), I learned a great deal about education but even more about people.  One of the people that I met only briefly during a spring course was a Latin guy from someplace in South America but he had a lasting impact on me although sadly I don’t remember his name and never kept in touch (we were not in the days of Facebook back then).  He was a fellow student teacher in my Anthropology class and we, with two others, ended up working together on our final culminating project.  We decided to conduct an anthropological study on Graduation as a Rite of Passage.  Here we were filming the graduation ceremony at my practicum school with interviews being completed with students, teachers and parents when my fellow partner told me that this was all new to him.  I was in shock to say the least!?  He explained that in his country, they didn’t celebrate graduation in this way – it was a non-event.  This whole process was foreign to him but fascinating.  I didn’t know how to respond but then asked him to be a part of our project as a subject even though he was a part of our group.  I told the other group members and our project took a slight but important turn – assuming that people were familiar with a concept.  That was the first time I realized that I saw things a little too ego-centrically at time and that people may not be familiar with my frame of reference.  It was an important lesson for me and one that stays with me to this day when I’m in my classroom – people don’t necessarily know what you think they may know and to be aware of it.  Yes, we ended up getting a perfect score on the project because of the anthropological twist to our study but the more valuable learning took place during the process thanks to my Latin project partner and for that I am forever grateful!

April 4 – i’m finally not the oldest!

254/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I’ll just say it – I hate being the oldest.  All my life I have had to set the bar and through both conscious and subconscious pressure, I have set it very high so that my siblings and cousins had something to aspire for (or so I thought).  So many times I wished that I had an older sibling or cousin who I could look to for guidance but unfortunately for me, I was the oldest.  I have a sister two years younger than me.  I have another sister 15 years my junior – yes, 15!!  The cousins who were born in Canada and that I grew up with are 7 to 16 years younger than me.  In my 30s, my mom’s sister’s family emigrated to Canada and along came a few more cousins.  These ones were older but I was still oldest.  It was contested that my cousin Gurmit who was born in the season of harvest was older according to my grandmother as she had heard about his birth in India and then recalls my birth in Canada but harvest season is probably after this Leo baby.  However, I recall going to the motherland when I was 18 for four months – yes, when your parents take you out of school for a trip to India (and for me, it was out of university), it was for an entire semester!  My mom took me to probably marry me off – LOL, I kid (although I was hot property back then and had a lot of offers – I didn’t want an ESL tag-along!!).  So I was dragged along to countless homes and met cousins that I had heard about and finally, finally I was younger than two!!  My dad’s niece Baljit – stunning beauty – was about 3 years my senior.  She literally and figuratively took me under her shoulder and I let her.  First time I let go and was able to be someone who had an older sibling (re-read my earlier post about cousins being sibling in Indo-Canadian culture).  Although I was 19, she took care of me like her younger baby brother doting on me.  I let it happen because I so wanted to look up to someone and let go of having to be the oldest and role model and whatever else came with it.  A similar thing happened when I met my mom’s nephew Amarjit.  Handsome and having the same stutter as me.  Also 3 years my senior.  He took me on his motorcycle to various sites and kept me within arm’s reach and looked out for his Canadian cousin whenever we were out in public as I didn’t really know what I was getting into.  Although I only met them briefly that first time in India, they made an indelible impression on me that has been everlasting and they allowed me breathing time away from being role-model and just revel in the fact that I could be the younger one looking to my older siblings/cousins for guidance.  I have never forgotten that trip and they will never know how comforting it was to have them for those 4 months and have an experience I longed for all my life for however brief it was.  Thank you Baljit and Amarjit for being my older cousins and just making me feel that much more at ease and allowing me to be me without having to be an example for others.