Sunday, 15 June 2008

Who's Your Daddy?

Lester B. Pearson was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada. It was under his leadership that important programs such as universal health care, student loans, and the Canadian Pension Plan were begun, and the red maple leaf was adopted as the Canadian flag. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, credited by the Nobel prize selection committee has having "saved the world," and is often referred to as the father of modern peacekeeping. He was also, however, the father of Geoffrey Arthur Holland Pearson.

Geoff was a close family friend who passed away suddenly in mid-March. I remember him as a gruff grandfather-figure. Over potato pancakes at the Jewish bakery in his neighbourhood he would grill me on my activities, critiquing my insufficiently worded answers. His rough exterior, however, covered a very warm heart, and I cherish the memories I have of him. He will be sorely missed.

Geoffrey Pearson was a diplomat in his own right, serving in France, Mexico, and India before becoming the ambassador to the Soviet Union. In the 1980s he served Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and held senior positions in the Canadian Institute for International Affairs and the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000. And yet, throughout his entire life he lived in the shadow of his famous father.

One of my co-workers at the museum is the youngest son of a famous Japanese academic who passed away a number of years ago. My co-worker too went into a field similar to that of his father and, as Geoff wrote a book about his father, so too does my co-worker give talks on his father's work and theories. Since the family name is fairly uncommon, my co-worker often has people ask him "are you related to..." Public respect for his father and the ground breaking work he accomplished often cause my friend to be treated with respect and awe. He commented to me once that he can tell the point at which people stop treating him as his father's son and start actually treating him as himself.

When I was a little girl I often complained about how long it could take my father to accomplish a simple task such as going to the drug store. In my eight-year-old's eyes, he was CONSTANTLY running into and then chatting with past and present students. This happened SO often that I came up with a poem to express my exasperation:
Dad, Dad!
student you had?!
I spent my first year of university at the school where my father taught and was department chair. Every time I submitted paperwork, went to talk to a professor, or otherwise interacted with anybody at the university I always had people saying "Oh! You're Don's daughter!!"

Perhaps partly due to this I found myself moving gradually further and further away from home, until I ended up on the other side of the world! Volunteering with Girl Guides/Scouts in India I figured I was finally free of my father's shadow. I was inordinately pleased to hear my father say that he wasn't able to talk to a single person when he came to visit me without them saying "Oh! You're Sarah's father!!" The trouble is, I got sick and he had to amuse himself for a few days, during which time he managed to befriend the head of one of the social organizations we worked with on a regular basis. As a result, at the annual dinner held by the centre and attended by members of a number of local social organizations, I had a very excited older man come running up to me to exclaim, you guessed it, "Oh! You're Don's daughter!!" Sigh...

As much as I complain about it, however, I am proud of my father. As a little kid I looked up to his students and wanted to grow up to be just like them. I am lucky and very grateful to have such a close relationship with my father and appreciate his support and (sometimes) his criticism, for I know that without it and I would not be where I am today.

I love you dad. Happy Father's Day!

(Oh, and PS. Your scarf didn't get knit in time to wing its way to you for Father's Day, I actually haven't cast on for it yet... umm... But you weren't really planning on wearing it this summer, right? I promise you'll get it by winter time... honest!)

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful tribute of love to your well-deserving father.

    You will not be surprised (or amused) to know that when Lorenz and I went to see KING LEAR at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in the glorious megacity of London a couple of weeks ago (a fantastic experience), who did I see in the audience but a former student from McGill, one of two for whom I had written a letter of recommendation to do an MA at LSE last year. It's a small world, especially for professors with large classes...
    love and hugs, C