NOBILITY LOST

A few years ago I attended a 25 year reunion of my high school grad class in PIckering, Ontario. During one of the events, I was getting caught up with someone who I not only knew in high school, but went to grade school with. We had many chats over that weekend about how we were, where we’ve been, what we’ve done, who have we seen, etc. But during this particular evening, he looked at me and said ‘You know Marke? I’m really proud of you. You went and did exactly what you wanted to do. As opposed to me, because I did exactly what I didn’t want to do.’ What’s that, I asked him. ‘Go work at GM’

He wasn’t the only one who made that choice. We were all near the end of high school, the time when you’re supposed to have everything figured out, right? Did you have a goal in mind? Which university or college were you going to? Or did you just want to get out of school and out on your own into a good paying job? For a lot of guys, the last option was the most attractive. The promise of a good paying, ‘steady’ job on the assembly line at the GM plant in nearby Oshawa made that prospect even more alluring. Some didn’t even wait to finish out their final year. No more school to endure. You could make money, have your own place, your own car maybe…you were set. Wasn’t that what it was all about? Isn’t that what your parents did and wanted for you? Get a good job, a nice house, start a family, all that stuff?

When GM announced in November that they were planning to shut down the Oshawa plant, I thought about my friend and all those other guys I knew. Many of them either lost those jobs through the recessions and slumps in the auto industry of the 80s. Many, like my friend at the reunion, found other work and got back on their feet, but the sense I got from our discussion that night was that he could have done better but, instead, took the easy way out. Somehow, he felt he should have known that perhaps a clearer vision and more education would have made things different.
Maybe he felt like he could have done something a little more outstanding. He probably could have, but none of us can make that judgment. Nor do I feel I’m better than him or any of my other friends who did that. We all had our choices and our paths. Sometimes our choices are limited. A few of us never had much choice to begin with. We all wanted a good life, to be our best, to enjoy ourselves and provide for ourselves and those we care about. We just had different ways of doing it.

Oshawa is not the only community going through this either. This scenario has played out and continues in many one industry towns across

Ontario and the rest of the country. My first job in radio was in Sault Ste Marie, not long after graduating high school and completing college. I was one of those rare young men in their early 20’s who lived there but was not working at the town’s largest employer, which was Algoma Steel. Any guy my age was probably already 3 or 4 years into his job there with a family and mortgage payments. I wonder how many of them survived the years of downturns, restructuring and adjustments that followed.

We’ve all seen the concepts of work and career change over the years. A steady, well paying job at one place until retirement seems like an ancient concept, but it many ways is still a noble one. But in these days when industry and corporations see their employees as liability rather than nobility, respect for that work ethic seems like an ancient concept too.

BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR HEROES

I can imagine what you’re thinking while you’re looking at this picture…

Rather than think that, look at my face. I can tell you exactly what I was thinking at that moment….this was one of the greatest moments of my life.

He was the man who showed me how cool it was to make people laugh. As a kid, I had memorized his best selling comedy albums… every word, every routine. For some reason, it would not be until decades later that I finally saw him perform in person. I would go to work at the television station the next day raving about what a master he still is, only to learn that he had visited the station himself the day before, when I had a day off, and missed out on his joking with the entire newsroom, not to mention an interview. I was crushed beyond belief, thinking it was an opportunity lost. But, a few years and a couple of performances later, my wish came true during a post show meet and greet session. I told him how much I admired him and how much this moment meant to me. He seemed genuinely touched, along with being charming and funny. I walked out of the theatre and back to our car. It was dark at that point, but there was a beam and glow on my face that no one could dim.

Now, it’s a picture I have a hard time looking at. That glow is not only

dimmed but snuffed out. As the allegations continued, the trials progressed and the verdict was reached, I had a hard time processing it all. How could this man, with his gifts and his accomplishments, think he could act like this? Looking at this now doesn’t quite bring on anger so much as disappointment. But is it disappointment in him or myself? We have all been told to be careful who we choose as heroes, for they will eventually disappoint us. Yet we cant help by admire someone for their work, accomplishments or character. Its when we think they can do nothing wrong that gets us into trouble. True, the allegations against this man started many years ago, but I seemed to ignore them because, to me anyway, his talent and legacy was solid enough, right?

No, it wasn’t. That is now tarnished forever, and he has no one to blame but himself

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote ‘Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.’ I keep thinking how many more pictures are out there he’s taken with others that admired him as I did. For that matter, how many selfies and poses do people have with someone like Louis CK or Kevin Spacey? It seems every Hollywood A lister has to explain away a photograph taken with Harvey Weinstein. Disgraced artists, musicians, politicians, celebrities….at one point, everyone wanted to be either seen with them, or be like them. What makes us put these people on pedestals, only to learn that they have flaws? And once we find out they are imperfect, can we separate what they’ve done from the person they are?

My guess is that we won’t stop doing it nor bemoaning celebrity worship. Nor should we stop admiring anyone who inspires us or does something that makes us feel better about the world or ourselves. Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography ‘We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes’

Less heroes may not be the answer, but maybe more self satisfaction and admiration is.

A REMINDER ONCE AND A WHILE

For many people of my generation, Remembrance Day is not lost on us. We are the sons and daughters of men and women who either fought, served or lost their lives in war, but also many of our parents had lived under occupation in Europe. Both my mother and father were teenagers in the Netherlands during that time.

My biggest worry when I was a teenager was whether or not I could get Rolling Stones tickets. For them, it was staying alive. So I learned very early on how important this day was and how significant Canada was in the liberation of The Netherlands. But even I could get a little distracted or distant as the years went on, concentrating less on what the day meant and looking at it more as a day off. Now, the big concern is whether the meaning is losing significance with each generation after, even though we’ve lost soldiers in recent conflicts like Afghanistan.   Sure, it will be taught and studied in history classes, but how does one really continue to understand as more time passes and those who saw it first hand continue to pass as well?

Not everyone can experience this, but I had a reminder about 4 years ago. We were fortunate enough to do another trip to France with Scenic tours on CTV Morning Live. This time, we toured the north of France and our last stop was Juno Beach and the memorial centre there. But it was a trip to the Canadian Military Cemetery at Beny Sur Mer that it really hits you.

Walking among the headstones, each of them with the name, hometown and birthdate of each soldier.  The youngest I read was 18, the oldest was 35.  Row after row, after row. Each of them was someone’s son, brother, uncle, father, grandfather. Men and women at the start or prime of their lives. No one can look at that and not be overwhelmed by what is the true and tragic cost of war. It is also why we should, in another sense, fight like hell that this could never, ever, happen again.

Like I said, not everyone can experience this, but it was a reminder of how lucky I am and we all are. Let’s hope we can continue to remember this not only on November 11th but every day. Every generation..from now on.

THANK YOU WALLY

As I’m writing this, the BC Lions are getting their helmets kicked in the Eastern Division Semi-Final…not the way you want to end a season. Certainly not the way you want a career to end to, especially when you’re the most iconic coach in the CFL.

Wally Buono deserved a better final game.

When he came to the BC Lions in 2003, they were still a pretty competitive team but got blown out in the Semi Final ( sounds familiar ). Changes needed to be made, but things were made a little easier courtesy of the Calgary Stampeders, who became the dominant team in the West under Buono up until that time.

However, it seems ownership felt it knew more about running a team than Wally, including the owner insisting his son gets to play quarterback. Even with 2 years left on his contract,  Wally left Calgary.   It was too good to be true for Lions owner David Braley and team president Bob Ackles. Both were pretty smart guys anyway, but this was a no-brainer. Wally Buono became head coach and GM of the BC Lions in 2003.

It resulted in four straight first place finishes, five straight playoff appearances, four trips to the Grey Cup, winning three of them.

He brought back an expectation of winning, He made a city, a province and the fans proud of their team. His last few seasons have not been the best and you can criticize some of the decisions he’s made. After giving up coaching in 2011 to concentrate on being a GM, it was hard for him to watch his team under perform, so he’s was back on the sidelines in 2016. Some may think of him as a control freak who was past his prime, but there’s no denying what he brought to this team. At that point in time, there was no other choice.

I was also fortunate enough to meet him on several occasions, watch him from the sidelines. Also had a great conversation with him one afternoon at Seahawks game in Seattle. It’s easy to say he was always great to be with on those occasions because I was never a player, let alone play for him! But like him or not, he deserves a tremendous amount of respect from anyone who loves football…and he certainly deserved a better final game than he got.

So, it’s all you can say now…. Thank you Wally.