If You’ve Ever Seen Your Father Cry

If you’ve ever seen your father cry, you can probably still remember it.

I saw my father, a war veteran who served on a minesweeper in WWII and who would be 93 this year if he had not drowned in 1985, cry exactly twice, although I don’t know if you could call it crying per se. It was more like he choked up, had tears in his eyes, but then was able to swallow it all back down again, but that the effort hung on his face as painful grimace.

The first time, he was leaning against the kitchen counter in his navy blue work pants with his hands resting on his hips. He’d just heard that his brother, Uncle Lee, had died of cancer. We knew Uncle Lee was sick. Just the week before, my sister and I, 10 and 11 years old, were told to put on a dress because we were going to the Grace Hospital to see him. Uncle Lee smiled and hugged us like he always did, but I fully understood how sick he was when, instead of the soft shoulder I was used to resting my head on, I felt his collar bone sticking into my cheek.

Uncle Lee and Aunt Louise came to our house every Monday night for tea. He worked on the Bell Island Ferry. Legend has it that he walked across the frozen Bell Island/Portugal Cove tickle one night, a distance of over 3 km, when Aunt Louise took ill and the boat was stuck in ice on the Island side.

That first time, any sadness deep enough to make my father cry was not, as yet, fathomable to me. The second time was years later when my mother passed away.

And so it came to pass that the sight of an older man with a gently lined face holding back tears was a sight that reverberated in every cell of my being.

And January 28, 2014, when nine war veterans went to Ottawa to see Julian Fantino about veterans’ offices closing only to get the high hat from him and my television screen served me up the lined faces of elderly war veterans looking upset, I became upset. The vets were so hurt by the treatment they’d received in Ottawa, one of the men, Newfoundlander Paul Davis, said he felt “bushwhacked” by Fantino. The other man, Martin Haller, tall and straight-backed, choked back a sob and had to turn away from the mike. Click here for the full story.

You’re outta here, Mr. Fantino, I vowed. You too, Stephen Harper, and the frigging heartless horse you rode in on.

But it was an email that arrived from my old friend Harvey McKinnon when I was down in Newfoundland last week running promo for my book that gave me a way to channel my grief that we, in Canada, have now come to the point of having elderly veterans breaking down on the six o’clock news.

Harvey and I have known each other for 30 years and been in the same charity marketing business, he on the west coast and me in Ontario, and I can tell you it’s the first time he’s ever asked me to contribute to a cause he’s been working on.

But Harvey is working his heart out on this and I want to help him.

I also want to serve up some respect to people like my father and my Uncle Lee and Paul Davis and Martin Haller who–for the record–are ten times the men Julian Fantino and Stephen Harper will ever be.

Happily, the veterans on Parliament Hill in January 2014 have now organized with many more veterans and begun a campaign called Veterans Against Conservatives. They feel Canadians need to know about the government’s treatment of veterans before they cast their ballot in the election. They want people to know this because they believe Canadians will care.

Click here to find out more about the Veterans Against Conservatives campaign.

“The reason this Veterans Against Conservatives campaign will work is because it targets soft Conservative voters,” Harvey told me and I know, as a campaigner myself, this is true. But I also know that no group, no matter how just the cause, can do it alone.

Canada’s veterans need help now. The current goal is $15,000 and, I think, surely we must be able to do that.

Your donation will pay for usual campaign necessities—communications materials, airtime, and travel for vets to get to where they need to be. It’s all about getting the message out. But don’t expect a tax receipt. This is not about charity. It’s about change.

People of all political stripes who believe the Harper government has treated veterans despicably are welcome in this campaign.

Click here to donate to Veterans Against Conservatives.

Commemorative poppies won’t mean much on November 11th if we can’t answer a call for help from veterans who are still alive.

I’ve made my donation and I hope you will consider it too. Let me tell you, as my father’s daughter, it made me feel great.

If you’d like to read more about the record of the Harper Conservatives treatment of veterans, take a look at this piece by the National Observer.

Or visit Veterans Against Conservatives.



Author Photo 01 Sandy Tam PhotographyGail Picco is a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector, and is Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival. She also writes about baseball and F1 racing.

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