“A man’s character is his fate.” – Heraclitus

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This is part two of my attempt to deconstruct Donald Trump. If you haven’t read it already, please read part 1 here, as it provides context for what’s below.

Read it? All right… let’s begin!

In trying to deconstruct Trump himself, to me there’s an obvious starting point: he is, or is he not a narcissist. Before I go any further, three things need to be said.

The first is that narcissism in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Psychologists have pointed out that there is such a thing as “healthy narcissism“. Studies have shown that many world leaders, from politicians to businessman to professional athletes, have a certain level of narcissism, but one that provides a deep-seeded sense of self-confidence to face a given task, and a sense that they are up to it and can properly lead those around them.

Secondly, there is a huge difference between having narcissistic tendencies, like taking a dozen selfies whenever you use the bathroom, and having an actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personal Disorder (NPD).

Finally, while there has been much debate online about Trump’s mental health, there are very few qualified mental health professionals that will come out and say “this is the truth about Trump” because of what’s called the “Goldwater Rule“, which states that unless you have personally examined a person, you are not qualified to make an actual diagnosis of them.

I have talked to friends who work in the mental health field, including one with a PHD in Psychology, specifically focused on personality disorders. When we compared notes he said “while I haven’t obviously examined Trump in person, there’s enough public evidence that a reasonably justifiable case could be made that he has narcissistic personality disorder”. While this isn’t a formal diagnosis, and nor should it be seen as such, I agree with my friend that there is enough evidence to say it’s a possibility.

Here are the traits from the DSM-5:

1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others

2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions

4. Needing constant admiration from others

5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others

6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain

7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs

8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them

9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not they describe Trump. What I can say is that because of his 40 years in the public spotlight, there is a trove of public record information to go through that we rarely have with political figures. Trump has shown himself to be fixated with power, recognition, and with people knowing who he is. He has shown a need to be center of attention, for people to be awed by his wealth and power, and the inability to handle either being questioned. He has shown that he takes any slight, real or not, as a deeply personal attack, and has shown a need to get back at anyone who feels has wronged him. He has shown that he has no problems purposely stonewalling anyone who dares question his authority, legality or decisions.

When it comes to the Goldwater Rule, there are some who believe that this specific situation requires a breaking of normal ethical protocol. John D. Gartner, a psychotherapist who has taught at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, said in an interview with US News & World Report that Trump “is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president” and has “malignant narcissism,” which while not listed in the DSM, has been studied and described as NPD, but with severe anti-social and self-destructive tendencies and a need to see any opposition not just overcome, but humiliated.

From the campaign trail to the Oval Office, Trump has consistently referred to himself as “the best”, having “the best temperament”, being “really smart”, and so on. When challenged on photos that indicated that his inauguration crowd was smaller than the one for Barack Obama in 2009, he and his staff retorted that it was the “biggest crowd in inaugural history”, with an attendance figure of “1.5 million” but failing to offer any credible data as evidence. It’s been similar responses when he’s been challenged about practically anything to do with himself, his business success or his campaign.

A particular sore spot for him has been his losing the election’s popular vote by 3 million votes. His response was to say that “3 to 5 million illegal immigrants” voted and that is what cost him the popular election. The Washington Post reported that there have been only 4 verifiable cases of vote fraud in the 2016 election.

This brings up a point that needs to be addressed: If Trump does have NPD, it needs to be stated that people with NPD literally can not see a negative side to any of their actions. They are incapable of it. For someone with NPD and/or malignant narcissism, the one and only litmus test of whether a choice is good or bad is “will this get me what I want”, with the goal being instant gratification.

That desire could be power, it could be adoration, but whatever it is, it’s all that matters. Beyond that, the person themselves is the only one who matters. Their ego being given the attention and praise it deserves is all that matters. If someone gets hurt or negatively affected in some way, it’s their own fault for not agreeing with that need or desire in the first place. Simply put, there is no empathy, no consideration of others, just selfish, self-indulgent behavior.

Tapping into that self-need is the basis for why facts are so easily and quickly dismissed by him. Facts don’t matter to Trump because “facts” are simply a means to an end. If someone disagrees and says “no, here’s the real truth” and provides facts and data to back it up, Trump simply says publicly “this person is lying to you and trying to hide the truth from you”. For those who don’t trust the media, or see academia as full of self-serving know-it-alls, his discrediting of their countering his statements takes on an almost religious effect. “I alone hold truth, and I alone can protect you from all the evil lies that see to hurt America being great again”.

Another cause for concern is that NPD also voids any sense of loyalty. Loyalty exists to the extent of “are you giving me what I want” in some fashion. As soon as that enabling ceases, that person no longer has any function for someone with NPD and is usually removed from the inner circle. This is very dangerous in a political sphere because it means that those in high-ranking positions (such as advisory positions) are only there because they play into, in some fashion, Trump’s ego or paranoia.

This might also shed light on why he has been nominating people to head government departments that they have previously shown hostility towards: it’s a show of force, a “you don’t think I’ll do it? Just watch” power play, and way to automatically create fear inside that department of showing any public dissension. A leaked memo from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the EPA had been effectively given a gag order, along with almost every science-based government office except for NASA. Why do this? So you can control the flow of information.

If you can control the flow of information, you can much easier control what people think. This also explains his attacks on all forms of media, calling any outlet that disagrees with him or provides evidence contrary to what he says as being “fake news”. If Trump does have Narcissistic Personal Disorder, it makes complete sense that he would try to deny and belittle anyone who goes against his own self-proclaimed reality. Simply put, he doesn’t handle “no” very well, no matter the evidence or legality that challenges him.

While he doesn’t handle any situation where he’s told “no” very well, he has a predictable pattern here as well: he’ll often threaten “see you in court!“, as he instantly tweeted when an injunction was handed down against his travel ban, but history shows the threat of legal action often has no follow-through.

While he has been the target of several investigations by various government agencies over the years, his preferred tactics against them won’t serve him well here. When the Justice Department would go after him, he would keep pushing back court dates time and time again, saying he needed more time to get the requested files ready. He’d repeatedly do this until the delays became so lengthy that the Justice Department would drop the case because of a lack of evidence, meaning little chance of conviction, and how costly the delays had become. This doesn’t mention the fact that there’s evidence Trump used delays to destroy documents the Justice Department had requested.

The problem for him now is that there are big differences between how a government official can act, as opposed to a private citizen. If Trump, let’s say, is found destroying evidence that’s been subpoenaed, that’s grounds for impeachment. If he interferes with an on-going investigation the way he has in the past as CEO of the Trump Organization, that too is ground for impeachment.

Despite all this, I have no doubt that Trump will remain in office until the Republican party stops finding him useful. As long as he’s in power, Republican party leaders will do everything they can to look the other way and they’ll do so because it suits their interest. In regards to this, a quote from Upton Sinclair comes to mind: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”.

The question now becomes trying to fathom what would be enough for the Republicans, who have political power now that they haven’t had since 1928, to say enough is enough. With the new revelations that Trump’s election campaign team was in contact with known Russian political figures will definitely put those bonds of loyalty to the test.

Will even that not be enough? We’re in a time when there has been a strong current of obstructionism from the Republican party for the majority of Obama’s presidency. It didn’t matter what was, if the Democrats were for it, the Republicans were against it. It really did feel like that if the Democrats put forward a motion saying “kittens are cute”, Republicans would decry it and put forward their own motion saying “kittens are adorable”. It’s never a good thing when American politics remind me of the divisions between the nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, with their biggest political argument being whether you should crack an egg at the bottom (the Big-Endians), or the top (the Small-Endians).

Unless something causes Trump’s presidency to fall apart, or there is a massive changeover in the midterm elections in 2018, we’re in for a very long few years, politically speaking. If things don’t change, we’re going to find ourselves run by a government that is ultimately in favor of the rich and the privileged and those who have the most money to invest. Trump promised to “drain the swamp”, to rid Washington of the corruption, but instead all signs point to him pursuing self-enrichment in a way never before seen.

Despite Trump’s claim of making America great again, it remains a simple fact that you can not make a society great by ignoring those who are most at-risk and most vulnerable. A Great Society is built not on how the richest or the most influential are treated, but by how those who have the least to give are treated.

Taking away rights and services, imposing threats on freedom of speech and dissension, and willful ignoring of science can not make a society prosperous… those are not the signs of progressive government, nor one that has its citizens’ interest at heart.

The truest sign of a Democracy is not the right to vote, but understanding the responsibilities that the freedom to choose inherently brings: the responsibility is not on the government to make the country better, but on her citizens. That is, after all the intent behind Lincoln’s famous words of “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Lincoln was saying that our fate isn’t in the hands of our government, despite the power they wield, but in our actions towards each other.

While Trump and his inner circle may do all they can to ignore marches, protests, social media posts and the like, there is one thing the average citizen can do that they have no power to do anything about: treating your neighbor with kindness and respect, no matter their race, color, or creed.

Do that and, believe you me, it will be just a tremendous success.

“We will make America great again” – Donald Trump

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Trump.

What else do I need to say?

I have tried writing this article in one form or another several times now. I’ve written draft after draft, then rewritten them over and over but nothing felt right. Every time I’d get something down that I’d like there would be some new move by Trump or his staff that strained all credulity and made me have to re-examine and re-frame everything I’d written thus far.

What I’ve decided to is deconstruct Trump, his rise to the Oval Office, and the post-truth environment we seem to find ourselves in over the course of four articles. The first two will be an examination of Trump himself and trying to shed light on his decision making processes. The third will be  deconstructing how his supporters can willingly ignore a myriad of lies and what that means for the future of journalism. The last article will be looking at the role the Evangelical movement in the US played, which for me being a Christian, was very disconcerting.

It can be very easy to demonize Trump, to make jokes about him, but I want to stay away from that as much as I can. For all the vitriol and rhetoric that’s been flying around, I do fully believe that honest, intelligent, hardworking people voted for Trump with absolute sincerity. Because of that, I want to try to deconstruct Trump, to break down how he operates to see if there’s some insight, and maybe even some hope, to be gained.

The election we just had was the culmination of a very caustic, negative presidential campaign in which Trump mocked a disabled reporter, made comments about inappropriately grabbing women, called for his opponent Hillary Clinton to be thrown in prison, made repeated public personal attacks via Twitter on anyone who disagreed with him, was caught in multiple lies and when confronted with them denied he ever said them in the first place, and had the public endorsement of white supremacist groups, just for good measure. It’s enough to make my head spin.

I’ve pondered for a long while about how a candidate who defies all political norms can do what Trump did and how his supporters can keep supporting him in the face of behavior that would have torpedoed the candidacy of, well, pretty much anyone else. It all comes down to one small fact about human nature: people will rarely vote for what’s best for their country, but rather they will almost always vote for what’s best for themselves. Whether that “best” that a politician offers really is the best for them doesn’t matter, it’s the promise of “vote for me and your lives will be better” that makes all the difference.

I understand the appeal of Trump: if the world you knew and felt safest in was gone, and someone said “I’m going to bring it back”, that would be something the majority of us would go for. His appeal was broadly based in places that have seen their local industries either become outmoded or moved somewhere else, whether that’s another part of the US or another country entirely. America has also seen a rise in what could be defined as “terrorist attacks”, and all hyperbole aside, mass shootings do inevitably shake the idea that the US, once thought inoculated against such attacks because of her ocean-wide separation from the rest of the world, might not be as safe as once thought. Add to this a growing dissatisfaction with established political figures, and it makes sense that someone from outside the political arena would seem appealing.

For the majority of people, no matter what the political affiliation they might have, their two biggest concerns are their ability to provide for their family, and their family’s safety. Trump was absolutely right to focus on those two issues. His slogan of “Make America Great Again” tapped in to that primal sense of patriotism that exists in the US in a way that almost no other country has.

There is also the darker appeal of Trump: that a predominantly white nation is gone, and he’s going to bring it back. This kind of politicking can only exist in a place where there is deep seeded unrest, and even resentment, from one group towards another. Whether it’s based on race, religion, political affiliation, personal wealth or a myriad of other difference, more than ever North American culture finds itself more fractured and seeking its own self-interests, even at a time when there are more calls then ever for reconciliation and equality. It seems that if one side calls for more self-interest, the other calls for more social unity, and this triggers a repetitive cycle between those two sides. What it all equals to is that the American Identity is undergoing a shift that hasn’t happened since the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

This questioning of identity ties into the belief of America’s impenetrable borders being shaken to their core by the events of 9/11. It is easy to justify harsh measures by saying “they did it once, we need to take all actions necessary to prevent it from happening again”. There are some supporters that cite words like “patriotism” and “national security” to justify language that is inherently racist, and Trump does nothing to stop it because there’s no benefit to him in stopping it.

Throughout the presidential campaign he fanned the flames of racial politics, using it as a focal point to discredit his opponents and their supporters. When he talked about Mexicans, he said “they’re not sending their best… they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists“, and referred to predominately African American inner cities as “disasters”. He questioned the validity of a judge presiding over a class-action lawsuit against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, despite the fact the judge was born in Indiana.

Even after his election every day seems to bring with it a new fight he’s started with someone, most notably of which has been his heavily contested travel ban, which he claims is not directed at Muslims but with which everything seems to point otherwise, keeping in mind he did say numerous times on the campaign trail that he would ban Muslims from entering the US if elected.

From going over article after article written about him, from the 1970’s to now, one thing that is safe to say is that Trump has always divided the world into “winners” and “losers”, with himself being the biggest winner of all. To divide his world that way creates, by default, an “us versus them” mentality, one where you’re either with him or against him. He plays into our psychological need to be “winners”, to be successful, and by extension “worthy”, and to feel worthy is a deep-seeded human need.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light might belong to an on-coming train: Trump is, to me at least, woefully predictable. It’s easy to divide things to what he does care about what he doesn’t, based not just on his several weeks in office, but his 40 years in the public eye. What he doesn’t care about are people, human rights, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free“. These things are intangible. You can’t put a price on them. You can’t buy and sell them on an open market.

What he does care about is business, money and power. In terms of a litmus test for his decision making process, “can I profit off this” would be a good way to go. His decisions in office so far have been almost entirely business-oriented. They’ve been about jobs and the economy, but Trump isn’t doing it out of patriotic pride. He’s doing it because a better economy will, ultimately, line his own pockets because of how wide-ranging and diverse his business interests are.

He’s already shown no problem mixing the worlds of politics and business. A prime example of that is a recent meeting he had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at his Mar-A-Lago retreat in Florida. Not only did Mar-A-Lago recently up its membership fee from $100,000 to $200,000 a year, but at the meeting with Abe, Mar-A-Lago members expressed openly they were there in the hopes of getting a few moments of one-on-one time with Trump himself.

If you look at things he’s considering cutting funding for, they include programs to end violence against women, arts programs, minority business development agencies, Justice Department initiatives such as community policing and anti-racism initiatives, and renewable energy research. Why? There’s no money for him to make in any of those areas based on his public business portfolio.

When he issued a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, citing terrorism as the cause (despite no terrorists coming from those committing an act on American soil in over 25 years), it was quickly noted that the Trump Organization does little to no business in those countries. More tellingly, countries that were not affected by the ban, despite having terrorists from these countries having committed acts on American soil, are all countries where the Trump Organization has considerable holdings and investments.

This has led to many discussions about whether or not he’s in conflicts of interest between his presidential duties and his business interests. Many have cited the foreign-emoluments clause as why Trump needs to divest himself of all business interests and put them in financial arrangement known as a “blind trust”. The emoluments clause forbids any “person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States” from accepting any “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state”, unless Congress specifically says otherwise.

In reference to this, Trump has stated “I can be President of the United States and run my business 100 percent, sign checks on my business” and “the law is totally on my side, meaning the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The blind trust he agreed to is overseen by three of his children and his chief lawyer, which is far from the intention of it being a trust run someone completely divorced from Trump’s interest so that he has both no knowledge and no say about how the Trump Organization is being run while in office.

For now, I’ll end this blog here, with part two coming soon. I will say this, though: for those who find Trump’s behavior confusing, his use of power frightening, and the sexist and racial fires he stoked infuriating, he is predictable. Sometimes far too much so. That’s the downfall of being governed by an overwhelming self-interest: it becomes easy to determine the areas where that self-interest is limited to, and to use that self-interest against Trump.

The key to doing that is never letting go of the Truth. Truth doesn’t need to be defended as it is, by intrinsic definition, beyond our abilities to change it. It exists separately from ourselves, and can not be tarnished by opinion, lies, or deliberate misinformation. It can not be controlled, either, and because of that it is beyond Trump’s grasp to do anything about.

As Charles Caleb Cotton once wrote, “Truth can hardly be expected to adapt herself to the crooked policy and wily sinuosities of worldly affairs; for truth, like light, travels only in straight lines”.

The Truth will set you free, but only as much as you allow it to and are willingly to pay the often high price for its illumination.

More on that later…

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot

Sitting on my desk is a copy of the classic adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about the copy of the book itself; it’s just a mass-market paperback edition, with its spine showing multiple creases from multiple readings. The pages themselves are yellowing with bent corners and you can tell by various marks on those pages that the book has been, shall we say, “well loved”. Even though there’s nothing remarkable or special about this book itself, it has very special meaning for me.

If you’ve been looking through Shaneisms, you’ll see that the last full-length entry I wrote was the eulogy I gave at my dad’s funeral shortly after his passing on December 27. In the weeks since, my mom has had the unenviable task of deciding what to do with his belongings. She asked if I wanted anything specific, and I simply asked for dad’s copy of Monte Cristo. It was always one of our mutual favorite books. In fact, it is my favorite novel, ever. Since receiving it from her, I’ve leafed through it once or twice but as I do I find myself strangely emotional.

“It’s just a book” I tell myself, and yet the personal significance is far beyond that. I see those creases in the spine, showing that the book has been thoroughly enjoyed all the way through several times over. I see that some pages have become dog-eared, some others have small stains, probably from the spilling of drops of whatever drink dad enjoyed as he read through the book for the umpteenth time.

“It’s just a book”, true, yet it is also a touchstone for me. This was my dad’s copy of our favorite book. This was his, and he’ll never pick it up again. He’ll never again leaf through its pages to re-read his favorite lines. There’s something surreal about that, lending a certain finality to his life and my memories of him.

The past few weeks have been ones of full of changes. Some of them have been wanted while others, well, not so much. I’ve started a new job as project co-ordinator for a program that uses filmmaking to reach out to and engage at-risk youth. While I’m excited about it, it hasn’t started up smoothly. I’ve had meetings with the media arts centre running the program, meetings with the community partners, meetings about those meetings, and meetings because other meetings had to be rescheduled because they conflicted with someone else’s meetings.

Apart from all those meetings, I’m still coming to terms with the passing of my dad. In many ways, his death hasn’t fully sunk in yet. That surreal feeling is most obvious when I’m at church on Sundays. We’d go to McDonald’s for breakfast before the service and talk about how our beloved Toronto Blue Jays or Maple Leafs were doing, knowing full well the answer most times was “they’re not doing well”. We’d talk about movies that had been on TV that week, or any number of things that came to mind as we looked over the morning paper as we ate our breakfast. We’d fight over who would get the Sports section of the newspaper first and I find myself still setting aside that section of the paper for him. Old habits die hard, I guess.

The church service itself has also been very different for me. It’s been quiet… almost too quiet. My dad was known for always making people at church laugh, for lovingly teasing them about something, and for always having a kind word and a big smile. I find myself still looking around the church when everyone is mingling and talking and expecting him to be somewhere, talking, smiling, and eating an extra cookie or two, assuming my mom isn’t there to tell him to watch his diet. When I remember that he isn’t there, a part of me says “oh yeah…” and that sense of sadness comes back.

It can be strange the things that can make his passing more permanent to me. I’m no longer getting email updates about his doctors’ appointments (something that was almost a daily occurrence over the past several months) and I’m starting to get accustomed to not hearing him pick up the phone when I call my mom to see how she’s doing. If I go out with my mom I’m getting used to the front passenger seat of the car being empty.

As things slowly settle into their new routine I find myself resisting the acceptance that this is the new normal. Because he was such a big part of my life, as any loving father is of their child’s, there is still a wound that refuses to fully heal. For someone who majored in Philosophy, who was taught to kneel down and worship at the twin gods of Rationality and Logic, this soulful wound defies those two deeply engrained tools of self-examination.

My wife, who works as an art therapist, keeps telling me that my unwillingness to fully accept the “new normal” is a completely understandable part of the grieving process. I tell myself, partly out of a childish, angry spite, that she’s wrong because as someone who majored in philosophy, I know that the Greek philosopher Socrates taught all life is just preparation for death. I, being overly-educated and under-emotional, know that grief is irrational and that a rational acceptance of death is necessary to moving past it. I tell myself that dad lived a good, just life, has received his ultimate reward, that he has discovered “The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn no Traveller returns“, yadda yadda yadda.

I remind myself of all the deep quotes about mortality and death from all the deep thinkers I’ve read over the years, from Winston Churchill to Mark Twain, from Elie Weisel to Groucho Marx. I’m sure I could find more deep quotes if I tried, from ones that would make a good blog article title to some that would look really good as text on a picture of a kitten. I guess whatever solace they can offer, whatever insight I could glean from them, will go unseen and unwanted. For now. I guess that’s the whole point of grief: to not be rational, but instead to just be. To live in the moment until you’re ready for that moment to pass, and to find that moment when you’ve wrestled with your soul and won, for the time being.

I guess grief is the process of time solidifying the knowledge that someone we love is gone, of understanding the true finality of the situation. My dad did live a good and just life, he showed love and compassion to everyone he met. As a Christian, I do believe that he has received his ultimate reward, and that finding that “undiscovered country” was worth all the years he diligently searched after it.

My overly-educated head knows all this and has rationally, logically accepted the finality of it. My heart, however… my stubborn, slow-on-the-uptake heart… is still having a hard time admitting that all the adventures we had together are at an end, that he won’t be there to join in whatever triumphs I have from here on out, nor will he be there to remind me to keep going when things don’t quite go as planned.

Losing a parent is something that the majority of us will experience at some point in our lives. It’s a mile marker on life’s journey, like your first day at school, or your first kiss, or the time you find your first gray hair. The hard part is that there’s no set time when these events happen and the best I can do as I pass this mile marker in my own life is remember the good times with dad, the lessons he worked so hard to teach me, and to do my best to follow the decent, gentlemanly example he set.

Today, March 3, 2015, would have been dad’s 82nd birthday. It’s the first time I can remember that I won’t wish him “happy birthday” and celebrate the day, in some way, with him. It’s, again, one of those surreal moments when the finality of his passing really comes into focus.

Looking through his copy of The Count of Monte Cristo sitting on my desk I almost feel like, in some strange way, he’s using it to say goodbye. Maybe it’s me being over-emotional and irrational and committing all other sorts of philosophical sins, but the way the book ends almost feels like he’s saying a final goodbye to me, one final way of reminding me that life does always go on:

Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words:

“Wait and hope”.

The Grumpy Christian…Redux!

As longtime followers of Shaneisms (your monthly loyalty payments are in the mail) already know, I keep a second blog where I look at Christianity from a more philosophical perspective, trying to remove a lot of the… malarkey… that so often interferes with Christians actually being, well, Christ-like.

For the first time in far too long I’ve updated it, so if you like Shaneisms, please check out The Grumpy Christian. Cheers!

“God’s hand is in every translation” – John Donne

Author’s note: My dad, Ross, passed away on December 27 at the age of 81 after a short battle with cancer. This is the eulogy I gave at his memorial service.

 

What can be said about my dad that hasn’t already been said?

Over the past week I’ve had so many people share with me the great memories they have of dad, and I keep hearing the same things repeated: “he always made me laugh”, “his generosity knew no bounds”, “he was always so friendly, always had a big smile on his face”, “he was the true definition of a gentleman”.

What I can add to that is that without him, my life would be profoundly different. You see, I was adopted by Ross and Doreen Pennells when I was eight years old… and Ross was fifty-five. At an age when most men are thinking about and planning for retirement, he willingly took on not only the financial responsibility of raising another child, but more importantly, the moral responsibility. Because of dad’s love, the choice that he made has gifted me with thirty years of great memories. I was telling my sister Lori-Anne that, through dad, God fulfilled the promise made in Psalm 68, that God will be “a father to the fatherless” and that God “sets the lonely in families”.

I have so many good memories of dad. Memories of going to the cottage, and going to Blue Jays games; of watching John Wayne and Harrison Ford movies; I think about the dozen or so times he accidentally forgot me at church, or so he claimed; and I think about all the bizarre conversations we had, such as the time he said, with no context what so ever at the time, “Don’t I have a beautiful forehead?”

Two memories define him, for me. The first is when I was 14. I had to get braces, which meant no eating popcorn for the next two years. I was upset because I really love popcorn. The night before I had to get them put on, dad took me to the movies. We went and saw Apollo 13, we loved it, it instantly became one of our favourites, and he made sure to get me the biggest bucket of popcorn the theatre had, knowing that that was it for me for two years. Neither of us could finish it, but that was never the point; it was about quality time and doing something nice for someone else, bringing them joy. That was dad.

The second memory is I was eighteen and we were at the cottage. Wasps had built a nest in the roots of a tree. We decided the best way to get rid of it was to burn it out so we got some gasoline and started pouring it into the hole. We’d look at each other, say “Enough? Little more? Little more” and fill it some more, until it was so full that the gas was spilling on to the lawn around the tree. We got a piece of newspaper, lit it and tossed it at the hole.

All I remember from then on is a bright flash, a loud whoosh and then mom running down the pathway from the cottage, yelling “what have you two done this time!”. She arrived to find flames shooting up from the tree, the lawn around the tree ablaze, and dad and me sitting on the lawn, singed, still slightly smoking… and giggling like a couple of three-year-olds. After a few moments dad was able to compose himself and then he turned to me and said, completely seriously, “I think we used too much gasoline”.

I know that all of us have similar memories of my dad, ones that make us smile and laugh. That’s what I’ll miss about him the most: the good times, the smile, the laughter, the way those blue eyes would light up and you could see all the love in the world in them.

The past few months, I’ve noticed those eyes weren’t quite as bright. I saw age finally catch up with someone who seemed years younger than he was. I could feel him start to slip away and, for someone like me who is driven by solving problems, it left me feeling utterly useless, and even helpless.

Yet in the midst of this I started to see something I had never seen before: in dad facing his mortality, I saw his humanity laid bare and I finally realized what he’d been working so hard to pass onto me and my siblings all these years. I saw that as his children, we are the sum of his hopes, his dreams, his beliefs and the sacrifices he made over his lifetime. I saw that even in the mistakes he’d made, he always had our best intentions front and center. Even in seeing his flaws, I saw dad’s love shine through more clearly than ever before.

In working through my feelings in saying goodbye to him, I remembered the words of the English poet John Donne: “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but is translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation”. This past Saturday night, dad took God’s hand, and peacefully, without pain, in the midst of his family, was himself translated into something mere words can never describe. That deep faith that guided him through his life finally guided him home.

I guess all that’s left to say now is goodbye, dad. I love you. I’m going to miss you a lot… we all are… but I know will see you again one day.

And finally, dad… thank you.

For everything.

 

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Depression Demystified

Last week I lost a close friend to suicide. It wasn’t the first time I’ve lost someone I’ve cared about that but this time it hit me hard because my friend seemed to be finally getting her life back on track after a undergoing a very rough time.

Seeing me work through the sudden loss of a friend inspired my wife (who has a degree in psychology and is finishing up her masters degree in art therapy) to write about depression and to try to dispel several all-too common misconceptions about it, as well as giving advice for those going through it themselves.

For followers of Shaneisms, you might recall me talking about my own battles with depression. If you haven’t read it, that article can be found here.

Please head on over to my wife’s blog and hopefully learn about a subject that is all too easy to misunderstand.

Sermonizing… again!

When I’m not being a filmmaker, writer, randomly appearing on TV and being a part-time ninja, I occasionally give sermons. My pastor, possibly having a lapse in judgement, left me in charge of my church this weekend.

The sermon I gave is about how people are leaving the church in record numbers and what Christians can and should be doing about.

Sneak peek: “Our society is so very intolerant of anything seen as being broken, and yet Christ came for the broken. He said He has come to make all things new.”

Click here if you want to read it. C’mon… you know you want too….

http://bit.ly/1ktggEq