Introducing My Newest Son Liam... and What's In A Title Anyways?

Introducing my new son: Liam Galbraith. 6 lbs 12 oz. 21 inches. Happy and healthy.

I am 47 years old and have 4 sons aged 19, 16, 13 and just a few days old. Ten years ago, I could not have imagined how my family has changed. At that time, we were "mom, dad  and three sons". Now, we have new titles: ex-wife, ex-husband, step-son, half-brother, step-mother in addition to  mom, dad, sons and  brothers... oh and "step-grand mother", "step-great grandmother" and more! The list of titles has become quite long.

I have mixed feelings about these titles.

After I separated, it was important that I be very clear that only two people could use the titles "Mom" and "Dad" in our family, regardless of any significant others that came into our lives. I guess I felt a bit insecure about some new-comer trying to usurpe my role as father. Now, I am not as concerned with these titles; I know that our boys know in their hearts who is their mom and dad regardless of any new partners. But, I guess I like the title and would not want to share it. 

"Step-mom" is a loaded term. It seems to go along with the term "evil" as a result of some nursery rhymes. It is not a title we regularly use. My kids call my wife by her first name. But, if a teacher or someone just meets my wife and looks quizzically at her, wondering how such a tiny, young French-Canadian woman could have such huge, teenage boys, my son might say "oh... she's my step-mom".  One teacher said in response "Oh. I see. Parents are getting younger and younger every year!" We had a chuckle.

The title "ex-husband" or "ex-wife" also has negative connotations. Perhaps it comes from the natural inclination to find blame with someone, or maybe it just feels so exclusionary - like we are just part of the past. We may not be married but we still parent three sons together so communicate regarding parenting decisions almost daily. In a way, she's still part of my family. So, I usually introduce her as "the mother of my boys" - because that also describes our ongoing parenting relationship. (Hmmmm with the arrival of Liam, I may have to alter that introduction a wee bit!)

Liam has three "half-brothers". I too have a half-sister but you would never know it. She's "my sister". To me, the term "half" suggests she is half sister and half something else which begs the question "what's the other half?" In fact, my sons did not know she is technically my "half-sister" until my father's funeral this past May. To me, she has always been and will always be my sister. Period.

Titles help others understand the complicated nature of our family but they don't tell you anything about the state of the relations. Sometimes "dad" means "source of all wisdom and humour" but lately I think it may mean "embarrassing old goof". Either way, I know my boys love me deeply, even if they prefer I sit in another room occasionally! .... Whatever.... 

My Father Was a Great Man

 Curly as a boyMy father was a great man. I loved him dearly and already miss him. He died about two weeks before his 89th birthday. 

Born in Vulcan, Alberta to farmers, my father was known affectionately as “Curly” since he was 2 ½ years old.

The story goes that his mother gave him the nickname to avoid confusion with his Uncle George with whom he shared the same first name and was living with them at the time.

The name stuck.   He never heard his mother call him anything but “Curly” his entire life.

My dad was known as “Curly” to everyone, not just family. Curly on the horse with brothers

I fondly remember walking the floor of my dad’s factory with him when I was about 12 years old. Dad was the president of the company. Every employee endearingly called out “Hi Curly!”

He knew the first nameCurly with curly hairs of most of the 150 or so factory workers too. He was just that kind of guy. He respected everyone and they respected him. He cared about everyone.

He had another nickname. He was also known as “Mr. Rotary” to many. My father gave back to his community and the world through his deep commitment to Rotary. Dad had over 50 years of perfect attendance at weekly meetings of Rotary, attending meetings of clubs around the world.

He was president of his club, District Governor, a member of the Board of Directors and eventually rose to Vice President of Rotary International and you know Rotary is in almost every country of the world.

During his tenure as Vice President of the RI presidentinternational association, he was instrumental in changing Rotary’s rules so that women could become members. “Women are changing the world” he said. “They need to be a part of Rotary”. He was also deeply involved in Rotary’s “Stay in School” program and Rotary’s efforts to wipe out Polio throughout the world.

He helped establish the Calgary Rotary Foundation which has raised millions of dollars for charity. He really made a difference locally and internationally.

To many Rotarians in Calgary, it may be the small things he did that they will remember most. My Dad called every Rotarian in his club and in the 3 clubs he was an honorary member (that’s over 500 Rotarians) on their birthday every year to wish them well and to share some personal fellowship. This small gesture moved many people.  

My father was a great source of wisdom. My three teenage sons dancingregularly hear me quoting “Grampa-isms”. An oft said one repeated by me is “You’re down on things you’re not up on!” Now, isn’t that true?

Regarding employees he said “Don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself!”

He did not dwell on mistakes and instead would say “It’s like a bad haircut. Give it a couple of weeks and it will fix itself.”

He always encouraged us to stay in school by saying “Get an education. It’s the only thing the banks and the government can’t take away from you… but their working on it.” It worked. Of his four kids, we are two lawyers and two doctors. familykids

Regarding money, he said "Spend it carefully. You can only spend money once!"

 

He tried to live every day by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He always chose to look for the good in others and assumed everyone was just doing their best. I think it was this positive attitude toward humanity that endeared him to so many.

I held my father is such high regard that during my university days when I introduced Dad to my girlfriend at the time, she was surprised he was that not a very tall man. I asked why she was surprised about his height and she said “The way you described him, I thought he would be a giant of a man!” In so many ways, my father was a “giant of a man” to me and he always will be. 

I will not only miss his sage advice but also his great jokes. Dad loved jokes, especially his own jokes. Many a time, he would burst into such a belly- laugh that he could not even finish telling the joke! 

Even if the joke wasn’t that funny, you couldn’t help but join in with a full out belly laugh every time (even if you had heard the joke many times previously and we usually had)! hats

Speeches. I doubt there is anyone, politicians and preachers included, who has given more speeches than Dad, especially at Rotary meetings.

On more than one occasion, he was attending a Rotary meeting, minding his own business, when he was asked to replace to the guest speaker who could not attend at the last minute. Dad accepted the invitation, kept eating his lunch (we Galbraiths never miss a meal) and jotted a few notes on his napkin. He then spoke to the assembled group for 20 minutes without a hitch. He was informative and entertaining and frankly, just amazing.    

Grampa loved all of his children,  grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.

He was especibedally pleased to hear that he was going to have another grandchild in November. Just days before his death, I was able to share with him that my wife, Nicole, and I will be bringing a new life into the world in November.

It is so sad this new baby won’t know Grampa in person but no doubt s/he will hear many Grampa-isms.

Ironic , isn’t it? The same week we are announcing a new life is about to begin, Dad’s life ends.

Two nights before his last breath, I told Dad the truth.

kids at the zooI told him that he was approaching the end of his life and he would soon be seeing Brent, his son and my brother who died at 2 ½ years of age, his parents, Auntie Rena and so many of his great friends and family who had passed away.

I encouraged him to accept God’s peace and rejoice in knowing God’s love and forgiveness.

I told him he was a wonderful role mode and inspiration to me and my boys and so many others.

I told him that he was deeply loved by his family and so many friends from around the world.

I told him God loved him.

Dad at first seemed stressed hearing this message. Who wouldn’t be stressed? But then he began to relax in to the hospital bed, realizing the truth of my message. The tension from his forehead began to release and he became more peaceful.

Dad tried to say something to me but his failing body wouldn’t let his words come out.

I just said “I know Dad. I know you love me and you love all your family. I know. And I love you too Dad. Just rest now Dad. Just rest.”

Dad then took hold of my thumb, gripping it as I had once done his thumb when I was his little boy. He gripped my thumb until he fell asleep. I spent the night at his bedside, watching over my father. I never saw him awake again.

Dad passed away peacefully less than two days later.

Thank you for everything Dad.

I love you.