We’re Grateful He Said Something

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy has endured more than anyone should at any age, let alone as a child. In his memoir, Why I Didn’t Say AnythingKennedy offers readers an exploration into a life of pain, intermittent joys, suffering, and finally, small redemptions.

If you’re looking for a “rags to riches” tale that inevitably sees a hero escape dire circumstances using only intestinal fortitude to achieve riches, fame, and glory, this is not the book for you. This is a raw telling of a life that still has so much left as the author is not yet fifty years old. I think the book’s greatest value is that Kennedy doesn’t pretend to have all of the answers and does not present the reader with a list of fixes. Quite frankly, he, and for that matter, none of us, have the answers as to why pedophiles prey on children, nor why it continues to happen with such startling regularity.

One of the key takeaways from Kennedy’s autobiography is that this can happen to anyone. It makes it a must-read for everyone, but especially, I would argue, young athletes. While we know that pedophiles will certainly look to groom certain individuals, ultimately, there is absolutely no cut and dried “model” victim. Class, “race,” ethnicity, and gender cannot determine a victim. We also know that victims of child abuse more often than not know their perpetrators. The idea that a stranger is the one to be most watchful of, is wrongheaded. Accounts of abductions by strangers make for better news, but tragically, in the end, children are most at risk in their own homes, or in the care of friends and relatives.

Kennedy offers an expose of how Graham James was able to masterfully manipulate families, hockey organizations, and in particular, young hockey players to position them for abuse. This occurred over several decades and his victim total will likely never be known. In the case of Kennedy, James was able to get him separated from not only his family (an issue with thousands of junior hockey players across North America every year), but from his billet family and teammates. By making him feel “special” while destroying his confidence, James could control the teenaged Kennedy and abuse hundreds of times.

Kennedy spirals into survivor mode and becomes an alcoholic as a teenager, and later uses other drugs in an attempt to cope with the effects of the abuse: shame, guilt, self-loathing and so forth. While his talent allows him to lead his team to a Memorial Cup, and World Junior championship while still in his teens, his pro career never develops the way it might have otherwise. How could it have? The fact that he could even play for three NHL teams in his career and be reasonably productive on the ice for many of those years, is a testament to Kennedy’s athletic talent and his resilience. His difficulties in coming to terms with his own abuse is further complicated when he comes into contact with James and sees him with other young victims.

The most rewarding, yet most challenging parts of the book, in many ways, are in the final third. You only hope that things will only improve for Kennedy, but they do not. He continues to struggle with drug abuse, multiple failed recoveries, financial difficulties, lost relationships, and an inability to quash his demons. There is no sugar coating of any of this, although his efforts with young people, and in helping to educate adults on abuse hold much promise. Ultimately, this is the most powerful message from Kennedy’s brave exploration – victims of abuse along with their closest family and friends are never completely rid of what they endure as young people.

Kennedy’s book is a must read. It is accessible and appropriate for teenaged and older readers. It is vital for everyone to talk about the issue of child abuse, and most importantly, vital that young people and their caregivers know the warning signs that perpetrators often provide when attempting to groom a child. Nurturing self-confidence and providing greater insights into prevention to our youngest citizens are two important factors in addressing this ongoing tragedy. Hope and a better future is something we can all focus on as advocates for children.

 

 

On Play: Children’s Voices Matter

My recent research interests, while still as varied as always, have shifted to including a focus on play.

For most of us, defining play and then talking about it in any number of contexts, seems relatively straightforward. Recently, I have found that what I am learning about play is that even defining it is anything but straightforward.

children-playing

One obstacle I have encountered is that play, as defined by children, or from the perspective of childhood, is limited. In other words, there are all kinds of adult experts on play, but in too many instances, their research lacks the critical component, of children’s voices. Observing children at play is one thing, but having children define it, is another thing altogether.

As an historian of childhood, the discounting of young people’s voices is a theme as old as the historiography. In this respect, it has deep ties to the social history that emerged in the late sixties and early seventies. Debate about the veracity, reliability and just plain usefulness of children as sources of knowledge is age old.

This is particularly problematic when it comes to play. A major trend since the early 20th Century in North America has been the increase in organized, managed and directed play. Children’s free play continues to be eroded as adults have wanted to imbue purpose, meaning and goals (almost always exclusively adult-driven) into children’s activities. One of the most important points that has been missed in all of this is that all children need and desire self-directed free play.

Are there times when it should be guided? Absolutely. Does children’s play, at times, benefit from adult intervention? Of course. But when are most, if not all children the most content and happy? When they are playing on their own in a small group of peers.

How do I know this? Well, much of the research supports this, even when it lacks the perspective of children themselves. Yet too many adults, and especially parents, continue to ignore what many of us know to be so.

Some of my future research will look at recovering play histories both from children themselves and from the perspective of childhood, from older people. There is so very much to learn here – for children and for the child in all of us.

In an upcoming post I will explore what free play looks like and why it is so important.

Time For a Change

I haven’t written anything on this site, other than small updates, for more than a year. That has bothered me for quite some time. Quite simply, it’s time for a change on.

A lot has changed over that time. I’m now a Dr. as I completed my PhD just over 16 months ago now. I’m immersed in trying to secure full-time employment in academia. So while I continue to read literature and discuss it with others, quite simply, I don’t have time to focus on it exclusively.

I plan to write about the areas that have become my main areas of academic specialization. Childhood, in historical context and in the here and now, politics, and Canadian history are the areas where I spend the bulk of my time reading, researching, writing, and lecturing.

I’ll use the site as an outlet and hopefully a resource for others that are interested in elements related to these large, and at least to my mind, extremely important topics. I am also in the process of expanding my interests in running, fitness and coaching. In the coming months I am planning an additional site and build, at least modestly, a space dedicated solely to those passions.

I hope you’ll join me as I begin this new journey and continue to pursue that elusive full-time teaching position in academia. Thanks for coming this far!

Q/A with Award-Winning Canadian Author Dave Margoshes

Author Dave Margoshes was kind enough to respond to some questions about writing, reading and his future work. I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I have.

JO: Dave, to my mind, many of these wonderful stories would be best read aloud. Why do you think that is?

DM: Ha ha, that’s a good question. I’m stumped. Best I can thing of is that there’s a sort of warm, familial tone to them, a sort of family-stories-told-around-the-fireplace tone I worked hard at.

JO: Did your feelings about your father change after you wrote about him so intimately?

DM: I don’t know. All of the stories were written after his death. This isn’t why I wrote them, of course, but they did serve to keep me in touch with his memory. And so much of the stories is fiction, I’m a little fuzzy myself about some aspects of the story – did that really happen or did I make it up? I think it’s safe to say, accurate to say, that the character of my father in the stories is a construct, not a depiction of the real man that a biographer or memoirist might conjure up. I like that character, that construct, a hell of a lot, but he’s a more perfect character than my actual father was.

JO: You work in several different genres. What is it about writing short stories that you like the most?

DM: The short story is the perfect literary form, in my view. It’s the sort of Reuben sandwich of the writer’s art. It’s got everything. Novels, on the other hand, are like a seven course meal, soup to nuts, sometimes leading to indigestion; poems are potato chips.

JO: Not many writers attempt the number of genres you do Dave. Why do you think you have done this throughout your career?

DM: Well, it’s not really that much. Fiction (long and short) and poetry. Lots of writers do that. A bit of nonfiction, but that’s an extension of my journalism practice, the way I made my living for years. Doesn’t really count.

JO: What are some of the issues with writing about your extended family and in particular, your father?

DM: I don’t think I had any issues. As I said above, the “my father” in those stories is a fictional construct. So are the character of “my mother” and the sisters. When you think of them that way, they’re no different really than any other fictional characters.

JO: You’ve written an excellent biography of Tommy Douglas. What were some of the biggest challenges writing about one of more influential politicians in Canadian history?

DM: OK, the Tommy book is the one example of nonfiction I do lay claim to. (I’ve written a couple other nonfiction books, commissioned, that I don’t put on my CV.) I’m not a biographer, really, and not a historian (though that is what I got my B.A. in). I approached that book as a journalist, following the story. Every action in that book happened, all the quotes mined from actual sources. The “challenge,” as in any piece of extended journalism, is in finding the story and sustaining the interest level.

JO: What authors have had the greatest influence on your work?

DM: I grew up in the States, so my earliest influences were mostly American writers: Faulkner, Hemingway, Saroyan. Later John O’Hara, the master of the short story. Poets Whitman, Frost, Williams. And later, too many to mention.

JO: What are you working on currently, Dave?

DM: I’m working on a new novel, but also tidying up a novel that’s been in the works for quite a while and will be published next year.

JO: Finally, what will you be reading over the summer?

DM: Right now, I’m reading Cynthia Flood’s new collection of stories, Red Girl, Rat Boy – not actually out till fall. She is amazing, one of my favourite Canadian writers. I’ve also just started David McFadden’s What’s the Score, which won the Griffin poetry prize last month. I’ve always liked McFadden, and he’s long overdue for some national recognition. Beyond that, who knows?