Mr. Rogers Retires

I first met Ken Rogers in 1986 when he was helping with the vocals on the production of Evita. While this was a community project Ken was just starting his teaching career. I had the pleasure of working with Ken on numerous shows and had interviewed him countless times for his work with the Community Band along with many other school initiatives. He always had that passion for what he was doing and always wanted the people he was working with to be the best they could. I was fortunate to have had him as a vocal instructor in many of the shows I’ve done and I can imagine there are countless students who loved having him as his teacher. He has decided to retire after 32 years. That doesn’t mean you won’t hear from him anymore as he is set to launch Titanic this fall with Fran Rude. Ken is also a talented Trombone player and an amazing vocalist himself. I thought I’d find out a little bit more about his illustrious career.

When did you decide teaching was what you wanted to do?

I never really thought I’d teach but did my B.Ed following my B. Mus because it was one extra year at that time and EVERYONE seemed to suggest it as wise.   It was in my last student teaching round, with Mike Richey at Catholic Central HS, I realized I loved it.    Mike had been teaching about 10 years and asked me what I wanted out of the 6-week round and I said “I want to see if I want to/can do this all day every day”.   So he let me take over everything from day 1, which we weren’t really supposed to do, but it was exactly what I needed.   Baptism by fire.   I remember a group of 4 grade 8 girls who said at the end of the round that they needed to apologize for something.   They asked if I remembered saying on my first day if anyone else was hearing voices in their grade 8 band.   They were under the band room risers the whole time giggling and felt really bad about doing that.   Mike’s been a wonderful mentor ever since and in his retirement was a favourite band sub of mine and the kids at LCI.

Who were some of your mentors as you journeyed on your way to a 32-year career?

I’ve had lots of great mentors over the years, but my main professional mentor has and always will be Bill Wahl of Medicine Hat.   While still in university I taught trombone at a U of L summer band camp for which Bill was conducting the bands.   I really liked how calm and civil he was with the groups and how collected he was every day.   He seemed more like a dad than a teacher.   I was heading into student teaching at that point so chatted with Bill every lunch hour for that camp and learned so much.   I phoned Bill (pre-internet!) at least monthly my first few years of teaching and he always had such sage advice.  We did a couple of band exchanges too early on.   Over the years the calls decreased in frequency, but he is still my main mentor.   Bill had a balance of work/family/spirit that I aspired to and continue to through the present.   Even in his retirement he is still my mentor as I hope my retirement activities and wise life balance may mirror his.   One of Bill’s main philosophies is “band as family” and I’ve tried to create that kind of safe place in my room and groups throughout my career.     I also owe an eternal debt to my U of L professor/conductors who encouraged me to develop mentor relationships such as Bill’s and who have continued to support me and be mentors as well: Dr. Linda Pimentel who was my main music ed prof and band conductor, and who worked tirelessly for us and loved us like a mom, Dr. Vondis Miller who preceded Linda at the U of L and was the epitome of grace under pressure, and Dr. George Evelyn who was my U of L voice teacher and choir director.   I still get to sing with George and other friends on occasion, which is wonderful relationship.   I hope through my 32 year career I’ve somehow repaid them for what they did for me by turning around and doing the same for others.

 

My main LIFE mentors have been my parents, of course.   My dad passed away 4 and half years ago on closing night of conducting the symphony production of Les Mis (your rendition of Bring Him Home that evening is etched in my memory even though I don’t remember much else from the show during the 10 days Dad was in ICU), but his endless patience and unconditional love I’ve known my whole life were exceptional.   I guess I grew up assuming everybody had parents like that.   He and my mom taught us to serve others, to get involved, to keep our commitments, to leave things better than we found them, to accept consequences and live up to our mistakes, and to treat people well.  It’s easy to learn lessons from someone whose actions speak as loudly or louder than their words.

Speaking of mentors, here’s a pic, from the funeral of my LCI band teacher, Jerry Pokarney, 2 years ago.   In it is almost every Hamilton Jr. High, Gilbert Paterson, and LCI band teacher, L to R:

Doug Scales, Karly Lewis, Susie Staples, Mike Richey, me, Bob Brunelle, Karen Hudson, Mark Ward.   A sad day, but what a legacy – Jerry would have been thrilled to see us all together.   We really are quite a small community who support each other very much.

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Obviously, music has been an integral part of your life as far as a career goes. What did it mean to you growing up? 

My musical career growing up was not stellar!    I can remember sitting on the piano bench in grade school crying and refusing to practice.   I got to about the beginning of Gr. 2 piano, at which point our family moved to Lethbridge, where the piano lesson rates were much higher, and with 4 kids in lessons and money tight from the move, my mom finally let me quit.    Seemed like such a personal victory at the time, but I sure wish still that I could play piano better!   You’ve probably heard me attempt to play and can attest to that sentiment.   I also remember the first week of Junior High School Grade 7 band practicing what the book said, but then getting to the end of the first line of 4 whole notes and 4 whole rests on one note and seeing the instruction “repeat 3 times”.   There was no way I was doing that boring exercise 3 times and I don’t think I practiced again until late in high school.   Fortunately there was lots of music in our house, my dad faithfully sang in choirs and in some shows and mom often played piano for him and other singers and at church.   So it was normal in our house to do music and perform music.   I eventually wised up.   Singing came later.   In high school LCI Band ruled in the late 1970’s and the LCI choirs had just barely begun, just a small group with guitar and no way I was going to do that.   In university I joined Elinor Lawson’s Madrigal Singers with the sole motive to get a little closer to Christine, who I had noticed earlier in my first year.   She was second year so i had to do something to get her to notice me.   Let’s just say choir has been good to me.   The following year George Evelyn arrived at the U of L and I’ve been choral singing and conducting ever since.   I’ve been leading my McKillop Church Choir for over 20 years now and they are simply a wonderful bunch of people from all walks of life who love to offer their singing to our church.

Why the trombone?

The only reason was we had recently moved from a small town to Lethbridge and I gather what happened was the cost of the move and new house meant there wasn’t a lot of spare cash, so I got to (was forced to??) play the same school-owned instrument my older brother, Jerry, played – the trombone.   I remember it was still warm sometimes when I’d open it for band class – I think that may have contributed to my lack of appetite for practicing as well!    It wasn’t until high school that I put any real effort in and finally admitted to myself that it was something I could do decently if I applied any effort.   Jerry and I just played a Big Band gig together this weekend and that is definitely one of the things I always look forward to, playing beside him.   And we don’t have to share a warm trombone anymore!   We have a bunch of trombonists and tubists in the family, all excellent players and it’s normal at Christmas or family events to put a “heavy metal” group together.   Here’s a pic from a few years ago with L to R: sister in law Joan (Robin) Rogers, brother Jerry, me, our son Christopher, Jerry’s son Gerald IV, sister Mar, and brother in law Neil.   And there are even more trombonists in the family.

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You’ve taught band and choral music…Is the approach essentially the same for both disciplines or are there vast differences?

They are different indeed, but the end goal is still the same, to bring the group together to be able to connect and communicate musically with an audience, to say something with the music that will reach someone.   And they both take a lot of vision and a lot of hard work while keeping your eye on the goals in your vision.    The process for me is just as much fun as the product.   Performing is fun, but it’s in rehearsal where relationships are built and you can have the most fun and hopefully laugh together a lot.   Choir is more “huggy”, but you CAN get bands to hug, at least metaphorically if you really work on it.    Orchestras, not that much!

As you think back on your 32 years as a teacher, what comes to mind?

A sea of faces and names and sounds – especially smiles and laughter.   The times outside of class seem to stick the most – band trips, festivals, clinics, retreats, concerts, community performances.    I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with so many amazing kids over the years, and even more fortunate to have been able to so via music.   It’s really important that you’re teaching kids, not music.   If you get that backwards, it’s not as good.

I know you’re probably ethically contracted to not say you had your favorites but in 32 years you must have had a number of students that were in a league of their own. Can you name a few names?

Yes, I’d better remain professional and not name names!

Are there people that just shouldn’t be taking music or can you always find a way that they can derive some joy out of it?

That’s a tough one, but in Alberta music is not a required course in high school so students choose to take it, which usually takes care of things.   I guess what I would say is it’s probably a good thing we don’t force kids to take music in high school, but I would support mandatory ARTS education in high school, so long as resources, staffing, and PD were sufficiently funded by the province.    I also would say that you can always find a way to include ANY student who wants to take music, regardless of their ability.   Gone, I hope, are the days where students are told to “mouth it” so the group sounds better.   I know so many adults who sadly will absolutely not sing due to some sort of musically traumatic school experience along those lines.

What have been some of your most special moments as a teacher?

It feels like here and now are the most special moments as a teacher, the rest is memories that, while good, are not as “real” as the present.   I know students and others have said “you probably tell every group every year how great they are”, but it’s true.   When a group works together and rises to their potential, that moment is the best ever, regardless of whether it’s an everyday rehearsal or a performance.     I’ve always thought that when any age group excels, the feelings of the human experience must be pretty much the same as when the New York or Berlin Philharmonic excels.     And vice versa when it doesn’t work!    The times away with kids on trips have been really wonderful, multiple times to Cuba, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Whistler, Seattle, Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, wherever.   Good times and great memories.   My very last LCI concert was a special moment too, they played with such passion and desire and I could not be happier to have ended on such a good note!     I really enjoyed every moment of that concert.   A band parent who works at the Herald sent me the pic of the concert that was used in the Herald. (It is at the top of this story)

What was the most frustrating part of being primarily an arts teacher in the public school system? (Don’t hold back, they can’t fire you now.)

The most frustrating part is the flip side of the sword that fills your class with kids who want to be there – that is, when kids quit.   Because it’s an optional course, you can’t make anyone take it, so you sometimes waste a lot energy wondering why so-and-so quit, wondering what you did wrong.   You have to consciously not beat yourself up over why anyone would quit something they are so good at.   Talking about it with other arts teachers helps, because none of us is alone in that!    Keeping it all inside is rarely a good thing.

 

Another frustrating part is lack of truly consistent funding for arts programs, being at the whim of provincial politics, education bureaucracy, and local/school decision making.   I’ve been fortunate for most of my career in this regard, but I’ve seen the opposite and it’s frustrating to see something that is so incredibly good for kids to be treated like a useless fluffy frill, or worse yet, cut altogether.    Fortunately in Lethbridge support is decent across the schools and our programs are in quite good shape relative to the rest of the province.    Having said that, I am not sad to no longer face endless fundraising and grant writing in order to get the materials needed for a good music program.  The funding from the province and/or schools is just not there for everything you need.   There was more direct school board funding in my first 10 years or so of teaching, but Alberta Education switched to a site-based school system, at which point funding for instruments pretty much dried up.   At that point I gave up my purist stance of insisting the province supply what was needed for classes and my wife Christine helped me write grants for the next 15 years.    She finally had enough of that, so the last 5 or 10 years I’ve written them myself during my spare time, which is like pulling your own teeth during your spare time when you’re a right-brained arts teacher!    We probably averaged somewhere around $10,000 per year in grants, so multi-6 figures in total over the years and tons of quality equipment going into several schools along the way, most of which is still in use.   I’m not talking fundraising for trips and events, just for equipment to teach the course.    Again, frustrating to have to do a LOT of work for grants, but the alternative was to go without.   Most of that grant funding has been through Alberta Culture and Tourism from lotteries, but major kudos to local organizations such as The Community Foundation for Lethbridge and SW Alberta and most recently Sunrise Rotary club, among other service clubs, for their community funding.

Was there ever a time you wanted to give up because things just weren’t clicking with your students?

Yes, I seriously considered packing it in around the 11/12 year mark.   The beginner enthusiasm had worn off but I didn’t yet see the full circle.   I’m so glad now I didn’t leave the profession as the sum of the 32 years has been phenomenally rewarding and gratifying.    I’ve noticed a lot of teachers hit a low around that decade mark, maybe for the same reasons.

When you do what you do and you want to take your kids to special events you have to fundraise. Discuss.

See my previous response.  Fundraising seems to be a necessary evil in music education in 2018, at least in Alberta/Canada.   I can honestly say I have had more than enough of fundraising and will run from it as fast as possible for the rest of my life.   I’d be happy to pay more taxes and get a better community for it.

You’ve done so much extra-curricular work in the community. How were you able to balance it all? 

Christine. (My wife) She was very patient and if/when I was out too much I always knew the kids were good and that I’d see them and make up the time soon.   I was lucky to be a school teacher so i could really give back during Christmas/Easter/summer holidays.   We didn’t travel a lot and I rarely did much during those holidays as there usually isn’t much on during those breaks (tons leading up to those breaks though!) and pretty much every group takes a rehearsal hiatus during them, so I was able to really give time back during my breaks.   And our kids seemed to have turned out OK!    Of course they came to a lot of musical events as they were growing up so being involved in and committed to things is something that seems to be normal for them.    These pics are of my son Christopher in Stanford Univ Summer Orchestra (that’s their new concert hall on campus) and a promo shot of my daughter Camille in the lead role in a Toronto production last year of Rossini’s Italian Girl in Algiers.

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Was administration ever in the cards?

Thought of it very briefly early on, but quickly figured out why not to do it.    Teachers seem to need to exercise a lot of catharsis (we are the WORST behaved group when asked to pay attention to a speaker), I think from dealing with so many kids at a time.   It’s easy to deal with kids who are basically doing their job of being teenagers, but I can’t imagine dealing with all the teachers’ complaints and problems all year long!

What are you going to miss the most?

Definitely the kids, especially getting to know them over time.   I believe the world is in really good hands.   It is refreshing to be around their creativity, energy, and idealism and gratifying to know how much they care about making a difference in the world, in other people’s lives, and how accepting they are of each other and being free to be who they really are.   Even though they get a bad rap from much of society, they really are finer people than many/most adults!    It’s amazing to think what they will solve/create/cure with their talents and intellect.    We need them for our future, and they just need us to love and accept and encourage them.    Even when they’re goofy teenagers who occasionally are misguided!   After working with kids for 32 years I truly believe they are inherently good and when they do they bad things, there is always a reason, usually resulting from having been hurt in some way.   I’ve not met a kid who is all bad, just some dealing with more stuff than I’ve ever had to deal with.

Final comments?

It’s been good to articulate these thoughts, so much has been swimming through my head the last month.  This has been a timely exercise.    One thing I’m going to miss is working with my LCI Fine Arts team colleagues, they are all phenomenal at what they do and being on a very creative team like that has been a real bonus.   Many arts teachers teach in relative isolation and that can be hard.   The last few months have been full of “lasts” – some good (last staff meeting, last report card marks submission), some sad (last concert, last rehearsal of group X, last class, etc.) but that whole time I’ve felt there must be some firsts coming.   Lo and behold, I opened an email on my very last day of teaching last Friday with an invitation to adjudicate the Fort McMurry festival for 5 days in March – I’ve always wanted to see Fort Mac, and now I get to!    The next morning on my first official day of retirement I opened another email with an invitation to adjudicate Edmonton Kiwanis Festival for 5 days in April.    Talk about timely – in the words of Broadway’s Annie, “I think I’m gonna like it here”.   Festivals treat you like royalty!   And I’ve got a couple of Honour Bands lined up in the spring, which are always fun and exciting – 2 or 3 days to take top recommended kids from all over from scratch to concert.   I’d love to do some supervising work with U of L student teachers, we’ll see.

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The Funny 5

It’s a holiday Monday. As you sit back and reflect on your Canada Day weekend noting that the price of gas did not go up on Friday, perhaps I can add another smile or two with these:

  1. It’s not that I mind picking up after my dog does a number in the park, it’s the way he indignantly looks at me as if to say, “You really are a loser.”
  2. Joe Thornton will return to the San Jose Sharks. The deal was for one year for $5 million and an unlimited supply of beard oil.
  3. Lebron goes to LA. Word is he’s already working on a remake of Kazaam.
  4. Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom has made $265,699,530 in two weeks. Will there be another sequel? Will Donald Trump send out a tweet today?
  5. I said to a friend, “I need to lose 40 pounds.” He said, “Aren’t they called Euros now?”

A Day In Paradise

Depending on the day golf is either like what Mark Twain said, “A good walk spoiled” or “It’s better than being at work.” My sentiment was probably somewhere in between when I played in the Mackenzie PGA Pro-Am Tuesday down at Paradise Canyon. First off, I have played two rounds of golf in three years. The clubs I have are a mix of my own set and a few from my wife’s set. My back goes out when I bend down to put on a sock. And the worst thing is that I think I’m still 30 and can do what I used to do.

So I played horribly. And I’m not saying that to illicit any sympathy. I am what I am and I accept it. I’m not the type of guy who can pick up a club after a year and hit like he’s been at it every day. I need the reps. I need to be able to stretch before I tee off.

Having said that, what a pleasant experience to meet up and coming PGA pro George Cunningham and his father-caddie Tracy. George is from Tucson Arizona and was the big winner in the Mackenzie Tour in Kelowna last week. He was working on a few hours’ sleep as they drove into town in their 5th wheel early in the morning. He was somewhat tired but he was happy to be a part of the event and even allowed a Global TV crew to walk with him for a few holes to talk about his life and career.

By PGA rules, George and his dad had to walk the course. They could catch a ride only between the green and the next hole. I was thankful that I had a cart and I wasn’t carrying my clubs. (There may have been a beer that mysteriously appeared in the drink container.)

So back to my game. I have found that the older I get the worse my eyesight has become. In the entire match there was only one drive that I actually saw off the tee box. My teammates Jeff Carlson and Andre Royer were my saviors on the day telling me what part of the rough I went to. I bought two sleeves of golf balls. My first tee shot of the day went into the water. (So I’m told.) It was a sign of things to come. The entire day my swing felt off, I was topping my second shots and I was duffing my chip shots. I may have made one putt. Oh, and I corkscrewed my back on about the second hole so I was in pain for most of the match. So the golfing part of the day for me was horrible.

But then there’s walking the beautiful course down in Paradise. It’s in wonderful shape. The views are spectacular especially when you get to what I think is the signature part of the course, holes 10,11, 12 and 13. George and his dad thought the course was amazing and it reminded them of Colorado. (They were originally from Colorado before moving to Arizona so that George could play golf all year round.)

There was a time when I would get incredibly frustrated with the way I was playing but I just came to the realization that I can’t play like I used to so I just made it a point to enjoy the company and the surroundings. And I did. (Jeff & Andre played very well.)

Now to George. He’s in his mid-20s and is ready to take the journey to being on the big PGA tour. I was in awe watching him play. His tee shots were consistently down the middle of the fairway averaging about 310 yards. His approaches were right at the pin. The only thing that didn’t go right for him was that he lipped out a couple times on the green. It made me think that that’s the difference between making big dollars or even making a cut. I asked George & Tracy about the mental side of the game. Everyone down at Paradise this week can hit the ball 310 yards and pinpoint their second shots to the green. But if your head isn’t right, it’s going to cost you. They say they work on that aspect all the time. You have to forget about a bad shot and get the next one. It’s a matter of experience and time that helps you get to the happy place between the ears.

George also had to have some major heart surgery saying that he wouldn’t be here today without it. It was heartwarming to see what a great relationship there seems to be between father and son. (George’s win last week in Kelowna was on Father’s Day-Tracy was very proud of his boy.)

I hacked, whacked and splashed my way through the golf course and George and his dad were very gracious all day even lying to me on occasion saying, “Nice shot.”

I hope he does well this weekend and wins the inaugural Paradise Canyon tournament of the Mackenzie PGA tour. The trophy that Ron Sakamoto had made up is gorgeous complete with a beautiful ammolite gemstone.

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It’s worth it to head down to Paradise Canyon to see these pros play. The tournament continues today through Sunday.

In the meantime I will hit the hot tub and look forward to my next game of golf in 2019.

The Funny Five- Edition 23

In an attempt to perhaps illicit a smile during a stressful moment of the day I now present the Funny Five. I’m happy to say I don’t have to go on and on about the possible side effects like they do in some anxiety pill commercials. These shouldn’t cause diarrhea or death. You might feel a desire to either boo or chuckle a little. Hopefully it will be the latter.

  1. I wonder if a cat is ever allergic to itself.
  2. A lot of sports have wrapped up. Thursday it was the final of the Stanley Cup, Friday it was the NBA Championship, Saturday, a Triple Crown winner at the Belmont, Sunday the French Open final. Finally, I’ve got time to put away my Christmas lights.
  3. One of the questions coming out of the G7 summit this weekend from Justin Trudeau: “Is there a Trump Hotel in hell?”
  4. The Blue Jays have won four games in a row. As nice as it is to hear that, I probably wouldn’t start planning the World Series parade yet.
  5. Robert Di Nero slammed President Trump at the Tony Awards last night. At 7 this morning, the IRS began his audit.

My Trip To Halifax

I just came back from my first ever FCM Convention. (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) There are a lot of acronyms one has to learn when you enter Municipal government. I had the great opportunity to network with many of my colleagues plus take in a number of informative sessions, go on some historic tours and hear from four leaders of the federal government including Prime Minister Trudeau. Here are a few thoughts from my experience in the incredible city of Halifax.

And so to the recycling plant.

First thing that struck me is how long that Halifax has been recycling. They are innovators and have been diverting from the land fill since 1992..

-Halifax contracts out its MRF operation including processing and marketing functions. It employs 40-50 staff.

I was surprised that the city has a 2-stream recycling bag based program. One blue bag for containers and another bag for fibre and not carts.

-The MRF handles 36,000 tonnes per year-80% from residential and 20% commercial

-The residential diversion rate away from the landfill is at 58%.

-Surprised that sorting is done by humans in the MRF

-Organics are also collected and placed in another location. All of the “refined” product is given away.

-The city of Halifax continues to educate even after some 25 years of recycling which is something that we in Lethbridge will have to do as well.

My co-councillor Belinda Crowson took the library tour while I just went on my own. It is renowned around the world for its construction.  I was struck by the openness of the facility-5 stories high, study pods, a great concert area, an Indigenous circle and something I think the Lethbridge Library could embrace is a rooftop coffee shop.

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Also, everything is free including memberships. There were a number of areas that were sponsored which could also be an avenue our library might incorporate. When I arrived at the library at 8:45 on a Sunday, there was a huge lineup of people ready to go in.

Halifax has the historic Citadel in the heart of the waterfront. While its history is far different from what we have in Lethbridge, my initial thought is how can we embrace our past to a greater degree and present it so that it truly becomes a destination point. That’s a discussion for another day but I think one worth looking into.

The Halifax Explosion tour was an education historic look at one of the most devastating man-made disasters in Canada but it was also a look at the Fire department of Halifax. I was quite surprised to hear that their fire corps is a convergence of Full time fire fighters and Volunteers. It is something that by their own admission has taken time to accept. It is a money saver but my first impression is that it is not something that would happen in Lethbridge.

Historical note: 2 thousand people died in the explosion, 4,000 injured many of whom were blinded by debris. It was the start of the CNIB in Canada. The state of Massachusetts was among the first people who sent aid. Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to them every year to plant.

The block beside City Hall was something that really impressed me. It’s something that I believe our Master Plan people can have a look at. There is main corridor with picnic tables and a War Memorial at the end. Something that could replicated behind our City Hall. It was a very welcoming spot for some rest and a grilled cheese sandwich which was provided by a food truck.

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I loved the numerous bump outs near the wharf and the convention centre. Great idea that can be incorporated in our downtown.

It was nice to hear from the leaders of our political parties. One main theme that I got out of it was that, federal, provincial and municipal leaders have to get along. We need to create partnerships. There is a lot of federal money for infrastructure. We all have to work together to make that money go from being available to actually being used. I loved the thought from Elizabeth May of the Green Party that we should do away with partisanship. It can be crippling.

May

Fighting The Battle Against Alcoholism

Over the years I have been a witness to friends who have struggled with alcohol abuse. One good friend died way too young. He couldn’t overcome the power of his addiction and ultimately paid the ultimate price. Another good friend found the strength to take on the beast and today is 30 years sober. I couldn’t be more proud of him and I asked him to share his story. He continues to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is a sponsor to many individuals who are going through the struggles he went through. To honor the A.A. tradition of maintaining “anonymity at the level of press, radio and films” I will not reveal his name but I think it’s really important to hear what I think is a remarkable victory by one man and to provide optimism to others who don’t think it’s possible to get that victory.

Was there ever any indicators growing up that could have foretold your battle with alcohol?

I was adopted at the age of three. Growing up, I felt like I didn’t fit in. My adopted parents were quite smothering and overprotective. I remember wanting to drink in my early teens. I heard about guys getting totally blasted and I wanted to do that just to escape all the negative feelings I had building up inside me but my parents were strict and I wasn’t able to go out much so the opportunity wasn’t there.

How old were you when you had your first drink?

My first drink was probably in my early teens. Nothing serious- I might have a few sips at family occasions. It was very minor.

Take us through how drinking became a part of your life?

As soon as I was away from my parents’ control, I started to rebel and drink whenever possible. When I moved to Lethbridge to take radio arts, I began drinking as often as possible. When I got my first job (1090 CHEC) and started to earn my own money, I continued to drink excessively whenever I could. I never ever drank socially- as in just having one or two drinks and leaving it alone. I quickly got into a pattern of drinking as much as I could for as long as I could.

Can you pinpoint a time when drinking actually took over all of your priorities?

When I was working at 1090 CHEC, I began to put drinking ahead of a job/career which I loved. I got into trouble at work but continued to drink. I probably should have been fired, but things were different back then.

How many times did you try to stop?

 

I never really tried to stop drinking. I would always say that I was going to slow it down. The longest I went without drinking was probably two weeks. I wasn’t trying to stop back then- just trying to keep it under control. When I didn’t drink for two weeks, I felt it was like forever and that I should have a parade in my honour! Most of the time though, I would drink heavily (blackouts most of the time) 3 to 5 nights a week. If I went to three or four days without drinking, I would really get the itch and put together some good drunks.

When you did stop and start again, what was the motivator that got you back off the wagon?

I didn’t need much of a motivator. If there was a band in a bar, a waitress I liked, good day, bad day- all were good excuses to go drink. Three days without drinking? Time to go on a good one! I was definitely a binge drinker!

I don’t know if it’s cliché but it seems that everyone with a drinking problem always hits rock bottom. Is that true and if so when was that for you?

I believe my bottom happened for me as I was facing disciplinary action at my job in Brooks. As I was waiting to talk to the boss about the issue, a very foreign thought came over me. (I believe it was from my “Higher Power”.) I thought, “I should just quit.” I’d never even considered that before that moment.

When the decision to quick drinking was made, did you reach out to anyone or did you try to do it on your own?

I went for counselling about once a week at the AADAC office in Brooks. I did that for a year and a half before I mustered up the courage to go to A.A.

How hard was that period of your life?

The first year, particularly the first few months were very challenging. I got a lot of help from the counselling at AADAC. Before my feet would hit the floor in the morning, I would think, “O.K. How am I going to stay sober today?” Any kind of social event that had alcohol was a huge challenge. I remember being particularly concerned about what to say to my drinking friends. I was terrified of peer pressure. I learned that for me, the best way to deal with peer pressure was to be direct and open about it. I’d say, “No thanks. I haven’t drank for 6 weeks now.” Usually, the response was positive and supportive. If not, I would remove myself from the situation.

You made a choice to change careers and become an addiction counsellor. I imagine you could see yourself in many of your clients. How important was having what you experienced in helping those people?

The ability to identify is really important. “Been there, done that,” is comforting to clients.

You’re now sober for 30 years. How does that make you feel?

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling good about being sober for a few weeks, months, years. 30 years is hard to believe. I’m very pleased with my long-term sobriety. The fact that I can help someone new is a beautiful gift. That’s the most important part of the A.A. program- “We get it by giving it away.”

How close have you come to relapsing?

I was very close to relapsing a couple of times in the first year of my recovery. Once was at the Brooks Rodeo. I had this huge urge to go into the beer gardens and “control” my drinking. Luckily, I thought it through. I realized that one or two drinks would only open the floodgates for a drinker like me. Another time was at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. I was only sober a few months and I put myself in a very slippery situation by going to the beer gardens alone and sitting on a barstool. I ordered a pop and felt like the whole place was looking at me. (Nobody cared.) A couple of Americans were standing behind me and asked, “What kind of beer is good here?” I had this huge urge to say, “Well, let me show you!” In my drinking days, that would have been the start of a huge drunk.  Luckily, I didn’t say anything, finished my pop and got out of there.

I also was close to relapsing after 25 years. I had drifted from my recovery program (A.A.) and had stopped going to meetings. I was isolated, lonely and bored. I was starting to sit on barstools, drinking pop and actually thinking I should perhaps start to drink again. It seemed like just a matter of time. Luckily, through fate, I found myself at an A.A. meeting- almost by chance. Somehow, everything seemed different and my recovery took on a whole new meaning.

Do you think there’s a chance you could still relapse?

There’s always a chance. I like the expression, “My addiction is out in the parking lot doing push-ups.” It’s just waiting for me to get complacent, weak and vulnerable. That’s why going to meetings on a regular basis and working a program of recovery is so important. We need to be in “good shape” to take on that addiction.

As you look back on your life what are some of the things you reflect on in terms of owning your disease, the choices you made and ultimately where you are today?

I know I wouldn’t be alive today had I not quit drinking. I like the saying in the A.A. Big Book, “Our greatest liability becomes our greatest asset.” The fact that I was a falling down, blackout drinker is not something I’m proud of. But I can use those experiences to help the newcomer in the program. It allows us to relate and connect on a real basis. So what was once a huge negative can become a huge positive. That’s the beauty of recovery!

What’s your message to people who are struggling with the bottle today?

My message is- there is life after drinking! I used to think it would be “blah” and boring. It’s actually quite the opposite. There is all sorts of help out there- counselling, detox, rehab, treatment and A.A. But as far as I see it, the bottom line is about one’s willingness. Programs work for those who really want it.

Final thoughts….

Drinking (and other addictions) start out as fun. But eventually, the negative consequences far outweigh any fun. But understandably, we’re terrified of change. You are not alone. That’s the beauty of support groups. You soon discover there are all sorts of people overcoming this progressive disease and living fun, productive, meaningful lives. Hey the A.A. Program is actually much more than quitting drinking. That’s certainly a big part of it but it also provides us with a design for living which makes life much more serene and fulfilling. There is a much better way!

My friend is willing to help you if you want it. Please e-mail me at greetergrammer1@gmail.com and I can connect you.