Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I'm The Police Inspector, Today.

Dragging my father's dog to the Montfort always feels like such a chore.

I've borrowed my father in law's VW Bug to cart the old Labrador named Xena across town for a visit. This is something I've been doing for a few years now, and today at a balmy 32°C, I'm feeling selfish and resentful about it. The air conditioning in this car quit about the same year my father's heart did, and this car is hotter than the old Swamp Buggies I used to drive at work before the buses were air conditioned. All the windows are open, and the tufts of fur seem to suspend in the air for a thoughtful pause before they hit the hyperdive button and blast out of the vacuum of the open window. Xena is a gentle soul, but difficult to walk with and a seemingly neverending producer of fur.

We make the trip up to the fourth floor. My mother is chatting up the locals in the elevator. She's explaining herself and her dog to anyone who will listen. I'm quiet and wondering just how this visit will go.

"Hi Dad." my standard greeting. Consistent. Predictable. Familiar. He doesn't recognize me.

"Xena! Xena! Xena!" he bellows, smiling from ear to ear, laughing, almost hysterical.

Watching his dementia take hold over the years has been an education in humanity. His happiness at seeing his puppy in the hospital is profound and inspiring. It makes me feel so selfish at the resentment I felt in the car. Who could call this a chore when it makes the old man smile like this?

I used to get phone calls from dad when he was living at home. He'd just call to talk hockey. He was the crazy Sens fan, and I was his traitorous Maple Leafs loving son. We'd argue about roster moves, trades, and gossip. During the playoffs in the the early 2000's, sometimes he'd just call to swear at me and hang up. We've never had all that much in common, and hockey is what kept us talking. Hockey was really the only thing we had in common for years, to be honest.

As the years progressed the calls became stranger, but we always found something hockey related to argue about.

This past year the dementia has progressed to a point where he is no longer himself, for most of the time. It's such a hard thing to describe. The man who taught me to fish, taught me to drive, taught me to hammer a nail, no longer really knows just who I am. When he does recognize me, he bluffs through most of the conversation as the connection to Adult Me is not the Me he's thinking of when hears my name. To him, Ken is still a little boy riding around on his Big Wheel in the project. Dad's mind has him somewhere in late seventies or early eighties, living in the old neighborhood.

He knows he has adult kids, because he's repeatedly been told has adult kids. He doesn't really remember his grandkids, all those birthday parties at my house, or where he lives.

And, he doesn't remember hockey.

The dog is trying to get up into bed with him, and his laughter infects the entire room. My mom is going through the rituals of visitation. She is filling out his menu for the next few days, and building up some small talk to fill in the gaps between his laughter and his silence. Conversation in a hospital is very much centered around meals, pills, tests, and appointments. It's all about itineraries, when are things going to happen, and who you talked to. It's vapid, tedious talk that flirts around events and ignores any meaningful attempt at real conversation the way it used to be.

I decide to try again.

"Hi Dad."

He looks at me, but I can see the vacancy in the words he's searching to say to me. I ask him if he knows who I am.

"You're the Police Inspector."

It's my turn to laugh. I have no idea where that one came from. I can't tell if he's being serious or just pulling my leg, but he's laughing again now too and looking directly into my eyes for the first time in a long time. For a minute I'm transported back into that boat on Bob's Lake, it's dawn, and we are having a staring contest while our fishing lines sit idly mocking us on the surface of the water. The silence said much more than words in that boat, as it does now.

It was in this boat that he explained to me how an engine works, a carefully prepared soliloquy that every dad seems to prepare on some topic they care about. I have found myself thinking those same words, preparing that same speech for my kids, who would likely be just as uninterested as I was when I heard it.

I'd love to hear it now.

We all understand what the patient is losing. That sense of self, those relationships, and the memories. From his side of the bed, it must be confusing and scary.Yes, he is slowly forgetting who he is. But the one thing people don't talk about with dementia is probably the hardest part for me.

His dementia is beginning to make us forget the man he was.

Dad is no longer that man in the boat. Dad is a conversation about care, meals, and trips to the Montfort with the dog. Sometimes he is a chore, and other times he is a silent cry. The legacy of who he really was is what dementia is stealing from all of us. There may be nothing wrong with my brain, but I too am forgetting him.

As we pack up the dog, and his dirty clothes, my mom leans over to give him a kiss. She explains that she'll be back tomorrow, she's taking the bus first thing.

He leans over and says "Bye Ken!"

Today I was the Police Inspector in jest.

Today I was Jim's son again, for a minute.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Referendum

As expected, ATU members have voted down the latest contract offer from the City of Ottawa. I wrote earlier this week about the tumultuous relationship between ATU president Craig Watson and his membership, and it seems as if my prediction was accurate.

I don't feel good about being right.

The meetings to present the contract were awful. Folks were angry and vocal, and the presentation soon became secondary to the incendiary language that degenerated into finger waving and shouting.

Througout all of this, the one theme remained constant.

Drivers were not voting on the city's offer.

Drivers were voting in a referendum on Craig Watson's presidency. For all of the rhetoric about procedure, and secrecy, and leverage, it still boiled to the stroppy masses making heated and ridiculous statements against the lightning rod on the roof of the Union Hall. This isn't the first secret negotiation, nor is it the first time the executive has disagreed with the negotiating committee. It is however the first time I've seen it this bad.

Strangely enough,  Mr Watson's media release on the voting results to the membership seemed quite ununionlike, choosing to apologize to the city and warn members of the future of regret they are about to face, a far cry from the usual labour position that a union might conceed after a contract rejection, namely that most unions would say that they would would consult the membership and try again, and it would usually be signed "In solidarity". The usual union rhetoric was absent, and read more like a concession than a directive on negotiating. ATU has always sent out a rally cry after a contract has been rejected.

Mr Watson's letter to his membership was a scolding that punctuated his strained relationship with the membership.

I think that at this point, if I were president, I would respect the decision of  this referendum, and step down for the solidarity of the membership.

The good news for everyone is that ATU elections are coming soon, in June I believe, and all of this infighting should be over. The current CBA lasts through April 2016, and if the city were to table another offer before then, I can only imagine that members would be much more open to actually reading an offer produced by a different executive.

I feel with great certainty that the membership is in a very peaceful relationship with the City, and that the appetite for the kinds of changes that lead to job actions are simply not present in 2015.

I also believe that many in the membership are deeply sorry to have thrust internal issues into the well being of our transit ridership.

This is the last time I write about union politics.

Thanks for your ear.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Will Cooler Heads Prevail?

I had an exchange this morning with a few union members who felt I was too harsh on Craig Watson.

It's tough to explain, but in all honesty, I really have nothing against Watson, the executive, the union, the members, the City, or anyone else involved in this organization. I don't attend union meetings. I'm not involved with committees, or politics. I'm a steering wheel manipulation engineer. I drive people around, and those people are all I really care about, deep down.

The way this membership feels about its union is what I wanted to convey to the public. I feel that the public is owed an explanation if this contract offer gets rejected. The folks I pick up on a daily basis have a stake in Ottawa transit. I think it's important that they know that it's not them, it's us. It's not about money, it's about us. It's not about the City, it's about us.

For all of the anger directed at Craig right now, there are other things the membership should know about his tenure. Craig was instrumental in the passing of Bill s221, and used the ad space on OC Transpo buses to advertise the law. This is the law that makes assaulting a transit operator an aggravating factor in sentencing. Craig negotiated a deal to see cameras installed on all new buses, something that many drivers have been lobbying hard for. It was during this executive tenure that de-escalation training became a part of operator training. In the past three years, over 25000 hours were added to run and recovery times on the scheduling front, although this is not the scheduling issue that drivers complain about the most.

The point is this: It's not all bad at ATU local 279. The membership is fuming mad about meetings that only thirty or so members even bother to attend each month. 

The personal issues with the local really need to be checked at the door before tomorrow's meeting. We cannot let this meeting devolve into a Gongshow and not fully explore the contract.

The city began this negotiation with an offer, and like it or not, Craig's job requires him to sit down and listen to it, then present it to the members. 

It's time for the membership to grow up a little, and do the same. Read the offer, and vote on its merit.

Let cooler heads prevail.