I have a picture of my father, sitting in the driver’s seat of a 1958 Ford Fairlane with the top down. He is about twenty-two, and parked in front of the service station where he worked. The driver’s door is open. He is ready to step into the world, one foot on the ground, his elbows propped on the steering wheel and the seat back. He is wearing shades with his hair slicked back, a posed greaser. This picture was taken before my parents met; however, I do have a memory of riding in a convertible with my dad, and perhaps it was this one!
On that day, the top was down. My dad was in the driver’s seat, and I stood beside him on the front bench. I was very young, but I have a strong, glorious memory of the sun on my face, and dad’s arm holding me tight around the waist while my own arms stretch out to catch the wind. He drove the car with only his left hand, confident his right hand would keep me safe. Clearly ‘a mom’ was not along for this ride.
This cruise with my dad came to mind as I listened this week to Trevor Noah voicing his frustration for a society’s paralysis. Noah’s commentary emerged from a weekend of ongoing tragedy, particular to American states. The serious comedian offered the idea that solutions come incrementally; no one measure is likely to solve any complex problem. He drew upon the motor car as an example of incremental corrections and improvements over time. The introduction of a seat belt alone did not bring an end to vehicle tragedies, but it did make car travel more safe. The belts discouraged dads like mine from training daredevil co-pilots. Car culture in our society converted over time and continues to evolve.
Much has evolved since that lanky young man with greasy hair smirked from his car. The month of June captures two significant cultural shifts for BC and Canada which have come about through change, realized over decades.
Canada, among other countries, celebrates Pride Month in June. The points of incremental cultural change for the LGBTQIA2S+ community can be traced through time to the place we stand today. Two generations ago, while my father broke no laws joyriding with me standing on the seat beside him, romantic love outside binary convention was a crime. Very recently, living ‘out’ risked shame, disgrace, scandal, injury… even death. But in your mailboxes this month, an exceptional school leader adorns the cover of the June Principl(ed) magazine. In its pages, he shares the pride he feels in the trusting relationships he has built within his school community. He is proud to be a “visible leader” and a “queer person and part of the LGBTQ community.” The high school which was in my father’s view, behind the photographer for whom he posed, could never have conceived such a leader.
In June, Canada celebrates National Indigenous History Month. Today there is wrenching grief and a steadfast resolve to find justice for the thousands of recovered children lost in residential schools. Amid this pain and determination, on June 21st, there is an invitation during National Indigenous Peoples Day to trace through time the Indigenous histories of this land and to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous Peoples. The calendar of our society recently transformed in the cooler days of autumn as well. September 30th serves as a day to honour “the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.” Truth and Reconciliation is a journey that will be measured in years, and public “commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.” The young mechanic, smelling of Brylcreem and gasoline, never engaged the truth, much less acknowledged that he worked the pumps on the unceded traditional territories of the Kwikwetlem, Musqueam, Squamish, Stó:lō, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. But of course, how could he? As with the harm, the ignorance is generational.
The pace of meaningful change can be painfully slow; however, our pandemic experience has taught us that some beliefs and patterns of thinking can be turned on a dime. As a high school Principal recently shared with me, two years ago she would have argued timetable conversion is a lengthy process, requiring extensive consultation and debate. While she would strongly support a process of consultation, she now believes the change can be measured in weeks rather than years. For what else might we pick up the pace? Will equity, inclusion, and the environment wait upon our grandchildren? I think not.
Perhaps it is my early experience in an open top that has inspired my car choices. With few exceptions, all my cars have had an open roof of some type. And, like my dad, I took my children joyriding – although safely buckled in the back seat. There is an exhilaration in the convertible, open to blue-sky possibilities. With the sun warming our faces and the wind making our hair crazy, we feel the forward motion and lean into the journey. It feels like flying and inspires a certain courage. Today’s generation – our children – are courageously calling for a world of change, and about to take the wheel.