Xmas in the Gill household.
When I had gone to visit my brother in Edmonton in the summer of 2013 we sat down for coffee in a coffee shop.
We hadn’t really talked much in the years prior. Even when he was living in the Vancouver area from the mid ’90s to the early ’00s we didn’t talk that much.
While we were talking, one thing that came up was Richard’s stinginess around birthdays and christmas.
My brother blurted out “Socks and Underwear day”.
I laughed. Not because “Socks and Underwear day” sounded funny, but because up until that point in time I had almost convinced myself that I was over exaggerating what I remembered.
It took me a while in my adult years to realize that as kids my brother hadn’t been smashing up my toys just as I hadn’t been smashing up his.
This was Richard’s go to excuse as to why he wasn’t buying us anything. We couldn’t look after our toys and we always broke our toys.
Richard always had an excuse as to why he wouldn’t buy us toys. We didn’t look after out toys. We’d break our toys. We’d take our toys apart. We wouldn’t show him gratitude for buying us toys.
When I had my first apartment in Edmonton in the fall of 1990 and I was away from Richard and I started becoming exposed to co-workers whom had families the more I began to realize that there was something terribly wrong with Richard.
I started to realize that he wasn’t buying us toys because he didn’t want to waste his money on us. And like usual, because he couldn’t take responsibility for his own decisions he had to blame others for his decisions. My brother was breaking my toys. I was breaking my brother’s. And seeing as how we couldn’t look after our stuff, neither of us would get a damn thing. I wonder if this is where our intense sibling rivalry came from.
On CFB Summerside I had a decent model railway. I don’t remember too much about it other than it fit on a sheet of 4’X8′ plywood. It was literally here one day and gone the next. Richard’s excuse always was that I smashed it apart and there wasn’t anything left of it.
In 2013 I managed to track down my mother whom I hadn’t had contact with since March of 1992. I had to track her down after the PEI courts had stated that Richard had never been awarded custody of my brother and I.
I went to see her over the 2013 xmas holidays. And I asked her about this infamous train set. She laughed when I told her that Richard had told me that I smashed the train up. Nope. Wasn’t the case. Richard had been out drinking, first at the base mess, then at the Royal Canadian Legion in town. When he came home he went downstairs into the basement with a bottle of rum. The next morning when Marie went down to get him, everything in the basement was damaged. The washer and dryer were smashed and needed replacement. Richard’s drafting table was in pieces. His work bench was in pieces. And the railway was smashed all apart.
She said that his anger and his drinking had really increased since we left CFB Shearwater and this is one of the reasons she was trying to get us back to Nova Scotia to stay with Albert Dagenais while Richard sorted out his shit.
She said that we had xmas and birthday parties before Marie left, but Richard really wasn’t into these types of events and almost felt embarrassed by them.
I don’t remember my brother having much in the way of birthdays when we were kids. I know I didn’t.
I can’t remember any birthday parties on CFB Shearwater or CFB Summerside, but that’s more to do with my age than anything. I turned 7 on CFB Namao in 1978. I can’t remember a party then.
The one and only birthday party that I do remember was when I turned 14 in 1985. I came home and there was a cake on the table. Just said “Happy Birthday” with no name. There was a card and I think $50 in it. Richard said that he knew he hadn’t been a good father, but that he was going to try harder and that he would never again forget my birthday. This was the last birthday of mine that he ever celebrated. At the time I had no idea what this party was all about. Richard told me on previous missed birthdays that I didn’t deserve a party because I was going to special school or special classes and until I smartened up and learned to behave I wasn’t getting anything.
It wouldn’t be until August of 2011 that I would learn why out of nowhere I had a birthday in 1985.
Unbeknownst to me, my family was under the supervision of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. We had been ever since we fled Alberta in April of 1983. Richard and Sue had a massive domestic dispute in the PMQ in August of 1985 while my brother and I were in Edmonton with our grandmother for the summer.
Not too sure what the domestic was about, but it appears that it had something to do with divorce papers.
According to the base military police it took three military police officers to bring my father under control. Even my next door neighbour Tanya said the amount of damage to the PMQ was significant. Furniture and paper out the windows. Most ground floors windows smashed out.
And that’s why I had a birthday party in September of 1985. Richard wasn’t trying to make up for having missed out on my previous birthdays. Richard was buttering me up just in case the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto found out about the domestic dispute.
Remember, CAST said in their paperwork that due to budget cuts and staffing issues they couldn’t really become too involved with my family unless they heard about issues in the home from outside agencies. And here is a massive domestic dispute. Probably also explains why the base military police didn’t want us to call 9-1-1 the next time Richard blew up and instead call base switchboard and ask for the military police. It wasn’t because the base military police could respond quicker. It’s because the Metropolitan Toronto Police would have been required to notify social services. The base military police were under no obligation to notify children’s aid. More of the “washing the laundry in house” mentality.
It was my conversations with Marie over the xmas holidays that I learnt that Uncle Doug had been buying gifts for my brother and I on Marie’s behalf and that Uncle Doug was the only reason why her gifts would show up in our house at all.
So if you’ve ever wondered why I schedule time off from work around my birthdays, this is why. My birthday is always a painful event for me. Xmas isn’t much better, but at least those are statutory holidays and I get to be alone for those.
I don’t hate xmas mass. I am atheists. I don’t believe in the invisible magical sky daddy. It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I like looking at the coloured lights and the non-over-the-top decorations. But anything beyond that I don’t get too worked up about.
Birthdays are much the same. I don’t resent people having birthdays. I do sign cards at work and I do slip $20s into the kitty, but I just find the whole idea of celebrating birthdays to be childish and immature.
Sure, maybe Grandma didn’t give Richard much in the way of xmas and birthdays when he was a kid. But that doesn’t explain why uncle Norman and uncle Doug seemed to have no problems with celebrating xmas and birthdays.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and state emphatically that Richard viewed my brother and I as remnants of Marie, and seeing as how he couldn’t punish Marie he was going to exact his revenge on Marie by proxy.
Was Richard a modern day Heathcliff?
Was Richard exacting his revenge on Marie by taking out his anger on my brother and I?
I have no doubt.
To Richard it must have been amusing watching his two kids at each other’s throats. Just proved how insane their mother was and how much he had to sacrifice to raise her hell spawn.
As I work in a hospital with a large psychiatric department, I’ve had the opportunity to ask “off the record” what the most significant cause of intense sibling rivalry is, rivalry so intense that kids have to be sent to separate schools. The most common cause? Dysfunctional parents. And no, no matter how much Richard insisted, it was not my responsibility to raise my younger brother.
Anyways, until next time.