My Valentine – Mon père, mon coeur

February 5th marked twenty-five years since my father passed away. February 9th marked 56 years since The Beatles made their epic debut on the Ed Sullivan show in New York, where I was living at the time.  Like so many, I watched the TV spell-bound by the rock ‘n’ roll performance of the four lads from Liverpool. Funnily enough, the rise of The Beatles phenomena was to play a part, quite literally, in my youth, and led to a surprise discovery of just what an incredible man my father was.

Dad was a great raconteur and story-teller and to honour his memory, it seems appropriate that I share this story which honours his legacy.

The child of a Canadian diplomat. I spent little of my youth in Canada.  When I was 9 and living in New York, my father was cross-posted to Bonn, Germany. Where to send the children to school was an issue, but after much deliberation on whether to send my brother and me to the French Lycée (9-5 too long), local German school (9-1 p.m. too short) my parents decided on the American School on the Rhine (9-3:00 p.m. just right) in sleepy Plittersdorf.

Having gone to PS8 in New York and familiar with the American system, school was okay until I entered junior high. It seemed I had become an outsider. I did not fit in with the cool kids.  I was mocked because my loafers were some facsimile bought in the Netherlands and not Bass Weejuns, my clothes were bought in German stores and not at the PX, my lunch was from a local deli and not the US commissary.  I heard boys whisper, “Canadians bite, Canadians suck.” I tried to brush off or ignore such comments, but the cool girls became competitive and nasty and my sense of worth and belonging was challenged in the school yard and on class trips.  The pressure was intense. I wanted desperately to be accepted by them, deemed worthy.  Time to be strategic and clever, or so I thought.

The Beatles were touring the world and every teenage girl was in love with them. A plan began to hatch. I concocted what I thought was the perfect scheme to give me the cred I needed. It was flawless.  I would tell Meghan and Jeannie (the ringleaders) that my Dad had a contact at the British Embassy who was arranging security for a planned Beatles tour to Cologne.  This I did, and I cleverly added that the fab four, as a matter of security, would actually be coming to stay at the Park Hotel in Bad Godesberg, and said contact could arrange for us to meet them!

Further to my machinations, I casually asked my mother, father and brother if they would each write in cursive the names of the various Beatles, which they did, three fake signatures of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and not one of them asked me what for. I had the “autographs” I need to carry out my scheme.

And so, I did it.  I took three cool girls to the Park Hotel one grey Saturday afternoon.  We sat in the lobby and watched black cars drive up, waiting for The Beatles to rush in with my father’s contact from the British embassy, who would then whisk us into a private space for a special audience.

Cleverly, after about 15 minutes, I went to an internal telephone booth, pretended to call my father’s contact at the British embassy, and came back crestfallen to announce, there had been a delay, there were security issues in coming to Bad Godesberg, The Beatles would stay in Cologne.  But wait, not so sad, all was not lost, I had their autographs. That surely was super cool on the cool meter. I proudly distributed the autographed papers to the by now somewhat expressionless three girls and very anticlimactically, we all went our separate ways.

We truly did go our separate ways. Not a word was said to me at school the following week, and for me the whole exercise had been somewhat of an exorcism.  After all was said and done, I no longer cared whether I was popular or part of their cool inner circle. I went on to make different and more interesting friends and it wasn’t long until my family was off to India where I attended a more cosmopolitan school with a cross-section of international students and brilliant teachers that turned my high school years into a dream.

Years later, perhaps a decade after my father had passed away, I was chatting with my mother about our life in Germany, adolescence and the girls who we would now refer to as bullies.  I told my mother she probably wouldn’t remember (such a minor silly thing), but when I was 12 years old and unhappy at school, I had asked her, dad and my brother, Guy, to write out autographs for The Beatles. She shocked me when she said, “oh I remember,” her eyes growing wide.  Rather taken aback, as it was seemingly such a trivial thing, I said “really?”  She replied, “Oh, yes, your father was called into the principal’s office”. I was astounded. Say what?!

My mother told me the principal had asked my father to meet with him at the school to discuss a serious matter involving his daughter. My father went to the school where he was informed that two students had reported me and informed him of the weekend escapade, my scheme and my lies. Oh, Jeannie and Meghan, popular or cool are the furthest of adjectives I would use to describe you now.  How very nasty and calculating you were.

“What happened? “ I said.  There had never been any discussion nor repercussions at home. I harboured no illusions but thought I had pulled a fast one. “What did Dad do?” I asked perplexed. My mother replied, “He listened to the principal and then said quietly and firmly that his daughter was a fine and sensitive young girl who must have truly been dreadfully unhappy to go to such lengths to gain acceptance by some not so kind and insensitive young women.” With that he bid the principal good day. It was never mentioned.  That was the measure of my Dad.

Let me end this story appropriately with one of my favourite Lennon and McCartney songs, a tribute to my parents who are ever with me.

In My Life

There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead, and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I’ll love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I’ll love you more

In my life I’ll love you more

The Hague 1952
Pretoria SA
New York … pre Beatles
Canadian emissaries in New York
With the Prime Minister in India
Retirement in Peterborough