It’s election day in Canada, and I find myself once again feeling a great sense of nostalgia. I suppose that might be a bit strange, but I remember election days from my childhood with an odd sense of clarity.
This is not because I was abnormally politicized in primary school, or because I took any interest whatsoever in the outside world during my teenage years. Quite the opposite, in fact. I actively avoided the news, not so much because I wanted to remain ignorant as because if I Knew Things, my father would want to discuss them, and my number one priority in life was to stay off his radar.
I hated talking about politics with my father. (To be fair, I hated talking about anything with my father.) He was a patronizing, nasty man who supported the Reform Party and was desperate to cling to his old white male privilege. And if you didn’t agree with him, he was sure to explain, in excruciating detail, the ways in which that made you an idiot.
My mother, in an abnormal show of backbone, declared politics a verboten topic at the dinner table. I will be forever grateful to her for making this her hill to die on. I can’t imagine what listening to my father belittle everybody else over dinner would have done to my digestion. Realistically, though, Mom didn’t want to discuss politics at any time, not just over dinner, and I had no problem with that whatsoever. So we never did talk about them.
Still, while my exposure to healthy political discussion was sorely lacking, I’m not going to say they entirely dropped the parenting ball. Because while I may not have learned the art of respectful disagreement from them – that would take me decades of trial and error and is still something I struggle with – what I did learn was the importance of voting.
I learned this not from their words, but instead from their behaviour.
My parents were not … classy individuals. Behaviour aside, their attire flagged them as pretty lowbrow. My father generally wore decades old clothes filled with holes, and my mother wore a lot of ill-fitting things. Their clothing decisions came partly from looking for comfort, more from being cheap cheap cheap and, I suspect, from some deep-seated self-esteem issues, as well.
But on election day, it was different. Like any man who spends his work day with a noose tied around his neck, my father would normally arrive home removing his tie and shrugging off his suit jacket. On election day, however, when he came home he would stay in his suit, and my mother would meet him at the door wearing a dress, nylons, high heels, and earrings. Hell, she even put on lipstick. And perfume! The expensive kind, even!
They would head for the community centre, and they would vote. Now, some of you might say they dressed up in order to impress the neighbours, and to that I reply, you didn’t know my father. Trust me. He had no fucks to give. As for my mother, she dressed up for occasions that were of importance to her – weddings, funerals, dinners with friends, nights out at the National Arts Centre, and the graduation ceremonies of her children pretty much make up the entire list.
And to vote.
My ears would always have been deaf to their words, but my eyes saw their actions and understood their significance. It’s because of them that I have never missed voting. Through my years of indifference, to my current levels of engagement, I have understood that this shit is important, and I’ve voted in every election since I reached the age of majority.
And when I do, I always remember the scent of my mother’s perfume.