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  • Eleanor Cowan

Living My Dream

Updated: Jul 1, 2019



Kids pleasing elders is a theme. My parents valued schooling of the credentialed kind. If my name appeared on a printed diploma, then one might conclude I had a brain rolling around in there. Otherwise not. Earning a precious glance of recognition from my mother became my theme. “I’ll listen to what you have to say when I see your high school graduation certificate,” said my unhappy mother, or “Produce a university degree and then we’ll talk.”

Mum would have dearly loved to go on to college to study for the top-notch sales career of her dreams. Instead, she married a successful salesman, (position by association) and projected her anger about her unrequited dreams onto her many unwanted children (subservience to the Catholic Church).

Just before taking her own life in August 1972, Mum was utterly distraught when the “brilliant” university professor she’d fallen for dismissed her for a more sophisticated mate. That same month, I completed my arduous university degree. Mum never saw it.

Today, I own it all. It was I who bought into the status quo and I who, like my mother, complied with the injunctions of my ‘betters.’ I missed out on a lot of fun and friendship –the swing dance group I loved, and an exciting feminist reading club featuring Ayn Rand and Betty Friedan. I missed out on so much in seeking the approval of a mother so caught up in her own prolonged distress.

This week, while listening to a young musician agonize over whether to accept a four-year dream scholarship to study the band music he adores, I quoted him the words of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”


Wringing sweaty hands in desperate anxiety, lumbering along heavily beside me as we walked beside the Bow River in Calgary, Joe fixed his gaze on an elderly gentleman seated alone on a park bench. “I’m not an unfeeling person,” he said.” I love my Dad and feel terrible that he’s too ill to complete his grand entrepreneurial dream. He has the business all set up for me to jump into.”


"Hmm, it's his dream. Is it also yours?” I asked.


Joseph came to a full stop. “I’m thinking of Jesus,” he said. He obeyed his father’s wishes. And he ended up dead.”


“Yes, that’s the story,” I said, “And his father wasn’t ill or disabled in any way. In fact, the narrative goes that he was all powerful and all good. So why assign to his kid what he could have so easily accomplished by himself?”


“You’re saying that the father threw his kid under the bus?”


“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I most definitely am. That betrayal gave patriarchal permission for thousands of years of religiously-authorized child abuse. To me, Joe, you lead by sparkling example, not by inviting others to accomplish your goals for you.”


“It’s scary,” said Joe. Scary to take over a fragile business, the letters ‘Jr.’ added to Dad’s name on the door. Maybe scarier still to take this leap, to dare to soar?”


“Hey, Joseph, what about your future children? Would you want your kid studying band music to compensate for your failure to live that dream? What if your kid wants to be a humanitarian lawyer and instead, they're drumming their way through your unlived song?”


Approaching the Peace Bridge, Joe made his decision. Extracting his cell from his back pocket, he scrolled to the scholarship offer. “It’ll be a rough 20 minutes for Dad when I tell him, but I’m hitting the send button. I want to live the only life I’ll ever get.”


“Maybe your Dad will admire you, Joseph. Maybe, deep down, he’ll be proud he raised a kid capable of making an honest decision. Invite him to your grad concert and dedicate your first solo to him!

And hey, invite me too!”


In a wonderful split second, a joyful Joe lifted and flew off – after accepting his dream offer!

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