Sunday, 9 February 2014


There are times when I wake in the morning thinking of my past, of things I have done or said, and I shake with embarrassment at some of them, I shiver with shame as I think about the words and deeds that have fallen from me. My self-esteem is weak; my self-condemnations is strong, well fed by a lifetime of others using my need for validation for their own purposes.

I will not go on to list my personal walk of shame here; many who know me well will know what some of these are, others are so dark and distant that I can only hope they stay forever hidden. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, none of the things where I feel shame are even remotely shameful. Almost every one of them can be ascribed to inexperience, frustration, youth or any number of things; none of them is, or was, "bad", at least not on my part.

Yet I feel these feelings within me. I think a lot of this arises from my childhood. I remember very little of my life from before my parents separated, perhaps a snippet triggered by a story someone else tells. It was, for me, as if life began at around age 8, in 1963, when we moved from Victoria to Vancouver. I remember the ferry ride, my Mother getting a state room for us to hide in, lest my Dad showed up on the ferry to do something bad. I remember the feeling of fear, mixed with the excitement of having my own room on the ferry. For years after I would look at those rooms, I still do today, and think about them, wondering why that memory stands out. Why did I feel shame in having to hide?

Part of it may be the secret. Secrets are a powerful thing. For the childhood that arose from 1963 onward, secrets were a constant part of life. There were secrets that my Dad said we could not tell my Mom, like when we went on bootlegging runs with him. There were secrets that we could not tell others, like when my Dad hid us in the back of his unlit BC Hydro company truck, transporting us into the city to see family and friends. We had a lot of secrets around us, and those secrets caused a layer of shame for me.

My father used shame as a management tool. He would purposely shame us to put us in our place, to ensure we knew he was the boss. He belittled our physical stature and our education efforts, ensuring we all knew he was bigger than us, more powerful, stronger, smarter. Only when we did what he wanted were we free from his reprobation; rarely, if ever, did we receiver his approbation. When we did, it was conditional, almost always with some sort of secret attachment.

I went from my father to a church, trading the shame of one parenthood for the shame of another. Much like my ultimately powerless father, the only power religion has is shame, the belittling power of covenant, constraint and control. Those who would dominate us or control us use the church, whatever it may be, as a tool to lay down their own framework on others and then use holy edicts as a way to shame us into behaving as they would have us behave. God, and life, make us who we are. Here there is no shame.

Even to this day, I struggle with embarrassment. I cannot watch humor where humiliation is the root. I have had to learn that my own forgiveness starts within me and that shame is a tool used by others over me. My own shame is simply those inner voices telling me that I failed to live up to the measurement of my Dad, or my Mom, or my ex-wife, or someone else. My shame is my embarrassment, my failure at perfection, that swing and miss where I crave external validation. Oddly enough, I really have nothing to be ashamed of. So what's the deal with that?


  1. Now you reason to be ashamed. You stole two minutes of my life as I read your blog about all the shame you feel. Then correctly conclude that you have nothing to be ashamed of.
    I guess that blog writing is therapeutic.
    Glad you became a Mennonite and not a Catholic, or you would have added the load of guilt to all that shame.

    1. Not every blog entry meets every need. For that I offer no apology. Once again I have nothing to be ashamed of. As to guilt, trust me there's lots of that in the Mennonite church too. In fact guilt is the second, or perhaps first, most powerful tool used by religion and parents.


    2. Oh, and I didn't steal two minutes. You gave it up willingly, and I appreciate it.

  2. I will be in Vancouver in mid-March. If you're in the area, I'll buy you that Scotch and add this blog to the conversation agenda.