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The best time for an in-depth discussion about social justice is while applying sunscreen before leaving for school in the morning. Or so my seven-year-old daughter Ruby B decided.

“Dad, have you ever seen a jail?”

“Yeah sure. The Don jail is right in the neighbourhood where I grew up.”

“Have you ever seen the inside of a jail?” she pressed, more adamantly.

“Y-e-e-e-s…” I hesitated.

“Oh, when you drove when you were drunk that time?”

She remembers every story ever told around a dinner table, on a road trip, from two floors away, in small snippets of one half of a phone call – pretty much anything she gets her ears on goes in and stays in there.

“Well that was a long time ago and I’m not very proud of that. But I was also arrested at a demonstration outside the U.S. consulate.”

After explaining what a consulate was and trying to explain what the demonstration was about (certain quasi-legal activities by the U.S. government against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua during the early 80’s) I explained that I was arrested along with a group of other demonstrators and taken to jail, where I was held and eventually released.

“Why would the police arrest you if what you were protesting against was wrong?” was her totally reasonable question.

Here’s the catch. At what age do you have a conversation that goes something like this: “well, there are a lot of sinister forces in the world that you have, blessedly, not yet encountered. You are my child, my buddy – the heart I wear on the outside of my body. You are my vulnerability.”

I don’t want to lie to her, but I don’t want to shatter the beautiful optimistic spirit she so readily offers up.

“Sometimes the police are on the wrong side of the battle.”

I offer this to her in the hopes that she won’t ask which specific battle. She has a very enquiring mind.

“So you decided you should keep demonstrating, even though they said you should stop?”

“Yep. Not just me, but a lot of other people as well.”

She mulled this over a bit and said, “Sometimes you have to make up your own mind even if other people are telling you you’re wrong. Even the police …”

That was a hard idea for her to swallow. Not the making up your own mind part — she’s quite adept at that already, and has been for some time. It was the “even the police” part that was tough.

Ruby recently went with her mom, along with forty or so other folks, to the Hockey Hall of Fame and joined John K Samson (the brilliant singer/songwriter of Weakerthans fame) in singing his song. The song is a musical petition to induct Reggie Leach into the Hockey Hall Of Fame.

Ruby and I discussed the fact that this action she was involved in was a similar show of numbers in support of an idea. Not only was it a show of support in the physical action of presenting the HHOF with the induction proposal, but that the CBC came to film it and that this in turn brought the idea to millions of Canadians when it was shown before the game one night on Hockey Night In Canada.

She began to see that sometimes things just change because they should — and sometimes it takes someone to sing their fool head off in public, or scream their fool head off in front of a consulate. Even if that means they get arrested.

I finished applying the sunscreen and we left for school. Here’s to difficult questions and complicated kindnesses.

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!



Ron Hawkins is a great dad and a gifted painter but you probably know him as a member of  legendary band The Lowest of the Low. He has a new live act: Ron Hawkins and the Do Good Assassins and they’re playing Friday night in Toronto at the Sidedoor. Catch both bands this summer at Hillside Festival.


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