Saturday, October 21, 2006

Father Knows Best

"All people are born free and are equal in worth and in rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and
should interact in a spirit of brotherhood."

I'm sitting at my desk in my office. It's 10:25 on a Saturday morning. During the school year, I am here every Saturday between 9:15 and 11:45 or so. I drop my son off at German School, then come to my office while he is there and pick him up when it's over. I like my time in the office Saturday mornings because it is uncharacteristically quiet. The telephones don't ring, and I can catch up on things or simply just enjoy the solitude.

I started sending my son to German School in Kindergarten. At first, he would cling to my leg and not want me to leave him there, but I said: "Zachary, you are going to have to get used to this, because you will be attending every Saturday morning during every school year until you complete grade twelve." He is now in grade 10, having been allowed to skip grade nine of his German study.

Why am I such a meanie, forcing him to go to German School? Isn't it better to have him learning something, rather than sitting around at home watching cartoons? Because he has also attended French Immersion schools from grade one on, it gives him a third language, something that could be useful on a resume someday.

More importantly, it also keeps him connected to his heritage. Although my parents were born in Poland, they were both of German ancestry and always thought of themselves as German. Towards the end of World War II, they fled Poland and the advancing Russian army and ended up in Northern Germany, where I was born. At home, they always spoke German to me and to my brother, even though they were both fluent in Polish (and Russian) as well. They spoke Polish to each other when my brother and I weren't supposed to understand what they were talking about.

When we arrived in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada in 1950, there were already several German families there. Over a period of several years, more German families arrived, and a church was formed under the pastorship of Arthur Schulz. Pastor Schulz' wife conducted German School classes on (I believe) Saturday mornings as well, and I attended there for several years. The Schulzes were related to us in some way (my maternal grandmother was a Schulz) but I could never figure out the 'thirteenth cousin, seventeen times removed' sort of relationships.

Mrs. Schulz did a good job, because I was able to read and write German more or less fluently. That meant easy courses for me when I took high school and university German. In my first year of university German, I skipped almost all of my classes and spent the time at home reading Charles Dickens and Mark Twain front-to-back. Why? I have no idea.

Most German books that we studied with Mrs. Schulz, and the German edition of the Martin Luther bible, which we read extensively, were printed in a Gothic-style type called Fraktur, in what was generally called Deutsche Schrift or German Script. An example is at the top of this post. My father and mother insisted that I read five chapters of the German bible every day. That, if I remember correctly, would result in having read the entire bible at the end of one year. My father read the bible, front to back, numerous times in his life. My mother did too, but not as many times as my father.

I managed to read through the entire German bible once, as a child. I have to admit that I haven't read much of it since then.

I believe that having some knowledge of your heritage is important. It helps explain a lot of things by providing context. It is also very interesting. There are a lot of fascinating characters in everyone's family tree, for example. There is also a lot of history in the countries of our ancestors. Sometimes, as in my case, there is a lot of shame too. I'm speaking, of course, of the Hitler era in Germany. But, it serves no-one well to gloss over history, or to dwell only on the good while dismissing the bad. History is what it is. We should know it, accurately, and learn from it.

I am hoping that my son will take advantage of the student exchange opportunities offered by the German School. He isn't interested yet, but I am hoping that will change. Germany is a fascinating, beautiful country, and it would be a great experience for him to go there for a few weeks as the guest of a German family. We would, of course, reciprocate by having a German student stay with us.

My son has long since stopped complaining about going to German School. Occasionally, if he wants to crank me up, he might say something, but I think that for the most part he enjoys the experience. Not that it matters, he would still go, regardless. We, as parents, make choices for our children. Sometimes the choices we make on their behalf are popular, sometimes not. We simply do what we think is best.

After all, wasn't there a television show once, called Father Knows Best? Doesn't that pretty much validate my premise?

I don't always really know what's best, but in this case I am quite comfortable with my decision.


  1. Learning another language, especially in childhood, is great for the developing brain. I would have to research all my linguistics books to give you a solid paragraph on it, but believe me that not only is it good for his resume, business, travel and education, but it actually improves his physical brain, thereby improving his overall abilities, perceptions and intelligence.

    Good work!!

  2. Thanks, Penny. I hope it all helps. We can always use every advantage we can get, can't we? As I have told my son numerous times: "Life is tough, kid. Get used to it." Anything we can do to improve our odds of success is worthwhile, and I'm not speaking merely of financial security, but of knowledge of our world and understanding how it works.

  3. Hi Atavist,

    I was wondering how you stood on income splitting. Since the election was coming to London we're hoping to get some attention from the news on it there... let me know if you have any questions.


  4. Hi, Sara: Thanks for visiting! Could you be a bit more specific about what you mean by income splitting?

    As a businessman, what comes to mind is the sort of splitting that might have a couple who own a business each draw $30,000 from their company rather than one drawing the entire $60,000. That would put each spouse individually into a lower tax bracket. I don't imagine that is what you mean.

    I see from your blogs that you are seeking some changes in child care funding, so I imagine that must be part of the question, somehow.

    I will be glad to comment if I understand your question fully.

  5. I think it is such an asset for a child to not only know his heritage, but to be blessed with more than one language. I admire you sticking to your plan of having him learn German and French.

    However, from an ego centric point of view (American?)I am troubled that my country seems to be losing it's nationality. It doesn't seem that people who immigrate are willing to adopt American language any more. I find this appalling. My maternal grandmother came from Germany and learned to speak English. My maternal grandfather came from the Netherlands and learned to speak English. They chose to become citizens of America, and therefore adapted to its culture. I resent people who come here and refuse to acknowledge our ways. One small example, we are not allowed to pray in our public schools. I understand this because they're public. But, when it's Ramadan we are told to let children who practice this religion take their prayer rugs and pray quietly somewhere. What?! The first grade Thanksgiving Feast has become a Nutrition Feast, so we don't offend anyone. We are giving away our culture in my opinion.

  6. Bellezza... I totally agree with you. When we came to Canada, we kept some of our German culture, kept up the German language, attended German church services, etc., but our intent was to assimilate and become part of Canada. Learning English and learning about Canada was part of that. My parents came here because they thought it was better than what they were leaving behind, not to turn Canada into a new and improved Germany.

    What gets me is that there are billions of people who would come to Candada and the United States if they could. Why? Because both countries were built on largely Judeo-Christian values which allowed freedoms that were not often found elsewhere. Why are people not flocking to North Korea, Iran, etc.? Do I need to ask the question?

    There are things I would change in Canada if I could -- lower taxes, less government intervention, etc., but I am VERY grateful for the heritage of liberty and tolerance. Everyone in my immediate family is multilingual, but English is our first language and it is the language we expect to use in commerce, education, in any sort of official interaction, etc. In Canada, of course, we also have a second official language, French, which complicates things somewhat.

  7. I think you are right to include the foundation of Judeo-Christian values, which while many might like to scorn, are the basis for a free and moral society. Why, indeed, are people not flocking to North Korea. Iraq. China...