A good friend once told me my dad was similar to Ewan McGregor’s character in Big Fish. Both were tall and had foreign accents, and more particularly, it was hard to separate their fact from fiction.
So far, here is what I have been able to deduce.
Fact: He was an immigrant to Canada from England,
Fiction: He once served in the RAF, was a red beret, and printed top-secret documents while working
Fact: at McMaster University.
It is unclear why my dad came to Canada since he speaks so highly of Great Britain and his life there. According to him, Canada allowed him to re-invent himself and live a normal life, free from enemy spies. He would, however, announce to any passing stranger that he was eagerly anticipating his return home, which could be any day now. No, London never called.
I grew up in a home filled with Union Jack pillows, Queen Elizabeth tea cups, and Royal Doulton plates. Prince Charles and Princess Diane were adopted as our famous aunt and uncle, included alongside our school portraits and family memories.
My mom was an accommodating woman. She was born Canadian in Ontario, to a family of eleven brothers and sisters. As the middle child, my mom was the peacekeeper. Although my mom’s family was larger than my dad’s, it didn’t matter; with just four siblings, my dad’s family loved to battle.
Unlike my mom’s family, the Parkinson’s were uninterested in uniting their kingdom. Their goal was to remain traceably British. Still, through an unexpected pregnancy, my dad, as a man of duty, got down on one knee and proposed to my mother. And like Princess Di, my mother would have to endure an uneasy relationship with the family’s matriarch for the rest of her life.
Even though I was born in Canada, my father and his family insisted I was British and would be recognized as such. So, in the same manner children are dunked in holy water and baptized Catholic, my dad’s Protestant family knighted me by virtue of a teaspoon and a pledge of allegiance to the Queen and her band of corgis. Two pats on the head later, I was, in their eyes, a Brit.
Being British, I ate excessive amounts of rock candy and apologized to every lamp post as I walked by. I would read Beno comics like the bible and practise being adequate rather than fantastic like all the other North American kids. And without missing a beat, I would drink tea religiously at 3 p.m., no milk, just honey, please.
I was as proud as my dad. At three foot three, in every childhood photo, I stood tall with my neck stretched up, trying to match his size. I dressed accordingly, always ready for a random inspection by Nana or the Queen. My clothes were all shades of pink or purple. At an early age, I discovered the power of monochromatic dressing: purple pants, shirts, and jackets made me look taller and regal.
Life was great until my brother was born. I was no longer special. My mother now had a chunky little Canuk she could relate to, and in protest, I tried to push him out of her arms. As a good politician, I apologized without meaning it and quietly pursued my quest to prove I was the only child worthy of my mother’s love and affection. Even the Queen cut off babies born past 1982.
As part of my “Destroy David” plan, I went to school and made up stories. In my best authoritative English accent, I would tell people, “Me brother was adopted.” This triggered a series of concerned phone calls to my parents, and the first peace treaties were signed.
I wouldn’t admit it then, but my brother and I had a few things in common. We both preferred tea over coffee and loved to fight. Unlike my brother, I was afraid of being Canadian. Being Canadian meant wearing beanies or, worse, dressing like my mom, who wore mom jeans before they were a trend. It would be much more exciting for me to be more like my dad, an international person of mystery with pressed pants and the right to spy on the neighbours next door.
It wasn’t easy being British. Several people mocked me for my accent and pretended not to understand me. It didn’t help that I habitually dismissed my peers and their ideas with the phrase, “that’s bonkers” or “bloody bonkers,” which the latter earned me detention for a week. In detention, I had a taste of what prison felt like and how my dad must have felt about Canada. Ultimately, it proved to be the beginning of a slippery slope. Fight after fight, Canadians vs. the Brit got me more detentions and a puffy purple eye, so I dropped my accent and dropped my overt associations with Great Britain.
It wasn’t until later in my twenties that I reclaimed my UK nationality by writing her majesty, the Queen. I presented the most organized documentation, with coordinating tabs outlining that I was indeed a subject of the British Empire. Appreciating my well-outlined approach, the Queen granted me my burgundy British passport. This was the proudest moment of my dad’s life.
And occasionally, to this day, my dad will call me up and check up on my passport. “Are you still a member of the UK?” he asks. “What about the EU? Is that still on your passport?” I always answer yes, knowing he’s passively baiting me to engage in a debate about Brexit. I assure him I’ll always be British (and Canadian). Relieved, reminds me, “Make sure you carry it everywhere because if you’re ever in trouble, the British are coming.”
November 2022 – Presented live at Confabulation Montreal