Guest Commentary

André Pratte

Fathers and Sons

I loved my father Yves. He taught me many things. It was through his example, a life built on discipline, hard work and righteousness, that I became the man I am today. Yet he was not as great an example as a father. No doubt unknowingly, he used fear as a parenting tool. He could terrify us with a mere stare. However, he never used corporal punishment in our home.

From a very young age we had to dress a certain way, stand up straight, use correct language, hold cutlery properly, never interrupt adults when they were speaking, go to him immediately when he called us and, naturally, have excellent marks. I failed miserably on that last count.

My father was a man of achievement, a prominent corporate lawyer, dean of law at Laval, CEO of Air Canada and a jurist appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. He was a workaholic who made little time for family. He worked from early in the morning until 7 at night, and often returned to the office late into the evening. Looking back, I don’t think my father was a happy man. He was stern, and never discussed his feelings.

My mother Marie died of cancer when I was four. My only memory of her is the morning our father broke the news of her passing. He remarried and, for fear his pain would show, never mentioned her name again. When I married in Montréal, I discovered afterward the ceremony was at the same church where my parents wed. He attended our wedding, but never mentioned it.

My father was a man from a different time, born in 1925. He was from an era where men were incapable of hugging their children, or saying they loved them. That was our greatest regret, and his too.

There were generations of lawyers and judges in our family. Daddy wanted me to be a lawyer, too. I chose journalism instead, to his great disappointment.

Daddy died in 1988. I like to think if he were alive, he’d be proud of me today. He would be proud to hear me say I have the honour of being a senator thanks to what he taught me: discipline, the importance of hard work, and the essential character of righteousness.

He taught us to succeed. My sister is a novelist and lives in France; my brother practices law in Ottawa.

Today I am the father of two adult sons. I have tried to be a good father to them, but unfortunately, I inherited some of my father’s faults.

Raising young children is a very difficult job. Emotions often run high. But fear is a poor way to exercise authority over children, through intimidation or spanking. I’ve done my best to have a better relationship with our sons than Dad had with us.

I never made peace with my father, but I at least tried to make peace with myself.

(Editor’s note: the author, a retired senator, is former chief editor of La Presse. Mr. Pratte’s commentary was originally published October 29, 2017)

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