happy birthday to you,
happy birthday dear Sigourney.
Happy birthday to you.
"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
September 20th, Sigourney is 18 years of age today – 6.574 days old. Sigourney may not know her real name, her real birthday or the truth about her life, but it’s a fact – today is her birthday. I can remember that day so vividly - September 20, 1991. What a year: The USA unleashes unreasonable force against a former brother-in-arms Saddam Hussein and the people of Iraq. Theodor Seuss Geisel – Dr. Seuss dies. “Dances with Wolves” is the Picture of the Year and The Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the North Stars to win the Stanley Cup.
And Sigourney Teresa Chisholm was born at home with her elated parents, mother – Patricia O’Byrne and yours truly, proud dad, Joe Chisholm in the company of Linda Moscovitch our mid-wife and her assistant (sorry, can’t remember her name) and our dear friend Teresa Whelan – who Sigourney was named after. Oh, and 51 Division of Metro Toronto Police stopped by for a quick peek. Seems we forgot to inform the other tenants of 30 Elm Avenue that Apartment 201 would be giving birth that day and Patricia’s screaming prompted a call to Toronto’s finest.
Patricia and I had our difficulties as a couple leading up to Sigourney’s birth but all our differences where on hold as we were both so hopeful and excited about the impending birth of our child. That day was a day of great hope and joy. Jesse, my son was 2 ½ years old at the time. I didn’t have even one Email to check that day – not many of us knew what that was, but you could send a letter anywhere in Canada for less than $0.30.
There was a transit strike in Toronto at the time and I was at a seminar downtown earlier that afternoon when Patricia’s water broke. My pager went off (yes - we had pagers back then) and I wondered who had that annoying thing turned on and why don't they turn it off? Then I realized it was me and my heart pounded so much it almost leapt from my chest. I knew Sigourney was coming. Patricia was at home and the midwife and Teresa would be there soon. I ran out of the King Edward Hotel and into a cab and blurted out my address. We were in bumper to bumper traffic and the cabbie was quite talkative - about what I have no idea because all I could think about is how I wanted to be home. Having seen a light in front of us turn green, yellow, red three times before we got to the intersection, I tossed the cabbie some money and said, “Don’t worry about it – I will run home,” and in my suit with my brief case, I started striding northbound between lines of nearly parked cars. I got home, huffing and puffing in my sweaty suit and Patricia was quite calm. I got changed, got ready and we timed contractions while waiting for the others to arrive.
Several hours later we celebrated Sigourney’s birth day.
For 5966 of those days, Sigourney has been missing, Patricia has been wanted by the law and I have been searching. Sigourney and I were only in each other’s lives (technically) for just over 600 of the first days of her life. But every day for 6574 days I have woken up each morning a father of two – my beloved Jesse whom I took a generous number of opportunities to say, “Guess What! I love being your dad!” + Sigourney who I have spent at least some of every one of over 5,900 days, searching and working towards a resolution of this conflict. I never feel that I have done enough.
Many of those days have been seemingly overwhelming as the ravages of sadness, sleep disorder, anger or anguish highjack my day, say to me, “turn off the phone, cancel your appointments – today you are my bitch.” Even looking at those words I just typed – ravage, anguish – it seems so melodramatic but if you have witnessed any mother or father in my shoes, or you are one yourself, you know those words don’t even do the levels of despair literary justice. Like living in a hurricane belt, you don’t look forward to it – nor do you resist it, you just bear down and remember you lived through the last one and the one before that.
And when others say to me, “You are so courageous,” I appreciate the kindness of what they say, but it doesn’t seem to be the right word either. I just do what any functionally bonded parent would do. It’s not bravery and it’s not noble and it’s not even integrity, it’s an unyielding compulsion to fulfill a promise you made to your child to prepare and protect them in life. A friend who knew Patricia and knows me said, “Oh my God, this has been your life’s work.” That’s how it turned out, in a way. It’s been like having the duty of a second job (a job you pay to work at) in very many ways. I can count the number of holidays I have found time for on one hand and the holidays that haven’t been Sigourney seeking or devoted to quality time with Jesse on one finger.
Still, I find time for things that I love that don’t take me too far from the phone. I love sports and I love music. Especially, seeing IndieCan through its infancy and helping young, deserving artists – this has been quite healing. It’s like I am helping other people’s children – the songs, in the absence of one of my own children. I am reminded often by well meaning friends that no child wants the pressure of being told “I sacrificed my whole life for you!” no matter what the circumstances. So, when I am not searching, I am making the best of life – some days much better than others.
At the time of writing we are only 1 ½ hours into Sigourney’s birthday and I don’t feel too bad - considering. This is a day of great symbolism for me as Sigourney transitions from child to young adult. I am faced with accepting defeat in my declaration to prepare and protect Sigourney throughout her childhood, come what may. The war Patricia declared on my fatherhood ends in success for her and failure for me. The day was never saved by the forces of good, despite noble efforts. Even in the eleventh hour, no one came to my families rescue. Patricia never saw fit to do what most would agree to be the right thing. As the Toronto International Film Festival leaves town today, there will be no Hollywood ending for the Sigourney story.
You might disagree with my conclusions as you read but check the score-board (Men love sports analogies). What is more pathetic than someone who can’t take a loss? We all know some sorry-ass person like this. Life is full of gambles; some of them just don’t go the way you wish.
Nothing really changes for me today – I am still looking and my arms will always be open wide to invite Sigourney into the life of her patriarchal family that she has been deprived of to date. The slight adjustment in my approach is that I am no longer appealing to her mother, Patricia. Sigourney is an adult and she can make her own choices.
Not that I wouldn’t talk to Patricia right now. Without knowing the present circumstances, it is likely that transitioning Sigourney back to the reality of her life would still be better with Patricia on board. But now it’s not necessary to appeal to Patricia. That’s the only small difference in my on-going search.
Now, about the quote at the top: Pardon the patriarchy of the wording. It was a century ago and I expect Longfellow would be more inclusive in his words today. This was a poet and an educator. A sensitive man who knows much suffering in his life, Longfellow came to the aid of his beloved wife who had accidentally set herself in flames. She would die a few days later from the burns and he would wear a beard the rest of his life to cover the burns he suffered in the rescue attempt.
Again, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Many years before, Confuses said, “To understand completely is to forgive completely.” I have been collecting quotes for a writing project lately and it has been enlightening. Longfellow, especially, because of his suffering in life, his words speak to me.
I have more actual dreams of meeting Patricia than I do of meeting Sigourney. Maybe it’s because I know what Patricia looks like. Maybe the theme of the dream will answer why. Always I am walking with her and I am struggling how to ask the question that will answer “Why did you do it?” And it’s not the excuse I am looking for and not the twisted fantasy of how she has God on her side or how, like the movie, “Minority Report” she imagines that she was saving our daughter from some future evil that I would inflict upon her. I want the truth, the root-cause. I want the damage report so that I can understand and so I can forgive. I loved Patricia. I don’t want to see her as a narcissistic sociopath. She is the woman I procreated with and the blood of my daughter.
Patricia’s brothers are still hostile to this day when my name comes up. Many other family members of Patricia’s are sympathetic to my families cause, but hands-off. So many – and I know some of you twisted fucks are reading this – know in their hearts that that they have conspired with Patricia and some of them feel ambivalent at very least. Patricia did not act alone. She was encouraged. She was enabled. Many more said nothing when speaking up would have been the right thing to do. I want to understand them all and the shit in their life that can allow them to be party to something so grotesque. When I try to think of the depth of damage it takes for each person who has taken her side - how can they be predisposed to the twisted stories that she tells without doubt or sober second thought? I cannot grasp it, but I want to and I have the small comfort from the wisdom of the ages that one day the facts will be known, and from them, healing can begin.
But for now, thanks for reading and for today, if we could all devote some well-wishes to Sigourney on her 18th birthday, I would be grateful.
A personal note: I didn't have the heart to delete this birthday wish. Should family find this and want it removed, PLEASE contact me via the comment section or email, which is listed below.
Updated March 20, 2018