Remember when turning 50, let alone 60 or 70 was unimaginable? My partner turned 75 last week, an event we celebrated by having a dinner party with 10 friends, four of whom are 80 and older, and guess what? We kept the festivities going until close to midnight, so I guess we are not quite old coots, yet! (When my daughter reported the next morning that she had stayed out until 3 am dancing to one of her favourite bands, it made our late night seem quite humble.)
Peter and I met 41 years ago on a bus headed to New York City to join demonstrations at the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSSOD), although I had espied him earlier that year when he and some colleagues were perched atop a (not yet active) transmission tower as part of a demonstration to stop the opening of the Darlington nuclear power plant.
Our passion and commitment to making the world a better place is what brought us together, and it’s something we continue to share, although, it must be admitted, with less of the hopefulness we had in 1982.
Changing the world
Much to his chagrin, Peter is a descendent of Sir Henry Dundas, who was responsible for enough wrongdoing that the family name is being removed from streets and parks in many parts of Canada. Peter set out to ensure that, despite his moniker, his life would stand for something positive. He has been a political activist for six decades, engaging with a wide range of social wrongs too long to list here. He has a healthy criminal record for some of those activities but, more important I think, is his work to encourage and support others to become activists. In the 1980s and ‘90s, he was an ardent and charismatic public speaker on the importance of collective resistance, which almost always led to increased numbers of people joining our work.
This belief that making positive change was possible and that each of us shared in the responsibility for doing so is what has driven Peter for all the years I have known him, and it is working with others who share this passion that has led to his closest friendships and greatest joys.
It has also, at times, made life more difficult than it would otherwise have been, particularly for the kids — two brought by each of us to our relationship — in our house. They tired of the constant meetings, waking up to a house full of activists sleeping on the floor before, during and after demonstrations, fielding calls from people who had been arrested and what must have seemed to them an endless list of boycotts.
On that long and ever-changing list were war toys. One of our sons, determined to have a GI Joe doll, decided to steal it, since we wouldn’t buy it for him. He got caught and told the security guard about the boycott. The security guard clearly thought that having a pacifist father was punishment enough, and there were no further consequences.
Peter and I both believe that living collectively is an essential part of creating a new world. For many years, we worked hard to establish an intentional rural community of political activists near Kingston. There were some hopeful and joyful moments and lots of challenges. The challenges ultimately won out, and we reverted to nuclear family living, to our ongoing regret.
While political activism may form the core of who Peter is, there’s more to him than that. Spending time in nature is one of his favourite things. When we lived in the country, he knew the land like the back of his hand, and could lead me unerringly through acres of forest to find one specific tree or, even more remarkable to a city girl like me, a particular rock. A day spent sitting by the river, alone, with no stimulation other than his surroundings, is Peter’s idea of pure happiness.
Music is also central to who Peter is. He’d be a hands-down winner on a name-that-tunes game show. Perhaps the best birthday gift he received on turning 75 was a four-hour-plus playlist of his favourite tunes put together by our closest friends, but we all agreed that had they included everything he likes, the list would have run to days and days of listening time.
Peter knows a lot about a lot of things. He is a geography, science and nature whiz, cleaning up in those categories whenever we play Trivial Pursuit. When he remembers, he plays Worldle, a game I refuse to play because, as my daughter has said, it just makes me feel stupid, and who needs that? For Peter, it’s a slam dunk. He’s our in-house weatherman, with a not-so-secret desire to be a tornado chaser.
He can fix the wiring on a lamp, put in a toilet, tell you the names and histories of every country in Africa, build a house and summon up information about obscure weather events, but don’t talk to him about modern technology. Cell phones – forget it. In fact, the truth is that he doesn’t even like talking on the phone that much – he’s an in-person kind of guy. And, 90% of the time, that’s just fine. But, I have to say that my life would be a lot easier if he could send or respond to the odd text message or learn how to check messages on his cell phone. (Yes, he has one – but is it charged up? Can he remember where he left it? Did he even bring it along?)
Is he perfect? No. His life has been full of health problems and injuries. He tends to leave a trail behind him as he moves through the house. He is more comfortable in silence than I will ever be. He almost never remembers to put the car keys where they are supposed to go. He likes anchovies and sardines. Our cat likes him more than she likes me.
But, he has been a critical part of me becoming who I am, and I can’t imagine anyone with whom I would rather share my life. Even after all this time together, we continue to discover new things about one another, still make each other laugh, have plans for many adventures to come, and our passion for making the world a better place burns bright.
Happy birthday, Peter!