Mademoiselle Liberte patriotic crepe paper art kit - ullabenulla
Mademoiselle Liberte paper craft patriotic kit by ullabenulla

On Canada Day, I think of the United States.
It’s inevitable.
And it’s also very personal.

Our two countries are so very different, yet we both sprang from the womb of Brittania who once indisputably ruled the waves:

Two colonies who grew up and got all independent, as children are wont to do — one, a brash bold charming young Alpha male, charging out into the world with flags flying and supreme self-confidence; the other, more feminine and accomodating, half-envious and half-despairing of resisting the testosterone tornado from the south…

Why can’t we all just get along?

On the First of July, each year, I march in the Canada Day parade with our local field trial club, accompanied by my best-behaved dog. He’s the one who affects not to notice the big brass band that’s marching after us, or the Chinese dragon dancing ahead.

This dog is American-born, in fact— but what does he know? He’s just happy to be here, out for a lovely walk in the summertime, meeting new friends…

Walking in that parade, waving my little Maple Leaf at the laughing roadside crowds, I am aware only of music and the breeze and a sea of red-and-white flags, a blur of faces… just change the flags to Stars and Stripes, and this could be Independence Day in any New England town.


I was born on the Fourth of July.

But that’s not what it says on my birth certificate.

In the small border-town hospital where I was born, the windows of the maternity ward looked south. On the night of the Fourth of July, in the final hour of her labour, my mother distracted herself by watching the fireworks over the river. She told me so.


I was born on the Fourth of July.

But my father refused to permit it.

If he could have kept me in the womb for another hour, no doubt he would have done so. But even in the moment that I was delivered, a cacophany of boat and car horns was heralding the fireworks finale on the American side.

The doctor asked the nurse to note the time of birth. My father sprang up from her bedside and wrenched at the hands of the wall clock, cranking them around to just past midnight. The doctor took one look at Father’s face and quietly changed the date to July the Fifth.

(Things like that can happen in small towns, where each man knows the other’s story.)

Father’s deep-seated disgust for all things American was so extreme: he would not allow his child to share a birthday with our neighbour-nation!

For years, this perplexed me…

Why can’t we all just get along?


You see, Father was, in truth, the least xenophobic of men.

He spoke seven languages from the Latin to the Scandinavian, with a workmanlike smattering of a few Asian tongues.

Growing up, we kids were double-bunked like cordwood to make room for foreign students — Vietnamese, Australian, Thai, Nigerian — who became part of our family, and stayed so for decades after they they moved on to other parts of Canada, or back home.

My first boyfriend was Maliseet; the second was the descendant of Black Loyalists; the third was Spanish.

My father never blinked an eye.


A clue here and there, dropped in family conversations over the years… and I’ve come to the conclusion that Father’s apparently logical reasons for his apparently illogical dislike of the United States, has nothing to do with politics, economics, history, geography or value systems.

It has nothing to do with the “melting pot” versus “cultural mosaic” philosophy that is perhaps the single largest difference between our two countries.

It has nothing to do with blind patriotism.

It’s personal.


My paternal grandfather was an American. He married a Canadian, settled in Canada, and raised his family with dual citizenship — or he started to raise them. He was lost at sea just short of his fortieth birthday, just after my father was born.

Father’s older brothers and sisters helped their widowed mother to raise him — no doubt a hardscrabble existence, through the Depression years. She took in laundry. My uncles and aunts left school in their early teens. They ate a lot of fish.

My grandmother’s family gave what they could to help, and fostered my father in his first few winters, when there wasn’t enough firewood to keep the house warm for a baby. There are stories from that difficult time I know that I’ll never hear…

What I do know is that my grandfather’s family had no hand in raising those children.

To this day, we have no idea who they are— some family down in Boston shares my last name, that’s all.

They might not even know that they have a Canadian branch to the family tree.

Imagine, then, my father’s heartbreak when the siblings who raised him all — every one of them — picked up and moved “across the line”and renounced the Canadian part of their dual citizenship, to become more fervently American than native-born Americans. Suddenly, everything in Canada was second-rate, backwards, vaguely pathetic — including their youngest brother.

And they said so — loudly and often. This I remember all too well from my childhood, crouching over the floor grate in Grandma’s back bedroom, all ear for the tense adult voices in the night kitchen below.

And what do men of my father’s generation do with pain?
They turn it into anger.


My father’s anger propelled him out of poverty and fuelled a distinguished academic career that opened doors for him all over the world. It brought him material success and the lasting respect of his peers. It gave his children a very comfortable upbringing: more so, in fact, than that of our American cousins.

But whatever he earned or achieved, it was never enough to let his siblings see him as anything more than the little brother who failed to take his opportunity to become an American; who “settled” for being a mere Canadian shadow of the dream.

On his side, something to prove.
On their side… what?

It’s just a crying shame.

And I don’t quite know what to make of it all, except to take it as a cautionary tale. Pain and a sense of abandonment can only spawn fear and anger; and negative emotion, let free, has lasting consequences — my entire life began with a written-down lie.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Kim Woodbridge

    What an interesting story … when I asked on Twitter if your birthday was on the 4th of 4th I had no idea there would be such a story behind the question. Only in a small town would something like this happen. So, which day do you celebrate on? Or like me do you not want anymore birthdays (I’m going to be 40 on the 20th). I hope the issue has not caused you too much pain – it sounds like you were mostly concerned about your father’s anger.

    My co-workers birthday is on the 4th but he doesn’t really care – he’s just glad that his birthday is a day off from work.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. HowToMe

    From my limited point of view, life does seem to go much better when people love their Creator and love others. :-)

    It is a pleasure to visit your site. You are an exceptional writer. Thank you for your many kindnesses.

  3. domestika

    I’m enjoying your project blog so far, HowToMe… thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, it’s sometimes helpful to remember the famous line from Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ;-) It’s all about learning to understand and get along, isn’t it, in the end?

  4. HowToMe

    Happy Birthday, Domestika! I hope your Dad is in good health and able to forgive those that hurt him. Don’t be too hard on your parents for the date on your certificate. No one is perfect. You are fortunate to have been loved by your family all your life and learned the value of loving others. That I know of, my extended family has three tales of suffering because of seemingly insignificant choices followed by a lifetime of nursing one’s pride. Very regrettable.

    I wish you many happinesses on your birthday surrounded by those you love! Make sure to kiss your Daddy and tell him you love him.

  5. domestika

    Mixed emotions, Cammy – you and I are in the same place on this! Welcome to DG, so glad you found me… :-)

  6. Cammy

    I Stumbled onto your site and such a pleasant surprise that was. Your story leaves me with mixed emotions…which is what every good piece of writing should do. Makes me wonder how many other Canucks born on the 4th feel angst. Too bad really, our neighbors are the cool kids on the block :)

  7. domestika

    Thanks, my friends. I’m going to stuff my face with cake for the next 2 days!

  8. bluepaintred

    guess what! Its the fourth now!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY…. should i come back again on the fifth too? LOL

  9. Pinhole

    Born on the horns of a dilemma; that had to smart.

    A wonderful tale, beautifully told.

  10. domestika

    Thanks, Becca, glad you liked it. Maybe it explains a bit why I value honesty, diversity, and a warm /welcoming home space as a refuge from strife!

  11. becca

    Wow! Great post. I enjoyed reading every word of it.

  12. domestika

    Hey there, Blue — thanks for asking! Yes, the old guy gave us a bit of a scare this winter, but he’s still with us and going strong. Tough as nails, this hardy Maritime stock!

    (There won’t be any pointing and laughing, though, as none of his siblings are still alive – not so much universal health care, I don’t think; more to do with my father being the baby of his family!)

  13. bluepaintred

    Im sorry, but with this story i dont blame your dad AT all for switching the clock. I really done/.

    “The hurt that hurts the most is that which is cause by those you love the most.”

    this was an awesome read, i started it in bloglines and eagerly clicked the “more” to finish it out.

    is your father still around? Tell him to point and laugh at his siblings. He has free health care!

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