The Great White Father of an Irish-Canadian Baby
FIVE HOUR old Juliette Grace with dad, Steve McPhilemy, and mom Vicky Montcalm.
STEVE McPHILEMY, a Belfast Giants supporter, and Vicky Montcalm, who is a Montreal Canadiens supporter.
STEVE McPHILEMY at the Montreal St. Patrick's Day parade.
By STEVE McPHILEMY
On St. Patrick's Day this year, I clutched my shamrock waiting to become the proud father of a Canadian baby. For the first time in my 33 years of existence, I wasn't in my little green, credit-crunched motherland on our national day.
I was in a well-equipped maternity unit - funded by your taxes - encouraging abdominal breathing during contractions, whilst helping my lovely significant other give birth to our first little Canuck princess. A Canadian citizen whose loving dad forever will be me!
I know many Canadian men reading this will doubtless already be asking "so what's the big deal eh?" Well, I would argue that for an outsider to be the successful father of a modern Canadian child is quite the challenge - even for an Irishman!
I remind myself during pangs of self-doubt that I won't have been the first "Paddy" to be a dad in this part of the world. All around I can sense the spirit of my ancestors, members of my tribe, who have already passed this way and done well, so much seems familiar.
But what on God's earth, I ask you, will I do when she wants me to take her skating? Have you ever heard of any Irish figure skaters? Exactly! Try as I might, I fear I'll never be able to match up to her future little school friends' Canadian dads.
You see, being dad to a Canadian isn't such a simple social adaptation for an Irishman, you are after all a pretty unique bunch. But, let me thicken the plot a little. This little girl, like her mom, will be a French-Canadian. This is where, with respect, things get a wee bit trickier.
Let me explain. Growing up, this young history nerd had a strong awareness of Canada.
On occasion my Second World War veteran granda would delight me with good humoured tales of the roguish antics of "Newfie" fishermen and farm boys from the prairies, transformed by war into tough Corvette sailors who arrived nightly into the heart of our historic city of Derry - the first allied naval base for Canadian convoys.
But I knew little of French-Canada, except for Celine Dion. That all changed in 1992 as I watched and re-watched the movie Last of the Mohicans. It wasn't just because an Irish citizen played the lead role, but because it introduced me to a colossal figure in Canadian history- the legendary General Montcalm. He was known to some native tribes as the Great White Father of the Canadas.
I was enthralled. Here was a good old-fashioned chivalrous hero who could actually defeat, albeit occasionally, my formidable former colonial masters - the darling British!
For over a decade, I worked as a tour guide leading over 10,000 fun-loving Canadians around my Emerald Isle, but l never met a single French one. Chatting with those whom I perceived to be the 'regular' Canadians - the English speaking ones - I would always enquire about the mysterious French-types back home.
I noted the responses weren't always favourable towards the 'Frenchies', but I bit my tongue and didn't object for fear it would affect my tips. My loyalty has always been to the half-crown rather than the crown.
Then, finally, a gorgeous Canadian girl came onto my tour bus with the standard Roots t-shirt and Maple leaf flag patch attached to her backpack.
"What part of Canada are ye from?" I asked, and the accented English that came out of her mouth as she seductively responded "Montréal" made me realise I had just had my eureka moment!
After a 20-year-long wait, I fell in love with the first French-Canadian I met. In those early rosy-tinted days, we survived on "water, air, and love" (it sounds way sexier in la langue Française!).
I thought little of the challenges that might lie in store if this Gael and that Gaul eventually inter-bred. Now, as the hour of birth approaches, how all that has changed.
Despite growing up in a society once organised around the clan system, I'm still finding the centrality of family to the Quebecois a challenge. There's simply none of the sibling feuding, bickering, and in-fighting that we fighting Irish are so accustomed to.
In fact, my partner's hospitable and humble farming family happen to be a French-Canadian version of the Waltons - tolerant and mild-mannered, enjoying copious amounts of 'joie de vivre'.
I feel so guilty wondering if I will ever adapt to argument-free, family meals that last for three hours minimum. And that's even before the gourmet cheese-plate arrives!
Then, there's the issue of religion in Canada - hockey. A blood-curdling silence greeted the dinner-table revelation to my Quebec in-laws that I "kinda preferred" the Toronto Maple Leafs to Montreal Canadiens as they once were called "St. Pat's" and wore green and white.
I've since forced myself to develop an interest in ice-hockey to prepare to be a French-Canadian's dad.
Then there's the biggest challenge of all that I never thought I'd have to overcome in order to be a good dad to a Canadian child - the language barrier.
I often find just trying to translate their type of electrifying Française pas possible! Though I did well at the 100 percent French pre-natal classes - after all every self-respecting young Canadian man surely knows what a "trompe de fallope" is!
I've already relented and agreed that our baby should be raised with her mom's surname and so in this 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, my daughter will be baptised as a 'Montcalm'!
When I day-dreamed as a teenager of General Montcalm fighting the red-coats, I never imagined I'd be reading bedtime stories in French to a Montcalm on the banks of the St. Lawrence.
My day-dream is to one day take her on a road trip from the Maritimes all the way out west - stopping off at the Memorial des Irlandais at Grosse Ile to remind her that not all Irish boys enjoyed as good a time in Canada as her dad.
Then, onwards through this wonderfully challenging part of the world I'm delighted that my own personal little Montcalm is being born into.