College is easier than logging

My dad figures it’s more common for adults to go back to school these days. This is compared to when he went to college for the first time when he was 33. In the ‘90s.

He says, “These days, people don’t stay in the same career.” He had a wife (my mom), four kids (a fifth rounded out the family a few years on), a big chunk of land, a tractor, a horse named Lily, a truck and a car, a few chainsaws, a house, a high school diploma, a 15-or-so year career as a logger and a bum knee.

His knee locked up at the crucial point after a tree was cut but before it fell. His doctor told him he was arthritic. He had to stop logging.

He decided to become a lawyer. “I had to feed my kids and I couldn’t work in the bush anymore. My body was broken. “I was glad. I was trying to get something else. College was easier than logging.”

He was paid disability insurance. “The insurance company said, ‘you should work as a trucker or gas attendant’” They wanted him to retrain, and they told him he couldn’t become a lawyer. The other option was for my mom to go to university, but then the insurance payments would have stopped.

He never considered anything else. “I was completely and totally naive. I had no clue. I thought it would work.” It wasn’t just the insurance company that told him not to become a lawyer; everybody did. “If it wasn’t for your mom, I couldn’t have done it.”

I remember my mom helping me with a grade four report on Jamaica. My dad said, “Don’t worry, she does my homework, too.” We were living at a park that my mom ran, in a trailer. There were too many mosquitoes to go outside.

In a way, it was lucky my dad’s knee gave out in the early ‘90s. In ‘99, the lumber mills in the town we lived near shut down. Many people lost jobs. “I would be scrambling around all the time if I hadn’t gone back to school then.”

We shared our time between Vancouver in the winter, and the park in the summer when he started law school. It was harder than college. “But that was because of my ignorance. I was doing really well, I just didn’t know.”

He thought he failed his first year. “I was getting ready for being a lawyer, stressed out all the time.” I asked him if going to college and law school reminded him of going to school when he was a kid. Did it envoke in you the same ‘back to school’ feeling in September? “No. There’s no comparison.”

He said he went to elementary school and high school, sometimes, because he had to.

He went to college because he wanted to. “I had to feed my family.” But that means you had to go. “There’s no comparison.” I tried.

His becoming a lawyer enabled us to stay on the big chunk of land outside of Lumby, B.C., the town where the lumber mills shut down. Sometimes he wishes he’d have become a lawyer before he did. “I’d be way ahead in my career. I’m always behind.” But he also says that he has a different kind of knowledge than lots of people — a broader knowledge that you can’t get from books.

He says it would have been best for his legal career if he’d been working as a lawyer by the time he was 30, instead just being called to the bar at 39. “But then I wouldn’t have my family. I guess I’d rather have my family than be a famous criminal lawyer.”

He thinks tuition should be free; everyone should be able to access education. “I went from working class to professional. It made me see the world differently.”

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