I remember a game we used to play. It’s funny that what I am about to describe is a fond memory but it was (perhaps because I was good at it!). We used to go to the grocery store where they would have a shelving rack full of cans with dents and no labels. They sold these for about ten cents. Big savings! The game was to try and guess what was in them. The “big bucks” was chunky soup while creamed corn was the “whammy” (that’s a Press Your Luck reference for those who didn’t catch it). I loved this game! I was always able to find the chunky soup cans! I could shake the can and tell by the sound. I was untouchable! Imagine how turning the need to stretch every grocery dollar out into a game changed the experience for us. Like I said, she is my unsung hero.
In my teens I was more than a handful. As years passed and teen pressures to fit in grew, despite my mother providing a happy home, I became increasingly frustrated that I could not have everything my friends at school did. Even though my mother stretched every penny and made every personal sacrifice imaginable so that I could have the things I did, I wanted more. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get more clothes, more brand names, take vacations, play in sporting leagues and so on. On top of it all, I had undiagnosed ADHD (at that time, it was far less common at that time to spot and get help for). Long story short…I rebelled. A lot.
Stealing quarters from the laundry jar was only the beginning. That turned into stealing cigarettes out of the unlocked cars in our building’s underground parking garage. That turned into shoplifting cigarettes from convenience stores. That turned into shoplifting other things I could sell. I actually remember my mother giving me money to go buy some groceries and instead, I stole them and pocketed the money. Then came drugs. Pot, then hash, then mushrooms, then me selling drugs, then dropping out of high school despite being an honour roll student. Then, eventually and thankfully for only a short time, came cocaine.
This is the first time I am sharing everything because I really want people to know how low I was to appreciate what an unsung hero my mother was.
I started working when I was 11, delivering the Toronto Star. At 14 I lied about my age and got a job at McDonalds. I held many part time jobs throughout those years but was not able to keep one due to my many issues and rebellious nature. Through every single challenge I have talked about, my mother was there. When I fell, she helped me back up. She believed I could do anything. She believed I was the smartest and most capable person. She may have gotten justifiably angry or been justifiably disappointed but she never, not for a second, stop believing in my potential. Something she made sure I knew and made sure I believed as well.
I eventually moved out of the house and found an apartment and a roommate. I got by on my many part-time jobs and selling weed from time to time. Sadly, the challenges I experienced as a young teen only worsened in my late teens. I was high 24/7. I depended on others to bail me out of my financial problems. I asked and even at times, begged, for things from others that I did not earn or deserve. It was not a high point in my life by any stretch and the pain of the deem shame I felt is something I can still feel to this day.
It was really just sheer luck I never ended up on the street. I had friends who did, I had friends who escalated their crimes to credit card fraud, breaking and entering, dealing in cocaine, gem scams and more. I have friends who ended up in prison or ended up dead. Yet through all of this, the belief my mother had in me was not lost on me and would be the thing that saved me.
I will never forget the day that belief, which was like a flame that had not been given oxygen, was suddenly reignited. I was high on several drugs, I was green in the face, I was broke, behind on rent and just tired of everything. I looked at myself in the mirror and I hated what I saw. This was not the son my mother had raised. This was not the path I was meant for. This was not taking me to a future I recognized. Something had gone horribly wrong. I needed, in a way I knew so deep in my core, to be the person my mother knew I was.
So, I left Toronto. Within a month I had booked a flight to Calgary where my dad was (and so where I had a place to stay). I needed to get out of Toronto where I was surrounded by a world of drugs and crime…I could not see a way out if I had stayed. I sold off whatever I had of any value to pay for the flight and I left. I stayed with my dad for a few months until I got a job and then rented a room with some good people I had met. I worked my ass off from morning til night. I got promoted and promoted again. And again.
Then, I became an Uncle! My nephew Jonah was born in Toronto and I knew I needed to go back. Plus, I felt I was ready to return without regressing. So, I returned. Was able to get transferred with the company I was working for. I kept progressing in my career, becoming an expert and thought leader in customer experience and employee experience. I even founded my own consulting firm, Chorus Tree Inc., helping some of the world’s greatest brands achieve amazing things. I have an incredible wife and four beautiful children who are all thriving. I changed my future.
It all stems back to that fork in the road. That moment in the mirror where I saw a reflection that was not my own. It was not the person my mother had given everything up for. It was not the person she showed me I was. I owe her everything I have and will honour her in everything I do. When I reflect back, what I remember most wasn’t the divorce or the struggles. It was that through all those tough years, my mother took care of us. We had food on the table. We had a roof over our heads. We were loved unconditionally. She was our mother and our father, our cheerleader and our friend. All the while she was living in her own personal nightmare that we never fully grasped, filled with anxiety about how we would get by the next week, the week after that and the week after that. To explain how she gave us a happy life while concealing all that from us is a task I am simply not worthy of. I can’t explain it. All I know is, I owe her everything.
And that’s where Unsung Heroes Productions comes in. When she passed, there was a small sum of money donated through the funeral home, Benjamins. 800 dollars to be exact. They would call us periodically, to ask what we wanted to do with it and I thought, what could we possibly do with 800 dollars that would amount to the sacrifices she made and the impact she had. We would need more. A lot more. Unsung Heroes was born to honour her legacy and to keep telling her story. We raise money for charities that were so important to her.
One is Leukemia, because she lost her father to this terrible disease. Another two are helping impoverished single parent families and mental health because of her own experience. Lastly and most recently we added Alzheimer’s because her baby brother, my Uncle Lenny, was diagnosed and is currently living with this cruel disease. She would do anything for him if she were alive and so we added this cause as our current charitable focus.
UHP produces musical revue shows that mix broadway with popular music. We create custom arrangements that retell old stories with a focus on harmony because we believe musically and symbolically in the power of many voices coming together to work as one.
Now, after ten years, our 2023 show, Unsung Heroes 10 will be our last production. A best of the best of all the years and shows.
If you are reading this before Oct 14-15 2023, we hope you will come to see It, make a donation, become a sponsor, like our social media pages and help spread the word.
It’s going to be an amazing and emotional final production!