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Let's talk

In observance of Bell's "Let's Talk" fund-raising campaign in support of mental health awareness, I can share the experience that Bell Canada's interest in workplace mental health dates back at least a generation. The Bell Telephone Company gave my father a job when he came home from the Second World War with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was captured at Dieppe in 1942 and survived three years in Nazi prison camps. Back home, surviving in normal society was a challenge.

Bell and other corporations joined government-run businesses such as the post office in honouring war veterans by giving them jobs, a stable working environment and a steady paycheque. That was a good start. The doctors treating these traumatized souls told them to get married and have a family in an attempt to make their situation as normal as possible so the healing could begin.

I was born just eight years after the end of the war with my father still many years away from being back to normal. Dad's condition was not my big problem, however. Compounding the fragile home life was the fact that for the first five years of elementary school I was taught by a viciously abusive teacher.

I was one of the last kids to attend a one-room rural schoolhouse in the province of Ontario. They disappeared in 1965. But my first five grades were five years of trauma. The teacher was an old-school type who maintained discipline through fear and intimidation. She never laid a finger on us, thankfully, because strapping students had been banned, but she did keep a school board-issue strap and brought it out to bang violently on her desk, threatening us whenever she felt it would make a point. She would scream in our faces and belittle us with sarcasm almost every day. The trauma was obvious as pants-wetting was common and it was during one of these incidents that I had my first incident of actual deja vu which scared me to death because -- at 9 years old -- I thought I was losing my mind.

On a rural road, away from her peers and in a limestone Alcatraz, this authority figure was free to burst into a daily tirade without judgment. We all told our parents about her, but rural politics prevented the school board from removing her. Her daily outbursts were like bombs going off in our young minds.

My father noticed some symptoms of trauma that he, himself, had experienced. Anger, depression, dissociative behaviour…

At one point, he actually said "Let's Talk".

He was usually away from home for much of the week, on four-man teams of Bell linemen, stringing telephone cable into little communities across southern Ontario.

Weekends were special and we began going for breakfast on Saturday mornings to talk about our lives. Every week, he took me to some greasy spoon or roadside diner with really fabulous blue-collar food that he had discovered while on the road with his buddies.

A good meal makes the world look a little brighter. Especially if you share it with a trusted friend.

Most war vets would not talk about their experiences, but my Dad saw me as a young version of himself and someone he could trust.

I got a lot of good philosophy from him. Philosophy on how to survive. In my mind, anyone who walked out of the concentration camp at Theresienstadt -- as he did -- had earned a degree in survival. He gave me the mental tools he developed while a prisoner.

As the years rolled on, we earned our lives back and during his final years he was a happy and well-balanced man. As for me, you can see it in my eyes.

It begins with love, acceptance and trust.

It began when we talked. We shared.

If you need to share, I am


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