“There is no way he should be allowed to play football at a Protestant school. All the other Dolan boys attended St. Francis and he should be no different.”
Those were the opening words to Henry Viney’s (the Dean of Canadian Broadcasters), ‘One Man’s Opinion’ on CFCN TV’s 6pm sports segment in September of 1973 in Calgary. I felt this intense pain in my chest after hearing his words.
I became the scapegoat for my family’s incompetency in solving its problems in living – it only knew unhappiness and had no idea how to make things better. Shaming me was ‘for my own good’.
What I could not get as a boy was that my parents were the dysfunctional ones. I knew of no one’s failure but those attributed to me by grown-ups. My only “guidance” was that which helped me feel awful—shame about myself for failing to produce… I repeat, it was not my fault.
On the first day of high school, I stood across the expanse of soccer fields leading to St. Francis. I remember hearing a whisper come into my heart. It suggested, in the most loving way, that this was not the school for me to attend.
Four Dolan boys had attended this school before me and three more siblings were set to grace the halls of this high school after me. Why on earth would I be hearing a whisper not to go here?
I remember speaking to my brother Rick, who had been the only Dolan to graduate from St. Francis. He thought not attending St. Francis and going to Viscount Bennett, a Protestant school, might be a much better place for me to play football. I thought it might be a much better place for me to graduate.
Mom was a convert. She converted to Catholicism in order to marry my Dad and was not the least bit happy about her boy going to a Protestant school. Converts were usually the staunchest of Catholics.
My dear brother Rick was able to get me an appointment with the Head Football Coach at the Protestant School.
I am my memories, my history, my joys and my talents; I am also my experience of shame. There is no escaping any part of myself; my shame experiences are in my neurons and my body cells.
Although I desperately wanted to honour this whisper’s wisdom, the pressure I was feeling from my brother, my Mom, the Dolan legacy at St. Francis, and the Dean of Canadian Sportscasters was overwhelming. Perhaps I should just attend the Catholic school, let the whisper go unheard and maybe the pressure in my chest would disappear.
I would learn decades later that when we are shamed, the primary physical manifestation of that shame shows up in our chests. It all made sense.
I learned not to deny the shame or finesse it, but to face it, own it, and incorporate it into myself. After all, they are only painful memories, not imperious demons. They cannot hurt me again as they did before – though I may believe they can – for I am not as vulnerable as I was when I was smaller. Today, I am not done in by the shaming experiences the world offers me.
I did not go to St. Francis in 1973, for a month, and returned after hearing the end of the Sportscaster’s closing words of that two-minute segment, “That Catholic quarterback has no right playing with Protestants.” Shame had claimed its victory.
A year later, grade eleven. I left St. Francis, played football with the Protestants, graduated in 1977 and watched as no other Dolan’s graduated from there. The Dean of Canadian Sportscasters died, as did his legacy of shame.
There is nothing shameful about shame. I learned it by surviving in the midst of being shamed.
There is a great community of the shamed waiting to dare to trust others enough to be open and vulnerable. Sharing my shame is my way of forming a strong and rejuvenating tie with others.
My sense of shame is a channel of empathy and pathos to the hearts of others. Owning the universality of my shame helps me both cry and lighten up a bit about it. There is no more powerful bond than that of shared shame transformed into a bond of understanding and mutual support for one another’s healing.
Today, I have my shame; it does not have me.