Updated: Jan 10
Happy New Year, everyone! We can all claim 2020 vision once again. This blog captures some of the crazy, good and inspiring book tour experiences since Soar, Adam, Soar was published last February. Enjoy!
PEMBROKE - Jamie Hawes is this sweet, energetic 20-something, director of Pembroke Pride meeting me at Blendz Smoothie Shop on Main St. We are planning a local stop on my Soar, Adam Soar book tour. (Dundurn Press, 2019)
He has a confession for this author, a former Catholic priest.
“Uhm, I got your book last month. I’m on page 2. I don’t read a lot of books.”
Humility shores up the new author’s resiliency. I am 68, an emerging writer, perhaps not the age group the literary world had in mind for that demographic. These days, with 70 the new 50, they should! I am “fresh” into what will be a winter-spring series of mini tours after Dundurn Press released my memoir Feb. 2 on my late son’s inspiring journey coming home to the “boy in the mirror”. I stitched the tours through 45 towns, mainly around the Ontario heartland, with side bookings to Halifax, Charlottetown, Montreal, Vermont and California.
At the Pembroke reading at Blendz two weeks after we first met, Hawes winced when I asked for an update on his reading and page numbers. In better news, he along with Jill Holroyd from Renfrew County Pflag inform me that they will race across the street after my reading to support Pembroke City Council’s resolution for a rainbow crosswalk. Pflag is an oasis for parents who wished to help themselves and their family members understand and accept their LGBTQ2S children. There, for the kids, when no one else is. The resolution passed unanimously, a small but impressive step forward for humankind in the conservative Ottawa Valley. Jamie, Jill and their merry band of do-gooders scored wins too in four, smaller towns who agreed to raise the Pride Flag for Pride Month. The Pflag chapters have became fans of Adam’s story; they are family for the parents and their kids during what can be tough “coming out’ times dancing around bullying and hate.
On a closed Parents of Transgender Kids Facebook group, I just read about a teen whose Mom put her fist through drywall when he broke the gender news to her; he’s moved out to a friend’s family.
Later in the tour, there will be a step backwards on the human rights front. Now, though, the smoothies and best brownies in the world helped us savour the good news in the Valley.
On another trip through the Ottawa Valley to visit my brother in North Bay, I had dropped into 11 libraries to deliver my elevator talk sales pitch for Soar, Adam, Soar. The library visits doubled this usual 4-hour drive but, hell, I am a library lifer who delights when my book finds a home there.
At the Renfrew Public Library, two librarians heard this pitch.
“Catholic priest marries. Father Rick becomes proud father of a transgender son. Cue the tragedy. A seizure-related drowning for my Adam. As an organ donor, he saves four lives. A heart recipient cleverly sleuths our identity and will become a good friend. It’s all in the book!”
The second librarian who had half listened while shelving books turned and asked.
“Is this fiction?”
“I wish,” I answered, rubbing the jewelry urn hanging around my neck.
I take Adam on tour. He may have died in 2016 but now he’s a lifeline and co-author; his100-plus social media posts are either in the margins or part of the unique narrative as his words, better than mine, pick up the testosterone, counselling and healthcare part of his gender identity journey from being first identified as a girl to his coming home to his true self. The audiences at the readings love the part where I explain how his “smart parents”, actually a smart Mom, intuitively knew without an ultrasound that she was carrying a boy in the womb and that we began to call the child Adam then and indeed named our child legally “Rebecca Danielle Adam”, the baby who the intern caught 17 minutes into labour.
Boy, did my kid like the Adam name!
Adam would inevitably head to a sunny place from every disappointing setback, no matter the dozens of seizures and the two epic, all-day brain surgeries he endured in Montreal in 2011 and 2015 to better control his epilepsy. He called the second surgery decision “a no-brainer”, coveting a return to his life of driving a car, playing hockey and getting on with his Adam quest.
Adam’s social media posts redeem the one sad chapter chronicling the tragedy. I post Adam’s and earlier musings that are under the name, Bekkaa, a Facebook name for the Rebecca Adam years.
Bekkaa, December, 2009
“life is complicated…lol!”
Bekkaa, April 22, 2010
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEEE”
Adam, Dec. 23, 2015
“Hi five my lips with your lips.”
Adam, Aug. 3, 2015
“Do you ever think clouds look down on us and say, ‘Hey, that one’s shaped like an idiot’.”
Adam shared Lezbehonest’s post, January 21, 2016
“I always carry a knife in my purse. You never know, cheesecake or something.”
Indeed, Adam’s on tour with me, the ashes, the words, his courage, inspiration, infectious humour. Periodically, so too is John Dickhout, the heart recipient from Burlington who, since his own miracle, has seized on his dream to become a professional actor. Dickhout sits on a stool next to me to share his riveting, cleaved chest perspective to Adam’s decision to be an organ donor. There are tears while reading some nights.
"There are three men at the heart of this story, but only two of them are still alive,” Elizabeth Renzetti wrote in her Globe’s Arts and Books feature (‘I could never get enough of him.' A dad’s memoir of love, identity and loss June 15). “One man has religious faith and the other does not, but now because of the strange turnings of the universe, they're united in a message of rebirth and hope and gratitude. The story really belongs to the third man, whose death brought them together..."
After Ottawa and Toronto readings, I discovered the Canadian gem of bigger turnouts and more book sales in smaller places --- Collingwood, North Bay, Sudbury, Elliot Lake, Sault Ste Marie, Fonthill, Dunnville, Burlington, Gravenhurst and more. Fifty to 60 people, many buying.
In late February, I had steered past a 75-car pile-up near Barrie, ON where it appeared to be as dangerous to pull over as to white knuckle my way through whiteout conditions.
Resiliency. My Adam’s other middle name. Snaking through that Barrie whiteout, I made a mental memo to ask the publisher for a summer release date for my next book. Please! Ha, though, I am only the author who wrote the 75,000 words. I am learning the writer’s rather modest place in the book publishing empire.
There were numerous Environment Canada severe weather warnings but not one cancellation and still plenty showing up, a consequence in part due to crazy family and friends but also to having my Adam as agent and compass. No rock band but I do imagine a tour t-shirt.
At a bar after a Glad Day Café reading in Toronto, friend and fellow author Tim Harper had a WTF look on hearing my itinerary. I explained that with my vast family and friends’ network, there was a free bed in every one o f those towns.
“Brilliant,” Harper exclaimed.
And not bad for sales, one book at a time. Sometimes, I managed the preferred hook up with one of our too rare independent bookstores as sellers --- Burlington’s A Different Drummer, Picton’s Books & Company. Kingston’s A Novel Idea, Ottawa’s Perfect Books, Bookmark stores in Atlantic Canada. Enough times though, it was the mule work of putting the boxes of books in the car trunk, along with my book cover pop-up, Square app and cash box. Good workouts in these early senior years!
And then there was California Dreamin’. A winter break to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay where, of course, a sister, Pati, lived. Dickhout’s cousin, Andrew Dickhout, had produced a remarkable short documentary, A Racing Heart, capturing John’s post-transplant vow to run a race to celebrate his new life and honour Adam. Andrew’s doc premiered at The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. John, Andrew, a few crew members, John’s wife, Lynn, and I were happy to attend, survivors of the brutal 2018-19 Ontario winter. We packed our shorts to enjoy this short doc.
We found ourselves on the red carpet with actress Katharine Ross. Yes, THAT Katharine Ross, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, girlfriend to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Love interest of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. May I look this good at 78!
Okay, a fact check for the editors. Ross was on the red carpet, alone, and first. She’s the marquee attraction at the festival. We were next, jumping on the red carpet for our 15 minutes of fame. Lynn had a major “lunch bag letdown” moment searching in vain for Sam Elliot, Ross’ husband.
On St. Patrick’s Day, in a beautiful outdoor garden at the Morro Bay Top Dog Café, John and I took turns reading from the book our then anonymous letters Trillium Gift of Life facilitates between the donor and recipient sides. Soar, Adam, Soar recounts how Dickhout created a fake Facebook page called Heart Recipient with only himself as a friend and messaged me wondering if I wanted to know who had my son’s heart. He had pulled together a few, vague hints in my letter to him --- references to hockey goalie, epilepsy, Celebration of Life. He knew the death date. He googled and found Adam’s picture and an obituary that had identical phrases from my letter. Dickhout didn’t yet know the details on Adam’s death nor our state of grieving and so respectfully offered me an out if I did not want to know his identity.
Humour sealed this friendship. I am cursed. He cheers for Adam’s Montreal Canadiens hockey team. I cheer my Ottawa Senators. Humour and sports help massage the permanent grief, naturally permanent I tell audiences because our love for loved ones is forever.
Back in Ontario, I seized the fun part that follows the grunge and grind of writing. I stalked *bookstores offering to sign my book which, in places like Indigo, found themselves in Biography, in the Ps’ and just under the Os’ and Michelle Obama’s Becoming. The First Lady’s books were flying off the shelf faster, but I anointed her as Adam’s and my angel overseeing our book one shelf below. It was a bit surprising how many store staff, on hearing my offer to sign, took my word that I was indeed Rick Prashaw. My picture is not on the cover although pictures of Adam and me are inside. I could be some crazy serial author impersonator signing other authors’ books. Should I try to be Margaret Atwood next time? It IS a transgender story, right? Finally, a young staff named Colin at the Fairview Mall Indigo in St. Catharines did ask for ID. I told his boss to give him a raise.
It’s a splendid mix at the readings ---book lovers, parents, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning, queer, 2-Spirit, living organ donors, deceased donor family and organ recipients. For each town, I have identified speakers to put a local face on the themes from the book. Book sales are nice, especially so more people will know my Adam, but community development is a big goal too. A shy Finn told his gender story eloquently in London. In Elliot Lake, Barb shares her vision of equality for all. A few years back, Barb and a partner had jumped on a motorcycle in Toronto to arrive one day in their new hometown, the former uranium mining town that reinvented itself as a retirement community for seniors. It seems many Pride couples took up the offer, cheaper houses and all.
Adam has birthed my advocacy in human rights (gender identity and sexual orientation) and organ donor registration. This gives me pleasure!
Invited by Brenda Picard to be the keynote speaker at the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) in Charlottetown in late June, I noted those small but symbolic crosswalk and flag- raising victories in the Ottawa Valley.
Down the road from that national human rights conference, I knew that there was a town that had said no to raising the Pride flag, unlike those Ottawa Valley towns; one council spokesperson defended the decision saying that it wasn’t personal. “They” could raise their flag somewhere else in town, just not at city hall.
Of course, it was personal!
“This isn’t about your favorite hockey team or ice cream flavour,” I told the conference delegates. “This is human rights. Is this going to be my town or not? Do you recognize me or not?”
I showed the delegates the slide of my son proudly displaying his Adam ID tag when he was chef assistant at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Trans people face huge mental health challenges. There was a suicide in one town I visited. In his selfie, Adam beamed displaying his Café Nature ID tag.
October 31, 2014
Of course, he never had posted a Rebecca ID tag. At the museum reading in Ottawa, his boss, Joel Frappier, presented me with Adam’s ID tag. More tears.
That was Adam’s simple fiat.
Be who we are. Love who we love.
A creed that I professed for myself and for others. Not so simple for everyone, obviously.
Appearing on Rita Celli’s CBC Radio’s Ontario Today phone-in program, I heard the fourth caller, Ken from Orillia, begin his call with, “In the Bible…” He went on to politely damn Adam and I to hell. Celli was motioning to the producer to end the call while I whispered to let Ken finish. He just might be “a Godsend”. I didn’t reply in kind. I told listeners that, from all my theological and biblical studies, I never got that memo from God to judge people. In fact, my Jesus, the exclamation mark on God in the Christian tradition, was long on acceptance and forgiveness while challenging all to grow. He reserved judgment for the hypocritical Pharisees. This was not the Jesus some chose to preach.
The next seven calls were “the God-send”, raining their love and support, a few even citing positive faith community experiences. Indeed, another major ally on tour has been the Affirming United Church of Canada congregations that, after a two-year process, declare themselves to be fully inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
There’s work left to do while still celebrating the real victories.
In Ottawa and Gananoque, I met two transgender women in their 80s, pioneers for rights, who told me they knew at five years of age, in kindergarten, when the teacher separated the boy and girl that they were in the wrong line.
“I have four kids. Two girls, a boy and a wannabee.”
To inquisitive looks, she added, “A girl who wants to be a boy!”
Two years old! Adam was my teacher of pronouns, especially with his death stare which he would give me when I mixed up my “she” and “he”. It looked like I had killed him when I got it wrong. In a way, I had.
“I have called you by name. You are mine,” The prophet, Isaiah, knew the importance of naming.
Now, the book tour immerses me in new lessons --- the diversity within the diversity. The “Adam girl to boy” transition is one of many choices as some in the transgender community may otherwise identify as intersex, or both of the above, or none of the above, some being very public and others private, with only some saying yes to gender reassignment surgery, or changing their names legally. I should not be surprised, having once preached the uniqueness of each human being.
As I wrote in the book’s Author Note, “listening, learning and loving worked for us. I highly recommend it.”
Adam put it better in this 2015 post. “If only people could see through another’s eyes and truly understand what they go through, think and see. It’s not always as easy as it seems. We all need help, love and support. No judgment.”
There’s a few Everests worth the climb. Renzetti’s interview, her as a Mom of teens grasping my Facebook Dad stories, the incessant texting with kids to leap ahead of them, to stay in their lives. Heather Down, author and host of After the Book Ends podcast, hurtling the book past the predictable but limiting labels in figuring out where a book belongs.
“I asked myself if this was a book about transgender, or a story about epilepsy, or a campaign in favour of becoming an organ donor,” Down said in her podcast. “Although those are all parts of this book, they truly are NOT what this book is about. This book is a love story. Plain and simple. A love story that, I believe, everybody needs to read, especially if you are parents.”
Like most kids, Adam didn’t think that I was funny, Dad humour and all. Except for that time that I had called from the Venus Envy adult “sex shop” to buy him better binders to flatten those breasts that he wanted gone.
“You’re where?” he laughed.
I hear Adam laughing these days as the tour also takes me to readings or signings at Ottawa’s inaugural Queer Sphere Expo, a Prince Edward County Trans Quinte fundraiser, a Spring Gala transgender weekend in Gananoque and the best of the best, an Ottawa High School board Rainbow Alliance . The students there politely corrected me on my telling them they could consider registering as an organ donor when they applied for a driver’s licence.
“Health card, sir. We all don’t drive at 16 but we do get our health cards then.”
Right, you are. It was my Adam who jumped into the driver’s seat on his 16th birthday.
Our children teach us the beauty of the rainbow, the uniqueness of each of the colours collapsing together. Adam taught me. These kids in Pembroke, Ottawa and elsewhere too. I call them “kids” as I did my Adam, even though many are young adults.
Where Adam and other brave souls lead, I will follow.