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"Mr. Burger, this is Steve Bertram, the Vice Principal. We've had an unfortunate incident of hazing involving your son Sean. He's got a minor injury as a result and we think you should come and take a look and see if you want to take him to his doctor."
I quickly ended the conversation and told him I would be right over. I left the foundation office in a hurry and made it to the school in record time. When I got into the office I saw Sean sitting in a chair with an ice pack on the inside of his left arm extending down to the palm of his hand and Dana next to him with her arm around him. Standing next to her was a man in his early 40's, who I was guessing was the Vice Principal that had called me.
"Are you alright, Son," I said as I bent down to take a look at the arm.
"It's no big deal," he said as he showed me the swelling and bruise that extended down to his wrist and the palm of his hand.
"Al, we need to get him to Scott. He could have broken bones," Dana said with a very anxious look on her face.
After some discussion and examination it appeared that his arm, wrist and hand were Ok and not broken.
"I'm Ok and I don't want to miss my Math class," he said.
I was now satisfied that there was no medical emergency but Dana wasn't and still hovered over him like a mother hen. My attention now turned to the Vice Principal and what had happened.
"Some Grade 11 boys decided to ignore the rules around hazing and were 'gummering' some of the grade 9's in the field outside the cafeteria," he said.
Dana didn't know what that meant and he explained that it was paddling someone's behind. In this case the paddle was a broken goalie stick. Apparently Sean had put his arms behind his back to protect himself while two other boys held him at the shoulders, which resulted in his injuries. Charles and Stéphane were with him and Charles got away, ran into the school and got a teacher. Stéphane was being held and was next in line but the intervention of the teacher saved him from the same fate.
"I assume you've got the kids that did this?" I asked Steve.
"We do and because of the new bullying legislation we can tell you that they've been suspended for 10 days. We can't tell you their names as we've also involved the Police and assault charges may be laid under the Young Offenders Act. We'll also be making an announcement over the PA at the end of the day about how inappropriate this behaviour is and how serious we are about stopping it. I'd like to apologize to you for this unfortunate incident and we will be redoubling our efforts to ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.
"Thank you, Mr. Bertram. I'm sure somewhere down the road I'll find out who they are and when I do I'll be contacting their parents," I said.
I could see Sean wasn't happy at my last statement as no doubt he was afraid of future retribution, but I was serious about what I had said. I would have a talk with him and Jake about this whole incident when they got home after school.
Dana wasn't happy that we weren't taking Sean to Scott immediately, but we compromised and agreed that I would pick up the boys after school and run him over to Scott's then. She waited in the office as Steve and I walked Sean to his Math class which had just started. When his teacher Cam Robertson saw who it was at the door, he stopped his lesson and greeted us with a big smile.
"Al, it's good to see you again. I was quite surprised when I found out I had not just one but two Burger sons in my class. We'll have to have a coffee some time and you can bring me up-to-date on your new family," he said as he gave me a big smile and shook my hand.
Steve then explained what had happened and before he was finished Jake had come to the door to see Sean.
"What happened?" he asked Sean as he looked at the ice pack that was still on his arm.
We briefly explained to him the incident and I could see he had that look in his eyes. Jake had gone into the school early to pick up something from his locker before his next class and wasn't around when this happened.
"Now calm down, Son. Mr. Bertram is the Vice Principal and he has dealt with the situation and Sean's fine."
He turned to Sean and said, "That's those creeps that were with that girl from your school last year, wasn't it?"
Sean didn't say anything, but he really didn't have to. His body language gave it away. I remembered the trouble he had had with those aggressive girls and that one of them had an older boyfriend at the high school. This was definitely going to be one of the topics of discussion at dinner.
Jake then turned to Steve and said, "That's not fair. We grade 9s shouldn't have to be scared all the time that someone's going to get us when there's no teacher around."
Steve and Cam were a little surprised at Jake's reaction and they both assured him that this was an isolated incident and that was not typical in this school. They were also surprised when Jake gave them a very skeptical look after they had finished speaking.
"That's quite the young man," Cam said referring to Jake, as the two boys went into the classroom and took their seats.
"Jake's not shy about voicing his opinion, especially when it involves an injustice," I said as I smiled at them.
We left Cam and made our way back to the office.
"I'm a little surprised you have two sons that are in Grade 9," Steve said diplomatically as we walked back through the halls.
"It's a long story. I adopted both of them this spring under different circumstances," I said as I smiled.
When we got back to the office, the Principal, Gord Caudle, was coming out of his office with a police officer.
"Al, I'm so sorry about this whole incident. As you can see we've involved the Police, as we don't consider this a simple matter of hazing," he said after he had introduced me to the constable.
The officer left after giving us as much information as he was allowed to give at that point in the investigation. I could also see that Steve now realized that I wasn't just an average parent. Gord then went on to fill Steve in on my background.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Burger. I should have recognized your name. My son was in your Junior Literacy Program two summers ago," he said.
"There's nothing to apologize for. You did a great job handling this and it's Al, not Mr. Burger," I said as I smiled.
Dana had now joined us and I introduced her to Gord and Steve. I also told them that she would soon be the boys' mother.
"I'll have the Guidance department update the boy's records to include Dana's name as a contact," Steve said.
I was satisfied with the actions taken and that the matter was being handled well. I was still going to follow up with contacting the parents, as I knew from experience that kids didn't just turn out to be like this on their own. The old adage 'the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree' was usually true.
On our way to the parking lot, Dana said, "I'm glad my name is going to be on the boys' records, as they wouldn't tell me anything on the phone when they called. I was so worried I rushed over to the school and had quite a tussle with one of the secretaries when I got here."
Apparently the secretary had looked up Sean's information on the computer and because Dana wasn't on file as a guardian or parent, she wouldn't give her any information over the phone. When Dana got there and rushed over to Sean, the secretary started to give her a hard time. Dana apparently straightened her out very quickly.
"I told her to stuff her bureaucratic nonsense up her nose and get me an ice pack. He was sitting there in a lot of discomfort and she wasn't attending to his injury," she said with a lot of anger in her voice.
She got the secretary's name and I made a note to have a conversation with Gord and Steve concerning her actions.
When I picked up the boys after school, Sean's arm and hand were better. The bruise was noticeable but wasn't causing him as much discomfort as when I had arrived at the office. We made our way over to Scott's.
"This is just crap," Scott said with a tone in his voice I hadn't heard very often from him when he took a look at Sean. "This is the second grade 9 kid in two days. I bet it was gummering, wasn't it?"
He looked at Sean's arm and he was confident nothing was broken and that it was just bruised. He gave us some mild pain killers in case it started to act up and then told me we should call the Police. When I told him they had already been called and how Gord and Steve handled the situation he calmed down.
At dinner that evening I told both boys that hazing was a form of bullying and that it was not something I found the least bit funny. I also told them that the new bullying legislation, just passed by the province, made it mandatory for teachers, caretakers and any other Board personnel to report it to the Principal to deal with.
"The only effective way you stop bullying is to report it. Keeping silent about it doesn't solve the problem," I said as I looked at Sean.
It was obvious that he would have liked the whole incident to be swept under the rug, as he feared that the boys would go after him in the future to get back at him.
"It's not being a sissy or a tattle-tale reporting someone who's a bully," Dana said as she picked up on Sean's body language.
We talked some more and I told both boys that they should try to solve minor conflicts themselves, but something as serious as what had happened to Sean needed to be dealt with by school administration.
The next day the boys came off the school bus and invaded the Kitchen once they had put their backpacks in their rooms. Sean's arm was much better and except for the bruise and some tenderness, he was none-the-worse for wear. They of course had made a stop first in the bathroom to wash their hands as they had learned not to try to fool Dana.
"I hope you boys are remembering to do that at school. That's the best way to keep from getting colds and flu," she said as they dug in to the snack she had prepared for them.
I could see that Jake had some news that he was busting to tell us, but the food was his priority for the moment.
"We had the student council elections for the class rep today and I won for our home room," he said with a big smile on his face after he had polished off his snack.
We congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Sean though was a little quiet
"I'm our class rep too," he said with a less than enthusiastic tone after Dana and I asked him who won in his class. The boys didn't have the same home room as they had different teachers for their Business class.
We congratulated him as well, but he just shrugged his shoulders in an obvious display of indifference. There wasn't actually an election, as no one in his class came forward to volunteer.
"Mr. Gregory asked me to do it because no one wanted to be nominated," he said with a frown.
He was unhappy because he felt that he didn't deserve it and that John had asked him out of obligation to me.
"Sean, Mr. Gregory takes leadership very seriously. If he didn't think you could handle it he wouldn't have asked you," I said as I put my arm around him. I tickled him and he gave me a big smile as he squirmed away.
"Now how about you two politicians get your homework done so you won't have any work to do after you come home from your guitar lessons tonight," Dana said.
The boys were progressing very well with their guitar lessons with Colin. Both of us were very pleased at their progress. They were getting pretty good at playing bar chords but were still struggling a little with finger picking. The Gordon Lightfoot song 'If You Could Read My Mind' was still a little rough for both of them, but they were determined to master it.
On the way home they were excited about the new songs Colin gave them.
"We're doing this song 'You've Got A Friend' by this famous guy," Sean said.
"You mean James Taylor."
"Yeah. And Colin gave us this other cool song about 1969 to play with the band," Jake said.
"It's by that Canadian dude, Bryan Adams," Sean said as the two of them laughed at his use of the term 'dude'.
I remembered it very well, as the summer of 1969 was a particularly memorable one for me, as I had a steamy love affair just like in the song. I also smiled as I knew why Colin gave them that song.
The boys rushed down to the studio when we got home to look for the two songs in my CD collection. Dana was in the living room reading a book when we came in. I joined her and snuggled in beside her, which made it difficult to read.
"I guess I'll need my bookmark, as it looks like I'm finished reading," she said as I leaned over to give her a big kiss.
After about a half hour the boys called up for me to come downstairs as they wanted help. I wondered how long it would be before I was summoned and reluctantly broke my cuddle with Dana. I knew they would have trouble with the finger picking on the James Taylor song as I had played that many times in coffee houses in my youth and it wasn't the easiest of songs to play.
"We can't get this one part in 'You've Got A Friend'," Jake said.
They played what Colin had given them, which was an easy version that they were able to handle pretty well. They had listened to the CD and wanted me to show them how to do the picking from the real version.
"Can you play it for us," Sean said as he handed me my Gibson.
I'm not sure who was having more fun with them taking guitar lessons, but by the time we finished we had been down in the Studio for an hour. Dana finally came down.
"In case you three have forgotten, it's a school day tomorrow and I know two boys who are real grouches when they don't get their rest," she said with her arms folded and a menacing look in her eyes.
Our first practice with the hockey team was after dinner the next evening. I had prepared a practice outline and the drills that I wanted to use beforehand and I had emailed everything to Mark and Rickie so they would be prepared. I wasn't one of those coaches who liked to make things up on the fly. Ice time was at a premium and I wasn't going to waste the value time that we had.
I got a call late in the morning that day, that Jake's mask was ready to be picked up.
"This is a really cool design. Let me guess whose idea it was to have 'Jake the Snake' on the chin," Craig said with a big smile as he took the mask out of its protective bag to show me.
When I looked at it I was quite impressed at how the artwork had turned out. I was also sure Jake would be pleased when he saw it.
"I picked up your mask today from Craig. I think you'll be very pleased, Jake," I said when I greeted the boys as they came in the front door from the school bus.
The two of them raced into Jake's room, as I had left it on his bed. When Dana and I walked into the room, Jake had it on and the two of them were very excited. Sean had his camera out and was taking a picture of him wearing it.
"Turn so I can get the side," Sean said.
I was pretty sure the pictures would be emailed to Rachel some time later.
We gobbled down dinner and made our way over to the rink. Mark, Rickie and I stayed outside the dressing room going over the practice plan and greeting the players and their fathers as they arrived. It looked like a good group of kids except for one boy and his father.
"Are you our coach? You're old," Carson Spencer said as he gave me a somewhat contemptuous look.
I was cordial and told him that I was the head coach and Mark and Rickie were the assistants.
"My boy's used to good coaching. He was on the rep team last year and if it wasn't for politics he'd be there again," his father Bryson Spencer said.
Mark, Rickie and I just looked at each other for a few moments without saying a word, after Carson went into the dressing room and his father left for the stands.
"I'm so glad we have a superstar on the team," I said with obvious sarcasm. Mark and Rickie just laughed.
All the boys burst onto the ice as soon as the Zamboni door at the end of the rink closed... except our superstar. He was the last one out of the dressing room and the last on the ice as he leisurely skated to the bench and sat on the edge of the boards while the other boys skated around and got warmed up.
I called the boys to the side of the rink and they kneeled on the ice in front of the coaches as we got ready to talk to them. However, Carson didn't feel the need to kneel and wasn't paying attention as he played with a puck. He wasn't too happy when I told him to stop.
After I introduced the coaches and gave some introductory remarks about playing hard and having fun I went over the practice plan with the boys and explained the first drill we were going to do. It involved a basic breakout pattern to get the puck out of the defensive zone and then go down and shoot on the goalie.
We started the drill and Charles was the defenceman passing from behind the net to Carson on the boards who was supposed to pass to Sean going down the middle of the ice. However, when Carson got the puck he took off and raced to the other end and scored on Jake with ease. Rickie and Mark were running the drill and I was watching. There was no doubt that Carson had talent, but he also had an attitude.
"Why didn't you pass to the winger going through the centre of the ice?" I asked him as he skated back into line after he scored.
"He wasn't ready for the pass so I just went down and scored," he said.
After I calmly but forcefully made it clear to him what the expectations were, he was somewhat better. I had to count to ten a couple of times during the practice before I spoke to him, as I was trying to be as patient as possible. Rickie however was not as diplomatic.
"Spencer, stop skating like a wuss. Get your ass in gear next time down the ice," Rickie said as he swatted him with his stick on the rear end after one of the drills.
I was pleased with all the other boys as they seemed to be eager to learn and worked hard. Charles and Sean had come a long way in their skating and didn't look out of place with the other boys. Jake did a reasonable job in goal and I had some time to work with him one-on-one near the end of the practice. He wasn't shying away from the superstar's slapshots and managed to stop most of them.
Mark, Rickie and I were debriefing after the practice outside the dressing room as the boys got showered and changed. Carson's father barged into our conversation and critiqued the practice as well as the team.
"You need to call the convenor and tell him we need to trade some of the players. There's too many kids out there that stink," he said with a disgusted look on his face.
"I'd rather have kids that listen and try," I said as I glared at him. He got the obvious message I was trying to convey.
I told him that I was looking to help the boys improve their skills and that having fun was more important than winning. I also reminded him that this was the house league not rep hockey. He wasn't too pleased and he left the arena in a huff when Carson came out of the dressing room, muttering something about calling the convenor himself.
"Well, I guess we're in for an interesting season," I said as I smiled at Mark and Rickie.
All the family, as well as the Morgans and Melissa, were able to be there for the birthday celebrations on the Saturday. The boys were somewhat preoccupied with Rachel and Melissa and were swimming in the pool with them for most of the afternoon. Sean was much more comfortable with his back as the scars were barely noticeable. I had cranked up the pool heater as the nights were getting a little cooler. The solar pool blanket wasn't able to keep the heat in as well as during the summer months.
My other great niece and nephews were also playing and swimming in the pool, which was cramping the boys' style. The rest of us were sitting on the patio around the pool and some of us occasionally went for a dip.
We had a great BBQ meal of strip loin steaks, late corn on the cob, baked potatoes, salad and green beans with red peppers. All of the food was from local farmers, including the meat which was from the butcher on the outskirts of town.
Dessert of course was a birthday cake that was made by Dana. Since we were celebrating my birthday as well as the boys, the three of us decided on a German chocolate cake with coconut icing. This was my favourite cake and the boys were quite willing to go along with my request, as they weren't really fussy what we had. I really hadn't seen any dessert that they didn't like.
After the three of us blew out the candles, we dished out the cake, ice cream, coffee and tea. Then it was time for the presents.
Most of the family presents for the boys were clothing and DVDs. I had had calls for the last two weeks from everyone about their sizes, because of how fast they were growing. No one wanted to take a chance on guessing at what size to get them.
Rachel got Jake the Twilight Saga collection, which was the hardcover copies of the four Twilight books. He was thrilled and gave her a reluctant hug. The two of them were embarrassed when we all let out a big 'aahh'.
Melissa was next and when Sean opened her gift he had a big smile on his face. It was a beautiful Tommy Hilfiger plaid V neck sweater, which she had picked out herself. He forgot himself and gave her a big hug which sparked the same reaction that Jake got. They were both red-faced when they broke the embrace.
Then it was time for their sisters to give them their presents. They got them some golf clothing and golf balls which struck me as odd as the golf season would be over soon. The boys didn't seem to be too surprised though. I thought my girls were going to give the boys their special presents next, which I knew about, but Sean and Jake stepped forward with a card for me.
"Dad, you've done so much for both of us and we wanted to get something nice for you," Sean said as they stood in front of me.
"We had an idea that our sisters helped us with," Jake said.
I opened up the card and I was overwhelmed for a few moments after I had read what was in it. They had put together a golfing weekend in early November for the three of us at Pebble Beach and the south course at Torrey Pines in California. They had also arranged the hotel suite and the flight down. I wasn't sure how they had paid for it until Katie told me how.
"Remember, Carol and I are trustees of the boys' money also."
"We thought that was a great use of their money when they told us what they wanted to do," Carol said.
The boys were beaming from ear-to-ear as they knew I appreciated their thoughtfulness as much as I did the gift itself. I got up and drew the two of them into a hug.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you two. I didn't want you spending money like that on me," I said as I hugged them tight.
After we had broken our hug Carol and Katie came forward with the gifts I thought they were going to give the boys earlier.
"We know you two are budding rock stars and we thought these might come in handy," Carol said as they handed them their gifts.
The boys looked at the two hard shelled Fender guitar cases with puzzled looks on their faces.
"We know you already have guitar cases for your acoustics, but these are special cases that you're going to need soon," Katie said as Carol and Katie had big smiles on their faces.
That was my cue and I got up and said, "There's something in the Studio that goes with those cases. Why don't we all get up and go see what it is."
When the boys opened the Studio doors, they took a couple of steps and stopped dead in their tracks.
"Happy birthday, boys," Dana and I said in unison.
Sitting in the middle of the floor was a Black Fender Precision bass, and a Fender Rumble 100 Bass amp for Jake. Beside it was a Fender American Standard Stratocaster, with a Candy Cola finish and a Fender 65 Twin Reverb amp for Sean.
"You need electric guitars to be rock stars," I said as they finally came to their senses and made their way over to the guitars.
"I think those cases should fit very well," Katie said as she had a big smile on her face.
"So now you know why Colin gave you 'The Summer Of 69' as your new song," I said as I gave them a big smile.
All the family was now in the room and the boys picked up the guitars and looked at them. I helped them plug in their guitars and showed them some of the features of the amps. I showed Sean how the controls on his Stratocaster worked, and showed Jake how to pluck the strings on the Bass.
"How about a concert," Dana said after the boys had tried the instruments.
The boys decided to play 'Lyin' Eyes' but they asked me to play with them. I figured they would and I had brought out my 1966 Fender Telecaster and left it in the Studio. I hadn't played it very much in the last twenty years and after I got it out of the case and tuned we were ready.
"Give us a count, Sean," I said.
It was a little rough, but was good enough that everyone clapped enthusiastically when we were finished. Rachel and Melissa clapped the loudest as Jake and Sean were beaming.
Everyone had a great time, and left shortly after the concert. We gave the boys, Rachel and Melissa some privacy for a short while to say their goodbyes. Dana and I decided to clean everything up the next morning as we were as tired as the boys.
When we went into Jake's room to put him to bed he was under the covers and getting very sleepy.
"I really appreciated the gift you two got me. I wished you hadn't spent all that money though," I said as I ruffled his hair.
He gave me a big smile. We could see that he also had something on his mind though.
"Do you think we could stop in at the cemetery tomorrow after church?" he asked.
Dana smiled, leaned down and gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, "We'll get some flowers on the way."
When we got to Sean's room he had Teddy with him.
"Teddy hasn't been with you for a while. Is it time to get him caught up on things?" I asked as I smiled at him.
He smiled, shook his head yes and rolled on his side. We asked him how he liked his presents and the party and he started to get a little emotional.
"I haven't had presents or a birthday party for a long time. Thanks.... ," he said as his voice tailed off.
Dana smiled, leaned down and gave him a kiss and said, "You're a wonderful young man that deserved everything you got today."
"Real parents don't forget their kid's birthday," I said as I smiled at him and patted his shoulder. "Good night, Son."
Bryan Adams, Summer of 69
James Taylor, You've Got A Friend