Story of a life in Canada has lessons about Harper's new immigration policy

At a midpoint in the progress of Ken Sobol's dementia, his wife of over 40 years, Julie, said: "You know it occurs to me there can't be many people in the world who are writing partners with someone who has dementia." She says Ken looked unbothered but thoughtful -- a look of his I can picture -- and said: "You should put that in." So she did. If that's what you get after a half-century together, it sounds good to me.

They were Americans who met at university in Ohio in 1959. They soon decided to share their futures. I've known other such cases. There isn't usually a romantic thunderclap; more a calm realization that 'we should probably spend the rest of our lives together.' They moved to New York. Ken wrote for the Village Voice for many years, starting at age 21. He was that much a natural writer. Later they went to L.A., where he worked at cartoon studios scripting kids' shows. He wrote a hilarious account of doing the first episode of The Care Bears. They had three kids in five years. Julie faced some disdain for taking the mom route during that second wave of feminism; but as others have noted, if feminism means women control their lives, shouldn't family also be a possibility, and choices like head scarves? You could say they became co-adventurers.

They moved to Canada in 1974. They'd first come to visit friends. What impressed them a great deal was the health care: that a society next to the U.S. prioritized such a thing for all its citizens. Ken wrote for TVO kids' shows; you may remember Readalong, among many others. He also wrote for Elwy Yost on Saturday Night at the Movies. He'd done various books, including a Babe Ruth biography. When the kids were grown, he suggested to Julie that they begin writing together. It was like another proposal, a way to renew the coadventure. They produced articles for Canadian Geographic and two fine books about Lake Erie. They'd lived in the country near there, as well as in Montreal.

The dementia began in the new millennium. It was hard to diagnose since Lewy Body Disease isn't widely known, though it's widespread. I'd see him on College St. in those years and he'd describe how it was going. The last time we met, we went back to his house and the three of us drank awhile together. He seemed well but that's a common phenomenon called Showtime. You pull it together when others are around, at least until the final phase.

Along with the usual blend of devastation and frantic hope for a cure, they decided to collaborate on a book about it, just launched, called Love and Forgetting. It's sheer grace under pressure. (Ken on having hallucinations: "At first I freaked. No surprise there.") There's nothing maudlin; it's written to edify readers, not provide catharsis for the writers. Its qualities are dignity and respect -- for everyone, for life. They began by providing alternate sections. When Ken deteriorated, Jule interviewed him. Eventually she carried on alone. Ken died at a hospice near Kensington market in 2010.

And here beginneth the lesson, as they say in church (I've been told).

On Monday the Harper government "unveiled" a "new stream to attract foreign entrepreneurs" called the "business incubator stream." Sounds cuddly. It's a typical Tory economic approach: get people with lots of money to promise to do stuff and give them permanent resident status in return.

Ken and Julie brought only their appreciation to this country and contributed to its culture for 40 years. Their kids have too. They're all in the arts: Corry's a musician, Jane's a film producer, John's a sort of cultural entrepreneur -- though they all mingle genres. None aimed at fame, wealth or Hollywood, and they've all made a go of it. Now there's a third generation. Ken's grandson, Julian, is the drummer in a ten-piece innovative, multidisciplinary band called theflow that has a horn section. A smart incubation program would aim at attracting that kind of immigrant, which doesn't mean making a deal with them; it means being the kind of society they want to be part of and contribute to.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Cria-cow/flickr

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