Dad and the Ostensibly Zulu Floor Hockey Stick War Dance

Just because I’ve tweeted it (in much shorter form) doesn’t mean I won’t blog it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad lately. He passed away in 2006, and some of the stuff I’m working through now has brought up old memories that I’d forgotten. One of them occurred to me on the way home from the coffeeshop tonight.

When I was in the Cub Scouts — well, actually, it was Beaver Scouts, to be technical —  in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, my father taught us a Zulu War Dance. At least, that’s what he claimed it was. Knowing him, there’s all the chance in the world that it was real… or that he just cribbed it off some movie like Shaka Zulu or Zulu Dawn, or made it up. He was such a great storyteller we still wonder about some of the tales he told.(The chances are that it wasn’t real, since as far as I know he never lived in Zulu country, but since he did know bits of other cultures — he spoke some Swahili, for example — after all, but who knows.)

Yes, my dad spoke some Swahili, and his best fishing trip story included a near death experience involving hippo. Beat that, if you can.

As a friend recently commented to me, it’s fascinating how he lived in Saskatchewan but was still in some ways operating by totally foreign rules — in some ways, he was as much a foreigner in Canada as I am in Korea, and, indeed, in some ways he might even have been moreso. My friend urged me to write about my father and his life in Saskatchewan, but I dunno… he himself was always reticent to write down his life story, though I urged him and urged him. I thought about visiting some summer and interviewing him, but I know he wouldn’t have liked the idea, and would have gotten sick of it eventually.

So many of his stories and memories are lost to the world now, like tears in rain — if I may steal a line from Blade Runner–but I think he was comfortable with that.

Like when he happened to tell off a deranged neighborhood bully who would not leave me alone. When he told the little bastard off, he happened to be pruning the backyard trees with a butcher knife, and didn’t bother to put it down when he was saying to the bully, “If you don’t leave him the bloody hell alone, and pick on someone your own bloody size, I’ll teach you a bloody lesson you bastard.” Yup, he said that with a bare butcher knife in his hand. I was embarrassed at the time, but also grateful, especially when the bully, an oversized sociopathic thug named Jody (see below) Jamie Hammersmith (Hammershit, as he was widely called) stopped messing with me.

Now, I wouldn’t say my old man exactly threatened the punk with a butcher knife, but its presence at the moment of confrontation wasn’t an accident, either. Dad would never have used it, of course. But I guess he figured it couldn’t hurt if his point were made very, er, pointedly. The bully’s father called later that evening, and attempted to bitch my father out. Instead, he got an earfl: I remember something about, “You better learn to control that little bloody bastard…” Dad was in no way apologetic, and however Tony Soprano that may seem, the man got results without actually laying a finger on someone who’d been terrorizing me and other kids for over a year.

But I digress.

When my Dad caught us the Ostensibly Zulu War Dance, it was in the gymnasium where the Beaver Scouts met. Actually, I can’t remember whether it was in a gym, a church basement, or what, but it was a big space and there were floor hockey sticks. Floor hockey sticks with removable blades, because we removed the blades and used the sticks as spears in the dance. He had us remove our shits shirts. He had us shout on certain beats — I don’t remember what we shouted, or on which beats, but I remember shouting so hard my throat itched inside. We did this big choreographed dance that took several meetings to get memorized and coordinated, and which we never performed again. (I think we might have gotten a dance badge or something for it, though.)

I somehow wonder if maybe he felt we needed a ritual of some kind in our passage to manhood. I remember him telling us about the coming-of-age ceremony in this or that African culture, where a boy would be painted all white and then sent to hide in the bush. After a head start, the men of the village would come hunting for him, and catch him, and drag him away to be circumcised. And it hurt like hell, and then he would be a man.

I can certainly see him thinking we needed some kind of ritualistic introduction to masculinity. We lived in a town where the native kids (who were the majority) mostly lived in broken homes, and endured pretty tough home lives. The white kids, like me, were routinely beaten up by older native kids. But when we were chanting and dancing–well, stomping our feet to some drum beat, really–as we did that Ostensibly Zulu War Dance, man, I’m telling you, we felt something, some kind of power inside us. Something communal and something deep.

Postcolonial theory would probably indict him for something or other–and ignore his heart-rending love of Africa, his longing to return that only by luck came true just weeks before he left us–but for my part, I set aside the mumbling accusations of appropriation and remind myself that people have borrowed from cultures they loved forever, and learned amazing things in doing so. In that night in that gymnasium in that screwed-up little northern town, my father gave us a thesis on manhood and masculinity.

Maybe the war dance was fake, and maybe the chant was made up, but that feeling, it was real. If you want to be a warrior, be a warrior. Don’t know the words? Make ’em up. Don’t know the dance? Fake it. No spears around? Use a floor hockey stick. Are you confused? Take your shirt off and thump your chest. Feel the heart beating inside it.

That’s what my Dad taught me, and I only wish I’d truly learned his lesson before that moment in the cab coming home tonight.

22 thoughts on “Dad and the Ostensibly Zulu Floor Hockey Stick War Dance

  1. Grabbing two things you said . . . my father gave us a thesis on manhood and masculinity and
    I’m telling you, we felt something, some kind of power inside us. Something communal

    The idea of a cooperative masculinity rather than a competitive one is inspiring.

  2. Gord,

    This is the first piece of your writing I’ve read. I really enjoyed it!

    Like V, that line (I’m telling you, we felt something, some kind of power inside us. Something communal) really resonated with me. It reminded me of the adrenaline (and alcohol) laden rush I’ve experienced a few times at Rider games and once in the Blue Jays Riot of ’92. Being swept up in the emotional swell of a “mob” is so rare in a “9-5” life….mmmm, maybe I need to join a floor hockey team. ;)

    Cheers!

    Sam

  3. V,

    Thanks. It’s weird that a cooperative masculinity would seem so unusual as to be inspiring, since I suppose it exists all around. Even hockey teams, however much they ostracize outsiders, and despite being in competition with other teams, are internally full of that feeling, aren’t they?

    Sam,

    Thanks! How did you find your way here? It’s interesting you mention being swept up in a “mob” as I’ve kind of resisted that sort of experience all my life. A friend and I were discussing that at some point, as she is the same way. (I personally find something scary about it, and the book Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds comes to mind almost immediately.) But there’s something very powerful about being in a group, too… probably something hardwired in us, given our evolutionary history, I guess.

    Anyway, thanks for your kind words.

  4. Nice piece,

    Anyone who has played team sports knows that feeling you describe yet those of us who have rarely try to analyze why it is we only consciously try to access that feeling in team sports.

    We have two paralogical metaphors and we never let them cross. Well, you know the “para” sees to that. ;-)

    This is more of an essay than a blog post, I imagine you could get it published somewhere.

    Charles..

  5. Charles,

    I think there’s a more significant attempt to access those feelings in the men’s movement these days, ie. in the self-help area.

    I think in other areas, it might have been more common as well, before things went co-ed. I get the feeling the guys who were inventing and innovating new jazz styles in New York definitely experienced some of that — or that’s the impression I get from Miles Davis’s autobiography. There’s this sense of a homosocial (not homosexual, just nearly all-male social) environment in 40s and 50s jazz, in which men bonded, fought, and mattered together, with a certain kind of solidarity despite rivalries, abrasive personalities, and the rest.

    Huh, I am thinking of expanding on it though I’m not sure whether I’d dig into the Dad stuff — Dad-as foreigner, Dad-as-non-obvious-immigrant — or the masculinity side of things. I’m gonna leave it up here for now, though if I seek publication I’ll probably take it down temporarily.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. LOL..

    this is totally unrelated, but as a litcrit I note that you have a certain beat to your titles.

    This one

    The Xanax King and his Wife’s Painted Hoo-Has

    like this one

    Dad and the Ostensibly Zulu Floor Hockey Stick War Dance

    or this one

    Homeless Bob and Lester the Black Guy

    or this one

    Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues

    with the three-beat start and the the counterpoint(often with “and”)

    Even the ones without the “and” have that three-beat start..

    Dhuluma No More.

    Pahwakhe

    The Country of the Young
    (with “of” as the counterpoint).

    I hope some eager young idiot in Grad school is following your blog, cause I just gave that sucker a thesis with the easiest (read “nonexistent”) survey of literature, EVAR!

    ;-)

  7. Charles,

    Ha, you have a point there, and it was something of whch I was somewhat conscious.

    I should note that the original title for “Dhuluma No More” was actually, “Dhuluma No More, My Brothers, and the Rains Shall Come Again” — very Tiptreeish — but I was asked to change it, I imagine so that it could fit on less than a page of magazine print.

    Hmm. I’ll have to experiment with some different beats in titles. I am working on something called “Bodhisattva” and another that’s not quite titled. Hmmm.

  8. Dear Charles Montgomery:

    (I hope Gord doesn’t mind us hijacking the comment thread on this post to discuss metrics, but . . . )

    You write that Gord’s titles often have a three-beat start. I’m confused, because, for example, in “The Xanax King and his Wife’s Painted Hoo-Has,” “The Xanax King” seems to me to have two beats (accents on Xa- and King).

    “Dad and the Ostensibly Zulu Floor Hockey Stick War Dance” can, I think, have only one beat to the left of the and, the accented “Dad.”

    “Homeless Bob and Lester the Black Guy” reads to me with two beats: accents on “Home-” and “Bob,” and this one, as well: “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues,” (accents on “Les-” and “Young”)

    I won’t comment about “Dhuluma No More” or “Pahwakhe” because I’m not real sure how to pronounce them, but I’m having difficulty imaging how they could have three beats.

    “The Country of the Young” would seem to have one beat to the left of the “of,” with the accent on “count-” (get your mind out of the gutter).

    I won’t be able to get started on my dissertation, “Les-Young-Count: Titles in the Blog-work of Gord Sellar” until I clear this up, so I eagerely await your reply.

  9. count the unstressed feet and several of these become three-beaters.. “the” and “and” are often the unstressed feet in these titles.

    i.e. Lester has a two feet.

    I should have used the metrical foot instead of beat.

    Not all of his titles conform to this rule, but pretty much all of his titles, even the one-word ones (frequently a made-up word) have a strong sound of free-verse to them and often a focus on tripled feet.

    Also, I was drunk and bored. ;-)

  10. Beautifully written, Gord.

    In my hometown, it was just ‘Beavers.’ Yup. Our ritual in which we moved on to cubs involved us removing our beaver hats and putting on… something I can’t remember while the lights were flicked on and off in the dark to replicate lightning – not quite as cool as a Zulu war dance, of course. When the cub master quit as I was about to start cubs, my dad, who like his mother had been a scoutmaster before, decided to take on the task so that I could have the cub experience. I’m sure the one camp where it poured rain and we had to sleep in the workshop of the fish hatchery where he worked and my friend Dustin puked in his sleeping bag at 2am and his mother had to come get him, he might have regretted that decision. Not me, though.

    Random memory: The kid at that camp who – when the weather was sunny earlier that day – walked around in the woods with us while continuously brushing his teeth. Hopefully for him root canals will prove elusive.

  11. Charles and David,

    I think Charles is right about my titling, though I’m working on changing that up a bit.

    Bulgasari,

    Maybe it was just Beavers in La Ronge, too. I don’t remember. :)

    Fish hatchery — great story. Yeah, I wonder if the Zulu Dance was our rite of passage into Cub Scouts? All I remember about cubs was that I moved cities, and was scared to cycle through the park at night. (It was a place where assaults and murders sometimes happened, according to local kid-legend if not real life.) Plus there was a kid with a cauliflower ear and it look contagious. So I finally quit.

    LOL My random memory is of myself falling of the skidoo-cart in the middle of the lake, in midwinter, and not being sure anyone noticed as the skidoo kept going straight for an alarming period of time.

  12. Gord, this was lovely. I always feel a little guilty when I read something so intimate in a person’s journal but then–more than the guilt–I feel grateful for a glimpse into my distant friend’s life.

    It sounds like your dad was an awesome man. When you said you screamed so loud that your throat itched, I could really sense how powerful that moment was for you and all the other scouts.

    In an odd way, this reminds me of how my grandmother, who passed the same year, taught me to deal with my emotions as a child. My parents were never very affectionate then and I was alone until my sister was born 12 years later.

    It was tough making friends and to deal with the loneliness, I would hit things: my dolls, furniture, myself, etc. She would force me into a hug and would hold me tight until I succumbed.

    It took many times like that to learn to receive affection and I’m still learning how to give it. The older I get, the more open I am to giving love (in a universal sense of the word) and I have my grandmother to thank for that.

    ETA: Whoops, clicked too soon. I wanted to say thanks again for posting this memory about your dad. Wish I could have heard his stories but they live on through you and perhaps you’ll share more with us. :)

  13. Just read your story about dad and the dance.
    Just a quick thought — something I learned when dad and I were in Africa about dad and his stories. Some of them seemed so far fetched that I sort of had come to a point of just loving the stories but assuming that they weren’t true, or were probably only half true at best…

    When we were in Swaziland together, we were in the back of a pick up truck driving through a private game park. He told me a story about monkeys, and how they used to keep them out of their crops by capturing one, painting it up in stripes, and then setting it loose. It scared the other monkeys. There was an additional part about chasing the painted monkey, or running away from him, or something, which ended in his death, which I thought was mean, but, he said, was very effective. Our companion in the back of the truck with us was enthralled by the story and ate up every word. I, of course, was somewhat cynical over the years, and thought “yeah right!”. When we got out of the truck we came upon the manager of the place. Someone asked him about the monkeys, and I kid you not, he told us of the VERY SAME method of getting rid of them that dad had told. I was floored. It was like a slap in the face. That was an epiphany for me — a little lesson in realising that there was probably more truth to those stories than I believed there was, and just because my cultural framework made them SEEM crazy and impossible, they actually probably weren’t in his context, you know? Sure embellished – maybe a little. :) One of my favorite authors has said that the truth is stranger than fiction, and when she writes stories based on her life she has to leave out certain bits of truth because her readers would never allow themselves to stretch their mind to believe it as truth. It’s almost like dumbing down the truth so people will actually believe it…

    Do you remember the one about the wounded animal (maybe leopard?) that was killing the farmer’s animals, so dad had to hunt it, following it for a long time, until at last the tracks led into a cave or an old building or that sort of thing. He was going to enter it, but thought the better of it for some reason, and camped outside for the night. In the morning when he went in, the animal had died overnight, and he could see somehow (from the prints, the track of blood, the body, I don’t remember how exactly) that the animal had been crouched just above the doorway like waiting for him, and if he had gone in, it would have pounced on him from behind, and he likely wouldn’t have been able to turn around to defend himself…

    That one was always my favorite. A real thriller!

    That and the story of mom and dad’s first date. Loved that one too. :)

    Gotta go read a story about cars to Kinlay. Gee, in comparison to the stories we grew up with that suddenly seems terribly unfair and boring.

  14. Hey,

    Yeah, I remember at some point realizing he wasn’t bullshitting us, at least not mostly.

    Did he ever tell you the one about the “natives” cutting udders off cows in retribution for some political slight? He told me he actually got that into the contingency plans for emergencies in Northern Saskatchewan. I was like, “What the hell? Why?” He said, “Because I saw it happen in Africa!”

    Or when I asked him, “Was the 60s really about peace and love, Dad?” and he said, that was bloody bull, and it was just the Americans, because everyone else in the world was at war and Africa was falling apart with the colonies abandoned and so on. Hell of a shock. And he’s right — the 60s weren’t such a wonderful time at all, for most of the planet. I love telling that story to starry-eyed historical revisionists.

    And yeah, dumbing down truth… actually, I love SF because we don’t have to do it. Believable AND far-fetches is our bread and butter. And jam. And the walls of our house. And our rocket fuel, too.

    I heard a VERRY different version of the leopard/cave story, or maybe a different story. It involved a lioness, I think, that got shot with buckshot, and went nuts and was killing cows and not eating any of them. Crazy from the pain. So Dad took a hunk of one of the cows and hung it from a tree, and them climbed another tree, and waited. For three days. And then shot it dead when it showed up, crazy but half-dead. Maybe that’s a totally different tale. I dunno.

    I love best the one where he was walking home at night and met a leopard. Saw only the glint in its eyes, and it let him off with his life — but turned, as it stalked away, with this look like, “You better appreciate it, pal.”

    Well, second-best. The best one is the first date story. “I’m sorry! I’m sooooooo sorry!”

    Oooh, you remember the one about the mercenaries smuggling petrol and sugar and other supplies from Rhodesia to Tanzania, and stopping in to drink at the bar where he bartended part time on the “Road To Hell” that they drove multiple times a week? (“This machete saved my life in the Congo, and I’m not bloody taking it off!” says a customer, and he knew it was gonna be a tough night.)

    Maybe you need to start telling Dad’s stories to Kinlay? There’s a good one about camping on a hippo run while fishing in the… what the hell river was it? Limpopo? That can’t be it. But it was a river that sounded like that… I have no idea which, probably in Malawi. Crazy, with that flat pot, and all?

    Too bad he never wrote them down. I bugged him to, even asked him to record them. But I think he liked telling them, period. Now I have friends here bugging me to write his stories for him. Hmm. It’s a thought.

    I’ll tell you what, I can tell some the kids Korea stories when I visit. No weird animals, unless you count the Korean gangsters and the foreign English teachers, but there are some weeeeeird stories I could tell.

  15. Some of those stories sound vaguely familiar to me, but you know, I think that he sorta stopped telling them as much by the time I was old enough to be able to remember them, so I don’t have as many memories of them. I mean, sure, I do remember some, but not well enough to be able to remember details. I wish that I COULD tell Kinlay them. He’d love it (he LOVES hearing stories and even helping his daddy make some up) but alas I don’t remember them well enough…

    No the lioness story is a totally different one.

    I was thinking the same thing. Someone has to write them down. You should. Even if they aren’t completely HIS stories, they could at least be based on his stories. I even thought that we could send a quick note (maybe a card?) to everyone that was friends of his at the funeral, or maybe some other friends or people that knew him, and ask them to just take a second to jot down a story that he told about africa, if they remember any, and then we’ll have them to share with the kids and all that. And that would be a great gift for mom too, in a way…

  16. Oh, and I NEVER heard any stories about him bartending. I had no idea that he bartended! None at all.

    I do remember a bit about the hippo one…Geez, it’s been so many years, and I was so darn young when he was in his prime of story telling.

  17. Hey,

    Actually, there was one story I wrote, set in a roadhouse in Uzbekistan about 30 years from the time I wrote it (about 20 from now) that was based on his bartending days. It was much more about mercenaries smuggling supplies from Rhodesia to Tanzania, and smuggling their pay out in the form of diamonds. And how scary many of them were. He went on about how some of them had trained with Mad Mike Hoare… google him, he’s super-famous. Craziness.

    I find it hard to write his stories without SFnalizing them, though, so if I do relay them it’s going to be stuff set in some weird future Africa. Not sure why, but that’s how they come out. I do credit all his storytelling as what got me playing RPG games, and later, writing.

    I was lucky, timing-wise, I think. Most of the stories I remember are from our Sunday drives to Rick Harris’ house. What a mess. I remember a period when Dad and I thought the lessons were at 5pm, Rick decided they were at 4pm, and started leaving for gigs or whatever when I arrived. (He’d let me wait inside for Dad to pick me up.) It took a couple of weeks for me to figure out why, and Rick never even said, “You were supposed to be here at 4pm, you know.” I thought he was just bailing on lessons. Anyway, Dad told stories most of the time, nonstop, between P.A. and Saskatoon. I wish I could remember more of them, but some are very vague in my memory.

    The one about the haunted banana mountain with the chief’s treasure and the centuries-old witch doctor guarding it? The one about the people with two big toes in Rhodesia somewhere? (Who, it turns out, indeed do exist. They’re in the Guinness Book for “least toes”.) And the one where dad had a goat-castration contest with a local farmer, trying to convince him to switch to modern methods (knigfe/antiseptic) instead of traditional ones (teeth)? They had a race. (The farmer won.)

    So many stories. I like the idea of looking up the people who were at his memorial thing and asking them all to jot down some of his stories. One of my friends highlighted how the stories I can tell about Dad in Saskatchewan are just as interesting: about how this guy operated by a whole different worldview than the society around him. Sort of like the friend and myself here in Korea. Aliens. Except of course Dad was less obviously one, until he started talking.

  18. Like when he happened to tell off a deranged neighborhood bully who would not leave me alone. When he told the little bastard off, he happened to be pruning the backyard trees with a butcher knife, and didn’t bother to put it down when he was saying to the bully, “If you don’t leave him the bloody hell alone, and pick on someone your own bloody size, “I’ll teach you a bloody lesson you bastard.” Yup, he said that with a bare butcher knife in his hand. I was embarrassed at the time, but also grateful, especially when the bully, an oversized sociopathic thug named Jody Hammersmith (Hammershit, as he was widely called) stopped messing with me.”

    Hello Gord,

    Interesting read, a friend of mine told me about this website, saying it had mentioned my name.

    Since I have no memory of you, nor does my father remember you or your father, could you please tell me where this part of his story took place, ie: street address, city, province, year?

    1. My first response was:

      Jody,

      Yeah, I suspect a lot of bullies don’t remember being assholes as kids. Doesn’t erase the fact. I dare you to track down other kids in the neighborhood to see whether they remember what an asshole you were. I assure you, it’s all true.

      But I relented, and we corresponded by email. The long and the short of it was that I managed to confirm that I was from the place he was from, but he claimed not to remember any of the events. With good reason: it turned out the sociopathic bully was not he, but his brother Jamie, as I figured out when the bullying came up in a conversation with someone else from the same town. My explanation/apology letter to Jody went unanswered, which I take it to mean he asked his brother and got a shameful admission that yeah, he was a bullying prick back in those days. But since he didn’t respond, I can only speculate.

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