What’s a family day worth?
In the canon of English literature, it’s not the zenith of composition. It doesn’t resonate like a Shakespearean soliloquy, or crackle like Jane Austen dialogue, or whisk you away like a magical J.K. Rowling passage. But, for my money, the exchange between Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, in A Christmas Carol, says everything about our times.
“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” whines Scrooge, anticipating his clerk’s desire to have Christmas Day off.
“If quite convenient, sir,” pleads Cratchit.
“It’s not convenient and not fair,” snorts Scrooge, “You don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”
And there you have the age-old argument that exists even today, 177 years after Charles Dickens illustrated the darkness of the 19th-century English workplace, where workers were used and abused without fear of retribution, where the notion of healthy working conditions, appropriate pay and statutory holidays stood not a chance versus the tyranny of the Victorian work ethic. Even now, however, in the year 2020, there are still employers who complain about “another statutory holiday of lost productivity and lost wages.”
Well, let them complain. I happen to believe that healthy minds, healthy bodies and healthy relationships – especially within contemporary families – depend as much on the allotment of time away from work as they do on flush bank accounts or gross domestic product (GDP). And I credit Don Getty, the Alberta Conservative politician, for the idea of Family Day. Back in 1990, the then-premier looked at the amount of provincial spending on welfare and repair of broken families and thought, “If we could get some kind of push back against family disintegration, we could have families happier and healthier.” Later that year Getty’s government enacted the first Family Day. Saskatchewan, Ontario, B.C. and New Brunswick soon followed. But, like Don Getty, I can hear the usual protest from naysayers against statutory holidays.
“Give ’em a stat holiday,” the critics say, “and all they’ll do is shop.”
Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I have never campaigned for a stat holiday on Nov. 11. I don’t believe Remembrance Day should be an entire day off for schools, businesses or government offices. Instead, I’ve regularly suggested that school boards, store owners and civil service administrators be required to give students and staff a few hours off in the middle of the day to attend Remembrance observances, and then enough to time to share a coffee/hot chocolate and the meaning of remembrance on their way back to school or the office that afternoon. That way, Canadians would not have enough time to go shopping or to a movie, but would pause long to acknowledge service and sacrifice the way it was intended to be acknowledged.
Family Day is different, I think. It is time away from work to do whatever families choose. And particularly at this point in the winter – when it’s darkest the longest – it makes sense for families to pause and regenerate. And clearly some in our community get it. We have local organizations and individuals who understand the restorative value of encouraging families to enjoy time together away from the daily grind. Personally, I want to thank realtor Cindy Wood for providing a free swim at Uxpool last Monday; as well, an expression of gratitude to the financial staff at Edward Jones, the Kin Club of Uxbridge, lawyer Randy Hoban, and MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy for providing free public skating time at the arena on Feb. 17.
It worked for us. Monday afternoon, I joined my wife, one of our daughters and five of our grandchildren at the arena. Not only did we get to skate for an hour, we got to share the time. For one thing, the ice surface and holiday atmosphere dragged the kids away from their cell phones. And as I skated with the kids, we joked about each other’s shortcomings on blades. But we also got caught up on school, favourite books (and yes, video games). We raced and chased and burned off steam for an hour. Then, when it was over, we all complained about sore feet and cold hands. But we did it together. Others I talked to this week, made it clear to me too that Family Day not only gave a break to families with traditional Mom-and-Dad arrangements; it also allowed members of some separated families the chance to visit the second household or, in the case of single parents, an opportunity to catch a breath and a break in the dead of winter when parents and kids needed them most.
So, let the Scrooges and stat-holiday naysayers whine about lost wages and GDP. Better yet, put them on a pair of skates, let them fall down, and laugh with a family member or two, and maybe they’ll warm to an annual day away from the bottom line to celebrate family.
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