My Epic Journey From South Africa To White Rock, B.C.
By Ivor Block
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, which at 16,000 km. is the furthest place from Vancouver on Earth. Three years later my sister, Denise, was born.
Although I thought I was a cute child, my mother decided otherwise, which led to me being physically and emotionally abused until I reached my teens. Luckily my favorite Aunt, who is now 101, loved me and took me in almost every summer holiday. This, together with a positive experience in school and good friends, allowed me to survive this unfortunately not to uncommon situation of parental physical abuse and emotional degradation.
When I was 13, I finally realized that people only have power over you if you let them. I remember a long soliloquy with my mother, while standing outside her locked door, that included something like this;
“You no longer have any power over me. Your opinion does not matter. You can kill me if you want; I do not care. I do not hate you, I do not wish you harm.” I made a conscious decision to expunge my feelings of hate and victimization as I saw that they only limited my focus, and certainly prevented any progress towards happiness.
From this point on, I felt a great sense of freedom and control over my destiny. I also formulated the strong opinion that respect is earned and not an entitlement.
Otherwise, I had many friends and spent most of my youth either enjoying myself or agonizing over issues that no longer matter, such as: Does that girl in my math class like me? Can I get up enough courage to ask her out? Will I pass Chemistry?
Now that I had “solved” the home environment, I turned my attention to the sociological situation in South Africa. I had always felt that controlling a person’s life based on their skin colour was wrong, but what could I do about it? No non-white skinned person could go to university, or hold a professional or skilled trade job. Additionally, they couldn’t vote, had to live in a certain region and carry a “pass id” to move from one location to another. The government passed several laws including one that made it illegal for whites to have intimate relations with a non-white person, and another that gave them the power to arrest and detain, without trial, anyone suspected of insurrection.
As this was the era of the sixties, I did what many other hopeful rebels did; I entered into a Political Science program at my local University. I had hopes of learning magical truths that I could preach to change the fundamental racism of the ruling elite. Protests, of course, also seemed like a good idea.
Thus one Friday I stood, along with 15 or so other students, on a road adjacent to the University waving placards, calling for peace and the release of several political prisoners. I was having a good time when suddenly about 30 cadets, from a nearby army facility, stormed us. While we were being beaten by them, our Rugby team that was practicing nearby, heard the commotion, rushed over and beat up the cadets. I can still remember the voice of one of the protestors, who just a few minutes earlier had carried a peace placard, yelling to the Rugby team, “Kill the bastards, kill the bastards.”
Violence begets violence. I was now sure that if I continued down this path I could end up in jail or dead. I did not want to die. I also knew that I could not live in a country whose basic values were so different from mine. I decided to leave South Africa.
I traveled through Europe for 8 months which is another story altogether.
I then went to Israel to live on a Kibbutz, my plan to find a utopian society. The Kibbutz is a communal society based on the philosophy of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” As I understood it, that was the true philosophy of Marxism. My Kibbutz had about 800 people working at various occupations ranging from doctor, to farmer, to factory worker. Life was very structured. Work certain hours, eat certain hours, play certain hours. It worked very well for 98% of the occupants. But if you were an “artist” who preferred to work at midnight and sleep during the day, this was not easy to accommodate.
However, as with any epic, when you really look under the covers you will find a love story. Mine is no different, for at the Kibbutz I met Racine.
I knew we were soul mates for as you can see from my portrait, I am not sure if Racine actually knew what I looked like.
Another divine sign is that in woodwork and metal class in high school, I had created a napkin holder with the initial “R” on it.
We formed an inseparable bond so when it was time for Racine to return to Montreal, we decided to get married which allowed me to accompany her back to Canada. We lived with her parents in Montreal and as the only education I had was a partial Political Science degree, I ended up working in a factory as a shipper. After a short while, I finally understood that only a university education would better my chances for success.
So for $95 a month Racine and I rented a one-room apartment at the bottom of Mount Royal. She began a Sociology/English degree and I entered the Computer Science program at Concordia University, working in the summer and going to school in the winter. I have fond memories of beautiful autumn walks on Mount Royal among the yellow, orange and red leaves. Days filled with love, hope and promise. To me those were rich times, so it was a surprise to us when a visiting friend said “My God, you guys are dirt poor.”
We graduated and I started my working career in Montreal. Racine is a strong humanitarian and decided she wanted to become a lawyer and ultimately help bring justice to the world. So we moved to Ottawa where Racine attended Ottawa Law School. Unfortunately, after reading many cases, she concluded that justice and the law are at most times different.
As law school was no longer attractive to Racine, and her brother tantalized us with pictures of him walking on the beach in January, we decided to move to Vancouver. We arrived in early April and it was love at first sight. Majestic mountains, green grass, streets lined with cherry blossom trees, and the ocean. However, there was a dark side to Vancouver. The vacancy rate for renters was .02% and with our two dogs, finding a place to stay was not easy. We were forced to move several times as the landlords kept selling to make a quick profit. Unfortunately, when Racine was 9 months pregnant, our current landlord found out we had two dogs and evicted us. Luckily, Racine was working at the local newspaper and found a mansion on Fourth Avenue that we could sublet for a month. Robin was born among the very wealthy in Point Grey. Maybe this rubbed off on him as he is definitely aspiring to be a millionaire. Fortunately, before the month was up Racine again, through the newspaper, found a charming older lady in Point Grey who was willing to take us all in.
Since graduating I had worked for consulting companies, but my dream was to work for a large utility company as I believed this would provide me with the best opportunity to balance work and home life. I was determined to go down the opposite path than my parents and prioritize my family so they would feel loved and safe.
Amazingly, in 1981, I had the opportunity to apply for and won a position at BC Hydro Electric Utility. We were able to buy our first house in North Delta a couple of years later, where Shayne was born. We missed being close to nature, so after two more years, in August 1985, we finally managed to sell our place and move to our current home in the sea-side community of White Rock.
Now came the full challenge of parenting. Based on my childhood experiences, I had no models to follow. I had to make it up as I went along. I was determined NOT to be like my mother or father but occasionally, when my frustration peaked, I found myself emulating their techniques. I had fallen for the old adage that “parenting comes naturally.” Even obtaining a driver’s license requires more training than becoming a parent. So I looked for parenting help. I am happy to say that based on my conscious effort, a huge contribution from Racine, and Parenting courses, my children grew up to be excellent teenagers and self-confident young adults.
Looking back over my journey, both external and internal, a huge reason for my success in making a major life directional change was my ability to differentiate and then choose between relative values–imposed by one’s parents, ego or culture–and the absolute values that bring one closer to God, that make up one’s core, and provide the strength to face chaos and still thrive. An example of a relative value would be “South African blacks are inferior to whites;” an absolute value would be, “Do unto others as you would do unto yourself.”
Our household now consists of me, Racine, Joy our dog, five cats, Racine’s parents, plus my son Shayne and his wife Fang Fang, and their cat.
Scenes of White Rock.