My Dad was a memorable character in Saskatoon. He was 6’6″, a school teacher and administrator, he had a beautiful bass singing voice and a heart for underdogs. He acted in summer musicals. He served on alot of boards and committees. He was well known. I was proud to be his daughter but as a young adult making my way in life I reckoned with living within the shadow of his identity.
I was reminded of living within his shadow after I posted a video on Facebook last weekend. It was of my daughter Jillian singing “O Canada” for the opening of two big hockey games. She did a really nice job and I was proud of her.
The responses to the posted video were overwhelming to her and I. She received plentiful and beautiful affirmation. The most common refrain was “you sound so much like your Mom!”
The feedback is a wonderful thing and especially for a young woman on the verge of launching into the world. She is blessed by such supportive people. However, I found myself saying to her, “oh I’m sorry Jill.”
That’s a curious reply isn’t it? Weird. Out of place.
Here is the background. At exactly this time of year in 1994 the winter Olympics were happening. Some of you will remember the figure skater named Nancy Kerrigan. Events of those Olympics have given her name long lasting recognition in addition to the fact that she represented the U.S. as one of their top skaters.
Back to Saskatoon…..
In winter 1994 I was 25 years old and in my first year at Seminary. I was shopping at the Safeway (in Cumberland Square….if you want to picture this vividly and you are a Saskatonian). I was wearing a full length navy blue wool coat, quite a sleek look, and my hair was pulled back, also quite a sleek look. I was shopping for bananas when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman moving towards me and settling in right beside me. She had moved with purpose. I was curious but didn’t need to be for long, she began to speak, “you must be….” In my head I finished the sentence for her “You must be….Wayne Kyle’s daughter.” But that is not what she said, instead I heard, “you must be Nancy Kerrigan’s sister!” I assured her I was not, but I am sure I remember her saying “really!?!”
That was one of the weird, random and hilarious moments of my life. I wonder if that lady had considered the likelihood of a U.S. figure skater’s family member hanging out in Saskatoon during the Olympics or whether she had just turned off her tv and whipped in for some groceries with Nancy Kerrigan’s face fresh in her mind.
Whether we even look much alike or not I took from that moment a realization. The way I finished that ladies sentence for her allowed me to see clearly that I was used to being known for who I was related to not for who I was, and I was 25 years old.
That is why I said sorry to Jill. I know what work it is to carve out your own identity, and moreso when your parents are well known. Between Russell’s history here and generous personality and my ministry and music, in this small area we have become known. I think as humans we delight in finding the connections between people, the similarities in look, mannerism or talent that move through the generations. Is it reassurance that things we value live on? It has seemed delightful for people to make the connection between my voice and Jill’s, so Jill will work out her own unique presence with this as a part of the background. It’s something to reckon with. I think maybe thats why my unthinking response was, “I’m sorry.”
How do any of us establish an identity that arises from our own unique selves and experiences? It strikes me that it starts to emerge and grow as we throw ourselves into the life that we seek and the opportunities we are able to embrace. Decision by decision, effort by effort, success by success (hopefully) we become known for that unique presence we bring to the world.
Perhaps that whole process has been turned on its head by social media, giving people a chance to be recognized far and wide for the public persona we choose to put forward. But do our ventures with social media allow us to feel truly seen and known?
Back to the Carnduff rink….
Jill was asked to sing again this past Sunday, she said yes, so for the 3rd time in 8 days she put herself out there (for a game that our Red Devils went on to win 10-1, taking the series!) Perhaps there is a shortage of willing singers that has created this set of openings for Jill. However her willingness and strong voice are giving her opportunity, the building blocks of her own identity. It won’t be easy separating herself around here from the connection of being “Russell and Kathy’s daughter.” But on the other hand it honestly feels like only a matter of time before we are known somewhere else in the world as “Jill’s parents”.
Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe we are strongest when our identity is a mixture of what we can do and who we belong to, and it seems amazing when those strands of belonging come from our past and extend into the future as we become a part of new generations.
Today in the background I am always Wayne and Georgie’s daughter. However, as I stand at the fruit counter at the Co-op, making my choices, it is very likely my status as Russell Bayliss’s wife that will cause someone to draw close to me out of the blue, but instead of telling me I look like an Oympian I will hear, “how are those cows doing?” I will sit in an audience soon, perhaps with tears in my eyes, absorbed with being “Gina Bayliss’s Mom”, she is thriving at theater school. I will fluff a skirt and scramble to oversee a graduation celebratory meal as my beautiful anthem singer graduates in a few months. I am watching in awe as I see in my son, Morgan Kyle Rain Bayliss, the genetic threads of two family trees come together and I know my miraculous body has allowed this opportunity. I live all this within the shelter and the challenge of knowing life as a follower of Jesus Christ. That opportunity ties all the pieces together for me, I have one job, to love and be loved.