My Father, was British and Canadian, but decided to join the Canadian Diplomatic Corps at the height of the Cold war, if you don’t know anything about that era, you might want to look it up. Every once in a while, he had a little Whiskey, usually when tensions in a country were high, and he needed to have some thinking time. It was part of the diplomatic culture, in fact, Canadian Embassies had happy hours on Friday afternoons.
Every morning, over coffee, no matter where we lived, the local and international news was always on, whether it was on radio, or t.v or in some cases both. That is what I vividly remember as a kid, the news and his commentary. My Father would sit down at the kitchen table often with 4 newspapers waiting for him to skim. We lived and breathed the news as a family, it was just something so natural in our house. I was quizzed about world politics from an early age, debates and heated political arguments sometimes took over dinner. No matter where we lived, it was the same.
In the very wee early morning, in our posting to Venezuela, I was woken to loud unmistakable rumble and rapid gunfire, and massive explosions. The t.v next door was blaring, the phone was ringing non stop, our family dog was on top of me licking my face in a panic, my Father was already on the phone yelling over the loud rumbles outside the instructions were fluidly going from French, English and Spanish. My room was connected to a small family room, which was in between my room and my parents room. It had a small sofa, and upholstered chair, a t.v, of course, floor to ceiling books, a desk with a phone with 3 lines. We had a private line that only Ottawa called on.
My Father was standing, stern looking, but in pj bottoms and no shirt, no socks or shoes. He looked at me, snapped his fingers, and pointed to the chair. I was fully awake, alert and too numb to be terrified. I sat, I knew instantly, we were in the middle of a coup attempt, it was 1am. The t.v didn’t need to tell me anything, even though the airwaves had been taken over, a stern man on the t.v was droning on in Spanish, I couldn’t really get all of it with my elementary level Spanish. My Father and I had spoken about the political climate for the past month. We knew a coup attempt was coming, but it was still a jolt to be woken up to.
He hung up, looked at the t.v, muted it, and looked at me “and said, we are in the middle of it. You know the drill, if things get rough, you get you and your mother to the pantry.” The pantry was the only interior room, it was 2 ft. of cement, had no windows, and could be locked from the inside. We had a massive emergency phone that had been installed, as well as a satellite phone for backup. This was not standard procedure for diplomats,I don’t even think diplomats are given emergency plans. This was made by a man who had grown up abroad himself, and had lived with a military father. He created these things for our protection.
My Father left, the phone kept ringing, when my Father was on one line, my mother and I answered the other lines. We had so many Canadian citizens calling us in a panic, asking for us to save them. At one point I wanted to should back “you stupid ass, you chose to have a vacation in a country that had warnings, Canada isn’t saving you.” but of course, I didn’t. We didn’t ask them how they got the private line of their ambassador, we simply told them, there was nothing we could do, we were in the same danger, we weren’t being evacuated or saved, this was part of the job.
My Father went, showered and dressed. I looked up, a little terrified, my Father was about to drive himself to the Embassy. I had no words. He had made sure that his staff were all safe and staying home.
We went downstairs, and realized, my Father’s driver, an amazing man, had arrived through the bombs, and was standing in the door way of the kitchen, fully dressed, and ready to drive my Father to the Embassy. He had already put on coffee in the kitchen, which he did on a regular basis, because my parents always had an open policy for staff to help themselves in the kitchen.
My Father up until that moment, had never really shown that much emotion for anyone but his kids and his wife, but he had tears in his eyes, and asked this locally engaged staff member standing there, why he risked his life to get to the house. The driver just looked at him and replied “Sir, this is a coup attempt on all of us, I don’t want this for my country, I know it will be the international community that will help us, I serve god and my country by driving you to do your duty.”
I was shocked, and emotional. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my Father, but I knew he had to go. How could he not be brave, his driver had already shown the definition of brave. We all hugged and kissed each other. He left for the embassy, as we sat in the house, watching bombs drop close to our house, and hearing the planes overhead, so close, we could see the pilots faces and their solemn expressions.
My Father arrived back in one piece. This particular coup attempt only lasted 16 hours, but made significant damage to the city. It would be one of many.
That night, after checking in with each and every single staff member, locally engaged, or one of his Canadian staff, he finally sat down, instead of pouring a small glass of whiskey, he had the whole bottle in front of him. We said nothing, he needed to be alone. I went to my bedroom, and heard my Father weep.