Ambassador, A title that comes along with “his excellency”, it seems grandiose, a title that comes with weight and cache. When one says Ambassador, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds are fancy parties. But really, it is like being CEO without the high paycheck, and you are running an embassy abroad and being squeezed politically from the country you are representing as well as the country you are posted to. If you haven’t read my post on the Biggest Misconceptions of Diplomatic Life, you can go read that.
As soon as someone finds out my Father was an Ambassador, they have said the strangest things to me. Statements have run anywhere from wow, once you become Ambassador you can cruise (insert eye roll), such a fancy lifestyle, who was the most famous person you have met… the list goes on.
When my Father announced he was becoming Ambassador, and we would be heading out on another posting, he wasn’t met with a party, we all grumbled, ok, not all of us, my Mother went into a slow burning panic. I was 9, and I remember vividly asking my Father “so you become the boss?” he said yes, I told him “I hate you, and this dumb job.” In my 9 years, I was done with moving again. I was happy in Ottawa.
At the time, my father was traveling for the better part of 2 weeks out of every month. He was never home. My Mother was settled into her own career, and we were quite happy in Ottawa. We walked to school, came home for lunch, I was in gymnastics, my friends all lived in a 3 block radius, I biked everywhere, went to the park across the street alone. I had complete freedom, and I loved it.
My Father was so pleased with himself for getting to this stage of his career, he hadn’t processed that none of us wanted him to get there. Sure, my Mother was beyond thrilled for him, but she knew what loomed ahead. She was about to loose her autonomy, in a way I didn’t understand until much later.
As a plain diplomatic kid, I was part of the pack, I had circles of friends, we were relaxed with embassy staff, I was happy with my embassy friends, and the tight circle we created every country we settled into. I had no idea that being the Ambassador’s daughter would mean another level of culture shock.
My Father left for his posting way ahead of us. We remained behind to finish school and to pack. Which meant my Father would be settled with his new position and title.
Arriving in the Philippines, we were greeted by my Father, full suit, looking the part of diplomat, right at the gate, actually if they let him, he would have gotten on the plane to get us, but it was at the door instead, he was standing with a pack of Airport staff, it was the first clue that things would be different. My Mother, looking exhausted, and feeling under dressed, felt embarrassed as my Father introduced us to everyone. Her first introduction from diplomatic spouse to Ambassadors wife. We had flown for 48 hours, we smelled, we were stained from a turbulent plane ride and coke spilling everywhere. none of us looked the part of Ambassador’s family. We were guided through the airport and waved through customs, where every guard and staff took off their hats, smiled and greet us as with “welcome”. After we walked through customs, we were greeted by more people, I would discover that they were the official driver, and 2 drivers from the embassy. The last country we arrived in, we got into a taxi to go to our hotel room.
We were then ushered to the cars, where they had prominent parking spaces just outside the exit, 3 guards were standing by the cars, there were bright orange cones around them. The official navy blue car had a Canadian flag drooping on its hood. I had only seen a car like this in Mexico, and it had Pierre Trudeau in it. He was important, we were not.
My life was forever changed. I later understood the quick ushering through an airport was protocol during security threats, getting us out quickly was in the best interest of the airport.
Embassy kids no longer wanted to be my friend, I was different. My Father was their parent’s boss, and their parent’s were scared that their rating reports would be impacted by a friendship gone bad. I was no longer an equal and a part of the embassy pack. Instead, we were part of the Ambassador pack. A small circle of like minded Ambassador’s and their families, only, my Father was a lot younger than they were, and they had families back home, not at posting.
My first week of school, teachers began asking me to help them get a visa to Canada. I had just turned 10. I had no idea what a visa was. School became open season for teachers asking favours for good grades.
After a week of school, the kidnapping threats began. I had once been the daughter of a nobody, now, people somehow knew that threatening to kidnap one of us, would get Canada’s attention. ok, not really. It made my Father hyper alert.
Instead of feeling relaxed with Embassy staff, I began understanding that I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t speak freely. There were lines drawn. No one relaxed around us, feeling we were judging them on behalf of my Father. I was 10, I had no idea what any of them did, or what the hierarchy was.
We were all given specific instructions if there was an emergency, we had to go straight to the headmasters office, and we were only allowed to get into a Canadian embassy car or our person car driven by one driver we knew.
My Mother, having once been a stay at home Mother when we were abroad, and wasn’t expected to host very many parties or dinners, was all of a sudden a wife of. Her life was taken over by official lunches, receptions, and holding the hands of new spouses who were fresh into embassy life. She was no longer home, her schedule was so packed that she would attempt to give me lessons in English and history in her bathroom while she got ready to go out. My parents schedules were posted on the wall of the kitchen so that we knew where they were, if they were at home for dinner, or if they were gone.
My Parents tried really hard to strike a balance. Sometimes, it was almost impossible. My Father had always been 2 people, Diplomat and Father, the 2 were always in conflict, but now as Ambassador, he had to schedule in being a Father.
My Mother was all of a sudden expected to manage a staff at home in the official residence. The residence was and is central to the embassy, hosting Canadian delegations, official visits, receptions, NGO’s… the list goes on. Our house was no longer a relaxing place to be oneself, it was a place you had to be guarded, the staff had ears, if Ottawa called, my Father had to move the conversation to his bedroom in order to make sure it couldn’t be overheard. The household staff was not there for our personal needs, they were there to make sure dinner parties went smoothly, that official visitors were taken care of, that my Father was taken care of. We lucked out in the Philippines, the staff became like family, and I was babied and spoiled when my parents went out.
My Father never wanted his job to impact us, but every day, it did. We were treated like royalty on one hand, but ignored and not included on the other hand. When we were around, people couldn’t relax.
I learned to become 2 people, the Ambassador’s daughter when we were on posting, and normal when we went back to Canada to be with my grandparents during summer vacation.
So when you hear Ambassador, don’t feel impressed, it is beyond hard. It doesn’t come with the perks you think it does, it puts massive strain on a family, and can make or break a marriage.
Don’t worry, I have a story you won’t want to miss next.