A lesson in a cherry tree for the PM
My father, God rest his soul, was a simple man who neither inherited wealth nor did he “make it” in life. He was content in having a cup of coffee in the morning and watching the evening news. For him Listerine was the cure for everything, including dandruff, the common cold, bruises, and constipation.
“Just gargle with Listerine,” he’d say.
A pragmatist, he loved the common man, drove a pickup all his life, not only to buy old furniture but also to give people a lift along the way. A bright orange Lada van was his favourite, which he drove until I begged him to let it go.
I grew up on a farm in Retreat, St Mary. My father reared pigs, chickens and grew coconuts. My mother operated a hairdressing salon in St Ann’s Bay and would open our home to tourists as part of the “Meet the People” community tourism programme implemented in the 1970s by then Tourism Minister P J Patterson.
We moved to Kingston when I was older. It was a difficult adjustment for me, especially at the private Roman Catholic school in which I was enrolled. I’m not Roman Catholic. I wasn’t offended by the rituals, but had to learn to temper my expectations so as not to feel inadequate and completely overwhelmed. This lesson hit me in the head early one morning as my father was about to take me to school.
The Common Entrance Examination (equivalent to today’s Grade Six Achievement Test) results were published. I passed. My friends and I were all excited. “My parents are taking me to Disney,” “I’m getting a video and TV,” “I’m getting the gold chain I always wanted,” were among the conversations I overheard that day. I had nothing to say because I didn’t ask for anything and, furthermore, nothing was ever promised to me by my parents.
That afternoon, as I got into the pickup, I declared: “Daddy I passed my Common Entrance!”
“That’s wonderful, Lisa, I knew you would,” and we proceeded home in silence.
The hours toward evening took forever. I didn’t have the courage to ask the question that should have followed the declaration. We watched the 7 o’clock JBC news together. Like clockwork, he went to bed immediately after. I couldn’t sleep.
The next morning, as we were about to go through the door, I thought ‘it’s now or never’: “Daddy, I told you I passed my Common Entrance but you never told me what I was going to get; all my friends are getting something.”
My father looked at me puzzled. I looked away. “I got you something, Lisa.” My heart swelled: “It’s on the verandah.” Oh, how could I have doubted him, he wanted it to be a surprise. I ran to the verandah and saw nothing.
“But there is nothing there,” I blurted.
“Yes, there is; come,” he replied.
He carried me to a plant in a worn-out Berger paint pan and said, “Congratulations. I got you a cherry tree.”
“No, that can’t be it!” I blurted, as the tears poured down my face, “I can’t tell my friends I got a cherry tree.”
My father remained calm and simply asked, “Why can’t you be honest and tell them?” I just couldn’t. It was too embarrassing, I kept saying quietly.
“Lisa, you haven’t reached anywhere in life yet. In the real world people are not going to give you a gift because you did what was expected. They will reward you when you go out of your way and add value to their lives.”
You see, in my father’s mind, passing my Common Entrance was what was expected. He knew I was merely starting out on my journey towards becoming a productive member of society which didn’t include having expectations of entitlement. Therefore, striving for material things wasn’t how a person should measure their strength nor was the achievement of material things her sense of purpose in life. But rather having the courage to speak the truth, treat everyone fairly, ensure people weren’t hungry while you gorged, make sure your word was your bond, learn how to plant your own food, and not to compare your life to others were just some of the lessons I learned by watching how my father lived his life.
So I should have understood he wouldn’t actively participate in giving me something extravagant for passing an exam. Instead, he gave me a catalyst to shape my life’s attitude on the eve of my adolescence. On that morning my father gave me the most powerful lesson. I was 10 years old.
Instilling productive values and attitudes in a child doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of reinforcement. For me, it was watching how my father lived. His actions could never be second-guessed. He was accountable. That’s why, as leaders, we cannot expect to change the direction of our country if what we say is out of sync with what we do. We can’t expect our people to stop scamming others if, as leaders, we blatantly cheat them out of their own money.
As a young politician, I wish my prime minister well, because the task of running Jamaica isn’t an easy one. But I’m disappointed in him. I thought he would’ve used this opportunity to help shape constructive attitudes but, instead, he continues to deceive me and every Jamaican youth by saying one thing and doing the complete opposite.
My father promised me nothing, yet I got a cherry tree. My prime minister promised me there’d be no new taxes to fund the $1.5-million tax relief plan he proposed while campaigning, yet we have been skewered with taxes far in excess of the amount of the relief. The courageous approach would’ve seen him being honest with us regarding the cost of funding his tax relief plan and trusting us to choose tax relief versus proving funding to maintain our hospitals, transforming our children’s education to meet modern life necessities, properly equipping our security forces, and improving interior roads for our farmers.
I’m sick with disappointment but, if I attend a public hospital, I may be made sicker. Yet private health care just became more expensive as my prime minister has taxed health insurance premiums to help pay for his rash campaign promise.
On Thursday, I heard myself involuntarily blurt out, “No, this can’t be it.” But when I looked up, my father was nowhere to be seen. It was just Audley Shaw.
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and former Cabinet minister. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.