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Born to Be Kristen

How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport
edition:Hardcover
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Soar, Adam, Soar
Excerpt

I knew I would write a book about my kid. Just not this book.
Rebecca Danielle Adam Prashaw was born April 22, 1993, in Sudbury, Ontario. Suzanne, her mom, spent only seventeen minutes in labour, and then, swoosh, Rebecca slid into life’s fast lane, never to put her foot on the brake.
As a record of her life and our relationship, I wrote my child a letter each year around her birthday. It took time to realize the letters might someday inspire a book. There was a story I wanted her to appreciate someday — hers, mine, ours.
I was a Catholic priest: a Roman Catholic priest who married when he was forty, becoming an instant stepdad to his wife’s three children, and a year later, a first-time dad to one child, that kid with the interesting name.
I worked as a journalist, too. I like to tell and write stories, and I recognized a story here. The letters, I thought, would bind my story to Rebecca’s story, so when the time was right, she would better understand the first chapters of her own journey. Or so I thought. That there was a book, too, was, well … more a dad’s hunch, a crazy intuition.
The working title for this book idea was Dear Rebecca: Love Letters from a Married Priest to His Daughter. I knew that it wouldn’t be on the Vatican’s blessed books list. That might work in my favour, I thought!
Those annual birthday letters chronicled the year’s events: celebrations, family trips to California and North Bay, camping, cottage visits, outdoor adventures, the pet dogs and rabbit, and a few mundane moments, too, that still somehow captured life’s wisdom. They also recount some madcap misadventures — I confess to a few missteps as a later-in-life dad on training wheels. Memo to Dad: venturing out in winter with your five-year-old onto the Castor River in Russell, Ontario, without first checking the ice is not a good idea; the unexpected polar bear dip to my waist qualifies as “top shelf” in the family legends.
The fifth-year birthday letter reports the epileptic seizures that first appeared out of nowhere at the breakfast table — dark, ominous clouds on an otherwise sunny horizon.
The eighth-year birthday letter tells of my own heartbreak over my separation from Suzanne, the breakup of a marriage that I did not want to end. Damn. Now there would be stories I’d prefer to omit from my book.
More dad letters follow in the next few years, charting Rebecca’s significant challenges in learning and at school, some clearly the consequences of the epilepsy. This would be the place where I would revisit a wickedly fun period of seven years when Rebecca played goalie for various girls’ hockey teams in Kanata, in the west end of Ottawa. Unknown to anyone at the time, what she learned in the goalie crease would tutor my kid for life’s adversities. Tales are emerging, too, of first jobs, hints of first loves, and more.
All in all, I recognized a story worth telling, a tale of a mischievous kid who was impossible to subdue or defeat, a kid wrapped in her parents’ and her family’s love; in hope, worry, and wonder.
But life, and my child, had other plans. Sickness, heartache, and unimaginable, enduring courage elbowed their way into the story. The book that I imagined writing is not the book I am writing. Adam emerged as the co-author.
Adam?
Our Rebecca.
Remember the girl born in 1993 with the boy’s name, Rebecca Danielle ADAM Prashaw? From very early on, Rebecca delighted in her boy’s name. She never tired of hearing the story her parents told of how Adam became part of her legal name. Adam, of course, wanted this story, this book, to be something that he would help to write.
Rebecca was the quintessential tomboy. There were early signs of Adam everywhere — the short hair, cut pageboy-style some years; the “dressed down” rough-and-tumble look. We saw it but didn’t see it. Rebecca was often thought to be a boy, as early on as age two. Rebecca’s mom recalls the tough negotiation she had with Rebecca to get her to wear a First Communion dress. She made a deal that Rebecca could take the dress off right after the pictures — like a flash, Rebecca was gone, and the dress disappeared for a day or two before her mother found it under her bed. Before she pulled the dress off, we snapped the First Communion photo, a nick on her face from the latest mishap and, of course, the short crop of hair.
As friends came into our lives and we were asked the inevitable “number of children” question, Suzanne would say, “I have two girls, a boy, and a wannabe.” In response to their inquisitive looks, she would add, “A girl who wants to be a boy.”
I recall an early, fun conversation with my daughter when I asked her if Dad could at least see his daughter in a dress three times in her life. Could we agree on that? That semi-serious negotiation resulted in Rebecca committing to wearing a dress on three occasions — her First Communion (which she did!), her wedding day, and, hell, I can’t even remember the third day she promised. It doesn’t matter. She reneged. And in the story this crazy kid would live, there actually was a wedding day. Well, sort of, but it was one minus the dress. That story will be told here, in this new book that Adam and I are writing.
Things are clearer in hindsight.
Unquestionably, from that day at Sudbury General Hospital in 1993, it was love at first sight. I was forty-one years old, a new dad, “over the moon” happy. I never saw or had a need to see “Daddy’s little girl” in Rebecca. Well, maybe a little, a nod to that “wearing a dress” negotiation! Indeed, I was punch-drunk ecstatic about being a dad of any child at all.
I guess the gender thing was there from the start. But it would take a lot of years, well into adolescence, for Adam to show up.
***
Adam made his official appearance in 2014, at twenty. His “coming out” was sandwiched between two major epilepsy surgeries in 2011 and 2015. We had called our kid Rebecca, or Becca, for short (and Bekkaa on Facebook), for almost twenty years, from birth through to 2014. I’ve sorted out my Adam/Rebecca story this way: the first happy, healthy childhood years, from birth to five (1993–1998); then the years during which the first series of smaller seizures occurred, from five to ten (1998–2003); then the more-or-less typical preteen and teen years, from ten to seventeen (2003–2011). The final part of the story takes place after the second series of bigger, more threatening seizures start in 2011. It is in the second, scarier epilepsy phase that Adam shows up, writing his own impressive new birth announcement. My co-author can’t wait to tell that story.
There are other stories to tell, too — visits to the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (many call it the Neuro), getting her driver’s licence at sixteen, and a remarkable, life-changing conversation with her mother. Adam wants that in HIS book, too. “Her, she” is history. Adam will become my teacher on pronouns.
Somehow, bound and determined as he was to live a full, normal life, epilepsy and all, Adam, I sense, wanted to stay in the driver’s seat, even after he lost his licence because of his seizures. This is his life, his story. It was him behind the wheel, driving his parents crazy at times in a madcap, fast-lane race to adulthood and the independence he keenly craved. As he endured the epilepsy surgeries, as he chose to come out and come in to Adam, I marvelled at a new meaning of courage.
And through it all, in what was undoubtedly a hard life capped by one cruel catastrophe, he wove in a heap-load of fun. He did it with amazing friends, the steadfast support of family, and most of all abiding steadfastness, as Adam saw it all through to the end.
This is the story of Adam (Rebecca).
Dozens of Adam’s Facebook posts will help tell the story. I have not dared to change a single word. If it seems like Adam appears out of nowhere sometimes to jump into the conversation or start another conversation, well, that’s my son. If you wince at some of his posts, know that I winced first.
Soar, Adam, soar.

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Working Lives

Working Lives

Essays in Canadian Working-Class History
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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