I am the second youngest of 13 children, born and raised in Toronto. A member of a liberal, politically left-leaning family of Reform Jews, our household was filled with 13 siblings, all fiercely individual and unique, a zany group of people. It was a happy time for me.
At age 18, my father died suddenly. He was only 57. A successful salesman, but a failed business owner, he left behind a debt that was crippling. We lost everything, including our home and our cars. My mom had to start working for the first time in more than 40 years. We went from a five-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. It was a tough time for me—and for all of us.
I was ready to quit school—by now in my first year at the University of Toronto—to work to support my mother, but my siblings all were adamant that I find a way to stay in school. I was the first, and only, member of my family to have finished high school as an Ontario Scholar, with marks in every subject above 80 percent. I wanted to be a doctor and had the possibility of making that dream come true. So I stayed in school.
The first years were hard. I did not have the marks to get into medicine or dentistry. So I stayed in school and completed my master’s degree, with a focus on research in the field of cystic fibrosis. I earned some scholarships and I was finally accepted into everything I applied for—medicine, dentistry, and teachers college. I chose dentistry and was excited for my future.
But the dental school curriculum was a tough go. The time demands did not allow me to work and go to school, and there were no more scholarships, bursaries, or grants left. So I joined the Canadian Armed Forces.
A Jew in the Army is a very rare thing in Canada. There are probably more Canadian Jews in the Armed Forces in Israel than in Canada, but for me it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life (right up there with choosing dentistry as a career and asking Tina to become my wife…and she said, ‘yes’). As a result, I could study to become the dentist I wanted to be without the financial concerns. I graduated and was able to practice dentistry without the accompanying business concerns. I would do it all over again without hesitation.
But my service to my country taught me things I was not prepared for. Through my service in the Canadian Armed Forces, I learned about my country, and how World War I and II helped shape us as a nation. I learned about how the members of the Forces treat each other like a large extended family. I learned about my great country by travelling all over it as part of the Forces, by training in remote locales, and by representing Canadians in a NATO exercise in Northern Norway as the Dental Detachment Commander for the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force. I learned about my own physical limitations as I was pushed and tested beyond them; it was a very humbling experience.
I served my country in peace time. I retired at the rank of Captain in the summer of 1990. There was a surplus of dentists in the forces at the time and I was offered a financial incentive to leave at the end of my contract, which I accepted. Then the First Gulf War occurred, and the world has never been the same since.
On Nov. 11, in Canada, we will observe the occasion of Remembrance Day—similar to Veterans Day as it is known in the U.S. In the wake of the October terrorist attacks on our soldiers on our home soil, the Canadian public is particularly interested in supporting our Canadian Armed Forces by participating in Remembrance Day ceremonies. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we will remember with a minute of silence.
I am proud of my service to my country. I am proud of the sacrifices of the many men and women who have defended our freedoms. I am proud to continue to be a part of all of this through my association with the Calgary Highlanders, the Canadian Armed Forces Land Reserve Infantry unit. On Nov. 11, my family and I will remember.
That’s not a grind. It’s an honour.
Larry Stanleigh, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD