From Where I Sit – When All You Have is Hope

When you are involved in public service and attending conferences, you are required to sit through speeches, presentations, and the opinions of panels of experts. Paradoxically, this is both one of the best and one of the worst things that could happen to a person. If the topic is boring and/or the delivery excruciating, the time seems interminable. Luckily, Roy is getting exposed to some good, well-delivered speeches.

One such speech was given by Frank O?Dea, best known as the co-founder of Second Cup. Roy was sufficiently impressed that he bought me a copy of O?Dea’s 2007 memoir, When All You Have is Hope. The fact it was inscribed to me, thanking me for being a great support to Roy, was a bit puzzling. But puzzlement gave way to poignancy as I read about the lack of acceptance and closeness in O?Dea’s own nuclear family life.

While O?Dea takes great pains not to lay blame on anyone or anything for the 13 years he spent in alcoholic oblivion and despair, I can’t imagine growing up in a home with a cold, absent mother and a distant father who loved him but was incapable of showing it. The guilt and shame of being raped at age 13 by a much older woman was reinforced by the brutality of the subsequent rapes by a cop and two priests. In an ultimate act of hurtful betrayal, his father simply shook his head and left the room when Frank told him about the attack by the policeman. Eventually the family ran out of patience for Frank’s destructive lifestyle and its negative effects, and he was asked to leave.

This was the 1960s. Alone, homeless and panhandling for a bottle of wine and a flophouse, Frank’s life was tragic. The shame, oblivion, danger, and despair would continue until December 23, 1971. Though he never says so explicitly, I believe AA was his salvation. I believe he is simply honouring the promise of anonymity. He knew that ?If I don’t change, I will die like this.?

The remainder of the book is spent detailing the successes he had after his decision to quit drinking. It is difficult to imagine or remember life before brewed coffee, baristas, and the whole culture of coffee shops. Almost by accident, Frank and partner Tom Culligan opened their first coffee kiosk, a mere 45 square metres, in an Ontario mall in August, 1975. The rest, as they say, is history.

Despite the book’s being sprinkled with stories about politicians, the rich and famous, great wealth, philanthropy, good deeds, and an Order of Canada, there is no sense of Frank setting himself above anyone else. If anything, he acknowledges that in many ways, he’s still the young man who suffered so.

I loved this book because of the look back into history, the story of triumph over defeat, and the message that Hope, Vision, and Action are all we really need, from where I sit.