Gary Garrison reads to the audience at his book launch on October 9. Paula E. Kirman
McCauley resident Gary Garrison launched his latest book, Raising Grandkids: Inside skipped generation families at Audrey’s Books on Tuesday, October 9.
Host Alice Major, Edmonton’s first poet laureate, spoke about how important this book is. She said that increasingly large numbers of grandparents are finding themselves caring for grandchildren because their sons and/or daughters are not able to take on a parenting role. This phenomenon is “invisible to most of the population,” she said.
The book has met with great success. The first chapter has been published in Canadian magazine The Walrus, and articles and reviews have appeared in Publishers Weekly and the Globe and Mail. A review in the Librarians’ Quarterly resulted in orders for 1,000 books. Garrison was interviewed on CBC Radio by 15 afternoon hosts all across Canada. Originally published in August, the book has already had a second printing.
One of the book’s themes is the difficult relationship that caregiving guardians often have with government and social agencies. Garrison said that although most social workers are highly committed to serving in a helping profession, the system often requires them to respond like “the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz before he gets a heart.” The result is a struggle between treating people as human beings and dealing with them as another object to be fitted into the structure.
Another theme is the challenges and rewards of parenting all over again in what Garrison describes as “the second time around.” The rewards are self-evident for the grandparents involved, as illustrated in the poem he wrote about it and read at the end of the evening. Entitled, “Do the Math,” it ends with the line, “Two plus two is the opposite of dead.” But the challenges are enormous and ongoing: battles for custody, pressures from caseworkers, navigating their own health and financial issues, guilt and resentment towards their missing son or daughter, and much more.
To protect the children involved, almost all of the names used in the book are pseudonyms. As well, Garrison sometimes created composites instead of individual personal stories. The concern about privacy affects Garrison directly. The idea for the book arose out of his own experience as a step-grandfather helping his partner to raise her grandchildren.
The intensive interviews the couple had with the part of government called Kinship Care made Garrison begin to think, “There must be a book in this.” And there was!
The publishing process went smoothly – not the usual story told by writers. Garrison had previously published Human on the Inside with the University of Regina Press, and they were eager to take on this second title.
Gary Garrison: Bio
Gary Garrison worked for the Mennonite Central Committee for almost a decade. A major part of the work was coordinating a visiting program at a maximum security prison. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, and is a poet/songwriter and the former editor of Alberta Hansard.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.