by Mathieu Powell
Dr. David Suzuki attributes his father, Kaoru Carr Suzuki, for inspiring him to enjoy and appreciate the natural world in his youth. Mr. Suzuki senior, born in Vancouver, BC, was the son of Japanese immigrants and the eldest in a family of seven children.
“My grandfather was always bawling my father out,” laughs Dr. Suzuki. “He would say, ‘why did you take David fishing on Saturday? You could have been working and making money.’”
“For some reason he loved nature,” says David. “I used to call my father a mutant because he was so different from the rest of the family. He loved fishing, he loved gardening and that was very unusual because, when immigrants come to this country, they are generally concerned about security, making money, getting a house and all of that.”
David’s childhood memories are of hiking up mountains and going fishing with his dad. Those memories shaped the passions he has held to throughout his entire life. One of his earliest memories is of his dad taking him down to a store to buy a tent.
“I remember vividly the excitement of buying this little pup tent, because we set it right up on the wooden floor of this store, and dad and I crawled into it. I remember he put his arms around me, and it was just so delicious because I was so excited about going camping.”
His father remained his role model as David himself grew up to become a father and then a grandfather. A love of nature remained a steadfast and central theme in the Suzuki family’s lives.
“When my first daughter was born, (Severn Cullis-Suzuki), it was the most incredible experience of my life. I loved being a father and, of course, we were always taking my children out camping and hiking from the time they were three to four months old.”
David is pleased that his children have ‘drunk the lemonade’ and adopted some of his beliefs.
“I’ve been their mentor. That’s what family is all about. I’m proud that they are all committed environmentalists and I’m sure they’re going to pass that onto their children, my grandchildren.”
When asked about how he enjoys being a grandfather, it is easy to hear in his voice how much he adores his grandkids.
“Having grandchildren was unbelievable! I thought being a father was the greatest thing in life, but being a grandfather really does change you, because your relationship is different. Your time is more limited and they absolutely adore you. They don’t see your faults or weaknesses, they just think you’re wonderful, and I can just spoil the hell out of them and then of course hand them back to their mom and dad at the end of the day.”
His grandchildren don’t really understand how iconic a Canadian Dr. Suzuki is, and that is just fine with him.
“I’m grandpa,” he laughs. “I’m sure that’s the way it is with anybody. You don’t say to your grandchildren, ‘hey, I’m a big television star’. I mean you’re just grandpa. Besides, I discourage them from watching too much television.”
Dr. Suzuki struck a somber note when discussing how desperate he is about their futures. For years, he has argued that there are limits to growth because we live in the finite world wherein it is impossible to grow an economy forever.
“Our grandchildren and future generations are just not on political or corporate agendas. They have a much shorter vision. I hope society will begin thinking much more of the future, not just our current time.”
Dr. Suzuki encourages elders to contribute their wisdom to society by being strong role models in the lives grandchildren and younger people.
“I’m telling elders to get the hell off the golf course or off the couch. You, as elders, have something no other group in society has, and that is that you have lived an entire life. You’ve had experiences, you’ve had successes, and you’ve had failures. Now you must comb through your life experiences and derive the nuggets of information that you’ve learned and tell young people. We need elders to talk about what can be, because of what once was.”
Dr. Suzuki deeply respects elders of all cultures. He authored a book entitled Wisdom of the Elders wherein he brought together scientific insights and the knowledge of First Nations people. Their world view was radically different from his training in scientific reductionism – a focus on the parts, rather than the whole. In writing his book, he reconciled those differences and he demonstrated how the differing views work together.
“The First Nations people really showed me that they see themselves in a radically different way. They don’t see us as separate, but completely linked. And when they refer to mother earth, they don’t mean that in a metaphoric or poetic way, they mean literally. We are created out of the elements of mother earth. We’re made of the air, the earth, and the soil.”
David’s respect for elders, especially the greatest elder of his life, led him to move in with his 85 year old father in the last month of his life, and it was a wonderful time.
“We laughed and we cried, talked and reminisced, and you know in all that time he never once said, ‘Gee, remember that fancy closet of clothes I had, or the big car I bought or the house we owned?’ He kept saying, ‘David, I die a rich man.’ Now, he didn’t mean rich in terms of money. All we talked about in that last month were family, friends, and neighbors, and the things that we did together.”
“That was my father’s wealth. It was human relationships and human experiences. And that told me so clearly money and stuff are absolutely unimportant. When you come to the end of your life and you say what you’re proud of or what you’re pleased you did in you life, it isn’t about ‘I made a million bucks’ or ‘I bought a fancy car’: it’s about people.”
“I’m enamoured by the power of stories.