Loneliness… the curse of humans

When I started working in the Four Seasons Hotel, Yorkville in Toronto things could not have been any better. Everyone seemed happy, the customers were mostly wealthy and strutted around the hotel as if they never had a care in the world. The staff were extremely content and the hotel was full of opulence, romance and charm, life really was great, what can I say I was young.

The whole aura of the hotel seemed to ooze the feeling that life was for the living, it was to be enjoyed, indulged and it was to be shared. On one particular day I remember watching an older very senior chef work, Fred always seemed so happy, he would giggle at any given comment passed by a wondering soul drifting through the kitchen, he was everyone’s confidant, friend and was always willing to chip in and help others when he was able.

The hotel used to give cans of drinks to the hot perspiring chefs to help offset the heat in the kitchen keeping them hydrated. Minutes later picking up my can of soda thereby taking a big gulp would give me the shock of my life; it was full of whiskey from the cooking alcohol cabinet. I swallowed the rather large gulp wincing and glancing around to see if anyone was looking, then I very slowly placed the can down obviously knowing that it was not mine and went about my business whistling as if butter would not melt in my mouth.

I then watched from a distance to see whom the culprit was and was astonished to see Fred waltz over to claim his soda, taking a few big mouthfuls, finishing the whole contents of the can, squeezing it between his tightly grasped hand and throwing the empty can into the kitchen waste bin. I was gob smacked to say the least, no wonder he always looked so happy I thought.

A few weeks later I saw him slip and fall in the kitchen laughing out loud as others helped him to his feet. The next day Fred did not show up to work and thinking he had a cold or some other minor ailment we all left him alone to recover in peace. When he did not show up the next day alarms bells sounded, the Executive Chef went to visit him only to find him dead and alone in his apartment.

A couple of days after that the boss went to his funeral returning to work only to announce that he had gone to Fred’s funeral and noting that just he and the vicar alone had lowered Fred into his grave, there was not a single other friend or family member there to say goodbye to a person that seemed to have the world at his feet.

On hearing this, my young, innocent and naïve heart warming thought process to life in general was instantly destroyed. I was struggling to comprehend how such a popular person, who was loved, respected and admired at work, would live such a lonely private existence.

Years later I would fall in love and would be the envy of most men I knew. I dedicated my life and soul to my new partner and someone slowly but surely over the 3 years of dating would lose contact with my friends as I became deeper and deeper involved. Then came the big day and we were married with the subsequent travelling around the world together and ending up in Hong Kong where we were extremely happy…that is for about 9 months and then it was over and my make believe life came crashing down. My trophy wife was gone, so were my friends and the only stick I had to lean on was my career. I worked 16 hours a day to take my mind off my downfall only to return to my small, soulless, very quiet and lonely hotel room. I had managed to single handedly place myself in the unthinkable position of having had so many friends over the years and had somehow lost them all, the worst possible nightmare had come true, I had become Fred.

Loneliness can happen to anyone and we are all five minutes away from being in the position of talking to ourselves if we do not manage situations well.

In the hotel business I have met many and I mean many rich and famous people whom love to sit down and talk to you due to the fact that it is after hours and because they have no one else. They have fame, fortune, they have people chasing them for autographs, business deals, money or even just association, but very sadly not for love or friendship. When all the dust has cleared and the hangers on, cronies and groupies have gone home to their families and loved ones, they are truly alone and lonely.

There are billions of people on our planet and the incomprehensible reality that some people are torn apart by loneliness is astonishing. I was lucky as I eventually rebounded to meet my soul mate, I have 3 beautiful girls whom I truly believe love me and I know that I unconditionally love them in return.

Most of us hope and pray that when we do eventually pass on, we do so surrounded by our soul mate, our children and our grand children whilst lying in our warm bed.

Unfortunately there are many people that we all know and see every day whom are not so fortunate. They have suffered through terrible circumstances and for whatever reason have not rebounded and are living a life of desperate silence without friends or family.

Let’s make a pact together today that if we know someone who appears to be lonely, that we give them a call or even knock on their door to say hello. We can invite them for a coffee, drop off a baked cake to their home, shake their hand or simply make them feel special by remembering their name.

We CAN help to improve someone’s life and if we are able to do it for just one person we will feel good about ourselves whilst assisting another lonely soul to have a better quality of life.

Together, we can make a difference, I know it.

Are we the “Daddy” our daughter’s deserve?

I received a letter about 6 months ago that brought to my attention a possibility that never occurred to me for a second as something that may be true. The letter made compliments to my autobiography Chef’s Tales, they wrote to tell me how they had enjoyed the book and lamented on how it had made an impact on their life giving them the courage to pursue their dreams. 

 I was feeling rather happy with myself and felt extremely proud that I had managed to make an impact on a persons feelings enough for them to chase their dreams. Then, right at the end of the lovely note, the author of the letter made a statement followed by a simple question, “I think you were very brave to just simply pack up and leave home whilst you were just 18 and travel the world on your own, congratulations to you, however I have one question if I may please. Children living in a normal, loving and caring family would be broken hearted to leave their home and family as you did, how did you cope with this loss at such an early age?” 

Over the years many people have asked me how I was so brave, but until it was brought to my attention, I never reflected for a second why I felt the urge to leave so early in the first place. The standard answer was that I loved travelling, therefore the romance and glamour of being a globe trotter took the better of me and off I went strolling towards a beautiful setting sunset never to be seen again for many years to come. 

A lot of soul searching pursued and I have come to the following conclusion, somehow I must have been unhappy about something or felt a void that needed to be filled. I really believe that I had a lovely child hood; however my father was a very conservative man who constantly told me that whilst I was living in his house, I had to do as I was told until I was 18 years of age. The constant feeling of being controlled and told not to leave the house over the years, especially when I was young may have affected me subconsciously. He went on to teach me that on reaching 18 years of age, I was then old enough to make my own decisions and so I did, not only leaving the house, not only the country but leaving the continent too! 

A few days ago I was telling a girl friend of mine about how I whisper every night in my two daughters ears that I love them before they go to sleep. She told me that daughters were very lucky and wished her father had done so with her. She then mentioned that she had made up for the lack of love from her father by finding other men to love her instead. 

She went on to tell me that when she was young, going to school was very unpleasant, as her friends were being hugged at the gate she would already be half way to her class and her father half way down the road in the car before other parents would be willing to break the bear hug on their children. The last heart wrenching sentence to me was that watching her friends enjoying the attention from affectionate and loving parents whilst she was unable to purchase a hug if she had the money to do so would always tear her heart out. 

My conclusion to this lesson in life is that as a daddy, I should continue to hug my daughters every day and tell them I love them, for without this, I fear they may rush all too quickly and find another “daddy” to fill this void and whom may not have the same intentions as I do.

How ugly are you?

I was having coffee the other day with a new friend of mine and nonchalantly commented on how well they looked which surprisingly brought a frown to their face. I asked them if they disagreed with my assessment and they explained to me that they had been in a long verbally abusive relationship earlier and that they had been told on many occasions how ugly, stupid and worthless they were. This seemed unfortunately to have a profound impact on the way they felt about themselves which had resulted in them finding it extremely hard to accept any compliments concerning their intelligence or appearance. 

Today I would like to touch on the word ugly if I may due to the fact that I find it disgraceful, disgusting and repulsive that one human being can destroy another human beings confidence with such harsh and callous words. 

Ugly, according the “Webster’s New World Dictionary” is described as many things including, “unpleasing to look at, aesthetically offensive, unsightly, vile, disagreeable, dreadful, offensive, objectionable and even repulsive. 

I took my friend to stand in front of a mirror and slowly read out the descriptive words of ugly one by one from the dictionary and when I had finished I asked them if they could see any of these descriptions in their reflection.   

It is my experience that if someone is told every single day for years that they are worthless, even if they are a very confident and proud person, if they do not get away from this abuse they will eventually loose confidence and start to actually believe what they are being told. 

On the flip side of this logic, if they are lacking confidence and they are reassured everyday that they are intelligent, wonderful and an overall beautiful person, after time they will start to believe this too. 

I would like to propose that nobody should have the right or opportunity to deliver such damaging, heart rendering and torturous words to another and get away with it. Everyone needs and deserves that special someone in their lives to continuously reinforce in them their value, their obvious self worth and their importance, as without this they will be open to belittlement and the possibility of abuse resulting in a total lack of self esteem. 

Any educated person with confidence whom is surrounded by loved ones will laugh at name calling and any insinuations delivered of them being ugly or stupid.    

I urge all of us who know someone with confidence issues, or know someone who has suffered such dreadful treatment as this to make a commitment and help them repair, in any small way possible, the damage they have suffered to their self esteem and confidence. Take them for a facial, a spa treatment or to the salon. When their confidence has improved and when you see that they are smiling again, take them to sit in front of a mirror and ask them what they see. 

There is no such thing as an ugly human being; every human being can be beautiful if they feel confident in themselves, every human being can be happy if they are surrounded by people they love and people who love them. Every human being can feel important if they are contributing to a relationship or to society and if they are made to understand that their contributions are valuable. 

If I may I would like to request anyone who has confidence issues or anyone who has ever been through a terrible abusive relationship to sit in front of a mirror, close your eyes and think about someone or something that makes you happy. When you feel totally relaxed, open your heart to the possibilities for your future and the realization that your dreams really can come true. 

When you have done this, open your eyes, give yourself a warm smile from deep inside your heart, look directly into the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I ugly”. 

You and I both know the answer.

A father and daughter's inseparable love

Working at the E&O reminds me of why I joined the industry in the first place. It’s a luxury hotel with glamour, romance and intrigue, but most of all it has what many other hotels are unable to offer and that is the fact that this year it is going to be 124 years old. The walls of this hotel are steeped in history and many repeat visitors have private tales to share about their loved ones and their personal and fond memories.

I had only been here for a few months when one day, as I was walking through the lobby on the way back to my office, I saw a young lady standing under the grand dome holding a small shiny vase. She looked a little perturbed, so I slowly made my way in her direction to ask her if she needed any assistance. She introduced herself as Caroline and informed me that her father used to serve with the armed forces here many, many years ago and he used to always come to the E&O to eat and to go ballroom dancing. She went on to inform me that the E&O was one of his most favourite places in the whole world. She held on to the vase tightly and went on to say that her beloved father had recently passed away and he had requested that his ashes be spread in the grounds of the hotel. As she requested permission I realized that her father’s ashes were in the vase she was holding so tightly, I was taken aback by the request she was making and could not help but to be awe inspired by the way Caroline was holding herself together during such an emotional moment.

I told her that it would be an honour for us if she spread her father’s ashes in our garden and off she went to spread them amongst the flowers and plants close to the wall. After she had finished I watched her slowly walk through the front door on the way out, wiping away a few tears whilst holding on to the empty vase and I could not help but tear up with the thought of what was going through her mind.

About three weeks later, I saw her sitting on the wall having a glass of wine talking to herself, so I went over to enquire if she was alright. Caroline informed me that she would come over here at least twice a month to have a glass of wine, sit in the very same spot where she had spread the ashes and talk to her father. I left her alone so she could enjoy her very private moment with her dad and she did this every couple of weeks for over two years until it was time for her and her family to move onto their next posting.

Two years ago as I was arriving at the hotel and shaking the hands of my staff, there was an elderly chap standing under the same copper dome, leaning rather gingerly on a walking stick. After wishing the chap a very good morning, he introduced himself as Mr. Johnson and told me that he was having a visit down memory lane as he also served here over 5o years ago as a young soldier and was loving the historical moment he was having after just arriving on a 14 hour flight.

He informed that he had many, many wonderful memories of his evenings and dances at the hotel and as his bottom lip started to tremble whilst re-living his history, he managed to compose himself and went on to explain that there used to be an old lift somewhere that he used to sneak up to see his old girlfriend in. When I informed him that the same original lift was still here and most importantly still in working order, he was extremely surprised to say the very least. When I asked him if he would like to go for a ride, his legs wobbled a little, making it apparent that the walking stick had enabled him to stay on his feet.

We entered the lift for a short 3 floor ride to the top and back down again to the bottom. The entire ride took no more that 2-3 minutes, but was sufficient time to have this wonderful gentleman in tears. He started off out of the lift and across the lobby before turning around to face me for a second and as he turned around he told me that he would now go to his grave a happy man and this was a day he would surely never forget. I stood there speechless after hearing what he had just said to me and instantly tried to grapple with the importance a ride in a lift could have possibly meant to him.

There is something I know for certain and that is that after I leave the E&O Hotel, I will never be able to work in another hotel like this for as long as I live. Hotels are either 124 years old or their not, it’s that simple and that special, you can’t buy heritage. This is why I hold on to the position as the General Manager here as long as I can and pray that the owners will keep me here until I am unable to carry on due to old age.

Oh and before I forget, did I tell you that Caroline called me last week, she informed me that the whole family is coming here to visit us this festive period for a couple of weeks. She told me that she wants to sit on the wall, have a glass of wine and wish her father a Merry Christmas.