I’ve waited far too long to express this.
On August 4/2010, I attended the memorial service for Michael Potvin. Michael, an RCMP officer, drowned at the age of 26 in the Stewart River near Mayo, about 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse. August 4th would have been his 27th birthday. He is survived by his mother, father, brother, wife, and son who he never had a chance to meet. His son was born just a few days ago.
I have been struggling to define my relationship with Mike. I first met him when he was ten years old. He was delivered to my Karate club by his mother. Patty was concerned that Mike, who was a bit of a pudgy kid, was getting picked on at school; she hoped that Karate would toughen him up. Mike and I got along very well from the start. While I’m not one to pick favourites, it was hard not to favour Mike. He trained hard all the time. He asked good questions. He was a gifted and talented martial artist. As he rose through the ranks, I learned that I could count on Mike to do a fantastic job working with other students. He was an able and articulate teacher.
Mike and I attended seminars, tournaments, and other Karate-related functions together. His mother trusted me to take care of him. And I did. I recall one seminar we attended in Toronto. We had to stay one night in a hotel and three of us had to share a room (we were cheap). Mike asked which bed was his; Dan (another instructor at my Karate club) and I replied, in unison, “the floor” (in retrospect, this was probably a little mean; we should have tried harder to get one of those roll-away beds). Mike didn’t complain.
For years, we were pretty-much inseparable; at least on Karate nights. Back then, that was every night of the week (it was a lot easier to be dedicated to Karate in the years before I had children of my own).
Mike’s own father told me that I was “like a second father to him”. I’ve known Mike’s father for a long time; he was pretty good at the job. To be grouped into his company is an honour. I’m not sure, however, that such an honour was deserved. I know that I learned quite a lot about being a father hanging out with Mike, but I only ever had to deal with the cool stuff. We did fun Karate together. I never had to make him clean up his room, or take out the trash. We only ever did stuff he liked to do. It was easy to be “like a second father” to Mike.
At times, Mike was like a little brother to me. I honestly never really thought of the relationship in this way, but in retrospect, it probably was something like this. In many ways, he was like the little brother who tries to emulate the older brother. Sadly, I think that this may account–at least partially–for Mike’s sense of humour. Mike has a fantastic younger brother, Sean, who was far better in this role than I ever could hope to be. But, again, I am honoured to have shared in this role.
The one thing that I can say with certainty is that I was in no quantifiable way a mother to Mike. Patty had that role sealed up. Logic would suggest that a child doted on as much as Mike was should grow up spoiled; but he didn’t. Mike was a caring and thoughtful person who gave freely of himself without reservation. Patty, Mark, and Sean should be proud of how he turned out. I know that I am.
I guess “instructor/student” is an obvious characterization of our relationship. But that just doesn’t go far enough for me. Besides, I’ve considered him my martial arts peer for some time. Our instructor/student relationship grew quickly to one of mutual study; we observed, learned, trained together. I count the opportunity to award Mike his Black Belt as one of my favourite memories (as part of the ceremony, I actually got to put it on for him and tie it). Mike received his Black Belt ten years ago. In the time since, he remained very much a member of our club. Over time, we saw less of him than we would have liked. School, work, and other real-life distractions took up much of his time. But he still found time to drop in when he could.
Mike himself used to call me his “mentor”. But in the end, I guess that I have to settle for “friend”. Mike Potvin was my friend. And I miss him.