Subban will be one of the panellists at the 13th Annual Durham Black History Month Celebration entitled 'History Starts Today: Meet the Builders' on February 1 2020.
I spoke to Subban to get his advice to parents and kids, and what people can expect to hear from him at the event.
You have over thirty years of coaching, teaching, parenting, and leading. What nuggets can you give people about practical steps to living a successful life?
What I’ve learned from my years of working with children and trying to help them fulfill their potential is getting people, whether adults or children, to believe in their potential. For me, this is the first step to leading a fulfilled life because if you don’t believe in your abilities, how are you going to achieve anything? The second is finding your calling. What is that thing that really inspires you and motivates you? And it doesn’t mean we are going to find it overnight. I wanted to play basketball in the NBA and the route for me was to go through University. I went to Lakehead University. No one told me that I probably wasn't going to make the NBA. Maybe my friends thought I wouldn’t, but I discovered it and said, ‘Karl, you know? You are not going to make the NBA.’ But that dream is what brought me to my calling, working with young people. Do you know what the third thing is? It is service to others. It gives me a lot of joy, fulfillment, and meaning. What we are doing? How are we using what we have to help others to do better? Elementary and secondary schooling is free in Canada, but so many of us are not taking advantage of it. This is why I focus on potential, reinforcing to young people especially that they were born with it. No one missed out on it. I want you to dream and dream big. You might not fulfill them all, but you never know where you are going to land.
You raised three NHL players, how did you accomplish this?
If parents are reading this, spend time with your kids. Time with them is what stays with them. What you purchase for them doesn’t last forever. At Christmas, you think about it, they get their toy and love it for the day, maybe. You then find it on the couch the following weekend. Our children want our attention. Give them your attention, time, love, and unconditional support. This is really important. Kids need to know that you have their back. They need to know that you love them and care about them. If you want to influence them, spend time with them. I always say my dad, he is going to be 80 years old and I have the best dad in the world, has never said, ‘son, I love you.’ However, you can’t convince me that he doesn’t because of what he has done for me. They need to feel the love, and it needs to penetrate and go deep inside of them because it is going to stay with them. Discipline is also part of it. Maybe discipline is not the right word, but I will use the word discipline. Our kids need to know boundaries. I grew up with my dad just looking at me and I knew exactly what he meant. Guess what? My kids do too. They look at dad and they know. Even my little granddaughter knows. I always say, 'if you love them, you need to discipline them (they need to know their boundaries).' I’m not my children’s friend. I don’t want to be their friend. I’m friendly to them, but I’m their dad. I’m their parent. I know I’m not perfect, and they are not going to be perfect, but they need to know what the expectations are. The other thing is providing the resources in the environment that they are in to support their interest and their dream. I look at hockey and I know how expensive it was. With our boys, they never used brand new equipment. They used second hand. Their feet didn’t know it was second hand. Maybe it did if someone broke the skates then maybe it hurts a little bit, but new skates hurt too. When all the kids were using the expensive sticks, PK was using the wooden sticks. You don’t have to be a millionaire to provide them with the resources for them to pursue their dreams. If there is a will, there is a way.
Did either of you experience any kind of racism? Your son, PK is not very outspoken in the media about anti-black racism, is this a deliberate strategy?
I don’t think you need to push things under the rug. All my children are adults now, so I can’t tell them what to do, but when they were younger, it would have been foolish for me to think that there wouldn’t be any situations around race. What I try to instill in them is don’t let anyone stop you from doing the things you want to do. Don’t let people distract you because of the colour of your skin. They can use it to distract you, and I never wanted that to happen. I wanted them to know that they are a lot more than the colour of their skin. If you only see me as a black person, your sight isn’t very good. I’m a lot more than the colour you see. What defines me is my potential, and that’s the message I hope I gave my children. Jordan, my youngest, is in Europe and there was some stuff, but he is not going to stop playing because of it. The best way to go about it is to achieve and to persevere. Don't become a victim to the words and thoughts of others. We have to stand up to racism. We know now that black boys especially are suffering. Young black boys are killing themselves. When kids are exposed to racial situations, they suffer from depression. They can’t sleep, and we know it is important to sleep for your mental health. Some of them feel isolated and lonely. We know the outcome of people’s words and actions especially when it is directed towards the colour of our skin. I wanted my children to build a wall and that is your belief about who you are. The other thing about race is that it is a hot button topic. As black people, we get hot about it. We all have a story. When it comes to hot button topics such as race, sexual orientation, or religion, we must find a way to build a bridge.
Could you tell me about your new memoir, How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School, and Life?
The reason I wrote the book is in the title. Because of the achievement and success of my three sons in hockey, came the million-dollar question. Everywhere I would go, people would ask me, ‘how did you do it?’ I wrote the book to answer the question, to speak about potential, to reinforce the importance of having dreams, and to tell people that though we will face a lot of obstacles and challenges in our lives, we don’t stop and we don’t give up. If one door closes another door opens. It features my roots in Jamaica where I was born and raised for 12 years of my life. It covers my time in suburban Ontario, and the larger part of it is our family story. It’s also about school and life because I’m an educator. It’s about my experiences working with children in my three worlds: in education, coaching, and parenting. The book’s stories, ideas, and beliefs came mostly from those three worlds.
How can parents set up their children for success?
If you are going to take the time to make them then you need to take the time to make them better. As parents, we are the best ones to do it. The first three years, those formative years, are so important to the development of the child, their brain, and their ability to learn in school. We don’t talk about those years often enough and about the things parents must do like: spending time with them, playing with them, reading to them, and taking them to the library. Even before they can respond in words, they are already connected to you, and you can start to grow that relationship because the better the relationship you have with them, the better it is going to be with those other important adults in their lives. Give them a sea of words to play in. Research has shown that if young people don’t have that (vocabulary), they struggle in school. They struggle with reading and writing. If you want to influence them, you must spend time with them. They need to know that mommy and daddy love them. The other thing is be careful how you communicate to them because words matter. The other thing that worked in our family was that we created an environment where our children knew what they were good at, at a very young age. I always say children must be good at something other than school. It is just my personal philosophy. The other thing is that you need to be getting better as a parent. What are you doing to be a better parent? If you want your kids to be better, you better be growing and learning with them, and a lot of us don’t get better. A lot of us stay the same. They say teaching is a calling. I believe parenting is a calling too. Young people are calling to us, but a lot of their calls are falling on deaf ears. We need to hear them and listen to their calls for help and support.
What would you tell those children who don’t have the parental support system about the right career path?
I want every kid to have a dream. PK at five told me that he wanted to play hockey like the guys on TV. Kids can say ‘this is the person I want to be, this is what I want to do, and this is who I want to become,’ I think it puts them on the right track. It gives them hope. It doesn’t mean they are going to fulfill it. I wanted to become an NBA basketball player. Guess what? It didn’t happen. I never made the NBA. I never even came close, and my life isn’t over. I will tell you why it’s important for kids to have a dream. It is important because dreams are like the trunk of a tree that will grow many branches. This is what I want for young people. The branches are the different dreams that you are going to have or the different things you could end up doing. Not every tree will bear fruits, and you will not realize every dream, but some trees will bear fruits. I didn’t make the NBA, but I made it in teaching. If it wasn’t for that NBA dream, I wouldn’t be here today. As a young person, I had a part-time job at A&P and I learned that I didn’t want to do it forever. I was only doing it for a while, and I was not going to do it forever. If you are doing something, don’t say, ‘I’m not doing anything. I don’t like it.’ No. You go ahead anyway and do the best job you can because you are going to learn something from it. I want every young person to have a dream that gives you a reason to get up every day. Sometimes as parents we have dreams for our kids, but the most important thing is for them to conceive their own dreams. It is very difficult for kids to live their parent’s dreams, but it’s easier for them to live theirs. If a kid can’t come up with a dream, I want them to fall in love with reading. If you don’t know what you want to be or what you want to do, go to the library or Chapters and get books. Every kid has interests. You must be interested in something. It may be dancing or it may be singing. If so, find a famous singer or artist, get some information on them and read it. It might be the stepping stone to something you never thought of before.
How important is it for black parents to be involved with their children’s schools?
First of all, the people who benefit from it most are the children. You go to that school, the kids know that you care. You will see that your kid will work better when you are involved. The greater your involvement, the higher your child’s achievement. You have got to find time to go to the school and make sure the staff knows who you are. Get to know your kids' teacher. Even if they don’t invite you, you can always go and visit. It is really important that you have a positive relationship between the school and the family.
You will be speaking at the event in Ajax on Feb 1, what can people expect to leave with?
This is Black History Month, and I want people to reflect on the achievements of the Black community. I also want them to use those achievements to help themselves to achieve. I want what they will hear to help them get better. It is not just coming to feel good, even though I want them to feel good, but I want everybody to be better from the experience. It could be personally or professionally. You might be a parent, an educator, or somebody who is working with a young person, whatever the case, I want them to leave thinking, 'I found something that will help me to be better, do better, and help my children or help the young people that I'm working with.'
Know a Black Canadian story we should cover? Email us: info at byblacks.com.
Lucy Oneka is a playwright and journalist. She has covered many stories for Toronto-based newspapers such as the East York Observer, the Scarborough Observer, and the Toronto Observer. Lucy’s other passion is music. She is a two-time semi-finalist of the prestigious UK Song Writing Contest and recently released her own debut gospel album, “You Are Faithful”