With the Eldest Boy

My eldest son is Hamish. He turns 11 this December. Generally speaking he is a remarkable kid, full of compassion; helping to care for his three younger siblings (without asking – and even changing diapers); helping me grill and smoke meat; phenomenal at baseball and okay at hockey (citizenship requirement); loves science and math; and, known to still sneak in a cuddle with his dad when no one is looking.

For most years my kids had no idea what I did for a living. I help people that help people that are experiencing homelessness.


It was easier when I did direct service. Even when Hamish was 4 he kind of understood that. But the older he gets and the more complex my work gets the hardest it is to explain.

If you read this blog, chances are you are involved in homelessness. You have likely also wondered how to explain homelessness to your kids (if you are a breeder like me). You may appear to be a super hero. Or you may appear to be the person who is too busy helping other people to help them. Maybe you read resources like this to help explain homelessness.


This week Hamish and I are in Louisiana. It is not the first time we have ventured to Louisiana together. If you are a kid, alligators are awesome. And if you are a kid, maybe it is easier to understand homelessness in a place other than where you actually live. Louisiana has been that for me and my eldest son.

To start the week, Hamish will be with these fine people. My request of them is that they put Hamish to work with people that are homeless. Not stuff that requires professionals. I am talking about appropriate use of volunteers under professional supervision. Then we head to these fine people. Hamish and I have been to Shreveport before. Yes – he loved alligators and zip lines and new friends to play catch with, but he also loved engaging with people that resulted in questions he needed answered. “Dad, why did that guy paint himself with blue paint?” Or, “Dad, the guy who said I reminded him of his kid – is that okay?” Or, “Dad – I used to think you should be home more, but now that I know things, I think you should be away more.”

Or my favourite –

“If I could hook up my heart to your ears, you would know where I need you to be dad. I don’t know how to say it. But you would know I feel it.”

I know how you feel it Hamish. And I know that once per year until you are no longer available or interested we shall do it together.



About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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