First of all, you don't say Jagmeet. It's pronounced Jugmeet.

Jagmeet Singh was ridiculed at school in Ontario as Jughead. Or Diaper Head. Or Nipplehead. Or Paki. Worst of all, after 9/11, it was terrorist.

The bane of life was his alcoholic father--a respected Windsor psychiatrist outside the home--who drank too much Russian Prince vodka for decades until he was eventually prohibited from his medical practice.

Jagmeet’s worst problem, however, was a dark secret. During the sixth grade he was sexually abused by his tae kwon do instructor, a Mr. Neilson. When his mother asked him about Mr. Neilson, if there was ever anything amiss, Jagmeet lied and assured her nothing had happened. It would take another fifteen years before he could spill the beans and begin to jettison guilt and shame.

"That's how long it would take me to understand it wasn't my fault," writes Jagmeet Singh in his autobiography, Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience and Overcoming the Unexpected (Simon & Schuster $24.99).

Other traumas were social. He was six years old when the Air India bombings occurred; the massacre at the Golden Temple the June of 1984 would also have a lasting impact. He didn't learn Panjabi growing up; he learned French instead. But after his first visit to India for a family funeral, Jagmeet became more fervent as a Sikh, growing his hair, wearing turbans.

The older and bigger Jagmeet became, the more he saw himself as the protector of his siblings, rebuking his father for his drunkenness and sometimes countering with a meanness of his own. Eventually, he would take over as breadwinner and he would banish his father from the household.

In college, he became an avid wrestler. He became a vegetarian more or less on a dare, when someone questioned his principles as a meat-eater. He remains a vegetarian.

Now that he's a Burnaby MP and a national NDP leader on Parliament Hill, Jagmeet Singh will have to fight another battle against the odds--convincing British Columbians he's one of us, that he understands who is represents. It is the only way he's ever known to run--uphill.

[BCBW 2019]