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Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)
Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Peter Gzowski: Not a cad, a pro Add to ...

Last Sunday, the Toronto Star had a major scoop on its front page. It had found Peter Gzowski's secret love child!

Actually, it wasn't too hard to track the guy down. He lives in Kingston, and is middle-aged, and his existence wasn't all that big a secret anyway. In the article, we learned that he never really got to know his dad, and was sorry about that. You could tell he was really Peter's son because he looks a lot like him.

It must have been a slow news weekend, because of Labour Day. On Monday, I turned on CBC Radio, and there, in the very studio where Peter used to sit, they did a long, lugubrious interview with Mr. Gzowski's biographer. It was his book that revealed the story of the secret love child to a shocked and titillated world. It also revealed that our beloved Peter, who died in 2002, wasn't always as kind and avuncular as he was on the air. Quelle surprise! "Peter's darker side was just greater because he had a greater talent," intoned the author, who proceeded to condemn the poor guy as a neglectful father who fooled around on his wife, drank too much, sometimes embellished the truth about himself, and was indulged and protected by the all-too-understanding women in his life.

In other words, he was remarkably similar to a lot of other journalists back then. Trust me. I was there (at least for the tail end of it).

For years, I worked for a brilliant, charming rogue who tried to sleep with every woman who walked in the door (and often succeeded). He had at least one love child that we knew of. His house was full of wives, ex-wives, mistresses and children of sometimes murky parentage, most of whom adored him.

Back in the '60s and '70s, secret love children were a dime a dozen. Some were so secret, their own fathers didn't even know about them. A few years ago, one 50-something man I know answered the door and was greeted by a beaming, eerily familiar-looking young fellow who announced: "Hi, Dad!"

Lots of teenage girls (Joni Mitchell, for example) had love children, too, whom they gave up for adoption before they went on to become successful women. Pierre Trudeau had a love child in old age, and was widely admired for it. Mel Lastman, a former mayor of Toronto, admitted to a long affair that allegedly produced an entire love family. He was widely thought to be a sly dog.

Standards of behaviour were different then. I worked with famous writers who'd disappear on benders for a week. (I helped cover for them - I thought it was part of my job.) Everybody smoked, and carried on tortured love affairs with people who were married to someone else. One distinguished editor of Maclean's had at least four wives, and no one thought anything about it. Nor were journalists singularly depraved. If the CBC ever decided to examine the peccadilloes of every eminent Canadian, there'd be no time left for those fascinating documentaries on Botswana.

How times have changed. Today's newsrooms and broadcast centres are serious, sober places where alarmingly little hanky-panky goes on. The advance of women is responsible for that, along with a broad change in attitudes about sexual harassment and boozing.

Today's young professionals in their 20s and 30s have had serious emotional and sexual relationships before getting married, and so, when they do, they're far more grounded than many of their parents were. They deeply disapprove of infidelity. Besides, they're way too busy for that.

In Peter Gzowski's generation, lots of dads hit the bar after work. Today's dads are scrambling to pick up the kid at day care, coach soccer practice, and make the dinner. It's a more bourgeois life, but on the whole, a happier one. And the conclusion to be drawn from Mr. Gzowski's sometimes troubled private life is not that he was a cad - but that he was a pro.

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