The scandal of the Impotent Lieutenant-Colonel (retired)

Last week, we put a challenge in the hands of our Fictional Therapist, one that required such a profound and imaginative insight into Canadian literature that it took all of our minds off the realities of military hierarchy...


This was the letter sent to our Fictional Therapist, in a carefully-wrought longhand (using midnight-blue water-based ink):

Dear Shelagh,

I am struggling with impotence, and not just of the 'plumbing' variety if you'll pardon my euphemism. Before being put out to pasture, I used to be an expert in logistics, gave a lot of people a lot of good advice over the years, and so on. Now these wretched grandchildren of mine, instead of listening to anything I have to tell them, would rather spend their hours absorbing the collected works of Kanye West. Meanwhile, wife of forty years has decided best response to my most interesting ideas is a distracted chuckle, without comment.

When I pointed out how deeply belittling this all is, how frustrating to be treated as so much excess noise, wife responded with the unhelpful suggestion I go to bed early with a good book!

Shelagh, please inform: What book could I take to bed that might possibly salve the wounds of a once-influential man who is increasingly expected to waste his time in a hammock, where he must do and say nothing of importance?


Lt-Col. Donald McPhee (ret'd)
Ballywaggle, New Brunswick

Listen again to the response from our Fictional Therapist:

We received several strongly worded letters from listeners concerned about the insult to the poor lieutenant. Or rather, the lieutenant-colonel...

My father and i are sitting in the car listening to your show, and we both noticed the number of times you insulted colonel mcphee. He was called lieutenant at least 10 times, which is many ranks lower than a lieutenant colonel. This is fairly ironic considering his letter was about his relevance and the general lack of respect he's receiving. This attempt at helping him has surely wounded him further. Perhaps he is owed an apology.

Jim Danahy

We listened to your discussion with Joanne Saul today, and the book request by the Lieutenant Colonel from Nova Scotia. We noticed he was referred to as "the lieutenant". You may not have realized that you were showing disrespect by using this title. A Lieutenant Colonel is far in rank from being a Lieutenant and very close to being a Colonel. A more appropriate short form for his title would be "Colonel". As a former Lieutenant myself, I wanted to pass on this information. I hope the Colonel enjoys his books.


Hello Shelagh, and crew,

Nice to hear that you seem to be fitting well into your new role.

I couldn't help wincing all the way through the Joanne Saul interview. First of all being confused about the pronunciation of lieutenant (at least in the Canadian lexicon), but mostly by the use of that term throughout the interview. I think it's another example of how we've neglected our military when even a book seller has no idea of the rank structure of the Canadian military (considering how much the military has been in the news over the last while). (Of course we're sucked into pronunciation by the amount we consume, and have consumed American TV).
The way she kept referring to the retired lieutenant-colonel was incredibly insulting. Would she also have called Romeo Dallaire lieutenant? If there is to be an abbreviation of the rank, then it would default to colonel, not lieutenant, just in the way that the default for a lieutenant-general is general, not... It takes some work to go from
lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. Demotion is not something a military officer (retired or otherwise) would like to face.

O Canada...

Cheers - John Hicks
Ft. McMurray, AB

Hiho Shelagh,

I'm sure you would not remember me, but I bought one of your "Daring to Dream" calendars in which you appeared as Miss August (2005). I am happy to report it still has a place of honor in my workshop where it is safe from attack by some less liberal and understanding forces that share my home!! You graciously autographed your surfboard for me.

I was listening to your program today here in Dartmouth, NS, and was dismayed by your book psychologist repeatedly making reference to the Lt/Col who had written to you, as Lieutenant. I hope you have contacted him to apologize. Without boring you with all the subtle nuances of the military rank structure, I must point out the difference between those two ranks.

Although there are only 2 or 3 promotions between the two ranks, (depending if you are Navy or Army), the position, prestige, and responsibility difference is like a chasm. For example, in the Navy, the Lt. has two stripes and is the everyday workhorse of the Officer structure. The Lt/Col, or Commander as he is called, is the Commanding Officer in all but the largest of our ships. Good ones are affectionately called the Captain, or "Charlie Oscar".

In the Army a Lt. often does not carry as much weight as a good Warrant Officer and most of them are terrified of a Master Warrant Officer. (Both of which are lower deck ranks). It should be said here that an Army Master Warrant Officer and/or Chief Warrant Officer, are in exhalted positions all their own, and highly respected.

I hope the Lt/Col was not listening to your show. Unless he is very understanding, he would be suffering from severely ruffled feathers.

Bruce Graves Lt. Navy (Retired)

The entire Next Chapter staff would like to take this opportunity to apologize unreservedly to the Lieutenant-Colonel, and to thank him for the following gracious letter, which arrived this morning at our headquarters:

Quick progress report: cracked open the Fifth Business, now roaring through it; your therapist needn't worry about the lieutenant business; if anything, made me feel young again.


Interestingly, nobody from Ballywaggle, New Brunswick, wrote in to correct our mispronunciation of the town name, but we must nevertheless apologize profusely for this also. Our only defence is to point out that the silent double-g is extremely rare in standard Canadian English.

Comments are closed.