Sunday, 30 December 2012

SNIP N' GO


The last time she saw her husband, he was “stepping out for a smoke”. Two weeks later, Sandra Irving, 39, now knows that her husband had more than tobacco on his mind. The two had been sitting in the waiting area of an outpatient vasectomy clinic, Snip N’ Go, in a strip mall near their suburban home in Oshawa , ON, when Jack Burrows, 40, announced that he was going to buy some cigarettes and have a smoke outside while he waited. The time is estimated at being roughly 1 pm.

“I’ve been trying to get him to quit for years,” Ms. Irving said, “So I wasn’t happy about it. I told him to hurry up, I think.”

Mr. Burrows’ appointment was in fact scheduled for 1:15. His failure to return was not immediately remarked upon as his name was not called for his procedure until 2 pm. Ms. Irving had failed to notice his absence as she was engrossed in a back issue of House and Home.

“It was the Clutter Buster issue,” Ms. Irving explained, “So I didn’t notice right away. When they called his name I thought he’d come in but there was no sign of him. I stepped outside and he wasn’t there. I walked over to the little convenience store just down the way and he wasn’t there either. I was on my way back when I noticed the minivan was gone.”

The couple’s blue Astro minivan was no longer parked in the parking lot. Resting in the spot where it had been were the child booster seat and the infant car seat which had previously been secured in the van. Through evidence pieced together from security cameras at the mall, it appears that Mr. Burrows did indeed buy his cigarettes and at the same time he appeared to pick up a men’s magazine, Boyo. He then stepped outside and smoked a cigarette and flipped through the magazine. Suddenly, he threw down the cigarette, stuffed the magazine into his back pocket and strode off. Cameras lost sight of him briefly but he is later seen filling up the minivan in a gas station a few kilometres down the road.



His trail goes cold until two days later when news footage of a WWE wrestling match tailgate party in Buffalo NY shows a crowd of men and boys dancing around the smoking ruins of what appears to be the remnant of a burned-out minivan in the stadium parking lot. One of the shirtless men has his face painted crimson and blue and bears a remarkable resemblance to Mr. Burrows. Subsequent investigation has revealed the minivan to be the one Mr. Burrows left in but there is no further sign of him.



“If he was going to leave why did he have to set the minivan on fire?” Ms. Irving asked. “Shrek 2 was still in the DVD player and that’s the kids’ favourite. They’re going to be devastated.”

I have fallen behind on my Pop Culture posts given the holiday season. In place of new material, and in the spirit of holiday leftovers, I offer the above, a piece published in a previous blog of mine, Whiskerrub, that touches on fatherhood in a personal way. Enjoy. A new piece should be posted soon.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Play To Win


Some days I feel like a winner and other days I feel like a loser and, while that's not seen as a healthy way to look at the world, there's not much I can do about it. I 'm no "thought leader" whose raging success demands my outlook on life should be followed for you to attain fame, riches and accomplishments. But I'm doing alright. There's this prevailing attitude that putting things in terms of winning and losing is negative and unhelpful and bad. Of course those people at the top of their chosen professions don't seem to have much of a problem with competition, winning etc.

It's just so much crap saying that things like winning and being the best at something don't matter. Somebody like my dad would say it's a typically Canadian attitude - celebrating showing up. Happy to be asked to the party. Happy to participate. Maybe that's changing somewhat with the last couple of Olympics and it certainly doesn't apply to Olympic or professional hockey but at pretty much everything else Canadians seem to be content to celebrate mediocrity or second best. I think it's more modern than strictly Canadian, though other countries do seem to be more OK with open triumph.

Kids have to be taught to accept mediocrity. In our house we were pumped to watch the summer Olympics but, after the first few days, my second son was outraged at our performance. Why weren't we doing better? Why did we not get more medals? I tried to give him the party line - small country, doing better than we have, we're a winter sport country etc. but pretty soon those explanations sounded hollow to me too. Eventually, he grew disinterested in the whole thing - why would he want to watch us lose? Fair point.

I used to teach swimming and when it was time for the badges to be handed out those kids who didn't pass and get their badges were MAD. Some of them wanted to jump back in the pool and prove they could do it. But what do we do now? We give out medals and badges for everything. It is insidiuous because it diminishes actual accomplishment. Someone just told me at a Christmas party that our school board is considering getting rid of competive sports for kids under Grade Three because of this fear of competition. It's just so wrongheaded.

 


I remember an old Charlie Brown mug when I was kid that said, "Winning May Not Be Everything But Losing Isn't Anything". The focus cannot be solely on winning, you need to develop skills and teamwork and strategy and love of playing but without a chance at winning many kids who are wired that way won't participate - it becomes some lame adult-committee-designed game that's no fun. Turn kids loose of adult supervision and the games quickly become ruthlessly cutthroat. Kids are not scared of losing - we're scared of them losing. When kids play tag, someone is it; when kids play hide and seek, there is a winner; when kids have a race, someone is last. These are the games kids naturally love to play and, sure, some kids are sucky when they lose but they need to learn how to deal with that. The solution should not be there are no losers it should be don't be the loser next time. There are lots of other activities which are cooperative or expressive - keep those, they're good - but don't get rid of those games which are competitive. Why? Because they're FUN.



We play to win in this house. We play a lot of games - sports, cards, board games, tiddlywinks, computer games etc.; I've got three boys - you keep them active or the next thing you know you've got the fire department at your house. And my guys do not want to lose. Every so often I try that on - "No you didn't come in first, second and last - you came in first second, and third." They look at me, "No, he LOST. HE was LAST. He wasn't third." They smell the stink of pollyannaism and reject it. Good for them.

It's crucial for them to lose and lose often at games - but not so that they learn to like it. No. To remind them of how much they HATE it and to work hard to make sure they don't have to feel that feeling again. Also to learn it is not the end of the world to lose and that you can always try again to win. I do not let my kids beat me at games - ever. I see what happens when dads let their kids beat them - sure the kids learn an important lesson - their dad is a loser who can't even beat a 5, 7 or 10 year old. Ever wonder why they don't respect or listen to you? You've got nothing to teach them. And you're not helping them get any better either.

Mind you I don't grind them into the ground - I keep it competitive but at the end if I can win, I do. Eventually they will beat me and they will know it means they have tried, persevered and improved. That something they couldn't do they now can. OK I do occasionally gloat a little bit when I win, maybe there's a little taunting but that sure makes them want to win all the more. And I can admit it's going to be tough for me to take. But I will take it like a man: Smiling, shaking hands and deep inside vowing to crush my opponent next time.



Now sometimes this competitive thing can have a different outcome - the kid walks away from the activity. But this is not necessarily all bad - the kid is choosing how to spend his time and ranking his interests - it's not so important to play that game and always lose because that isn't fun. Again, I try and keep it within reach, and encourage them, give them tips on how to win (and these they actually listen to sometimes because in this instance you've shown yourself to know what you're talking about - unlike most of the other advice you try and give them.) And as well making sure they find something they do enjoy competing at.

So backgammon is on the game schedule these days and I was regularly trouncing my second son resulting in tears and upset.



Sidenote: Do all dads have trouble with tears or is it only with dads of boys? Or just me? I actually don't have any problem with them when it comes to injuries but I'm impatient with those tears that spring from frustration, tantrums and not getting their way. I'm sure I'm supposed to give them a hanky and tell them to let it all out but ultimately I can't do it. It's not doing them any favours.  I hate when people try and get around things by crying - it is essentially the ploy of the subservient person begging for charity or pity. And I don't go for that. Ask for help, admit wrongdoing, make an argument but don't start crying as a way to get what you want. Tears are associated with being "girly" because historically that's the only way females could get what they wanted - out of the charity, compassion or pity of men. That was wrong and remains so today but now that women have the same opportunities as men (I know there's an argument about that) there is no excuse for them to be treated differently. Tears are not the sign of being a "girl" or a "sissy" they are the signs of being weak and not an equal worthy of respect or who has a valid claim. That's not the way I'd want any of my family to be regarded.

Your tears are most illogical.

Kids need to learn to accept defeat and frustrations with dignity and good grace - and then figure out how to overcome them. When my oldest gets teary because I point out that he's rushed his work and not done a good job, I comfort him briefly but, if the weeping continues and nothing else is happening, I ask if the tears are helping get the job done? No? Well, then it seems an illogical and ineffiecient way of spending his time. He bears down and gets it done and I praise him for his hard work, his persistence and his real achievement. And he needs to learn this mental toughness because he is a sensitive and creative kid who is naturally inclined to avoid hard work and failure. I can't blame him, I am lazy and still try and avoid doing things I'm not good at. But I wish I had learned this lesson earlier.


A couple of years ago, my middle one (likely the most nakedly competitive though the third is showing some extremely competive behaviour lately) was regularly throwing tantrums if he lost at games, kicking over the board etc. This brought back memories of my own brother who was a terrible loser. I mentioned his nephew's behaviour to my brother and asked for any insights on how to deal with it. Turns out he's still a terrible loser (actually I already knew that) and only really started getting somewhat of a handle on it late in life. He pointed out that phrases like "playing for fun" "making friends" etc. held no water for him - he wanted to win and winning was fun and he liked being friends with people who also liked to win.


Here's my brother recently winning an award for Most Promising Company.
This intel was helpful. The next time my son lost and was about to freak out, I told him that he had to learn to be a good loser because if he didn't then people wouldn't want to play with him (Visible reaction - 'Who cares? Adult talking touchy-feely garbage that bears no relation to my feelings, tune it out') and that if they didn't play with him then he would never be able to beat them (Visible reaction - 'What?' Tears stopped. Gears commenced grinding and he nodded like, 'Finally, someone is talking sense. The lies have stopped and I discover the truth'). It was like a scene out of a conspiracy film when the hero finds out what is really going on.

At last - The Truth!

I went up to my wife and told her in some excitement that I'd had this breakthrough. She was very disturbed that this is what got through to our son. But, what the hell, it worked. And I have to be honest - I don't worry about him at all. He's going to be alright.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The People vs. Santa Claus AKA Father Christmas


 

Does Everyone Hate Santa Claus These Days?

Whatever festival of light you celebrate (or don't), no one can ignore Santa Claus or, as he known in England, Father Christmas. My question: Does everyone hate Santa Claus these days? Santa is an amalgam of pagan and Christian traditions - what the hip amongst us know as a Mash-Up- and there is apparently something for everyone to dislike. In the Netherlands he is accompanied by Black Peter who punishes bad kids by putting them in a sack. Christians find him too secular and secularists (and people of other faiths) find him too religious. And what's with those elves' working conditions? PETA has probably launched a complaint about the reindeer. He is too fat, nutritionists argue. Too commercial, a puppet of Coca Cola, others cry. Has anyone noticed that Santa is an anagram of SATAN?!?


Cut the dude some slack. He works his butt off in the far north under difficult conditions with only some elves for companionship all so that for one twenty four hour period he can deliver presents to children. "While I hear that some men's magazines suggest lonely women wait for Santa wearing only their Christmas stockings to give him a little Christmas spirit, he really doesn't get much for his troubles." Why does he go through with it?

 
I dislike all the greed, commercialism and expectations that come with Christmas but lying around in my PJs watching my kids open their presents on Christmas morning makes the rest of the crap worth it. I have a good relationship with my wife and kids but there are lots of dads out there who don't see their kids as much as they like or have the kind of relationship they want. For some of them it's easier to just give up as they don't seem to get much for their efforts. Our society promotes self-interest and juvenile reactions to adversity and lack of gratitude. Maybe the paternal selflessness of Santa can show another way. Here's to all Fathers who work hard to provide for their children with the only reward being the happiness on their little faces.

Pop Culture also appears as a regular column in Village Living Magazine. A version of this article appears in this month's issue and on their website at: http://villagelivingmagazine.ca/pop-culture-the-people-vs-father-christmas-aka-santa-claus/.


 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

INJURED ON THE JOB


I am currently recovering from an unexplained sprain of my middle finger. I seriously do not know how I received this injury, though those that know me suggest it may come from over use. I personally suspect it may be a driving related injury - the drivers in Toronto, honestly.

However, as an involved modern dad I am certainly no stranger to illness, injury and near death experiences - it's all part of the job.

The year my oldest started day care was the sickest year of my life. He would come home with a runny nose and I would be in bed for a week. Now after three kids I have the constitution and immune system of a Bombay sewer rat - it takes a lot to take me down. But beyond illness there is injury.

There's the time I broke my finger tobogganing with my oldest when he was about 6. There's a ravine nearby with a number of great sledding hills. He pressured me to take him on the big hill that the older kids were on and, being a macho idiot, I agreed. We hiked to the top of the hill. The various preteens there were more interested in flirting with each other than sledding and they told us to go ahead - this was the beginning (literally) of my downfall.



We hurried into place and so I didn't take a close look at the route. It was only while racing down the hill that I realized that the enterprising youth had built a sizeable jump part way down. Squeezing my son between my knees and clasping the bottom of the sled so as not to be ejected, we took flight. Terror moved swiftly to exhilaration. We had serious air and I am pretty sure I completed a five count before we landed - on my fingers still beneath the sled.

This hill I should mention was bisected by a asphalt walking path which considerately had been cleared of all snow but not a thin sheeting of ice which barely covered the metal grating that met my fingers upon impact. %$^&!!

Of course we still had half a hill to go and we rocketed off that icy ledge down to the bottom. When we eventually slid to stop we were greeted by a small group of gape-mouthed preteens, who were thoroughly impressed by our aerial manoeuvres. Awesome! Wicked! Sick! etc. I waved them off, blase, and then hurried over to my wife and showed her my bloody hand and in a pained whisper indicated it was time to go. A day later at the doctor's office I confirmed it was a minor fracture.

I have been hit in the head, poked in the eye, scratched, bitten and had things dropped on my foot. I have stepped on sharp toys in bare feet in the dark, twisted my ankle and fallen down the stairs from items left out by my wonderful children and thrown out my back  trying to get kids in or out of car seats. There should be danger pay for being a parent.



Maybe this has something to do with having three boys and the kind of things they do versus girls (maybe not - you can get pretty serious burns from hot tea at those doll parties, I hear). We go to the hospital a lot - or rather we used to. By the time you get to your third boy you develop front line medic skills and sports coach attitudes. Things you would have taken your first kid to the doctor or hospital for you now shrug off. "OK, it's blood but is it arterial blood?" Usually, you just give them a patch up, ask them how many fingers you're holding up and then send them back into the fray. Tough it out, shake it off, suck it up - these phrases roll trippingly off the tongue. Thing is that you have to live by the same credo and as a creaking old dude you lack the same springy resilience of healthy growing boys.

This was brought home to me  a few months ago in a quite painful realization mid-wrestling match.

[Sidebar: You need to understand that wrestling is a key pillar in my fathering strategy. As a kid, one of my favourite things was, when my dad came home, we would wrestle until my mum would berate my dad for working us kids up before bed. Wrestling is great because many guys are not good at expressing physical affection and certainly not once their kids are no longer babies, particularly if they're boys. Wrestling gives the dads and their kids that crucial physical contact that fosters connection, love and trust - and allows both to channel and sublimate their anger, aggression and will to dominate.

Boys are aggressive, violent little cusses and they need to learn how to deal with that in socially acceptable ways like sports and games. Also, they are very status conscious and need to know where they fall in the hierarchy - and in my house that's below me. They get a thrill out of going at me full force and having me shut them down. The major thing you hear when we wrestle is shrieks of laughter. It's a nice break for them from being constantly told not to act on their aggressive tendencies and feelings. As an added bonus, they drive me nuts so I get satisfaction from it as well.



The key of course is the rules [nothing in the 'privates' (or 'nuts' as my 7 year old takes great relish in saying at any opportunity - hell, he makes his own opportunities to say it), nothing in the eyes or throat, and if someone says stop you stop right away]. Boys are sticklers for rules and nothing gets them angrier than a rule-breaker or "cheater" or someone who is "cheap". The rules are as important to them as the violence. The rules make them feel safe - not only that they won't get hurt but also it allows them to direct their feelings in a way they know will be acceptable and not get them in trouble.

I've occasionally had friends of my boys want to join in and you can tell the ones who have never wrestled before - they are crazy freaky violent and are dangerous in the extreme. They don't know the rules and things can quickly get out of control if they injure someone through their egregious behaviour. Secondly, they can't take it if they lose or get winded or a little hurt. They either get even more freakily aggressive or sulk off. This is another lesson boys (need to) get out of wrestling - initiating violence can lead to you getting your ass handed to you, sometimes painfully.

We live in a strange age when boys are under-exercised and get suspended for getting in a schoolyard scuffle, when they can't bring hockey sticks to school to play ball hockey or throw snowballs because of the "danger". However, they can sit in front of screens for hours at a time gorging on representations of socially acceptable violence in the form of cartoons, super hero fantasies and video games where the heroes suffer no consequences or they get a new life with a click of a button. I let my kids watch TV and play video games (I enjoy both myself) but I also insist on plenty of exercise and wrestling.

When a kid goes full force at you and gets picked up and dropped on his ass, it forces him to see that other people with opposing goals really exist and that you don't always win. Sports fulfil the same function - it is an important lesson to learn that you can work hard, do your best and be a good person and still lose at something you care about. Essentially they learn they must engage with the real world and work hard and keep trying if they want something where there exists a real world scarcity - jobs, trophies, money, quality romantic partners etc. End of Sidebar.]



Anyway, so I was wrestling with my two younger ones a few months ago. As I, prone on the ground, turned to give the middle one a zerbet, a whisker rub or a nougie, the younger one clambered onto a hassock and launched himself at me shouting, "Here I come to save the day!" (note: Mighty Mouse reference). He does this all the time and actually usually tucks up like he's doing a cannonball. Normally I am ready for him and catch him on my stomach and slow his impact with my arms. It is like working with a human medicine ball. This time, however, he chose to fly at me KNEE first and collided directly with my unprotected rib cage. BAM! Oof. "Are the stars out tonight, mother?" If he didn't crack any ribs he sure bruised them.

It hurt to breathe deeply for a couple of days and leaning over to shut off the alarm clock in the morning became a tutorial in pain. But hey, I had to suck it up, didn't I? That's what I always tell them. I didn't get any worker's comp or time off work, that's for sure. Although I didn't wrestle for a few weeks after - despite their constant requests to. Course when I did climb back in the ring, you can bet I brought it harder on that little rib-cracking so-and-so - hey, remember the hierarchy? In my house, they don't say "Uncle" they say "Daddy!".

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

School Projects



This year my oldest started at a new school where the focus is on a lot of independent discovery-based learning. What does that edu-babble mean? School Projects. Lots and lots of projects. Ugh.

Last year was the first year of projects for us and, while they almost broke us, my son did very well - or as I like to say my wife did very well indeed; she was up to all hours with him getting them done. I try not to get too into this gender role stuff - after all, as a Home-Based Dad I buck many of the  stereotypes myself. But, then again, if my musings on what it means to be a HBD have revealed anything it is that to be successful or happy with that "choice" you have to do it your way not try and be a failed Mum.

While you may have cast off the shackles of traditional male definitions of success and roles - you're still a guy and you still have certain attitudes, beliefs and approaches that are very different than a woman's and you often discover you have these attitudes while expressing them to your kid. You are who you are and, while you can always aim and try and work to be a better YOU, there's no point in trying to be someone else (especially if you lack the same basic plumbing). Maybe I shouldn't make grand pronouncements about gender so let's just say that just because I am the parent working from home it doesn't make me a nice guy.

So when my son brings home his project my wife and I have had different approaches to  how to deal with it. She spends A LOT of time with him discussing it, working on how to say something, what his approach will be whereas I mostly tell him to go to his room and DO IT. I constantly read in newspapers and magazines that your children should do their homework at the kitchen or dining room table so you can be there for them while they work through it. This doesn't work.

First of all, I have three kids and they run rampant through the house and make each other mad. How are you supposed to get any work done when you're busy trying to stab your brother with a pencil because he is under the table making weird alien robot sounds?

More importantly I send my son to his room to do his work because he drives me crazy. He is constantly sighing, groaning or freaking out about the work. Or he walks away from the table to look out the window, start playing with an action figure his brother left on the floor or chase his other brother around the house because that brother is touching his 'stuff'. But what really drives me nuts is how he is contstantly asking me to do his work for him - figure out the question, figure out the answer, figure out how to answer. He is a humanoid time-sucking device.



I send him to his room, tell him to close the door and not come out until the work is DONE. Even this is a difficult concept for him to grasp. He often will appear moments after I send him to his room claiming the work is finished. I ask him how he knows he is. This seemingly simple question stumps him. I suggest he go back and read the assignment and compare its expectations and instructions with what he has done. This often results in the realization he is not finished and tears begin to well.

This is when a good parent would comfort their child, and tell them it's OK and that they will help them. This is the moment when I will tell him to stop crying as that won't get the work done and go back to his room, put his butt in the chair and pencil on the paper and work it out. And don't forget to close the door because I don't want to hear all the drama. See? I told you I'm not nice.  Oh, often I'll tell him I already passed Grade Five and did pretty well too so I don't feel the need to do it again. Nice? No. Effective? Mostly.



Then when he's actually done the work I ask him the same question that I also ask all my kids when I tell them to clean their room and they say it's clean - Would I think it's done? They usually go back up and spend some more time cleaning it up. That requirement to do the work yourself without having someone else telling you exactly how to solve the problem and then think about whether it's going to meet an external standard before putting it to the test is a critical step that many people never seem to develop. The kids don't learn the real point of these tasks which is to figure out what they think the task is, do the best that they can to reach that requirement and then put it up for evaluation - with the real risk that it may fail, not be good enough etc.

I can't blame them - I see the same behaviours in the University classes I teach. Students constantly come up to me and ask me essentially to tell them what the questions are going to be on the exams and what particular parts of the course they should study. This makes me angry. I've already told them what parts of the course they should study - it's called the syllabus. I've also lectured for hours  on things I think they should know and tried (mostly in vain) to prompt discussions of these issues. Figure it out, already. But I don't say that - when they ask what to study and what they need to know I say, 'Everything'. When they ask what kind of answer I am looking for I say, "One that is accurate, complete and addresses the question." They think I'm a jerk. And maybe I am but similarly I have passed University and feel no need to do it again. These are the very skills that they are supposed to develop - me telling them the answer defeats the purpose.

My brother runs a startup and we were talking about this over the weekend. He regularly gets staff who come to office door and say they want to talk to him about an assignment - basically trying to find out what he wants them to say. He tells them he has no interest or time to do their job for them. They have the assignment - figure it out - it's not his job to tell them how to do it as well. They need to figure that out and if they can't then maybe they're not right for the job. Bring him the assignment when they think it's done. They stumble out confused and angry but now they know what's what. When they come back with it he asks them to rate the work before they give it to him. They hesitate and usually give it an 8 out of 10. He nods and hands it back to them. Bring it back when it's a 10, he'll say. Then and only then will he go over it with them to show them where he thinks it can be improved.

It's funny, that's the approach I take with my son. I insist he does the work to the best of his ability and then I go through it ruthlessly. I credit this with my own experience growing up. I would have to give every essay and assignment to my mother to review first. She would mark the crap out of it - red lines everwhere. I then had to take it back and fix it. Repeat as required. You learned pretty fast to take your best work down because it was less work in the long run. She was way harder than any teacher I had.



Another difference between me and my wife is that if my son chooses not to follow my advice and suggestions I ultimately am content he hand HIS project in and get his butt handed back to him if it's lousy. My only real problem is when teachers are not hard enough on the work so my kid gets used to being lazy and not doing his best work. That does him no favours. Also if he comes back with bad marks I will hold him accountable and point out that he could have done better and I expect he will learn from the experience.

After all, the real project I'm working on with them is my kids themselves. I can't say I have passed this test yet or done very well but I''m working hard on figuring it out on my own and if I occasionally (or often) fail, I'll try and do better next time.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hallowe'en Hangover


As I stood in the rain this morning dropping my youngest off at school, I witnessed again the notorious Hallowe'en Hangover. Kids who normally walk into school without a backward look or thought for the parents cling to them with tears in their eyes, others slowly clomp into the playground late for school, bleary-eyed and glum and others throw full scale fits for one reason or another.One child this morning was pleading that her mum relent and let her bring some candy to school. It seems that privilege had been revoked after she was busted trying to sneak an extra piece into her lunch bag. I think the Mum was regretting that particular consequence as much as her daughter at that moment. But parents must be strong and follow through - we can't let them know how much it pains us. Truly it is a case of "this hurts me as much as you...". But it is only recently I realized (like right now) that parents say that not to comfort the child but to comfort themselves - I am surely not the only one to take solace from knowing my kid is as miserable as I am when I am forced to discipline them.

Anyway, as I walked away happily bidding them all au revoir, one Mum also turning to go said, "Now WE party." I laughed - partying to me these days often involves just lying down in a quiet dark place. It is the case for most parents that Hallowe'en is not just one late night, it is two. Last night was reasonably late and candy-fuelled but the night before was much more taxing and made Hallowe'en itself seem longer.

The last couple of years, my only Hallowe'en prep has been fine tuning the Hallowe'en play list for the iPod.


Some top choices are:

People Are Strange - The Doors
Monster Mash  - Bobby "Boris" Pickett
Ghost Riders In The Sky - Nancy Cassidy
Love Potion No. 9 - The Clovers
Thriller - Michael Jackson
I Put A Spell On You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins (or Creedence Clearwater Revival or Nina Simone)
The Boogie Monster - Gnarls Barkley
Werewolves of London - Loudon Wainwright III
Purple People Eater - Sheb Wooley
Spirits In The Material World - The Police
Little Ghost - The White Stripes
Highway To Hell - AC/DC
Way Down In The Hole - The Blind Boys Of Alabama (or Tom Waits)
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
Superstition - Stevie Wonder
Freddie's Dead - Fishbone
Boris The Spider - The Who
Evil Gal Blues - Aretha Franklin
Evil Ways - Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles
Worms - The Pogues

But this year I upped my game. The night before Hallowe'en, after I had helped my wife make mountains of homemade caramel corn for three Hallowe'en class parties (BTW delicious), I stayed up to 1 a.m. helping her assemble our oldest's werewolf costume. My original commitment was to make the tail - a coat hanger, an old stocking and some torn up clothing (see previous post It All Comes Out In The Wash for the back story on this) made for a cool looking base. I then had to affix fake fur to it. By the end it looked pretty damn impressive. In the meantime my wife was busy sewing fur to a pair of torn up pants and a torn up shirt to mimic the look of a transformed werewolf bursting out of his clothes. It was nearing midnight by this time and she and my son had been far too liberal in tearing holes in the clothing so I shared that particular duty with her.



The main complaint I had partway through the process was having to watch W television (stands for Woman, I guess, though after I while I began to believe it stood for 'Why' as in 'Why is this crap on TV and Why am I watching it?'). Well, I didn't mind when the Victoria's Secret Angel Collection Push-Up bra ads were running. (Did you know that ALL angels dream of the perfect push-up bra? I had no idea, I thought they might have other things on their celestial minds. Very enlightening.) Once those ads finished running however I needed to change the channel to something more intellectually satisfying - like Friends reruns.



I had such a headache by the time we dragged ourselves to bed but, despite my initial reluctance, I found it was fun helping out with that Hallowe'en stuff. My wife asked if I ever thought I'd be up all night sewing a werewolf costume. I could honestly say No. I would never have done it for myself, that's for sure. Throughout, I kept seeing images of my Mum the week before Hallowe'en sewing three new costumes every year and snarling at us kids through a mouthful of pins if we weren't properly grateful. I thought she was crazy for doing it. And here was I doing the same. My Dad's job was to take us out trick or treating and remove us from my Mum's reach as she was properly sick of us by the time we went out the door. In turn, I also was happy to see my kids go out this year with my wife into the rain.

I enjoy handing out the candy and asking the little kids about their costumes and giving the older kids a hard time about their half-assed "hobo" or other non-costume choices. My rule - you could be 99 but if you have a costume you get candy. No costume? You have to perform a trick - a song, a riddle, a handstand, something or you get zip. Occasionally the house has been egged upon candy denial but that's the contract - you dress up to get candy or you get nothing. The trick is your other option. This year the rain kept the lame-o teens home so I could just enjoy seeing what the best costumes were this year.

Unfortunately I didn't see any angels in push-up bras - but there's always next year... after all it's every angel's dream... and now mine.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Zombie A-POP-calypse?



Well the signs are certainly there that my evil influence may be growing.

For one, one of my previous Pop Culture posts, Zombie Hockey Dad, now appears slightly repurposed on the worthy The Good Men Project site.

And for another... well that's about it for now... although I'm closing in on almost 1000 pageviews. Come on, Guinea and Hong Kong, haven't seen you checking in lately.

Look for a new post next week - this will likely have to hold you for now.

Friday, 19 October 2012

IT ALL COMES OUT IN THE WASH

I spend a lot of time doing laundry

I did my first stint as a stay-at-home dad when I took parental leave for our oldest (now nearly 10 - wow) when he was under a year old. I did a lot of laundry and washed a lot of dishes and then just plain washed my hands a lot because of all the bodily fluids coursing around the house. After a few weeks I was complaining to my wife that I thought I had done something to my hands - they were extremely painful. She had a look and erupted into peals of laughter - "You have dishpan hands! Hahaha. Painful are they? Poor thing. Hahaha."

Suddenly, in a flash, I understood all those commercials of my youth involving Madge, Palmolive and how women waiting at the manicurist would be "soaking in it."


Dishpan hands are no joke, sister

As I recall I used a liquid of my own choosing to ease the pain - Glenlivet administered internally. Not sure it worked but after a few treatments I didn't care.



You're soaking in it

While I have learned many lessons about keeping my hands supple and soft even while I care for my family's every need (i.e. we bought a dishwasher) the amount of clothes washing has not diminished. It in fact has increased to an alarming degree - with three boys I need to do at least one load a day to keep on top of it. This is why it was so distressing when our recently purchased front loading washing machine stopped working. (AGAIN!)

Side note: Please allow me at this moment to express my extreme displeasure with Sears Canada and its so-called Protection Plan. After purchasing said machine, Sears' surly delivery men dumped it unceremoniously in the laundry room and refused to hook it up (the story of how I removed the original washing machine and in so doing broke off the hot water tap causing a jet of hot water to empty into my basement is, as Hammy Hamster used to say, "another story"),
... but that's another story

After a few short months, it started leaking through the front loading door. The baffle (the large rubber ring) had to be replaced. Eventually Sears got the new baffle in and sent a very confused looking repairman to replace it. With that problem fixed the washing machine no longer leaked but every 3 to 5 washes it would tear a clothing item to shreds. Now I'm not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV but it seemed pretty evident that the cause of this was the installation of the new baffle. Sears had to send 2 more repairmen over a few months to determine what was the problem. They couldn't. On top of that the machine just stopped working entirely before  the last repairman showed up. He sanded off a rough point on the inner rim of the machine and pulled a few clothing items out of the filter (and man did they STINK!) and explained it was my fault - we had to put all small items in mesh laundry bags so the suction didn't pull them into the filter. He just had come from a  call where he removed  a bunch of tiny thong underwater from a woman's washing machine filter. Awkward. But WTF? This seems a rather huge design flaw.

Did Sears take any responsibility for this? It did not. I spent the good part of a day arguing with people of increasing responsibility at Sears that they should reimburse me for the replacement cost of my damaged clothing which, but for the incompetence of their staff administering their misnamed Protection Plan, I would not have had to buy. The last joker actually demanded that I provide him the receipts for the original pieces of clothing damaged (Yes, that's right. Clothing we had bought over the course of the last 5 years he wanted to see the price of before he would consider my claim.) I offered to send him the box full of ruined clothes as evidence of the machine's work but he didn't want this. He later as much as admitted to me that his demand was in bad faith as even if we could provide receipts he wouldn't pay out.

I now understand that the Protection Plan should in fact be called the Protection Racket - similar to the way gangsters want protection money to protect you mostly from themselves. Note to Sears Canada: You Suck and I will never buy a product from you again - I can't afford it.

The lovely folks at the Sears Canada Protection Racket

In the meantime, what could I do? I bought a bunch of laundry bags and dutifully put all small items in said bags but, after a while, the machine started snacking on our clothes and then seized up again. I did what I should have done in the first place - I called up a real repairman who knew what he was doing. He arrived, I told him the story and in seconds (SECONDS) he said, "Well, here is the problem, the first guy put the baffle in wrong and you have a gap in here a cat could get through. And neither of the other guys noticed it."

I KNEW it! The dance of rage and vindication I did at that moment was one you might see in a documentary film about the rituals of people who believe in savage gods of retribution and justice. All I know is that it kind of scared the repairman. He did tell me that one thing I must do with these front loading machines is to be extremely vigilant about cleaning out pockets, each and every one, as small items can get through and block the filter. Great. Now the laundry process takes even longer. I will never buy another pair of cargo pants either for that matter. What does anyone need all those pockets for anyway? Well, I can tell you what boys need them for: tape, used Kleenexes, coins, buttons, rocks, sand, gimp, snail shells, pieces of wire, candy wrappers, stickers, stick on tattoos etc. You learn more from going through your son's pockets about what he's got up to than he'll ever tell you.

Maybe that's why during my first instance of pocket duty, I suddenly had a flashback to when I was in high school. I was lying on my bed, reading, when my dad poked his head in and said, "Your mother found this in your pocket while she was doing the wash." He tossed something to me. I automatically said "Thanks" just as the packet of condoms hit the comforter. I looked up, we locked eyes and he said, "We'll talk about this later." Oh, man... talk about a Protection Plan going wrong.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

OLD YELLER


So another extended period of time spent with my children is over and I can finally talk about it. Here we just celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving which, like in the States, is a long-weekend family affair about eating and giving thanks. It's basically the same celebration but earlier in the year. The other classic Canadian difference is that supposedly it comes from the expedition of Martin Frobisher's 1578 fruitless search for the Northwest Passage in an expedition plagued by ice storms, loss of ships and death. They held a celebration of thanks while anchored at Frobisher Bay. For what they were thankful, I'm not sure. Frobisher later returned to England with ships piled high with fool's gold. Give thanks indeed.



There's a one-way competion with the U.S. over which Thanksgiving is best or first. I will say this: we Canadian have more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (another time spent with family) and this is no small advantage. I need that amount of time to recover as these holidays increasingly bring out the worst in me. And by holidays I mean time with my children.

Now let me explain something, I'm a loud fella. When I'm happy, I yell. When I'm hurt, I yell. When I'm angry or upset, I also yell. Excited? Yell. Guess what I do when I'm frustrated? You betcha - yell. And so since my children create each of those feelings in me I often yell at them. Say It Loud, I'm a Dad and I'm Proud. (Note: gratuitous James Brown reference)



This is very wrong, I know. It affects their emotional and possibly even their brain development.Will I change? Unlikely. Even worse, I don't usually feel very bad about it either. It's practically the title of a love song: It May Be Wrong But It Feels So Good. On a side note, there is a profound gap in popular music. There is an untapped market for songs where people sing about the emotional roller coaster which is parenting. It would be huge. I want to shake those skinny, hairy, pierced, hairy popsters crooning about heartbreak and unrequited love and snarl at them, "You don't know nuthin', punk. Wait until you're a parent."

My wife was concerned about me at the end of the weekend. Was it too much for me? (We had her family visiting) I seemed grouchy by Monday. Well, yeah. I was grouchy - I had an extra day of child management. This working from home has had a strange effect on typical holidays. They are not a break or a change or a rest - they are just more of the same. Imagine it's like you had to work an extra day at your office but to make things more fun you had your kids and in-laws there and a large traditional meal had to get made. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Now my wife does all the holiday cooking and I gave up trying to get any outside work done during periods like this but it's still not the same as when I got a break from the office for three days. We did have lots of fun of course. But it is tiring. And kids are not rational or sane creatures. I often sink to their level. I have new insight into how Vice cops can go bad. After hanging around with that criminal element you start to think and act like them. If they made a sequel to Kindergarten Cop that could be good angle - Kindergarten Cop II: VICE Principal.



A couple of years ago, I went to my younger and single sister's birthday bash at a local bar. It was fun. I was regaling her and her friends about some nutty thing my kid had done - like flushing his underwear down the toilet thus blocking it and flooding the bathroom. I was riffing on how I was yelling at my kid for his boneheaded move while wading around in my boots avoiding floating turds -or something like that, all my stories tend to have a certain theme these days - when one of her friends interupted my story (BTW don't interupt my stories - I might yell at you) when she said, "Oh, you must never yell at your children." Silence.

"Do you have children?"

"No.  But I LOVE children. Nature's Greatest gift. Cherish. Someday I hope. Love and Kindness. Hearts. Flowers. Rainbows. Etc."

As you can see I wasn't listening too closely but I waited until she finished.

"You don't know what you're talking about. I love my kids. I kiss and hug and play and joke around with them non stop. But they drive me crazy. And I will continue to yell at them."

And I do.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Father Knows Best


Young Laertes: Dad, Hamlet wants to borrow my marbles. He lost his.

Papa Polonius: Neither a borrower or a lender be.

Young Laertes: But I want him to be my friend.

Papa Polonius: To thy own self be true.

Young Laertes: Hamlet! I've got my marble bag!

Papa Polonius: Arggh!

This is an early conversation between Polonius, the king's advisor, and his son, Laertes, from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet is THE play about Fathers and Sons. Not only does Hamlet have to contend with his regicidal uncle as stepfather, he's got his own ghostly dad pressuring him to avenge his death.Then you have Polonius trying to raise Laertes and a daughter, Ophelia.

Polonius, a successful advisor to two kings, can't get his son to even listen to him. As Laertes tries to leave for France, Polonius chases after him giving him reams of ignored advice. I imagine Laertes rolling his eyes, putting his earbuds in and turning UP the volume.

A boy becomes an expert in all things by the time he is 8. I recall an argument with my son about whether the Blue Whale is the largest animal that has ever lived. He insisted the largest was some dinosaur a neighbourhood boy claimed to know about. I dug up a reference book that substantiated my claim. My son was still doubtful - who wrote the book?

It drives me crazy. What ever happened to Father Knows Best? 

But in Hamlet, the fathers give some questionable guidance. The otherworldly king pressures Hamlet to kill his uncle. WTF? And Polonius advises Ophelia to spurn her lover Hamlet but, when she and Hamlet follow their fathers' advice, they both end up dead. Thanks, Dad. When we jump in with our opinion we often don't have all the facts to offer good and helpful advice. So shut up and wait to be asked.

Maybe asking fathers to stop offering advice is futile but you can always adopt my policy - I give unsolicited advice, wait for them not to follow it and then say, "Daddy's right again." It drives them crazy. Perfect.

A version of this article also appears in Village Living Magazine, October/November 2012 issue.
http://villagelivingmagazine.ca/pop-culture-father-knows-best-spend-a-few-minutes-with-chris-sweeney/

Friday, 28 September 2012

Zombie Hockey Dad


The real hockey season has begun. Not that ridiculous money-poisoned sideshow which is the NHL, of course, but my kids' hockey. I love watching my kids play sports and get so  involved and excited to see them at it. That said, I would probably be as invested to watch them write a math test but they don't have spectators for those. I would like to stress here that I am a CHEERING parent not a HECTORING or BELITTLING one. There's a big difference.

I was never so offended than when, a couple of years ago, a Mum looked over at me as I shouted out some words of encouragement and said in contemptuous tones - "Wow, you're a real hockey dad." What? Me? One of THOSE guys? That caused me no end of shame and soul-searching. After a couple of days I realized that she didn't know what she was talking about. I just get really excited watching my boys, I root for them and I can't help my enthusiastic responses. So screw her and her repressed uptight judgment. Still I wished I had a good comeback.

This year my eldest son decided he wanted to try out for Selects (where House League players are SELECTED to be on a special team which plays against other arenas' Select teams). We had to move arenas so that he could do this and change various holiday plans to accommodate the tryouts - none of which I minded too much - I was glad he wanted on his own to aim for a big challenge. I was pretty ambivalent to say the least though about him making the team. The money, the time, the commitment to bad arena coffee etc. I also was fairly sure he wouldn't make it - is a Dad allowed to say that? I was dreading the comedown if he didn't make it.

He also created an interesting dynamic in me - he said he wanted to make the team but from what I could tell he wasn't really working towards it or practicing much. It is moments like this when I feel like a zombie snail.

What? You don't know about zombie snails? I learned about them through my son's science project last year. These snails are infected by a parasite which takes over their nervous system and causes them to crawl out into the open where their eye stalks swell to huge size and pulsate with psychedelic colours until some bird comes by and eats them (thus spreading the parasite to a new host which can spread it further afield). Here's a link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWB_COSUXMw

I feel taken over by something which causes me to demand him to practice for a tryout which I am ambivalent about enrolling him in and which I even doubt he will make. And by encouraging him I may well reap the harvest of tears and disappointment - does this make sense? I don't think I've ever claimed that my behaviour makes any sense. The lesson I'm trying to impart to him is of course that you have to work for these goals but I know I just come across as a nag and he ignores me.

So, we struggle over to the rink for the first tryout. It was packed with people buzzing with stress and anxiety and dread. I'm talking about the parents here - the kids seemed pretty upbeat. You could actually smell it in the air. People try and joke about it, they don't really care etc. but it's not true. They care. Their eyes are glued to the ice. They mutter, they wince, they clench their hands, they let their coffee go cold. And I am one of them. I have been taken over by the parasite. All of a sudden, I really want him to make it. I shamelessly live vicariously through him.

After the first tryout we debrief and I give him yet another piece of advice on how to play i.e. don't drop so far back when the forward is coming in. I can't help myself and I know he is not listening but I do it anyway - I am possessed. After the second tryout he is actually selected to go to the final tryout where the final cuts are made. As I watch him at the third tryout, I can't believe it - he actually follows my advice and makes an amazing play. I am so happy. This whole thing was worth it for that moment alone. Across a sheet of ice and with plexiglass between us we share a father-son moment. Well, he was probably unaware of it but I sure was.

He did a great job, worked hard and I was extremely proud of how he did. A couple of other dads told me he looked like he might make it. Huh? This was not part of the plan. I had not actually contemplated getting this far. I started wracking my brains for how we were going to make this work with our already busy schedule, two other kids etc. In the end he got the call to say that he didn't make the team. I think he took it better than I did.

Somewhere deep inside myself I had to laugh at Zombie Hockey Dad who suspected politics, fixes and just plain bad judgement in the decision. I was careful not to say any of that to my son or the coaches but I did tell my son that I think they missed out on choosing him - he would've been the heart of that team. He sure made me feel that way.

So next time some officious so-and-so calls me a Hockey Dad I now know what to say in reply: "Yeah? So what?" Pretty good, huh?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

And there were wolves...



Do you know how there are inside pets and outside pets? Some animals are content to spend their days snoozing on the carpet where others need acres of open space in which to run until their tongues hang out a foot or so. I can say that my boys are outside animals. They are like Irish Setters which, if not run into the ground on a daily basis, are insane beasts which chew up your furniture and drive you as crazy as they are. As a result, I run those dogs into the ground at every opportunity. I never fail to marvel how they can run and jump and climb at top speed for hours at a time. HOURS.

This has had a not surpising effect - while in the short term it tires them out, long term they have become fast, strong and challenge-seeking kids who crave more of the same. Through small increments, they now engage in play behaviours that I never thought I'd be comfortable with. However, at each stage they prove they are capable of taking that next step so who am I to interfere? They love to climb climbers (but on the outside of them or on top of the railings, on top of the covered slides etc.), trees, telephone poles and guywires. My 7 year old's favourite activity is to climb to the top of our shed and read comic books up there. Every so often I encounter people who have not attained this level of Zen parenting.

This Saturday I took my kids to the school playground to tire them out before dinner and brought a bag of sports equipment. I was throwing the football with my 10 year old while the younger two roared around on the playground equipment. I was a little surprised when a new father (he had a one year old with him) came up to me and said to me somewhat agitatedly, "You should be careful." I was unsure what he was talking about and that must of been clear on my face so he went on, "You should be careful - they're jumping off the equipment."

"OK thank you," I said, which is parent code for "@#$% off."

He went on, "No, I'm serious. It's really high. It's like 5 feet high."

I looked over and just at that moment my 5 year old leapt from the platform down 5 feet to the sand. He stumbled, wobbled, limped for a second or two and then raced off to do it again. "It's OK thanks. They've done it before."

New Dad was in disbelief, I think, at my casual neglect but just at that moment a guy in his sixties walked his dog through the playground and cracked, "When we were kids, we jumped 10 feet and got up and kept on playing".

Though I was totally with The Codger on this point, I could see that this did not go over well with New Dad and so, in an effort to lighten the situation, I added, "And there were wolves..."

That didn't help. New Dad, peeved, spun around with his one year old cradled protectively in his arms and snarled, "Yeah yeah you were all real men, I know."

To which the codger replied, "No, we were kids."

New Dad, storming off, yelled back over his shoulder, "Exactly!"

Exactly? Hmm. Not sure New Dad got the best comeback there. Now, I can barely remember that time - being the new dad with the little baby and hyper aware of any possible threat to my son and heir. So while I forgive him his inexperience I think even back then I MAY have balked at offering parenting advice to someone with three healthy children older than my own. One thing I have learned through benevolent neglect, is that my kids are capable of doing way more than I thought they could or that I ever would.

Maybe New Dad will someday discover that. And discover how much he will appreciate unsolicted parenting advice. And that he can smile and say "OK thank you" and mean something quite different.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Profiling



Profiling - a word most often associated with the FBI and psychopaths but increasingly a part of the starting/back to school process.

Part of the reams of paper that have made their way to our house in backpacks last week are these questionnaires called Student Profiles, where the parents have to fill out questions about their children. Every year I am struck by the absurdity of this process. First of all: Can anyone truly answer some of these questions? Secondly: If you can, would you be honest? Lastly: Is it of any use whatsoever?



Can you even answer some these questions about your child? This reminds me of the classic Simpson episode where Homer, after eating what he believes to be tainted blow fish at a Sushi joint (the chef takes off with the randy school teacher leaving his apprentice in charge), goes through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance - they crammed so much good stuff into those old episodes) and resolves to live his last day to the fullest. One of the items on Homer's bucket list is to pass a Cosmo-style questionnaire determining if he is a good father. He has to answer questions about his son's friends, interests, hobbies, heroes etc.


Embedded in this seemingly innocuous and helpful Profile questionnaire is a a booby-trap. If you can't answer these questions does that make you a bad parent? How does your child react to other adults? What are your child's favourite activities? How does your child respond to difficulties? What are your child's particular gifts? In the case of my one son - he's not even 5. He behaves like all five year olds - i.e a barely socialized psychopath. As for the other stuff, he plays make believe and likes to run around making a lot of noise. The older kids tell me nothing about their lives outside my immediate experience. Nothing. I'm thinking of hiring paid informants to gain intel. No parent has any idea what their kid is like away from them so how my experience will help is unclear. Those student reviews by the teachers in the report cards are always a bit of a surprise. "So and so is so patient and cooperative." He is?

Beyond ability to answer, do parents even answer these questions honestly? Parents see their kids through various lenses that do not necessarily reflect reality. "Johnny is a sensitive and gifted child who manages to combine good looks, athletic ability, artistic sensibility as well as a generous and wise soul." Have you talked to people about their kids? It's like when your friend gets a new girlfriend/boyfriend and they're all ga-ga talking about how awesome they are and when you meet them you're thinking "Really?" Asking a parent to describe their kid is bound to bear little relation to reality.

I pride myself on not having illusions about who my kids are - but I likely err in the other direction. My favourite question on the Kindergartener's Profile: How does your child respond to a difficult task? My answer: "He'll pretend not to know how to do it and then use his tremendous charm to get others to do it for him. And it works." Bet the teacher doesn't get many of those. Or this one: How do you deal with your child's frustration when he runs into conflict or difficulty? "I tell him to smarten up and I don't have time for his nonsense." Does that help, teacher? Or does it just reveal my limitations as a parent?

If it were up to me I'd just skip these Profiles but my wife is responsible and so she spends an hour or so filling in all these things while asking for my input. Bringing up another issue - parents who don't agree on the profile. My wife and I get along very well but are both very strong minded so we have engaged in extensive negotiations on these. It's got to the point where we're bargaining and I will get my answer to one question so long as she gets her answer for another. Leads to a fairly schizophrenic portrait, I'm sure. How separated/divorced parents deal with this I have no idea. And how about those parents who don't fill them out at all? What is the teacher supposed to do in these circumstances? The whole process reeks of futility - unless they are truly about something else...

I believe that these profiles are like an elaborate psychology test you get in University where you think it's testing one thing when in fact it tests another. These profiles are really about the parents. Those who go on and on - watch out for these parents - they need hand holding. Those brutally honest ones - hm they might want to know what's really going on. Those who skip the whole thing? Too busy, don't care, can't speak/write English - ignore them.

I'm currently trying to come up with answers that will really mess with the teacher's head.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag


Recently my sister-in-law was visiting from England with her new baby. She wanted to introduce him to his great-grandmother out of town. My wife offered to drive her out there and decided to take our kids along with them. As I have yet to succumb to the degeneracy of a minivan, there was no room for me on the ride. Much as I love my grandmother-in-law (and I do, she's a real inspirational firecracker of a lady at 95 (or something - actually after 90 I think we can all stop counting until you reach 100)), I was not sorry to have the house to myself on a sunny summer day.

As they descended from upstairs I presented them with snacks for the drive up (and back). Travelling with boys any distance is like what I imagine travelling with panthers is like - they require constant feeding in order to prevent them from shredding the upholstery and gnawing on each other or on you. It doesn't seem to matter how much or how recently they have eaten - once we hit the highway one is guaranteed to demand food - like that carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors "Feed me, Daddy." And so I toss food over my shoulder into the backseat at regular intervals.

But back at the house, I handed over the tucker bag and my sister-in-law was shocked into immobilty.

"What's this?" she asked. "Snacks for the trip (and back)." I explained the boy/food dynamic.

My wife oh so casually mentioned that I do stuff like this all the time. My sister-in-law got hung up on the facts that: 1) I did it; 2) Without Being Asked; and 3)Without even being part of the trip. It didn't exactly bother her that I did this but it certainly bewildered her. It's like finding out your friend's (or worse apparently, your sister's) coffee maker can actually turn into a motorscooter fueled on coffee grounds like some sort of Batdevice. "You mean men can actually DO this?" Simple bewilderment moves quickly to pleasure ("That's cool") but unfortunately then often moves to and is stuck in anger/resentment ("How come mine doesn't do that? Well, things will soon be changing in my house!") So, sorry guys, the secret is out: Men are competent.

I may be vilified for this, but I'm no Quisling appeaser. There is a method to my madness - they left sooner. Also, my wife and children were pleased with me. And I was left to my own devices. Can this result be improved upon? I think not. While I understand the whole "Creating low expectations so that nothing is expected of you" method adopted by many men this is ultimately self-defeating. You become expendable and thus - many men are expended. Now that work, sports and literature are rightfully worlds when men and women can compete, many men are left wondering who they are. The ultimate worth of a man is that he is useful and can be relied upon to look after himself and those he cares for. No one really expects you to hunt your own food anymore but the least you can do is make some PB&Js for the road without being asked.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Reinvented Dad


Pop Culture is a recurring column providing various takes on being a Modern Dad inspired by pop culture references: movies, books, comics, TV shows etc.

Yet another admirable widowed father is Caractacus Potts, an impoverished inventor, in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We are introduced to him via his semi-wild children after they discover an old car that they want to save from the junk yard. They are spied by a beautiful young confectionery heiress named Truly Scrumptious. (The original book was written by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.) She brings these truants home where, despite an obvious mutual attraction, the adults have a falling out over her claims that the children should be in school rather than left to run amok.

How can I claim this guy is someone we should look to as a guide to being a good dad?

 After many musical and comical adventures involving the now-flying car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Truly realizes that Caractacus is doing a good though unconventional job of raising his kids: they are happy and full of curiosity, adventure and imagination. He loves them, feeds them (though through wild devices such as an elaborate bacon and egg machine) and provides them with a fantastic example of someone who follows his own path ultimately to love and fortune. Also, he invents flying cars and takes on tyrants in order to save his kids. All the while performing prat falls and singing nonsense songs. Pretty cool.

And as a result he gets to fly off with a young candy heiress named Truly Scrumptious in the end.

A version of this column appears in this month's Village Living Magazine:
http://villagelivingmagazine.ca/

Christopher Sweeney Vilage Living Magazine

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

LAUNCH PAD

If you want your kids to fly, you have to show them how.
Most parents are hypocrites - myself included. And I'm OK with that. In fact, I often argue that if I wasn't an insufferable hypocrite what would force my children to quit my home in disgust when they reach their late teens or early twenties?

I want them packing their bags saying to themselves, "Well, at least I won't be like that guy. I'll set up my own house much better." I know I had such thoughts and now I wonder if my parents hadn't a similar plan in mind when I was a kid.

"Failure to launch" was not an option offered me and I don't plan on presenting that to my boys either. I don't buy this argument it's so much harder for kids today. Compared to who? Kids coming of age in the Depression, WWI or WWII? Please. They don't have it as good as the Boomers but no one else did either.

I'm pretty sure NASA doesn't rely on the astronauts to push the launch button - they gotta have an override switch over at Mission Control.

"Space Cadet, could you please initiate launch sequence?"

"Houston. I think we're going to need to abort this launch."

"Come again, Space Cadet. I don't copy."

"Well, I was just thinking, why do I want to go to Mars anyway? I mean some of the other astronauts are taking a year or two off to find themselves before blasting off. Buzz is going to clown school in France. Flash is going to work on her wake boarding - she thinks she has a shot in competition this year."

"Uh huh. And how are they managing all this?"

"They are saving their money, staying at their Mission Controls..."

"I see. Initiating launch in 5.. 4..."

"But... What's going on? You can't make me go to Mars!"

"3... 2... Actually, I can. Contact!"

Maybe this is why NASA has moved to Robot Rovers.

We tell our kids lots of stuff that we don't or would never do ourselves. Share. Apologize. Go into new situation and make new friends. Ignore what their peers are doing and follow their own desires (which often coincidentally just happen to be what we want them to do). Etc. Some of this is just necessary and aspirational - we want them to be better than us, do the things we didn't have the courage or foresight to do, take advantage of opportunities we feel have passed us by.

Every so often, though, you get called on this. I was reminded of this recently when visiting friends in Chicago. We went to a local pool which had a dive tower. My eldest was literally jumping with excitement and was crushed to find out that he had to wait until it opened. I was secretly relieved. Not because I was worried about his jumping off the tower (he'd done it at camp before) but because I would be expected to go off it too.

I'm the father of three boys. When you come down to it it is a very testosterone heavy environment around here. To maintain my alpha dog status I have to be prepared to do what they do or lose any natural authority. So once the tower opened and my son was in line he immediately looked over for me and waved me to join the group. I indicated I would be there soon - just watching the other boys swimming. Right. I looked over occasionally and I saw one girl at the top pacing back and forth like a caged beast, to the edge, looking over and then back to the ladder, waving kid after kid ahead of her. On the pool deck siblings and her father were calling out to her to jump jump jump. She couldn't do it. At one point her father lined up at the ladder, presumably to encourage her (or throw her off the edge) but then all of a sudden he wasn't lined up any more. Had he lost his nerve?

So I lined up behind my son who had already gone numerous times. When I made it to the top she was still there. She waved my son ahead. He disappeared over the edge with a whoop. I tried to get her to go for it. Her siblings and dad were still below yelling at her. She still couldn't do it and waved me on. It was time.

I knew better than to hesitate or look over the edge. A cut short summer job as a house painter convinced me that heights and I weren't simpatico. So I ran and jumped over the edge. My first thought - "My, that's far down." My second? "Whoo hoo!" I swam to the edge and quickly lined up again.

Occasionally following your own hypocritical advice can be a good idea.

Monday, 30 July 2012

D(y)ADS

A Dad literally makes up at least half of a Dyad. OK the metaphor breaks down because there is no Y in Mum but, still, I like the conceit. I may have given the mistaken impression that I'm doing a lot of the parenting thing on my own. Quite the opposite. Time to correct that.

This idea of parenting being a team competition is prompted by my reading about the first Canadian Olympic medal being awarded to a diving pair, Heymans and Abel. It made me think about the high flying aeronautics of co-parenting. Dyads are apparently what they call athelete pairs such as you see with the medalled women divers, in tennis, volleyball etc.

What strikes me in looking at the picture of the divers flying through the air in synch is - how much work it looks like. Graceful, beautiful but freaking hard stuff. No "flying through the air with the greatest of ease". Those ladies' muscles are a-popping and their faces are rigid with effort as they plunge downwards with increasing acceleration. Why does this make me think of parenting? If you're a parent I think you already know.

I love how they're in synch and know what the other is doing without verbally communicating. They can't even really be looking at each other they just have to trust their teammate is doing what they need to. The true secret to a successful pair of parents. And necessary as one of my common sayings is, "We don't talk, we're married". If it wasn't for cc'ing emails and relying on neighbours informing me of what my wife is up to daily communication would drop to close to zero. There's just no time. But I know if I drop the ball she's got it.

Reading sports psychologists tells me that those dyads who do not master communication and express confidence not only in themselves but in their teammates are destined to fail when things get tough. They also have to respect that each has their own way of working because they share a common goal. That's maybe why I hate hearing when women complain that their husbands are essentially "useless"and can't be relied upon. That puts the "die" in dyad, I fear.