On Raising Hobbits

“For all hobbits share a love of things that grow.”

 

This summer, every venture into the backyard started with the excited cry “let’s go check on the garden.”  My 3.5yo sprinted ahead of me through the grass toward the back of our lot, already intent on the raised beds I put in in the spring.  “Look!  The tomato is getting bigger!  And here’s our first pea!” (every pea is the first pea, just as every bean is the first bean and every carrot is the first carrot).

I’m pretty sure that I’ve killed every house plant that I’ve ever owned—including cacti.  Hell, if I’m being completely honest, my first year as a gardener wasn’t that much more successful: I gave the cucumbers some sort of fungus by watering their leaves; the broccoli was ravaged by cabbage moths; the tomatoes were put into the ground too late to produce much of anything; and both the potatoes and carrots had far more above the soil than below thanks to over-fertilizing.  The difference now that I’m older, though, is that I’m starting to learn from my mistakes; next year will be better.

None of this matters to my son, though.  In his eyes, our garden is the pinnacle of success, each tiny carrot a delight, and each pea a source of excitement.  I expect that next year will be no different—the joy for him isn’t about a large harvest, it’s about cultivating life, nurturing it from humble, tiny beginnings and watching it flourish, becoming ever stronger and more amazing.

 

Watching my son, his touch careful and gentle on tiny tomatoes and pea blossoms alike, his tiny face joyful and delighted, I guess that’s what matters most to me, too.

Sons of Anarchy: A Series-End Prediction

 UPDATE: September 12, 2014 (Originally published December 16, 2013)

So I’ve watched the season premiere now, and had a little bit of time to reflect on it.  While it would be a reversal of sexes, it may just be possible that Gemma is actually the Claudius figure.  She was effectively behind the murder of JT, whose “ghost ” haunted Jax.  She also played a part in the death of Clay.  Far from an antagonist, Nero seems to have taken on the role of placator and diplomat, while Gemma has grown only more ruthless, throwing people under the bus at every turn.

The finale, then, would be Jax killing GEMMA, after she accidentally gets Nero killed during a plot to kill Jax.  Frankly, given her single-minded focus on her grandchildren, it’s not particularly far fetched to see Gemma going after Jax, nor would it be remotely surprising to see her ruthlessness result in the inadvertent death of Nero.

Little else would really change in this scenario, oddly enough.  Juice, I think, is still the prime choice for Laertes, though I’m starting to wonder if maybe Chibs isn’t too dedicated to Jax to serve as Polonius.  You know who isn’t, though?  Tig.

Hmmm….

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I’ve loved Sons of Anarchy from the first season.  The writing is excellent, the acting is well done, and the characters are engaging.  I suppose it helps that I used to ride motorcycle when I was younger, and perhaps that Kim Coates, the exceptionally talented actor who plays Tig, lives only a couple of hours north of the city I live in, but it’s the story that’s held me for six seasons.  Now, with only one season left in the series, I’d like to offer my (somewhat) educated opinion on how I see this marvelous story concluding.

 

SPOILER ALERT:  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SOA SEASON 6 FINALE, STOP HERE.

 

It’s not a big secret that SoA resembles Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  In fact, I might argue that any story written about a son whose father is killed and supplanted will be seen that way, solely because Hamlet is so well remembered among Shakespeare’s plays, and is still often taught in high school.  However, as the seasons have played out, it has become clear that Kurt Sutter is using Hamlet as inspiration for his own masterpiece, though with his own artistic interpretations bridging the gap between the life of the privileged Prince of Denmark and the son of a biker gang king.

Being a literary nerd, I can’t help but make the connections between Hamlet and SoA, and I thought it might be worth sharing my thoughts on it, for those who may not remember Hamlet as well, or may not have bothered to make the connections themselves.

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That Old Familiar Stink

I walk in through those doors I’ve walked through so many times before.  You’d expect the place to smell of sweat, like an old wrestling mat, but it doesn’t; it smells of cleaners and dust—dust that lays caked on the industrial beams and support wires that snake high into the building.  The clanging assaults my ears for a moment before fading into a familiar jingling melody.  I’m home.  For the first time in almost four years, I’m back in the gym, with the intent to destroy and rebuild myself anew, like a phoenix arising from the ashes (or perhaps Prometheus regenerating his liver for the final time, after Hercules frees him); naturally, I have my wife to thank.

 

Regular readers may remember from my post, Body Image Issues for a Middle-Aged Man, that I was, once upon a time, a fairly regular powerlifter.  While I never really got into competing, I relished the complex, solitary, mental and physical battle that is lifting, overriding the voices inside that tell you you can’t do something, or want to run away screaming at the thought of picking up something so heavy.  There’s a purification and catharsis to lifting, as well; negative emotions, worries and upset, are immolated in the fiery furnace pushing the muscles through every rep, becoming my fuel and my salvation.

Sadly, lifting was one of the things I sacrificed when my kids were born.  Both boys have been poor sleepers that have run my wife and I ragged at every turn, and I’ve tried to be a conscientious husband by taking as much of the burden off of my wife as I can when I’m home, knowing that her days and nights are often even harder to make it through than my own.  “Extra” energy has been difficult to come by, as well; after years of sub-standard sleep, even getting out of bed in the morning seems challenging, let alone going to the gym and lifting weights.

I’d tried to start back at the gym a few times, but found that going (at best) once a week (with a record run of, I think, 2 weeks in a row) only left me more tired, more cranky, and more sore; I was paying all the costs while reaping none of the benefits.  Sooner (not later), I simply gave up.  The result was inaction—nearly complete inaction.

Fortunately, my wife knows me better than I know me, sometimes. I guess that happens after knowing someone for half of their life.  My wife realized that I had lost something integral to me and with it my vim, verve, and vigor.  I’ve never been skinny, but I had coming to loathe the body I inhabited, feeling trapped and depressed by it.  Frankly, my attitude about damned near everything sucked.  What I needed was a kick in the ass—and my wife finally gave it to me, ordering me back to the gym three times a week.

By the end of the first week, my smile was back, and I could sense, if not see, light in the darkness.  With the first month under my belt, the old hunger has awoken, uncoiling in me.  I greet my gym days with a predatory smile instead of a haunted grimace.

For I have returned to my place of worship, and the clinking bells call to my soul again, reminding me of who I am.  This is the father I want my sons to know—not the tired-eyed man watching the clock and waiting for sleep, but the determined, confident dad that never has to wonder if he can keep up with his sons.

 

I have found my anchor again; what’s yours?

 

 

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A Sad Day for a Great Man

I caught myself ignoring the best part of my day this weekend.  I was pushing my 3 year old son on a swing in our backyard, lamenting the time that I could be spending on other projects–projects that never seem to get done unless I consciously put everything else aside and focus on them.

I was irritable about my son needing me to push CONSTANTLY.  There’s no giving him pushes and then going to do something else these days; it has to be non-stop pushes.

 

Suddenly, I realized that I was missing out on the best part of my day because I was too blind to see how great it really is.  So let’s try it again.

 

On a beautiful, sunny, Saturday afternoon, I was giving my 3 year old son pushes on his swing in our wonderful, green backyard.  I could smell the musky scent of the cedar playstructure, the gentle green of the trees, and grass, and that sweet, damp, post-rain smell that seems to come from everywhere at once.  My son was laughing, having fun, and being silly.  Life was perfect in that moment, and I was reminded this week of just how important it is to live in those perfect moments, while we still have them.

 

You may have seen the green Dad Blogger badge that adorns the right side of my blog.  I wear it with pride, because it represents some of the finer men I’ve ever had the pleasure to call myself one of.  The group holds strong role models, great fathers, and excellent writers, who support one another, buoying each other up when we feel overwhelmed.

For me personally, Dad Bloggers was the key that unlocked my voice as a blogger and a father.  I was writing to hear my own voice before I was invited into the group; I quickly found kindred spirits, and great advice that made me want to improve everything–not to compete with them, but to live up to them.

The leader of our little group is man named Oren Miller, a stay at home dad who has been blogging about fatherhood since his first child was born, in 2007.  This week, he found out that he has stage 4 lung cancer.

It’s amazing how deeply an event like this can cut, especially as Oren and I have never met in person; I only know him from reading his blog and interacting with him online in the Dad Blogger group.  Perhaps it’s because his situation is so terrifying to me–the possibility of not watching my kids grow up.  I know consciously that every day brings dangers that could see that come to pass–I could be hit by a bus on my way to work–but it’s personal events like Oren’s struggle that really make it hit home.

 

I encourage all of you to go over to Oren’s blog, A Blogger and a Father and read the piece he posted on his diagnosis.  As terrible as his diagnosis is, it’s clear that he has every intention of truly living every moment he may have left.

He may have some help with that, as well.  Shortly after I originally posted this piece, a donation site was set up on GiveForward.  The original goal was $5,000 within 90 days.  The Dad Blogger community rallied, and that goal was achieved in under 12 hours.  The ceiling has been raised a few times since, and currently sits at around $27,000.

If you’d like to donate, you can find Oren’s donation site here: Give Back to Oren.

Thank you to those that have donated, and thank you to Give Forward for providing a platform to collect the donations.

 

Stay strong, Oren.  As Ryan Hamilton put it: we’re here for you, and we’re here because of you.

 

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On Coffee, Daydreaming, and…Goats

There are certain moments in life that make you wonder if there may be something irreparably wrong with you.

My most recent moment occurred while looking out my dining room window, imagining goats in my back yard.

You read that right: goats.  Something that looks a little bit like this:

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I couldn’t get the image of cute little goats traipsing around in my back yard out of my head.  So I sat there, quietly sipping my coffee with the sounds of my boys playing and in the living room, and thought about goats.  Hell, maybe they’d even have some chickens to play with.

 

Before you start questioning my sanity, or accusing me of some form of sexual deviancy, let me explain.

No…it is too much; let me sum up.

I sometimes feel like I was born into the wrong century.  Don’t get me wrong: I love advanced medical care, (the idea of) global travel, and electronic devices as much as the next fellow, but something is missing…and I think it may be peace and quiet.

uselessinfoMaybe it’s the introvert in me speaking.  Maybe it’s the little voice inside that drives me to learn new and often questionably useful things.  Whatever it is, I can’t help but reflect on previous generations’ promises that increased mechanization and scientific advancement would result in shorter work weeks and more leisure time; what a bunch of liars!  Instead of finding more leisure, we find ourselves roped more tightly into a full-time workweek, increased debt loads, and a greater focus on consumable items.

 

The cost of education has skyrocketed, as has the cost of housing (at least where I live), leaving both grossly out of proportion to wages and salaries.  These increases, operating in tandem with our (relatively) new-found fascination with consumer culture, have left many of us with enormous amounts of consumer debt that will take years to pay off, if not decades.

I admit I’m no exception to the rule. My wife and I stagger under the burden of student debt, both having done post-secondary and graduate studies; we bought a house, within our means, but not with as much cushion as I would have liked; and we do have some consumer debt, largely a result of having two maternity leaves in three years—though that was absolutely our choice to make.

That said, we’re also relatively lucky: we both have well-paying jobs (I’m even working in a field related to my degree, which is a fairly decent victory for an Arts student); we have wonderfully healthy children, and are healthy ourselves; with careful financial footwork, most of our debts will be gone in about 5 years, I’ll have reached the top “step” in my salary, and our household disposable income will increase significantly.  All I have to do is hang in there, and I could be well on my way to a rewarding career in public policy that will keep me busy and well paid until retirement.

 

The problem is I’m not sure that’s what I want.  I might want goats instead.

And bees.

And an orchard.

And some chickens…and probably a dog.  <sigh>

 

Over the past few years, I’ve found that strange books have started creeping into the fantasy and sci-fi that generally fills my bookshelves.  Books such as Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It, The Backyard Beekeeper, The Backyard Blacksmith, and other books about homesteading, gardening, preserving fruits and vegetables, and self-sustainability have slowly taken over turf—and their section continues to grow. I find myself daydreaming about living on my own land, surrounded by an orchard, gardens, and lots of room for my sons to run around and get into trouble.

I’m not a complete fool—I realize that some of my wistful dreaming is awfully romanticized (as wistful dreaming often is).  Caring for your own garden, orchard, and land is damned hard work, which is only compounded once you start getting into the realm of animal husbandry—but what’s a plot of land without a few chickens…maybe a goat or two…and some horses?  Damn.  Just wait until I add a forge…

 

I’d also be painfully unwilling to do without so many of the wonderful things I’ve become accustomed to—high speed internet is near the top of that list…and I’d like to hope that a dedicated home theater might one day appear, if only in a footnote.

Giving up my career would also mean fully committing to the idea that my degrees were only for my own, intrinsic benefit.  I’m not terribly troubled by that; I chose an English degree and M.A. because they were something I needed to do, not because I thought they would prepare me for the working world.  As it turns out, it was a smart move, and there were quite a few employers waiting for someone with my skillset, but I’ve generally been more concerned with academics for the sake of learning and personal development…and I’ve experienced that.

But what if it was the right thing to do, not only for me, but for my family as well?

What if having my own land would give my boys the opportunity to raise animals from birth to death?  What if it taught them the value of hard work and the reward of a good harvest?  What if it kept them farther from the gangs and violence that seem to have grown, inexorably creeping up to take over turf in our cities?

Lower costs of living and additional money gained from selling our existing house might also give my wife the opportunity to be home more with our boys while she still can—provided that we actually had any hope of making this happen before our boys are both in school.  Unfortunately, that may not really be in the financial cards.

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Maybe it’s all a pipe dream; maybe it’s wistful thinking.  Or maybe we just call the plans we’re not brave enough to see through pipe dreams.  Maybe the warm sunshine flowing in the window and the gentle breeze carrying the smells of spring are messengers, reminding me of my connections to the earth, whether I want to acknowledge them or not.  Maybe the reason a quieter life calls to me is because that’s where I’m supposed to be…one day.  Maybe one day soon, but, sadly, not today.

And so I sit, sipping my coffee, watching my lawn grow longer, and my boys grow bigger, wondering if they wouldn’t be better off with a couple of goats in their lives.

Maybe just a little one?

Nigerian-Dwarf-Goat

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On Admitting I’m Wrong

As I’ve grown up, I’ve often become less and less sure about where I stand on…well…most issues, really.  I look at this as a good thing; that lack of surety often arises directly from learning more about the issue and realizing that I haven’t fully understood things—but that doesn’t make it any easier to admit that I may have had my head up my ass.

 headupass

 There have been a number of big-ticket items in the last decade:

-coming from a firmly NDP (left-wing) family, I’ve been forced to understand that not everything private enterprise necessarily possesses goat hooves and horns.

-Once upon a time I would have declared myself a proud atheist and flagrantly denounced organized religion of all kinds;

-Clearly, any time I have disagreed with my wife (I kid); and

-Where I once thought fairly blatantly that aboriginals in Canada should suck it up, deal with what IS, and not what WAS, I now understand that the effects of colonialism didn’t end in the “long ago” and that there is significant attention and effort required on all sides to move things forward.

None of these questions are brain surgery to deal with, but they’re all deeply rooted in values, beliefs, and prejudices; that makes them incredibly difficult to deconstruct and examine on a personal level, let alone in a broader platform.

 

Let’s start with politics.  The family I come from is very left-wing and pro-labour, and I’ve grown up with those values ingrained in me.  It wasn’t until late university, when I was working closely with my thesis supervisor, that I began to take off my blinders a little bit and apply my critical thinking skills more broadly.  Now, there are things that she could never have convinced me of—she thought the election of the Harper government was a great thing for the country (though she may have changed her mind now)—but she did make me question some of the core beliefs that I had taken on faith, without the critical dissection that they warranted.

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Ultimately, what I began to understand is that ideologies are stupid.  Sorry, that’s a terrible summary, but it’s pretty close to the truth.  Individual issues require individual attention, and throwing your lot entirely behind one ideology is both reckless and ignorant, in my opinion.  There will be times when the efficiency of private enterprise trumps the accountability of public works, and vice versa.  There is merit in helping those that need help, but programs need structure and intelligent limits to avoid monetary hemorrhage.  Being tough on crime is well and dandy, but if there’s no personal reformation, then punishment is a waste of time and money; we need to be jailing the people we are afraid of, not those we are mad at.

 

Lesson: Deconstruct as many of your existing political biases as you can and question all things, not from an ideological standpoint, but from an intellectual one.  Be prepared to change your mind—it’s only an opinion, after all.

 

 

Religion.  Religion and I have had a rocky history.  Theoretically, I suppose, I’m actually Catholic; my father converted (total lip-service) when he married my mother, though I don’t think he ever actually went to church with her.  My mother stopped going, as well, when the demand for tithes got to be too much while my Dad struggled to bring home enough to keep us fed and pay the mortgage.  As a result, I was raised agnostic.

generousgodI took a lot of detours and checked out a lot of sideshows trying to decide what level of spiritualism or religion made sense to me.  At one point, I would have called myself a pure atheist.  At another, I was fairly entrenched in a mishmash of Wiccan, Shamanism, and Naturalism—even aura seeing, the whole nine yards.  From there, I moved toward a more general karmatic belief system, where you basically get what you give, sooner or later.  The uniting belief behind all of them was distinctly anti-organized religion; if it involved any form of clergy or gathering, it was clearly a sham designed to dupe people into giving away their money.

Well, I still think that some religions are specifically organized for the accumulation of wealth (Scientology, I’m looking at you here) but I’m willing to accept that the relationship between congregation and clergy may be more symbiotic than parasitic.  I’ve also considered just how valuable the gathering and sharing of organized religion can be, and how great a tool it can be to teach morality—though I often disagree with the vagaries of the lessons, and the method of indoctrination chosen.

As for God, I find myself much more open to the possibility of “something else,” be it a deity or a guiding force, or even the embodiment of cause and effect, both natural and karmatic.  I can also appreciate how belief in a deity can make people feel as though they aren’t alone, even in their loneliest times, and I respect the value in that, even if I can’t share in it.

 Lesson:  It doesn’t really matter what precisely is out there; it matters how we treat each other, and ourselves.  If an organized religion helps with that, then it’s a good thing. If it promotes ostracization, exclusion of other groups, and self-punishment, it has the potential to become another form of mental, emotional, and financial slavery.

 

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Aboriginal Rights.  Is there a touchier subject in Canada?  I used to think I understood this issue, and I distinctly recall sitting in my English 100 class debating with the prof over one of Maria Campbell’s (a well-known Métis author) stories, in which a mother is unable to cross the Canada/U.S. border because she refuses to identify herself as either Canadian or American—she states only that she is “Blackfoot.”  The point, I was told, is that her identity is not based on her residence in Canada, but her ethnicity, and that the Blackfoot tribe and territories predate the creation of the country.  I disagreed, quite strongly; after all, once the Romans had taken over a territory, all the peoples therein became part of the Roman Empire, or they were slaughtered.  Further, the idea that we collectively “owed” aboriginal people for anything, hundreds of years after colonialism had ended, seemed preposterous.

Ignorance is bliss.  I’ve learned a lot about Aboriginal issues since I began working in public policy, almost five years ago.  Most importantly, I learned that I (a typical representative of an average Canadian) new precisely JACK about the issues at stake.  I had no idea, for instance, that residential schools didn’t end in the early 1900s; the last was closed down (I believe) in the 1970s.  I learned that these schools were an attempt at systematic cultural genocide, forcing Aboriginal children into Anglicization.  Worse, they removed generations of Aboriginal people from observing proper parenting and adult conduct, replacing it with, in many cases, torture and abuse.

I also came to understand what a poor job our Federal Government has done “caring for” Aboriginal people.  They have given them neither the authority nor the sustainable funding to care for themselves, instead opting for photo-op style lump-sum handouts, and carefully earmarked funds that often ignore community needs.  I admit that I still have no idea what Aboriginal groups really mean when they call for self-government (and I have asked people I know a number of times without ever receiving a straight answer), but the fact that reserves operate without the same level of autonomy and responsibility that municipal governments have baffles me.

 

NOTE: Today Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada announced that First Nations will be able to “opt out” of the Indian Act provisions that require them to seek ministerial approval to spend the money held “in trust” by the Federal Government.  It requires that a Financial Code be in place with a number of reasonable provisions, but funding and assistance are promised for those that require it.  I’m not sure about all the fine print, but this may be the first in a very important series of steps that lead toward municipal-style self-governance for First Nations reserves.

 

I’ve never been a fan of hand-outs; I truly believe that throwing money at a problem is, at best, a temporary solution—and that’s only if it doesn’t make the problem worse.  But Canada is supposed to be built on the idea of equality.  If we have a portion of the population that has been so badly damaged and mistreated that it can’t move forward without help, then we should help it—not because a treaty forces us to, but because it’s the right thing to do.

How we do that is a whole other matter, but I believe the most important steps must necessarily focus on inclusion and cooperation.  I don’t believe that Aboriginal issues are merely Aboriginal issues; they are societal issues, in the same way that feminist issues are societal issues; like it or not, we’re all in this together.

 

Lesson:   Issues like inequality are rarely simple, never one-sided, and require cooperation and understanding to resolve.  I’m still not a Maria Campbell fan, but that’s another issue.

 

So here’s the question: WHY AM I WRITING THIS?

My opinions mean nothing in the larger world context; I’m just one random guy in a sea of random guys—but I’m also a Dad.

I want my sons to understand that it’s not shameful to admit that you were ignorant and are now mildly less so.  Being able to change your mind is not a flaw—it shows that you haven’t stopped learning, and I want my boys to understand that you should never stop learning.

I also want my sons to understand that hate doesn’t fix anything; putting people into camps of “us” and “them” doesn’t solve problems; and seeking to understand and empathize with other people does not mean that you have no core values to uphold, or that you’re betraying your ideals.  Let’s leave that to the politicians; it’s what they’re best at.

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