Having “The Talk” with my Three Year Old Son

Yesterday, the day finally came, though it wasn’t one of our pets that passed; it was a family member’s pet that our son knew and loved.  RIP Moon.


Originally published on Dads Round Table, February 2014

I dodged a bullet this week.  I thought for sure that I would have to have “the talk” with my three year old.  No.  Not sex.  I’m not really scared of that conversation…yet.  I mean the other “the talk,” the ugly stepsister: death.


I was almost certain our youngest cat, Fred, was going to die.  Though only five years old, he had stopped eating, was throwing up regularly, and had gone into hiding—and that can be a terribly slippery slope for a feline.  My wife and I were very upset; we love our cats like furry kids, and have had them since before our boys arrived.  Worse, we have already gone through the untimely death of our first cat, Hank, who passed suddenly and inexplicably when he was only two years old.

My wife and I spent a good part of the first few days in tears, hand-feeding Fred and watching him grow thinner.  We walked a double-edged sword of whether or not to take him in to the vet, knowing his nervous personality and how heavily stress affects him—often making him sick in the past.  A vet visit might help us determine what was wrong with him, but it might also come at the cost of making him even sicker.

Through it all, our three year old stayed close to us, always ready with a hug or a touch on the arm when we were upset, accepting the explanation that we were sad that Fred was sick.  He would often want to come down with us to the basement when we checked on Fred, helping to reassure and pet him.

Despite, and in part because of, how empathetic and adult our son was about the situation, I was terrified that I might soon have to sit down with him and explain why “Freddy Peebers” (the cat’s actual name is Fred, but he has about 5 different “pet names”) had to go away and why he would never be coming back.  My mind raced through different scenarios and ways that I could break the news to him, none of which stood out as a reasonable way to explain things without crushing him at the same time.  Any explanation I gave would also leave the door wide open for other logical questions like: “is mommy/daddy/grandma/grandpa going to die?” or worse (though he may still be too young to make the connection): “am I going to die?”


Thankfully, I’ve been able to put that decision off for a while—and I hope it’s a long while.  Fred has responded well, and is slowly turning back into his old self.  Not one to mentally leave something alone, though, I couldn’t help but keep pondering—not so much about how I would tell my son about death when the time came, but why it will matter so much how we deal with our son when something like this inevitably does come to pass.  I mean, I’ve known plenty of farm kids throughout my life who would think nothing of a cat dying—it’s just another animal, and one that’s considered largely disposable and replaceable in a farm setting; to my son, however, it would be losing a friend that has been with him from the beginning—even if that friend was too terrified of him to come within ten feet for the first couple of years.

The difference between how my son views our cats and how a farm kid might view the barn cat is not about inherent value; it is about investment.

I think a lot of people lose sight of that idea of investment when it comes to relationships.   It seems to me that they have nothing (or little) to do with the inherent value of either party; instead, they depend on the attachment and effort that each party puts into them.  This, I think, is why little kids can become attached to things like pet rocks (wow, that really dates me, doesn’t it?).  Sure, the rocks have no objective value, but because the kids invest their time and emotions in them, the relationship has value to them.  “Dog people” may never understand why “cat people” like cats—and they don’t have to.  Why isn’t important.  What is important is that they love cats, and how they love cats.


That same logic will ultimately guide me when it comes time to sit down with my son, hold him close to me, and see him through whatever rough patch he may be going through—death, breakup, even the loss of a favourite toy, or a failure to achieve something he was striving for.  I may not understand why he feels the way he does, but if I accept that he does feel that way, and try to understand how it is affecting him, I’m not sure the words are ultimately going to matter.

On Being a Hypocrite

Being a parent is hard.


Sorry–I just thought that comment needed some space of its own.  It is hard to parent, and harder to parent well.  Kids don’t really understand context, because they have so little experience with the world.  Parents, more often than not, have spent a lifetime learning about the hair-splitting difference between situations that makes actions appropriate…or not.  Sometimes, though, there will be moments where we are nothing but hypocrites, telling children “do as I say, not what I do.”


While I generally try to avoid these moments, but I had one come up yesterday, when picking up my boys from daycare.  That morning–THAT VERY MORNING–I had chastised my four year old for drawing on himself with markers, telling him markers and paints absolutely must be used on paper, not our bodies or other objects around the house.  Great.  Lesson delivered.

As luck would have it, I had a team-building event at work that same afternoon.  We went to an art studio, determined a palette, mixed paints, and made a work of art as a team.  Most of us went home covered in paint.   So naturally I looked like a mixed-up rainbow when I showed up at the babysitter’s door, with splatters, smears, and even handprints all over my arms, face, and clothes.

And so the tables were turned, and my son informed me, quite seriously, that paint was for paper, and maybe I should try to be less messy next time.

I suppose was right…but it sure was fun!


How have you been a hypocrite parent?


Bad Latin Joke

It’s Not What I Do, It’s Who I Am

Sometimes in life we find ourselves standing in a mental eye of the storm. Eventually, all things converge, and pathways either become clear or are destroyed entirely. I know; I’m currently in one.

It started when I drove to my buddy’s wedding in Salmon Arm, B.C., about 12-13 hours’ drive from where I live. I was going alone—a rarity for me, as the few road trips I take these days almost always include either co-workers or my wife and two boys. Knowing how I tend to get tired driving when listening to either music or audiobooks, I finally took the plunge and dove into the world of podcasts.

A co-worker of mine told me about a particular podcast she enjoyed called “The Nerdist.” It has interviews that are more like conversations: shooting the shit about nerd culture with celebrities both great and small. Perfect; I’m not big into celebrities, but I love funny people, and nerd culture, so it fit.

Eleven hours into my drive, as I wound my way through mountain passes, I heard, for the first time, the cultured tones of Neil Gaiman, an author that I’ve long adored. He was speaking about the craft of writing, and I listened in fascination to some of the best advice I’ve heard since my university creative writing classes with the wonderful Gail Bowen (a brilliant, successful writer in her own right, who also proved to be a brilliant, successful teacher): write like the words don’t matter. In a flash of insight and estranged kinship, I realized that I had the same problem Neil Gaiman had once suffered from: I was constantly trying to write polished drafts, and failing to put any words on the page because they weren’t perfect.
So began a weekend that re-connected me with a creative side that has lain largely dormant for months, if not years. One of the other groomsman in my friend’s wedding party is a budding writer himself, someone who understands the new world of self-publishing far better than I; our conversations sparked hope that I too can publish and see a measure of success, even if I don’t have an agent or a formal book deal. As coincidence and luck would have it, the hotel I was staying at was also hosting the Shushwap Writers’ Conference…and who was in the room next to my friend (and sharing an outdoor space with the wedding party) but Gail Bowen herself, whom I have not seen since my university days.

The way home continued the train of inspiration, as I listened to a Nerdist podcast with Joss Whedon, who spoke of his habits as a young writer, mapping out story arcs, plotlines, and even what each character knew about various events in the larger story. I realized that, while I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing an essay without a strong skeleton in place, I was approaching my stories and other writing sentence by sentence, word by word, searching for a perfect path forward while having no idea where I was going, or what the landmarks might look like on the way. It was like trying to find my way out of a forest while picking a new direction to head every few steps: futile.

Since my return home, I’ve started looking at old projects that have sat on a virtual shelf for ages, with new eyes. I’ve finished one of them, polished another, and built the skeleton for a third. I’ve set the goal of having at least one publishable story collection by the end of the year, and already have a solid idea for my second publishable piece. Hell, I’m even posting again to this blog which, despite my resolve to write more, has languished more often than not in the last 18 months.

I’m not sure what kind of world I’ll be looking at when I step back out through the maelstrom, or what will be left of me to see it, but I’m optimistic. I feel like I’ve been handed some of the tools I need to do something I know, at heart, that I’m able to do. Writing is part of how I interpret the world, and how I interact with it.

It isn’t something I do; it’s part of who I am. Thanks for throwing me the compass, and enjoy your burrito.

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Precious Songs

Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

A few weeks ago, a co-worker offered up a challenge: define my musical life in fifteen songs or less, with no two songs by the same band.


Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  That’s certainly what I thought as I sipped my coffee and considered the idea.  I mean, it seemed to me that I’d already done part of the work when I was putting together my What Will You Be Listening To? article, musing about what I might be listening to one day as I grow even older and more crotchety in a seniors’ home.

When I really started digging, though, it was much harder than I expected.  I mean, what criteria does one use to choose music that has defined them?  Worse, for the bands that I’m truly enamored of, how do I choose one song to represent their entire body of work?  And how do I organize the final product?  While we’ve become a society largely focused on adding single MP3s to our MP3 player, rather than enjoying the unique flavour that an entire album in its correct order can bring, I still can’t fully abandon the need for a narrative, a chronology, or at least a justification (if only internal) for the order in which I place songs.


What I came up with was nothing less than the musical chronology of my life.  From the music of my father’s 1950/60s childhood that he insisted was, in fact, the only real music, through a musical journey of discovery led by a best friend, to the solid, core artists that set the musical foundation of my adulthood, and finally the somewhat lighter artists that have soothed me since.  Only artists and songs that have entered my sphere, be it on tape, CD, or MP3, and never really left; they have lingered on my playlists, disappearing only occasionally, and never for long.

While these criteria did mean disqualifying many great artists, and even entire genres like the quirky and humourous (think Jonathan Coulton, The Lonely Island, or Monty Python), ultimately I think the list is stronger for it.

Without further ado, I present:


Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

The Early Years

  1. Brown Eyed Girl         —          Van Morrison
  2. Paint it Black               —          The Rolling Stones
  3. Smooth Criminal       —          Michael Jackson
  4. Imagine                         —          John Lennon


Discovery and Wonder

  1. Paul Revere                 —          The Beastie Boys
  2. No Fair Fights             —          Prick
  3. Daughter                      —          Pearl Jam


The Golden Years

  1. Dolphin’s Cry              —          Live
  2. Ænima                           —          Tool
  3. Stitches                         —          Orgy
  4. Judith                            —          A Perfect Circle


Growing Old and Mellow

  1. Bring Me to Life          —          Evanescence
  2. Wave Over Wave        —          Great Big Sea
  3. Hurt                                 —          Johnny Cash
  4. Hallelujah                     —          Jeff Buckley

Precious Songs


Consider the gauntlet thrown down: no more than 15 songs, only one song per band.  What songs make the soundtrack of your life?

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The Politics of Freedom and Tradition: Niqabs, Undebated Bills, and Gym Hours

For those of you who keep up with the news, it should have been pretty hard to miss the stories involving culture and religion arising from Canadian politics over last few months—particularly those involving Muslims.

The actions of terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have led to knee-jerk reactions by governments around the world, with little hesitation or consideration for what’s fair and equitable. Worse, these reactions and “protective measures” have had a trickle-down effect, often fanning the fires of prejudice rhetoric that lurk under the surface Canada’s reputation for kindness and acceptance.

I won’t tell you that one side is always right and one side is always wrong—not only is that a fool’s errand, it would also just be adding fuel to an already raging fire. What I will suggest is that we need to stop and consider why we react the way that we do, and start to examine the differences between doing things because they are sensible, and doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

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It’s no secret that Canada has always had a bit of an identity crisis. Our population is a mixture of aboriginal peoples and waves of immigrants from nearly (if not) every country around the world. Northern Europeans (mostly the Scots, the Irish, and the English) came over in droves, with immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and even China following not far behind. Now immigrants from Africa and the Middle-East are just as common, and our diversity grows, pushing at the boundaries of our national identity.

We are located just north of one of the largest military and economic powers of the 20th century, which is somewhat of a big brother, having forged an independent identity just a few scant hundreds of years before we really forged our own.

We have an independent constitution, but are tied to the British monarchy.

We are, I would suggest, a bit of a loveable mutt.

Perhaps it’s that mixed heritage, that multi-colored mosaic, that makes it so difficult for us to make distinctions between what we were, and what we have become. It certainly complicates things when we attempt to make the very human (though perhaps true of all social animals) distinction between us and them. We have such an interesting variety of traditions, from so many different sources, that it’s tough not to latch on to them, as though our very existence depends on it.

Let me give you an example.

I recall the public outcry that happened when RCMP officers were first allowed to wear religious headgear (I believe turbans were at the forefront of the discussion, at the time), rather than their traditional Stetson. People were appalled that a Canadian icon was being changed, solely to meet the needs of a special interest group. After all, nobody is required to be an RCMP member, right? But does that mean that it’s right to make it impossible for someone to meet their religious obligations while serving their country?

We continue to have the same teething problems today. Both a Quebec judge and the Prime Minister himself recently came under fire for the same thing: insistence that a niqab, a formal veil worn by Muslim women as part of an abaya head covering, be removed; the judge insisted that the niqab be removed before she would hear a case in court, while the PM noted his government’s commitment to appealing a court decision that overturned the government ban on niqabs during the citizenship ceremony.

So why the insistence on removing the niqab? Two reasons have been suggested: confirmation of identity, and respect. The first is a straw man argument; applicants to court and those participating in citizenship ceremonies can have their identities confirmed in a private setting (and do so already). The second reason is grounded in cultural and religious tradition. The prevailing tradition in Canada is to remove one’s hat when inside, as a sign of respect. As much as this has eroded (and I’ll note that many people do wear ball caps inside, despite this tradition), it is still generally held to during formal occasions. Both the PM and the Quebec judge have stated that a failure to follow this tradition is, in fact, a sign of disrespect for the proceedings. The PM has also stated, in response to criticism from other political parties, that “almost all Canadians oppose the wearing of face coverings during citizenship ceremonies,” and that the act of wearing the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

I think it’s fair to say that these comments have been divisive, splitting Canadians (those that have paid attention) at both the political and grassroots levels. Some argue that those coming to our country should conform to the existing value system, while others argue that religious and cultural traditions of all Canadians should be upheld. The far larger problem that arises is the almost inevitable descent these “conversations” make into racist rhetoric, Islamaphobia, and misogyny.

So what’s the middle ground? Surely there are cultural and religious values that we need to respect—for if we value our own, it’s unfair not to value those of others. At the same time, we do have established traditions, and it’s just as unfair to completely dismantle them for the sake of inclusion.
I would suggest that the way forward is through a conscious evaluation of the cost of change versus the value of tradition, specific to each case. I want to go back, for a moment, to my example of turbans for RCMP members. What is the value of the traditional Stetson? As with all uniforms, I would suggest that the primary value is in visual recognition; we see the RCMP uniform, and we know precisely who they are. Do we lose that recognition if we remove the Stetson? Do we suddenly fail to recognize the uniform as uniquely RCMP? No; clearly there are enough visual indicators remaining. That suggests to me that the remainder of our attachment to it is probably little more than nostalgia and resistance to change—understandable, certainly, but not necessarily of any inherent value.

20150312 - Dontevenknowyou


By contrast, what value is there in allowing someone to wear a turban? Well, if we accept that wearing it is a fundamental part of someone’s cultural or religious values, so strongly ingrained that disallowing its wear would force the applicant to choose between serving his god and serving his country, then we’re talking about a fairly significant loss affecting a large cultural group. From a national perspective, we’re also reducing the pool of applicants available to fill an important job, and depriving the country of tax revenue it would receive on the RCMP officer’s potential earnings. Perhaps most importantly, we’re shooting ourselves in the multi-cultural foot; with a country already made up people and traditions from diverse backgrounds, and heavily dependent on immigration for growth (our birth rates are low, meaning that without immigration there will be too few to pay taxes and keep social programs going), there will eventually come a time where the majority is no longer of western-European descent and Christian background. We can choose to embrace multiculturalism, or continue with a cultural hegemony that will one day see prevailing traditions supplanted entirely—except perhaps poutine; I feel like that’s something most of us can agree on.
Let’s return to your regularly scheduled programming: the niqab. Let’s apply the same evaluation. What will be lost by allowing someone to wear the niqab? As previously noted, identity is not an issue, as a judge privately confirms the identity of each person prior to the ceremony. That leaves tradition: a vague sense that it’s inappropriate for people to wear headgear of any kind during a formal ceremony—though this rule is frequently broken by brides during weddings, orthodox Jews, and a large cross-section of religious officials.

So then, what is the value of allowing niqabs? Let’s start with the entire point of the ceremony: inclusion. The whole reason we have a citizenship ceremony is to ceremonially welcome new immigrants into the Canadian family. They are becoming part of the greater us, and are therefore to be granted all of the rights and freedoms of expression and belief that we enjoy. Let’s be clear, as well: we’re not talking about telling your teenage son not to wear the band t-shirt with the aborted fetus on it; we’re talking about preventing people from wearing clothes that form a significant part of their religious and cultural identity. They aren’t doing it to be rude or to challenge us, and it costs us nothing to allow it.
But “where does it all stop?” you ask. “Are there any situations where we should be favouring existing practices over newcomer requests?” Let me propose one more evaluation. Recently, a student at McGill University has come forward to request female-only gym hours, citing her cultural and religious beliefs as the reason.

So what would be lost by approving the request, and dedicating facility hours solely to women? Well, all university students pay (generally a fee over and above their tuition) for access to the campus’ recreational facilities. Dedicating facility time solely to one sex has the effect of reducing the overall available use times for all of the other sex. Let’s say, for example, that one hour was dedicated every day to women. Over the course of the 8 month school year (we’ll ignore spring/summer here, as only a small portion of students attend during that semester), that represents around 242 hours (approximately 34.6 weeks at 7 hours per week) that all male students are paying for, but not receiving. According to McGill’s website, 17,329 males attended McGill in 2013. That means that a total of 4,193,618 person-hours in the gym will be lost to males in the course of one year.

Now, what is to be gained? As with previous examples, I would suggest that there is a level of comfort and inclusion involved—the women who would prefer to attend the gym with only their own sex for cultural or religious reasons could do so, provided the gym hours chosen worked with their schedule. The problem is that we’re talking about a very small group who fit all of the following criteria: a) female, b) works out at the gym; c) belongs to culture that requires specific coverings for women in the presence of men; d) is unwilling or unable to wear those specific coverings while working out; and e) has a schedule that works with the hours chosen. Admittedly, there may also be women that belong to other cultures that simply desire to work out in a female-only environment, but that’s entirely preference, not ingrained culture or tradition.

So what we end up with is a situation where change would offer a minor benefit to a very small few, and a detriment to many. It seems an obvious choice. Things change a bit when you consider something like swimming times, where it’s clearly impossible for women to wear culturally-appropriate attire, which is why I don’t take issue with McGill’s existing policy for female-only hours at the pool. However, it seems pretty clear that the proposed change to gym hours and policies is poor value for the cost.
The problem is that we aren’t stopping for careful, logical consideration of cost and value when we run into these sorts of issues. Instead, we have knee-jerk reactions that may ultimately cost us some of the freedoms we take for granted as Canadians. I offer for example Bill C-51, which is currently making its way through the federal legislative process—with limited debate, consultation, and testimony by experts. All of these normal checks and balances are being manipulated and minimized by a government that claims the majority of Canadians support its actions, while at the same time building support and soliciting funding through deliberate fear-mongering—something that smells and feels distinctly Orwellian.

Also Orwellian are the contents of the bill itself, which limits free speech and protesting, while giving authorities much more power to deal with people that may do things—because “thoughtcrime” may be punishable, and it may start with a 7-day detainment without any need for charges or oversight from the court system. Upon application of a cost/value evaluation, it seems pretty clear that there is a significant cost to freedom involved, the extent of which we may never even realize without further analysis, debate, and expert testimony. The value is equally unclear. I’m not sure that there’s anything law enforcement will be able to accomplish with this bill in place that they can’t do now without being in direct violation of Charter rights.

So what can we do about any of this? Certainly, there’s something to be said for the voice of the people—messages delivered to government and media making it clear that the public does not support actions like the niqab ban or forcing through a bill that may fundamentally change our rights and freedoms. However, I would suggest that the most useful action is also the easiest: stop, think, and discuss. Don’t give in to fear of the unknown and respond with the expected knee-jerk. As Red Green said: “[like it or not,] we’re all in this together.”

It’s Been a Long Time, Baby…

So, it’s been a long time now.  I’ve tried to write a new post more times than I can count, something grand and wonderful, recapping the former year and hoisting the sails for the next, but it seems there’s always too much to do, and too little attention span available.


Why should this be any different?  I’ll tell you why: because when I’m done typing, I’m going to push “publish.”  If that means this cuts off somewhere, I’m sorry.  Really, that’s not necessary out of step for my personality.  Do you remember that Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns brings in Grandpa Simpson and some other gangbusters in to break up the protest around the nuclear plant?  His main tactics involve telling stories that go no where–like that time he had an onion tied to his belt.  I’m a little bit that way too; no, I don’t have an onion tied to my belt, but there was this one time…


For those of you that read my blog over the past year, you’ll have seen a bit of a movement from defeatism to self-reflection, and from daydreaming to seizing the day.  And then…nothing for nearly six months.  Nothing but a re-post and updating on a piece from December 2013 on where I thought Sons of Anarchy was going to end up, based on Hamlet, and an analysis of how well my predictions went, following the finale.  While the prediction article proved to be my most popular post ever, drawing in tens of thousands of visits from Google in just a couple of months, I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a fraud; after all, it was a [shudder] re-post.  It seemed I had lost the vim and vigor that kept me, and the blog, going.


A lot of the reasons behind this are personal–so try to keep them between us, if you would.

Finances have been a struggle since the day I left university, and the addition of a house and kids only makes that harder.  While things are starting to look a bit sunnier now, it’s been one of the toughest years my wife and I have ever been through financially, and there is no part of our lives that hasn’t been affected by that stress.

Mental health has been an issue, as I have struggled not only with financial strain, but issues with my family, including a set of estranged parents, and even with my own body, as I struggle to take off the weight that I’ve put on through the sleepless, stressful first years of my sons’ lives.  Recovery is always slow and difficult with all things mental, and I liken it to trying to live in a house while gutting and renovating it.  After all, you can’t really get outside of your own head, can you?

I’d be lying if I didn’t include jealousy and intimidation, as well.  There is a wonderful community of Dad Bloggers out there, who are (by and large) warm, supportive men.  They are also a bunch of successful jerks (I kid, but I don’t).  There are so many great bloggers out there, even in my very niche, that seem to be doing the job better than I am, and finding more success doing it.  Though I try not judge myself against the successes of others and be overwhelmed, it’s hard not to.


So what’s changed?  Nothing drastic, surely.  But maybe there’s a slow growth there, a vine pushing up toward the sunlight.  As I watch my little hobbits grow larger and ever brighter, and push myself back into the light from the darkness, I reach for my pen.

Ego sum. Hic sol venit.

Welcome, belatedly, to 2015.