politicssmall

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.

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 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.

politics

It Costs How Much??? A Dad’s Perspective on Organic Living

For some time now, my wife and I have been trying to move our family’s menu into the organic section.  This began, as I recall, with a series of articles on pesticides and GMOs.  Soon, my wife came upon a “10 worst” list of offender foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) that we had to begin avoiding.  Many of these were a step up in the flavor department, as well—the apples in particular.

Expansion continued, and soon all your base belonged to us.  Meat is now purchased only in grass-fed, hormone-free forms; fruit, vegetables, and grains are organically grown and processed; and our eggs are from happy little free-range chickens.  Super.

I won’t complain about the theory behind it all.  I’m not a big fan of putting additional chemicals into my body, and I’m well aware of how grass-fed and free range animals tend to be higher in essential fatty acids, and free from a lot of the build-up of standard-use farm chemicals.  What I do have an issue with is the cost.

 

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For your standard fruits and vegetables, you can expect to pay something like double the price per pound or per item.  That may not be a big deal when you’re buying one apple, but when your family goes through about four of them every day, you’re buying around $30 in apples each week, instead of $15; that means that, over a month, you’re spending an additional $60 or so on JUST APPLES. 

For meat, expect to pay at least double, and possibly 2.5 times as much for organic, grass-fed beef and chicken.  You also get the dubious pleasure of navigating a seemingly endless array of organic-ish options.  Some of what you will find is labeled “organic”; other possibilities are “grass-finished,” meaning that the animal didn’t get grain for a final fattening before slaughter, “hormone free,” means that the animal didn’t receive any additional hormones, either for milking purposes (obviously more related to dairy than meat), or for growth, and “antibiotic free,” means that the animal didn’t receive a standard ration of antibiotics in its feed or water—a common practice for animal producers to avoid sickness in the herd.  Often, labels will contain a combination of these terms, and it’s up to the consumer to know the difference and decide what they want.

 

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Confusing terminology also comes up a lot with things like canned goods and packaged foods.  Companies may use terms like “all natural,” hoping for the same kind of consumer respect and attention as “organic.” They don’t mean the same thing, though.  Coal and oil are “all natural,” but you wouldn’t necessarily want to eat them. 

 

 

Canned goods have a similar labeling spectrum, but may also claim to have a “BPA-Free lining.” This is actually an important one, in my opinion.  Often, canned goods have their shelf lives extended by putting a coating on the inside of the can.  This is especially common with acidic foods, like canned tomatoes, which would otherwise eat right through the can.  The trouble is that many of these linings contain Bisphenol-A, which can mimic estrogen in the body.  While there’s a pretty good chance that the average person would never hit an intake threshold of BPA that would prove conclusively damaging, there aren’t enough studies looking at things like long-term, low-level exposure.  It just makes sense to me to limit or eliminate exposure to these types of chemicals—especially in the foods my boys will be consuming.

Obviously things like BPA-free canned goods and organic packed foods demand the same premiums, if not more, than their fresh counterparts.  There are ways to get around buying the products entirely—working with dried beans, for example—but they aren’t all practical for families with two parents in full-time employment.

 

The conclusion that I keep coming back to is a simple one: we need to take a step back as a society and start doing things for ourselves again.  In my article on multi-tasking life, I talked about how I’ve never really felt like I fit into the specialist mold society seems determined to put people in.  Maybe it’s time that I add one more trade under my belt: gardener…and maybe it’s time a lot of other people did the same—particularly those of us with back yards.  Yes, it’s time consuming and can be labour intensive, but it’s highly unlikely that the chemical and hormone concentrations in our food are going to decrease, and buying everything from a supplier is clearly only for those with a big stack of money lying around—and I’m not one of those people.

Until I am, I’ll be out in the garden if you need me (once it thaws…if it ever thaws).  Feel free to come join me.  Bring beer.

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shoezsmall

The “Entitlement Generation” — The Rachel Canning Case

I’ve been watching the Rachel Canning case with interest since I first came across the general premise: an 18 year old girl who left home is suing her parents for the costs of her private high school tuition, her costs of living, and the future costs of her university tuition (for more info, see this article at CNN) .

Clearly, this case raises all sorts of issues about what parents “owe” their children, and some of my fellow dad bloggers have begun to extrapolate what this “owing” may mean—particularly to a generation that seems to feel entitled to nothing but the best.  In fact, it was this post at daddylibrium that pushed me to offer my own take on things.

 

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I think the question of “owing” starts with birth.  Tired anecdotes and clichés abound with mothers berating their children over “everything they went through” birthing them, with the implication that the child should be grateful for everything the mother went through FOR THEM.

 

But that’s not really true, is it?

 

We don’t have children for their own sake; children do not CHOOSE to be born, they don’t exist as cognitive beings prior to conception (no matter which pro-life/choice camp you’re in, I think we can agree that this is true), and the choice to have children is a selfish one.  We have children, by and large, because we want children—or, we wanted sex and children were the consequence.  The pain a mother goes through at birth, the sleepless nights that follow for the parents, and the hardships the family may face in the short term are the result of a selfish desire.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that; arguably eating can be labeled a selfish desire, because it only benefits the person eating—that doesn’t mean we should stop doing it.  I’m just pointing out that many of the things we go through for our children, particularly when they’re little, are often more about us, as parents, than them, as children.

Along the way, though, this balance starts to shift.  Our children become people unto themselves, with individual personalities, desires, and goals.  Parents give up things for the benefit of their children, not just because they want their child to succeed and be happy for selfish reasons, but for selfless ones, as well.

 

So how do we determine where that shift begins and ends?

 

Some of it is legal, as this case has brought to light.  Parents are generally responsible for their child’s basic needs until they are 18.  That means that food, clothing, shelter, and basic schooling must be provided. There may also be additional responsibilities, such as health coverage, until a certain age in some places.

From a parental standpoint (at least the standpoint of what I believe to be a good parent), what you’re looking for is the best end-product for your child, mitigated by what you’re actually able to/willing to provide.  You want a happy, healthy, and potential-filled child, and you *should* want that for them, not just so that you can brag about them (though there’s bound to be some pride there, as well).  This necessitates a few things, but I would suggest that many of them can be rolled up into emotional, mental, and logistical support; that is, you help them develop and use the tools they need to get them where they want to go.  How much assistance, what kind of assistance, and how that assistance is applied form the endlessly-debated core of parenting.

 

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Some argue that it’s up to the parent to give the child every advantage they never had (or perhaps they did), so that their children rise to the top.

 

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Others argue that it’s the journey that builds character, and believe that struggle and discipline result in the best end-product.

 

 

I believe that the best end product I can hope for with my sons is that they have strong, independent, and yet empathetic, hearts.  I want them to know that, ultimately, they need to make their own way in life, but that I will always be there to comfort and advise them when they need it.  A big part of that will be teaching them that the things they want require effort to earn, and that sometimes expectations have to be tempered by how much time, effort, and opportunity you have available.

 

So how does Rachel Canning fit in?

 

From what I understand, Ms. Canning is no longer at home (whether she left or was kicked out is not an issue for the point I’m making) because she refused to follow her parents’ rules—one of which required her to give up her current boyfriend.  Were the parents justified and were their rules “fair”?  I have no idea.  I could foresee, as a parent, determining that someone my child was intimately involved with was a detriment, but I would have to have a life and safety reason to forbid them to see anyone; that kind of outside meddling in your child’s life needs some pretty dire reasons behind it, I believe.

As for the other rules that she wouldn’t abide by—curfews, etc—she had the choice to either live by those rules in her parents’ household, or leave…so she did.  But having left, and deciding to begin her own life outside of their house, she also gave up the inherent advantages of that household—including room, board, and expenses.  Even were her parents still responsible for her basic needs, those needs would not include private-school tuition (that’s public school tuition for you UK folks), or university tuition, nor would they necessarily include money for her to fulfill her needs of food and shelter as she saw fit; just because your child loves steak doesn’t mean that it’s your responsibility to pay for them to eat at a steakhouse for dinner every night; basic needs only require that there be supper on the table, a bed to sleep in, and clothing that conforms to basic requirements for weather and social acceptability (i.e. covers the important bits).

 

The question remains: is Rachel Canning’s behavior indicative of an entire generation’s sense of entitlement?  That’s a hard question to answer, primarily because it deals with sweeping generalizations, and sweeping generalizations are almost always wrong.  I think what we can say is that Rachel Canning is the way she is because of how her parents raised her.  Her sense of entitlement is their fault—though she is now finding, much to her surprise, that she has to take ownership for her attitudes and actions as she becomes an adult.  The same can be said for every other child; their sense of entitlement (or lack of it) is due directly to the kind of job their parents did raising them.

Maybe it’s time that people start thinking about that.  It’s easy to point the finger at the next generation; it’s a lot harder to take ownership for the creation of those flaws we perceive and work to correct them before they get out of hand—for everyone’s sake.

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Building a Cubby

Renovations With Children: Building My Kitchen Cubby

With home ownership comes an endless list of tasks—things that  need  attention, things that could be improved, and things that would be nice.  Chances are that, if you haven’t got a list already, your spouse will be happy to make you one.   This wasn’t a huge deal before we had kids; sure, the cats got in the way, but it’s legal to lock them in the basement.

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The trouble with having young kids is that they are accompanied by a severe reduction in “spare time” that can be spent on these projects.  Before the kids came, I’d only be spending a portion of my wonderful downtime on household projects; with my boys around, a project might eat the entire minute slice of time I might otherwise have to myself.

A strong gut instinct has developed for me, as a way to preserve my precious downtime—it makes me want to get everyone and everything as far out of my way as possible so that I can finish things in the shortest amount of time.  Naturally, kids, by their very existence, stand in opposition to this instinct, adding time to every step.  Every task is questioned, (almost) every tool is played with, and every action has to be taken with full awareness of where every little hand, foot, and head is located.

 

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

 

Over the last month, I’ve gradually installed a cubby (wall niche) in my kitchen.  It’s a project I’ve been considering for a while, but put off until my 11 month old yanking on the phone’s adapter cord made it a priority.  It suddenly seemed to me that some renovation work might be preferable to a glass shelf and a telephone crashing down on my son—go figure.

My eldest son, now three, has always been interested in watching me work around the house–I fondly remember him, not yet two years old, grabbing a tiny little tinker’s hammer to help me tack the back on a new bookshelf—but this is the first project where he’s really been old enough to really follow what I’m trying to do, and watch as I work, rather than just hitting things with a little hammer.

CuttingHe stood and watched, his safety goggles held carefully over his eyes, as I cut the hole in the drywall, and did his best to assist me with his little plastic drill as I installed the cubby.  Granted, when the power tools came out, he ran for the living room, but he did watch “Handy Manny” while he was there, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

As frustrating as having my son underfoot was at times–particularly with power tools around–the whole process made me look forward to projects in the future, teaching my sons how to do everything from building a basic garden box to wiring a new electrical outlet.  General terror of teaching them to use things like the table saw aside, I’m excited to watch them grow into the men they will become and have them working alongside me while it happens.

I also couldn’t help but reflect back on my own childhood a bit.  As rocky as my relationship with my father became when I really began to find myself and become an adult, there was a time when we would work side by side on projects in the garage, or in his rental houses.  Many of the skills I now have for woodworking, drywall, and assorted renovations began with those hours spent watching him work, and wanting to know how to do everything the way he seemed to.  Standing side-by-side with my son, watching him use his little plastic tools, reminded me that, while there are a lot of mistakes my father may have made that I will strive not to repeat, there were also some lessons that I will need to take to heart, and pass on to the next generation.

 

For a complete buildlog, with lots more pictures, come on over to The Finer Things.

 

The Angry 13th Man

I can’t imagine that I will ever publish a post as unpopular as this one is bound to be–particularly with anyone from my own city, and, I’d bet, most everyone else. However, I still think it still needs to be said.

 

hockeywizardWhen I was growing up, being a nerd was still an anomaly; hipster chic had yet to rear its ugly head, and if you weren’t into sports, you were nothing. Guess which camp I was in? That’s right; I was the one who always wanted to build a fort out of the mats in gym class, rather than join into the team sport. Times have changed a bit, and it’s become more socially acceptable for a man to show no interest in sports, but not as much as some of us might have hoped.

Continue reading

corecds

What Will You Be Listening To?

Growing up, I had very sheltered exposure to music.  As a child of the 80s, I could have been bombarded by David Bowie, the Bangles, Metallica, Bon Jovi, or Queen—but I wasn’t.  My Dad firmly believed that the only decent music in the world came out of the 1950s, primarily from doo-wop groups.  My Mom didn’t offer much in the way of a counter-balance to this, adding only the occasional tape of The Carpenters, or Boney-M.  We didn’t have cable (so MTV/Much Music was out), and being a generally awkward, nerdy kid (before that was cool, unfortunately), I didn’t have a lot of friends to introduce me to other kinds of music during my primary school years.

It wasn’t until my adolescence that I began to discover the other musical possibilities in the world.  My best friend introduced me to a ton of different music, but the core of it, the foundation to my musical house, was Nirvana and the Beastie Boys.  We continued to grow our musical interests together, though he was by far the more far reaching.  Some of it I whole-heartedly embraced, like Prick, Tool, and (somewhat later) A Perfect Circle.  Others, like Bush X and Alanis Morisette, stayed largely in his realm, though they were often blasted during our shared Saturday shifts at Mr. Submarine.

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As I’ve grown older, I’ve slowly reached out and extended my musical reach, though it’s been a fairly passive act of either enjoying or disliking things that I happen to hear, rather than searching out new artists to listen to.  I’ve developed an enjoyment of east-coast Canadian music such as Great Big Sea; I’ve occasionally jumped on bandwagons like Walk Off the Earth’s cover of Somebody that I Used to Know; I’ve even *occasionally* strayed into top-40 territory and listened to artists such as Bruno Mars.

Despite these dalliances, it’s clear that there my musical forever loves are here to stay: some more benign, like Michael Jackson and 50s doo-wop groups, but mostly groups like Prick, Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Nine Inch Nails.

So why does this worry me? Continue reading