Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Things My Father Should Have Taught Me...

I am starting to come to terms with the idea that I am not a "man's man". No, nothing to do with my sexuality, though that has been questioned many times (including one rather embarrassing discussion with that aforementioned father of mine). But rather that I appear to have a complete lack of mechanical or technical training, which I have been assured by many of my friends, is something they learned at their father's side. The more I thought about this, the broader the scope of it became. It was soon apparent that it was not limited to the appropriate names for saw blade types, nor how to clean a carbeurator.

Now, my father and I did not have a good relationship. That's an understatement actually. I was hospitalized twice and still have some scars due to our lack of a good relationship. He is my step father, and we never saw eye to eye on pretty much anything. Of course, he's recently divorced my mother, and I learned that he had never formally adopted me, so I suppose calling him my father is no longer accurate, if it ever was.

It seems to me however, that many of my friends are in similar circumstances. Things that we should have been taught by our parents were somehow left out of our childhood educations. I know I am not alone in feeling somehow left out or set aside by my parents, its pretty much a generational thing as I see it. And the more I think about it, the more I think that it is not limited to just mechanical things... its deeper than that.

Our fathers (or step-fathers, or whatever male role model was in our lives during our childhood) were reared at a time when paternal love and interaction with children seems to have been at a low ebb. I have no idea what the actual cause of that was, likely something to do with the wars that preceded them, and the turbulent times of change that resulted. Not saying that to make excuses for them, if they even need those, but to ponder what happened, and why. At any rate, many of those I talk to in my age bracket all report similar experiences. Dad was there, we knew he loved us (well, some of us) but he wasn't really all that involved. He didn't show us his love and affection, he never even used the word love.

Now that I am a father, this is the sort of thing that is praying upon me. Each time I bump into a conundrum of how to interact with my children, or how to dispense wisdom, love, affection or discipline, I don't have a model to work with. I resort to asking "What would Bill Cosby have done?" - on his show, not in real life of course. :) I find it more and more upsetting that I don't have the training and skills that a father should have. That a provider should have.

So... what should my father have taught me?

If you say you are going to do something, then you do it. Don't back down from your responsibilities, both the good ones and the bad.

If you love someone, tell them. Tell them often and loudly. Nothing goes further or deeper than the words "I love you. I need you."

Let your children know that you are proud of them. My son hugs me so hard when I tell him that he's done something well. No matter how small, no matter how mundane, its still a victory, still a step he has taken toward becoming the man that I hope to one day know. And I am so proud of him.

Learn to work with your hands, but keep your mind sharp. Bug loves to help me with his tools, and loves to fix things with me. If I am doing a job, he's there, hardhat on, tool belt full of plastic tools, smiling to raise the sun. And we talk about what we are fixing, and how to fix it, and how it got broken in the first place. We talk about the plans you need. We talk.

Create. Anything at all, but create. Men can never know the feeling of creating life, but we can still be great creators of other things. Art, music, poetry. Piles of snow in the back yard. Houseplants, bookshelves. Families. Love.

Don't be afraid to cry. And never hold back a laugh. Your feelings are valid, you are important and you do matter. How you feel reflects who you are. Its OK to be mad, its normal to be sad sometimes.

Be honest with yourself. Be honest with those who ask your opinion. Truth is powerful, binding and amazing. You never have to worry about getting caught in the truth.

Use the right tool for the right job. If you have to cut down a tree, don't use a hacksaw - get a chainsaw. If you need to level a floor, don't try to do it with a 12" level. When you have a friend who needs you, don't use email - be there. When you feel pain and loss, a shoulder is the right place to let it out.

Be thankful. No matter how hard your life is, no matter how low you sink and no matter what trials you face, there is always something to be thankful for.

Have faith. Not necessarily in God(s)(dess), or even in a higher power at all. Have faith in yourself, your family, your friends. Have faith in humanity, even though it can be hard sometimes. Have faith in a better future, have faith in the power of love. Have faith that you can do it, and you will.

Be yourself. And know that I will be there for you, no matter who you are, because you are my friend, my family, my child. Don't let anyone, not even me, tell you who you are, how you feel, what you should do or what you should wear. You are unique, powerful and wonderful. Never forget that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sleep and the internet

My old friend... where have you gone? When did the idea of closing my eyes at night, snug in my own bed, and warm against my wife become alien to my existence?

Bear sleeps in the bed with us, and his tossing / turning and general noise (we call him Bear for a reason!) wakes me up about every 10 minutes. So I gave up sleeping in that bed. When he moves to the crib (basically as soon as he's normally sleeping through the night) I'll get to go back to the bed. But for now I sleep on the couch, every night.

Now that's not as bad as it sounds, because when we bought the house, we bought new furniture, and my one requirement for the couch, leaving colour, style and material completely to my wife, was that I be able to stretch out on it and it was comfortable for sleeping on.

But despite this, I never seem to be able to get to bed prior to 3 or even 4 am. And the alarm clock goes off (or Bug wakes up with cries of "Dad? Dad? Dad?") at 7:00 sharp. The reason - that damned internet thing!

If its not online gaming, its chatting with friends who live in completely different timezones. If I am not chatting with them, I'm Youtubing (is that a word?) or just generally surfing.

I think I need an intervention. Or at least some kind of therapy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Toot Toot!

For Christmas this year, Santa Claus blessed Bug with a new train set. It's a wooden set, that the big red man picked up at Toys R' Us for $199.00. It was on sale, and came with everything you could ever ask for in a train set... far cheaper than the Thomas sets, though its compatible with those sets. Table (with built in storage), double sided mat for playing on, about 20+ feet of track, mountains, cranes, trains, waterfalls, a helicopter (no train set is really complete without at least one helicopter), the whole nine yards.

The night before Christmas, one of Santa's elves was up until 3:30 putting this thing together... despite several defects in the materials (wrong screws provided, holes drilled in the wrong spot). At the time, Santa's elf swore that he was going to take the damned thing and burn it in the back yard. Thankfully, that did not happen, and all were rewarded on Christmas morning when son's eyes lit up like the sun...

The set is fantastic. It has already provided countless hours of "Choo Choo" and "Ding ding ding" play. It keeps him busy when the baby needs more attention, and provides great stress relief for me when he and I get to play with it. Which is dishearteningly rare, due to having only one hour from the time I get home to the time he goes to bed.

However, I fear I have become addicted to the train set. Last night, moment before bedtime (and that means after bath and stories were both completed), Bug begged to "play trains". I assuaged my "no" guilt by promising that we would make a new train layout tonight - and I have spent all morning (the trip in on the bus, my coffee break and my walk) planning new layouts in my head. I have a million things that should be taking my attention, a hundred plans for the house that need to be sorted out, work on the three short stories I am still trying to complete, plans for my wife and I... but this train set up is taking every available bit of my free time!

Hello, my name is Mr. Passive Aggressive, and I am an addict. I have a train problem.

Friday, January 16, 2009

LOL? WTF? L8R???

Dear gods in heaven above and below, grant me the strength to get through this phase of communication.

When did it become acceptable to not only butcher one's language, but to do so in such a flagrant and widespread fashion? Is the concept of basic grammar and spelling so alien to people that they can no take an extra 1/10 of a second to hit the extra two keys on their keyboard? Is it really that difficult to hold down the "shift" key when you start a sentence? Or god forbid, break your thoughts into paragraphs so that your readers (whom presumably you are trying to actually communicate with) can understand you?

Now, I will be the first to admit that some of the contractions and l33t speak (what a term that is) do make some sense. LOL is much easier to type than "I am laughing out loud". But thx for Thanks? Or l8r for later? Two, maybe three extra presses of keys on that big keyboard right in front of you. Is it so much to ask?

And let me not even get started on the death of the apostrophe. I am not sure when "I am" was defined as pretentious and burdensome, but at least "I'm" showed that you knew you were replacing one letter with one symbol, and required some thought. But now it has all been reduced even further to im guna go, brb, l8r kthnksbye!

This phenomenon does make sense in situations where time is of the essence (online gaming perhaps) or where typing is inconvenient (responding to a text message on your cell phone) but its showing up in letters, emails, forum posts, memos... you name it, you can find it.

Please people, think of what you are putting forward to those you are communicating with. Their impression of your writing, your thoughts expressed and you in general may well be defined by what you have written.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The death of manhood?

I am currently involved in a dispute with my male friends. It all centers around hurt feelings, bruised egos and dice - yup, its a gaming fight.

I seem to recall that men were supposed to be warriors, hunters, gatherers. I seem to remember reading that men did not talk about their feelings, and did not say things like "You really hurt my feelings when you..." What happened to the 'good old days' when you could solve your masculine disputes with a punch in the nose, and a round of beers purchased for the group? When did Oprah take away my right to just be a guy and repress all that silly emotional stuff?

My wife (whom I love dearly) thinks its both hilariously funny, as well as a mark of personal growth on my part that I am now even willing to talk about my feelings. For the overwhelming majority of my life I never talked about my feelings, or pain (other than physical) with anyone. Maybe it was just my upbringing, maybe it was the stuff I dealt with (or rather didn't deal with) growing up - in any event, negative emotions were those things you didn't talk about, you just squashed them down into your stomach until they gave you intestinal challenges, and then you took Pepto. Talking about things, this new hippie-granola-tree hugger-love the world thing... its getting harder and harder to accept.

I am not saying that I want to go back to being, as my lovely wife once put it, an emotional eunuch, but it would be nice to feel like a man again. Quick, someone punch me in the face!


Am I the only human being on the planet who understands the concept of wanting to be alone with your thoughts?

I recently told my wife that I would enjoy taking a weekend (technically I said four days) and just heading out of town, just me in a rented car with no destination in mind, and nothing planned. Sure, I'd take my fishing gear, but not because I would be planning on fishing, but just so that it would be available to me as an option. She told me she didn't understand why I would want to do so, but would certainly be OK with it... as long as the in-laws had moved in so they could help. I get that, I really do.

But everyone I have told about this idea of mine has come up with a thing we could do together. "Yeah, that's great, we'll head up to Cape Breton and do some fly fishing!" or "Fantastic! We'll head down south and get in some great games of golf" or "My brother (who is a pilot) can get us some great rates, let's hit Vegas!"

Which part of "I" is it that people have so much trouble with.... am I alone in wanting to just think thoughts, listen to my own breathing and the sounds of the world around me... without the interruption of conversation? Where the only babbling I want to hear, for days, is the babbling of a brook, or the sound of the wind? Do I really need to find a Buddhist temple somewhere (and there are two great Buddhist retreats here in NS) just to be left alone?

Or maybe it is me. Maybe I am just that odd. Wouldn't be the first time.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Playing shovels

Each day it snows here, and those days are starting to add up, our eldest and I head out into the cold (though its only -4 here) to recreate that greatest of rituals... the shovelling of the driveway. In our case, it is particularly painful, as our home has two driveways, each big enough to park 4 cars on but - wait for it - we don't own a car.

So why, you ask with a raised eyebrow, do you shovel the driveways? I had originally thought it was out of some odd misguided need to keep up with the neighbours, and that may still be a factor. Perhaps it was for the convenience of our guests (we almost never have any) or in fear of a weather change (it will probably rain in a day or two and wash all the snow away), but no. It is because my son loves to "play shovels."

That's right, like many dads, I am out there, in pain from lifting what is likely 1000 pounds of snow, because my son laughs when we throw it at each other. I tried just tossing snow at him without actually shovelling, but that isn't the game he wants to play. To make it even more interesting, his favourite part of the game is where he climbs up on the 3 foot snow bank I've created by clearing the driveway, and pushes large amounts of the snow back onto the fresh scrapped surface.

We built a tunnel, climbed in and he wanted to sleep there over night. He tosses snow down my back, invariably getting it inside the collar of my jacket, and inexplicably through my scarf. He laughs like a maniac when he hits me with a snowball (he's a great shot) and laughs even harder when I get him with one back. His cheeks are bright red, probably frostbitten. His mitts somehow manage to fall off every 4 minutes, and he is happy as a clam.

Its days like these that I love my life. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Into each life...

Its raining again - seems that it is always raining these days. Better that than the heat. Heat pounds the concrete, reflects off all of the steel and glass that make up the walls of our urban jungle. The heat turns normally mild mannered old ladies into angry, cane waving lunatics. It sends waves of shimmering light up from the blacktop, cooking the brains of already angry young men, sending them out to fight and die each day. You really notice it on the freeway. If you don’t have a/c, your car fries, especially if you get caught in traffic. Especially if you are an old man with a bad heart, and a stubborn streak a mile wide, stuck in traffic on the wrong day, in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

But it seems like its always raining.

The coffin is sitting on the racks, ready to be lowered down into the earth. The raindrops have taken that ebony sheen to a mirror polish, and I can make out the faces of my mother and my brothers beside me, faces distorted by the runnels of water. Mom’s being strong, that’s just what she does. I’ve never seen her cry. Not in twenty seven years. I’ve seen her shudder when she consoled our aunts and uncles when grandma and grandpa died in that storm. I’ve seen her wince when she bumped her broken arm against the wall trying to dodge our old cat Scamps. I even saw her take a deep breath and stare off into space when the police asked us to come down to the morgue and identify the body. But I’ve never seen her cry.

David on the other hand is crying like an infant. He may as well not be under the umbrella at all, with the tears and snot running down his face, he’d be soaked even if we were having this ceremony in the Mojave. But that’s just him. He’s always worn his emotions on his sleeve. He’s always the first one to want to talk about feelings, or to share things. I suppose his patients like that. No doubt, when we leave here, we’ll have to share how today has impacted upon all of us, talk about how much we are going to miss him – all that crap.