“What doesn’t kill ya…”

fighting

Remember when you’d get sick and some old codger would say ‘What doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger.”?

That might be true with viruses and other annoying illnesses like the flu, but not so much with bear attacks and power tool accidents.

I always hated that saying because like most men (and my loving family will confirm), what I’m usually looking for is sympathy…and room service…and the TV remote.  Not life advice.

But it does get you thinking about what MIGHT kill you.

Statistics will tell you that men die younger than women, not because women have a stronger internal system, but because men are more likely to do something stupid enough to kill themselves, thus skewing the numbers in women’s favour.

Darwin’s theory of evolution was probably right.darwin  It’s not the fittest but the most adaptable to change that survive.  And men have a distinct disadvantage to women on that front.  It’s called testosterone.

Testosterone is what drives men to prove they don’t need to adapt, or be safe, or make good judgement decisions.

This is particularly true of younger men….and oh, boy! Do they prove it!

When I was a kid, I really didn’t think about dying at all – that’s what old people did.  When I was a bit older though, death-defying stunts became all too common, and I started to wonder what I’d do that would kill me.

I don’t think I ever deliberately pushed the boundaries of life and death, but I sure made the grim reaper sit up a few times.

grim

It’s funny how your perception of how you’ll die changes as you age.  When I was younger, I figured I’d go out in a blaze of glory strapped to a nuclear warhead and shot into a tanker full of fuel and the explosion would cause an earthquake and everyone would say ‘Wow, what an epic death!’.

Pretty stupid, eh?  I mean, how would I get a hold of a nuclear warhead?  Amazon wasn’t even invented yet.

After you’ve had a few close calls though, you figure that it’ll be something a lot less glamorous than nuclear warheads.  Probably a chainsaw accident or alcohol poisoning would be more likely.  Or an alcohol and chainsaw combination.

Now I’m beginning to understand that it’s not stupid testosterone-induced stunts,  but what’s gonna go wrong with my internal system that’ll finally take me out.

I seem to be spending more time at doctor’s appointments than seeing if I can beat that freight train to the level crossing with my car.

car

I find myself comparing notes with my brothers about colonoscopies and cardiologist results, and discussing the benefits of eating kale and drinking 4 liters of water a day.  I never thought we’d sit around comparing who had the most polyps.

I think my wife likes this change in me. She made this pact with me while I was asleep one night, that she had to ‘go’ first, so that she didn’t have to face old age alone.  I don’t recall agreeing to any such pact, and I don’t think there’s much retribution if I renege on it.

It does mean that I’m spending more time being careful than being carefree, but I’ve managed to put off joining a yoga class so far.

It could be that all those stupid human tricks I did when I was younger really did make me stronger, since they didn’t kill me.  I guess the old codger was right – what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.  Except for bears.  Bears will kill you.

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When I grow up

FREIGHT TRAIN

You know you’re getting older when you find your birthdays barreling down on you like an out of control freight train….and you can’t get off the tracks.

When I was a kid, I loved birthdays.  It felt like a national holiday just for me.  Lots of presents, maybe your name would be mentioned on the P.A. system at school, and you had amnesty from your parents for those things that would get you in trouble on any other day of the year.

Pretty sweet!  You just had to avoid the ‘Patty-Whacks’…that part sucked!

Overall, I still like birthdays, but the amnesty thing doesn’t work so well anymore, and you NEVER want your name called out on any P.A. system.  Flying under the radar is the key to birthdays when you’re old enough to remember life before microwave ovens and computers.

The trouble is, now I spend more time thinking of what I dreamed of as a kid and just how far from that path I wandered.  That sounds more morose than it is….I wanted to be either Spider-man or Bat Man.  I probably would have ended up as some sort of mutant 8-legged bat super hero thingy.

I don’t think that would have worked out very well.

I do spend time thinking of what I really want to be when I grow up, though.  I know, it sounds stupid coming from a guy past the curve of his working life.  I guess I just never really gave it a lot of thought.

I always envied those people who just knew what they wanted and went after it.  It didn’t even matter if that’s not what they ended up doing – just the drive towards something they could see down the road always left me in awe.

My plan was probably a lot like a fugitives – stay one step ahead of trouble.  If I could do that, I’d be doin’ all right!  It also meant that I’d probably never reach any sort of destination.  Not sure if that’s good or bad.

But I think I finally got it down.  I think, that after 40 50 something years, I can say with some conviction that what I really want to be when I grow up is….rich.

That sounds pretty shallow I’ll admit, but honestly, I think I’d be really good at it!  I’m a fun-loving guy, and I’m generous, at times, to a fault.  I’d totally share in my riches….tithe, volunteer, help my fellow man and all that – even throw pool parties and invite people over, or have huge barbecues and feed the whole neighbourhood.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking Warren Buffet rich.  That’s too much pressure.  In fact, I’m not even talking ‘personal jet’ rich.  Just rich enough so that I don’t have to worry about prioritizing work over play. Doesn’t that sound great??

I don’t want to have to go to the grocery store in disguise, though.  I will – I just don’t want to have to.

bad disguise

Frankly, I don’t know why everyone else hasn’t thought of that as a goal for life.  I guess that’s what happens when you have enough time to contemplate your options, and have worked long enough to know what you NEVER WANT TO DO AGAIN.

Now that I have that figured out, all I need to do is get rich.

Who wants to help me?

Yin and Yang – the glue of marriage

Yin YangAfter 28 years of marriage, I think I might just have finally started to begin to think I maybe kinda understand a tiny bit about my lovely bride.  I think she had me down on day 2.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been completely assimilated to her thinking though.  My clay isn’t quiet as malleable as she’d like it to be.

It’s amazing how we ever ‘hooked up’ as the kids say (or do they say that any more?).  I was a city boy, and she was a country girl.  We met in college which, I guess by default, was the great equalizer.  Nothing drives people together faster than hunger and loneliness.

I think there’s real truth to the adage that ‘opposites attract’.  Maybe it’s a core desire to coax the other to your way of thinking, or if I was a romantic, I might say it’s the different way they gaze at the moon, but I think our differences might be more basic than that.  I think we’re just intrigued by a different lens through which they see the world.

I love surprises – the good kind at least.  No one likes the surprises you get in a hospital…”Surprise, we’re gonna have to go ahead and remove that digit after all”.  Not a balloon and cheer kind of surprise.

No, I like birthday surprises.  I really like surprising people!  Maybe it’s a morbid fascination of watching the confusion and disbelief on their unsuspecting faces, but surprising people gives me great joy.

My wife?  Not so much.  In fact, since we first started dating, she regularly reminded me how much she doesn’t like surprises.  She wants to see what’s coming, buster! There was and never will be any confusion about this.  DO NOT SURPRISE HER!

But like those two bumbling guards in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, simple instructions are completely lost on me, since surprises are fun…..for me.  So, what did I do?

swamp castle

 

 

 

 

For my wife’s 40th birthday, I organized, with the help of a team of scheming friends, the most elaborate ruse ever concocted.  It involved multiple levels of deception, fake parties, hotel bookings, real ‘parties’ to throw her off the scent, even included pseudo-friends that may have never existed, all in the name of….’SURPRISE’!

I’ll save you the gory details – the shock, the tears.  It wasn’t a ‘happy surprise’.

But that’s the stuff of relationships.  Our differences keep it exciting.  Admittedly, sometimes horrible and regrettable differences, but exciting none the less.

We can even watch the exact same program and have totally divergent responses.  Take ‘The Biggest Loser’ for example.  We sit and watch the show.  My lovely suggests we need to take out the bikes and get into shape.  I watch the same show and think ‘Gee, I’m in awesome shape compared to these guys – I’m gonna make some popcorn to celebrate my superb health’.

I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, I guess – fun first!  If we have a busy day lined up, and the weather is nice, I’ll always say ‘fun first’! Lets get outside and enjoy the beautiful day – the work can wait.

While this sounds very ‘in the moment’ and cheery, there’s a big downside to always eating the dessert first.  It means that nothing important really gets done.  Housework; laundry, cleaning, getting groceries, etc., get pushed back, and you end up living in a crazy, chaotic world that just might end up on a TLC show.hoardersSo, me being the ‘surprise me’ guy, needs an adult around to remind me to pay the bills, change the dryer lint trap, and put my clothes away.  That’s my wife’s role, and she’s good at it.

It’s a terrible job to have – at least it seems like it to me – always being the voice of reason.  The practical one. The huge payoff of practicality is almost never fully appreciated, is it?  Our house is mostly tidy, we can find stuff like wallets, keys, and phones, and there’s usually enough food in the fridge to make a meal with.

You don’t notice if your keys are where you left them, but you sure do if they’re not!

Lists! My sweet bride makes lists.  Grocery lists, ‘honey-do’ lists, reminder lists.  For big upcoming events, I’ve even seen her make lists of lists.  Sometimes they’re disguised as sweet notes, but they’re still lists:  ‘Kids, don’t forget to walk the dog, put on your laundry, and put your dirty dishes in the sink.  Love, Mommy – xoxo’.

I’m big enough to acknowledge that those lists are helpful – they keep us on track. And I have to admit, they help me to figure out what needs to be done so I can go and play…a touch of order in my chaos.

It’s those opposing forces that create this weird and beautiful balance in our marriage.  Mix a little salt in the chocolate milk and you get an unexpectedly great taste. Those contrasting flavours bring out something more delicious than the ingredients would be on their own.

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  My darling loves having fun, too!  She can party and laugh with the best of them.  Few things please her more than relaxing by the pool with a glass of wine. It just needs to be prioritized amongst the ‘must do’s’, or it won’t be enjoyable for her.  I get that.

And that’s exactly what this goofball needs.  The Yang to my Yin.

Maybe trying to figure each other out is part of the joy and mystery of our marriage. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be able to correctly predict what the other is thinking.  We should, at least, love and respect our partner for what they bring to this dance we call marriage. We should thank God for giving us the strength to bare our souls in trust to another human being, even if that other human being doesn’t understand us.

My Yang is exactly what this Yin needs.  And that surprise party?  Well, in the end, we had an awesome time with our friends.  I also had to swear on my life never to pull a stunt like that again!  Sweet Yang!

Out of the nest

Out of the nestI’m not very nostalgic.  Purging old stuff from my basement and garage is usually only difficult because of the work involved, not because of the sentimental value of the treasures buried in dust and cobwebs.

I don’t attach much emotion to things – which is good from a hording standpoint, but probably not when it comes to kids artwork.  I remember getting caught by one of my kids once when I threw out one of their masterpieces from Kindergarten.  They were mortified that I didn’t want to treasure every object they came in contact with.  I’m just not wired that way.

The same ideology applied to how I raised my kids – there was never a time that I sat up late at night, rocking one my precious, fevered little darlings back to sleep where I thought ‘I wish this feeling would never end’.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what great adventures were laid before us – what these smelly little diaper destroyers would eventually become.

I also wished I remembered what a full nights sleep felt like.

When we brought our first-born home from the hospital, I remember sitting in the living room after the whole birth ordeal, wondering ‘what do we do with him now?’.  For me, it was far more exciting to see what would happen next, than clinging to things past.

I guess I just associate more with the here and now, than the days gone by.  I’m pretty sure all the Facebook psychologists will have a field day with these thoughts.

I don’t want to suggest that I’m not the proudest Dad in the world at how they’ve turned out.  I am!  Heck, based on how I saw my parenting skills, I’m actually surprised that they beat the odds!  I guess my wife was the tipping point factor for them.

We’ve been dealing with our Son’s transition to adulthood for the past couple of years as he’s been living in another city while going to University. This fall, our daughter will be doing the same.

Our ground school lessons are over – now it’s time for the kids to fly.  Amazing, exciting times.

We’ve been frantically completing all her applications, payments, etc., with a mix of frustration and excitement for the past few months.  These are incredible times for her and for us.  It’s also been hectic enough that we haven’t (okay, I haven’t) really stopped to think about what this means.

Yesterday though, it hit me.

We were at the store, getting some kitchen supplies for her new home on campus.  As we filled the cart with dishes and tea towels, the sudden weight of what was coming hit me like a school bus.  Our baby will be leaving home.

It actually surprised me, feeling like I did.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but there I was, staring down at this pile of independence; cutlery, dishes, a can opener.  I think it was the stupid can opener that got me.  That’s the clear sign that she’s leaving.  You can mentally quantify the other stuff, but a kitchen gadget like a can opener means they’ll be doing things on their own from now on.

Again, I’m not nostalgic, so I’m trying to think of all the upsides of not having a kid in the house.

No more checking in to see that she’s up in the morning, or cleaning up the kitchen after you’re pretty damn sure you cleaned it up before you went to bed last night.  No more of your stuff being moved from where you left it.

No more lights left on all night, or having to close the bedroom door because the ‘night owls’ don’t sleep like normal people do, and they wake you up with their stomping around all night.

We’ll be able to eat dinner where we want, when we want, and what we want.  We won’t have to think about anyone else (except the dog, of course).  GROCERY BILLS CUT IN HALF!

So, why am I so stuck on that stupid can opener?  Have I suddenly tapped the nostalgic emotion, hidden away all these years? Will I suddenly find myself digging through old pictures and trophies, recalling how I felt at the time, creating a shrine of what my kids used to be?

That can opener, I think, is a metaphor for where we are with our kids.  They will use the tools we’ve given them to leave the ‘can’ and set out to start their own lives.  It’s out of our hands now.  They’re turning the crank, not us.

Like I was almost 2 decades ago, anticipating what will come next, I’ll be cheering on my kids and underestimating just how awesome they’ll turn out, but those 2 decades left a legacy.  You can’t ignore how profoundly your life changed because of them.  For the better.

Maybe I am getting a bit nostalgic.  Maybe I’ll spend a little time looking through old pictures, remembering how I felt at the time.  Maybe that’s what I’ve learned from my kids.  That time we spent together, figuring out life as we went along, was the stuff of life.  Those crafts from Kindergarten weren’t just construction paper and glue – they were the milestones that I kept looking for – those ‘next great things’ that I couldn’t wait to see.

Sure, having the house to ourselves will be great in many ways, but I figure it’ll be about a week before we wish they were back home again.  Maybe the can opener won’t work, and we’ll have to swoop in and save her from her independence.

As much as I might wish that, I sure hope it doesn’t happen.  Leaving the nest is just another step for kids.  A painful, thrilling, sad, exhilaratingly huge step.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

The cruelest “ism” of all

They roll their sarcastic little eyes while they try to explain to you for the 10th time what ‘tweeting’ is.  That look is deliberately designed to make you feel stupid.  And the kids are very good at it.   Don’t you just want to smack them?

I get this treatment a lot lately – not so much from my kids, although I did get some attitude last week during a family card game.  Good thing too, since I didn’t have a topic to blog about this week…Thanks ‘C’.

It seems that the most unchecked ‘ism’ out there is ageism.  That’s right – being treated unfairly, rudely, rejected, or outright ignored because of ones age.

The big problem here is that the age stereotype just gets worse with each passing day.  Let’s face it; you’re not going to get any more black, short, sexed (well, maybe a little), ethnic, or whatever, but you are definitely going to get older.

One friend always points out that getting older is better than the alternative…funny guy!  I want to smack him too.

I have a particular issue with other people who are already at this age, or are close enough that they should know better.  I thought we were supposed to support each other.

And we should stick together, right?  We should run out and get a great car insurance discount then brag about to a bunch of 20 somethings.

I was at an interview recently, and as it was winding down, I asked the gentleman across from me if there was anything in my application that was a problem for him.  He said the only potential issue was that I was ‘over qualified’.  Over qualified?  I thought being more qualified for a job was a good thing, but we all know what that really means, don’t we? It means we’re too old and can’t learn new things.  That we’re hard-coded to an old way of doing things and are too inflexible to learn a new job.

The kicker is, this guy was roughly my age. Way to stick up for your fellow discriminatee, dude!

That’s something else that is a complete ‘no-no’ for our generation.  We’re not allowed to say certain things, are we?

‘Yo! What up!’ is completely unacceptable when addressing your neighbour while putting out the garbage in your housecoat and slippers.

You can never say ‘That’s badass’ when describing a friends new golf club or riding lawn mower.

If someone is planning a long road trip to the coast with their kids and dog, you’re not allowed to say ‘That’s Cray Cray’.

You’ll never see anyone ‘Twerking’ at a curling club dance.  Okay, that one is probably a good thing…no one wants to see that.  Besides, there might be hip injuries.

But we should be free to do it if we like, right?  No discrimination.

I tried to do a ‘selfie’ but it just came out creepy…and I don’t know who I’d send it to anyway, but I should be allowed as long as all those teens are doing it, right?

Maybe that’s the key to this whole ‘ism’ problem.  We need to normalize behavior that might not fit our social norms.  Not because we really want to share photos of our lunch on Facebook, or ‘hashtag’ the Air Supply concert we’re at, but because we deserve the right to do those things that suppress us.

I could be the Rosa Parks of middle-aged men!  Who’s with me???

Oh wait – there’s a patio furniture sale on at Lee Valley this week.  Maybe we can fight for injustice next weekend…

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Suit Conspiracy – believing in Santa

WARNING:  THIS BLOG MAY MAKE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAT IF LITTLE ONES READ IT.

As a kid, I was pretty gullible.  I tended to think that what anyone told me was the truth, otherwise, why would they say it?

I also spent a lot of time getting sucked in to things.  Maybe that’s why I hate gambling so much.  Not that I have a moral stance on it, but just because I’m lousy at it.

When you’re really little, like pre-school or Kindergarten aged, Santa is like God to you.  What an incredible being, who rides around at night in a sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer, leaving presents under the tree for every kid in the world. It’s no wonder kids run screaming from him at the mall.  He’s super human!

Of course, toddlers don’t think in practical terms.  We are told about Santa, we see the gifts, so therefore, Santa is real.  Simple.

As you get a bit older, you start to see some cracks in the Santa story, though.  Mostly, it’s from older kids laughing or beating up some poor sucker who blathered that they still believe.  Who wants that kind of Christmas gift?

I remember when I lost my ‘Christmas Virginity’.  It took a while, much like my rea…..never mind.  Anyway, it started out with little things like opening the gifts with Santa’s signature on them, then going to our cousins house to see similar Santa gifts with different hand writing on the presents.  That sure seemed odd.

Then there would be Christmas Eve when we were tucked not so neatly into our beds, and I’d hear what sounded like Mom and Dad stumbling down the stairs with something big.

I spent some serious time contemplating this dilemma.  I mean, on one hand, for every Christmas up to now, the manifestation of the great and powerful Santa was clearly evident.  Shopping malls had him on display, Christmas specials confirmed his existence, and our parents and older family members assured us that he was very real.  Then, as sure as the sun would come up, presents were littered around the tree.

Being the gullible kid I was, and knowing I was gullible, meant that I had to take serious stock of things.  I didn’t want to be that kid getting beat up in the school yard for believing – especially if it wasn’t true.

So, I weighed the evidence before me.  The gifts showed up as promised every year, with no trace of them in the house before I went to bed, and all the television, radio, and adult conversation said he was real.  It’s what I was raised to believe.

On the other hand, the idea that one man could circumnavigate the entire globe in one night flying around with magic reindeer, stopping at virtually every house on the planet, and little elves making cool toys like etch-a-sketch and rock-em-sock-em robots didn’t seem very likely.

So, it came down to one key factor.  Was the Santa story a magical truth or an elaborate hoax?  When faced with this at the age of 8 or 9, I decided that the only logical explanation was that he must exist, simply because I concluded that there was no way an entire adult world could support such an elaborate ruse for that long.  Not a chance!

I was happily resolved with my results until one day when I was playing at a friends house, and he said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa.  Do you?“.  Gulp!  The acid test.  Could I stand behind my conviction?

No!  Of course not.  I blurted out, unconvincingly, “No, I don’t either.

Just then, my friend’s mother walked in and scolded us for telling the secret when his little sister was just in the other room.

Wait a minute.  I was lying when I said that I didn’t believe.  Now, this lady unwittingly confirmed my worst fear.  Santa didn’t exist after all.

I was quietly heart-broken.  All those dumb adults really could keep the secret.  So much for logical deduction!

Through adolescence and early adulthood, I was wise and smug about Santa.  I would mentally criticize parents who tried to convince their kids that the jolly old elf was working hard up at the North Pole, so they’d better be nice…..or else!

That is, until I had kids of my own.

When you have children, your cynicism about things starts to soften.  You start to immerse yourself into their wonderful little fantasy worlds.  And along with that, you begin to rethink your stance on the whole Santa conspiracy.

I took a logical approach to Santa, just like I did when I was 8. Putting aside for a moment, just who Santa is, lets look at things:

  • He still comes late at night, delivering gifts to children – CHECK
  • He works all year in his ‘workshop’ so the kids will have gifts under the tree by Christmas – CHECK
  • He brings joy and amazement to little children on Christmas morning – CHECK

I think that if you put a few details aside, like the little reindeer, and the North Pole, Santa is every bit as real as us.  I think we, in our smug, all-knowing youth, had it completely wrong.  The little kids were right after all.

Santa does exist.  There is no conspiracy after all.

Great, old St. Nickolaus, the Bishop of Myra in Turkey who is said to have given gifts to children at the time, was only the first in a very long line.

Now, those honoured enough, and who have a hint of that childhood belief, work all year long in their own ‘workshops’ (office), along side the ‘elves’ (co-workers), and deliver gifts on that magical night to their little children.

What an awesome job to have.  Being Santa Claus. If all those parents slogging away all year, then standing in line at the mall don’t believe in Santa, they are as lost to the magic as any child who stops believing at an early age.

Let me stress that Christmas is NOT about giving and getting presents, or going into debt while burning through your credit limit at the mall.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that spirit, however, bringing joy to children seems like a pretty nice way to celebrate God’s love for us.

Don’t give up on Santa.  He’s real, and he’s in each of us.  The sleigh and red suit may be gone, but what he did, and what he represents is as real as ever.

Merry Christmas!