No more moon – miss you dad

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Nope. I do not see the moon.

Have you ever taken note if you actually notice the sun and moon in your life? Daylight comes when we wake up. Nighttime comes at the end of our day. Those backdrops are a daily given. But, do you actually stop to appreciate the celestial cornerstones in our hectic and sometimes over-scheduled lives?

For me, I do not see the moon anymore in the context of my family. You see, since the last time I penned any prose for those of you who may come across this blog, I lost my father. It was sudden. It was painful. It was not expected. It shook my core more than I ever expected.

Just over two years ago I excitedly re-engaged with my blog after an extended hiatus because I became a father for the first time. I wanted to share my fatherhood experiences in the hopes, that for other first-time fathers, it may just give them some time to reflect, consider their fatherhood futures and let them know, “You are not alone bud, I’ve been just there, here’s what I know about a diaper genie.”

I never anticipated that one of my greatest early lessons about fatherhood would be driven by the loss of my father so soon…so suddenly. It reconfigured everything for me as I embraced my role in being big daddy to my little man.

The anger, sadness and melancholy was not only about how my dad’s passing, a year ago this week, impacted my sister and I. It was about my mom losing her best friend, her husband, the man she carved out a life with in Canada after they both left their lives in Italy. It was also about my son losing his last grandfather before ever getting to know him. My son’s birth unleashed a renaissance for my dad, as grandchildren tend to always do in grandparents. His overwhelming love, happiness and pride was so evident. The roots he helped establish in a country far away from his original family, had just grown deeper with my son’s birth.

It has been a year now of rollicking about in an ocean of sadness and grief and I still cannot think of my son and my father together without my throat clenching up and my eyes watering. They packed in a lot of precious moments in just the 13 months they had together. Though my son will not have any memory of them, thanks to smartphones and our digital edge, there are some priceless videos and photos.

Their last interaction was with my son in his car seat, the engine running in our vehicle, as we were set to leave my parent’s home after celebrating my father’s birthday. It had been a good day. My father had my son giggling as he stole his nose again and again, a fun game in every Italian grandfather’s repertoire. Three hours after that, we are all rushing to the hospital. The next few days would be the hardest my family has ever had to bear. I know, I know, we are not the first family to lose a parent and we will not be the last. This was life unfurling in its sometimes cruel and unjust way.

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What have I really learned about fatherhood this past year?

One, and this I wrestle with almost daily still, is realizing the amount of time and opportunities my dad and I wasted being bullheaded. I can jokingly say he is partly to blame for how I can dig in since I picked up that no bullshit, stand your ground when you think you’re right attitude, from him.

I know, it’s a clichéd regret, taking for granted what you have until it is gone. Cliched as it is, it is the truth and it hurts. What I would give for one more day. One more civil conversation. One more time of laughter. One more time of translating something into Italian from English.

The best moments as a dad will not always be about the big Disney vacation or getting your kid the coolest Christmas toy. It will be about the small moments similar to the ones I recall crisply, as if they happened minutes ago, like fishing at the same spot time and time again- each time arriving during early sunrise, a blanket of morning mist still hovering above the grass and canal. Another is watching Formula One races together in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, pulling for Ferrari to prevail. One of my favourites (why, I am still not sure) is an amazingly clear memory of stretching out on the backseat of our Pontiac LeMans, studying the back of my hockey cards, as we waited for my mom to finish her work shift. My dad is smoking his cigarettes, listening to CHIN radio, while doing a crossword puzzle. I can still smell that smoke and leather and recall the buzz of radio voices and nearby traffic as our soundtrack.

I’m convinced now that moments like these are the golden little threads, when woven together, which create the strongest rope…the rope you desperately grasp for as you face the darkness upon realizing there is no more moon.

Photo Credits: Top, Andre Widjaja, bottom, Pochwat Photography

One Year In: Reflections from a First-time Dad

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Image courtesy of Polymath38/Wikimedia Commons

Our first year with the little bambino is now in the books and what a year it’s been. I completely underestimated the learning curve that comes with parenthood. I am not talking about the learning that the little man went through but the learning we went through as parents.

The following is a list of observations for the first-time dads out there who come across this. Hopefully some of it will help you in some way and full disclosure, I in no way think I have figured it all out:

  • I took three weeks off of work after my son was born so I could stay home, help my wife and generally be a “condor” dad for the little human we brought home. If you can pull it off, take as much time as you can to be there for those first days of your newborn’s life. It is precious bonding time which you cannot replicate again. Also, you get to learn a heck of a lot about wipes, formula measurements, bottle nipples and the rest of the commercial baby product machine out there.
  • Help your wife. She has done all the heavy lifting to this point, you have hopefully been supportive, a confidant and at times a punching bag when called upon. Babies themselves are amazing. The change that happens to a woman’s body during pregnancy is unreal and likely would send the toughest of us hombres running for the hills in fear. Be a man and be there.
  • If your country or company offers it, take some paternity leave dads. I was lucky enough to be in a position to do so and did so for a month when the little guy was 10 months old. I figure, 20 years from now, I won’t be lamenting the month of work I missed but treasuring the 24/7, daily time spent with my son.
  • Poo is a pooey thing. It will amaze you how a little thing can create so much of it and in so many different consistencies, colours and smells. It will stink at times. It will make you gag on some occasions. So be it, it comes with territory, so just wipe and roll with it.
  • Also, on the subject of poo, it has a way of appearing at the most untimely moments, like when you are stuck in traffic, in a line at the Walmart where the cashier moves at the speed of molasses or when the baby is wearing white clothing. The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared” and that should be your credo…daily…trust me.
  • Every baby is different and everyone has advice. Some of it will be applicable but remember, nothing is written in stone. I’d say about only 20 per cent of the advice I received from dads has really applied a year in. Consider your source and be appreciative of the imparted wisdom. I found that a majority of the advice I deemed not applicable was usually stuff wrapped in hyperbole or general myth. Every baby is different, remember that, so you will have to blaze your own trail. You might find only 20 per cent of this blog post worthy of your time. If so, mission accomplished pour moi.
  • Get your baby car seat professionally installed, it is worth the peace of mind.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of change after your baby is born. You are now a dad and it’s a new level of “man up” time. For me, everything seemed to be in a heightened state. Colours were brighter. The air crisper. My world felt surreal. Take a breath and allow yourself to enjoy all that. You have contributed to the human race and you now have a life you are responsible for. You and your partner are now a family- a new level of bedrock in life which should keep you sane in an insane world. Once you realize that, the crap which would occupy your time at work, on television and in general life, will be refocused if you allow it.
  • Once your baby gets crawling, get down on the floor with him or her, crawl with them. Look at the world around you from their vantage point. It’s a refreshing perspective…also, it will help with baby-proofing recon.
  • Think of things that could be “firsts” for your little one. It does not have to be a formal list, chances are they will not remember the first itself but the exposure to it is important and heart-warming. The first time our little man felt rain on his face, tasted snow, saw geese fly overhead, stared at a tree rustling in the wind or looked at clouds from an airplane window was pretty awesome to see as he tried to register it.
  • You can’t hug and kiss your kid enough. Do it. Show them you love them. They are your new little buddy or little princess and you are the big bear which is supposed to be their safe, protective and warm haven.
  • Lastly, the chances of you getting peed on have gone up exponentially. Be at the ready and remember that Boy Scout motto.

The waterbug and the god stick

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Record the French satellite radio station.

How about we record The Guardian Weekly news program.

Now let’s record the Alaska State Troopers television show.

These are the travels my 11-month old son takes with the god stick (TV remote) in his hands. Needless to say, he has some eclectic tastes.

Every parent goes through it, hundreds upon hundreds dollars-worth of learning toys and general noise makers and my son loves…the god stick and our red broom and dust pan.

We are a couple of weeks away from the little guy celebrating his first birthday. His first Christmas is now under his belt and I am amazed how different things are now compared to a year ago. We were nervous and apprehensive with our “go bag” at the ready last year as we awaited “go time” in order to meet our little man for the first time.

I was clearing snow and salting the ice religiously from our veranda, front steps and driveway to ensure a safe dash to the car, if need be, once it was time to head to the hospital. I salted as if I was prepping the family’s secret sausages for the next barbecue season, I am surprised a year later that our driveway and front steps do not look like the surface of the moon.

Now, I cannot wait for some major snow so I can take the little man out in his sled he got for Christmas or for him to sit in the snow with his snowsuit. Whenever he has been in our backyard he giggles, smiles and has his “wonderment” face on. Last month, when three flocks of geese flew by overhead, he at first was startled and then was laughing as the flapping wings and honking V-formations cruised by like air cavalry wings headed into action.

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Arbyreed/Flickr Creative Commons

His waterbugging ways have us on our toes, it was like a light when off one night, a couple of months ago, when I placed him on his hands and knees and I also got down on all fours above him. We started moving, one hand forward, then another, while shifting our knees. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, he was off to the races, as have his mom and I, ever since.

He can shoot up the middle of a flight stairs now, fearless, determined and roaring or laughing along the way (I sometime imagine he is yodeling like the Cliffhangers Game on the Price is Right).

Our family cat has now certainly noticed the difference too as we approach the one year mark. I pretend to know what he is thinking as he endures another uncoordinated lunge or grabbing of fur from the little man.

“Look here Kitty Litter Maintenance Guy and Food Machine Girl, that little being wasn’t a threat before, other than drawing your attention away from moi but now…get him under control. I rule the roost you know…”

The living room and kitchen chairs are now life-sized Tetris pieces for the little guy as he stands up, grabs them and pushes them along, as walkers, to help him get from Point A to Point B while upright. If you did not know any better you would think ghosts had shifted things about with all our chairs and the highchair askew but then you realize, the little waterbug got travelling…to get to the red broom and dust pan…or the god stick because he does not want to miss the latest shenanigans Alaskan state troopers are dealing with.

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It’s been so long…

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Peg McCarthy/ OShoot Photography

Well, it has been awhile.

Almost four years to be exact since I decided to blog and send my words into the Internet ether. Hello, is this thing on? Can you hear me?

I know I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last blogger or writer who once feverishly wrote up a storm and then faded to the background.

What’s been going on since we last interacted?

Easy answer: Life.

Marriage, a new city, an ever-expanding career (I could or maybe should start a blog about management of a B2B newspaper in the ever-shifting world of journalism) and the latest, incredible addition, a baby son who is on the cusp of turning one.

It’s that last factor which brings back. I have honed a career and life where the written word, being accurate, telling stories and capturing images has been the main driving force. The lessons learned in those pursuits I know have shaped me but this new force of nature, a baby boy, has been an awe-inspiring change which lit the wordsmith fire…well…for today anyway.

As my awesome wife and I tackle the journey of parenthood, it has been amazing to see and feel how this little person we created is a game changer and the main reset button needed for a life which became too fixated on a career and getting ahead.

None of the observations I make now and going forward will be revolutionary or different from the other mommy and daddy bloggers out there but all the same, here we go…

While watching my son grow over the last 11 months I have caught myself at times looking at him in wonderment as he takes in the world around him, recognizing, remembering and experiencing new things on almost an hourly basis. I have said he is like “an open nerve”, experiencing and feeling everything right now as he lives in the moment.

Trying to reset this adult brain, which worries about the house, hiring and firing staff, traffic congestion, bills, politics, friendships come and gone and an ever slowing metabolism, to see things around me as a child does, has been refreshing and much needed…more than I would have ever acknowledged before or even expected.

What will my legacy be, I often wonder, for my son to learn about? He will figure me out in due time but I sometimes wonder, will he be curious about what his old man obsessed about most of his life? Where will he find those stories and photos? Will he wonder, “Why didn’t you write about me?”

My wife has dutifully kept a journal for our little guy during his first 11 months and I am so thankful she has. I have obsessively taken pictures (which parent hasn’t in the age of the smartphone?) in order to document his early years but I really have not written much. Then again, even before he joined us, I had pretty much forsaken any type of personal writing. The energy wasn’t there. The time was nowhere to be found. The passion was essentially gone.

I think things are changing now.

The blog has been dusted off, as has the keyboard, for how long I am not sure but surely there is time between diaper changes and getting down on all fours, to see the world as he does, where I will be able to write into the ether again.

Thanks for that little man.

From Paris to under Stephen King’s dome and back.

So, let’s write about books.

After another successful haul of books thanks to Christmas, I have an incredible amount of prose to add to my already excellent haul of books from last year. Slowly but surely that pile is being whittled down- the classic mantra of all book readers.

Books are little wonderful collections of art in my opinion. All that energy and work, hours of angst and blissful inspired glory, spilled page after page, all neatly bound, ready to be lost in…if you are ready to take the plunge.

Recently I finished two books that appear far apart on the literary spectrum but they were worth the slow coffees, teas and snacks I had as I flipped through them.

Each book is rated on the typewriter (remember those?) scale from one to five. The more the better.

PARIS 1919: Six Months that Changed the World

By Margaret MacMillan

Take a peek at the world map, see it all divided up by borders, both manmade and natural. If you ever wanted to know how most of those pieces of this great puzzle were created, read this book.

Paris 1919 is internationally renown so it won’t mean much to heap further mounds of praise on it but rest assured, the accolades are all well deserved. The research and writing which went into this political history book, which centres around the Paris 1919 peace conference, is incredible and a joy to indulge in.

As the world reeled from the end of the First World War its prevailing powers were bent on justice, acquisition of power, land expansion, global positioning and control. The strength of MacMillan’s research and style really delivers “fly on the wall” moments again and again as she unfurled those six months in Paris.

If you love history and politics, add this to your bookshelf ASAP. If you ever wanted a better understanding of Germany pre-World War Two, the Middle East, the Armenian genocide, Italy’s inability at political stability, Japan and U.S. relations pre-World War Two…and there is more, read this book. One thing I can tell you is this…the butler did not do it.

5/5

Under the Dome

By Stephen King

This 1,074 word opus by the master of fright, scream and all things macabre was a workout to carry around for its sheer size alone. For the record, I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s Darktower series, if you are ever going to read some King, read this series first. Under the Dome has nothing to do with that awesome series though it is the longest King book I have read since finishing the Darktower journey.

What continues to amaze me about King is, love him or hate him, he has an incredible imagination and impeccable story-telling capabilities. He is not lavish and technically great as a writer, according to some, but that does not matter. Dear reader, the man knows how to spin a tale. Under the Dome is about a sleepy town which becomes enclosed in a massive dome, essentially becoming the world’s biggest snowglobe.

How quickly does this town go to rot “under the dome”. Who is the first to crack? Who is the first to try to capitalize? And…who will stand up and fight? As King explores the small-town psyche of Chester’s Mill, Maine, you at times get the feeling that his descriptions of people in crisis, even under these fantastical circumstances, might not be that far-fetched.

A good read for a long book, not one of his best but it is worth getting lost in for a bit. I only have one issue with the book but I won’t ruin it for you, if you commit to this opus, you are in it for the long haul!

3.5/5

The 11 of 2011

Hello blogosphere, it sure is nice to visit again. No excuses for my sporadic care and attention to you – life is busy, passions get re-directed and ultimately, when you have spent your life writing, having another beast in the lair of your mind to feed might be one extra beast too many.

However, rest assured, though my fingers did not dance as frequently across this keyboard as before, while blogging like no one is watching,  it did not mean I was detached from the lovely, recession plagued, one per cent driven, 99 per cent wailing, Arab Spring jumping planet of ours.

What will 2012 hold? Who really knows but some things are assured: economies will remain tight, atrocities will still occur, politicians will still confound, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not win the Stanley Cup and you, the constant reader, the internet nomad, the blogging rogue, will still be out there. Happy travels and I hope you return.

For your review, by the warm glow of your tablet, smart phone, laptop or desktop, during this frigid January, is our humble submission for top stories of the year called The 11 of 2011. Better late than never….

THE DEATH OF JACK LAYTON

Who could have imagined the incredible public outpouring after the death of Jack Layton, NDP and official opposition leader, here in Canada. Gentleman Jack, as we fondly remember him, motivated and stirred passion among the Canadian voting public in the 2011 federal election. He WAS the Orange Wave that swept through Quebec and in other parts of Canada, pushing the New Democratic Party to unparalleled and likely never to repeat again heights.

The big screen at St. Andrew's for the state funeral nearby. Photo By: Vince Versace

Sitting in Toronto’s St. Andrew’s church to watch his state funeral on the big screen was a touchstone life moment. The celebration of his life in that church was an emotional rollercoaster I had never felt before for someone who was not an immediate family member or friend. From poignant audio and video clips, to rousing, almost Baptist-revival-like music and performances, Gentleman Jack’s memory was truly celebrated. He is still missed on our political landscape and for us political junkies, in our notepads and hearts too.

THE VANCOUVER STANLEY CUP RIOTS

An example of the public outcry after the 2011 Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

Stupid is as stupid does. That best describes the neanderthals, hooligans and thugs who ripped up downtown Vancouver after their Vancouver Canucks lost in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals against the big, bad Boston Bruins. No one likes losing but someone has to in sport. However, tearing up your city on national television is no way to vent.

A common refrain after the Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

We were on the ground in Vancouver the day after the riot as volunteers and normal citizens tried to reclaim and clean up their city. What had occurred just 24 hours before had left that community in shock. Watching and then reading the outpouring of emotion by citizens as they wrote on sheets of plywood or on homemade flags and banners, denouncing the idiots and proclaiming their civic love, was a moving sight.

FINISHED READING PARIS 1919

Every have a book you just can’t put down but at the same time, you cannot speed up to read through? Welcome to my life and the relationship I had with the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. I LOVED THIS BOOK! However, before you rush out and buy it, take note, it helps to have interests in history and politics to read it. This is a dense, fact-filled book which is wonderfully researched and written.

A wonderfully researched and written book, perfect for the history-politico junkie in your life.

I learned so much, chapter to chapter, about the decisions and players that influenced and ultimately crafted the world we currently both enjoy and shake our heads about. The genesis of our mistakes, messes and some of our recent darkest hours, as a global community, can mostly be found in this book. If you do not like to read to learn, or do not enjoy history and politics, stay far away and go read another Twilight novel.

FORDVILLE  aka TORONTO

So, the mayor everyone loves to hate, in the heart of Toronto that is, is still apparently roundly loved by his suburban power base. Mayor Rob Ford rode to office with promises of eliminating the so-called “gravy train” at city hall. The head-shaking moments during his first year in office vary but one strikes us as troublesome, his war with the Toronto Star.

Mayor Ford refuses to be interviewed, let alone release his press releases and itinerary, to one of Canada’s largest dailies. He is still looking for a front page apology from the Star over a story he disagreed with. The mayor’s office is a public office paid for by the taxpayers…the same taxpayers who Mayor Ford holds dear (and I do believe his sincere care for them). They deserve to know the office they entrust to run the city is open to all…including media that the mayor may not agree with. Kudos to the Toronto Star city hall reporting team who have been doing an incredible job considering the obstacles in their way. Mayor Ford says he  respects the taxpayer, are the employees and readers of The Star taxpayers not worthy enough of his respect?

Seven other notable stories:

  • The Norway massacre in which 77 people were killed in two separate attacks orchestrated by a crazed gunman. So much youth and innocence lost to a madman.
  • NASA’s space shuttle flies its last space flight. Thank you for all the space exploration, spirit, innovation and memories on those majestic big birds.
  • Canada’s federal Conservative party secures their long elusive majority government on Parliament Hill. Like them or hate them, at least some work will get done.
  • The beating up of President Barack Obama. The American president has been besieged by his critics and wing nuts who would not survive a day in his shoes under such relentless and unfair scrutiny. He is still a good man who simply needs to lead like he can and throw some haymakers along the way.
  • The death of Osama bin Laden. For some Americans, this provided both real and symbolic closure. President Obama’s cool walk after making the announcement was priceless.
  • The 10th anniversary of 9/11. A heart wrenching day burned into most of our minds. Hard to believe 10 years have passed.
  • The “occupy” movement, from mere embryo initiative in New York to worldwide phenomena in mere months…what were its tangible results? Not sure…plenty of awareness? Possibly…that is if you were interested in listening.

Goodbye Gentleman Jack

Goodbye Gentleman Jack

Thousands of worthwhile words will be penned in these days and hours after the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton. These words will all have merit and they will paint a picture of man who transcended politics and connected with the common man. These words will still not be enough. Gentleman Jack, you were one of a kind.

Jack loved Canada, loved Toronto and ultimately, loved life and believed in the good we can all achieve. His political legacy will be the story of a fighter, of persistence and of wading political shark-filled waters with wit, optimism and savvy. Remember, this is an NDP leader who helped guide the party from the brink of obscurity to one which played wedge politics with decisive success. During Canada’s recent minority governments it was Jack and his NDP which carried the biggest hammer at times.

Then, the culmination of those efforts reached epic heights in the 2011 federal election…official opposition status. However, the  fates have a cruel sense of humour, this opposition status came with the Conservatives scoring a majority government. Nevertheless, it was the NDP and its “orange wave” which slayed the separatist Bloc Québécois menace in Quebec. Jack won by representing and connecting with the social democratic values of the Québécois. Jack won by being kind and genuinely enthusiastic. Jack won by being Jack.

In his farewell letter to Canadians Jack showed the political acumen which served him so well from city hall to Parliament Hill. It also provided that final brush stroke which helps define the man.

In his closing words he wrote, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Let’s change the world indeed Jack for you changed ours.

Goodbye Gentleman Jack.