Let Freedom Ring

The last few days, I’ve been researching and thinking about what I thought would be my next post. It was to be a heart-rending story about the Charter of Rights and the CBC. Two things that go to the heart of Canada’s social, political and cultural identity. Two things I dearly love. My current Prime Minister does not share my love. We’re so different, Stevie and I.

We have lived in “my” Canada for many many years; I suppose it’s only fair that Stevie have Canada the way he likes it, for once.

Anyway, I had overcome the usual barriers to my getting down to writing – all of them either emotional or related to the domestic arts – and I was sitting right here, ready to give it a try.


No, that’s not an idea popping into my head. That’s a representation of the sound my computer makes when I get an email. This email changed my plans..

It was from John Williamson. I don’t know John personally. He’s the Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest. He’s a Tory, as so many of them are these days. You maybe can’t place the name, but most Canadians are familiar with his performance in The House of Commons upon the passage by the Senate of the legislation abolishing the long gun registry:

“Free at last. Free at last. Law abiding Canadians are finally free at last”.

“Oh yeah. That Guy,”

Imagine being known across Canada as “Oh yeah. That guy.” From relative obscurity, John burst into our consciousness and, almost instantly, ascended to the status of famous twit for his impression of Martin Luther King delivering the last lines of his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Of course, John modified the speech a bit so that it would refer, not to the end of slavery and the hope of an end to segregation and racial hatred, but to the scuttling of the long gun registry.

Yes, the worst thing about slavery and racial segregation was, like the long gun registry, all those pesky forms to fill out.

If ever anyone in this world needed a “do over”, it was the Honourable Member for New Brunswick Southwest.

Where were his friends, his colleagues? Why was there no one to take him aside and say “John. Buddy. Are you sure you want to do this? Remember, when we speak in the House, we’re on TV and we’re just one click from The YouTube. And the press, John. They’re likely to pick this up. You know they hate us. Think about it.” ?

If he were my friend and he tried out this “free at last” bit on me, I’d rip his notes out of his hands, scream, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” and lock him in a locker in the Members’ gym until the House had adjourned for the day. John had no friends that day. Worse. In the House, his colleagues encouraged him, clapping and cheering – like passers-by on the sidewalk yelling “Jump!” at the guy standing ten storeys up on a window ledge. With friends like this, who needs Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?

Ironically, John’s performance fell on the week of the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, giving the Globe and Mail an opportunity to note – in a news item, not an editorial – that James Earl Ray killed Dr. King with a long gun. Wow. That’s some bad press, John. No way you could have seen that coming.

So, John has become that irredeemable dweeb who will henceforth be known primarily as “Oh yeah. That guy.”

Those of you who read this blog religiously will recall that I posted something entitled “Free at Last” on November 7, 2011. You may wish to go back and read that now …

Done? Good. Let’s continue.

That post, as you know, was about the legislated death of the Canadian Wheat Board – another item on the Tories’ “Freedom” agenda. I quoted Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in an attempt to savagely mock the ridiculous rhetoric the Tories kicked around when they talked about the CWB – all that nonsense about farmers being “shackled”,  references to the CWB as an Orwellian “Big Brother”, and how wheat and barley farmers would finally be liberated by the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. The Tory talking points were so over the top, it was difficult to mock them. They were self-mocking. But, Gerry Ritz deserved derision, and I thought, what better way to make fun of him and the other Tory Freedom Riders than to pretend that orderly grain marketing was exactly the sort of thing that Dr. King had in mind when he invoked “the words from the old Negro spiritual…”?

I thought it was a way of demonstrating the absurdity of their “Great Liberators” pretensions. Devastating irony.

I guess not.

Of course, John’s inappropriate invocation of MLK is mild compared to what came from the mouth of Larry Miller – the MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Also a Tory – like so, so very many of them. Who? Larry Miller? He’s the guy who said – also in the House of Commons – that the gun registry was an example of the sort of thing that “Adolf Hitler tried to do in the 1930s”.

Oh yeah. That Guy.Rick Chard for National Post

That’s right, Larry, start registering long guns and the next thing you know, we’re invading Poland.

Imagine being this stupid. So stupid as to not appreciate that references to Hitler and Nazism, slavery and Jim Crow are not only out-of-place in a debate about the long gun registry, they are offensive – especially to people who have suffered real oppression, been victimized by real evil.

Still, it’s good to know, if Gerry Ritz and Vic Toews are both unavailable, the Tories have a couple of guys who can step up and deliver the message in that distinctly Tory way. To use a sports metaphor: the governing party is “deep” at the twit position.

So, I was sitting in my kitchen, reading about this controversy in my Saturday Globe and Mail and thinking bad things about John and his cell-mates. I got on my iPad and looked up this guy, this John Williamson. He’s not a dumb guy – he has a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. He was a founding editorial board member of the Nation Post, National Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Association and, just prior to being elected in 2011, was Prime Minister Harper’s Director of Communications. Stunning that a guy with that impressive resume could be “That guy”. He deserves his own chapter in “When Dumb Things Happen to Smart People”.

I found his email address. I agonized over what I would write to him. I’ve never written to an MP before. As I fumed, I became afraid that I was about to do something stupid, something I’d regret. Unlike a Tory MP, however, I stepped back from it. Rather than write some nasty, profane rant that would look creepy and have the Mounties coming to visit me, I just wrote this:

Re: “Free at Last?”
I hope you’re getting a lot of flack for that.
And I forgot about it.
A couple of weeks passed.
This morning – “ping” – John replied. He thanked me for sending him my thoughts and he assured me that it was “in no way” his intention to denigrate Martin Luther King. Then he throws out this: “I do not believe, nor did my statement suggest, the struggle for civil rights in the United States is comparable to Canadians abiding by the legal requirements of the registry.” [my emphasis]
Denial is the first stage of recovery from political embarrassment, I guess.
The next five paragraphs of his email goes on goofily about how bad the gun registry was and how he and all law-abiding Canadians are just so very glad and relieved that it’s gone. He repeats the prescribed nonsense about the registry “criminalizing law-abiding long-gun owners”. It invites the response that the Narcotics Control Act criminalizes law-abiding pot merchants – but I’m learning that these guys don’t have an ear for irony.
So, I wrote back:
Mr. Williamson,
Thank you for your email. I assume that you have sent this same email to anyone who wrote about your Martin Luther King impression in the House of Commons.
You deny that your statement in the House suggested that “the struggle for civil rights in the United States is comparable to Canadians abiding by the legal requirements of the registry”.
Of course it did.
You should just apologize. Get it over with and hope that this error is not the only enduring image Canadians will have of your time in Parliament. I’ve read about you. You have a lot to offer. You made a mistake. Do this right.
I like to think the best of people.
John and I likely won’t be close friends. I won’t be around to shove him into his Parliamentary locker when he gets another crazy idea. I hope someone will.
Larry? I have no hope for That Guy.

Men Discover Babies. Parenting Becomes Important.

Some of you may have missed the real big news about diapers and gender equality. That’s why you have me.

It began innocently enough. Huggies, the diaper company, was floating an advertizing idea on their Facebook page. Yes, Huggies is on the Facebook, if you’re looking for a friend who won’t turn you down. Some people were upset by the ad. It said that the “ultimate test” for Huggies diapers was – surprise – Dads. The Huggies people were going to move five Dads and their babies into a house together for five days while the Moms were shipped off to a spa for a “well deserved” vacation. Presumably, hilarity would ensue at the Dad-and-Baby house. The only thing more amusingly incompetent than a Dad is five Dads.

Into this controversy steps world-famous stay-at-home Dad, Chris Routly. Yes, you read that right. He’s famous for being a stay-at-home Dad. Like you, I wouldn’t think that staying at home with the kids was a pathway to fame – in the way that having octuplets most certainly is. [I never tire of references to the Octomom. There’s someone who takes parenthood seriously.]

I learned of Chris and his story when I heard him interviewed on Jian Ghomeshi’s show on CBC radio last week. That’s how famous Chris Routly is: he was on Q. [For those of you who have jobs – Jian is the new Peter Gzowski. Q is a partial replacement for Morningside.] [For those who have always had jobs, trust me, CBC radio is very important to those of us who don’t get out of the house in the morning and don’t have anyone around who can talk.]

Chris is a SAHD [the acronym is not intended to be ironic, I’m sure] with a toddler and a newborn – both boys, both in diapers. His wife has a job somewhere. Chris has a website: The Daddy Doctrines. His website is impressive – quite a bit splashier than this one. When I had two kids in diapers, I wasn’t designing websites and writing blogs. I was deciding whether to use my tiny bit of free time in a day to have a shower or take a dump. I tried to alternate. In addition to Chris’s advocacy work on behalf of SAHDs, being a media star, showing off his beautiful boys and writing his reflections on the very profound experience of Daddyhood, every Friday Chris publishes a new recipe on his blog – complete with commentary and pictures. Really. When I had a newborn around, I wasn’t experimenting with recipes. I was trying to figure out what I could make with one hand. That would be a useful cookbook for new parents – One-Handed Cooking for the Non-Amputee. Chris is obviously handling this stay-at-home-dad business with more grace, skill and aplomb than I did. I was a mess. I also was not famous. In fact, staying at home with the kids actually made me less famous. It made me disappear.

But this isn’t about me. Chris found the proposed Huggies ad insulting.  He took Huggies to task by starting a petition on www.change.org. Yes, his petition about diapers was on “change.org” [sometimes these things write themselves]. In his letter to Huggies, which accompanies the petition, he expresses dismay that the ad portrays Dads as “little more than test dummy parents, putting diapers and wipes through a ‘worst case scenario’ crash course of misuse and abuse”. He found a subsequent Huggies ad particularly galling:

Another commercial even touts the ability of HUGGIES to remain leak-free when dad is too busy watching televised sports to change a soiled diaper until after the game.

Is that what HUGGIES thinks dads do? Leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us? Really? 

He’s writing at a time, of course, when most serious Dads have PVR. Just a quick click on the ‘pause’ button on the remote, the program freezes and Daddy can run out to take a pee, get a beer, answer the phone, change a diaper, whatever.

Back when my kids were in diapers, parenting technology was not as advanced. There was no “pause” button for regular programing. A diaper change had to wait for a time out and commercial break, especially if the score was close. Babies go through the diaper change routine several times a day. A potential game-winning drive, the clock ticking down? Be serious. Easy choice.

I never felt guilty about that until Chris the Crusader became insulted by the implication that he might be a Dad like me.

Okay. I was kidding. I still don’t feel guilty about it.

Change.org invited people who signed the petition to share their reasons for doing so [http://www.change.org/petitions/we-re-dads-huggies-not-dummies]. I looked at a hundred entries [I am a tireless researcher]. Sixty three of the signatories were women. Thirty six were men. One came in from a couple. So, of those offended by this insult to men, almost two-thirds were women. Most wrote to praise the fine diaper-changing skills of their husbands. Don’t be dissing Daddy or you will hear from Mommy. I suspect they worried their fragile partners would be discouraged by the ad’s message and would stop doing their share of the baby toil. Perhaps men didn’t respond in large numbers because we were watching sports. [Or just so darn busy being “involved” fathers. When have you ever heard a mother described as “involved”. Duh.]

After a thousand people signed the petition, Huggies withdrew the ad. Victory.

The petition ended up getting slightly over thirteen hundred signatures. That’s an overwhelming response? Browse through the petitions on change.org. and you’ll see that thirteen hundred signatures is extremely lame. The only petition that even comes close to this tepid a response is the one urging Starbucks to stop using insect parts to colour their strawberry flavoured drinks – a petition that kicked the shit out of baby daddy butt wipers, four to one.

Nonetheless, the Huggies reversal is a victory for gender equality, a blow against hurtful stereotypes. Progress.

Right. A woman becoming a CEO is progress. A man changing a diaper?

Was it sexism that prevented us from taking our rightful place at the changing table and diaper pail? Yes, it was. It was the sexism of presumptive incompetence – which has worked to the benefit of men throughout history. Were men prevented from changing diapers because, like women aspiring to be CEOs, people didn’t believe we could do it? No. We didn’t do it because, well, we didn’t want to. It’s gross. If someone else is going to do it, somehow feels compelled to do it – go ahead.  Being a CEO is very different. People actually want to be CEOs.

Then, one day, someone said – “Go change the baby’s diaper, you selfish, lazy asshole.” And we did. Anybody can change a diaper. Do you have opposable thumbs? You can change a diaper. So can an ape.

Like most gross jobs, it takes some getting used to. My brother had a big mean biker friend who was a new father. Not a “bike on the roof rack of the Volvo, spandex bike shorts” type of biker. This guy was not a cyclist, he was “biker” – as in big and ugly, tough and intimidating. The first time his wife left him alone in the house with the baby, the baby let go a huge gooey blast. Bikerman started to deal with it, but became violently ill from the sight and smell of it. He carefully placed the baby in the bathtub and puked violently for several hours, until his wife came home and he could get to the hospital to deal with dehydration and a hernia. The baby was fine.

That story also makes me think that it would be a good idea for all change tables to have a high walls and water source, so you could hose the little fella down from a safe distance.

What babies have inside them often finds itself outside and all over them. Babies are often snot-covered, pooh and pee drenched, and barf soaked. All at the same time. And it doesn’t seem to bother them. It’s not an emergency necessitating the interruption of a Blue Jays rally in the bottom of the ninth. And it is not incompetence or lack of “parenting” expertise to recognize that the big job of making your baby temporarily presentable can wait a few minutes.

Parenting is important, especially now that men do it, but the day-to-day feeding, bathing, changing, laundry and other chores of parentdom are not brain surgery. I used to say that one of the things I loved about being a stay at home parent was that it’s the very rare, really important job that you can do while drinking. But, that could have been the booze talking.

Yes, it is important and, in its way, valuable work – especially when men do it. But think about how much we pay child care workers to do that work for us. More than bloggers, yes, but still, not much.

Significantly, there is no Nobel Prize for child care.

The point, for me, is that it’s not a job. It’s not a skill. Taking care of your kids is just life. Kids need to be taken care of. Maybe guys, some guys anyway, are more laid back than some Moms about changing diapers. Maybe we think that the whole world, especially the sports world, doesn’t have to stop immediately if we catch a whiff of poop in the air. It could be a nice firm dry one that can wait a while. It could also just be a fart. It could be the dog. It could be Mom’s turn. The suggestion in an advertizing campaign that Dads might be more relaxed about such things – that we integrate the child-care duties into the rest of our lives – isn’t a threat to our worth as parents. Despite frequent cries of anti-male sexism, when I look around, I don’t see men as an oppressed minority, shut out of any field they want to be in. And Dads especially, do pretty well. We get showered with effusive praise for performing the most minor parenting chores, things that mothers do without anyone noticing. Low expectations are a wonderful thing.

Parenting is unglamorous, thankless, often unpleasant work, performed out of love and devotion and necessity, and for which the rewards are immense, though intrinsic.

I’ll end this with an observation that emerges from my long and bitter experience as a father. Chris may have been offended by Huggies’ implication that his parenting might be less than stellar. Wait, Chris. In a few short years, it won’t be Huggies telling you you’re an incompetent parent. It will be your kids. Savour this time.



Keeping an Open Lap: A Pained Memoir.


Writers like to write about writing. They do it a lot. Probably only when they can’t think of anything to write about.

Every time I post one of these things, I am awash  with satisfaction and relief. That lasts a day. Maybe. Then, it hits me, “Holy Shit. That is IT. I am done.”  I know I have to write something else, and soon, because my dozens of fans [unless that is just my Mom clicking in several times a day] are depending on me, but my mind is empty. I haven’t a single idea, and no sense of one on the horizon. I have written my last blog post, obviously. I have nothing more to say. This is not writer’s block. The “writer’s block” notion presumes that, on the other side of the blockage, there resides something this writer needs to write. That’s not me. I have expended my last idea. I am that rare guy who has expressed everything he needed to express. I can shut up now.

Sadly, I have prepaid for this domain name and the blog “host” [whom I will not name until they give me some kind of consideration]. This blog site, with its aging posts, will stay up for another two years – like an old graveyard, a sad testament to a livelier time, long past.

See how this works? I have written 176 words that do nothing but demonstrate that I have nothing to say. “It’s not ‘nothing’, it’s about the artistic process.”  Right. Who doesn’t love to read about process? Of any kind?

Another thing writers do is start with a description of a recent personal experience – and hope that it will grow, somehow, into something. Anything.

The Story

Son Number Two [not his real name][but his real birth order] has been out of work for a few weeks, after a relatively long run with a small construction firm. While he was an energetic and reliable employee, in his unemployment he has demonstrated an awesome, though quite alarming, capacity for doing utterly dick-all. Every afternoon, he gets out of bed and moves to the Lazy Boy in front of the television in the basement. He channel-surfs and plays video games. He emerges at intervals to eat, but does not speak. Not conversationally. He will sometimes yell over his shoulder, “Dad. When’s supper?” I never respond. He stays there till bed time. He ‘becomes’ that Lazy Boy.

Wife Number Two [currently number one in my heart][not her real name] and I took Boy2 out for coffee to discuss our worries about his comfortable sloth. I told him I am having an electroencephalograph installed in the Lazy Boy, so I can call in the surgeons to harvest his organs should brain activity actually cease. “It will save me the trouble of going down there and poking you all the time.”  This was perhaps not a constructive opening to the dialogue. But it amused me.

Boy2 talked a bit [a small miracle]. While he didn’t say it directly, he was obviously uneasy about this job-hunting business – putting himself “out there”. He’s a shy kid, uncomfortable approaching people. He mentioned how he had gotten his previous two jobs without applying for them – “they just sort of fell into my lap.” Well, spending one’s life lounging on the Lazy Boy does leave the lap very accessible, I thought. To myself.

His worry sparked something in my memory. Joblessness, uneasiness about selling one’s self, things falling into one’s lap. [Isn’t the writing process fascinating?]

We’re now traveling back in time. Imagine the screen going all wavy – like happens on t.v. with flashbacks. ….twenty……four…..years……ago…..

I was a grad student. Well, I had actually missed a couple of tuition payments so I wasn’t officially enrolled. I was what I’d call an “academic squatter”.

I had made up my mind that I would pursue an academic career. I was gonna be a law professor. Yessiree. I was pretty proud of that – the “I made up my mind” part. I’d had some difficulty facing the hard facts of the “career” thing to that point. I’d been a successful student for many years. Why mess with success? Well, I was starting to realize that one simply could not remain a student forever. This realization struck me as quite mature. I was close to thirty. Right on time.

The unfortunate thing about my new, mature, career resolve, was that I had set myself on a path to failure. I was never going to be an academic. Academics are smart and committed and hard-working and driven and self motivated and all kinds of other things I am not, not all of them positive. In my two years at grad school, I’d noticed that most of the faculty and staff treated me like I was really just a lazy, drunk perpetual grad student – nice enough, but not a serious scholar. That was not fair. I am not lazy. I’m laid back. The rest? Probably fair.

Aside from my complete lack of suitability, there were a couple of other barriers to my pursuit of the academy. There were very few jobs. All the law schools had hired aggressively in the seventies. Law School faculties were full of tenured guys who were only ten to fifteen years into their careers. Barring some kind of deadly virus spread by learned conferencing, there wouldn’t be any openings for twenty years. While there were a few good possibilities, most opportunities were poorly paid sessional lectureships and short-term contracts.

But, for the slim pickings available, I wasn’t really in the running. What law faculties were looking for – what they desperately needed in the late eighties – was something they were not getting from me: Diversity. Law faculties were full of guys who were a lot like me. Always had been. Meanwhile, the makeup of the student population had changed dramatically. Half the students, for example, were women. Women had been joining the fraternity for years, in big numbers. But a female student could go through her three years at most law schools without ever seeing a woman standing at the front of the classroom. Law school is hard enough without feeling like a pioneer.

Other sorts of people who looked nothing like me were also finding themselves in law school.

It was embarrassing how consistently Ross-like the face of law faculties remained while the world around them changed. Faculty lounges looked very much like the men’s locker room at the country club. I would have felt right at home. Collegiality is so much easier when everyone is the same.

While my membership in virtually all of the dominant societal groups – male, extremely WASP, hetero, non-disabled – would have given me an advantage in most pursuits during most of Canadian history, for this very brief, shining moment and in these limited circumstances, it wasn’t working for me. Bad timing.

Still, I made the effort. In the spring of my second year of the one year program [I called it an “enhanced” program], I began my job hunt. I wrote a very impressive, yet understated, resume. I lovingly crafted cover letters for each resume I sent out. Twenty-three copies to law schools across the country.

Job applications were done by “mail” back then. I know, we think that was so slow, but the speed of my mass rejection was dizzying, considering the limitations of the technology. Within a week or two, twenty-two rejection letters were delivered to my mailbox [an actual box with a lid on it that postal workers put mail into]. I was offered one interview, for a job I really didn’t want. Whew, I didn’t get it. So. Twenty-three rejection letters.

All were very gracious. Each writer wished me success in my future endeavours. That’s a lot of good wishes. I now had a lot of people rooting for me. Unless they didn’t mean it.

Plan B? I had no plan B. I had twenty-three plan As

I was thirty years old. I had no money. No job. No apparent prospect of a job. No “irons in the fire”. I had not really started writing my thesis – lots of research, lots of notes, many outlines, many earnest and hopeful meetings with my advisor, many solemn assurances; not a single word on a first draft. I had a girlfriend who loved me very much but hated every little thing about me. I was more than a “fixer-upper” for her. I needed to be gutted to the studs. I had parked my car because I couldn’t afford insurance. I wrote a letter to my parents asking for a little help so I could make the rent. I wrote the letter on the back of one of my twenty-three rejection letters. I had a collection agent after me for money I owed to Columbia Record Club. If I’d had a dog, it would have died. Perhaps I wasn’t a loser; but I was someone who was, at the very least, not currently winning.

I kept up my spirits by drinking and smoking a lot. If you haven’t tried it; don’t judge.

Shortly after receiving my twenty-third well-wishing rejection letter, I was sitting in the faculty lounge at the law school, drinking coffee with my blind Australian grad school mate Glenn. “You know Glenn,” I said, “Things are looking very bleak for me right now. Worse than ever. Worse than I ever imagined. I should be panicking. But I’m not. You know why?”

“Because,” I said, not waiting for an answer, “Things have a way of just falling in my lap.”

The very next day. My phone rang. I answered. “Hello, this is Bob Whatever from the Department of Justice.” My first thought was that I was in legal trouble. No. Bob was looking for someone with a Master’s degree to work for him at the Saskatchewan Government. He’d been talking to an old classmate of his who, coincidentally, I’d spoken with at a conference a few weeks earlier. She told him about me. I met with him when he was in town the next week. The week after, I came here to Regina for an interview. The next week, I was offered the job. I took the letter of offer to the bank, got a big loan, so I could pay my rent and tuition and spend the next three months working on the thesis. I got it mostly done. I started work in Regina, finished and defended the thesis, met the woman who would be Wife Number Two and married her almost immediately. Boy Number One was born within minutes, with Two and Three following moments later. It happened that fast. My career, my family – my whole life – just sort of fell into my lap.

So. Who am I to criticize the Lazy Boy Method?


The day after our coffee meeting with him, Boy2 got on the computer and applied for a few jobs. Within five minutes, he got a job interview. The next morning. He got the job. He starts Monday.

There’s a lesson here.