After much fanfare, my first Huffington Post blog piece has slipped down the right side of the website and is gone. A fleeting thing, a HuffPo post.

It remains permanently in my “author archive” :

It has also been pointed out to me that googling Ross Macnab will get you to the Huffington Post Canada author archive as well. I don’t recommend this, because most of you can’t spell Macnab. Try this: turn away from your computer, take a pen and paper and print out Macnab. Now.

Done? Okay – did you spell Macnab correctly? No. You didn’t. No one does. It doesn’t matter to me, though it has led to a lifetime of being mis-filed. People can’t find me in the phone book. They can’t google me or find me on the facebook. I don’t need an alias. I have a name that everybody thinks should be spelled differently than it is.

But this isn’t about that.

My first week as a HuffPost Pro Bono Blogger has been exciting. It went up on the site on Wednesday morning. Right there under Yoko Ono’s blog. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the next staff and volunteers get-together.

I called my sister to let her know that I was a big shot now. When I got off the phone, there was a message waiting for me from a producer for the John Gormley show. She’d spotted the HuffPo piece and thought John would like to talk with me.

Gormley is on A.M. radio, for four and a half hours every day. He has a lot of energy. He’s very popular. I’ve heard that sixty percent of Saskatchewan’s radios are tuned in to him every morning – something that ought to concern Jian Ghomeshi. He has guests and he has people call in. And he talks. Gormley and I couldn’t be described as ideological soul-mates. He and his listeners and most of his guests seem quite a bit more pissed off than I ever am. And, they’re usually pissed off at people like me.

I called back and said I’d be happy to be on the Gormley show but that John would have to carry me. I predicted I would not be very good on the radio and there might be a lot of dead air while I panicked. It was arranged that I’d be on the next day.

Delores, my next door neighbour, and I went to Costco that afternoon. She doesn’t get around as well as she used to, since the stroke, and she likes the help hauling in the cat food.

When I got back, the phone rang. It was CTV in Toronto. They wanted me on their evening news show to talk about Saskatchewan, because of the HuffPo piece. I had to install Skype. It didn’t work, so I appeared by phone. Me and Mayor Pat Fiacco. He took up most of the time alloted for the segment, irrepressible as he is, and so my incoherent nattering was blessedly short. I don’t believe anyone saw the newscast.

All this was preventing me from getting the lawn mowed. And, I got the chickens in the oven late. Oh, I heard about that.

The next day, I spent the morning listening to Gormley. From ten to eleven that morning, and perhaps every morning, John hosts The Hour of Rage, where people call in to share with John and his listeners what in particular is really pissing them off that day.

By the time of my bit, eleven thirty, I suppose people had cooled off a bit. John very generously read out a large portion of the HuffPost piece and said very nice things about it and invited people to call in and say what they really liked about Saskatchewan. He spoke to me for a bit and, as I predicted, he needed to lead me along. John, whatever you may think of his politics, is extremely good on the radio. He was very gracious and kind to me. The rest of the half hour was people calling in. It was a very nice piece. I was happy to have played a role in calming down John’s angry audience, getting them to see the bright side.

After a few hours, blog posts slip down the screen on the HuffPost site and find their way into a bin called “Recent Posts”, where they can be found only by those with patience and good website navigation skills. By Friday morning, I was on page one of Recent Posts. Then page two. Three. Four. Gone.

Still, I figured I’d had at least sixteen minutes of fame, significantly exceeding my allotment.

Friday, another call from a radio show on CJME Newstalk Radio. This time, it was the Richard Brown Show, hosted on that day by Bronwyn Eyre. This is another of those angry, “us vs. them” sorts of radio programs. I guess people never tire of resentment. Again, I was a feel-good segment, though Bronwyn did try to get me to explain why it is that Saskatchewan is enjoying an economic boom of late. I assume that the correct answer was “because we defeated socialism”, but I stammered and stumbled and stuttered out a garbled bit of non-responsive nonsense which was, it seems, too embarrassing to follow up on – she moved quickly to something else.

Now, as my supportive wife reminds me, I have to write something new – even though I have nothing more to say.

I’ll let you know how it goes.




Fathers Day

Once again, I have changed the names of the characters in this story.

I love this time of year. NBA playoffs. I’m a basketball fan and I have three basketball-loving boys – Boy1, Boy2 and Boy3.

The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the Finals. Game three was last night. The Heat are Boy2’s favourite team. Boy3 loves the Thunder, hates the Heat. This game, like the whole series, was going to be both triumph and tragedy, no matter what happened, and would result in much anger and taunting, extremely bad language and very possibly some physical violence. Boy1 doesn’t care who wins, he just wants it to be a long series.

Boy1, the oldest, works till eight thirty on Sunday nights. He always comes over after work for a bite to eat. He was very disappointed that he was going to miss the game. Sunday afternoon, through a texted negotiation, he was able to extract an agreement from Boy3, the youngest, that we would record the game and not watch it until he arrived. Boy1 extracted this agreement by promising to buy pizza. In fact, I ordered the pizza and paid for it. I’m not clear on the definition Boy1 was using for “buy”, but it did not appear to include either ordering or paying.

I’m not sure where Boy2 was. He’d stumbled out of bed sometime mid afternoon and stumbled out the back door without announcing his entry into the day or his departure from the house. I called him on his cell phone and told him we were watching the game late and that he should NOT come in and tell us the final score. It is the sort of thing he’d love to do. He told me he hadn’t been watching the game and would be home to watch it with us. And have some pizza.

A very happy family scene. Wife and Mother [not her real names] had to leave the room, however, because she was so upset by the profanity. What a girl.

Near the end of the fourth quarter [unlike the three part hockey game, a basketball game is divided into halves, then further into quarters] it appeared that the game had slipped away from the Thunder. The Heat were going to win. Out of nowhere, Boy3 offered to bet Boy2 twenty bucks that the Thunder would pull out a win. Boy2, without hesitation, took the bet.

The Thunder did not pull it out.

Boy 3 is furious. He had received a text from a friend, who told him that the Thunder had, in fact, won the game. That’s why he’d offered the bet. He was going to win himself an easy twenty bucks from his brother by cheating.

Boy2 took the bet readily because he had watched the game before he came home and knew all along how it would end. In this particular contest between cheating and lying, then, lying was the clear winner.

A lot of swearing ensued, which upset Mom.

Later, I was cleaning up and noticed a slice of pizza in the box with a bite out of it. Boy1 does this all the time – with cookies, donuts, granola bars, fudge, pizza, steak, whatever. He takes a bite and leaves it. Sometime in the container the thing came from. Sometimes just on the kitchen counter. I’ve recently begun to respond to this peculiar habit by taking his bitten left-over, whatever it is, and placing it on his Blackberry, which he always leaves on the kitchen table or the counter. He came along and found the pizza slice, oozing tomato sauce on his phone.

Fuck Dad, I was going to come back and finish that.

No. You weren’t.

Yeah, fuck, I was. and stop fucking putting greasy shit on my phone. Fuck.

And on and on he went. I maintained my cheery countenance.

The WifeMom could hear this outburst from her bed, where she’d retreated some time earlier. The anger and profanity upset her. I assured her it was all just fun. Boy1 was wishing me a happy fathers day.

Bored Sober

I have made several attempts in this blog to latch on to various hot cultural trends, hoping to bring myself significant cyber-popularity. That’s pathetic, yes. And made so much more so by the pathetic results of my efforts.

I did a weight-loss piece – “Lose Weight Fast”. Millions of people, every day, click on fat-fighting sites. Every magazine published in the world has at least one fat article every issue. Write about losing a lot of weight and the massive masses slurp it up like a DQ milkshake. Unless I write it, I guess.

I should have used “before and after” pictures, except that I couldn’t find a Fat Ross photo that I liked.

I tried to catch the “cute cat video” wave. I entitled that piece “Cute Cat Video”, even though there was no video. That’s very much like lying. That’s how desperate I am for attention. I’m sure that my utter lack of success erased the ethical taint of that deception.

Daddy Blogs are very popular, especially among women. Men doing childcare and housework? Are you kidding? Like selling crack cocaine. I tried it – “Men Discover Babies. Parenting Becomes Important.” Apparently, selling crack isn’t as easy as I had been led to believe.

I’ve done cute kid stories. A piece on the War on Christmas. Political Correctness. Being a Man. I’ve done “how-to” manuals to help people be funny [who doesn’t want to be funny?]. My research tells me that each of these things is wildly popular – and so I should be.


But I am not giving up on my dream to become an internet sensation.

Fortunately, there remain a few genres to which I have not yet lent my special touch. One of them is the addiction memoir. There is a limitless appetite for personal stories of spiraling personal destruction through drug and alcohol abuse – all the degradation, violence, anger, sorrow, pain and alienation. And vomiting. Lots of vomiting. Who doesn’t love to read about those things? Especially when those things are accompanied by vivid descriptions of heroic booze intake and the smoking, snorting, injecting and otherwise creative ingesting of various fascinating substances with really cool “street” names. And the characters? Man. Drug dealers, gangsters, prostitutes, junkies, artists, writers, lawyers. All so interesting. Many with cool nicknames, horrific personal histories and fascinating physical deformities.

Of course, every addiction memoir includes “recovery”. In the end, the addict must pull out of the spiral. There has to be redemption. Healing. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Without all this, the memoir is merely voyeurism – addiction porn. The morbid enjoyment of destruction – like NASCAR.

Practically speaking, of course, without recovery, there is no one to write the memoir.

This is where the genre is misleading. Most of the time, there is no one to write the memoir. Most addicts don’t recover, not for very long. Most are too busy dealing with the urgencies of their day-to-day fucked up existence to write a memoir. They’re also far too invested in denial to write an honest account of their ordeal as they’re living it. Blackouts also make it very difficult for the responsible memoirist to get the story straight.

Then they die. Not romantically or beautifully.The addict/alcoholic death is usually a slow one. Addicts are resilient. It’s a long fall. And ugly. For every exciting young famous flame-out who “partied” too hard, there are hundreds and hundreds of decaying pitiful souls who give up, break down and expire in squalor. ParTay.

The addiction memoir spares us all that. The danger of certain death looms as a constant background to the narrative – if our hero(ine) doesn’t dry out – but we know everything is going to be okay by the end of the book. Later, a relapse can become the occasion for another book.

Typically, the mandatory “recovery” part of the memoir covers only a few pages. Recovery is the goal but not the guts of the addiction memoir.

Recovery is actually kind of boring – especially compared with what’s being recovered from. And it takes a long time. Think of action movies – how much time is spent in the hospital burns unit after the fiery crash?  Same thing here. Recovering addicts have ordinary lives, like yours, except that they go to a lot of “meetings”. Who wants to read about that?

I won’t list my favourite AddMems [I just made that word up]. Lists are dull. But, I will recommend two. “Lit“, by Mary Karr is absolutely beautiful. Every sentence is a poem. Same with “Dry“, by Augusten Burroughs. On the other hand, comedian Richard Lewis wrote one with the title “The Other Great Depression: How I’m overcoming on a Daily Basis, at Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual (Sometimes) Life“. The book reads very much like the title. Ironic that a guy with no attention span expects us to read his entire, long-winded and unfocused book. But I did.

Some wonderful writers have booze and drug issues. I don’t know if there is a connection. Stephen King, of scary book and movie fame, places his addiction memoir in a book about writing. A great book about writing – “On Writing“. He doesn’t recall many of the details of the writing of his breakthrough book “Carrie”. He didn’t lose his writing chops when he dried out, thankfully.

So, I am one of those people caught up with the AddMem. I’ve read lots of them. Some are my favourite books. I bought a new one just the other day – “Kasher in the Rye” by Mosher Kasher. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I expect he recovers.

I bought the new book, coincidentally, on May 16 – the seventh anniversary of my first day of sobriety. Okay – that’s not quite right. I spent much of my childhood sober, especially during infancy. For much of my adult life, though, I have been an active, though functioning, alcoholic.

At this point, you’re supposed to say “Hello, Ross.”

Well then, as a recovering alcoholic, I am well equipped to cash in on the lucrative Addiction Memoir craze. How lucky is that?

Let’s get on with my crash-and-burn and rise-from-the-ashes story.

Except that I didn’t crash and burn. It was more like I was spending my life driving around with my tires under-inflated.

My story also doesn’t involve an interesting cast of characters. I was a drunk pretty much on my own. One of the questions they always ask on those “are you an alcoholic?” magazine questionnaires is “do you ever drink alone?” I guess that drinking alone is a terrible thing. I never got that – so I’m supposed to always find someone to drink with? What about making supper, doing the dishes, bathing the kids, reading bedtime stories? How could I possibly be a responsible parent and husband while drinking heavily if I had to go to a bar or a party every night? Be serious.

Besides, most of the friends I might socially drink with generally weren’t comfortable with how much I drank. I didn’t want them to worry. Or intervene. Or know.

There are no skeevy drug dealers in my story. All of my dealers were public servants working at government-run liquor stores. I don’t recall any of them having any interesting scars or missing limbs and none of them ever took my money at knife-point.  There were a lot of them, of course, because I tried to spread my custom around. I rotated through the liquor stores because I wanted to avoid becoming a “regular”. I purposely did not learn any of their names. I couldn’t have a liquor store cashier thinking I had a drinking problem. Obviously.

Sorry, my story doesn’t involve snorting substance from a thousand-dollar-a-night hooker’s belly button. I quietly slurped scotch from my favourite little glass, which I filled frequently from various scotch bottles I had stashed about the house.

The AA folks have long asked us to characterize alcoholism as a disease. It is treated as a “disability” in the legal human rights world – though I notice that we don’t get special parking spaces. I’m also waiting on the International Paralympic Committee to declare alcoholism to be a disability for the purpose of the Paralympic Games. Imagine the hockey team we’d have.

It wasn’t a disease with me. More like a condition – like a bum knee. It didn’t disable me. It hobbled me. It prevented me from having the life I’d like to have. Well, not quite. I was actually, for a long time, torn on the issue of what sort of life I’d like to have. I kind of liked the “drinking a lot” aspect of my life. What’s not to like? Perhaps, to a non-alcoholic, the appeal of a life spent drinking heavily isn’t obvious. You’ll just have to trust me on this. At any rate, the successful drunk develops a level of self-loathing sufficient to dismiss any notion that he’d amount to much even without the drinking. In other words, if there was a better life waiting on me to be sober, which I doubted, it could wait. Indefinitely.

Mostly, I could manage. I could accommodate my disability, control my disease. I never missed a day of work. For all hard drinkin’ guys, that’s the ultimate test. I made it to work. Every day. I was really, really unproductive, of course. But I was there – pretending not to be hung over.

And, if I had to, if the circumstances absolutely required it, I could be sober. Of course, I started to realize that there weren’t really that many things that I needed to be completely sober for. It was often enough that I pretend to be sober.

There’s quite a lot of pretending in functional alcoholism. Some might consider this dishonest. I’m not comfortable with that degree of moral rigidity.

The only people I directly lied to were my wife and my doctor. Dishonesty in a marriage is a bad thing. Dishonesty with one’s doctor can be fatal. I figured he couldn’t handle the truth. He’d probably have suggested I quit drinking, especially since the “medical establishment” believes that my level of boozing was bad for my high blood pressure. Had I the energy, I’d have sought out alternative, more booze-friendly, therapies.

My story doesn’t have a dramatic point when I “hit bottom”. Instead, I turned it around as a result of a conversation I had with my wife, whom I had spared the burdensome knowledge of exactly how much I had been drinking for years. She suggested it would be better for all concerned if I learned how to drink “moderately”.

Why would anyone drink moderately? What is the point of that?

I realized I had three choices. I could drink moderately. I could quit drinking completely. I could drink myself to death. I further realized that drinking moderately was my very distant third choice.

She asked how much I drank. And, after many years of answering that question with a lie, I told the truth which, to get all literary, set me free.

I quit drinking. Not right then. I had a buzz going that I didn’t want to interrupt. The next day. Seven years ago. Like they say in AA “seven years at a time”. No, they don’t say that.

I kept a journal of my new sober life. For a couple of years. I looked it over as I prepared to write this. It is very boring. In fact, I note several times in the journal that my new life is really really boring. The worst part of sobriety, aside from how boring it is, is that all your problems – in your career, your family life, your life generally – are still there. Sobriety doesn’t magically solve anything, except drunkenness. And you’re stuck dealing with those problems because you’re no longer too drunk or too hung over to attend to them. Now that sucks. But eventually, slowly, you get used to it.

Many old drunks, when they quit drinking, feel like they’ve lost their best friend. They mourn that loss for a long time. For me, it was like an annoying roommate had moved out: a guy I’d known since high school, with whom I’d shared lots of laughs, who knew me better than anyone else. But I was spending way too much time sitting around home with that guy, on the couch, watching sports. Life outside us and outside our little home was just slipping away from me. He was not cleaning up after himself. He was always late with the rent and bumming smokes. He was too needy. He had to go. It was time to grow up. I don’t miss him. I can’t believe it took me so long to kick him out. Oh yeah, and in this metaphor, the roommate was going to kill me.

I hate how much of my life I wasted. You learn not to dwell on regret. I hope I’ve repaired all the damage I’ve done. But it’s only been seven years.

One thing I still don’t get, even seven years later. Why would anyone drink moderately?

Update on Progress and a Correction

First. Things are not going well on my next post. In some of my “family” posts, I enjoy describing our dysfunction: My laughable efforts to assert my authority; My Wife’s amused dismissal of my parenting ‘vision'; The boys’ profane disdain for all authority, especially parental authority. It’s cute and harmless.

But this next piece is supposed to be about the much-lauded “family supper”. This piece threatens to expose us as deeply pathological. That’s the sort of thing that has to be carefully worded.

So, it is taking a while.

In the meantime, let me correct a couple of things on the last big post – the one about The Charter and the CBC and HarperHostility towards Ross’s Canada.

People do indeed love the CBC. However, I was way off the mark with my special mention of Cross Country Checkup. I said it wasn’t “just another dumb phone in”. It appears that I am wrong about this. The Checkup, some believe, is just an opportunity for the dumb and the boring to be dumb and boring in a “national”, rather than merely  local or regional, way. Others do not like the Host – Rex. I can understand that. He’s very polite, however, and has a very good radio face.

So, I’m drawing back from my effusion with respect to Rex Country Checkup. But not the rest.

Worse than including TyranaPompous Rex in my praise, however, was the wealth of radio gold that I failed to mention. Like Terry O’Reilly’s new Age of Persuasion, which is called Under the Influence. And Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap. And, can you believe that I left out Stuart McLean? The Debaters?

Many people like Afghanada. I usually miss it. It’s on the wrong time of day for me. It is one of the dramatic CBC Radio offerings being terminated because of the budget cuts.

So. Sorry.

Enjoy the CBC while you can.

What the For Heavens’ Sake?

Subscribers to this blog will, this evening, have received an email leading to nowhere. It promised a new blog post. You clicked expectantly. But no. Nothing new.

For the first time, like, ever – I made a mistake. I clicked errantly. I wanted to see how something would look – so decided to click “preview”. But, in my haste, I misclicked and published it – thus setting into motion an automatic email distribution mechanism that I was helpless to prevent.

I am very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

I am working on a new post. It’s not going very well. Don’t hold your breath. When I do get it done, I can’t promise it will have been worth the wait.

Move along. Nothing to see here.


Good Morning Canada

Last Tuesday morning, April 17, I listened to The Current – a news show on CBC Radio. Much of the show was devoted to the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – thus demonstrating how out of touch my CBC Radio is with my Harper Guvmint.

The Strong Stable National Majority Harper Government chose not to mark the 30th anniversary with much official fanfare. Rather than a parade or fireworks, they celebrated with a press release. Par-Tay.

The press release referred to the Charter as “an important step in the development of Canada’s human rights policy” and noted that the Charter was built on the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights of 1960. There was nothing in the press release to indicate that it was intended to be funny. If these guys had a sense of humour, I expect it would be “dry”.

April 17th, thirty years ago, in a ceremony in the rain on Parliament Hill, the Queen launched the Charter era. [Imagine the Tories not just loving a story with THE Queen in it.] The constitutional entrenchment of fundamental rights and freedoms is not a “step”. It is a fundamental change in the relationship between Canadians and their governments. April 17, 1982 launched the replacement of Parliamentary supremacy with judicial review on Charter grounds. It’s a big deal. The Queen’s signature also entrenched the recognition and affirmation of “existing aboriginal rights”. That has also turned out to be sort of a big deal, hasn’t it?

And then, there’s the “patriation” thing. Small detail. Up till April 17th, 1982, our written constitution was a British statute – The British North America Act – and could be altered only by the British Parliament. Patriation was the culmination of eighty years of efforts by federal and provincial politicians – of all political stripes, spots, shades and hues – to address our symbolic national infancy. Finally, a practical manifestation of Canada’s independent nationhood that did not require the deaths of scores of young Canadian men in the mud in Europe.

So, break out the champagne and issue a press release!

The government also issued a press release that day announcing the investment of $42000 to Hinterland Wine Company Ltd. towards the purchase and installation of new sparkling wine processing equipment at their facility in Hillier, Ontario. There was no effort to tie this development to the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights.

So, it was a busy day for our Government.

When the Prime Minister was asked about the decision not to mark the anniversary in any substantive way, he said that the coming into force of the Charter in 1982 “was an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country.”

What a sensitive, thoughtful guy. He doesn’t want to make a big fuss about the Charter because it might hurt the feelings of those who didn’t like the patriation process. I assume he’s speaking of Quebec. Rene Levesque and the separatist Quebec government did not sign on to the new constitution – them being separatists and all. Harper doesn’t want to rub salt in the wounds of that exclusion. He’s got a light touch, our PM.

Okay – here’s an obvious point. The Charter is very popular in Quebec. Always has been. So is patriation. The Queen? No. And yet, she’s popping up all over the place since the Reform-a-Tories took power. Everything Royal is new again. These guys hate an unelected Senate and distrust unelected judges, worried as they are about democratic legitimacy, but they like a hereditary monarchy? You can call her the “Queen of Canada” all you want; it’s not selling in Quebec. Why no respectful silence there?

And, let’s not forget His government’s initial enthusiasm for a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham – right there in the middle of Quebec City –  to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the defeat of New France and the triumph of the British over current Quebecers’ ancestors. Sort of “in your face”, I think. Where was Harper’s famous “sensitivity” then? He dismissed objections to this event as divisive rhetoric from separatistes trying to play politics with Canda’s proud heritage. Apparently, the idea of being conquered isn’t anywhere near as humiliating as being left off the patriation document.

At some point, someone in the governmental brain trust had a “what the fuck were we thinking” moment and the reenactment was cancelled. I assume they lost the deposit on the muskets.

And, then there was the “Reckless Coalition” business. Recall when the three opposition parties threatened to defeat Harper’s minority government and attempt form a coalition of sorts that could sustain the confidence of the House. He and his fellow Tories had no qualms about dismissing the Bloc Québécois, the party that represented the majority of the people of Quebec, as essentially illegitimate. Sensitive?

I think the more likely explanation for official indifference to the thirtieth anniversary is that our Tories don’t find the Charter to be something to celebrate. The Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his fear of activist judges who thwart the democratic will of Parliament. He appears to long for the days of parliamentary supremacy and the common law. And the Queen, of course.

It was the Charter, after all, that helped give us gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion on demand, a right to collective bargaining. It also jetissoned the Lord’s Day Act [so much for the Fourth Commandment – can graven images and coveting be far behind?]. It also enforced all kinds of legal rights for bad guys, stifling the efforts of police, courts, jailers and Parliamentarians to get “tough” on crime. It even led to prison inmates getting the right to vote. This is hardly a wish list of Tory policy goals.

Still, he’s the only Prime Minister who has launched his own Charter challenge. About ten years ago, Mr. Harper went looking for one of those activist judges willing to thwart the democratic will of Parliament.  He wanted the Court to nix legislated limits on third-party campaign spending – because those limits violate the precious freedom of rich people to express themselves by spending unlimited amounts of money in support of a political party (we’re not sure which one): []

He was the President of the National Citizens Coalition at the  time. Check out the website of this group: These are folks who do not like government. And they want to convince all of us that we should also not like government. Perhaps Mr. Harper thought the NCC’s goal of widespread dislike of government would be best served if he became Prime Minister.

Sadly for NCC President Harper and all of those unfortunate rich people who so want their money to express itself politically, they lost. The Supreme Court did not exercise its dangerous judicial activism to  nullify the legislation – though not out of any great reverence for parliamentary supremacy. The Court found that the limit on excessive expressive political spending was proven to be justified in a “free and democratic society” because, among other things, the legislation would “preclude the voices of the wealthy from dominating the political discourse”. Some Charter.

The NCC has pursued other Charter litigation as well and has succeeded in having legislation overridden – in spite of that “democratic will” thing.

So, it is somewhat a surprise that Mr. Harper doesn’t more enthusiastically celebrate the Charter and it’s potential. Perhaps he’s a hypocrite.

As I was saying at the beginning, I was enjoying The Current. I love CBC Radio. Many people I know use the word “love” when they talk about CBC Radio. It connects me to this country. It connects me with other Canadians. I feel part of something unique and worthy when I listen to CBC Radio, which I do much of the day, most days, and have done since I was a child. And it is not just because other Canadians, all across the country, are also listening to it. Other Canadians are probably, like me, drinking Starbucks coffee, checking out the NBA scores and watching Law and Order reruns. That doesn’t make me feel connected to them nor does it give me a sense of participating in something Canadian the way that CBC Radio does. Cross Country Checkup is not just another dumb phone in. The World at Six is not slick and does not lead with that which “bleeds”. As It Happens, The Current, Ideas, The Sunday Edition. I am not treated like an idiot when I listen to these. Q, Tapestry, Writers and Company, Spark, Wiretap, The Irrelevant Show, Day Six, DNTO… and on and on. It is a rich source of engagement and entertainment not available elsewhere and upon which I am happy to spend my tax money. I’m happy to spend other people’s tax money on it too, I guess – with my thanks, of course.

Oh, but what a surprise,  the residents of Harperville value my CBC radio as much as they do my Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The CBC will have its budget cut by ten percent. There are cuts everywhere, of course, and pink slips are going out to public servants across the country as I write this. The Tories will cut over five billion dollars of spending over the next three years, they tell us. Few areas of government are spared. I suppose the CBC, including my CBC Radio, must carry its share of the austerity burden.

But I worry.

I worry because I just don’t think the Tories value the things I do about Canada and its culture. This is true across a broad range of issues, but I’m focussed right now on the Charter and my CBC Radio.

These guys make cuts not just to be fiscally responsible. They do it for ideological reasons –  because they want to reduce the “size” of government, reduce the presence of the federal government in our lives, give us more “freedom”. The fact that there is a budget deficit to slash is just a happy coincidence. This is not a secret and, I guess, democratically speaking, they are entitled to pursue their New Canada project – because of that “majority government” thing.

I assume the cuts to CBC, which are more substantial than cuts elsewhere, are similarly a step towards an ideological goal – to reduce the presence of CBC in our lives, to be replaced, I suppose, by private broadcasters and their commercial sponsors. More freedom.

During the last election, several successful Tory candidates, including Rob Anders, invited web-surfers to sign an on-line petition on their official Tory websites, requesting  Parliament to not just cut the CBC, but eliminate it entirely. Mr. Anders conducted a poll of his Calgary West constituents and found that eighty percent supported the defunding of the CBC. Mr. Anders is famous for being removed from the Veterans Affairs Committee because he fell asleep during a committee hearing, probably because he was tired from lying awake at night, fussing about the damn CBC.

And what does the PM think?

Well, let’s look back at the National Citizens Coalition website. Read its Agenda For Canada. Mr. Harper has carried many of the NCC’s goals into office with him – like “smaller government”, lower taxes, the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board… And, you guessed it, the NCC calls for the end of the CBC.

The Charter will stay. It’s the constitution. You can’t just starve it. The amending formula is designed to make changes almost impossible to accomplish.

But my CBC radio is not so secure. Nor is it loved by many Canadians the way I love it. So I worry.

Maybe if we changed its name to The Royal Canadian Broadcasting Corporation…


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 Yes, his petition about diapers was on “” [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. invited people who signed the petition to share their reasons for doing so []. 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 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.






This story began about a year ago with a phone call. It was John [not his real name] a fellow I’ve known for many years, from the neighbourhood. I see him at Safeway once in a while. Nice guy. We small-talked a bit, as one does on the telephone. Then, he said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve moved to XYZ Funeral Services”.

I’d forgotten that John was in the funeral business. “Oh really?” I said, wondering if he was about to pitch a pre-paid funeral group pac for me and all my loved ones. “XYZ handled my Dad’s arrangements,” I said, conversationally. 

“He’s right here in front of me,” says John.

And he was. Not my Dad, but the ashes Dad had become, in a plastic bag in a square cardboard box with a white label stuck to it with Dad’s name and the date of his death and the date of his cremation.

The real beginning of this story was four and half years before that telephone call.

The morning after my Dad died, I pulled out his old brown briefcase and opened it on the kitchen counter. He had files in there for most possibilities, including and perhaps especially his death. He hadn’t intended to die on this occasion, but he had prepared for it. He and Mom belonged to the Memorial Society – an organization, according to their website, “dedicated to simplicity, dignity and economy in preplanned funerals”. A lifetime membership costs twenty bucks. The Society aims to help people avoid the excesses of the grief industry. In my Dad’s death file was a checklist drafted by the Society. Dad had checked the appropriate boxes. There are certain funeral homes, endorsed by the Society, whose employees are instructed to simply sit and take instructions, rather than try to push the loved ones to buy from among the exciting array of products and services available.  

According to the checklist, Dad had declined most of the bells and whistles of a big send-off.

Armed with the form, my Mom, my sister and I went to XYZ and answered the Society-prescribed questions with the Dad-prescribed answers. 

All the arrangements, including the cremation? It came to thirteen hundred bucks. Dad would have been very pleased. He loved a bargain and would certainly have enjoyed being one. 

For some reason, Dad had indicated on the checklist that the funeral home was to deal with the ashes – sometimes goofily referred to as “cremains” [which, for some reason, always makes me think of dried cranberries]. There is a lot of goofy language in the funeral bizz.

This was the only issue on which the funeral home guy pressed us a bit, to make sure. 

We didn’t want the ashes?Didn’t want to deal with them ourselves? 

I suppose Dad thought he’d spare us the cost of an urn. Maybe he wanted to avoid the possibility that we might be tempted to have a grave or a vault or something. Maybe it was just an oversight. We’ll never know. 

We were on auto pilot at that point and so we simply reiterated the instruction: You deal with the ashes, Mr. Funeral Guy. As we were doing it, it seemed a little unsatisfying to me. But, you know, the day after your father dies, nothing in this world seems right or satisfying or anything other than just fucking awful, so we moved on. 

We had a memorial service in Swift Current a few days later. The absence of the ashes didn’t affect that. I never really thought much about the ashes after that. I never second guessed our decision. I generally don’t fuss about things I can’t change.I certainly didn’t think we’d denied ourselves “closure”. I hate that word.Closure. As if. There certainly wasn’t any particular act or gesture, ritual or symbol that was going to ease me gently into the rest of my life, make me wipe my brow and say, “Whew. Well, I’m glad all that death stuff is over.”

That spring, Mom bought a bench. A substantial, cement and stone thing offered as a fundraising effort by the Friends of Cypress Hills. It weighs about eight hundred pounds and is set on a cement foundation. She had it placed on the Highland Trail, under some spruce trees, overlooking the beaver dam and off over the hills. It faces southeast. This would be “Dad’s Bench” 

We discussed what would be inscribed on the plaque. All the best suggestions were too “inside” – wouldn’t be understood by the casual hiker who didn’t know Dad or us. My brother’s favourite idea for an inscription was “You’d be more comfortable over there.” This was an expression Dad originally used whenever he would find someone sitting on the living room couch when he wanted to lie down. Dad liked a nap. He’d say, “You’d be more comfortable over there.” The expression became a family favourite; to be used whenever you wanted someone to move from the place you wanted to be. We all imagined a hiker coming across the only bench on the trail and being told “You’d be more comfortable over there”. Funny. Being funny would be the most fitting tribute to Dad, even if the humour was appreciated only in his inner circle. 

We opted for “Sit and enjoy one of Bill Macnab’s favourite views”.When I sit on that bench and look out on the view from it I imagine my Dad looking out and enjoying it and I have a good feeling about him and about his life and how much he enjoyed things like this. For a moment, I become him. He’s not gone; he’s in me, in the experiences we shared and can still share. 

So, the bench served very much the function of a grave site, as well as a pilgrimage. Dad’s Bench. Trips to Cypress Hills now include a hike out to the Bench and a quiet moment looking out over the view. And, we always think about changing the plaque to read “You’d be more comfortable over there.”   

Back to John, the funeral guy. He told me that they really aren’t supposed to just “deal with” ashes without some written authorization or something – some detail that hadn’t been taken care of. Or paid for. I told John to keep them while I consulted. It was a bit of a shock, after four and a half years. 

I worried that this would upset Mom. After a few weeks of dithering, I called my sister. She sounded a little annoyed that the funeral home hadn’t done what we told them to do. We agreed that we would think about this. No more dithering. We were now thinking. 

We have a rule in our family that we don’t hide things from each other. It’s a rule that arose, I think, because of the time one of our relatives decided not to tell another one about the death of a third because the first person was sure that the second really couldn’t afford to travel to the funeral. Best that she miss it. This passes for reasonable thinking in my family. 

Whatever its origin, the “no hiding things” rule is a good rule. Much better than the “save money – even other people’s money – at all costs” rule. Though, if you can follow both rules, all the better.

You want to be confident when you’re talking to a loved one, and maybe especially when you’re not talking, that anything you would want to know is not being withheld from you – for your own good.  When a loved one says “I’m fine” it should mean just that, and not “I’m fine, the hospice staff is keeping me comfortable.” We’re not worriers in my family, but when there actually is something to worry about, we want to know. 

So, I knew I was going to have to tell Mom about these ashes. It’s the sort of thing she’d want to know. Though she seemed quite confident four years earlier that she didn’t need the ashes, this was an opportunity to rethink that.It was a second chance.Productive second-guessing. 

My sister and I never got past the “thinking” stage on the ashes issue. Months passed. I didn’t tell Mom, though I had not made a decision NOT to tell her.  I would tell her. That’s the rule. I just hadn’t done it yet. No real hurry. The ashes weren’t going anywhere. That was the issue, I suppose. John the friendly funeral parlour guy called every few weeks. I assured him a decision was imminent. Every time.

Summer came and passed and Labour Day weekend arrived. My family tries to get together at Mom’s place in Cypress Hills on the long weekend. I decided I should bring this matter to a head. I called John, told him I’d pick up the ashes. I did. Put them in the trunk of the car. 

Almost the whole family was out there that weekend. There were two missing:  my sister’s daughter, and my youngest, number three [not his real name].

Saturday morning, wife number two and I were having coffee with Mom at the kitchen table. I couldn’t think of any delicate way to get at this, so I just blurted it out. “I’ve got Dad’s ashes in the trunk.” This threw her back a bit, but she recovered very quickly. Normally, Mom wants to know the whys and wherefores of things and I expected a lot of questions for which I’d have no answers. She didn’t. “We’ll spread them behind the Bench.” 

And so we did.

The trail where the Bench sits is a large long loop going along one side of the creek and around a large reservoir created by a beaver dam, then crossing the creek and coming back on the other side. One side of the trail, the shaded side, flooded badly that spring and was still muddy and essentially impassable, so we’d have to get out to the bench and back on the sunny side.It was a cold day, but not windy and so fairly warm in the sun. I carried the square box of ashes in the complimentary XYZ reusable bag – suitable for hauling groceries. We didn’t talk much on the way out to the Bench. 

We crossed the creek to the shady side where the Bench sits. Still not talking very much. What to do? We hadn’t decided on a plan for this. “Decided”? We hadn’t even talked about it. Mom suggested we get started. I took the plastic bag of ashes out of the box. My brother had a jackknife. I took the knife and went behind the bench, motioned for Mom to follow me. I cut a hole in the bag and let the ashes drain out while I walked a wide circle in the brush back of the Bench. Mom followed me, except in a spot where I had to step over a shrub.I circled back and shook out the last bits right behind the Bench. I worried that we’d left an obvious mess. I looked behind and there was little sign of what we’d done. Some grey dust on some leaves, the rest pretty well absorbed by the underbrush, grass and soil. 

There was a surprising flood of emotion, which took all of us, and which I won’t describe.

It lasted a while.

Mom asked if anybody had anything “profound” to say. Nope. Because I never like to let a silence last for long, however, I did speak up and say what I had been thinking about that whole weekend. 

We had reached the point as a family where we could talk about Dad again, in a way that felt natural, not painful.  For so long, it hurt to think about him and it was hard to talk about him. And each of us could see that talk about Dad hurt the others. We avoided him. Always the life of the party while alive, he’d become a real downer since his death. But I had noticed that weekend that we were referring to him frequently and telling stories that included him and laughing about what he’d do or say about particular things. He was a casual presence in our weekend.  It was like we’d let him back in our lives, we no longer had this dark absence in our family.

That is not closure. That is a reopening.   

My sister then announced that we were going to stay there at the Bench and talk until we all cheered up.

So, we told stories.

After a while, we were all laughing and feeling good for having cried together – for finally facing the biggest loss of our lives without averting our eyes. 

When I got home to Regina, I wrote a note to John at XYZ Funeral Services, telling him what we’d done and thanking him for the gift of this opportunity to fashion a unique ritual for ourselves – this chance to honour Dad’s life finally freed of the shock of his death.

John wrote back, reminding me that what I’d done was illegal and that I shouldn’t tell anybody about it.