Archive for June, 2012

Oh Canada…Happy 145th!

I am Canadian! I like beer and canoeing and playing Hockey (that’s ice-hockey for my European friends) and frolicking in the snow.  There are only two types of dress – I am either wearing flip-flops and shorts, or a toque and a parka. And, I like to say, “Eh?”, eh?

And while the Canadian stereotype is funny…it’s so true!  We are polite.  We say please.  We open doors. We say, “How’s it going, eh?” instead of the typical international “passing each other in silence” with our heads down.

And there are so many things that are just uniquely Canadian – things that, unless you have been to Canada, you won’t get it.  Things like suicide wings, mittens with an idiot string, Canadian Tire, “tabernouche”, a double-double and an apple fritter, a wrist-shot, bumper-shining,  poutine, Crown Royal, “Oskee wee wee, Oskee wa wa”, HNIC and Double OT,  “nine-six-seven…eleven, eleven”.  We can say Homo Milk without offending anyone.  And evidently we say aboot and hoose…and we call it a zed (not zee)…

And because we are humble and unassuming , nobody knows that Canadians have influenced sport and music and film and art and science FOREVER…if you don’t know what I mean, here’s just a short list:

Steve Nash  Mike Meyers, William Shatner, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Peter North (yes, that Peter North), Oscar Petersen, Hank “I’ve been Everywhere, Man” Snow, , Bachman-Turner Overdrive…who are always Takin’ Care of Business, Lorne “Bonanza” Green, Mordecai Richler, Leslie Neilsen, Keanu…ummm…uh…Reeves, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, The Group of Seven, Peter Jennings, Morley Safer, John Candy, Scott Goodyear, Gordie Howe, Bronko Nagurski, Norman Jewison, Lorne Michaels, Pamela Anderson, Fay Wray, WP Kinsella, Margaret Atwood, Jim Carey, James Cameron,  Alex Trebec, Sir Frederick Banting, Stomping Tom Connors…the list could go on and on.

And if that is not enough, Canada is just so beautiful…from “Bonavista, to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle, to the Great Lake waters” (you can sing it if  you want)…Urban beauty and natural wonder hand in hand; a land full of natural resources, of open spaces. Of crystal blue lakes, of hiking and skiing and boating, cottage country – and BBQs!

And what does it mean to be Canadian? It means peace making and peace keeping. It means supporting the weak. It means helping friends. It means never backing down from a fight, and never giving up even if you are the underdog. It is a multicultural mosaic, not a melting pot.

It is Spanakopita on Toronto’s Danforth, Dragon Boat races at False Creek in Vancouver, a midnight ski run in Banff, watching the Blue and Gold on a sunny, but absolutely frigid -40*C afternoon in Winnipeg, kissing the Puffin in St John’s, having a few glasses of Québécois Caribou at the Winter Carnival, racing Chuckwagons in Calgary, the Maid of the Mist at the Horseshoe Falls, or a sun that never sets in Iqaluit.  It is home.

So on 1 July, I will join about 35,000,000 fellow Canadians as we celebrate our nation’s 145th birthday. Our party will be a couple of hours earlier than back home, as we party in Trafalgar Square at the largest Canada Day bash outside Canada.  Not a bad gig, eh?

To all Canadian home and abroad, I wish you all a fantasticly Happy Canada Day, eh?  For our troops in dangerous places, be safe and know we are thinking of you.

“Oh Canada!…The true North strong and free!”

PS And just so you know I am not a calloused, curmudgeonly fellow, but that I am really a softie, it is not just Canada Day…it’s a “double-plus good” kinda day. It is also my third wedding anniversary! Doesn’t get better than that!

Later,

ASF

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Oh oh….when is Father’s Day?

It will be Father’s Day this Sunday.  Or, for most dads, it will just be another Sunday. But do not fret; men are stoic, and strong, and stony, so whether our kids will remember Father’s Day or not will not matter to us. We know its Fathers’ Day, and having a day named after us is good enough.

It is funny how we all get weepy and maudlin over Mothers’ Day. Maybe it is because we know that moms spent hours heaving and groaning, sucking on ice chips, breathing like locomotives and finally screaming for an epidural, before We, as children, entered the world.  I guess that after someone goes through that much pain for you, you owe them – forever – because that is a lot of pain to pay back. And, yes, as always when it comes to mothers, there is always guilt.  Like, how I feel guilty that I did not  write an Ode to My Mother on my blog – or make a popsicle stick planter for her (again). But I did send a card, and it Is too late to write that blog now, so I will move on.

But, seriously, I will whine a little. With all that fuss and bother and concern about Moms, is it fair to just pay lip service to us Dads?  I mean, we can’t help it that we can’t share the physical pain of childbirth. It is an undeniable truth that every father would trade places if he could.  (Without a doubt, right lads?)  And do not underestimate the spiritual and emotional agony a father feels as he witnesses child-birth. He is an outsider and on top of that, his beloved is probably cussing him out with the vocabulary of a salty, sea-hardened buccaneer.  How do you respond to a statement like, “You are NEVER touching me again!!!!”  Really, if it wasn’t for daddy’s swimmers, mothers could not make that kind of sacrifice.  Shouldn’t fathers be showered with some kind of “collateral glory”?

Evidently not. Society does not hold that kind of reverence for Dads.  We have a love-hate thing for dads. We admire them, we mostly respect them, but we always mock them – though always with love.  I mean, my Dad has earned the nickname, “Chipsy.”  Why?  I can’t remember – I think it included a bag of Lays and his ability to always score the last ones.

And while we will all think of the stereotypical Mom as caring, and nurturing, and dependable, all the Dads I can remember from popular culture are all caricatures. Don’t buy it? Follow me…I will show you what I mean:

The lovable grumpy, bigoted, rude, blustery Dad – Archie Bunker or Fred Sanford. Now Archie and Fred are the salt-n-pepper of the 1970s hey-days of racial jokes and verbal abuse. Not an episode went by where the son or son-in-law was not yelled at or insulted.  “You dummy…”, or “Hey, Meathead…” were the usual refrains. Though constantly complaining and criticising, always inflexible and dogmatic, usually cutting and ribald, they still managed to find a soft spot. Unbelievable in hindsight, we sort of loved them, faults and all. I guess deep down, despite their flaws, they cared and did right.  Sort of like our Dads.

The Cartoon Buffoon Dad.  Now in early cartoons, the fathers were just honest, simple nincompoops: Fred Flintstone and George  Jetson come to mind easily, but I am sure there are more.  Honestly, I would throw Herman Munster into that mix, though – as someone will undoubtedly highlight –  he was not a cartoon. These dads were fun-loving, hen-pecked, but basically hard-working Joes. And we were content to giggle at their Water Buffalo Lodge hi-jinks or marital faux-pas. But then Matt Groening went and introduced Mr. H. Simpson to the world, changing everything.  All of a sudden, loafing, and gluttony, and ignorance and stupidity became fatherly attributes. He was a cartoon version of Al Bundy.  And if that was not enough, The Family Guy just bumped it up a few levels.  Peter Abbot moved fatherhood into a whole new zone as he took parental advice from a dog; and while some say that it is “rude, crude and deliciously wrong”, but I must admit that sometimes I just miss the point.  Maybe it is the Dad in me who shudders instead of seeing the satire – or maybe I am just getting old.

The Tragic But Heroic Figure of a Dad.  Now we have to go a little ways back for this, back to the responsible days of the late 60s, and early 70s – before the Love Generation, back when men wore ties to a weeknight family dinner. Who did not want Eddie to find his widowed father Tom a new wife in the “Courtship of Eddie’s Father”.  And, carrying on with the single father theme, I will add, “Whatcha talking about Willis?”  In Different Strokes, a rich widower adopts orphaned black kids. What noble patriarchal sacrifice.  And lastly, what about Fred McMurray, as the hapless Dad who was busy raising three boys on his own.  Wait a minute.  What an outstanding great segue to the next category…

The Calm – sometimes fashionable – Sensible and Reliable Dad. Mike Brady – period.  Whether it was Greg or Marcia or Peter or Jan or Bobby or Cindy, Mike was always there in his fashionable jacket and tie, or bell bottoms and sideburns, to dispense wise words and sage advice as he cleaned up the family crisis in the mandated 23 minutes (7 minutes for commercials). And following in his footsteps were Steven Keaton, doling out loving left-wing values to his money-driven son played by a young, young, young Michael J Fox, and the mugging, sweater-wearing, jello-pudding eating Cliff Huxtable. There were very few houses that did not tune into the weekly antics of the Huxtables…I think it was really Lisa Bonet who drew the crowds (before she went all Bohemian in that crazy movie with Mickey Rourke).  And again, in the honoured “calm-sometimes-fashionable-sensible- and-reliable-Dad” template, a fable of Aesopic magnitude would emerge from the 23 minute dilemma, and a heart-warming and amusing ending would leave all chuckling and hugging each other. Just like life – right?

The Multiple Dads.  Recently there has been the emergence of the two Dads.  Originally the concept was the cinematic by-product of the women who ”loved” two men (with exact opposite peronalities and lifestyles), had a baby, and never divulged the identity of the real father to anyone.  The theme has now morphed in the 21st century with homosexual fathers doing admirable jobs in raising well-adjusted normal kids.  Just look at Glee and Modern Families.

So many role models to guide us – some good, some bad. And I am sure you will ask, with all the examples to follow, which kind of Dad did I become?  All I can say is, “Hopefully a good one.” One who found the right blend of authoritarian and mentor and provider and playmate and teacher and coach and comedian and the million other things that a Dad should be.

I hope that is what I did, because I had a great “real-life” role model – my Dad.

Just thinking about his life experiences and challenges have always provided me inspiration when I needed it. As a boy, he lost his father, and raised his younger brother. As a young man in India, he worked as a farmer, then a policeman, then a teacher, before packing up and moving to the UK to start a family – one that he supported through a variety of blue-collar jobs. He then decided to seek a better life by packing up again and going to Canada – on his own for three years – working and scrimping to save enough money to give his children a better future.  He raised a family in Toronto as he upgraded his education, part-time over 7 years.  He finally earned a Commerce Degree from University, concurrently working a series jobs as a lathe operator, a cab-driver, a financial clerk, and finally as an accountant. And it all paid off as he ended his career as a senior financial officer for the Government of Ontario several years ago.

And in between, he took the time to teach me to skate, to dribble a soccer ball, to toboggan, to hammer a nail, and to grow tomatoes; he taught me the value of fruit and fibre and daily walks. He taught me to study hard and to write effectively and to be confident when speaking to groups. He taught me to be respectful, and hard-working, and caring.  He taught me how to play games and forced me to lose gracefully and patiently – the latter as he sang his ridiculous victory song after a game of chess or Monopoly or Risk…”Loser the Packer, Loser the Packer…”.  He even gave me a sense of humour – the finest gift ever.

And he has given me so many memories…stupid hats at birthday parties, fantastic days at Sandbanks Beach as we swam and barbecued and played, impromptu ukulele songs (he does not know how to play the ukulele), our walks together, our constant debates over homeopathy and the healing power of garlic and ginger; and when I was a teenager, his amusing, but constant surveillance for the evil after-effects of Chinese herbs and drink. (Chinese herbs were his euphemism for marijuana – it took me a little while to figure that one out).

But it was not all happiness and glee….

When I was little, I can remember quivering when hearing the refrain, “wait until your Father comes home.” I can also recall the many times that I sat in my room during my teens – furious, frustrated, and stymied.  At those times, I thought to myself, “How can a grown man know so little about the world?” Ironically, it was only a mere four or five years later, after I graduated from university – no longer a boy but a young man – that I remember thinking, “Wow, has my Dad ever learned a lot in 5 years.”  Perspective is a funny thing, eh?  It is remarkable, in retrospect, just how much Dads know.  I wish I had realised that earlier. It would have saved a lot of painful “trial and error”.

So as I think of my Dad, and reflect on my Dad-ness, I will also think of all the fathers out there.  I wish you all a very happy Father’s Day: one full of children’s love and care, and a BBQ and a beer or two, a tie or a bottle or Old Spice or whatever else floats your father’s day boat.  I hope you enjoy the short 24 hours of parental royalty. Relish it; revel in it.

Because on 18 July, Mom ascends back onto the throne for the next 365 days – unless you can learn how to give birth.

Happy Father’s Day.

Later,

ASF

Aaahhh…patchouli, incense, and pan flutes…

I need another massage. For those in the gutter, stop smirking.  I do not mean the flashing neon light, happy-ending kind of “massage” that some might pay dearly for. All I can say of those, to quote Sgt Schultz, is  – “I know nothing…”.  What I am blogging about is a therapeutic, deep-tissue massage…a good, but painful treatment delivered in a candle-lit a room that smells of sandalwood and lemon-grass and lavender, with soft mellow, soul-healing music playing in the background.  Sadly, my last one was over two weeks ago…

Now, please do not imagine that I have always taken a massage regularly. Truthfully, I have never really been the kind of guy to pamper myself.  Pampering usually meant an extra pint at Happy Hour, or using the ottoman (that is a foot stool, tuffet, hassock or pouffe, for you non-Canadianswhile watching a major sporting event on the big screen, or springing for the full-size Bucket instead of the 9-piece meal. Back then, for me the word “pampering” brought up images of extravagance, frivolity, femininity.  And because many guys are from the “Real men do not eat Quiche” school of thought (like I was), they think that any guy who likes massages should start carrying a satchel and wearing a purple scarf (sorry – a bit of a poke at my FB friends :)

Way back in my youth (by that I mean 2007 and before), I guess I was a “quiche-hater” too (an analogy only…I like “egg and bacon” pie).  Like most guys, my bar of soap served as body cleanser, hair shampoo and shaving cream. Lotion was a lubricant…and only came in those little bottles you stole from the hotel room.  And all my laundry was a nice uniform hue of pinky-grey.

Exfoliation, marjoram, conditioner, scented candles, nail file…not in my vocabulary.  Suicide chicken wings, armpit farts, rugby, torque wrenches, happy hour …now you’re talking my language.

But then I changed.  Maybe I realised that I did not give a hoot that some guys think that pink shirts are for women only.  I like pink shirts….a very attractive woman once told me they complement my skin tone – and that was good enough for me.  And also, maybe I discovered that my skin hurt most of the time because it needed some moisturizer.  I then realised that maybe, just maybe, you can pamper yourself while maintaining your cojones.

Mind you, the transition was not easy. In the late 90s during a tour in Bosnia, I had tried a massage once during leave in Budapest…but it was an old-school, barely post-communist era, rub-down in a room with all the warmth of a tiled operating theatre.  I was unclothed and feeling vulnerable – and though the skilled mature masseur managed to convert tense, knotted muscles into limp pasta – I was not comfortable with the “intimacy” of being manipulated by a sweaty middle-aged Hungarian man.  Seriously, the only people to touch me like that before were the Numbers 4, 5 and 8 in the Scrum – and my wife.  I would have preferred Ross and the wooden spoons.  And since I was afraid, to quote George Costanza, of “embarrassing movement” in similar circumstances in the future,  I gave up on the massages.

But, the turning point came after a New Brunswick half-marathon – this one marked by a wee lack of training, and some serious drinking the night before.  Post-joggle, I was sore…very sore – in body and mind.  So I went for a massage.  And it was not one of those analgesic/liniment/chinese tiger balm torture sessions you get from the team physio after the mandatory 15-minute soak in the ice-filled tub.  Nope…it was a pan flute-fuelled soothing, calm session in a candle-lit room that smelled of incense and patchouli.  Oh Em Gee!  What a difference!  The rub down was fantastic.  The heated, scented oil applied expertly by a skilled massage therapist was unbelievable.  Tension and pain bled way with each pass.  By the end of the hour-long full body massage, I was boneless; a large lump of formless flesh on a massage table lying in a puddle of sleep drool – I was not sure of the time, the day, or the year.  I do not think I could even remember my name – and even if I could, I did not have the motor coordination to say it without sounding like I had been to the dentist.   There was no hurt, no stiffness…and almost no consciousness. After this surreal experience, I was hooked.

And so, with that resonating in my mind, and some coaxing from my wife, I then dipped a toe into the world of pampering.  Not figuratively, but literally – I mean that I tried a pedicure.

Now, I have given a foot rub once or twice before – sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly, but always clumsily – and even with my crude technique, I have listened to the “oohs and aahs” the effort has generated.

Toung the feet…a sign of respect to an elder…called upasangrahan

But I never understood the allure. Maybe because, in an East Indian way, I am uncomfortable with someone touching my feet. (In India, touching the feet is how you show respect to someone (usually older); so having someone touch my feet seemed a tad elitist.)  But looking at the complete expression of ecstasy on my wife’s face during a foot rub, I gave in.  And then the light turned on.  I got it.  A warm water wash, the soothing kneading touch with a revitalising, minty balm on the arches, the heels, the toes, and the balls (…of my feet, filth-mongers, of my feet), and I suddenly realised that I had fallen down the rabbit hole.  My feet had dragged me into the abyss – head first.

And it got me thinking, why is it that men don’t do that sort of thing as a matter of course?  Why are massages and manicures and pedicures and hot stones and reflexology, all considered to be too feminine? All un-manly things unbefitting a manly-man? I mean, really, no one sex should have a monopoly on feeling good – it should be a unisex sort of thing.  Why shouldn’t men stand up for equal rights and have massages and pedicures.  They are awesome.

Now the heresy.  So I suggest that maybe it is time to shed the tough guy image, and think about experiencing those products and services and treatments that can take care of your skin and soul and stuff.  Lads…I think I can read your minds, “Clint never would have used those kind of products.” Maybe…but seriously, have you looked at his face recently?  Maybe he should have.  (And honestly, I am sure he has had more than his fair share of shiatsu…and he probably asked for Chuck Norris’s personal masseuse.)

So while many of you may not be quite ready to put your wallet and Kleenex and cell phone and iPod and Bosch Headphones and pen and notebook and kindle and newspaper and chewing gum and eye drops in a Satchel as you walk around town, maybe you will sign up for a full body massage. Go with your wife, or your girlfriend (but if you are a Player, don’t try to take both at the same time).

To quote Morpheus, “You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”  Trust me.  Take the red pill and go for the massage.

Enjoy another kind of happy ending!

Later,

ASF