Archive for August, 2013

Bye kids…hello adults.


It is still the first day of school, though this time it’s university and it’s forever…

Tomorrow, the youngest will head off to the university to start his next stage of learning. He will leave the house after 17 plus years of being fed, clothed and nurtured.  And though going to Queen’s in the same town, he will head off to meet a new crowd of similarly minded young adults – sharing a dorm room with one of his high school mates, and a dorm floor with potential best friends for life.

For me, he will be so close – but then again, so far.

Like his sister who started university three years ago, and now shares a house only 10km from me, the distance that will emerge between us cannot be measured in mere kilometres. I am guessing, based on my experience, we will be worlds apart – just as I was with my folks.

I think back almost two decades, to the early days of child-raising – a time when I, as a parent, was the centre of their universe. A time when kids thought that spending time being cuddled, or watching TV and drinking hot chocolate, was nirvana. A time that I was always right and I was the font of all knowledge.

“It has to be true. Dad said it was.” – the mantra of the young child.

And even through their teen-hood – when I regressed to being a simple and flawed mortal, subject to the occasional constant eye-roll, sneer, or snarky feedback — through to their young adulthood, there was always some way or another in which Dad was needed: help with homework, a ride to a friend’s house, a meal that included a vegetable, sorting that never-ending pile of laundry, or constant nagging about one thing or another. It was the timeless dance of parents and their offspring.  The constant see saw-battle of “I can do it by myself” weighed against “I don’t want them to get hurt”.

And in 24 hours that will change. Soon I will have absolutely no clue what happens in their daily lives. I will not know about their successes, challenges, failures or fears. Unless they tell me. Our overlapping Venn Diagrams of life have just experienced a tectonic shift.

Grease poleAnd even though it causes me a little stress, it is right. It is, to quote Timon, “the circle of life”.  This is one of the last steps they will take in getting ready for the rest of their lives. The last time that they let go of the coffee table to take a few tottering steps with me watching, hands at the ready. They eventually have to “fly from the nest” – or is it “swim without water wings”?

And I think back to 1983.  I remember the feelings as I left home over 30 years ago.  Opportunity, independence, promise, excitement all flavoured with a soupçon of anxiety. I was a little sad that I was leaving my home and the people who had formed me; from the family who had made me a priority and made sure that I never wanted for the important things. But this melancholy was only a light blemish on the joy I was feeling.

I was on my own and on my way to becoming worldly, to learning grownup things and sharing good times and laughing and living for real!

And now I sit here on the other side of the fence. Perhaps not as sad as my parents, because we have already practiced being apart. But I am sad none-the-less. It is the end of a chapter.

It is the end of the childhood – completely. Everything, completely everything that defined their childhood innocence has now evaporated. It has disappeared, just like the sweet morning breath of a toddler escapes eventually.

I wish my son a fantastic time at university – just as I had. There will be friends and fun. And it will be full of many characterHangover building opportunities – of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the shape of readings and mid-terms and exams, of fantastically crushing hangovers and temptations of all shapes and sizes. He will learn great lessons like how borrowing $3 or $4 from five or six people can fund a whole evening of debauchery that you never have to pay back, as no one tracks loans under $5.00 (thanks for that lesson, ‘Tosh); or the governing factor in the frequency of laundry is the pairs of underwear that are relatively clean – and that buying muted tones of clothes means you can wash everything in one load; or that when it comes to engineering homework, “where there is no pressure, there is no flow”. And most importantly, that perhaps the best things you learn and remember in university aren’t taught in the lecture hall.

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

The Venn Diagram of Engineering

But, it will be totally unlike the days when I walked him to the school bus, or asked him if he had done his homework as we sat for dinner. It will be unlike the days when I was able to see the struggle and offer my wisdom. Now as he faces his new dragons, with the support of his well-meaning but similarly inexperienced peers his only broadsword, he must eventually learn all the lessons and overcome all the challenges on his own.  That’s what makes you an adult.

And I will wait, patiently, as my parents probably did, for the time he will call me for help, for support, and to hopefully to hear the voice of someone who wants to share in his life regularly — but who knows better than to ask.  And when he calls, I will probably give him a hard time, because that is how Dads show love. I will tease him, and almost make him regret calling me. But in the end, after the joking is over, I will give him advice and the benefit of my experience. He can take it or leave it, because in the end, it’s his life and his victories.


I envy him, in a nostalgic sort of way. And I hope he exploits this for all its worth, because at this moment, the world is his oyster – and frosh week awaits!

Always a RMC Redman, but I'll wave the Queen's banner for my kids!

Always a RMC Redman, but I’ll wave the Queen’s banner for my kids!

Good luck to all of you that are seeing your leave the nest.  Exciting and sad, isn’t it?



Cats and Dog Under the Same Roof…What was I thinking?

There are two cats and a dog in our house.  I have no clue how that happened.

As a young kid, pets were never really part of our household. Well I mean the kind of pet that can really make a kid all cuddly and warm. Sure, we had gerbils…those little sawdust smelling animals that stayed in their cage and occasionally roamed the house in the little clear plastic ball (imitating John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble). And there was a long line of rapidly expiring Tetras – those electric blue and orange fish that lived in the hexagonal mini-tanks. How I enjoyed holding a mirror to the tank and watching Flipper puff and preen to defend his massive 625 cubic centimeters of territory (for the spatially challenged, that’s smaller than a pint glass). Oh, and a budgie or two that I believe we had – but can’t really remember specifically. And all our pets had those cute, highly imaginative kid pet names…Goldie the Fish or Tweety the Bird or Gerry the Gerbil.  Sadly, all of them were relatively short-lived and, save the birds, had prompt burials at sea in the downstairs powder room.

Whaddya mean, only a nickel?

Whaddya mean, only a nickel?

I must admit, there was brief foray into the world of cuteness. My Uncle once saved a petrified wild bunny rabbit from a few neighbourhood dogs and brought it into our house.  And for a full weekend, we were in bliss – though Mr Fluffy did not want to play with us, He spent the weekend tantalisingly close enough to pet, hiding under the derelict basement hot water tank as we tried to coax him out with carrots and celery. But after 48 hours, my Dad had enough of the random chewing and the raisins all over the floor, and looked for ways to get rid of him. Eventually my friend Dominic, from a fine Greek family down the street, offered to take Mr Fluffy for the princely sum of a nickel. I guess that was the going price for black market bunnies in 1974.

The next day I asked Dominic how Mr Fluffy was doing. “He was delicious”, was the shocking reply.

Tears ensued.

And that was pretty much it for the pets for a while. Until I grew up. Then we had cats. Cats were simple. Fill their dishes, scoop their poop, enjoy their disdain. And the cats filled that gap of sort of having a pet and not having a pet.  You only interact with them when they want something.

And through attrition, we went from cats plural to cat singular. We are sad to tell you of the demise of “Butch Cassidy”, followed by “ von Bismarck”, and a longer survivor  “The Sundance Kid” (Sunny for short).  But evidently, cats are only cats and even to the very day that she passed away, Sunny did not fill the void completely; apparently my children fashioned themselves as dog people, not cat people. Even diversions like the aforementioned Tetras did not sway them from their goal – owning a dog.

But we, The Parents, weren’t buying into the Great Canine Dream and remained resolute. Funny enough, in a bizarre cruel kind of way, we did keep the Dream alive – not wanting to dash my daughter’s hopes so absolutely. Every year my daughter’s hopes were rekindled by yet another copy of the AnnualGuide Dog Guide nestled into her Christmas stocking – as if Santa was still toying with the idea of a dog. Finally one Christmas, a peeved 11 year-old opened her stocking and cried, “Oh Santa, why do you tease me so?!”  The Guides stopped after that.

And then in 2005, she finally got her dog. A cute chocolate miniature poodle.  And after a nerve-wracking week where the children learned that it is not all hugs and playfulness, that there is feeding, and poo and pee to be managed, there is whining and whingeing (from the dog, too) the relationship hit a steady state. Balance was restored in the world.

And here I am 8 years later – divorced, and happily remarried, with the two kids now enrolled in university. And for the first time in its young life, the original dog’s only constant companion will be my ex-wife. Which works well – they both love each other very much.

But do not fret.  As I already gave away, I am not pet-less.

In 2008, my wife and I made the common error of walking into the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). We weren’t sure we wanted a pet. We were there just to look. Because that’s what everybody does when they walk in to the shelter.


Just look.


Nope. Unless you are the most heartless, unfeeling, curmudgeonly person that ever existed,  you can’t help but be sucked into the vortex of furry, tail-wagging Littlest Hobos, or head-rubbing, big-eyed Mr Bigglesworths.  And they all look at you with eager anticipation and longing that melts your heart and you rationalise how you can adjust your lifestyle to accommodate the cat or dog or bunny or turtle (wait, nix the turtle) before it meets The Executioner.

Dirty double dog dare you not to adopt them...

Dirty double dog dare you not to adopt them…

And so five years ago, after our “just looking” session, we eventually walked away from the SPCA having filled out the intrusive and detailed application to adopt a cute male grey tabby. That is how we ended up with Pink Floyd, and a few months later, a two year-old female calico (or tortoiseshell in the UK) named Stella Artois.

How did I ever become a cat owner? I mean cats are so aloof. While Floyd has the soul of a dog – he is an attention seeker and loves to be with people – he still comes to you on his schedule and prefers at times to just sit alone in the sunshine, licking his male bits. And Stella, well she is a cat through and through. She only comes to you when she needs something; which is really only feeding time.  It is like having permanent teenage children.

Really, my self-image pegs me as a dog person. I mean I saw myself with a majestic Rhodesian Ridgeback or a Cane Corso or a Siberian Husky; I saw myself going for runs with De Villiers or Magnus or Tretiak.

But then, I thought about the other side of dog ownership – the massive poos, the huge plates of dog food, the shedding hair, the smell, the drool, the big vet bills that come with big dogs –  and I realised that I am a dog person on paper only.funny-dog-muscular-guy

Maybe I was thinking too big…some of the mightiest, toughest, meanest men I know have been unafraid to take their cock-a-poos or King Charleses for walks. Maybe, but I was not ready to be that fearless. My doggy doubt was raising its muzzle.

There have been many comparisons between dogs and cat people. Some funny, some unkind. I mean who could love a cat? Then again who wants to be burdened by a dog?  Kitty litter versus poo bags; catnip mice versus dog walks; cat entwined in feet on the stairs versus staring, drooling dog when you are eating; scratched furniture versus chewed shoe.  Who can decide on Felix or Max?

Not me. So I guess maybe I am a bit of both types of crazy.

Maybe I like the guilt-free living of a cat – guilt-free weekends away with the need for only bowls of water and cat chow. Oh and the occasional pat and rub.  But they are so stand-offish. So on the flip-side,maybe I like that a dog needs me completely to make it feel wanted and loved – which I guess makes me feel the same.

So that leads me to the next part of this long story.

After a couple of frustrating months of job hunting, my wife found a job at the Humane Society – the SPCA’s sibling. It was like a double-edged sword. Money…good; abandoned and forlorn animals…bad. It was clear that she would be constantly bombarded by cute puppies and kittens and bunnies. In fact, in a deranged psychological operations kind-of-way, the Society lets the little critters run free in the Reception area to guilt the visitors into adopting. We talked about the steely disposition she needed to develop in order to work there…a dispassionate, business-like demeanour to make sure our house did not end up as Dr. Doolittle’s residence or Noah’s Ark. She agreed and off she went to make life better for the furry and feathered and scaled.

And she did well…a whole three weeks until I received the dreaded text.

“There is the cutest shih tzu here…You should come see her…”

The alarm bells went off – the first wave had climbed the parapet wall.

Then the coup de grâce, the death-blow…

“They asked me if we could foster her for a bit until they have room…It doesn’t mean we have to keep her”

Game, set, match.


It was over before it had begun. I knew that unless the dog was from Baskerville, it was inevitable – like I said, how does anyone visit the pound and come away empty-handed. I rounded the logic wagons…cost, lifestyle, vet bills, impact on our cats and readied the reliable and solid “there-is-no-way-we-can-keep-her” defence.

Then I met her. A pretty little Shih Tzu-Pekingese cross, with a tiny under-bite and a pleasing demeanour: energetic, but not dominant, and a cutie. I liked her. But the real test was yet to come – the cats.

Now I wish I could say that Floyd and Stella welcomed her with open paws and started grooming her like she was a long-lost sibling; that they rolled about play-fighting and frolicking and sharing toys. But I can’t. The cats are pissed – one of them even overnight-expressed a nice log cabin on our living room rug. No love there. Not for the dog, not for us.  I was disarmed. I needed to figure this out, so I looked for advice from the most authoritative source I know.

Google.  Dear Google, How do you keep your cats from shitting on the carpet when you bring a new dog into the house?

A quick check of the web and the consensus from The Authority was that unless they have already drawn major blood, chances are they will co-exist and figure out the rules

The Uneasy Truce

The Uneasy Truce

themselves. Sort of like marriage, I guess …

Anyways, with the hook set, and calls coming into the Humane Society about adopting a small dog, it was only a matter of time before I was reeled in.  Just to feel in charge, I created an analytical checklist of pros versus cons – really only a subjective list of wishy-washy feel-goods versus cold hard facts like money and lifestyle (overall, not a very helpful exercise – it was like comparing freshly baked cookies to toilet plungers). There was only one conclusion: I’m not sure. But all I know is that I am committed, and my wife is smitten.

Like I said …Game, Set, Match.

So pending the results of the personality testing, criminal record check, vet check, credit check, household inspection, pet compatibility testing, canine CPR class etcetera {kidding)  – we now wait to officially become owners of a five year-old Shih Tzu – rebranded as ours with the name Lola.

I am hoping that this now completes the animal adoption run – I feel I should buy a set of  those electro-static decals for the back of my car. Nah…can’t do it.

Anyhow, I’m heading out the door now – the dog’s nature calls. Can’t forget my little plastic bag…