Posts from the ‘Rant or Rave’ Category

Laissez-faire or Beatings? The two Extremes of Fast-Food Parenting….

My wife and I were travelling by plane a while ago.  Just after the pilot extinguished the seat belt sign, the aisle and area near the front door became a children’s daycare.  Children of all sizes and shapes started running and crawling and jumping in the aisle, blocking passengers from getting to the restrooms. Now, some of you will say I was only distressed because the kids were preventing the attendants from dispensing the miniature bottles, but really…they created a totally unpleasant atmosphere for anyone in the cabin over 30. (Anyone under 30 was too busy with their iPads, iPods and other i-Ignore-U devices.)  Most of the passengers were really annoyed – sharing that beseeching look of “Please. Someone stop this!”  But no one did anything – especially not the parents. What was the parents’ reaction?  Incomprehensibly, it was support, encouragement and the annoying cluck, cluck of “Aren’t they precious?”  Shockingly and sadly, I have run into the same phenomenon at restaurants, cinemas, grocery stores, shopping malls – almost every place where children are allowed.  What the heck is going on?

But honestly, while I may be perturbed by the children’s behaviour, I really was dismayed and angry at the parents.  What were they thinking? How could they possibly believe it was okay  to have little Johnny spread-eagled across the airplane aisle, screeching at the top of his lungs for his soother? There were not enough 50ml bottles of airplane liquor (1.7 ounces for my Imperial-based friends) to deal with this!

I ask myself, why does this happen – especially when I am in a confined space with no escape route?  I read an article in the UK Telegraph (Children out of Control: Britain’s new brat pack by Kate Mulvey) and thought – Bang on, Kate!  She contends that the issue is not the kids; kids act within the boundaries, or lack thereof, set by the parents. She blames the Me Generation’s mommies and daddies. Parents focused on self; parents who allow children to set the boundaries to compensate for their inattention and poor parenting skills; as if treating their children as peers equals good parenting.

Sometimes I wonder who is calling the shots – the three-year old or the 30-year-old. When I was a kid there was absolutely no doubt who called the shots in our house!  And, though it was a long time ago that my kids were that age, I can’t ever recall letting them run around like savage children  – annoying other passengers or patrons with the antithesis of “seen but not heard”.  No, my kids were socialised to the world and understood there were places that were playgrounds, and places that were not.

My kids fit into the dominant culture and adapted – not vice versa.

Lately, the issue of children’s behaviour has become a hot topic in   the UK. The “iffy” Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) mixed with last summer’s riots (particularly as the majority of the violators were hoodie-wearing minors) produce an intense bonfire of emotions centred on effective parenting.

The argument underway now whirls around Britain’s law that limits corporal punishment, and how it prevents parents from controlling their children.

From Wikipedia (and yes, I know it is not authoritative – but the dictionary definitions make me swallow my tongue),

Corporal punishment involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with an implement

(You can imagine how bad the dictionary definitions were!)

And the UK is not the only country thinking about corporal punishment for minors…tranquil New Zealand – the Home of the Hobbits and peaceful shepherds – held a referendum on the corporal punishment question – whether to slap or not to slap?

Seriously, what century is this?  What are we – in a Dickens’ novel?  Do we bring back the workhouses for unruly children? What happens when we bring the children home from the maternity ward – the Government issues all parents a leather strap and a rubber paddle?

I mean, is it ever alright to hit a child? Ever? Some will say that every rule has an exception, but this one is pretty absolute to me – forget corporal punishment.  I believe that effective tough love cuts out the need to train children like scared Pavlov’s dogs.  To me, corporal punishment is a cop-out. It lets a parent or guardian deploy the Bomb before they have even tried to use diplomacy.  With the “let them do whatever they want” technique at one end, corporal punishment is at the other end of the “I-want-parenting-to-be- easy” spectrum.

It’s ironic, that when my wife and I went to the SPCA to adopt our cats a couple of years ago, we had to fill out a lengthy, intrusive questionnaire that asked about our lifestyle, our care plan and our commitment to the cats. It was reviewed by the SPCA powers that be, and after a few days of anxiety, we were deemed trustworthy enough to care for cats.  And I know from friends that it is a much more intimate, intrusive and harrowing process for those who wish to adopt a child.

But, to have a child naturally demands no scrutiny.  All that is needed is the coupling of a complementary set of reproductive organs – no forethought, no plan, no education, no commitment. You need more than that to get a driver’s licence.  That isn’t right.   Many potential parents may not have what it takes to raise children with the care, affection and occasional tough love that is required. They need to prove they do. Why don’t “wannabe” parents need a child-raising licence? Wouldn’t a simple pre-conception education/certification process save a lot of grief for society, aid agencies, the prospective parents and the soon-to-be conceived child?  Aren’t the needs of the child just as important as the rights of the parents? Is it really too intrusive?

I admit that I was not a perfect parent – there was the occasional overindulgence, the extremely late bed time, one too many Happy Meals, the occasional missed bath and woefully, the Tooth Fairy fiasco.  But my kids always had my time and my love – including tough love. When they were little, they always knew when they had overstepped the bounds.   They knew it through a cross word or the”time-out”, always followed by an age-appropriate explanation when the time was right.  And now, they are well adjusted young adults, who I hope learned from my example. They learned what was acceptable and what wasn’t – with no need for smacks, backhands, switches or belts.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was never too hard.

So in the future, when you are suffering the hysterical cacophony or exasperating disruption of the wayward child, perhaps you should curb your desire to discipline the child.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the parents who would behave better after some corporal punishment…



I love my Blackberry…no, I hate it…no I love it…Damn you, Technology!

I have a blackberry.  I love it. It allows me to send my e-mails to friends and family when I am away from house. It lets me socialise according to my schedule.

Did I tell you I have a blackberry?  I hate it. It allows bosses and co-workers and spammers to send me e-mails when I am not in the office. It invades my personal time and makes me think every e-mail is an emergency requiring urgent attention.

That to me, in 8 sentences, is the double-edged sword of technology.

Now, there are some people who say that technology improves their life…and I must admit, part of me agrees. Innovation, creativity, artistry etcetera, are all great things that technology makes better.  I mean, just think of all the wonderful things we can do  with the amazing gadgets that exist – we can communicate, we can navigate, we can educate; we can feed, or heal, or nurture, with all the weird and wonderful machines developed with new technology.

Let me ask you though, are our lives really that much better? Sure, technology has changed the way we live – and it has made many things easier. For example, Skype just makes video conferencing possible from you laptop – that used to be James Tiberius Kirk stuff when I was younger. Being a physics geek, and a wee bit of a “half empty” kinda guy, I must remind you that  every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Yes, it is easy and quick to send e-mails; but how many of you take a perverse pleasure in complaining how you must sort through a hundred e-mails a day (I think it is a weird sort of self-importance thing really). It is not unusual to spend hours sorting the wheat from the chaff, the valuable from the spam, the “I need to action this now” from the “I don’t need this info – ever”.  Before, if the information was crucial, people called you or gave you a piece of paper to read;  today it takes time and effort to sort out what is useful,  and the Inbox just never seems to be empty.

How about that information highway? I have to admit,  there is some valuable information out “there”  – all accessible within a microsecond.  But, when you search for services, or restaurants, or hotel critiques, or film reviews – you must now filter through 246,000 listings to find the most pertinent. (A simple Google search for “beer” yields about 610,000,000 results in 0.21 seconds – that cost me about 40 minutes…) If you are like me, we will randomly select several, only to realise we are no better off than when we started: Grumpy Pants thought that the movie was shit, while Constantly Happy thought it was the best movie in the existence of film! (I believe that was  a Twilight review – and okay, maybe I am Mr. Grumpy Pants.)  Putting on my “half full” hat, I admit that maybe I believe that the next review or rating will be the exact one to help me find a solution….but nope, it isn’t.  Wait, just one more….and then after 20 minutes of reading useless stuff,  I realise that I will have to rely on my gut – to go, or not to go.  So I make the decision and hope for the best.  The final decision process sounds kind of old school to me – a decision that can be made without 20 minutes of “research” and without any of the new apps, or the Internet.

And while technology can be slick and fast, it strikes me as more flash than bang.  So, as I do in these blogs, and as you probably know by now, I think back to the archaic and reliable that defined technology when I was a kid.  In our house, we had a simple rotary phone…maybe some of you remember them. (There were no touch tone beeps with those babies…by the way, I bought a functioning one at a garage sale in 2004, my kids aged 10 and 12 at the time had no idea how to dial a number with it! Priceless…) I remember how the phone was a revered object…how each phone called was an Event,  answered with immaculate telephone manners. And  I remember the monthly phone call with my grandmother and uncles in England: long distance, on crackling, echoey lines, the Family all crowded around the handset asking Nanny to speak louder (there were no speaker phones back then – well at least not in our house), and trying to work through that annoying delay on the line when both parties tried to talk at the same time (both saying, “No, no… you first!”) .  Aaah, good times.

It was also the time of handwriting and proper language – no “l8r” or “lol” or “FML” or emoticons.  I remember the giddy excitement surrounding the welcome arrival of an air mail letter – the envelope containing a carefully scribed, handwritten note. And who, of my vintage, can forget the dog-eared address book, sitting on the telephone table, with the protruding little bits of paper (pre-Post It notes, for those that are asking “why?”). The book was graffitied with multiple stricken entries and cramped, twisting writing as the owner tried to squeeze in just one more address or phone number amendment besides a friend’s name…always vowing that in the next book, all the addresses would be written in pencil.  That is that way it was during the Era of Pong.

Those relics are almost all gone…replaced by the iPhone or its sleek metal and plastic cousin, the personal digital assistant. Now, old friends, the people once lovingly entered with care on alpha-numerically indexed pages, have been reduced to binary bits of organised data that are inserted and deleted with a rapid stroke of CTRL-ALT-DEL. Unfortunately, once our utility comes to an end, we are digitally deleted –  vaporised into The Matrix.  All of our electronic traces are wiped out when we are no longer relevant, or when a new app is added, a new device purchased. We are erased – effaced even. Sadly, we do not even exist as a nostalgic memory, represented by crossed out numbers and letters on a lined page in a flimsy book.  If you have ever owned an address book, you will know how those crossed out entries still served as a fond reminder of a friendship or acquaintance that was once warm and vibrant.  My Contact List just does not have the same warmth. Okay, enough reminiscing…

So, what about today? To me, it seems that our lives are consumed with pursuing new technological advances and not harnessing and optimizing what we  have now.   But more critically, when considering how we behave while owning these new gadgets, I am amazed at how technology has undermined the foundation of our manners.  Technology can make us behave rudely.  The bad habits that have evolved with new technology are mind-boggling.  Off the top of my head, I can think of a few habits that prove my point:

  • The one-sided public conversation.  I hate these…on the bus, the train, the restaurant…wherever. Firstly, thanks for invading my space, and secondly thanks for sharing the fact that you have to stop at the store to pick up hemorrhoidal cream and tampons.  Some things are best kept private…and a cell phone in public is just not private, is it?
  • I don’t care if you love Beyoncé or Techno or Shout outs. I hate your annoying ring tone…I am not a fan of the Hamster Dance Song, or the Cat Hairball Song or the Shitting Monkey Song.  And you’ll know what I mean when you listen to this – ANNOYING RING TONES (R rated) .  To whomever posted the clip and thinks the tones are  “cool” – either you are slightly delusional and should get help, or you are 12 years old (hmmmm…maybe the word “cool” in the title gave that away already!)
  • The device that goes off during the meeting, the briefing, the movie, the play, the recital – wherever a phone shouldn’t be. On that note, do you really have to text during these events?  That screen is a lot brighter than you think and the sound of your thumbs moving at 180 characters per minute is not as quiet as you think.  You look rude and disinterested – you exude a sense of self-importance and lack of awareness that is conceited. Can’t your text or message wait until the next pee break? Can’t you excuse yourself, as you are disinterested in what is going on anyway?  Honestly, you are not as good at multi-tasking as you thought.
  • I do not appreciate a owners’ need to show me how wonderful their device is.  Let me put it simply…I DO NOT CARE.  I am glad they are happy about their new global warming app that estimates how much methane is added to atmosphere after eating a burrito. Can’t we leave it that, rather than showing me how it works?

Even though all those habits irritate me, there is one monolith of a bad habit – I call it the Queen Mother of rude techno manners – that I lament the most. It happened to me the other day (hence this blog).  That misfortune would be the rapid decline of engaging and committed conversation between two people who are face-to-face (or side-by-side for that matter).  How many times have you been talking to a colleague, a friend, or family member, and the conversation has been broken by the unwelcome digital muzak of a handheld electronic apparatus?  I have sadly observed that the intrusion is then followed by one of two reactions and one inevitability: either without missing a heartbeat and cutting you off with a dismissive hand gesture, or with a painful 4 or 5 second agitated delay (like a digital junkie suffering withdrawal symptoms) followed by that “you-don’t-mind-if-I-answer” look,  your conversation partner will undoubtedly check their phone.  Then they will probably leave you isolated and alone, idly twiddling your thumbs as they communicate with someone else; or, they will attempt a half-hearted attempt conversation with you, head-nodding absently and annoyingly while reading a text – pretending they are soaking in everything you are saying.  Bullsh*t, you don’t fool me!  The only thing worse than the head-bobber? Those who ignorantly compose an e-mail or text while trying the same manoeuvre.

Rather than just waiting, I had to think about it for a moment: what’s the message they’re sending me?  That I, the one standing in front of them (well inside their personal space bubble), am not as important – or heaven forbid, as exciting – as the person on the other end of the g3 or Wi-Fi.  Yes, it is as simple as that.  For those that are victims of this unfortunate new mannerism, consider buying your conversational partners the best innovation I have seen in communication technology in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong; I love our exponential technological growth– it has made things a lot better than when I was a kid: cell phones more powerful than Big Blue, HD sports and  blue ray movies that are so clear you would think you were there, spectacular video games to amuse and enjoy, Skype and webcam communications to link you to your loved ones across the Globe, MRIs and scopes to cure our ills…the list goes on and on.

But I am confused.

While technology amazes me,  the way it impacts our lives confounds me.  I just think we have not found the balance between technology enhancing our lives and technology controlling our lives.  Technology is supposed to make us better; I think it has made people behave poorly.  The potential  for technology to invade and negatively alter our personal time is enormous; its ability to confound and confuse by offering us too much choice is all too real.  And lastly, the way technology erodes our human interaction is just too insidious.  I used to get mad at people who didn’t realise that the person in front of them should receive more attention than the one on the other end of invisible waves.  Now I am just sad for them.

Disappointingly, I am not the only one who thinks that people need to relearn some manners in the Digital Age. The old and venerable Emily Post is another one who agrees with me (or maybe, me with her).  Note that Emily Post’s Guide to Good Manners is no longer just an antiquated 18th century publication that tells you how to fold your pocket-handkerchief.  Did you know that there is her own etiquette website called Etipedia® (Etiquette + Encyclopedia…cute).  And now you can find all of her successors’ advice and counsel to deal with a variety of etiquette conundrums.  More importantly, there is even one whole section that deals with the use of communication devices. It is perfect for people who mistakenly value their digital “thingy-ma-bobs” over real live human contact.  And it is even on-line .

Isn’t technology wonderful?



Old and proud…so back off junior

Dads are the Original Hipsters.

I will use the entertaining website above as the launching pad for a diatribe against anyone younger than me (and in their twenties) who thinks they are the “shizzle” (whatever, that is…) – especially if they think that “old people” suck.  As this is a rant, it is doubtful I will offer any constructive criticism – this will just make me feel better!

Shockingly, the other day one of my kids indirectly called me “old”.  It was  a tragic by-product of being the same age as Gerard Butler. Even though I am younger – on the much greener side of 50 – I believe that I am now officially labelled as a “grumpy old f*ck”.  I am now batting for the other team. No, I have note emerged from the closet sexually (and before you have at me,  I am not knocking that orientation either. As a comedian once said, “It’s not to my taste…but who knows? Once upon a time, I did not enjoy broccoli either.” Broccoli-curiosity is not the subject of this blog…)

What I mean is that somewhere in the past 20+ years I went from “Challenging the Man” to “Joining the Man” to “Being the Man”. No longer am I the hormone-addled youth playing My Generation on my Sony Walkman cassette player, singing “F-f-f-f-f-f-fade away!”  No longer am I trying hard to ignore the death-ray looks of the Depends crowd who winced at the high-pitched noise escaping from my 1980s foam-covered headphones. I am now the scornful old git looking at the unshaven, toque-topped, flannel-shirted, skinny jean wearing hipster and the ball-capped, hoodie-wearing, “pants-to-the-ground” gangsta. I stare, transfixed, as they gyrate to the music of Liddle Fiddy, Em-En-Oh-Pee, the Antarctic Narwhals or whatever artist that has captured their fleeting attention spans.   (Note: Any youth similarly grooving or head-banging to Sabbath, Zeppelin, Tull, or Mötorhead is spared the death stare and admonishing cluck.)

I don’t know when this metamorphosis happened. The change is sort of like the rapid onset of my short-sightedness  or my inability to remember things as I leave the house (I know you know…we can no longer read the instructions on the box of Quaker Oats without using the self-zooming arm, or must check three times if we locked the front door.)  One day I was tolerant and understanding; the next day I was permanently irritated by anyone between 15 and 24.

Evidently I have whitewashed over my youth’s peccadilloes and joined the Old Bastards’ Club. Evidence? Rather than just accept it, I will return my steak if it is not to my liking (if I am paying $29.99 for a slab of meat, I want it exactly medium-rare, not rare, not medium – medium rare, lord t’undering!); I will tell the telephone-solicitor, usually passive-aggressively, that he has called me at a very bad time and that he  is on the verge of ruining my nearly perfect day.

I have paid my dues.  I want things exactly how I want them, and dammit, I have earned the right to expect and receive that! And, I am warning you young pups…do not try to piss higher than me on the tree, or I will come at you like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!

Also, regardless of my relatively middle class upbringing (with the necessary paper route, part-time job and continuous summer employment), I now find that I am an ardent disciple of the School of Hard Knocks. If you are over 30 and you haven’t seen  Charlie Sykes’ 11 rules of life ( evidently incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates ), you will probably react like I did. After each rule I found I was nodding my head vigorously crying, “You tell them Gatesy…the little bastards have it easy. There are no handouts for you here, punks!”

I back that up with the fact that everything I have, I got on my own – so the youngsters should do the same.  Don’t ask me for a ride to school;  man, when I was your age, I used to walk barefoot…uphill…and, in the snow!  Every hardship and disappointment built character – character needed to be an upstanding, contributing citizen like me, kid. Sound familiar? If you are as old as Gerard Butler, I am sure you have heard it before.

And then, the remaining vestiges of the young fellow I used to be offers that maybe I am being too grumpy, too hard, on the future generation. Maybe the grumpiness isn’t about them – it is about me.  My generation is full of Breakfast Club clones, now wearing the figurative checkered pants of principal Dick Vernon, who struggle to find a way to communicate with the next wave of humanity. Maybe the disapproving looks and comments are inevitable. As the wrinkles in our brains smooth out, as our vision fails, as our generation begins to become extinct, maybe being a prick is simply a Darwinian reaction.

It’s true, I can’t devolve into a youngster –  I look like shit in skinny jeans or gangsta clothes. The only option left is to bitch – “I gripe, therefore I am”. Perhaps being a curmudgeon is the only way to be noticed, to stay relevant, or as Bon Jovi puts it, our only way of going out in a Blaze of Glory.

So in the end, I can’t fight evolution, so I will accept my curmudgeon-ness. But, for you sprogs out there, watch out!  There are still a lot of us old buggers hanging on, with our huge reservoir of middle-aged bitching to school you on the way it used to be. And if that doesn’t intimidate you, take a peek at the web site at the top and be impressed – we were pretty young and hip once.  And rest assured, one day you will be old and grumpy just like us! That should scare you.