Saturday, February 27, 2016

It's called being a dad

I've heard people talk about a household this week. I get the image of a post-apocalyptic dwelling where the children are in dirty, tattered rags; there are mountains of pizza boxes and fast food containers that are now homes to some sort of weird microbiology experiment; and the inhabitants are forced to drink the water from the toilet bowl or out of dirty puddles outside.

"Poor people," I think to myself. Who could live this way in our modern world? Then I realize they are talking about my household. Wait! I'm living here, and it's nothing like what they're describing. I even turned the tap on to check our access to clean water. Yep, still works—hot and cold.

See, my wife, who is a stay-at-home mom and home-based business owner, is out of town on a business trip, so I took the week off work to look after our four children, aged 4-13. The comments were about my ability (or lack thereof) to parent my children and manage the household. I'm quite shocked at the number of people who think—and verbalized their thoughts—that because I can grow a beard, I am incapable of anything other than teaching my children to scratch themselves and belch their ABCs while getting me another beer.

Even our oldest daughter piled-on just before my wife left. She said, "Yay, we get to go to Burger King and watch movies while Mom's gone." For the record, we went to BK once and watched one movie last time mom went away.

Don't get me started on the people who say I'm babysitting this week, or playing Mr. Mom. It's called being a dad. I don't babysit my children. I parent them. And I have zero interest in being another mom. My kids have a great one of those already. What they need is a dad.

Some people may be expressing their experiences with their own fathers, or maybe husbands. Maybe it's a generational thing or they just have bad experiences of men in their lives. But let's not be too hasty in stereotyping all males.

Here's the image you would get from my household this week if you took the time to ask what my week has been like instead of assuming the mouldy walls are crumbling around us.

The kids are clean, even behind the ears.

The kids are dressed in clean clothes. As shocking as it may sound to some, I know how to separate darks and whites and colours, I know how to work the washing machine and dryer, and I know how to follow cleaning labels to know what temperature to use and what needs to hang to dry.

The house is clean. And you get a slap if you're thinking, "But it's "man" clean." If by that you mean a person who has high standards of hygiene and cleanliness and who lives with someone who is a bit a germaphobe who can sniff out germs like an airport sniffer dog, then yes, I guess it's man clean. That includes cleaning up vomit from one of the kids who got the stomach bug and the extra laundry that always means. I even got a jump on some of the spring cleaning so we don't have to tackle those things later.

Everyone is well-fed and nourished. No fast food, no junk food. Only well-balanced meals to feed growing minds and bodies.

Everyone got to all of their activities. OK, I forgot our youngest's swimming lessons, but she has pink-eye and wouldn't have been able to go anyway. Yes, she's been getting her eye drops as directed.

I got a few little household projects checked-off my list.

We made time to have fun as a family. On top of the regular activities and homework, we have played games, had a family movie night, and we had an awesome snowball fight that the kids have been looking forward to for a while.

I'm not sharing any of this to brag or count myself as some super-dad. I'm a dad. Plain and simple. I take that role seriously, as I do my role as husband. I write this to try and earn a bit of respect for all dads out there who do an awesome job of being fathers and husbands and co-workers and children of God. We take it seriously, so please, take us seriously too.

Now, excuse me while I go help my son. He can only make it to "F" in one burp.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pack a spare pair

I have one rule when it comes to packing for vacation: pack a spare pair of underwear.

So, before we set out for our summer road trip to the West Coast, with stops in Cochrane, Alta., Banff, Alta. and Kelowna, BC before making to our final destination of Vancouver, BC, we counted the days we would have to go before we could do laundry in a rental suite—and I added one.

We rented bikes to ride along Stanley Park's sea wall in Vancouver BC; one of the many highlights of our trip
I'm not really sure where this impulse (or compulsion, depending on your perspective) came from. Maybe it was from my short stint as a boy scout. Maybe it was my Mom's (and every mom's) advice to always wear clean underwear because "you never know what might happen." I guess proper hygiene wasn't reason enough.

Over the years, as our family has grown, that need to pack an extra pair expanded into packing extra, well, everything, to be prepared for the "just in case." Extra diapers (which I am ecstatic we didn't need to pack this summer), extra sunscreen, extra clothes just in case there's a bathroom accident or a spill (there's always a spill of some sort, usually on a white shirt), extra wipes for sticky hands, an extra Epi-pen for the child with allergies, an extra ice-cream pail...

Yeah, that last one may need an explanation. My dear wife thinks that she needs to be prepared for the possibility that kids will get sick and throw up in the van, or trailer, or cabin, or relatives' house, or pretty much anywhere. So, we travel with an ice cream pail in the van. But, for our long summer road trip, she packed a spare. I openly mocked her for this. Well, after two kids got car sick on windy mountain roads, one mysteriously threw up twice for no obvious reason, and the fourth got the stomach flu, I have vowed to never mock my wife's packing of the pails again. Now Gravol is on the "extras" list.

It seems like second nature to pack extras and be prepared. We were going to places with beaches; pack towels, beach blankets and beach toys. We were heading to a place affectionately called the Wet Coast; pack rain gear, which we didn't need because it was unseasonably dry. We knew we were going to the Rider game in BC; pack jerseys and temporary tattoos. We knew there might be complaints about sharing beds in some places; pack an air mattress. The list goes on of how we packed to be prepared.

How about spiritual preparation? We knew we were going to be in the van for long stretches, that our rental places wouldn't offer as much room as our house, that kids would get homesick, that kids would pick fights with each other (or with us in the case of our oldest), we knew the familiarity of routine would be gone (read my thoughts on routine here). Did we pack some extra patience, fortitude, temperance, justice? Did we think bring along more mercy and forgiveness (or, more accurately, pray for the grace to be more merciful and forgiving)?

I'd like to say, "Of course!" But I have to be honest. I got caught without packing a spare. I lost my patience. My fortitude waned as the end of the trip neared. Mercy didn't go out the window, but it hid in the curtains a couple times.

Thankfully, we have a God that has an endless supply of love and mercy and forgiveness. So when I did run short, He was there to forgive me and offer me the grace I needed. God has an infinite number of spares.

From now on, I'll have two rules when it comes to packing (three if you include pails), and one of those things will be to pray for an extra dose of grace to practice virtue in out-of-the-ordinary situations.

How do you prepare spiritually for road trips or vacations?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

In loving memory of a maple

When it was over, I looked up to discover my wife consoling our sobbing five year old daughter. Our 12 year old's face was buried in her knees to hide her tears as best she could. The other two kids weren't crying, but the look on their faces said it all: "Did that just happen?"

Yes it did. I cut down the maple tree in our backyard.

Now before you get all Joni Mitchell on me and accuse me of paving paradise, there are reasons for the tree's demise. The people who lived on our house before us seemed to plan the yard based on how big trees and shrubs were when they were planted, oblivious to what things will look like when they grow and mature. I have had to take out shrubs that were planted too close together or too close to the house before and replace them with plants more appropriate for the area.

This small-to-medium-sized tree was already growing into a larger tree, and a couple years of pruning and hoping didn't change that fact. My wife and I had been discussing the tree's removal for a couple years, and we agreed that if was going to happen, it should happen before it got too big and we got too attached to it. Guess we were a little late for the latter.

I joined the rest of the family on the deck trying to console the kids and explain that it simply had to happen. It was not use.

"Where will we put the ladybugs?" This tree was their ladybug refugee camp when they "rescue" the tiny beetles.

"What about the birds? Where will they live?" referring to the waxwings that made their home in the tree last year.

The protests and outcries continued.

"I love maple trees."

"That was my favourite tree."

Our 12 year old even sent me a text after she went inside, "Y did you u do it? Y Y Y?!" Just in case I didn't get it, she sent a second message with a maple leaf emoji.

When she returned outside, she mumbled, "At least you didn't cut down the climbing tree," before she scrambled up the tree like she was going to sit in it to protect it from another one of my barbarous acts. Part of me expected to see chains and a lock.

I have to be honest, I did not expect any of these reactions. But it didn't take long to realize that this tree, or rather the experiences this tree represented, are ingrained into the fabric of our family. It was, and always be be part of our family's story. All chapters of stories come to and end—some with laughter, some with tears. All create bonds that bring our family together and give us the shared experiences that is family, that is life.

Farewell little maple tree. Thank you for the memories you have brought our family.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Public displays of affection

Love is in the air this time of year. It's not quite time to be twitterpated, but Cupid's arrows will fly again this February on Valentine's Day, the one day of the year most dedicated to love—if you consider a commercially manufactured over-materialistic guilt-you-into-expressing-your-love-for-your-wife-day a day dedicated to love.

Whether you fully endorse or merely tolerate the commercial aspect of Valentine's Day, it's undeniably a day you will see all sorts of public displays of affection (a.k.a. PDA). From hand holding, to sweet pecks on the cheek, to get-a-room-style making out, to flower deliveries, to proposals over romantic dinners—we'll likely see it all on February 14.

I fully endorse public displays of affection, within limits, of course. Prudence is a virtue that is sometimes lost when it comes to PDA. I'm especially a pro-PDA advocate around the house in front of the kids. Why? Well, there's the obvious expression of attraction to my wife: her long hair, her beautiful eyes, her soft... ahem, where was I?

There's also the perk of getting an emphatic "Ewww!" from the kids as they attempt to avert their eyes from the horror of seeing their parents kiss, which becomes somewhat of a game.

Most of all, I promote PDAs around the house because I want our home to be one in which physical expressions of love in proper context—like the covenant of marriage—are seen as both normal and important.

I think Jesus would agree. The mystery of the incarnation—God becoming man—demonstrates that our physical nature is important and worth redeeming. Jesus gave us sacraments—physical signs and experiences of his love and grace. Marriage is a sacrament and requires an appropriate physical expression of love between husband and wife. And I think it's important my children learn that it's normal and healthy for their parents to physically express the love they have for each other, which naturally spills-over to the children.

Of course, the physical expression is an outward sign of something deeper, a reflection of Christ and his bride, the Church. Maybe that's another post for another time.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to gross-out my kids.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Why I don't do New Year's resolutions

New Year's resolutions—bah humbug to them!

I never understood the point of New Year's resolutions. It seems kinda arbitrary. Oh, the year is ending; I'd better decide to change a part of my life for the better. Why only do that on January 1?

Sure, making healthier diet and exercise choices is timely after doing the holiday food decathlon. But is that really a resolution? Or is it more of a decision to get back on track after a brief gluttonous stint?

Instead of making one choice on on one day, I prefer to make (try to make) incremental improvements throughout the year. If, through reflection, or by my wife asking, "Do you really need that mixing bowl full of ice cream?", to which my answer is, "Pass the chocolate syrup," I realize a need to change something for the better, I prefer to do it sooner rather than later. Well, after the bowl of ice cream anyway.

If, through an examination of conscience, I see a need to shed a vice and strive for virtue, I needn't wait for the calendar to change. As St. Paul said, now is the acceptable time (cf 1 Cor 6:2). Now is the acceptable time to respond to St. Pope John Paul II's universal call to holiness so that we may become perfect images of God (cf Mt 5:48).

If you insist on making a New Year's resolution. I hope you stick to it. Better yet, I hope you make several resolutions to be a better spouse, parent, co-worker, etc. many times throughout the year.

Have a blessed New Year, one and all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

5 easy ways to evangelize at Christmas eve Mass

Ahh, Christmas eve Mass. The anticipation is over. Mary's "yes" has new significance. Christ is born anew. And our parishes are bursting at the seams with people celebrating the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.

Too bad that, more often than not, we get annoyed at the fact so many people have come to celebrate the significance of this day and worship the Christ child. How dare those CEO Catholics (those who come for Christmas, Easter, and Other special occasions) sit in my regular pew? They took all the good parking spots. And they still say, "And also with you." Stop the insanity! Who let these people in? Does the church not have standards anymore?

Well they are here now, so let's, as a church community, shed the cranky and put our best foot forward to encourage them to make this going to church thing a weekly occurrence. Let's evangelize them.
"Evangelizing means to bring the Good News into every strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new."—Pope Paul VI.
Here are five easy ways you can held transform humanity.

Say "Hi"
Seem obvious? That's because it is. Acknowledge they are there. Make them feel welcome. Would you return to a restaurant that didn't make you feel welcome? How much more significant is this meal around the alter of the Lord?

Help them feel like an insider, not an outsider intruding on you
Yes, it has been a few years since responses and prayers have changed, and ideally, everyone should know them. But instead of rolling your eyes when someone says the wrong thing or accidentally reverts to an old prayer, give them the insider information and make them feel like part of the family. Kindly show them where they can find the right responses. Pass them a prayer card from the pew in front of you. Show them where they can find the proper prayer. Offer them your missal. Want to go that extra mile? Say, "And also with you," on purpose so they don't feel so self-conscious about their mistake.

Embrace the buzz
With that many more people, and kids, there's a bit more—OK a lot more—noise. That's the sound of a vibrant community. That's the sound of your parish's future. Instead of sneering at parents for having normal kids that find it hard to sit still and be perfectly silent for an hour and a half, offer to help. See if little Suzie wants to quietly look at a book with you (of it's OK with mom and dad). Acknowledge them as part of your parish who have gifts to offer. Make sure you offer them a special sign of peace. Smile at mom and dad to let them know having the kids there is a good thing.

Ask them to come back
You have a built-in, even expected thing to say to people as you make eye contact and leave the church. So tack on a little, "Hope to see you Sunday," or "Come again soon," after you say, "Merry Christmas!" End their church experience on a positive note. Let them know this happens every week and that they can usually get a better seat and parking spot.

Keep the cursing out of the parking lot
Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not let the last thing people remember about Mass be someone cutting them off or giving the one-finger salute in the church parking lot. Patience is a virtue. Practice it for a few minutes. Hang out in the church for a while. Take the kids to show them the creche. Sit in your car and pray the rosary while you wait for the lot to clear out a bit. 

Remember: people made an effort to come to church. They are there. They have responded to God's grace. The cooperated with God's divine plan of love. The Holy Spirit is moving. If you're going to gripe about them not fulfilling their Sunday obligation throughout the year instead of welcoming  them back into the Good Shepherd's fold, then at least have the courtesy to get of God's way and let Him do His work. 

Merry Christmas! I hope to see at at Mass.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent or Christmas shopping season?

It wasn't totally on purpose. Our motivation was less than holy and altruistic. But it happened all the same. We are, for the most part, done our Christmas shopping. Before December. Pinch me; I think I'm dreaming.

My first thought upon realizing this feat was relief. The thought of not stalking people for a parking spot, hunting for those few precious gifts only to find it's out of stock (or it doesn't qualify for free shipping) almost seems surreal. It almost brings a joyful tear to my eye.

Then, pausing a second to realize Advent starts this Sunday, I discovered another benefit: I get to focus on the season of advent, not the Christmas shopping season. I have the unique opportunity to prepare my heart to celebrate the birth our our Saviour, to pray and reflect what that means for me in the hear and now, to read the Christmas story to to the kids a bit more and help them realize the historical and spiritual significance of Jesus' incarnation and birth, to anticipate His coming again.

I'm not saying I like seeing Christmas stuff in stores in October, but there is something to getting the gift buying out of the way early so we can focus on the point of advent—preparing for the Saviour's coming—instead of fighting crowds, emptying bank accounts and praying the post office gets our gifts to the right place in time.

Maybe next year it won't be by accident.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lessons from the links

My last round of golf for the season was just a couple weeks ago, and I cleaned up my clubs this weekend.

As I set there scrubbing, I reflected on the season. I golfed more this year than I ever have—which averages one or two rounds a year, so it doesn't take much—and I actually saw some improvement in my game. I still fall in the weekend duffer category, but I'm putting disatnce between Twain and myself, no longer considering the game a good walk spoiled.

My eight year-old son took up the game this year. Perhaps that's another reason I was eager to hit the links, it was really good father-son time.

As I reflected on my game and the season, I couldn't help but remember that a friend and golf partner mentioned how we could all learn a thing or two from my son by observing how he approaches the game.

Usually a pretty even-keeled young lad, my son displayed all the characteristics that I'm sure led to the game being called the gentlemen's game. Here are a few things he taught us on the links this past summer:

Learning something new, especially a game like golf, takes a long time and a lot of patience. He's OK with the fact he's not going to be Graham DeLeat his first time out. He approaches each round with patience, and shows improvement with each round.

No one is counting your score for you or wathcing if you use your leather wedge and kick the ball out of the rough for a better lie. It would be really easy get away with those things when no one is wathcing. Except he knows that God is always watching and that honesty builds character. He acts with integrity on the course.

It's all in the attitude
Wheteher it was not being frustrated when missing the ball, or heeding advice to improve his swing, he had a great attitide and outlook toward the game. He never cursed under his breath, threw his club farther than the ball after a shanked ball or stormed off the green after missing a two foot put. He was out there to have fun with the guys, and he did just that. Which brings us to my final twopoints.

Games are supposed to be fun, and he reminded us all of that key fact almost every hole.

The value of friendship
He enjoyed hanging out with the boys. He looked forward to having a doghnut and chocolate milk if we went for coffee after an early morning round. He enjoyed remembering that one perfect shot that would make us come back. He reminded us that both fatherhood and friendship are about spending time and building relationships. And that is just what we did.

And, with any luck, we'll continue to that next year when we hit the links.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What I learned from my daughter's run

My oldest daughter is participating in the CIBC Run for the Cure this coming weekend. It's the second time she has chosen to do the charity walk/run raising money for breast cancer research, and I have to say, I'm a very proud father that she has decided to be an active member of our community.

Her aunt, my sister-in-law, is a breast cancer survivor, so there's a personal connection providing some extra motivation. We all know someone, or several people, who have fought the battle. Fortunately, more have won than lost thanks to support of research.

Seeing all the people and hearing the stories is more than a bit inspirational. So, here's a short list of things my daughter has taught me by participating in the run:

Little people can do big things
Being at the event is really moving. Seeing the survivors and the families affected is really emotional. There are teams of people and individuals, all with moving stories of why they are there. But it is the young people, like my daughter, who made an impression on me—little people making a big difference

Making it easy to give makes it, well, easy to give
When I did fundraising for activities, charities or sports teams growing up, it was grunt work—going door-to-door with pledge sheets, raffle tickets, chocolate covered almonds or asking for bottles. The whole idea was to make it easy for people to give. You didn't have to do anything other than open he door, then open our wallet.

Now, a nice easy website lets you tap away on your tablet to support a worthy cause.

Shy people step into the spotlight in their own way
Despite being one of the loudest people on earth, my daughter is quite shy in public. But she puts that aside to support a good cause. She's willing to step out of her comfort zone in her own way. This year, she's even talking about wearing a pink costume of some sort. We'll see if that's just big talk or not.

Personal connections are a key to participation
Would she have participated if her aunt didn't have breast cancer? Maybe. But she didn't hesitate when she made the personal connection with a family member. We're all more likely to do something when we're personally invested.

Children are the present, not the future of our communities
I'm kinda tired of hearing that our young people are our future. I get the concept of that. But they are here today. They are vital members of our communities today. And we should foster their participation, involvement and leadership in our communities today.

In case you missed the subtle link to support the run, here it is again.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

There's something to be said for routine

These three words evoke joy, excitement, anticipation and trepidation: back to school.

Yes, it happened this past week. The freedom of running around the neighbourhood with friends all day and staying up late has given way to routine and schedules. Back to bedtimes. Back to waking up on time. Back to making lunches. Back to homework. Back to school.

And it's back to blogging after a little summer hiatus.

We tend to mourn the end of summer. Not just because it's back to school; the days are getting shorter and some people are starting to use the s-word already (that'd be snow, clean up your mind). We seem to mourn the loss of freedom, or at least the perception of the loss of freedom, to some degree.

But there's something to be said for the constraints of routine—specifically the routine of my prayer life.

This summer we went camping for a week. Now, camping is where routine doesn't exist. Camping alters the space-time-continuum. Watches and clocks are rendered useless. You're on camping time.

One of the uniquely shaped twisted trees in the
lodgepole pine forest of Cypress Hills Provincial Park

One of the benefits of camping time is you have no schedules. There is no bedtime because you need to spend a good amount of time by the campfire, and it doesn't get dark until 10:30 or 11 pm. No bedtime means no alarms—except those four tiny human alarms, but even they started sleeping in, respecting the rules of camping time. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are mere guidelines for eating. You kinda feel like a hobbit having second breakfast and other made-up mealtimes just because you can.

Unfortunately, the victim in this timeless universe is my spiritual life. Sure, I go into it with good intentions. Keep, even increase, my regular prayer time. Pray the rosary more. Catch-up on some spiritual reading. Just hang with my buddy Jesus for a while each day. Re-read the summa. After all, I'm on camping time. I can do it all. (OK, I didn't have any intention of re-reading the summa. And "re" may be a little misleading since I haven't read it. Mere symmantics.) But you know what they say about good intentions. No? Look it up.

So the return to routine is often what my spiritual life needs. I set aside the necessary time each (most) morning. Nighttime family prayer returns in full force. I turn to Jesus throughout the day, just knowing He is there loving me, forgiving me, strengthening me.

Oh, how I love camping time. But there's something to be said for routine and a healthy soul.