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The Day My Dad Was Sick And I Began My Journey to Wisdom

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father son

My Dad and I were never close.

Nope, not even close to close.

We were acquaintances who happened to live under the same roof for 16 years. Ghosts treading the same floors in different dimensions.

I’ve spent many years feeling bitterness and resentment towards the man who housed, fed and clothed me.

There was no abuse … sure, the occasional routine spanking – it was still the era of spare the rod and spoil the child – no, my beef with my father was benign neglect.

He never joined in with my mother at my school events, attended my hockey games, or helped with delivering my newspapers when the snow was deep the way Mom did. He never helped with my homework or joined me in making little plastic car and airplane models, never threw a baseball my way. He didn’t teach me how to drive or tell me that one day I’d have to shave hair from the edges of my ears (really?!?).

I think that many of us harbour some ill feelings towards at least one of our parents.

It’s pretty amazing that these childhood feelings can linger for decades afterwards, which perhaps helps me understand why we prosecute war criminals and sexual predators (yes, YOU Harvey W.) many years after the acts occurred. The hurts stick to you like flypaper.

In the early winter of 1974 I was on a French class school trip to Quebec City … what joyous fun and freedom it was for a 16 year old to share a hotel room with two buddies in a “foreign” city…

… to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival, taste the frozen maple taffy, cavort with Bonhomme Carnaval, eat filet mignon in an historic old restaurant, and sip French wine (yes, underaged!) with classmates from long plastic canes designed to secretly tote alcohol.

And there were girls on the trip! Even more, there were teenage girls in the Quebec streets who spoke… French! Oh Mon Dieu…

Bonhomme carnaval

Then the phone rang in my hotel room and the fun ended all too soon.

Only a few months after my Mom’s unexpected death, my Dad had been diagnosed with acute leukemia and was being aggressively treated in hospital with nasty chemo chemicals to combat the blood cancer. There were yeast sores all through his mouth and he could barely drink. The chemotherapy designed to save him was brutal and life threatening all on its own.

The voice on the phone said that he was dwindling – quickly – and I should perhaps book a train ticket and return home ASAP if I wanted to say a final goodbye.

I “bravely-in-a-boys-don’t-cry-sort-of-way” held back any tears and began packing and lamenting the end of my teenage frolic en francais.

Shortly after I received another phone call… Larry, don’t worry, he probably isn’t as bad as we first thought, he should survive the next couple of days. Stay there and enjoy your time in Quebec.

Right.

Turns out my Dad survived the chemo (and leukemia) and lived another reasonably healthy 7 years.

And you might think that we became close (or closer) as a result of his illness and the near-death experience, but we didn’t. The big chill remained. The Hollywood happy ending never occurred in real life.

But. Over many years I’ve let the bitter taste dissipate. Melt and absorb back into the universe. It becomes so dilute that it can’t do any harm anymore.

I’m not perfect. I’ve realized that I’m a product of my upbringing and environment and so was my Dad. In his shoes: with his parents, school, and life experiences, would I be any different? I don’t know.

My Dad wasn’t a bad guy. In many ways, he was a good fellow, just not a good Dad to me.

I will never totally understand the man he was, but I understand now through my own life history how a life is molded and shaped … how diamond is often imperfectly formed over time from coal through heat and pressure.

You might say I’ve grown a tiny bit … which is really a synonym for older and … wait for it …

WISE?

WISDOM?

Maybe?

buddha

Lost Christmas

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NYC Killing 2019

Like a straight-line, linear graph (this is my lab background rearing its ugly head) …

… emotional intensity rises as we inch closer to Christmas.

Must be all that Harking and Jingling and O Holy’ing

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the tragic. The amplification soars.

I feel this intensity every year… my emotional core was struck deeply this past week by the news of a senseless cold-blooded murder of a young woman – a daughter, a sister, a student, a musician – in a New York City park.

Any parent will tell you that likely the most gut-wrenching and worrisome part of bringing children INTO the world, is still being alive to usher them OUT OF the world.

Nothing can prepare us for this.

Although I once experienced a close call many years back, I can only pretend to understand the inner devastation that cuts into a mother or father for the remainder of their days, upon the loss of a child.

So, as a kind of catharsis, I’ve “penned” a set of lyrics this week leading up to Christmas, that attempts to capture a bit of the heartbreak in losing a child, like the family of Tessa Majors … the unexpected, the shock, the despair.

Crimson Christmas

CRIMSON CHRISTMAS   (A Parent’s Lament)

by Larry Green

INTRO:

If she wasn’t young and pretty
would they care?
If he wasn’t an agitated kid dressed out in civvies
would they care?
Are thoughts and prayers enough for us
to show they care… when
the past is our only gift left to unwrap

Verse 1

Silver bells and mistletoe laugh
why would she walk those steps
in darkness alone?
gaudy glittered trees and romantic chaff
frosty wreathes over blood-stained snow
our goodbye epitaph

Verse 2

What ghostly happenstance
brought her to this savage moment
this chain of devil’s chance
from a day of season’s fa-la-la’s
from a life crammed full of plans

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

Verse 3

Her jacket torn and gashed askew
down feathers fill the evening sky
her heart that lost its beat
her bro that’s lost his feet
her guitar left deathly quiet

Verse 4

There’s little left inside this shell
please god I’ll bare my chest with glee
slash me deep to spare her tears
Crush my face in gravelled snow
I’ll forgo life’s wine and years

Bridge

Our morning seems to never come
Snow angels turn your heads in shame… while…

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

… and the past is our only gift left to unwrap.

tessa guitar

majors family

How I Lived as CinderFella …

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This is how Jean's kitchen really looked...

The pristine look of my Step-Mom Jean’s kitchen in reality…

 

It was a nasty thing to do but I was feeling a bit ill-natured. What can I say, I was a teenage boy.

I inclined my face to just the right angle so I could see the reflected light from the overhead fixture, then slowly dragged my finger across the brown metallic finish of the kitchen stove hood, squiggling my name in the light greasy coating on its surface.

This is how she thought it looked after I fingered my name in grease on the stove hood....

This is how she thought it looked after I fingered my name in grease on the stove hood….

 

A Scrooge-like pleasure pulsed through my body.

It was the passive-aggressive approach of a hormonal, acne-stricken 16 year-old adolescent to a fresh, unwelcome presence in the house.

My house. Not her’s.

My retired Dad’s new wife Jean – he married her just over a year after my Mom died from a heart attack – was a clean freak, and I had found a chink in her hygienic armour.

Jean cleaned everything top to bottom three times daily. The house was cleaned more frequently than the air exchanged. How had she missed cleaning this surface?

When my mother was alive just 18 months earlier, the discovery of a light film of animal fat on any kitchen surface would have been commonplace.

She wasn’t a slob by any means, but Mom didn’t give her life over to the deity of Mr. Clean.

I know this because my job on most Saturday mornings before or after my Peewee hockey game, was to go about the house, joyfully spraying over-generous wafts of Lemon Pledge aren’t those spray cans single-use only? –  on any wooden furniture surface and buffing it to a wonderfully citrus-scented sheen. There was always a light layer of dust anywhere I went with my cloth.

“Larry, you only need a very light spray to remove the dust and make it shine”, Mom would say.

Yup“, I ignored her, as I continued on my merry aerosol-aplenty way. I loved how the Pledge hit the wood surface and magically bubbled up into a white foam like painful hydrogen peroxide on a nasty, gritty wound.

Lemon pledge

Many of us at some time in our lives find the need to adapt to a new face sitting across the dinner table in place of our Mom or Dad.

It might be through divorce or separation, or as in my case, the death of a parent.

I imagine sometimes this is easy, but in most cases, it’s difficult to transition a Mom or Dad.

These are the people who changed our diapers, walked us to school on fog-soupy days, held our hand when we jittered nervously, waiting in the dental office.

Our lifelong security blanket has been taken away forcibly and suddenly, and tossed into the trash. We realize how Linus feels when Lucy steals his blanket, except it’s not as funny as in the Peanuts comics.

In its place a shiny new substitute has been handed to us. And it doesn’t really matter how nice or beautiful or competent or loving the substitute is. We know it’s not the original that we bonded with from our moment of birth, the familiar smell, the sound of her/his voice will never be the same.

It’s a bit funny in my case because I kind of welcomed the entrance of someone – anyone – into our lives. My Dad and I had lived as solitary bachelors for a year (technically my brother Gord lived at home still, but with a fiance in his life, he was seldom seen) and it was an uncomfortable co-existence.

Really, it would have made a great sit-com if there was any humour to be mined. Two guys, one bald and retired in his late 60’s, the other a long-haired 70’s-era kid. Think of the fun possibilities! I can hear the laugh track rollicking over our stunted, confused conversations. Think Jack Nicholson living with Justin Bieber. Who wouldn’t bust a gut over those conversations?

Somehow the sit-com scenario played out more like a dull, lonely drama in real life. So what did we say to each other? Not much.

There was a lot of silence and conversations kept to the required minimum of “Will you be home for supper?“, or “I’d like you to cut the lawn today“, or more threatening, “You need to get your hair cut.” That last one was a constant thorny itch to make a moody teenager’s blood boil.

Get a haircut

Then when Jean, an old family church friend entered the picture, it was a good thing.

My Dad needed companionship that a 16 year-old son had no ability or intent of providing. Jean was a talkative, cheery presence that filled a major gap left in an eerily quiet home after Mom’s sudden departure.

She was just what the doctor ordered to make an older, lonely fellow’s life something whole once again, and he too filled a chasm that existed in Jean’s world after her husband died a few years earlier from emphysema. It was a win-win for them both.

I just didn’t see it that way from a younger son perspective. She was perfect for my Dad, but not for me.

I was living in a perceived hell I hadn’t asked for.

I missed my Mom terribly.

I’d never had anything resembling a close relationship with my Dad. I wanted an escape but had no clue how anything could possibly change.

And then, like a Disney wand had swept through with its magic, it happened.

My older sister, Betty, who had lived and worked in B.C. for a few years, decided to move back to Ontario early that summer to be closer to our family. In a moment of weakness, and probably, with her social sciences background, feeling great pity for me, she suggested that I move into an apartment with her, and, well, the rest is history.

By the end of summer and the start of my Grade 13 school year (Ontario was the only Canadian province that held onto that tradition), my Dad and Jean were happily living alone in their love nest, while I shared a small nearby apartment with my saviour, my sister.

I completed my Grade 13, then studied at college for a couple of years until I was a certified Medical Laboratory Technologist winging off to my first professional job in Yellowknife, NWT.

In looking back, I never really disliked Jean. She was a bit like a stray puppy with a waggly tail that pushes its way through your back door one day unexpectedly. She wasn’t perfect. But I wasn’t perfect either.

puppy on doorstep

And fortunately, when she discovered my little scrawled trail of grease on her presumed pristine stove hood, instead of unleashing a burst of anger at me, she laughed and laughed at the humour of it all.

She continued to talk and laugh about it for the next few years of companionship she offered to my Dad in his declining years.

Bringing a new woman into our home wasn’t the easiest, smoothest move my Dad ever made. There were difficult, tense moments.

Oily, slippery, dirty moments come about in all our lives. We need to hang on tenuously by our fingernails sometimes and remind ourselves that eventually, this too shall pass.

I may have harboured some bitter, resentful feelings towards my Dad for “replacing” my Mom. But I got over that simmering emotion years ago. Now I can smile knowing my Dad’s last years were happier and more contented with Jean around, even if the stove hood was a bit greasy.

Stories Your Parents Never Told You … on Becoming an Ewok

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There are stories our mothers and fathers never told us because they hurt too much.

My baby pic

Why didn’t my parents tell me about hairy issues?

I get it.

Honesty from our parents should be a given, but parents want to protect their children from the cuts and scrapes of life and so they shelter us from life’s storms. They tell us to be truthful, then they turn around and say Yes, Santa lives, Virginia“, and we snuggle contentedly in our beds and dream sugar-plum dreams for one more night.

Our parents read the newspapers and watch the TV stories of the terrible things that happen: the school shootings, the terrorist attacks, the derailed trains, but they filter and smooth the harshness of life.

Spine-chilling events occur every minute of every day somewhere, and the best we can do in this life is to make sure we keep ourselves out of the line of fire. But we do this while still trying to lead the most fulfilling lifetime possible, right? It’s kind of contradictory, but really, it makes sense.

We all want to be sheltered from the scary things that go bump in the night, so when we look in our kids’ eyes and they glow with the innocence of believing that everything is blissful and merry, we too immerse ourselves in that soothing spa of naivety.

It feels good. It feels warm. We bask in their sunny simplicity.

It’s the salve that protects and heals us in a world that makes us joyously happy as well as heartwrenchingly sorrowful.

Life is hard to live. And even if Facebook tells us that everyone out there is gloriously happy, don’t believe it. We don’t usually share our anguish and ill thoughts on social media. We all have snippets of misery bound up inside of us.

I’ve had to learn some life lessons the hard way. Maybe that’s the way it should be, but I can’t help thinking just a little forewarning would have been nice.

There are three areas of life my parents never, in the slightest, prepared me to handle or understand:

1. Hairy ears  – It is patently unfair that the hair on my head dwindles as the hair on the rims of my ears and inside my nose grows like a wildfire raging out of control.

Ear HairMy father must have known, yet never explained to me that I was under threat of becoming an Ewok as years passed. Shouldn’t this be common father/son discussion territory right along with “use a condom” and “run if she says she wants 6 kids“?

So here I am taking razors and tweezers to regions of my body that were supposed to be virginally pristine, perpetually clearcut, and looking after themselves. They did their jobs just fine for the first 40+ years, so why change the contract now?

Maybe I’m missing the point and it’s really just divine intervention to ensure that barbers and hairstylists have job security.

My travel agent friend has a fluffy bush growing out of his nose; when I’m sitting across the desk from him do you think I can hear what he’s saying? I can’t see the travel trees for all of the furry forest on display. I’m dying to pull out a pair of little bonsai scissors and try out some topiary design work – give me 10 minutes and he could have a full Disney menagerie hanging from his nostrils for his next ride down Splash Mountain.

…………………….

2. Growing Nose – I didn’t enter my adult years with a large nose. Alright, it wasn’t tiny or something that you might describe as a cute button like Emma Watson’s or Leonardo DiCaprio’s, but it was fairly narrow and unhumped and well-behaved. Not perfect, but pretty damned good.

michael-jackson-nose

My nose is growing the opposite direction that MJ’s took…

Then, as the hair follicles on my head began spitting out their woolly cargo, and the downy fuzz on my ears sprang joyously to life, my nose too decided that it wanted to get in on the action and do its Pinocchio thing. 

Now I don’t have a huge honking proboscis today, but the width has definitely increased and occupies a broader expanse of my face. Dr. Oz acknowledges it occurs, so it must be true. Our noses do keep growing, even if we don’t lie.

The bone tissue stops increasing, but the cartilage keeps adding layers, just like the new 3D printers that are all the rage in the media these days. If the day comes where humans live to 500 years old, we’ll be guessing our neighbour’s age by the length and breadth of his nose, like counting the rings on trees.

When the weight of our snout causes us to tumble over, we’ll know that we’ve reached the maximum lifespan for humans. I’m getting close.

…………………….

3. Raising Children –  is damned hard work and maybe not for everyone. There is a mass societal deception; we’re inundated by positive messages about the joys of parenting and raising a herd of little Liams and Emmas (2013 Most Popular Baby Names, brought to you by Pampers).

Like the myth of Santa Claus, “Joyful Procreation for Dummies” is another one of those fallacies foisted on us by the ones who know better… actual parents and grandparents.

child-play

Of course our parents want us to have kids. What greater joy is there than to see your own children suffering through the same slings and arrows you went through 30 years earlier? It’s called “Don’t get mad, get even.” And Grandparents love their grandkids; as soon as they begin to misbehave, it’s “OK, out to the car Marge, we’re goin’ home.

The real truth is, despite the joys of “Mini Me’s” reflecting our vigours and foibles, bringing up children is exhausting: physically, mentally and emotionally. No minute or dollar is your own once a young’un arrives.

They wait at bathroom doors like meowing cats, except they learn how to turn the handle. Privacy, what privacy?

They instinctively know when a few extra dollars linger in your bank account for a special date night out – an instant need for $100 for the school basketball trip arises.

Have kids … please.

But also know that your workplace labours will seem like child’s play in comparison to the rigours of parenthood. The money train is constantly leaving the station, but there are no income arrivals on this trip.

OK, I kinda get this one. If my parents had told me all, I could have missed the super highs that triumph the perils of parenting. Well played Mom and Dad.

…………………….

So, like a modern-day Scrooge, my rant is now complete.

And you know, for all my complaints, my parents really did prepare me for most of the important things in life eg. SACRIFICE: chocolate truly does taste better after you’ve eaten your liver or spinach; LOGIC: “Because I said so, that’s why“; ANTICIPATION: “Just wait until I tell your father“; and finally, JUSTICE : “One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!

It would make me feel so much better and less lonely if you shared even one area where you wish your parents had shared the truth.

And finally my friends: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

There are some things I just can't tell you ...

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa …