Unexpected Interruptions

On a bitterly cold winter day, fifteen years hence, my life was interrupted. It wasn’t a surprise, I knew the interruption was imminent, longed for, even delayed. I had been anxiously awaiting that moment for ten months, anticipating the birth of my child (didn’t know it was a boy) with unbridled excitement that was a cocktail of uncertainty, hope, pride, and a dash of healthy fear.

When the time finally came, we were ready. Well my part was easy - pace, support, and wait. Michelle, on the other hand, was in labour for over twenty-two hours. The baby was just so relaxed and calm, not in a rush to meet the world, comfortable inside his windowless carriage. Michelle was a warrior, as always! I think that giving birth was an initiation of sorts for her, going med free, intervention free, enduring almost an entire day of labour without a single cry. Despite the fact that she has a “heart big enough for two” and is one of the most empathetic people I know, she is tough as nails, and she didn’t even grow up on a farm! I marvel with each passing day, how she endures the mental and physical anguish she is confronted with.

But back to the interruption…..

When Andrew Allan Mark was born on January 2nd, 2004 he didn’t even cry. When I recently told him that, he was surprised too, asking aren’t all babies supposed to cry when they are born? Not when they are already breathing, said I. He was born ready to interrupt.

The Boy and his father

The Boy and his father

This past year has been somewhat monumental for me, as you probably already know, if you frequent this space on the internet. As I have reflected on the nearly fifty years of breath I have had on this fragile spec of a planet, I am starting to see an accumulation of unexpected interruptions. The first one (undocumented as of yet) when I was twelve, then seventeen, graduation, Denmark, a cheque for $500, the University of Lethbridge, Michelle, marriage, presidency, grad school, law school, getting fired, and then THE BOY! There have been many unexpected interruptions since the one on January 2nd, 2004 but none so life altering.

I penned a poem for Andrew this year, and gave it to him for Christmas. I knew that it would be hard for him to understand, the imagery isn’t immediately accessible. So I sat down with him one morning and walked him through the events described in the poem. It was an amazing experience, for both of us I think. When he first received the poem on Christmas Day, he spent time reading it, and was appreciative, but after we read it together and I explained the significance of the words, he was moved. It is probably one of the best things I have ever done as a dad. I am astounded almost daily how I got so lucky to have a kid like I do. He isn’t anything close to perfect, but he is an amazing kid. I would be far less human without him in my life, that much I know. When I finished walking him through the poem, he was quiet for a bit, and then looked at me, said “I love you dad” and gave me a hug. The relationship I have with my “teenager” amazes me. Yes we fight, and we both make each other rage at times, but on the whole, we are on a journey together, which I know is a blessing. We still share Michelle, snow, mountains, golf, travel, and a desire for adventure. It is more than I could have ever dreamt of.

My friend Greg Zeschuk was recently notified that he is to receive the Order of Canada. When I found out I was very proud of him, and I found myself a little envious. You see, we are almost the same age, he has four months on me. Upon self reflection, I found myself wondering what I had accomplished these past fifty years, definitely nothing which has had an impact on our nation like my dear friend. And not to diminish in any way the significance of the Order of Canada, I found that I only had to look at my son Andrew to exit that short lived state of funk.

I added the previously referred to quote by Maya Angelou to the header of my website today.

Open your eyes to the beauty around you, open your mind to the wonders of life, open your heart to those who love you, and always be true to yourself.

Today I will celebrate (with those who love us) the birth of my son Andrew who is fifteen years old. I don’t know how it is possible that he is already that old, but I do know how much I love this BOY. I know how much he has shaped my life, altered it, interrupted it, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Here is the poem that I wrote for Andrew this Christmas. I called it THE BOY. If you ever want me to walk you through the imagery I would be happy too.

Crisp azure sky, sun hovering above unbending horizon.

Ribbons of concrete stretch out long in both directions.

An unexpected call shatters the welcome silence, unrestrained news!

My watch stopped, unbroken, the wind holds fast at the intersection of time, yielding to my passing by.

Salty swollen eyes, gaze into the future. A child, a miracle. It was not meant to be, despite Abraham’s abundant seed!

Now we wait, anxious anticipation, fortnights, seven, strewn about, thirteen more cue up like soldiers ready for inspection.

Even then you traveled, warm inside your windowless carriage, destined to see the world. Wallace, Stirling, even a Saint in your name. Chasing Highland sheep, heather underfoot, land of scorched thistles, wilting in hot sun.

A Fall of uncertainty, stained with a father’s defiant shame. Faltering steps, tilting, bracing against the tide, not yet ready to be your OLD MAN.

Resting easy under a patchwork quilt sown of a mother’s love. Deaf to the doomed proclamation of a dragon, concerned more with her hoards of gold, you slept confidently, quietly, unconcerned with what lie ahead.

A new year breaks through frozen sheets of time. A winter etched in our hearts, brittle, and brimming with hope. Silent screams of welcome pain, time now bending its knee, as we wait.

Undeterred, you arrive in your time, unkempt, adorned in a chalky gown. Not a cry to announce your arrival, peace in hand, beauty in the other. A new Old Man weeps tears of joy, a mother’s tired eyes smile down at you.

The Boy, author of welcome interruption, snatching up my pen with pink hands, a predictable story disrupted, tossed aside, forever altered. A new story unfolds, adventure, challenge, a path of unbridled joy now visible. We march lockstep, brave into the unknown. 

Don't want him to be a wuss

When my son Andrew was born, I was overcome with emotion, one of the few times in my life, where I allowed myself to cry without restraint. It was an extraordinary event in my life…

Michelle and I had avoided having children for the first eight years of our marriage, as we had our sights on completing our education. We were married relatively young, I was twenty-three she was a year younger. We were still both attending the University of Lethbridge at the time.

Years later when we decided it was time to start a family we discovered that we were not naturally inclined towards procreation. I remember having a sperm test done, to determine if I was the culprit in our lack of success. I remember visiting the doctors office where I was secretly relieved as our odd practitioner (he always wore a Star Trek badge) informed me that “I could father nations”. At least I wasn't impotent. After that, we started the initial phases of fertility treatments and despite our efforts, we remained childless. After a couple of years we simply decided that having kids wasn’t in our future and we resigned ourselves to a future without children.

I can still remember the place and time that Michelle told me that she was pregnant. I was driving in a rental vehicle on my way back from the Stoney Reserve just west of Calgary. I was practicing Aboriginal Law for the firm Ackroyd and had been down attending a meeting with Chief and Counsel. I had just left Red Deer, and the phone rang. Michelle was on the line, obviously emotional about something. She blurted out that she had suspected for a while, but hadn’t been sure, but now she was, and couldn’t wait until I got back to Edmonton, to let me know that we were expecting. I don’t remember much about the rest of the drive home, as I was ecstatic.

The remaining months of the pregnancy were actually tumultuous. After visiting friends in St. Andrews, Scotland and our friends Mark and Ronenne in Cambridge on our first real vacation, I arrived home and back to work only to be met by the managing partner who let me know that I had until the end of the day to pack my office and vacate the building. The partners had met to discuss my future at the firm while I was on holidays and decided there wasn’t one.

Andrew was born on the 2nd of January, 2004 and we couldn’t have been more excited. It was bitterly cold that winter, and I remember bundling him up, as we brought him home from the hospital. Our journey as parents had officially begun and I didn’t have a clue what the hell to do with a new born.

Andrew was probably only two or three weeks old when Michelle caught me tossing him in the air and catching him. Now in my defence, I was being careful, and I wasn’t tossing him very high, but nonetheless, she was horrified. My response to the chastisement was that “I didn’t want him growing up to be a wuss”! Needless to say, my rational for my actions was met with disbelief and I promptly halted that misguided parenting behaviour.

Why tell this story? Fourteen years later, my kid is healthy, brave, and at times reckless. I doubt it has anything to do with being tossed in the air as a new born. But it may have something to do with my attitude and my perspective as a dad. You see, I think growing up constantly being bullied and put down, had burned into my psyche that fact that I was weak, and in my mind weakness was to be avoided at all costs. And the solution to being weak was to ensure that my son was going to grow up tough, so he could avoid the pain of being subject to ridicule and shame like his dad had experienced.

It all sounds crazy looking back on it, but reading Brené Brown’s books has me rethinking a lot of things, and I can see how so much of my parenting style has been influenced by what I experienced as a kid. I let Andrew do all kinds of questionable things as a youngster, like jumping off of a roof onto the trampoline (I am sure most of our friends think we are insane). Michelle gave up trying to override my tendency towards fostering Andrew’s recklessness a long time ago. Amazingly, and thankfully he has had little in the way of injury or scars to show for his bravery, and I am sure in part, he does a lot of those things to impress me, even though my encouragement is mostly subconscious.

The one thing that I haven’t encouraged in him (thankfully it isn’t too late) is to be vulnerable. In fact, I am sure that I have discouraged it most of the time. I have never been a fighter, but I have in the past encouraged him to be tough, and “stand up for himself” even to fight if necessary (there was a period of time when he was being bullied at school), a definite trigger for his old man.

It is such a cliche, but so true, that we men typically see vulnerability as weakness. We shouldn’t cry, show our emotions, or have too much empathy; it just isn’t manly. I am slowly discovering that this is all bullshit. That the emotions that well up in me as I watch a movie (sometimes even a commercial) are not a sign of weakness but that of being a healthy human. I know I have a long way to go in this regard, and frankly I am not sure how long it will take for me to allow myself the freedom to experience my emotions in their entirety. But what I do know is that I want to rectify my misguided approach to parenting before it is too late, and let my amazing kid know that vulnerability does not equate to weakness. That being a real man means embracing and owning our emotions, leaning into them, naming them, and working to understand them. Maybe, just like we are enjoying the process of developing our golf games together (he is already better than me) we can share the journey towards wholeheartedness together?! Hopefully then he will have a whole lifetime to live wholehearted, unlike his dad who is only just figuring it out with the last half his life already gone (turning 50 soon).