The Boy

My Cousin Josh

Flying to Atlanta today, I found myself writing a poem about my cousin Josh. He died tragically, far too young, in a climbing accident in Kananaskis country. Seventeen years later, I found myself compelled to remember, to quietly grieve on an airplane and write the following poem. Oddly, as I have turned fifty, I now find myself pursuing many of the things that he loved and that we shared together, not as often as I would have liked. I have taken up mountain climbing and kayaking and now share those pursuits with my son. While I was devastated by his death, I don’t think I actually grieved his loss. It is so odd that this should begin, so many years later, but perhaps it is the beginning of many of these occurrences. As I said in my last post, I am mostly a man unaccustomed to grief. Not unaccustomed to loss by any means, but for the most part of my life, too shut off from my own emotions to experience them in a healthy way. Perhaps you can teach old dogs new tricks.


A tribute? 

A long buried need for shared adventure, danger, beauty, clinging to rock, to dreams, even a glimpse of the divine.

But how, gone now, so many years, decades even, your laugh echos within the caverns of my mind, wispy remembrances, breeze through lava tubes in the desert.

A new partner, unexpected, but in so many ways, like you. Glint in his eyes, passion in his bones, craving life, drinking it in, throttle open wide.

Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Like ours, so many sunsets past, I hold it all loosely, open hands, striving not to grasp, lest he too trickles through my fingers, smooth grains falling back upon the beach, tide lapping it back into the deep.


Buried grief, now rising, pushing up, unwanted and grateful together. Tears, seventeen years in the making stream down hot cheeks, I remember your smile, your zest, sun dogs for a halo. 

What might have been, could have been. Cousin, son, husband, brother, friend, uncle to so many left wanting.

Another crag, another crack, one more crux, hands reach upwards, feet searching for solid holds. 


A Decade of Adventure

I am not sure, without looking back, if I have talked about my “decade of adventure”. Turning fifty in April, was at the same time the culmination and beginning of something significant. Somewhere along the way in the few months before, I decided that the next ten years were going to offer me experiences that I hadn’t yet had in my first half century.

Last weekend was the first of what I hope to be many new adventures. In part, I am simply trying to keep up with my brave, strong, passionate, loving-life son of fifteen. But more than that, I want to live life, in a way that prevents me getting old. Trust me, my body is fighting me all the way. Aches, pains, stiffness, almost daily small doses of Advil, wine, and massage keep me mobile. But more important than that, age is a state of mind. This past decade has been one mostly filled with indulgence. I invested most of my energy into developing my palate, my mind, my understanding of coffee, flavour, food, that art of imbibing. I figured it was high time for my body to get some much needed attention, which I trust will in turn, reinvigorate my perspective on what it means to grow old, gracefully in wisdom.

Arguably, many would likely question my wisdom, perhaps even my sanity, for venturing up a rock face 250 meters above level ground. Many would question my parenting in regards to not only encouraging dangerous sports with my son, but actually facilitating them. And yet this is what we did. We spent a couple of days with six other men, talking, hiking, labouring, struggling, climbing, sharing, eating, drinking, together, encouraging one another to take one more step, no matter how much it hurt, or how much it seemed like folly.

Obviously I am proud of the fact that I persevered through the difficult approach hike in and out on Saturday, where we traversed thousands of fallen trees while walking eight kilometres and climbing 400 meters in elevation. I wanted to quit so many times. I would look down at my Apple Watch and see my heart rate cresting 170 bpm confirming what I already knew as I could feel my pulse pumping out my ears.

But more importantly, it was a weekend of fellowship. Men, most of whom I did not know at the beginning of the weekend, now friends and fellow sojourners who journeyed with me and my son, along challenging paths in an adventure that we will regale for decades to come (hopefully). It was a weekend where my fifteen year old son got to witness vulnerability among men, a rare thing in our society. It was a weekend where my son was embraced and considered an equal by men 20, 30 even 50 years older than him. It was a weekend where my son sat quietly in the circle around a fire, and listened and then privately told me later that he thought it was cool the way Tim and I were a lot alike and connected so easily. It was a weekend where I was proud to be a dad, of a kid who despite all of my failings as a father, demonstrated how much of a man he is becoming in his own right.

My whole world view is in turmoil right now. But in the midst of that, it is grounding to know that despite it all, I am still just a guy, who needs to be known, and wants to know others. Who delights in the fellowship of sojourners along the way, and who feels humbled at the sight of my progeny living so well at such a tender age.

Given the start of the adventure, I may have been too conservative. Perhaps my decade of adventure will need to extend into the next half-century!

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. 

On Being a Dad

One of the main motivators which precipitated this journey into the mess of my life was my son Andrew, who I have given over to referring to as The Boy. There are only a handful of people in my life (he, my wife, a few others) who have my heart fully (flawed as it is). In the process of reading Brené Brown’s books, I began to realize that I needed to figure out how to be fully human so that in part, I could model something better to my son, than I have done in the first fifteen years of his life.

For most that know me, even a little, I think it safe to assume that my affection for my son is self-evident. With that said, my tendency has been to express that deep affection via indulgence both in goods and time. Being the father of a single child enables this kind of attention, in ways that those with multiple children, probably can’t afford, on either of those fronts. When Andrew was eight years old, he expressed how distressing he found my many trips away buying coffee. The solution seemed simple to me, although not ideal; find someone else to buy green coffee for Transcend. While I have never loved the “getting somewhere” I have always loved the “being somewhere” and truthfully, although rarely spoken, that decision was a significant sacrifice for me. I was giving something up, that was not just critical to my business, but something that I found profound meaning in and had shaped me in ways, too many to count. It is however, a sacrifice that I count as a blessing, and would do it all over again.

I know that I spoil my kid. I know that many of his friends are likely jealous of him, and what he has, what he gets to do, just like I was jealous when I was young, and watched with envy from the sidelines as my friends rode new motorbikes, drove new cars, had better clothes. I know that my indulgent approach to affection emanates from my own experience. I am a gift-giver, it is my “love language” but truthfully it is just easy! I enjoy shopping, I enjoy finding something that I think others would appreciate and buying it for them. But I also know that this form of affection is in part, a copout. It is easy to give a gift, it is far harder to share deeply held emotions. It is even relatively easy to spend time with my son, when he and I share common interests (surprise surprise, I nurtured a love of golf and snow in him, and steered him away from hockey!). It isn’t much of a sacrifice to head to the mountains, and spend a couple of days on the slopes, even if all that I am now is a glorified camera man.

So in large part, this journey I am on, is about him, my warrior wife, and our family. I want to live differently during these last decades of my life, and I want to give him the gift of learning how to live fully, embracing the messy middle, embracing his emotions, embracing all that life has to offer up, so that he can reap the benefits of a life well lived before he turns fifty!

I am in the midst of writing a poem for him for Christmas. Yes he will get gifts too, but whether he appreciates it now, or not, I want to give him something from my core. That poem is proving difficult to write, and I am struggling to convey his story, which I find interesting. Unlike this poem, which I wrote while laying in bed last night, unable to sleep.

Tears of joy, tears of trepidation, announced with rasping cries, cracking like thunder, disruptive, rapturous first breaths.

A tsunami of possibility, decades flash across my vision, blinking then gone.

Crushing love spills from the jigger, a dash of hope, a twist of fear, shaken and poured, a cocktail of what might be.

I drink, parched cracked lips never satisfied. Dependant and now powerless to resist, forever blinded by your beauty.

Stammering now, years fleeing, hounds at bay, your innocence evaporates in the heat of my gaze. Too soon you are my rival. Too soon will my conversation fail to hold your ear.

Knees now creek with joy, your vigour relentless, all that I hoped. Now exhausted I lag behind, soon satisfied to only watch from a distance. 

A chair at the end of the lane now bears my weight, heavy eyelids straining to see a shadow on the horizon, beckoning your presence, craving a momentary embrace. Until then, memories will suffice! 

This poem is about me, about fatherhood, and I think that is why it was easier to pen. Hopefully it is also a bit representative of most fathers hopes and fears concerning their children. And my hope in this journey is that as I examine my own emotions, and begin to find ways (seemingly poetry) to express these feelings, I will be able to give The Boy a gift that will never fade, never wear out, and one that he will be able to give to his children, should he choose to be a father.

For now, I know that I am blessed, in the middle of this mess. I have The Boy, almost fifteen, who still enjoys my presence, who still wants to do things with me, beat me in pingpong, drive a ball further down the fairway. Looking back on where I was at his age, I know how lucky that I am. And I am beginning to hold out hope, that if nothing else, this journey might offer up the joy of having a continuous relationship with my son, throughout all of his years.