Journey

Lessons from The North Face

I have been attending a marketing conference in Banff the past couple of years. I know, the hardships I endure in business. Seriously Banff is such a spectacular venue to hold a conference. The marketing conference is dubbed “The Gathering” which honours and features brands that have achieved cult like followers. One of the sessions this year was hosted by Tom Herbst, Head of Global Marketing for The North Face. I was struck today by what he started the session with, a simple black slide which had the following statement written on it.

It is a very dramatic way to start a presentation. He then talked about taking the job at The North Face, looking forward to working on a brand that was about more than getting people simply to buy more stuff. He talked about promoting a brand that he thought could make a difference by how it engaged with the world. He talked about The North Face’s recent “Walls are meant for Climbing” campaign which stands in contrast to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his attempt to build his wall on the border to Mexico. He also recognized that he was moving to a company that was by all accounts, a giant of a company, with ubiquitous products, scattered all around the market place. He posed the question how do you deal with a company this big, how do you differentiate it in the market place, then answering, you “make it a friendly giant”. I must admit, up until that point, I had never really considered The North Face to be about quality. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I had occasionally purchased products in the past, if they had been on sale, but I was definitely not a fan. I had no idea of the companies history, the birth of a clothing company grown from the climbing culture centred around Yosemite National Park. I had no idea that the curves beside the copy were there to represent the mountain Half Dome, on which climbers made the trek up its wall, the north face of Half Dome. It never ceases to fascinate me how much knowing the back story of someone or some company changes one’s perspective. You can think someone is aloof, a jerk, self-centred and then when you get to know them, all of those preconceptions fall away and you are left with something completely different.

I started writing this post back in February, and then let it sit in the draft folder until now. Maybe it was destined to be finished now, in the aftermath of Alberta’s recent election. We have, apparently joined the trend of ultra polarized politics in our neck of the woods, now too. Respectful Human Discourse be Damned! I was astounded this past couple of weeks at the ramped up rhetoric and fear mongering that we devolved into. Regardless of one’s political views, right, left, or centre, we are all fucking humans, and as such, deserve to dole out and receive mutual respect.

The North Face has adopted “never stop exploring” as their tag line. When you visit their homepage you are confronted with the following statement under a blur of slides exploring us to unplug, log off, turn off…

Exploration is a spirit within all of us.It's time to unplug from our always-on lives, turn on Explore Mode and connect in real life to the world, each other and ourselves. Never stop exploring.

I must admit that I have engaged with this brand in a new way. Watching the Oscar wining movie Free Solo didn’t hurt either. However I look at it, I am now a fan of the brand, and what they stand for. Of course they still want to sell me stuff, that much is clear, but they also want me to be a better fucking human, and that in and of itself is a bold corporate stance.

Having turned fifty this week, I think that The North Face has had an influence on me, along with the persistence of my fifteen year old son, who continues to treat me like a much younger version of myself. I have declared this next ten years of my life to be the decade of adventure, and I am going to do things I never thought I would do. Don’t panic, I am not going to be reckless, and start jumping out of airplanes or skiing down shear faces, but I am going to hike, climb, play, engage, unplug, and revel in the beauty all around me. I want to know more people for who they truly are, and see more of this amazing place I call home. Take deep breaths of Alberta, British Colombia, CANADA and find diverse and complex sojourners along the way. I want to be a better Fucking Human.

Fifty

It happened,

on a clear blue sky day, light spring breeze,

mostly green grass beneath crazy coloured spiked shoes.

Twain’s infamous walk interrupted, many times in fact, alongside progeny and comrades, welcoming me newly into the club, ubiquitous in its slack membership.

A day to remember, perhaps, although unremarkable, the rich brew landing familiar on my tongue,

eyes squinting into the light for the thousand time, habits long since learned, still remembered. 


An unusual midweek gathering of friends, embracing, mourning, celebrating a rich table, and those around it inclined.


Familiar and novel, a ribbon dangling in the middle, two sides pulling hard, with no apparent victor.

Evidence of change, in the air, carried along on well worn shoes.


A white cross on red, atop every pole in the little land, marks the occasion,

although not for me, but for her Majesty, I am just along for the ride.


Stepping over the threshold, adorned in all that is familiar, known, wrinkled and shaped with time,

the blue sky beckons, each day now shorter,

more precious in my mind.

A New Perspective - 25 years with an unwelcome friend

I have been in the company, on and off again, with an unwelcome friend for over twenty-five years. Truth be told, while I know this friend quite well at least from the outside, I have had very little idea of what this “friend” is truly like. It is only recently that I am starting to truly get to know this “friend” intimately, and not simply through association. Who is this crappy friend, you are thinking? Don’t worry it is most certainly none of you.

This unwelcome friend that I have had an acquaintance with is depression. For over a quarter century I have watched my warrior wife battle the company of this unwelcome friend, and any who know her would attest to her ability to wrestle and mostly triumph, despite it all. I have watched from the sidelines, at times cheering, but silent for a lot of those years, an onlooker, baffled and bewildered at how this “friend” could be so persistent, so unrelenting in its quest to control.

Until recently, I was merely a bystander, someone familiar with the unwelcome effects, the morose fog and invisible weight, but never intimate, never truly comprehending. That friendship was never really mine, it was alway vicarious. That unwelcome friendship has become something intimate these past few months. Thankfully not persistent, not debilitating, but far more real and unwanted than I ever imagined. I euphemistically have taken to calling these occurrences “one of those days” but they are more than that if I am going to be honest.

I am still getting to know this unwelcome friend, but what I dislike the most about him is the energy that he demands from me. Take yesterday for example. The day started like most, my routine in tact, breakfast, emails, typical Monday tasks. As the day progressed though, I found myself struggling more and more with this invisible weight, bearing down on me, trying to pin me to the ground. Just the thought of going out for a walk later in the afternoon seemed daunting. I ended up outside, thankfully, feeling somewhat relieved afterwards, but the effort to achieve that goal seemed disproportionate. I have no idea why this “friend” has decided to inflict himself upon me, now, after so many years of simply staring blankly at him. Regardless, I have a new perspective of the heroic efforts of my warrior wife all these past years (hopefully migraines aren’t next for me, sporting a headache as I write this post).

What I am not willing to do is let this friendship evolve in secret, in the dark corners of my world. I have no illusions that this friendship that I have recently discovered will be embraced, or understood, but I will let HIM be seen. I am not sure how long HE plans to hang around, how hard I will have to struggle against his whims, but I figure that writing about him, and pulling him out into the light might hopefully have some effect. It is now an unwelcome friendship for us both. One that I hope will end sooner rather than later. But until then, I am going to keep up with my walking, I think with a real backpack, perhaps even filled with some actual weights.

Time to Change the Failure Narrative

A recent conversation with a friend, about the future of Transcend ended with him saying these words to me:

Poul, you need to learn how to be kinder to yourself.

Over the past six months, this message has been rattling around my head, spoken by people like Brené Brown and others closer to home who have been speaking into this messy journey I am on. As I told him, I reiterate here, it is one thing to know that, and quite another to live it.

As I have been more reflective of late, I am beginning to discover long held habits and narratives that dominate my mindset, both consciously and subconsciously. One of those narratives which rarely pokes its head above the surface, but lingers beneath the surface, shaping my perspective is a powerful narrative that I am a failure. For many of you who know me, I am guessing that you would have a difficult time affirming that. Even I have a difficult time with that narrative. But despite those reservations, I have to acknowledge that it is a very powerful voice within my head.

One of the things that I have become more aware of is how fiercely independent I am. Jonice Webb labels it as counter-dependency. On the surface, counter dependence can look like a very positive thing, being confident, self-reliant, competent, all of these traits are valued by most in our society. They are indeed traits that prove extremely valuable in regards to being an entrepreneur. But as I am discovering, being counter-dependent is not a healthy state to live one’s life in. Aloofness, refusing to ask for help, emotional distance, short bouts of mysterious depression, are all indicators of counter-dependency, are all apt descriptions of a guy I getting to know.

So much of our personality as an adult is formed during our childhood years. Everything I am reading is illuminating the profound impact our growing up years have on us, regardless of whether we are aware it is happening. My childhood was complicated. It wasn’t bad, or abusive, or in any real way traumatic apart from what we might call growing up in a normal environment. But what I am learning is that as children, we respond to events, subconsciously, which have far reaching implications.

I was adopted. I knew that from very early on. It was never a problem for me, I freely talked about it, even as a young child. I have discounted the impact that being adopted has had on me almost up to this very day. While the jury is still out, I think there is a good chance that I am in denial regarding its impact on my life. I know that the constant teasing and bullying is a key part of the equation. Big ears, bright red hair, glasses, all impacted me in terms of how I grew to view myself. Subconsciously I shut down emotionally to protect myself, as I have learned, a necessary coping mechanism for kids, which now as an adult, has significant negative implications. I found it interesting recently, going through a memorabilia box and looking at all of my school pictures. I started wearing glasses in grade one. Interestingly, not one of my school photos has me wearing glasses. Perhaps an sign of being self conscious, LOL.

Fiercely independent, mentally tough, risk-adverse, reckless, passionate, stubborn, intimidating, domineering, indifferent, opinionated, pretentious are all words that have been said about me, and probably more importantly, by me. These are words that I use to describe me, it wasn’t a hard list to come up with, and it definitely isn’t complete. And then when you pull the curtain back, behind all of these forward facing words, is another one, which lurks in the shadows - failure. What?! How can you possibly think that, look at your life. Ah, but you don’t REALLY know me, do you? Don’t know the real story, don’t see how I have let so many people down, not lived up to the expectations, both real and projected. If people really knew me, they would see it clearly. What is the term bouncing around out there right now, Imposter Syndrome? I know, I know, we have a label for everything right now; modern day maladies are a dime-a-dozen. But, as the hard protective shell that I have lived in for most of my life, begins to crack, I can see now how much impact my narrative has had on me, and on those closest to me. My wife has endured twenty-seven years of my emotional paralyzation. My fifteen year-old kid, one of the best things in my life, has suffered from it, suffered from my harshness, my anger, my emotional distance. I am scrambling to right those wrongs, before he springs from the nest. It has had a huge impact on Transcend, on employees along the way. It has had a massive impact on me, reinforcing that negative narrative, resulting in my own avoidance tendencies and behaviour. It has impacted friends, family, and investors. The hard truth is that I am beginning to see how vast an impact that narrative has had, and see now how important it is to find the pause button, no more than that, the rewind and delete button (a reference to cassette recorders for those of you too far away from fifty). It is time to record a new narrative, one that is kinder, that is more generous. I know there is much to celebrate in the almost fifty years I have spent on this spinning orb. The challenge though remains, moving from a place of knowing something to a place of living something.

The other night, while sipping wine and conversing at some friend’s place, a wise man in the room said that we need to learn to embrace our ordinariness, give up our quest for significance. I challenged him as he spoke these sentiments, but upon reflection I think he is right, I did say he is wise. Striving, grasping at significance has caused me to perpetuate a myth. I am hoping as I crest the hill of fifty, that I can settle into a place where I can embrace being ordinary. Where I can celebrate and rest in the knowledge that where I find myself is where I am supposed to be, and that if I never move from here, that is fine, no more than fine, it is good.

You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

Maya Angelou

High School, Seriously

Sitting in the large gymnasium this evening at Scona High School, I was almost reduced to tears. No it wasn’t the school jazz group serenading us, although they were good, and it wasn’t the drama team’s opening act of Big Fish either. I found myself fighting back tears at the prospect of my son starting high school there in the Fall. How the hell can he already be old enough to go to high school? Scona did a fine job with their open house, and moved him from I doubt it, to a very strong maybe.

When the hell did I start grade ten, oh right, it was 1985. That was the year “We are the World” topped the charts, the first .com was registered, Coca Cola blundered with New Coke, you could go to a movie for under $3 and if I had the cash or the inkling, I could have bought my first house for $75,000. I was entering grade ten almost thirty-five years ago, and now I have a fifteen year old who is about to do the same. No wonder turning fifty is such a mind-fuck.

We were talking later this evening in the hot tub about what attending high school will be like for him and I remarked that no matter what, he will have a better experience than I did. My kid is the well liked, popular kind of kid, good looking, athletic, friendly, outgoing. Most of the things that I wasn’t in high school. For that I am thankful, and I told him as much. While he finds the academic aspects of school much more difficult than I did, he seems to have the social aspect down. I recounted my awkward years, bright red hair (not cool ginger as it is now) big ears, and glasses, not to mention I was geek before there was geek, and I was an average athlete in a school where there were barely enough people to field most teams. He slid over, after, put his arm around me, and said that he was sorry that I had to go through that. Another thing my kid has on me, EMPATHY; he must get it from his mother.

There are only forty days left for me to revel in my forties. I guess I am entering a twisted sort of personal lent (40 days before Easter) where I get to count down the days until fifty. Typically people give things up for lent, to prepare themselves for the coming of Easter. I don’t think that is the right thing to do in my case. I think my twisted personal lentish period should be filled with doing, noticing, embracing, remembering, reflecting, and maybe a little eating and drinking, but for sure, it should be a time full of “inging”. Then maybe, if I am lucky, I will be prepared to step over the threshold that my son stands pointing at, whether he wants to or not.

Fu#cking Oilers! #@$*!

OK, so you didn’t like my last post filled with analogy!

Hell, I am not writing for likes or atta boys, not even views, but I thought that my desert analogy was at least moderately clever. Perhaps being clever isn’t what you want? Perhaps you are more attuned to the harsh bitter truth. Perhaps our world is more aligned with bullshit, ala Trump, and false promises. Perhaps we are more likely to respond to the drivel of Big Brother or sniveling politicians who promise us the moon and are so brash as to not even disguise the crossed fingers held up for all to see.

I attended the Oilers game tonight, with my good friend Richard and we had fun for two periods, the team was playing together (well at least not against each other). Then came the third period and all hell broke loose, the wheels fell off (or as my son commented the wagon done got blowed up!). How the hell does a team completely loose all modecome of dignity and simply pack it in? How does a professional hockey team simply decide that two periods (well if I am being honest, one and a half periods, they got lucky) is enough hockey to play. An arena full of rabid fans is not enough. A plethora of angry critics ready to pounce is not enough. Dignity and pride are not enough, obviously, as they were happy to simply collapse into a state of corporate dispondance and figuratively head for the exits, which Richard and I did with ten minutes to spare!

The problem with this game, this false pretense of hope is that it reminded me too much of my life. Take for example my dialogue with the executive director of Alberta Snow boarding last Tuesday wherein I queried whether the Slope Style competition would run, when the forecast for Calgary was -27 degrees before the wind chill. I was hoping to stave off unnecessary AirBnB charges and a trip to cowtown. I was assured that the hill (COP by Winsport) would stay open and the competition would happen no matter what. Surprise, surprise, Saturday afternoon came and we were informed by Andrew’s coarch Gerald that the Sunday event was being cancelled. Doesn’t commen sense factor into people’s lives? Isn’t a modern day forecast built around the polar vortex enough to dispel misguided hope? At least the Boy got some good practice in on Saturday, and I got a chance to visit my dear aunt and uncle whom I haven’t seen in far too long.

What is it about the human spirit which is so predisposed to deny the truth, cling to hope despite the fact that it is attached to a thin thread being cooked by a flame? Why can’t we just be realistic and acknowledge the fact that our world is doomed and headed to hell in a hand basket?

Why the hell must we be so damned hopeful, despite all the evidence?

To draw from the well of my previous analogy, hope is pretty much like the water we drink. By the way, did I neglec to articulate the frozen pipes we encoutered when we arrived back from the futile trip to cowtown? Yes it is true, my house was ill conceived by its designers, and is not built to withstand the frigid tempuratures of minus thirty-five. So I am forced to pull off kickplates, pull out the dishwasher and drag out a space heater to warm up frozen water lines. Thankfully nothing has burst but my patience!

Getting back to the damn Oilers, why do we continue to support them? Why do tens of thousands of people pay good money to plop their asses in seats, only to be disappointed? What is it about the notion of hope that we collectively cling to like a bear on a wire, desperate for a snack?

This isn’t rhetoric people! I don’t have a frickin clue as to why we persist to hope despite all evidence to the contrary. When speaking of the Oilers, perhaps it is collective sympathy for Connor McDavid? But when speaking of life in general, I am at a loss to understand why we as humans are predisposed to remain hopeful, despite the failings of systems, family, and the institutions we rely on.

Driving home tonight, all that I could think about is how the city of Edmonton transportation system has failed us Edmontonians by making a decision to not sand our roads and giving us up to navigating iceways without the benefit of skates. All I could think of was how elections have become reduced to vulgar popularity contests built on lies and false promises. All I could think of was how my wife has been subject to a broken system of health care which cares more about denial and self preservation than the hypocratic oath. The list could go on.

Why the hell do I care?

But despite it all, I do care. I am outraged because I see injustice, see inequality, see persistent sexism, racism, see the rich trample the poor, see those in power abuse their privilege to maintain their position and status…. and I see that I am now simply rambling, simply spewing diatribes, reliving the past trauma of my travels which exposed me to poverty and inhumanity which frankly have deeply scarred me.

So maybe that is why the Oiler’s inability to win a game is so troubling? Perhaps it is the analagous nature of a hockey game which forces me to examine my own life, and see it for what it truly is. Perhaps it is this internal conflict, this tightrope that I walk between hope and despair….

Analogy seemingly didn’t resonate, so now I offer up broken rambling fucking honesty.

How much water should you drink when hiking in Death Valley?

How many litres of water do you need to drink while out hiking in Death Valley? This isn’t likely a question you have been asked recently, or even pondered. I rarely drink enough water during any physical activity. I find that while I ride, or hike, or even work outside, that stopping to drink seems inconvenient, almost bothersome. But there comes a point in time, when despite the interruption, my body (now parched) screams for water, and it is at that point when drinking water rarely seems to quench my thirst.

I have been living along side chronic pain now for quite some time. Living with chronic pain is harder than living beside someone who suffers from it. I know this all too well. I am not the one who is confined to a bed with perpetual migraines, not the one pushing the limits on barely effective medications just to eke out a semblance of a human existence. The confines of chronic pain are immense, and the isolation that accompanies it is cruel.

Loading up with enough water for a hike is a relatively easy endeavour. While it might seem inconvenient and burdensome at the beginning of the excursion, the burden lessens as one progresses and more than that, the water sustains and enables the journey in and of itself. 

Hope is a lot like water. 

Venturing out into the desert without enough water will likely prove to be a fatal excursion. Venturing on the journey of life without hope, is not life threatening in the physical sense, but I think it is “life” threatening on a psychological and emotional level. People without hope tend to perish in one way or another.

Being prepared for a long hike in a hot climate isn’t too difficult. Light clothes, a good hat, perhaps sunscreen, some trail mix and of course plenty of water. Living with chronic pain is a lot like setting out for the anticipated hike, getting half way out, and discovering that the vessel that you used to carry your water has a leak. A leaky bottle is akin to hope dashed. Too many hikes into the hot sun with a leaky bottle results in the loss of hope. 

Hopelessness is lot like leaky water bottles.

What’s funny (not really) is that many people who never spend any time hiking in the desert, seem anxious to offer advice on how to do that successfully. It seems odd to me that people feel compelled to wade in with their advice, the snacks to bring, the kind of attire to wear, and especially how best to avoid leaky water bottles. Everyone seems to be an expert on how to avoid leaky water bottles! Even better is how many times people ask whether we have even packed any water for the perilous excursion? 

The reality though is that the average hiker can only handle so many excursions into the hot sun, where the hike started in a state of being fully prepared, only to discover that despite best efforts, you are out of water before the journey is half finished. Like a rat in a Skinner box, too many failed excursions (punishment) can result in a state where there is no longer even a desire to venture out.

Despite our learned aversion to excursions, our family recently geared up and ventured out into the desert once again. Like every time previously, we have begun this journey well prepared, even managing to scrounge up some new water bottles, after checking them all thoroughly for leaks. Time alone will reveal whether these vessels will endure until the end of this excursion. 

Hope is a lot like water.

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. 

Which Book Changed Your Life?

I just finished reading Esi Edugyan’s amazing novel Washington Black. This book rocked my world. I spent over nineteen hours walking the ravine with my dog Charlie, getting to know a young boy, a slave, born in the Barbados. It is early in the 1800’s and for three weeks, I journeyed alongside this courageous boy, as he traveled and became a young man. I can’t recommend this novel with enough of the credit it deserves. I finished this book yesterday, and the ending shocked me, emotionally wounded me (in a good way). It even prompted me to write a poem about the journey, although it isn’t finished (and truthfully might never be)…..

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Now I am looking for something else to listen to as I walk my dog Charlie, and that is where you come in, hopefully. What book changed your world? I am not talking Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys here, but more Shogun, or Roots! If you would let me know what I should read next, I would be most appreciative.

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.

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Wanted dead or alive, but mostly dead!

This week, I met with Maddie, my newly appointed spiritual advisor. If I am sounding cavalier about this, it is unintended, in fact anything but that! I am astonished that she would actually sign up for the job, given the fact that she has a fair amount of previous unrelated experience with me. Our meetings are not complicated. Essentially I talk, she listens, asks a few timely questions, I fight back tears and emotions as I recall memories. It sounds simple, but in the midst of all of it, I know something profound is at work within me, and I have no words to express my deep gratitude towards this wise woman.

As I recounted much of my story this week (abridged version) one thing became clear to me. I am not a big fan of this guy.

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The picture is obviously a grad pic of me in 1987. What do they say, it was the best of times it was the worst of times!

I won’t bore you with the gory details, but nonetheless, my last year of high school was anything but a walk in the park. Graduating with a small handful of people most of whom you have spent your entire life with up to that point. That last year was filled with much upheaval. It culminated a journey spanning twelve years, where for the most part, I was ridiculed for those ears, those goggles and that “howdy doody” hair (just think, now I’d be called a Ginger).

What I am beginning to see is that a tendency of mine began that year. I established a pattern of running and hiding. I would always hide in plain site, but learned, or maybe more accurately, taught myself to adapt, to blend in, to become the person I thought the people around me wanted me to be. And perhaps most importantly, at least at this juncture in my life, I made an effort, albeit a subconscious one, to run from this tormented fellow. Shortly after the photo above was taken, I escaped to Denmark. There, I largely reinvented myself, dumping the cowboy persona, and adopting that of a pipe smoking, clog wearing, bearded hippy.

I will write more on that time later, for I have much to apologize for as a result of that journey, but that is not for today.

Thirty years later, I am find myself confronted with this guy. His awkwardness, his fears, his pain. I am being confronted with his many faults, his many failures, and in the midst of all of that, some amazing relationships too. Even as I write this post, I am confronted with the muted (the best I can do at this point) emotions from that time. While looking for that photo, I found many others, with many people who I rarely think of anymore. Needless to say, it wasn’t a cherry box to rummage through tonight. But it is my box, and it is my history. It is I am sure, like many, a very flawed history. There is laughter to be sure, but there is much loneliness, much confusion, much pain. I think it is probably why I embarked on my “adventure” abroad, and never looked back. I was running from all of that, and also running from the guy pictured above.

Maddie tells me that I need to figure out how to love that guy. I haven’t figured that out yet. Actually I am still (this week in fact) talking about killing that guy off for good. Maybe this isn’t all that odd, I actually don’t know how much of this is a common experience. What I do know is that a pattern began back then, where I developed my chameleon superpower, fuelled by shame, and insecurity. And now, thirty years later, I am realizing that far from discovering a superpower, I built for myself a super prison, walling in my emotions, and effectively (inadvertently) keeping out any beneficial emotions in the process.

So now I have begun to dismantle the immense dam I have spent a lifetime building, brick by brick, slowly, out of fear that dismantling it too fast will result in a full breach; the resulting spill creating chaos and destruction on the dry land downstream. With all of that said, standing on the wall above that dry valley, I think I can make out an old riverbed, longing to have water flowing through it once again. And maybe, just maybe, I can make out the guy above standing down there, smiling, waving, welcoming me home?