Monday, December 30, 2013

Symbols of Canada - Part 1 - The Maple Leaf

I am Canadian.  Born.  Raised.  Proud of it.  I am proud of what being Canadian stands for, stereotypes and all.

For example, I love our accent (although mine is less strong than that of some other regions).  I love the “eh” and the “oot and aboot in my boat”.  I love that we are generally polite and that we apologize for everything, even if we aren’t wrong.  I love that our official mascot is a beaver and the maple is our tree.  I love hockey (even if I don’t play it anymore).  I love the cold, white winter.  I love snow.  I love 3 downs, wider, longer fields and the Saskatchewan Roughriders (hey, it is what it is).  I love the flat of the prairies, the mountains in the distance, and all of the unique landscapes that are found in and around every corner of our beautiful country.  I love toques, bunnyhugs (Sorry, another Saskatchewan reference used there), and all of the other things that are uniquely Canadian (except poutine, but that is due to lactose intolerance, no other reason).  There has never been a time when I wasn’t happy to proclaim that I was, in fact, from the glorious land of the North.

I recently had the chance to visit Ottawa, our nation’s capital.  I was actually born in Ottawa, but we moved back to Saskatchewan after a few months.  I’ve always wanted to visit, but had never had the chance.  Why would I want to visit?  Because Ottawa is full of symbols of Canada.  Over the next few posts, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on some of things that, to me, represent Canada and the essence of being Canadian (although I didn't see all of them in Ottawa).

Symbol # 1 - THE MAPLE LEAF

When I lived in Europe, I was often mistaken for an American (since I was often in the company of one or more, and my French accent was distinctly Anglophone).  People were sometimes a titch more abrupt as a result.  But when people learned I was Canadian, their attitude changed.  They recognized our international profile, character and contribution throughout history.  They opened up.  Why wouldn't they?  We rock!

There is a reason that travellers put a Canadian flag on their backpack. It is because, of all of the symbols of Canada, the maple leaf is the most commonly associated with Canada.  It resides proudly in the centre of our flag.
Flag flying proudly from the Peace Tower at the top of the Parliament Building
It sits on our (now defunct) penny.

Pretty penny
There are few places where maples (of one species or another) grow.  The distinctive sugar maple forms the hard working backbone of the syrup (and syrup-related) industry of much of Eastern Canada.  While it was late October when I visited Ottawa, there were still many leaves on the trees (at least, compared to back home in Western Canada).  It was great to see the different types of maples, offering a bright contrast to the blue/grey skies, the stonework of the buildings and the brick sidewalks.

Colourful maples next to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel
  In this quaint little boulangerie, they featured a large display of Canadian maple leaf cookies, which a certain American President took a fancy to.  Hey, why not?  It's Canadian.  Who wouldn't want some of that.

The maple leaf sits right at the top of the list of recognizable symbols of Canada.  See it, think Canada and be proud!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dear Teenage Daughter

I write this partly as a shout out to all the amazing parents out there that have and will be in the same boat that I am, and as a way to acknowledge (and/or justify) my behaviour (past, present and future).  You see, I, like many before me, have been blessed with a teenage daughter.  I write this to her and for her, to help her to understand me and maybe gain a greater appreciation of me and of herself.

As always, allow me to provide some back story.

Years ago, on a very cold, snowy day, I was awoken from the brief and interrupted sleep that has plagued me for some time (I can put a date to it, if need be) by my wife informing that she was, in fact, in labour.  She assured me that it wasn't too bad and that she was going to shower and do some laundry.  So our day began.  Over the course of the day, we moved some furniture with the help of a friend.  Later in the afternoon, as we moved our large and ancient couch over the banister in preparation for its departure from our home, my wife exclaimed, seemingly in passing, that her water had broken.  And the heightened state of anxiety that has been a perpetual part of my life commenced.  You've seen the stereotypical portrayal that Hollywood gives of the bumbling, idiotic father taking his wife into the hospital (my favourite is Steve Martin in Father of the Bride 2, for reference).  That was me.  I managed to convey to the nurses at the hospital that my wife was, in fact, in labour.  They were not as shocked as I think my state deserved, but they took her and sent me to wander down hallways following arrows to do something, somewhere.  Within a few hours (x2), I found myself with a pale pink little girl.  She was beautiful.  She was ticked off.  She was flushed.  She had me wound up in knots.  She had me worried for her health.  All within about a minute and a half.  She was my daughter.

When she was a month or so old, I gave her a blessing at church (something that fathers may do in our church - it is something like a directed prayer, if I may describe it that way).  At that time, I felt very strongly what I was to say.  I felt that her spirit would shine very brightly from within her, and that she would have a powerful influence or impact on others.  I could SEE the emotional train wrecks that she would cause, because, even then, I could see how her happiness and joy would light up a room and her sadness (or miserableness, as I later came to understand it) would dampen the mood of those around her.  She is my daughter.

And now to the present reality.

Looking back, I'd say that that first minute still describes my teenage daughter.  She has grown into her curly hair, added several feet in height and has lost absolutely NONE of her spirit and passion for life.  She can still light a room with her eyes, or light it on fire with her temper.  She is as prickly as a grizzly bear with a toothache, meaning no disrespect to sore-toothed grizzlies, of course.

My daughter puts everything she has into everything she does.  In some circles, that is high praise.  In other settings, that can manifest as competitive, confrontational, moody, overbearing, bossy or just plain irritating.  She runs either completely hot or completely cold.  On or off.  Happy or sad.  She is a study in absolute opposites.  In lots of ways, I love it (although I am perhaps less positively vocal about that).  Most of the time, it drives me up the wall and sets me to foaming.  Why?  Because I am, maybe, possibly, similar.  Or maybe I just admire someone that is as driven as she is.  Hmm, I hadn't thought of that before. 

My daughter is a gifted musician.  She gets it from her mother.  She has sung and played music all her life, although it has intensified lately.  She puts her entire heart into what she plays.  The louder, faster and more complex the music, the more she loves it.  I love to listen to her play.  Lots of the time, she sneaks away to play, with headphones on.  What a waste, I think.  I ask her to pull the plug out and just play out loud, so we can all hear.  She doesn't want to show her mistakes.  I can understand that.  No one wants to be perceived as "weak" or "less than perfect".  I am much the same way.  But I regret being deprived of the joy of listening to her, all the same.

At this point, I feel like I should explain or provide an interpretation of some of my behavioural eccentricities to my daughter.  I might as well be clear about what I like and why I do some of the things that I do.  Maybe this will break down some of those walls of assumption and misunderstanding that perhaps exist.  We might even find that we are similar.  Or not.

At times, we butt heads.  She wants to drop out of conversation and to not interact with the rest of us, preferring to text, email and/or hide in a book.  I find myself forced to resort to "interesting" tactics to elicit a response.  Whether it means singing (badly), dancing (badly), capering, shouting (well), poking, teasing, or whatever it might be, I do it.   In the Polish grandmotherly tradition passed on to me by my English Canadian father, I CAN NOT leave anything alone.  Limits?  No idea what you are talking about.  Boundaries?  Pffffttt, never heard of them.  Why, my dear teenage daughter?  Because I would rather see you share your lively, wonderful spirit with us than not.  Just like when you were a tiny baby, your temperament affected everyone around you.  When you open up and share yourself, there is no one that isn't affected.  So, when I push, pull, tease, bother, wheedle, bug, boss and generally irritate you, that means I love you.

When you compete, you go all out.  You are completely focused on being successful.  It makes you touchy, quick to react (negatively) to corrective criticism, and, at times, makes you reckless.  It terrifies me to watch you throw yourself around with abandon.  On one hand, I want you to succeed.  On the other, I just want you to be safe.  Lots of the time, in all sorts of situations, when I react sharply, loudly or harshly, it is rarely due to anger.  Mostly it is from frustration at not being able to control a situation so that I feel everyone in it to be safe.  I also don't love surprises.  Shocker.

As my daughter has grown older, I have had to come to terms with the fact that her interests have shifted slightly from whatever they were, to things that make me a bit more uncomfortable.  Boys, to be specific.  Dear daughter, please don't mistake my suppression of discussion of this boy or that boy or related topics from a lack of interest.  In fact, it is born from a great deal of interest.  In you, and in your happiness.  When you say "Can we talk about ..." or make mention of someone, and I roll my eyes, close my eyes, turn away or shudder, shiver, quiver and groan, what I am saying is not that I don't love you or want you to be happy, or that I don't care, but rather that I do love you, but I (me) am not ready to deal with you going off and being grown up.  I don't want to deal with the potential pain, sadness or general emotional ups and downs that come with relationships.  You might be ready.  I am NOT.  So, live with the eye rolls, sighs and groans.  And then talk.  Just because I don't want to talk about it (or related topics), doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk. So talk.

In recent months, I've discovered that where I was once the fountain of knowledge when it came to all things cool and hip (alright, I was the puddle that Gillian's fountain splashed to create), I am now not as cool as I once was.  It is a bit bewildering, to be completely honest.  Terms get thrown around.  Some ricochet off my head, but the meaning doesn't stick.  I'm a step or 300 behind.  Dear daughter, when I ask you (again) to explain "fan girling" or "face palms" or whatever else it might be, consider this.  At this point, you might think that I am silly and a bit embarrassing.  But wait until I'm even older than I am now.  When I'm drooling (not deliberately this time), the gas passes accidentally (not deliberately) and I really CAN'T hear you, how cool will I seem?  At this point, I can still beat you (sometimes) at video games, I actually like doing most of the things that you do, and I'm young enough to keep up in active games (and still too young and stupid to remember that I'm not as young or physically fit as I once was).  I still know (and like) some of the same music (although I refuse to understand 1 Direction).  You should be proud that not only do I know what a "selfie" is, I am cool enough to know what a "belfie" is and I can still bend enough to take one AND I am cool enough to know how to post the picture to your Facebook post.  So, by definition, I AM cool (-ish).    And why do I use stickers in chats?  Because I CAN (and I like stickers).  Deal with it!

Apparently, my singing and dancing skills are suspect.  Hmmm.  Who knew?  Dear daughter, when I choose to sing along with your sister in an outrageous falsetto (with most of the correct words), and do a little impromptu dancing, it doesn't mean I am a terrible person and am ruining your life.  It means that I care enough to interact with you and your siblings.  Not many dads would rock Just Dance 3 at a youth activity (including most of the footwork) and be (mostly) okay with it being recorded and posted to Facebook.  When I show you (and everyone around) my "moves" (and there are many), enjoy them.  Learn them.  Chances are those awesome moves will be cool again in a few years anyways.  You're welcome.

Lately, my daughter has been more engrossed in texting and chatting on Facebook (see above boy-related discussion).  She becomes horrified when we A) monitor her chats (apparently that is "creepy", B) participate in her chats (again, "creepy", and C) have the audacity to initiate our own chats with her chatters (or is it chattees?).  Dear daughter, when we do this, it doesn't mean we are creepy (mostly).  It means we love you and want to spend time with you.  We want to share you or for you to share you with us.  Plus, teasing you is just our way of drawing you out (again, see above discussion).  And we are testing these young men, to prove their mettle.  If they can't hack us and our antics, they aren't for you.  We want you safe.

Confrontation is the order of the day in our home, I am sad to say.  Each of us is often the recipient of a piercing glare from our dear daughter.  Despite the lack of response from us, or the negative response that she receives to this, she persists in thinking that a disdainful look or a raised eyebrow will change how we feel about something.  Dear daughter, you may wonder how or why I resist your icy stare.  There are basically two reasons.  First is that you are not Mummy nor my mom. Those are the only 2 women who can shift me simply by raising an eyebrow or narrowing their eyes.  Sorry, years of training trumps teenage grumps any day.  The second reason is that I love you too much to give into you (all the time).  When I glare back, tell you to back off or suggest that one of your ancestors may have been of the bovine persuasion, I am actually doing you a favour.  If I rolled over and gave you whatever you wanted, whenever you demanded it, you would be a sorry excuse for a human being and I wouldn't be doing you or the universe ANY favours.  Instead, you learn boundaries, limits and reasonable sets of expectations.  You learn to go without.  You learn that the needs of others might be more important than yours and when and how to deal with that.

In conclusion, yeah, I'm a bit of a weird duck.  But, dear daughter, I prefer to think of myself as a swan in a sea of ducks.  Which makes you mostly or part swan and SPECIAL.  Especially to ME.  To the dads of teenage daughters, show them what you are made of.  To teenage daughters, appreciate what you have.  We love you and aren't afraid to show it.  And guess what?  We also know how the internet works (since some smart dude from our generation invented it).  Ding ding ding.  We win!!!

Sincerely, Dad (of a teenage daughter)