Tuesday, 27 November 2012


I am currently recovering from an unexplained sprain of my middle finger. I seriously do not know how I received this injury, though those that know me suggest it may come from over use. I personally suspect it may be a driving related injury - the drivers in Toronto, honestly.

However, as an involved modern dad I am certainly no stranger to illness, injury and near death experiences - it's all part of the job.

The year my oldest started day care was the sickest year of my life. He would come home with a runny nose and I would be in bed for a week. Now after three kids I have the constitution and immune system of a Bombay sewer rat - it takes a lot to take me down. But beyond illness there is injury.

There's the time I broke my finger tobogganing with my oldest when he was about 6. There's a ravine nearby with a number of great sledding hills. He pressured me to take him on the big hill that the older kids were on and, being a macho idiot, I agreed. We hiked to the top of the hill. The various preteens there were more interested in flirting with each other than sledding and they told us to go ahead - this was the beginning (literally) of my downfall.

We hurried into place and so I didn't take a close look at the route. It was only while racing down the hill that I realized that the enterprising youth had built a sizeable jump part way down. Squeezing my son between my knees and clasping the bottom of the sled so as not to be ejected, we took flight. Terror moved swiftly to exhilaration. We had serious air and I am pretty sure I completed a five count before we landed - on my fingers still beneath the sled.

This hill I should mention was bisected by a asphalt walking path which considerately had been cleared of all snow but not a thin sheeting of ice which barely covered the metal grating that met my fingers upon impact. %$^&!!

Of course we still had half a hill to go and we rocketed off that icy ledge down to the bottom. When we eventually slid to stop we were greeted by a small group of gape-mouthed preteens, who were thoroughly impressed by our aerial manoeuvres. Awesome! Wicked! Sick! etc. I waved them off, blase, and then hurried over to my wife and showed her my bloody hand and in a pained whisper indicated it was time to go. A day later at the doctor's office I confirmed it was a minor fracture.

I have been hit in the head, poked in the eye, scratched, bitten and had things dropped on my foot. I have stepped on sharp toys in bare feet in the dark, twisted my ankle and fallen down the stairs from items left out by my wonderful children and thrown out my back  trying to get kids in or out of car seats. There should be danger pay for being a parent.

Maybe this has something to do with having three boys and the kind of things they do versus girls (maybe not - you can get pretty serious burns from hot tea at those doll parties, I hear). We go to the hospital a lot - or rather we used to. By the time you get to your third boy you develop front line medic skills and sports coach attitudes. Things you would have taken your first kid to the doctor or hospital for you now shrug off. "OK, it's blood but is it arterial blood?" Usually, you just give them a patch up, ask them how many fingers you're holding up and then send them back into the fray. Tough it out, shake it off, suck it up - these phrases roll trippingly off the tongue. Thing is that you have to live by the same credo and as a creaking old dude you lack the same springy resilience of healthy growing boys.

This was brought home to me  a few months ago in a quite painful realization mid-wrestling match.

[Sidebar: You need to understand that wrestling is a key pillar in my fathering strategy. As a kid, one of my favourite things was, when my dad came home, we would wrestle until my mum would berate my dad for working us kids up before bed. Wrestling is great because many guys are not good at expressing physical affection and certainly not once their kids are no longer babies, particularly if they're boys. Wrestling gives the dads and their kids that crucial physical contact that fosters connection, love and trust - and allows both to channel and sublimate their anger, aggression and will to dominate.

Boys are aggressive, violent little cusses and they need to learn how to deal with that in socially acceptable ways like sports and games. Also, they are very status conscious and need to know where they fall in the hierarchy - and in my house that's below me. They get a thrill out of going at me full force and having me shut them down. The major thing you hear when we wrestle is shrieks of laughter. It's a nice break for them from being constantly told not to act on their aggressive tendencies and feelings. As an added bonus, they drive me nuts so I get satisfaction from it as well.

The key of course is the rules [nothing in the 'privates' (or 'nuts' as my 7 year old takes great relish in saying at any opportunity - hell, he makes his own opportunities to say it), nothing in the eyes or throat, and if someone says stop you stop right away]. Boys are sticklers for rules and nothing gets them angrier than a rule-breaker or "cheater" or someone who is "cheap". The rules are as important to them as the violence. The rules make them feel safe - not only that they won't get hurt but also it allows them to direct their feelings in a way they know will be acceptable and not get them in trouble.

I've occasionally had friends of my boys want to join in and you can tell the ones who have never wrestled before - they are crazy freaky violent and are dangerous in the extreme. They don't know the rules and things can quickly get out of control if they injure someone through their egregious behaviour. Secondly, they can't take it if they lose or get winded or a little hurt. They either get even more freakily aggressive or sulk off. This is another lesson boys (need to) get out of wrestling - initiating violence can lead to you getting your ass handed to you, sometimes painfully.

We live in a strange age when boys are under-exercised and get suspended for getting in a schoolyard scuffle, when they can't bring hockey sticks to school to play ball hockey or throw snowballs because of the "danger". However, they can sit in front of screens for hours at a time gorging on representations of socially acceptable violence in the form of cartoons, super hero fantasies and video games where the heroes suffer no consequences or they get a new life with a click of a button. I let my kids watch TV and play video games (I enjoy both myself) but I also insist on plenty of exercise and wrestling.

When a kid goes full force at you and gets picked up and dropped on his ass, it forces him to see that other people with opposing goals really exist and that you don't always win. Sports fulfil the same function - it is an important lesson to learn that you can work hard, do your best and be a good person and still lose at something you care about. Essentially they learn they must engage with the real world and work hard and keep trying if they want something where there exists a real world scarcity - jobs, trophies, money, quality romantic partners etc. End of Sidebar.]

Anyway, so I was wrestling with my two younger ones a few months ago. As I, prone on the ground, turned to give the middle one a zerbet, a whisker rub or a nougie, the younger one clambered onto a hassock and launched himself at me shouting, "Here I come to save the day!" (note: Mighty Mouse reference). He does this all the time and actually usually tucks up like he's doing a cannonball. Normally I am ready for him and catch him on my stomach and slow his impact with my arms. It is like working with a human medicine ball. This time, however, he chose to fly at me KNEE first and collided directly with my unprotected rib cage. BAM! Oof. "Are the stars out tonight, mother?" If he didn't crack any ribs he sure bruised them.

It hurt to breathe deeply for a couple of days and leaning over to shut off the alarm clock in the morning became a tutorial in pain. But hey, I had to suck it up, didn't I? That's what I always tell them. I didn't get any worker's comp or time off work, that's for sure. Although I didn't wrestle for a few weeks after - despite their constant requests to. Course when I did climb back in the ring, you can bet I brought it harder on that little rib-cracking so-and-so - hey, remember the hierarchy? In my house, they don't say "Uncle" they say "Daddy!".

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