Tuesday, 30 September 2014

National Screen Institute - Totally Television Bootcamp - Blog Entries

Hey folks:

I'm smack dab in the middle of a training course with the National Screen Institute for a TV comedy series I have written about a Dad reluctantly drawn into the mad world of the PTA, called Parental Advisory.

I assure anyone I have dealt with in my own stint as a PTA chair that it bears no resemblance to any persons or situations I encountered. Really. That crap I dealt with wasn't funny at all.

Anyway, the course is keeping me busy so, no Pop Culture blog posts this week.

However, I include links to my daily blog for the course here if you're interested:



Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Front Line Dispatches

 A busy couple of weeks getting the boys back into a routine (and blowing off a week for my birthday). In the interim, a couple of important developments:

The Mexican Wrestling masks have arrived. After busting my sister's chops for years about getting these when she was living in Mexico, she got some recently on a trip down to Mexico for friend's wedding. She spotted them in a market and called over a little kid working there to know the best masks to get. The answer: Rey Misterio. She snapped up three in different colours. I don't know the significance of the various colours - is one formal, the other business and the last for at home entertaining? They look awesome and initiated an immediate wrestling match. In fact, even having them line up for the photo resulted in some foot stomping, head slapping and "squaring".


In other news my eldest was spurned yet again when he tried out for Select hockey. I am really pissed off on his behalf. I am glad not to drop the big dough and have to spend an even greater time in hockey arenas. Also it is relatively low on my priority list to have him play hockey at the cost of doing anything else but, of course, you get sucked into it and he REALLY wanted it. It was crushing to have to tell him that the one spot left that three guys were fighting over went to someone else. It was especially hard when it became clear that some kids from the team didn't even have to come out to all the tryouts.

This was one of the many times when I had no idea how to handle it or what to say. How do you explain to a kid that, no matter what you do and how good you are that some processes are bogus and based on favouritism, cronyism etc.? I'm sure I sound like a bitter crazy biased parent but truly afterwards I felt partly upset with myself for allowing him to take part in this farce. Sure it's a lesson we all learn one way or another but it is a shitty one. The kid who got he spot is a friend of his and he's a good player so I don't fault him getting the spot - it's a system where not everyone has to earn their place, despite it supposedly being a meritocracy. I now understand the term Select not to mean "of special excellence" but rather "fastidiously chosen; exclusive" i.e. a club, a frat etc. I always have hated organizations like this - mostly because none of them ever wanted me - but I had naively thought that this wasn't one of those groups. Foolish me. I have to be careful not to let my own prejudices inform him, I guess, but mostly I don't want him to get discouraged from trying out for things that he wants - maybe just know that their choice doesn't define him.

My own dad, a tremendous family booster, told my son that he was better than half of the players (having seen him in action with them over the last year) no matter what the coaches said or did. My son really perked up at that and his face cleared. It's important to have your fans and supporters when times like this happen who give you unflinching and unqualified support. Another lesson in Dadding I am reminded of from my first teacher.

Next, it was the first school trip of the year for me and the second born. He has  just started at a new school with wholly new kids. I wanted to go to see how he was fitting in and check out the teacher and the rest of the class. I am happy to say I was completely superfluous to the event - he was already well integrated with the group and happily ignored me on the bus ride out. It was a cold day supervised by some very enthusiastic counsellors so the teachers, other parents and I mostly hung out in the heated portable drinking coffee. So, unlike the first case of being glad to be there to offer support to the oldest I was even more happy to not to have to with the second - content to sit back and let him go off on his own. There was one mum who never seemed to leave her kid's side the whole day. Is that a Mum v. Dad thing? I am happiest when not needed - because it tells me I've got him ready for life on his own. That said, I was very touched he wanted to snuggle up with me while he ate his lunch.

Lastly, today, while walking to school with the youngest was an unqualified pleasure and one of those times when it is just fun to be a dad. It was one of the days he wanted to hold my hand - already a nice and less frequent way to start the day. A sunny but cool morning, we raced from pool of sunlight to pool of sunlight quickly becoming solar powered robots complete with action sequence sound effects. By the time we got to school he told me with a big smile and using his hand to act as a charge indicator, "Daddy, we're now more than charged up."

I certainly was super charged by that walk for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder?

Well, I sure hope so - I've been AWOL from this blog for almost a month now. I've got my excuses: laptop died; spent two weeks In-Country at Disneyworld and environs with the family; back to (new) school and sports try-out pressures; but, enough is enough. The break has allowed me to garner a ton of material that I plan on showering you with in the next while. But where to start?

Maybe I will start with how I am not a very good father. Some of my posts may come across as if I (think I) actually know what I am doing and am qualified to offer advice. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Perhaps my blog should be called Pop Culture: A Cautionary Tale.

I don't know about other dads out there but I recognize myself in depictions of awful dads in pop culture all the time. Dads seem always cast as dorks or villains these days. Are these our options now? I watch these depictions and cringe; is that really the way I am perceived? Is this to be my legacy - either a bitter angry guy offering bullshit advice and lessons to his kids or a dufus eunuch offering bullshit advice and lessons to his kids? How did it get from Leave it to Beaver to this state?

My kids screw around and break stuff, spill things or poke me in the eye - and I yell at them. Yes, I do. Loudly, at length and, by the end, I'm not making much sense. Why? I have told them countless times not to engage in certain behaviours for certain reasons. They don't listen and the result I predicted comes about, which costs me time, money or pain. So I yell. I know I shouldn't do it. It's of questionable utility and I am likely overreacting but I suffer from what a friend once described as Child Intolerance - similar to Lactose Intolerance, it's not so much I am allergic to my kids, it's that repeated exposure to them has caused me to quickly have an unpleasant reaction to minor doses of bone-headery. So, not Dad of the Year. But every time you see a Dad in a movie, TV show,  New Yorker short story, or in a Can Lit opus who yells at his kid, he can't just be a tired and flawed human being who might actually be a good parent otherwise - he is really an abusive, alcoholic guy who makes his kids' lives a living hell - and maybe is a pedophile, as well. Really? And if they're not yelling at their kids, Dads are apparently clueless and ineffective or remote and uninvolved in their kids' lives, at least in most media portrayals.

I went to see Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film that is garnering critical praise and I was disappointed for a few reasons. Shot with the same actors over 12 years it charts the "boyhood' of the main character from about 5 to 17 years of age. Parts of the movie are fantastic observational pieces of film and the conceit of filming a Boy and his "parents" as they really age is brilliant. However, I found the movie to be too long, repetitive and self-indulgent. It would have benefitted immensely from being at least a half-hour shorter.

However what really disappointed me, again, is the portrayal of almost every single adult male in the film.  His absent Dad, as played by Ethan Hawke, is a feckless hipster. His redemption apparently comes later when grows a stupid moustache and buys a mini van in accordance with the needs of his second family and new born kid (The moustache is not redemptive, the minivan is supposedly; the moustache is just weird and incongruent and not even ironic.) The message in the movie is that a father is a foolish man who gives up what matters to him in order to look after his kids and openly mocks himself  for doing so, while also clearly regretting it. I call bullshit.

All the other males? Cartoons. The Boy's two stepdads rapidly go from being admirable, responsible males (unlike his dad) to embittered, self-hating alcoholics who hector the Boy for not being responsible or serious (WTF? BOTH of them?) - it was like seeing an Ann Marie MacDonald novel on the screen, absent a redeeming lesbian relationship. We very briefly meet a pompous, self-important teacher (whom we only ever see once) monologuing like a super villain about the Boy being irresponsible and lazy. Lastly, we meet an openly comic restaurant manager (one of my favourite characters but who seems more like he should be in School of Rock) who AGAIN lectures the Boy about being more responsible. All these guys are villains and/or losers.

There is an older step-grandfather whom we briefly meet and who seems to have a good bond with the Boy (of course, however, he's a devout Christian and gun lover  - it is set in Texas, don't forget.) but we never see him again. There's a LOT (too much) of the Boy with his first girlfriend. The first time you get laid is a big deal but it does not foretell your future or your life as a whole as much as your relationship with your parents. Perhaps I am expecting too much of TV, movies and books but it is just such a cliché. I get the feeling a lot of TV, film and book people had pretty lousy parents.

I am likely in a growing minority to have had my dad around for my whole life and him being a good role model - hardworking, supportive, fun and yet holding me to high standards. Further, I aspire to be that kind of dad myself (notwithstanding yelling at my kids for doing stupid stuff and telling them when they need to do better). I guess it's not as 'dramatic' as what you see in Boyhood, but that's what makes the movie so obviously (bad) fiction for me. I look around and I see a lot of dads doing their best and it gets no respect.

The last point I want to make about Boyhood is there is a reason why all those adult males are telling the Boy he is lazy and irresponsible. He is. He turns out to be a jerk-off sullen teenager "artiste" whose all-important girlfriend ends up dumping him because he is such a gloomy negative person. What does his Dad tell him? That it was her fault for dumping him for a University Varsity lacrosse player - he is an artist and she was never bright enough for him (the Boy). What? She chooses someone who is actually actively engaged in his life with goals and accomplishments over some moping proto-alcoholic/drug addict and she is the loser? The Dad should have told him years ago to get his head out of his ass, work hard to achieve some real goals or rather, he should have actually done that himself and shown his Boy what it means to be a real and admirable man. The fact is the Boy is turning into his Dad which, in this case, is dispiriting.

OK so I figured out what I a getting at (finally, eh?). It's classic writing advice: Show, Don't Tell. All of the men in this film needed to stop telling the Boy what he should be doing with his life and demonstrate it. I really would have liked Linklater to have given the Boy and the audience one  guy who did. I see them all the time in real life and it s a crock not to have one in this film. So,  that is my New (School)Year Resolution: More Show, Less Tell.

I hope that when I am no longer around, my kids look back on me fondly and have given them some sort of assistance in negotiating their own lives.