Friday, 12 December 2014

May The Road Rise To Meet You

It's finally happened, what I've been waiting for - the consistent ability to stay in my pyjamas on a school day. OK perhaps not the greatest aspiration. But - after years of trying to get all three boys out the door to school on time, making sure they were fed, watered, dressed ("It is below zero out - no, you cannot wear shorts to school!"), with permission forms signed and with lunches made - the luxury of not having to fit in my own getting dressed to walk them to school is a blessing. It gives me valuable time to do something like eat my own breakfast. What has changed? My 7 year old son is now walking to school on his own.

To be accurate (though accuracy is not a quality particularly prized here at Pop Culture, we value shock, humour and good storytelling more) this is a return to form. In past years, the youngest has been walked to school by one of his older brothers. This year, with both of them attending other schools and leaving at different times, I was back in the position of walking him to school. It does have its benefits - holding his hand crossing the street, seeing who his friends are and interacting with them - so, when he asked me a few weeks ago when he would be able to walk to school on his own, a part of me was hurt that he didn't want me there. A larger part of me was happy though - ah, freedom.

Some might be shocked I'd let my son walk to school on his own - to them I say, pbbbt. Cue sound of grandpa talking about the old days, "When I was a boy I would walk 20 miles to school... uphill both ways... through snow in bare feet... fighting wolves... with an old potato..." But I did walk to school as a boy from a young age and for a good distance - and I loved it. It was one of the memorable and important parts of the day. It started out by accident on my 6th birthday in Grade One in mid September. My mum didn't show up to pick me up and I assumed that since I was now six I was expected to walk home - a good half hour walk through downtown Toronto crossing major streets like Eglinton and Yonge. And so I set off. My mum arrived shortly afterwards, hauling my younger brother and sister - road construction had prevented her from getting there on time. Panic ensued as no one knew where I was.

I was eventually brought home by a police officer to greet my distraught mother and all my birthday party guests. After that I KNEW I could walk home - I had made it almost the whole way without incident - it was simply that last turn off I had missed. Now I wouldn't make that mistake again. Given my stubborn vehemence my parents arranged for an older neighbour girl to walk me to school and back. I responded by running away from her. I know, what a jerk. But I was incensed that I wasn't being given my due. Eventually my parents accepted it and I walked to and from school from then on, eventually walking my younger sister and brother as well.

It wasn't without incident - I remember a mean dog, getting in a fight with a bigger guy who didn't like me walking by his house for some reason, being stuck in a huge mud pit since my rubber boots couldn't escape the suction, to name a few - but that's what made it so great. How could I tell my son I didn't think he could handle a 3 block walk to school when I had that experience myself.

We started slow (as I did with my older boys). Walking with him shorter and shorter distances, watching to make sure he looked when he crossed the street etc. I would watch until he disappeared from sight, waving at him comically whenever he looked back to see if I was still there. It gave me a pang in my heart when he stopped looking back but it was overridden by my pride at how big and independent he was getting.

So this Monday was the moment when I would watch him from the front porch. I asked him if he was ready for me to let him go the whole way himself. He smiled and nodded happily and then moved in to give me a big hug and mumbled into my stomach. I couldn't hear what he said so I crouched down and asked him to say again.

"Except on snowy days," he said.

"Snowy days? Why, you worried the cars won't see you?" (Projecting - I was worried about this).

"No. So we can have snow fights."

They say down in Who-ville that the Grinch's heart grew 2 sizes that day.

I smiled. I knew that it wasn't that he didn't want me there - he just wanted to be able to prove to me he could do this on his own.

The first few days went really well - he only looked back once on the first day and then not again after that. He started out walking, but by the time he crossed the first street, he was running - so excited to be on his own. Then yesterday it snowed here. A lot.

We looked at each other with knowing smiles. It was a pleasure to get dressed and when I came downstairs he was already outside with a clump of snow as big as his head in his arms. We've had some good snowball fights both yesterday and today - both of us starting the day off right. With a fun adventure.

Friday, 28 November 2014


My kids don't come home for lunch. This is despite them, for much of their school careers, attending a school 3 blocks away and with me home. When asked by them why they can't come home when many of their friends do, I have a simple answer: "I don't want you here."

Harsh perhaps but I have no worries about scarring their egos. For one thing, have you ever talked to a boy between the ages of 3 and 13 - in their humble opinion, they are AWESOME! At EVERYTHING! Their egos are untouched by reality. I think actually some of these punks could do with a little regular ego puncturing. But that's just me being mean, or truthful... or both.

I explain to my boys that I have sacrificed a lot by being home and putting myself at their general disposal and being available to go to appointments, to be home for sick and PA days and to take them to various activities and that, if they were to come home regularly, I would get even less done than I normally do. They look at me blankly and say, "Huh?" or something along those lines - they have clearly long ago moved on.

I also wonder, why would they want to come home anyway? It's boring here. At school during lunch hour they can run around and yell and play games and, from what I can tell, are often pretty much unsupervised - except for one teacher on yard duty who is on serious zombifying medication wishing she had made different life choices. I don't get it - lunch hour was the best part of the day in grade school for me - almost al of my memories of that period of my life come from recess. That's where you really learn stuff about the world.

However, to show I do care about them, I instituted a policy that I take each out individually once a semester to a local restaurant of their choice. This is a treat for all of us - I get out of the house and eat junk food and joke around with my boys one on one for an hour and they get the same benefit - when you're one of three kids you get lumped in with the group and don't get much personal time. This has been a very popular lunch program.

Today I took out my middle son for our term lunch date. He's new to the school this year but his older brother has been there for a few years. He was quite excited to try out Hero Burger and its bottomless soda fountain. I will try to remember the last Friday of the month is the worst day to go to this restaurant - it's the only hamburger joint in walking distance of the rather massive grade school and, by the time we walked there, we were number 70 in line.

I had my son stake out a table and I eventually placed our order, while witnessing hosts of tweens begging each other to lend them money to buy fries. Having the older boy at the school for the last few years means I have got to know a number of these kids from field trips, classroom visits and school teams. A number of boys came up to our table to say, "Hi, Sweeney's Dad. Where's Sweeney?"

I had to laugh. Growing up with a common first name and surname that already seemed a nickname, I was known as Sweeney from Grade One onwards. It always tried my mother's patience when kids would call our house (On a land line! I know, old school, right?) and ask for "Sweeney".

"Which one?" she would sigh, "There are 6 of us."

I think it's possible many people didn't even know my first name. I did actually have a guy come up to me in high school one time and ask why people called me Sweeney. I explained that it was my name. He looked disbelieving. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Arash - someone I would have thought would be more sensitive about names, frankly) I also still regularly have people who believe my name is 'Mike'. Not sure where that came from.

My surname has been morphed into many forms over the years as well: Sween, MacSween, Sweenster, Sweendawg and, perhaps the weirdest, Sweeneyburger.

On that note, at Hero Burger, in answer to the question, "Where's Sweeney?" I gestured to my second son, and said, "Right here. He's in Grade Four."

"Oh right, this is Middle Sweeney. I heard he was here now."

I think my son and I both got a kick out of it. He likes knowing he's part of something and that bigger kids know who he is because he has an older, popular brother at the school. It certainly helped him feel more comfortable with the transition. And I just like that he is known as a Sweeney. Even though I growled to him after the kids left, "Sweeney's Dad? Mr. Sweeney would have been just fine," I didn't really care. We both enjoyed that kids knew who I was and felt comfortable coming up and talking to me - like I was some kind of local celebrity. But not so friendly they asked for money to buy fries, thank god.

Something about that exchange made me feel good, like that, even though I don't have my kids coming home for lunch everyday, I'm doing something right as a dad.

Or, then again, it could have been the fries with gravy that made me feel so happy.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Apple Falls Not Far From The Tree - But It Fell In Glorious Combat

So, I'm a writer these days - occasionally paid, sometimes read - when I can fit it in around laundry, ferrying kids to activities and the general duties that come with being a parent of three kids, that is. I once was a lawyer and the decision to leave lawyering to do writing was clearly not primarily an economic one (or at least not a good economic one) but was one reached with my wife when trying to sort out how best to look after our kids and have a good life. I'm still amazed that she supports me (in many sense of the word) in the decision to stay at home, be there for her and the kids while pursuing the dream of writing for real and dependable money some day.

That decision would not be supported by many and I still wake up in the middle of the night, with "What the hell were you thinking?!" screaming in my head. Even my 9 year old recently questioned my decision while I was editing a school paper he had written. Of course, he objected to me looking at it as he knew it meant more work for him, so I pointed out to him that I am a professional writer and editor who gets (irregularly) paid to do what I was doing for him. There was a pause as he digested my words and then asked - "So why don't you go back to being a lawyer?" Jerk.

Nonetheless, occasionally it pays off in other ways - like the time I found said jerk up on his bed reading a bunch of graphic novels. I asked him what he thought of them. Pretty good, he answered. I pressed for more details as to which he liked better and why. He sighed and looked at me. "Why?" he asked.

"Because I wrote those."

He was dumbstruck. "What? You WROTE these? How?" Certainly not an unqualified endorsement since he was amazed that I was capable of writing good stuff but, you know, I'll take it.

The most recent example of me being a writer (perhaps) influencing my kids is the new authorship of my 7 year old, whose prolificacy frankly astounds and shames me. He'll shout out from the other room, "I just finished another chapter! That's four today!", while I'm busy wasting time reading Facebook. He'll also insist on reading aloud his compositions. Sure, as an 'artist' and fellow writer I should support this but again, given his output I'd be listening to his stories all day, so I try and avoid it. He announced after shutting his notebook in satisfaction, "Maybe I'll be a writer when I grow up." This made me almost as happy as when last year he told me (when he discovered I could juggle), "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a clown. We can be clowns together." Sniff.

Mind you, I am a little concerned about his potential foray into writing for a living. He should have some other skills to fall back on. He's a bit of a bruiser and is enrolled in French Immersion, so I've had the dream of him perhaps getting a rugby scholarship to a school in France where he could train to become a pastry chef, with a minor in clowning.

His writing actually might prove more commercial than mine. It usually begins with two guys who meet up and immediately embark on an adventure involving taking on bad guys and killing them in numerous ways. Yikes. I'm waiting on the call from the school psychologist.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Parental Advisory: Disciplinary Measures

A while ago, I wrote a comedy script for a short film and, together with Jaime Escallon-Buraglia,  Elena Lombardi and the good folks at bravoFACT, we made a funny short film about a dysfunctional PTA.

It's part of the same world as the comedy series we are developing through NSI Totally TV. So, if you like what you see here, maybe someday you can see more in an actual series.

Here's the link. You can watch it on the bravoFACT site, like it on YouTube and share with anyone you think would like a laugh. Cheers.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Halloween: A Real Treat

Halloween has become one of the most popular holidays - why is that? Well, with three boys whose candy intake is limited during the rest of the year, it is certainly a big deal in our house. I am mostly a passive observer in the run up to the big night. The boys and their Mum work on their costumes together and decorate the house with stencils, spiders, webs, rubber rats etc. while I try and stay out of the way. My wife works during the week and so has to cram in the parenting in the evenings, weekends and holidays. On occasions like this, she goes FULL OUT, which is exhausting but I've found if I just stay out of her way lots of fun things get done that I'm too tired, lazy or grouchy to attend to myself. I am usually very happy with the results.

One of these happy results is the great costumes she puts together with the kids every year (I can still visualize my own Mum swearing with pins in her mouth as she stitched together costumes for me and my siblings when I was a kid). It's fun to have such a costume but there's no way I'd do the same for my own kids (see lazy, tired and grouchy reference above). They looked fantastic though and we all got a great kick out of them on the night. My personal favourite was my 7 year old as a garden gnome, with a stuffy in his shirt to give him the proper tummy.

The key to have this costume making work with three kids is that she has involved them in the process from the beginning (something my own Mum didn't really think to do (thank god)) and they contribute to the process with various levels of helpfulness. The result is a more meaningful and personal costume - to the degree that when she asked my eldest (11) if many other kids at his school Halloween event made their own costumes he spat out with contempt, "No." And then asked whose costume was the best he said simply, "Mine." Love it.

We have taken to applying this principle of child-involvement to everyday things - we call it the Helper Elf system. On a rotating basis the boys help with making dinner, setting the table and cleaning up. My 7 year old remarked sourly on the weekend that he liked it better before we started this "whole elf business". It's sometimes no help at all and often it is a hindrance to getting stuff done, especially if you want it done quickly but, increasingly things click into place and getting dinner ready is a lot faster and you have a nice chat with your kid who normally says, "I don't know" when you ask them what's going on with their life.

One of my few Halloween responsibilities is carving the pumpkin. This year we had two to do and I was wondering how I'd get them done in time but, again by involving the kids, I ended up doing it really quickly and it was... FUN (which, let's be honest, these family things can sometimes not be with all the time pressures and expectations etc.). We had a great time working on them. I had the guys scoop out the gunk and I carved the faces based on designs the kids did. My eldest even baked up a couple of batches of pumpkin seeds. Tasty.

Then my wife showed up and took the younger two out in the rain to Trick or Treat while I handed out candy at the house and quizzed kids on their costumes. My eldest has now gone out on his own with friends for the last couple of years and this has also been great - he is able to get some freedom and independence and have a good time. I'd rather not know what he gets up to. It's funny that the "scariest" night of the year is the one I feel most comfortable with him wandering the streets at night - it is full of people, neighbours and friends.  The whole night is quite the treat and I'm grateful to have such a low fuss holiday.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Friendship Advice
I was in the schoolyard yesterday chatting with one of my Mum friends when another of my Mum friends came up to talk to the first. Their youngest kids (SK age) are very good friends, except the first kid is a boy (let's call him "Albert") and the second kid a girl (let's call her "Frances"). It appears that "Frances" was quite upset because another boy refused to let her play with him and "Albert". "Girls are accluded!" he stated. So "Frances'" Mum asked "Albert'" Mum how they should handle it. "Frances's" best friends are boys and she was not ready to give up on the fun games boys play because of some bogus Kindergarten sexism, unlike her older sister at the same age. "Albert's" Mum replied that she would just tell the boys that "Frances" was not "accluded" and walked off to deal with the situation, leaving me and "Frances'" Mum to chat.
I started laughing because this reminded me so strongly of one of my favourite children's books, Best Friends For Frances, by Russell Hoban, one of the books in the fantastic Frances series. I love these books because they are smart, funny and really subversive. When Frances in the book is excluded from playing with her boy friend Albert she takes matters into her own hands in a wonderfully devious way. I recommended the book to my Mum friend.
I was further amused to notice that once "Frances" was inserted into the boys' game in the schoolyard the boys simply walked away leaving "Frances" on her own - though she quickly seemed to start playing with some other kids. No criticism of the parents at all - I'd be disgusted to hear my kids say similar things but we can't really make kids be friends or act in the ways we'd like unless we sit on the situation. That's why I liked how Frances in the book handled it - she created a situation where her Albert wanted to be friends and play with her and she made him see how it would feel to be excluded.
I doubt this book (or any of the other books for that matter which involve lying, running away, stealing, and threatened spankings - ah, the 60s...) would be published today as it puts forward less than acceptable ways of behaviour. But they seem so true to a kid's experience and make sense to kids in ways that our enlightened modern adult sensibilities do not.
It also made me think of growing up and when one boy would be excluded from a group and how we'd handle it. I leaned in towards "Frances" Mum and said,
"Do you want the real secret intel on how to make sure she's not excluded in the future from boys' games?"
"Sure," she said, a little curious.
"Next time some boy tells her that no girls are allowed, if she just gives him a really hard punch in the stomach and says, 'I don't think so.'" she'll be in like Flynn. They'll see her as handling things like a boy and thus an honourary member."
She looked amused, horrified yet still curious.
"Is that official parenting advice?"
"Oh, I'll deny it if asked - but it's true. Even if it's unacceptable. But it has to be a punch not a kick - girls kick and that will work against her." [This was said before I realized what a great post this would be.]
She looked uncertain about how to digest this. When "Albert's" Mum returned to the group she wished to know what we were talking about. I filled her in. She's the mother of 3 boys like myself, with "Albert" being the youngest. She laughed, a little shocked, BUT COMPLETELY AGREED.
Now before any of you get all exercised about violence not solving anything etc., I wasn't really advocating that she tell "Frances" to do this but on some level I think it's sad that we can't tell kids the truth about the way the world works. Namely, you have to sort jerks out yourself quickly and decisively in ways that are immediately responsive. Going to adults to solve this stuff just backfires - witness the dissolving game that "Frances" wanted in on.
Of course Russell Hoban provided a much more elegant and poetic (and non-violent) payback in his book but I still feel sometimes a punch in the stomach might be the right answer.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Not So Silent - The Reprise

My wife away at dinner time allows a certain je ne sais quoi at the dinner table with me and the boys (but not our 50).

The music is louder, the behaviour and conversation, if not more raucous (that would be hard to believe), then indefinably more male and a little more relaxed (which has nothing to do with my wife - I tend to be the hardliner). It's maybe somehow, I'm more relaxed and that flows through the group.

So perhaps with that casual vibe it was inevitable, the 7 year old lets one rip right there at the table. ZZZZart!

I pause and look at him directly. He gives me a winning smile. He knows why I'm looking at him. I work hard not to smile back. Damn it, he's good.

I lower my brow and stare hard at him.

"Don't you have something to say?"

He jerks his thumb towards his brother beside him. Still grinning madly.

"It was him."

Oh, brother.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

NSI Totally Television Bootcamp - Phase I now over

Jaime Escallon Buraglia and I have wrapped an intensive week of honing our TV comedy about a single Born-Again-Dad trying to raise his daughter while heading a dysfunctional PTA, Parental Advisory. Working with a story editor and meeting various players in the Canadian TV world, we have got the show to a very good place. We hope to move onto Phase Two in the new year and then onto the Banff TV festival in June. Combined with our bravoFACT short film about the same world, we think we're in a good place. Fingers crossed. Here is a link to our final blog post:

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.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sleeper Hold

It has not quite reached that point where, upon entry to my home, I, like Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, have to call out not to be attacked. For those of you in the know, Clouseau, as played by Peter Sellers, has, in an effort to hone his fighting skills, instructed his Asian houseboy, Cato, to attack him without warning. What results is Cato attacking him once all threat of doing so has evaporated and with hilarious results. In later films what eventually happens is that Clouseau ends up having a terrible day and calls out to Cato not to attack him despite his previous instructions to ignore such instructions. And of course, Cato attacks him. Good stuff.

Anyway, my home has been compared to a pirate camp, a wild West saloon and, appropriately enough, something like a WWF training school. I was very bitter that, when my sister was living in Mexico, she was unable to source us some Lucha Libre wrestling masks.
There is lots of 'wrasslin' going on round here- well, for a short while recently there hasn't been. After suffering grievous injury (torn shoulder tendon) in a dad and lad soccer match I had to call a halt to such activities for a while. But I'm back now though still not in top form. The living room has been recently cleared of the foosball table and so we could reinitiate son v. dad grudge matches.

I've written before in this blog that Wrestling is the key to good fathering. It, among other things, is a lot of fun and there is a lot of laughing. Also, it provides my boys with real and meaningful correction to super hero and video game fantasies about being all powerful. The key to a successful wrestling strategy is to stop while it is still fun and good natured or, as my wise father always says, "Quit While The Fun's Good." My middle son regularly complains that I always quit while the fun's good and I should instead quit when the fun's bad. But he is 9, a misanthrope and not to be trusted in such matters; I'll follow my dad's rule here.

So, wrestling is back on at the home and we are all happy with that. Even my oldest, who is getting too old and cool to do such things, upon his return from camp this weekend casually skulked by as the 9 year old and I were throwing it down. He got dragged into it and, despite minor protests was laughing as he was pinned. "Did you hear my back crack?" He asked proudly.

My youngest (almost 7) known universally as "The Tank" is the resident madman though. As described in the previously mentioned post he is the one who cracked one of my ribs by leaping knee first off a piece of furniture and into my side shouting, "Here I come to save the day!" Our bedtime routine has become a last ditch wrestling session. Some would feel that I'm 'working him up' but seriously the dude has so much energy I find it the best way to tire him out and burn off at least a little of his mania. I also have to confess to simply loving it - it's so fun and we're both laughing our guts out most of the time.

He killed me last night though when I uttered the usual wrap-up phrase to "Quite While The Fun's Good." He surprisingly gave his usual reply when I tell him to turn off the Wii, "Just a second, I have to beat this level first." Classic. I laughed so hard but then replied that this was the boss level and he would never beat it. And I put him down.