Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Naked Truth

Conversation at dinner table tonight:

13 year old tells a story about how a kid in Grade 6 has been banned from local variety store for trying to buy a Playboy. We all start laughing, except the 8 year old demands to know what a Playboy is.

13 year old looking shifty and pink, refuses to answer. 10 year old sniggering.

My wife explains that it is a magazine full of naked women.

He doubles over laughing, "Who would want to look at a magazine like that?"

My wife, carefully not looking at me, answers, "Exactly."

I interject, "Some men are very interested in looking at naked women."

8 year old in disbelief, "That's just dumb."

I reply, "There may come a day when you become one of those men."

He looks at me. "Do you like looking at naked women?"


"Very much."

Chorus of yucks etc.

My wife, "Daddy is a gross pig."

I defend myself, "What? I like looking at you naked."

She blushes.

My boys yell out, "Stop! Enough! Yuck!"

I ask them, "Where do you think the three of you come from?"

At that point I am physically attacked by my three sons, laughing, outraged, embarrassed.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Carry Your Own Bag

If the job of fathers with daughters is to "Keep them off the pole", in the inimitable words of Chris Rock,

then I believe it is your duty as a father with boys to get them to "Carry their own bag."

In each case, the dad's job is both a literal one and a figurative one. I read Rock's view on "keeping them off the pole" as, not only literally giving your daughter the upbringing and options so that she doesn't turn to stripping, but also greater than that - to aspire to be a person of worth and value in her own right who doesn't look on her desirability to men (or women) as a measure of self-worth.

Sure, be 'hot', pretty, desirable if you want. Fill your boots. Take pride in your appearance. Wear feminine clothing, wear make-up and perfume or don't - whatever makes you happy - but don't rely on your looks to get by. Or think that is all you are or can do. Don't seek to please people (men or women) as the cost of your own wishes, dreams and desires. Beauty is a rare commodity and, as such, it is valuable and in some peoples' cases (men and women) maybe that is their best option to make money, exert influence and gain status. That historically has been a route for more women than men but it has never been limited to them and, increasingly, men are taking that route as well.

The point stands - you are not doing your job as a father if you don't demonstrate to your daughter she is more than that how guys look at her. Things are changing for the better but it is still important to underline in a society in which kids are on social media non-stop posting selfies of themselves and subjecting themselves to the thoughtless comments by the public on their appearance.

So, to boys, and "carry their own bag". Again a literal and figurative exhortation. A big problem with raising boys is in the anti-boys atmosphere we live in. I'm irritated with the casual sexism which portrays boys as stupid, thoughtless and useless. One ad I saw in the subway portrayed a boy's brain as consisting almost entirely of thoughts of girls, food and videogames. Yes, it was an ad, Yes, it was supposed to be funny. Yes, to the casual observer that might be all that boys are concerned with. So maybe I should just relax and take a joke? OK. Flip that and think of an ad which posits teen girls are only concerned with boys, their weight and clothes. Sounds funny doesn't it? Hilarious, right, because it's so true? As my son so often says, "Wait! What?"

Another person I know (and like) with boys of her own posted on FB that her teen daughter sniffed that the claim that people can't truly multitask applies only to boys not to girls. And the Mum was proud of that claim of her daughter, saying in effect, 'That's my girl!' WTF? If your son said something like that about girls, would you react the same way?

These are just two examples of an increasingly common and unchallenged new orthodoxy i.e. men are useless. Or how about the sexist neologisms floating around, like:

"Man-flu"? Bullshit. I hear women sneering about their husbands and boyfriends being 'babies' because of their behavior when they are sick. Pardon me? They are ill. OK some guys are wimps but maybe it's as simple as they are feeling unwell and are looking for some sympathy and kindness and being looked after when they are feeling low. Nope. Guess not. So much for men sharing feelings...

"Man-splaining"? Double bullshit. Self-important gas bags propounding on stuff they may not know a lot about is not a male-only issue. Sure, I am terribly guilty of this all the time. But it doesn't have anything to do with me being a man; I just like the sound of my own voice. I hear a lot of self-important women doing the same (see man-flu above). I got a lot of unsolicited opinion from women about parenting while I was at home with my young boys - you see, their lady parts meant they knew more about raising kids. Why the need for the casual sexism? Call a loudmouth a loudmouth - leave their gender out of it.

Am I ever going to get to the carrying your own bag thing? Yes. Here we go. The biggest problem I think boys have is how they are raised. And not only because of  the increasingly negative atmosphere I describe above. You think boys are useless and thoughtless? How did they get that way? Their parents. People raise girls and boys differently. They expect girls to pitch in, help and be thoughtful. Too many people give boys a free pass based on the idea that 'boys will be boys', and let them skate on being responsible. As a consequence, many end up that way. Self-fulfilling prophesy, not biological determinism.

I was sitting in my 13 year old son's Select hockey dressing room for an early team meeting. (Yes, he finally made it, at last). And one of the big announcements was that, starting this year, all the boys would be expected to carry their own hockey bag. (!?!) My son and I looked at each other and laughed quietly.

"Guess that won't be a problem for us," he joked.

My kids carry their own hockey bags. They get dressed and undressed by themselves for hockey. I do tie the younger two's skates since they are hard to tie tightly. They are 8, 10 and 13. They have done this for years. Maybe I was projecting but I was pretty sure I saw a couple of parents and kids look upset by this declaration. I interpreted one of the parent's looks as "We'll see about that."

This required a rule? These are strong athletic 13 year old boys. I have been outraged for years watching small mothers struggling under massive hockey bags stagger in and out of arenas while their sons yell at them for money to buy slushies. But I don't feel sorry for these women because they have reaped what they have sown.

A few years ago, my middle one, who would have been about 8 at the time, and my wife were in a hockey change room which, as usual, was filled with adults dressing perfectly capable children. One boy started screaming at his mother because she had forgotten to put something in his bag. First, of all, that doesn't fly in our house, so my wife was shocked. She was also a little shocked by the woman taking it. Then, however, my son did something that made her (and later, me) very proud. He turned to the kid and said, "But it's your bag. Isn't it your responsibility?"

That rocked everyone back on their heels. But my son was genuinely confused because that is what he has been trained to believe. He not only has to carry his own bag - he needs to make sure he has everything he needs. He is learning how to be useful, use foresight and planning and take responsibility for his actions. It's not magic - it's practice.

My guys help with laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping - because they are expected to. My wife loves going to the grocery store (a slight exaggeration) because she regularly gets envious glances and comments from other women who marvel that boys can do such things as follow a list on their own and fill a grocery cart (we give them their own cart and list - it makes it go faster). While nice, it's a little shocking how low people's opinion of boys (and probably children in general) are.

My boys are expected to talk to adults, look them in the eye, answer their questions and thank them for things they do for them. Believe me, it's not always easy, there is a lot of complaining (particularly about laundry) but it pays off. I am proud of my sons - and you should be proud of yours so give them the skills they need to become real men.

Boys need to be taught to carry their own bags (literally and figuratively ) - so they can be useful and responsible members of society and be able to put paid to those pernicious stereotypes about boys.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Using My Words

Every so often I bump into someone or have them over for dinner or we are hanging out somewhere and they will pepper their conversation with profanity. They will stop short and look like they're in trouble because they will realize one of my kids is there.

"Oops, sorry", they will say.

I tell them not to worry. My kids have heard worse - they have been in the car when I'm driving.

I don't even want to know the stuff I've said while my children are in the car. Occasionally I'll come out of some sort of fugue state and catch the last few words of what I was muttering and I am shocked and appalled at the base and ignorant invective I've been spewing but, oh, well, I'm not likely to stop now so I ignore it and turn the radio up.

I defend it by saying "Daddy is using his driving words."

In my defence, I drive in Toronto which apparently has a higher than average number of morons driving (mind you, I occasionally drive though Kitchener Waterloo and they've got to be pound for pound the worst drivers I've encountered). One of my friends, back home visiting his folks from Europe drove to meet me for lunch. He lives in one of those progressive European cities where no one needs to drive apparently. He missed the experience and wanted to get back behind the wheel so he borrowed his father's car to do so. He confessed that, within moments, he was turned into a belligerent rascist hothead.

"Sweeney, I called someone a Goddamn Chinaman. First of all, who even uses that expression anymore? And second, he wasn't even Asian. I became not only a racist but an inaccurate racist!"

He may never drive again. Driving does it to you. Even my very nice neighbour is transformed by driving. She took my kids to the movies a little while ago and they came back and entertained me with the expressions she uses as she makes her way driving through the city. "Come on, uncle, move it!" "Let's go, fatty!" etc.

That said, am I a complete hypocrite when I do not let them swear around me or in public? No. I don't think so. They need to know what is appropriate and swearing is still not socially acceptable in most situations. All bets are off though when they start driving. I'll have to bite my tongue when they start using their own driving words once they get behind the wheel. I got a small taste of it the other day, I was confronted by someone at a four way stop who apparently lapsed into a coma partway through their turn. I leaned on my horn, and waved him through impatiently.

'Come on, come on," I muttered, "if you're going to go, go!"

"Halfwit," concurred my eight year old in the back seat, not even looking up from his picture book.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Teaser for Parental Advisory

Below is the teaser for my and Jaime Escallon Buraglia's proposed comedy series about a dysfunctional PTA, Parental Advisory. We've been pitching it to various broadcasters and were recently at the Banff World Media Festival promoting it.

Click here to see the 7 minute bravoFACT short we made: Disciplinary Measures. Please feel free to share and let people know if you like it - particularly if you know any broadcasters.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Just Don't Embarrass Me, Dad

"Just don't embarrass me, Dad"

The title of this post comes from a line I uttered in all sincerity to my own father when I was 12 and we were all heading into the town near our cottage, Grand Bend, for a trip to Kiddy City, a small  amusement park, and to stroll the strip for ice cream and maybe play Galaga in the arcade. It must have been a Thursday night as that was half-price night.

Grand Bend Ontario, if you have never been, is a resort town which, in the summer months, quadruples its population and its average age plummets to roughly 23. Back in the day it was a rocking place with people strutting and sashaying along the sidewalks in bathing suits or driving the strip in open windowed cars to check out 'the talent' (as my dad used to describe it). Bars belting out rocking tunes as inside sunburned and very drunk people tried to make meaningful human connections (or something like that.) It's like a mini-Spring Break. Every weekend. One of my favourite moments was seeing an OPP cruiser driving down the street and the cop in the passenger side reaching out to knock the beer can out of the hand of some guy in cut-offs and a lot of woven bracelets who was standing on the sidewalk. Yeah, that was a good one.

Eventually I left Kiddy City behind as I grew older and got a summer job and cruised the strip no longer looking for ice cream or the high score in Galaga. In many ways The Bend hasn't changed all that much, although instead of selling hacky sacs and sex wax it caters more to tattoos and piercings. Ick. Now, I'm sure it still rocks on summer nights but since Kiddy City has closed down I have had no reason to go into town with my own kids on summer nights.

Knowing what I know now I would have realized that telling my dad not to embarrass me was: 1) futile, as my parents' sheer existence at that stage embarrassed me; and 2) like waving a flag in the face of a bull. I know this because this is the stage I'm at now with my kids - show me the slightest hint you are embarrassed by me and I will RAMP IT UP. Yes. It's one of my few pleasures. When my kids were younger and would throw a fit in the middle of a department store or went boneless in the street screaming and yelling, I would lean in and tell them, "Just so you know, this is really embarrassing for me. Enjoy it. Because when you are a teenager, I will get my own back and humiliate you in public mercilessly through my antics." And I keep my promises.

Back to the past. We were walking down the Grand Bend strip and I was ahead of my Dad who had my brother on his shoulders and my sister by the hand. As I walked past a booth where for a dollar you could request a record to be played as a rotating red police light would flash (I think it might have been called The Soul Shack), I heard the young Black woman behind the counter shout out, "Groove, Daddy, Groove." I turned and, to my horror, saw my father just totally get down in the middle of the street with my brother still on his shoulders and my sister dancing around his feet. I melted into a sticky puddle of humiliation and joined discarded ice cream cones in running down to the gutter.

And of course I have become completely the same. As I dance around in the kitchen to some choice track my kids will shriek in fear and loathing as they try to pluck their eyes from their heads shouting, "Out, vile jelly." Oh, yeah, the Oedipal/Shakespeare mash-up reference there isn't accidental.

However, it all came nicely full circle this last week. My youngest sister got married and my dad and she took the floor for the compulsory father daughter dance and, frankly, he rocked it. Soon we all were on the dance floor and for once my kids seemed to really enjoy dancing with me (and my wife) and we had a ball - none of caring how we looked and consequently all looking really happy.

* As a nice Coda, my oldest (12 years old) went to a bar mitzvah the following weekend and came back with a Montreal Canadiens' (Subban) jersey which he won - by dancing for duration of the party. I feel very proud - and sorry for my grandkids - he's really going to embarrass them some day.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Book Banning

In our family we love reading. We read everything and anything - books, newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes and even, when we forget to bring something into the bathroom with us, shampoo bottles. By the way, I am amazed that these actually provide instructions. Seriously? If you are capable of reading the instructions on a shampoo bottle then, chances are, you already know how the whole thing works. But I really enjoy the back of the Old Spice shampoos and body washes - they are weird and entertaining.

Our guys are all big readers and nothing does my heart prouder than seeing them all sprawled around the living room reading books. We have always read to our kids and we still do - even though they can and do read a lot on their own. It apparently is important to read to your kids even after they can read to encourage them (even  tweens and teens)  to continue with reading through life.  That could be total anxious parent crap and not even true but, more importantly, it's fun. It's a great way to bond, share experiences  and for me to reread books I loved as a kid.

I often pick books I can't convince them to try on their own. And the books I insist on reading are not necessarily "appropriate"  for their age or this time - which is what makes reading so fun. The stuff in these books is almost lost information in one way or another. And some of it is terribly politically incorrect. Currently I am reading:

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson to the 7 year old.

"This is the one about getting drunk on rum and killing people with swords, right?"



Lost in the Barrens - Farley Mowat  to the 9 year old. Two 14 year olds left on their own mess up and have to survive in the high north with only a rifle and an axe. Killing stuff, raiding Viking graves, doing stupid things with serious consequences. Super fun.



Watership Down - Richard Adams to the 12 year old. It's about talking bunnies, who fight and swear and kill. He loves it. Shh, don't tell anyone.


Another bunch of books from my youth I have introduced my kids to are the Tintin comic books. Harmless fun, right? Well... they were written by a Belgian guy in the '40s - let's just say he wasn't enlightened about other races and people. But apparently you can't get some of them out of the library because of this backward thinking. I think that's bullshit. Kids need to be able to handle this stuff and can, if given the right guidance by their parent - another reason for me to read these books to them and moderate the discussion afterwards.

Oho, you may say - easy for you Mr. White Middle Class guy - your people/race/gender are not being unfairly represented.

Oh no?

A passage I recently read in Watership Down went something along the lines of "A rabbit can no more resist lettuce than an Irishman can resist an invitation to fight." Racist bastard. I really wanted to punch the guy in the head. You know, if he hadn't been dead for 20 years or so. And because people of Irish decent don't have bad tempers. Ahem.*

But it wasn't going to ruin an otherwise great book for me and my son. I laughed and commented to the effect that it was racist garbage and we moved on. You can't protect your kids from this stuff by not dealing with it. You have to give them the tools to handle it when they encounter it.

[*Interesting - I figured WD was written in the 40s and the anti-Irish nonsense was a product of the typical English racism of the time and could be excused that way but hold on - it was written in 1972 and the bastard is still alive (94). I just might have to look him up next time I get to the UK and test his theory. My point still stands - it was from a different time and POV and I can challenge that comment but still enjoy the book and think it worthwhile. This enforced cultural amnesia/ willful blindness helps no one. Our kids need to know how people of different times and places thought (and sadly even still think) about things so they are forearmed.]

Given the stuff they are exposed to on social media, in video games and online (no matter what you do), it makes me laugh that they are pulling Tintin books from the library. Yeah, a comic book written in the 40s is the biggest concern we should have. And a library is supposed to be where all information is kept no matter how obnoxious. The bigger issue to me is most kids don't even read at all and so cannot exercise their minds with dealing with information not pre-digested and approved by the gate-keepers. Maybe this idea that books have to be good for you and have had all bad stuff removed from them is why they seem to terribly lame and uninteresting to many boys.

That said, you don't have to agree with me - you wanna fight about it?

Monday, 23 March 2015


For those of you who actually read this voluntarily I apologize for my prolonged absence - but I've been busy with this thing below. And just finished March Break which, as usual, involved the de riguer trip to the hospital. So read on and I'll post something new soon...

NSI TOTALLY TV, Phase II - Parental Advisory

Jaime Escallon-Buraglia and Christopher Stewart Sweeney
Jaime Escallon-Buraglia (producer) and Christopher Stewart Sweeney (writer), Toronto, ON

After three intense days, our heads feel like over-packed suitcases that people are sitting on and trying to close so all the contents don’t go spilling out before we make it onto the plane to the Banff Media Festival. Let’s call those people Sam Linton [program advisor] and Shelly Tyler [program manager]. They have become our guides, our confidantes and our biggest supporters.[MORE]

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


I explained to my post-Christian pagan sons what Lent was - giving up those things that you really liked in an effort to approximate the sacrifice and fasting of Christ in the wilderness.

My 9 year old's reaction?

"Sounds stupid."

Friday, 6 February 2015

What My Kids Learned in School Today

I got a real kick out of dinner the other night. Tuesday has become de facto guys' night dinner since my lovely and bright wife is completing her Masters in Law (which she started just before becoming pregnant with our oldest. He just turned 12.And then we had two more. Hat's off to her sticking with it. We're BUSY around here.) Her classes are Tuesday nights.

The conversation went something like this:

OLDEST shaking his head in disbelief: Dad, you won't believe what I learned in school today.

ME: Oh? What?

Me trying not to display too much excitement he is actually VOLUNTEERING information about what goes on in school and his life generally. The last few months he has been engaging in a vigorous campaign to stop all information leaks to us about his doings.

OLDEST: We're talking about drug abuse in health and the teacher mentioned Jimi Hendrix doing so many drugs he choked on his own vomit?

Again, clearly a guys' night dinner discussion - drug abuse and vomit.

ME: Uh huh?

OLDEST: And then a few minutes later one of the other kids raises his hand and asks, 'Who is Jimi Hendrix?' I can't believe it. And then, it turns out only three kids in my whole class had even heard of him. Crazy!

MIDDLEST boy (Age 9): What? Jimi Hendrix is only like one of the world's greatest guitarists ever.

OLDEST: I know. Right?

Pause as I wipe away a tear of pride - boys know their classic rock.

This pride is only topped later when my middlest asks me to play The Homecoming Song by Dollar Brand (AKA Abdullah Ibrahim) a classic jazz track.

MIDDLEST: It's got a great beat.

They then start debating which Herbie Hancock instrumental track they prefer off his Head Hunters album, Chameleon or Watermelon Man.

I gotta be doing something right. Right?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Parental Advisory Moves On To Phase II NSI Totally TV

Jaime Escallon Buraglia (Producer) and Christopher Sweeney (Writer) of Parental Advisory

Very happy to move onto the next exciting phase of this well-regarded television development program. A workshop in March, followed by the Banff Television Festival and pitching Network executives. The grant will also help us develop the project and perhaps take a trip to L.A. to court backers.

This is a further development of our comedy series which began with our bravoFACT short Parental Advisory: Disciplinary Measures.