Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 23 Days

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On Friday, April 26 E had surgery to remove cancer from his mouth just below the tongue. It was radical. It was a miracle. It was the longest 23 days of our life.

We held vigil. We prayed. We held hands. We circled the wagons. We kept the fear at bay. For this is what love does. There were evening cross-town drives. Desolate cement parking garages. Elevator rides. And endless corridor walks. The TV amused and kept him company. There was a lot of hockey. He discovered Duck Dynasty. A clipboard filled with lined paper was his only means of communication the first week. He said a lot with his eyes and hands.

Family, friends, and colleagues visited daily. There were puppy dog visits in the sunny tranquil courtyard. Our daughters danced and entertained. Our grand daughter brought sweet little girl kisses. There was a quiet Sunday morning visit with our son.
Strawberry plants grew on the windowsill. Happy-face daisies sprouted from the end of his bed. Photos blossomed on the cork board. Magazines and books grew in little stacks. Coffee from the outside was brought in. There was a glorious view from his seventh floor room. It was heavenly.

And this is what those 23 days looked like.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: This is The Man we all Love.

Sitting in the window of an abandoned farmhouse.

I have written a lot posts for all the magnificent Girl Warriors in my life.  My strong, fierce and beautiful daughters, grand daughter, daughter-in-law and the original warrior, Ma. Plus all the others, near and dear to me.  All glorious inspirational women.

I also have a son.  He is equally magnificent in my eyes.  Yet in many ways he’s a mystery to me.  A charming and perplexing enigma.  Perhaps it’s because he’s a boy and at the end of the day I must admit that I don’t fully understand the male species.

I was young when he came into the world.  So was he.  In truth, we grew up together.  He has taught me much since that wondrous day when I looked into his dark raisin eyes for the very first time.  I am eternally grateful for all the learning through the years. Even the difficult stuff.  I’ve probably learned more through those experiences than from the easy breezy butterfly days.

So many rights of passage we shared.  The holding close.  And the letting go.  All those milestones.  From the first step.  To the walk across the stage to receive his degree.  Everything in between.  Proud mother moments.  Heartbreaks and heroics.  Flights of fancy and family ties.  Unbreakable bonds.  Love is born.  And grows eternal in this mother-son relationship.

He stands shoulder to shoulder with the three other good men who I love dearly.  My strong and gentle big brother, my solid husband and my complicated father.  Each seemingly different.  At least on the exterior.  At once complex and full of mystifying layers.  Yet also sublimely straightforward and uncomplicated.  Always sincere.  Forthright.  Honest.  Kind.  They are the faces of strength, courage and tenderness in my often anxious world.

The 10 Steps to Becoming the Man We All Love:

The Old Man was so delighted with his grandson.

1. Be your own man. Authentic. Genuine. 100% bona fide you. The real thing.  Don’t be an impostor.  Nor live a vicarious life.  Grab a hold of what matters to you.  Put on your own jersey.  Strap on your own skates.   Play the game you love.  Not someone else’s.  Be an original.  A maverick.  The natural.  Always be the guileless boy who looks at the world with wide-eyed wonder.  Forever rub your hands together with glee and pure joy.  Be the spontaneous boy. And the solid man.  Work with your full range of emotions.  Express yourself completely.  Thoroughly.  Freely.  And if a tear falls. Let it.

2. Be brave-hearted.  Stand tall.  Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Know that all courageous men have fears. Life is scary sometimes. For all of us.  Don’t be a victim.  Instead be valorous.  Do no shrink.   Roar.  Hoot and howl.  Feel the fear and get on with it.  There are no boogeymen under the bed.  No monsters hiding in the closet. Myths.  False emotions appearing real.  That’s all.  And always remember that you are far bigger than your fears.

My big brother with my nephew and my son sharing a cuddle.

3. Get a real kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend.  For vacation.  Or another time.   Play right now.  Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Shake your tambourine.  Laugh your guts out.  Make a fool of yourself. Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Surround yourself with the lighthearted ones who put a smile on your face.  Take delight in every minute of this life you are given.

4. Be a loving man. And you will be loved.  Guaranteed.  More than you could ever imagine or dream. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Don’t run from it.  Strong men have the guts to be tender.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Be a Gentle Ben.  Tom, Dick or Harry.  And remember, love isn’t always perfect.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  That’s okay.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Love refines your heart and grows your compassion muscle.  Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped.  It may be completely different from what you had in mind.  Better even. In fact, the best thing that ever happened to you.

The proud uncle with his lookalike niece.

5. Find your tribe.  Your band of sisters and brothers. The ones where you fit in.  Belong. Feel at home with.  For these will be your family.  Some related by blood.  Others by the heart.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you.  By your side.  Through thick and thin. The ones who have your back.  Who pick you up when you fall. Help you find your way home in the dark.  They’re with you no matter what. No questions asked.  No doubt about it.

6. Follow your passions and the things that make you want to get up in the morning.  Jazzed and ready to go.  Have big dreams.  They don’t cost any more than the small ones. Your life will be so much richer for it.  Do the things that you love to do first.  And everything else will fall into place. Be enthusiastic.  Get psyched.  Pumped.   Gung-ho.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour of discovery.  Go on an adventure.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and move on.

My son with “his lady” in Scotland on the adventure of their lives.

7. Be generous and magnanimous of spirit. With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little. Or a lot.  But give. This isn’t necessarily about money.  Nor material things. It can be. Nothing wrong with that. If you’ve got it.  Give it.  But it’s also about giving of yourself.  Your time.  Your energy.  The natural gifts you came into the world with.  Take every opportunity to share these with others.  The more you do, the bigger you will be.  This will make you happier than anything you ever imagined.  For the more you give, the more you receive.

8. Be honest.  A man of your word.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Nor intend to.  Be a man of integrity.  Honorable. Upstanding. Someone you can rely on.  Depend on.  Be the good guy who shows up.  Even in the stickiest of situations.  Know that when you shake on something that you are doing more than pressing flesh.  You are giving your word.  Your bond.  Don’t violate this sacred trust.  Respect others and you will be respected in turn.

My two lovely men standing tall at our wedding.

9. Defend and stand up for something.  Be righteous. Not self-righteous.  Find causes close to your heart.  Help those in need.  Shelter the weak.  The young.  The very old. Once you accept the challenge, don’t put conditions on who you’ll help and who you won’t.  Raise the bar on compassion.  Kindness.  Tolerance.  Embrace your fellow travelers.  Meet them eye to eye.  Carry the placard.  Wear the colors.  Pin on the badge.  But don’t force your beliefs down the throats of others. This is not a persuasive approach.  Don’t cloud the issues with misplaced anger.  This just creates mindless noise.  Be humble. Not sanctimonious.  Charitable.  Not complacent.  Be a leader when called upon.  And a follower when the time is right.  But most importantly, be a man that everyone wants in their corner.

10. Take care of yourself.  Do whatever it takes.  All the days of your life.  Not just physically.  But mentally.  And spiritually.  Do it for yourself.  And for all the people who love you.  Be active in every arena of your life.  Find your sport. Get out there and move.  Join a team.  Or go it alone.  Play hockey.  Or a round of golf.  Walk the dog.  Or chase the kids.  It’s all good.  Learn to cook and eat well. Spend time looking inwards.  Take a moment for introspection.  Meditate.  Pray.  Go for walks alone with your thoughts.  Get to know yourself.  And “to thine own self be true.”  Do these things and you will be the man we all love.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Hitting one out of the park.

I can feel it.  Spring is definitely in the air.  But even better, summer is just around the corner.  And with that notion comes all the paraphernalia of summer.  Lighter brighter sweeter clothes made from cotton and other carefree fabrics. Red toenails and colorful rubber flip flops.  The summer toys are brought out of the  basement, back shed or garage.  Things with wheels and pedals.  Things designed for the water and hot sandy beaches.  Games that are synonymous with sunshiny days and long warm evenings are played.  Racquets, bats and balls of all description.  This is the season when my favorite sport is played.  Baseball.

Let’s make something perfectly clear right up front.  I am not the athletic type.  Sporty Spice I am not.  I don’t gravitate towards playing team sports of any sort.  I’m a loner when it comes to anything even remotely athletic.  Running.  Walking.  Yoga.  Skip to my Lou. That’s about as close as I get to being an athlete.  But there’s just something about baseball that I like.  And I think it has something to do with The Old Man.

Little back story.  I never thought of The Old Man as terribly athletic either.  Despite what the black and white photos of his younger self reveal.  I only recall a man with a round girth and skinny white bowed legs.  But he did love sports.  In particular, hockey and baseball.   Back in the day, when homes had one television set, Saturday nights were  Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing but.  You could always count on him to be sitting front row and centre, glued to the television set for the two solid hours the game was televised on the CBC.  A bag of Old Dutch potato chips, sour cream and onion dip, and a large bottle of Pepsi at his side.  It was loud.  Raucous. And grating on the nerves.  Ma would often busy herself in the kitchen.  Some Saturday nights I would take refuge in the bedroom I shared with my older sister, if she happened to be out for the evening.  Otherwise, I would sit in the living room in the cozy chair next to the fake fireplace and read.  It was like Ma and I were held captive for those two hours.  Prisoners of Hockey Night in Canada.  But in a strange way, I think I actually wanted to be close to The Old Man on Saturday Nights.  Figure out a way to share his passion and excitement for the game.  Or maybe I just wanted some chips and dip and a tall glass of Pepsi.

Four things came out of those Saturday night sessions with The Old Man.  A lifelong craving for junk food.  A preference for Pepsi over Coke.  An ability to block out ambient noise.  And a love for reading, especially fiction.

On Saturday nights, while lost in a book, I learned to filter all those shrill sounds, the extraneous racket and cacophony blaring from the television set.  I retreated to the world of make-believe and fiction.  I became a mental escape artist.  A cerebral Houdini.  This ability has served me well over the years.  It has been particularly helpful when working in open-concept environments where you can hear everything and everyone. Including the pin drop.  But when necessary, I can press the mute button.  And hear nothing except the sounds within. I’m grateful for this gift, compliments of The Old Man and Hockey Night in Canada.  To this day, I hear the Theme Song and my mind goes to another place.  I switch off.

Baseball on the other hand, is a different game all together.  There is just something about the understated elegance of this sport that appeals to me.  Whereas the hockey nights were filled with shouting, cursing and bellowing at the television set, watching baseball was much more civilized.  Baseball wasn’t intrusive and never monopolized an entire night.  There was no such thing as Saturday Night Baseball, at least not back then.  Plus, during baseball season I could go outside and play with the neighborhood kids while The Old Man watched the game.  I wasn’t trapped inside a small wartime house in the dead of winter with nowhere to run.

Another redeeming quality of baseball was that there were no theme songs that involved a full-on brass section.  No trumpets blaring.  Drums pounding.  Chests beaten. The only baseball song I knew was Take me Out To the Ballgame.  That charming little ditty was universally loved, and whistled, for its sheer unpretentious and innocent hokey corniness.  That’s what I loved about it.  Then and now.

Music and civility aside, there are a few other reasons I preferred baseball over hockey.  First of all, it was warm when you played.  You didn’t have to wear tons of clothing and balance yourself on lace-up boots with blades.  A spontaneous street game could start right in front of your house, at any time on any given day. It was uncomplicated with straightforward rules. All you needed was a ball and a bat.  If you had a glove.  That was a bonus but not necessary to play the game.  And everyone was welcome.  Including girls. Today girls play all kinds of  team sports. But that wasn’t the case back then.

Aside from the friendly neighborhood scrub ball, I played on our school’s all-girl softball team.  I didn’t have to try out to make the team.  We all got in.  It was part of the grade eight P.E. curriculum.  Most of us weren’t very good.  But we enjoyed ourselves just the same.  We played against the other grade eight teams in our town.  And lost most of our games.  But that wasn’t the point.  What mattered was, we got to play.  There were some girls on the team who actually knew what they were doing.  And I recall we had a pretty good pitcher.  They admired them from afar.

I performed badly under pressure.  If I even caught a sniff that the opposing pitcher could actually throw the ball I was a goner.   And if it turned out they could throw like a boy I was dead in the water.  Struck out.  One, two, three.  I was okay in the outfield though.  It was pretty quiet and safe.  Not a lot of action but it offered an interesting outlying perspective.  Mostly I chewed gum and spat.  It was fun being a Tomboy.  And at the end, win or lose, it was glorious to be out there with the other girls playing this beautiful inclusive game.

The Old Man receiving his Bicentennial Medal for community dedication and service.

The Old Man shared his love of the game with me.  And it didn’t even necessitate consuming junk food.  For years, he had been deeply involved with Little League in our town.  In fact, he was one of the guys who got it started.  In 1984, in celebration of the Ontario Bicentennial Year, the Minister of Northern Affairs Leo Bernier awarded my father, along with 42 other folks from our town, a medal for Exemplary Community Dedication and Service.  The medal was given to me after he died.  I never realized at the time, the significance of his contribution to the game in our little town.  I never thought of him as the kind of guy who had a positive and worthwhile impact on the lives of others.  At least not to this degree. He was The Old Man for God’s sake.  A medal?  But now as I look at it, hanging from the red, blue and yellow ribbon, I am proud.  Very proud Dad.

I have fond memories of going to the ball field with The Old Man.  He used to Umpire the games.  I’d sit in the weather-beaten wood bleachers and watch.  Girls had come just far enough to be able to play ball at school and on the street, but not in the Little League.  There weren’t many fans or spectators.  Back then parents didn’t go to watch their kids’ games.  The boys would walk or ride their bikes to the field and play.  And when the game was over they took their gloves and went home.  It was so poetically simple.

I watched as The Old Man leaned in behind the batter at home plate.  Proudly wearing his Ump’s mask and black vest.  To me, he looked just like the real thing.  A pro.  This was a whole other side to him that we rarely saw.  He was confident. Tough. Spirited. And oddly athletic.  This experience was nothing like the Saturday Night in Hockey nights.  It was the complete opposite.  I was fully engaged in the game.  Lost in the warm sunny evenings.  The smell of dusty canvas base bags and chalk powder.  Green grass and young boys covered in dirt stains and glowing sweat.  Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.  Wood on leather.  Cheers and shouts.  You’re safe.  You’re out.  Strike.  Ball.  Batter up.  Batter out.  Loss.  Or victory.  Always good sportsmanship.  Handshakes all around.  Better luck next time Buddy.

The last game I remember going to with The Old Man was during the summer between grade eight and high school.  Everything changed after that.  He continued to umpire games for years afterwards.  In fact, the same year that he received the Bicentennial Medal, my first marriage ended.  Badly.  I was a hot mess.  And that’s putting it politely.  We separated in April and by May I had packed up my two kids and travelled a thousand miles  to that little wartime house in the west end of town.  Ma and The Old Man welcomed us with open arms, unconditional love and above all no judgement.

It was the start of Little League Season when we arrived.  My son, who loves sports just like his grandfather, embraced the idea of playing.  The Old Man got him onto a team, and what could have been the worst of all possible summers, was made enjoyable by his participation in this sport.

All decked out in his green and white uniform and ready to play.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that summer.  Some memories are better left unearthed.  But I do recall going to watch one of my son’s games and thinking how marvelous he was.  How he looked like the real thing in his little green and white uniform.  A pro.  Just like his grandfather.  Then I remember how grateful I was to The Old Man for taking him under his wing.  And for putting some fun into a young boy’s  summer.  I was also grateful that The Old Man got to do something with my son that he was never able to do with me.  Umpire one of his games.

Footnote: My son told me today that he remembered two things about that baseball summer with his Grandpa.  He hit a home run out of the park.  And his grandpa called him safe at home when he was obviously out.  I love that The Old Man couldn’t be impartial when it came to his Grandson. I think he was that way when it came to me as well.