Nov 29, 2011

The Man Behind the Dad

If I could always be as good a Man as I am a Dad…

Why is it that a ferry ride with my children is 90 minutes of fun, frolic and exploration, while a ferry ride alone is alone at the computer work station? With the boys I’m on the deck (whether they want to or not), looking for whales, leaning into the wind, racing bow to stern, tasting salt and sun. On my own it’s a blah video or Sports section from the recycle bin and a bag of Cheezies.

Why do I laugh so much more with my boys? Whoop, act silly, invent voices and songs, create, destroy, create some more. Snuggle, dream, cry, fight, flight, as alive and changing as the ocean. On my own I work, I converse, produce, consume, balance, as steady and secure as a pond.

Why do I have so much more discipline when I’m with my boys? Healthy food, ethical purchases, no screen time, exercise, leave the car in Park, go to the park instead of the movies, move instead of sitting, sit close instead of comfortable. On my own I stop by the bakery, watch part of the game, sneak into the peanut butter jar and hop into the car just because it’s raining.

Why does my body get younger when I’m with my young? Together we run, skip, wrestle, lift, squeeze, peek under and leap over, lift and build and break and fix. I can sleep in the most contorted, claustrophobic, sweaty positions pinned under my snoring snotty boys. On my own I sit more, lumber more than leap, and sleep deep and expanded and perfect, pillow fluffed, alone.

Someday I’ll be as good a Man as my children think I am. As good a Man as I am in front of, because of, and through them. I’ll be Me just for Me. Then their job of raising me will be done.

Nov 27, 2011

Professor Ricky

I've been re-born this weekend as Teacher Extraordinaire. Or at least extra-ordinary in terms of scope.
Friday morning - grade one at Sunrise Waldorf
Friday afternoon - lecture about fundraising and campaigning to a non-profit management course at Vancouver Island University
Saturday morning - workshop about Dynamic Governance to a group of Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland co-op/co-housing folk at OUR Ecovillage and livestreaming online
Monday morning - lecture about sustainability to the Global Stewardship students at Capilano University

Beyond having to check my identity to remember what I'm supposed to be knowledgeable about for each group, it's a great reminder of how much I love teaching. Sharing what I've picked up along the way, being challenged by learners with different perspectives and experiences (the governance workshop became a true exploratory dialogue about the difference between consensus and consent), and being forced to consolidate my ideas into a tangible, usable product.

Feedback has ranged from "You are AWESOME and FUNNY and NICE and FUN" (grade 2 parent) to "Your presentation absolutely blew me away and was one of the best presentations I have heard in a very long time. You are so passionate about what you do and it was made extremely clear to all of us." (VIU student). It always feels good to be competent at something, and to believe that the effort of going all the way to North Vancouver and back tomorrow will actually make a difference for someone.

But mostly it's about connection. Being in a room of people who care about the narrow and sometimes odd topic I'm presenting. Let's face it, Governance is not the sexiest topic to most people, but to those 20 people on Saturday morning it was fascinating and we all enjoyed exploring and debating it. My "Can We Trust Africans" talk tomorrow might just ruffle some feathers at a party, but to a group of aspiring international development professionals it's a frontal assault on their belief systems that just might change how they shape their careers. Just like a Star Trek convention (where, by the way, the 7th floor is reserved for kinky sexual escapades by trekkies and aliens in full costume and green skin), facilitating a discussion with a group of people just as into leadership or governance or development as me is a huge turn-on.

One of several paths I'm contemplating these days is to go back into a doctoral program, with a research interest centred on sustainability (financial and operational) of international development projects. It would open the way to some international field research with my family, and to more of this teaching stuff. It's a new idea, but a return to an old passion for sharing knowledge and prompting insight. Rutabega Rick just might become Professor Rick one of these days. And for the grade one students who just couldn't get their mouths around "Mr. Juliusson", Mr. Rick.

Nov 23, 2011

Obama: Occupy the Whitehouse

Obama, your people are here. In the streets, in the media, in loud strong voices of unity demanding change. We're out here occupying; where are you?

Where is the man who electrified the world with a promise of real, deep change? Not just doing things a bit better, but deep changes to a society in dire need of an overhaul. Over 69 million Americans voted for this vision, for this man of vision, this man we believed would do something different. The hopeful people at Nobel gave him a premature prize just for the promise that he represented.

But when the going got tough in Washington, he became a man of compromise. A man of incremental change. Yes he's better than Bush, but that's not the lowly target he promised us he'd shoot for. He seems more intent on pacifying the centrists and getting voted back in than in working for what he supposedly deeply believed in.

But now's his chance. The 99% are standing up demanding change. What if, instead of hiding from his people and ignoring the slow crack-down on their freedom and voice, what if instead he went down to Wall Street? Pitched a tent, listened and shared and imagined a new way together. Then went back and used that power to make it happen. These are the same people he promised the world to - now that we're demanding it, he's just slipped away.

Occupy, Obama. Occupy that White House we elected you to. Take that oval office and tilt it on its end and spin it like there's no tomorrow. Or rather, like there's a tomorrow that you're ready to stake your legacy on. No, you probably won't win another election this way, but you probably won't by taking the safe path either. At least this way you'll go down in history as a man who really did shake things up and went down swinging.

We gave you the power in 2008 to change the world. Now we're taking to the streets to back you up in exercising that power. We're not a threat; we're your support. We're your people. Take the energy of Occupy, the power of a people fed up with the status quo, and use that energy to finally become the President. Don't let the tea party or bankers or the economy stand in your way; just do it. Take a look at what Stephen Harper's managed to do with a minority government in Canada - you could have so much more power to do good, if you'd just take it.

Think of the swift and unequivocal support you gave to the people behind the Arab Spring. When the people there demanded justice and a responsive government, you backed them 100%. But when your own people stand up to demand the same, you turn away. Watch this video, Obama, and see your own hypocrisy. Your own fear to be the man we voted for. The President who truly represents the people and lives up to his promises.

Take back the office, Obama. Occupy your white house. Before it's too late.

Nov 19, 2011

Voting just because i Can

I just voted. For whom isn't important (really, it isn't read on). The important thing is that I got in my car after kids' bedtime, drove through a cold winter-starry night and did my civic duty. For really no other reason than it's my civic duty.

We only had one candidate for our area director position (and luckily I like him). And we had 10 candidates vying for 9 school board positions (in a public school system my kids don't even attend). So very little was riding on my vote.

But we live in a country where we can vote, freely, safely, and sometimes even to some effect. And there's no more important way to protect that right than to exercise it. This is the first time I've ever voted without taking my children along, which I regret, but we still as a family cherish and honour that right and duty to vote. Even when it seems it doesn't matter.

Nov 13, 2011

Oh Friend, Where Art Thou?

When it comes to friendships, it's quality that matters over quantity, right? Sometimes I'm not so sure. I've got plenty of both, and still sometimes wonder where all my friends are. And (to use a very clever turn of words), I don't think I'm alone in this feeling.

In terms of quality, I've got many people who appreciate and enjoy me, and a lovely group of people who know and appreciate Me at a deeper level. The latter are people whom I know I can turn to, who'll accept Me regardless of where I'm at or what I've done, who "get" how the sometimes disparate and random parts of me do somehow integrate into a cohesive Rick.

As for quantity, since moving to the valley I've found myself investing more of myself and my time into a smaller circle of friends. Perhaps it's from becoming more confident, or perhaps finally "getting it" myself, but I've truly understood that I can't, don't want to, and oughtn't to try to reach that deepest level of connection and intimacy with everyone in the world.

But there's another dimension of quantity that I've been puzzling over, and that's time. My friend's marital counselor says that married couples need 16 hours of time together each week to maintain and grow their relationship (yes, 16!). How much time does a friendship need?

This musing started as a lamentation over the fact that I've had basically zero private time with my closest friends since, oh, probably last spring. We agree to a walk or an after-drop-off cinnamon bun "soon", then it never happens. One dear friend emailed me 2 months ago, "I do not want for busy lives to mean that we do not take time to be with each other to catch up and stay connected." Since then we've tried to set even 20 minutes to sit together several times, but have yet to make it happen.

On bad days I take these personally; but really I do understand that it's not indicative of lack of love or intention, and that I'm just as guilty of over-programming as they are. But I do have to wonder, as my friend does above, what it does to our connection.

I see these friends all the time, mostly in the school parking lot where there's time for a good hug, a quick "how's life" exchange, maybe even an extra 5 minutes as the parent crowd disperses. That's enough to stay in each others' lives, but not enough to share truly deep joys and pains at any substantive level. I truly love the 8:30 and 3:00 exchanges, but also need to peel back other layers of me that would just get too chilly and exposed in the school parking lot.

So where does that level of sharing take place? In a world where all of us share this complaint and pressure, are any of us getting this need met outside of (hopefully) our marriages and blogs?

My dear wife gets even less daily interaction than I do. But she does get to be part of a few monthly circles that I'm not privy to. When she comes home she's radiant, having soaked up and spilled out a full month's worth of personal sharing and connection. Even though she never tells me what was talked about, I vicariously feel re-connected to our mutual friends, absorb some of the overflow and feel warm and somewhat satiated.

I don't, of course, actually get any closer to knowing what's going in my friends' lives and hearts and souls, not do they enter mine. And in a community where none of us seem to have time for one-on-one dates, where these circles serve as one of the only opportunities for such sharing, it does leave me on the outside trying to find some other meaningful social pattern.

In the absence of circle membership and daytime dates, where do I have ongoing healthy relationships? In the parking lot. With longer-term consulting clients. In committee meetings and volunteer gigs. While building a bedroom with my contractor. With the neighbourhood association. In a monthly potluck party. On the shared drive to yoga.

In other words, my social life and connection comes through Doing. And that is what I was told about this valley when we first moved here - people are much more likely to be together at a barn-raising than a sit-down dinner. And the irony is, that's more my style anyways.

I openly admit to coveting women's circles, but truth be told I wouldn't want to be in one every month. Friends in Austin couldn't drag me to a group that met every week to scream and cry and hug each other. And as much as I'm craving a one-on-one tea date, I wouldn't want to have to plan every Monday to open up some new deep inner wound, or Joy, as my main connection. I want to know what's going on inside my friends to and to share that in me, but in a way that freely flows while puffing up Mt. Tzouhalem or tossing pumpkins to the cows or leaning on a shopping cart.

So it turns out that this posting is a bit complaint but more acceptance. Complaint that I don't hear enough of the big and little things in my friends' lives. That while I may not be a second-tier friend, I am on a second-tier communication rung to which important bits don't always filter down. And that this gap does put an extra strain on maintaining connection.

But this is much more an acceptance, even a celebration. That social circle I uncovered a few paragraphs up is real, and rich, and varied, and full of beautiful people who are intrigued and amused by me, in love and loved by me. If I needed help or an ear I know exactly who would drop everything to be that for me in an instant, even if we haven't shared hot chocolate since last winter.

And it's a call to action. A call to myself to continually appreciate what and who I have in my life, and to make the most of that. To fully grasp that, like pretty much anyone, the greatest quantity and quality of my social web is in the day-to-day little things, not just the cathartic climaxes. 5 minutes in the parking lot is gold, and doesn't need to be compared to anything else. The quick personal check-in before a committee meeting is real and meaningful connection, and the committee business that is then discussed in an environment of respect and trust is just as personal as the brownies that close the meeting.

I will still play the dayplanner juggling game with friends to enjoy an occasional tea or hike together, but will not measure the quality nor the quantity of my friendships by these dates. I will continue to share more and more of myself in these short, daily-life exchanges not because it's all I can get, but because that's what makes us real.

Nov 11, 2011

Selective Remembrance Day

I'm not wearing a poppy today. It's not that I don't want to remember and lament the needless loss of life of the fallen young soldiers. It's that in this national day of wearing poppies and simultaneously mourning/glorifying their deaths, we narrow the focus exclusively to the soldiers and forget the many more victims of war.

According to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civilian-to-soldier death ratio in wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, meaning ten civilian deaths for every soldier death.(1) So for every poppy I wear to mourn one soldier's death, I should wear another 10 flowers for the innocent lives lost.

And what flower should I wear for the innocent children who still pick up grenades hidden inside dolls? For the farmer who loses a leg to a mine in her own fields? For the women and girls who get raped and used as instruments of war? For the refugees who've lost their homes, their farms, everything they've ever built and relied upon to survive and fulfill their dreams?

And what plant would suffice as an emblem for the loss to society when so much money goes into the war machine instead of social services, destroying instead of building? For those children who grow educated in terror instead of in school? For the destroyed or never-developed infrastructure that the rural poor could have used to build a better life for their families?

But the poppy doesn't remember all this. According to "Help for Heroes," the poppy is "to show their support for the Armed Forces and their families." Even my beloved, progressive MP Jean Crowder has an online banner that spouts out the usual "Remembering the sacrifice and courage of veterans on November 11."

I guess Jean has to say that to stay in office, but I don't. As long as wearing a poppy is meant solely in honour of soldiers, I will not wear one. Instead, I'll wear a whole garden in remembrance of the loss to all of mankind through war, and weave a lifelong wreath of flowers that says Never Again.

# #

Last year I mused about remembering all soldiers, not just our country's - another facet of this selective memory.

(1) Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren, A Grim Portrait of Civilian Deaths in Iraq, New York Times 22-10-2010) Note that other sources show a lower proportion - World War II is estimated to have killed "only" 2 or 3 civilians for each combatant.

Nov 6, 2011

Sheep in the Shower

There's nothing like a sheep to bust up a baby shower. Our celebration for our friend was abruptly ended when a neighbour reported that her dog had once again chased one of her sheep over the edge of a steep embankment down to the side of the river. The group response reminded me again that I aint in Vancouver no more.

Rather than surprise, or annoyance at the party ending a bit early, or grunts over wasted time, the group simply (and eagerly) rallied around what needed to be done. This would be much more fun than charades! One man went home for his kayak in case we ended up in the river. Another grabbed two 75-metre climbing ropes to hoist the sheep back up from above, while two others volunteered to be at the bottom end of the deal, pushing the sheep up. The host of the party just happened to have a sheep harness.

The last time this happened, the owner explained, she and one other friend pushed the sheep in and swam her upstream to a place where the bank was less steep. "It only took two hours, but the river's too high this time," she apologized.

Talk also revolved around what to do with that "stupid dog" who can't now be re-trained (my advice being to stop calling him stupid if you want to find a new home for him.) We've been thinking about getting a dog since our raccoon/mink episodes last spring, so I received lots of training tips, strong advice to get a puppy, and stronger advice (from the owner herself) not to take this dog.

As we rushed out to the rural excitement of rescuing a lost animal, we did manage to give a quick final hug to the mom-to-be, calling over our shoulders, "Try not to push that thing out before we get back with the sheep!"

I live in a community where neighbours have the know-how, time, equipment, and willingness to pull a sheep back up the river-bank at the end of a baby shower. In fact, as the only person who hasn't lived in this hamlet for at least the last 15 years, I think I was the only one laughing at the absurd beauty of the whole situation. Thank God I'm (becoming) a country boy.