Standing at my kitchen window several times a day either pouring coffee or drinking filtered well water, I like to take in the depth and expanse of the view and count myself lucky for being able to live on hundreds of acres of bush minutes from the airport. I can get anywhere in Ottawa in under 30 minutes. I have made it downtown to Parliament Hill in twenty-five on a Saturday morning.

After ma died in 2014, we found refuge here after selling our house in small town Cobourg so we could be near my father in his final years. Missus was at Sick Kids in Toronto with her Little Bear having his critical heart procedure. I’d gone ahead to Ottawa to find us a place and after staying at my brothers for not even two weeks, this old homestead fell into my lap.

Bought in a land-assembly for a possible future subdivision, it’s old and run-down. Though, a kindly and conscientious owner did an adequate job getting it ready for tenants after it had sat empty for some time. The place is far from perfect: it is perfect for us. I’ll stay as long as I can.

I didn’t tell missus I’d rented this house. It was one she suggested I look at, whiling away the hours helping with the search while attending to the boy with daughter in tow. Instead, when she left Sick Kids and her room at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto for the last time, I just gave her an address. They arrived on the day in question before I did because I was still out visiting farms setting energy rates.  I’d unpacked a 28-foot van by myself all night the Sunday/Monday before. Nothing was put away. I had been sleeping on a mattress and decided the respectful thing to do was let the lady of the house decide how she wanted everything set up. At least, that’s my story of good intentions.

As I arrived, the children, who were five and almost three at the time, swarmed me, insisting on showing me around in their excitement, not realizing I’d been living there a week. It was the sweetest charade. Little girls teach men about love and Charlie showed me all the features she liked including a six-or so-foot pond chock full of frogs and critters. Every rock of any size had a yellow-sided garter snake under it with the odd red-sided one too.

We get to keep whatever animals we like, can even clear land and plant bigger crops if I was so inclined. That’s a bit too much work for me but I love our expanding organic garden in summer. And chickens. Farm fresh eggs are a true wonder of nature. Boil them up after a week or so in the fridge and the white part is firm and full like a soft meat. I’m an egg man and having chickens has been in the works for ages. I almost took my chances with By-Law and put some in my yard in Toronto before we moved to Cobourg. Now that we have had them a few years, I don’t think I’ll ever live in the city again if I can help it.

Looking out today, I spot a chicken stuck in the snow. We just got a dump of about a foot of soft stuff and the chickens are coming out to eat and heading right back into the coop. We have old hens, some in their egg-laying prime, a mature rooster named Little Dude, some immature hens and immature roosters, and two chickens who have just left their mother within the last two weeks or so.

I sat there admiring the chickadees dive bombing my feeder for oiled sunflower seeds. I can see two red squirrels gorging on their spillage. A group of five immature roosters and hens are hanging around in the shed, out of the wind while pecking through the gravel. Concerned red feathered hen hasn’t moved for five minutes has me mentioning it to the kids. “Looks like one of the Rhode Island Reds is stuck in the snow over the frozen pond,” I say. The kids are curious and quickly pull up a bench beside me —one I salvaged from my dad’s place, from the same set of benches where my nine brothers and sisters and I sat as children—and hop up to see. They see it out at the frozen over pond. It doesn’t move, 15 minutes.

“Who wants to go get that chicken and check on it? ” I say. Nothing. It’s a cold day, bitter cold. I paraphrase the same message. Nothing. “Who will go?” I repeat, getting specific. Nothing.

“I will give you ten cents” I say, remembering I picked up an American dime up off the floor somewhere in the house that morning. I pulled it out of my pocket and slap it down on the counter, at least as much as a dime slaps.

Mild interest.

“Which one of you will go and RESCUE that chicken & SAVE ITS LIFE?”

“I WILL,” says the boy. “I WILL TOO,” says daughter. “I’m a SUPERHERO,” adds the boy. I just needed the right wording looks like.

I help them get dressed. By now, their collective enthusiasm has turned competitive, each trying to get out the door before the other and be the one who rescues the chicken. I hold them back by the jacket sleeves and make sure they are adequately dressed. Off they go. I return to my window.

They race the fifty or so feet to the bird. It remains still, unusual for a chicken. Charlie picks it up gently and on the way to the coop Howie takes over. I see them put it back with the others. I’d be out later with the snowblower to give the birds a better run but had shoveled some space that morning during feeding.

Ten minutes later, there’s Howie walking around with the red hen. They are returning to the house and the boy still has a bird cradled in his arms. When they get inside, I realize it’s a different red hen. They found her in trouble and knew to bring her in. It’s one of the new birds and she’s in trouble alright, ice has formed on her feet. She’s immobile but blinking.

Missus steps in and dons her gloves. She’s not optimistic. I think it’s good for the kids and so, as a team they attend to the stricken member of the flock. She’s blistered up bad. Missus predicts her feet could turn black and fall off. I remind her of Daphne.

Daphne was one of our first birds and a rescue. Some gal closer to the city had been cited by the authorities and needed the birds gone. Missus is a hustler that way, only Daphne had a badly infected foot. Despite miraculous care by missus, the bird pulled that foot up and never used it again. She hopped around for two years. She was the bird I made sure to toss bread scraps to first and picked up in the snow while helping her move from the chicken yard to the shed and back in winter. She laid eggs as regularly as the others too. She sort of got used to us handling her here and there, like she knew. Missus had saved her and she was our underdog chicken, if there is such a thing.

Sadly, I came home from work last spring to an eerily silent yard only to find a great Marsh Hawk eating her while the others cowered under the far spruce tree. I chased it off but it was too late. Missus had resurrected that bird as surely as if she was God and if she wasn’t a hen, we could have called her Jesus.

I had tremendous faith in missus before but the care she showed this bird reminded me why I agreed to let her have my children. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised yet I think it’s good practice: we should reserve more than a little awe for each other whenever we can. Nevertheless, Daphne would never be quick enough to evade a hungry bird of prey moving through in springtime. Nature is like that.

So, there is a bird in my laundry room once again. By now, we have a system of sorts, though each time it’s a bit different as context demands. It just means we have equipment like cages and puppy pads and fences and overhead warming lights if needed. My gal is a pro at it now. Daughter Charlie wants to be a vet. We opened an educational savings account for her in case. She helps her ma. She pets bees in summer.

It took Charlotte almost a year to realize we were eating some of the rabbits we were raising. She came to me last summer, “Daddy, I know sometimes we turn the chickens into meat, but I would not like it if we do that with the bunnies anymore,” said in that quiet little-girl-voice, looking at me as if everything she believed about me and in me was on the line. Little girls teach men about love. We have three pet rabbits now and she feeds them and lets them out every morning. Chinese Zodiac says she was born in the year of the rabbit so there you go. Since rooster is my totem animal, after prolonged conversation and deliberation a couple of weeks ago, she has claimed the rabbit as hers.

But, this bird is hanging in there and I’m inclined to give it a couple of weeks. I may have to dispatch this little hen and I may not. If we can save her what a stance that is. It’s where we all live after all, right in between life and death. We think we have time, but the truth is none of us do.

It’s the Daphne precedent, you see.

Until those legs fall off completely, I want to give her a shot at life. If only one leg falls off, she’s still good, right? Missus is using low dose aspirin in her water dish to help her deal with the pain. She’s eating and drinking. Seems to be working. She’s not chirping constantly like she did in the yard. Missus disagrees, pragmatic soul she is.

I don’t know, maybe this little bird represents something bigger for me. For many years, I didn’t care for such things. More accurately, I couldn’t care for small mercies. I either didn’t know how or had forgotten what it meant. Maybe it’s just that you don’t get to be my age without realizing all of us are special. I’m not sure.

It was what my ma said to me in our last conversation. We managed to get her home and gave her a matriarch’s vigil her final two days. After much prayer and goodbyes, she went on a Friday afternoon, surrounded, touched and loved by her nine adult children while her husband of sixty-two years sat near her head holding her hand and whispering sweet reassurances. The family dog keened mournfully at the very moment she underwent the change at 4:30 pm.

The Monday prior, at the hospital while she was still lucid but in pain, for some time, alone, we had talked of things we had not before. We spoke of her service to her church and kindness to people. She’d had ten pregnancies in twelve years and remained faithful and dedicated to her church and all of us to the best of her ability. I told her I was leaving room in my life for mystery.  She had patted my hand, looked at me with the love and wisdom of the dying and said, “You’ve got to have a bit of faith, Christopher.”  

I do ma, for all our sake, I certainly do

I gave each of the kids a nickel. Canadian.

Stay powerful and never give up

©2019 CKWallace, all rights reserved


This reminds me sort ofLike when a relative hasA burdensome illness:Many treatments triedAnd recoveries attempted,Sometimes lasting years.And, in the end the familyResigns itself to the lossEventually. Last wishesAre granted, people comeTo say their final farewells.Maybe a place the personWanted to see before theyDie. Like a last Christmas,Birthday, or a christening,Baptism or marriage ofA son or […]


I’m watching my father die off slowly. Here he is
in his new home at the Perley-Rideau Veterans Home,
a facility built from the former Rideau Veterans Home.
That was where his father died.

Where he held my grandfather’s hand, right to the end
at age 98, feeling the life in his father leave him hoping
for a sign, of some kind of reconciliation between them.
But no, it never came.

And now, my father will die near where his father died,
the burden between them intact. May it die with him.
I kept making comparisons to how he was,
yesterday, as I sat on his bed beside him.

After finding a sock and squeezing his swollen feet
into his ill-fitting moccasins, he looked at me.
For a minute, I didn’t know if he would hit me,
his face angry so long it easily falls into menace.

I imagined the block I would use to protect myself,
unsure if he knew who I was, though he had patted
my shoulder moments before as I struggled with his feet.
Red, blistered skin flaking in decomposition.

But, suddenly, a twinkle appeared in his eye
and like as a child, I was safe once more.
It’s always been like that with dad.
You just never know.

© August, 2019

KILLING SPIDERS: A Metaphor for Marriage

KILLING SPIDERS: A Metaphor for Marriage
As a boy, I lived with my two brothers in my parent’s basement. Dad had the old man who lived next door put up some walls to divide up some of the space. No ceiling, just open rafters and cement floor. It was full of spiders.

They were everywhere. Of course, mostly you’d see them at night but practically anything left undisturbed for a day or so might hide one. Touch something in the basement and one would scurry off madly. Any corner with a bit of dust in it and chances there was also a cobwebbed hideout holding one of these predators.

I had difficulty sleeping from a young age and often stayed up reading. Out they’d come in the night. It got so I would stare at the page of a book and suddenly get a “sense,” a Spidey-sense call it, where I somehow knew there was one nearby. Like the feeling you get sometimes when someone is staring at you. You look around and, sure enough, some dolt is fixated upon you with bulging eyes as if they’d been at it for some time. It was like that, a little unsettling. A human you can stare back, with a spider, it’s just… a little spooky.

Whenever it came to me in the night, I could lift my eyes from the pages in front of me and in the dim light, see a spider somewhere near, hanging down from its thread of silk, ready to explore my bed. Sometimes it was inches from my head. Right there.

Or, I’d look at one of the walls and let my eyes linger, searching the wood chips in the press board, until I found the crawler which had summoned my attention, hiding there somewhere, in play sight.

Years later, I thought I’d put this all behind me. I was long gone from the basement with its eight-legged denizens and had lived in many places since.

Now, as a married man, for some reason it returned.  Missus had been her family’s eldest, coming as she did from a Northern Ontario mix of French and English parents. She was… outdoorsy, and pretty much fearless.

I’m not sure how it happened first. I suspect she encountered a spider and I demurred somehow. Perhaps, I only hesitated.  It’s my conjectured recollection she may have seized the moment to act. She was competitive that way. Perhaps, I’d already told her of the basement. I don’t remember.

I’m sure I did later or at some point. Likely, I had at a time we were both high, the drugs or booze fueling a prattling on about ancient nonsense. The eeriness of those spider encounters late at night while under the influence of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Herbert and others would have been hard to resist retelling.

My father had gone through a sci-fi stage in the later 1960s and early 1970s. He read a couple hundred of these paperbacks and they were left around for his nine children. It was a time when our family had a bookcase in every room, even the kitchen. I read them all, not exactly an antidote to sleeplessness, but still.

It was much later, after going in during 1981 and spending all 1982 inside, and when I’d been transferred from the penitentiary to the farm camp next door, that dad came by for a visit. He brought his whole sci-fi collection and donated them to the meager library there. It was pure escapism, something the guys were thanking me for to the end of my bit.

So, however it happened, my missus at the time took over spider duty, and looking back, she seemed to relish this power over me. Blinded by self-importance, overlooking my own shortcomings, what at first was an acknowledgement of her courage at breaking stereotypes, well-intentioned but misguided idealism,  experimenting with role reversal after the social movements of the 1970s, it soon became an self-emasculating indulgence of male weakness.

See, I let her kill the spiders. Then, and going forward. All of them.

I could have killed spiders. I knew how. I’d killed many of them, maybe hundreds in my time. But I let her persuade me with false concern. It was, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” and up she’d jump with her winning smile to take care of the critter before I could give it another thought. It seemed harmless.

And, to me it was just a fucking spider, for fuck’s sake. “Look, if you want to kill the spider have at it,” I thought, slightly amused even. But it meant something else to her.

And, the more she was willing to kill spiders, the more I was willing to placate her. I felt obligated to be grateful. I played along. She was doing something for me it seems, and so I should be thankful. I was still essentially a polite Canadian boy.

It was part of my nice-guy syndrome. In those days, I championed people around me but with a covert contract in mind: when I tell you you are great, hopefully you will do the same for me. I’ll feel liked, even loved for it. Nothing for nothing. I faked my appreciation, as if it mattered, for her sake I told myself.

I didn’t have the self-worth to stand my ground. I sensed the con but stuffed it. What was I thinking? The tune goes, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, t’was blind, but now I see.” Hindsight.

For men are not loved for not killing spiders. This was a gambit that was ass-backwards. I’d fallen into a trap. I’d been given just enough rope with which to hang myself. I’d been led down the garden path. Like Tony The Waiter said, “Anyone can be walked, Chris, it’s just a matter of approach.” I was being walked. I was walking myself.

I’d been closed using my own words. For now, she had a weakness she could point to. She could use it as a token, a gambling chit, for leverage. She had constructed an Ace gaff for the Ace lock to my status. She could turn her counterfeit key and empty me at will, like the coinbox on a pay washing machine.

But what did I know at 25 or 30? Not much. I was too busy making sure I wasn’t killed that week, less worried about my image in front of her. I had not yet learned that women cannot abide a weak man, no more than a man can abide a disloyal woman. I needed pain to learn the universal pact between these energies. And, suffer I would.

For a woman can sense weakness in a man from afar. Using all the powers of her practicality, verbal skills, double-hemispheric thinking, and acute intuition, she can sniff it out like a cadaver dog looking for a body. Abuse of empathy is her birthright.

She maneuvers covertly, gathering intelligence,  watching and recording patterns, divulging only as much as needed to serve her pragmatism. Glad-handing, she can draw out her mark like a carney running a midway joint. She can run close interpersonal game as well as a politician can game the public.

And when she confirms weakness, she will sometimes tell you. You have heard me say this kind of woman is exceedingly rare, a unicorn in fact. It’s far more likely she will either rub salt in the wounds of your weakness or hold you in silent contempt.

General truth: Women don’t fuck men who don’t kill spiders for them.

In fact, it gets much worse. Killing spiders is a minor but fair representation of a man’s usefulness to a woman. Part of his power, but also of his expendability. Killing a Black Widow or Brown Recluse is not her risk to take. It’s ours, us men, because better we than she.

Give me a hundred years of feminism, that fact won’t change. Not now, not likely ever. Why would it? Self-interest is paramount.

No one should lament this lopsided arrangement. It is just how things are. She is more precious as the carrier of life. Who am I to question these forces? What hubris do I require to tell the universe it is wrong?

If you were going to bet, should you take odds based on a social movement embraced by a tiny minority for at most a century, more like a few decades? Or, should you go long on your investment based on Mother Nature herself?

I take nature. I wager on the force which says there are a hundred million stars in the Andromeda Galaxy and shut my mouth. You know what else? We lack awe. All of us. It took a long time to get things working as well as they do, why fuck with it? It took forever to train men to be married men, let’s not go off the rails now. We need to see ourselves as smaller in the the grander scheme of things. Awe, more awe.

My first marriage didn’t last. Big picture says that’s predictable, but you never know. Having trouble at home? Who kills the spiders?

My current missus is afraid of spiders. That is, her sister is afraid of spiders and the more she visits over the last 13 years, the more missus has become an arachnophobe. That’s fine with me.

I just don’t want the fear of spiders transferred to my children. So, I teach them about spiders, about all kinds of bugs. Practically every jar or plastic dish in my house has been co-opted as bug carrier. The kids are both fine, they think bugs are cute. Daughter calls them pets. Poor kids, I should get them a dog.

And, when that familiar shriek sounds out at home, I know what’s up. I like being relied upon and I don’t fail her. I have a Pseudo-Scorpion living in my bathroom behind the mirror who preys upon the drain flies which peak in numbers in the summer. It’s too cool to kill.

Other times, I’ve acted more drastically, especially when the cold of fall sends scurrying critters indoors for shelter.  Strolling over leisurely to capture her spider, I have looked at her and crushed it in my bare fist. Then walked away to wash my hand off, ignoring her reaction.

Me and the missus? All I can tell you is things are good at my house. Good indeed.

Stay powerful.

© Christopher K. Wallace, Jan, 2019 all rights reserved


Tough Love

I was drying out in the Civic Hospital. It was back in the early 1980s during the AIDS scare, but long before the discovery of Hepatitis C in 1989. I was in an isolation room as a precaution. So much was unknown then.

My liver markers were all off: leucocytes, reticular counts, liver function tests and bilirubin. I was also quite jaundiced and tired. Things were catching up with me.

Lying alone in my single room in the middle of the day, I was surprised when Ma popped in unannounced. I hadn’t seen her for a while so it was a mystery as to how she knew I was there.

She was her usual kind and accepting self, offering encouraging words and faithful support. But I noticed she was rushed, her answers short, a tension just under the surface of her demeanour that I couldn’t quite grasp and put a reason to.

After a few minutes, she told me to take care and that she was leaving, mentioning my father was outside waiting to see me. Of course, she didn’t give me enough time to ask why he hadn’t come in. She said goodbye and hurried out of the room.

As my gaze followed her out, she swung open the heavy door with its tiny porthole window common to the isolation ward. There I could see my father in rumpled suit jacket and tie, purposefully pacing back and forth in the hallway. Before I could say anything, she was gone and in he came.

I tried to say hello but he cut me off. Coming closer, he spoke with just a hint of some ill-defined emotion, the kind you might see when you can’t tell if the person is hurt or angry. He said something like this to me: “Christopher, if you keep living the way you are, surely, you are going to die…and soon. When you do, we will gather together as a family and mourn your passing. It will be our last goodbye. Afterwards, we will bury you and then… we’ll forget you.”

With that, he turned and walked out.

Admittedly, he’d caught me off guard. I was stunned. I was in a hospital after all. What a jerk, I thought. As the door closed behind him, the pressure in me rose. I railed internally with questions, invectives; the cussing in my mind going off like fireworks.

He had left right away, so it wasn’t like I could argue with him, making it even more frustrating. How absolutely unfair of him, I decried to myself.

Outraged, in my mind’s eye I saw myself in my hospital nightgown, following him down the hallway, demanding, what exactly did he mean by that whole “forget you” bit? And who was HE to be speaking for all of MY brothers and sisters? There are eight of them; had he done a poll? Was this all based on their consensus? I wanted to call them and check for myself.

The scene revolved continuously through my mind as I lay there on my bed, him long gone. I must have stayed steaming for quite a while, fuming to myself over the images. Mumbling at times out loud that it was none of his business, damn it, how I chose to live my life. This was my problem, not anyone else’s.

But in time, I calmed down. I couldn’t stay agitated forever. Eventually, my anger subsided enough to return to a kind of normal. My breathing slowed, my thinking became more introspective. The scene was still fresh in my mind. I kept going over its details: the way he’d left me there by myself; the harshness of his judgment and the finality of its imagery. Suddenly, I felt alone, very alone… and saddened by it all.

I thought about my sisters and brothers. Childhood images flashed by, with them as freckle-faced kids on adventures we’d shared. I was so hurt; I felt a clear and justified self-pity. It was cruel to come into someone’s hospital room—a real medical patient with real medical issues—and say stupid stuff. Anyone would sympathize with how wrong it was.

I felt sad, lonely, and sorry for myself, resigned even. It was all so depressing. As if I didn’t have enough problems.

The more I thought about it, I remembered the way my mother acted during her short visit. She was clearly preoccupied. She had gone through the motions of visiting, but betrayed a hidden agenda. It was then I realized my mother had been in on it from the start. It was a damn set up!

The nerve of her to come in here with her “sweet as a lamb” approach and then help him pull off this kind of bullshit. She was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s what she was!

Now I was mad again.

I could just imagine the two of them concocting their approach for maximum effect before arriving. “He’s in isolation?” he would have asked. She would have replied, “Yes, that’s what the others are telling me. Here’s the room number.”

Dad would have given marching orders: “You go in first; I’ll wait in the hallway. Don’t stay too long. I don’t want you making him feel any better.” She would have assented — like the devoted wife she was.

What a supreme jerk, I thought, envisioning how the whole scene played out in the car on the way over. The gig was up; I was on to them. That’s it, no more Mr. Nice Guy from me. They’re cut off!

After a while, having made that decision, I calmed down. My mind slowed its racing thoughts. My indignity had peaked and ebbed, like a tide of tension leaving shore for sea.

I felt alone again. Now, I was down. I felt it in my body, tired, sorry and sympathetic. It was sad, you see.

I imagined myself at a funeral, my own, watching all of my siblings mourn as they got ready to bury me. I could see my sisters crying in pain like they had when I’d been punished as a child — or like the time my father tossed me out of the house at age 15. I regretted I wouldn’t see them again, that I would have caused them pain. I was hurt, not for myself, but valiantly I thought, only for them.

That’s when I realized it was my father who was causing this anguish to befall my siblings. It was he who was making them turn their backs on me and to literally leave me in the dirt. It was he who was demanding once again the ultimate ostracism of one of his family members. Once more… what a jerk!

Now I was mad again.

The infinity loop

To be honest, I swung from one side of those emotions to the other for a long time after the incident at the hospital. I had no idea why; I guess I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I lacked the resources to give me a deeper understanding of my father’s intentions. Neither could I see the basis of how I was reacting to his attempt at tough love; as an effort to shock me into seeing my life as it was.

If I tell you a good joke, you will hopefully laugh. After a minute or two, you will stop laughing as your brain normalizes whatever incongruence made you see the funny.

If you watch a sad movie, you may be so moved by its story and characters that you weep. Once your tears are discharged as pent up tension, your body will adjust, return to some kind of equilibrium and crying will stop.

This is the familiar homeostasis at work on your emotions, returning them to a balanced state. Laughing at a joke or crying over a sad scene in a movie are times where we suspend our own personal disbelief to get the full emotion—laughter or tears—of a situation. In our personal lives, it’s less easily managed simply because we have more at stake: our sense of self.

So picture an infinity sign with two opposites of emotion on each of its ends: frustration, blaming, anger, etc., on one side; sadness, self-pity, depression, etc., on the other.

Something happens to trigger us emotionally. Start anywhere in the loop; it depends on the person.

Let say at first we become frustrated, angry, blaming or even fall into a rage. You can’t remain that way forever so in time we return along the eight towards our feelings centre—our internal balance.

However, since whatever triggered us wasn’t resolved, the pain remains… and staying in the centre is temporary. Instead, we might continue on to the other side of the loop, moving from frustration, blaming and anger to experiencing sadness, self-pity, depression, etc.  In turn, we can’t remain like that forever either. So at some point we return towards emotional neutral.

But again, since we weren’t able to resolve whatever it was that got us so upset, we think about it until we are angry again. This can go on for days, weeks, years even, where the cycle repeats over and over to exhaustion. Tony Robbins calls it the crazy 8.

It creates a tension inside us that craves relief, often an escape by whatever means necessary. Some go and get drunk; a way many choose to deal with emotionally charged events when lacking resources to respond in a more empowering way.

But it’s a never-ending loop, darn it. That’s why the infinity symbol is so appropriate: it goes on forever. The trick is to escape the infinity loop at the top, as opposed to exiting out the bottom. Taking the high road is the perfect metaphor, and it starts first with our own re-adjustment of the meaning we give things.

None of us is immune to the emotional swings of the Infinity Loop: attachment, fear, our expectations, shame and guilt, all of these conspire to put us under their emotional control. Where we differ is in how fast we can extricate ourselves from its cycle. That takes courage, honesty, acceptance, a fair bit of humility and forgiveness even; and often it takes space.

It’s all in the meaning

It took time, a few more years in fact, but eventually I resolved things in a way that gave me a deeper appreciation for what the old naval officer had been trying to do.

I realized it was my lifestyle that was causing others pain; but more importantly, I had no right to do that to people who loved me. Up to then, I might have thought it didn’t matter because I couldn’t acknowledge anyone cared. I had such a low opinion of myself that in my shame, I felt I had rights to self-pity, anger, and the dysfunctional life I lived. Perhaps I could let my guard down and see things by the light of a different day.

That minor shift allowed me to reconstruct the episode with more insight; in a way that to my mind gave us both back our dignity. I assigned new meaning to the hospital episode with my father based on a more profound perception of his intentions.

He wasn’t there to hurt me; he was there to protect himself and the others from the hurt I was causing by living so closely to destruction and death. It wasn’t malicious at all. In his clumsy way, it was an act of caring for his family. By extension, it was a desperate attempt to care for me too.

In the ensuing years after the hospital visit, I kept thinking of the old man and the way his lip quivered as he struggled to get the words out quickly so as to not lose the power of what he had to say. I’d overlooked the impact of that image in the aftermath of my reaction. But it was there; embedded in my subconscious as tiny flashes of recall, unavoidably part of the scene. All I had to do was focus on it.

He was in my hospital room, a deeply faulted man but still a naval commander and patriarch to a family of nine children—five of them grown sons—trying his best to be tough when it was obvious by the look on his face his heart was breaking. That’s the image’s meaning that has stayed with me.

His love wasn’t so tough; it was just plain love.

Stay Powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
©2015 all rights reserved



Summer vacation is over. Charlotte hits grade two today and the school year is off! Little Howie, aged 5, starts senior kindergarten in two days. Charlie was a little pissed her brother got 2 extra days of summer vacation. The cost of maturity, I suppose.

As a man, and as a father to two young children, I tell you what I’ll be watching for in these next few years. Ideologies which run counter to science. I’ll be careful to scrutinize the curriculum which my kids are exposed to for bullshit.

Especially, I’ll be watchful for how it is boys and girls learn differently. Oh, why is that you suppose? Because, contrary to the well-meant idiocy I read about every day about gender being a social construct, on average I know males and females learn differently.

Why is that? Well, it’s because our brains are wired differently. Hormones do that. Chromosomes do that. DNA does that. Socialization? Very little.

How do you shut the feminists up about male/female differences on the spot? Here’s how: mention women respond to certain medications differently than men.

In fact, in one example from the emergent field of chronomedicine, men with colorectal cancer who took meds at midnight when a certain enzyme level was highest survived longer because the enzyme helped clear the meds and avoided painful side effects. There was no advantage for women.

Hang on here, I thought gender was a social construct?

The same goes for learning. Men’s and women’s brains operate differently. Any guy who has had to contend with their woman’s “logic” knows what I’m talking about. It’s not inferior, but it’s fucking different to say the least.

Consider these facts cited recently by the Gurian Institute:

“Boys, on average, have lower language arts and literacy scores than girls and, on average, use fewer words per day when reading, writing, and speaking are measured in totality (this is true of all industrialized and post-industrial countries).”  For more on this, go to google and check out the OECD PISA studies.

“Girls tend to excel in more fine motor activity tasks, especially in the early years, and boys tend to excel in more gross motor activities in the early years.  To confirm this, open any textbook or other book that deals with early childhood attachment and child growth. To go further into these sorts of differences, check out this Stanford University research:

Boys tend to naturally seek out more aggressive, rough-and-tumble, and even physically dangerous play than girls.  This brain fact will also be confirmed in any study, textbook, or book you open on birth to five child development. If the fact were not in that resource—if someone tried to argue differently—the book would not get published or not find any audience, since all of us have confirmed this fact no matter our country or culture.” Michael Gurian

“Girls tend to talk about their feelings more during a given day than boys, i.e. have a higher words-for-feelings ratio; boys do not as easily or quickly access feelings when sitting still, while girls are more able to sit still and immediately access feelings in conversations.” (see The Male Brain and The Female Brain, by neuroscientist Louann Brizendine)

“Girls tend to move toward empathetic relational strategies more quickly than boys, while boys will often show their empathy through aggressive touch (e.g. pushing and prodding another boy to show love).” (see Why Gender Matters, by physician and neurologist Leonard Sax)

“Because males lateralize brain activity more than girls tend to, including moving activity from front to back in one hemisphere of the brain, and girls tend to move more activity between hemispheres, males more quickly apply logic (problem-solving) to emotional issues and girls are more likely to spend more time processing the emotions themselves, before problem-solving.” (see The Essential Difference, by neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen).

Another good resource is Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities by Diane Halpern, which sits on my bookshelf, now in it’s fourth edition.

Susan Pinker’s 2008 superb book, The Sexual Paradox, continues to be a valuable reference I use regularly. It’s a scholarly tome, so well-researched, but written in laymen’s language and replete with identifiable examples.

Then there are the popular titles about our differences which have been hitting the bookshelves since the days of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, first out in 1992. It’s worth noting John Gray is a PhD and continues to contribute to the gender discussion. Recently, he’s co-authors with Warren Farrell (another PhD) of the very well-researched, The Boy Crisis.

Is There Anything Good About Men, by Roy Baumeister, Professor Emeritus at Florida State is an excellent primer on the differences between men and women. Roy told me by email the feminists lambasted him for this book, which made me want to buy it even more.

Me, Myself, and Us, by Brian Little examines the Big 5 personality traits and mentions their differences in men and women. Professor Little works at Carleton University here in Ottawa, and Oxford: a pretty good academic spread.

The corporate training couple, Barbara and Allan Pease wrote a delightfully easy book to read called Why Men don’t Listen and Women can’t Read Maps, out in 2000 and still fun to reference.

I’ve just started on Man & Woman: an inside story by PhD Donald Pfaff. Like Diane Halpern’s Sex Differences series, Pfaff talks about small differences but doesn’t appear to hold back on big differences either. I’m looking forward to the rest of it. It goes deep on chemistry, which means estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin among others.

In reading Halpern’s Sex Differences for the first time, that’s what struck me. How alike we are in so many ways. And so much of the genders are similar. But the differences between us are real too, and often those define the relationship. It’s about our various interests.

Then, there’s my favourite Darwin quote:

Each animal species is a population of unique individuals who vary from one another. No feature or set of features is necessary, sufficient, or even frequent or typical of every individual in the population. Any summary of the population is a statistical fiction that applies to no individual.

Indeed. My wife has put the garbage out all but ten or so times in our 13 years together. I run the snowblower in winter and run the riding-mower in summer. She has cut some of the three acres needing mowing on occasion but hasn’t tackled the snow machine yet. She wants to though.

I change all the toilet paper and Scott towels in the house. I’m not sure why that is. I read to the kids before bed, she makes sure their teeth get brushed. At first she got me to slit the chickens and rabbits throats for slaughter, now she does it herself.

And I think that’s what you’ll find in most relationships. Men and women doing what it takes to survive. Preferences abound in the individual. Many of these are tendencies found in the wider sex. Men and women can pretty much do anything the other can do but they tend to have preferences. Where that’s the case, it ought to be respected without fear of transgressing someone’s errant model of the world.

Here’s another couple of interesting quotes.

“Our genomes are 99.9% identical from one person to the next as long as the two individuals being compared are two men or two women. But if we compare a woman and a man, the genetic differences are 15 times greater than the genetic differences for two males or two females.” David C. Page, M.D., Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different, not only in their internal function but in the ways that they experience illness. To care for them, we must see them for who they are: female and male.” Marianne J. Legato, M.D., in Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine

Any guy who has grappled with understanding a sister, mother or significant other has known how different we are, maybe most of his life. Some close women friends have chided me, even telling me I needed to have a daughter to better learn about and understand women.

I scoffed at the idea at the time. Now I know they were right. Little girls teach men about love.

I swapped out the toilet when I moved to this old acreage and its old farmhouse. Installing the thing, I broke the reservoir reaching for pliers, allowing it to fall over and crack. I went back and explained my situation and got a good deal on another one, 40% off. Guy felt bad I’d bought 2 toilets there in one day.

This left me with 2 toilet seats. They come in their own cardboard box, and the extra was left lying around my garage. One day, while cleaning up, Charlie was tagging along chattering away. I came across the toilet seat box.

“Here you go Charlie, here’s a present to you,” I said, handing her the big box. “For me daddy? A present for me? she replied. “Yes, you take that inside to your mother and open it up, see what’s in it,” was my answer. Off she went.

About an hour later, I’d forgotten all about it when Charlie suddenly appeared before me in the garage. She didn’t look so happy. “Why did you give me a potty-seat, daddy? It’s not a good present. I thought you were giving me something nice and it’s just a potty-seat. That’s not very nice,” she told me.

Well, well, I thought to myself. She’s right. It was careless and not very thoughtful at all of me to raise her expectations and then trick her like that. I felt about two inches tall. There was only one thing to do: apologize.

I sat her down and told her it was a joke. She didn’t buy that one at all. “It’s not a very funny thing daddy. Who wants a potty-seat for a present?” to which I had no countering argument. I had to tell her it was selfish of me and thoughtless and I was sorry for tricking her.

To my surprise, she forgave me after warning me to not do something like that again. I replied I’d do my best but sometimes I make mistakes too. The important thing is to say your sorry and I was happy she forgave me. You could say I was out of the shitter… for now.

What would have happened if I gave that potty-seat to my son? We’ll never know for sure. But I’d be willing to bet he’d think it was cool. Maybe he’d sit it down somewhere and use it. He stands up and pisses wherever he likes out back as it is anyway, we live on 200 acres of bush.

But that potty-seat taught me a valuable lesson. And it confirmed what my gal-pals were telling me all these years. There are big differences, right down to the very beginnings of life. At 3, Charlie emptied her dresser and we caught her laying out all her clothes on the floor, matching up the tops and bottoms. Howie couldn’t care less. Give him a superhero costume and he’s in.

One final example for you. I used to run sales teams for subscription drives for newspapers. I’d put up bonuses to incite production. Depending on the mix of gender in my van on any given night, I could predict which kind of bonus would be the democratic choice.

We could use top seller, winner-take-all bonuses. Or we could use top three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bonuses. Or, we could use a van bonus, where if we hit a certain level of production, the whole van was rewarded somehow.

As soon as the mix was 50% female reps, the van bonus was preferred. It got to be where I’d call it out at the start of the evening, “So folks, what’s it going to be, capitalist or communist this evening?” If lots of females, the commies ruled.

The prediction was 100% accurate, even when there was a particularly aggressive female who could win up against any guy. She’d lay down her preference for the sake of being liked by her sisters in the van.

Today, the start of the school year for many, let the differences between how boys and girls learn influence your parenting.

While we are very much alike, what makes us different from male to female are qualities we should not allow to be snuffed out as if they are something bad. And certainly not to satisfy some ideologue with a personal ax to grind. I’ll be on the lookout for how I can reach each of my children based on their particular personalities, strengths and weaknesses, for each has their own way of operating in the world.

I’ll also be mindful of how their brains are wired differently.

Stay powerful,

© ckwallace, 2018, all rights reserved



It’s true what they say: The quality of your life is measured by the quality of your relationships.

Most of us are lucky if we can count on one hand the people we consider close enough to confide in, to turn to in times of turmoil and trouble. Even, to be able to say “I love you,” to someone, be they man, woman or child.

Or, just to check in and connect, somehow, on some level, to let others know you exist while recognizing they exist too. And I’m not even speaking about only being able to tolerate someone else’s company. Or liking them.

Liking a person is kind of important if you’re going to consider them a friend. You think? I bet we’ve all had friends at some point we didn’t care for, people we really didn’t like.

One of our brothers tonight called to say his dog passed away. It was an honour to take his call.

Thirteen years he watched over his friend. It was a runt from a champion line, but because of a heart murmur, it was going to be put down. My friend rescued the little pooch.

He spent ten grand getting her a heart operation way back in the early days. At six months it was attacked by big mean dog and had to have 18 stitches, undergone without complaint. All her teeth had been removed…

And today, bringing her into the vet to see if there was anything he could do to make her more comfortable, she waited patiently in his arms in a room.

He looked at her, she looked at him, she closed her eyes.

She was gone. Just like that. As if, “thanks boss, but I’m 95 in people years and we’ve had a great life together. Goodbye.”

His daughter is 21 today. Most of her remembered life this little dog was part of it. As her father, this rough-around-the-edges son-of-a-gangster won’t tell her now. Not on her birthday. He’ll wait and tell her later in the week in person. He’s like that now, a man. He wasn’t always.

And that’s the thing about life and love. We may start out with not a lot of it in our heart but if we give it time, if we allow it for ourselves and others, it will find us.

They say there are three levels. One is “what can you give me” type love. It’s Janet Jackson singing “what have you done for me lately” while shaking her ass. Fuck off.

Two is a trading relationship. We trade with others all the time.

You tailor my suit coat for a hundred bucks, saving me from throwing out a perfectly good suit jacket I had made in Hamilton by Bruno the Tailor in ’89, and we’re good. Do it right and I’m happy, you’re happy.

But is that love? I don’t think so. Yet, many of us have only a trading relationship to come home to every day. And that’s the thing, you see: It’s not quality.

It’s why my gruff friend, as hard as any guy, grieved today. Because his little dog gave him nothing but level three: unconditional love. The dog made itself belong to my friend, unquestionably, irrevocably, and loved him even on days where my friend may have been unable to love her back.

It’s part of a man’s DNA to take care of others. If he does it or not is another thing. It’s not enough to call yourself a man because you produce more than you consume, so there’s extra to go around. It’s bigger, much deeper than that.

I once knew a fella whose background was the Irish Mob in Canada. Eastern Canada based, he worked out west. I think it was mostly because all the guys above him had been whacked.

Those Montreal Irish, The West End Gang, purportedly connected to the IRA guys back home, scared the shit out of the bikers and the mob most days. They made Montreal bank robbery capital for many years. Forced the Canadian Bankers’ Association to undertake drastic changes in their procedures.

I noticed he always had a small dog with him. Little thing, probably a Bichon/Poodle mix or something. One day, I asked him, “Hey George, no disrespect or anything (respect is big with goodfellas, like a fucking religion), but why is it I see you with such a small dog all the time?”.

Fucker looks at me quickly, stares me in the eyes. I brace myself just a tiny bit. Suddenly, he softens a fraction and says to me matter-of-factly, “Because little dogs need protection too.” His eyes held mine for a moment and he looked, well, very human. Obviously, I accepted his answer.

In fact, I thought it was the best response ever. Sure shut me up, and no, I didn’t probe further. I knew there was something more to it but it wasn’t the time. What else could I say?

My friend today telling me about his little dog filled in a bit more about what George meant. See, my friend told me he grieved more today for this little dog than for his own mother and father when they passed.

More pain than the death of his mother or the death of his father?? Is that a sin of some kind? Maybe.

It’s just both guys had experienced little in the way of unconditional love in their lifetimes. Yet, their humanity, surrounded by a fortress of protection learned in a lifetime of pain, was there, mostly hidden, but intact.

It just took one little dog to bring it out.

In the quiet moments away from others, the loyal pooch and master found and celebrated what was important.

Not sad at all, I say. More like, hopeful. It’s a reminder to recognize pure love when we see it and know it’s real.

Because there lies the real power in life. If we are not standing up for good, we can’t even call ourselves neutral. Because good is love, and love is what counts. Indeed, it is love which is powerful.

Today, I salute all men and their dogs, big or small. Condolences to all of us who have lost a beloved pet. They are like family, perhaps even more. Man’s best friend is also a bridge to what is best in a man.

Find it early or find it late, we must all find love.

Rest in Peace Trixie. 2005 – 2018

Thank you.

Stay powerful gentleman,

Continue reading

The Wisdom of Mrs. Singh

The wisdom of Mrs. Singh,

For many years, my gal pals have told me quite directly I needed to better understand women. One went so far as to strongly suggest I have a daughter to really “get it.” Not the type to back away from a challenge, nor good advice, I say thank you Mariko. Charlotte has taught me plenty.

I remember once asking my father about this question. It was only in later life, in my 30s, 40s, and even 50s where my relationship with him permitted me to broach these kinds of subjects, without the usual judgments I would have received at a younger age. I needed those years to build emotional muscle I think. Perhaps, physical muscle as well. By then, I could take my old man; indeed, while his fearsomeness had not waned with time, my own had increased.

In any case, I remember asking about understanding women and he answered, “You’re not supposed to” with finality. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to hear this from him. My father, the man surrounded by books his whole life, who read one per week or so most of his adult life, and who could easily construct an impromptu lecture on the building of cultures and civilizations since the dawn of recorded history with little encouragement, came up blank when we discussed gender.

To be fair, it’s possible he liked the magic of not knowing, for there is some of that mystery in our sexual counterparts. But as a man with five daughters, that day my expectations were greater than he could meet. It was the only time I can recall being let down by his answer. Instead of his usual erudition, seeded with life-lessons he’d share at length: nothing.

I was on my own when it comes to sex differences. Of course, I have used the question of differences between men and women to shoehorn in greater understanding of others in into this thick skull of mine. For to look is to find, and It’s undoubtedly helped me evolve in other ways.

So, it was recently I found myself speaking with Mrs. Singh. She wore a beautiful green and gold sari, telling me she was too lazy to get dressed in anything else that morning. I remember thinking I do the same thing sometimes and put on track pants and a t-shirt. Comparatively, she looked wonderful; I would look like I was dressed in track pants and a t-shirt.

It was at her furniture store, an ample space filled with living room and bedroom sets built in an ornate style befitting someone who wore a brocaded sari. She interrupted our conversation only once when she went out back to ensure her delivery man had unloaded inventory correctly and counted the pieces that came in. Her desk set up against one wall midway into the cavernous space, littered with invoices and other evidence of commerce: It was her mission control and she ran it all easily on her own.

I was there to sell her commercial energy, something I do during the day. Unlike the newspaper business from which I came and has been radically reduced by the forces of creative destruction in the internet age, energy will last. 80% of the world uses electricity so demand will only rise.

Alas, I discovered she was already on a contract. It’s in these cases I get to act more as an advisor than as a provider, and the burden of compensation is removed from our interaction. Assessing her bill and doing the calculations, I could see she was overpaying. Determining this makes me her ally, her advocate.

Here, I took the liberty to call the 1 800 number of her supplier on my phone, getting us through to the right agent. Mrs. Singh went through the required identification process and rather than me prompting her in the background, stated my name and her desire I speak on her behalf.

Cancelling her existing contract would have cost her almost a grand. She could have justified it by the savings gained at the low price I’d give her for her remaining term. But then, her supplier’s customer service agent sensed she had a pro on her side and offered to drop her price right down to near what I could do. I was being used to grind the competition into chasing her business.

Given the length she had left on contract (23 months) my advice was as long as they gave her the same price for her household contract (for which I calculated they were overcharging her by even more) she should take their deal and I’d see her in a couple of years. My visit had dropped her rate by a third and I’d get nothing from it. She insisted I sign up her natural gas business, which I did, but it was a tiny contract in comparison.

I’d spent two visits and over three hours on this appointment with little to show for it. But then again, this is where I’m reminded I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the conversations.

My life can be seen in part as a series of quests to update and replace my father’s teachings and to go futher than he ever could.

To my polite prompting, Mrs. Singh explained the basic tenets of Sikhism, especially the part about we are all equals according to the guru’s teachings. At the Gurdwara, she explained, we all sit on the floor, no matter who it is visiting. Doesn’t matter if it’s a head of state or the poorest of the poor, they are welcome to sit as equals together.

And the langar, the food prepared by a cadre of volunteers, it available to all visitors, regardless of caste, colour, religion, ethnicity, rich or poor. Surprisingly, it’s a tradition adopted from the Muslim Sufis back when Sikhism started with Guru Nanak in the 1500s I later learned.

She explained the difference between baptized and non-baptized Sikhs, and told me of her upbringing in Amritsar, India. It was here I asked her about the differences between North American parenting and the parenting she’d used successfully with her daughters and sons, all educated professionals. I was rewarded with anecdotes.

Once. she wanted to attend the movie theater with her friends back home. These kinds of events were difficult for a Sikh girl, for the members of her community would talk and confront the family if she was seen. India is a dangerous place for a young girl, even if accompanied by others. “There’s a lot of rapes” she said. Her mother hesitated, but finally told her to go, but not tell anyone.

She went and had fun, returning home on time. When her mother asked her how it went, she fibbed and told her she did not go. By doing this, essentially, she got a “go to the movies” free card she could use another time. She laughed as she told me she used this trick three times, seeing movies each time all on the one permission.

I was reminded of how simple things we take for granted in Canadian culture are not held in the same regard by those coming from other places where conditions are different. As I listened to her, I take her implied counsel seriously.

My missus has told me she won’t allow sleepovers for our children. Her experiences growing up has made her realize the risks of a child being hurt of damaged in such unknown circumstances is too great, so she’s got this one rule. I’m fine with it too, for it appeals to my protective side.

Turns out, Mrs. Singh says the same thing. “No sleepovers” she stated unwaveringly as her first rule of parenting. She encouraged her daughters and sons to visit their friends but no matter the time of night, she is there to pick them up and take them home. As teens, the boys stayed out latest 1 am, the girls, 11 pm. Why the difference, I asked? Girls are more precious.

And when her daughter was 20 and in college, she begged her mother for leniency. Lovingly, Mrs. Singh agreed with her daughter’s newfound need for freedom. The new curfew is midnight.

Once upon a time in Amritsar, Mrs. Singh wanted to attend her friend’s wedding. “I got married at age 21,” she said, “and my friend was 20. I had to go and see her get married.” Not yet married herself at the time, it would be an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. So, she pleaded with her mother, telling her how important it was that she go, after all it was her best friend, and this was her big day. Mother, in her wisdom, finally relented and said she’d agree, if her father gave his blessing.

Mrs. Singh begged her father for the opportunity to go. She told him how much it meant to her and how disappointed both she and her friend would be to miss it. She used all her charm, cashing in a lifetime of smiles to get her father’s approval. “You can go as long as your mother goes with you,” was his answer.

Not quite willing to let his daughter go, clear in that a daughter’s friend’s wedding was no signal that his role was now obsolete, he got the best of both sides in his decision. His emissary and co-parent would chaperone, and his sweet daughter’s request would not be denied. The Mrs. Singh before me wasn’t put off at all by this prospect as she recounted her parent’s decision. To the contrary, she was thrilled.

At the wedding, her mother took her aside and told her she was not there to spy on her, to prevent her from having a good time. Nor was she there to judge her behavior, or to possibly reprimand her. She’d raised a good daughter and trusted she’d act accordingly.

And she did have a fun time, telling me of how she played games the whole day and shared in her friend’s joy. In her explanation, I could see the satisfaction and excitement return to her face in the retelling of this unforgettable day. And the way she explained her mother’s role was an inspiration.

Then Mrs. Singh told me something so profoundly good. I struggled to remember it verbatim, so I could rush home and share it with missus. For we have a daughter… and daughters are precious.

She said a daughter’s mother should be like her best friend. She should be able to come to her mother with anything she encounters, any feelings she has, any doubts or fears, and that the mother must be a safe place for her.

If a boy looks at her a certain way, or smiles at her, or says something to her, it’s to her mother she must come for advice and reassurance. When her body changes, it’s her mother who will help her accept and incorporate these changes into her identity.

She must convey to her daughter, “your secrets are safe with me.” The implications were clear: the mother must be the bridge between adolescence and her daughter’s budding sexuality and the expectations of full womanhood.

How many women do I know who have had no such relationship with their mothers? And how tragic it is when this happens?  What pain does a daughter carry with her into the future, often for life, when she feels misunderstood by the very person from whose flesh and blood she is made? What a burden this rejection, and how despairing for all concerned.

Someone once said a child can get along without a father but will die without a mother. At a very basic level of nurturance this makes sense. At the higher levels of self-concept, even more critical. The Grant Study speaks to mother’s acceptance and importance longer term in a man’s life. Doubly important for girls, I think.

I have learned it’s the connection between adults and children which allows our young ones to feel valued. From that sense of feeling valued, a child or adolescent has the emotional foundation to learn discipline, to decide to delay gratification in service of a greater cause.

It’s as if absent emotional connection, all further learning is hampered. Like Maslow’s need hierarchy, we must first feel safely held in someone’s regard before we can move forward with higher order steps of learning. After all, children are motivated; they want desperately to be rescued from themselves.

I may not have made much visiting Mrs. Singh’s furniture store off Walkley Road in Ottawa, but I left with much more than something as trite as meeting a sales target.

Instead, I was paid in a different currency, in the great Canadian multicultural tradition. I gained a glimpse into another life which, in turn, enhanced my own. I’m reminded too that the world over, we are all people struggling with the same issues. It doesn’t much matter if we are talking about a daughter here, or over there.

I will do my best to be as good a man as your father was for you. I will ensure our home allows my daughter the kind of relationship you had with your mother.

Thank you, Mrs. Singh: precious indeed.

Christopher K. Wallace
©2018 all rights reserved

Dedicated New Year

Birth and death are ugly things. Often, usually, there is blood, tears, great travail and prolonged suffering. It’s not pretty.

Oh sure, we humans being meaning-makers, somehow we often manage to find beauty in both of these events. Perhaps we do so out of gratitude, or more like relief. Maybe it’s hope which drives our meanings.

You might know the story of your beginning by now. Maybe it’s part of your family lore. You may have been lucky enough to have sat down with your mother or father at some point while they regaled you with the tale of your arrival.

It may have been right there and then during that little talk when you realized how special you were.  You arrived, and there were people really excited about you, just you and your new place in their lives.

One of my sisters told her now adult child she came from a “sparkle in your mama’s eye.” I gave that one top marks for the imagery alone. Who wouldn’t want to come from a sparkle in someone’s eye? It’s like magic.


Since you are all here, and it’s the first day of the New Year, I’d like to mention the second part of our passage through life.

For many of us, having lived life on too much processed foods, sugar, booze, grains and cigarettes while not getting enough sleep, losing our mind is what awaits us long before death.

This is my father. Three years since his wife of 62 years passed away of cancer after a three day vigil in the family home. He has been sliding since. One of my sisters is dribbling water into his mouth to quench his thirst because he couldn’t at that moment suck on a straw.

Another sister found him in the morning a couple of days ago face down on the floor of a room in his house. She and her husband live downstairs so he can stay at home. He missed the bathroom in the middle of the night and got a little lost.

Soiled, cold, pissed off and in pain, he punched my brother in law–four or five upper cuts to the jaw–when he tried to help him by picking him up. My brother-in-law is a mountain of a man. Not much an eighty-eight year old guy can do to him but hurt his pride a bit. He’s OK.

Four of my father’s five sons were on hand last night to reassure him since he’s now been hit by my father, he’s truly one of us. Welcome brother.

A third sister made the call to hospitalize my dad. We hope he’ll gather his strength and come home for another while. I bring my children there every Saturday and at just four years old, Little Howie is pretty devoted to his Grandpa Howie.

But this is the end which awaits more of us, most of us even.

For me, it’s a good reminder: there is no tomorrow; there is only today. I must live the best way I know how. We know so much about nutrition, exercise, stress and my pet subject, sleep, that there are no more compromises allowed.

And there is no banking time either. Life goes by in a flash.

No. There is nothing like death staring you straight in the face to bring home the message loud and clear.


My father has pneumonia and a bladder infection. He’ll probably pull through this time. After all, he has the best medical care and a half dozen adult children standing guard for him in rotation.

Someone told me in the last few days pneumonia is the saviour of many an old person with dementia. It allows them to die rather than to linger. At home, my father gets up from his bed, goes to his bathroom and to his recliner in the living room and back to bed.

Occasionally, in summer he may venture outside to say goodbye, stooped over, shuffling, enamored as my children, his grandchildren scamper about; their vitality tiring him out. He told me recently the kids come over and raise hell for a while, but once they leave, it’s rather lonesome.

Today, at the hospital I conversed with him for an hour, politely answering questions and pausing for his responses. Only, the conversation made no sense at all. He knows who I am, it’s just his mind is scattered, his dreams a part of his living reality. This is common with vascular dementia, the circumstances trigger more confusion.


I don’t say all this to depress you. Neither do I need to signal in some way. Nor do I need sympathy. No. I’m alright with my father’s eventual death. I’ve reconciled that while he is still alive. He’s been too big an influence on me to go anywhere; assuredly, he’ll live on in me and my children like an echo down through time.

My dear mother taught me to read when I was five years old. But I wouldn’t be writing this to you unless my father taught me to write when I was around fifty.

One day, living in another city, I responded at length to a letter he’d written me. He never quite trusted email. Anyhow, my letter came back a couple of weeks later. My father had taken his red editing pen and marked up my copy with corrections and suggestions. Intrigued, we did it again, with me incorporating his lessons, and once more he sent it back.

This continued on for a while, and soon I was ordered to send stuff double spaced so he could do his thing. I obliged.

Much later, I had gained enough confidence and enthusiasm to write and send an essay called The Striped Cat. It was a childhood tale involving a time three of his boys had run away from home. It was a true story, situated in the old neighbourhood. This got his attention. It was real writing now, not just about relating the family news. He loved it. Can you imagine?

I have all of his corrections and remarks in a file in my cabinet. A few years ago, I sent an essay and while visiting him in Ottawa for some occasion, he handed it back to me when I arrived uncorrected. He said there wasn’t anything glaring he could tell me about it that would help.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. For me, it was better than graduation.

This is a man who has spent his whole life around words. First as a cub reporter in Halifax and then as an information officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, retiring as Editor In Chief of the forces magazine of the day, The Sentinel.

A couple of months ago I wrote something and showed it to him. I’ve been toying with copywriting try and appeal to a larger audience, and it’s not my usual style of writing.

Here was my father, speed reading those pages like he was gulping water on a hot day, and peering over his glasses he asked me pointedly why I was dumbing down my sentences.  No fooling the old editor. I had some explaining to do.

I wrote a story of how my son was rescued by a soldier who cut a seatbelt from around his neck while the missus was pulled over in distress and he told me “Good writing and a story well told.” He offered no suggestions or criticisms. I relaxed.

Can I say this? He’s my biggest fan. Of course, I can tell you this.

I grew up with books on every wall of the house. There was a bookcase in the kitchen for a while. Not only do I like to read, it’s as if I must. And now, thanks to my father, I have sort of caught the writing bug. My family generously named me their Clan Bard and Poet in Battle, mostly in encouragement. But still… it’s pretty cool.

This is the year I will honour my father and write more.  In all the years that follow, should I be lucky enough to live them, I write for my pops.

Though just recently, he’s unable to read anymore. You can imagine what that might be like if you’re a reader. He’s got more than 80 years of reading under his belt—thousands of books—and he’s hanging up the glasses. He read at a blistering pace of a book per week for most of his life.

And now, surrounded by books; not a word to be read. I suspected he wasn’t reading the Saturday Edition of the National Post I’d bring over. Finally, a few weeks ago he admitted he couldn’t see the words correctly. They were all jumbled he remarked, without a hint of complaint.

I declare this year is dedicated to writing essays I can read to my father.

I’ll write one per month to the best of my ability. These I will recite to him until he can hear me no more. That’s because he’s going deaf too. But I think just knowing I’m there reading to him something I wrote would be more important to him than the words themselves.

I wonder what will spark your imagination in this coming year?

Whatever it may be, here’s wishing you find inspiration and perseverance in 2018. May your lives be joyous and grateful, disciplined and without loneliness.

Most of all: may you waste no days and be filled with love all year long.

Happy New Year

Christopher K Wallace

© 2018 all rights reserved


WOW. I just turned 60 years old.


I want to thank everyone for wishing me a happy birthday. It’s very kind of you to take time from your day to send good wishes.

So what’s a guy do on his 60th? Well, here’s how my day went.

First thing in the morning I slapped my woman’s ass. Now before you get too excited, know it is part of my morning ritual most days. Yesterday was no different. I want her to know the man she chose is still just as interested in her as the day I first got to slap her ass a dozen years ago. To me, she’s not so much a mother and wife; she is my woman first.

I made the bed and opened the window curtain to look at the scenery and said, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

What I really mean by “Lord” is “universe” but I don’t sweat the semantics. Lord is just easier to say.

I’ve done this for 30+ years. It reminds me that I got to wake up breathing; whereas, I know so many others did not. That sets my tone for my entire day.


Once I was done that little ritual, I shuffled off downstairs, attracted by the noise coming from my 4 and 6 year old kids… and the smell of percolated coffee.

Is there a better way to drink coffee? I’m not so sure. Adding to the glorious aroma is that I know by drinking a little coffee every day, I will likely prolong my life. I’m playing the odds and, as a lifelong tea-drinker, thank the missus for the chance to share another morning ritual with her.

On my birthday, I got little presents from my daughter, cards and scribbles. It’s funny how she continues to teach me about love, something my gal pals said would happen. Meanwhile, my four year old boy ignored me.


Then, I changed a Facebook group to Powerful Men’s Group—Physical, Spirit, People and Business. These are four facets of a man’s existence I think are needed to find balance. Neglecting one area causes problems in the others. I may be Advisor to Men but I’m also Counselor at Large. Guys are invited to join by finding us on Facebook groups.

During my morning appointments, I got to meet with a butcher who has been in business for decades in the Ottawa area. He took the time to show me his complete operation, the adjoining coffee shop, proudly naming off the varieties of fish he carries, and how strategic he was about the layout of his building and its parking lots.

He told me about how his father sensed trouble back home when Joe was a little boy and moved his family out of the home for safety one night. Returning the next day, the home was trashed, victimized by a rival faction as sectarian violence overtook the country. Dad decided then and there the family was leaving Lebanon. Canada took them in as it does so many.

It’s hardly surprising the Lebanese are described as descendants of the Phoenicians, the great Mediterranean trading empire a millennium before Christ.

And their people have adapted to their new home, assimilating seamlessly into Canadian life. Even one of my brothers married a young gal of Lebanese descent. I call her FSIL, for favourite-sister-in-law. Don’t tell the others.

Conversations are a big part of my life. When I was a younger man and struggling with my demons, I didn’t take the time to get to know and appreciate the people around me. I do now. Canada has 20% of her population born elsewhere. An opportunity to visit the world without ever leaving the country.

After leaving the butcher shop/grocery, I stopped by a Tim Horton’s. I stood in line next to big guy in work clothes, maybe early twenties, when a man of about 40 shuffled in and went past us and ordered. I looked a little puzzled at the fellow beside me and said, “I guess he really needed a coffee.” He answered with a shrug, “Its Christmas, let him go ahead.”

I thought that was a nice way to think and told him so. We had a conversation about giving right there on the spot.

I told him about having a very rough day once and ordering a coffee from a drive-through after finally getting off the highway. When I came to pay, the teller told me the guy in front had already paid. I looked up to see the guy pulling away with a wave out his driver window.  I’ve never forgot that random act of kindness, telling the young man how he set a good example of tolerance.

Since it was my birthday, I ducked into one of those Anytime Fitness places to exercise. Recovering from a double hernia operation last month, I’ve become a little flabby around the belly and so, on my sixtieth, I snapped a picture as a way to hold myself accountable.

Any workout day is a payday of sorts. How nice is that?

Learner is my number one strength. If you are a learner, you must also teach. So mid-afternoon I did one of my regular overseas advisor calls. It is gratifying to work with people and see them improve over weeks and months. My clients teach me as much as I teach them. We are here to learn from each other.

Then it was off to gather the children and missus to go buy her a car.

Missus is good with money, bless her heart. I’d never entered a Walmart until we met. So we went to a Hyundai dealership to pick up an Elantra. She picked the colour. Says with my red truck and her blue car, we have both sides of the heart covered. It was deep stuff from missus; she’s our heart.

She’s thrilled about the heated seats and steering wheel. I think the back-up camera with in-dash display sold her.  The dealership wouldn’t give her much for her old car so, on her own, she got online and sold it to a guy who needed the motor. When we delivered it, I made him give her the money.

As I was about to leave the dealership, the GM came by and thanked me, before the team started grilling me about my card, Advisor to Men.

With a little prompting, I gave them a pep talk, leaving them empowered, standing taller and more assured about returning home to their wives and families.  It’s one of my favourite things to do.

By the time missus got home with the car, she’d figured out we could save $300 per month on fuel if I used it for business. It’s a good match this marriage thing. I may end up driving it more than she will.

She cooked me a steak and we had a cake. I blew out six candles with the kids. Howie refused the cake as he said it wasn’t his birthday. I think his last one really made an impression. Charlotte stood by at the light switch, all giddy until ma got the candles lit.

Of course, every year I get a pair of slippers. I like wearing slippers at home. One reason is I don’t like socks with holes in them. Slippers cut down on the wear and tear. Seems to me socks are already on the endangered list through the travails of ordinary laundry without adding to the misery by wearing holes in them unnecessarily.

Missus thinks if socks are going to go missing anyway, you might as well wear the hell out of them while you can. There’s a certain strength to that logic I can’t quite counter.

I decreed a couple of birthdays ago that everyone gets a present at birthdays. I’m doing my part for socialism, by appealing to the collective good in people. I want my kids to know “we are all in this together.” I have lived the “law of the jungle” both inside and outside of prison. Not interested.

Find it early or find it late, we must all find love.

Howie got elf slippers, Charlotte slippers shaped like bunnies. Missus and I got sheepskin looking things. We took turns showing off our new footwear to each other. Both kids got to wear them at school today for pajama day.

Turning 60 has me thinking about my future. I’m in OK shape and mentally, I’m at the top of my game. However, it’s at this stage of life when the clichés start to really sink in. Suddenly I find myself wondering about things I’d never considered before.  Read bullshit stuff like, “is this my destiny?”

It’s that Rumi guy, I suppose, talking about a precious red ruby inside me and all that. Then he writes “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” Man, I’ve spent 30 years restoring my reputation, not always successfully. I think I get what he means though.

But he goes on to say “when you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” Indeed, I do. I get that. I have been in my zone many times.

It’s how I feel when I am writing sometimes. I confess I’ve never had writer’s block. I often erase whole pages of writing and just write more. It’s also how I feel when I have the honour of teaching about something I know to someone in need. It’s how I feel around my family.

It was my mother who taught me to read at age five, but my father who taught me to write at age 50. I have practiced for ten years then. It’s time to put Scrivener back on this machine and write more.

I’ve also subscribed to Hyatt’s Focus Planner system for 2018. I don’t know about you but the most productive years of my life I used a day planner to manage my time. I’ve tried the digital formats and it’s just not clicking. I have been drowning in inefficiencies and I’m throwing in the towel. Analog is me.

After 14 years in newspaper sales, I should have known better. Print is still king over here. There’s a geographical quality to letters on paper not available as easily in digital.

As of a couple of months ago, after an absence of two years or so, I even get the National Post delivered to my home. Dad often gets my Saturday edition when I bring the kids to visit him and feed him lunch. There’s a certain comfort to sitting in my office and rummaging through the daily paper, though it’s yesterday’s news.

So that’s it. Turning 60 isn’t so bad. It’s been a great experience because I’m honoured to slowly morph into a version of an elder in my community. It’s a job no one asks for but each of us must do graciously. Most of all, this milestone for me is a great reminder to put into practice lessons learned over a lifetime.

To that end, I’m back into my stock trading account in the New Year, searching for good companies to invest in long term. I very much admire Phil Town and the way he freely teaches thousands how to invest according the same Benjamin Graham principles followed by Buffett and others. I met Phil a couple of times years ago and I appreciate his dedication to helping others secure their futures.

But this weekend, I’m tempted to take a little of that cash I have lying around in my digital account and buy Bitcoin. Perhaps I’m just following Rumi again, by being ready to “sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

After all, Rumi also says “there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.”

Kiss the earth indeed. Big manly hugs and kisses to you all.

Christopher K Wallace




Where have all the real men gone? That’s a question that comes up often lately.

Not just from women. No. I worked hedging farm energy costs all last winter and met a lot of real men. Tough and grizzled career dairy farmers who knew precisely their role lamenting the same thing: where are all the “real men?”

Out east of Ottawa, all the way to the Quebec border the French farmers call our feminized men “les hommes rose.” Pink Men.

I get this query about good men from women practically every day. Just last week I did business with a formidable lady at an iconic city establishment. A divorcee, we got to talking: she’d be a catch, a real tour de force. “I’m not giving up” she says. “There’s a real man out there for me.”

And there is. I’ll keep my eye out for her.

It’s a confusing time to be male. First we went from an agrarian society to an industrialized one. Then the vote was expanded so all men got a say in how government is run. Reward for the privilege of dying for your people I suppose, which men have been doing forever.

After the Second World War, women’s enrollment in universities rose each year, to where there are now more female graduates than male. Laws were rightfully changed so that inequalities in the workplace were addressed.

Only now, it’s gone bananas. Men can’t open their mouths without risking offending someone and being sent off to sensitivity training. Or worse….

Men have been stifled like no other time in history. The very culture men created has turned on them and is now biting them in the ass.

Qualities in men revered for all time are obscured by a system devouring itself from within. It’s counterproductive.

Where are the Brave? The Courageous? The Decisive? The Protectors?

I’ll tell you where they are: hidden among us. Perhaps a little subdued of late, but every once in a while a crisis occurs and some exceptional man reminds us of the ideal.

Today missus was returning from a shopping excursion with two kids strapped into car seats in the second bench of our Honda Pilot. Behind the passenger seat sat our little girl Charlotte, behind missus was our boy Howie. All children are little miracles but in Howie’s case, maybe a little more so.

Having spent his first six months at Sick Kids, he’s been in and out since. He’s doing better now. If scrambled eggs, mashed squash, pieces of pork fat and the odd cheese and skinned apple are considered, then half his diet is solid foods.

My father had five sons. He had no namesake among his grandchildren until that little boy came along. I tease dad it’s because he was a drinker as a young man and it’s taken this long to forgive him. Dad can take a joke; he’s been a teetotaler for over a half century.

I know the Kurdish will name a child after a relation but only once deceased. However, while flirting with our family’s genealogy, I discovered it’s a Catholic tradition to name a son after his grandfather. I chose to honour my father.

Now aged eighty-eight, dad loves that little boy.

Mother Nature makes more boys than girls outside of times of famine for good reason. Boys die in childhood at a far greater rate. If they survive birth, the risk of death by misadventure or accident is a sad corollary to a boy’s existence.

When my first son reached age 25, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

In addition to Howie’s medical challenges, at one time he’s also been surrounded by a dozen specialists at a hospital trying to dislodge something he swallowed. His throat is very narrow, about as wide as a good sized pen. Not much room for choking mistakes.

He’s fallen off a swing and moved his bottom front teeth back. Another time he actually got stuck in a toilet toddler seat, bent in two, wedged in tighter and tighter as time went by, and had to be rescued by fireman.


Of course, I wasn’t there at the time. The pictures tell the story.

As a man, I realize I cannot be around all the time. There are long days when I’m away from my wife and kids working where they must fend for themselves. All I can do is provide for them as best as I can, making sure they are safe when I’m at home, holding them close to my heart when I am near.

But today we almost lost him. While his mom kept her eyes on the road travelling at speed down the highway, the boy grabbed the unused seat belt from the middle spot, twirled it around and around somehow until the full length of it was unfurled from its spring-loaded mechanism. Then placed it over his head.

It locked down tight. The more he moved, the tighter it became. There was no slack with which to back it off. It wasn’t a matter of unwinding it from his head because he’d twisted it over and over first, the way you tighten a tourniquet, and then inexplicably put it over his head while his mother drove down the road.

His thin neck and airway were encircled, being crushed as if in the grip of a snake.

Luckily, just as his big sister Charlotte alerted her mother, missus glanced in the mirror and immediately noticed his colour.  In her horror, she barely registered her daughter’s words for what she saw struck her like a bolt of cold fear.

Her boy was gray, on his way to blue. She saw the belt wrapped around his neck.

At three, whimpering sounds emanating from his mouth, he couldn’t countenance the gravity of his predicament.


Missus pulls over and springs into action. Yet, for all her efforts, she can’t get that belt off him. It won’t back off because it’s fully extended. By some unlucky fluke, he’s wound it around his neck in just such a way his every movement or any attempt to loosen it only made it tighten.

The belt had turned into a python refusing to relinquish its prey.

Mel knew the only way out was to cut the strap. She searched frantically for scissors or something in her console. Finally, with the boy fading, in a panic she jumped from the car and attempted to wave down passing cars.

The first ones going by waved back.

Just then she realized 911 help would never arrive in time; moreover, she was overwhelmed with crushing defeat considering that little Howie could come to this: a self-imposed death choke on the side of the road.

She was trapped helplessly trying to hold off some of the pressure from the kid’s neck, unable to release for an instant to call for help, a situation made worse because her phone was out of reach in the front seat.


However, someone had spotted her wild gesticulations from way down the road.

A lone driver pulled in behind her.

A young soldier in combats emerged from his vehicle.

And like all young men who live their lives ready for action, he came prepared.

One look at the boy and a tug on the belt to assess the severity of the locking choke and out came his weapon: a hunting knife used to “cut up tires at work.”

A couple of efficient slashes at the belt and the tightened noose released its fatal grip on little Howie’s neck.

The frightened toddler returned to his distraught mother’s arms.

Of course, she was a mess by this time.

Contemplating the death of her child, one she’d nursed and kept from the grave for nigh on four years,  a veritable soldier for motherhood herself, the next few minutes passed in a blur. She’s unsure if she even blubbered inadequate thanks to the mystery man.

She took some time to compose herself while sitting in her driver’s seat, no doubt glancing behind her to look at her children for reassurance.

When she finally dried her tears to see well enough to drive, pulling away she noticed the rescuer had stayed there too. He waited patiently in his car parked behind her as she gathered herself, as if still on duty, gallantly ensuring he was the last to leave the scene.

She hadn’t even asked him his name.

Well I found out his name is Shane Chafe. A heavy duty equipment mechanic from Newfoundland newly posted to Ottawa in service of our nation at National Defence Headquarters.

My mother was born in St John’s, Newfoundland.

The island’s history and culture have been part of our clan’s fondest remembrances of her. She had 10 pregnancies in 12 years, bearing nine healthy children. Her entire lifetime was spent singly devoted to her family.

She knew our little boy before she passed away a couple of years ago. It was at home, surrounded by all her adult children and husband of sixty-two years. She had supported us in so many ways in Howie’s first few months of life, seeing him through his roughest patch.

Unfaltering throughout her life in the practice of her Catholic faith, my mother sent us an angel today.

Not a pink cherub with a glorious set of wings floating on a cloud looking sweet and pure and full of God’s grace. No.

She sent us a man.

Charlotte calls him a warrior. “Daddy a warrior came and rescued Howie” she told me excitedly from the upstairs window of our house almost as soon as I pulled into the driveway this evening.

It’s not often that one gets the opportunity to thank someone for saving your boy’s life. I’ve had to do it before. There is no limit to the depth of gratitude I feel for this young man and his exemplary actions.

What are the chances the universe would put this exact person with these skills in this place at this critical time of need? This was divine intervention if there ever was such a thing.

While others drove on by, sedated, unaware of the life and death drama at hand, this man acted like men do.

He had the courage to stop, to bravely assess the situation while panic ruled, and then acted decisively to protect this little boy’s life.

And his words to me later?

“I’m just glad the boy’s fine and it worked out,” he said. “I’d want someone to stop for my gal if she was in trouble and I wasn’t around.”

You betcha soldier.

Mr. Shane Chafe good sir, I owe you one.  You deserve a medal.

You’re this family’s hero and we’d like everyone to know it.

Corporal Shane Chafe: Hero

© CKWallace 2017

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Toasting a nephew’s 18th

Dearest Brother Gavin.

I appear before you and your Ottawa clan with only love and wisdom, here on your 18th birthday.

Regardless of whether you can buy beer in Quebec or Alberta, and not in Georgia, when a man is old enough to don a uniform to fight and perhaps die for his country, he is undoubtedly a man.

And think for a moment of all of your experiences to date, everything that has brought you this far. All your trials and missteps, lessons learned along the way.  These are behind you now.

And think a bit about what you know; adding the sum of your knowledge to date and you will probably immediately realize you have much to learn. It’s something you will say to yourself again at 30, 40, 50 and each decade beyond.

And think about your parents. Think about your father.

Realize now how all of us inherit the temperaments of our fathers and our father’s fathers. You will have a great deal of Barnaby in you, and in turn, some Howard Carew Wallace, some Howard Vincent Wallace, some Thomas Patrick Wallace, some John Wallace and even some of his father, our founding immigrant Thomas Wallace.

Each of these men will echo endlessly down through time in you, as well as other men and cherished women who have come before you and contributed to your being. One day you will echo endlessly in others.

You are the culmination of two centuries of improvement, of 200 years of refinements in the search for freedom.

For that is what each man lives for: for freedom.

That is the past. You have the future to look to. Your growth will be based on how well you negotiate and improve on the temperaments of the male predecessors from which you came.

Never to be rejected, only assimilated and improved upon. You are a Wallace.

This is a journey each man must take alone. Oh, you will always have your clan by your side, and if not physically, at least in spirit. But your travels in spirit and wisdom are yours alone. It’s as if you are lost in the forest and no one is coming for you; by your own wits you must now find your way home, to freedom.

I have no earth shattering advice for you. Well, actually, I have plenty.

The first is to watch for key decisions. You will know when these occur because of their difficulty. These are the moments upon which a life turns. Make a good one and advance, a poor one and retreat.

It is these times when you must take your time and consult widely amongst your trusted circle, family and clan, uncles and siblings, advisors and trusted individuals.

To do that you must keep these people close to your heart. Attachment to others is our greatest need. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” said John Donne in Devotions.

Connection to others can mean your life or your death; you must choose wisely outside of your clan for who these people will be.

When you make such decisions, have a goal in mind and work it backwards from there to the moment you are deciding your direction.

Other than that, realize that everything in life worth having will come from doing that which is good for you, for those around you and for your society at large. You will find service to the greater good to be the fastest way to fulfillment.

And you must develop your personal power. For men, it is through their careful cultivation of power over their lives and power wielded for good that brings them freedom. Your life will be a series of battles, with some defeats and many victories; each a death and a rebirth, each another step to freedom.

Power will also get you the attention of females. Women are hopelessly attracted to men of power and confidence. To know this is to know the secret to unlocking the doors of love.

Which brings me to this book:  it’s called The Way of the Superior Man. It is used, slightly dog-eared as the best books often are. If you have the balls to read it at your age, it will answer many of your questions. I can answer the rest. Seriously. Or ask Uncle Matt. He knows a thing or two.

It is the book I would have written. When I read it, its eloquence was so precise that I bowed to the author in respect. I will one day write a sequel.

It will teach you many things if you dare read it.  Among them: how to handle premature ejaculation using an ancient eastern breathing technique.

And if you find the notion of becoming a Superior Man daunting, I’d ask you to consider not fear as fear; instead… think of fear as excitement. Fear is but a call for action. Action is the only thing the universe recognizes.

So with much love and affection, hope and goodwill I say:


Go forth my young nephew. Be bold.


True and Free.


Kids need to orient towards a parent. It is how nature made us.

If that orientation is broken or weak, your children will orient elsewhere.

It’s just like a parent-less baby duck or goose bonds with a human, or a doll or a cat or a dog, imprinting and following them around as if they were its mother. You don’t want that.

Video games, drugs, risky behaviours, poor choices in friends and an over-reliance on peer groups are some of the ways a teen will make up for a lack of connection with a parent or parents or family.

What the heck do peers know? In general: not much. It’s scary how little.

Orientation is often the issue when kids go off the rails. And, after age 14, it becomes more difficult to maintain parental orientation as time goes by. Can you reclaim orientation? Yes, indeed you can. Why? Because teens want desperately to be rescued from themselves. Desperately.

So the heart of parenting is connection. It’s worth repeating. It keeps it simple. The key question to ask your self is this: Is what I’m doing going to increase connection… or weaken it?

If it increases connection, you are probably doing what nature intended. If it weakens or severs connection, that is wholly unnatural. Unnatural, I say. It goes against the natural order of things.

Ask yourself this question often; make it part of your approach.

So to me, it’s ALL about connection. Focus on connection right from the start. When parents realize it’s really this simple, many aha! moments ensue from its simplicity. Connection is surface simple but vast and deep in practice.

To connect, you need time. Not “quality time” so much as just time spent in connection. Safe, secure, predictable. The need to belong is universal. It’s largely what drives us in life.

From connection, the child will feel “valued.” Feeling like you matter to someone or a group of people is at the heart of attachment–our primary psychological need.

Connection’s opposite is loneliness. We do a lot of messed up things out of loneliness. How many of us have been in a group of people in our lives… and felt lonely? It sucks.

Imagine a child or teen feeling lonely while in your house? As part of your family? Happens all the time.

From connection and time and a sense of value, you can coach a child or teen to anything. What you want to teach them is self-discipline.

I don’t mean bootcamp discipline. Rather, the ability to delay gratification. It is the single best predictor of a successful life.

Intelligence helps a person live well but the advantage stops at just above average.

No. It’s self-discipline that counts.

Know any intelligent losers? Of course you do. We all know plenty.

Know any self-disciplined losers? Doesn’t happen. In fact, the two are opposites.

We could talk about how feminism is ruining the cultures of the western world. Dare me.

Or how the banking system uses interest to create scarcity and competition; its unrelenting need for growth forcing more parents into work to earn for their families. Double dare me.

But in the end, it misses what’s important. It’ll be the rare person who gets to 80 and says they wished they worked more or took up yet another cause.

Very few get a diagnosis of terminal cancer with months to live and wished they had a Ferrari.

No. Time and again, in the end people wish they’d spent more time with their friends and families, especially their children. Connecting with loved ones folks.

So just focus on connection. If you get that right, most of everything else takes care of itself. By putting connection first, everything seems to fall into place. It’s nature’s way.

Here’s a pithy quote:

“As long as we feel safely held in the hearts and minds of the people who love us, we will climb mountains and cross deserts and stay up all night to finish projects. Children and adults will do anything for people they trust and whose opinion they value.” Bessel Van der Kolk.

Find it early, find it late, you must find love. We must all find love, and it starts with the family of origin. Ideally, it’s where we learn how to love and be loved. This must be part of your legacy to your children.

Connection is your key.

© CKWallace, 2017

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Father’s Day, 2017


Howard Carew Wallace, my Chief

It’s Happening to Me


I have to admit, it’s happening to me,

It was something I could not foresee.

Decidedly, I’ll just let it be.


Oh, I may have dreamed it long ago,

But being so young, I did not know

Of all that was to follow.


Despite it all, for the life of me,

And my attempts to live contrarily

Now resigned, eerily,


For the truth is, I’d no longer rather

By this living eulogy you’ll gather

I’m turning into my father.

ckwallace, 2016


18 June, 2017


Today is Father’s Day. Dad has had more than sixty, each one earned.


Like many boys, my father is my hero. Though there came upon our relationship a darkness that lasted a decade. Even during this estrangement, there were lessons unfolding for both us, perhaps, more so for me. Though, it’s hard to tell.


It was my father who inadvertently gave me my animal totem when he told me at the age of fifteen there wasn’t room for two roosters under the same roof, and since it was his roof… What a great gift.


Regardless, eventually we got over it and I metaphorically became a cockerel (three children too!). Not so bad when you consider that the bird stands for pride, honesty, courage, vigilance, arrogance, strength, watchfulness and flamboyance, all traits I share with my father.


On top of that we are descendants of Celtic tribes, who considered the rooster a creature of the underworld, serving as a messenger of the hereafter, screeching out warnings of danger and calling out to the souls of those fallen on the battlefield. Perhaps my father knew I’d be an envoy from darkness, sent to share light.


Forgiveness is one of life’s greatest tests of virtue. It was my father who taught me this. His father was a troubled man, a WWI veteran with an impatient irascibility about him that bordered on meanness at times. War does that to people.


Dad was a dutiful son to his father right to the end. My father wrote a short account of his father’s passing for our family site at Reading about how he sneaked in to hold his father’s hand at the very end of Gimpy’s life, until his father’s hand returned the faintest of signal and then, before him, was no more, serves as a beacon, a triumph of kindness over anger, of putting love first despite all else. It’s an image I continue to hold dear.


Of course, my father also taught me patience… using golf as his instrument. Hitting that damned little white ball all over Eastern Ontario with passion and commitment required enormous patience. He set an example, we followed.


My father’s invitation that we golf with him meant that along the way, I also learned behaviourism. Intermittent reinforcement being the strongest reinforcer is plain to see in the game: you hit close to a hundred shots in a typical round, most of which are going to be not so good. But there will be one that’s absolutely amazing. One shot that makes all the pain of the rest of the shots dissolve away like salt in warm water.


In fact, I won the family’s last golf tournament with a perfect seven iron on a par three that bounced once just before the pin and almost went in, landing a foot and a half away from the hole. The rest of that day’s game? Less memorable. I could curse him or thank him for the gift of golf, depends on the day. But I keep coming back. Patience indeed.


I learned to accept homosexuals from my father. While still just a single digit in age, I spied a sister cuddling her younger sibling while watching TV, and called them lesbians.


I was invited for a chat in the inner sanctum of my parent’s room. There my father asked if I knew what a lesbian was. Of course, I really had no idea. He explained that it was a woman who loved another woman. He added that it was just how they were made and that, in the end, they were just looking for love like anyone else. With that understood, I was dismissed. It was the 1960s.


Once through the homophobic peer pressure of my teen years, I returned to that wisdom. With maturity, I gained a greater sense of justice. Those words came back to serve me: “just looking for love like anyone else.” It was all the justification needed for tolerance and understanding. Simple, effective, and just.


Later, at some occasion the subject came up again, this time with some of my adult siblings around. In one of dad’s famous quips, he said: “Sometimes, you just have to brush your teeth, close your eyes and keep an open mind.” I’m sure that ended the conversation. I’ve never had the nerve to ask him about it either. Some things are better left unsaid.


My mother taught me to read but it was my father who made books available. We had bookcases all over the house. Even now, when I imagine a room, I see a bookcase there. Dad made it perfectly normal to sit and read, all day if necessary. Learning is my top strength and dad’s influence is never far.  I’m mostly a non-fiction type and I have some of his old books. The pages are yellowed and delicate like rice paper; each one a treasure. Like my father, I have a book habit. Not so bad an addiction at all.


When I began to scribble words of my own, it was my father who helped me along, patiently correcting my stuff with his editor’s pencil. I still look over the notes he put on texts I sent him.


He also taught me to be frugal about using swear words in my writing, despite dropping F-bombs most of his life. In one of his juiciest lessons, as a kid he told me swearing was “good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon expressions of emotion.” I was allowed to swear, just not at him or at ma. He wisely figured that as we grew socially we’d soon learn from the reactions of people around us and temper our language accordingly. How very true…


Dad taught me to be honest. As a younger man, I didn’t know anyone who was, so it mattered not as much. Over many years of conversations with my father, I’ve watched as he found just the right words to describe a subject.


He’d go to lengths for precision’s sake, keeping reference books nearby to look up a fact or a definition. What emerged for me from the way he did this was the need to search for truth. There was truth, there was lesser truth, and there was falsehood. Often the lines between them are blurred and hard to discern; but truth is there, every time. It just takes a little effort to find.


Watching my father meant learning to dig a little deeper, to broaden the scope, to see a larger or more refined view. And in this way, he taught me that intent mattered. By filling in the history of a subject, a population, or a place, we learn something of the motivations of people, even nations. We do not exist alone. Having seen more than fifty countries during his navy service, I have visited the world through my father.


As a young man in Ottawa growing up during the seventies and eighties, I went to practically every large rock concert and saw many smaller bands that came to town. I had an extensive collection of vinyl music from the heyday of rock and roll. Later, my tastes grew from rock to blues to funk and jazz. All of these genres form the basis of my musical identity, so can anyone explain why it is that I now listen almost exclusively to the CBC?


As I write this, a collection of opera is playing on a second laptop nearby, someone’s favourites uploaded to a YouTube channel. I think it started when I put a radio in my garage.

There, puttering around, doing something handy, I found opera and the classics to keep me company.


As a young boy, watching my father at his workbench, with old tools, each one a place to return to after use, is one of my best memories. Opera still plays Saturday afternoons at one, perhaps just like it did back in the day on my father’s little radio. The smell of wood, the sounds of sawing and hammering, and the possibility of fabricating something out of raw materials left an indelible impression on me. Perhaps the radio keeps me close to dad when I’m away. After all, the CBC teaches, just like my father does.


My father taught me about love by way of his example with my mother for the sixty two years they were married before she passed away. Theirs is a love for the ages, and no mention of my father’s teachings is complete without also mentioning ma. I heard his sweet reassurances to her in her final hours. It was essential attachment, a juxtaposed tragedy and triumph of human love.


Though, for the record I’d best explain that it was probably more my mother’s patience and virtue that lay at the foundation of their longevity as a couple. What a beautiful gift that was. It meant that you could be as faulted as my dad, even as annoying at times, and still be loved. There is hope for us all is what it says.


I could write much more about my father and his impact on me. It’s easy to get carried away with this kind of thing, writing words in ways he taught me, listening to music he influenced me to hear, searching for truths the way I learned them at his knee.


Like the time he told me it takes a hundred years for an immigrant group to acclimatize to Canada, several generations—something I still hold as my benchmark of understanding. After all, we are all immigrants here.


Or when I was worried about being a father for the first time: He, with nine children of his own, said to me: “Babies are like little miracles, son, they don’t take up much room, they really don’t cost much, and somehow, all of us find a way to move over a little bit to make room and welcome them into this world. You’ll do fine as a father.”


I’ve used those exact words countless times with new fathers and each time they have reassured as much as I was over three decades ago.


I believe attachment to each other is our most fundamental need. My father told me of the people from where I came. By widening my understanding of our family’s history, I got a sense of my place in time, and how I live at the crux between the many who have come before me and those after. If we exist within each other as endless loops reverberating down through the ages, knowing your ancestry means you are never alone. My father is part of me, and I continue to pass along his fine lessons to those who follow.


Rather than reluctance at becoming like my father, glimpses of him that show up in my life are hints of a re-discovered familiarity, and it gives me strength. My father is who he is, unapologetic, unafraid, and unique: good personal aspirations for any man. I welcome the part within me that is him, like an old friend sent to keep me company, as an elder looking in on my life with love and compassion.


I’m very proud to call myself his son. So happy Father’s Day my dearest Dad, may you live to a hundred.




© Christopher K. Wallace 2017


Father’s Supper


I remember my sister-in-law brought her co-worker, a Mexican national, to my house one day. While we chatted, he told me how his father came home everyday to his family back in his village. Tired, hungry, done with the day’s challenges, home was his father’s refuge.

Father would sit at the table while mother would feed the man of the house traditional Mexican food: tortilla, taco, enchilada, etc. While he ate, his children would take turns sitting on their father, so happy were they to see him. Mother would stand dutifully by and see to it he had his fill. If he wanted more, at his signal she would place extra food on his plate.

The man told me his father never objected to his children literally climbing all over him like they did. I think there were at least several of them. He just went about eating his meal, often sharing part of it with the kids. Father never refused one child his attention, acting as if this was how it was supposed to be. He wouldn’t flinch when one of them climbed over his shoulders, onto his head even, put a hand in his face, or hung off his back or neck while he ate.

When he was done, his mother would take away father’s plate and the children would stay to play and talk with their father.

This young man’s name happened to be Angel and what he told me has been my guide at meal-times since. He has no idea how easy it made things: To let go and just allow it, embracing the disorder to find connection underneath.

I’ll never forget that story. It’s now part my own…

ckwallace © 2017 all rights reserved

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Gilles Chenier passed away this week from cancer at age eighty-eight.

He lived two doors away from my parents on Falcon Avenue in Ottawa for more than six decades. He had a pool table in his house when I was a kid. This was the height of cool in this youngster’s mind in the 60s. Imagine that? A table in the basement…

I remember coming back from my first communion where Gilles and his first wife Marie had become my godparents. I was just sort of hustled through the ritual, not really getting it. The idea of having godparents didn’t register either. I saw it as a plot to foist me on another family where I would be barely tolerated or even ostracized. I was often in trouble for one thing or another in those days and our house was a little crowded. I remember my mother and Marie talking about things that day, though I couldn’t tell if they were discussing how I was dressed and the ceremony… or when the hand-off would occur.

Someone baked a large cake shaped like a lamb—for the Lamb of God. I’m pretty sure my new godmother had either arranged it or baked it herself. I was so impressed; there was something in all this for me after all. It was covered in white icing and a lot of coconut. I thought this was inspired decorating. It was a decadent treat for a boy who came from a family of nine kids. I can’t resist coconut to this day.

Our families were connected more so because my mother and Marie were pals. Through the years, it was understood that the Chenier kids were an extension of our clan. In an era that saw sixty kids living on our small block, Gilles’ two sons and daughter from two doors over were like one of us. The house between us was occupied by Gilles’ father, whom we called Grandpa Chenier. He roughed in the basement rooms in our house for my father. He also grew a large back yard garden each summer and had a quiet and patient side to him with us kids.

Tragedy struck my godfather at the very height of his powers as a husband and father. He and his wife were backing out of a driveway after music lessons for his beloved daughter when they were struck by a drunk driver who had crossed the center lane, killing his little girl. This broke her mother’s heart, her survivor guilt drowned in a secret alcohol habit for many years. When the family finally discovered what was going on and intervened, she was days away from death from cancer. She had kept this information from everyone. They had scant time to say goodbye.

I moved on from my parent’s neighbourhood and saw my godfather only here and there over the decades. Recently, I returned to my hometown to be near my aging father. On occasion this summer, I’d see Gilles out on his porch taking in some fresh air. I took these opportunities to go and rekindle our relationship. He was accepting and grateful for the company. He had terminal lung cancer and was sent home to die. Drink and smoke whatever you like, he was told. Several times the missus and I with our two children in tow sat on his porch and steps with him and his dog and talked about life. Once my father ambled over with me to sit and visit for a while.

He’d remarried and outlived his second wife, Simone, her leaving him a little pug named Simon. My children delighted in visiting with Gilles and his little dog. They were surprisingly well behaved and Gilles was patient and kind and sweet. He was grandfatherly.

He was too old and too experienced and too short on time to mess around with polite and safe small talk. Open and forthright, he cut right to the chase on every subject we discussed. What a great lesson it was to witness and be a part of: all of us should speak and act as if we have little time left. By way of his example, this was part of his gift.

I talked to him about how people who die don’t really leave us. I explained how I thought the idea that we live in our own bodies and minds—separately from those around us—was an inadequate way to describe human reality. I said it is more likely that a part of us resides in others just as a part of them remains in you. That we exist in each other is a more appropriate description. And that people continue to echo endlessly on down through time in those who have known and loved them. Though the part of me that might reside in you becomes uncertain after you pass; the part of you that resides in me unquestionably remains.

I had taken a risk telling him this. Who did I think I was? But his answer surprised me.

At the time, the traumatic event in Nice, France had just occurred. Gilles told me that he’d been thinking of his second wife Simone and how they had walked the streets of Nice on a trip, the very streets that were shown on the news. He said he could picture himself there as if reliving those moments all over again; like she was still with him. It felt so real he said, and it happened often, he added. He said he believed me. He said, “You know, Christopher, I think that’s true.” I was relieved and happy for him at the same time.

He was an interesting man who only ever worked for one family: the Ottawa Greenbergs. He mentioned when he was a teen he took an evening course in bookkeeping at an academy on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa’s Lower town, a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill. In those days, the area was an enclave for poor Jewish, Irish and French Canadian families.

One day on his way home, the family matriarch, buxom Mrs. Greenberg, leaned out an upstairs window as he walked by and asked him to confirm what she’d heard, that he was taking a course in bookkeeping. After answering yes, he was invited by her to join the family business. He told me he didn’t know much about bookkeeping because he had just started his course but the auditors who did the company books got him set up and working.

Minto Developments went on to build much of the nation’s capital residential and commercial developments over the following decades. Gilles Chenier worked there his whole career, retiring as vice-president 40 years later.

Another interesting anecdote was the matter of a pension. Gilles recounted that once he caught Mr. Greenberg in a good mood, he could be approached about anything. Since Gilles was one of the top company numbers men, he picked his moment to bring up pensions for Minto employees. The answer was as baffling as it is amazing. Mr. Greenberg told Gilles it was a really good idea. But, any man who devoted his life to working for the Greenberg family would never have to worry about a pension. And that was the end of the discussion.

At age eighty-eight, Gilles was still receiving his weekly salary from Minto Developments though he’d been retired for over thirty years. On top of it, he still got his Christmas bonus every year too, just like any other employee still on the books. And all this was done on a handshake. It was a time of high work ethic and loyalty long gone. If Gilles hadn’t told me these things himself this summer, I might not have believed them possible.

He also lived in an era that saw the deep sacrifices of The Great Depression mold people’s attitude so that they were ready for the great post-war boom of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Besides courage, perseverance and grit, he also had character and charm; a handsome man with a booming voice. He appreciated a pretty girl.

My father and I sat with him on his porch this summer, reminiscing over the six decades they had known each other on this street. My sister saw us and came by to say hello. After warm kisses on both cheeks, Gilles got a big welcoming hug. Unbeknownst to her, and while she was still in his embrace, he stuck his tongue out at my father as if to say, “I’m having my way with your daughter.” We nearly pissed ourselves laughing.

And that was another lesson from Gilles. His body racked with tumours and growing weaker by the day, he chose to laugh. Resigned to his fate, he could have moaned and been consumed by self-pity. No. That was not his style. Instead, he looked forward to one last fishing trip with his sons, laughing every chance he got.

He was an inspiration, and for what it means, it was an honour to call myself his godson.

Goodbye sweet godfather. You are not gone at all.





© 2016, all rights reserved

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Though we had a cat in the house as I was growing up, I’ve used TG fear to ward off cats ever since. By knowing just enough about Toxoplasmosis Gondii to sound convincing, over the years I’ve talked my partners into backing off kittens… for all our sake. You look up the actual term if you need to. It’s enough to say it’s a kind of germ warfare that tricks mice into liking cats. Yes, you read that right; and it seems potently unnatural to me.

Of course, having a dog is a whole other story. I lost that battle. Well, I may have sort of lost the battle…but I sort of won it too. You can read about it here: Debating Dogs.

Anyways, back to cats… sort of. My friend and former roommate Mariko often said that I needed to have a daughter. It barely registered that these were moments when my sensitivity to a woman’s plight was perhaps lacking. I would agree, as usual, with the odds of what she was saying. I would say, “That may very well be true…,” before carrying on. Her words come back to haunt me regularly. You see, I have a little girl now. I think of Mariko often.

The point is that little girls like kittens. And there’s no way TG matters to her.

So from the time she could speak the word cat, my little girl has been angling for a kitty. Add to that, wouldn’t you know it her mother also happens to be female. Confounding things, she was also a little girl once too. And furthermore, she remembers what it’s like to be a little girl with a desire for a cat of her own.

All this to say there has been an active campaign at my house for a number of years on the kitty front. Of course, we had a dog. Unfortunately, I had to put her down before my daughter’s recall began in earnest. I suppose for most people memory’s start is somewhere around three or four  years old, when a great consolidation of neurons gives way more or less to permanent pathways of remembrances.  My girl came out of this period with kitten on her mind.

It was a bit risky to even show her old pictures, lest we’d come across one with our dog Maggie May in the background. Charlie would point and ask, “Who’s that?” I’d offer what meagre explanation I could, but all that did was set the stage for the next part of her gambit: we had a pet once; we could have a pet once again.  Iron-clad logic.

Children are like that, especially in those early years: marvels of perseverance.
maggie two

So this is how it was when we found ourselves recently relocated on 200 acres of land just south of the nation’s capital. We left our pretty little spot In Cobourg, pop. 18,504; and just off the main provincial highway between Montreal and Toronto. Our property faced the expanse of Lake Ontario; our lives having settled into a comfortable groove, surrounded by the very best people and that small town feel. Missus wanted a yard for the kids. It was an argument no morning sunrise could counter.

We arrived to this acreage without domesticated animals. Though, after an uninhibited summer in fields of grasses as tall as they are; with ample frogs and snakes to capture and examine; with dragon flies and darners buzzing all around; with spiders to wonder at by day and fireflies to marvel at by night; with birds nesting and feeding within reach; with bats out from the attic zig-zagging around at dusk; with deer and rabbits and fishers and foxes and turkeys walking about the yard, and mice and vole burrowing and scampering all over, it’s more like a certain wildness influenced my children at ages five and almost three. We had animals-a-plenty, was my thinking.

Howie teetered while standing when we arrived in May. By the time he had his third birthday at summer’s end, his once spindly legs are newly muscled from all the running through open space, climbing over everything in front of them in great adventures with his sister, played out daily in full force at the forest’s edge. He’s eating better than ever, and he’s become notably wilder, in a good way: in a way that blends.


And Charlotte, by early August, after careful training by her mother, having learned just when the vegetables were ripe and where to step and where not to step, took me out to the garden and showed me how to pick fresh parsley. “This is how you do it daddy; this is enough for what she wants.” All I could do was defer to her expertise with thanks.

That time, after her explanation about parsley, she stopped after first motioning towards a small clearing not a hundred yards from the house and declared, then asked a question, then declared again.


“When I grow up… no wait… when I grow up, will you still be alive?” she questioned, looking at me uncertainly for a moment.

Charlotte is practical about these things after losing her grandmother almost two years ago. We’ve had many talks about death and life, ours and others. With as much wonder as respect, I learn a little something from her each time. Perhaps I reassure her in return. I often do this while envisioning Mariko standing silently by, perhaps in approval, unseen, reminded once again.

I thought for a moment and said, “Yes, that’s in about 20 years so I should still be here.”

To this she said, “Well then, when I grow up, you better call the workers in and build a house for me right over there,” pointing to the spot, “and I’m going to stay near you so you can visit every day. I’m going to become a farm-girl.”

I don’t want to sound melodramatic but somewhere deep inside just a little piece of my heart warmed to melting when she said that. I wondered if others get this kind of thing said to them… ever in a lifetime. I may have even shook my head and looked up, wondering how the heavens could have blessed me with this kind of devotion.

She continued, “And we’ll move all your guns and weapons into my new house so I’ll be safe.”

“But, daddy doesn’t have any guns, Charlotte,”

She says, “What about the coyotes?” Ah, I think to myself, that’s where this comes from.

“Oh you’ll scare them off when you’re bigger Charlie; they’re afraid of us mostly. It’s only when you’re small like you and Howie that we have to be careful about them; that’s why daddy doesn’t let you go into the forest alone. But when you’re bigger, they’ll run away from you. Plus, I’ll always be near.”

She considered my answer and seemed satisfied.

A little while later, she came into the garage wearing coverall jeans; showing me how she’ll dress when she’s a farm girl. She asked for my advice about boots, remarking that farmers don’t have bare feet. Soon, she was walking around with her flowered rubber boots and her mother’s gardening gloves on, ostensibly to help me pull up a patch of bull thistle but really she spent her time exploring for bugs. That day she found a beautiful black and yellow spider.


So, you can see that’s what I was up against on the cat front. A little girl who unbeknownst to her has my heart held captive. Her reinforcement, a mother, my missus, a gal who ended up providing me with fresh vegetables all summer long while gardening in a dress and who can start her own gas-powered tiller.

Oh, and she gave me not one but two kids, neither to be ashamed of.


I could feel my resolve weakening as each summer day in the century old house wore on. The place needs a lot of work so no chickens this year, but the whole question of adding a menagerie of critters to our lives seems natural. Or maybe it was just that I am learning to relax and let the seasons of my life evolve as they might.

You see, it’s a full complement type place. They tell me, if you’re going to garden you’ll need animals on the land to replenish the soil. A couple of cows or cattle should do it. The chickens will spread manure around nicely. And since the forest encroaches from all sides, sending out saplings like scouts to colonize open space, we could use a few goats to keep it at bay. If we’re going to have cows and goats and chickens, a few pigs might as well be in the mix, and turkeys and ducks. The idea really: what animal could you legitimately say no to?

Once fences go up, any beast could live here. Wait a minute; perhaps I’m ahead of myself.


It was about 10 at night when the missus shrieked, “A mouse!”

Standing in the kitchen she swore one zoomed past her. We searched and sure enough, a mouse hole was uncovered high up the baseboard under the kitchen cupboards. How was that missed by the renovators? The place was built piece-meal early in the last century, and had been left empty for a year or two before a hasty remodel. Why wouldn’t it have mice? That’s probably a better question.

Off I went the next day to fetch mousetraps. Sure enough, the following morning after that, there for all to see, a good sized mouse, crushed and dead in the trap, right along the wall between the bathroom door and the door to the basement, peanut butter smeared on its face.

It traveled along the wall, I noticed. Typical for rodents… unaffected by toxoplasmosis…

Missus pipes up, non-stop: “We’ll need to get a cat! My girlfriend keeps cats on her acreage and they never come into the house… but they keep the mice problem down! She hardly feeds them… just enough to keep them around… and no mice! They’re farm cats; they make their own way and do their job. If one dies or is eaten by a coyote, there are plenty more where that one came from! We’re in the country now!” All this said in one breath.

I was a little surprised at this. Since my missus can barely kill a spider and won’t lift a swatter to swat a fly, this sudden pioneer-woman attitude was refreshing. I may have rolled film in my mind, picturing her next year slaughtering chickens, blood splatters on her dress and entrails on the floor, going about doing what is necessary for our survival. It was all so… primal.

Charlotte pipes up: “Yes daddy, let’s get a kitten. I’ll look after it and the cat can eat the mice and we can play with it.”

“You’re suggesting an outdoor cat?” I mumbled in reply, before leaving for work.

“Yes, an outdoor cat,” was the consensus reply.

Look, I’m busy. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on this stuff. I went off and forgot about it.

In the evening, my sweet woman announced that a lady just around the corner was giving away cats. She’s like that, my missus is. She finds more free stuff online than anyone I’ve ever known. Sells a fair bit of old stuff too, or gives it away. She’s a trader at heart.

So it was that while I was out to work the following day, missus and children were at the vets spending $145 on de-worming meds and whatever. Mel had a picture of the kitten and a naming contest on Facebook which I followed between appointments in the city. Her friends joined in. Creative bunch they are.


Of course, I opened my big mouth and offered up a name combination to include most of the best suggestions. And it’s my compromise that wins the day. She’d be called Miss Molly Fuzzy Patches; Miss Molly for short. I’m getting a nagging sense by then, not sure what, just an unsure feeling buried by my distractions at work, only later realizing it was a clear case of déjà vu.

So the outdoor cat comes home and the women in the house are pleased as punch.

The first evening, with the cat now an official member of the family, I suddenly realized that the mouse in my kitchen wasn’t outside. No. it had been scampering across my floor.

It dawned on me, what good was an outside cat if the mouse was inside? Inside the very house the cat was supposed to be protecting. I imagined inside mice lining up at the windows in the still of night and taunting the misplaced feline outside about the absurdity of the situation. Outside cat, inside mouse; what was I thinking?

So Miss Molly began her life here… inside.

miss molly

Charlie carried her all over, and the cat mostly slept with my daughter. Missus thought it was “adorable,” and the rest of it. Turns out, Molly purrs as loudly as my wife snores. I swear, it’s like a John Deere tractor idling. Where? You guessed it, at the end of my bed!

Not satisfied with my daughter’s company, the darn thing first tried to sleep up beside me at times, actually sharing my pillow. Instead of being out roaming the halls looking for vermin, pussycat’s in my bed waking me up like it had some right to the best comfort we could offer. It was like it knew who was running things… and did not consider me a threat in the least.

The first few weeks did not go well from my point of view. Add to that, Miss Molly had to practice hunting. Sitting on a window sill and killing a house fly stuck buzzing around and eating it is a small start but one I appreciated. That the fly weighed nothing and was about a ten- thousandth of Miss Molly’s size also dawned on me. Nevertheless, I saw this as progress and was prepared to cut her some slack.

But the nighttime habits of cats don’t mesh with my sleep. It was about the second week in that missus mentioned she thought they might be nocturnal; something I could see would be useful in the rodent control department. Presumably killing time before killing mice, in the dead of night Molly would knock around and chase whatever plastic toy was left on the floor, of which there is no shortage in my house.

I’m already bi-phasic—getting up in the middle of the night to spend a cycle reading or whatever. And I generally sleep well but lightly, as if one hemisphere of my brain is left on alert while the other side rests, dolphin-like if you can imagine.

Add to this, my youngest often wakes up for no reason, or gets up a 4-5 am and refuses to go back to sleep. “Go back to sleep Howie,” I’ll hear the missus hiss. A few moments of silence will pass, and then “No!” said firmly and matter-of-factly.

This cat was becoming a sleep deficit tipping point. Add to that, all it caught its first two months was a tiny little mouse, looked like a baby to me. Nevertheless, this was cause for celebration all around. After torturing it under the porch for what seemed like an inordinately long time, Miss Molly finally ate it down. OK. Good sign. And you want to sleep on my pillow right? Ah…no.

So it was that I had occasion to visit a dairy farm down the road a bit. This turned out to be a serendipitous stop. Looking for a way in, I happened upon the missus of the farm feeding calves in the nursery. Instead of asking her about my reason for being there, I exclaimed, “This place is awesome. Can I bring my kids to see it?”

Five hundred cows were busy lining up on their own for a turn on the milking machines. The whole place was organized into herd groups and running efficiently. She answered with a big friendly smile, “Sure, anytime. We milk twice a day, 4:30 am and again at 4:30 in the afternoon”. I said I’d be back with the family later in the week. After a pleasant conversation, I left her to her charges and went to search for her husband to talk business.

That Friday, I was back, her confessing she never expected me to return. There I was with Howie on my shoulders, Mel and Charlotte on foot. The place was humming by 5:00 o’clock. The larger herds were being milked by her sister in law—another gal with a great smile and an unmistakable efficiency about her. Meanwhile, Susanna oversaw the feeding of the new calves, as well as the cow equivalent of an ICU—where a half-dozen cows were on watch because their production was low. They got her full attention.

She was being assisted in the calf nursery by a coterie of kids, the ones belonging to the scattering of bikes we saw strewn about the path outside the barns as we arrived by truck. The ten and twelve year olds went about feeding and laying fresh hay down for the 30 odd new cows. Younger kids showed up, presumably siblings. It was these kids that got Charlotte’s attention, for each of them held a cat.

There were cats everywhere. We saw at least a half dozen in our immediate surroundings, maybe more, in three different sizes. As Susanna offered to let Charlotte try milking a cow, the Holstein beside it dropped at least a full bucket full of sloppy manure from its rear-end at a five foot height to splat all over the concrete floor. Charlie was splashed and froze in place as the excrement hit her face and clothes. A quick wipe and reassurance from Susanna failed to convince her that getting close to these critters from the back end was a smart thing to do. After all, they were twice her height too.







Mel took a turn at the cow’s teat while Charlotte returned her attention to the kittens.

It was then that Susanna suggested we take one home. There are ten here she said, we can spare one easily. After quickly conferring with sister, she re-confirmed her offer, saying, “Take a cat home, please… or take two. “

The negotiations began, but not with the adult doyennes of the milking barns. No. it was with their kids. One of the young boys, maybe six or seven, suggested we find a cat elsewhere. Yeah that’s him in all his cocky countenance in the picture up above. I countered that we already had a cat—establishing a stronger frame—like we didn’t really need your cat.  He countered by asking where we got it. I told him my wife had picked it up from a lady nearby our house. He suggested we return and get another cat from her. Nice counter, I thought. I knew I was in thick; this was to be no lay-down sale.

And so on it went. His negotiation skills were considerable. It felt nothing short of weird to find myself advocating for cat ownership with this cadre of kids. He held the high ground: these were his cats and his place and he had possession. But there I was, against cats in general, shooting down this kid’s objections and re-closing as I went. I was fighting for Charlotte now, maybe a part of me making Mariko proud.

I appealed to the group, befriending each of them. I converted most of them, ending up with allies. Most of the kids were for Charlotte taking home a cat. Of the six kids there, two held out—the little boy and his cohort little sister. Try as I might, there was just no convincing them. I respect loyalty to cause.

But Decision Maker Susanna was with Charlotte. Sorry kid, I don’t need you now, I thought. She was concerned little boy’s defense was impolite. I had to let her know that I was not offended in the least by a little feistiness. In fact, I admired him I said, throwing him a bone of victory in what was really a defeat. I hadn’t convinced him. In another situation, he would have had my backing. But with my little girl involved, the balance tipped against him in sacrifice.

Some of the cats had six toes, suspected interbreeding, she said. Here’s where my missus stepped in, examining the candidates and a choosing black and white male with five toes. The kids had named him Sketch. He’s pure barn cat; milk and mice his diet.


charlie and sketch

All the way home, the idea of two cats in the house dawned on me. I think I was caught up in the moment back at the barn, one of those occasions where I relented against my better judgment. Or perhaps it was just the universe speaking to me again, through the voice of women as usual. I’m not sure which, but two cats in the house was out of the question. Missus suggested I build a cathouse.

The faster I can build an outdoor cathouse, the better, I thought. So I had a version from scrap wood built in hours and placed it just so against my shop. It has a back door out which the cats could escape down an old gopher tunnel under the garage in case a predator attacks in the middle of the night. Fishers are a mean lot when hungry and we’ve seen them in the yard.



Perhaps I was just being hopeful. Not about the predator, but that the cats would actually use the cat-shack and live outdoors. At this point, all I knew was to not stand in the way; to be helpful in the directions things were going, towards outdoor cats, without seeming to be cruel by insisting on it. Both the cats took to their new abode like they knew it was for them. I was relieved, knowing there’d be trouble if those cats stayed in the house. I had to walk a fine line here.

We compromised: instead of living outside all the time, the cats overnighted at first in our mud room. We let them in for visits and the kids scurried after them for a time mornings and evenings. Then, they are gathered up and put out in their night time accommodations. The two cats didn’t get along but after a couple of cooler nights, they’re snuggling like old pals. At first renaming the new cat Fuzzy, Charlotte decided to keep the name Sketch. I’m not sure why, but perhaps she realized it was more fitting.

We’re thinking we might build something in the basement so they can come and go in winter. It was from there I figure the mice came from anyhow. It’s empty, moist and had flooded while the house sat empty and the power to the sump pump was shut off. Now tidied up but still old and dirty, it’s a perfect place for cats and mice.

As for their mouse catching prowess, it’s coming along nicely. Within a week, Sketch had caught one right next to the house that seemed as big as his head. I think he’s teaching Miss Molly too. Or it’s just that she’s taking longer to take on the larger ones. Truth is, they quickly adapted and couldn’t wait to be let outside in the morning. A couple of quick calls at dark and they’ll appear out of the shadows.  Sketch comes to my little girl; Molly comes to the missus.


Unbelievably, the missus and daughter are now alright leaving the cats outside all night. They don’t even come into the mud room, having abandoned it completely after a week or so. And their fur has become thicker, more luxurious. These cats are looking great.

The missus has been guided in her care and control of these animals by her friend. She was brought up a farm-girl. Her father used to let her take his pick-up truck to high school, as long as she kept the horse trailer attached. She can shoot and skin and make the kind of hard decisions that need to be made living amongst critters, wild and tame.

The missus and her often send each other pictures of each other’s kids at play. The internet is great for connecting isolated rural moms. Spying a cat indoors in the background of one of these routine pictures brought the missus an immediate rebuke. “Why is your cat in your house?” her friend demanded to know.


You know what else is pretty cool about cats, at least outdoor cats? They’ll walk with you.


When I gather my little troupe and romp down the trails surrounding the house, hundreds of acres to explore, those two cats follow like scouts, each taking up a side in our mutual exploration. Miss Molly and Sketch use this opportunity to go a bit further afield. We may not even realize they’re with us because they’ll disappear into the bush. Here and there they emerge, as if checking on our progress.


And back home, entering the back yard I’m inclined to find them lounging on top of their cat-shack. They watch, sitting like sentinels, spying, stalking and pouncing on all manner of rodents who dare to show. Missus is pretty happy to find the cats working the inside caged area of her garden, keeping nibblers at bay.


These are now working cats. Just like she said they would be. How nice is that?


At her girlfriend’s suggestion, missus got a few bales of hay from one of the local farms and stacked them all around the cat-shack for insulation. When Auntie Sharon visited a couple of weeks ago, she knitted some cat mattresses now carefully placed inside. Those cats love it in there, and don’t even try to come in the house much anymore.

This is turning out way better than I could ever have imagined. Way better. Before winter’s cold, I’ll build a cat-door to the basement they can access. It’s there the most likely ingress of rodents will occur. This way, we’ll keep the cats on their meat diet, and alive, and accessible.

I’ll also look like I care; because I really do. In the end, that’s all that really matters. In deference to all the women who continue to teach me so much, I’m paying attention. I’m also humbled to be someone’s hero.

In which case, what’s a little toxoplasmosis?


©CKWallace, October, 2016, all rights reserved

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Pets: I’m not for them at all. In fact, I’m completely against dog and cat ownership. I want nothing to do with either. I’ll tell you why.

The thing about pets that we forget is that they die. Oh, I know. You’re not supposed to talk about that bit. But, it’s true. The little critters worm their way into our hearts and lives and then we outlast them. Of course, along the way, all manner of itsy bitsy life lessons can be learned from cats and dogs, and other little creatures, but saying goodbye is always hard.

My father is 87 years old. We never had a dog during the time I lived there as part of a family of eleven, but we had a cat called Brindle Shit Brown. Of course, my father named that one. It was born high up in an apartment building and the mother cat had dropped the baby cats off the balcony one by one, presumably inviting them to live elsewhere other than in those over-crowded conditions. My father continued to have a cat in the house long after I Ieft home.

Dad says that it so crushed him to see his cat pass away a few years ago that he’s not interested in ever getting another. Too hard, he says. His last little pet used to come out mostly when no one else was around and sit on his lap while he read in his big chair. If ma was in the room, then it would sit between my mother and father, keeping an exact space within an inch of the halfway mark of each of them. It was as if it was intentionally reassuring them, showing no favouritism, both having earned its love, or whatever it is that cats offer us.

I’ve had a few pets myself over the years. I used to keep a couple of Afghan Hounds around when I was in my late teens or so. Of course, this was back before municipal laws made it mandatory to pick up your dog shit. Those fenced in school yards in the evenings made for a perfect place to let the hounds out.

Later I learned a pretty neat trick for avoiding responsibility for the care and maintenance of a dog. I’ve had three major relationships in my life. And each of these women wanted to get a “puppy” to fulfill some kind of maternal need. Of course, to a young man, a dog is better than a baby. It’s hands down a better option.

Truth is, it was my experience with the hounds early in my twenties that made me realize a few things about pets in general. They become part of your little “family” and can no more be abandoned than a sibling or child. You have to look after the suckers. That means if you want to go somewhere, they either have to come too, or you are not going. Not everyone appreciates you bringing your oversized semi-guard dog to their homes.

I suppose it’s kind of like a farmer with horses or a milking cow. That horse has to be walked or ridden daily. Twice a day, that darn cow has to be milked come hell or high water. Dogs are a bit like that with the whole walking bit, aren’t they? Only now you have to pick up the dog shit too.

There’s something about being trained by a dog to wait behind it with a little bag until it is done its business, then feeling its soft poop through the thin walls of the plastic as you gather its offering. It stinks too. Fresh excrement is like that. And while you do it, the dog either looks at you puzzled or just goes off to the next bush or clean patch of lawn to repeat itself. I remember feeling taken for granted on the odd occasion where I’ve had to do this. Conformity costs.

Afterwards, you follow the dog home while carrying a bag of shit. Even today, driving down the road, sometimes I spot a big dog with their owner following. The misnamed master carries the required bag and it reminds me of the bull balls ornament you see some guys tie to their trailer hitch on the back of their pick-up trucks. There’s no nice image that justifies this or makes it any better. You’re still carrying a bag of shit while your dog frolics along. The owners never look happy to me. If you look at them too long, they stare back defiantly.

Over the years I learned to give in to the various gals I was with when the puppy call came. I’d first act reluctant, making it was known that I was not interested in pets. They were all the pet I needed, I’d tease. Been there, done that, I might say.
Once my position was clear, predictably we’d move to the next phase.

This is where persuasion comes in. Of course, I’m no match for a determined woman in that circumstance so it was to my advantage to realize that I was arguing a foregone conclusion. If I was losing the battle anyway, getting the best possible terms while the getting was good was my drop back position. It was a pattern oft-repeated during my years with dogs.

Oh, we’d get the dog alright. But not until it was understood and agreed to that I was not its owner, would not walk it, would not feed it, would not bathe it and certainly would not be picking up shit after it like some feminized male walking a poodle for his dame.

Now you might have a poodle, or you might be happy to walk your gal’s poodle and pick up after it on her behalf. I wasn’t. It’s just me, no reflection on you. And it was under this clear understanding that in all three of my major cohabitating relationships, we got dogs. But not big dogs, mind you, small dogs.

I once knew a fella who was a notorious gangster in what’s known as the Irish Mob here in Canada. He had a small dog too. Despite this apparent incongruence in his otherwise outward appearance and reputation as a tough and masculine male, I think it was a Shih Tzu or similar sized dog he preferred. I once asked him, “George, why the small dog?” To which he answered, “Little dogs need protection too.” Of course, in that moment the answer struck me as obvious: a dog wasn’t going to protect George; he was going to protect the dog.

After my experiences with the Afghan Hounds, I realized that large dogs as actual guards have limited value. Once I gave my second dog to a friend who didn’t have one. His place was broken into and the thieves simply piped the dog over the head and proceeded to empty him out. It left him with a large vet bill and a dog with one prominent canine tooth cracked in half and missing. Champion Kanishka of Douglas didn’t look much like a champion after that.

No. A dog around the house as protection is not a sure thing. But a dog’s hearing is so good that if you’re looking for an early warning system to give you advanced notice burglars are stalking your place, a dog is the thing. They’re also good about warning you to people innocently walking by minding their own business. And squirrels, they tell you about squirrels on your property, or scampering across hydro lines in sight of the windows. Dogs watch over their domain, like a sentry standing guard against all interlopers at the top of the castle’s walls.

maggie two

So it was that most of my adult life a dog has lived in my home. One other rule I observed: each new relationship, a new breed of dog. Seems only fair, right? What kind of sick guy would manipulate three gals in succession to all get the same darn dogs? It’s deceitful. It’s the kind of thing that happens when someone has three marriages going in three different cities. Eventually, three different widows show up to the funeral. Sooner or later, you’re found out.

No. It would be a picture in an old album that would give me away; or, more likely social media currently. I knew this so it was important for me to keep things on the straight and narrow by ensuring each one of my great loves get a different breed. Luckily, fate never challenged me to the point where one had a preference another had already. It wasn’t like I could suddenly blurt out, “No. That one’s taken!” and not look like a complete idiot. After all, I wanted nothing to do with the whole thing, right? I have to say, I got lucky.

We went from Pekingese to Lhasa Apso to Havanese. All three breeds are similar and reflected their owners to a great extent. I suppose this also reflected my taste in women. The first two gals were blondes and so were their dogs—blond hair, black mask to be more precise. The last one, the Havanese, was all black. Change was due. I suppose. Read into it whatever you like but they were three small dogs bought from certified breeders at full price.

Well, except for the last one, the Havanese. Maggie May. Mel was so grateful we were getting a dog she let me name it. Somewhere, vaguely inside me, I was troubled by this: had I reached the pinnacle of my manipulation? Or was I just fooling myself? Anyway, Maggie was bought from an alternative breeder (read not Canadian Kennel Club) and I talked the lady down from $1500 to $800. Maybe not full price but not chump-change either. It was the exception.

All of them were superb pets and provided my gals with endless enjoyment, grooming, feeding, walking and cuddling them to great satisfaction. Each of them allowed me to rise to the odd occasion and walk a dog on her behalf. Say on a cold wintry night, minus temperatures and snow swirling about. That’s when I’d step up and do the right thing: joint and lighter tucked into my jacket pocket, and walk her dog for her.

The Pekes, as they are known to their owners, snort and snuffle as their pug faces take in air. They walk around with heavy chest pushed out like a diminutive bulldog. It’s pretty hard to not find them endearing. And just as our Pekes were characters, so was their owner. It takes a special person to find the beauty in the ugly. Pekes have it both. All that breeding to achieve their distinctive look takes a toll on the cardiovascular system. Their hearts give out. They die young. I went through two Pekes in that relationship

The Lhasa Apso is a good breed: Smart and loyal little pooches and not at all demanding. They are highly versatile and when their coats are allowed to grow out, a fantastic looking animal. It takes an owner who can dedicate time and effort to grooming to do the dog justice. Luckily, this breed was suited to my wife at the time because she always looked good. I’m pretty sure we had at least two, maybe even three of these dogs during our long relationship.

The Havanese is a Cuban version of a Bichon Frise. The Bichon Frise is normally white and found in the Mediterranean area of France. But in Cuba, it comes in all colours—much like the Cubans themselves. The Havanese is good for herding chickens I’m told. Of the three breeds, this was easily the smartest. It could roll over and play dead. It fetched a toy and laid it at my feet in seconds the very first time I tossed it. You could pretend to shoot it and it would die… for food.

Here’s a question: What’s with the idea that a dog has to sleep at the end of the bed? Can’t you just say no? I have to be honest here, that’s one drawback to my system. If you sleep with someone and they want their dog at the end of the bed, they will simply say, “It will sleep on MY side.” Of course, I have answers to that. Things like: “The dog wakes me up,” or “It hogs my blankets worse than you do.” In the case of the Peke, “The damn thing snores and I’m a light sleeper.”

In my experience, these are good reasons for not having a dog sleep at the end of the bed. Each of them was accepted with sensitivity by my partner, leaving me feeling validated and heard. But even so, the dogs all slept at the end of the bed, interfering with my sleep for decades. The reason for that was the dog just waited until we were asleep, left its own bed, jumped up onto ours and settled in. I know because it woke me up each time. My gal would offer me sympathy when I complained. But no remedy. It was their conspiracy.

But for all its challenges, having a small dog in the house is a joy compared to what happens when we lose one. It’s heartbreaking. Not so much for me, but I feel for my gal each time. In some dark recess of my selfishness, a dog’s death signals release. A good night’s sleep, accidents, barking and vet bills are all welcome benefits of a pet’s demise. A partner’s sadness is not. So I understand a bit about what my father was speaking about. It’s tough stuff.

Our last dog, the smartest one by far and the one I got to name, cost me ten grand in vet bills. I say that as an aside because the real challenge was when I was tasked with putting her down myself. It was something my wife asked me to do while she was at Ronald McDonald House attending to my boy’s life as he spent his first few months at Sick Kids. There she was up every two hours all day and night feeding or pumping breast milk to give our son enough of his mother’s nourishment to survive. It was the least I could do for her.

It is a funny thing how our dogs are so much like their owners. In turn, in my case, it’s a funny thing is about how our wives are often so much like our mothers.

All during the past three years as Mel has dealt with my boy’s health issues, she’s never complained. All the emergency visits to hospital; being awakened almost nightly to attend to him for one reason or another; his eating difficulties so bad that he vomited up almost everything she tried to give him for two years straight, the odd time all over her; and the uncertainty of not knowing if he’d live or die. She was stalwart. She was like my mother.

My mother had ten pregnancies in twelve years, raised nine children, cooking thirty-three meals a day for decades while keeping a house and every one on task following her marching orders. And as soon as she could she went back to her work full-time, putting her nursing background to use first as a medical secretary and later in government for the hydrographic section of Environment Canada. When cancer claimed her finally at age 86, she died on a Friday afternoon surrounded by her nine adult children and husband of sixty-two years by her side holding her hand. My father told me she apologized to him for dying.

Maggie was bleeding out of her ass and could barely walk ten feet.

A lot like her mistress, my missus, and my mother, Mel’s mother in law, the little dog who could do so many tricks never complained. She just tried to carry on, right to the end. She would look at me through her curly black hair and those dark eyes and wait for my signal, at the ready like a good little soldier. She was so accepting of my authority as her pack mate, her alpha and protector.

I can’t say this delicately: the vets offices I called for help in putting her down were assholes. They were condescending, patronizing, contemptuous of my wife’s decision (which I was tasked with carrying out), and disrespectfully obstructionists. I ended up doing it and burying that little dog myself. I fed her steak before she went.

For the last few dogs, I’ve written eulogies. Each has been moving to me and others, cathartic expressions of a cherished being’s impact on all of us. Dogs really are a man’s best friend. I’m a bigger believer now.

This might seem inconsistent of me given I accept little responsibility for the pet’s existence in the first place. Call it maturity perhaps. Or, call it an abatement of testosterone. Maybe it’s just a greater connection to my environment and allowing the bigger picture to speak to me more directly, or through me.

It’s remarkable how often messages from the universe arrive to me in the form of a woman’s voice. I’m not sure I want to understand how that works, though I do. But watching how pained my loved ones are at the demise of a beloved pet provokes in me whatever semblance of poetic licence I can muster to try my best to do some kind of justice to their cause.

My women all loved their pets and I seek to honour their loyalty—especially as the person responsible for providing the animal in the first place. Pets are like family, and no restricted involvement rules set at the outset protects one from this eventuality. If I was a reluctant owner, the dogs made me their alpha because they recognize a deeper natural order that exists far beyond my self-interest.

Recently I moved to a 200 acre spread a few miles outside town, 20 minutes from my father’s place. Not everyone gets to be near their parents as they fade so I feel very grateful to be here. It’s also a great place to grow kids.

It’s mostly bush, very little land is cleared for agricultural use. That means the forest is steps from our back door. There are plenty of coyotes around, and we’ve seen fishers and foxes. Add to that my wife wants chickens. This is what happens you see: you give a gal a couple of kids and they want chickens. Can you imagine poultry in such circumstances without a dog to stand guard over the flock? Seems to me that is almost obligatory conditions for dog-ownership.

I imagine any day now I’ll be writing to announce how my wife and two kids have a new dog. It could happen.

Meanwhile, next time I’ll tell you how we now have not one, but two cats.

Yeah, you read that right. Not winning here. Not winning at all.


charlie and sketch


miss molly









©ckwallace September, 2016. all rights reserved.

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