It’s Been Two Months? Another Pop Culture Snapshot.

I was shocked to realize it’s been two months since I last added to this blog. One of the hazards of writing a parenting blog is parenting gets in the way. And work. And laundry. And catching up on Netflix. And writing to do lists. And adding updating FB status to my to-do list. And then of course, actually updating my FB status.

So in an effort to get something down now, I thought I’d add another Snapshot of life at Pop Culture.

3 boys. All different as well illustrated by this recent dinner table exchange:

Primo (age 11): Yeah, Mr. Billingsley, the Junior Band instructor, asked me and Jon to join the Senior Band since they don’t have any trumpets. Which is cool to do but it would mean I would have to get to school early for practice – so I’m not sure…

Terzo (age 6): What? You could play in the senior band? (jumps up from table and brandishes fist). GO FOR IT!

Secondo (age 8): (looking up at Terzo from under lowered lids, smirking) Don’t go for it.

Laughter all around – except from Terzo who tries to punch Secondo and storms off crying because he thinks we’re making fun of him.

IT DOESN’T TAKE A VILLAGE… IT TAKES THE PARENT TO RAISE A CHILD

Yesterday I met up with a good friend for a coffee. A “good friend” at this stage of the parenting game is someone you see once a year or more by choice outside of any obligations of work or because they are related to a friend of one of your children. It’s a sad state of affairs that you often see the people you like best the least and spend much of your time with people you have little in common with outside of work or parenting. This is not to say I haven’t made some good friends simply because their kids are friends with my kids – I have and it’s been great to be exposed to a whole new group of people at a similar stage of life with shared experiences. It’s really not since University that you probably have gone through such a thorough rearranging of friendships and personal networks. But still. Still. You have good friends from important stages of your life that you never see unless you work really hard at it – and the best you’re often likely to achieve is a couple of times a year.

This is all to say that I get it – I understand the desire of the woman with the feral two year old child left to roam Starbucks so she could catch up with her dear dear friend from when she was young and had dreams and an exciting future. But honey, babe, sweets, you clearly did not get the memo – THERE IS NO HANGING OUT WHEN YOU HAVE SMALL KIDS. That is over. Until at least, like my friend and I, your kids are in full day school or daycare.
My friend and I, both with young children, been through the kids wars etc., would regularly pause in bewilderment and increasing outrage as we watched various Starbuck staff return said child from his peregrinations of the store and its various displays. Over and over again. I’m not sure but it looked like by the end the staff behind the counter were doing rock paper scissors over who would corral the kid this time.
It is so selfish and unfair to make other people have to put up with your kids because you cannot be bothered to do the work which is parenting. Yes. I am uptight and  rules-governed. And your point? I look after my kids so that other people do not have to. It is not their job, their responsibility and it is certainly not the obligation of minimum wage service workers – they have milk to froth. What further bothers me about these lazy-fair parents is their unbridled outrage if you need to speak to their child about their behaviour.
A couple of years ago I took my kids to a water park. We were standing in line and this snaky little kid cut in front of us, in particular in front of my kid who was younger and smaller so I called snake on it. Told him to go to the back of the line like everyone else did and wait his turn. The SHOCK on his face to be told to follow the rules. The FURTHER SHOCK when I insisted and made no bones about that he had no option. He slunk to the back and I thought it was over. My kids embarrassed again about me speaking out in public about bad behaviour (BTW I do this to adults too – it can get tense).
Imagine my disbelief when snake brings his mummy over to me later to chew me out.
“Did you speak to a little boy in line?”
“Yes. I told him to go to the back of the line because he was cutting in front of other people.”
Did she get that her kid was being a shit? No. She was outraged that I would dare speak to him and then further outraged that I refused to apologize. Is it any wonder that the kid behaves as he does? Apple meet Tree. She finally swept off telling her child to stay away from “this bad man” i.e. me. Fine by me. If you don’t want other people not to tell your kids that they’re misbehaving then manage them yourself.
In fact think it is my duty to point out to people when they are breaking the rules of civility because otherwise we end up with an uncivil society. Sure people don’t like it, they get angry, they get defensive but maybe, just maybe, if enough of us speak up they’ll get that they just can’t behave a certain way.
I’ve also been on the other end of people telling me essentially that I am doing a bad job as a parent.
( See http://popculture-superdad.blogspot.ca/2012/09/and-there-were-wolves.html)
The result: 1) Yeah, I know that. I go to bed every night knowing that and swear I’ll try to do better next time and that I’ll probably fail; 2) It makes you angry sometimes – how dare this person judge you?; 3) Sometimes they’re right and, after you get over yourself, you try and do better; and 4) Sometimes they’re wrong and, if so, you can just shrug it off and go on your way.
So back to Starbucks. This kid was too young to be spoken to – it wasn’t his fault – it was his mother’s. After the fourth time of her kid being returned it finally happened. CRASH!!! Behind us the kid broke one of the mugs on display. Surprise. Surprise. The mother didn’t even seem apologetic. She just quickly got up, I think paid for the mug and left (with the kid).
What goes on in these people’s heads? Maybe she just figured a $10 mug was cheaper that paying a babysitter.

SIBLING RIVA+LRY

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My kids compete over everything: who can wash their hands first, who gets to sit at the head of the table, who makes the best Perry the Playtpus chitter. Everything. And it’s maddening. I usually just tell them to stop arguing over stupid stuff like that or I’ll send them to their rooms so I can get some peace and quiet.

That said, I realize what mostly bothers me is that they’re competing over stupid meaningless trivia (like who has the best Pokémon card) rather than stuff that matters – see, I am actually OK with being competitive for stuff that matters.

We’re following the, so far for Canada, awesome Winter Olympics and, when we heard on the radio that Canada had for the first time ever led in the medal standings, my 8 year old exclaimed, “Yes! IN YOUR FACE, NORWAY!” Words truly that I never thought to hear from anyone. Yet, I laughed really hard and was in full agreement with the sentiment.

So when they brought home their report cards and were competing over who had the best report card, (Oh, yeah! I am the best in Self-Regulation!) I know that I may be reaping some sort of hurricane down the road, but I couldn’t help but being pleased.

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BREAKING (DOWN) DAD

breaking dad.jpg

I’m partway through watching Breaking Bad (just started  Season Four, so no spoilers!) and LOVE IT. Does it have anything to do with the protagonist being a hapless, disappointed midlife white male who’s losing his hair? Or that he then turns his life around and becomes a master of his own destiny and a thorough bad-ass? No! Why would I identify with that? Sheesh. It is because of its satirical take on extreme capitalism and the death of the American Dream, of course. Actually, it probably has to do with what I think the show is really about: what it means to be a MAN.

For those of you who’ve been  living in a gimp-chest, Breaking Bad is about Walter White, an emasculated high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This causes a series of reactions – the primary being a boiling over of rage at his wasted life and the compromises that have brought him to the point where he is going to die, leaving his family unprovided for. He makes the fateful decision to “cook” crystal meth as a way of making vast amounts of money in a short time and, critically, he does it by harnessing his untapped brilliance and skills at chemistry. It is a perfect match – he is doing something only he can do and, by doing it, he is providing for his family. The dilemma is that it must be a secret activity since it is illegal and he doesn’t want his family to know and lose respect for him. This is what Walt craves more than anything – respect, both external and internal. And these sources of respect  are at constant war.

Walt alternates between self-hatred at what he has become and pride in his accomplishments. He also de facto gains another son in Jesse Pinkman, a failed former high school student of his, who becomes his partner in crime. The difference in his behaviour to Jesse and to his real son is striking – not just because he is so verbally abusive to Jesse but because in a weird way he is a different, real, unmediated self with Jesse. There’s no filter. He bullies an berates Jesse as he aims to instruct him in the way of being a “man”, something he rarely displays with his real son (who suffers from cerebral palsy) and whom he clearly loves but is forced to treat gently.( It’s also amazing how throughout the whole process Jesse always refers to Walt as “Mr. White”, a reflection of his past as Jesse’s teacher and currently another kind of teacher and father-figure. Damn, this show is good).

I wonder if other dads also struggle with being their “best” self with their sons and telling them all the “right” things to do and say while part of them wants to just be themselves and tell them the ugly “truth” about the way the world is and how to survive and thrive in it.  Or is that just me and Walt? For the record, I do not cook meth; I have chosen the much better paid profession of freelance writing.

It drives Walt crazy that his son (Walter White Jr.)  idolizes his DEA agent uncle and disregards Walt’s ‘coolness’. Junior loves his dad’s gentle, honest and caring ways but is clearly infatuated with the life of danger and excitement and rawness his uncle seems to have. Every father wants to be a hero to his son. Walt struggles with wanting his son to know what he has done for him with fears that his son would not understand, it would not be appropriate to tell him and that he would in fact revile Walt. Can one be a hero to your son if he knows your secret worst self or must you be someone else to your son in order for them to respect you? And if you’re not your real self what are you teaching them?

These thoughts – that Breaking Bad is essentially a meditation through a fun house mirror on what it means to be a man in a world which no longer values typical male attributes – were justified in one late season 3 conversation  Walt has with his boss, Gustavo Fring, who is trying to talk Walter into continuing with his drug career. Gus hones in on this tension within Walter – his need for respect and his need to do something he is good at competing with his need to provide for his family. Gus scoffs at Walter’s need for his son to know what he has done for the family and for his respect. Gus tells Walt that his job AS A MAN is to do what he must do for his family even though he will get no respect or thanks or recognition. That in fact is part of what is a truly manly man – one who does his duty without hope of recognition or praise because it is right. Damn, old school.

Mind you, in Walt’s case it is a truly twisted application of this creed but there is something satisfying in Walt’s pursuit of his own way of being a man. He does many things that are wrong and have unhappy consequences for those he loves. He lies, kills, and creates a drug which destroys lives (but only the finest purest product, Walt always respects the chemistry) – how is it we (or at least I) still like this guy? He begs and bargains for his life and that of his family throughout the series but, while there is clearly some self-preservation going on, he is convinced it always has to do with saving his family (which includes Jesse Pinkman). It is a clever move of Gus, as well, because, like most people, Walt’s motivations are not pure – there is still a great deal of pride in what motivates him. I can see that this pride and the increasingly dangerous game he is playing will put these two fathers within Walt into increasing conflict.

So no easy summation here – this is partly what makes BB such a great show. I am fascinated to see how Walt, like so many of us, negotiates the various pulls on him in his quest to be, if not a good man, then a good father. And what is that anyway? Man, I could write about this show forever. Futher thoughts on this follow at some later date.

CASTING FOR MY SHORT, PARENTAL ADVISORY, STARTS TOMORROW

Believe it or not I was not expecting to see this when I clicked on ACTRA’s site but gives me a thrill anyway. Note the second entry:

’s Shooting?

ACTRA Toronto > Performers > What’s Shooting?
If you are working on one of the productions listed here and have questions about the working conditions or other issues covered by an ACTRA agreement, please contact that production’s Steward (email address on the far right of the table). If you have questions about AoS (Accident on Set) please email  Tania Cardwell.

Click on any heading to sort the list.

Production Phone Start Date (mm/dd/yyyy) End Date (mm/dd/yyyy) Casting BG Casting/ BG Count Stunts Insurer Steward Steward Email
MIKE THE KNIGHT AND THE JOURNEY TO DRAGON MOUNTAIN – ANIMATION (416)479-6525 01/29/2014 01/31/2014         CINDY RAMJATTAN cramjattan@actratoronto.com

PARENTAL ADVISORY: DISCIPLINARY MEASURES – TIP SHORT

(416)465-0004 02/22/2014 02/23/2014         CINDY RAMJATTAN cramjattan@actratoronto.com

http://www.actratoronto.com/performers/whats-shooting/

POP CULTURE: A ROYAL PAIN

Pop Culture provides various takes on being a Modern Dad, inspired by pop culture references from movies, books, comics and TV shows.

When  I first saw the movie “The Royal Tenenbaums” I was disappointed. But I LOVED the ne’er-do-well patriarch Royal Tenenbaum. When his 11-year old daughter Margot put on a play which she wrote Royal said, “I didn’t find it believable,” and, “What characters? This is a bunch of little kids dressed up in animal costumes.” After Margot excused herself he said, “Well, sweetie, don’t be mad at me. That’s just one man’s opinion.”

I laughed so hard at moments like these – he is brutal but hilarious. He doesn’t do what Dads are SUPPOSED to do. When I re-watched the movie recently two things were different – I liked the movie more than I remembered and I didn’t find Royal’s shenanigans nearly so funny. The main difference? I’m a Dad now.

Twenty years after this episode, Royal claims he is dying in order to worm his way back into his estranged wife’s home and heart. Royal is still an unredeemed jerk – selfish, dishonest and reckless with other people’s feelings – but something happens – he bonds with his grandsons, whom are under the thumb of their own overprotective father (Royal’s alienated son).

Royal takes them on wild adventures: crossing against the light, go-carting in the street, betting on dog fights, and sneaking rides on the back of garbage trucks. Eventually, his ruse is uncovered and, though he is in even greater disgrace, he ultimately realizes all he has lost out on by being an absent father. He is granted redemption when he rescues his grandsons from a car crash and so reconnects with his alienated son – to the point that they are together when Royal dies of a heart-attack later that same year.

So, what’s the moral? It’s never too late to try and get better as a father. You don’t have to become someone you’re not – just a better version of yourself. This is summed up by what Royal requests on his tombstone:  “Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum (1932-2001) Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Remains Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship”. Of course, the real rescue was of Royal by his family.

Christopher Sweeney is a chauffeur, short order cook, quartermaster, frontline medic and a laundryman – i.e. a Modern Dad. He is also a lawyer, University lecturer and writes award-winning graphic novels, screenplays, online games and other transmedia projects. Check out more Pop Culture pieces on his blog: popculture-superdad.blogspot.com. You can also follow his ravings on Twitter @SweeneyWriter.
 
A version of this article appears in the recurring column Pop Culture in Village Living Magazine: West Village and Village Living: Mount Pleasant.

 

My comedy short Parental Advisory just got bravoFACT funding!

Woot Woot!

 

“All projects awarded bravoFACT grants at the November 20, 2013 meeting are listed below. Thank you to everyone who applied. Applicants who received a grant will be contacted directly with information outlining the amount awarded and other important details. Below is a list of the award recipients from this round.Congratulations!

Congratulations to the following awardees:

Project: Parental Advisory: Disciplinary Measures Director: Jamie Escallon Buraglia

http://www.bravofact.com/2013/10/08/bravofact-announces-award-recipients-from-november-20-jury-meeting/

But Can The Marriage Survive When Dad Is A Kept Man?

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This is the bullshit subheading of Leah McLaren’s cover story in the most recent Toronto Life magazine: Power Wives and Their House Husbands. This is typical of many Toronto Life stories – all sizzle, no steak. Beyond the lack of any real analysis, the article fails to deliver on its premise – that marriages are in trouble when Dad stays home to raise the kids. In fact, the entire article showcases families that are perfectly happy and well-functioning under this set up. So WTF Toronto Life and Leah McLaren? As usual in Toronto Life stories, it is gossip, opinion, narcissism and unsubstantiated claims masquerading as journalism. Hey, my blog can fall under those categories too but it makes no pretense at journalism and you don’t have to pay to read it

What the article really is about is Leah McLaren trying to get her head around why ANYONE would choose to stay at home to raise their children if they had any choice whatsoever. The fact that she is a mother makes this difficulty a little concerning. Really? No conflict about leaving the raising of your children to other people? None? That, to me, is weird and maybe more of an interesting story. At least then the preening self-absorption is up front and not the subtext of a story claiming to report on external reality.

Admittedly, I did not go into reading this article with an open mind. It seemed like crap from the get-go but I was drawn to see what she had to report. The short answer – not a lot with substance.

I am not going to blow a lot of smoke about how fulfilling being a stay at home parent is because much of it is not. Much of it is repetitive drudgery and frustration. But it is important. It is worthwhile. Unlike a lot of jobs, like say, being a freelance journalist writing middlebrow articles for disposable magazines like Toronto Life. Being a stay at home parent doesn’t usually pay very well but if your boss is a demanding megalomaniacal jerk it can be somewhat forgiven in that he is 5 years old not 45, unlike in a lot of jobs.

McLaren mentions the old paradigm of mothers having to stay at home because they had no other choices, power or education and gave up money, status and a larger role in the world. She wonders why anyone now would choose that, be it a man or a woman. The answer is built into the very question: choice. Choosing to do something makes all the difference. These are not “kept men” or “trophy husbands”. The men in the article are all well educated and professionally successful who chose to put their careers on hold for a while to raise their kids. It’s not like they are condemned to spending their lives doing it.

Yes, there will be professional consequences but they don’t care. Maybe part of that is that they have learned that many jobs (and I’d venture to say most) or aspects of them are NOT fulfilling either. Most people work because they have to and they get paid to do it.  If you had a choice, why wouldn’t you spend time with your children? You had them after all – they’re expensive creatures. Why did you have them if not to spend time with them? That said, nothing made me happier than to go back to work after spending a long parental leave at home. That soon passed though. What I really liked was being able to choose (to some small degree) the shape of my life. I am happy I was not constrained by the small-minded attitudes of people who cannot conceive of deviating from the (new) traditional path. The real horror movies are ones like “The Piano”, “Mansfield Park” and “The Age of Innocence” where people could not choose the path to their happiness because they could not escape the confines of their societies.

Mind you, I personally couldn’t spend time at home with my kids if I didn’t have other things going on in my life professionally or otherwise – I do need more stimulation and personal growth than spending all day with small children can give you. I like trying to strike that balance. This points out the false dichotomy in McLaren’s article: you don’t have to choose one or the other.

I would have liked to have seen some dads who did not have the choice and were resentful. There are probably a lot of them – victims of the man-cession a few years ago and the societal shift to shed old-style manufacturing jobs. There might be others whose wives make a lot of money and they didn’t and so it didn’t make financial sense to pay someone else to raise your kids. Rock paper scissors – you lose. Those guys may not be temperamentally suited to the gig or like the fact it was foisted on them. Maybe they come from a background which told them their entire identity came from the job they held and the amount of money they brought home to the family (wait a minute, that’s all of us). Maybe it’s easier for effete liberals like me though. This is tough – society never really held out being a stay at home dad  as a viable and respectable option and for some classes and cultures it would be shameful. This reminds me of women on the cusp of the last sexual revolution who stayed home to raise their kids and watched their younger sisters go off and have careers and despise them for not doing the same.

Or how about featuring some women who despised their husbands for being at home? At least justify the premise of the article. There are women out there, like McLaren apparently, who feel men who earn less than they do or are interested in a more nurturing role are lesser men and not attractive. Maybe this is the real idea behind the subtitle – that if she had a spouse who’d rather spend time at home than work she’d lose interest in him and hook up with some alpha male bond trader, seal hunter or MMA aspirant. I don’t know. She perpetuates this stigma against men who choose (or have to accept) the modern reality of many parents. This attitude is what really pisses me off. Like the old canard about women who wanted careers who must be lesbians, or not able to get a man or are frigid bitches etc.

I don’t get the motivation for this article. Maybe this ties into the last article McLaren wrote for Toronto Life about how she couldn’t make her first marriage work because she was a child of divorce herself. It seemed that she hooked up with her current spouse while still married to her first husband. Nice.

Or maybe it has something to do with not always putting yourself first and doing the hard work of being a parent – especially if you don’t have kids simply to add to the list of your “accomplishments”.