Sorry, I Don’t Speak Parent

Saturday, mid-afternoon at the local park. Young dads like myself are out in full force. Some are here, I’m sure, to spend some time with their kids after a busy workweek. Most, however, are here to ensure that their wives get a much-needed break and don’t end up, as my better half once put it, “going a little cray-cray”.

As I wait for my turn at the swings, I overhear some fathers talking tech. There seems to be rapport among the members of my community that I have missed out on for the last six years. Part of me wants to introduce myself to these guys, being a proud new father just like them, but I simply don’t like people enough. Sometimes I wish I were more like my father, who would start conversations in elevators. Ava seems to share my father’s appreciation of people, as she stares intently at the little people running between the swings and the slides. Speaking of swings, or more specifically, the baby-bucket swings, the children using them at the moment look suspiciously over-age. I feel like I should say something, but then I remember I am a strange man in a park filled with youngsters, so I decide keep my mouth shut.

You think I’m being paranoid? I kid you not. These parents look relaxed, comparing their Galaxies and iPhones, but each one of them is vigilant as a East-German border guard. Once in my pre-child days, when my sister visited from overseas, and we took her kids to the playground. We were sitting on a park bench, and I was just about to take the first sip from my cappuccino when she leaned over and whispered, “keep your eyes peeled, there’s a strange guy over there.” I looked, but I couldn’t single him out, but nevertheless I ventured the question, “how do you know he’s strange?” to which my sister answered, “he’s got a beard”.

You have no idea how precarious my situation is. I am one baby away from having my description read out on the local police radio frequencies. It doesn’t help that Ava’s primary interest right now is the other children. This coupled with my rather anti-social demeanour probably makes for a rather confusing mix for the other parents, much like a pit-fighter who uses luxury foot cream.

A very small part of me worries they’ll think that Ava is not mine. This is not a bizarre thought for me. Often on long walks I daydream about being questioned by the police over the matter, my imagined reaction varying from a polite and cooperative Ned Flanders to Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield.

Now, it may sound like I’m trying to portray myself as some kind of misfit, but that’s not true. Looking at myself then at the other fathers, it is impossible to distinguish me from them. All of us are a little doughy and worse for wear, wearing casual-fit jeans and sporting a little Saturday stubble under our chins.

All in all, I guess I haven’t yet embraced the social aspect of fatherhood, or at least mastered its vernacular. In other words, I am not yet comfortable with speaking “parent”. Not to worry, though. Ava, whose presence in my life has reacquainted me with public swimming pools and petting zoos, hasn’t quite mastered the Queen’s English yet, so I still have some time to prepare.


The Old Dude in the Mirror

Ava has become fascinated by her reflection. Because of this, lately, I’ve been spending more time looking in the mirrors around the house. It could be that I haven’t been getting much sleep lately (my fault: gaming on the weekends; during the workweek, pre-dawn anxieties about not fulfilling my mother’s prophecy of becoming Prime Minister of Canada) but I think my own reflection is finding it more difficult to hold the pretence that I am still young and beautiful. This is something that photographs of me had given up doing long before I turned 35. In regards to photos, I’ve come to expect that no matter how much effort I put into posing, I’ll always end up looking like the victim of a kidnapping. I’m surprised I haven’t taken to holding the front page of newspaper in front of my chest whenever anyone reaches for a camera.

Until lately though, I could always blame my god-awful appearance in photos on simply being unphotogenic, like a recessive gene. But now that my daughter has me looking at my haggard appearance in the mirror twenty times a day, my reflection is unable to keep up. It just doesn’t have the energy to lie to me anymore. Sure, there are still a number of ways I can position my head which make me look 25, though all of them are simply variations on something I like to call the “jaw-jut”, which tightens the skin around the lower half of my face and temporarily smoothes out my ever-growing set of truckers’ jowls.

My mother says she is always surprised that when she looks in the mirror, she expects to see an eighteen-year-old looking back at her. While some my say this is one of life’s small tragedies, I am going to go out on a limb and say that my situation is slightly crueller. For years now, my mirror has been hiding the truth that my photographs have been trying to show me. For years, I’ve essentially been acting as though I look like a twenty-year-old. At best, this could mean that I’ve been acting like the energetic jokester who never fails to brighten every workplace he inhabits. At worst, it means I’ve been behaving like the pudgy guy in the office with the pleated pants and ponytail who believes all the women there think he’s cute.

Perhaps I should view this as an opportunity. Maybe by accepting the newfound wrinkles and face-girth my reflection has been working so hard to conceal, can I finally accept – at least partially – my own mortality. Maybe that’s what fresh-faced, button-nosed daughters are for: to encourage you to look and accept how quickly time moves.

Adventures in Male Grooming

It was meant to be another Saturday afternoon swim in the public wading pool with Ava, were it not for a slight complication moments before we were supposed to leave.

I had decided to cut my toenails.

It seemed like a good idea to give the old box-cutters a little trim, being that we were about to be semi-nude in mixed company with a rather large group of strangers. Now, while I may be a liberal-minded artist in most respects, I am deeply fundamentalist when it comes to my feet. As they spend most of their time modestly covered, my toes often don’t get the attention they deserve. Without going into much gruesome detail, let’s just say that cutting my toenails requires a little more than the modern, lever-action nail-clippers; usually something with a little “heft” to it, something could handle its own dealing with Chinese Sumac in my back yard.

While I’m in a confessional mood, I would just like to admit here that I’ve always had a mild phobia of those lever-action nail clippers because they remind me of pliers. My toes, as with a few other body parts, are the last places I would want to use anything that resembles a set of wire-strippers.

Anyway, as it happens, I had gotten a little careless trimming my toenails and just as I was putting on my socks, I noticed I had cut my middle toe on my right foot, just under the nail. If you’re surprised that I hadn’t noticed the cut when it happened, I guess I have to chalk it up to a “guy thing”, or maybe just a “Rocco thing”. I can go days without noticing minor injury. My body has probably been inflicted by thousands of scrapes and bruises, and has duly dealt with these slights without the least of my knowledge or gratitude.

Normally, I would have tisked myself and gone about my day, but since I was going to a public pool where I would be showering and wading among the great, and recently-washed, masses, I was suddenly teleported back to the late 80s, with the feathered hairdos and great public realization that AIDS was not just something that you worried about in San Fran. Suddenly, every water fountain and toilet seat was suspect. Needless to say, with my foot-related grooming injury, I was scared and tenderly mortal. I needed an answer.

After Googling “should I go swimming in a public pool with a cut on my toe?”, an answer is what I got, from of all places. I like the site. It’s a great place to settle an argument. But this was my life we were talking about here, and would I really want to put my trust in people who feel it necessary to have cartoon caricatures for their profile pics? Besides, in the health and incurable disease department, I don’t want to rely on an answer that received the most votes because it “sounds good”.

I then decided to call TeleHealth Ontario. For those living outside the province, it’s a government attempt to reduce emergency room wait times by letting people speak to a registered nurse over the phone about their health problems. “You mean I don’t have to take my daughter to the ER?” A relieved-looking woman states on one of the public notices about the program. Of course, in the land of cheap lawyers and million-dollar settlements, it’s pretty much what they tell you to do anyway.

How big is the cut? Can you describe it? Is it still bleeding? Can you walk? Are you in severe pain? Are there any tendons showing? Is the toe discharging pus? Do you see any growing redness or swelling? Any reddening of your veins or arteries? Do you feel dizzy or light-headed?

No? Well it’s good that you’re OK sir. Now, in regards to your question, I suggest you call your local pool.

In a nutshell, I was told by a registered nurse that the best answer I can get about catching a contagious, incurable disease is from a lifeguard.

Who knew? Baywatch was right all along.

Anyhow, twenty minutes, one restless baby and one hypochondriac later, we decided to go to a local petting zoo, where our daughter would exhibit a lot of excitement about the other patrons and absolutely no interest in the pigs or cows. But that’s a story for another day.