Saturday, 15 June 2019

Kudos for Pater Familias

It's Saturday morning and I have a to-do list. But before I can get out the door, two little feet enter, attached to granddaughter Grace. She’s come to “help” Daddy, who is picking up things at our house.

“Hi Oma,”she says cheerfully. “I brought my Elsa doll along so we can play.” And somehow my to-do list evaporates. I'm a sucker for 4-year olds.

And so for the next half hour we do things together. She draws a picture of Oma, and writes my name all by herself.

It's added to the fridge door, along with the photos of good times.

 We string necklaces together. We pick up some spilled screws with a magnet. We carry things into the car. Truly, it's fun. And we didn’t even play with Elsa.

Then I realize that tomorrow is Father's Day, and if my husband had not become a father, and if our son had not become a father, I wouldn't be having this delightful time. I know that Father’s Day is a commercial construct, and expectations of what a father should be are absurdly unrealistic in the commercial world. Still, I’d like to honour fathers – and all the men who have been like fathers to us. It doesn’t take a lot of shuffling through the memory bank to come up with some visual images of times which may have seemed quite ordinary, but have left a lasting impression. .

The first is not a memory, but a time captured in a photo and passed on as a family story. I am a very active toddler, and we are immigrating. The weather is bad, and my mother is stuck in her bunk, terribly seasick. So it’s dad who chases after me, who changes my diapers. It’s not a role he’s been taught, and his efforts are clumsy enough to make my sick mother laugh, but he does it.

Then, I am about 6 years old, exploring the countryside with dad. He takes my sister and me over to a fence. One by one, he lifts us to his shoulders so we can see over the hedgerow. There’s a lake behind it, and – oh, wow! – in the middle of the lake floats a log with turtles sunbathing on it. It’s the beginning of my love for nature. Later, I am a teenager, growing a small garden as a high school science project. Patiently, he stands beside me, showing me how to plant the beans, hill the potatoes, thin the beets, and now I still hear my dad’s voice when I am working in the garden. Dad was always there ... sometimes he embarrassed us, sometimes he annoyed us, sometimes he frustrated us – fathers do that! –  but he was there. To paraphrase a common meme, 90% of caring is just showing up.

Many years later, the Resident Sweetie is loading the car. He’s taking our sons, aged 7 and 5, one of whom has just conquered bedwetting, camping for the weekend. No moms allowed. They return Sunday evening, grubby and sunburnt, wet sleeping bag in tow, and full of stories. “Dad made the best supper,” exclaims the oldest. And it was...ta da ...Hamburger Helper! (They still like it, I think.)

He participates in the potty-training, coaches their soccer teams, becomes “Mr. Mom” when I am out of town, takes them for hikes, attends the father-child event at school. 

He works hard at a job that’s not always fun, to supply their needs. He hugs and holds and dries tears.

He, and all fathers like him, are the unsung heroes who don’t appear in the commercials, but do appear in their childrens' lives in ordinary ways, steadfast and committed. And are still there for them whenever they need dad, even though they are all grown up.

And now I watch our three sons parent our 7 beautiful grandchildren. Guess what they’re doing? They’re taking them for walks to discover nature. They’re in on the potty training, they’re helping their children pick out gifts for mom on Mother’s Day, changing wet bed sheets, cooking Hamburger Helper dinners, being “Mr. Mom” when their wives are out of town, coaching soccer,

reading them stories

accompanying field trips, showing them how to create something beautiful, working hard to give them a secure childhood, and best of all, bringing their children to visit Oma and Opa on a regular basis so we can play and laugh and visit with them.

Here’s to the men in our lives – not just the dads, but also the grandparents, uncles, friends, mentors, in-laws, spouses, sons and more – who showed up when it counted, who have taught us, not in grandiose gestures, but in everyday actions, by word and example, what it means to be a father.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Delight or Dilemma?

The peonies are blooming, big fat pink globes swaying in the breeze. Just bend down and take a carries you right back to childhood’s scents and sights.

And here are the irises – frilly yellow petals perking up a corner of the yard.

The bleeding hearts are still dancing daintily from their curved stems, and the first red, red rose of summer has appeared on the trellis by the shed. This back yard is a gardener’s delight.

And also, unfortunately, a gardener’s dilemma, overshadowed by a big question mark. The question is this: is our garden helping or harming the earth?

You see, my eyes have been opened to a problem. My enlightenment has come about bit by bit. It started when a friend posted a blog about native plants and their importance to wildlife habitat; almost in her footsteps, one of my blog-subscribers suggested I might consider some native plants for our pretty garden that I’d been bragging about. Then came the books, such as Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

Then, two weeks ago, the latest prod: a workshop with the inviting title “Attracting Birds, Bugs, Butterflies and Bees to our gardens.” The teacher looked like a sweet woman, but she was fierce about her cause.  “The insects are disappearing,” she said, mincing no words. “It’s not just nice to attract wildlife to our gardens. It’s imperative.” And our lovely ornamental gardens are not doing a good job at that.

There are numerous studies to prove that insects species are declining at an alarming rate, and you can't really argue with the numbers. You can read all about this at This is distressing reading, but it is important. This is our world, and there is no Planet B. Reading the information available to us is like studying the instruction manuals for Preserving Planet A. We've been pretty arrogant in the past, thinking we know it all. But we don't.

Insects aren't sexy or cute, like the panda, so they don't get a lot of attention. But, say the scientists, they are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems; they pollinate plants, are food for other animals, aerate our soil, shred plant and animal debris, control other insect pests, and even, in some nations, provide a protein-rich food source to humans. But they are disappearing at the rate of 2.5% per year. That doesn’t sound like much till you do the math and add it to what has already been lost. Within 100 years, this planet may well be barren.

The main reason for this decline is the way we do agriculture, removing thickets and trees from the edges of fields, draining wet areas, using herbicides and insecticides that kill off the grubs that continue to renew the soil. Climate change is also a contributing factor, but so are the ways we take care of our urban spaces. And that's where our gardens come in.

The reasoning goes something like this: most pollinator insects have evolved alongside certain host plants. They are on the lookout for those plants, and no matter how colourful and attractive our gardens are, filled with exotics from Japan and hybrids bred for gorgeous colours, these insects will not come visit your flowers for the simple reason that they don’t recognize them. We take pride in our neat and tidy gardens, but insects are looking for messy places to hide and nest. I ask myself if my lovely peonies are just taking up space, while starving butterflies and insects are desperately looking for sustenance.

I am not so naive as to think that if I fix up my garden, the problem will be solved. “However,” says Tallamy, “because nearly 85% of the U.S. is privately owned, our private properties are an opportunity for long-term conservation if we design them to meet the needs of the life around us.” (My guess is Canadian statistics are similar.) “We need to redesign residential landscapes to support diverse pollinator populations and complex food webs, store carbon, and manage our watersheds.”

"So," I ask my workshop leader, "does this mean I have to tear out my peonies, irises, and other beauties and replace them with goldenrod and willows? Are you saying I can't plant geraniums and petunias in our patio pots anymore?"

Well, at least there's one "goodie" in here. I planted a trailing mint, which attracts lots of insects.
She smiles. “We call this ‘editing’ the garden,” she says gently.

So that’s what I’m doing: I’m editing our garden. I am thankful there are many good things going on in our yard – the pond attracts numerous birds and insects, the shady back corner is mostly native, the herb bed is abuzz with insects all summer long, and the garden has been pesticide-free since the beginning. We have native shrubs like huckleberry and oregon grape providing berries in winter. But I can see some places where change could happen.

Right now it is just an exercise on paper. The RS is not so sure about this, and the workshop leader tells me that she does offer marriage mediation services. We may need it!