Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Carter Brothers' Miraculous Sporting Careers

My brother Eddie visited Sunday and after supper we sat in the living room and reminisced about the sports we played when we were younger.

Yup. Sports. Competition. Sweat. Teams. Uniforms. Football fields. The whole nine yards. Hahahahaha.

It’s uncharacteristic for us, actually. We Carters were raised to not brag about our athletic achievements.

Indeed you might be surprised to learn that my brothers and I are just as athletic as the next guy. (And you're like, "sure, as long as the next guy is a Carter.")

Fact is, we simply weren't raised in a sporting household. We didn't watch "Hockey Night in Canada." Our Dad didn't golf or swim; and frankly, most of the time, we just didn't get sports.

But it sure wasn't for lack of trying.

To whit: When we were little boys in early grade school, Eddie took possession of  a very real-looking plastic football helmet with an Ottawa Roughriders' logo on each side. 
ED'S HELMET: Too little too late. 

Too bad it came a tad late for his most memorable game. 

Seems one afternoon he was playing in the backyard of our neighbour across the street who I won't name but who grew up to be a very successful pastor.

He was not only devout, he was an adept kicker and at one point Eddie was standing facing him when, let's call him "Preacher," let one go and the football flew directly into Eddie's face. 

And it's unfortunate the Roughriders' helmet, a gift from our older sister Bertholde, arrived after the backyard game.  By that time, Ed's best football years were already behind him.

But never mind that: Who  knows what kind of gridiron hero Ed might have become had he not been discouraged by that kick in the face?

(Gridiron's a nice word isn't it? It's hugely popular in crosswords. Ed and I discussed that, too; about how words you would never use pop up regularly in crosswords as if they were as common as bread. Like "ALAI," which comes from the sport "JAI ALAI". Eddie and I are probably far better positioned to reminisce about crosswords than sports but I digress.) 

Me, in grade seven, I played for the St. Albert Saints basketball team and in my first game, I scored five points: Three for us and—after dribbling the ball all the way down the court the wrong direction in a fit of competitive excitement—two for the other guys.

Another summer, Eddie along with our brother Alex played hardball for a Little League team called The Indians.  

And you know what's astonishing? What's astonishing is if I merely changed two names in that previous sentence, it takes on a whole different meaning.
Little league a la Dennis and Roman
Let's say instead of "Alex" and "Eddie", I use "Dennis" and "Roman". 

Dennis and Roman were local boys who could actually run, hit, catch, throw and compete.  Dennis and Roman had gear and they knew stuff about the pro teams too.

Now replace Alex and Eddie with Dennis and Roman and the sentence that ends "played hardball for a Little League team called The Indians" becomes action central; you imagine smoking fastballs; you hear the bat cracking against the ball and the crowd cheering as a young gazelle-like base runner slides into third, raising an awful cloud of dust.
Little League, Carter style

Plunk Alex and Eddie back in there and suddenly the pace gets a bit more lethargic, the dust settles and instead of a roaring crowd, it's maybe the slapping of a mosquito or a first baseman whose voice hasn't quite broke yet yelling, "Easy out.. easy out."

Language never bores me.

Further evidence that I was pretty hot stuff? My daughter Ria says she believed me when I told her the only reason I did not pursue a professional sporting career was that I don't like to shower with other people around. 

But here's the hands-down best part.

We Carter boys inherited our sports prowess from our late Dad, Tom, and even though he didn't brag about his sporting skills either, I know he teemed with them. (Get it? Teemed? Oftentimes, I surprise even me.)

I never saw Dad catch a ball or throw an anything. Still I know Dad was a true athlete because of a miracle that happened about 17 years ago; A miracle should find its way into Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.  

I was on staff at Chatelaine Magazine.

Part of my commute home every evening involved walking across a tiny parkette behind my house and the night in question I was halfway to the other side when I noticed a man standing in the dark near the teeter totters and I knew without thinking, "There's Dad."

Tom had been dead a few years by that time; but for some weird feeling, I wasn’t surprised to see him. Thinking  back, it might have had something to do with a story I'd just written about my sisters Norma’s and Bertholde’s haunted house. But ghost or not, 
I just felt calm. And kept walking. 

Arrived home. There was mail waiting, including a handwritten letter.

The letter was from a senior citizen woman from  Almonte, ON., where Dad grew up. She had seen my mugshot in Chatelaine; thought I looked like one of her old boyfriends whose name was Tom Carter.

She asked around, and my late aunt Leona furnished her with my home address.

She mailed the letter and included this photo. Of my Dad's baseball team. That's him, the--cue the Twilight Zone music--really faded figure on the far left in the back row. How nifty is that?
TOM SPIRIT: The photo revealed a side of Dad I'd never glimpsed. 

The surprising thing about all this?
Not that my dad dated before settling with my mom, though I'm kinda happy about that; 
Not that I'd just seen a ghost. Been there, done that lots.
Or even the fact that the ghost was a premonition of the photo and letter.  

The biggest surprise? 

Dad played on a team. It was a side of my father I knew nothing about. And added a whole new layer to how I thought about him and his early life.  

And if he's anything like the rest of us Carter boys, dad can rest assured that was the first and last team he played on.

Small wonder that when it came to being star athletes ourselves, Eddie and I had but a ghost of a chance.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Getting the real story behind truthiness

My older brother Tom, a guy I look up to and trust, told me that in Canada, if a guy gets sentenced to 99 years in prison and dies while serving time, one of his sons or brothers has to go in and serve the remainder of the term. I of course believed him. He's about a dozen years older than me.
BELIEVE ME YOU: When it came to gullibility, I was an early adopter. 

I figure I was probably in early grade school when he explained the correctional system to me.  

Around the same time, Tom told me there was a restaurant in Toronto that was “so fancy” that after they put food in front of a customer, a person from each and every country in the world came out and tasted your food to ensure it was good enough.  

How fancy can you get? (You’re thinking, “never mind me, how dense can you get?’”)

Tom once sent me out to buy striped paint. I went.

Some people who know me suggest I trusted Tom so implicitly because you always tend to trust the person you’re sleeping with. Tom and I shared a bed from the time I was four 'til I was a teenager. (My folks had 10 kids. Three bedrooms. What choice was there?)

I, on the other hand, know I trusted Tom because I believe anything anyone tells me.

Except for my brother Eddie. With him, for some  reason,  I’m in ‘sez you’ mode pretty much 99 percent of the time.  The thing is, with Eddie, 99 percent of the time he actually does come back and prove his point. Drives me nuts. But that’s what siblings are for.


You’d think a seasoned reporter like myself would always have the b.s. detector cranked up to 11. And you would be wrong.

If a perfect stranger came into this room right now, introduced himself and told me about how he singlehandedly saved a sailboat full of immigrant kids from drowning in Lesser Slave Lake in 1982, I would suck up every syllable and hail him as a hero. I would call people up and tell them.  And I don’t even know if there really is a Lesser Slave Lake.

What’s weird is, I’ve asked a couple of my journalist pals if they’re gullible like me, and several told me they were. I’ve also gotten yesses to these other journalistic questions: “Have you hurried up near the end of an interview because you had to go to the bathroom really badly but didn’t want to admit it?” And, “ever decided to NOT include a certain fact or quotation in a story simply because you couldn’t read your own handwritten notes?”

The thing is, we soft-nosed journalists tend to tell as close to the truth as we can. And we wonder why anybody else wouldn’t.

Also. I believe questions, too.  When a person asks how I'm doing, I assume he or she is genuinely curious so I answer.

Last January, I brought my car in for an oil change. It was one of the snowiest days of the year and the drive across Toronto was particularly slow. It took an hour to get to the shop.

There, Julian the service attendant asked how my drive in was.

I told him.

“Julian. I just had one of the most pleasant hours in recent memory. I was sitting peacefully in the Malibu driver seat, which if you think about it is the most comfortable chair in my life. It’s soft but has adjustable lumbar support. Wouldn’t it be cool if all the chairs in your house were that comfortable? And the car’s stereo system is fantastic. Four speakers, extremely high-quality sound, and with the CD player and the incredible variety of radio stations in Toronto, there’s no end to the entertainment possibilities. I had a hot coffee; I wasn’t in a hurry and I was feeling pretty healthy and didn’t have to go to the bathroom and the car's climate control system works perfectly. I had a phone I could use if I chose to, but I could also ignore it if I wanted to because I was driving after all.  It was like an hour-long recess and in fact I was kind of sad when the ride was over.”

It was clear from his expression that THAT was not the answer he’d been looking for, and he said, “Man, I’ve never heard anybody do sarcasm as beautifully as you.”

Me: “I wasn’t being sarcastic.”

Just telling it like it is.

Doesn’t everybody?

Your answers are more than welcome and I mean that. Of course.

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I Do When I Should Be Working

Just found a letter I wrote to my son Michel earlier this year, a few weeks before his son, Mateus, was born. I asked Michel's permission to use it for this week's blog. He assented.

3Ms: Me, Mateus and Michel

March 29, 2016

Hi Michel.

It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting at my office thinking about writing a story about car repairs for one magazine and another story about immigration for a second magazine.

But mostly, I’m thinking about  you.
There’s a very good chance that by the time you get this, you’ll be a dad.

And you’ll find it’s the most important thing you ever do. None of the stories I’ve written; none of the trips that I took; none of the silly songs I wrote or sang are anywhere near as important to me as you and Ewa and Ria.

So because it’s Monday and I don’t feel like writing about cars or immigrants, I decided to come up with an A-Z guide to being a dad.

And I’ve decided I’m going to get it done by noon. It’s 10:24 right now.

Adult children: There’s no English word for adult children because your kids will remain your kids no matter how old you and they get. You will always worry about them and you will always be happy when they’re happy and heartbroken when they’re scared or sad.  I once heard of a 90-year-old mom telling her 65-year-old daughter to dress warmer.

Buddies: When you were in grade six or seven, you wrote an essay and it included the observation that “it would suck to have no friends.” You were right then and you’re right now. As you might have noticed I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few old buddies over the years.  They would not believe me if I told them how much they’ve helped me get through stuff.  Being able to talk with other guys about what we’re all going through with our jobs, wives and children makes problems go away.

Children: The meaning of life. Other things are important too but mostly? It’s your kids. My friend Kate Zimmerman once commented “It’s a good thing people who don’t have kids don’t know what they’re missing because they’d be sad all the time.”

Dads: When I was 19 and got in trouble with the law, my Dad never criticized me; he knew the courts and police and everybody else would do that. He was just there for me, every step of the way. He still is today. And you will be for your children.

Enjoyment: I’m sitting here trying really hard to remember a time that I was having fun with my kids doing one thing but thinking I’d rather be someplace else.  Pretty sure it never happened. I  wish my father were still around so I could ask him if  being with me was anywhere near as enjoyable for him as being with you and Ewa and Ria  is  for me.  Michel, I find it hard to believe that it could be so. But I think it was.

Fathering. It’s a big joy-filled job but you’re a big healthy man and you know what it takes to be a good Dad.  I am not worried about you doing it right, not one bit. I’m looking forward to watching you though.

God. Whether you believe in God or not, I will tell you one thing I know for sure. I thank Him every day that your birth mom was smart enough to recognize that she wasn’t in the best position to look after you so I got to be your Dad. 

Happiness. You’ll be happy when your children are happy. Period.

Intuition:  Here’s a secret to surviving your adventure across the Dad universe. When it comes to caring for their kids, moms know what’s right. They can sense if a child is sick or hungry or cold. They can read a child’s mind. And they will do what’s right for their children. A psychologist once told me that “mommy pussy cats know how to look after their babies; mommy sharks know how to look after their babies; so mommy humans know, too.” However. Human moms are the only ones who sometimes lack confidence and will doubt their decision-making. So your job is to listen to them voice doubt and listen as they talk their way through problems. But in almost every situation, moms will know what’s best for their children’s care. 

Joy:  Nothing brings more joy than seeing your child smile.  (Sometimes, especially when they’re babies, you’ll think nothing will bring more joy than hearing your kid snore.)

Kidstuff:  One of the best things about being a Dad is you get to be a kid again, with your children. I’ll never forget the trip that you and I took all by ourselves many years ago, from Toronto to Little Current and back, to get the pinball machine. One of the best parts of the trip was hanging around the ferry docks at South Baymouth, waiting for the boat. There were 100s of fake little inukshuks on the rocks and we ran around knocking them over into the puddles.  It was so much fun. Having kids is. Before you came along, I never went downhill skiing. I never played tennis or marched in a Santa Claus parade. I never rented a snowmobile or an off-road motorcycle and wouldn’t have done any of those things without you.  My wish for all Dads is that they would get opportunities to play like that. That crazy Hummer ride up the mountains at Whistler was pretty cool too.

Love: My father used to say “we throw this word love around carelessly and don’t even know what it means.”  Some people maintain they love their cars; others say they love travelling and rare steak. The only thing I know I love with unquestioned certainty is my family. I love my sisters and brothers and I love your mom and I love Ewa, Ria, and some of my good friends, but I love each one of them differently. Like my Dad said, we try to make the one word do a whole lot of work. We have more words for “drunk” than we do for love. Weird eh?

Moms. Trust me on this. They love their kids just as much as dads do. Imagine that.

Naps. When your baby is very little, make the most of his nap time. Sure you’ll be tired sometimes but sleep is over-rated. Teenagers need eight hours but adults don’t. When your baby’s napping, see what you can do to help his mom.

Obligation. Big scary word huh? Well it’s not scary at all. Many times over the years, you and your sisters told me I wasn’t obliged to do things for you. But the fact is, I didn’t feel obliged I felt privileged to do them. You and your sisters are huge gifts to me. So if I can make your life any better, I want, need and love to do it.   In my book, obligation means the same as gift.

Peter. Just threw this one in in case you have another son and can’t think of a good name for him. 

Quiet. Ninety nine percent of the time, you’re better off not saying nothing.

Role Modelling. Your kids are watching everything you do and will continue to do so for your whole life. If you ever have doubts about whether something you’re doing is right or wrong--whether it’s at work, when you’re  out with friends or at home—just ask yourself ‘what if my kids knew I was doing this?’  You’ll know right away if you should be doing it or not. I’ve always said that we should behave at work as if our kids were watching.

Sex. I seriously hope you didn’t expect me to say anything about this.

Talk.  Your aunt Bertholde once told me that the more you talk about a problem, the more likely you are to find a solution to it.  Don’t be afraid to talk about things that trouble you Michel. I think you’ll find that other people have had the same troubles; and there’s an old Irish saying “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

Unconditional love. You’ll have it for your kids.  And maybe your immediate family. But definitely for your kids. No matter what they do you will love them. Someday your son will come home and announce something that will take your breath away. I have no idea what it will be, but he’ll do it. And even though it’ll be the furthest thing from your plans, you will accept what he says, wish him the best and love him unconditionally, for the rest of your life.  I’m not making this up. You’ll see. It’s miraculous, actually.

Voyage. Being a Dad is like going on a voyage around the universe and while most of the time it will be exciting and fun and it’ll take you places you’ve never dreamed you’d go; there’ll be times when it will be so scary you won’t want to think about it. You know what being scared is like, Michel. I do, too. But you’ve come through some terrifying experiences and just remember. You came through them! They’re over. You’ve beaten them back and now you’re doing something else.   I am so proud of the fact that you built that mahogany boat. It’s the only part of the cottage that I don’t want to sell.  It will always remind you of the voyage that you’re on. And your son will be able to drive it too.

Wives. Or partners.  Generally speaking, having two parents around is better than having just one. Sometimes, it’s impossible to have two and single moms and single dads can be wonderful parents on their own; especially if the alternative is raising kids in an unhappy and dangerous environment. But generally, it’s far easier to have two people around if only because one of you can make the lunches while the other does the laundry. 

X As in the symbol for kisses. They’re very important and good for everybody’s health.  It’s impossible to kiss your kids or your life partner too much. At least that’s what I think.

Yes. I’ve found life much more joyful and  rewarding when I answered “yes” to all of your and Ria’s and Ewa’s requests, no matter what you’re asking for.  (Though you never asked for much, ever.) As my old friend (and a guy who likes you very much. We attended his 80th birthday party in Cambridge not long ago) Ernest Hillen says, “you can always get no someplace else.”  I figure the stuff you would get a “no” for,  you wouldn’t ask me anyway.

Zoe. In Greek, it means “life.” I think we can see why. In your case, half of your new son will come from Zoe, half from you and he’ll have the best attributes of both of you. He’s going to be amazing. Just like his Dad.

I did it. It’s 11:57!  Hope you enjoy it Michel. See you later this week.