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A Dad is Born

A couple of new Mahoney's in McMaster Hospital

A couple of new Mahoney’s in McMaster Hospital

A little something I post every year on Valentine’s Day, for reasons that will become obvious as you read this (if you haven’t read it before…)

My wife Lynda is at work, seven months pregnant and enjoying if not every minute of it, at least every second or third minute of it. I’m at home, painting the nursery. I’m painting the nursery because our twins are due in just two months, and we’re afraid they might be early – you know, like two weeks early – because they’re twins.

So there I am, painting away, and the phone rings. Too late, I missed it. Then it’s ringing again, but my hands are full of brushes and rollers and it’s just too much trouble to go into the next room and answer the phone, except that…

…the darn thing rings again.

This time I know it’s important, if not an emergency, so I high-tail it to the phone and pick it up just in the nick of time. It’s Lynda. She sounds… well, panicked, her voice all quavery, on the verge of tears. “I think my water broke,” she says, and provides details that are watery, messy, and a little scary.

I’m thinking, nah, not possible, we’re two months early here. Clearly she’s misread the signs.

“What are you doing?” she asks me.

“Painting the nursery.”

“Paint faster,” she says.

I’m off like a blue streak to the pharmacy where Lynda works, ready to bundle her into the car, prepared to make the hospital at something resembling four times the speed of light. When I get there Lynda says, “Hang on. Gotta finish up a couple of prescriptions first.”

Excuse me?

It’s obvious to everyone in the store that something is not quite right. “Nothing serious,” I explain to one woman. “She’s about to give birth, is all.”

Twenty minutes later she’s ready to go. We’re in the car. I start the car and we are outta there…

…or so I think.

“Wait!” says Lynda.

“What? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I forgot my boots.”

I stop the car, run back into the pharmacy and get Lynda’s boots.

She’s weeping a little on the way to Markham-Stouffville Hospital. “I’m scared, Joe. I’m two months early.”

I’m scared too, but I need to reassure her. I don’t know what to say. Lamely, I say, “Everything’ll be okay,” and take hold of her hand. She accepts the hand — for a bit, then gently places it back on the steering wheel. “Two hands,” she says. “Wouldn’t want to get in an accident now.”

I agree, and make it to the hospital accident free. There, we take the wrong hallway, then figure it out and pass a woman facing the wall, a man gently rubbing her back. A glimpse of the future?
Soon we’re in the birthing room, a cheery nurse catering to Lynda’s every need. We’re in good hands, I think, but soon it becomes clear that Markham-Stowville can’t handle little babies that want to arrive two months early. The closest hospital that can is McMaster, in Hamilton. Two young, hip paramedics arrive and transfer a stoic Lynda onto a rolling stretcher, and take her away. I drive to Hamilton, alone in the dark, in the rain. Knowing that I’ve got the easy part.

Lynda’s just over thirty-one weeks – not a big deal, we’re told. Lynda is given medicine to speed the babys’ lung development up. She’s given other medicine to delay the birth as long as possible. Our spirits are good. We’re lucky Lynda’s thirty-one weeks and not less, like many others that come through this ward. Some babies, we’re told, come as early as twenty weeks. It’s heartbreaking — their chances for survival are not good. At thirty-one weeks, the success rate is close to one hundred percent.

Two days later. It’s Valentine’s Day, and our babies have decided they want out now. Decisions are made. Lynda is moved from a cosy little room with pleasant music to a sterile place of white walls and shiny metal beds. I count eighteen people in the room. The anesthetist has a funny little dog on his stethoscope. Lynda is pumped so full of drugs she can’t talk properly. I worry about her.

Our doctor’s name is Lightheart. Did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? Doctor Lightheart explains the use of forceps to her intern, then promptly demonstrates, deftly delivering Keira. Keira lets out a healthy wail and is whisked away to the level 3 neo-natal intensive care unit where I hope they don’t mix her up with another baby.

Suddenly Erin’s heartbeat drops to half the normal rate. The atmosphere in the room changes instantly. Doctor Lightheart reaches inside Lynda farther than I would have imagined possible. Her hand is poking at Lynda’s belly from inside, like a scene right out of Alien. I didn’t know you could DO that!

Finally, the forceps bring Erin out. She doesn’t cry like Keira did – just a brief, muffled chirp. This is because she’s been fitted with a respirator, but she’s fine. She, too, is whisked away to the intensive care unit.

The room empties.

It’s Valentine’s Day.

And I am the proud father of two.


Peanut Butter and Banana and Jam Sandwich... Yum!

Peanut Butter and Banana and Jam Sandwich… Yum!

One day my wife says to me, you must be hungry, you haven’t had any supper.

No no, I’m fine, thanks, I tell her. I’ll have a little something later.

You really should eat something now, shouldn’t you? she says.

I’m fine, I insist. It’s good to fast once in awhile, gotta keep that girlish figure.

I’ll tell you what, she says. If I make you a sandwich, will you eat it?

You don’t have to make me sandwich, I tell her.

I want to make you a sandwich, she says. What kind of sandwich do you want?

I don’t really want any kind of sandwich, I tell her.

Okay but if you did want a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you want?

I tell her that if I did want a sandwich, which I don’t, but if I did, I would want a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich. My favourite.

I’m going to make you a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich, she says. I’m going to make it right now.

That’s very kind, I tell her. Thank you.

I go walk the dog. I’m not really very hungry, I think, walking the dog. The last thing I want is a sandwich. But if she makes it I’ll eat it. She’s just looking out for me, I know.

I get back and towel the dog off (it was a cold, wet night). I let him off his leash, take my boots off, enter the kitchen. My wife’s on the phone. I can tell it’s going to be a long call. The peanut butter jar sits on the counter, alongside the jam, a couple of slices of bread and a banana. My wife’s making apologetic motions to me. Motions that say, there’s all the stuff, all you have to do now is make the sandwich.

I don’t want to make the sandwich. I don’t want the sandwich. All I want to do is sit down and watch tv.

I make the sandwich anyway. I eat it. It’s very good. It is, after all, my favourite sandwich in the world.

My wife gets off the phone. Sorry about that, she says. I really was going to make you the sandwich, and then my sister called.

I know, I tell her. I appreciate that.

And I do.

Heather Mallick vs Robert Fulford vs Margaret Atwood vs Joe Mahoney

Last year I read an article in the Toronto Star by Heather Mallick about Robert Fulford of the National Post writing a critical review of Margaret Atwood’s latest story in the New Yorker, called Stone Mattress. The Atwood story is about a woman who was raped as a teenager by an older boy who gets away with it. This act sends the woman down a bad road in which she gets pregnant, becomes a prostitute, and then marries older men of ill health so that she can help them die prematurely and get their money. Ultimately she meets the man who raped her and exacts her revenge.

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick

Fulford doesn’t like the story because he thinks it “comes across as a classic man-hating story.” Mallick doesn’t like Fulford’s review because she thinks Atwood is “entitled to fill her fiction with hateful men.” She also didn’t like that Fulford didn’t own up to once having been skewered in an Atwood piece, suggesting that his review of Stone Mattress was simply revenge, as if it’s not possible to dislike a story solely on its own merits, or lack thereof.

Mallick professes to have once adored Bob Fulford, “wisest and cleverest of older male journalists.” Now, she claims that Fulford has stopped regarding life with endless interest and even joy, and turned sour. This seems a harsh assessment based on a single review of Atwood’s story. When I read that line in her article it seemed so disproportionately harsh that I wondered what else must be informing Mallick’s revised opinion of Fulford.

As a reasonably decent man this whole episode struck a nerve. I’m aware that certain women don’t like men, or distrust them, and that because of the actions of some jerks they have good reason to feel this way. I have always tried to conduct myself in a way to give women reason to like men. I have three sisters, a mother, a wife and two daughters and many female friends and colleagues. I like women. I’m good to them. I treat them with respect. So it annoys me when I am confronted with women who think that, as Fulford writes, men are villains except when they are clowns. That’s just a different kind of hatred, and it’s no better than men disrespecting women. Understanding that there are men out there deserving of scorn, just as there are woman deserving of scorn because of hateful attitudes and actions.

Robert Fulford

Robert Fulford

So I am sympathetic to Fulford’s take on Atwood’s story, although Atwood is equally hard on women in Stone Mattress. The female protagonist, essentially a serial killer, is certainly no more sympathetic than the male schmuck she murders. But I’m more sympathetic to Fulford himself than I am to his take on the story because I’d like to know why Mallick has come to dislike him so much. Just disliking Atwood’s story, and not owning up to having been a victim of an earlier Atwood story, just doesn’t seem to justify it.

I once spent four days at Atwood’s house recording a series of interviews for CBC Radio. Surreally for me, the entire four days were spent conversing with Atwood and the rest of the crew in French, which I was in the process of learning at the time, having recently returned from several months of living in Aix-en-Provence, France. Apart from Atwood’s assistant at the time, Sarah Cooper, Atwood and I were the only anglophones. On the third night we all went to a restaurant together where circumstances contrived to place Atwood and myself alone together for about twenty minutes, and we conversed in English for the first time. The whole experience generated a certain camaraderie between us, or at least that was how it felt to me – I’ve met her several times since and she has never indicated that she remembers me. Although I consider this last point worthy of mention, I don’t hold it against her. I’m not sure that I would remember her much either if she were not one of Canada’s most famous authors, mentioned time and again on the CBC and in the rest of our national media. Impossible to forget, in other words.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

However, I’ve never forgotten her friendliness at the time. She did not come off to me as the least bit man hating. Her characters and stories are fiction, after all, not necessarily representative of the author’s own mind set. The truth is I haven’t actually read much Atwood, apart from some short stories in a book she gave me on our last day together (Good Bones) and the aforementioned Stone Mattress. And a handful of radio drama adaptations of her work such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

No, if I had one bone to pick with Margaret Atwood it wouldn’t be her stance against men, it would be her stance against science fiction, which she seems to regard as less than worthy. Yes, she writes it from time to time, but when she writes it is isn’t science fiction, it’s something else, something better, “speculative fiction” maybe. I find this attitude inexplicable and insulting, and no I don’t feel that way because she has previously skewered me in her work, at least that I’m aware, not that I would be aware not having read much of her work.

So neither Robert Fulford nor Heather Mallick have done anything to alter my opinion of Margaret Atwood. I’ve never given Robert Fulford much thought but I feel rather sympathetic toward the man now. As for Heather Mallick, whose work I have read from time to time in the Star, and to whom I haven’t given much thought either, I am now unduly curious about her.

Just what the heck does she really have against Robert Fulford?

Santiago El Grande

Santiago El Grande

Santiago El Grande

The painting on the left is Santiago El Grande, by Salvador Dali.

I love this painting.

I first saw it when I visited my friend Trish Smith in Fredericton twenty-one years ago. Trish took me to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and when I first laid eyes on this painting I was blown away. You can’t tell by the picture in this post but it’s enormous, and when I saw it up close I could not get over the at times almost photo-realistic detail Dali managed to achieve. It was the first painting of its calibre I had ever seen.

Shortly afterward I travelled to Europe and visited the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, and several galleries in Florence Italy, and no painting in any of those places impressed me as much as Santiago El Grande. I bought a print of it and it hangs in my office at home. But the print is so small compared to the original that you can’t really get a sense of the painting’s majesty, or intricate detail.

About four years ago I returned to Fredericton on a business trip. When I learned I would be going to Fredericton I knew that the one thing I had to do was see Santiago El Grande again. I hoped I would have time, and that the Gallery wouldn’t be too far from where I was staying. Turns out my hotel was the Beaverbrook Hotel… right next door to the Gallery! As soon as I checked in and deposited my bags in my room I high-tailed it to the Gallery.

I had forgotten the layout of the Gallery, that you can see Santiago El Grande as soon as you step inside. There was only an hour left until close but I paid my eight bucks and went in. I spent about ten minutes staring at Santiago El Grande. As I approached the painting I overheard the final moment of a conversation another patron was having with a staff member about Dali. Once I finished admiring the painting on my own I approached the staff member and asked if he could tell me a bit about the painting.

“You’ll be sorry you asked,” he told me.

But I was not at all sorry. It took him about fifteen minutes, but afterward I appreciated the painting even more. He pointed out many details that I had overlooked, such as the partial transparency of some of the figures, and how certain elements were foreshortened to give a three dimensional aspect if viewed from the right angle beneath the painting. (The painting was originally supposed to hung high above an altar to permit this perspective).

He explained some of the history of the painting, how it came to be in Fredericton after the Catholic Church of Spain refused Dali’s offer of the painting. They weren’t refusing the painting so much as they were refusing the painter himself. After which Dali claims he had a dream that told him the painting belonged in a relatively obscure art gallery in Canada. And he told me much more.

Don’t pass through Fredericton without treating yourself to a glimpse of this fantastic work of art.

If I ever manage to cobble together some manner of art that’s even a thousandth as accomplished in my lifetime, I’ll be grateful.

A Capital Pee

(A repost in honour of tomorrow’s anticipated snowstorm)

Snow Train

Snow Train


Please be advised that this story contains the word “pee.”


I really had to pee.

There I was trying to get to work early, for the taping of Canadia 2056. I wanted to get there and test the microphones, the console, and still have time to sit in on the read-through. Figured if I left by seven, I could make it in by eight-thirty, with the first cast members arriving at ten.

Snow and freezing rain messed everything up. The damned bus didn’t show up ’til seven-twenty. Then the train was late. Forty-five minutes late. Waiting for it, standing in the freezing rain, it occurred to me:

I really had to pee.

But I couldn’t leave the platform in case the train came. The train was already late and the subsequent train had been cancelled. If I left to pee, I’d miss the train and I might never get to work. If I couldn’t get to work, I wouldn’t be able to record the cast of Canadia 2056. I’d let a lot of people down. The train would come soon, I knew. I’d be able to go to the washroom on the train, or maybe even be able to hold it until I got to Toronto.

The train took its sweet time coming. But it came, and I got on it, and I thought I’d better sit down if I want to get a seat, and sure I had to pee but I could hold it ’til Toronto. Lots of other people got on, we stopped at Ajax, then Pickering, and by then so many people were on the train that we couldn’t take any more. There was no way I could get up from my seat and get to the washroom because there were far too many people in the way.

No problem.

I’d be able to go to the washroom in Toronto.

“Sorry folks, we’re gonna have to wait here on the platform for a while until they figure out what to do with us,” the conductor announced to the train. “It’ll just be a few minutes.”

Tycho Brahe -- Too polite for his own good

Tycho Brahe — Too polite for his own good

Half an hour later the train hadn’t budged an inch, and I began to think of Tycho Brahe. Brahe was a sixteenth century astronomer who, once upon a time, attended a banquet (and famously wore a fake brass nose after losing part of his real nose in a duel). It was considered the height of bad manners to leave the banquet before its conclusion, so Tycho didn’t go anywhere, even though he really had to pee. He stayed the course right up until his bladder exploded, and he died several days later. Some physicians these days think that this sort of thing is impossible, and that Tycho actually died from something else (such as mercury poisoning, though opinions differ). But sitting on that train with my bladder poised to explode, I was fairly certain that not only was that how Tycho Brahe died, it was how I was going to die.

Fortunately the train began to move. I would be spared such an ignominious fate.

Unfortunately, we moved about two hundred yards and then the train stopped again. A frozen switch. No problem: a mere half an hour later and we were on the move again.

By then I was in agony.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have created a world in which we cannot pee when we have to. And it’s just plain wrong. Because you see, everybody has to pee. It’s a natural body function. Why, you yourself have probably peed this very day. You may be returning from a pee (did you wash your hands?) Or you may have to pee right now. If so, I suggest you go and pee. Because it’s really not the sort of thing you want to put off.

Once I had to pee and I thought, I’ll just take the elevator down to the second floor. I’ll be able to pee once I get to the second floor.


Didn’t the elevator get stuck between floors. I was stuck in an elevator in Toronto. Security had to call Wisconsin to Otis Head Office to locate an elevator repairman. Otis Head Office woke up a repairman who lived in Barrie (it was one in the morning). He drove all the way into Toronto and a mere hour and a half later I was able to pee.

And I’m here to tell you that that pee felt good.

And so (for that matter) did the pee I had after being stuck on the train.

Which is, perhaps, why we’ve created this crazy world in which it’s not possible to pee whenever we want to. So that sometimes, after we are required to hold our bladders for interminable lengths of time, when at long last we are finally able to pee, we can appreciate just how unbelievably awesome it feels.



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