It All Started With A Dumb T-Shirt…

When I made the decision to self-publish my masterwork of non-fiction, otherwise known as “Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated”, I desperately needed something catchy on my book cover.

I needed some serious inspiration.

I needed something recognizable. I needed a logo. I needed a brand.

I needed something that screamed STAY-AT-HOME DAD!

Oddly, my muse came in the form of a seldom worn, wrinkled, grey T-shirt that sat on the bottom of my dresser drawer for almost five years. On said T-shirt was a kind of “stick figure” changing a diaper, along with the name of the pretty terrible 2011 Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman comedy “The Change Up.”

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How did this dumb T-shirt become the genesis for my Dad@Home logo? Keep reading people. That’s literally the ONLY WAY you’ll find out.

The movie was about two best buds… one a ladies man, the other a family man… who somehow SWITCH bodies, just like the classic film Freaky Friday. If you’re old enough to remember the Jodie Foster version of this movie, congratulations… you’re old. If you’ve seen the Lindsay Lohan version… then I just feel sorry for you. But I digress.

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Do yourself a favour and DO NOT see this movie.

When Reynolds and Bateman change up their respective bodies, “hilarity” ensues, but the plot of this sub-par movie is neither here nor there. Actually, don’t even give it a moment’s thought. All that really matters is the dumb promotional T-shirt. Let’s stay focused people!

You know, I’m not even sure how I got the dumb T-shirt in the first place, but one day I actually wore it and the stick man changing a diaper somehow struck a chord with me.

Could I incorporate this diaper-changing image in a book cover? Maybe? But was a picture of a stick man hovering over a stick baby enough? I wasn’t sure.

Then, something hit me like a bolt of lightning!

The previous year, I received a Father’s Day card from my kids that featured an actual sewn patch stuck to the front of the card. It read: “Dad in Chief, Head of Household”, and it looked like the Presidential seal. I yanked the patch right off the card and stuffed it into a desk drawer.

I liked it. I kept it. I’m glad that I did.

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Now THIS was something I could work with.

Despite me loving this patch, the majestic bald eagle in the centre wasn’t really working for me. First of all, it is a very AMERICAN image, and I’m a proud CANADIAN dammit! Secondly, the eagle is holding a hammer and a BBQ burger flipper. Those certainly are tools of a dad, but not necessarily a stay-at-home dad!

I showed the Father’s Day card patch and the image from the dumb T-shirt to my graphic designer friend Melina, who was creating my book jacket and laying out the interior pages. She liked the idea of incorporating them and asked me to search for other images that I would like to see in the centre to replace the overly patriotic eagle.

I already had the diaper-changing dude locked down, but I needed MORE!

I needed the tools of MY trade.

I needed pictures that would strike a chord with all of the men who have dedicated their lives to primary caregiving.

I needed images that screamed STAY-AT-HOME DAD!

So, I went online and looked through hundreds, if not thousands of images for sale. It turns out, the ones I needed FOUND ME. They almost jumped off the screen and into my lap when I saw them:

SHOPPING CART! Done.

BABY CARRIAGE! Double Done.

BABY BOTTLE with SOOTHER! Done. Done and Done.

I purchased them for a tidy sum of $25, printed them up and decided to lay them out on a piece of paper. I made a very rough design of the logo I had in mind and sent it off to Melina, thinking she would tell me it was terrible.

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I was 100% sure she would say this looked kind of DUMB.

To my surprise, she didn’t think it was dumb… at all! Rather, she stayed faithful to my very rough “vision”, and made it look spectacular. An early version featured a slightly skinnier font:

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This was actually the second version of the Dad@Home logo, but who’s counting?

In the end, we settled on a fatter version of the font, and the “classic” Dad@Home logo was BORN… now known around the globe as a proud symbol for all men who are Fully Domesticated!

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And… by “known around the globe”, please note I could be exaggerating this bold claim by up to 98%.

Now, if any of you blog readers found this story of how my book cover logo was conceived even marginally entertaining, then you might want to try reading my actual BOOK! Trust me, it’s more entertaining than this blog…    marginally.

You can purchase Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated by clicking HERE!

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And remember… this logo evolution all started with a dumb, seldom worn, wrinkled, grey T-shirt that sat on the bottom of my dresser drawer for almost five years.

 

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Are Stay-at-Home Dads HAPPIER Than Stay-at-Home Moms?

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According to these two very random images I found on the internet, I believe the answer is a resounding YES.

A couple of months ago, my sister-in-law forwarded me an interesting article from the Washington Post:

“Dads are happier than moms. Science wants to know why, and so do I.”

The piece was written by a mother who works from home, is the primary caregiver and also takes care of running the household.

The article cited a study recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin  that determined fathers experience more well-being from parenting than mothers do. It suggested that playtime could be a very important contributing factor, and that dads reported playing more with their kids than moms did.

“Moms and dads both reported being happier when they were talking or interacting with their child (vs. other interactions or activities), but the effect was greater for fathers. The dad happiness advantage was most dramatic for childcare. Fathers reported greater happiness during child care than for anything else they did that day, whereas mothers reported lower happiness during child care than for other activities during the day.”

So, are dads just “naturally” happier and more playful than moms?

There has to be more to it than that, so the writer of the article pressed the author of the scientific study for an explanation and she offered up the following theory:

“…mothers are more responsible for child care in general, and they also have more emotional and invisible labour such as keeping the household running, managing schedules, worrying about their children’s emotions. All of these things are possibilities that could explain why mothers are less happy.”

Now that actually makes a lot of sense to me, as I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that when it comes to parenting, moms do a lot of the heavy lifting. And who has the energy to remain happy and playful after carrying such a heavy load on a daily basis?That being said, the similar nature of being a stay-at-home dad means much of that emotional and invisible labour mentioned in the study should fall on the father.

I was a bit surprised the article makes no mention if the gender of the at-home parent plays a role in their “happiness quotient”. The stats that I researched for my book are a few years old, but I’m pretty sure the amount of households with stay-at-home dads in the US is now well over 5%, which would put their current numbers in the millions.

So, it’s not some insignificant issue that is easy to gloss over.

This rather glaring omission from the article was also raised in the comments section, where a reader pointed out: “it is curious that the research did not point out the differences between stay-at-home dads and going-off-to work dads levels of happiness.”

Is it possible that dads who work out of the home can come busting through the door at the end of a long day at the office and immediately get the good times rolling with their kids? I think that’s very possible. I also think it could be akin to the “grandparent effect”, where it it’s far more fun to be a grandparent than a parent… mainly because they enjoy the kids, then the kids go away.

Now, I’m not saying it’s exactly the same situation with working dads and grandparents, but the fact that most moms handle far more labor and child care certainly skews things in that direction in most households.

So, where does that leave me?

I certainly qualify as a dad, just not the typical model. I’ve never been that dad who waltzes in the front door at the end of the workday and can immediately turn on the playtime with my kids.

Rather, I have far more in common with my female stay-at-home counterparts…  or do I?

Do I REALLY have that much in common with them on this particular issue? I thought that I did! I assumed that I did…  until I had a lengthy back-and-forth email chain with my sister-in-law (the one who forwarded me the article in the first place.)

One of the central themes of my book “Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated” (still very much available for purchase if you are wondering) is that stay-at-home dads have it easier than stay-at-home moms… and this whole question of “who is happier” is very relevant to my personal experience.

One of the biggest complaints that stay-at-home moms have is that their husbands do not appreciate or understand the emotional labour they undertake on a daily basis. A very good deep dive into the nature of emotional labour can be found by clicking here , but here’s a brief descriptor from the report:

“I often talk about emotional labour as being the work of caring. And it’s not just being caring, it’s that thing where someone says “I’ll clean if you just tell me what to clean!” because they don’t want to do the mental work of figuring it out. Caring about all the moving parts required to feed the occupants at dinnertime, caring about social management. Caring about noticing that something has changed – like, it’s not there anymore, or it’s on fire, or it’s broken. It’s a substantial amount of overhead, having to care about everything. It ought to be a shared burden, but half the planet is socialized to trick other people into doing more of the work.”

The bottom line is, wives don’t want to be a mother to their husbands.

They want a partner who can apply their intelligence to help manage the logistics of running a family household. The classic hubby refrain: “If you just tell me what you want me to do, I’ll gladly do it” just isn’t good enough. Wives want their husbands to figure out for themselves what needs to get done, and devise their OWN plan to get ‘er done!

Here’s another very interesting article she forwarded me that tackles the issue head-on and explains the value of emotional labour way better than I could. It really made me reevaluate about how I have handled my job as the primary caregiver and household manager… especially in those early years on the job.

I feel this entire discussion has been a reeducation on a topic that I assumed I knew a lot about. Hey, I’ve been living the life of a stay-at-home dad for over 15 years! I should be an expert on everything related to this job!

I will now admit I did NOT do a bang up job in ALL areas of domestic life in my first few years at home.

I simply convinced myself that all I REALLY had to do was change diapers, keep the kids from falling down the stairs and make sure I made dinner.  I completely ignored many of the emotional labour duties, as my wife Lianne seemed to be doing that stuff and I figured I was doing more than enough to earn my keep.

I now know that I was sorely lacking at running a truly efficient household, and admit I wasn’t doing all of the stuff a woman in my position would normally do. Was I doing MOST of it? No. HALF of the stuff? Probably? Maybe? I don’t know.

However, I feel that I’ve grown into the job over the years. I’ve become more efficient, more effective and more in tune to what needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally fall into a lazy lapse and then have to be REMINDED or TOLD to do something.

Yes, I know that sounds crazy.

That should not even be an issue, as realistically, I should be the one deciding and reminding everyone about what needs to be done around the house! Remember, I’m supposed to handling all of that stuff!

I can’t see many working husbands even noticing the little things not getting done, or reminding their at-home wives they’ve been slacking off on the home front. They probably wouldn’t be aware or educated in how IT all works… and the “IT” I’m talking about is the emotional labour, the stuff that weighs down the stay-at-home parent… the stuff that reportedly makes one parent LESS HAPPIER than the other one.

I’m lucky. Lianne knows how IT all works, even if she no longer has to physically deal with or plan out a majority of it. I never have to worry that she needs to be reminded of upcoming family events, basketball games or piano recitals. From time to time, she will pitch in and help around the house (if needed) without having to be asked to pitch in and help around the house.

And there it is. That’s the biggest difference between being a working wife of a stay-at-home dad as opposed to the more “traditional” set-up.

Working wives get IT.  Working husbands don’t get IT.

There certainly are exceptions to this general rule, but my guess is they are few and far between. I firmly believe that you have to literally live the life to appreciate IT… and in my case, live IT for several years before IT really sinks in. To my credit, over the years I’ve become considerably less hapless, more hyper-aware of my surroundings, more cognizant of what needs to be done, and more proactive.

But yes, I do have the advantage of having a WIFE, and not a husband to help me along the way.

Lianne would need a more “wifely” partner to make things truly run like clockwork around here, but I’d like to think I’ve gotten much better at it as the years have ticked by… all fifteen of them. Am I the perfect homemaker? No sir, I’m far, far from it. But, on the question of “are stay-at-home dads happier than stay-at-home moms?”, I think the answer is obvious.

Of course we are. We have wives.

 

 

Dad@Work? Maybe… In The Not-So-Distant Future!

When I read through the blog topic suggestions my readers so graciously provided me a couple of months ago, there was a common thread found in most of them… what my future holds AFTER my time ends as a full time stay-at-home dad. More specifically, many of you asked:

What the heck was I going to do with my life when my teenagers grow up, spread their wings and fly the coup?

To be honest, I really hadn’t given it much thought before I read your suggestions. You see, right now I’m still very much the Uber driver for our family’s ample extracurricular activities. On top of the daily school drop-off and pick-ups, there’s high school basketball, hockey, piano practices and school musical rehearsals. And, in a few weeks, high school basketball and hockey will be replaced with club basketball and volleyball.

There’s still a very real need for yours truly to hold down the domestic fort, drive the kids around and keep this household running. BUT… there are big changes coming on the horizon.

My daughter will be sixteen this spring. (Wow, that sounds so very weird to say out loud!)  Abby desperately wants to secure her driver’s license, buy a beater she can drive around and flaunt her newfound independence.

With one more driver in the house, the need for my personal Uber service will diminish by at least 50%. And, with another kid about to take his learners license test, it won’t be long before BOTH of them are driving themselves to basketball, hockey and rehearsals.

I always knew this time of transition was coming but it never seemed real. It never seemed like something I had to think about right away… or plan for. While I still have a few years before both of my kids are out of high school, I have been weighing my various post-child rearing options and the pros and cons associated with them.

OPTION #1: DO NOTHING!

That’s right, you heard me. Do nothing. And, just to clarify, I don’t mean do absolutely nothing… I mean keep running the household, but without the added responsibility of kids in the home. I’ve seen plenty of stay-at-home moms who have put in their time, nurtured their kids into adulthood, and then reaped the rewards of an empty nest.

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This could be me in the not-so-distant future, relaxing and taking care of two furry creatures that will still need me to feed them after all of the human kids have moved out.

At-home moms with more time on their hands may take up a new hobby, ramp up their volunteer activities, or simply enjoy their time with fewer humans to take care of. Why can’t I do the same? To be clear, the thought of me taking full advantage of this tantalizing option has definitely crossed my mind… a lot! But, to be honest with you, I feel there is a double standard when it comes to the stay-at-home dad who suddenly finds himself an empty nester.

Over the years, I can’t count how many times people have asked me when I was going BACK TO WORK. What’s even weirder is that a vast majority of the times I was asked were during my first few years at home! It was like people were still having trouble wrapping their heads around the concept of a MAN deliberately saying bye-bye to a steady paycheque to raise kids full time.

While I’m quite sure plenty of stay-at-home moms re-enter the workforce after staying home with kids, the societal pressure to do so has to be way less than a stay-at-home dad experiences. Remember, there is still a sizeable segment of the population that believes women should stay out of the workforce and stay barefoot and pregnant.

A recent poll released by Fortune magazine found nearly 30% of men would prefer that women stay home, this according to research by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Gallup. The poll found that roughly two-thirds of men and women worldwide believe women should work outside the home, while 29% of men and 27% of women disagreed. To obtain these results, researchers surveyed 149,000 different people across 142 countries.

I feel it’s safe to say that society expects me to go back to a paying job. For the record, I feel I’ve had a real job for the past fifteen years… just not one that I can file a real income tax return with. So, while OPTION #1 is out there and ripe for the picking, I think taking advantage of it would likely lead to me feeling judged by a world that didn’t really feel 100% comfortable with my choice to become a stay-at-home dad in the first place.

OPTION #2: WORK PART-TIME FROM HOME!

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I was totally thinking this was a total scam until I kept reading and saw that it was NOT a total scam. Sorry, my bad. I should totally look into how I too can make MILLIONS online! Could this really be ME in the not-so-distant future, making MILLIONS? Totally.

On paper, this looks like a great option. The only problem is… what could I possibly do from home that would actually pay me enough money to make my efforts worthwhile? Some people have said: just concentrate on your writing!

Sorry “some people”, but I have a news flash for you:

Writing stuff simply don’t pay! (Unless you are J.K. Rowling, then it pays real, real good.)

Honestly, a quick Google search of work from home jobs reveals a whole whack of get-rich quick schemes. Sorry, I’m dumb but not that dumb. I need a LEGIT job people!

OPTION #3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL!

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Rodney Dangerfield made it look like so much fun! But in reality, I’m neither ready nor willing to party with 19-year-olds or jump off of multiple diving boards to win the big college diving competition. So, it’s safe to say this is NOT me in the not-so-distant future.

Um, no. It just doesn’t make any sense.

My wife makes a good living, but if I can supplement it for five to ten years with a decent-paying job, maybe I can shave a few years off of her much-hated, working-like-a-dog-life… and get us BOTH to retirement that much quicker.

The biggest reason I would want to dive back into the traditional workforce would be to MAKE SOME COIN!

So, me going back to school would defeat the purpose and actually COST us both money and valuable time in my quest to deposit some serious cash-money into the retirement kitty.

OPTION #4: FIND A GOOD JOB OUTSIDE THE HOME THAT PAYS A DECENT SALARY

This could be easier said than done.

As some of you may know, I received university degrees in English and Journalism. I spent a little over five years as a reporter/news writer/producer before switching to a career in advertising and marketing. I must say, I really enjoyed my time in broadcast journalism and would love to reignite that passion.

I must also say that journalism in general is a dying industry that is hemorrhaging jobs each and every year. In Canada alone, the Canadian Media Guild reported over 10,000 journalism jobs lost in a span of five years. That number is tripled in the United States.

So, by the time I’m ready to hit the job market in a few years that profession will very likely be on life support and my chances of landing meaningful employment in it would be slim to none.

That leaves the advertising/marketing biz, and while that particular job market looks somewhat brighter than journalism, I’m still not sure who is going to take a chance on a guy who has been out of the traditional workforce for the better part of two decades.

Yes, it will be close to TWENTY YEARS at home by the time I’m ready to try working for a paycheque again! Wow, that also sounds so very weird to say out loud!

But wait, it gets better! According to a very interesting article published in the New York Daily News, stay-at-home dads can really get the shaft when trying to re-enter the workforce.

“Men, long thought of as the privileged gender when it comes to the workplace, are not so privileged when it comes to re-entering the workforce after staying at home to raise kids. In fact, they face a greater stigma than women.”

The article suggests that men are stereotypically thought of as assertive, competitive, dominant and tough, and those are not characteristics typically associated with someone fulfilling the role of Mr. Mom. Go figure.

“When a man accepts second priority to their spouse with regards to their career, their peers make the assumption that he is not a leader,” suggests Dr. Robert Chell, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University.”

“Professionals see it as a sign of resignation that he is willing to give up the race in rising to an authoritative position in his industry. He is not ambitious or capable of handling the challenge and lacks the drive and passion men are thought to have.”

Dr. Caitlin Killian, a sociology professor who specializes in family and gender issues at Drew University, agrees.

“Men are even more concerned than women about missing out on promotions or being the first ones fired during a company downsizing if they are perceived as more family-oriented and less committed to work than their peers.”

So, there you have it.

I may face an extremely uphill battle when I do decide to dive back into a 9 to 5 life.

But know this: I am determined to find a job… even if I end up being one of those cute, shrivelled up, elderly men you see behind the counter at McDonalds.

You know those guys. They’re the ones you see and immediately say: “aw, isn’t that sweet!”

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Don’t judge. This could actually be me… in the not-so-distant future.

I Asked For Suggestions, You Suggested Stuff…

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This is a reasonable facsimile of me, seriously contemplating the suggestions… you suggested.

Back in November, I was staring at my computer screen, experiencing something I haven’t really had to endure in the nearly three years of writing this blog.

I had no idea what I was going to write about.

I had writer’s block! (Or, was I simply feeling lazy?) I really don’t know. In any event, it led me to ask my loyal readers if they had any bright ideas… you know, any suggestions about what I should tackle next on Dad@Home.

In big bold letters I put it out there:

“Dear readers: I need your help. If there is something you would like me to write about, just let me know. Please leave a comment at the end of this blog post, or click on the “contact me” link in the menu at the top of the page and you can provide your input there.”

I asked for help, and you did not disappoint.

Here’s a sampling of the suggestions I have received to date:

 

“Get quiet within yourself like real quiet, no inner talking. Some of us call this meditating. Do it for 15 minutes every morning – yes only 15 minutes. Ideas will come because they are all within you. Have you ever written about what you absolutely love about what you are doing? Have you ever written what your dreams are, what you want to do when your children turn 16?”   A.S.

 

“Write about YOU… not Greg the stay at home Dad but maybe something about you, a deep desire, a bucket list dream, something that happened perhaps a long time ago that made you who you are today… maybe peel a couple of layers off the onion (that you love so much) and let readers know something about yourself that wasn’t mentioned in the book or the blog. Maybe a collection of memories of when you were a kid, what about those amazing comic books and super heroes you used to create? Start the memory bank rolling, it will come to you.”  A.C.

 

“My advice: use a hashtag to search like-minded interests, read those blogs, and keep a list of ideas that will inevitably pop into your head.  #dadlife  #SAHM (they may have dad followers), parenting, etc. Also, note the tags people use on blog posts you like. Good luck!”  C.

 

“Write a piece on what to recommend when your kids ask for career advice. I really struggle with this one. Engineering? Probably not these days. Medicine? Really difficult for most. Business? But what specialty? You must be in the midst of that as your kids get close to university. We are there now. Cheers.   T.V.”

 

So, what will I write about?

Did any of these suggestions make a big impression? The answer is yes. They all gave me a lot to think about.

Stay tuned to find out what happens in my next blog entry…

COMING SOON.

Oh, and one more thing. If any of you suspect that me PROMOTING an unwritten blog post instead of actually getting to work and WRITING it is another incredible example of writer’s block, it isn’t.

It’s simply another example of me being incredibly lazy. So, like I said, stay tuned.

 

Dad@Christmas: Happy Holidays from the Tysowskis!

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All the best this holiday season and a very happy 2019!

Well, here we are again. I know we are fast approaching the end of another calendar year when I sit down to write the annual Tysowski Christmas letter. This is the 13thanniversary edition, so I’m pretty sure that means the entire year was chalk full of nothing but bad luck! Am I lying? Keep reading and you’ll soon find out.

2018 started off with a relatively uneventful January, with one big exception. Abby secured her learner’s licence and I almost had a heart attack as she drove 5 km/h in an abandoned parking lot for 34 minutes.

Spoiler alert: I survived.

In February, I finally completed the incredibly frustrating and harrowing process of recording and editing the audiobook version of Dad@Home. Was it worth the pain? Well, I’ve only sold three, so you tell me.

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Two teenagers in the house? No problem. I’m sure there will be ZERO drama this coming year.

Spring arrived, and with it a couple of March birthdays. Daniel’s transformation into a fine young man has begun, as he became a TEENAGER, turning 13. Wow, now we have two edgy teens under one roof! (Lord help us.) As for Abby, she turned 15 and has already become a lovely, young (edgy) woman. Speaking of Abby’s birthday, we celebrated it far, far away, as we spent spring break across the pond in beautiful Italy! For a week and a half, we hit all of the hot spots.

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Abby is still mad at me for not directing her to have a more believable hand position in this photo. As you can plainly see, her palm is far too OPEN, thus casting in doubt she is actually holding up the leaning tower.

We landed in Milan, but immediately travelled to Venice for three wonderful days of sightseeing. From there, we made spectacular stops in Florence, Tuscany, and Pisa before we set up shop in Rome for a few days. The highlight had to be celebrating Easter Mass with 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square with the Pope!

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The Pope seemed nice…

The next stop was the summit of Mount Vesuvius and the incredibly preserved city of Pompeii. We finished our Italian tour where it all started, in Milan, where we had a very special viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper. On the way home to Calgary, we decided to spend a 24-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, where we explored the city centre and ate way too much sauerkraut, sausage and schnitzel.

Spoiler alert: we all survived the ultra-heavy meal.

 

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2018 Highlight for Abby: Abby takes the ball to the hoop! She had a great high school and club basketball seasons.

The rest of spring 2018 was filled with Abby’s club basketball season, Daniel’s volleyball and a very gutsy performance from our son in the school production of The Lion King. Why was it so gutsy? Well, the day before the show opened, Daniel rolled his ankle HARD in gym class, but the show must go on! So, they wrapped up his left foot with more sports tape than you can shake a stick at, and he still knocked it out of the park as young Simba. After Daniel finished three performances in two days, we finally took him to the hospital, where x-rays revealed he had a fractured foot!

Spoiler alert: he survived.

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2018 Highlight for Daniel: He did a wonderful job as young Simba in the school production of The Lion King!

With the arrival of summer came another epic family vacation, and for the first time in five years, we did not team up with Mark, Dona and family. This time, we journeyed to the motherland! That’s right, we hooked up with Angie, Erika, David and Gaeil for a very special visit to Ukraine. After spending three days touring and watching Erika’s dance troupe perform in beautiful Lviv, we rented a car and headed to the Carpathian Mountains for a couple of days in the picturesque Bukovel region.

Then, it was time to visit my peeps in the small village of Bobulyntsi! The main reason we made this Eastern European trip was to meet up with relatives who still live in the village where my grandparents immigrated to Canada from over 90 years ago.

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The highlight of our Eastern European vacation was meeting relatives in Ukraine! PS: If you want to feel tall… I suggest you all vacation in Ukraine.

You know what? It did not disappoint. From the second we walked through the door, we were showered with love and hospitality. We ate, we drank… we then ate and drank some more. Then we toured the church where my Baba and Dido were married. It’s a very special day when you can connect with family half a world away. It’s also a very special day when you can knock back multiple shots of crisp Ukrainian vodka and still see straight.

Spoiler alert: I barely survived.

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It didn’t matter if we were in Ukraine or Poland… we found perogies. Or rather, the perogies found us.

We bid Ukraine goodbye and hopped on a train to Krakow, Poland, where we spent five days exploring this vibrant city. There, we toured the Old Town, churches, museums, castles, and the former Jewish ghetto. The highlight of our stay was a very emotional but very important visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau death camp.

Then came the relaxing part of our Eastern European adventure, as we made our way to the gorgeous coast of Croatia. There, we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and warm waters of the Adriatic Sea for five nights.

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This is what a family chillaxing in Croatia looks like. You can tell we be chillin’ by all of the sunglasses you see in the photo.

The highlight was a day trip to Dubrovnik’s old town, where we inadvertently visited multiple shooting locations of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Our vacation finished with a one-day stop in London, where our whirlwind tour took us to the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where we viewed the Crown Jewels. What a trip!

With the arrival of fall, we all turned our attention to the beginning of a brand new school year. Abby was beyond excited to start her first year of high school in a new school, after attending the same one from Pre-K to grade 9. Meanwhile, Daniel was also eager to kick off his second year of junior high. Another round of piano lessons, debate club, volleyball, basketball, hockey and cosplay made sure our kids are well rounded, and also totally exhausted by the weekend. (Apologies, as this tired, recycled line is still considered a Tysowski Christmas letter “classic”, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The kids won’t be involved in this many activities for that much longer, so take heart.)

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I don’t know who is weirder: Abby and Daniel or Sasha and Domino.

For those very  few of you looking for an update on my beer league hockey team, here it is: Mark and I spent months and months organizing and executing the rollout of brand new home and away jerseys. With the re-branding of our team came a new tradition of winning and we are enjoying our finest season in franchise history. That is the power of new jerseys! (Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that we also recruited a few new ringers.)

And that brings us full-circle to December where we already have the mid-winter blues and are desperately waiting for Christmas holidays to save us all.

Unfortunately for us, there will be no winter escape this year but we are already looking forward to another summer adventure… we just don’t know where it will be. I guess you will all have to keeping read this blog to find where we go this year. And while you’re here, you might as well buy my book on paperback, kindle or audiobook.

OK, I apologize for the shameless book plug, but remember I’ve only sold three copies of the audio version! All right people, that’s enough yammering from me. We hope you had a wonderful 2018 and look forward to hearing from you in 2019. All the best this holiday season!

Love, Greg, Lianne, Abby, Daniel, Domino & Sasha (the G.L.A.D.D.S. family)

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I know, I know. My face scowls  BAH HUMBUG, but my heart sings… MERRY CHRISTMAS from Dad@Home!

Dad@Court: I Fought The Law!

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This is me… about to enter the courthouse. Note the steely-eyed determination of a man about to FIGHT THE LAW.

Until last week, I had never stepped foot in a court of law.

Thankfully, I never had any reason to step inside to vigorously defend myself against accusations of legal wrongdoing.  That all changed when I received a letter from the city police a couple of months ago.

Mere seconds after anxiously tearing open the ominous letter, it didn’t look good. The photo evidence attached to the ticket looked pretty, pretty compelling. There was my car, plain as day, for the entire world to see, absolutely running a red light at a controlled intersection. There was no doubt about it.

There was also no doubt that my jaw almost hit the floor when I saw the fine on my ticket. It was almost FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS! What? When did simple traffic fines turn into these insanely expensive, incredibly punitive punishments!

Full disclosure: I am no stranger to receiving photo radar tickets. I sheepishly admit that I have a heavy foot, so I always suck it up and pay the fine when I get that dreaded notification in the mail.

I never fight it. When I screw up, I simply pay up.

But something about this particular ticket seemed off… like WAY off. I wasn’t just running that red light; my vehicle was almost completely through the intersection when the damning picture was snapped.

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Yes, this looks pretty bad. I’ll admit that.

Full disclosure: I’ve been known to “punch it” on a yellow to beat a red light.

But, the second photo attached to the ticket proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the traffic light was ALREADY RED before I even entered the intersection. What was I thinking? I’m dumb, but I’m not that dumb! I showed the photo to Lianne and she knew right away what was going on.

“Remember, we were part of that funeral procession? That’s why we ran the light.”

Of course! Then it all came back to me.

We were smack dab in the middle of a twenty-car procession making our way from a church to a cemetery. The funeral home specifically instructed us it was perfectly legal to run red lights and to please stick together… and that’s exactly what I did. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to follow the car in front of me and keep on trucking when the green light changed to yellow, then ultimately red. Unfortunately, the driver behind me chickened out and did not keep the procession moving through the red light. I remember thinking: “I better not get a ticket because buddy behind me pulled the pin!”

But alas, I did get a ticket. But, this time I would not simply pay up. This time, I didn’t do anything wrong. This time, I was ready to fight.

This time, I was GOING TO COURT!

I mailed in my NOT GUILTY plea and a trial date was set for early December. Now, all I had to do was build my case. I had to convince a judge beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was indeed part of a funeral procession. The first thing I needed to do was establish a timeline. The traffic infraction in question happened at 2:55 PM, almost three hours after the start of the service. The incident occurred around the half way point of our drive to the burial. I had to locate the funeral card with the time, place and date of the church service and the interment at the cemetery. That card would establish credibility and validate my story.

Done.

My next task required me to sift through the garbage in my car to look for the bright orange FUNERAL windshield sticker they provided us. That wrinkled piece of scrap paper was actually crucial physical evidence for my case. Living in filth and never emptying out the trash from my Subaru finally paid off; as I triumphantly found the folded sticker tucked in with all of the other crumpled refuse.

Done and done.

I then had to research the Alberta Traffic Safety Act to find the relevant “use of highway and rules of the road regulations”.

Full disclosure: my lawyer wife actually secured that important information, and she didn’t even bill me for it!

The Act clearly states: “a person driving a vehicle in the funeral procession, may, during daytime hours, drive the vehicle into an intersection without stopping the vehicle if

(a) the vehicle’s headlamps are alight,

(b) the vehicle is travelling immediately behind the vehicle in front of it in the funeral procession so as to form a continuous line of traffic,

(c) the lead vehicle in the funeral procession is showing a purple flashing light, and

(d) the passage into the intersection can be made in safety.”

Done, done and done.

And, for good measure, Lianne also printed up the relevant portions of the Alberta Driver’s Guide for cars and light trucks. It outlined the correct procedures for operating a vehicle within a funeral procession; procedures I had followed to the letter.

Done, done, done and done!

I felt prepared. I felt pumped. I felt jazzed. I felt that I had an ironclad defence. Now, all I had to do was wait for my day in court.

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I had all of my ducks in a row. Now it was time to swim. Swim into that courtroom like a duck in a row and WIN the trial of the century!

The trial was set for a Friday afternoon at 2:00 PM. I was actually a bit nervous as I made my way into the courthouse, through the lengthy, airport-style security and up to the ninth floor courtroom. After checking in, I realized there were several other people also slotted to appear at 2:00 PM, so I was wondering how quickly my case would be heard.

As it turns out, it would be quite a while before I would face the judge. The very first case featured an ill-informed gentleman who argued that traffic light cameras are unconstitutional. What? Hasn’t this been settled law, like… forever? The visibly annoyed judge had to call for a recess to work on her decision. The recess was over half an hour, which was odd because when she came back out, all she did was basically tell the guy he was an idiot (although using much more pleasant terminology.)

After that, the cases ran by the judge fairly quickly. It’s amazing how many people show up to fight a traffic violation with zero evidence to support their case, only to change their plea to guilty and ultimately pay the fine.

But that wasn’t me! I had a great case! Remember, I had an ironclad defence!

After waiting for over ninety minutes, I was the last man standing in the courtroom.

It was just the Crown Prosecutor, the judge, the court clerk and me. When my case was called, I confidently made my way to the podium and quickly bowed. (I noticed other people bow to the judge, so I figured I better do the same.)

I had all of my paperwork organized neatly in a legal sized folder. All of the evidence I would need to win the trial of the century was in my hot, little hands. I was ready to defend myself in a court of law. I was ready for the legal fight of my life…

and that’s when it happened.

That’s when the Crown Prosecutor addressed the court and announced that all charges would be dropped because the police officer who issued the traffic ticket was not present and unable to testify at the trial.

Wait! WHAT?

I actually turned to the prosecutor and explained that I had a copy of the police officer’s signed affidavit and asked why that wasn’t enough? Why did the police officer have to physically be here if he had already sent a signed, sworn affidavit giving his testimony? Could we enter that into the record instead? I know this sounds crazy, but I was actually pleading with the court NOT to dismiss my case.

I was arguing against myself!

Damn it, I wanted this to go to trial. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to WIN. I wanted to give my expert testimony and have the judge look me square in the eye and render her verdict:

“NOT GUILTY!”

Then, I imagined the judge would make some witty remark about how I missed my calling and how I should have been a trial lawyer. I imagined winning my trial in dramatic fashion, with all kinds of courtroom theatrics. I was dying for a scrappy session that would force me to yell out:

“YOU CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH!

The truth… that I was in a funeral procession. By the way, I’m curious as to why can’t you handle this rather mundane information?”

Instead, my big day in court that started out with such promise simply fizzled out.

After “winning” my case, I meekly pulled out the bright orange funeral windshield sticker, held it up and informed the judge I was going to argue that I was part of a funeral procession. She just smiled at me and court was immediately adjourned.

I was hoping to hear her say: “Well good sir, that excellent defence would have totally won the case!” But, no… that didn’t happen either. The Crown Prosecutor, who was actually a very pleasant individual, offered to explain the ruling to me outside the courtroom after the session was over, but I declined his offer. I just wanted to go home.

To be fair, this was still the legal fight of my life, as it has been the ONLY legal fight of my life.

I FOUGHT THE LAW… and well, um… I guess… technically, I won?

(Full disclosure: I wasn’t THAT disappointed, as I did avoid paying a $400 fine.)

 

 

I Am Open To Suggestions…

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This is me…  being open to suggestions.

Since I launched my Dad@Home blog in the spring of 2016, I’ve published a grand total of 43 posts. Some are better than others, some are more successful than others, and some are more personal than others.

I’ve written about my many mistakes and shortcomings as a father. I’ve explained how I completely botched the recording of my audiobook. I’ve given my unique take on stay-at-home parenthood. I’ve lamented the loss of a family pet. I’ve blatantly tried to push sales of my book. From time to time, I’ve even turned this parenting blog into a travel blog and shared the experiences of our family vacations. Sometimes I’ve been extremely lazy and simply posted a chapter from my book and tried to convince myself it was “marketing”.

My point is, at times I really struggle with what the hell I’m going to write about. I have vowed to update this blog at least once a month, and to be honest: it ain’t easy coming up with original content that people will actually want to read.

Sometimes I simply get lucky.

Sometimes “life” happens and an interesting or funny story naturally crops up, and the subject matter almost writes itself. This month, I haven’t been so lucky. This month, there is no bumper crop of engaging parenting stories.

I have found that many of my more popular posts showcase my multiple boneheaded moves.

Headlines like: “Am I A Bad Dad?” and “Was I A Bad Dad?”, received a lot of clicks and are two of my most successful posts of all time. I honestly believe people enjoy reading about other people’s child-rearing flaws, as it immediately brands that person as infinitely more relatable. It also proves nobody is perfect and that makes the readers feel better about their own parenting struggles.

That being said, every new blog post I write can’t be about what a terrible father I am. There are only so many boneheaded moves I can share! Many of you who know me personally probably assume that I must have an infinite supply… but alas, I don’t. Hey, cut me some slack here, people. I’m not THAT bad of a dad!

So, this is where you come in.

Dear readers: I need your help. If there is something you would like me to write about, just let me know. Please leave a comment at the end of this blog post, or click on the “contact me” link in the menu at the top of the page and you can provide your input there.

I am happy to answer any and all questions about my life as a stay-at-home dad. If there is a relevant issue you want me to tackle, I’ll dive right in and give you my take. Maybe there’s something I’ve written about in the past that you want me to explore further. If you only want fresh stories drawn from my latest boneheaded miscues… well, I will try my best to produce more but I can’t promise the moon.

Like I said, I am open to suggestions.

 

Dad@15years

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I don’t think any of us have changed a bit…

It feels kind of surreal to type this out, but I’ve triple-checked the math, and yes it’s true. I’ve officially been a stay-at-home dad for fifteen years. Wait, FIFTEEN YEARS? Wow, time certainly does fly when you are raising rug rats.

October 2003 feels like yesterday. I nervously bid adieu to the world of paid employment to take a job with zero monetary rewards, but plenty of fringe benefits. As I look back on my myriad of experiences at home, it is safe to say that the job has evolved incredibly over the past decade-and-a-half. But, here’s the million dollar question:

Has it gotten any easier? Well, yes and no.

Let’s compare two very different time periods within these past fifteen years:

  1. The “insane era”: which I recall as being the craziest time period of my tenure as primary caregiver. It was right after Lianne finished her second maternity leave and deposited a six-month old baby and a two-year-old onto my lap – full time.
  2. The “modern era”: which is my current situation, best described as me desperately trying to figure out what either of my emotional teenagers actually wants or needs from me.

Dad@1.5years:

What I remember the most about this particular time at home was the LOOOOONG days with two tiny humans who were very needy. After several hours of being run off my feet, I would often get cabin fever. I would then pack them both kids up and head out into the world for some adult interaction… ANY kind of interaction that didn’t involve dirty diapers, potty training and endless questions from a very chatty toddler.

Dad@15years:

There are still some very long days, but I’m not being run ragged. Instead, my days are filled with meal prep, driving kids to sporting activities, random errands and endless complaints from my 15-year-old daughter who claims I ask her way too many questions on our morning commute to school. I guess I’m the very chatty toddler now? And while there are no more diapers to deal with, I haven’t the faintest idea how my son’s laundry hamper can be completely overflowing after just three days, while the rest of our hampers seem practically empty. One thing that is remains the same… there is still very little adult interaction.

Dad@1.5years:

I vividly remember epic temper tantrums. My kids were exceedingly loud and never shy about letting me have it when they thought I had done wrong. Back in the insane era, I used to call Abby my strong-willed muffin, as she could be as stubborn as a mule. Back then, Daniel was still a baby, but I’m positive he was soaking up all of the emotional energy in the room and storing it for future outbursts. I found them very difficult to deal with.

Dad@15years:

Not much has changed. My kids are still exceedingly loud, they can still fly off the handle at a moments notice, and they still blame me for everything. Abby is still a strong-willed muffin, but she is now armed with a cocksure teenage logic that never admits defeat. Daniel now feels free to release gargantuan amounts of pent-up emotional energy… throwing epic fits when he realizes he “forgot” to do two days worth of homework at exactly two hours before his Sunday night bedtime. I still find them very difficult to deal with.

Dad@1.5years:

In many ways, my kids were completely helpless in the insane era. They needed me to do practically everything for them. Baby Daniel was… well… a baby!  Wouldn’t you know it, that bundle of joy required constant supervision. At age two, Abby boldly claimed she could do everything on her own, but if left unattended she would plug the basement bathroom sink with toilet paper just see how quickly she could cause it to overflow. Realistically, they required me to do everything and anything: from bathing them to feeding them to dressing them. While this was a very tiring and sometimes tedious existence for yours truly, it made one thing crystal clear – my kids needed me. I mean, they REALLY needed me. I felt I was literally the most important factor to their continued survival.

Dad@15years:

In many ways, my kids don’t need me at all in the modern era. They can make their own breakfast, buy their own clothes, and plan their own social life. (One thing they can’t seem to figure out is how to do their own laundry… but I digress.) Even my days as family chauffeur are numbered, as Abby is only five months away from taking her drivers exam. She can’t wait to be able to transport herself around the city. She can’t wait for her freedom… from me!

Despite all of this, I know there are still times when they need me – and I mean REALLY need me. In this modern era, it has nothing to do with tedious tasks. They don’t need me to brush their teeth or wipe their nose. Rather, it’s all about being there for them when times are tough. I used to tell people that the insane era was the time that I really “earned my keep” as a stay-at-home parent. But now, I’m not so sure.

As much as I found those days of babies and toddlers extremely exhausting, they are nothing compared to the stress and worry a parent of teenagers goes though on a daily basis. Helping my kids navigate through this crazy, confusing and emotional time in their lives isn’t easy. But, if I get it right, the rewards and fringe benefits will be endless – and last a lifetime. (But no, I still won’t get paid any recognizable currency.)

And speaking of money, what about that million dollar question? Has my job as a stay-at-home dad really gotten any easier?

I’d say the answer is still yes and no.

Maybe I’ll have a better answer for you in another fifteen years.

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Yes, that is the same shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was I A Bad Dad? Maybe…

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So, how exactly did Abby end up needing emergency surgery on my watch? Was I guilty of a major parenting fail way back in 2009? Maybe…

It’s only natural to second-guess ourselves. Hindsight is 20/20. We’d all like a do-over from time to time. Shoulda, coulda, woulda…

Do any of these sayings ring a bell? I think anyone put in charge of their kids’ well-being looks back at some of the parenting decisions that they’ve made, shakes their head and says:

WHAT WAS I THINKING?

For me, one particular parenting decision still haunts me to this day.

It was mid-December, 2009. Daniel was in pre-school and Abby was just a few months into first grade. By now, I had been a stay-at-home dad for over five years and I thought I knew what was what. I had this primary caregiver gig down pat, and nobody could tell me otherwise.

It all started innocently enough… with a simple yet very common complaint from my six-year-old daughter.

“Daddy, my tummy hurts!”

Any parent will tell you this is the number one “ailment” of young kids, and I had heard this a one thousand times before. Here’s how it usually went down.

“OK Abby, just lay down on the couch for a while and let’s see how you feel in a bit.”

Then, I would usually bring her a drink with a snack as she lay on her side, watching cartoons. Sometimes, she would see her brother horsing around in the back yard or hear him playing in the basement. Then, she’d spring up off the couch just to see what she was missing.

“I just want to see what Daniel is doing and I’ll be right back.”

And that was that… she was off and running and somehow her serious ailment had been cured! This was a very familiar pattern, so when I heard the complaint of tummy trouble in December 2009, I followed my usual protocol. At first, Abby seemed to be following the script, as she spent very little time on the couch and was seen cavorting with her brother in no time. However, after a full day of seemingly on-and-off pain she went to bed that night with the same grievance.

“Daddy, my tummy STILL hurts!”

I thought that was a little weird, but I figured there could be a million reasons a little kid would have an sore stomach, ranging from acid indigestion to a mild virus, or perhaps a punch in the gut from her rambunctious sibling. Lianne and I talked about it, and because Abby informed us it wasn’t all that bad, we went to sleep feeling pretty good about ourselves.

The next morning Abby seemed to be in good spirits, but her tummy was still bothering her. I kept asking if the pain was sharp or too much to handle, but she kept saying it wasn’t that bad. By now, I was starting to wonder if this was more than a simple tummy ache. I told myself a trip to our family doctor was in order if the pain became more severe.

And, that was the problem with our little… problem. Abby never really complained about the pain. Sure, when asked if it was still bothering her, she would always say:

“Yeah, a little. I think I’m maybe feeling better?”

Then, she’d go back to watching TV. Again, I figured:

“This can’t be that serious? Can it?”

Later in the day, I noticed something that finally put me on HIGH ALERT. I noticed Abby get up, make her way to the bathroom and walk back to her spot on the couch. She was STOOPED, hunched over like a little old lady walking with a cane. I thought to myself, this CAN’T be normal, and when Lianne came home from work a couple of hours later, I told her we should really get Abby checked out that evening.

It was cold out, so I was helping Abby get on her winter boots and big, fluffy coat when Abby started hopping up and down and said something that stopped us in our tracks.

“Daddy, my tummy doesn’t hurt any more!”

There she was, smiling and standing tall, straight as an arrow. Abby seemed very pleased to be rid of her nagging stomach pain, and she immediately took off to play with Daniel. HIGH ALERT was cancelled. Lianne and I figured we dodged a bullet and we went to sleep feeling pretty good about ourselves.

The next morning, Abby was feeling lethargic and didn’t want to get up off the couch.

Then, we noticed it… beads of sweat dripping down the sides of her cheeks. Abby was BURNING UP! OK, her tummy ache was back, and now she had a high fever. HIGH ALERT was back on, and this time there was no last-minute reprieve to stop us from going to see our family doctor.

When Abby and I finally got in, I replayed the previous two days, describing the stomach pain, the stooped-over walking, the surprising relief from pain, and finally… the high fever.

When the doctor heard our story, she didn’t say a single word. Instead, she stood up and immediately bolted out of the examination room.

I was a little dumbfounded, and wondered what the hell was going on. Why would she up and leave without even giving me her diagnosis? What is happening here? After what seemed like an eternity, but was likely only a few minutes, the doctor came back in with very specific instructions.

“I’ve just called the Children’s Hospital and you need to go there RIGHT NOW. They are expecting you. Do not wait in line. Just go straight to the reception and tell them who you are and they will get Abby in to see a doctor as soon as possible.”

For a moment, I didn’t say anything. I just sat there with bewildered, wide eyes. Finally I blurted out:

“Wait, WHAT?”

The doctor seemed a bit perturbed by my inaction and made the situation very clear:

“Abby’s appendix has burst and that’s why she has a high fever. She could be in sepsis and needs immediate surgery to remove her appendix and clean out the abdominal cavity.”

I’m pretty sure I just kept looking at her in silence, with a slacked jaw. I was still in shock, trying to process her instructions as she continued to explain the situation. She informed me that sometimes, the pressure and pain of appendicitis is relieved when the appendix bursts or is perforated. That’s why Abby (temporarily) felt so much better yesterday.

Oh boy did I feel stupid.

Remember when I said hindsight is 20/20? I’d say this was the perfect time to second guess myself, to have that do-over… or to say I shoulda, coulda, woulda taken Abby to see the doctor BEFORE her appendix burst if I wasn’t such a CLASS “A” IDIOT!

When we arrived at the hospital, they were indeed waiting for us. Abby was immediately examined and whisked away into pre-op. We had to nervously wait around for a bit because she was second in line for surgery. Fortunately, Abby’s appendectomy went very smoothly and she only had to spend two nights in the hospital. Lianne and I took turns spending the night in a rather cramped “parent bed” situated right in Abby’s hospital room.

I do not think either of us went to sleep feeling very good about ourselves.

Abby, on the other hand, took it all in stride. By the time she was allowed to come home, Abby actually didn’t want to leave, as they were bringing in puppies later in the day and she didn’t want to miss it.

So in the end, what can be said about a “routine” tummy ache that turned into a potentially life-threatening situation?  No harm, no foul? I’m not so sure.

I’ve never been the kind of parent who gasps and rushes to pick up his kids the second they fall down and hurt themselves. I’d always sit back and watch, and see if they could dust themselves off and “self-soothe”. My kids rarely miss school due to illness. If they wake up and say they don’t feel well and want to stay home from school, I will always say the same thing:

“Let’s go to school, and if you still feel crappy, just call me and I will pick you up right away.”

Nineteen times out of twenty that call never comes. I’ve often thought I was helping to make my kids tougher, but it’s obvious my methods didn’t work out very well in December 2009 and they don’t always work these days either. Just last week, Abby was complaining of a sore throat. I told her it was no biggie and that it should go away on its own. My solution? I instructed her to gargle with Listerine. Well, five days later we finally went to the doctor: she has tonsillitis.

I felt less stupid this time, but stupid nonetheless.

Should I take my kids’ health concerns more seriously from the very get-go? Should I have taken Abby to see a doctor the day she first complained of a tummy ache… her most common “affliction”?

Yes? No? I think so? You know what, I really don’t know.

It’s almost nine years later, and I’m still asking myself:

“Was I a bad Dad? Maybe…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad@Ukraine: An Extra Special Family Adventure

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In Ukraine, my brother and I felt like giants among men.

For years, I would tell people that SOMEDAY I would visit the ancestral homeland of my family. SOMEDAY, I would visit the relatives still living in the very village my grandparents immigrated to Canada from.

SOMEDAY I WOULD GO TO UKRAINE!

You see, my parents have visited this village not once, but twice… as has my older brother Mark. I wanted that same connection, that same experience, that same feeling of getting back to my ROOTS. But, as the years dragged on, the prospect of me actually following through on this grand plan seemed to fade as it never seemed to be the right time.

That all changed when my sister Angie told us several months ago she would be touring Ukraine this summer as part of her daughter’s Ukrainian dancing group. And, as luck would have it, the trip would take them to Ternopil, a city in the western part of the country just 45 km from the “ancestral village”. When my younger brother David caught wind of this, he immediately jumped on board and made Ukraine a part of his summer European vacation. Now the ball was in my court!

We had already planned and booked a spring break vacation to Italy, so I was a tad concerned about the cost of TWO overseas family vacations within a few months of each other. I had that sinking feeling that yet again, maybe it just wasn’t the right time. I was humming and hawing about it for weeks, but it was actually my wife Lianne who finally sealed the deal on the decision. She asked me very bluntly:

“Do you really want to be the only one in your entire family who hasn’t been to this village?”

NO. No I did not. It was now or never. We chose NOW and made Ukraine part of a twenty-day, three country Eastern European tour… with stops in neighboring Poland and beautiful Croatia. Once again, my wife donned her trip-planning hat and we set off for Lviv, Ukraine from Calgary on August 9th. After 22.5 hours of frustrating air travel, major difficulties securing a cab at the Lviv airport at 2:45 AM, and some minor difficulties checking in, WE HAD FINALLY ARRIVED IN THE HOMELAND!

My brother David and his wife Gaeil, along with my sister Angie and her daughter Erika had already arrived a few hours before us, so the next day we all hooked up to begin exploring this beautiful city and to watch my niece perform with her Ukrainian dancing troupe in the city’s main square.

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My niece Erika is just given’r up there! She’s the one in the exact centre of the photo.
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The highlight of our final night in Lviv was watching another Ukrainian dancing performance! I know what you are all thinking… my gut looks fat. That’s because it was fat. Correction: it IS fat.

We spent three days in Lviv, and really enjoyed it. This city was bustling with crowds, the weather was great and my God was it CHEAP! Hotels, meals, and the BOOZE! We were living like kings and queens in the motherland. While we were there we hit up several churches, the Italian Gardens, visited the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue, ate perogies every chance we got, had lunch at a cute but very unsanitary cat cafe, stopped for flaming coffees not once but twice and then hiked up to the best lookout spot in the city: High Castle.

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Not as good as my Mom’s, but these perogies were pretty, pretty good!

While my niece’s dancing group left Lviv for another city on their whirlwind Ukrainian tour, we rented a car and followed David and Gaeil to the Carpathian Mountains for a couple of days. We stayed in the resort town of Bukovel, which boasts the best skiing in Ukraine in the winter and a fun lakeside pool, spa and waterpark in the summer.

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The view of beautiful Bukovel from our hotel balcony.
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The view of the VODA CLUB from our special “private bungalow” area. A couple hours after this photo was taken, a huge thunderstorm with driving rain and hail blew us right out of our special private bungalows. That will teach us for trying to be BIG SHOTS in Ukraine.

After our two-night stay in the mountains, we headed to the city of Ternopil, where we would reunite with my sister and make our way to the small village Bobulyntsi, the place where my grandparents lived. The place they got married in. The place they left in the late 1920’s to begin a new life in Canada. We hired a driver and an interpreter, and we hit the very bumpy back roads. We didn’t have an address, just the name of the village. We actually had to stop several strangers on the road and ask them if they knew our relatives, or how to find them. We finally found someone who knew them, and we arrived late in the afternoon. They were anxiously awaiting our arrival and I was actually a bit nervous to meet everyone!

You see, this village visit was the MAIN REASON we made this Eastern European trip! This was a very big deal for me! This was the visit I had wanted to make happen for over thirty years. I know that’s a lot of pressure to put on a single moment, but you know what? It did not disappoint. From the second we walked through the door we were showered with love and hospitality. We were hugged, kissed and squeezed ever so tightly and I felt an immediate connection with family members who lived a half a world away.

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They laid out a wonderful spread of food for us! And the vodka shots. Let’s not forget the vodka shots. So many vodka shots.

We ate, we drank… we then ate and drank some more. We then toured the church where my Baba and Dido were married in and visited the cemetery where our ancestors were laid to rest. I remember my older brother Mark tell me he felt a bit emotional when visiting the village and I must admit I did as well. It’s a very special day when you can connect with your past and make new memories at the exact same time.

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The church my grandparents were married in.
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After our tour of the church and cemetery, it was back inside for more food, and of course… more vodka.

My siblings and I all spoke fluent Ukrainian as children, but we have since lost most of the language. That’s why we brought Roman, the interpreter. However, I tried to communicate as much as I could in the mother tongue, as I wanted to make the most of our time with the relatives. I even downloaded a Ukrainian language app on my iPad and completed 25 language lessons before we left. Despite my efforts, I found that Angie was far and away the best at communicating, while I was a distant second place. However, I did have better language skills than David, so I guess there’s that.

In the end, it was a wonderful visit, but it was vastly different than I my expectations. My parents visited in the mid 1980’s and then in the late 1990’s. They described life in the village as quite backward, with no indoor plumbing, little electricity and very few luxuries. My parents still communicated via snail mail, waiting weeks for delivery of their letters.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was that everyone had a smart phone. They had email addresses, they were all on Instagram and Facebook, they had a satellite dish and oh yeah… they had made some renovations and now had a very nice INDOOR bathroom. This wasn’t exactly metropolitan city living, but it certainly wasn’t the backwater life I had imagined. I guess we can now ditch the letter writing in favour of modern technology!

We stayed later than we planned, but eventually we hugged our way out of their yard and back to the bumpy back roads. The next day my sister and niece were heading back to Calgary, and my brother and his wife had one more day in Ukraine before heading home to Toronto. Visiting Ukraine, the village, our relatives… it was all wonderful. And, sharing the experience with my brother and sister made it that much better. I’m also very happy my wife and children had the chance to learn more about my heritage and I truly appreciated Lianne’s prodding to make the trip happen. With all of that being said, it was now time for the next chapter of our Eastern European tour: POLAND!

Dad@Poland: Connecting With a Lost Heritage

When we planned this summer vacation, we wanted to add a couple of other eastern European stops, and neighbouring Poland seemed like a no-brainer. We had heard a lot of great things about Krakow, so we hopped on a train from Lviv and spent the next five nights in this very cool city.

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The Old Town in Krakow

Over the next several days, we would see A LOT. We ventured into the city’s massive main market square, where we toured the beautiful St. Mary’s Basilica, the Town Hall Tower and the Cloth Hall. We then took in the Market Square Underground museum, the Barbican, and walked the City Walls.  We also explored our “neighbourhood”, as our hotel was in the Jewish Kazimierz district. We viewed several murals and visited the oldest synagogue in Poland. We then crossed the river to see where the Jewish ghetto was situated in WWII, visiting the monument at Plac Bohaterow Getta, which honours the 70,000 Jews deported from the ghetto to the concentration camps. We viewed the remnants of the ghetto walls before we toured Schindler’s Factory, which has been transformed into a very impressive museum that chronicles the Nazi occupation. Our next stop was the very cool Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow.

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Just a bunch of Tysowskis in a land of many other “skis”

Our third day in Krakow was an emotional one. We visited the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Birkenau death camp. To stand in the very spots where human beings inflicted unthinkable atrocities against other human beings with such malice and indifference completely crushed our sprit. However, we felt it was very important that we visit them and we were thankful to have the chance to spend a day there.

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The words above the gate say: “work will set you free”.

Our final full day in Krakow we visited the Wawel Royal Castle, where we checked out the beautiful Cathedral, the underground ruins and the DRAGON’S CAVE. Spoiler alert: there was no dragon. We then took part in an excellent food tour of our Kazimierz district, where we ate way too much traditional Polish cuisine!

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Borsht and perogies… TOGETHER? Why didn’t I think of this?

As prepared to leave Poland, it really got me thinking about my Polish roots and how little I know about them.  I must say I’m very pleased to have spent five nights in a country that plays such a prominent role in my family tree. People have often asked me if I’m Polish when they hear my last name, and I’ve always corrected them: “YES, I have a Polish last name but NO, I’m actually Ukrainian!” And for the most part, this statement is accurate.

When my great-grandfather Tysowski and a whole whack of his brothers and cousins immigrated to Saskatchewan from Poland around the turn of the 1900’s, they settled in an area where there was an established Ukrainian community. They all married nice Ukrainian women and basically became culturally UKE! Polish customs, language and cuisine made way for Ukrainian, and hence… I’ve never felt very Polish. However, it turns out the village my great-grandfather hailed from is actually very close to Krakow. Spending time in my “other homeland”, and being immersed in the language, customs and seeing that they also eat PLENTY of perogies, borscht and sausage… I have to say, I’ve never felt so POLISH in my entire life! And that’s a good thing.

Dad@Croatia: Time to RELAX

Our recent summer holidays have usually featured a built-in “vacation within the vacation”. This year was no different. After two weeks of go-go-go and plenty of sightseeing, it was now time to CHILL. The coastal Sun Gardens Resort near Dubrovnik, Croatia was just the ticket.

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One word: simply gorgeous

After a gloriously hot, gloriously lazy first day on the coast of Croatia, we decided to leave our very pleasant resort on day two. We took a boat ride to Dubrovnik’s beautiful OLD TOWN! We walked on top of the wall, strolled through the skinny side streets, visited the fort and enjoyed the spectacular views! Side note: we visited so many Game of Thrones locations the famous strings of the theme song were on a constant loop in my brain all damn day.

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One of the breathtaking views from high atop the walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

The next morning, we hopped on the very same boat, but ended up at a much more relaxing destination: the nearby island of Lopud. There, we did something close to nothing at Sunj Beach… all damn day.

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Sunj Beach… all damn day.
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Don’t kid yourself… a body like this doesn’t come easy. It takes YEARS to get it to look like this.

Our last day of soaking up the sun in beautiful Croatia saw us back on our ROCKY beach at Sun Gardens… and me ROCKING my bangin’ beach bod. The next day we were off, but not home quite yet. We had a one day layover in…

Dad@London: The Epic One Day Layover

Lianne and I have both been to London more than once, but our kids had never spent any time in this world class city, so we extended our layover to allow for one epic sightseeing day. We hopped on our hop-on-hop-off bus first thing and headed straight for the soaring heights of the London Eye. Then, we toured beautiful Westminster Abbey and followed that up with a very interesting tour of Buckingham Palace. That was a first for us and was actually better than expected! (Sorry, no Queen sightings) After that, we cruised the muddy waters of the Thames and hopped off our boat at the Tower Bridge. From there, we took in the many sights of the Tower of London, with a viewing of the Crown Jewels being the highlight. Fortunately, our hotel was just minutes from the Tower so it was an easy walk home, where we ate one final vacation meal at a nearby Indian restaurant.  

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Don’t let the dour expression fool you… I had a great time. I was simply showcasing my “stiff upper lip”, as is the local tradition.

It was a fabulous trip! Absolutely fabulous.

And if you’re still reading this uber-long blog post, then thank you for hanging in there! Thanks for not bailing out during Poland! 

Yours truly,

Dad@Home