Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

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My Father’s Daughter

When I'm at my best, I am my father's daughter.

I have been blessed to know some amazing dads in my lifetime- some whose families I was born into and others to whose families I was invited.

I am forever grateful for my dad, Mark Bredin, whose love and loyal support and constant prayer means so much to me each and every day. I love you, Dad. I am glad I live close enough to visit you often. Thank you for being my dad.

Forever grateful as well for two amazing grandfather’s who were also dads themselves. Grampies have the amazing gift of loving on their grandkids like no other adult figure can. Theirs’ is the role of just pure joyful affection, minus all the hard work of child-rearing, disciplining, care-giving, chauffeuring and all the other mundane things parents have to do that complicates life so much. Grandparents are such special people, and I am so grateful for my two wonderful grampies, Mark Bredin Senior and Charles MacLean. While they now live in Heaven, I take comfort in knowing that I will someday see them both again.

I am so honored as well to have been invited to be part of a family filled with wonderful dads. When Brian Gard asked me to marry him nineteen years ago, little did I know how much I would come to admire and appreciate his relationship with his dad, Harold Gard. Brian’s relationship with his dad was so close and connected all through the years. Harold was Brian’s mentor and best friend. And so, I learned a lot about a father’s love for his son by watching Brian and his dad interact over the years. We have missed Harold’s presence tremendously this Father’s Day 2015. Someday soon, we will meet again, Grampie Gard…someday soon.

And then there’s my Husband Brian. Dad to four beautiful children. The man for whom we celebrate every Father’s Day with a full-course breakfast meal… just because he deserves it. How do I begin talking about the best father for her children a woman could ever dream of asking for? Brian is patient and kind and thoughtful and involved. I cannot thank him enough for being so perfect for the role God gave him in our lives: our Daddy.

But when I think about fathers and Father’s Day and that constant One to whom I know will never cease to abide with me. Who will always fight for me. Stay by me. Holding me, eternally: I can’t help but say thank you from a grateful heart to the Father I know who is above all. For my Father is this:

Always faithful.
Always true.
Always kind.
Always loving.
Always patient.
Always available.
Always just.
Always there.

Perfect.

And it is my desire in this life to be just like my Father- as close as a girl could come. Walking in His shadow so as to reflect the image I see. Emulating the One who loves me best. Loving others in some of the very same ways that He loves me.

Because truly when I am at my best, I am my Father’s daughter.

I always will be His daughter.

On Father’s Day: For Those With Hearts Breaking

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We pound pavement in the fading light of day. I struggle to keep step with his manly gait, his earnest stride. This is the time of evening when my fatigue catches up with me. Softly, the wind blows unruly tendrils of hair across my cheeks, and I stop to wrap my jacket around my waist- I over dressed this evening in case a chill came without warning. But instead of shivers, balmy summer sun penetrates through to my skin, warming me. I watch the road intently for cars that might not be watching as carefully as I.
While we walk, I wrack my brain to come up with something of import to say.
“What will we do for Father’s Day this year?” I ask rather suddenly.
It is valid question for those finding themselves within the week of this significant holiday. A question that begs to be asked. But when your heart is still tender from breaking, and there have merely been two weeks passed since you said last goodbyes to your own Dad, this question can leave one feeling startled by fresh tears.
There will never be a Father’s Day the same again for us. Not ever. Quite honestly, the world is now forever changed. How do you do things when the one you formerly did them for/with/to is forever gone? Can a holiday still be commemorated even when the one for whom it was meant is no longer present?
We walk and talk. Shed some tears.
And I wonder and imagine while he walks quietly.
All the while, I still hold out hope. There is always hope.
Hope for another day. Another moment. Another slice of life.
And there is still room to celebrate even in the midst of sorrow. Still room for joy expressed over a life lived with grace and love and courage and faithfulness and tenderness and loyalty and gentleness, even when the remembering brings tears. There is still room to honour a father’s influence even in his physical absence. There is still room in which to cry and laugh.
There is still room in our hearts and there always will be.
There is not a day goes by that our hearts are not moved by his memory.
We sit down by the river for a spell. We are motionless, save for the occasional slapping of a mosquito here and there. Below my feet, there are schools of tiny fish curiously weaving their way around a wooded slat. They know naught of what the worlds above them experience with loss and pain and sorrow. Farther down the river, two ducks paddle off while a heron takes flight. The natural world around us has a rhythm all its own. Everywhere is peace and quiet.
I am reminded to be still. And so I am.
Later, as we make our ascent back to the road, I am further reminded that life too must resume. But our memories of what really matters are never far from our hearts. We return to these places and spaces often so as to remember. To recall and evoke the images in our minds of those we love.
We never forget.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. And while it will be different this year, there will still be a celebration- a commemoration of all that we have been given by way of legacy, heritage, history and connection. A calling to remembrance of and for our fathers. Our cherished memories are ours to keep and treasure for a lifetime.
Our loved ones might be physically gone: but they will never be forgotten.
May all those whose hearts are breaking this Father’s Day find comfort in the knowledge that their Dad is always present in their memory.

Our fathers will forever live on- in and through- our remembrances of them.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Dads (who have to be moms too)


You can read this article again at the Huffington Post Canada.

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day we traditionally honour and celebrate the mothers in our lives. Moms, grandmoms, great-grandmothers, step-mothers, adopted moms, surrogate mothers, mothers-to-be: they all get at the very least a nod of appreciation (if not a full-out display of love and affection).

So they should, of course. But I have been thinking more and more of the unofficial ‘mothers‘ who never get recognized on Mother’s Day, and I’m talking about the dads.

This is not to say that dads are mothers in the truest sense of the word. They will always be first and foremost a father — and as such, will always place most importance overall on their interactions with their kids as it concerns their being a father. But for some families, particularly for those who have lost a mother due to death or separation or some other form of difficulty, dads are playing both parental roles to the best of their ability.

Let me pause to say that I also recognize women do these very same things (act in dual parental roles), but let me save that blog article for Father’s Day when I recognize mothers.

Back to the fathers. These guys are moms to their kids, all while they are still being that incredible father they always were. I can think of one such dad close to our own family’s heart who lives this reality. He is currently dad and mom to his girls (girls who are still needing his love and attention in both a maternal and paternal way), as well as he is doing what his girls’ mom formerly did for them prior to her death.

As I watch the various dads I am coming to know and truly appreciate, many of whom have lost wives to cancer, I can’t help but observe the grace with which they have handled the passing on of their spouse. I am amazed and humbled to see that being a mother has been added to their job description. In true motherly-form, they are willing to do what it takes to be there for their kids.

What a legacy they leave for their beautiful families.

These guys are doing things they never use to do (as per the varied division of labour that occurs in any given family), and they are doing some of the things that Mom only once did. And playing these dual roles, solo; without the benefit of another partner to complement their parenting.

Things like being that sole parent there when their kids get home from school.
Things like planning birthday parties, attending festival performances and watching shows they aren’t accustomed to watching.
Things like attending meetings, appointments and practices without the advantage of tag-teaming with their other parenting counterpart.
Things like letting their kids know it is okay to cry — because they do too.
Things like arranging work schedules around their children.
Things like brushing hair and putting up ponytails.
Things like being that soft, warm place their kids can fall when life gets rough — because kids need this sometimes.

Are these aspects of parenting solely mom’s domain? Of course they are not. Surely, there are fathers out there who take charge in all these areas at the best of times, freeing up their wives to do other just as important parental tasks. But for those dads who NEVER had to take leadership in some of these areas before (or weren’t quite comfortable assuming this predefined role), this is new territory for them. These are unchartered waters.

And the fact that they are doing these new tasks solo is what endears them to me, a mother myself.

Rather than being criticized, these dads need to hear the words that they are doing an amazing job at parenting their children — playing the role of both partners in the absence of their female counterparts.

To all the dad-moms out there: “I know Father’s Day is coming up, but it is never too early to say that we appreciate you. As moms, we support you. You are doing an absolutely fabulous job at being there for your kids. Keep on keeping on, Dad. You make us all proud to be a parent.”

Happy Sunday to one and all — mothers, fathers or otherwise. And for all those dads out there who are both dad and mom: “you’ve got this, man.”

We’re all rooting for you.

What Dads Do

In anticipation of Father’s Day on Sunday, I stumbled across a book which I then read today to my students on the topic of animal dads. The book was a great overview of animal fathers in the wild and how they contribute to their offsprings’ lives. A very interesting read.

Did you know that there is a type of fish (whose name escapes me now) which will hold its babies inside its mouth if enemy approaches and then release them when the danger has passed? “Gross,” said my little kindergartners while “fascinating” was the word which came to mind for me. Animal dads are just an amazing study of responsible parenting at its best.

Some of the ways animal fathers do this work of parenting are ways very much like those seen in human fathers, as both can be seen protecting their young, sheltering them, providing for them and playing with them. Cleaning and feeding them. Watching over them while the mothers are away (which the book referred to as babysitting, but which I would clarify so as to call it simple parenting).

And yes, in a manner of which: there are even some animal dads found giving birth to their young. Okay, maybe that one is a tad bit different than in humankind- although we as mothers certainly wouldn’t be opposed were the marvels of modern science to come up with ‘the plan’. Human dads maybe not so much in favor, but it’s my humble opinion that nature has us beat on that one.

As I was reading this book, I was struck by the varied ways in which animal dads offer their children compassionate, loving care. Care offered in many of the very same ways human fathers the world over tenderly care for their own babies- their beloved boys and girls. So with the inspiration gained from having read this book, and with Father’s Day in mind, I am offering five unique ways in which human dads care for their children, in no uncertain order.

1. Human dads can read to their children. I have found that when dads read to their kids, kids are inclined to read more themselves. As dads are interested in a variety of topics, there is bound to be something that will strike a chord, enabling conversation to therefore flow from the launch pad of a great read. When my own kids were young, their dad would have two on either side and at least one on his lap. I still can conjure up this comforting image in my mind even now, many years later; it brings me joy at the thought of it.
2. Human dads can talk to their children. About stuff that matters, as well as stuff that’s just meant to be for fun. The other night, Husband and Son were out scraping the old paint off the house in preparation for repainting our home this summer. At bedtime prayers, what my son mentioned he was most thankful for that day was the time he had to talk to his dad during their work together outside. I later asked Hubbie what they talked about, and he replied with a bit of perplexity: “Not much.” But what we both decided, after some time of talking it over for a bit ourselves, was this: it isn’t WHAT has been said, it’s that something HAS been said. That’s what matters. And its what will be remembered long after the conversations are over.
3. Human dads can stimulate their children’s thinking. One thing I have appreciated about my children’s father is his quiet, unassuming manner when it comes to challenging my children emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Rather than always leaving them to arrive at their own conclusions about important matters in life, Husband thoughtfully fosters their thinking through carefully designed questions and reflective comments in response. In thinking through issues, the solutions are gained not from imposing standards and expectations that are rigid and exacting, but through providing an example of how one can live their life. And why that example is important to take note of. And from there, allowing time and availability so as to follow through when children are arriving at the answers to their own questions. Making sure that patience and grace are the foundational structures upon which direction is given.
4. Human fathers have the rare opportunity to both create and then leave a legacy for their children. What that legacy becomes remains to be seen through the lasting impression dads leave with their children. Impressions made about what really matters in life, what is worthwhile doing, being and knowing and what is the reason for their own personal existence. All dads provide a legacy, rightly or wrongly, for their children. How their children arrive at the understanding of this legacy is based on the ways in which the father conveys his message. Through his actions, his words and his belief systems. Everyone leaves a legacy for their children, whether they realize this truth or not. So it matters what you believe and how you live out those beliefs: your children are watching you.
5. Human fathers are capable of offering love in deeper ways than one is able to believe that animal dads would be equipped to offer love. There is no doubt that animal dads have a level of commitment and affection for their children: love can be observed the world over, in both human and animals alike. But human fathers have the rare opportunity of showing their offspring unconditional, sacrificial love, a love exhibited by one willing to put himself on the line, if circumstance required that of him. No better example of this can be given than the recent deaths of three fathers in the line of duty, whom one could say were not only acting for the good of all human kind, but also for the good of their own six children they’ve now collectively left behind. Love like this is inspirational.

I will never fully understand the bond that fathers have with their children. Strong as they are between a mother and her children, there is something uniquely special about the father-child relationship. And while it is true that not every father has done the five things I have listed above, the truth of the matter is that most are ABLE to do some of those five, should they so choose. And speaking as a mother, friend and teacher myself, I want to also say this: I appreciate the dads that are emotionally and physically connected to the children I have interacted with over the years. Being a good dad doesn’t mean one must aim for perfection. One would never expect that of mothers, so why then would we expect it of dads? Human perfection itself is a myth, but involvement is a certain possibility. A perfect possibility. Being an involved dad is about as close to perfect in a child’s eyes as they would ever come to expect. And when those kinds of dads take time to read, talk, stimulate, create and love, there is no telling the ways which they will then have of influencing their sons and daughters to being the best people they can be.

Truly the sky’s the limit.