Sunday, June 18, 2017

a Father's Day essay

Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there. I'm posting an essay I wrote for the CBC 19 years ago. (Wish I could reduce it in size but I don't know how.) It's about fathers in general but also secretly addressed to my ex-husband, a nice man and a workaholic. I found out later the piece was being used in a law school course about divorce law. Without royalties, of course, but still, I was glad, because it's just as true now as it was in 1998. Don't get me started on how our world is ignoring the crisis of lost young men. What are terrorists, after all?

And just so you know ... I am working. It's like wading through peanut butter, trying to fix the front of this memoir, but I'm working at it. "Arse in chair," as Colum McCann says in his terrific book, Letters to a Young Writer, that I just got from the library. I'm not young, but I'm drinking in his words, and "Keep your arse in the chair" is among them.


Not long ago, I wrote a short article about my father, and read it to a writers group. It was about the difficulty he had conveying love, as I grew up, and how long it took before I understood that he really did love me, he just couldn’t say so. “Our communication was subterranean,” I read. “I learned to decipher his signals like secret code, like sign language.”

When I’d finished reading, there was complete silence. “Oh oh,” I thought, “they hate it,” and then I looked up. Around the table, every face was stricken; two were in tears. This was not just my story, I learned. Trying to read love on Daddy’s face, or to hear affection coming from Dad’s mouth, was a search we all shared. Heartbreakingly so.

A search that our fathers, ironically, shared with us. For how many of our fathers had ever heard loving, supportive words from their fathers? How could they learn to speak lovingly when their own fathers were sternly silent, as men were meant to be? It’s only now, in our post-feminist time, that men are allowed - even expected - to speak of feelings, tenderness, love. 

Now that men have new emotional freedom, will our children be the first generation raised with the guarantee of affectionate attention from fathers? Well, no. Because, having addressed that problem, we’re reeling from another, a crisis of disastrous, almost unknowable proportions. Just as we encourage men to be more open in marriage, marriages are falling apart at a record rate. Just as men are freed to connect emotionally with their children, they’re increasingly living somewhere else, apart, and so are able to connect only sporadically, if at all. In some ways, I think many modern fathers are even more painfully distant from their children than the hiding-behind-the-newspaper, go-ask-your-mother, Father Knows Best fathers of the Fifties.

There’s no blame here. Our society has lived through several earthquakes in recent times - the permissive sixties, the self-centered seventies, the workaholic, driven, selfish eighties and nineties - and, especially, the feminist revolution. None of these things made marriage and child-rearing easier and more secure for men and women. Women, in particular, found an entirely new world of possibilities, and men were left figuring out where they fitted in the new scheme of things. We’re an interim generation, rejecting what our parents had, but not knowing quite how to fashion, successfully and workably, what we want. 

The greatest tragedy in all the flux is this: because of widespread divorce, fathers are vanishing, and children are suffering the consequences. I fear that we as a society will suffer the consequences, too. Our fathers may have been aloof, but most of them were there. So many divorced fathers now, it seems, are living on the other side of town, or in another city, or have a new girlfriend or are plunged into work. It’s not that they don’t care for their children; I’m sure they do. They’re just not sure how to connect without the structure of marriage and family and home. They seem to feel, eventually - well, the children’s mother is keeping me out; or - she’s taking good care of things; I might as well go back to the office. The kids don’t need me.

They need you. They need you more than ever - even if it’s the children, now, who are silent, and can’t speak of love and need. Boys desperately need a role model, to watch Dad in all kinds of situations, to understand what men do and how they do it. Girls need to hear a man’s point of view, to feel themselves growing up under the appreciative gaze of a loving man. These things are fundamental, and so often, now, they’re missing.

Children don’t need that much; they just need you. My own son, a few years ago, flew off for a special visit with his dad, who now lives an hour and a half away by plane in another country. And his loving, generous father laid it on, all kinds of fancy events - expensive outings and shopping and shows and restaurants. Later, my son wrote about the visit for school. “The best part of my trip,” he wrote, “was playing catch in the park with my dad.”

There’s a saying women know about - that if you asked your children which they’d prefer, their mother nearby and wretched, or somewhere else and blissful, which would they choose? No question. Kids need their parents to be there, happy or not. If I’d had a choice between my father as he was, judgmental, sometimes even cruel, but present, and my father far away but sending adoring letters, which would I have chosen? No question. I needed him daily, difficult as he was. And eventually a love grew between us which nurtures me still, though he’s no longer there to love me back.

All fathers - but especially divorced fathers - there’s an emergency out there. Your children are hungry for you. Don’t worry if you’re not the type who can say ‘I love you’; that’s not the issue any more. You don’t have to say it, though it’s nice if you do. You don’t have to be living under the same roof as your children to be an involved, committed, passionate father, who’s there. All you have to do is be ready to play catch as often as you possibly can, to catch and throw, to listen and talk, to listen, and talk, as fully as you possibly can, until the day comes when the need for you to be there stops. 

Which, if you play your cards right, won’t be until long, long after the day you die.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Macca, Companion of Honour, turns 75

Okay, what's really important this weekend is that on Sunday, tomorrow, June 18, a certain Beatle turns 75. It's also Father's Day, and he is a much-loved father to his own 4 children and his adopted daughter Heather. And just in time, he was granted yet another huge honour by the British government - a Companion of Honour. "A companion of honour – an honour created in 1917 -can have no more than 65 members, so vacancies only arise on the death of a holder." 

Half a century after the release of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – now being celebrated in a festival across their native Liverpool – McCartney was jubilant. He said: “I’m very happy about this huge honour, and with the news coming on my birthday weekend and Father’s Day, it makes it colossal!”
He has been my very own Companion of Honour for over 50 years, since January 1964. Happy Birthday and mazel tov, my dear Macca.

One of my other great heroes, J.K. Rowling, also won the award. Brava, brilliant generous woman with a giant heart.
Another beautiful peaceful weekend, rain, sun, apparently severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings just outside the city but not here. Lots of planting this morning. Yesterday Anna and her gang arrived, after school; we went to the Wellesley St. splash pad where Eli got very wet and Ben ran in circles near the water but not in it. Ben never walks; he only runs, including into the road, so his mother is considering a leash, which I think is a great idea for her peace of mind. He moves so fast, it's terrifying. Then they came here. David Sedaris once described a friend's kids as "a wrecking crew of four" and that's how my adored grandsons are,  a wrecking crew of two. No problem with that.

Hard to believe, as I stare out now at the lush green, the scores of frilly pink roses, the glorious white gardenia, that not far away, there is chaos and horror - that crazy Americans can now more easily buy guns, that a patently crazy man is the most powerful man in the world.

But Randy Bachman is celebrating Bob Dylan on his program right now, with Bob's own voice and covers. Now Roseanne Cash is singing "You ain't goin' nowhere." The roses, gardenia, and lavender, are also singing to me. And I am in heaven.

And more great news - Bruce is home. After a month in hospital in Ravenna after a stroke, he finally made it back to Vancouver yesterday. He's in St. Paul's Hospital receiving some very welcome Canadian health care. Welcome home, dear Brucie.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Edgar at the Tonys

I have to take a wonderful book back to the library today - "The Seven Good Years" by Israeli writer Etgar Keret, one of my favourite writers. The book is extremely short, a bunch of brief chapters detailing the years between the birth of Keret's son and the death of his father. It's about life in Israel and being a man, about families and life. He's witty, hilarious, and very moving, and he's extraordinarily concise. I don't know how he does so much with so few words. Highly recommended.

It's heaven out there today - not as hot as it was on the weekend, when it soared over 30 degrees, but hot and bright. The roses are - I wish there were a verb to go with the noun 'profusion' - profuding? Bursting out all over, and the gardenia too.

But it's also a sad day; my friend and tenant Carol's mother died early this morning. Born in 1914, she'd attained the phenomenal age of 103, so this was not unexpected, but still, it's a passage, a loss, an ending; a much loved mother is gone. I picked a bouquet of roses, mint, and lavender for Carol's room.

On Sunday night, much excitement - Sam and Wayson came to watch the Tony awards from Broadway. "Come From Away" sadly did not win, but "Dear Evan Hanson" did; my ex Edgar was one of the early producers at Arena Stage, his theatre in Washington, and he was onstage with the other producers. (He also produced the Tonys twice, but that was years ago.) We at home were very excited - "There's the old man!" shouted Sam, and rewound the program after so we could take a screen shot. Bravo, Edgar. What fun for you to be at the Tonys; what fun for us to watch.

Last night, another celebration - to thank John, a dear friend from the Y who does my income tax and recently bailed Sam out of a complication with his, I took him on Sam's night off to dinner with Sam at his new restaurant, the Emerson, at Bloor and Lansdowne. A grand night, delicious food, all the waitstaff coming up to say hello and joke around - sheer delight.

And now, time to put on my big girl clothes and ride beautiful blue Marilyn to Ryerson.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Five participants confirmed already ... only 5 or 6 more to fill it. Looking forward to a July Sunday in the garden. There will be roses.

A one-day writing adventure.
Inspiration, structure and support for those with lots of writing experience and for those with none.

Spend a summer day learning to trust your voice and tell your stories. Listen to your creative self. Gain confidence and perspective from friendly contact with other writers. Write in the garden and enjoy positive feedback, bushy perennials, and lunch.
Who: Writer and teacher Beth Kaplan has taught writing at Ryerson for 22 years and at U of T for 10.
When: Sunday July 23, 10.00 a.m. to 5 p.m
Where: Beth’s secret garden in Cabbagetown.
Laughter, camaraderie and insight guaranteed.
For more information -
To register –
Cost: $150, including food for thought and actual food (and wine). Register early; registration is limited.

“Glorious stories, a beautiful setting, great food, a garden to die for.” - Kelsey Mason
Just what I needed to get started writing again!”  - Pat Broms

“Beth has a special gift for creating a safe learning environment, with a well of positive things to say without passing judgment. It was a joy to be there with her and the others. Her garden is magical, and she created a magical day for me.” - Ann C.

brava Bonnie Raitt

Sunday morning in paradise - my green garden. The roses and gardenia are overloaded with buds about to burst, and the tender lettuce leaves are begging to be picked and dressed. It's so quiet here on the weekends because, I guess, the neighbours are at the cottage. My idea of heaven is not having to get in a car, ever.

Bonnie Raitt - what an inspiration. She's a few months older than I am, with a career spanning more than 4 decades, fabulous to look at in her skinny black jeans, and listen to, with her powerful guitar and her clarion voice as strong if not stronger than ever. I read on-line that she went clean and sober in the mid-eighties, right afterwards had her first mega-hit and has been sober ever since. She was gracious to her longtime band, constantly pointing out their solos and talent, and they to her. The music ranged from real old-timey blues to raunchy rock to achingly beautiful ballads. How can she still wring so much from "Angel to Montgomery"? "How the hell can a person/go to work in the morning/and come home in the evening/and have nothing to say?" She made me cry at least twice, and I was not alone. Magnificent.

This is what she said recently about getting older:
"My end of the music business doesn't rely so much on looks. It allows you to age more gracefully than the mainstream pop stars that are total babes. People are snarkier about them getting older. It's just terrible. So I'm actually relieved that I'm in the character actress end of the world, where I can just get more seasoned and people go, 'Oh, well, look how mythical she's become!'"
Time to get out those old records and listen again. (And FYI, I rode my bike to see her at the Sony Centre.)

Yesterday, off to the documentary cinema to watch "Sacred" with Ken - a doc about religious practices around the world. We were going to see "Wonder Woman" but chose this instead, and I wonder, as a woman, if that was a mistake. It's a messy film, skipping about all over the planet, a bit of a Filipino crucifixion re-enactment here, a bizarre Buddhist practice here - monks walking ceaselessly around a mountain for 1000 days - an almost violent Christian service in Botswana, a terrifying view of zillions of worshipers at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. All the way through, I the atheist kept thinking - bizarre, cruel, a waste of time. The fact that countless people worship with ferocious blindness is no surprise but scary nonetheless.

The only place where it seemed to me religion actually served a great purpose was in a Louisiana prison, populated almost entirely by men of colour, some of whom have found god. Faith gives them hope, kindness, something to live for, which is good because most of them are serving life sentences and will never emerge from that hellhole. But otherwise, even Ken, who's a practicing Catholic, was completely put off by what was shown. We'll have to try again for "Wonder Woman.

I realize - as I bop around, seeing musicians and films and plays and friends - how lucky I am, but also, how easily distracted. There's SO MUCH TO DO! And summer is just heating up in Toronto, the Luminato arts festival is just starting and all the other festivals non-stop around town. How to settle down to the work?

First world problems.

Tonight, the Tony Awards from NYC. I am rooting for the Canadian "Come From Away," but am torn - my ex was the original producer of "Dear Evan Hanson," another best musical nominee, as well as one of the nominated plays, and will be in the audience. So either one. Break a leg, Newfoundland. Break a leg, Ed.