Trying to keep listening hard

What I wouldn’t give to hear my two-year-old daughter chirp “shweet shwinging Shammy Shosa” again.

Watching the excellent sports documentary Long Gone Summer on TSN this week, chronicling the home run race in the summer of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, brought me back to that cherished memory.

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Something much hotter than baseball was top of mind for me that summer in Salmon Arm. I was busy covering the forest fire that would threaten much of the community and turn Mount Ida into a moonscape of ash.

When things finally settled down in September, I was just in time to follow the nightly home run derby, restoring my interest in Major League Baseball after the 1994 season-ending strike destroyed the best chance the Montreal Expos ever had of winning the World Series.

And for reasons I don’t remember, that included teaching Claire to say “shweet shwinging Shammy Shosa” whenever the Chicago Cubs star stepped to the plate.

I’m so jealous of dads these days, with their ability to shoot quick videos of their adorable toddlers on their phones and immediately share them with family and friends on social media. Dads with young ones, hear me. 

Two decades from now, when they’re grown, you will embarrass your now-adult kids when you revisit these videos and fight back the tears of love and sentiment.

CBC Radio’s Andrew Kurjata asked on Twitter this week if there are any guides into not turning into an “Old White Guy.” He received some excellent advice, from Rob Budde’s “keep listening hard” to Rick Trow’s “I love being an old white guy!! I think the key is to NOT be an angry old white guy!!”

Not being an angry old white guy comes from the same playbook as being a decent dad. 
“Keep listening hard” (my interpretation of Budde’s response) means mouth closed, eyes and ears alert and, most importantly, mind and heart wide open to what’s being said. 

That is no easy task because, as more candles have appeared on my birthday cake each year, the temptation to rely on my hard-fought wisdom has crept in. 

Every day, it takes self-reflection and constant vigilance for me to choke down the bittersweet realization that my understanding will always be a work in progress and will always have blind spots.

Every day, it takes humility for me to recognize the worldviews I’ve held for years require constant revision to prevent the slide into irrelevance and anger.

Most difficult of all, I try to admit my views have caused others to suffer, regardless of my best intentions, and that I must be willing to recognize both my faults and my responsibility to make amends.

The best available blind spot alarm alert for me is to listen to my now adult kids. I raised them to be able to make up their own minds so I strive, not always successfully, to not dismiss them with a patronizing sneer when they have the gall to inform me I’ve got it all or partially wrong. 

Their awareness of difficult issues around race and gender and identity, for example, is often insightful. 

I’m blessed Claire is now 24 and enjoys her dad’s company and counsel but also has zero tolerance for her father’s biases, both conscious and unconscious. I’m blessed Drayden and Myah, her step-brother and step-sister, both recent high school graduates, are similar to her in that regard.

All three kids still have much to learn about life and I can only hope my efforts have prepared them for the joys and the pains of that journey. Through them, I can also continue to learn, to evolve, to accept.

Staying busy with those tasks doesn’t leave much room for anger, although crankiness too often sneaks its way in, brought on by increasingly present aches and pains, fatigue and the startling realization that even if I live to see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my life is already more than half over.

One of the antidotes to that realization will always be the memory of my beautiful little girl with her sweet voice calling out “shweet shwinging Shammy Shosa.”

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