On Your Father's Side  

A father's lament

When I took my oldest daughter’s hand and walked upstairs, time suddenly came rushing up behind me in one furious stroke.

I’d walked the stairs at my uncle Rob’s place in Saskatoon hundreds of times: for Christmases, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, christenings and funerals.

Sixteen years ago, I’d been there acting as godfather for Rob’s youngest daughter, my cousin Hannah. (That’s godfather in the biblical sense; I wasn’t there to place any horse heads in anyone’s bed, although I’m not afraid to be her enforcer...)

If you had told me then I’d eventually be father to three girls, I’d have probably laughed myself unconscious.

It’s not that I didn’t want kids, but I certainly wasn’t on any path that seemed destined to produce a family.
But there we all were on the weekend, back in my hometown to watch Rob’s oldest daughter, Rebecca, get married.

It was as if I were standing in the middle of a vortex, half a life behind me and half ahead of me.

How long before I’m not just holding my six-year-old daughter’s hand, but walking her down the aisle?

Having children does weird and wonderful things to your brain, but twisting your sense of time must be the most unsettling.

It was obvious during a drive through my old neighbourhood.

We drove past my grandparent’s wartime house on Elm Street, St. Frances School and half a dozen other faceless, nameless landmarks that mean more to me than I’d care to admit.

I’m genuinely disappointed the Exhibition started the day after we left town, because to know me as a child is to know the Saskatoon Ex.

Of course, I’d done that sightseeing tour countless times since we moved from Saskatoon to Ottawa in 1986, but showing my kids gave it new meaning.

My wife compares that feeling to seeing ghosts. She asked me if I could see myself, walking a street or riding a bike.

It’s certainly close to that, but it more feels like I’ve suddenly occupied another person’s body.

I have their memories, but it wasn’t me all those years ago riding my bike to the playground or walking home from school for lunch.

These are elusive memories. They are shadows or whispers.

Perhaps it’s because life today is visceral:

  • children
  • mortgages
  • retirement
  • college funds
  • and, most recently, writing a will.

Everything we experience today comes with its very own punch to the gut whereas our idyllic childhood homes cushion and cajole us forward.

But hazy childhood memories are wondrously clear compared to what you see on the other side of the vortex:

  • nothing.

Looking forward through time is, of course, impossible. 

My future could easily include a new job in a new city as it could retiring in Kelowna.

I could drop dead in five years from a massive heart attack, or I could wither away surrounded by friends, family and adoring fans at the ripe old age of 101 (I’ll choose the latter just in case the spirits are reading).

In 16 more years, will my children be leaving home? Will marriage still be a “thing?” (Maybe weddings at city hall and dinner at Wendy’s will be popular).

My head spins at the very thought of it all.

I would never have guessed my god-daughter would have graduated high school at 16 and be contemplating a path to medical school.

It’s that kind of thinking that scares me as a father: I just hope my kids are healthy and happy. 

I don’t want to jinx anything by wishing them a career as a pro golfer or as CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Heck, my chest is getting tight just writing about it.

Damn it, the spirits aren’t reading.

Well, at least if I go now, the girls can use the life insurance money to buy the best damn wedding reception Wendy’s can supply.


Overcoming the blocks

There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

Creative catastrophe? Maybe.

Energy vortex? Sure, why not.

Grammatical pinch point? Uh, seems unlikely, but if you insist.

Aspiring writers should know, however, there’s no block that can’t be circumvented.

Just sit down and write.

I’m a perfect example. There are three children buzzing around me like busy little… wasps.

La-la is dressed in a princess dress and scattering dolls from one room to the next.

Betty’s voice has climbed 39 decibels in the last 20 minutes and all morning she hasn’t stopped “exclaiming!”

Emmy’s energy level is rivalling that of a CrossFit Bro five minutes before a competition.

I’m in the middle, trying my hardest to write something that might be of interest to someone, anyone.

This is awful, but I’m not going to stop until the word counter hits its target.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced writer’s block before, but I’ve always tried to avoid dwelling on it.

My second book, Snow Soccer, was a prime example.

I had a loose idea for the story — a young Brazilian immigrant arrives in Saskatoon in the dead of winter.

Here’s a reminder: my books are hi-lo stories for reluctant readers, so they dwell on themes relatable to middle-grade students.

Naturally, my character is convinced Saskatoon is just steps from the North Pole and has decided that she’ll never forgive her parents for banishing her to this Arctic wasteland.

It was to be my second book for Lorimer’s Sports Stories series, and I had loose approval from my editor to write it.

There was the problem: loose approval.

My editor had projects in process, and she didn’t want to read my manuscript outline for another three or four months.

That left me in an unusual position. I wanted the second book to go faster than the first, but I knew there would likely be changes.

I gambled, and started writing.

My first draft was probably one-half to two-thirds completed when I finally scheduled a meeting with the editor, who said the publisher still wanted the book.

She had just one question: could my main character be a refugee?

On the face of it, that seemed like a reasonable request.

All I had to do was move my main character Saleena 10,986 kilometres from Rio to Syria and change her name to Sarimah.

Huh, well whaddya know?

Is that all?

Research, outlines and plot all needed to be revisited, and even though I had something like 17,000 words written down, most of it needed changing.

It was one big elephant, and I had no idea where to bite.

It wasn’t a total loss, and I’m still happy that I put in the work ahead of time.

But it forced me to answer some difficult questions throughout the revision:

  • Was I going to hit deadline?
  • Was it still “my vision?”
  • Could I come up with a suitable plot, characters, scenes, etc?

Well, it led to more than a few nights staring at the laptop, and it led to a few nights writing whatever came into my head.

I’m pretty sure my characters went on fantastic voyages into a mystical land before I snapped out of it, highlighted it all and hit “delete.”

The exercise seemed to work and I finished Snow Soccer ahead of deadline.

Writing anything at all — like inane blog posts about raising three little girls — feeds the larger beast and keeps your skills sharp.

I’ve been thinking about that process more lately since now is the time to begin again.

My goal in 2011 was three books for Lorimer, and that target is achieved.

I’ve began to outline a fourth, but I’d also like to branch into new, more personal areas.

Rather than writing for young adults, it’s important for me to write more mainstream fiction, too.

That leaves me at another crossroads.

I wouldn’t admit to having writer’s block, but more writer’s fork.

Do I go left or right? Which road looks more inviting?

That decision is likely going to arrive soon, but until then I’ll stare at my kids and wonder exactly why there are cherry pits all over the toy room floor.

Marshmallows and skeeters

Within 18 minutes of our arrival, the children had shed most of their clothes, disappeared into the forest around Blanket Creek Provincial Park and elected a new leader to negotiate for marshmallows and bug
spray from the adults.

They reappeared four days later nothing short of exhausted, but much richer for the experience.
Seriously, they found, like, three bucks in change.

Such is the camping vacation in Canada, something you no doubt have experienced yourselves.

Camping in Canada goes like this:

  • cram all your belongings into a car — camp stove, tents, blankets,  pillows, 19 changes of clothing, beach toys, all our cutlery, cookware, and all food from the refrigerator.
  • Have the kids crawl over it all into their seats.

We forgot matches, not that you need them in B.C. The province is in a perpetual fire ban or it’s actually on fire, making matches redundant.

I wedged myself into the driver’s seat and didn’t move for 2 1/2 hours before arriving at our destination, just south of Revelstoke.

If you’ve never camped in B.C., remember there’s a system:

  • six months before you leave, you jump out of bed to get online at 6 a.m. and frantically click “RESERVE!” before Albertans and their diesel generators book the province’s entire stock of campsites.

We camped mid-week, meaning we still had choices only two months ahead of time.

Blanket Creek is worth it. It has 105 campsites spread over 318 hectares, each generously divided by towering white pine, cedar and hemlock trees.

Compare that to Shuswap Lake’s 149 ha divided into 275 sites. Sure, it’s probably colder and seemingly has more bugs — plus it rained on our arrival date and our departure date — but that’s what camping is all about, dagnabbit!

Blanket Creek’s lagoon must be unique to this part of the province. It’s fed by the Arrow Lake Reservoir at the Columbia River, and while BC Parks suggests it’s “warm, man-made swimming lagoon,” none of us
could actually swim.

Spending more than 30 seconds in the water numbed your ankles enough that someone could’ve performed minor surgery on them.

A new shower building was set to open — two days after we returned home. Alas. There’s no power hookups, and there were also no noisy generators. Maybe we got lucky there, the rain scaring away some of the buzzing pests.

All of this was inconsequential to our kids. We camped with four other families throughout the week — 10 kids for nine adults.

I didn’t camp much as a kid, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect my girls — from ages three to six — to react the way they did.

They absorbed every second of our time there hiking, biking, running and swimming. (Are you impervious to polar ice cap-fed lagoons at that age?)

They didn’t stop. They barely whined at all. They asked when we could come back. It was a joy to watch.

Coincidentally, we camped with friends who are teachers in different outdoor schools across Canada. Yes, outdoor schools. In Canada.

My dear friend, Natasha Robertson, runs Roots and Branches Forest School in Thunder Bay, Ont., a private, extra-curricular school.

We also spent our last day with Emily and Geoff Styles, teachers instrumental in the formation of the Shuswap Outdoor Learning Foundation in Salmon Arm.

This September, they’re both teaching at South Canoe school which is being converted into a full-time outdoor learning centre.

Within days of School District 83’s parent information night earlier this year, South Canoe had reached its capacity and will begin with 111 students this fall.

It’s attracted parents with children who are languishing in traditional classrooms. Many have behaviour challenges, and their parents are searching for something new.

But kids with autism or ADHD aren’t the only ones who can benefit from spending more time outside.

The growing body of research proves we all benefit from spending more time between trees rather than between cubicle walls.

Kids at South Canoe will still use classrooms, but will spend as much or more time outdoors. Some rooms won’t have desks at all, but communal tables to collaborate around.

It sounds like something you read about happening in those far-off, progressive Scandinavian countries.

I’m so impressed Salmon Arm is leading the charge locally.

Heck, now that my kids are seasoned outdoor adventurers, we’d likely consider it for our kids should Kelowna somehow follow the trend.

Maybe I’d even volunteer more often, now that I’m filled with the confidence of our week at Blanket Creek.

We left early last Tuesday with three children and returned home late Saturday night with three children, their skin covered in red welts, but their bellies full of marshmallows.

Not only that, but they appeared to be our children. By all accounts, we fulfilled our primary duty as parents.

Now, all we need is a holiday.


Kids' author scores an idea

This is how you watch World Cup soccer with your family.

First, find a comfy place on the couch. Adjust the TV volume accordingly.

If you have kids, “Jet Engine” is an appropriate level.

Then, assemble your children around you: toddler on the back of the couch and around your neck like a shawl, preschooler on the arm leaning on your shoulder, and first grader in your lap.

Next, answer 832 questions about soccer that often come out sounding like Confucian riddles.

“Dad, which one is Canada?”

“Canada doesn’t play World Cup soccer, dear.”

“Dad, who is the green guy?”

“That’s the goalie.”

“Why him use his hands?”

“Dad, what team is the yellow guy on?”

“That’s the referee; he’s like a policeman.”

“Does him arrest people?”

“No, but he has the power to take away your life and your career with one wave of his arm.”

That’s when you remember subtlety, sarcasm, and nuance are not friends of your children.

It’s about 14 minutes into the game when your wife suddenly develops the energy of a small wind turbine.

She decides it’s now she wants to wax the hardwood floors and proceeds to start the buffer.

You’ll be needed soon to move that new corner bookshelf into the basement bedroom before dragging the old play structure into the front yard because someone is coming around to buy it soon.

You know, in eight hours or maybe tomorrow.

Return to your chair. Find three little girls in your seat and re-adjust them into their starting positions.

You’re back for the last two minutes of stoppage time in the first half, right when the right back from Nigeria fouls Argentina’s winger, setting off a global diplomatic crisis that requires United Nations Security Council declaration to settle.

It’s riveting political drama.

Finally, the winger kicks the ball of bounds, high over the Nigerian goal.

“Dad, does them take breaks?”

“Yes, at halftime.”

“When’s that?”

The referee blows his whistle, and it’s halftime.

Your wife — who must have received a text alert on her phone -— reappears from the roof, needing your help cleaning the gutters.

Thankfully, with games in Russia being played nine to 13 hours ahead of us this year, it’s only 9 a.m. 

On a Tuesday.

And she has to go to work.

Return to your chair. Re-adjust your children for the second half.

Revel in the glory that is being a stay-at-home dad/writer/contract worker with only night shifts scheduled during the World Cup.

Realize, then, you should probably be working. Or, you know, raising your children.

That’s when it hits you.

You have the next great young adult, post-apocalyptic bestselling literary series on your hands. 
Inspiration has struck.

You grab a notebook and start world building and character sketching.

This is the other wonderful thing about being a stay-at-home dad/writer/contractor: scribbling notes while you watch the World Cup with kids surrounding you is “working!”

With kids, you have to get your work in whenever you can.

Probably the most common question I’ve been asked by friends is that. “How did you write three books with kids?”

I give my fingernails a little “huh-huh” and polish them on my lapel with a jaunty smile, then, tell them, “I have no freakin’ idea.”

It’s all a blur.

I admit that when I wrote my first book, I only had one child and another on the way, so it was slightly easier.
We couldn’t leave the house, either, so it was a good excuse to squirrel away into the basement and write.

The first two books were also written in the fall, right around Halloween.

Tiny little Snickers bars are great writing fuel. I write at about 96 Snickers for every draft of a story.

My “books” are also shorter than you would guess. They’re roughly 23,500 words (plus or minus 10 per cent), and that makes life more manageable.

I also wrote them for “reluctant readers,” meaning kids who struggle to read or who lack motivation to pry themselves from a screen.

Are they Dick and Jane? No, but they’re not The Hunger Games, either.

That’s today’s lesson: if you want to write, don’t wait.

You’re not going to suddenly “find” them time as life marches ahead.

Not with a World Cup to watch, three children to parent, and the next YA bestseller to write.

Incidentally, it’s about a boy who helps his post-apocalyptic government settle a political dispute by volunteering as tribute in a winner-take-all bloodsport.

It’s called The Soccer Games.

More On Your Father's Side articles

About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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