Birthday memories of an amazing man whom I will always hold dearly in my heart. My dad will be forever loved and missed.
The first time I met Reggie was on my birthday in 2005. A week prior I had lost my first childhood pet, a border collie named Pepper, and was visiting a local no-kill shelter to spend an hour or so playing and interacting with the dogs as a sort of therapy for dealing with my loss. It was, theoretically, supposed to end there. But of course it didn't. As soon as I saw the little lab-cross in his cage, looking longingly at me with his puppy-dog eyes, seemingly imploring me to rescue him, I simply had to. He found a home and I found a faithful friend that would bring joy and companionship to my life for years to come.
Over time, Reggie became somewhat of a legend in my neighbourhood. He grew into a big dog–just two years ago, he weighed in at 95lbs at the vet–and had an intimidating look about him, exacerbated by a grizzly bear-type hump on his back. This was all a facade though. Black dogs, as studies show, are perceived as being more "aggressive" than other colours of canines. In actuality, Reggie was a big softie. He was a ham who loved attention while out on his walks. We went everywhere together. During this time, I operated a home-based design business and taking him out for his daily strolls became part of my creative process, forcing me from my desk and allowing my mind to flourish with new stimuli. Upon reflection, these moments provided some of my fondest memories. The time I spent with him in virtual solitude on our hikes, admiring the simplicity of nature and complexity of life, instilled a deep appreciation for exploration that I might not otherwise have. As friend, as companion, this animal helped me grow.
I wasn't able to have a large dog in my apartment when I moved cities in 2010 and so my parents took on Reg. My father started calling him "Bone" to the point where people had forgotten his given name (he was named after the Reggie character in Archie comics for his raven black hair). As my father entered retirement, he and "Bone" developed a deep bond that was only broken when my father died from esophageal cancer in 2014. Prior to his passing, he confided in me that the dog had saved his life, jumping on his chest as he lay in bed one morning struggling to breathe. He felt no one would believe it but I did. I, myself, can attest to the strange behaviour of Reg/Bone just a few hours after my father was gone. He knew. Somehow, he knew.
The last time I saw Reggie was in April. I was visiting my mom in Winnipeg and she had some concerns about him. At the time, I felt he appeared okay. His vision and hearing had long been in decline but at the age of thirteen, which is eighty-two in dog years, it was to be expected. And even though he struggled a bit while walking, I felt he was still alert enough that we probably had a few months left. Perhaps Autumn would be the time to make that difficult decision that every pet owner fears.
But Autumn wouldn't come.
Reggie, one of the best good boys on the planet, passed away on May 29. I am very saddened that I didn't get to say goodbye to this wonderful soul that has been a constant presence in my life through a very transitional era. He will forever be loved and hold a place in my heart.
I was all set. My suitcase packed and I even took a sleeping pill to ensure that I would get a good eight (or so) hours of sleep prior to the long day of international travel ahead. Exiting the shower, I could already feel the drowsiness set in. Success. But a cursory glance at my phone changed that—several notifications from Air Canada filled my screen notifying me that my flight the following morning was cancelled.
My city ended up getting around 24cm of snow in just over twenty-four hours. With my first flight kaput, I missed out on my connection to Hong Kong and had to postpone my holiday by one day. Admittedly, I was disappointed (and who wouldn't be). Thoughts of lost moments (and lost money) gave me brief anxiety ... but all that dissipated when I checked into my hotel and set sight on the view in my upgraded room. Nothing else seemed to matter. This was priceless.
"Everyone was saying I should be happy with how I played and stuff. But, like, I don’t care about that. I want to win."
The quote above is from an article written by Patrik Laine, right-winger for the Winnipeg Jets. The article generated buzz on social media for a number of reasons, including Patrik's self-professed love for my hometown (fuck the haters, Winnipeg is good). But it was the insight into the inner monologue of a professional athlete that has stuck with me. Even though I'm partially allergic to exercise, I relate to it. I also want to win.
My partner learned this recently when we played badminton together for the first time. I hadn't played in eons and forgot most of the rules but that didn't matter. I went in hard. After volleying for a bit, he commented on how I was better than he anticipated. I gave my best "awwww, shucks" face and continued with my strategy of playing to his strengths while blinding him with mine. After all, I'm not there to just look cute while feeding into someone else's ego. I bring my A-game.
I didn't always feel this way though.
I am naturally gifted in sport; probably inheriting the trait from my father who was a formidable athlete in several areas including hockey and baseball. In my youth, I participated in the Canada Fitness Awards which were administered nationally through physical education programs in school. I regularly came out on top for my gender but I recall one relay event in particular in which I received the fastest time for my school overall. I was so proud, as were my female classmates who ecstatically attempted to carry me on their shoulders in a makeshift parade. The boys glowered. These awards meant nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things but the hostility and taunting I received afterwards subconsciously informed me to dial it down. To play in my own sandbox and focus on making friends during this critical developmental time rather than attempt to stand out with exception.
Reading my words back now, I have but one thought: this is some bullshit.
With maturity, I have learned to not let anyone diminish one of my greatest assets: confidence.
I recently had a psychometric assessment of my personality done at work. To no one's surprise, I came out as an extreme type-A, being very purposeful and structured with tremendous attention to detail. But also competitive. Very competitive. In fact, it was the highest rated quality of my persona at 98% (and it was my competitive side that wondered if anyone ranked higher). I did shrink a bit as our team compared notes, wanting to conceal what I initially perceived as a negative trait, but I'm learning to embrace it more openly. This aspect of my personality never stems from a dark place, only one of potential betterment (for myself and, I believe, others). For example, I would never aim to "win at all costs". If my body, mind and accumulated skill level can't get me to succeed on their own, I see it as a means to improve myself, not cheat. This is where the challenge of competition can lead to great things. It can motivate. It can elevate. Beyond sport, picture a world in which the genius of Thomas Edison wasn't feuding with Nikola Tesla. Imagine where we'd be without the duelling technological might of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Being inspired to evolve, rather than simply adapt, is what gives humanity purpose.
It also reminded me of a piece of advice my father once gave me eons ago:
"Don't lower yourself to anyone else's level. Make them rise to yours."
Monty, therapy dog:
My mother, age seven, at her first communion at Saint-Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg, Manitoba. These are the first images I've seen of my mother as a child. They are beautiful and haunting, depicting a life that I am connected to yet I look at in wonder, as it feels so very, very foreign to my own upbringing.
First communion is an important rite of passage for followers of the Catholic Church. The tradition takes place when a person first receives the Eucharist (a commemoration of Jesus' last supper) signalling confirmation in the faith. Religion had a large influence on my mother throughout adolescence and young adulthood. She attended mass every Sunday. She even attended a Catholic school where she was taught by nuns (later intimating that she was physically abused by them). Eventually she would part ways with the ceremonial aspect of Catholicism, becoming disillusioned with it, but the core teachings it instilled in her – to always aim for moral good and have belief in the power of prayer – remain to this day. On this note, another beautiful, haunting image that will always stay with me, not caught on film but seared into my memory for eternity, is of my mom feverishly praying during the final months of my father's life. She always believed. Always. Religion carries some. It awakens others.
In contrast, I am not baptized and have never even set foot in Church.