New Year #3

In the course of a calendar year there are actually three “new years” we all experience.

One is January 1st. Fairly universal, unless you follow a unique religious calendar.

The second is your birthday. That day marks your own personal new year.

The third is the start of the school year, even, if you are like me, for whom school ended a quarter century ago.

But no matter how long ago your last “first day of school” was, every September still marks the beginning of a new year. Perhaps it’s your child starting school or your niece off to Western (like mine is) or a neighbour’s child entering their last year of secondary school. We all feel the start of the new school year.

The roads are busier. Our meeting agendas even busier. Even TV schedules are packed with the new fall shows.

There is no escaping it. September is the start of a new year.

But don’t fear. Let’s take advantage of it. Let’s use it to motivate us, inspire us, refresh us. Set some school-year resolutions. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is hungry to get stuff done, meet Q4 targets, get a head start on 2014.

So Happy New Year. Feel free to have a little party, some bubbly, a celebration. Nothing better than a perceived clean slate to get the engines fired up!

Workcations Don’t Work

Last summer I was pretty proud of myself. I took two weeks off and only sent four work-related emails. Of course the London Olympics were a serious distraction from the office rote.

Stupidly when I embarked on this vacay, I actually expected to work. The theory of this hot air balloon burst quickly when I crashed into this old world time warp called Spain. Since swapping the chaotic romance of Barcelona for the organized tranquility of Montreux, Switzerland…the work time hasn’t increased. But my productivity has…and today while yodelling down the mountain, I decided to share my epiphanies with you.

#1. Mark the hypocrite says don’t work on vacation, but if you feel the pressure to be available, then:

# 2. Take twenty minutes in the morning to work and no more. You will be horrified you can actually do everything that’s truly important in way less than the hours of candle burning you normally incur!

# 3. Email at the best of times is horribly misused. When you are away you realize how much so. Convince your team to use email as a data transmitter, not a conversation enabler, and your inbox will shrink.

# 4. Use the twenty-four hour rule. On home soil, this applies when you’re about to send an angry email. But when you are away, delaying all will allow you to edit your replies so they are divinely surgical.

# 5. Mull. Meditate. Ponder. Never do we have enough daylight hours to think. What better time to teach yourself new techniques.

Smile for the camera, it doesn’t know you’re working!

Ghost of Paignton House

Spent the weekend at The Rosseau in Muskoka, a JW Marriott brand property.

Their tag line is “nature on your terms.” Well when I got my bill I thought it was closer to “nature on a 36-month lease”…because that’s the term I will need to pay it down.

If you call four pools, three restaurants, half dozen elevators, and a golf cart shuttle service “nature”, then I guess they are right. This place is l-l-l-large. Dominates the skyline, overpowers the shoreline, and destroyed the sightlines for more than just one cottage. But truthfully… I loved it. Oh hippo-hypocrite that I am.

But one thing bothered me. I used to work “there” and nobody cared. See, back in the day, the same acreage on Lake Rosseau was home to Paignton House. A lovely wee conference and family resort, that was also affectionately known as a poor man’s Clevelands House. I have blogged about Paignton before. One of the Paignton traditions I loved was the hanging of the past staff photos in the lobby. When I last stepped into Paignton in the late ’90s…my 1984 & 1985 photos were still hung proudly. Fast forward to 2013 and no longer.

So I started asking questions. I asked my waitress. I asked my bartender. I asked the pool staff. No one knew where the photos were. No one knew about Paignton House. No one knew me!

I was reduced to being the ghost of Paignton past. How distressing. I needed someone to tell my stories to… like when our cabin neighbour “Jacque” (who wasn’t French, but was from Sault Ste. Marie so the racist handle stuck), was peeing into his overflowing toilet one night while straddling the basin with his feet wedged into the wall studs. There he was wedged, with the door wide open for all of us partying staff to see as he somehow rationalized adding fluid to an Alberta-like flow.

No one was ready to hear about my over-sized bunkmate who snored so loudly that my roomie Rosie & I went Muhammad Ali on him every night and still couldn’t beat him into silence. There were no takers for the tales that only a nineteen year old could dream of and those that didn’t happen I made up anyway.

Cottage parties. Staff hookups. Guest-staff hookups. Guest-guest hookups. Drunken bar managers emceeing an evening show (who was that?). The scary staff food. The carpools to the liquor store. The local couple who got drunk in my bar and fought every Sunday. The cottage couple who did the same on Tuesdays. The rich staffer with the Camaro and his harem of waitresses from our dining room. The rich staffer who quits after five weeks, because why work when you can party. The rich staffer’s groupie who followed the harem into the parties carrying the cooler of Malibu rum and beer. (Hey, I was darn good at carrying that cooler!)

I think the Rosseau needs to write some briefing notes for the staff enfants! I can’t be the first ghost to show up. It was the time of my life, or at least that’s the line we stole from the movie Dirty Dancing. I should have been provided an audience to hear about it!

Cabin Fever

I bet you wish you were at summer camp right now.

No parents. No teachers. No books. No piano lessons. No chores. No sisters. No dishes. No teeth to clean. Well hopefully my kids are cleaning their teeth.

Camp isn’t reality.

Your teacher is replaced by a counselor, barely ten years older than you. Every word he says is god-like. Just cause he’s a teenager and you are…ten.

Your parents are replaced by the camp director. He is the guy who couldn’t figure out what life after camp looked like, so he followed his heart and made his cabin his home.

Your classmates are replaced by cabin mates. When they aren’t hanging you from the top bunk by your underwear, they are your new can’t-live-without best friends. At least for two weeks anyway.

Your mom’s cooking is replaced by someone else’s mom’s cooking. At first the food tastes great, but when breakfast on Day 4 is clearly hashed up leftovers from dinner on Day 2, you wonder hopefully how much ketchup the camp has in stock.

Your showers are replaced by swim tests in icy lakes. Your chores replaced by cabin cleanup and the discovery of smuggled candy gone sour. Your music lessons replaced by camp sing-alongs featuring the waterski instructor cum David Myles wannabe who knows that either role is great girl-bait.

Your days are going too fast and soon you will be headed home. Too soon you will be too old for camp and some day you will be chained to some corporate desk, reading some corporate guy’s blog, painfully reminding you of joyful Julys gone by, and essentially infecting you with cabin fever.

Poli Sigh

I majored in political science in university.

Thing is, when you take “Poli Sci”, you don’t really learn anything about “politics”.

You don’t learn about wealthy senators padding their expenses.

You don’t learn about mayors allegedly smoking crack.

You don’t learn about bureaucrats taking bribes.

You don’t learn about other mayors taking even bigger bribes.

You don’t learn about famous scions taking huge speaking fees to appear at charity events.

You don’t learn about ancient Italian prime ministers holding bunga bunga parties.

You don’t learn about Czech Prime Ministers resigning because their staff were illegally spying…on your wife.

You don’t learn about U.S. Congressmen sending photos of their junk to a female Twitter follower.

You don’t learn about the same Congressman then running for mayor of a really big city.

You don’t learn about the newspaper headline heralding the same mayoral candidate to be a “Second Coming” of this horn dog politician, which is even funnier given his name translates to DICK PENIS.

Poli Sci has become Poli Sci-Fi. Yet it isn’t fiction. I didn’t make this stuff up. I couldn’t make this stuff up!

A mournful sigh isn’t enough. We need massive relief from this crap. There are roads to repair, hospitals to build, schools to fix, economies to restart, jobs to create, countries to reform, victims to rescue, dreams to pursue.

We don’t need any more politicians. We need some heroes. We need them now.

Junior Birdman

My twelve year old is taking his first solo flight this week.

YYZ to MIA in airport code speak.

Toronto to South Beach in March break speak. Actually Coconut Grove, but South Beach sounded cooler for a moment. Given that it was the setting for Meet the Frockers and is Dexter’s hometown, the Grove may seem cooler to my tweenager.

This world where we put twelve year olds on planes by themselves is pretty foreign to me. I think I had flown once by that age and it was smack dab between my parentals. My guy? If I told you how many flights he has been on, you would bombard me with the fifty-six known translations of the word spoiled! Yet this one is going to be different.

I am handing him over to a flight attendant who will only be slightly less a stranger than the persons seated next to him and the pilot to whom I am entrusting him. Three hours later he will emerge as just one of the 110,000 daily travelers through Miami International and hopefully be safely escorted into the clutches of his friend’s mother. It frightens me to think that just a few years ago I was holding his hand to cross a street and now he is crossing the border all on his own.

Part of me wants to ride down with him, help the crew refresh the plane, and u-turn right back to Toronto. The other part of me knows I am overreacting. I have put him on a bus for a month away at camp. I have left him lakeside at my parent’s cottage for a week. Less than ten days ago I willingly let him attend a sleepover where the boys were attempting their first all-nighter.

But this is different. I can’t just run over three blocks if he gets a cream soda induced stomach ache or call the camp nurse to ensure he is a-okay.

No this is requiring me to realize he is growing up. That some day he will get on a different plane for a grad trip, university visit,  and eventually for his own career. Not so fast! I still want him to be a junior birdman. A child who wants to sing songs with his Dad. A boy who wants to play with model airplanes, not a VIP passenger on a real one. Sadly no.

So look up in the air. That’s my son.





Eight is Enough

I’m not easily surprised. Maybe my imagination is such that what is preposterous to others, is plausible to me. When it comes to people, I can’t say I’ve seen it all, but I can say I’ve imagined it all.

It doesn’t always prove beneficial. It can restrict my empathy to others. At times it can even lead to errors in my judgment. Fortunately, more often than not, it provides me a psychological air bag from a collision with the unexpected.

Until last week.

I will attempt to condense a lengthy tale.

It started with an attempt to meet my grandfather by birth. He is getting old and we have mutual acquaintances and he was a famous football player and I thought it would be cool to meet him. In case you haven’t decoded the message, I’m adopted. Adopted by two amazing people who spent a lifetime working to create a family in the truest sense of the word. Everyday of my life I am incredibly grateful to my parents. They loved me beyond imagine and prepared me for the world in a manner that was undeserved by a short, mouthy, Afro-toting, rebellious, inconsiderate teenager. There needs to be a new holiday entitled Parents Day, so I can properly share my emotions, which like most sons I neglect.

In short I have never ever felt not theirs. I am. And they are mine. But if you’re adopted, you’ll understand the itch. You don’t want to leave your family. You just want to understand your genetics.

Years ago I met my birth mother. Then a birth uncle. Then some birth cousins. Then another birth uncle. But my birth father proved elusive.

Finally last week, with less than twenty-four hours notice, it somehow fell together that I would be able to meet him. I was curious but not nervous.

The meeting went as expected. Yes I just called it a meeting. Well it went as expected for five minutes, until he told me I had seven brothers and sisters.

Excuse me?

From what I know, my birth sperm donor had three kids. But eight? Whoa!

Call me floored. TKO’d. Flabbergasted.


So now in the name of Thomas Braden I am on a mission to meet them all. I am the senior half sibling. The others range in age to from 23 to 46, and geographically across the continent. Some have already connected with me. I’ve been told others aren’t so interested.

It’s a unique moment when a new door to your own life is opened up. Finding out I have a slew of new genetic connections (I really don’t know what to call them) is closer to landing on a new planet.

So I’m off to find out what they are all about. Maybe learn something about myself. Maybe not. Guess I better get prepared for a few more surprises.

Stolen Kisses

Some lucky gal received a Panasonic flat screen for Valentines yesterday.

Hopefully she likes it, because it won’t be wrapped with a gift receipt. In fact I’m not sure it will be wrapped at all, given it was ripped off the reception wall in my office. Ripped off is correct, this TV was stolen from TrojanOne. We wuz robbed!!!!

The thief was proficient. Our surveillance camera has four minutes of video to prove it. In two hundred and forty seconds he pried the door open, unhinged the TV from its bracket, disconnected the mess of cables, pulled it from the wall, and fled. Wham bam, thank-you Ma’am.

I wonder what makes a man turn to taking another’s possessions for a living? Do they consider it a professional vocation? Was there an aptitude test along the way?

Seems to me this thief has a lot of transferable skills he could put to use in a more legit fashion. He is a planner, as he knew the timing of our building security, entering our lobby shortly after the main door became unlocked. Clearly he has manual dexterity as he jimmied our lock with minimal damage to the door. Focus is no problem as he had marked his prize allowing no distractions, like the much more valuable computer sitting on the desk, get in his way. I appreciate his orderly ways, as there was nary a mess left behind. He also possesses a pint or two of luck as the four or five people who are usually in at that early hour, were all coincidentally somewhat late that day.

Hopefully it was worth the trouble. It doesn’t add up to me. What value is a flat screen in this day and age? Did he want it for his condo? Did he sell it for bus fare? Did he give it to his sweetie?

Bet if he did, he stole a few kisses as well.



Second Fiddle

I feel badly for Alex Smith.

Smith is the recently minted backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

He has fallen from being the overall # 1 pick in the NFL draft, and after several underwhelming seasons, to almost leading his team to the Super Bowl a year ago. Magically this year he was leading the NFL in passer rating before the cruel twist of being injured led to becoming a sideline patrolling clipboard carrier.

If I have to explain this to you, then clearly you are not a football fan and evidently you are not tracking the second biggest story line of Super Bowl XLVII. It’s not that Smith is the first QB in NFL history to lose his role as a starter. But it’s the way he fell on the depth chart and the amazing manner in which he has responded that contributes such an intriguing thread to this story.

There is an unwritten rule in sport that you don’t lose your job to injury. Meaning your replacement’s tenure is over the minute you are medically cleared to play again. In football this rule is close to a constitutional right especially for key skill positions such as quarterback. Amplify that Smith was, statistically at least, the best performer at the QB position in the league, at the time of his injury, and the violation of the injury rule code is even more amazing.

But unfortunately for Smith waiting in the wings was a freak of nature named Colin Kaepernick. I will bet you a souvenir Super Bowl t-shirt that you never witnessed CK7 play in college at Nevada. Well I saw a few games on late late late night ESPN, and I knew what was coming. Partially anyway. Not even his supporter emeritus, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, could have imagined what was coming.

Kaepernick is part Michael Vick, part Peyton Manning, part Cam Newton, and part Adrian Peterson. Whatever parts I missed are covered in his tattoos. This guy can play.

He has set records with his legs, sliced up defenses with his arm, and energized a franchise with his energy. Plus he seems genuinely nice in his interviews.

So this weekend will feature this newly minted phenom against retiring warrior Ray Lewis.

What about Smith? Has he run away to pout? Is he spending his waking hours inebriated? Has he picked up a weekend’s supply of Mardi Gras beads for his stay in NOLA?

None of the above. Instead he is thrilled to be competing in a Super Bowl. He has turned into a coach, confidant, and cheerleader for his usurper. He has kept his skills sharp, his teammates motivated, and his ego in check for the betterment of his entire team.

Let that be a lesson for us all. I know we all want to be #1, but at times fate or failure stop us short of our goal. Alex Smith will benefit in the long run from how he responded to this dose of adversity. He will rise again.

They Say It’s My Birthday

Thank-you for your Happy Birthday wishes on Wednesday.

One of my favourite proclamations was an in-person greeting from a client who congratulated me on “living another year.” Now that could win the title for Most Disingenuous or it could be genuine to the core. Knowing the proclaimer as I do, my vote is for the latter.

Reflecting on those words makes me realize, that’s really what Happy Birthday means. For years I have been slightly grumpy and mildly rude about my birthday. I really don’t like the fact that the scoreboard clock clearly shows I have less time left in the game. I’m always in too much of a hurry for my own good, and I often think – will I ever get done everything I have set out to do?

So how come Mr. Obstinate is changing his views on birthdays? Is it age? Surely its not just three words from a friend. Is it success. Is it failure? Is it mid-life crisis?

Candidly it’s probably reflection. In the past several months I have amped up my personal reflection time, use of motivational CD’s and magazines, and even gone so far to revamping my self-management tools to include more introspection.

One of the neatest things I have learned is the Habit of Gratitude. There are many, many, many versions, teachings, philosophies available on the topic. But I have really picked up on the simple process of everyday identifying three (yes me love threes!) events from my day, for which I should be grateful. It could be feedback from a client, it could be hiring a talented new staff member, it could be a really satisfying workout, phone conversation, or time spent with a family member. It’s amazing how identifying three positive occasions in a twenty-four hour window, can eradicate most negative events in a day.

So back to my birthday (it was January 16th if you want to mark it in your 2014 calendar!) and my three treasures? Hard to narrow down… but let me throw these at you and see if your reaction would be as grateful as mine:
1. My son posted the following on Facebook: “Happy birth dad…ur the best dad ever.” Might have been written before, but when its written for you… it feels like the first time.
2. My wife and kids performed the version of Happy Birthday we recently learned at the Alphorn in Collingwood, during my youngest son’s celebration. I think it needs to replace the traditional version, with all due respect to Preston Ware Orem and friends.
3. I received my annual birthday phone message, from a childhood friend who now lives in Georgia. I have known him for over forty years and for the past twenty, no matter where he is… he leaves me a birthday voice mail. A simple tradition, yet I am always a tiny but surprised, and always a lot bit pleased, when it comes.