Secret Valentine

(first posted 12 February 2016)

In a recent telephone conversation, one of my granddaughters reminded me that Valentine’s Day is coming round again.

She didn’t ask if I would be her valentine again this year, as I have been for most of her six years, which would have been nice.  No, instead she mentioned that she’d be giving a valentine to every one of her classmates at school.

“Every one of them?” I exclaimed, mildly astonished.  “Don’t you have, like, one special valentine?”

“No, Gramps,” she replied.  “That’s not how it works.  In grade one, you give everybody a valentine.  All the kids do.”


I wondered how many youngsters there were in her class for whom she was planning to buy a valentine card.  After all, how many valentines can a six-year-old handle?

“How can one person have so many valentines? I protested.  “Being somebody’s valentine is supposed to be a special thing.  Won’t people wonder why you’re giving everyone a card?”

“Gramps! You don’t understand!  They won’t know who gave the valentines to them.  Mummy’s going to help me print ‘Guess Who?’ on all of them.  My name won’t be there.”

“Okay, wait a minute, l’il guy,” I said.  “Let me get this straight.  You’re going to give valentines to every kid in your class…”

“And my teacher,” she cut in.

“And your teacher,” I continued.  “But, you’re not going to put your name on them, so nobody will know that you gave them a valentine.  I don’t get it.”

“Oh, they’ll know, Gramps.  Everybody knows.  They just won’t know which valentine I gave them.  That’s the fun of it.”

That’s the fun of it?  Back when I was a kid, the fun of it was in deciding whom I would ask to be my special valentine.  To which little girl would I dare to offer a valentine card?  And who would accept it without laughing?  Or worse, not accept it at all?

shy boy

There was a certain delicious risk involved back then, a risk that made the whole exercise worthwhile.  After all, asking someone to be your special valentine meant you were sort of sweet on her (or him, if you were a girl).

But, times change, and so do valentine cards.  Now, they don’t ask someone to be your valentine; instead, they proclaim ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’!  They’ve become indistinguishable from birthday cards, for goodness’ sake.

Anyway, I wished my granddaughter well with her plans.  I harboured the faint hope that perhaps I’d still receive one from her—with her name on it!

Afterwards, I kept thinking about our conversation.  Anonymous valentine cards made no sense to me.  But, my granddaughter had stated, “They’ll know…”

Well, who’s to say?  Maybe they will.  It occurred to me that I’ve always sent anonymous, loving wishes to my own two daughters—back when they were growing up, and even now, as they raise their own children.  I never thought of that as silly.

good night

At night, after they were asleep, I had the habit of whispering in their ears, to tell them how much I loved them.  They hardly stirred as I did it, and they never mentioned it the following day.  And, every day now, when thoughts of them cross my mind, I still send little messages of love their way.  I always believed that, somehow, they would know I was telling them.  Anonymously, as it were.

So, maybe my wee granddaughter is right.  Perhaps it isn’t such a ridiculous notion.  In fact, I’m even hoping to receive a valentine this year from ‘Guess Who?’

I’ll know.

guess who

Lust and Power

In a 1976 interview for Playboy magazine, the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, said, “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”  This was in response to a question about his views on the Bible’s admonitions about adultery, and was a paraphrase of Christ’s teachings in Matthew 5: 28—“I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery.”


Many were aghast that so prominent a man would admit that, thereby damaging his political standing.  Others saw it as an honest answer from a pious man, acknowledging his imperfections.  Still others saw it as a cynical ploy—embracing both arrogance and humility—wanting to appear virtuous in the face of temptation, thus enhancing his political position.

Whatever it was, it is extremely unlikely Carter was the only man to have sinned in that fashion, although most of us would not choose to admit it.

There is obviously a difference between the so-called evil of lust and the widely-accepted blessing of love—but perhaps not so great a gap as might be imagined.  Lust is relatively easy to define: a strong, sexual desire; a sensuous appetite (regarded by many today as sinful).  Its blunt hunger can be satiated, at least temporarily, through participation in a sex act with someone else, or even alone.

Love is a softer sentiment, usually involving sexual attraction, but also embracing such emotions as friendship, protectiveness, tolerance, forgiveness, happiness, fulfilment, and mutual respect.  It is something that, although freely given, must also be earned.  In a truly loving relationship, the quest for love is never satiated, but yearned for, and given, all the more.

It cannot be disputed that the propagation of our species has relied upon the sexual attraction between men and women, their lust for each other.  If two people also found love in their coupling, that was a bonus.  Love for one another was not required in order to produce offspring.

Image result for free pictures of caveman and cavewoman

Biologically speaking, lust can drive a person to have sexual relations with more than one partner of either gender, and more than once with each.  And so it is with love.  There is no biological impediment to falling in love with, and entering into a loving relationship with, multiple partners—although obviously, no children will result from a union of partners of the same gender.

Over time, and for a multitude of reasons, monogamous marriages became the norm in our culture.  Although men and women could fall in love with more than one person, the law allowed us to marry but one at a time.  However, the standing of each person in the conjugal union was unequal.  For a long time, women were considered to be, if not the property of their husbands, at least subordinate to them.  Power resided with the men. That status has changed ever so slowly, only beginning a hundred years or so ago.

At the time the Dominion of Canada was formed, a decade before the birth of the great Republic to the south, our fathers of confederation and their founding fathers espoused equality for all.  But that noble ideal was to be applied only to the propertied classes—almost all of whom were male, white, rich, and protestant.  Others of different gender, race, wealth, and religion were scarcely considered, except as property, workers, or servants.

Money and power were all that really mattered, and both resided with men.

Thus, it continued to be possible for men who lusted after women (or other men, or children) to prey upon them with relative impunity.  Might makes right, as the adage has it, and fear can make cowards of us all.  For the victims, suffering the abuse in silence was often more palatable than facing the public shaming and loss of employment that would crush them if they complained—assuming they would have been believed in the first place.

Depressed Tenage Girl

Jimmy Carter was honest in his admission.  But I wonder, is it possible all men harbour such thoughts from time to time, even if only a relatively small number act on them?  I cast no stones at him.

I also wonder, does power corrupt only men?  Would women who come to power be immune to its seductive persuasions?  And would any act on them?

Sexual misbehaviour of any sort is unacceptable, a monstrous issue only now being brought to the broader public arena.  But I believe it is power, not lust, that is the driving force behind such behaviour.  Any of us might experience lustful feelings, just as any of us might fall in love.  But only the most powerful, the most arrogant, the most sociopathic among us would mobilize those feelings into unwanted actions, forced upon unwilling victims, solely for our own gratification.

It is as if the predators, when seized by a biological imperative, say to themselves, Because I can, I will.  And who is to deny me?

And so, it is time, as many are saying—time to expose and shame those who are found guilty of transgressions, time to re-assess the accepted perquisites of power, time to educate our young people as to what is deemed acceptable in social intercourse, time to redefine the relationship between men and women.


It is more than time.

The Reach of a Father’s Love

Friends of ours lost their only child several years ago, the victim of a relentless disease.  He left behind a grieving wife, two young children, and a sparkling future.

In the years since, our friends have doted on their grandchildren, taking great delight in watching them grow from infants to toddlers, and onward to adolescence.  They’ve invested time with them, knowing they can never make up for the loss of a father, but determined to keep his memory alive.

A while after their son’s death, I wrote a piece to commemorate his life and the legacy he left behind.  I post it here now, adapted somewhat, to mark the advent of another Fathers’ Day

The little boy is eight-years-old, and loves to visit his grandparents at the family cottage.  For him, every day is an adventure, a surprise, a delight, as he wanders the woods, swims in the lake, and fishes the waters in the old, wooden skiff.

For the older folks, these activities hearken to an earlier time with another fair-haired lad, and they treasure the memories, even as they create new ones.

A while back, the little boy was in the musty basement of the cottage with his grandpa, when he made a great discovery.  “Grampy, what’s this?” he cried, pointing to a bright-yellow model boat.

Sitting astride its pedestal on top of an old workbench, the craft was almost three feet long—a racing boat, bred for speed, its tall sails still unfurled.  Three small passengers huddled in the cockpit, as if awaiting the starting gun for an impending race.


“Oh, that?” his grandpa replied.  “That’s a boat your daddy built a long time ago.  He used to race her on the lake with his remote control.”  He lifted a dusty metal box down from an overhead shelf.  Two toggle switches protruded from the top, and a long antenna jiggled slightly as he set it down.  “This is how you make the boat go where you want it to.”

“Can I make it go, Grampy?”

“Mmm, I don’t think so, l’il guy.  I don’t think she works anymore.”  Together they lifted the cowling off the boat, behind the drivers, and peered at the mysteries of the small motor inside.

“It smells funny,” the little boy said.

“That’s oil you smell,” his grandpa replied.  “Your daddy always made sure he kept her cleaned and oiled.  He really liked this boat.”

“What’s her name?”

“Your daddy called her The Yellow Flash.  Here’s her name on the back, just the way he painted it.”

“Can I make her go, Grampy?” the little boy asked again.

The old man shook his head.  “The batteries are probably dead,” he said, “and look at these wires.  They’re corroded at the junction plates.  The sails are pretty ratty, too.”

“Well, can we fix her?” the little boy said.

His grandpa stared at him for a few moments, a faraway look in his eye.  “Y’know,” he said finally, “maybe we can.  Shall we give it a try?”


Over the next couple of weeks, the two of them dismantled the boat in order to clean every part, separating the batteries and wires that would need replacing.  They opened the remote box and cleaned it out as best they could, removed the sails for a gentle cleaning.  On his next trip to the city, the old man took the hull and box to a hobby-shop, where the owner walked him through the steps needed to restore the boat to operation.

On the little boy’s next visit to the cottage, they began the rebuilding process.  As they soldered new wires in place, the little boy was fascinated.  His grandpa let him set the new batteries in their proper slots, showing him how to ensure the contacts were touching.  He watched as the little boy lovingly polished the hull, restoring it to its original gleaming glory.

Together, they replaced the sails, and tested the remote box, working the toggles to control the boat’s tiny propeller and rudder while it still sat on its dry-dock pedestal.

“She works, Grampy!  She works!”

“I think she does, l’il guy.  Shall we put her in the water?”

And so they did.  Carrying her gingerly down the slope to the dock, they lowered her carefully into the lake.  From a silent vantage point on the rocks, I watched them—a grandfather and his son’s son, with his son’s boat, launching their labour of love.

“Which one is the driver?” the little boy asked, pointing to the three small figures in the cockpit.

“Well, this one is you,” his grandpa said, indicating the figure in the middle.  “You’re the skipper.”

“Okay,” said the little boy.  “Then this one on the right will be you, and this can be my daddy over here.”

The old man had to look away for a moment to collect himself.

“What if the waves tip her over?” the little boy asked, suddenly apprehensive.

“Well, it’s pretty calm right now, l’il guy.  I think she’ll be okay.”

“But what if she goes way out there and we can’t bring her back?”

“She’ll come back,” his grandpa said.  “She’ll come back.”


As they perched on the dock, legs dangling over the water, the old man gave the boat a push away from shore.  The little boy, the remote box between his knees, began to steer her—hesitantly at first, with fitful starts and stops, over-correcting erratically.  But in moments he was sure, and the boat skimmed atop the surface, speeding and curving gracefully, immediately responsive to his commands.

I watched the boat for awhile, then turned my attention to the old man and the boy.  Their faces were split with grins, happily alight, as they raced The Yellow Flash to and fro along the shoreline.

“Take a turn, Grampy,” the little boy yelled, handing the remote box to his grandpa.  And he squealed with delight when the old man almost capsized her, righting her just in time.

“Grampy?” the little boy said after a while.

“Mmm?” his grandpa replied, seeming lost in reverie.

“I love my daddy’s boat!”

“I love her, too,” the old man said, leaning in close to his grandson.  “And I love you, l’il guy, very much.”

I left them on the dock, locked in silent communion.  And it may only have been my imagination, but when I stole a glance back, I could swear I saw a third person there—ephemeral but real, lovingly watching them both.

At once apart from, yet a part of, the old man and the boy.

And I marveled at the reach of a father’s love.


My Old Man

In all the sixty years I knew him before he died, I never referred to my father as the old man.  Despite being acceptable in many households, that phrase always seemed a tad disrespectful to me.  And besides, my mother forbade me.

When I spoke directly with him, I called him Dad.  When referring to him in conversation, he was my father, or my dad.  He was never my old man.

I had no problem with others who used the phrase, though.  My friends always seemed to have a loving relationship with their fathers, regardless of how they referred to them.

But there was no denying one fact; during the last decade of his life, which ended in his 92nd year, my dad definitely became an old man—a state of being I am now coming to understand.

old man

We were different, he and I, in so many ways—temperamentally, emotionally, and physically.  From my perspective, he seemed a placid soul, tending to take life as it came (although often expressing frustration when it wasn’t to his liking).

I knew he loved me, but he wasn’t one to say, “I love you,”; in fact, when I would say that to him, his usual response was, “Thank you.”  Genuinely pleased to be loved, but unsure as to how to express it to his son.

He was a bigger man than I, and stronger, although he was not particularly active in his later years, save for a daily walk.  As I grew up in the family home, I never got big enough to wear his clothes or his shoes (although, given our discrepant styles, I probably wouldn’t have, anyway).  When I inherited his cherished Omega wristwatch, I had to have three links removed from the bracelet in order to wear it.

As a child, I think I mostly took him for granted.  He was always there, he was dependable, he was predictable—a benign, constant presence in our household.  Not until after I had become a father myself, dealing with adolescent children, did I begin to think more about our relationship.  Not until then did I begin to reflect more on our similarities, rather than our differences.

By then, he was in his seventies, the decade I now inhabit.  His hair was thinning and graying, his gait was slowing; and I’d often see him lost in apparent reverie, a thousand-yard stare in his vivid blue eyes.  I used to wonder what he was thinking about, but I never asked.  I wish now I had.

He’s been gone for fourteen years almost, and I still see him in my mind’s eye—but always as an old man.  For images of his younger self, I have to look at family albums, where I am always struck by how youthful he was.  I just don’t remember him like that.

Billy-Boo at 32 2

The clearest memories I have, however, are counterfeit, in the sense that they are channeled through me.  For example, I used to notice how graceless he looked when he bent over to pick his newspaper off the floor—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach low enough.

“Bend your knees!” I’d silently tell him.

At my age now, of course, I realize bending one’s knees can be quite a problem if one expects to rise again.  So, I bend from the waist, too—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach the floor.  And alas, I see my father in my ungainly pose.

He used to sneeze—not demurely, but prodigiously.  A-roo-pha-a-!  A-roo-pha-a!  we might hear.  Or A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  Sometimes A-chintz-ish!  A-chintz-ish!  There seemed no end to the variety of forms his sneezes could take.  But always, they were six times repeated before he seemed able to stop.  I think we first learned to count by marking my father’s sneezes.

“C’mon, Dad,” I used to say to myself.  “That’s not necessary.”

Now I sneeze, too—not decorously, but colossally.  They come upon me at the most inopportune times, and I’m unable to control them. A-roo-pha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-chintz-ish!   And to my chagrin, I hear my dad all over again.

I had my childhood heroes as a boy, but my father wasn’t one of them.  Not then.  He was too old, too square, too conservative.  And sometimes (to my shame now), too embarrassing.  But in adulthood, I came to appreciate that his stolid, almost-Victorian demeanour was comforting, that his sly sense of humour was refreshing, that his love for his family was unending.

As my daughters grew up, they called him Grandpa, or more often Gramps.  They didn’t think he was square; they thought he was cool.  Now that I’m Gramps to my own grandchildren, basking in their attentions, I’ve come to appreciate how much my kids’ love must have meant to him.  Which makes me very happy that I appear to have, at long last, become my dad.

As another Fathers’ Day approaches, I give thanks for one of my heroes, that old man who was my father.







Resurrection Relevance

Another Christian observance of Easter is upon us, with its celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the man whom many consider to be the Son of God.


During his brief time on earth, Jesus preached peace, tolerance, faith, forgiveness—and, perhaps most importantly, love for all humankind, even one’s enemies.  In return, he promised eternal life for all who believed and acted in accordance with these precepts.

As a child, I learned quickly that one of my mother’s interpretations of his teachings was that I must not fight with other children.  She was very firm about this.  During my early school years, it seemed like good advice; I was a friendly little guy, and others seemed to like me just fine.


As I got older, however, I learned that not every kid subscribed to her viewpoint.  Some of the classmates I encountered in the older grades were quite aggressive, to the point of being bullies, and for a while I was at a loss as to how to cope.  That was one of the reasons, maybe, that I became a fast runner.

Alas, it was not always possible to escape the marauders, so fighting became the only alternative to being pummelled and punished repeatedly.  It was safer to stand up to the bullies, even if I lost the fight, than to do nothing.

My father quietly helped me with the dilemma of disobeying my mother by suggesting that, although her sentiments were correct, fighting back when attacked was okay.  Starting a fight was really the thing to avoid.

I still remember an occasion in my mid-teens, when my mother agreed to accompany my father to watch me play a hockey game, the first time she had done so.  About halfway through, I became involved in a fight on the ice, not one I started, and was ejected, along with my opponent.  My mother was, by all accounts, aghast.

hockey fight

Although I played recreational hockey for another forty years, she never attended another of my games.

That incident shapes my outlook today when I consider the state of humankind on the planet we all inhabit.  Christ was not the only person to preach peace and love; many devout prophets professing other faiths have advanced the same messages.

But just as not every Christian follows Christ’s teachings obediently, so, too, do some adherents of other religions also stray from their prophets’ words.

The situation is complicated by the fact that there are also false prophets from all religions, who have preached a wilfully-distorted or violent version of the message, demanding their adherents forcefully convert everyone to what they call the true faith—and failing that, to kill them.  They have existed under many guises—the Christian Crusades, Islamic jihad, radical Zionism, the Hindu saffron terror, and so many more.

They survive even today, in a god-eat-god world.

'Its a god eat god world.'

If we assume that the vast majority of people alive right now want to live in peace and harmony—perhaps not anxious to love their neighbours, but at least happy to leave them alone—then why is there so much warfare and bloodshed across the globe?  Are we being driven to demise by the bloodthirsty minority, the zealots, and (as a friend likes to call them) the lunatic fringe?

As a questioning Christian at yet another Easter (believing in the wisdom of Christ’s teachings, but unsure about the promise of a heavenly hereafter), I see benefit in acknowledging, if not a literal resurrection, at least a continuing relevance of his message.  And further benefit in acknowledging the similarities between that message and those of other great prophets of different faiths.

Back in that long-ago schoolyard, there was ample space for me to run from those who would harm me.  On this increasingly-crowded planet Earth, however, whither can we flee from the radicals and fanatics seemingly bent on our destruction?

Shall we turn the other cheek, perhaps to be slaughtered?  Shall we fight back, perhaps ensuring mutual annihilation?

Or shall we continue to do what we can to spread those universal messages of peace, tolerance, faith, forgiveness—and, perhaps most importantly, love for all humankind, even our enemies?


It is up to all of us in the end.  Or it will be the end of us.


A friend of mine from our teenage years died recently, after a long, slow decline, taken from us before his time.  For more than fifty years, Paulie and I celebrated our friendship in the company of our wives, themselves close friends since high school, and our children.

We journeyed through many stages of life together—boyhood teammates and opponents in the sports we loved to play; young men starting out, full of hope and sure of success; new fathers, surprised at how quickly we got to that point; fellow-travellers far and wide, our growing families in tow; and eventually grandfathers, proud all over again of a new generation.  Through it all, we played our games and remained steadfast friends.

Our boyhoods were spent in the suburbs, where every community had its own park, and we spent hours there after school and on weekends.  We were from different neighbourhoods, but connected on those playing fields during the endless summers and wondrous winters, eager warriors on the ball-diamonds and hockey-rinks.  Especially the hockey-rinks.

In every park there was an outdoor ice pad or two, where neighbourhood fathers (and a few intrepid mothers) would stand every night, alone in the dark, flooding water on the rinks to provide fresh ice for the following day.  I’m not sure we thanked them enough back then, but we sure benefited from their dedication.

By the time we’d arrive at the rink, skates dangling from the hockey sticks propped on our shoulders, fresh snow had often fallen.  So the first kid to get there would take one of the shovels propped in the surrounding snowbanks, and start clearing the ice.  As more of us arrived, we’d take turns until the ice was cleaned off.  And then we’d lace up and the game would begin.

Paulie and I were habitués of those parks.

As adults, our careers took us in different directions, and to different cities.  But we talked frequently by phone—mostly about business, our families, and, of course, sports.  Especially hockey.  We never talked about dying and the hereafter, and what it might hold, not even near the end.  We weren’t afraid of it, I don’t think;  it was just too abstract to be contemplated.

But now it’s happened.  My friend has gone.

But where?  Where is he now, I wonder?  Or, more precisely, where is the essence of who he was?  His soul, some might call it.  In my sorrow, I’ve concocted a scenario that consoles me, regardless that it may sound far-fetched to others.  Paulie would understand.

There’s a celestial park somewhere, complete with a neighbourhood ice pad.  It’s covered with the whitest snow any of us has ever seen, and my friend is the first one there.  He’s grabbed a shovel, and he’s busy scraping the ice.

Sooner or later, I like to imagine, I’ll be joining him.  He knows that, so he’s not troubled.  And when that day arrives, when he sees me coming, he’ll stop for a minute, lean on his shovel, and shout in my direction.

“’Bout time ya got here!  Where ya been?”

I’ll shrug and wave a greeting, my wide smile letting him know how happy I am to see him again.

“Grab a shovel,” he’ll yell, as I stuff cold feet into my skates.  “This is hard work!”

But it won’t be, not really.  It will be joyous work—legs pumping, hearts pounding, breath forming around our heads, skate-blades cutting their cold, choppy sound in the ice.  Just like always…just like always.

In no time at all, the snow will be cleared, the ice will be ready.  And when it is, I choose to believe, we’ll toss a puck out on the ice, take up our sticks yet one more time, and play our game together, the game we always loved.  The way we loved each other.

Paulie and I2

Teammates again, friends forever.

Paul Joseph Boyer

26 July 1942 – 16 March 2017



Threescore and Ten

When we were very young, the biblical threescore-and-ten seemed a lifetime away—as, indeed, it has been.  But in a few short days, my partner, my lover, my wife, will complete her seventieth year, thus beginning her eighth decade.  C’est incroyable!

We met when she was sixteen, courted for five years, then married, a loving relationship that carries on to this day—fifty-four years from high school to septuagenarian sweethearts.






A few years ago, when we lived in a forest home on a lake, I wrote this poem for her, and I include it here to mark my best friend’s seventieth birthday—


Slowly streaming, peering, through tree branches

Seeming reaching up and out to touch it

And be touched.

Dark shade-spots, never-lasting, shift on forest-run

And up the stretching trunks,

To dance ‘cross leaves turned up to see the sun.


Reflecting morning back to bluing sky

Above, from fiery diamond-dance of light

Atop the waves.

The lake awakes as light turns trees of green to gold

And traps their images

In mirrored mere, quicksilver, green and cold.


Wet, wraithlike trails of dew that do not seek

The morn, but rather gather, clutched, and drift,

And look to hide

Until, discovered by the sun’s relentless rays,

Surrender to the light

That thrusts elusive phantoms from its gaze.


Approaching shyly, coming on to shore,

From jigging o’er the watertops and waves

That lap the land.

With sighs they softly rise to stir the trees awake,

Then us, through mesh that screens

The out from in, and stubborn sleep from wake.

I stir,

And lying on the bed in my repose,

With eyes still closed, I draw a morning breath

Into my soul.

And then, eyes opening to the world dawning anew,

I also turn to see the morning sun…

And it is you.


It is you, indeed!