How This Family Grew Strong Roots in a Northern Town

Silliness, storytelling and an unbreakable bond - even 1000s of km away

How This Family Grew Strong Roots in a Northern Town

"There's a town in North Ontario..."

One of the most remarkable things about getting older (and ostensibly though debatably wiser) is that you start to realize your childhood wasn't entirely typical - in that there's no such thing as a typical childhood. Everyone had different experiences and different influences. 

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For me, my most recent revelation was just how lucky I was/am to be part of the Marion Clan. 

The Marions - or at least my offshoot of them - are largely rooted in Dryden, a smallish mill town in Northwestern Ontario. My mom is the oldest of eight kids who grew up there; my dad moved there after university and my brother and sister were both born there. And even though my family moved before I was born, we spent a good part of my childhood within driving distance and to this day I feel more at home there than I do almost anywhere else.

I've long joked that I owe a lot of my quirkiness and oddball disposition to being a Marion. My Grampa Marion gave me a first name and the mantra that "you're not lying if you don't expect anyone to believe you, you're just telling a story." My Auntie Yvonne helped me appreciate the joy of staging impromptu plays for the sole purpose of entertaining family and getting a good laugh. My Uncle Jeff taught me that an adult acting like a complete goofball is the best way to get a kid to smile.

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And I don't know if it's something I've taken for granted up until now but in recent years/months/weeks I've  begun to realize just how much more I got out of being part of this crew. Because underneath the absurdity and silliness is a bond that is almost unfathomably strong.

Whether it's taking my daughter to a family reunion full of relatives she's barely (if ever) met and not blinking an eye as an aunt, uncle or cousin takes her up to the house for a snack so Amy and I can stay at the beach; or if it's hearing that my sister had to get a ride back to Winnipeg - four and a half hours away - with an aunt and uncle who simply dropped her off and turned around to drive the four and a half hours back home, all because her car broke down over the holidays - the only surprising thing is how entirely unsurprising it all is.

Because Marions take care of each other. From little things like handing off a Christmas gift for my sister to my younger cousin Kevin so he can take it from Ottawa to Dryden for me to huge things like my aunts and uncles drawing up a schedule so one of them can be by Grampa's side 24 hours a day as he waits in the hospital to see a specialist, we've got each other's back.

It's incredible and, as I've learned, it's rare.

And so it's something I'm more than willing to drive 3,800 kilometers AGAIN this summer just to make sure my daughter gets to experience. 


How to Avoid Talking About Death with Your Kids

The time will come; the day of your birthday party isn't it

How to Avoid Talking About Death with Your Kids

"Where are you going tonight, Daddy?"

You asked me because I was putting on a shirt with a collar - a rare enough occasion but especially since it was a Saturday evening. You told me I looked "fancy" and "handsome" and the smile on your face said you meant it. It had been a long day thanks in large part to your successful and over-stimulating fifth birthday party; we were all tired. You and mom had just ordered Swiss Chalet for dinner but I wasn't joining you. 

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"I'm just going out for a bit, kiddo."

It was a cop out. And trust me, I would've loved nothing more than to tell you the truth. After all, I was going out to celebrate the life of a man who lived the kind of life we would all do well to live. A man who meant more to me than I'd realized, moving me to tears at the news of his passing. 

Mark Valcour taught a lot of people how to make great radio but he taught us all a lot more than that too. Mark brought out the best in people with his unique blend of exacting professional standards and incredible warmth and compassion. He didn't tolerate subpar work but his perfectionism didn't come with the sort of arrogance or impatience that often accompany such a trait. No kiddo, his passing caused people to reflect and the words that appear time and time again are the sort of words we should all strive to leave as our legacy - big-hearted; heart of gold; patient, wonderful and honest.

And so that's what I should've said. But I didn't.

Because you've experienced death but you were too young to process it. When mommy's great-uncle passed away a few years ago we took you to the Mass that was held in his honour. You got upset - you've always been good at sensing the emotion in a room - even if you didn't know why so I took you up the street to a cafe for pancakes while mom and her family honoured his memory.

And while I know you're going to experience death again, I just wasn't ready to have the conversation yet. 

And so "I'm going out to meet up with some old friends and professors so we can share stories about an incredible man that I was fortunate to call mentor, colleague and friend - a man who was taken from us far too soon" became "I'm just going out for a bit, kiddo." 

But you deserve to know what Mark meant to me and to so many others, kiddo. You deserve to know that people like Mark can and do exist in this world and the world is better for it. You deserve to know that your dad strives to be that kind of person and hopes beyond hope that you do too. 

It's a heavy thing to think about, though, so for today, eat your Swiss Chalet with mommy and get to bed. We'll talk later.


In Praise of a Clean Slate: Let's Get 2015 Started

To bastardize the great LL Cool J, though, don't call it a resolution

In Praise of a Clean Slate: Let's Get 2015 Started

Starting with a clean slate

I've never been much of a New Year's resolution guy. I'm big on incremental changes made throughout the year as circumstances warrant or demand. However, I'm also a creature of habit - patterns are a big part of my life - and it just so happens that the best time for me to make a change in my life is when I have a natural break in my patterns, usually when I take a week or two off of work.

The last time I had a break from work like this was in the summer, mere weeks before the kid started her official scholastic career and Amy returned to hers. Any thoughts we had of trying to make improvements went out the window as our entire routine got tossed into a blender and we had to figure out how to get by with our new arrangement. 

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Prior to that, my last break was last December, when I was finalizing the plans to make pivot in my career, getting out of an industry that moved at a breakneck pace to one that allows me more mental energy for my home life. 

This year, though, we've been able to sit back and relax over the holidays with a clear sense of what the next few months will be like for us. So we've taken the opportunity to wipe the proverbial slate clean and try to get ourselves into a better place routine-wise. The goals themselves are pretty standard - eat better, get more exercise, be smarter with our money - but the motivations? 

The motivations have never been better.

The kid is getting older. She's more aware of the world around her. And as she starts to establish her own routines, I am realizing that we have an opportunity to put the kid on a healthy, responsible path. In the past, my bad habits were just that - my bad habits. If I spent badly, that was on me. If I ate like crap and let my health suffer, it was my health. Things changed when I got married, sure, but even still, we were independent people, my wife and I. 

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Now though we have a little person. We can't control her day-to-day in the same minute detail we could before, now we have to count on her establishing good habits that carry her through when we aren't by her side.

So it's time to shape up. The slate is clean. Let's get to it, 2015.