Recent Columns

Taking the long view on democracy, and life

It’s a fall day in rural Illinois, near Chicago, and, as I often do, I’m reading aloud to my bride. We’re across the border briefly. It’s just the papers with us. USA Today is in-hand. The Detroit Free Press and Kalamazoo Gazette, in the car’s back seat. I’m looking for a Chicago Tribune.
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My own funeral? Imagine.

“Be well.” This is what I said to my students. It was after a recent class. Then they left for the various corners of their lives. We’d just unpacked “Cathedral,” a story by Raymond Carver. He often wrote about broken characters, broken in ways that Carver himself was broken. “Be well.” Then they were gone.
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Life lessons from Paul Henderson

I’m with Paul Henderson who’s telling me about unexpected things and the rest of the story. First, for my boy and hundreds of thousands of other young Canadians starting a new hockey season, Henderson offers some advice. He talks about pushing yourself, and teamwork, and the power of encouraging others. Then he says, “Because
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Riding to save mothers in Zimbabwe

Then there’s that boy on the beach. He’s the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. As far as the eye can see, starfish lay on the beach, dying. It’s overwhelming. People walk past. “There are too many,” a passerby tells the boy. “You can’t make a difference.” The boy bends down,
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Hey, Old Man (and the Sea), Happy Birthday!

If we were all old men we could do worse than land in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella The Old Man and the Sea. The story, among the most loved of the 20th century, just turned 70. The old man – his name is Santiago – is an outsider. He’s impoverished. Has horrible luck. Hasn’t caught a
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Dogs, in the dog days of summer

From this corner, the only thing left to say about the dwindling dog days of summer is that the dog is somehow managing. The kids have been gone for large swaths of time. If I was a dog, or if you were, this would take something out of you. How could it not? You know the greeting a dog gives when you arrive home?
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The wonder of the great outdoors

According to my phone GPS, two of the three children are gone. I asked their mother about this. “Yes, Number Two and Number Three,” she said. “Oh,” I said. When did they leave? “Early summer.” “Yes, of course. To where?” “Camp.” Only Child Number One, the Mac nursing student who’s working in a nearby seniors home, sleeps
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The road to “I’m sorry”

My teens call me “Papi” and “Paps” these days. “Good morning, Papi.” I don’t mind. It’s from “Papa,” the origin of “Pope.” But I’m no Catholic. I’m just a dad who’s happy to find some heart and courage and brains, happy to get the kids further along life’s yellow brick road in one piece. My neighbour is a devout Catholic.
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Getting to know our nation’s soul

One summer day my eldest and I took a selfie at the corner of Portage and Main. We were exploring. I’d already  explored enough of Canada by myself. Once I took the train Toronto to Vancouver, before getting up to Tofino to stand in the Pacific with raised arms. As a dad, things are now different.
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Being good at being single

Most of us have no clue what we’re doing in these matters of the heart, but if you’re looking, and if it’s any help, here’s something for a summer day. It starts with a fine young lady, Corinna. Little Boy Hopeless, that’s me, hit her with a rock. In Grade 2. Seated behind her, I’d also pull her dark, silky hair. I liked her
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What, really, is in a name, after all?

It was one of those funny things. My eldest was with me at a garage getting our car checked when she said, “Dad. Look!” I turned to see a set of summer tires, ready for some stranger’s car. “Guenter,” the unknown owner’s name, was written large on the four tires that were stacked like a question mark.
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My father’s final lasting peace

Peace can be a strange thing. When I turned 12, my father sat me on the cement ledge at the front of our house to tell me about it. When he was 12, he was taken prisoner by the Russians. Then his escape. And other stories. Hard stories. I needed to know, now that I was a man, so to speak.
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Death. Forgiveness. Rebirth. This is Easter.

Here’s a question for Easter weekend. Here’s also a parable. And something about birds. The question came at the dinner table from one of my girls when she was younger. This is what she asked. “What did Jesus do between Good Friday
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Seeing the world like Vincent van Gogh did

It’s a night in 1876 and Vincent van Gogh looks outward from his room’s window. In a letter to his brother, Theo, he writes what he sees. “Over those roofs, one single star, but a beautiful large friendly one.”
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We need water like we need air

We thirst. I was reminded of it in a recent email from a Hamilton friend in Nigeria. He shared how during dry season it’s hard to find clean water, whether in towns and cities or for the masses living in bush areas. He said it as plainly as anyone can. “Water is life.” It is. We need water
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