Month: August 2015

Goodbye, hello.

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by: James Di Fiore

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Nostalgia always gets me in the end.

I’ve been spending the last 5 minutes trying to establish how the smell of our cottage floods my consciousness with childhood memories. Moments earlier my son took his first steps. It’s also his first birthday. The nostalgia trip has taken hold.

I shook off the cobwebs and did a quick inventory of all the coincidences, emotional triggers and skipped beats I just experienced. I don’t know what it means, but it means something. It has to mean something.

I often neglected to find these cerebral silver linings along the way from boyhood to manhood, especially as my relationship with my father deteriorated. We saw each other three times in 20 years. I’ll never know if it was his fault or mine. I’m told it’s both of our faults. If that’s the case it’s double the weight.

He died last year. My sister called and cried as she told me. I didn’t cry. I just wanted to get off the phone immediately. After all, I had been mourning him for two decades already.

He was a good dad when I was little. I remember being in my parents’ bedroom, waiting for him to come home from work and staring at the cars from the bedroom window. Every night he’d flick his headlights on and off. It was our signal…our ‘thing’. By the time I hopped off the stool and ran down the stairs he was walking through the door. The first thing he’d feel was a hug from his 6-year-old son as he dropped his car keys on the coffee table.

One night Dad was late. None of the headlights had flickered. 6:00 became 10:30. Then, finally, I heard his keys in the front door. I ran down the stairs, hugged him, cried because I was 6, and never asked why he was late or neglected to flick his lights. Dad permanently stopped flicking his lights when I was about 8 years old I guess. Not really sure why.

Dad was fiercely intelligent and loved baseball. He was my coach for a couple years and shared my tendency to get ejected from games for arguing calls with the umpires. While unspoken, I think we both liked knowing we shared that kind of fire. We turned our backs on each other eventually in real life, but on the field we had each other’s backs.

Those baseball moments were sprinkled with loads of stressful situations as I grew up. The usual family stuff cemented our detachment from one another. Our relationship became a pattern of silence broken only by me asking for money or him asking me why I didn’t have a job. Neither of us ever had good answers. He’d peel off a twenty and I’d just shrug. That was our pattern, our new ‘thing’, and it wasn’t helping me be a competent steward of my own life. We shared the weight though. The reason why the father and son relationship is so important is due to the enormous impact of guilt and anger each one can extract from the other. It can be a bizarre give and take of utter disappointment sometimes. That’s not an overstatement. Not even close.

So I drifted. I drifted from college to couches to shared accommodations to basement apartments to living with a girl to winging it to staying at my mom’s to finding another girlfriend to trying to break lifelong habits of irresponsibility and emotional distress to reconciling my identity to accepting all my flaws as well as my gifts, to where I am now; nestled inside the arms of a good woman and a 1 year old son to anchor me down.

Easy, yes?

Nope.

My father was missing. He was not a demonstrative man, or a communicative man, or a positive man, or an emotional man. He made me feel, as a youngster, that I was taken care of and safe from poverty. But as we aged he became more and more withdrawn. I still loved him for who he was when I was young, but that love waned as I reconciled the idea of not having a real father as I grew older. I felt as if he had abandoned me, or was ashamed of me. Or perhaps he was ashamed of himself? I’ll never know.

My father was born in Montreal, same as me, and I know next to nothing about his childhood. His father was a tailor who used to sell Italian suits to Italian businessmen of various industries. Yep, that industry too. His father was also a severe alcoholic. My grandfather meant the world to me, but my father likely despised him. My father never drank. He used to put Kool Aid in his wine glass instead of sharing a toast. Whatever legacy my grandfather left when he died, it was not hereditary drinking…unless it skips a generation. I’m not really sure if that one is an overstatement, to be honest.

I’m an atheist. I think that’s actually hereditary because I believe my dad was too, but he never said it outright. He did swear a lot, especially while coaching baseball or watching hockey. He was a great cook, a computer programmer, and loved fishing. We took annual fishing trips to the French River and stayed at different lodges when I was small. We’d catch a load of perch, some pike and whitefish, maybe the odd trout. The only other time we took long drives was to our baseball tournaments. Dad would talk strategy in the car, telling me why I should throw an 0-2 slider instead of high heat. He was engaged when we talked about baseball. I miss that, to be honest. If I were given the opportunity to speak with him one last time, I’d choose baseball as our topic. Dad didn’t have to feign emotion when talking about what makes a good pickoff move, or how to tell when a pitcher is telegraphing his pitches. I felt his logic, and since that’s all I remember feeling, his logic is what I would want to feel again.

My son was 3 months old when my father died. They never met each other. I’m not sure how that makes me feel. I won’t pretend I know how to feel anything at all when it comes to dad. But, like my grandfather and the bottle, I will not pass down my father’s legacy of being absent in my son’s life. Call it my own glass of Kool Aid. Today I’m toasting my son’s 1st birthday, the intent of never forgetting to flick my lights, and one final goodbye to my father while in the shadow of my son’s first steps.

Well played, nostalgia. Well played.

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Election 2015: Public (relations) Enemy #1

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By: James Di Fiore

It’s not easy for busy Canadians to closely follow the innards of the Mike Duffy Trial. Most of us work full time jobs, have families to consider, need downtime, and, if we aren’t working that second job or running errands, we’d like to have a decent night’s sleep too.

So, the average Canadian has a fairly low interest in politics these days, but when they do tune in something happens. They can’t quite put their finger on it, but it still manages to thrust them away from the issues and back into their lives with rolled eyes and a cemented apathy towards the items they likely should deem as important. Often, the media is blamed. Sometimes the old reliable adage that ‘every politician is corrupt’ is all we need to feel justified in not paying attention. Those two reasons are both legit and plausible, but they are not the root cause of apathy among typical Canadians.

The real culprit dampening our desire to hone in on the failures of elected leadership is an entirely different beast; the despicable monster known simply as Public Relations.

PR is an industry built on the shoulders of deceit. It’s main purpose: to water down bare bones truth and replace it with an easy-to-digest message. It’s a symptom of a protectionist entity, usually corporate or governmental in nature, whose primary function is to swindle the public by orchestrating words into a state of plausibility, rather than a state of unbridled truth.

In Ottawa, especially over the past decade, the public relations industry has dominated government communications. To many, this sounds like an odd statement. After all, PR has always been the mechanism used to relay information to the public. But modern public relations has mutated from effective messaging into a diabolical game of legalese where the public is deliberately made to believe a narrative that eases them into believing something that isn’t true, or designed to create a staleness only apathy can really cure. The PR in government messaging, executed mostly by politicians with legal backgrounds, serves to protect the interests of the governing party as they work to retain power at all costs. The Duffy trial is a quintessential example, and as we watch the curtain rise we should be able to recognize the extensive damage immediately.

Court documents have unearthed the blueprints used to mislead the public in relation to Senate expenses, the subsequent audit, the ‘media lines’ created for Duffy and conservative spokespeople, and the documented strategies for damage control before, during and after the scandal broke. Emails between conservative parliamentarians, staffers and lawyers show a culture of deception, conducted so reflexively that one walks away feeling like they had no moral compass other than loyalty to their party and, perhaps more tellingly, to their leader, Stephen Harper. Nigel Wright, whose personal PR had created an almost mythological figure that seemed to arrive in Ottawa on foot via the Rideau Canal in the summertime, personifies the power of having a stellar personal brand. Media pundits, politicians, and the corporate elite all sang his praises, despite his admission that he supplied the $90, 000 cheque to a senator who, upon accepting the money, was charged with receiving a bribe. Only good PR could take a man in his situation and spin the script until the public believed he was an infallible soul who merely made a mistake out of a sense of altruism. The evidence now shows Wright was conspiring with his party to trick the public into thinking Duffy used his own money to pay back his expenses, a discovery that proves Wright was more concerned with protecting his boss, leaving taxpayers in the dark and irony in the glaring sun. Punctuating this irony, Wright had the gall to quote scripture from the witness stand, portraying himself as the patron saint of plausible deniability for Harper, and by doing so smacked the manufactured halo that good PR had given him clear off his head.

But wait, what about that apathetic Canadian public? Will this scandal open their eyes to the damage public relations has done to governments in power? Honestly, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Our citizens have Public Relations Fatigue, a condition that works to create a white noise whenever the truth does happen to slip through the cracks. After all, whether it was about fighter jets, muzzling scientists, a gazebo, mission creep, a surplus, or any of the other missteps, gaffes or scandals, this government has always remained consistent in one fundamental area: tell them nothing, pretend you are transparent, spin, pivot and repeat.

However, as we go to work, spend time with our kids, catch some downtime, run errands and tuck ourselves in, perhaps we will finally hear a sound bite from our media that holds our leaders accountable.

Not just for breaking the rules and behaving corruptly, but for utilizing shady PR tricks that enable this behavior in the first place.