"When I was a teenager, I was really into voicing my political opinions. But I could never see anything coming from it. The people who were organizing the rallies and everything, I started to notice that they lived for dissatisfaction. And that is not me. The blues could be very political, you know -- Leadbelly sang about Hitler. But I shy away from doing anything like that because I'm scared of novelty. I'm scared of having nowhere to go with it. A band like Rage Against the Machine, they were very angry and political, but it seems like they ran out of things to be angry about, so they had to go back and talk about Vietnam. It can be interesting, but is that what you want to do, get angry about things you didn't even experience?"

- Jack White of The White Stripes in the New York Times Magazine, March 9, 2003



scam: a novel

The New Pornographers
Electric Version
buy it

I adored their last record, which I discovered just too late to make it my cherished "summer record", but the new one is out just in time to become the record that won't leave the disc tray until September. If there's one thing I appreciate in pop music, it's lyrical abstraction; a good hook is easily ruined when it's obvious just what, precisely, the song is about, whether it's the specifics of a romance or some immediately dated topical or political statement. Good pop is timeless, and lasts only as long you can revisit it without the sense that the song is moored to some moment in time, whether it's yours or the world's.

I haven't a clue what "The Laws Have Changed" is about, but I love singing along with a chorus like "Form a line to the throne". It's provocative without being precisely meaningful - make up your own mind, provide your own image. If you hear an indictment of U.S. political and economic imperialism, have a ball - I won't stop you. I frankly don't see it; my own mind conjures up an evocation of the absurdities of the cult of personality, but I don't recommend that anyone else share this little, personal vision. They're playing her on my birthday, in a month and a half. The wife has already promised me a night away from the obligations of fatherhood, and I'm grateful.

WE WERE TRYING, SO IT DIDN'T EXACTLY COME AS A SURPRISE when K. called me at work and said, in a giddy, breathless voice, "You're going to be a daddy." She was late; she bought a test kit on her way home from work, and the results were unmistakable. I was the proud father of a tiny pink tadpole barely two millimetres in length, stirring faintly in the blood-rich cellular lining of a usually-dormant organ in my wife's abdomen.

I sat at my desk for a few minutes, staring past the screen of my G4, before I decided that I'd have a better chance of processing the vast fact of impending fatherhood by telling someone, as soon as possible. I went to the bathroom, and on the way back to my desk I wandered into my boss' office and sat down. "K. just called," I said, in what I can only recall as a stunned monotone. "She just took one of those home test things. She's pregnant." P.J. smiled, reached across his desk and shook my hand. "Congratulations," he said. "You'll love it. It'll totally change your life."

Okay, then. The rollercoaster ride starts here.

I wandered over to the desk of Jodi, our entertainment editor, and whispered the news; she tried to keep her reaction as low-key as possible, as the desks in the editorial section of the paper's office are only inches apart, largely cubicle-free, and I can be pretty certain that everyone within a ten-foot radius overheard. (No matter, though, as they had the decency to act surprised when I announced the news at an editorial meeting a week later.)

I'm sure the gossip began in the lunchroom within minutes of my hushed announcement. K. and I had agreed to keep mum about the news for at least a couple of weeks, just to make sure, but we both broke that agreement within minutes of the phone call. It's hard not to. It just didn't seem real until other people knew, at least for me. That's my excuse, and I stand by it.

On her way out at the end of the night, Jodi stops by my desk and fixes me with a significant look.

"Mazel tov," she says. "Congratulations."

And so it begins.

FIVE YEARS AGO I WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I COULD NEVER BE A FATHER. Five years ago I'm sure that would have been the truth. I'm like too many men these days; adolescence lasted into my teens, and I spent far too much of my twenties recovering from being a teenager. I spent too many years, well into my early thirties, recovering from the first major relationship of my life, and too many years trying to do all the things I should have gotten out of my system when I was in my twenties. I played in bands, collected lots of interesting but useless junk, drank and ate far too much, changed my "look" every year or so, and had a small string of short, entirely disastrous relationships. Once that had become as exhausting as it should have been for a man edging closer to forty than thirty, I pulled away from it all, and spent weeks on end at home with stacks of books and magazines. It was apparent that the "life experience" I was so desperate to have was getting a bit repetitious, and while I could tell you a lot about what was on the menu at a few dozen hot restaurants, my knowledge of the world outside my well-rutted trotting track was dangerously scant.

From a distance of a few years, I can tell you that I was depressed for much of this time, probably years. I was hopeless, or eager to imagine a world without hope, because I couldn't see a way out of my own routine, and a well-ordered program of mental habits that I maintained, mostly out of a misbegotten sense of pride. I was master of my own destiny, and if I had decided that my destiny was to misunderstood, unappreciated and alone, I was committed to dignifying my fantasy of social martyrdom as a principled stand. I was a rock; I was an island.

Within a few weeks of meeting K., months before we moved in together, I basically proposed, in a roundabout, uncommitted way that would have impressed any lawyer. "I just want to ask you," I said, "that if I asked you to marry me, if you'd consider saying yes."

"I would," K. said, tearing up, but she had her own condition as well, and extracted a verbal promise with as much juridical finesse. "I want to have a family, and I want to know that you do as well."

And so, despite looming doubts about my suitability as a father, about my financial prospects, about the world in general, I said yes, hoping desperately that I wasn't, deep down, under the budding love and the newfound sense of hope and suddenly rediscovered optimism, lying to myself and to her.

"Yes," I said. "I want to have a family with you."

I suppose the whole rollercoaster ride started there. I only noticed sometime late last fall, when the car was already cresting the first rise, and I got a glimpse of the steep drop ahead.

"ARE YOU NERVOUS?" It's the question I'm asked more than any other, just slightly ahead of "Are you going to get a car, now?" For some reason, our carlessness, and my inability to drive, are a major concern to almost everyone we know, despite the fact that we live downtown, mere steps from bus and streetcar stops, relatively cheap taxis, in a neighbourhood full of families, both poor and prosperous, and a brand new Ikea as close as a twelve dollar Kingsboro cab ride away.

Still, for most of our friends, parenthood comes with the acquisition of a car seat and a suitable used Volvo, fully-loaded minivan, or leased sedan with decent trunk space. We try to fend off the automotive inquisition by protesting that people have kids without cars all the time, and besides, what did people do in the unruly millenia before the car, which is really only barely half a century past? For me, at least, the truth is that I couldn't handle both a child and a car erupting into the provisional calm of my life; frankly, at almost forty, I'm terrified of the responsibility of a car, far more than that of raising and providing for a helpless new human life. I sometimes wonder if I have priority issues.

But yes, I'm nervous, thanks for asking. I suppose it would be easier if I had some kind of concrete role model of fatherhood to draw upon, but my dad died when I was four, and my only memories of the man are sketchy, doubtless idealized, flashes of a benevolent presence, a calm authority, a man in his shirtsleeves walking up the street and through the front door, watching Looney Tunes with me on the big black and white set by the picture window where I'd stood waiting for him. After he died, for the rest of my life, my dad was less a real person, flawed or adored, than a benign abstraction, a totem, a memory.

I have been, at different stages of my life, someone's little boy or brother, a pupil, a playmate, a pal, a friend, an enemy, a target, a dependent and a problem. I've been a student, a bully, a misfit, an infatuated suitor, a prom date and an employee. I've been a supervisor, a tenant, a crush, a liability, a former employee, a welfare case, a statistic, a boyfriend, an ambitious freelancer, a promising young talent, a persistent pain in the ass, a grieving son, an ex-boyfriend, a former friend, and a sullen single man.

I've been a luddite, a bad boyfriend, a critic, a collector, a misanthrope, a man on the make, an internet acquaintance, a social wild card, a dandy, a suspected closet case, a seething misogynist, a troubled buddy, an unpredictable asshole, a man at a party, a boyfriend, a suitor, a fiancÚ, a husband, a son-in-law, an employee, a co-worker, a client and, now, a prospective father. I like to think, if only to be glib, that I've done a pretty good job at all of these things. I'd like to imagine that I'll do as good a job at fatherhood as my own dad, despite our relatively brief acquaintance. I like to hope that my child will, one day, remember me as fondly as I remember him.

William McGinnis, my dad.
High Park, Toronto, 1968.

©2003 Rick McGinnis - all rights reserved


Yes, it's been awhile since I wrote anything here. And yes, this is pretty big news, so why didn't I write about it earlier?

Well, there was this war, see, and I had this monster entry that I've been working on since last fall, which I was never quite able to finish. Maybe someday, I'll take it apart and turn it into something, but it just seems to me that, less than a month from the due date, I should probably try to say something about the single biggest thing that's ever happened to me, ever.

I'll write something about the war, I'm sure. I may have lost a friend or two thanks to my support for it; I certainly didn't look forward to it, or regard it as an unmixed, perfect good - no war is that. But I'm glad it happened, and I'm glad it's over, and I'm worried as hell about what happens next, as we all are. This is my world, but it's also my kid's world, and for the first time in my life, I'm eager for a bit of optimism.


john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
justin johnson
jeff jarvis
little green footballs
tim blair
uss clueless
relapsed catholic
damian penny
lone dissenter
accordion guy
arts & letters
talking points memo
peter maass
cliff yablonski

Martyr's Day- click to buy it

Michael Kelly
Martyr's Day

I read this book months ago, when the war in Iraq was a likelihood but not a fact. I was amazed at how few books on that war were on the bookshelves, and grateful that Michael Kelly's book was as good as it was. Kelly, an "embed", died in a humvee accident, covering the war that he said, in Martyr's Day, was probably inevitable, and likely necessary, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. I would have liked to have read the book he was working on, the sequel to this one, which promised to be far more complex, and likely as incomplete, as we're unlikely to know or judge the concrete results of the removal of Saddam Hussein for years; longer, if the rabid political divisions exposed by this last war persist.