Monthly Archives: October 2009

Chuck, baby, seems folk think you’re a bore

prince-charlesAccording to some sources the publishers of Mad Magazine caused great offence in royal circles many years ago with their cartoon suggestion that Prince Charles was uncannily reminiscent of the magazine’s iconic mascot, Alfred E. Neuman. It was all done in good fun, but evidently the household was obdurately unamused by the comparison.

alfredHowever, eventually the issue died down and, as far as I know, nobody was beheaded as a result of the insult.

On the other hand, I just read that Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir-apparent to Mrs. Queen (that’s what I affectionately call her, either that or Grandmama) is not particularly affectionately regarded in my own country.

Not only that, according to a recent poll, the majority of respondents suggested they found Chuck to be an irrelevant bore and nonentity in the lives of contemporary Canadians.

All I can say to that is, about bloody time.

Those polled also said that they thought Canada’s connection to the monarchy should end with the passing of the Queen. The Queen is generally respected, and even loved in a lot of circles, and she deserves to be. Chuck? Not so much.

Time to move on and become a real country wearing some big-boy pants.

Why on earth anybody thought this vestigial connection to our colonial past should still be honored amazes me. I would be ashamed of my country if we didn’t feel that way. As I mentioned a while ago, a lot of monarchist types were right testy about the fact that Governor-General Michaelle Jean presented herself as Canadian head-of-state (rather than the Queen, who actually bears that title) a while ago. I wasn’t irritated by that gaffe. I absolutely didn’t care. What I did care about is that we actually have a Queen’s rep here. Shouldn’t we have an autonomous head-of-state sort of like ‘real’ countries do?

Canada is a fully-independent nation, much like the US, France or China, so why this vague connection with a former overlord place? I say this as an unrepentant anglophile. I have lived in England, have visited many times, and have friends and family there. Furthermore, my progenitors came from there. But I am a Canadian and in that sense am no more connected to the UK than I am to the US or any other political entity on the planet.

I think too with Canadians in reference to this question, it is the Charles thing. He is not a particularly inspiring man. He is seen as overprivileged, pompous and a bit of an ass in general. He may have some green creds, but they are green creds of convenience for him, not necessarily commitment when he must make sacrifices. The point being, there is nothing inspiring about him, nor particularly relevant.

Years ago, of course, back in the Diana years people quite embraced the couple – largely (let’s say 98 percent) due to her presence on his arm. When he dumped her for the sake of the other one, then a lot of respect went out the window and back across the Atlantic.

So, if Charles is a big yawn in these here parts, that is solely as it should be. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

So, no — I didn’t go, and this is why I didn’t

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I blew off a funeral last Sunday. In fact, in contemporary context, it was a ‘memorial service’; you know, the kinder, gentler, no God-squad way of putting somebody in the ground based on pretending he/she is still around. Well, everybody knows that isn’t really true but, somehow, it just seems not quite so final.

But, I still didn’t go, mainly because they couldn’t fool me. I knew it was really a funeral no matter what it was called. And I didn’t think my presence there would make one iota of difference to the honoree. People will sit around. There will be some sort of master or mistress of ceremonies, sometimes a clerical person fills that role, other times it is a lay friend of the family or perhaps family member. After a while music will be played, strummed, sung, chanted or whatever. These are ostensibly favorite ditties of the deceased and that is to enable us to feel closer. Then certain pre-appointed folk will rise to say something nice. When they are done, members of the general mass are invited to offer their impressions. Some people will bite and say something. Some other people will go on far too long causing others gathered to shuffle their feet and feel a huge longing for a cigarette even though they quit smoking 11 years before. Further people will punctuate their address with sobs, which effectively adds mood to the occasions but renders the gathered multitude uncomfortable.

When the formal informal service is completed people will be invited to go to the assembly hall next door and partake of coffee, tea, wee sandwiches, pastries and so forth, and to offer condolences to the immediate family. Shit. I hate that. Not because I don’t feel hugely for the family, but that I do not (nor does anybody else for that matter, and if they protest contrariwise they are lying) have a clue what to say.

“Really sorry about Charlie,” I say to his wife.

“Yes, it’s been quite a blow to us. But it’s wonderful to see everybody here. He had so many friends.”

“Yes-yes he did. Many friends. Now I’ll move along and let some other people offer their condolences.”

“So good of you to come.”

“Yes, it was – no, I mean — I wouldn’t have missed it – no, I mean, er, of course I would be here.”

The foregoing is the hard part. The rest is mainly mix and mingle, lots of hugging, a few tears, banal comments like “Its’ too bad it takes something like this to get us all together,” and finally people look at their watches (they have been desperate to make a break for an hour), sigh, and say they’d better be on their way, they have a sitter, the dog needs to be let out to pee, they’d already arranged for company that evening, etc.

Now don’t interpret from this for a second that I blew off the memorial service for one of the people I mentioned in the earlier blog because I wasn’t saddened by the deaths. I was deeply saddened, and had huge affection and respect for those who passed on and will miss them hugely. It’s just that no matter how much well-intentioned people want to sanitize a service it is still essentially a funeral, and I would always prefer to remember the person in my own way, with own private thoughts of grief. And that, I believe, is my right and I need apologize to nobody.

Whatever is the case with the modern memorial service, it is a damn sight better than the old-fashioned funeral service. Such services are formalized and much less human. They involve religious ritual (usually) and many prayers, assorted hymns, and offer assurances that the decedent is in a “better place.” Well, I do like to think that, though am not entirely convinced, I must confess. The worst of these (especially for kids) are services of the open-casket sort. Aunt Hattie lies there, thoroughly mascaraed and rouged and bears only a vague resemblance to the woman who baked the best damn gingerbread in three counties. It’s creepy but is designed to convince the multitude she is still with us. She ain’t. Sorry, and no painted manikin of the person will convince me otherwise.

It comes down to this. We really, despite protestations to the contrary, are not at ease with the death of another because it reminds us that one day such a party will involve us. We don’t like that. It’s strong medicine.

Do I feel bad because I did not attend? No, in truth I don’t. I spent my afternoon planting bulbs and raking leaves, and thinking fond thoughts of my late friend. This is what the living do, they tend to matters of life in hopes of awakening another day, though they know they have no control over whether or not that happens.

Love my dog; tale of an unfortunate man; an award

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As we are still in the mode of marveling at all the facets of newly acquired canine, Max, we were thinking of all the commonplace terms that involve the use of ‘dog’. This is indicative of how significant these creatures have always been in our lives when you consider their prominence in everyday lexicon. 

So, you have dogged, doggone, dog-in-the-manger, mad-dog, doggerel, dog-tired, f—–g the dog (wasting time), dog-work, and so on and so on.

But, the conversation also took me back to a guy. A guy who was arguably the most unfortunate soul I think I have ever met. His real name was Don, but he went (as a grievous insult to him perpetrated by the Vancouver Police Force) by the street sobriquet ‘Dogface’.

Dogface was a junkie and a small-time crook. He was also, ironically (perhaps) an extremely intelligent and well-informed guy who could natter on indefinitely about virtually any subject.

Facially unfortunate (I’m being kind here, he was frighteningly ugly and deformed, hence the Dogface), with bulbous forehead and virtually no chin, he was very short of stature and sort of hunched, and also had hands so tiny that the Vancouver cops had special cuffs just for him, since he would slip out of the conventional ones no matter how hard they were cinched. He took glee in that fact. He was so homely his own mother made him sleep on the back porch because she couldn’t bear to look at him. Or so he told me.

I got to know him during a university summer job in a plywood mill. He was on probation at that time and the company took him on partially out of compassion. It was a benevolent firm, and you don’t get many of those any more. Needless to say, because of his personality quirks (and there were many; he was capable of terrifying rages when he was frustrated, and that was usually), he was a kind of scary workmate. At the same time, I felt compassion for him and he appreciated that I actually deigned to converse with him.

He was also a hopeless workmate. He could not keep pace and if I were partnered with him on a crew, my own quota would diminish. I was, by the way, known as a productive employee.

One evening the foreman (a colorful but vile-tempered martinet) came by. Looked at our accomplishments for the shift, and shook his head disdainfully. I waited for him to erupt. But, he didn’t. I caught up with him as he walked away, and said I hoped he understood that my workmate wasn’t the most efficient person in the plant.

He put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Ian, I didn’t have the heart to say what I thought. If either of us had as many strokes against us as that poor bastard we wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning.” My respect for my foreman soared due to that statement.

Anyway, I finished that job and moved on with my life, and thought little more of Dogface Don – by the way, it arguably would have been worth your life to use that adjective around him.

A few years later a large headline in the Vancouver Sun caught my eye. The story concerned a vicious gangland slaying in which the victim, a drug dealer had been so riddled with bullets even the most hardened coppers were appalled. The story concerned the brutal murder of a man who was known to the underworld as “Dogface.”. How terribly sad.

He deserved better than that. We all do.

 

One_Lovely_AwardBut, on a brighter note, I got an award. The award was sent my way by French Leave, and I was very flattered to receive it. It is the One Lovely Blog Award, and she seems to think I am a worthy recipient. That is very gracious of her. I like her blog very much and since she was the earlier recipient, I commend her for that. She is a UK expat who has lived in France for a number of years and I like the fact she takes no prisoners when she is exasperated by her life across the Channel, but also exults in the treasures she finds in her day-to-day life. Give her a read. I recommend it.

Now, my role in getting this was that I had to choose three others to get the same award. I hate doing that. You know, the narrowing down thing, especially just to a trio. If you are on my blogroll I consider you award-worthy. And, French Leave already took the wondrous Pearl and made her one of her awardees. But, I also found it quite easy to find my trio.

They are:

 Laura Jane, who is droll, sometimes ribald, screamingly funny and frighteningly intelligent. If you haven’t gone there, please do so.

Dumdad (the name he goes by with his blog) is a genuine gem of wit, wisdom and information. I feel a certain empathy as he is also a former active journalist. Like French Leave, he also chooses to spend his retirement days in la belle France, in his case, Paris.

Jazz is one of my longest duration blogger friends and we have a huge simpatico. It is good we are both happily married because I otherwise utterly adore her. Love her whimsical take on the perversities of her day-to-day life in Montreal, and always welcome her no-bullshit honesty.

Please enjoy them all.

Sometimes a body just needs a darn good hug

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To say that I grew up in an undemonstrative family is rather like saying Charles Manson is a bit dysfunctional. While my folks weren’t certifiably cold in manner, they didn’t go about blithely offering hugs and kisses. In fact, they didn’t offer them at all, blithely or not. It just wasn’t part of the Lidster household dynamic to be either huggy or kissy, and certainly never blithe.

Consequently, at Christmas or other festive times when I was exposed to aunties and other aged female rellies whom I was expected to kiss and hug I would almost cringe in dismay. Why did I have to do this thing? Could I merely say ‘Merry Christmas’ and let it go at that. I thought they were abnormal, rather than seeing my parents as the unfeeling fish they were.

Later, when I was old enough to understand the differences between boys and girls I grew to rapidly appreciate physical affection. A kiss was more than just a kiss, it was a prelude to a Boschian garden of earthly delights. Hugging, kissing and generally making out sometimes led to even more exotic adventures. Yet, even when it didn’t I still found the intergender contact to be most fulfilling.

But, what took me a long time to understand is that non-sexual hugging has a validity all its own. I did not grow up that way as I have illustrated. Indeed, following the reception on the wedding day of my first marriage, I was loath to kiss my mother goodbye when we embarked on our honeymoon. My new bride was almost aghast that this was not a natural impulse within me.

While my aversion to (or preferably confusion over) non-sexual gestures of affection diminished with time it wasn’t really until mid-life with a lot of soul searching (we sometimes gain a modicum of self-understanding in mid-life) that I came to be fully comfortable with genuine human affection. I realized I had been missing a great deal. Furthermore, society became more open about the mid-1980s and hugging became much more commonplace.

Since then I have become an inveterate hugger. I can even hug members of my own sex and be comfortable with so doing. I will even hug people I have never hugged before and I find the act genuinely calming to my soul. In other words, I find it has meaning and makes my day go better. In fact, once I got easy with it, I found it fabulous at so many levels.

When I counseled at a rehab we would always send the boys on their way after they’d done their 28 days with a big hug. Some balked a little, but most accepted these gestures of natural affection willingly. Why not? They’d probably been without them all their lives. Yes, to many on the street you are a shit-headed junkie, but we love you regardless of your bad behavior in the past. It’s fine therapy.

Nowadays with hugging I find I have go gauge the situation as to who will be open for a hug. As a heterosexual male I know I still do and always will prefer hugging females. Something about softness and smooth cheeks. For those with whom I am genuinely close I will kiss on the cheek, and they will do likewise with me. With others it’s just a big old hug. Fortunately, Wendy is also a hugger and even though our relationship includes the other ‘privileges’ we never take leave from each other without a hug even when there is no other motivation in mind.

Sometimes I have asked myself that if my mother were still around, would I feel comfortable hugging her by now. I cannot answer that, and I have no way of finding out.

Regardless, I still cherish the gift I found that there is in genuine physical affection. I don’t mind being a part of the hugging generation in an often too cold world.

Ah yes — the golden days when men were men

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In days gone by, we men were supposed to work things out for ourselves. We were expected to have a grip on our lives and if, for some reason, it got too tough to carry on, then the reasonable man went and talked to his father, priest or pastor. The unreasonable man (most) got drunk.

Strong men weren’t allowed to have insurmountable problems. Men were supposed to be, nay, expected to be in charge. In command of not only their destinies, but also those of their families. What kind of a real man would have gone whimpering to a shrink or counselor if, say, he thought he might be hitting the sauce too hard?

The characters of the series Mad Men are perfect if clichéd representatives of that ethic.
“Drinking too much? Get a grip on yourself, man, and cut it out!”

That would have been the physician’s advice in grandfather’s day.

And what if a man in that ‘golden era’ was faced with an — ahem — sexual
problem?  What if he, say, couldn’t get it up like he’d been able to when
he was younger? In all likelihood ‘nobody’ else would have known about his little problem. He couldn’t admit that things weren’t working the way they should for a ‘real’ man. Maybe, in a case of extreme stress about the matter he might (just ‘might’) have gone to chat with Old Doc Jones. Those were pre-Viagra days so male sexual dysfunction was not broadcast far and wide like today.
Men didn’t get help in any area of their lives at an earlier time because the prevailing belief was that a ‘real man’ didn’t need help. Womenfolk needed help and guidance to get them through their ongoing rough passages (“She’ll be running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper” – ah yes, thank God for Valium), and children periodically called out for a good back of the paternal hand, but men. Men were tough.

Such attitudes prevailed until quite recently. I know my father never willingly spoke to a counselor in his entire life — though God knows he needed to. I mentioned “willingly”. He once accompanied my mother to a counselor she was seeing. She was undergoing a bout of depression at the time. Actually, she was undergoing a bout of depression at virtually any time, but that’s another matter. Anyway, my father went once, and refused to go again. He hated the experience because the counselor turned around and actually blamed him for some of his wife’s concerns. That wasn’t right, in his eyes. So he never went back.

Guidance seeking on the part of males is a recent phenomenon. If you had entered a bookstore prior to 1970 it would have been unlikely to find a ‘Self-Help’ section for men. There would have been a few tomes on psychology and perhaps even sexuality, but not sufficient books on male issues to warrant any shelf space.

As far as actual guidebooks (as opposed to clinical offerings) in an
earlier day were concerned, they were rare items like the Kinsey Report, which, at the time of its publication in 1948, was deemed so frank and revolutionary that nobody could figure out whether it was a scholarly study or just a dirty book. Consequently, it was usually secured in the old man’s underwear drawer, just in case youthful eyes should happen upon it. There were a few other studies around, but most of them were deadly boring, and not particularly helpful in aiding folk to deal with their lives.

Guidebooks as we understand them didn’t truly proliferate until the 1970s — that is when people of our generation were coming into their own and were demanding, not to mention creating reference material designed to help us cringing baby-boomer neurotics deal with the perils of modern living. These books not only were written in massive numbers, some of them even became best-sellers.

Books galore. Books dealing with every human concern, real or imagined. General sex guides weren’t enough. There were and are books to address gay sex, geriatric sex, sado-masochism, transexuality, polygamy, and so on and so on.

There came into being guides to marriage, divorce, common-law living, blended families, older men/younger women, and older women/younger men, and we can anticipate, considering how our generation is aging, lots more stuff on geriatric love-making and how tantric sex is becoming increasingly the trend of the moment, since holding on gets so much easier when you’re past fifty. That is – ahem – if it’s still working (see Viagra or a chat with old Doc. Jones).

Some of these books are good, and some are very, very bad. Some are
well-considered and scholarly, and others are nonsensical, with a few being downright dangerous.

For the most part I am wary of experts and their guidebooks. I attempt to be as circumspect as possible when I glean through the ‘effective living’ thoughts of another. I’ve read a lot of them, both out of interest, and in my work as an addictions counselor. For me it comes down to a matter of caveat emptor. The only advice I can give is that if you are reading a guidebook that sounds like faddish bullshit, it probably is faddish bullshit.

I won’t even go into the TV gurus on damn near anything and everything. “Take two cuddles from Oprah, after a bit of crankiness from Dr. Phil, then call me in the morning.” If pop-pap really solved all our woes then we would live in a completely healthy society.

Maybe we should stop being so self-obsessed and get out and see what we can do for some other people. You know, people who are hungry, have been dispossessed and ground under. We just might end up feeling better if we dish up some turkey for the hungry boys and girls with Thanksgiving rolls around. Puts things into perspective.

I have no answers for this — only questions

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And death shall have no dominion.

Dead men naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

–         Dylan Thomas

 

Strong and pungent sentiment from a man who died at the not advanced at all age of 39.

Not meaning to be morbid, but the last few days have exposed me to the mortality of at least a couple of people I hold dear, and one whom I knew slightly. One was a man whom I knew via his wife, with whom I worked for years. He was a great guy. Bigger than life, ebullient, upbeat and a brilliant teacher. He was the one who recognized the notable intelligence of my step-daughter when she was in 9th grade and pushed her into accelerated math. She balked at first, but never really looked back. Whether or not she does from the vantage point of her masters degree is for her to say.

Anyway, his death came as a great and distressing surprise. Combine that with the fact he was a half-decade younger than I am and you might imagine my discomfiture. It frightens a fellow, if  I am to be honest.

The other was a former newspaper colleague. She was the production foreman at our operation and I came to know her well. Smart editorial sods learn to get along well with production or they will rue the day they chose not to. Those who choose not to can welcome a working life of some misery. She was much older than I, and the last time I saw her a few months ago I was upset by her obviously frail health. But, I’ll miss her. She was an imposing presence. Much larger than life, physically and in every other way. Of Ukrainian descent, she was in fact a virtually “professional Ukrainian”. Those growing up in Western Canada will know what that means.

She was also a fine human being. She spent her later years after retirement working with the benighted children, most of them HIV-ridden, in Ukrainian and Romanian orphanages. She didn’t do it for any glory. She did it to satisfy a certain Christian yearning that she had.

I admired and liked her and her death leaves something of a void for me. Maybe that’s self-indulgent, but I think she’d understand. 

The third one was another teacher. As I say, I did not know him well. Just sufficiently to say hello, but again he was around my age.

“Every death we face diminishes us just a little bit,” said my late mother-in-law a number of years ago after the death of one of her brothers. I didn’t fully appreciate the sentiment at the time, but now I understand it perfectly. Funny how that works.

I didn’t mean this blog to be negative or any sort of a bring-down, I just felt like getting this stuff off my chest. I am also anticipating no answers to such eternal verities. We are what we are and we are above all mortal. How we handle it is up to us.

Come and sit at my knee, young Ian, and I shall tell you the facts of life

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Being sympathetic to my plight of creative torpor in the blogging world, fellow blogger and friend Geewits suggested a topic for me. It was a simple one consisting of advice I would give to myself from today’s vantage point if I were a boy of 14. Great idea. Wish a future me had done that for me. I might not have gotten into various scrapes and dysfunctions that have punctuated my life at certain intervals.

On the other hand, it was in the having arisen above those bad times that made me the man I am today. I quite like the man I am today and fully believe I am now a better human being than I was at earlier stages.

So, who’s to know?

Fourteen. That is an odd age. Depending on the individual, it is the cusp of puberty. Not quite a man but no longer a little boy. According to Desmond Morris, in his intriguing volume The Book of Ages, it was at that age that Edmund the Martyr became King of East Anglia in AD 855. Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus first went to sea at that tender age, and Ralph Waldo Emerson was admitted to Harvard.

I wasn’t that kind of precocious. I was in junior high, my voice changed, there was little demand for shaving yet but I was no longer quite as ashamed in the gym locker room. I also had a huge crush on a girl named Shirley Anschau. She was blonde and heavenly, in my esteem. I have never seen her since as she moved away that year. I hope her life has been a good one, despite the fact she missed her chances with me.

I also, though I am not bragging in any way, actually had sex for the first time at 14. I remember who it was, but there was nothing particularly wonderful about it. It just happened. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

Now, to the advice I’d give my 14-year-old self:

–         Accept the fact you will have crushes on countless Shirley Anschaus in your life. In fact, you’ll likely never stop having crushes. Sometime, later on, if you find yourself sharing a coffee or a chat with one of your earlier crushees. Tell her. At the very least it will be flattering for her. And, secondarily, you might find that the early crush was reciprocated. Kind a “drat, if only I’d known” moment, but sweet nonetheless. It has happened to me.

–         Fall in love for sure, but do not — please do not — marry early. For me that was a fatal error. Not that I didn’t love the people I was married to, it was just that I wasn’t ready in any respect. So, lad, don’t marry until you’re at least 35 and have lots of ‘safe’ adventures along the way. You’ll thank me for this.

–         Don’t even contemplate the idea that starting to smoke would be a good thing to do. It won’t be. I know, you think it will make you look kind of cool and dangerous, like Bogey. And you know what? People who tell you it won’t look cool are lying. But I think you should swallow forsaking that element of coolness and look for others. You’ll thank me for this advice.

 –         Girls that seem a bit dangerous usually are.

–         Girls that seem terribly innocent sometimes aren’t.

–         Study hard despite the drag school is. Again you’ll be grateful later on. This is a brutal and cutthroat place this world you’ll inherit. Don’t delude yourself otherwise.

–         When you get a job; your first and any subsequent ones, take pains to learn all facets of it and then work your ass off. It’s not so much that you owe it to your employer as you owe it to yourself.

–         Be very wary of any mind-altering substances including (and especially) alcohol. If it starts to feel like the stuff you’re consuming is eradicating all your problems, then move away from it. Actually it is only precipitating the ‘real problems’ that will follow.

–         Be brave and even daring sometimes, but don’t take needless risks. Lives can be ended very easily via stupidity. Getting pissed up and road-racing on rain-slicked streets can mean you not only kill yourself, but maybe some innocent people. It’s unforgivable and unforgiving behavior.

–         Learn to surf.

–         Travel. Travel at all opportunities. Go anywhere and everywhere as often as you can, despite your financial state. You will never regret money spent on traveling.

–         Read: Read voluminously and read everything you can get your hands on.

–         Keep a journal of your life.

–         Learn at least one, preferably two languages other than your own. But, be meticulous about the use of your own language.

–         Eschew all bigoted thoughts. If you harbor them, they are wrong.

–         Don’t march to anybody else’s drummer, especially if it’s a questionable beat.

–         Learn to: Iron, sew on a button, cook a decent meal.

–         Dress appropriately for occasions and own at least one good suit.

–         Nothing wrong with some old-fashioned cussing, I mean, WTF. But, be situationally appropriate and don’t spew profanities in public. The profane speak volumes about themselves and what they are saying about themselves is not pleasing to the ears of others.

–         Respect your elders – but only if they deserve it. Age does not automatically render a person worthy of fealty. Some older people are assholes. Learn to recognize them, too.

–         If you think you had trouble with your old man prior to this, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You see, there is a kind of Freudian thing happening in which he is going to increasingly resent having another adult male in the house. He demands the right to be the alpha dude, so you are the interloper. This won’t change until you leave. Oh, and make that leave-taking permanent. Don’t become one of those pathetic arrested-development cases that are still hanging out in the parental home at 35. Once you’ve gone your relationship with the old fellow will improve exponentially.

Sheesh, I kind of got on a roll with this and could keep going. Thanks, Geewits. I appreciate the suggestion and would advise others if they want to indulge in a worthy exercise, they might do it, too.