by Christopher Duthie

In Junior High, I took Karate every Monday and Wednesday night. My Dad would drive me down to the recreational centre, and for the two hours I was punching, kicking, blocking and screaming, he would work out in the weight room. He would usually finish up a little before I did, and would sit outside the glass-walled studio we practised in (our dojo) to watch the last 15 to 20 minutes of the class. Then we’d drive home listening to the history of rock’n’roll show on CKUA – “Alberta’s listener supported radio station.”

This was our routine. My Dad was, and still is, big on routines.

One night in early spring, when the snow was finally gone and the evenings were warm enough to be outside, I finished Karate and my Dad asked if I wanted to stop for ice cream on the way home. This was unusual – a break in the routine. I was 14 or 15 at the time and something about it seemed suspicious. I was convinced he wanted to have a talk. Not just any talk, and not necessarily “the talk” (that’s another story, one that didn’t even involve much of a talk, just a book with colourful anatomical illustrations and a trio of happy teenagers jumping on the cover), but I could feel a lesson coming.

We didn’t say much on our drive to the ice cream shop. I sat in the front seat wondering when he was going to broach the topic in question. My mind raced trying to figure out what it might be, if there was something I had done wrong. I wasn’t really doing well in school at that time. The math and science situation was always pretty desperate, and I never really worked at making it better. I was always “forgetting” to do my homework, making up excuses about where my missing assignments were. I was chronically late for school even though we lived right across the street. And of course, my room was total chaos, a “direct hit” as my Dad described it, and no matter how much we argued about it I could never keep it clean. Anyway, there were a lot of things we could have talked about it on the way to ice cream.

We ordered our sugar cones and picked our flavours. Mine was a berry and white chocolate combination. Dad chose dark chocolate. After the first few bites, he suggested we go for a walk.

And we didn’t say much on our walk either. It was just starting to get dark out. We still needed our coats, but the air was warm and soft. The streets had that glisten of early spring. Maybe it had rained. We walked up and down the main street in Mission, one of the real “neighbourhoods” in Calgary. Restaurants were busy for a Wednesday. There were other people out walking. It would have been a little after nine o’clock.

The whole time I kept waiting for the bomb to drop. The silence seemed destined to be broken. I was preparing myself to listen, to explain, to go on the defensive if necessary. I had a pit in my gut still trying to guess exactly what I’d done wrong.

But the bomb didn’t drop. My Dad ate his ice cream and looked around the neighbourhood, pointing out things and people he thought were interesting, like he always did. We found ourselves back at the car. My Dad drove home. Eventually, I went to bed and the weekly routine began again.

It was ice cream and a walk. That is all. Exactly what my Dad said it would be. Less than I expected. Maybe more.

Looking back, there could have very well have been something my Dad felt he needed to talk about, but thought better of it. Or maybe it was a part of some shrewd Draconian parenting strategy. “See if he has anything he needs to confess! Give the teenager time to squirm! AHAHAHA!” I was so immersed in my own adolescent experience that I didn’t consider it may not have been about me at all. I was growing up. Maybe he was feeling nostalgic for when I was younger and just wanted to spend time with me. Maybe he had something at home he was putting off, marking he had to do, an e-mail he had to send. Maybe he was tired of the constant pace of his own life. The demands of work and family. He just needed a break, fresh air and something chocolatey.

I keep going back to that night when I think about making TYA. A play for young audiences can be what that night was for me: a break in routine with no immediate lesson; an opportunity to look around and reflect; a chance to be with someone who cares about you; an experience that unwinds over time. A surprising experience is always more powerful than a lesson, no matter how simple and mundane that experience might be. If we spend our lives looking for the lesson, we can miss the moments that are made to be enjoyed.