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August 4, 2003

An Explanation, An Apology

This week I'm delving deep into my personal life for the benefit of friends and family. I've been meaning to write this particular article for a long time, as I believe that I owe some people an explanation for one aspect of my behaviour, and an apology to others. Don't get all excited, it's not like I'm a really savage drunk or a womanizing rectal orifice or anything like that. Guilt has a way of building up, and over the years it's accumulated enough that I feel I should at least provide some insight into my seemingly counter-societal behaviour. For those of you that don't know me personally, you simply get to be voyeurs this week.

Two aspects of who I am have conspired to provide a flawed area in my inter-personal relationships. The first flaw was that I was not aware of, nor even cognizant of, some of the finer points of the social graces as relates to attending weddings or even visiting friends for a meal. The first instance that really set the fire of guilt aflame once I came to understand what I failed to do was nearly ten years ago, when a highschool friend got married. Of course I attended the joyous event and celebrated with all my old highschool pals. What I utterly failed to understand was that I really should have brought a wedding present with me. It seems so basic and iron-clad now, but this was the first wedding I had ever attended on my own, and I had no clue that I should be wishing the happy couple well with at least a token, anything. There may have been other weddings I've attended without bringing gifts, but this one has really become lodged in the pit of my stomach.

Unfortunately, I've fallen out of touch with that particular friend, and feel bad that I haven't rectified the situation or even told them how I feel. Thankfully I've become much more socially aware since my early university days - especially having gone through my own wedding event - so my misdeeds of ignorance are largely behind me. On the odd occasion that I'm still behind on my social niceties, I at least now have a wife that can correct me when necessary.

My other crime could be summed up with a minimum of error by saying that I'm cheap. I'm not cheap in the sense that I buy only used cars that need work, darn my WalMart bargain-bin socks, and keep scraps of soap to use later. No, it's once again limited to the finer points of social graces in the form of token gifts and showing appreciation, in that I tend to think, "Nah, I don't need to bother with that." This particular shortcoming can be further subdivided into two specific areas that I fall short in: gifts of thanks, and cards.

The greater of my shortcomings is what I would term gifts of thanks. I'll start right off the top with the most recent event in mind that really drove home my failing in this area. I had to be in Toronto very early one morning a few months ago to pick my wife and daughter up at the airport. Instead of getting up at a ghastly hour, drive while trying to wake up, and then turning around and driving home at what would still be too early to be considered a civilized time, I had the bright idea of trying to rally some university chums together for dinner the following evening, and then crash at someone's place overnight. Of course, the idea was embraced, and I stayed with friends that served a lovely meal to those that came.

I was the first to arrive out of the three guests that would be present that evening. I showed up with travel case in hand, containing what little I needed for the next day and overnight. About thirty minutes later, the next guest arrives, bearing a bottle of wine for the gracious hosts. I think to myself, "Oh yeah, that would have been good to do." Quite shortly thereafter, the third guest arrives, also brandishing fine wine for the host and hostess. That's when it hits me. These two gentlemen had the foresight and grace to purchase (or bring from their stock) a bottle of wine for the man and woman of the house. It's a token gesture, but a common one, and one that is usually quite enjoyed by the hosts. What did I, the out-of-town interloper that was eating their food and sleeping on their couch bring? A hearty appetite, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes.

Although this was during my extended period of unemployment, when my household's budget was at its tightest, it still fails as a reasonable excuse for my lack of gratitude. As it so happens, the other guests that evening were in the same predicament (or worse) than I employment-wise, but both managed to vacuum enough pocket change out of their couches to bring something - anything - for the hosts. As it stands, they left their wine to be enjoyed by our hosts, and I still have a video tape I borrowed from them, yet to be returned.

Cards are my other shortcoming. I only realized (or discovered) how few cards I purchase, or even think to purchase, after I met my then-girlfriend (now wife). She and her immediate family buy cards for any and every occasion. Sure, there are standard celebrations that even I try buy cards for, like Christmas and birthdays. But suddenly I'm being shown why Hallmark does so well: she buys cards for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Father's and Mother's Days, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers, baby's arrival, thank-you cards... Put any significance into an event, she'll be out buying cards for it. This is in direct and stark contrast to how I was brought up, where cards were few and far between. Perhaps the rest of society is at a happy middle ground somewhere between our two camps, but I can still infer that my habits are quite a bit leaner than the rest of society.

In short - I'm sorry. I'm not trying to provide an excuse, I'm just trying to explain that I'm not a sociopath and/or totally unaware of what I am not doing. I am aware, it's just taking a long time to get me into the groove of saying, "Hey, let's get a bottle of wine before we visit," or, "I'm really happy they did that for us. Let's send them flowers and a card." Thankfully, my friends seem to either forgive or put up with me, and my family loves me despite my sometimes-coarse social nuances. For that I thank you all, and hope you still have enough reserve to allow me to continue my growth and development in this area.

Perhaps I should buy you all thank-you cards....


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