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The Privilege and Joy of Parenting


Fathers Day is not just a day to honour our dads (My own dad is my role model for kindness, generosity and resilience); it’s a time to remember the privilege and joy of being a parent.

This month, as my son turns 27, I recall that I was just three years older, when he came into this world and into our lives. He was due on our 3rdanniversary but came two days early. (I was looking up the traditional present for a 30thanniversary. Not silver, gold or diamonds but rather a medal my wife deserves . . . for all the times I’ve come home late for dinner or stepped out of social events to attend patients in hospital).

Though I was in the early years of my practice, I had already delivered hundreds of babies. Nearly three decades later, each birth seems no less transcendent; I appreciate the privilege of being a family physician and to be present during the spiritual milestones of my patients’ lives.

As new parents, our lives and identities were transformed much as they did with marriage. We were no longer just individuals or a couple, living only for ourselves. In a magical moment, we became parents . . . and a family, living beyond our own self-interests.

We were responsible for all of the needs of a precious child.

Being a parent is the greatest of gifts. From the moment of his birth, my life has been infused with new levels of joy, enhancing my experience of everyday life. I would come to see life through my son’s wide and curious eyes. The world was again teeming with wonder and adventure.

I became more mindful and present. Those ordinary parent-child activities – reading and drawing together, playing in the park, building sandcastles, going to the Vancouver Aquarium, riding the Stanley Park train, swimming and learning to ride a bike – were extraordinary. They remain vivid, palpable memories today.

We grow too as our children grow up. We learn patience, acceptance and most importantly unconditional love. We are given the honour to give forward the legacy of love we have received from our own parents.

And being loved by our children, motivates us to be our best selves that we may be exemplary role models and worthy of their love.

This Fathers Day, we will celebrate and thank our fathers – and graciously appreciate the joy and privilege of being parents.


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A Hundred Days to Happiness #33: Happiness is being in the presence of a child


Happiness is being in the presence of a child.

I loved the days that I got to drive my daughter to elementary school. I’d rush home from my morning swim to make her favourite breakfast and wake her up with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Her smile still makes me smile.

My kids always had a way to bring me more fully into the present, and because of that, my memories – of days at the zoo, towing them in my bicycle trailer, teaching them to skate, to swim and ride without training wheels, pushing them on swings and catching them at the bottom of slides – remain vividly real to me.

These experiences in my children’s presence remain in my heart and remind me of the joy of living.

I loved chatting with my daughter en route to school. No matter what wisdom I tried to impart, she was always teaching me something new . . . or reminding me of something I once knew but had forgotten.

One morning, thinking of my busy day ahead, I said to her, “You’re so lucky to be a kid!”

“What do you mean?” she asked from the back seat. “You’re a grownup! You get to drive a car, and you can go wherever you want.”

I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. She was right again.

“You can eat whatever you want” she added, “and go shopping all by yourself.”

After I dropped her off, she thanked me and wished me a happy day. Knowing I could drive wherever I wanted, I chose to go to work anyway, and I did have a happy day!

Your happiness exercise: be in the presence of a child, be fully present and see your world from a child’s perspective.

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#9 Seize the day!


We devote so much of our souls in the pursuit of happiness. Yet we often mistake happiness to be represented by a place in the future (or past) when we have that perfect mate, job, child, house, or the next new thing. Sometimes we define happiness in the negative – when we will be free of the drudgery of a dead-end job, school, debt, growing up, or living with people who drive us nuts.

Such happiness is illusory. Real happiness is within your reach today, and part of the secret lies in a not so secret phrase.

At the entrance of my last workplace were inscribed the words, “Carpe diem.” This Latin aphorism, taken from one of Horace’s Odes, reminds me of the fleeting gift of each day and my responsibility to make the most of it.

When I would drive all three of my children to the same elementary school, I wouldn’t let them out of the car without the benediction to make the most of the day. They knew that at dinnertime I would ask how they had fared in my challenge to meet three personal tasks:  help someone else, learn something new, and have fun.

To seize the day is to appreciate and make the most of the blessings, challenges and opportunities before you right now. What you see depends on your perspective. Look for the negative and you will find it. I have to remind patients who are rightly overwhelmed by the suffering caused by acute or chronic illness and disability that overall their health is good and that most of their bodily systems are working very well. They are still alive after all. We can then work together to do what we can to help them feel as healthy as possible and to improve their function at home, work or school.

The admonishment of carpe diem is as relevant to adults as it is to children and students of the classics.

Ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness? Join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on, and my blog,

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Real love and real beauty. Truth in a fairy tale.

What We Learn From Fairy Tales Davidicus Wong, M.D., July 7th, 2014


My beautiful daughter turns 16 this week.

Once upon a time, when we were all much younger, a favourite family ritual was to make up a fresh bedtime story each night. By capturing the experiences, thoughts and feelings of my children’s day, I engaged their imaginations while providing parental lessons both subtle and obvious.

What follows was a favourite inspired by the funny faces my then 8-year-old daughter made. Parents have always warned their children that their faces may freeze that way.

Of course, there is some medical truth in this. In our thirties, we discover that our parents were right after all. Our wrinkles reveal our habitual emotions with lines betraying smiles or frowns.

I trust that my daughter will remember this story for its deeper lessons about real beauty that inspires us more than a striking physical appearance and real love, the recognition of that truer beauty within.

To be truly loved is to be accepted and cherished just as we are. As we age, we wrinkle and weaken, shorten and sag yet authentic love sees a beauty that persists. As Yeats wrote in his poem, When You Are Old, “How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true, but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.”

The Scary-faced Princess

On the day she was born, Princess Michelle had the most beautiful face ever seen. She was certainly the most beautiful baby the doctor had ever delivered. At the moment of her birth, he couldn’t resist pinching her dimpled cheeks. The newborn princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. So shocked with this scary transformation, the doctor nearly dropped her.

One day, the queen while feeding the princess could not resist pinching her precious dimpled cheeks.   The pretty princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. The queen was startled and Princess Michelle spat up her milk into the queen’s eyes.

At the princess’ baptism, everyone in the court, all of the villagers, and each of the forest fairies came to adore her and bring gifts. Each visitor was enchanted by her incredibly sweet face. No one could resist pinching her soft dimpled cheeks.

The royal baby soon grew weary of this. Just at the moment the Pink Fairy approached her crib, raising her wand to grant a spell of eternal beauty, Princess Michelle frowned, wrinkled her brow and scrunched up her nose.

So shocked was the Pink Fairy that she dropped her magic wand into the crib. After an explosion of starry flashes, the Pink Fairy was nowhere to be found.

The king and queen rushed to their daughter’s side but with one look at her once sweet face, the king fainted. The queen, who could not see quite as clearly because of the milk in her eyes, quickly bundled up the princess in a soft blanket and hid her from the eyes of the court.

The face of the once beautiful princess was frozen with her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched nose. The effect on others was immediate and frightening. One look upon the princess’ face caused a reflex of fear.

Only one person in the kingdom was able to look upon her features and not freeze. The queen whose eyes had been clouded by warm milk could not see the frown, the wrinkles and the scrunch.

Though still loved by her parents the princess grew up in the dark so that even she could not gaze upon her own features in a mirror. No one else would be frozen by her frightening features.

Servants brought Princess Michelle her meals to this darkened room lit only by a single candle in its farthest corner. They would only see the outline of her body, which appeared like a shadow.

Her voice and her heart remained sweet and kind. Each visitor would be entranced by her gentle spirit.   She had many friends but none ever saw her face.

In her dark room, the princess had learned to listen. When her friends came to visit, she would listen and reflect back what they were truly feeling. She had the gift of compassion. The heart of anyone who came to see her would leave a little lighter and happier for no one else could listen and understand so well.

One true friend, Peter learned from the princess how to listen well. He helped Princess Michelle grow up in the dark. He told her of the outside world – what it was like to play with other children and to see the beauty of nature.

The king and queen too enjoyed their daughter’s kind company and counsel. It is difficult to rule a kingdom. There is so much to think about and so many decisions to make.

Princess Michelle was able to make their work easier and their hearts lighter. She had acquired wisdom beyond her years. They knew that one day she would be a fitting queen.

Yet the king and queen worried that she would never marry. Her frightening face would certainly freeze the heart of even the warmest suitor.

According to tradition, the princes from the surrounding kingdoms were allowed to ask for her hand in marriage when the princess was old enough to make her choice. The king and queen could not deny the parade of young men who came to meet the princess when that day arrived.

Although they knew that most of these princes only wanted to acquire the riches of the kingdom, the king and queen felt they must warn them of the princess’ secret. None believed them.

One by one, each prince would enter the princess’ meeting room, where he would try to convince her to accept his hand in marriage.           The princess told each prince that she sought only true love – love that would last regardless of age, illness or appearances.

After each prince, promised such love, she would open the curtains of the window revealing her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched up nose.One by one, each prince froze in fear and had to be carried out by her servants. The princess was heartbroken. It seemed she would never find true love. No prince would see past her scary face.

At that moment of need, her best friend, Peter came to comfort her. He knew her better than anyone in the whole world and he knew that she had beauty within. Peter then revealed his secret.   He was also a prince and he had always loved her.

Before she could stop him, he opened the curtains of the window, gazed into her eyes but instead of fainting or freezing, he smiled and kissed her. Princess Michelle felt her face transform – her frown melted into a smile, her brow relaxed and her nose unscrunched. The room was filled with a wondrous light, and the kingdom was again enchanted by the princess’ beauty.


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The Happiest Place on Earth

It was the first Christmas without my mom who had died in April, and we dreaded the grief and longing that would come with what was once the happiest of times for our family. The pain of loss slowly ebbs over time but surges with special occasions such as Thanksgiving, birthdays and anniversaries.

My young children were a great consolation. In each of them, I could see some of my mom; she had touched and influenced them in different ways and the love I shared with them was a continuation of my mother’s love.

My daughter was 5 and my sons 9 and 11. Their joy would bring me joy.

We decided to go away that first Christmas, and because they were young we would make it a surprise.

One night just before Christmas, my wife and I packed each of their little suitcases and loaded them in our van. On what they thought would be another lazy day at home, we woke them up early and told them we were going on a mystery trip.

At the airport was the first surprise. Grampa was there with Auntie Lisa and Uncle Barry.

The kids picked up clues along the way and each of them guessed where we were going at different points on our journey. The magical moment was when we drove past the Magic Kingdom and I saw my son’s dimpled smile as he said, “We’re going to Disneyland!”

The third surprise was going to Denny’s the next morning before our first day in the park and meeting my brother, his wife and their children.

Early entry in Disneyland

As we entered the Happiest Place on Earth, I told the kids to note how much happier all the families were once they entered the gates. Of course, we saw grownups arguing, some screaming at their kids and kids throwing tantrums.

It was a gentle reminder that happiness can’t be found in another place where everything is perfect and you get everything you want. There is no such place.

Happiness can’t be found in a perfect relationship with a perfect partner because none of us is perfect. We all travel with baggage though we could choose what to pack.

Ten years later, my children are much older and their lives too complicated for us to pack their bags and wake them up for another mystery trip.

Happiness can’t be found in the things we buy, the clothes we wear, the vehicles we drive or the places we live. It cannot be found in an amusement park or at an exotic destination. All these things can bring pleasure but no lasting happiness.

Happiness can only be found in the present and in our own hearts. It requires acceptance of the past and the present and appreciation of what we have, particularly the people in our lives today. To be happy is to graciously make the most of what we have.


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What Parenting Has Taught Me

Though we think we are the teachers and it is our children who are growing, parenting is an endless growth experience.

In spite of my best intentions, I made mistakes. I did my best to be fair. I certainly didn’t want my middle child to feel neglected as I had felt (even though I wasn’t neglected by my own parents).

Recently, when my little niece showed me her wiggly tooth, I recalled the tooth fairy leaving a dollar for each of my children’s teeth, but I could recall fewer fairy visits for my middle child.

I panicked. Had I neglected him in spite of my best efforts?

I asked him, “Do you remember the Tooth Fairy giving you money for your teeth?”

“Only when I told you and mom,” he answered.

That night, he produced a bottle of baby teeth.

When my kids would do things that irritated me, I soon realized that most of the time they were reflecting aspects of my own personality – or my wife’s – that I had to acknowledge and make peace with.

Along with my patients, they were my great teachers in life. Our relationships prompted me to be more attentive and mindful, and they taught me to put their interests above my own. Unlike my polite patients, my kids would tell me when I was wrong or when they thought I was a goof.

I cherish the rituals of our family dinners, drives to school and story time. Every night, I would make up a new story, and they would wake me up if I drifted off in mid-sentence.

I loved playing with them in the playground, riding the train in Stanley Park and taking them to movies. When she was a toddler, my daughter would hop onto my lap during the scary parts, and at the climax of every movie, she had to go to the washroom.

We have a DVD collection with all those movies – so I was able to see what I had missed.

When one of my sons was unable to recall the moment he was able to cycle without training wheels, it reminded me of a medical student I had mentored who forgot the excitement of the first delivery he attended with me.

To me those moments remained vivid in my memory and I was at first disappointed, but I realized that the things we do for others we do for them and not ourselves. It is giving forward. Though they may forget who taught them, they still have learned.

All that we’ve learned has come from countless teachers, and we owe a debt to many that cannot be repaid. When we can’t give back, we give forward.

My children have made me a more compassionate person. Every person is someone’s child, and I know how a parent loves a child at every age and in every culture. 

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How My Children Inspire Me

When I became a parent, I became a better person.

I learned to love unconditionally – omniconditionally. From the moment I first held my son in my arms, I recognized the unfathomable responsibility and honour with which I had been entrusted.

My every word and action would influence – for good or ill – the wellbeing of that precious person. He would learn from what I would tell him, what he overhears, how I relate to others, and how I act in our home and in the world.

I had to set an example and be the best person I could be – not perfect – just a fallible human being striving to be my best, to be honest and kind, to be unselfish and giving, and to be a good father.

Each of my children has inspired me in this way. From the perspective of a loving parent, seeing the beauty in each of them has helped me see the beauty in others. They have made me a better person.

Seeing my children discover their special talents reminded me of my own passions and showed me what I might do. My sons’ and daughter’s gift for music inspired me to return to songwriting. My son’s achievements in hockey and football inspired me to push towards my own athletic limits.

My children have been my life’s three most precious gifts, and I have been enriched by the love they have inspired in me. This above all else has made my life richer and fuller than it otherwise would have been.

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September: A Season of Mixed Emotions

I like being around happy people, and I love the seasons of endemic glee. These are those rare times of the year when most people just feel good and can’t keep from smiling: Christmas and New Year’s, kids during the last week of school, and now parents at the summer’s end.

I’ve seen a lot of happy parents over the past week. Their glee is balanced by the gloom of some of their kids with the end of the lazy days of summer and the prospect of schoolwork. (As I read this to my daughter, she is frowning at this point.)

I recall the mixture of emotions I had every September – looking forward to hanging out with friends, the novelty of new school supplies and clothes, and the little worries kids have about getting good teachers, making the team and doing well in class.

If you or your kids are anxious or sad with these first few weeks of school, acknowledge those feelings and talk about them. Sometimes feelings themselves can linger and grow and shade how we appreciate our days. But they can lose that power when we realize that what we’ve been feeling stressed about is not so daunting after all and our situation is not as bad as we thought.

The positive aspects of September can outbalance the negatives. We still have summerlike weather; in fact, we still have a few weeks of summer left. There is still enough light to have an after dinner walk or cycle as a family.

Weekends are now special. Long ago, my daughter chose Friday to be family movie night when we’ll all sit down on the sofa to share a bowl of popcorn and watch a show together.

As a child, I would look forward to the new series on TV, especially on Saturday mornings. I also enjoyed the newness of things – the first page of each notebook, a new pack of pencil crayons, a clean Pink Pearl eraser and once in a while, a new lunch kit or thermos.

A healthy summer’s end ritual is the holiday debrief. Sitting together at the dinner table or in the family or living room, we share our favourite moments of the summer – the places we went together, the things we did, the people we met and the food we enjoyed.

This is helpful for kids who may have to write an essay on their summer activities. It is helpful for all of us because through our shared experiences we grow in our relationships and as individuals. The holiday debrief reminds us that summer is not lost but rather much has been gained.

And to temper the stress of the early morning rush out the door, we would all do well to plan ahead, start early and slow down. As Ben Franklin said, “Haste makes waste.” We become absent minded, have more accidents and make more mistakes when we rush.

Prepare for the morning the night before with bags packed, lunches made and breakfast planned.

For the rest of us who are drivers, let’s leave a few minutes early so we can slow down – for the heavier traffic, kids at crosswalks, cyclists and school zones.


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The Appreciation Game is Not Just for Kids

The Appreciation Game I’ve taught my kids and practice myself has become an approach to our lives.

This attitude primes us to see the world from a perspective of grace and abundance. Though life may seem unfair, we often receive gifts we don’t deserve and may take for granted. When we see that we have been blessed through grace rather than merit, we are more inclined to be gracious and generous to others

The Appreciation Game is not just for kids. For the rest of us, it’s a positive alternative to the Usual Old Game. Both games use the same board, pieces, cards and dice. The differences are the attitude and rules by which you play and live.

In the Usual Old Game, we compete with one another and forever run forward in a race to acquire more of what we want: power and pleasure, money and materialism. In the end, no one wins because players don’t help one another and we all die and can’t keep what we have acquired.

In the Appreciation Game, everyone is a winner – we enjoy what we have when we have it and love the ones we’re with. We are given gifts of grace which we give forward.

Most young people take their health for granted. They don’t realize how poorly they may sleep and how tired they will feel in future decades. Many will continue to smoke, eat poorly and abuse drugs and alcohol not appreciating the cumulative effects on their bodies over time.

In youth, other priorities prevail: relationships, school, work, making money and having fun. As parents, the wellbeing of our children and our marital relationships take precedence but for many, work may be all consuming. Again we may neglect our own health and our most important relationships.

In maturity, we have time and – if we have been hardworking, lucky and frugal – money, but we may not have the energy and health to travel and do what we desire. Coping with medical problems can consume our days.

In this life, we can have it all – youth, vigor, passion, security and adventure . . . but not at the same time. Our challenge is to live fully in the present and to enjoy every stage of this life.

Happiness is in loving what we have . . . not the alternative of wanting what we don’t.

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The Appreciation Game: Priming the Positive Pump

When my kids were young, I would make them play the Appreciation Game.

Sitting around the dinner table, we would take turns telling each of the other members of the family what we liked about them. Pretty easy, isn’t it? Not so easy for three little kids who had just been fighting.

It’s easier to find fault with those we live with. We get in each other’s way. We might compete and we have to compromise. We’re sensitized to unfairness.

But if we put a good effort into the game, everyone comes out a winner. We get to hear feel good compliments that may not otherwise be voiced. More importantly, by seeing the good in another, we can’t stop seeing it. Our relationships are enhanced.

When my kids grew up and no longer needed me to tuck them into bed and say prayers together, I would remind them to pray with thankfulness. As both a meditation and a prayer, I want them to do what I do – frame each day with thankfulness so that the first and last thoughts of the day are of appreciation for the good that we have received and the people in our life.

This attitude primes us to see the world from a perspective of grace and abundance. Though life may seem unfair, we often receive gifts we don’t deserve and may take for granted. When we see that we have been blessed through grace rather than merit, we are more inclined to be gracious and generous to others.

We can give to others unexpected acts of kindness that may help them reframe their own days. Today, be thankful for what you have and one thing to make someone else’s day.

Next: The Appreciation Game is not just for kids.