MP Nick Whalen might have his hands full juggling his busy Ottawa schedule, but his most important role is one much nearer and dearer to his heart; that of dad
As an MP for St. John’s East, Nick Whalen is all business, but on the home front, he lets his inner geek rule the roost. He chuckles when playfully called-out on his ‘dad duds’ – soccer coach jacket casually zipped over his Harry Potter 9 3/4 platform shirt.
“I’m cool, right?” he asks the room, giving a little Superman-styled T-shirt flash with father-flare. He receives two in-sync eye rolls from the kids; Sophie, 13, and Issac, 10. Like water off a duck’s back, Whalen takes it like a champ, countering only with a knowing wink towards his wife, Sarah who smiles in return. “Parenting 101; never let them see you sweat,” Whalen jokes as he sets to work in the kitchen.
When he’s home from Ottawa, it’s daddy-duty time. On the day we show up, Whalen is busy trying to plan an evening meal between house-hold demands – the oven decided to misbehave just as we pull up – and the kids’ busy schedules. There’s not much time to panic.
Issac, as always we hear, is starved, and as Whalen and his eldest organize an in-a-pinch mealtime menu of pancakes, the youngest busies himself eating the raw ingredients whenever eyes are averted.
In goes a blueberry – still frozen. Mom is perched nearby and notices the motion, questioning the wiseness of such a decision. It’s a scene that plays out in many a kitchen across the province on any given evening, only in the Whalen household, they don’t get to share such togetherness as often as they’d like.
Banter over batter
They try to make the time they do have together count, however. “We don’t see him a lot on the weekdays, because he’s working in Ottawa, but on the weekends he coaches my soccer team. We also like going to the farmer’s market,” offers Sophie as father and daughter banter over pancake batter.
Issac, his tongue blue from berry-stealing, adds his sweet two-cents worth for good measure. “Dad is fun. We just hang with him and sometimes we watch sports and because the time we get together isn’t as often as it used to be, the weekends when he is home feel more special.”
Whalen smiles at his son. “We make the time count. We enjoy reading, so we all share that together. Anytime we can take a moment together, even if it’s on the phone, to share something we all have in common, like a particular book series, we do it,” Whalen shares.
Something Whalen has experienced with his kids is the joy of running. How did that start? Sophie smiles.
“That was my lovely mother’s idea…” she begins. Sarah smiles and picks up the story. “Sofie is a natural athlete and has always been a great runner, and Nick was trying to get a fitness thing happening and they were occasionally doing a run together just for fun, so I suggested, why don’t you guys go for it and maybe do some training.”
Running for family
Sophie, Issac and their dad trained for the Shopper’s Drug Mart run for Women. They have a funny story to share about that day. “We were a little bit mistaken as to the starting point,” Whalen offers as the kids laugh at the memory.
As they were walking towards what they thought was the starting point, runners ran past them. “We had to run another kilometer to the start line and then we started the race, but the kids had a good run and we had fun.”
How do they keep the home fires burning while he’s away?
“Time doesn’t work out great for us to speak at night. So if I can, I call in the morning so we talk for a little before school starts. I’m usually working until late in the evening, so it’s tough. Sophie and I text or we use Facetime. Isaac and I will occasionally meet on-line over Clash of Clans. We’re in the same clan and I will occasionally donate him troops.”
Whalen says he tries to be home Friday evening and doesn’t head back until Monday morning so he’s at home as long as possible.
Mother of dragons
There’s another reason why being home is important to the family. Wife Sarah has a very challenging career, for one thing. Dr. Sarah Noble is the head of emergency Psychiatry for Eastern Health and is the residency program director for psychiatry at MUN’s school of medicine. She also has Multiple Sclerosis and has limited mobility. “I’m a little bit, obviously, limited in what I can do physically. I also have a challenging work life. With Nick away, it’s my job to manage the home and know where the kids are supposed to be and when,” she says.
“She’s mother of dragons …” Whalen tosses in teasingly.
The family has support from both sides of the family, they share. “My dad, Keith Noble, has been very helpful throughout this process and he and Sofie have a standing date. He brings her to her voice lessons on Tuesday evenings so I can hang out here with Isaac and do his homework and his piano,” Sarah shares.
Whalen nods. With Father’s Day approaching, he notes something interesting. “Sarah followed her father into the profession of medicine and I followed my dad into law and then politics. So it’s sort of a bit interesting.”
Thinking over the past four years, and seeing how much the children have grown, are there any thoughts? “(Being an MP) certainly has been a dream come true so even the bad days are only terribly fascinating – with stress on the terribly. But it’s not an easy job on families.”
Whalen smiles as his clan gather before heading out.
“I take pleasure in spending time together. Laughing. Sharing. Sometimes being annoying, telling bad dad jokes and wearing goofy t-shirts. That’s what it’s all about.”