Redefining Badass

Written by Michael Cameron on March 23, 2016

When you think ‘Badass’ what do you think of?

If you are like most, you conjure up images of Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pink, George St. Pierre or Rhonda Rousey.  There is a real attraction to ‘Badass’.  Let’s face it, we all want to be a little ‘Badass’.

For me, I have always been more nerd than ‘Badass’.  In the last several years I have been striving for challenge, change and growth.  I have adopted a “default to yes” mindset and tried many things I would have thought beyond my scope of ability.

I’ve done an iron distance triathlon, I’ve taken up yoga, crossfit, rock climbing, ice climbing and travel. I have made an effort to expand my reading, get in tune with my creative side, expand my writing and get more in touch with who I really am.

Much of this prompted some good natured teasing from my girlfriend, Colleen. She would often joke about how “‘Badass'” I was becoming. As a photographer she took every opportunity to snap a pic or two of me in “‘Badass'” poses. “For your fans” she’d say.

I have to admit, the title felt pretty damn good. Let’s face it, any of us who are, or were, more academic than jock would be proud to wield the title “BADASS”.

In August of 2015, Colleen and I took a roadtrip to Penticton, BC. I had registered for the Challenge Penticton half-iron distance triathlon.  You see I had done the Calgary Ironman 70.3 in July and decided since I was already trained up I may as well also do the Penticton race.  I grew up taking my summer vacation in Penticton, and I had lived there for a summer with my Aunt Sharon in my teens. Penticton was home to her, my uncle Jerry and cousins Susan and Lynn, so it has always had a special place in my heart.

Although the main purpose of the trip was the triathlon, Colleen had a passion for climbing and I had asked her to look into climbs in the area.  It turns out there was some spectacular climbing at Skaha Bluffs, just 15 minutes outside of the city.  We only had one extra day in Penticton after my race so I knew we did not have a whole lot of options about when we would be able to climb.  This meant my first outdoor climbing experience would come directly on the heels of competing in a 6 hour half iron distance triathlon. This made me a little bit nervous.  Scratch that.  This scared the shit out of me.

It was important for me to give Colleen the chance to get some climbing in, knowing how important it was to her, so I decided I would suck it up and just make it happen.  Of course this prompted more appreciative teasing from her about how “Badass” that was.

Monday morning after my race, we headed off for Skaha Bluffs and I’ll admit I didn’t feel very ‘Badass’. I could hardly walk, let alone climb 20 to 40 meter cliffs. I let Colleen know that I may have to simply belay her and not actually climb.

My mother and Aunt who had come out to cheer me on for the triathlon decided to come out and watch the beginning of our climb and carry on for a walk of their own.  It was an absolutely magical day.  We parked at the trail head to the bluffs and started to walk together hand in hand.  I had that nervous excitement that you get when you are:

A) in love and
B) about to try something new for the first time.

Colleen had her trademark little smile playing at her lips that let me know she was extremely grateful.  I could tell she was so pleased that we were able to enjoy this time together and equally excited about the prospect of climbing outdoors, something she had not yet done on Canadian soil.

The mood can best be described as ‘contentment’.  We walked together, my mother and Sharon ahead on the pathway.  If you have ever ‘walked’ with my mother before you will know it is more like a sprint than a walk.  She is usually a few hundred meters ahead of everyone else.  This day was no exception.

Fortunately she paused to take a photo of Colleen and I together walking down the hill.  We walked far enough down the trail without seeing any rock faces that we actually stopped and consulted the trail guide book to make sure we were still on track.  After confirming we were indeed on the correct path we started seeing the rock faces open up as we descended into the valley.

Soon we began to come across other climbers who had set up camp at the base of a face here and their and marked their territory with an array of climbing gear strewn about.  Some at the bottom of the vertical, and others high above the ground, testing both their mental and physical abilities.

We made our way to a particular face we had identified in the guide book that had a variety of different climbing levels. Everything from a 5.7 (beginner) to a 5.11 (moderate to advanced). I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she eyed up the 30 metre section of rock. Colleen was flaking out the rope getting setup for our first climb.

Mom’s expression was nothing less than astonished terror.  “You’re going to climb that?” She asked.  I nodded with a giant smile.  Mom sidles over to me and in true motherly fashion looks at me and says “You know, just because she’s doing this doesn’t mean you have to.” Yes, even at 46 years old a mom is still a mom.

Colleen and I ended up staying there exploring and climbing a variety of faces, crags and routes, enjoying each others company in the solitude of the hills until about 6pm.

That night Sharon had Colleen, my mother and I over for dinner. It was during our dinner conversation that I realized how un ‘Badass’ I was.

Sharon is a proud Pentictonite who is active in the community. Sharon has recently started doing small triathlons and is always looking to improve. In the lead up to the full Challenge Penticton iron-distance triathlon there are a number of events including a 5km fun run. Sharon shared with us the story of how that race went for here.

She opened the story stating that “I knew full well I would be last so I started at the back of the group of 60 or so participants”.

This is where my reality check on “Badass” came into play. You see finishing, even an iron distance race, in the middle of the pack is easy, it doesn’t take any courage at all.  You actually cross the line quite inconspicuously and can proudly state that you competed and completed.

What does take courage however, is to enter a race knowing perfectly well that you will be crossing the finish line dead last with all eyes on you.  Sharon continued her story.

With about 1 and a half kilometers left in the race a young man, Lorne, starts pacing her on a bike.  Sharon looks over her shoulder and says “You’re here because I’m last aren’t you?” He answered “I’m afraid so…” pause… “But you’re doing great!” he shouts.

Lorne continued to encourage her along and when she was within a few blocks of the finish line he said that he was going to ride ahead and let them know she was coming in. He rode off.

As she gets within a few hundred meters of the finish line she can see that they had already pulled down the P.A. system, they’ve lowered the finish line and the started dismantling the announcer tables.  When Lorne came in and told them that she was still out on the course they scrambled to set everything back up so they could announce her in.

They also sent an athlete out to run the final few hundred meters with her. One of the individuals that ended up running in with her is a local professional triathlete named Jeff Symonds. Now if you don’t know who Jeff Symonds is you Jeff won the 2013 Challenge Penticton full iron distance race and is also is the winner of the 2015 Ironman Melbourne race. A pretty nice touch to keep her spirits up as she crossed the finish line.

So when I look at the strength, tenacity and courage it took for Sharon to complete that 5km race it puts a whole different shine on the word badass. Chuck Norris may be badass but he’s got nothing on a 65 year old woman who is determined to improve herself even at the risk and vulnerability of finishing dead last. The vulnerability involved in that endeavor is massive and not likely a situation most of our stereo typical ‘Badass’es would put themselves in.

When Sharon finished the story and got up to clear the table Colleen and I just kind of looked at each other with a knowing gaze and a wry smile. Colleen leaned over and says “Now that, my friend, is what I call Badass!”

It got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to be ‘Badass’. The more I thought about it the more I liked the handle. From a presentation branding standpoint it is a word that stands out and as I said earlier, admit it or not, we all want to be a little more ‘Badass’.  I decided to look up the definition online. According to Google the definition is: “A tough, uncompromising or intimidating person”.  Huh?!  I could totally be ‘Badass’.

So how do I reconcile the inner nerd with my new found desire to be ‘Badass’?  I have always been one that has been fairly comfortable with his tender side.  I do not always feel the need to live up to the stereotypical, societal version of “manly”.

Yes, my alpha male friends, let the mocking begin.  In fact, trying to live up to that stereotype can be quite dangerous.  In my article entitled “Men, it’s time to Woman Up” I published in October 2014 I explore this topic in detail.  The premise is that if we accept the typical view that men should suppress their feelings, we then become less emotionally intelligent which can ultimately affect our behaviors.

So how does this relate to being a ‘Badass’?  Well, again I think the societal norm for a ‘Badass’ male is one who does not show a lot of his emotion, one who sucks it up and puts on a hard outer shell.  This definition did not bode well for me being a ‘Badass’.  On our 10 hour drive back to Edmonton Colleen and I discussed what it means to be “Badass” in great detail.  It was then that we were listening to Brene Brown talk about vulnerability on the Tim Ferriss show where Tim asked her about the perceived notion of the “over feminization” of boys these days.  They then got into a discussion similar to what I wrote about in my article and Brene talked about Tough and Tender not being mutually exclusive.  Then she said something that brought it all together for me.  She said something to the affect of “To me the co-existence of tough and tender is the equation for baddassery.”  BOOM!  Right on the money!

On October 2, 2015, Colleen woke up at my place around 5 in the morning, got dressed and ready for her day.  Off to teach a yoga class at 6am.  She came around to my side of the bed and leaned in for a kiss and said goodbye.  I murmured “Have fun at Yoga” in a sleepy haze as she left.

Those were the last 4 words I ever said to her.

Colleen left my house at about 5:20am and for whatever reason decided to stop in at her place on her way to the yoga studio.  There, in her driveway, one of the most ‘Badass’, beautiful women I have ever met, my best friend, soulmate and inspiration to many was abruptly yanked from this stage called life.  In a cowardly act of domestic violence Colleen Lois Sillito had her light snuffed out in a murder/suicide.  Taken by an ex-boyfriend who likely fancied himself a ‘Badass’.

I cannot even fathom what had to be happening in someones mind to take the life of another.  What kind of twisted, mixed up reality do you have to be living in to do something like that to another human being.  What kind of misguided notion of what it means to be a ‘man’ do you have to have in order to believe that 2 lives must end because you cannot possess what you want?

Could our societal propensity to encourage these macho, bullshit, unhealthy masculinities have contributed to this event?

Clearly this was the work of an individual who was not in touch with, nor in control of his emotions.  We make decisions based on emotion, justified by logic.  Clearly this was an emotional reaction that had permanent consequences.

Could this have been prevented by a society that actually teaches, respects and values virtues like empathy, compassion and kindness over domination, conquest and victory?

In the wake of this tragic event I am often faced with questions around how I feel about the ‘system’ that failed her.  Questions about how do we stop men perpetuating violence against women.  Questions about how do we build a better restraining order?   How do we improve the justice system to protect people like Colleen who so desperately needed it.

All of these are valid questions that need answers, however I feel like these are akin to putting a band aid on ruptured jugular.  We need to address the root cause and not simply build a bigger band aid.  One of the most important things we can do to achieve this long term and for generations to come is to teach, encourage and allow men to examine their tender side without fear of vilification by our counterparts.  We need more men that will speak up and embrace compassion, empathy and kindness and show the world that it is in part a combination of those characteristics that embody what it means to be a ‘real man’.

In short we need the world to embrace the notion of redefining “Badass”!

Originally written for Passion, Pride, Purpose

    Mentoring Magic – One Family’s Story of Life-Changing Relationships


    People are still talking about the speech his little brother delivered at the wedding, Jordan Dunn says proudly. And while it would be no big deal at most weddings, it is a little different for Jordan because Russell Demeulenaere is Jordan’s little brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

    “He got up and he gave a speech which was amazing and he was so funny.  It was so good,” said Jordan. “When I was younger, because I had a really bad slur I never liked to talk in front of people. By just being around Jordan, he showed me it didn’t matter, and just to be myself,” said Russell. The two have been paired together for over four years.


    Irene Demeulenaere reached out to BGCBigs when her eldest son, R.J., reached a crisis point.  The boys weren’t able to see their father, who had moved to the United States, and Irene realized they were desperate to connect.  As close as she was with her boys, Irene knew R.J., David and Russell needed strong male support.

    “They needed a male mentor, somebody to be their confidante, somebody who wasn’t their mother,” she said. R.J. was past the matching age but David and Russell were paired with two young men, who would not only become mentors but also close friends. David was 13 when he and Steven Doyle connected and Russell was 11 when he was matched with Jordan.

    The changes Irene has seen in her two boys have been heart-warming. David, she says, has focus, and Russell has confidence.

    Jordan has also seen changes since he began spending time with Russell. “We’ve been together for quite a bit of time,” said Jordan. “Last year he entered high school. He’s grown up, matured. He has a bigger outlook on life, like he’s thinking more about the future.” He also noted that while Russell, like most children, cycles through various career choices, the young man keeps coming back to being a teacher.

    “I’m a teacher, so I have to think I’ve had some influence on that decision,” said Jordan.

    The pair try to spend a couple of hours a week together doing “guy-stuff,” says Russell, which includes going to movies, working out at the gym, going swimming, playing video games and getting a bite to eat.

    Being with Russell has encouraged Jordan to have fun. “It’s allowed me to be bit of a kid again,” he said. “Sometimes we get so caught up in our day to day life we don’t take time to relax.”

    Jordan, who is now 30, became a Big Brother at the point in his life when he had free time and wanted to give back. But he is quick to admit that his relationship with Russell is a two-way street. “Russell has been an inspiration,” said Jordan. “He works so hard. He’s so motivated.”

    Russell, 16, is in Grade 10 at St. Joseph’s and works a part-time job as well. He says he looks at Jordan and sees what is possible. “He really showed me if you want to do it, you can do it,” said Russell.

    David is now 18 and no longer falls under the auspices of BGCBigs, but he and Steven have continued their friendship. Steven’s influence led David to be a mentor through school and to participate in public speaking opportunities on the importance of mentoring. And like his brother, David also took part in his Big Brother’s wedding last year.

    For Irene, a single mother of three boys, BGCBigs has provided a valuable support. “It’s been a big burden taken off of me,” she said.  “It’s a relief knowing they have someone they can talk to who is a male figure.”

    While her sons were close to their maternal grandfather and had a strong male role model in him, Irene says, they have connected with their big brothers in a different way.  Irene also gets the benefit of having someone else offer sage advice to her boys. And both David and Russell now have post-secondary education firmly in mind because of their Big Brothers.

    To show her appreciation for everything BGCBigs has done for her family, Irene volunteers her time to work casinos and help fundraise. “It’s my way of giving back,” she says.

    And Irene firmly believes that when her boys get married, their Big Brothers will be part of their weddings too.

    Thanks to Boys and Girls Clubs/Big Brothers Big Sisters for sharing this story.

    Home Alone - Not for me, Time to spend with my kids

    “We didn’t want our daughters to go to daycare,” says Dale. So they didn’t. And while it’s not that simple, the reality is that, each year, thousands of Albertan families make arrangements for one parent to stay at home and take care of the kids. Foremost,however, especially in the early 1990s, this means that Mom stays at home, forgoing or pausing her career to take care of the children while Dad makes the donuts. But not the Quist family. “I am generally laid back, which is ideal for parenting preschool children, so I stayed home,” recalls Dale who spent almost four years running a small business out of his house while taking care of his two young daughters. “It was actually a lot of fun.” “There’s some sacrifice: your income takes a hit, it can put stress on your relationship as a couple, and it had a bit of an impact on my [overall] career,” he says. “But not so much that I regret it. Our main goal was our family and raising our kids to be the best they can be. If that means sacrificing a little bit of career in order to accomplish this, well, that’s ok.” The Quist parents had both been raised in close knit families themselves and had decided early on that these were the same kind of values they wanted to pass down to their daughters. “It depends on what priorities you have, what kind of parent you want to be, and what kind of kids you want to raise,” explains Dale. “You have to look at the end product as your children develop and grow and become their own person. We can look at it now and say that it was worth it; worth having the time to mold these young people into what they are today.” Dale reveals that, on occasion, his wife would envy the amount of time he was able to spend with the children. And while this presented some difficulties, they decided that as the children got older, they could switch roles – with Dale going back to working outside of the home and his wife spending more time with the girls. “We both had a role to play; sometimes I needed to be there and sometimes she needed to be there,” says Dale. “There was always someone around.” For the Quists, putting family before careers, has more than paid off. “The biggest benefit is that, as a father, I have a very good relationship with my two girls,” says Dale. “We can have conversations and we often reminisce and laugh about the strange things I did as a parent, because it’s probably a little different than what a mother would do.” “The priority of raising well-rounded kids was more important to me,” concludes Dale. “Looking at who our girls have become, they bring us a lot of joy and pride. My legacy is not going to be wealth, it’s my kids and who they are; that’s really my legacy.”

     Thanks to Alberta Father Involvement Initiative @ for sharing the story.


    Do you have a story, article, poem, or essay you'd like to share about your experience dating, as a husband, father, or just reflecting on masculinity? We want to share your experiences and ideas about positive roles for men. E-mail us at to be featured on the site.