Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Rob DeBoer & Regan Daley
Meet Rob & Regan. I first met Rob in 2000 when he and Tony Grace (from my 2nd family, the Graces) crashed in our tent at the Hillside Musical Festival. Hard not to notice a 6’5″ giant tumbling through your flimsy doorway. I was away for the 80s & 90s but learned that weekend that Rob had teamed up with Tony & Paul Grace and the Boomtang Boys was now a trio.
Hailing from Toronto, Rob was a child prodigy at the age of 5. The piano is his instrument. He started lessons at the tender age of 5, then into the Royal Conservatory at the age of 10 until he was 16. His musical wizardry saw him through high school, attending Claude Watson School for the Arts at Earl Haig and then Western U. “There were only 2 career streams back then; teacher or classical pianist. I was a bit of an ass and not motivated to do either, so left Western after one year, meeting Tony shortly thereafter through a mutual friend. Playing & production are my loves.” Rob met Regan at Claude Watson. She was studying theatre and music and remembers Rob picking up ‘any’ instrument and being able to play it. Without having ever done so before. Regan laughs. “We used to sneeze and say ‘Rob, what note was that’?”
Rob & Regan knew each other all through high school and were good friends, getting together only in the last few weeks of Grade 13. “We got in under the wire to be considered ‘High School Sweethearts’.” They’ve been together ever since – married for 23 of the 37 years they’ve known each other. *Below – Four80East Recording live. To hear Rob rockin’ the keys start at 2.24*
While Rob was making music with the Boomtang Boys and their careers were on the rise – the 90s saw them catapult to notoriety by producing Juno-nominated artist Charlene Smith, their dance mixes & signing with Virgin Records in 1998 – Regan was pursuing her stage career. She spent a year at the U of Guelph in Theatre and the next one auditioning for the stage. “It was unsatisfying and frustrating. I was probably too young – 21.” Her love of baking kept her busy during/after that and she started a small cake baking company called Chateau Gateau, selling mostly to friends and friends of friends. She got serious about it in 1993 and went to George Brown to study in their culinary programme. At the same time, she worked at the prestigious Delisle and Avalon restaurants as well as writing food reviews for the Town Crier and The Toronto Star. With Rob in the music biz and she working the early baking shifts they would meet in the hallway at home; one on the way to bed, the other on the way to work. “At that point I gave it up”, Regan laughs. “It was too crazy. I got a ‘normal’ job at The Cookbook Store near Yonge/Yorkville which I loved. They knew I was a baker and my boss contacted Random House about commissioning me to write a cookbook. It was nearly 900 pages, so sat on the shelf for a few years before it was actually published in 2001 and edited down to … 692 pages.” Regan’s cookbook, In the Sweet Kitchen, is still being printed 17 years on.
In 1999, they moved to Leslieville, where they’ve been ever since. Shortly after the move, with the cookbook done, awaiting publication and Regan pursuing her writing career, Rob & Boomtang Records had moved into 480 East Richmond St., which became the future name of their smooth jazz band and the location for their now expanding post-production facility. Right around this crazy time, Regan fell pregnant. With twins. Born 10 weeks early, their lives changed permanently from that day forward. Twin boys, they were tiny – 3 lbs, 2 oz. and 1 lb., 14 oz. They were in the hospital for over 12 weeks. “Omg, how did you cope with the stress?”, I ask. “There was some kind of magical thinking going on with me/us. We just hoped/managed/everything would turn out okay. A bright light was that the boys were getting better/healthier and were eventually transferred from Women’s College to East York, then Toronto General before coming home”.
“We lived as normal a life as the parents of twins can live until the boys were around 5 years old. We started noticing a much higher rate of anxiety in one and the other was extremely withdrawn.” They were both diagnosed with autism. Regan became an active advocate from that day forward. She got involved with the Geneva Centre for Autism Symposium, read everything she could get her hands on (she became a huge fan of Tony Atwood and Temple Grandin) and gave up the job and her writing. The kids worked with occupational therapists for several years and tried/explored every avenue from medications to alternative schooling to home therapies. “How did you manage?”, I ask. “It’s been our life for 18 years now. I think you just do when you’re presented with special needs situations. The meds were minimally effective, but cushioned the pointy edges of which there are always more.” Her and Rob’s biggest disappointment was with the TDSB (the boys went to Northern for a short time) in high school. “They were way behind then in terms of offering any specific help/programmes. All they could offer was time and a half on tests,” she sighs.
When the boys were 5, Regan became pregnant again, with another boy, now 12. Born a month early (Regan had hellp syndrome), he was still a healthy 7 lbs. But at the age of 5, he too was exhibiting similar anxiety issues and was also diagnosed with autism.
With the extreme range of emotional behaviors and an ‘anything can happen’ on a daily basis, Rob & Regan seem incredibly together for parents with these challenges. Rob leans in. “They (the challenges) change over time. Now as adolescents, on top of the normal insecurities of teenage boys, we’re seeing the loneliness, stress anxieties and fears accentuated.” And those can sometimes occur without notice. “I’ve stopped noticing people’s reactions if one of the boys can’t handle the terrain (in public). I’ve just blocked out the negative. People are extremely judgemental without knowing our circumstances. The upside is the kids are absurdly intelligent”, Regan smiles. Both are now in high school, at Avondale Alternative, part of the TDSB, which accomodates kids who learn differently. “Their needs were better seen to at an alternative school. The older of the twins is interested in studying film now, but the jury is still out for the younger which direction he’ll go. We’ll see.”
And the youngest? Rob smiles. “He’s currently in Grade 8 at Earl Grey in an autistic class. He’s applied for the MaST programme at Danforth Tech for grade 9 and has improved immensely in the last year, handling his emotions much better than before.”
While they are both living with the challenge of raising 3 autistic teens, it hasn’t stopped Rob & Regan from the successes and joys of life. They love to travel, cook, cycle, walk their adorable Leonburger, Sam, make music and merry. After 15 years, Regan has resurrected her writing, and her portrait, painted by family friend Barbara Muir, is hanging in…the Louvre! And Rob, Tony & the 480 East crew recently enjoyed the warm climes of the the Caribbean playing on the Capital Jazz Cruise. Life can throw you some curve balls, but it can also dish up some pretty good fare.
*All photos provided by Rob & Regan except the featured photo