Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Grown Men Friends and Fathers

It was the first sleepover for us. Well, kind of.

At least I framed it that way for the girls, and my youngest, Bryce, had something to say about that.

"No Daddy, it wasn't a sleepover. They didn't sleep in our room with us."

"Well, okay, but it was still a sleepover. They all slept out in the guest room last night, and before that we had pizza after going to the Boardwalk, and pancakes this morning," I said.

Beatrice chimed in. "No, Daddy, having our cousin here was the first sleepover." (Which had been the case many times already.)

I shook my head. "No, family doesn't really count when it comes to sleepovers."

"Yes, it does."

Sigh.

Yep, splitting rites-of-passage hairs here, but it still sounded fun that it could've been a maybe first sleepover. Like one with training wheels. The girls have asked more than once to have a sleepover with their friends from school, but we're not ready for the real friends-in-the-same-room-all-night-shrieking-and-laughing-without-any-sleep ones yet.

The reality was that Troy, my best friend from college, brought his three kids down to see us, all of whom are close to the age of our girls, and it had been at least two years since we had seen them all. A TKE fraternity brother, a diehard Oakland Raiders and a Rush (the band) fan as well, we've kept our friendship tethered by our witty (and silly) text banter. He's an airline pilot and always on the road, so we don't talk much and/or see each other as much as we used to -- all those college years and Rush rock concerts ago.

And like my friends from over four decades ago, Troy is also now a man of a consequential age. We've known each other for just over 30 years, and since college, damn if we haven't seen our own share of falling outs, falling downs and heartbreaks with just enough silver linings to keep us bound to one another through it all.

And to keep the levity flowing by repeating personal catch phrases that no one else in the world understands, especially our own children.

"Troy, Troy, Troy -- pick up the phone and shore up the Ders D!"

"Kev -- Mitch called. Ders will be fine dude."

Those were the more innocuous ones. There are others. There will always be others.

So after me saying the "Troy, Troy, Troy" multiple times, followed by some obscure reference, Beatrice asked me:

"Daddy, why are you making fun of your friend?"

"I'm not making fun of him, Sweetie. I love him; he's my friend. It's just something we've done for a long, long time."

And then I thought, There are stories behind the catch phrases, Sweetie. So many stories. I hope you and your sister will have lifelong friends like this. In fact, the good news is that, statistically speaking, you will. 

"Troy, Troy, Troy!" Bryce echoes and laughs.

We gave my friend and his kids hugs and sent them on their way. I hoped we'd have another sleepover sooner than later. You know, like most grown men friends and fathers do.

And we're okay with that.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Men of a Consequential Age

When we first arrived, I didn't think much about it. It bugged me a little, but I didn't speak up then, the fact that one of my best friends from four decades ago and then some, who I hadn't talked much with for the past 21 years, had gotten out of the car and greeted another mutual friend with multiple expletives.

It was again our annual trek to Chico to see another mutual best friend, one who had broken his neck during a swim meet way back in our senior year of high school. Everyone had already arrived and we were the last three to get there. I unloaded my stuff from the car and noticed Robby's neighbor standing in his yard, since I had to parking partly in front of his house, and I was sure he heard the F-bombs being dropped during the affectionate greeting.

In all fairness he wasn't the only one cursing. Every year when we get together we catch up and talk about our lives and the world around us and always make it a priority to congregate and elevate our connected spirits.

Yes, we're a lot older and supposedly more mature, having somewhat successful professional lives, and half of us having families and children of varying ages, but of course we're not too mature to completely devolve into our ranting, cursing, snorting, pig-like beings of old.

C'mon, give us a break, right? We love each other.

When you've been friends for over 40 years, there's a lot emotional crap that has transpired within our ranks. There are moments like Robby's accident that altered all our worlds dramatically, that forever bound us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship, always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

And for guys to stay friends as long as we have, even when some of us had a falling out for a time, that's something to celebrate with beer, fist bumps and F-bombs.

Now back to the latest visit -- after an hour or so I went outside to unload some more of my stuff for the weekend and in front of my friend's neighbor's house sat two little girls in front of a lemonade stand. A pretty decent one for that matter. They were both around my girls ages and they called out to me to buy a glass.

"Do you want to buy some lemonade?"

It's really hot in Chico California during the summertime, and this day was no exception. It was at least 96 degrees outside.

I walked over to the lemonade stand and said, "How much?"

One of the girls said, "Twenty-five cents."

"Wow, that's a great deal. You should be charging more."

I could see them thinking about that, and then one said, "Well, we've already made some money, and twenty-five cents is the going rate you know."

I could see about five quarters nestled neatly in the bottom of one of the plastic cups they served their pink lemonade in.

"Thank you, this is delicious," I said after taking a sip.

"You're welcome," one of the girls answered. "Thank you."

I went back to Robby's house and set the lemonade on the counter. It wasn't until the next morning I realized I hadn't finished it (it was actually really good). I also realized I needed to ask the guys to please keep it down when we were outside together in the backyard and to watch the cursing. Again, half of our group are father's with grown children as well as younger children like mine. Just like the two girls at the lemonade stand.

We are men of a consequential age, and although I have no qualms about the levity we share and the inappropriateness of some of it in the context of our pasts and the present, what we share doesn't need to spill out over the neighbor's fence to the ears of young children, especially little girls. My friends agreed, of course.

Because we're trying to be the good guys, we really are, and unfortunately today more than ever a toxic incivility abounds everywhere we go, one that has seeped into our societal ground water and continues to poison future generations. Too many hateful people think they can and should be able to do whatever they want regardless of race and/or gender and/or socio-economic status and/or political affiliation, spouting hate and untruths and running people down in the streets like what happened with the protests in Virginia, all during the weekend my friends and I spent together.

I love these guys, my friends, I really do, and we have a responsibility to our boys and girls and others younger and older to understand personal responsibility, consequence and empathy. We are men of a consequential age, and our friendship is telling of the healing bonds that can be.



Monday, August 7, 2017

When You Are the Poop

“My home is my office — to interrupt is lawless!”

—Portlandia, Working from Home


"You're okay with the girls at home while I go to this meeting?" the Mama asks, what I lovingly call my wife.

I'm busy working, so I don't respond.

"Sweetie, will it work? It's been on the family calendar for awhile now. I have to go to this meeting."

"Yes," I answer relunctantly. "I have calls, though, so the girls will have to deal."

"So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?"

This of course was a joke based on the Portlandia skit called Working from Home.

I smile. "This is my work space, sweetie," I say, moving my hands in circular motions to represent all the space around me.

And so it goes. The part where you work from home and you have kids at home and it truly is a partnership with your spouse, who actually leaves the house for work much more than you do, except when you're traveling for work. The Mama and I have figured out the balance for the most part, but it doesn't mean there isn't comedic irony at times.

Like when you teach your children to text and FaceTime on their hand-me-down devices. We only let them text and FaceTime us -- Mommy and Daddy -- and we tell them not to text or FaceTime us while we're working.

Which means that's the only time they text us. Recently during three back-to-back work calls, I was texted and FaceTimed at least 50 times. They blew up my phone and my MacBook repeatedly -- and giggled exponentially the whole time.

*sigh*

Then there's the infamous Bryce who's hungry every 20 minutes and boundaries aren't a thing. There's been more than one call or podcast I'm recording where I've had to paused because Bryce comes out to my office and says:

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

And then I say, "Sweetie, I'm on a call, so you're going to have to wait another 10 minutes."

"I don't want to wait 10 minutes. I'm hungry now!"

*sigh*

Or the many other times when:


  • Beatrice comes out to tell me Bryce has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can have a sweet snack, which she knows the answer is no. Every. Single. Time.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me Beatrice has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can text Mommy since I'm not responding to her texts.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she can't find one of her toys.
  • Beatrice comes out to tell me she can't find the TV remote.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.

Text, text, text, FaceTime...


Now, I'm not always working out in my office, since the Mama prefers I stay in the house when she's gone and I don't have an important call, but there are the times in between working when we workout in our garage home gym, and that's either a great time for the Mama and I to catch up, or for me to have some me time with my podcasts and exercise.

But then--

A little head peeks out into the garage.

"Daddy," says Bryce, "there's a little spider inside on my kitty Mittens and Beatrice and I need help getting it off and outside."

"Bryce, I'm right in the middle of my workout. Is it a big spider?"

That question is erroneous, since a spider is a spider is a spider and needs to be removed, especially if the Mama was there, which in this instance she isn't.

"Daddy, please come get the spider and put it outside so it can live and my kitty will be okay. Beatrice and I can't get it."

"But I'm right in the middle of my--"

"Daddy, please."

*sigh*

"Yes, I will get the spider for you."

I reluctantly stop peddling the recumbent bicycle and go into the house. There it is, a little spider sitting on Mittens, the white stuffed kitten. I take it outside and shake it off into the backyard. I return Mittens to Bryce.

"Thank you, Daddy," she says.

"Yes, thank you, Daddy," says Beatrice. "We just couldn't get it outside. And you know how freaked out Mommy gets with spiders."

So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?

I smile, hug both girls and go back out into the garage to finish my workout. I knew then as I know every single time I'm interrupted at home by my children is that, I'm home with my children. During the school year, during summer break, any time unless I'm traveling for work. That's where I'm fortunate  -- to be home with my children, even when they tell me "Daddy, you're always working," or when they text me "you are the poop."

Because when you are the poop, nothing else matters.







Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unapologetically Stronger

At first it was cute. Our children wanting to work out like us and with us in our garage turned gym. Headbands and wristbands and all. Timing each other to use our elliptical machine for about 10 minutes each -- although never making it to five -- and then kind of using the lightest weights to do a couple of shoulder press somethings and crazy looking bicep curls (with our supervision, of course).

However, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I don't wear headbands and wristbands while we work out, so we're not really sure where those images came from.

"Bryce, where did you get the idea to wear wristbands and headbands while working out?" I asked.

"Because we watched other people work out on the street wearing them."

"What people?"

"I don't know. People outside."

"It's probably from one of the shows they watch," the Mama said.

I nodded. "Yeah, I think there's a character on The Amazing World of Gumball that wears a headband and wristbands."

Later, I overheard the girls talking about exercising and starting their own gym.

"A long time ago girls weren't allowed to work out and get strong like boys," said Bryce.

"I'm already strong," said Beatrice.

I'm already strong. Right on, Bea. That's been resonating inside me for weeks now. And we're glad both our children, girls, have an innate sense of confidence at these early ages. Still years from tween and teenager land, we help build those callouses and muscle memory while instilling Kidpower awareness, safety skills and strength.

Because even though younger generations of women are doing things in life that previous generations only dreamed of, it still isn't easy. A recent New York Times article about why women struggle in business and attaining leadership positions highlighted:

"Women are often seen as dependable, less often as visionary. Women tend to be less comfortable with self-promotion — and more likely to be criticized when they do grab the spotlight. Men remain threatened by assertive women. Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive. Some women get discouraged and drop out along the way. And many are disproportionately penalized for stumbles."

The line that struck me the most was, "Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive."

Unapologetically competitive. A much more eloquent way of saying cutthroat, dog eat dog, nonempathic sell your mother on the street for sparkly baubles and cash competitive, abusive, sociopathic and violent as a means to an end, or just because the stronger wants to keep the "weaker" in check.

Thankfully I wasn't raised and socialized to be unapologetically competitive, which has been a blessing and a curse throughout my life, with the edge going to blessing (thank you, Mom). And yet, I'm not a women, or a women of color, and so I have no idea of what it's like to do battle with the likes of the unapologetically competitive man. Discrimination and sexual harassment continue to run rampant in Silicon Valley and the startup-investor world.

It doesn't end with business either. In a disturbing report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union titled Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians, psychological violence affects nearly 82 percent of women parliamentarians from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44 percent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term.

And more recently and closer to home, a US Representative, a man, said of another US Representative, a women, in response to a healthcare policy disagreement, "Let me tell you, somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass."

I've got a knot for your ass, congressman. Growing up in abusive family situations, perpetrated by men, I find myself completely and unapologetically unsympathetic to men who treat women this way -- in a free market economy, democracy or not -- even if they don't intend any actual physical harm.

And so I love hearing our daughters say I'm already strong, and I'd feel the same way if they were our sons and would want it no other way. In fact, we want them to be unapologetically stronger throughout life in the face of any and all adversity, without ever losing the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. That will be wondrous indeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Vapor Trails

The first time they were all gone. The second time only she was gone. And then there are all the times when I'm gone.

The first time when they were all gone it only took to day two to feel so completely alone. Alone in a house that our children grew up in. Where we persevered through boom and bust. Where we sometimes felt angry at each other but always fell in love over and over again. Where we planned to solve the worlds ills and make a difference.

The silence deafened quickly and blotted out any attempt to fill it with transitory white noise. Comforts were few, sedation only slowed the sadness and so instead I kept myself as busy as possible, sticking to routine and getting stuff done. Stuff that in aggregate maybe made a difference, or not a hill of beans.

Anything I did, I saw, I heard, I smelled, I tasted and touched reminded me of them. Anything I felt; I became like an emotive magic 8-ball, displaying the gamut from "outlook good" to "ask again later" to "very doubtful" -- happy, sad, angry, indifferent, rinse and repeat. And yet, I lived on in the light of their legacy. I lived on with their memories. I lived on with both a clear conscience and with some regretful action and inaction, which is always the contradictory vastness of in between for many of us. At some point their vapor trail faded away, but their transcendent DNA is forever present.

There I go again, bleeding out drama like I do, because they did come back and were only gone for a few days to help out a family member after some serious surgery. They being the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our two girls.

Good God, just a few days and all that spilled out from the poetter within.

It was the same thing when the Mama left again to continue the family help and the girls stayed with me. This time it was the missing of the Mama by all three of us.

And then there are times when I've had to leave and the Mama and girls miss me; it was the same thing when I left to continue with family help when my sister was gravely ill.

And again when my parents were so ill at the end of their lives.

And then there all the times I travel for work. When I'm gone for a few days at a time, sometimes a week at a time. The missing is reciprocal and palatable when we're talking on FaceTime from afar.

These are the vapor trails of loss, each one a painful signature that fades away into blue sky seemingly out of reach, only to shine forever from the darkness beyond. Whether they're gone for good or gone for a time doesn’t matter. The divine constellations of loved ones can eventually guide us to the happy each time, and until the end of our time. Because their time is all time. I miss you, Mom and Dad.

God bless those who have lost loved ones. May blue sky bathe you in their happy and that you outlive the vastness in between.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using My Wareness

"...when you move me everything is groovy..." —Train, Drive By

I just wanted her to wear something other than than the gray sweat pants. The shirt she had on was fine, the Mama had already told her it was fine, and I had told her it was fine multiple times as a negotiating tactic to get her to change the gray sweat pants and put another pair on. 

She didn't budge, though. She dug in.

"No! I want to wear these pants."

"Beatrice, we're going to be filmed today for Kidpower, and all I want you to do is to change your pants. You can wear the shirt. The shirt is fine. Okay?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these pants."

Think, think, think...

"C'mon, Bea. Why can't you wear different pants? What's your idea? I want you wear different pants that are darker. I'm sure Mommy would agree. Something darker. C'mon. What about these?"

We were in her room now. I held up five different pairs of pants, mostly darker ones and some with different patterns on them. Anything but the gray sweat pants. 

"My idea is to wear these," Bea answered.

The what's your idea? framework was from the girls' early preschool days and positive discipline and parenting. Instead of being authoritarian and dictating to your children about any and all things, the idea is to include them in the conversation and decision-making to empower them and literally ask them, "What's your idea?"

And Bea's idea was to wear those friggin' gray sweat pants.

"Daddy, you should pick Beatrice's favorite pants -- the black ones with sparkles on them," said Bryce, trying to give me a hand.

"Which ones are those? These?" I held up something similar to what she just described.

"Um, no, those aren't it."

"Then where are they?"

Both girls shrugged. "I don't know," said Bryce.

Think, think, think...

I picked three pair. "Bea, can you pick one of these, please?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these!"

Think, think, think...

"Okay, then we'll bring these three and let Mommy pick one out."

Red-faced Beatrice was either mortified, angry, or both. Probably both. Yeah, that was probably it.

Right?

"Daddy, didn't you know that those are my favorite? I told you I wanted to wear those!"

She pointed to a pair of black stretch pants I head, the ones with stars and other geometric shapes on them.

"You did?"

Does it matter, Daddy? C'mon...

"Yes, those are the ones I want to wear. C'mon, use your awareness, Daddy."

Now that was funny. Why? Because of all the Kidpowering the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) -- all the important safety skills she teaches to children, teens and adults alike -- an important aspect is always being aware of your surroundings, who's around you at anything given time, to stand up straight like a giraffe and look, look, look around and be aware, aware, aware.

Use your awareness, Daddy. We use that phrase loosely around the house a lot these days. 

"Yeah, use your wareness," Bryce piled on, dropping the "a".

Well, at least we had the pants thing tackled. 

"All right, Bryce. Time for you to finish getting dressed now and then we've got to go, girls."

Minutes later we're all downstairs and Bryce called out behind me, "Daddy, I'm ready."

I turned around. 

Wow. 

I giggled. Not laughed, but giggled. 

"Oh, Sweetie, I love you, but we can't keep that on your face."

"Ah, c'mon, Daddy. I did it myself."

"I know. But, no." 

I giggled again. Bryce had a big American flag bow pinned in her hair on one side of her head. But that wasn't the funny part. She had also taken it upon herself to put lipstick on. Lots and lots of lipstick. The Joker from Batman lipstick -- like the old-school Cesar Romero version and the Heath Ledger version combined. Swirls of bright pink lipstick around her mouth, with some of it actually on her lips.

Bryce didn't fight it much, because she knew it was too much and yet still very much enjoyed the act of putting it on. We wiped it off and minutes later we were out the door. 

A dozen hours later after a rare late night date night for me and the Mama watching Train in concert, a dear friend who was watching the girls and had texted Amy a picture of the girls hugging and smiling. She showed it to me as we waited to exit the concert parking lot. 

And there was Beatrice, wearing those friggin' gray sweat pants. Because that was her idea. And then there was me using my wareness, because sometimes I can. Right on for Daddy.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Stay Classy, America

Something was wrong. We knew it even before we saw what floated in the pool. At first, it had been another Saturday of summertime fun with the other neighborhood families -- swimming in a neighbor's Doughboy pool, listening to our favorite records albums and AM/FM radio hits, setting off leftover 4th of July street fireworks with lit cigarettes, eating barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and fresh watermelon, drinking over-sweetened Kool Aid and lemonade while the adults boozed it up, told dirty jokes and laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then it got late, especially late for my younger sister and I being two of the youngest kids on the block. It was well after 9:00 PM, the murky purple sky had turned black. There was no moon, only the pinpoint sparkle of stars barely piercing the night, kept muted further by the valley heat. We'd all been indoors for a few hours, watching TV and staying cool at our neighbor's house with their modern central air conditioning. Once outside, the heat drove us all again to the above-ground Doughboy pool.

That tingling frost of fear rode spread up my spine and burst inside my frontal lobes. The pool lights were on and the pool sweep, too. And there they were: dozens and dozens of empty bottles bobbed and twirled in the pool. Many had already sunk to the bottom. I was only eight years old, but I half-expected to see a body resting at the bottom of the pool. Thank goodness that wasn't the case.

But we knew something was wrong even before that; the boisterous adults, all our parents, had gone fairly quiet in the last hour before our creepy discovery. As we stood and watched the bottles sink, the smell of chlorine and alcohol filled us up with a dreadful nausea.

Then the party was over. Our parents told us it was time to go home. Nobody asked what had happened, and no one offered an explanation, and yet the creep factor increased as soon as we walked into our own house. There was trash strewn on our living room floor and in the kitchen. There were nasty words written with lipstick across all our mirrors. There was Vaseline smeared around our toilet seat.

Our mom told us that some stranger had broken in and trashed our house, which we knew wasn't exactly true since most of us in the neighborhood never locked the front doors when we were just down the street. She put my sister and I to bed, and then through my door I could only hear the muffled anger of my parents fighting, yet another night of my alcoholic father's abuse escalated further by the all day's drinking and the vandalism in our house.

Decades later my mom would tell me what really happened. That the neighborhood adult friends had been pranking each other all summer, and then one drunken Saturday night, everyone turned on each other and did some real damage to each other's homes. Some neighbors never talked again after that. She said that the pranking became an exponential revenge game, one neighbor punching back at the other, over and over and over again.

But it wasn't just about the pranking either -- she had told me there was this constant unfiltered judgement of each other's families and a certain few who spouted back-stabbing bullying slurs just because they didn't like something about the other or felt unjustifiably threatened by the other.

Today in communities across America, we seem to be more polarized than ever. Or at least, we're more painfully aware of the polarization than I can recall (or that historians could probably point out otherwise). And we seem to be collectively encouraging it, although I'd argue that the ebb and flow of political correctness isn't the culprit either. We've used that scapegoat one too many times, to make incivility okay and for us to turn on each other so easily. Our leaders and other supposed role models now use the "he said -- she said" bullying polarity nearly flawlessly and it's been fully injected into our societal DNA.

In fact, I just witnessed yet again another Facebook conversation dissolve into a hot mess of personal attacks, jabs, upper cuts and right hooks. Plus, as we all know, the anonymity of social media (like Twitter) has become a vampiric outlet for too many of us.

When faced with these toxic interchanges, my wife and I do our best to use our Kidpower trash cans (throwing verbal attacks away and letting them go) instead of punching back, and our walk away power, as in "leaving in a powerful, positive way," and we teach our children the same. In fact, the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial" -- in other words, "don’t be there." We don't get it right all the time and it also doesn't mean we shouldn't face a bully and stand up for ourselves, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.

My hope is that most of us in the muddied middle will again fill and slow the growing chasm for ourselves, for our children and for future generations. That we'll do the hard work of finding empathic common ground even with discord and disagreement. Not to live together in harmony either, because that's a wishful illusion, but to co-exist as fruitfully and happily as possible while working together to keep this grand experiment of our republic thriving.

Stay classy, America. Time to celebrate the beauty and bravery of freedom ringing, not the thin-skinned ugly of civility shrinking.