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, June 17, 2018

The Wonder Never Fades

It's one of the organic touchstones of our house. A hot corner. A slingshot through the kitchen to the living room and backyard and then back again. And no matter what we've done to it over the years -- wiped it down, spackled it, painted it over -- we just can't keep it clean.

It's not like a door frame or other enshrined place on a wall where you measure your kids' growth over the years. We had started that upstairs in their early years, but never followed through to now.

No, this magical touchstone much messier than that, like living life most certainly always is. Little hands that have touched, tugged, smeared and clawed one textured corner in the kitchen where on one side the grocery lists are made and the phone rings and the cabinets are full of kitchen things, and on the other side the same refrigerator we've had for 12 years hums and whirs and fills the rare silent spaces of our busy lives.

Little hands that grow bigger each day and never miss a chance of physical contact with this one kitchen corner. One day recently I watched and counted a dozen times in less than 15 minutes as our girls went from the living room to the backyard and back again.

But there are some specific childhood artifacts that hang down the wall between the corner and the refrigerator delineating points in time -- oven mitts made when Beatrice and Bryce were both in preschool. The mitts have their hand prints, their names and the years they were made.

And now there are so many memories that hang throughout our house, a family museum curated with love and mindful attention year after year. The past school years and other family photographs and memories now boxed in the garage, under-the-bed or in digital archives to be opened again in who knows when. Maybe when the girls are grown and gone and on their own. Maybe sooner. Maybe next week.

It's those handprints on the mitts that touched my heart the other day, though. Touched it, tugged on it, smeared and clawed it, reminding me to hold my family fast every day and to be forever thankful that I get be these amazing girls' father. And of all the ways to be present as Dad, the wonder never fades.

They blur and fray
Yellow and gray
Are carried away
By the gust of days
A childhood haze
And memory maze --
Of all the ways
To be present as Dad
The wonder never fades...


Sunday, June 10, 2018

To Keep Our Souls Above Water

The weight was unbearable. And the gravity of every step we took increased exponentially. Once we exited the church into the sunlight, I choked in ragged crying jags that shredded my heart like broken glass, my face sweaty and flush. I felt defeated, flattened, unmoored from the little stability I had finally gained at that point in my life.

Less than two weeks earlier, I was sleeping in my dorm room when I got the call from a mutual friend.

"Kevin, Brian killed himself."

I remember half-hearing the news, still not quite awake, and I asked my friend what had happened.

"We don't know exactly, only that he shot himself."

That whole summer prior to me going away to college, our friend Brian had been getting more and more belligerent when he drank. And more and more depressed, something he hid from most of us except for his closest friend from our group and his girlfriend. There were rumors of money he owed and other kinds of substance abuse, but the reality was we really didn't know what was going on. He kept himself pretty well insulated from our questions and instead made sarcastic jokes about everything. He was charming and funny, and so we all assumed he was just going through a bad patch, but that he'd be okay.

I remember it was hard to be around him at the end of the that summer. Many times when we'd be drinking together, he'd get so out of the control that he started breaking stuff. One time he broke a window where we were having a party, cutting himself badly and not really comprehending how wasted he was.

And not caring either.

Which should've been a bigger clue for us -- but for me, I had my own set of anxieties and panic attacks and bouts of depression. Going away to college was a big step forward for me and I really wanted to get my proverbial shit back together again. I had already taken a year off after high school, struggling to keep my soul above water in the dark well of my heart.

My friend's funeral was the first one I had ever gone to, and being a pallbearer completely crushed me. All I could think about was me and my emotional mess and the moments I considered taking my own life. My dad was a cop, so there were plenty of guns in the house.

But I didn't, and over 30 years later I haven't forgotten the darkness. Instead, I now prefer the lightness of life, finding purpose and meaning in life. I'm thankful because I also have a loving wife and children, and supportive friends and family.

With the recent celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, the subject of suicide is back in the spotlight. Based on a recent article I read referencing the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent." And today, too many American men are dying lonely and alone, without close friends, and the suicide rate is again climbing for men over 50 years old.

It's complex and getting worse and America "currently has no federally funded suicide prevention program for adults."

My friend Brian didn't shoot himself in the head, he shot himself in the heart. Gun to the chest and pulled the trigger. His message in his suicide note and the way he did it made clear he felt like life had broken his heart, that he had broken his heart, his emotional well a poisoned viscous darkness. He was sorry for those he hurt, but obviously was too hurt himself to go on.

Whether you or someone you know has had longtime mental health issues, or if you've been subjected to domestic violence or sexual assault and are struggling with the aftermath, or if other sudden traumatic changes in your lives has unmoored you from stability, suicide prevention is a conversation we should all be a part of. We need to do away the stigma associated with emotional and mental struggles, and embrace the fallibility of being human, and the fact we can and do heal. Too many of us have lost ourselves in our own dark viscous wells, and with a little help from each other, from our communities and funded prevention services, and even from God, we might be able to keep our souls above water.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Riding a Bike on Your Feet

I didn't think we'd make it more than one time around. It was slow going; she held onto the outside railing with her right hand and my right hand with her left. Thankfully when we'd come upon a group of kids clumped against the railing, they'd move along to let us pass before we had to say "excuse me."

And it was super hot inside. No air conditioning. Only the front and back doors were open to draw air through, and a few ceiling fans near the front entrance. That helped when we were near either entrance, but it was still the hottest day of the year so far for us outside, which made it really hot inside.

So, after one time around, and falling once, both our faces were wet with sweat, and poor Beatrice's face was beet red. We certainly picked the wrong day to teach her how to roller skate at the Santa Cruz Roller Paladium.

That's not exactly true though, because it's always the right time to learn something new, even when you're uncomfortable. Before we had children, I never would've enjoyed overheating in a roller rink; I never would've gone skating on such a hot day. But it barely crossed my mind as I only thought about helping Beatrice learn how to skate. I knew she wanted to finally learn because of an upcoming birthday party she was invited to at this same very rink. So, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our youngest, Bryce, went shopping, and Bea and I went to the roller rink. We'd all meet up together again later in the day.

Bea was nervous, but determined. "But what if I fall?" she asked me.

"You will fall," I said. "And then you just keep working on your balance. Keep feeling your weight on your skates; the more balanced you get, the easier it will be to lift your feet and skate."

"Don't let go," she said.

"I won't."

We made it one time around the rink and then took a break to cool down and drink some water.

"Dad, why is it so hot?"

"I know, right? Because there isn't any air conditioning in here. Keep drinking water."

Bea hung her head and said, "I want to go."

"I get it, sweetie, but the only way to learn is to keep practicing. You do want to learn, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"Remember when you finally learned to balance on your bike?"

"Yes."

"And now you ride it like a champ, right?

"Yes."

"It's like that, only now you have four wheels on each foot."

"Okay."


And with that, we went around again, slowly. As we completed our second lap, sweating and puffing along the way, and Bea falling again, I told her about when I first learned to roller skate around her age. I told her how it took a few times to feel balanced and comfortable, and then ever since, and even now at 52, I've never forgotten how to skate. I told her about all my pre-teen and teenage years skating at Roller Towne where I grew up in Visalia, CA. And how her mother used to skate at a place called Skate Ranch when she was young in Milan, IL. And how we even skated with Bea in the Mama's belly, and then again when she was a year and a half at Roller Towne after one of my high school reunions.

Beatrice and I were only at the roller rink for an hour, and in that time she made it around five times. The last two times she even started to not hold onto me as much, and then letting go of the railing, and she started to learn how to move her feet with greater balance and control.

"See, I told you. It gets a little easier each time. Do you want to come again next week to practice some more?"

"Yes, I do."

"Great!"

"Dad, you’re right. It is like learning to ride a bike, except on your feet."


Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Long Run

"I got this feelin' inside my bones
It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on..."

–Justin Timberlake, Can't Stop the Feeling!


The first show I missed due to work travel; I heard it was one big, fun and hot mess. A bunch of grade-school kids who practiced for weeks to perform a version of the movie Trolls, memorizing spoken lines, scene after scene, and lots of singing practice as well.

These productions are extracurricular for the kids at our school and we have to pay for each child to participate, although each child gets a part no matter what. Even multiple parts to ensure the production is fully casted. The program and production director is really good with the kids, with the patience of a saint.

And for weeks our girls practiced their roles at home, so excited to be in the Trolls production. Beatrice played Branch's grandma and a Bergen, and Bryce was a Smidge, a spider and part of the pet crocodile (of course, if you know the story and the characters).

Then came the final show, the one I could attend with the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), along with my sister and my grown niece who's pregnant with her first child. We all couldn't wait to see it!

It was so adorable! So much stage fright, undecipherable mumbling, subdued singing, director-fed lines, punctuated by moments of immaculate comedic timing. And throughout, nothing but proud smiles and laughter coming from the audience of parents, family and friends.

These were our children bold enough to be in the play/musical in the first place, to going week after week to Monday afternoon two-hour practices, extending Mondays into a grumpy oblivion, one that our youngest struggled with every single week.

But when it came to showtime, Bryce became the over-dramatic consummate entertainer, while Beatrice performed somewhat shyly, delivering much more subdued lines, but working hard, the actor's actor, ensuring she hit her marks each time. Mostly.

Still, for us in the audience who knew the movie and the story, we struggled to follow along, which is what made it all the more memorable. The story for us was one of our children having fun (mostly) and working together with their friends and the director to go all "electric, wavy" when they turned it on.

And turn it on they did. So much fun. Now they're in a shorter production of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!, with Bryce playing the little guy with the yellow going to all the places, and with Beatrice taking on multiple lines this time, willingly, including the part about the "waiting place," a place we've all been to in life, where we grind to a halt due to uncertainty and fear, unwilling to take risks and make moves. When we realize and accept that failure is inevitable and quite important to learning life lessons, then the waiting place is only a transitory respite.

That's one of the things we're so proud about our girls, the fact that they're already learning this at a young age, something that will help them when the waiting place gravity slows them in space.

Temporarily, of course, because it's not a race. It's the long run turned on.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...

...NO!
That's not for you!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Free to Feel

"Jive talkin'
You're telling me lies, yeah
Jive talkin'
You wear a disguise
Jive talkin'
So misunderstood, yeah
Jive talkin'
You just ain't no good..."

–Bee Gees, Jive Talkin'



Visalia Ransacker
The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me. We were asleep, being alone most nights, our mother working the swing shift as a police dispatcher and our first stepdad working graveyard at a tire plant over 40 minutes away.

The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me, breaking into our house from inside the garage. We'd left the door from the backyard to garage open, leaving him easy entry. Fortunately, my mother had left work earlier than usual, some time after midnight. She pulled into the driveway, got out of my stepdad's Corvette she drove to and from work less than 10 minutes away, and opened our garage door. The Corvette's headlights filled the garage with eerie white light.

The bad man stood at garage door that led into our house. He turned and his eyes shone bright through the holes in the dark ski mask he wore. Immediately he fled through the backyard. Immediately our mother jumped back into the Corvette, drove across the street into our neighbor's driveway, and then pounded on their door to wake them. They called the police.

The bad man was long gone by the time the police arrived. I remember being woken by our mother to tell us what happened, why police officers were all over house. Some of the officers asked us questions, questions we couldn't answer because we'd been asleep.

No, we didn't hear anything. No, we didn't see anything. 

The year was 1975, two years earlier than when I thought it all went down -- I was 10 and my sister 8. Which made sense, since the bad man I'm referring to was known as the Visalia Ransacker. He stalked Visalia from about 1974-1975, before moving on and escalating his violence; he was also known as the East Area Rapist, the Golden State Killer and the Original Night Stalker. Joseph James DeAngelo, a white male and former police officer, now 72 years old, was recently arrested after all these years, having committed at least 12 murders, more than 45 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986.

I had forgotten about the Visalia Ransacker for decades until my sister recently started asking me what I remembered. Our second stepdad, the one we always considered to be dad, was a police officer and detective for 32 years. One of his colleagues had worked on the Ransacker case and continued to do so for years, even after he retired. During the late 1970's, that's all the Visalia Police Department talked about. My sister also followed the case for years, theorizing for him to get away with everything he got away with, he had most likely been a police officer, which he was. She got me started reading I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Chilling now, because more than likely he'd been stalking our family, just like he did with all the homes he broke into, with all the victims he terrorized, raped and killed. In fact, the odds are pretty good that he had already been inside our house prior to that night.

For my sister and I at the time, the horrid irony was that we lived with a real bad man, our first stepdad. He emotionally and physically abused our mother, emotionally abused my sister, and sexually abused me. His crazy didn't escalate until about a year after our mother found the Ransacker in our garage.

According to RAINN and the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 60 percent of sexual assault perpetrators are white (probably higher) and mostly male. There are simply too many angry white men and boys in American society, something that patriarchy -- in this country's case, white men holding all the power and excluding women and minorities, who are encouraged to squash their own vulnerability and all emotional outlets -- has incubated for decades in the hearts and souls of too many repressed men. If you haven't seen The Mask You Live In, I highly recommend it. The documentary follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.

I'm not a criminologist or a sociologist or a mental health professional, and sometimes crazy is crazy, but I am a man who grew up with violence and sexual abuse; a man who's thankfully not emotionally repressed (I thank my mother for that); a man who's now a father of two girls and married to an amazing partner and mother. So, when I hear that the latest school shooter in Texas had pushed his romantic inclinations onto a girl who refused his advances, and then she became one his victims, I'm furious and flummoxed. Same as when I hear crazy talk about the Toronto van killer by this so-called patriarchal proponent: “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him. The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges."

America cultivates this repressive and violent culture. We can no longer stand by as ineffectual bystanders and shake our heads at these tragedies. We have to be the positive change of awareness and prevention that ends this emotional repression, this toxic patriarchy, with both men and women alike. And it all starts with our children, our boys, being free to feel and love in healthy relationships in healthy environments.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

When We Come to Fully Know God

"Write a world where we can belong
To each other and sing it like no other..."

–U2, Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way


We weren’t going to have kids. Ever. Didn’t really want them. Didn’t disparage others who did have them either. Kids just weren’t in our life plan. Never ever.

That certainly didn’t sit well with our families, especially mine. I remember my parents and my sister staring at us in disbelief with the guilt-charged super-stink eye. Then asking me when we were alone if it was all my wife who didn’t want them, and when I told them no, it was me too, then more disbelief and super-stink eye.

“You’ll regret it if you don’t,” they’d say. Shake their heads. Roll their eyes.

But we were resolute in our decision. Without a doubt. No wavering. Year after year we lived our lives fully, with no apologies, traveling around the U.S. and around the world, eventually to again endure the never-ending child question nearly ever visit with family. Nearly 10 years together went by before we changed our minds. And we did change our minds. We’re happy we did. Thankful we did. Gratitude abounds. All the ups and downs that come with parenting, we were all in. Are all in.

The Mama (what I lovingly all my wife) and I have always believed (and know) that we’ve been on a spiritual journey together, having possibly known each other for lifetimes, and having chosen to be together again. We feel we’re closer to God now more than ever, not bound by ancient religious texts and the patriarchal words of men, but embraced the grace of a greater love, a forgiving and nurturing love.

Two important moments in our lives helped us define this greater love, one that celebrates the feminine and the motherhood that comes with having children, although we certainly don’t disparage those who don’t have then, or can’t. That is part of their journey, not ours, and their greater love is their own.

Our journey now includes Beatrice and Bryce, and no matter what important role I’ve played and will always play in their lives, the Mama carried them and birthed them and nursed them and everything’s them, and then together we’ve chosen to raise them…

September 22, 2008

Around 6:00 p.m. I go downstairs to get something to eat. Three minutes after I order a cheeseburger and fries our doula runs into the cafeteria telling me to come now. My first thought is the baby's about to be born, but as we're running back up the stairs, she says, "The baby crashed and they went to the O.R.!"

The baby crashed and they went to the O.R., I think.

The baby crashed.

The baby.

I feel like my body has fallen away and I'm flying towards the room. Our midwife and doula are shouting things I can't comprehend and they tell me to get the blue scrubs on. They lead me to the operating room and a nurse lets me in.

"You're the husband? Come this way."

Stark whiteness washes over me and I'm immediately sat next to Amy. She's shaking but strong and ready to go. I'm out of my mind but not showing it. She was supposed to be born at home, I think. The OB is there. There are nurses and the anesthesiologist and everyone's moving around doing things I don't understand. The leg clamps don't work on the table, so two of the nurses actually hold Amy's legs up. Amy’s spinal tap had numbed her lower half, but pushes and pushes anyway and the OB coaches her along. They wouldn’t let our midwife in because she yelled at the nursing staff, so it's just me holding Amy's hand and urging her on. And praying. I even joke at one point to offer my help in doing anything to get the baby out.

The OB says we're making progress and gets the vacuum ready. Based on what she's telling us, she's only going to try to vacuum three times and then we're doing a Caesarean. But the vacuum isn't holding any suction and they have to change it two times. The OB keeps encouraging Amy to push and push. The baby's heart rate stays in the safe range.

She pushes and pushes. Two sets of labor and two different experiences in 24 hours – at home and at the hospital. Finally the OB hooks the vacuum up and pulls and pop – she looks startled, falls back and smiles.

"There we go. It was the arm. The baby's arm was up over its head."

The baby's arm was up over its head. Wow.

A second later the baby is out, umbilical cord is cut and the baby is rushed over to a side table and cleaned. Amy's still shaking but smiling. She whispers, "I'd better pay my co-pay." The baby cries. The pediatrician who was in the operating room calls me over to see the baby and identify the sex.

I'm still flying when I see that our baby is a girl – our little Beatrice –7 lbs., 14 oz., 21 inches long…

August 21, 2010

It’s 2 a.m. and I'm standing over the crib stroking Bea's arms to soothe here and I know I have to go.

Beatrice had been up since 1:00 a.m., primarily because of her cold and snotty nose, but also because she knew something was up.

Because our midwives had everything under control with the Mama, it was up to me to tend to Bea if she needed it.

She did. Lots of it. She just couldn't go back to sleep and I had to stay in there so she wouldn't wail. She couldn't hear anything coming from our room; we keep a fan going in there for white noise and have been doing it since before she was born. (We dig it too.)

But she was obviously unsettled and aware of what's coming.

The Mama had been in active labor since around 12:30 and the motion of the womb ocean was climaxing to a category 5 hurricane.

Things were moving fast and I was missing it.

I stroke Bea's arm one more time and whisper: "I love you, baby, but I have to go help Mama."

As soon as I'm in our room, Bryce is entering the earth's atmosphere for the first time, the Mama finding her baby Zen center as contraction after contraction rolled through her.

Now I'm standing behind the Mama on the side of the bed. She grabs my hand with the power of a 10,000 volts, pulls me down towards her on the bed and shrieks:

"Get it out of me!"

That's the final reality of birth, my friends. Guys, we have no idea. Nada. Zip. Imagine passing a hot bowling ball through your urethra.

Mother Mary of God, I think. There's a Bryce coming out of my wife.

You see, the first time with Bea I didn't see. That plan was to be at home as well. If you're interested you can relive Bea's birth story here.

But this one I am seeing, the visual annealing that softens my Y chromosome for an ultimately stronger bond. And then it's done. We're in the moment of tearful Mama holding wet newborn to her breast, the universe expanding our hearts and souls exponentially

All 7 pounds, 8 1/2 ounces, and 20.5 inches of her…

This journey of parenthood is one fraught with challenges and setbacks, as is all of life throughout our lifetimes, and yet one with the potential to be full of love and gratitude. I believe for us, it is this very journey when we come to fully know God, the one who travels with us, always.

So, today I celebrate the Mamas everywhere. God bless you all.

Miss you, Mom. And thank you.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

How High Can We Get

I'd been traveling when she told me the girls wanted to go to the dance. It was the father-daughter dance for our local Brownie Girl Scout troops, and when the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) ask Beatrice and Bryce if they wanted to go to the dance with their Dad, they resoundingly said yes.

And not just any dance -- a super duper luau. Right on, I thought. This will be fun.

But as we got closer to the big date, the Mama told the girls that probably none of their friends from their troop were going, and that they probably wouldn't know anybody at the dance. Then she asked them if they still wanted to go.

"Yes!"

That's all we needed to hear. 

As we got ready for the dance the night of, the Mama said to me, "Don't worry, they'll probably get tired and want to come home at 7:30."

"What time does it start again?" 

"6:00."

I smiled. It was 5:30 PM already. "Yeah, I know. Bea is usually asleep by 8:00, so I can't imagine her staying up beyond that. Bryce is the one who falls asleep later, although she might get cranky."

"Right, but I'll bet they'll both want to come home early, especially since none of their friends will be there."

"We'll have fun no matter what," I said.

"Of course you will."

We were ready to go and the Mama gave us all kisses and hugs and sent us on our way. When we got to the venue Hawaiian decor, surfboards and faux Plumeria and Hibiscus were everywhere, as were dozens of dressed up Brownies and dads in Hawaiian shirts, just like us. We did run into one of their friends and her dad from our troop, which was great for us, so that's who we hung out through most of the night. 

Before we did anything else, though, the girls wanted to take photos in the homemade photo booth area set up in the far corner of the room. And that's exactly what we did. These are the special moments we share with our children, and while immortalized in retro Polaroids, it's the visceral memories that keep our hearts warm and well lit throughout our lives.

Seven-thirty came and went and the girls were not getting tired. At all. In fact, they got their second wind and I was the one who started to wilt as the night went on. I hung in there, and when the limbo competition started, we all got in line, including me. 

Now, not all the dads were that excited to brave the limbo line, which was probably smart because of possible physical injury. 

"All the vertebrae in my back shattered just watching them do this," I said to another dad while we waited in line and watched the girls and even some of the dads clear the pole effortlessly.

"I know. I don't know why I'm doing this," the dad said.

"We're doing it for them," I said, pointing to my girls up ahead of us in line.

"That's a lotta love," he said.

"Indeed it is."

When it was my turn, I heard my girls yell "go dad go!" and I started the awkward and unnatural backward bend to clear the limbo pole. The tropical music cadence and the girls' shouts inspired me to make it happen, and I did, while all my vertebrae figuratively shattered along my spine. But I did it anyway, only one time of course, because there was no friggin' way I would've made another pole lowering, not in a million years. 

As the night went on and I watched the girls run around, learn to luau (which my dad friend and I did as well), and befriend other girls they met for the first time, me and my dad friend talked dad shop and it was all so much fun. It didn't matter that we don't get dadding right all the time, because we sure as heck don't; this wasn't about how low can we go as the limbo mantra goes. It was literally about how high can we get on the fun, fun that took the girls to nearly 10:00 PM, way past all our bedtimes.  

A high all warm and well lit. Amen.