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, November 22, 2015

A New Reason to Give Thanks

"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there..." —The Star-Spangled Banner

The first boom came at 5:28 am. Then a second boom. Followed by a third. I put my laptop to the side and sat up, torn to move in two directions at once: go to the living room window to see what I could see, or go to our phone and call 911.

Being an early bird I had already been up since 5:00 am tinkering away on my MacBook. A fourth boom and I grabbed my phone and went to the window. I could hear the girls talking upstairs; obviously the booms woke them. A fifth boom and then I saw it: the spectacular flower of an exploding firework. Then multiple booms with more reds and whites and blues and a myriad of other colors. 

I aimed the camera to try and capture a firework mid-flower, instead of calling the police, but the booms stopped. I waited, the girls came downstairs (which was around the time they wake up anyway), and the fireworks stopped. 

These weren't just a box of illegal jumbo fireworks bought in Nevada or Mexico. No, these were pretty cool fireworks. Disneyland pretty. The stadium-quality variety. Shot off at 5:28 in the morning for over five minutes down the street in the vacant lot where the local weekly farmer's market is held.

Disruptive? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Pretty? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe, but since they exploded over a vacant lot, probably not. Illegal? Well, yes, considering that fireworks of any kind are illegal in Santa Cruz County. 

The Mama got up shortly after the girls did ask asked what the booms were. I told her and the first thing she said was, "Did they girls get to see them?"

I told her no, that they didn't get to see them. The booms woke them, though. But after we were all up and sunrise yawned and stretched her lavender hands skyward, I reflected and gave thanks with a silent reverent prayer that I had my family with me, safe and sound and healthy, with sustenance and shelter, fairly secure in a seaside community at the South end of the greater Bay Area in the Golden State of one of the greatest nations ever to be created and sustained in the history of the world. A nation of immigrants wanting a better life for themselves, the "huddled masses," to have the freedoms they didn't have in their homelands, whether driven out because of religious and/or political persecution, disease, famine and/or especially war. 

Granted, it was at the expense of those who had already lived her for thousands of years, but that's a story for another time, and not one to be told in any form fully sanitized to validate America's Thanksgiving folklore. 

No, I was just thankful in the moment as I try to do daily reflecting on who I am and what I have, taking little for granted when I'm mindfully present. 

But then the sentiment of a family member interrupted my prayer with an important question, one she posted the day before when referencing a video about the harsh reality of Syrian refugees clamoring for safety in Greece (or insert your Western country of choice here). It was right after my weekly beach run, the one where I share a picture of the remaining natural bridge at Natural Bridges State Park and some creative and cutesy phrase. Of course it was "This week on God Bless everyone beach run."

She had posted:

Imagine this is your family, fleeing for your lives, trying to provide your children with a safe and decent childhood. 

My response was: Amen. But most of us don't want to imagine, so we don't.

Wherever you fall on the ideological and political spectrum, and whatever you believe we should be doing or not doing to address this latest global crisis, most of you will go through your lives unscathed, just as hopefully many of your children and children's children will as well, but as I wrote last week, together the aggregate power of your safety plans may just change the world.

Maybe. But with the rockets' red glare from this morning, to those from this afternoon when my daddy time with the girls turned into a battle of #BhivePower wills (that I lost), the only proof I need is that my home and family are still here with me, and I with them. 

Plus the proof that we still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The brave who shouldn't fear but be aware, who shouldn't blame but be responsible, who shouldn't resent but be empathic, who shouldn't hate but still be wary and vigilant to protect country, community and family. The brave who, if they can truly provide their children with a safe and decent childhood, should do just that. 

And maybe, just maybe, we'll give ourselves a new reason to give thanks by helping those fighting for their lives abroad because of war and terrorism, and those fighting for their lives at home because of economic hardship and prolonged hunger.

Happy Thanksgiving America. We know you can do this.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Aggregate Power of Our Safety Plans

“All this time we're hoping and praying we all might learn, while a billion other teachers are teaching them how to burn…” —Rush, Peaceable Kingdom

There are no absolutes. There is no black and white. There are only filtered perceptions and reactions to life experience, the shadows at dusk of what is truly right and wrong.

Until I was nine and my sister seven, we lived with an alcoholic who year after year escalated violence against our mother. Drunken rage drove our birth father to blame her for his self-hatred, and he'd berate her, and he'd beat her, and then self-loathing would spiral him into dysfunctional regret.

That regret led him to always say how sorry he was, and how much he loved us, and how much he loved her. The holidays were the times when the most bittersweet poignancy welled up in his eyes, and ours, with his signature Dorothy phrase, "There's no place like home."

I always want to believe that. To believe that he really meant it, that he'd truly rehabilitate and he'd stop hurting her and we'd all go back to being a loving family. But he didn't. And then we left.

Right after that we experienced a whole other level of dangerous family dysfunction, and yet I always wanted to believe that it would be okay. Hope coursed through me as if hit by lightening (and it still does). We had some family and friend intervention and help through these experiences, and our mother did her best to care for us, but until I was nearly 13, life was far from being a safe family haven. For at least two decades after that I felt helpless and I channeled my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an adult.

Thankfully, our girls haven't and won't experience this, since we have everything to do with it. And many other people don't experience this either (although what's reported versus what's not is telling -- God bless those who have experienced it). And although today most of us don't experience other kinds violence -- especially terrorism and war -- it's all around us and being transmitted to us via traditional media and social media, all with the competing slants and filtered perceptions.

Because of what's happened of late in Beruit and Paris, I've thought about how we'll respond to our girls if (and when -- if not now, in the future) they ask about what happened.

Prior to taking Beatrice and Bryce to New York City earlier this year, the Mama read the girls the story about the Man on the Wire, Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. She told them we weren't going to see the buildings because they weren't there anymore. The "whys" ensued and then the Mama proceeded to tell them there were bad men who didn't like the buildings and who brought them down.

The same story was repeated when we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The Mama and I went on solo tours, but we didn't bring the girls through the whole thing together. They did see some of the damage on display, however. But then, we were both overwhelmed and we had to quell our own emotions from our 9/11 memories.

Why did we do that? Why didn't we share them and the why of emotion with the girls? How do you explain that to a four and six-year-old? And unless they experienced it directly, why would you explain it to them in any greater detail?

That answer has been clear to us now more than ever because my wife is a Kidpower instructor. Kidpower is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that can increase the safety of young people and adults alike and that can last a lifetime.

Talking about worries and fears creates unnecessary anxiety without making kids safer. According to the Kidpower program, protecting kids from adult feelings helps to reduce anxiety and increase competence. You do what you can to protect children from hearing details, speculation, and any and all media coverage as much as possible.

But when you do have to explain some tragedy to your children, instead of trying to keep them completely insulted and inside, for fear of what may or may not happen, talk about your family safety plan, and take the time to make safety plans and to discuss, review, and practice safety skills with your children and teens if you don't already have one.

You should always project calm and confidence as the adults in charge, and this will help your kids, too. For example, Kidpower references studies that show even during wartime when people went into shelters from the bombing, the children were far better off (less traumatized) in the shelters where adults were singing and being positive that they would all get through this, than in those where the adults were acting and projecting fear. In fact, read this column about singing in an Israeli bomb shelter.

Then go out into the world with your children and help teach them so that they can practice making safe choices together without radical judgement. There are just too many teaching otherwise.

Again, there are no absolutes. There is no black and white. And yet, it's unfortunately always easier for us to take sides and cry out in the wilderness our subjective takes on justice and injustice. The nuanced complexity of family violence, global violence and extremist terrorism is barely accessible to learned adults much less children and teenagers.

So instead let's stand together through awareness and vigilance while making our own safety plans, knowing that we're all susceptible to violent tragedy. Many of us will go through our lives unscathed, just as hopefully many of our children and children's children will as well, but together the aggregate power of our safety plans may just change the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Spectrum Activity Disorder Known As Sports

One ball zipped passed her into the goal. Then another. Both within minutes of each other.

She could've stopped them, at least from where I stood on the sidelines. They were solid kicks from the other team, and the balls did zip along at a nice clip, but she could've stopped them. Before the quarter finished, and while the ball was being kicked around at the other end of the field, I walked around behind our goal and level-setted my voice.

"Beatrice, whatever you do, stop the ball. I know you can do it. All you have to do is get in front of it and pick it up, just like we practiced. Watch the ball and get in front of it and stop it."

"I tried, Daddy! I did!"

And although I believed she did try per her level of heart versus skill, I struggled. I struggled the rest of the game as the coach. I struggled all the way home as the dad. I knew I shouldn't have felt the way I felt, but I did. I wanted her to be better. I wanted the whole team to be better. 

This is non-competitive U8 girls soccer and the girls are only six and seven years old. We're supposed to have fun and teach the girls some key soccer skills and not worry about winning or losing. Teach teamwork and have fun, fun, fun no matter what and no matter the level the girls are at. That's why everyone will always get a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season. Even if when we have a few Buttermaker moments. Thank goodness my assistant coach has a cool head and gets it, too.

But I still struggled. I grew up highly competitive, and unfortunately still am, no matter how much emotional intelligence I've worked really hard to gain in my half century. The struggle became even more complex during the game because another team member approached with her mom, tears streaming down the girl's face. 

We were in the fourth quarter of the game and she was upset because she wanted to play more. Since we're on a rotation each and every game, every player gets to play two to three total quarters out of four per game, as forwards, defense and goalie. I explained this all to her, why to be fair to all 12 team players we have to rotate and give everyone a chance to play, since we can only have seven on the field at any given time. I asked if she understood, and she nodded, but her struggle was just as real as mine.

In fact, nearly every game now, before the beginning of every quarter, every girl on the team asks me if they're going to play. Incessantly. On the one hand, the sweet pleading inspires because the girls all really want to play the game. But on the other hand, it adds to my struggle because my old school organized sports brain wants to rank and play -- 1st team, 2nd team, etc.

And speaking of 1st team, there are those highly skilled players on our team, the ones who have played for a few years already, who even though are years from experiencing and understanding true competitive soccer, still feel the foreshadowing of what it's like to lose, and not play very well during a game, and to be disappointed in a teammate who's missed two goals. And when you lose.

I love my Flying Hamsters. I really do. And my daughter tried. She really did. I hope that my assistant coach and I have instilled in all of them a sense of pre-competitive fairness and teamwork and some soccer skills regardless of what level they're at. To keep the competitive wolves at bay at this age (or any age), we have to be aware of and be able to manage our generational struggle with the spectrum activity disorder known as sports.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

When the Boo Zombie Bites

Of course it was right at the clown scene. Our neighbor had invited us to his Halloween party and we stopped by briefly after an fun but long afternoon and early evening of trick or treating.

"We're playing scary movies and just hanging out," he said. "Thanks for stopping by. And thank you for the pumpkin ale!"

Beatrice fixated on the computer monitor -- eyes wide open. The scared little boy from Poltergeist had just covered the clown on his chair (the original movie from 1982, not the remake).

"Stop watching that, Bea," I said.

Our neighbor paused the movie. "Sorry, I'll stop it for now."

"No, don't," said Bea. "I want to see it. What happens?"

What happens is that you'll be scared to death, my dear, I thought.

But she's already been bit by the boo zombie and it's spreading to her heart and head. We should have seen it coming; Beatrice has always loved many of the Disney villain characters and she's dressed up as Ursula and Maleficent for past Halloweens. And although she wasn't a villain, Bea loved Disgust, one of the emotion characters from Inside Out, and dressed up as her this year. Plus, she likes an odd Tim Burton-esque animated series called The New Adventures of Figaro Pho (about fear of all different kinds of stuff).

Bryce on the other hand is all puppies and kitties and unicorns with a princess on top. Always. No scary things here, please. Unless she's hungry and grumpy. Then she becomes a monster of a whole other genre -- the Brycinator. Once satiated, the princess takes back the throne.

The week before Halloween this year we went to a mask making festival where the girls made their own colorful masks. While the experience was light and fun, they did have a room set up with the gross touch boxes -- food items pretending to be body parts to touch and be grossed out by. We did go in there and but only Beatrice enjoyed it. The Mama did it too, kind of, but me and Bryce stayed clear. 

In another room they had a haunted house set up, and Bea begged to go into it. We told her over and over again that she would be scared to death. That was enough to convince her (for now).

The last time the Mama and I went to a haunted house for big kids was at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was way back in 1998 -- and that was enough to last three lifetimes. The last scary movie the Mama and I watched with intention was The Blair Witch Project. It literally scared the crap out of us. Those who continuously indulge in the horror genre find this movie mild at best today, but for us it was freaking intense. After that, we were done. No harm, no more fouling up our brains with this garbage. 

Yes, we grew up with scary and were weaned on the likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th and many other bloody others. The earliest film scare for me was a little known TV show called Circle of Fear from 1972-1973. I also remember being mesmerized while horrified by the George Romero films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and the campy trilogy end Day of the Dad. Not to mention the The Evil Dead romps. I was also a huge Stephen King fan, but his novels never translated well to film.

The boo zombie bites have always infected that primal desire to poke at millions of years of fight-or-flight evolution with pointed sticks until our pleasure centers swell full of sticky bittersweet fear.

The irony here is that I grew to despise all things zombie as I got older. Everything about them. My creep factor went through the roof and just the idea of zombies practically made me wet myself. At least figuratively. Even the comedy Shaun of the Dead freaked me out.

I never thought in a million frickin' years I'd watch another zombie show. But a year and a half ago while traveling for business, my boo zombie bite from decades earlier festered and compelled me feverishly to watch The Walking Dead pilot on Netflix.

And I was hooked. I couldn't look away. The Mama and I have always loved end-of-world stories, so it wasn't that much of a stretch; I got her hooked as well and we binged until we caught up with the real-time AMC series. It was just about getting past the zombie gore. But once past it, the writing and characters and survival plot has been blowing us away ever since.

Back to Halloween this year. While we didn't dress up like zombies or The Walking Dead characters, instead reprising our safe roles as Han Solo and Princess Leia (the new Star Wars movie is coming out soon for those not keeping score at home), we have a rediscovered respect for compelling story with splashes of horrid scare. And Bea finally got hers (age appropriate of course).

"Can we please go into the haunted house?" Bea asked. We had just finished Halloween story time at Trader Joe's. This year the store actually had a benign, family friendly haunted house set up for kids.

"Are you sure you want to go in there?" I asked her.

"I checked and they said no one pops out at you," the Mama said.

"Things pop out?" asked Bea.

"No, honey. They don't."

"You still want to do it?"


Bea's voice was tentative yet determined. So we waited in line and went. Just me and Bea. Bryce was having none of that nonsense and stayed with the Mama. Bea gripped my hand, and for a spit second she nearly pulled me back, but then we were in.

It was a little dark with stormy sound effects and creaks and groans. The scenes included a witch stirring a glowing orange brew and a banjo playing skeleton with glowing eyes and a sidekick human with a painted skeleton face who smiled ear to ear. There was also a body-part touching room too, but Bea had already satiated that desire by having her own gross boxes for her class, complete with zombie brains (spaghetti and pumpkin guts), witch eyeballs (peeled grapes), vampire ears (dried apricots in oil), and ghost poop (cotton balls).

Ghost poop. Who knew?

That's the thing -- when the boo zombie bites we're all in for the afterlife.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Heck of Awesome

Adjective or Noun.
  1. An expression recently used by the B-hive that interjectionally expresses glee about something very cool.
  2. Akin to "right on," an 1970's expression Daddy reprised years ago when he's digging cool stuff.
  3. An exclamation of encouragement, support, or enthusiastic agreement.
When Bryce spoke the magical words, we laughed. Later, the Mama and I asked each other, "Where did she get that?"

And then I thought, That's catch-phrase gold. I even did a Google search on it -- nothing came up that matched it.

We'd been reading bedtime stories with the girls and they both got really excited about putting play glasses on a dog named Arlo (from the book Arlo Needs Glasses by Barney Salzburg). 

First, Beatrice pointed to the dog visiting the eye doctor and said, "What the heck?"

Then, Bryce pointed to the page full of play glasses to try on and said, "It's the heck of awesome!"

The heck of awesome. Right on. That's exactly how I felt after she said it; exactly how I try to feel nearly everyday with #BhivePower. No matter the stresses of the day, no matter how Daddy Goat Gruff grumpy I may get, no matter what's happened in my life, or what may happen -- there's always the heck of awesome


The Mama and I are all about becoming the awesomer part of ourselves -- two scrappy halves that make up two wholes -- now proud parents proudly displaying all the figurative scars of earned failures and wins it took to get here (and still takes as a work in progress).

We've been together 18 wonderful years, but now that I've hit the half-century mark, that proverbial ceiling of time encroaches on me quickly as if I'm an aged Alice filling a house after drinking the wrong potion. Except I won't get small again no matter what I do, so I either learn to live in every nook and cranny as responsibly and comfortably as possible with my arms and legs hanging out the windows and the doors for as long as I can, or I don't. Of course we prefer the former and work hard on instilling that in the girls for their eventual house filling long run as well.

I'm blessed and I'm grateful. And while I've always joked about drowning in a sea of estrogen, the real truth is it makes me a better man and father. That's why it's all the sweeter when my girls afford me the occasional catch phrase and a daddy manhood rite of passage.

When the Mama and I were married, one of our wedding gifts was a George Foreman electric grill barbecue. I know, I know. For those of you keeping score at home, it's not really a barbecue when you plug it in to an electric outlet. However, we did use it over the years, and it certainly came in handy when the Mama was pregnant with Bryce and would've ripped my arms from their sockets if I would've cooked bacon or any kind of meat in the house.

My dad was a master barbecuer back in the day, but the golden grill spatula was never bestowed on me, and in recent years the Foreman grill usage has definitely dropped off.

That all changed on my birthday when the girls bought me a whole lotta awesome in a super-duper propane barbecue. It only took 50 years, but now my daddy manhood is complete. Somewhere in heaven my dad just shed a tear.


Thank you for always being the heck of awesome, Girls. Right on. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Why We Say Let's Let the Pearls Play

Her question caused me angst. Not a lot of it, because I already knew my answer three days before I told her. It was the same answer the Mama gave as well. But I still found myself a little torn as to how to respond.

The question was this: "Daddy, the birthday party I was invited to is the same time as our soccer game on Saturday. Can I go to the birthday party instead?"

The very first thing I thought was this: Well, no. You need to go to your soccer game.

I didn't say it, but I thought it. More than twice because of a wrinkle. I mean, my reactive response came from a place of instilling commitment and teamwork in Beatrice, of teaching her that she could be letting the team down by not showing up to play. A place that I was reminded of more than a few times in my own childhood.

I was older, in 4th grade, and was pushed by my crazy step-father to play basketball (not the man I ended up calling Pop), a sport that I wasn't very good at compared to baseball and football. In fact, I wasn't even very good at playing HORSE, the creative shooting challenge game played with a basketball for people who can, well, shoot baskets and actually make them.

However, he used to be good at playing basketball, and so I was pushed everyday after school to practice on the driveway basketball hoop -- free-throws, layups, hooks, jump shots -- you name it, I was pushed to practice it. It didn't really make me any better and I hated every minute of it (for more reasons than just the game itself).

My basketball swan song came at the end of the season when as a "not really a power" forward I scored five points -- two baskets, one of which was an alley-oop blindly from behind, and one free-throw. 

That was it. Baseball, football and even soccer in junior high ended up being so much more fulfilling.

Now, I/we didn't push Beatrice to play anything. We have always been about letting our girls decide if they want to trying something, and of course encouraging them to try things, and then if they want to keep doing any of those things, we'll be there for all of it (Bryce loves swimming and dancing).

Bea actually wanted to play soccer, with the boys at first, just like when she played T-ball, and then conceded to be on an all-girls team in U8 soccer. Beatrice is definitely better than me in soccer than I was in basketball and she really gives everything a go that she tries. Let's just say she's got a lot of heart, loves her teammates and friend, and loves playing hard and having fun. 

And then there's the part where I'm the team's coach. Yes, that part. That's the wrinkle. So when she asked to go to the birthday party instead of our soccer game, I was a little torn to say the least. But like I said, I already knew my answer, and when I talked with the Mama about it and our response was united: instilling commitment and teamwork in both Beatrice and Bryce has already started and will be years in the making, like the pearls all our children will hopefully become.

She may never want to play sports long-term; maybe she'll be an engineer; or maybe she'll do both. Who knows. Both girls'  lives will be difficult and competitive enough as it is as they get older -- especially being females. Plus, I'm dealing with an age group who loves to chase each other, do cart wheels on the field during games, pick clumps of grass and throw them at each other, and give each other hugs. So there's that.

Either way Bea's in first grade and only seven years old and has come a long way, baby. That's why we say let's let the pearls play.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Celebrate the Wham-Bams and All in Between

"Time is passing by
I still want you
Crime is on the rise
I still want you
Climate change and debt
I still want you
Nuclear distress
I still want you
The Earth is heating up
I still want you
Hurricanes and floods
I still want you
Even more than I did before..."

—Brandon Flowers, Still Want You

And just like that, it's 18 years later. This is the part when you measure the magical moments against the realities of your life and a long-term relationship. From that moment of meeting the Mama one day at the beach...

...October 11, 1997. I usually get the words wrong, but our lover lore recounts the fact that the Mama walked up to me and asked:

"So, do you always come here alone?"

And like a fool, I almost didn't answer her; I wanted to be alone actually.

But then, "Yes, I do. And you?"

Within a few weeks we were hopelessly in love... now 18 years later celebrating my 50th birthday party with friends and family on the eve of our 18th anniversary of meeting one another and our 12th anniversary of marriage. In fact, we had the local iconic Surfing Magician perform for the kids and the adults at my party, but dammit, he couldn't make me 40 again. Sigh.

But he did combine two signed playing cards from me and the Mama into one. Right on. My sweet Mama Ace in the hole.

Nearly two decades, two children, a finally refinanced mortgage, a few careers and economic ebbs and flows, and multiple family dramas later -- here we are.

None of this makes our relationship any less romantic, however. Real life may not be as colorfully dramatic and sexy as a novel or a movie, although throughout the years have been peppered with manmade and natural disasters and illness and death and -- good God, tell me to stop.

But there's one thing I know for sure, that real life can be just as super hot for long-time lovers. For example, recently the Mama read to me one of those fun sidebars from one of her Oprah magazines (which I actually had to look through to find again for myself -- ugh):

Overrated Sex: All night long
Underrated Sex: Wham, bam, thank you, man!

Add up those wham bams and you've got one hot lovin' super nova. Through all the years and a few ups and downs that even we have had, intimacy it a critical priority. Early on we made it so and told each other if we ever strayed to never come home. Seriously. Flirtation is one thing, but infidelity is the ultimate killer and actually a symptom of something missing, maybe multiple things, usually passion and intimacy, so our recommendation is don't ever frickin' lose it if you believe in it and long to keep it.

Do whatever you have to do to make that whoopee. Growing up I remember catching my Grandpa grabbing my Grandma's behind and patting it gently as he whispered something in her ear, even after 60 years of marriage. I proudly carry on that tradition today.

Of course real life gets in the way of mutual desire, like a belligerent drunk buddy who steps on your foot and leans over you to hit on your girl sitting at the bar next to you. You sulk away to the bathroom nurse the foot and the ego, and when you recover, you're either too tired or too stressed or too busy or too --

The Mama and I experience all this, but we want make it all work and keep the love simmering to a boil. Later today we'll go down to the place we met on the beach all those years ago and read our wedding vows to each other. It's a way for us to honor our love for one another, a reminder that two halves can and do make two wholes, a loving family, a continuous adventure and being the omniscient narrators of our own Rom-Com movie that goes on and on and on and on.

That's why you should always celebrate the wham-bams and all in between. Always.

Happy Anniversary Hot Stuff.