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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Our Unfathomable Love Abounds

A dear old friend just lost his son, a young man at the beginning of his adult life.

We say we can't imagine, but deep down we can and do. When you have children, you want to believe that they'll live a long life, and of course outlive you, their parents. But we worry every day on some level that something tragic might happen to them. Not consciously most of the time, although sometimes our fears break the surface tension like horrid mythical creatures that consume our very souls and obliterate the universe.

We say we can't imagine, but for those who have grappled with loss, we cry out from its belly, the darkness a black hole where no lights escapes. We cry out and ask why; maybe we blame ourselves, or we blame others, or we blame God, or we blame the abysmal soul-eating creature. Or we blame all of the above in vicious cycles that eventually unravel into some semblance of acceptance, a modicum of peace.

We say we can't imagine, but what else should we say? That we can and do imagine and this tragedy has reminded us it can happen to any of us, and that's why we're so sorry for their loss? Each death has its own context, but the resulting loss is the constant. It never varies other than the degree of painful remembrance and sorrow, but healing reconciliation is always in the long-tail of beloved memory. 

That's why it's the very collective outcry of sympathy, empathy, and the outreach of those family and friends within reach that can and does help ease the pain, whether the loss be a child, a parent, a spouse or a friend.

I say can't imagine, but I can, and I embrace the scripture my friend shared with us online:

"Out of the depths I cry to You Lord; Lord hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption." --Psalm 130

God bless you and your family, my friend. Our hearts ache and our unfathomable love abounds.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Effectual Stretch of Imagination

“He's got a road map of Jupiter
A radar fix on the stars
All along the highway
She's got a liquid-crystal compass 
A picture book of the rivers
Under the Sahara — 
They travel in the time of the prophets
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone…”

—Neil Peart

It wasn’t exactly the romanticized version of backpacking through an exotic land, especially if you consider a cheap roller suitcase a backpack, which unfortunately I did. But that was me then in 1998, when my then girlfriend (now wife) had bitten me with the travel bug. Prior to that my travel was limited and relegated to a few States, and then once to Hawaii, which when I was 13 I actually thought was another country, and then years later once to Mexico and once to Canada.

My wife had traveled extensively prior to us meeting, including the romanticized version of backpacking through Europe after college, only to get most of her belongings stolen in Prague after only two days into her trip. She could’ve got home after that, wanted to go home after that, but regrouped, bought a few new things, and went on to travel for another few weeks.

And so our first big journey together was to Costa Rica, about a year after we had met. A lovely country, it was the first time I had been to such an exotic land, and to travel with someone else who lived boldly, to experience such visceral sensations I had never before experienced was amazing in and of itself. But the meeting of people I had never met before, some of whom had alien worldviews compared to mine, and exchanging those worldviews with one another, was the epitome of the “effectual stretch.”

The “effectual stretch” meaning pushing oneself to learn and expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in a way that’s produces desired yet diverse effective results, whatever those results may mean to each person. It could mean the literal extremes of success or failure, or that fatty layer in between that gives sustenance to our tenuous journey of sinew and bone.

We’ve attempted to impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to be bold yet aware, to protect themselves but not live in fear, to keep getting back on the bull like they own the beast, horns held tightly in hands. This includes exposing them to travel, new locales and people, experiences that we hope will shape their adult lives and those they interact with for the better.

Listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast about empowering a better workplace and the cities where those workplaces are, which will take another article I'm writing in a tangential direction, I had to smile when I heard American economist and Harvard University professor Edward Glaeser talk about how he was taking a sabbatical while “…attempting to civilize my children by taking them to a variety of different cities.”

Yes, that's the idea of "civilizing" through the effectual stretch and why we're now taking the girls to the island of Manhattan and beyond this summer for our next family vacation. We've flown together already to visit my parents in Oregon and the Mama's family in the Midwest, flown to Sea World and the Zoo in San Diego, ridden trains together to San Francisco, ridden city busses in Santa Cruz, driven to Disneyland and back a couple of times already (and a few other road trips to visit our sisters in Nevada and Central California). And there have been a couple of international trips for me when I've extended the stretch of imagination for the entire B-hive by getting to go to Australia and more recently Ireland.

In every place any of us goes individually or as a family, the idea is to learn something new about other people and ourselves, and to suspend our disbelief about the lore of the land we're upon, especially for our girls. There ain't nothing wrong in believing in magical things. (And yes, I kissed the Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle.)

You can't get any more excited about something as magical as fairy doors. Really. The girls have been immersed in the Tinker Bell and her fairy friends reboot for a few years (great girl power stories by the way) and when my new friend, Gina London, whom I met in Ireland (an Emmy award-winning veteran CNN anchor and correspondent turned international executive communications consultant, one of many amazing people I met while there), told me about how her daughter Lulu adores the fairy doors, I just had to have them for Beatrice and Bryce. Fairies originated from European folklore and Celtic, Germanic and Greco-Roman beliefs.

These particular doors are made by the Irish Fairy Door Company and come complete with door, key and wooden steps for the front of the door. You then give your fairy a name, and this is how it went with us:

"Beatrice, what name do you want for your fairy?"

"Tinkerbell, because I love her."

"Bryce, what about you?"

"My fairy's name is Barry."

In all fairness Bryce most likely meant "Berry," but Barry is funnier, so that's what I'm going with. You also get a fairy lease agreement, which is really cute and comes with stipulations such as:

“If pets live with the home, please that they do not tinkle against the fairy door. Having a wee-covered door can cause your fairy to get quite upset.”

You then find a place for the doors in your house and decorate around them, leave the keys out overnight, and if they're gone in the morning, the newly named fairies are the family's new friends and will visit regularly. Tinker Bell and Barry not only have new homes within ours, but they have the makings of a new fairy garden in the backyard courtesy of Bryce. And yes, the fairies have visited more than once already.

What the Mama and I love about the whole idea is how stretches their imaginations and gets them excited about new experiences both near and far. Ever since we met one day at the beach nearly 18 years ago, it’s been one new experience and growth opportunity after another. Not always travel related, and certainly not always successful, it’s been more about having an explorer’s mentality and approach to the mindful and agile living of the effectual stretch.

That is the gift the Mama gave to me and now our girls, and I couldn't be more thankful and grateful. Here's an excerpt of a poem I wrote her on my way home from Ireland that sums it all up:

The moment we met that day on the beach became a stunning ache
That has never left me — the soft light of your moving presence, 
A welcome sun that never fails to rise and lift my heart, hold it high 
In the sky and remind me this is how it feels to live life with love,
To be in love, to live boldly and burn brighter with the happy ache of 
Never wanting to be without, for that would mean we were never real, 
that our fated meeting had never happened, our heartmeld fusion that had
Never transformed two halves into two wholes, birthing two celestial
bodies locked in each other's gravity, a brilliant sun and moon, lovers 
And friends who can't look away from one another, who look out for
One another, who live life unabashed and empower their children in kind...

Happy Mother's Day, Mama. We love you.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Because Malls, Mary Janes and Making Up

The part when the Mama's right on the friggin' money. Which is usually most of the time.

"It's like 'The Family Man' when they go to store after store in the mall and Jack Campbell wants his Mary Janes, right?"

Right. That part.

That was during lunch, hours before the end of the endless errands. Already a Daddy Goat Gruff from earlier in the morning, because I let the "bother" bother me selfishly before I articulated the why of it, and the fact that the Mama had a stressful week before as well that I selfishly neglected to acknowledge at a vulnerable moment when the bother bothered -- the foresight irony of eating at the iconic Santa Cruz Crow's Nest wasn't lost on me.

Land (of emotional intelligence) ahoy!

Unlike Jack Campbell's frustration of braving the family trip to the mall, my "new suit" payoff had already been guaranteed. I had recently purchased a new one for a conference in Ireland and needed a few alterations. Picking up the altered suit was the end of the errand day.

And while it still takes me a little while to extinguish the gruffness, extinguishing she does come. Because malls. But not just that -- because malls with the Mama and the B-hive. I know, counterintuitive to the dangerous emotional riptide malls can cause, but since there's The Santa Cruz Children's Museum of Discovery, the local mall makes for an educational visit. We're members of the discovery museum and the girls (and us) love it. 

Land (of science and discovery) ahoy!

Plus, there's a tiny merry-go-round to ride elsewhere in the mall. That and at the last minute the Mama bought me my Mary Janes -- a Star Wars backpack -- knowing how Star-Wars poor I had grown up, only owning a few sets of trading cards back in the day.

Double plus -- the part about communicating and making up. Always a pleasure when you love each other and work on making the long-term pragmagical magic.

Right on, Baby. Because malls, Mary Janes and making up.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

To Always See the Squirrels Through the Trees

“When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die…”

—Paul McCartney

The world around us slowed to a near stop. Focused and fiery, we ignited the air between us.

"Do you want to go home?"

There we were: a battle of pure impulse and reactive wills. I held Bryce firmly by her shoulders after I had placed her in the shopping cart seat. Bryce held me fast with her eyes, defiant fury unleashed over and over again like rapid-fire solar flares. Shards of melting self-control rained down upon us.

"No, no, no!"

I started to lift her out of the cart and then...

Twenty minutes earlier I knew it would be a stretch with me in charge and taking both girls to Trader Joe's for our weekly shopping run. As soon as we got to the store both girls wanted the kiddie shopping cart to push around, but there was only one, which was how the fracas began. Since Thursday, the Mama has been in the classes to become a certified instructor for Kidpower, and I've been helping case for the children more than usual, especially this weekend.

For those keeping score at home, Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education.

I'm very proud of the Mama doing this, and I of course will support and help in any way I can. But any parent responsible for the lion's share of childrearing, or any portion of it, will tell you that it's hard enough taking one young child to the grocery store (or any store that's not a toy store).

But two young children, one of whom is the Brycinator? C'mon. Lovely squirrels they are, but still.

...and then I stopped myself to channel the Mama and principles of positive discipline. Beatrice looked at me as if saying, You can do it Daddy.

Get into your child's world.

"Bryce, I know you want to go home, but why don't you help me and Bea find the Tiki Guy so you can get a sucker and Daddy will shop super fast? Then we'll go to the duck park."


That's when Beatrice exclaimed: "I see the Tiki Guy, there in the surfboard!"

And we were off, suckers in hand. Super fast the shopping was, and when I couldn't find something on the Mama grocery list within 20 seconds, then I quickly asked one of the friendly Trader Joe's employees. Finding the cute little stuffed Tiki Guy hidden in plain sight throughout the store is always a fun distracting pastime for kid's at Trader Joe's, and it certainly helped me. Ultimately Bryce and I survived and Beatrice was happy to help me carry some of our goods in the little shopping cart.

Yep, the part when the Daddy's in charge of the girls and grocery shopping becomes a precarious balance of emotional intelligence and a deadly race against end of times.

Plus there's always a park to play in for the aftermath. Ah, to always see the squirrels through the trees. 

"What does it matter to you?
When you got a job to do
You got to do it well
You got to give the other fellow—"


Sunday, April 19, 2015

May the #BhivePower Be With You

When I heard it the first time, my heart filled with love and faith, and my spirit transcended the atmospheric sensitivity of childhood scarring.

“Chewie, we’re home.”

For some, the words are meaningless, nothing more than another passing obscure reference of no interest, something silly for the crazies of sci-fi fandom.

But for me, it’s beyond moving. It lifts me up and holds me close, as if I were a lost, frightened child finally found, held tightly in my broken mother’s loving embrace.

In the summer of 1977, the world was complicated. We were still recovering from the longest and steepest recession at that time. Middle East tensions ran high. Domestic violence awareness and child abuse awareness was in its infancy. Political myopia was everywhere. We seemed to be a highly disconnected world in the wake of early technological innovation.

My own complicated world at the time was still years from full recovery, living with domestic violence and abuse. Star Wars was to become a savior of sorts for me, and why I convinced my little sister to stand in the long hot line with me at the Fox Theater in Visalia, CA to see the new space epic.

We sat in the dark theater and held fast the seats beneath us, looking aspirational celluloid straight in the eye. I remember with stellar clarity the journey to a galaxy far, far away when I became one with rogues, rebels, villains and heroes and a musical score that haunts me to this day.

Nothing else really mattered until the house lights came up and it’s all I could talk about for the rest of that summer. But I carried with me a newfound hope, and now decades later, multi-generations of fans wait longingly for the next chapter of the Star Wars saga.

Chewie, we’re home sent chills through many of us and we cheered along (and I’m still cheering since I’ve watched the new trailer over and over and over again), yet again living in a complicated parallel universe to 1977: economic recovery, global tension, political myopia, accessible domestic violence and child abuse awareness, a now highly interconnected world via a mobile and social tech explosion.

That's why I'm so excited for my girls to watch the films someday soon, distanced only by the obvious differences they're growing up with (for the better) than I did. They've already had a lot of indirect exposure from me (go figure) and from other shows and stories, and are drawing pictures of their favorite characters (Beatrice tends to be drawn to the villains of stories, so we'll have to watch that young Padawan). The Mama's onboard as well having seen Star Wars when she was about Beatrice's age.

Even with the mixed reviews of two-dimensional female anti-hero Padme years ago, her daughter Leia will always rock with fiery independence and strong leadership, tempered by grace and compassion.

"You have that power, too,” says Luke Skywalker in the latest Star Wars teaser trailer. Of course he’s referring to “The Force.”

Make fun of me if you want, but we should all aspire to have it. Always. #BhivePower

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Truth About Manning Up

“Love is born with solar flares
From two magnetic poles
It moves towards a higher plane
Where two halves make two wholes…”

–Neil Peart

Early in 1998, she left a clear directive: I want to be with you, but take care of your business, or I'm out.

It was more heartfelt and elegant than that of course, but I remember distinctly how they made me feel as I read her letter while overlooking the Pacific: like a matter-of-fact slap, one that was a long time coming, one that left a chilling burn. The wind cold, the sea cold, my heart a cold rock released from its cliff mooring to sink below the unsettled surface.

I stood in the same place that more than a half a year earlier I'd stood when I realized this was the place I'd live, only months later to meet the Mama on the beach in October 1997.

Then on to early '98 again and slipping below the surface, when the reality of my unfinished past life haunted us both. Separated, but not yet divorced, still tethered to a unhappy life I no longer wanted (and would still take a few years to unravel from), it was time to reconcile my life at that point, to man up and take care of business so the future Mama and me could have a happy life.

And we did; and we do. But I have always had time with happy, and I still sometimes allow myself to be released from my cliff mooring, the unforgiving gravity skewed by my misunderstanding of what manning up really means. 

In the above context it just means taking responsibility of one's life, of the things we have control over and can change for the better. When we do, it's freeing, uplifting, Zen-like, slowing the natural erosion of things to an imperceptible crawl.

Then there's the context of social mores and traditional, gender-specific roles that we've grown up with. Unfortunately it's the old-fashioned "manning up" ones that I get caught up in much more so than the pragmagical Mama. We're pretty together people overall, but we're still fallible and breakdown once and a while, and I for one am haunted by self-inflicted emasculation.

Take for example when our friggin' dishwasher broke recently. At least, we thought it was broken. Water wasn't spraying inside. We had no idea why. We did have it serviced a couple of years ago and decided that now that it was almost 10 years old, we'd buy a new one. But then the Mama thought we should just have it fixed again. I still thought we should buy one. Then I thought we should get it fixed, and then she thought we should buy a new one. Then we were both on board with buying a new one, the Mama researching new ones and delivery and installation costs.

I thought that was that, but that wasn't it. The Mama watched a YouTube video about what might be wrong with the dishwasher and then proceeded to fix it. And fix it she did. It worked like a champ. Too bad I couldn't say the same for myself. 

Instead of celebrating the fact that she saved us hundreds of dollars, I got frustrated, Daddy Goat Gruff style. I gave her a hard time the whole time by suggesting we should just buy the new one, and what happens if it breaks again, and what happens if it leaks water all over the kitchen. I was basically a dick, true to my gentrified chromosomal heritage.

This wasn't the first time I've acted this way when the Mama enlists her economical pragmatic magic. The struggle for me is the fact that I feel like I'm "manning down" when I don't get to the fix first, when I'm not taking care of business for her and the family. It makes no never mind to the Mama as long as somebody does. Not because I'm a man and she's a woman. Just because it gets done. 

There are things I've never cared to know about and don't ever care to learn about today. Things I don't care ever to invest the time to understand how they work and how I might fix them. I'd rather find someone who knows how to do it and pay them to do it. The Mama on the other hand prides herself in saving a dollar by trying to learn how to do it herself.

And that's okay either way when you "man up" to make it work. Since our beginning we strived to embrace each other with open arms, while arming each other with life skills to thrive together. We wrote our own vows based on mutual respect, but we were never about two becoming one, we were all about two halves that make two wholes, reveling in our individuality and differences just as much as our shared values.

As it was. As it is. As it always should B.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

From Elusive Hope to Helpful and Healthy Realities

Admittedly I've never been fond of Easter. It was always an emotionally conflicted holiday for me. The spirit of Spring renewal, and for those of us raised with Christianity and learning of Christ's ascension from the grave, always gave me elusive hope that I too could overcome anything life put in my path.

For decades I felt helpless, the healing from abusive relationship after relationship just as elusive, and then channeling my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an young adult.

My mother and sister here the only support network back then, but they were just as damaged at the time, if not more so than me. Unfortunately too many other family and friends didn't want to know and/or acknowledge what was happening. And we didn't have the skills to ask for help either.

Decades later the Mama and I went from not wanting children at all to changing our minds happily and having two lovely little girls. We knew we were "all in" and would do everything we had to do to protect and empower them while ensuring and sustaining only a healthy network of relationships around us all.

Sadly, the statistics say otherwise for too many others. A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds — 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. And that's only what's reported. Statistically speaking, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

This combined with having children of our own now is why I've become a domestic violence and child abuse awareness advocate, and why the Mama will soon become a certified instructor for Kidpower soon, which is headquartered here in Santa Cruz.

Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, which has served more than 3 million people of all ages and abilities across six continents, since its founding in 1989. 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.

Since April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wanted to share five recommendations from Kidpower on how awareness, action, and skills can keep our precious children and teens safe from most abuse, most bullying, and most other violence, most of the time:

  1. Making SURE kids know you care. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with every young person in your life who you are in a position to help. Tell them, “You are VERY important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know. Even if I seem too busy. Even if someone we care about will be upset. Even if you made a mistake. Please tell me and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Ask them occasionally, “Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me.” Listen with compassion to their answers, avoiding the temptation to joke or lecture.
  2. Not letting discomfort get in the way of safety. Decide to make the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment: “I WILL put the safety and well-being of young people ahead of anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.”  The fear of upsetting or bothering someone can make it hard to speak up – and breaking the silence is at the foundation of stopping sexual abuse. Don’t automatically trust people or places because they are familiar to you, have a great reputation, do nice things for kids, are in positions of authority, or seem wonderful. Make sure that their behavior and values are consistently Worthy of Trust.
  3. Supporting young people in developing healthy boundaries and strong relationships. Teach kids positive communication skills. Uphold the Kidpower rule that touch, games, or play for fun or affection should be the choice of each person, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. Teach kids that touch should not be secret, games should not be secret, presents someone gives you should not be secret, videos and photos should not be secret, and problems should not be secret. Coach young people so they are successful in practicing skills – using examples that are relevant to their lives – so that they are prepared to stay aware, speak up, resist emotional coercion, move away from trouble, and be persistent in getting help from busy adults.
  4. Sharing information. Tell parents, educators, and administrators about Kidpower’s tools for teaching child abuse prevention strategies and skills for schools and other youth-serving organizations that help protect children and teenagers, including those with special needs, from most abuse, bullying, abduction, and other violence.  Share the articles and videos on our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.
  5. Partnering with International Child Protection Month. International Child Protection Month was established in September 2014 to support, inspire, and honor adult leadership in keeping young people safe from harm and in empowering children and teens to take charge of their own well-being. Our first year, we reached over 300,000 adults. Join us so we can reach over 1,000,000 educators, parents, and other caring adults with simple effective actions they can take that can make a great difference in their families, schools, organizations, and communities.

Together we can go from elusive hope to helpful and healthy realities. Happy Easter and all the actionable hope that can and should come with it.