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, July 15, 2018

The Highest Level of Special

“I like your shirt.”

He was older man, dressed for summer golf, and his smile seemed sincere.

“Thank you,” I said.

I wore my Do Good. Be Kind. shirt on the plane and he sat in my row.

“So, do you have the opposite phrase on the other side?” he said. “The yin to the yang?”

He smirked and I smiled.

“No, just the positive side,” I said.

“My wife would totally wear that shirt,” he said.

“Why not you?”

“No, not me. My shirt would read ‘Why do I seem so sincere doing business? I fake it.’ Your shirt isn’t how I make a living; it’s not reality.”

I smiled. “Oh, but it could be.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

Sure, he was honest with me, and it was actually pretty tame compared to how many other men (and women) are behaving these days.

Like the current President of the United States of America recently insulting and undermining yet another female leader and trusted ally, and then walking it back, kind of, if you can call it that, saying the relationship was:

“The highest level of special.”

Whether it had multi-layered meaning or not, the context felt mocking.

I try really hard not to play partisan too much in this writing space. And even though most readers know which direction our family leans, I do my best to not be disruptive in that regard, choosing instead to only sometimes push back on the hateful racist and sexist backlash in our country.

Which is a mistake. I’m not doing anyone any favors when I don’t speak up more often for what I believe in, especially when it comes to inspiring and executing positive change. I don’t have to be disparaging to others make a point; it’s pretty clear our president doesn’t respect women in leadership, or most women at all, and prefers authoritarian men to their empathic and diplomatic brothers. And way too many men and women are celebrating this humiliating trash talk and hate.

Misogyny is a long-term health problem in our society, for women especially, but also men like me. Fathers with daughters (and sons) who they empower to be the best of who they already are, who they are becoming, and who they will eventually be as adults, we all care deeply about the world we're living in and want to become for our kids.

But treating women as the lower class gender because of systemic sexism in global religions and patriarchal societies, degrading them, abusing them emotionally and physically, sexually assaulting them and killing them – has been going on for thousands of years. That's a lot of systemic to fix.

My wife and I did a Kidpower workshop recently with families and children ages 7 to 12 years old. Kidpower’s mission is to teach people of all ages and abilities how to use their power to stay safe, act wisely, and believe in themselves. I’ve been training to be what’s called a suited instructor, where during part of the workshops we teach emergency-only self-defense skills when there’s no other option to get away from a dangerous situation and get help.

There was one little girl in particular, so sweet and a little timid, who really came alive when practicing eye strikes, palm strikes and knee-to-groin kicks on me. I’m glad she did, but also hoped she’d never have to use self-defense in her lifetime. Unfortunately 1 in 9 girls under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. This is why my wife and I believe in Kidpower and similar programs around the world that help people stay safe and empower each other to live healthy, productive and positive lives. This is why we feel the Women’s March and #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been so important.

 Transforming Together
I’m far from perfect, a work in progress. And yet I know there are many other men and fathers like me who want to be a part of the solution, to work together with women to transform their communities and shift gender stereotypes, end rape culture and deconstruct the patriarchy. That’s just what we’re attempting to do in Santa Cruz with the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), holding a one-day awareness and prevention conference called Transforming Together on Saturday, October 6, 2018, at the Louden Nelson Community Center.

Our kids are truly the highest level of special and we have to show them we can and want to change how we treat each other as men and women regardless of political affiliation, religious or cultural background, or sexual orientation. Because we can all be better. I really believe that. We really believe that. My wife and I pledge to continue to make this a top priority with our girls, to help transform our community while keeping each other safe in this current celebration of hate.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Perfect Day, Right Here

"You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care..."

–Traveling Wilburys, Handle with Care


It would’ve been the perfect day. The winds were calmer than they’d been all week. The clouds were minimal and the temperature was going to hit over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sea visibility was up to 12 feet, plenty of depth to see the coral and marine wildlife in the Outer Great Barrier Reef.

Earlier in the week we’d all gone to Green Island where the wind was up to 25 knots, and that pretty much reduced the sea’s visibility to nothing but murky water. Plus, there were really no coral beds to be found from where we snorkeled. But we did still see some tropical fish and a big sea turtle (from the island dock), and had okay beach time on the side of the island blocked from the wind, so there was that. No matter what, we still had yet another great family day during our Australian vacation adventure

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and Bryce didn’t want to deal with another boat ride out to the reef, but Beatrice did, so her and I planned on heading out on what seemed the most perfect of our days in Cairns. It was also the last full day of our amazing vacation and Beatrice and I were ready to brave the reef.

Shortly after we arrived at the dock and got on the boat, I needed to complete health forms for both of us, which I did.

“Remember your safety numbers,” one of the crew members told me after reviewing the forms.

“Got it,” I said. “I’m 25 and Beatrice is 26. And my daughter will get the wetsuit. I won’t need one.”

He looked up from our health forms. “No, you should wear one.”

I nodded. “Okay, is the stinger level high right now?” I was referring to the highly poisonous jellyfish that populated the ocean here.

“No, it’s low, but you should still wear a wetsuit.”

“Got it.”

“Use these wristbands when you pick up your wetsuits,” he said, handing me two thin yellow wristbands.

“Thank you,” I said, and returned to sit with Beatrice.

We were going out into the open ocean where there would be no islands or not even a pontoon to dock to on this particular snorkel trip, so I understood there were dangers.

However, when I went to retrieve the wetsuits and snorkel equipment, the crew members handing out the equipment had no idea what the yellow wristbands were for. Had never seen them before. Had no idea why I was given them. I found that odd, but just shrugged and returned to Beatrice with our gear.

We were supposed to leave at 8:00 am, but right before 8, two of the crew members, a young man and woman, ran onto the boat and up the stairs to the upper deck, and then immediately fled back out onto the dock, emergency kits in hand.

The rest of the crew members were calm, so I didn’t think much about it. Beatrice was watching something on her iPad to pass the time, so I took a selfie with her and we waited.

“Are we going to go soon?” Bea asked.

“Yes, very soon.”

When it was nearly 8:30 am, and we still hadn’t left, I felt like something was wrong. That’s when I looked out the front boat window to the upper dock and witnessed someone, I couldn’t see who, who was receiving CPR.

“Jesus,” I said aloud.

“What?” Bea noticed the alarm in my voice.

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Hopefully we’ll leave soon.”

But we didn’t leave soon, and the CPR didn’t stop. I kept looking through the widow and after about 15 minutes, there were emergency vehicles near where the sick person lay on the dock.

Another female crew member was walking around and checking people in again – the same one who had checked us in before we got on the boat.

“Is everything okay up there?” I asked, hoping to find out more information.

“There’s a man with diabetes who had a seizure, maybe even a heart attack, and they’re trying to resuscitate him,” she said freely, here demeanor calm.

“I hope they succeed,” I said. “But’s it’s been almost 20 minutes, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” she said giving me a meek smile, and moved on to check in others.

“What’s diabetes?” Beatrice asked me.

I explained it to her the best I could.

“Will the man die?”

“I hope not. That’s why they’re up there helping him.”

“Will I catch diabetes?”

I explained further that it’s not really something you catch like other colds or diseases because of a virus, but there are those who are genetically disposed to get it, and that if you don’t take care of yourself with exercise and the right diet, you could get diabetes.

“I hope the man doesn’t die. And I hope I don’t catch it,” she said.

By then it was after 9:00 am, and I got the feeling we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Beatrice was antsy and although the crew’s demeanor had gotten perceptibly agitated, they kept it together pretty damn well. More of them kept coming and going from the boat to the lower and upper docks and back again.

When I looked out the lower dock window again, I saw an EMT talking with the boat captain and a huddled portion of the crew. Based on the fact that some of the crew members were crying, including the young woman who checked us in, I knew what had happened even before the captain called all the passengers together on the lower deck to explain the situation to us.

The man on the upper dock had died. They tried to revive him and kept up CPR and other medical treatments for over 25 minutes, but unfortunately, they couldn’t save him. The man’s family was still up on the dock with the emergency and police personnel. Due to the fact that the crew was quite shaken by the entire ordeal, the captain decided to cancel the reef trip.

Nobody said a word. The sad and disappointed faces of the passengers and the crew said enough. We couldn’t exit the boat either, as the top of the dock ramp was where it all happened, so the captain moved the boat to another part of the dock so we could depart. I’d been texting the Mama and her and Bryce met us where we eventually re-docked.

Right before that, as the boat slowly moved past where the man had died, I saw his family sitting on the dock rail talking with an officer, I assume the wife and son. The female crew member who had checked us in was the first one to witness it, and she told me the man was on vacation with his family from Melbourne – and one minute he was fine and then the next – he just swayed, passed out and fell onto his side, hitting his head on the dock. He stopped breathing and she held his head while some passersby started CPR.

We decided that it was best to move on with our day together as a family, enjoying the first day of NAIDOC Week, where all the indigenous people of Australia celebrate their culture, their history and their tribal families. Ironically one of the booths at the NAIDOC cultural fair was the local Cairns emergency and ambulance services personnel, and when we explained to them what had happened, and that the girls had questions about CPR, they gave the girls a little demonstration and explained how it helps save lives.

When they can save them, of course. It doesn’t always work out that way sadly, because the family that Beatrice and I would never meet on a Great Barrier Reef trip we would never make would now grieve for a father and husband they lost. I can’t imagine and didn’t want to imagine if that had been our family. Every memory of our trip fossilized within. My heart ached for his family.

That's the thing, though anything can happen, anytime, anywhere.

“I’m sorry, Sweetie,” the Mama said at the end of the day. “What a way to finish and what a tragedy. It would’ve been a perfect day out there today, too.”

“It was a perfect day, right here,” I said.

She smiled. A minute later she said, “You know, this morning when we dropped you both off, Bryce said she felt like she’d never see guys again.”

I cringed and then shook my head. “She was just missing us.”

“I know, but still.”

I nodded and smiled at her and the girls. I then turned my gaze out over the still ocean beyond. I knew I’d be wearing that nondescript yellow wristband for some time to come.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

These Go Fish Times

“I'm in you 
You're in me
You gave me the love, 
the love that I never had…”

–Peter Frampton, I'm in You


“Does anybody have a 10?”

“Bryce, you have to ask just one of us for a 10, not all of us,” I said.

Bryce giggled. “Ah, c’mon. Okay. Daddy, do you have a 10?”

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

“Your turn, Beatrice,” the Mama said (what I lovingly call my wife).

“Mom, do you have a 2?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Yes! A match!”

Beatrice laid her two 2’s on the table next to her other pairs.

“You know, the way I grew up playing with my sister, we always matched all four of any number before we put them on the table,” I said to the Mama.

“I don’t know; I’ve always played that you only have to match two cards, not four.”

“Supposed to be four.”

“Who cares? This is the way we’re playing now.”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you keep going if you get a match.”

“Yep, that part I get.”

“It’s still my turn! Dad, do you have a 5?”

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh!”

And so it went. I’ve been playing “Go Fish!” for decades, and it just never gets old, especially when you’re playing with your family. Such a simple yet strategic memory card game, we’ve been playing on our latest vacation and it’s a nice break from the go, go, going and the see, see, seeing that the Mama and me like to do when we travel. It’s also a break from the device downtime that we all participate in, even though we have been limiting the girls iPad device time (at least trying to, at home and traveling).

Plus, a deck of cards is smaller than most phones. And you don’t have to charge it.

Too much device time is another story for another time (and me on my phone always posting to Instagram and Facebook without missing a family beat, usually), but the Mama’s been really good about having the girls do “summer school work” during summer break, even on vacation – keeping up with reading and math for both girls.

And how we do like to play games together as a family – Go Fish, Monopoly, Life (where we get our diversity and inclusion talks in as well), and others.

Again, because of the ease of carrying cards wherever we go, Go Fish is the default downtime fun for travel (for now). Especially when we’re taking an afternoon break from sightseeing, or right before having dinner. It’s seemingly easier to connect this way since the girls are only 7 and 9 years old; we’re still a few years from the tween to teenage dramatic dynasties (which were dramatic for us all, boys and girls alike). It doesn’t mean we won’t play fun travel games in the future, but it will be a different fun, just as in every stage of our lives with children.

I love these Go Fish times. We share our favorite activities from the day, what the girls’ favorite foods and treats were, the Mama and me share an adult beverage (or two), we all tell silly jokes and laugh, laugh, laugh. I didn’t have that a lot as a child, at least not as consistently as we’re able to do with the girls today. My sister and I played a lot of games together growing up early on, and our mother shared in the game fun when she could, but too many times we played in solitude to offset the negative energy of domestic violence that surrounded us (and why so many songs of the 1970’s haunt me).

But this isn’t supposed to be a “woe is me” moment; that was then and this is now. Again and again with the now. Sharing our family love for one another and enjoying being in each other’s company as Dad, Mom, Sister, Sister.

“Does anybody have a 4?”

“Bryce, you have to ask one person, not all of us. C’mon,” I said.

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

“…I don’t care where I go when I’m with you…”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Not Always to Cross

"It ought to be second nature —
At least, that’s what I feel
'Now I lay me down in Dreamland' —
I know perfect’s not for real
I thought we might get closer —
But I’m ready to make a deal..."

–Rush, Second Nature


Damn, if it wasn’t Angel’s Landing all over again. That exaggerated vertigo feeling of flying over the edge and falling to my death. Legs weak, head dizzy and every time I looked down I felt the earth’s gravity calling to me, a siren’s song to fly, crash and burn.

But unlike Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah before we had kids, where we climbed along sheer cliffs with nothing to hold onto except a chain threaded through large eye bolts embedded into the rocks under us, the family vacation hike to Honeymoon Bridge at the Three Sisters in Australia was much easier.

We didn’t make it all the way to Angel’s Landing; the terror of plummeting to the canyon floor was too much for us. We had to backtrack and head back down, even as families with young children scrambled past us, urging us to continue to the end.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) wanted to see Honeymoon Bridge, although I had my reservations, unclear as to how high above the valley foliage we’d be. Probably too high. Yep. Way too high.

As we hiked to the bridge and went from a flat walking path to stairs with hand rails descending a few hundred feet to the bridge, my mind wandered to the night before, to how much easier it was to descend a different path.

We’d been out to dinner and the server who took our order forgot to put in the meals that the Mama and me wanted to eat. It happens. The server was apologetic and we still got our food, but I couldn’t let it go. Didn’t want to let it go. The beer and the travel tired didn’t help either. No excuse, though. I was a grump the rest of the night and that didn’t bode well for the Mama.

We’d already moved past it the next day, but it’s a recurring theme for me, gnashing my teeth like a Twitter troll as neutral passersby go about their business when I feel selfishly slighted. And not letting go no matter what.

Each step down to the bridge was actually easier than the last, as long as I didn’t look down the side of the cliff we descended. This time my mind wandered to the continuous acidic conversations I see online all the time, especially between supposed friends on Facebook (had just witnessed another one that morning). Tribal and polarized, these threads quickly dive into anger and frustration because of something one doesn’t like about the other (politically, socially, economically, etc.).

What’s worse, our greater discourse has empowered too many (more than I still want to believe) to stay in that dark and “grumpy” place of ignorant misunderstandings. An angry racist and misogynistic place where neighbor turns against neighbor. It’s one thing to have zero tolerance for hate, but the problem is that hate doesn’t discriminate and we seem to have zero tolerance for one another these days, which keeps us fractured and weak. And not letting go no matter what.

My attention refocused on the height at hand; we made it to Honeymoon Bridge. And although I had to take a picture near it, not on it, we still made it and the family crossed the 10-foot bridge to the carved out cliff of the first Sister of the Three. Nothing but air on either side of the bridge.

As I’ve made perfectly clear, I’m not a fan of heights. No frickin’ way. And yet I always try to push myself to get there, to go beyond my comfort zone and see something new, do something new, learn something new. To make the arduous journey upward and to get another perspective about this still amazing world we live. To rise above our baser instincts, our genetic default, for our better angels' compromise.

So many proverbial bridges to build and share with one another, but not always to cross.


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."