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 25, 2017

This Nickel and Dime Time

Either you're in it comfortably, or it owns your ass. When you're in it, there's no sense of it, and your mindful presence can move freely about in all directions without worrying about direction. When it owns you, it's omnipresent and visceral and presses in on you from all directions with every direction being a painful reminder of where you've been and where you think you're going.

Or where you need to go. Like 15 miles at 30-35 miles per hour to eventually fly home from our Hawaiian vacation. Of course, first-world problems and all that, and we left in plenty of time to get to the airport on time, but it all started with the email alert.

The email alert from the airline saying to arrive at least 2.5 hours early because the security lines will be longer than usual (and you don't want to miss your flight). The parenthetical part of the previous sentence wasn't in the email alert, but they might as well have written it.

And that's when it owned my ass. "Amy, we need to leave a little earlier to make sure we get there in time."

"Don't worry, we will," she replied.

And we did leave a little early. Kind of. But the stretch of slow road with stop lights and the Hawaiian pace of "hang loose, brah" poked and prodded at my patience. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, doesn't have the same reactive behavior I display when it comes to time owning my sensibilities and flopping me back and forth on the ground like a baby playing with a new toy for the first time. Or the tenth time.

No, the Mama is quite the opposite, cool as as a cucumber, one of my least favorite vegetables in fact (insert tongue in cheek and head into butt). It was then the moments came like invisible poison darts from all directions and I squirmed in my seat and sighed audibly. I tried my best to be in the moment instead.

"I know I get stressed. But I know we'll get there just fine. Right?" I said to the Mama, not really all that convinced.

"Yes, Sweetie. We'll be fine."

But mile after slow mile flattened me like new gravities adding up while the Mama and the girls talked away about their favorite parts of vacation. I chimed in mechanically, but the poison from the imaginary time darts had already entered my blood stream and all I could think about was the nickel and dime time of all the little things that needed to be done that eats away at me like returning the rental car and then hauling all of us and our stuff onto the shuttle to the airport check-in and checking our bags and then slowly making our way through security where we could eat a quick bite before we boarded the plane and then me rushing the Mama and the girls to hurry up and eat and then the Mama saying don't rush me sweetie and that she wanted to take a quick look in the gift shop with the girls and then me saying they will close boarding at 10 minutes after the hour if we aren't there and her saying we'd be fine and my head swirling as if flushed down a toilet and then we all had to use the bathroom one more time and fill up our water bottles before heading to our gate and getting on the plane and sitting in our seats and the plane door actually closing 10 minutes after the hour just like I thought while I thought about the unsettled dreams I had just a few nights earlier about past do-overs that can never be done, and the waking lessons I want to leave my children with someday and the reality of vacation bills and work and saving money to do it all again next year while each year passing on more and more life lessons to the girls and their teenage angst-filled years to come and then paying for college if they go to college and then —

Breathe.

All of which would eventually happen as we turned onto the main airport drive and headed to the rental car return.

It can certainly own your ass, this nickel and dime time. I recommend cashing in on being in it when you can. Amen.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Because I Empathize

The girls screamed and scrambled out of the car when I opened the car door. That's when I saw it fly out and rest on the car door, what looked like a little blue wasp. The girls wailed ten feet behind the car while the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) tried to console them.

Only a few minutes earlier we were finishing a pleasant vacation lunch near Pu`uhonua O H┼Źnaunau (Place of Refuge) in Hawaii. We sat in a rental car because a few minutes before that another wasp had been flying too close to our picnic table where we originally start to eat lunch, which had primarily scared Beatrice to death.

"The wahps is going to get me," she complained as we ate.

"No, it's not," I said. "And say wahs-pa. It's wahs-pa. Wasp."

"Wahs-pa."

"Good. Now, they won't bother you if you don't bother them."

"You said they were meaner than bees," Bea countered.

"No, I said they were more aggressive than bees, and again, they'll only attack if they feel threatened. Same with bees, except wasps can still you over and over."

That's really going to help, I thought. Well done, Daddy. The wasp flying around us was looking for food and wasn't going anywhere any time soon. 

"That's why wahps are meaner."

"Wahs-pas -- wasps. And again, they won't sting you if you don't bother them. Right Mommy?"

"Right," the Mama answered.

It was at that point Bea made it very clear we were moving to inside the car to get away from the wasp. So we gathered the cooler and other lunch items and got in the car. Having a fear of bees and/or wasps isn't that uncommon -- in fact, the phobias known as melissophobia and spheksophobia are pretty common overall, although people are stung much more frequently by wasps than bees. For Beatrice, it all started when she fell on a bee and it stung her on the wrist nearly a year ago. The pain and fear combined was enough to start the phobia reeling inside her and ever since the bee/wasp anxiety remains. 

Meanwhile, sitting in the car and finishing our lunch, everything slowed down. I empathized with Bea; my primary fear is of heights and I've worked on it as an adult, pushing myself to take on high places when I can, safely of course. I thought about what we could do to help her overcome her fear over time. We'll get there, I thought. In the meantime we'll have fun at our next stop, the honey farm--

"There's a wahps in the car!"

Jesus. No.

Flailing and screening from the backseat. The Mama jumping out and opening the back door on her side and shouting at the girls to get out. More flailing and screaming. Bryce jumped out. 

I found myself getting out and opening the car door calmly. Beatrice flew out shrieking. That's when I saw it fly out and rest on the car door, what looked like a little blue wasp. 

"The wahps is going to sting me! Mommy, keep it away! Keep it away!"

The wasps, I thought. Again, not helping.

After everyone calmed down, including and especially Bea, we got back in the car and drove to the honey farm. Where there were lots of bees. Needless to say, even after the proprietor assured the Mama that most of the honey bees were behind netting, there were still bees in the wild flying around.

But only Bryce and the Mama went in to taste the honey. Beatrice and I stayed in the car. 

"Daddy, why are wahps meaner than bees?" 

"They're wahs-pas -- wasps -- and they're not meaner, sweetie, just more aggressive. Like I told you before, they usually only sting when they feel threatened or their hive is threatened. Same with bees. We're safe as long as we don't threaten them."

"Can you roll up the window, Daddy?"

"No, sweetie. It's too hot outside."

"But the wahps."

"No."

Because I empathize. We gotta start somewhere, right?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Storied Life of Our Working Class

“He picks up scraps of information
He's adept at adaptation
'Cause for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay…”

—Rush, Digital Man

Over a 100 talent acquisition professionals, talent advisors and entrepreneurs sat rapt in chairs or stood fixated along the walls listening to us talk about the future of artificial intelligence in recruiting and its impact on the world of work.

It was a technology meet-up event in Toronto, Canada, and the consensus was that AI and machine learning will make it easier to match qualified individuals to the right jobs through highly-developed algorithms and self-adjusting assessments.

All us panelists agreed that the robots aren't taking over any time soon, although one of them added that these recruiting technologies are advancing faster than most of us are aware of. We agreed. Today there are dozens and dozens of artificial intelligence startups in the business of hiring people.

Nearly two decades earlier, when I first entered the HR and recruiting technology space, I worked for a company whose pitch was:

We source Interested, Qualified Applicants for software developer, IT, and Asian-language bilingual positions. You pay only for those candidates who you decide meet your specifications and who have agreed to an interview. You’re in control. Sophisticated artificial intelligence quickly predicts the likelihood of a match between interested applicants and a particular position.

It was cool. It was disruptive. It worked. Kind of. And it was way too early, even with the magic algorithm we had and the computing power of the day. Unfortunately it became a dot.com demise before it really took off. Since then I've seen hundreds companies over the past 18+ years claim their technology will help companies identify and screen the right applicant for the right position quickly and effectively, if not automatically.

Our panel discussion continued and we took questions from the audience. One women asked all of us, "Based on what all of you know today, what's one thing that continues to differentiate humans from artificial intelligence?"

Each panelist answered thoughtfully. When it was my turn I said, "The nuance of empathic interaction; our capacity to love."

I went on, "Maybe hundreds of years from now technology comes to life, but until then it can only replicate our behavior, faster and better, but not become it."

"True that modern neuroscience has shown us how bad we are at making decisions, but it's also part of what makes us uniquely human, the very essence of our ever-evolving DNA."

I babbled on pseudo-poetically for a few more minutes, then we wrapped up the discussion. The night before I had finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a wonderful novel about a man who loved books and through circumstances and life experience learned to communicate with and eventually love others again. I longed for my wife and children, to hold them and tell them how much I loved them.

Closer to my professional world, I also thought about the millions of us who apply for jobs everyday around the world, most of whom have a pretty crappy time in the hiring process. Per the nonprofit candidate experience research organization I help run called Talent Board, nearly 50% of us who apply for jobs never hear back from those companies after 2-3+ months. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Yet, for those companies that invest in consistent human interaction, communication and feedback (providing it and asking for it) throughout the hiring process from before they even apply to the final offer, the 99 out of 100 of us who don't get the job -- the business reality of this messy human transaction -- these rejected individuals are more likely to apply again, refer others to the same company, and even buy stuff if it's a consumer-based business (think airlines, mobile phone companies, hotels, etc.).

The robots won't save us from ourselves quite yet, but the artificial intelligence technologies in play today will empower and inform our dysfunctional decision making, freeing up that time to keep the communication and feedback flowing regularly and nuanced with empathic interaction.

It's also a two-way street. Recently I heard a story of a retail company that sent brief rejection notes with a little feedback for the candidates -- and a gift card. One of the recruiters received a nice note from a father who had lost his wife the year before and had been out of work for months, and was thankful to have the gift card to buy his children Christmas gifts.

Good God, that story gets me every time. And out the every 1,000 horror stories I hear about what it's like to look for a job any day of the week, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells us today, I hear at least a dozen or more positive stories like the above.

This is the storied life of our working class, our human capacity to care about each other even in the sometimes dehumanizing confines of employment, and lack thereof. This is so important because the world of work is so inextricably linked to the rest of our lives. The work we do defines us, good and bad, whether detached or passionate, which is why retaining our humanity throughout can never be negotiated or negated.

I smile at this because our two girls have an affinity for science and technology, as well as a growing sense of empathy and respect for others. I hope someday they will be part of a solution that helps the millions of the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged become adept at adaption, to learn new skills and find work with a conscience that provides a living wage.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Summer of B-hive Thrive

We didn’t realize our youngest struggled, too. The sounding out phonetically. The reading from left to right consistently. The transposing of letters in same-sounding words. The writing of numbers and letters backward so that if you placed them in front of a mirror, they’d read correctly.

We didn’t realize she struggled. But not exactly for the same reasons as her older sister. At least, not that we know of. With Beatrice, it was most likely the auditory processing disorder from early on that continues to cause some delays with her reading comprehension (although academically overall she’s doing pretty well). Bea’s spelling is solid, too. Just the reading skills and comprehension lag.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had noticed something was up with Bryce, since she does most of the daily reading with both the girls outside of school, although I had noticed the writing of letters and numbers backward as well. But it wasn’t until her kindergarten/1st grade teacher pointed out Bryce was behind with her reading skills based on the new state standards. That’s when we realized at least some kind of delay was in play. Possibly. We don’t know what we don’t know yet.

What’s interesting to me is that with Bea, the ability for her to filter what she heard early on was like a radio trying to tune into a station; she never really got there so translating what she heard and the appropriate comprehension and reaction was more difficult that other kids. She’s come a long way, that’s for sure.

Bryce never exhibited that behavior. Socially and even early on academically she's been doing fine. However, her speech was difficult to understand, almost muddied, with “r’s” and “l’s” soft and muted. It’s improved since preschool and now kindergarten, but her teachers had never noticed anything significant to highlight. Now, with the awareness of this possible reading delay, it’s time for us to get in front of it.

Again, we don’t know what we don’t know yet. The word dyslexia has never come up in any teacher meeting with either girl, or occupational or speech therapy session with Beatrice. It’s possible now that there’s a learning disorder present, one characterized by difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.

Possibly. When your child struggles with anything, you run yourself through the wringer thinking about why, and if it was something you did, or didn’t do. Did you let them watch too much TV? Let them play games too much on their iPads? Didn't work with them enough on their homework and all their basic academic skills? Why are some kids the same age reading Harry Potter and yours are reading Captain Underpants? Do you give them enough attention in between all the work and life stuff you’re doing as adults? (And yet, they're constantly inventing things, writing stories and illustrating them -- and right now they're in the backyard creating a sushi machine. Right on.)

Or do you blame their schools and their teachers? That they aren’t doing enough for your children? That the latest curriculum is just friggin' crazy?

Of course there’s been a little second-guessing with us and what we’re doing and how we’re parenting. We’re human. For any parent who's ever struggled with parenthood and working and volunteering and investing in other endeavors alongside raising your children, and feeling guilty about not spending enough with them, I recommend listening to a recent Startup podcast from Gimlet Media. Being straight with your kids, nurturing their voice and giving them the tools to thrive are key.

On the other hand, we could sit around a Kumbaya campfire and sing the praises, or the lack thereof, of public versus charter versus private versus common core versus current standards versus Godzilla.

Instead, we will continue to do whatever we can to help them breakthrough and build their confidence to tackle anything. To bridge the gaps and instill adaptation skills in both girls, working within the confines and the opportunities of a public school system we still believe in. Ultimately there may be walls they hit in school and in life no matter the intervention we provide and/or facilitate.

None of that matters in the moment, though. We're in it for the all of them and are planning a summer of B-hive thrive, to read with them more frequently (me included), and to help sound out the words and improve comprehension of what they just read.

Wait, a sushi machine?




Sunday, May 28, 2017

Because We Could Be Them

“The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between.
Forever dwells in that moment,
Hope is what remains to be seen…”

—Rush, The Garden

We did our best to stay focused on our strategic planning, but the raucous laughter and marijuana smoke kept distracting us. The nightly homeless encampment outside city hall was bigger than ever and it had nearly blocked the entrance to the conference room where we met.

It was our planning retreat for the prevention of violence against women city commission. At one point an especially loud but indecipherable argument outside the door silenced us. One of our city advisors broke our silence.

"It's sad and ironic that only this wall separates us from where we could be. Many of us today are still only a paycheck away from being out there; we could be them."

I nodded and said, "I know. We're still crawling out of our last economic crater from what seems like a lifetime ago. But it was only a few years ago."

The painful memory of that distress welled in my throat like bile. What I didn't share is that we almost walked away from our home and our community back then. While I wasn't one of millions laid off from their jobs during the great recession -- one poor business decision by me, followed by a severely compromised income, and with two very young daughters in tow, we had to make some very difficult decisions.

Over 9 million people lost their homes in the U.S. during the great recession. In the development of 15 homes where we bought in 2006 near the height of the housing bubble, one-third either went through a short sale or foreclosed. At the time we could afford it until we nearly couldn't, and so we weighed our options on what to do next: either stick it out and work on keeping the house, or walk away and move to the midwest to be close to extended family. We didn't qualify for any of the public assistance plans at the time and our mortgage lender would not work with us at all. Even our accountant recommended we walk from the house, to get out and start over. Many economists echoed that sentiment for those of us underwater at the time.

But in the end, we never missed a mortgage payment, and we were never late with a payment. The unrelenting stress at the time of keeping a roof over my family's head motivated me to hustle, hustle and hustle some more. Both my wife and I hustled. Apocalyptic visions of living on the street were enough to keep us inspired to stay off it.

Of course homelessness is much more complex than that and a recent Santa Cruz City Council subcommittee analysis highlights just how complex it gets on a local level. And although homelessness is down today overall where we live, we're still living in a community with 60 percent of the homeless population living unsheltered within the city limits. Also, over half have been homeless for a year or more and also suffer from one or more disabling conditions like substance abuse, psychiatric conditions, physical disabilities and more. Sadly one in three have been in jail within the past year as well. Then there's the harsh reality for too many homeless is that there is a potential violence and sexual abuse that comes from living on the street.

The noise quieted a bit outside and we continued with our commission meeting. Afterwards we went went home and went on with our lives. The city of Santa Cruz has since converted the public spaces around City Hall from an open-access “park” to more restrictive office grounds, citing a purported escalation of homeless use and aggression. Which has certainly been the case. But everyday we witness the plight of what any of us could become at any time. We empathize and count on the fact that assistance from local organizations and countless volunteers, family and friends can and will help, along with sound public policy empowering safety nets from all levels of government that includes a continuous investment in public safety.

And the argument that dismantling most business and financial regulations today will free up the economy to keep us all employed, our savings intact and safe from being decimated by the greed of a few, and ultimately to keep us all off the streets, is simply ludicrous and ignorant.

Again, it's really complex and I don't know what the answers are. I only know that ignoring it, chastising it or criminalizing it won't solve the long-term homeless problem.

Because we could be them. And then what?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The All of Them

“We love the all the all of you
Where lands are green and skies are blue
When all in all we're just like you
We love the all of you…”

—Spacehog, In the Meantime


Then comes the part where there’s two related points in time, that when connected, intertwine and light up throughout the vast skies and seas of proud hearts.

The first came in a most innocuous way; watching our girls play at a friend’s birthday party on the beach. An impromptu game of beach ball soccer kicked off and the happy squeals and shrieks echoed around us. Some of the parents joined in, and I usually would have, but instead I just stood there and witnessed the joy of play. The running around, kicking at the ball and the sand, the falling down, the rolling around in the sand, the laughter, and blue sky, sun and sea.

And then there was Bryce – nimble as a ghost gliding over the sand, bobbing and weaving in and out of all the other kids and adults, stealing the beach ball and maneuvering it with a confident natural agility, losing it and then stealing it back again. Even showing up one of the better boys playing with them all. That was followed by the falling down and the laughter and the rolling around in the sand, and then a few more bursts of soccer showmanship, which is a sport she has not played to date. In fact, unlike her big sister, she hasn’t played any organized sports to date.

Later that day, “Bryce, I’m going to sign you and Bea up for soccer still. You still want to play this fall, right?”

“Yes!”

“Right on. I’m going to coach Bea’s team again and Mommy will help with your team.”

“Okay. I love soccer!”

“Five-it,” I said as I held up my hand for a high-five. That’s my own way of celebrating the fiver with my girls.

* slap *

A few days later the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had a Kidpower workshop to deliver, and so I was on to take the girls to school. It was a usual school day – getting the kids fed, dressed, teeth and hair brushed, and out the door on time, which we usually don’t have a problem with, even with the Daddy in charge. The Mama had already fixed and packed their lunches and prepped their backpacks, so I was covered there.

It was a usual day with one big exception – Beatrice had a highly anticipated, special appointment with the principal.

Throughout the year, all the kids at their school – kindergarten through 5th grade – have the opportunity every week to collect what’s known as Cool Cats (the school mascot is the Wildcats). These are tickets awarded to individuals based on displaying positive behavior with schoolmates, teachers and others as well as doing good deeds and classroom accomplishments of varying sorts. The children collect their Cool Cats and can then cash them in for cool stuff at the Cool Cat store in the office, or for individual and/or group activities.

Both girls had cashed in previously for cool stuff, but then Bea wanted to save up for one thing and one thing only – and that was reading the morning announcements to the entire school with the principal. Every morning the principal reads school announcements for all the students and teachers and students can sign up to read a few of them to the entire school.

She signed up weeks in advance to reserve her spot on the calendar. I attended the special reading in the principal’s office with her to witness the whole thing. Bryce is usually the bolder one in situations such as this, but they've both been making things their own of late; Bea stepped up and put her own stake in the “I own this” ground.

When she finished, she couldn’t contain the smile on her face. The principal thanked her and shook her hand and then mine.

“Five-it,” I said to her.

And high-five we did.

* slap *

“That was awesome, Bea.”

“I know,” she said.

Of course you do. It’s so inspiring to watch our children grow up and mature with a confidence I never had at their age. Early on we worried about Beatrice more than Bryce, and yet they both have proven fears are unfounded again and again. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks for them both in life, some of their own making, and hopefully they learn from them and build on them for a better next time. And we will do our best to teach them and guide them and support them in all their next times.

Because then comes the part where we love the all of them, always, and there’s nothing greater than the sum of all their points in time. 



Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Best of the Good

They both sprinted up the hill towards their classrooms.

“Let’s go to my class first!” shouted Bryce.

“No, we’re going to my class first!” shouted Beatrice.

“Bryce, we’re going to Bea’s class first to make sure her invention is set up and then we’ll go to yours,” the Mama said (what I lovingly call my wife).

Bryce grunted something indecipherable and then shouted, “No!”

“C’mon, Bryce,” I said.

“But I need to be your tour guide in my class!”

“We know, you practiced that, and we’ll go to your class next.”

It was open house at the girls’ school and they were busting at the seams to get us there. All week they talked excitedly of the things they’d show us once we were there – all the great projects they’d been working on, their schoolwork and their amazing artwork and more. Bryce and her classmates had also role-played with their teacher on how to be a tour guide for the classroom, complete with a checklist on a clipboard to ensure we saw every single station set up for open house.

And making sure we saw everything she did. As did Beatrice in her classroom, with her special flying concept car proudly on display. But it wasn’t just those things we were incredibly proud of. It was the in-between things we noticed; the peripheral behavior of our children growing up before our very eyes.

Of fearless Bryce jumping right in with other kids and adults alike to show us “the ropes” of her combined kindergarten and first grade class, and then wanting to visit the first-grade classes, one of which she longs to be in next year. To saying hit to everyone she knows, and anyone she doesn’t.

Of poised and bold Beatrice going out of her way to say hi to her speech and occupational therapists who have helped her tremendously over the years. To hand them and her current teachers thank you cards that the Mama helped to prep and package. And like her little sister, wanting to visit the third-grade classes to meet her possible teachers come this fall.

Of both never being afraid of asking for what they want and need, something I was much more afraid of at their age growing up in chaotic circumstances.

I glowed with such pride and love for my girls and my family as we walked around the school campus during open house. And for all that, I love and thank the Mama. Relentlessly focused on loving and consistent positive parenting and incorporating Kidpower into our lives, while tirelessly ensuring that every school day they are prepared for their days with their homework all done, the Mama is simply amazing.

Of course, I won’t sell myself short; I just follow her lead and do my best to keep up, underscoring the consistency when and where I can, even though I’m definitely rougher around the edges. For those of you with kids, you know parenting is a lot of hard work, and you don’t get it right all the time. There are times when we’re strung out and stressed out and the girls are driving us friggin’ bananas and we scream and whine louder than they do, but that’s the deal when you’re all in with your family. The good, the bad and the ugly – mostly good, sometimes bad and thankfully rarely ugly.

An old friend just texted me and commented that Mother’s Day would be rough for me since I lost my mom nearly five years ago now. He and my other close friends grew up with me and remember my mom well, some even “adopting” her as a second mother in high school. It was rough early on after she and my dad both passed. Both struggled with chronic illness and cancer. Plus, for my mother, she had the trauma of two previous crappy marriages that included mental and physical abuse, and did the best she could raising my sister and I for a while as a single mom.

I told that old friend that fortunately I didn’t feel that way anymore. That I celebrate the best of what she was, just as I celebrate the best of what my wife is, and the best of being a Mom (daddy) myself.

The mostly good, you know.

Two days after open house, while me and the girls were putting some cards and gifts together for the Mama and Mother’s Day, Bryce walked over to me and put her right hand and mouth close to my ear.

“Daddy,” she whispered, “I had an extra card I made at school, so I’m going to give it you.”

She handed me the card and the front read in big and colorful all caps MOM. And then right underneath she wrote in smaller all caps DADDY.

I gave her a big hug. “I love you, Bryce.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

This is the best of the good that I celebrate as a father on Mother’s Day. I’ll take the Happy Mom (daddy) Day any day of the week.