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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

To Never Be 9

And then late last Sunday afternoon, July 26, she disappeared.

The search ensued with hundreds of locals fanning out for miles with law enforcement. My wife helped to post flyers. The Santa Cruz community banded together and held their collective breath. I was on a flight to Boston, not knowing yet what had happened.

Monday morning came and went. I learned the news and commiserated with my wife. I hoped and prayed they'd find her. Hours ticked by. The FBI was called in. Monday evening came earlier for me being in the east and I went to bed.

That's when they found her dead in a recycling bin around 7:55 pm PT. I read the news the next morning, Tuesday. Sadness, helplessness then rage coursed through me. The 8-year-old knew her killer, already in custody, although how well is unclear. He's a 15-year-old boy who lived in her apartment complex, not two miles away from where we live. He had kidnapped her, beat her badly, raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a recycling bin.

Tuesday morning I sat in disbelief and sent my wife a Facebook message:

"Sweetie, they found Maddy. I'm so sad and all I want to do is hold our girls and I'm 3,000 miles away. Love you."

I had to wait a few hours because it was only 5:30 am ET. I cried. I longed for my family, but had to work the rest of the week on the East Coast. I cursed the monster who did this, wishing him an equally horrible and painful death. Kill the sonofabitch. I cried a little more.

Sweetie, they found Maddy...

We may tell ourselves we can't imagine such horror, but we can and do. Even with the incidence of stranger child abduction and murder being lower than it's been in decades, when the world spawns a new monster, we imagine he or she is right around the corner.

But none of that matters, not when a child has been killed. It doesn't matter because all you want to do is wall off and protect. It doesn't matter that he'll be tried as an adult or what his background was or the fact that "no one who knew him saw this coming" or how many times it's analyzed until it vanishes under the weight of future "bad news" cycles. Because unfortunately it will happen again and we don't want it to be our family.

All that matters is that Maddy is lost forever. We emphasize and sympathize and thank our deity of choice that our children are safe and we do whatever it takes to ensure that safety.

Later Tuesday morning I asked my wife, "Should we talk with the girls about this?"

"No," she said. "We have to protect them from what we're feeling. Talking with them about what happened will only scare them because they won't understand."

"Okay. Love you."

"I love you too, Sweetie."

Every child's life that's lost to this darkness should be celebrated, regardless of family history, ethnicity, location or socioeconomic background.

In fact, their lives must be celebrated so we as the adults can overcome some of what we're feeling: our fear and our anger and the sadness of not knowing what it's like for our own young children to never be 9. Or 13. Or 21. Or 49.

God bless you and your family, Maddy. We celebrate you and your brothers and sister before you.

What can we say to our own kids if a child is missing in our community? What can we do to keep them safe when they go out into the world on their own? How can we make our community a safer place for everyone?

Read these important recommendations from Kidpower, a Santa Cruz headquartered global nonprofit that teaches people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. 

Kidpower is also offering two free community workshops to learn about "People Safety" skills and how to practice them. 

The first is a Parent-Child Workshop geared toward children ages 5-12 years old with their adults and will be held on August 7th from 3:00-5:30 pm

The second is a Parents and Caregivers Workshop. This is an adult only workshop and will be held on August 7th from 6:00-7:30 pm

These workshops are free thanks to a special grant from Plantronics to support workshops for our Santa Cruz community at this important time. Preregistration is required for both. 

Kidpower was founded here in Santa Cruz over 25 years ago by Irene van der Zande as a nonprofit to teach people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. To enroll in either of these workshops or for more information, please visit our website at www.kidpower.org or e-mail Kidpower at safety@kidpower.org.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

To Be A Man Of Letters

I'm not a purist. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There are those who prefer longhand, sketching stories in pencil or pen on legal pads. Not me. 

No, I can barely read my own printing today. It's progressively gotten worse over the years, especially since I predominated type everything I write and have for decades.

The irony here is the fact that, throughout most of high school, I wanted to be an architect, and my printing was impeccable due to all the drafting courses I took.

But thanks to one typing class my freshman year in high school on an IBM Selectric III, my printing went to hell in a handbasket from then on. 

That's when my grandfather gave me his typewriter, a Remington Noiseless from the 1930's (hence my using the Courier font in this piece). The ribbon was a pain in the butt to manage, but mercy me I loved that typewriter. I typed many a poem, story and class paper on that old machine, and it was the only "word processor" I had my first year in college. Yes, white out was my best friend that year during all my late night typing fests. 

I dug up an interview I did with my grandfather the year after I learned how to type, one that I typed up on the very typewriter he gave me. We talked about the Great Depression and it's fascinating to me now since I've become a self-taught student of economics.

"Well, I [my grandfather speaking here] was 21 years old when the depression began, and my wife was 20. We lived in Bloomington, Indiana. We had gotten married just 6 months before the stock market crashed in 1929. The thing I noticed the most was that banks started closing and closing fast. People were losing money everywhere. People were also losing their homes.

Oh, yes, I remember the stock market crash! Besides losing money and banks closing, I was hearing of people killing themselves. Also, I had a friend that had lost all of his hair besides his money. He ended up separating from his wife and heading for the hills to pan for gold.

Most of the people I knew had lost their jobs. I was lucky. We lived on a farm. But the farm wasn't that good of an income then. I also chopped wood for making railroad ties at $0.10 an hour, 10 hours a day. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it helped a lot."

Ten cents an hour. Wow. Well, the writing for me continued and the typing went from the Remington to a Magnavox Videowriter (remember those?) to an early Apple home computer to a variety of PCs to my MacBook and iPad of today.

A big part of being a writer is reading and I've been fortunate to have such rich access to both. I grew up buried in books, tunneling through character and plot. Words were sustenance for heart and mind. I've always thanked my mother for feeding my primal critical thinking mind by reading to me and encouraging me to read and write. My wife grew up with a voracious appetite for reading as well.

So when the Mama and I had children, of course we planned to ignite our same love of books and story in them, which we've done successfully. The imagination fire in their bellies burns bright and we read every day and every night. 

The Mama takes both girls to the library every week and they bring a big bag of books home each and every time. This summer they've been in the Read to Rhythm program sponsored by the Santa Cruz Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries. And speaking of economics, they're incentivized to read -- the more they read the more "book bucks" they get to spend on yummy treats around town.

Both Beatrice and Bryce are rich storytellers and have been telling them visually through drawing and play-acting (just as we did at a very early age as well). And now that Bea is learning to read and write, her heart lights up with story, which in turn lights up ours. Bryce isn't far behind either, already writing her name and other letters relaying animated visions as if the world were her stage.

I've been fortunate to write regularly with modest success and visibility, to publish a weekly column about empowering a better workplace, and to have published a children's book and a career management business book. My girls and the Mama also inspire me to one day write that great American novel as well, to be a man of letters I've always aspired to be.

Maybe someday...

Just don't ask me to handwrite anything. It would be like trying to read Tolkien Dwarvish runes. Trust me. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Schooled At Schoolhouse Rock

“Interjections 
Show excitement, 
Or emotion. 
They're generally set apart from a sentence
By an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.”

Schoolhouse Rock, Interjections


The staff member stared at me, a slight forced smile on her face betrayed her awkwardness.

"Excuse me, but I'm going to have to stand here and watch you delete it."

An hour earlier the local musical production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! was just about to start and we all simmered with excitement. The girls were a little worried about how loud it would be and had their ear muffs at the ready, but the Mama and me couldn't wait. We grew up on Schoolhouse Rock and had introduced the girls to some of them in the past year, some of their early favorites being "Three Is a Magic Number," "I'm Just a Bill," and "Interplanet Janet."

The announcer began and ran through show preliminaries. We half-listened while waiting for the show to start.

"...and due to copyright laws, flash photography or video recording are not permitted during the production or anywhere inside the theater..."

The first half of the production started and the Mama and I were lost in childhood memories -- waking up early for Saturday morning cartoons and the Schoolhouse Rock shorts in between. Bryce got a little squirmy, but Beatrice enjoyed every song. This production told the story of a teacher getting ready for his first day of school and how his beloved Schoolhouse Rock comes alive in his living room to teach him how to be a better teacher. (We highly recommend it.)

Intermission came and we ate a snack in the lobby and took a bathroom break. Once back inside the theater, we sat down, but then I had the bright idea of taking a picture of the stage and posting it online. We'd already done a #BhivePower selfie and posted it, so being the social big daddy I am, I thought I'd take a quick shot.

As soon as I took the picture of the stage and headed back to my seat, Beatrice called me out.

"Daddy, you're not supposed to take pictures."

"Shhhh...I know. Don't tell anyone."

The people right behind us laughed at Beatrice schooling her father, but no sooner had I started to edit the photo to post, one of the theater staff appeared and looked right at me.

"I'm sorry, but I was told that someone down here was taking pictures down here. Again, photography of any kind isn't allowed in the theater."

"I'm sorry," I admitted. The Mama gave me a "you're caught" look, laughed and shook her head.

The staff member just stared at me. A slight forced smile on her face betrayed her awkwardness. I looked down to break eye contact, already bummed that I was caught. She didn't leave.

"Excuse me, but I'm going to have to stand here and watch you delete it. Sorry."

Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.

Rats.

So there I was, in front of my family, and those other audience members paying attention, deleting the stage photo I took so she could see I actually deleted it.

"Thank you," she said, and was gone.

"Daddy, I told you," Beatrice said.

Schooled at Schoolhouse Rock. The fact that my eldest daughter paid attention and knew what I did was wrong was actually an awkward but proud parenting moment.

B-hive power indeed. So instead, I took a picture of the production poster in the lobby, the rebel I am.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah -- Yay!

Darn, that's the end.



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Because That's How It Works With The Guys That Work

“It seems to me I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am
I guess that's why they call me
They call me the working man…”

—Rush


The social notification popped up on my phone.

Craig R kettlebellied

I'm sorry, what? I thought.

Wait, that's not quite right. I squinted and read again.

Craig R kettlebelled

What?

I opened up the MapMyRun app to make sure I got it right. Then I made a sarcastic comment on my friend Craig's MapMyRun feed. Then he responded. And then I did again. And so it goes.

And I still didn't get what kettlebelled was, until we got together and talked workout shop that help us old guys fight the effects of age and gravity's depravity.

Because that's how it works. Between friends that work. When you've known each other a long time you're rightfully comfortable in calling each other out, calling each other names and calling the kettlebelly black, all the while like big brothers (although sometimes like stepsisters) who always have the other's back, practicing the lifestyle of true friendship.

For nearly 40 years we’ve collectively been the guys that work. Some of us are childhood friends, some of us meeting later in high school or right after high school, all who in adulthood continue making an annual trek to hangout for a rest day like we did again recently.

Men of a certain age, an unremarkable age, who continue to invest in a friendship that’s seen many ups and downs, ins and outs, and others who have come and gone over the years. Men who have had varying careers, varying relationships, some with children and some without, who have experienced hardship and loss as well as success and enduring love. Men who have created an inclusive culture from a shared collective of unique behaviors and experiences that extend well beyond the bounds of their own inner drum circle, affecting many others in their lives – family, friends, colleagues and today even passerby on social networks.

The guys that work. But it’s not all unconditional bromance love-fest because there’s a valuable return for us all – the catch phrases, the sounding boards, the support networks, the referrals and all the memories that keep us motivated, working hard to keep working together and reinvesting in our mutual friendships.

Just like the guys at work reference that Geddy Lee makes about his bandmates and long-time friends in Rush, a progressive rock band that’s been playing together for over 40 years and my favorite band. But the “guys at work” include everyone who works for, in and around Rush, and their extended families and friends. (Yes, they make fun of me for always fitting in the Rush reference. Hey, I'm only a fan, not a fanatic.)

But the guys at work that work isn't usually the norm, since women still having older and longer-lasting friendships than men. But we've been an exceptional footnote to that data, one that I hope my girls are proud of someday when they look back over 40 years of their friendships.

Because that's how it works with the guys that work. Amen. Let's do a little kettlebellying, my Brothers.



Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Part When Freedom Rings

“Alternating currents force a show of hands
Rational responses force a change of plans
Anything can happen…”

Neil Peart (now an American Citizen, by the way)

The girls listened as we explained why we celebrate the 4th of July.

"Do you know what country we live in?" I asked.

"Santa Cruz," Beatrice answered.

"No, that's the city we live in. The country we live in is --"

"California!"

Not surprising coming from young kids who experience the literal "now" and frame their responses accordingly. Even with the traveling we've done to date, the answer a few weeks ago would've been New York.

We went on to give then a very brief, high-level overview of the United States of America, sans the Revolutionary War for now, but including the fact that it's 239 years old and July 4 is its birthday.

"Is that as old as the world?"

"No, the world is billions of years old."

"Wow," Bea said, not really getting the span of geological time. Bryce had already moved on to something else.

Beatrice will start 1st grade this year and soon will begin the standardized learning of American history and beyond. Thankfully they're both still too young to fully experience the institutionalized crazy American politics has become (and actually always has been), but they are old enough to have experienced community generosity here at home and elsewhere. They've met many decent Americans from diverse backgrounds who are personally responsible citizens. No matter how viscerally frayed, thankfully the fringe on either end doesn't affect the B-hive.

At least, not yet. For the Mama and I, we revel in the fact that we live in a country where we can still "turn the channel" from detrimental viewpoints and content (in our opinion). And we can freely share our own beliefs in live and virtual forums where others can nod in agreement, responsibly disagree, or turn the channel as well. This and voting can be important catalysts for change, although economists argue that our individual votes don't really make a difference, so why do we vote, but individually the aggregate can make for very powerful and inspiring motivation.

We also pride ourselves in staying informed as much as possible, reading reputable "in the middle and a little to the left" mostly objective media outlets and listening to and/or watching the like (for me, that's NPR, hands down), and not simply overreacting when misinformation floods the social channels as it so often does (and I've gotten swept away in more than once).

Being an informed citizen free to agree or disagree, and/or participate or not in the divisive social and political rhetoric, but always participating in the betterment of society through responsible personal leadership, family, community and country and of course inspired action -- that's the part we want to live everyday.

The part when freedom rings and the independence and individuality empowers the rights of others who feel the same. The part we'll continue to celebrate and instill in our girls while negating hate, prejudice and oppression. The part when we acknowledge equality, regardless of sexual preference.

And then there's the reality that, while they may not be able be able to be whatever they want when they grow up, we do still live in a country where opportunity aspires to these ends and there's resiliency in that American economic magic.

Heck, there still may be gold in them thar hills...



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Where The Real Magic Happens

“Magic happens—but it often requires some planning.” —Neil Peart

I sat less than two feet from the TV. Fixated. My butt glued to the floor. Nothing else mattered except for the singing and dancing monsters, children and adults on the screen. The chill of foggy frosted winter mornings or the scorching summer Central Valley heat made no difference. My mom would vacuum all around me and I still wouldn’t budge. I didn’t hear or see anything else except for my special show brought to me by the letters A-Z.

“…can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street…”

That blessed little Children’s Television Workshop creation (now Sesame Workshop) that launched learning and imaginations not only for the Mama’s and my generation, but also for the subsequent generations since – including our girls. Over 45 years of Jim Henson furry Muppet fun on an imaginary inner-city street in New York City.

The Big Apple idea that shared big yet safe, sometimes socially and culturally sensitive, accessible information for toddlers and children (and their parents) about learning and life. So it was only appropriate that when we planned our big family vacation adventure to New York City and beyond, that we’d end where it all began for us as children – Sesame Place – the amusement park that celebrates all that’s huggable Muppet and more. To sit on that beloved corner of 123 Sesame Street with my girls

We’re West Coast folk for sure, but we decided that for this adventure we wanted to go east, to do something different and give the girls some travel sea "land" legs for a future of continuous discovery. We’ve traveled many different places with them prior to this, but this was the longest duration we’ve done “on the road again” since before they were born. The Mama architected the journey and I helped with a few finishing touches and then we were off…no step-by-step planning, just enough of an outline to guide us on our journey and make some magic.

Because that’s what travel is for us, experiencing new locales and their locals who light up synapses we never knew we had like exotic fireflies on a sweet summer night. That includes those across town or across the state or across the country or around the globe. As much as our budget bandwidth allows, and even then the Mama is quite creative with a dollar.

It’s important to us that our girls eventually find it important to them that there’s a whole world of adventure and experience out there, easy and hard lessons alike, spacious views and painful realities, that will give them a rich tapestry of perspectives and worldviews. We can only hope that these experiences, along with the mindful presence we try to impart on them over the years and the spirituality they may find, will help them hewn the strongest of life staffs for their journeys far and wide.

Oh, and there’s the fun. Tons and tons of fun.

So now after over 6,300 miles of planes, trains and automobile through three states, five cities, a cave and visits with family and friends in less than two weeks, we’re home.

And that’s where the real magic happens anyway, when the blur of what we've experienced pools in our busy heads and hopeful hearts like summer rain in Central Park.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

To Those Fathers Lost Loving What They Do

The voice mails knocked the wind out of me. Literally. After only hearing a few of them back to back I had to move on in the memorial and quickly. I've heard some of them over the years and of course have read, viewed and heard the countless tragic and heroic stories about what happened that beautiful blue sky morning.

But the voice mails, they really tore me up inside (with the "missing posters" coming in a close second). On this Father's Day nearly 14 years since it happened, I imagine those fathers (and everybody else that day) going to work that morning to do what they loved to do so they could help take care of their families. Of course not everyone feels this way, but I like to believe that besides bringing home a paycheck there's something or many things inherently motivating for us in the work that we do.

I talk about that a lot of late -- the fact that we're loyal to the work we love to do. But that's not quite the complete picture, only snapshot from the industry I work in and the work I love to do. Most of us are loyal to the family and friends we love and care about first, then the communities we share with other families and friends outside of ours, and then the work we love to do and/or the business we create that brings work that gives us meaning and a means to an end in those communities we share with many others.

There were those fathers (and everybody else that day) who worked on every floor of the World Trade Center twin towers, and those who worked in and around the streets below, and those who worked as first responders that fateful day.

During our family vacation this week we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. At first, the Mama and I were okay with our solo tours (we didn't bring the girls through the whole thing together, but we talked with them about it). But then, it became overwhelming, our own emotions from the memories of 9/11 pulling us under like a riptide.

But it was a double riptide for me listening to the voice mails of those calling loved ones from the planes or the buildings, telling them what was happening.

Then there's the part when the husband leaves his wife a voicemail that says, "I'm going to be okay. I'm in the other tower."

The second riptide is the automated voice at the very end of the loved one's message.

"End of message."

That's it. It doesn't matter which god you believe in (or not), or what part of the political spectrum you fall in, that's it. That automated part of the message marked the tragic end for so many people, eerily punctuating the end of their stories. And to the fathers (and everybody else) who tried to save so many others, God bless them all -- those lost and those who lost and those who live with the memories of horrific terrorism.

Because that's what it was. Crazy and not so crazy people who hated us willing to die to kill innocent Americans and many others from other parts of the globe. It doesn't matter what came before and what role our government may or may not have played in what led to it. What matters is how we mobilize to heal.

Like terrorist acts all around the world for thousands of years, they're crazy and not so crazy people who hate other people and would rather have them eradicated than actually have to co-exist with them. It's also about power and control and keeping those despised powerless and in constant fear of injury and/or death. These acts span a myriad of civilizations, religions and political factions, and do not fit neatly into any world view no matter how hard we try (and dear God, we certainly try).

Then there's the part when you're on vacation meeting decent Americans from diverse backgrounds and tourists from all over the world in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York, and then you hear about the terrorist attack in South Carolina, one where a single person took the lives of nine others in what is supposed to be a safe haven -- a church. Call it what it is, kids. This was terrorism, something we avoiding calling our own in this country, and thankfully many reputable media outlets are calling it just that. Terrorism against a black congregation because of a hateful white man's vendetta that blacks and whites should not live together in the same communities, a racist pox this country has yet to be able to cure, much less eradicate. The terrorist brought this pox and sat at with the Bible study group at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and then he killed them.

I'm writing this today, on Father's Day, to call for the same kind of mobilization we had on 9/11 for these terrorist atrocities in our own cities against decent Americans, whether in the North or South, East or West, Right or Left, Black or White, or any of the ethnicities that make up supposedly still one of the greatest "free" nations today. I call for us to mobilize and help this community and others like it and treat them with the same respect and reverence that we did on 9/11. The 9/11 Memorial Fountains are perfect metaphors for this kind of loss, the endless tears that flow into dark abyss after dark abyss -- while the people who gather around it pay their respects and many hope to make a difference for our future.

Because then I imagine the part when Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims who perished in the SC terrorist attack, leaves voice mails the morning of June 17 for his beloved wife and children while on the way to doing the work he loved to do for the community he loved doing it for. I imagine his family listening to it over and over again, mourning there loss, punctuated painfully by the automated voice saying, "End of message."

The other morning while on vacation our youngest daughter Bryce brought the Bible from the hotel room to breakfast. She doesn't really know what it it is, and we're not church-going folk (although I was raised so), but it was sweet how she called it her book of charm bracelets.

As I celebrate Father's Day with my wife and daughters in a hotel in New York City, I am so very grateful and draw upon my early Christian roots, sending healing thoughts and prayers to all the families who lost loved ones in Charleston, South Carolina, this last week.

My affinity is to those fathers lost loving what they do to make a positive difference in this world, and today I choose to celebrate them.