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 16, 2017

The Vapor Trails

The first time they were all gone. The second time only she was gone. And then there are all the times when I'm gone.

The first time when they were all gone it only took to day two to feel so completely alone. Alone in a house that our children grew up in. Where we persevered through boom and bust. Where we sometimes felt angry at each other but always fell in love over and over again. Where we planned to solve the worlds ills and make a difference.

The silence deafened quickly and blotted out any attempt to fill it with transitory white noise. Comforts were few, sedation only slowed the sadness and so instead I kept myself as busy as possible, sticking to routine and getting stuff done. Stuff that in aggregate maybe made a difference, or not a hill of beans.

Anything I did, I saw, I heard, I smelled, I tasted and touched reminded me of them. Anything I felt; I became like an emotive magic 8-ball, displaying the gamut from "outlook good" to "ask again later" to "very doubtful" -- happy, sad, angry, indifferent, rinse and repeat. And yet, I lived on in the light of their legacy. I lived on with their memories. I lived on with both a clear conscience and with some regretful action and inaction, which is always the contradictory vastness of in between for many of us. At some point their vapor trail faded away, but their transcendent DNA is forever present.

There I go again, bleeding out drama like I do, because they did come back and were only gone for a few days to help out a family member after some serious surgery. They being the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our two girls.

Good God, just a few days and all that spilled out from the poetter within.

It was the same thing when the Mama left again to continue the family help and the girls stayed with me. This time it was the missing of the Mama by all three of us.

And then there are times when I've had to leave and the Mama and girls miss me; it was the same thing when I left to continue with family help when my sister was gravely ill.

And again when my parents were so ill at the end of their lives.

And then there all the times I travel for work. When I'm gone for a few days at a time, sometimes a week at a time. The missing is reciprocal and palatable when we're talking on FaceTime from afar.

These are the vapor trails of loss, each one a painful signature that fades away into blue sky seemingly out of reach, only to shine forever from the darkness beyond. Whether they're gone for good or gone for a time doesn’t matter. The divine constellations of loved ones can eventually guide us to the happy each time, and until the end of our time. Because their time is all time. I miss you, Mom and Dad.

God bless those who have lost loved ones. May blue sky bathe you in their happy and that you outlive the vastness in between.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using My Wareness

"...when you move me everything is groovy..." —Train, Drive By

I just wanted her to wear something other than than the gray sweat pants. The shirt she had on was fine, the Mama had already told her it was fine, and I had told her it was fine multiple times as a negotiating tactic to get her to change the gray sweat pants and put another pair on. 

She didn't budge, though. She dug in.

"No! I want to wear these pants."

"Beatrice, we're going to be filmed today for Kidpower, and all I want you to do is to change your pants. You can wear the shirt. The shirt is fine. Okay?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these pants."

Think, think, think...

"C'mon, Bea. Why can't you wear different pants? What's your idea? I want you wear different pants that are darker. I'm sure Mommy would agree. Something darker. C'mon. What about these?"

We were in her room now. I held up five different pairs of pants, mostly darker ones and some with different patterns on them. Anything but the gray sweat pants. 

"My idea is to wear these," Bea answered.

The what's your idea? framework was from the girls' early preschool days and positive discipline and parenting. Instead of being authoritarian and dictating to your children about any and all things, the idea is to include them in the conversation and decision-making to empower them and literally ask them, "What's your idea?"

And Bea's idea was to wear those friggin' gray sweat pants.

"Daddy, you should pick Beatrice's favorite pants -- the black ones with sparkles on them," said Bryce, trying to give me a hand.

"Which ones are those? These?" I held up something similar to what she just described.

"Um, no, those aren't it."

"Then where are they?"

Both girls shrugged. "I don't know," said Bryce.

Think, think, think...

I picked three pair. "Bea, can you pick one of these, please?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these!"

Think, think, think...

"Okay, then we'll bring these three and let Mommy pick one out."

Red-faced Beatrice was either mortified, angry, or both. Probably both. Yeah, that was probably it.

Right?

"Daddy, didn't you know that those are my favorite? I told you I wanted to wear those!"

She pointed to a pair of black stretch pants I head, the ones with stars and other geometric shapes on them.

"You did?"

Does it matter, Daddy? C'mon...

"Yes, those are the ones I want to wear. C'mon, use your awareness, Daddy."

Now that was funny. Why? Because of all the Kidpowering the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) -- all the important safety skills she teaches to children, teens and adults alike -- an important aspect is always being aware of your surroundings, who's around you at anything given time, to stand up straight like a giraffe and look, look, look around and be aware, aware, aware.

Use your awareness, Daddy. We use that phrase loosely around the house a lot these days. 

"Yeah, use your wareness," Bryce piled on, dropping the "a".

Well, at least we had the pants thing tackled. 

"All right, Bryce. Time for you to finish getting dressed now and then we've got to go, girls."

Minutes later we're all downstairs and Bryce called out behind me, "Daddy, I'm ready."

I turned around. 

Wow. 

I giggled. Not laughed, but giggled. 

"Oh, Sweetie, I love you, but we can't keep that on your face."

"Ah, c'mon, Daddy. I did it myself."

"I know. But, no." 

I giggled again. Bryce had a big American flag bow pinned in her hair on one side of her head. But that wasn't the funny part. She had also taken it upon herself to put lipstick on. Lots and lots of lipstick. The Joker from Batman lipstick -- like the old-school Cesar Romero version and the Heath Ledger version combined. Swirls of bright pink lipstick around her mouth, with some of it actually on her lips.

Bryce didn't fight it much, because she knew it was too much and yet still very much enjoyed the act of putting it on. We wiped it off and minutes later we were out the door. 

A dozen hours later after a rare late night date night for me and the Mama watching Train in concert, a dear friend who was watching the girls and had texted Amy a picture of the girls hugging and smiling. She showed it to me as we waited to exit the concert parking lot. 

And there was Beatrice, wearing those friggin' gray sweat pants. Because that was her idea. And then there was me using my wareness, because sometimes I can. Right on for Daddy.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Stay Classy, America

Something was wrong. We knew it even before we saw what floated in the pool. At first, it had been another Saturday of summertime fun with the other neighborhood families -- swimming in a neighbor's Doughboy pool, listening to our favorite records albums and AM/FM radio hits, setting off leftover 4th of July street fireworks with lit cigarettes, eating barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and fresh watermelon, drinking over-sweetened Kool Aid and lemonade while the adults boozed it up, told dirty jokes and laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then it got late, especially late for my younger sister and I being two of the youngest kids on the block. It was well after 9:00 PM, the murky purple sky had turned black. There was no moon, only the pinpoint sparkle of stars barely piercing the night, kept muted further by the valley heat. We'd all been indoors for a few hours, watching TV and staying cool at our neighbor's house with their modern central air conditioning. Once outside, the heat drove us all again to the above-ground Doughboy pool.

That tingling frost of fear rode spread up my spine and burst inside my frontal lobes. The pool lights were on and the pool sweep, too. And there they were: dozens and dozens of empty bottles bobbed and twirled in the pool. Many had already sunk to the bottom. I was only eight years old, but I half-expected to see a body resting at the bottom of the pool. Thank goodness that wasn't the case.

But we knew something was wrong even before that; the boisterous adults, all our parents, had gone fairly quiet in the last hour before our creepy discovery. As we stood and watched the bottles sink, the smell of chlorine and alcohol filled us up with a dreadful nausea.

Then the party was over. Our parents told us it was time to go home. Nobody asked what had happened, and no one offered an explanation, and yet the creep factor increased as soon as we walked into our own house. There was trash strewn on our living room floor and in the kitchen. There were nasty words written with lipstick across all our mirrors. There was Vaseline smeared around our toilet seat.

Our mom told us that some stranger had broken in and trashed our house, which we knew wasn't exactly true since most of us in the neighborhood never locked the front doors when we were just down the street. She put my sister and I to bed, and then through my door I could only hear the muffled anger of my parents fighting, yet another night of my alcoholic father's abuse escalated further by the all day's drinking and the vandalism in our house.

Decades later my mom would tell me what really happened. That the neighborhood adult friends had been pranking each other all summer, and then one drunken Saturday night, everyone turned on each other and did some real damage to each other's homes. Some neighbors never talked again after that. She said that the pranking became an exponential revenge game, one neighbor punching back at the other, over and over and over again.

But it wasn't just about the pranking either -- she had told me there was this constant unfiltered judgement of each other's families and a certain few who spouted back-stabbing bullying slurs just because they didn't like something about the other or felt unjustifiably threatened by the other.

Today in communities across America, we seem to be more polarized than ever. Or at least, we're more painfully aware of the polarization than I can recall (or that historians could probably point out otherwise). And we seem to be collectively encouraging it, although I'd argue that the ebb and flow of political correctness isn't the culprit either. We've used that scapegoat one too many times, to make incivility okay and for us to turn on each other so easily. Our leaders and other supposed role models now use the "he said -- she said" bullying polarity nearly flawlessly and it's been fully injected into our societal DNA.

In fact, I just witnessed yet again another Facebook conversation dissolve into a hot mess of personal attacks, jabs, upper cuts and right hooks. Plus, as we all know, the anonymity of social media (like Twitter) has become a vampiric outlet for too many of us.

When faced with these toxic interchanges, my wife and I do our best to use our Kidpower trash cans (throwing verbal attacks away and letting them go) instead of punching back, and our walk away power, as in "leaving in a powerful, positive way," and we teach our children the same. In fact, the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial" -- in other words, "don’t be there." We don't get it right all the time and it also doesn't mean we shouldn't face a bully and stand up for ourselves, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.

My hope is that most of us in the muddied middle will again fill and slow the growing chasm for ourselves, for our children and for future generations. That we'll do the hard work of finding empathic common ground even with discord and disagreement. Not to live together in harmony either, because that's a wishful illusion, but to co-exist as fruitfully and happily as possible while working together to keep this grand experiment of our republic thriving.

Stay classy, America. Time to celebrate the beauty and bravery of freedom ringing, not the thin-skinned ugly of civility shrinking.

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?