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, March 27, 2009

The joy of reading the classics aloud: She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

It's time once again for Fatherhood Friday. Fatherhood Friday is hip place at Dad-Blogs.com for dads and moms to share stories, ideas, photos and movies with one topic in mind – fatherhood.

How I love reading out loud to Bea. Mama and I both revel in the joy and awe that beams from Bea’s tiny face. Her arms flap, her eyes and mouth open wide, she screeches with joy – it’s such a pleasure to hear our little Hindi velociraptor sing along to the bouncing red ball bounding off our words.

Reading aloud is one of the best ways for your child to learn language in their first few years. But, have you actually stopped to pay attention to the words you’re reading? Way back when Bea was still in the womb last summer I wrote:

You ever notice that reading some children's books as an adult can be an unsettling experience. Take The Story of Babar. I just bought it yesterday to read to Mama A and Baby B. One of my favorite books visually as a child.

Two deaths, a kept elephant, and Babar marries his cousin.


Really.


Oh, and it gets better. We have a fun little book called The Lucy Cousins Book of Nursery Rhymes. These are classics, and although there is historical context around the content, we grew up sing-songing these as happy as clams (what the heck does that mean anyway?).

For example, if you read Oranges and Lemons:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.


It ends with:

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.


That’ll make for some sweet dreams. Then there’s the heavily litigated prose from Jack and Jill:

When Jill came in, How she did grin To see Jack’s paper plaster; Her mother, vexed, Did whip her next, For laughing at Jack’s disaster.

Why hasn’t anyone called CPS? You know the neighbors heard the whole damn thing.

Oh, and what about if I don’t say my prayers? What’s gonna happen to me?

Goosey, goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?

Upstairs and downstairs

And in my lady’s chamber.

There I met an old man

Who would not say his prayers,

I took him by the left leg

And threw him down the stairs.


Nothing like putting the fear of God into children (and adults).

And lastly, there’s classic story of the old woman who lived in a shoe:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;

She gave them some broth without any bread;

She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.


Nadya Suleman and Radar Online.

Enough said. What are your favorites?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A forced metaphor, a parent’s delight

It's our little Beatrice's six-month birthday today, and although the past six months have flown by, we definitely have lived in the moment embracing each one as if holding her for the first time.

What to give her?

Words and the empowerment of proper language (yes, it's a fragment). Words were the only children I thought I'd ever birth into this world, but now that we have Beatrice, we want to ensure that becomes a voracious reader and skillful writer and communicator.

It doesn't mean that she has to be a Pulitzer prize-winning author or the award-winning journalist who saves us from the slanted 24/7 30-second media blitzkriegs. It means she needs to be a critical, independent thinker with the ability to string sentences together correctly.

And a best-selling, award-winning author.

Isn't that the way it is? We want the best for our children and even when we say we're not going to push them, we push them nonetheless – a forced metaphor, a parent's delight.

Ugh, I'm up way too early yet again and catching up on work and personal play and as I peruse my latest SJSU Washington Square magazine (I'm a proud Spartan alum!), I came across an article titled Struggling for Words. Here's the first paragraph:

More than 50 percent of San José State's incoming students are not prepared to write at the college level. Much more than incorrect spelling, comma splices and run-on sentences, the problem is that these students lack a critical life skill.

That's staggering and not unique to the CSU system. According to some SJSU faculty and administrators, these obstacles contribute to the problem:

  • a declining culture of reading
  • budgetary constraints at all educational levels
  • increasing numbers of English language learners

The long-term effects of Prop 13 have added to the education budget woes, and the latest California budget fiasco includes the continued gutting of public education in this state. It's bad enough that we rank 49th in the nation in terms of class size – fast forward to today's anemic business climate and we rank dead last in a national ranking of the best states to do business in.

Can you feel the Golden State pride?

I'm not going to tackle that one today myself, but to help combat the illiteracy entering college every year, SJSU launched the Writing Center two years ago and offers one-on-one tutoring, workshops, and classroom "house calls" for everyone on campus.

As parents we can help combat this problem much earlier starting in year one. Reading aloud to your children, even when they're still in the womb, is crucial. Your children witnessing you reading is as important as encouraging them to read in their formative years.

Plus, making sure they're absorbing the grammar skills learned in early childhood and beyond will help them remain competitive in the ever-changing workplace. According to Cheryl Allmen-Vinnedge, director of the SJSU Career Center, "wherever San José State graduates go, they will find that written and oral communication are among the top 10 skills employers are looking for."

Alas, I know jet ski too much I know. I took the grammar skills test and need some immediate remedial help. Between helping to run a marketing/PR software and services firm, unending work e-mail, multiple clients, blogging for work and pleasure, spending an ungodly amount of time on Facebook and Twitter, I'm amazed that I still make time to read poetry, short fiction, and God willin' and the creek don't rise, a novel every once and awhile.

And right correctly. I mean write.

So Beatrice, our gifts today and tomorrow are words and language and proper grammar (maybe two languages if get our schtick together).

Happy Birthday Baby!


Forced Metaphor


My children are my words,

and their lifelong sentence deems

freedom from the illegitimate divine

premise of defined procreation that rattles

millions of already confused and angry sperm.

They beat themselves senseless over a few fertile eggs,

ragged helix river salmon channeled blind to genome sea.


My children are my words,

from their afterbirth clauses and baby babble spelling bees,

to their young rebellious phrases so inarticulate and fierce

that evolve and grow into dusty volumes upon volumes

revised over years resilient, their elder text

now nurtures my bones, yellowed heart

and brief testament crumbles.


My children are my words,

and at the end of my story

they write my legacy wish weeping

for a forced metaphor, a parent's delight.


--KWG, March 2000

(Talk about forced. Ugh.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rise from the ashes – A blaze of everyday glory

In the house where nobody laughs

And nobody sleeps

In the house where love lies dying

And the shadows creep

A little girl hides, shaking,

With her hands on her ears

Pushing back the tears, 'til the pain disappears


Mama says some ugly words

Daddy pounds the wall

They can fight about their little girl later

Right now they don't care at all

No matter what they say...

No matter what they say...


--Everyday Glory, Neil Peart (Rush)


It's time once again for Fatherhood Friday. Fatherhood Friday is hip place at Dad-Blogs.com for dads and moms to share stories, ideas, photos and movies with one topic in mind – fatherhood.

This week I'm back on a serious and somber topic: domestic violence. I wrote a few weeks ago about my own personal experiences in the light of the Rihanna-Chris Brown case.

As I read and watch the sad stories of struggling families losing their jobs and homes, I know the violence has escalated. One of the number one reasons couples fight is over finances, and even sadder, the children are part of that monetary equation – all to be used as punitive control by the abuser over the abused.

I know from my own experience growing up that my birth father was the sole breadwinner, which he pointed out many times before and after beating her, and it was painfully clear to my mom that we had no other means by which to flee – at least not until she found the strength and courage to do so without much economic means.

I found an article from AOL's BlackVoices titled Domestic Violence & Economic Abuse Increase as Economy Goes South that pulled some examples and stats together on this subject. Sadly the media isn't highlighting this enough.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline conducted a survey from November 12 to December 31 last year, asking nearly 8,000 callers about the connection between financial issues and the level of violence in their household:

"54% answered yes to the question, 'Has there been a change in your household's financial situation in the last year?'; and 64% also answered the second question affirmatively, which was, 'Do you believe the abusive behavior has increased in the past year?'," reports the survey.

Affirmative indeed.

The Allstate Foundation Domestic Violence Program says that economic abuse is a tactic used to control relationships and maintain power by preventing access to money and/or other financial resources. To combat economic abuse, the Allstate Foundation Domestic Violence Program has set up a website to provide resources, knowledge and skills to help victims.

Here are some economic abuse examples, via BlackVoices:

  • Controlling victims' paychecks and bank accounts, and determining how they spend money, where they work and what property they buy;
  • Using victims' credit cards without permission and destroying their credit rating;
  • Putting all financial contracts (lease, credit cards, utilities, etc) in a victim's name and then failing to make payments, destroying the victim's credit rating;
  • Forcing low-income victims or victims with disabilities to turn over government benefit payments;
  • Undermining victim's opportunities to become economically independent by not allowing the to work, forcing them to work in family businesses for little or no pay, or calling and harassing them in the workplace to such an extent that they lose their jobs;
  • Refusing to pay spousal or child support to a survivor who has left an abusive partner; and
  • Forcing a victim to cash in, sell, or sign over any financial assets or inheritance (e.g., bonds, stocks or property).

Not only did my birth father do some of these things, my abusive first step-father did some of this crap as well. It sickens me that men behave this way – that fathers behave this way.

Mothers are abused, maimed and killed all over the world by their spouses/mates. We should be outraged; this madness has to stop. I broke the cycle of violence in my family and my daughter will not grow up it that hell as my sister and I did.

I'm running The Human Race this year in support of a local Women's Crisis Support center. The Human Race is a nationwide community fundraising event for nonprofit organizations.

Annually, WCS~DdM provides approximately 1,300 crisis intervention services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Individual counseling services are provided to approximately 600 women, and support group sessions for over 200 women. Legal assistance is provided for over 450 women, over 100 restraining order applications are filed, and about 125 women are accompanied to court proceedings. The confidential emergency shelter provides nearly 2,000 shelter bed nights to women and children in imminent danger from domestic violence or sexual assault. Children's individual counseling sessions are provided for over 100 children, and an average of 25 children and youth attend group sessions each week. Prevention programs provide educational services, information and referrals to approximately 150 families.

Help me support Women's Crisis Support whose mission is to end domestic violence and sexual assault - http://bit.ly/dvadS. Help those who need safe harbor and a new beginning.

Everyday people

Everyday shame

Everyday promise

Shot down in flames


Everyday sunrise

Another every story

Rise from the ashes--

A blaze of everyday glory

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Daddy K files: Happy baby poop face morphs

It's time for Fatherhood Friday and this time I made it on Friday. Fatherhood Friday is hip place at Dad-Blogs.com for dads and moms to share stories, ideas, photos and movies with one topic in mind – fatherhood.

It wouldn't be new parenting with poop. Lots and lots of poop. I originally posted The Daddy K files: The sugar-and-spice myth debunked last November and now there's a frightening addendum.

Recently on some news radio show, I heard that women may be dirtier than men – i.e., they have more strains of bacteria on their skin than men do.

I was floored. I had to pull over and hyperventilate. Actually that was because I had arrived at work and had to go inside. And work.

I'm not sure if the sugar-and-spice myth is cross-cultural, but this anthropology minor has always been fascinated by it. Growing up, girls were ethereal and angelic. Even the anomalies of tom boys fell into a "not of this world" category. Anatomically speaking, girls were as seamless and smooth as the Barbie's we observed with scientific fascination (while we giggled obsessively at the curves and valleys).

Bathrooms were for boys to do their dirty business, but solely for the beautification of girls. In fact, I believed the rumor that public women's restrooms in restaurants, hotels and elsewhere were nothing more than elegant buffets and glittery lounges with eunuchs swinging feather fans.

Even when I grew up and lived with women, the illusion remained. The greatest magicians of today and yesterday (predominantly men) have nothing on the female sleight of hand.

Pregnancy pulled the curtain back a bit, but it was always me who left the bathroom shamed, odiferous air wafting after me like the guilt from a night of nacho/beer binging.

But now that I have a baby daughter, I know the devastating truth. It was horrifying at first, the stark reality slapping me across the face multiple times each day. I couldn't eat or sleep for weeks.

I'm better now; this book has been a Godsend.

Gentlemen, hold my hand. It'll be okay.

Girls poop. A lot.

Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya…

Fast forward to a week ago Sunday. Mama A and I are eating lunch and Mama is also feeding Baby B pureed organic pears. Bea loves those pureed organic pears.

And breast milk. It still wouldn't be a complete meal without the breast milk.

So we're all eating lunch and Bea starts tooting (baby girls don't fart, they toot) and then calls out in her high-pitched Hindi baby velociraptor shriek followed by a huge open-mouth smile.

Happy baby poop face.

Usually the pooping lasts for a minute or two and then she's done.

But this time the tooting keeps coming and the happy baby poop face morphs into unhappy adult grimace red poop face. This continues for almost 10 minutes while we finish lunch.

Now, I've seen baby blow outs before; they don't faze me anymore. We remove Bea from her baby chair and take to her to the living room changing area (every living room should have one).

As soon as I lift her shirt I know we're in trouble. Dear God I haven't see that much muck since fishing in my grandparents' slimy mountain pond when I was 12. I almost call the local hazmat team in. The sun turns blood red. There are locusts.

We wipe off what we can with at least a dozen of her cloth diapers and then Mama carries her – arms extended as far away from her person as possible – quickly to the kitchen sink where I proceed to hose her down with the faucet sprayer.

Horrid. A scene out of Silkwood. Baby howls and we try to console her.

Finally she settles down, we dry her off, get her dressed and all is well with the world again.

Hours later Mama finds poop on her foot.

Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading to Bea: Suspenseful thrillers with a hopeful twist

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. My wife grew up with a voracious appetite for reading as well.

So when we decided to have a child we knew that reading would be a big part of that child's world. Even when my little sweet Beatrice was still in Mama A's belly, she was reading and talking to Bea (didn't know she was a Bea during the entire pregnancy) and I read and talked to her as well.

Now that she's almost six months, we've found that one of her favorite books is Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith.

And now that I've read it at least a few hundred times to her while she sits on my lap spellbound in ladybug land, little hands caressing each page and ladybug bump, I've realized that this little book is quite the suspenseful thriller with a hopeful twist.

Think about it for a moment:

TEN little ladybugs sitting on a vine, along came a butterfly – then there were…

And then there nine. Dear God, what happened to the lady bug. What did the butterfly do?

Reading on, the story becomes even more horrific, ladybugs disappear left and right, innocent animals vanish at the hands of other species. Bea bounces on my lap, arms flail, eyes wide, mouth a giant "O".

SIX little ladybugs flying near a hive, along came a bumblebee – then there were…

This one stuns me. It's my daughter's namesake (kind of) stealing away the sixth ladybug. Will the madness ever cease? Will there be a ransom note? Where are the police? Bea's drool leaves her chin, striking me on the hand. I jump!

ONE little ladybug sitting all along, along came a breeze – then she was…

What's with these random acts of violence from these dark creatures of the meadowland netherworld? Butterfly, caterpillar, bird, grasshopper, bumblebee, fish, turtle, duck, frog – and my God, even the breeze joins in on the unforgiving crime spree!

Where are the ladybugs!

Home!

Then she was…home. Home. All the animals are there, smiling, and all 10 little ladybugs are happy and safe. These were random acts of kindness from complete strangers. A community helping its neighbors. A village raising its young.

That's the kind of world I want my daughter to grow up in. Reading should foster dreams of hope.

What we do when we grow up is ours to make – a hopeful mindful living and personal responsibility reality.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Violence against women and children: the horrific list goes on and on

I was going to go in a different direction in my latest Fatherhood Friday post (which I missed because now it's Saturday), but when I read this blog post titled When the Justice System Fails: The Case of Rihanna from a fellow Twitterer @writingroads, I had to stop and reflect.

A few months ago I read this little AP story: Dad killed son to avoid child support (and he was quoted as saying he would kill either his wife or his child before he paid child support).

How many of these stories have you read in your lifetime? How many of you have lived them? How many of you as children witnessed domestic violence in the home?

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF):

  • Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
  • Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey.
  • Nearly 25 percent of American women report being raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time in their lifetime, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey, conducted from November 1995 to May 1996.
  • Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.
  • In the year 2001, more than half a million American women (588,490 women) were victims of nonfatal violence committed by an intimate partner.
  • As many as 324,000 women each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy.
  • Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

And the horrific list goes on and on.

My birth father abused my mother for over 12 years. My sister and I would hide in my room while we listened to the violence play out like thunder and lightning crashing in our heads, impotent with fear, shame and self-blame. It took her 12 years to find the courage and strength to solicit enough help from family and friends to make the break. I remember how we used to plead with our mother, at first asking if there was anything we could do to help stop it, then begging her to take us all away from him.

Looking for immediate stability and shelter for our family, she jumped into another abusive relationship that jeopardized our lives as well. I was abused by that step-father and my sister suffered too. He even tried to poison my mother more than once. Fortunately that whole experience was less than three years, but time is relative with abuse; no matter how quick the violence or how slow and insidious, it's an eternity for the victims.

My mother then married the right man, the man whose name I took and call father, and I grew up abhorring violence of any kind (thankfully Pop was in law enforcement, a now retired police detective), but not really getting involved in any movement to help prevent.

Now that I have a baby daughter, I find myself moved to do something, anything, to help prevent violence against women. I can start here and support the Women's Crisis Support - Defensa de Mujeres, which I will do by participating in The Human Race in May.

It's unacceptable that there isn't more outrage about Rihanna or even the smallest of AP stories. Whether in America or in Darfur, it's unacceptable. No man will ever lay a hand on my daughter without reciprocal justice. No man.

Get you're proverbial shit together and be responsible for your actions.

Here are some more domestic violence resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How far could you swim? As far as was needed.

I reread a poem by William Stafford titled "With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach." The meaning of the poem sent me reeling, while the last two lines kept me steadfast in my resolve.

"As far as was needed," I said,

and as I talked, I swam.

Last summer, in the heart of our pregnancy with Bea, I did a lot of soul searching about what it means to be a responsible man and father. Many years before I used to give up too easily and take the familiar path of self-fulfilling failure.

Mindful learning and maturity paid off and yearn to be a better husband and father each day. I will go "as far as was needed" for my family. I think more fathers do these days (I hope).

But of late another caretaking situation looms ahead on my mid-life horizon: my parents. I'm starting to understand the accelerated life cycle – having children later and taking care of parents sooner than. They're still mobile and independent, but as time slips away from the moment like water from melting ice, so will their health continue to slip away as it has for the last two decades.

And then last night I talked with an old friend who I hadn't spoken with for some time who is dying, and that knocked the wind out of me.

I thrashed in the cold water over all these things last night; I'm only back to dog paddling this morning.

So I reread the poem again…


With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach


We would climb the highest dune

from there to gave and come down:

the ocean was performing;

we contributed to our climb.


Waves leapfrogged and came

straight out of the storm.

What should our gaze mean?

Kit waited for me to decide.


Standing on such a hill,

what would you tell your child?

That was an absolute vista.

Those waves raced far, and cold.


"How far could you swim, Daddy,

in such a storm?"

"As far as was needed," I said,

and as I talked, I swam.