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, April 26, 2015

To Always See the Squirrels Through the Trees

“When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry
Say live and let die…”

—Paul McCartney

The world around us slowed to a near stop. Focused and fiery, we ignited the air between us.

"Do you want to go home?"

There we were: a battle of pure impulse and reactive wills. I held Bryce firmly by her shoulders after I had placed her in the shopping cart seat. Bryce held me fast with her eyes, defiant fury unleashed over and over again like rapid-fire solar flares. Shards of melting self-control rained down upon us.

"No, no, no!"

I started to lift her out of the cart and then...

Twenty minutes earlier I knew it would be a stretch with me in charge and taking both girls to Trader Joe's for our weekly shopping run. As soon as we got to the store both girls wanted the kiddie shopping cart to push around, but there was only one, which was how the fracas began. Since Thursday, the Mama has been in the classes to become a certified instructor for Kidpower, and I've been helping case for the children more than usual, especially this weekend.

For those keeping score at home, Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education.

I'm very proud of the Mama doing this, and I of course will support and help in any way I can. But any parent responsible for the lion's share of childrearing, or any portion of it, will tell you that it's hard enough taking one young child to the grocery store (or any store that's not a toy store).

But two young children, one of whom is the Brycinator? C'mon. Lovely squirrels they are, but still.

...and then I stopped myself to channel the Mama and principles of positive discipline. Beatrice looked at me as if saying, You can do it Daddy.

Get into your child's world.

"Bryce, I know you want to go home, but why don't you help me and Bea find the Tiki Guy so you can get a sucker and Daddy will shop super fast? Then we'll go to the duck park."


That's when Beatrice exclaimed: "I see the Tiki Guy, there in the surfboard!"

And we were off, suckers in hand. Super fast the shopping was, and when I couldn't find something on the Mama grocery list within 20 seconds, then I quickly asked one of the friendly Trader Joe's employees. Finding the cute little stuffed Tiki Guy hidden in plain sight throughout the store is always a fun distracting pastime for kid's at Trader Joe's, and it certainly helped me. Ultimately Bryce and I survived and Beatrice was happy to help me carry some of our goods in the little shopping cart.

Yep, the part when the Daddy's in charge of the girls and grocery shopping becomes a precarious balance of emotional intelligence and a deadly race against end of times.

Plus there's always a park to play in for the aftermath. Ah, to always see the squirrels through the trees. 

"What does it matter to you?
When you got a job to do
You got to do it well
You got to give the other fellow—"


Sunday, April 19, 2015

May the #BhivePower Be With You

When I heard it the first time, my heart filled with love and faith, and my spirit transcended the atmospheric sensitivity of childhood scarring.

“Chewie, we’re home.”

For some, the words are meaningless, nothing more than another passing obscure reference of no interest, something silly for the crazies of sci-fi fandom.

But for me, it’s beyond moving. It lifts me up and holds me close, as if I were a lost, frightened child finally found, held tightly in my broken mother’s loving embrace.

In the summer of 1977, the world was complicated. We were still recovering from the longest and steepest recession at that time. Middle East tensions ran high. Domestic violence awareness and child abuse awareness was in its infancy. Political myopia was everywhere. We seemed to be a highly disconnected world in the wake of early technological innovation.

My own complicated world at the time was still years from full recovery, living with domestic violence and abuse. Star Wars was to become a savior of sorts for me, and why I convinced my little sister to stand in the long hot line with me at the Fox Theater in Visalia, CA to see the new space epic.

We sat in the dark theater and held fast the seats beneath us, looking aspirational celluloid straight in the eye. I remember with stellar clarity the journey to a galaxy far, far away when I became one with rogues, rebels, villains and heroes and a musical score that haunts me to this day.

Nothing else really mattered until the house lights came up and it’s all I could talk about for the rest of that summer. But I carried with me a newfound hope, and now decades later, multi-generations of fans wait longingly for the next chapter of the Star Wars saga.

Chewie, we’re home sent chills through many of us and we cheered along (and I’m still cheering since I’ve watched the new trailer over and over and over again), yet again living in a complicated parallel universe to 1977: economic recovery, global tension, political myopia, accessible domestic violence and child abuse awareness, a now highly interconnected world via a mobile and social tech explosion.

That's why I'm so excited for my girls to watch the films someday soon, distanced only by the obvious differences they're growing up with (for the better) than I did. They've already had a lot of indirect exposure from me (go figure) and from other shows and stories, and are drawing pictures of their favorite characters (Beatrice tends to be drawn to the villains of stories, so we'll have to watch that young Padawan). The Mama's onboard as well having seen Star Wars when she was about Beatrice's age.

Even with the mixed reviews of two-dimensional female anti-hero Padme years ago, her daughter Leia will always rock with fiery independence and strong leadership, tempered by grace and compassion.

"You have that power, too,” says Luke Skywalker in the latest Star Wars teaser trailer. Of course he’s referring to “The Force.”

Make fun of me if you want, but we should all aspire to have it. Always. #BhivePower

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Truth About Manning Up

“Love is born with solar flares
From two magnetic poles
It moves towards a higher plane
Where two halves make two wholes…”

–Neil Peart

Early in 1998, she left a clear directive: I want to be with you, but take care of your business, or I'm out.

It was more heartfelt and elegant than that of course, but I remember distinctly how they made me feel as I read her letter while overlooking the Pacific: like a matter-of-fact slap, one that was a long time coming, one that left a chilling burn. The wind cold, the sea cold, my heart a cold rock released from its cliff mooring to sink below the unsettled surface.

I stood in the same place that more than a half a year earlier I'd stood when I realized this was the place I'd live, only months later to meet the Mama on the beach in October 1997.

Then on to early '98 again and slipping below the surface, when the reality of my unfinished past life haunted us both. Separated, but not yet divorced, still tethered to a unhappy life I no longer wanted (and would still take a few years to unravel from), it was time to reconcile my life at that point, to man up and take care of business so the future Mama and me could have a happy life.

And we did; and we do. But I have always had time with happy, and I still sometimes allow myself to be released from my cliff mooring, the unforgiving gravity skewed by my misunderstanding of what manning up really means. 

In the above context it just means taking responsibility of one's life, of the things we have control over and can change for the better. When we do, it's freeing, uplifting, Zen-like, slowing the natural erosion of things to an imperceptible crawl.

Then there's the context of social mores and traditional, gender-specific roles that we've grown up with. Unfortunately it's the old-fashioned "manning up" ones that I get caught up in much more so than the pragmagical Mama. We're pretty together people overall, but we're still fallible and breakdown once and a while, and I for one am haunted by self-inflicted emasculation.

Take for example when our friggin' dishwasher broke recently. At least, we thought it was broken. Water wasn't spraying inside. We had no idea why. We did have it serviced a couple of years ago and decided that now that it was almost 10 years old, we'd buy a new one. But then the Mama thought we should just have it fixed again. I still thought we should buy one. Then I thought we should get it fixed, and then she thought we should buy a new one. Then we were both on board with buying a new one, the Mama researching new ones and delivery and installation costs.

I thought that was that, but that wasn't it. The Mama watched a YouTube video about what might be wrong with the dishwasher and then proceeded to fix it. And fix it she did. It worked like a champ. Too bad I couldn't say the same for myself. 

Instead of celebrating the fact that she saved us hundreds of dollars, I got frustrated, Daddy Goat Gruff style. I gave her a hard time the whole time by suggesting we should just buy the new one, and what happens if it breaks again, and what happens if it leaks water all over the kitchen. I was basically a dick, true to my gentrified chromosomal heritage.

This wasn't the first time I've acted this way when the Mama enlists her economical pragmatic magic. The struggle for me is the fact that I feel like I'm "manning down" when I don't get to the fix first, when I'm not taking care of business for her and the family. It makes no never mind to the Mama as long as somebody does. Not because I'm a man and she's a woman. Just because it gets done. 

There are things I've never cared to know about and don't ever care to learn about today. Things I don't care ever to invest the time to understand how they work and how I might fix them. I'd rather find someone who knows how to do it and pay them to do it. The Mama on the other hand prides herself in saving a dollar by trying to learn how to do it herself.

And that's okay either way when you "man up" to make it work. Since our beginning we strived to embrace each other with open arms, while arming each other with life skills to thrive together. We wrote our own vows based on mutual respect, but we were never about two becoming one, we were all about two halves that make two wholes, reveling in our individuality and differences just as much as our shared values.

As it was. As it is. As it always should B.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

From Elusive Hope to Helpful and Healthy Realities

Admittedly I've never been fond of Easter. It was always an emotionally conflicted holiday for me. The spirit of Spring renewal, and for those of us raised with Christianity and learning of Christ's ascension from the grave, always gave me elusive hope that I too could overcome anything life put in my path.

For decades I felt helpless, the healing from abusive relationship after relationship just as elusive, and then channeling my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an young adult.

My mother and sister here the only support network back then, but they were just as damaged at the time, if not more so than me. Unfortunately too many other family and friends didn't want to know and/or acknowledge what was happening. And we didn't have the skills to ask for help either.

Decades later the Mama and I went from not wanting children at all to changing our minds happily and having two lovely little girls. We knew we were "all in" and would do everything we had to do to protect and empower them while ensuring and sustaining only a healthy network of relationships around us all.

Sadly, the statistics say otherwise for too many others. A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds — 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. And that's only what's reported. Statistically speaking, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

This combined with having children of our own now is why I've become a domestic violence and child abuse awareness advocate, and why the Mama will soon become a certified instructor for Kidpower soon, which is headquartered here in Santa Cruz.

Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, which has served more than 3 million people of all ages and abilities across six continents, since its founding in 1989. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that can increase the safety of young people and adults alike and that can last a lifetime.

Since April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wanted to share five recommendations from Kidpower on how awareness, action, and skills can keep our precious children and teens safe from most abuse, most bullying, and most other violence, most of the time:

  1. Making SURE kids know you care. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with every young person in your life who you are in a position to help. Tell them, “You are VERY important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know. Even if I seem too busy. Even if someone we care about will be upset. Even if you made a mistake. Please tell me and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Ask them occasionally, “Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me.” Listen with compassion to their answers, avoiding the temptation to joke or lecture.
  2. Not letting discomfort get in the way of safety. Decide to make the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment: “I WILL put the safety and well-being of young people ahead of anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.”  The fear of upsetting or bothering someone can make it hard to speak up – and breaking the silence is at the foundation of stopping sexual abuse. Don’t automatically trust people or places because they are familiar to you, have a great reputation, do nice things for kids, are in positions of authority, or seem wonderful. Make sure that their behavior and values are consistently Worthy of Trust.
  3. Supporting young people in developing healthy boundaries and strong relationships. Teach kids positive communication skills. Uphold the Kidpower rule that touch, games, or play for fun or affection should be the choice of each person, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. Teach kids that touch should not be secret, games should not be secret, presents someone gives you should not be secret, videos and photos should not be secret, and problems should not be secret. Coach young people so they are successful in practicing skills – using examples that are relevant to their lives – so that they are prepared to stay aware, speak up, resist emotional coercion, move away from trouble, and be persistent in getting help from busy adults.
  4. Sharing information. Tell parents, educators, and administrators about Kidpower’s tools for teaching child abuse prevention strategies and skills for schools and other youth-serving organizations that help protect children and teenagers, including those with special needs, from most abuse, bullying, abduction, and other violence.  Share the articles and videos on our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.
  5. Partnering with International Child Protection Month. International Child Protection Month was established in September 2014 to support, inspire, and honor adult leadership in keeping young people safe from harm and in empowering children and teens to take charge of their own well-being. Our first year, we reached over 300,000 adults. Join us so we can reach over 1,000,000 educators, parents, and other caring adults with simple effective actions they can take that can make a great difference in their families, schools, organizations, and communities.

Together we can go from elusive hope to helpful and healthy realities. Happy Easter and all the actionable hope that can and should come with it.