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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

When Empathy and Faith Aren't Enough

Three days later, the bus stop benches had been removed. I noticed them missing before we even crossed Harbor Boulevard to head back to our hotel. After four consecutive years of coming to Disneyland in and around the Holidays, the two benches near our hotel that we passed by a few times each day going back and forth to the park, had vanished.

"Look, they're gone," my wife said as we crossed the street, all of us bathed in Southern California sunshine and blue sky.

"I know," I said.

But although that's what we fixated on in that moment, it wasn't what bothered us. Three days earlier when we first got to Disneyland, we passed an old obese white woman, seemingly homeless, sitting on one of the benches, eyes closed, wrapped in what looked like a old blanket, empty food containers stacked next to her. That wasn't completely out of the ordinary because every year there are homeless camped out at that bus stop.

This time though the smell was horrible. Her smell. The fat woman wrapped in a dirty blanket. And it followed us in either direction after we passed her. It wasn't just the smell of body odor, urine and feces either. There was another underlying sulfurous smell of decay, something we didn't want to imagine. But she was still breathing, so it wasn't the unimaginable. The girls smelled it too and we treaded lightly on the subject when asked why she was sitting there like that. We told them the poor woman didn't have anywhere else to go.

That's where the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I diverged, because while forgetting about the homeless woman after each time we passed was easier for me, it wasn't for her.

"Maybe we should call social services or something," she said. "Thousands of people are walking by her every day and no one's doing anything. And neither are we."

I empathized, but didn't comment further, and we never called anyone. Two days after passing her multiple times, we were on our way into the park yet again when the Mama tapped my shoulder.

"What?"

"Did you see that?" she whispered, making sure our girls didn't hear.

"No, what."

"The homeless women was gone."

"I didn't notice."

"You didn't see the yellow tape blocking off where she was?"

"No, I didn't," I said, although the sulfurous decay smell had been stronger this time.

"There was a big human waste stain on the bench and on the concrete under where she sat. So sad."

That image floored me. We crossed Harbor Boulevard and I couldn't get it out of my head.

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. You didn't see it?"

I didn't want to turn around to look. "No, but now I do. Thank you."

My faint attempt at humor was lost on her. "She's gone. The homeless woman. "

"Wow. I wonder if she --"

"I know. We've should've done something. I should've called someone. I feel horrible," the Mama whispered, her voice trailing off.

Later on our way back to the hotel room, we passed the benches again, which at this point had been hosed down along with the sidewalk underneath them. No one sat on them and the stench still hung in the air. The few people who seemed to be waiting for an actual bus stood away from the benches.

My wife struggled with everyone's inaction to this homeless woman's plight, especially her own. It had all been washed away. Literally. And then completely removed, only the footprints of the benches remained like scars in the sidewalk concrete. Again, I empathized, but moved on to worrying about battling the dense crowds and getting our return on investment with the rides and the character sightings and signatures.

Eventually my worrying turned a little broader and darker as I thought about what the coming New Year would bring -- global conflict, another recession, civil unrest, maybe a zombie apocalypse and God knows what else. I worried about my wife marching in the local Women's March on Washington next month. All of us are marching in it actually, and so I worried about all of our safety, even in this still peaceful bastion of progressiveness called Santa Cruz. The march mission across the country is to stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families.

But what about the homeless woman's safety and health? Why did her family and community fail her? If this was a test from God, then I failed miserably. I didn't even feel committed to Kidpower's commitment to integrity and safety for everyone. Not my problem. Somebody else's. I have my own first world kind to deal with here in New Pottersville. That much I thought about while we waited in line for the Storybook Land ride.

That, and the fact that on the night before we left for our Disneyland trip, Christmas Day, a young white guy with a scraggly beard wearing a hoodie sweatshirt rang our doorbell. I answered the door and although he looked to be well-dressed with a new knapsack, and not homeless, he proceeded to tell me he was trying to make his way up north to somewhere undecipherable and wanted to know if we had any fresh "tasties" we could give to him -- food that is -- and he kept asking me for different kinds of food, although I kept saying no.

After less than a minute, I shut the door on him. Maybe he was legit, maybe he wasn't, maybe it was another test from God. I'll never know. I did tell our neighbors to keep an eye out just in case. I should've never answered the door anyway. It wasn't that late, but unless we know who it is, we don't answer the door after 7:00, and we've lived in a relatively safe neighborhood for over 10 years now. And who the hell knocks on your door at 7:30 at night on Christmas Day anyway?

And who the hell lets an obviously "sick" elderly woman become homeless and possibly die in a pile of her own feces at a bus stop in Anaheim across the street from Disneyland during the holidays?

After this year, it just feels like we're all a long way from the happiest place on earth. Maybe it's just me and my clouded perception. I don't really know. A good friend of mine who was an amazing artist and who volunteered for marine mammal rescue locally passed away suddenly earlier this month, and he wasn't too much older than me. Feeling the road as I already do, it just added to my angry yet impotent introspection of late.

Maybe it's not all so bad after all, though. I mean, our family is healthy and our girls have grit and we have a home and employment and causes we believe in and we love and care for one another, our families, our friends. And we do live in a community that mostly embodies similar spirits. Even when I doubt a little, or a lot, I still have faith we'll be strong and persevere, and that our girls will as well.

Someone reminded me recently that everything that happens is God's will and we're just living His plan for us all. I grew up in the Christian faith hearing that every single Sunday bloody Sunday. But I've always struggled with it, and I don't believe that's how life works, because our will is God's will is our will.

There are no divine tests as referenced above, only our lives, our wills and the decisions we make, the actions or inactions we take. We should've called for that homeless woman on the bench, but we didn't. That won't happen again. (The jury's still out for the guy at our door, though.)

Today, when empathy and faith aren't enough, our complex collective wills need to take progressive actions. The kind that will make a difference in the years to come for ourselves and our children. Mostly positive and peaceful actions, but also a throat punch or two delivered to indifference and incivility as needed.

We know how incrementally complex our lives can become, how vitality and happiness are relative spectrums we try really hard to stay centered in. The Mama and I pledge to stay centered and fight the good fight together to protect our rights, our safety, our health, our family, our community and our country. Because no other wills will do.



Sunday, December 11, 2016

The New Old-Fashioned Way

“Rocking around the Christmas tree,
Have a happy holiday
Everyone dancing merrily
In the new old-fashioned way…”

John D. Marks, American songwriter


The idea was to get in and out without any international incidents. With the Mama (my wife) out again for another Kidpower workshop, child relations were strained and still flammable. The opportunity to let the girls pick out one Christmas gift for each other separately just wasn't realistic based on our schedules, so I thought I'd take them to the toy store together, since we had all morning and early afternoon. The rain came down cold and steady outside, and I didn't have another plan at that point as to how I'd pull it off, but was confident we could brave the excursion. I'd frame it with a softer diplomacy than the sometimes hard line of Daddy Goat Gruff.

"Girls, how about we go to the toy store and we pick out Mommy's gift from the both of you. We know she wants a game, something we can all play together," I said.

"Yes!" they answered.

"Can we get something too?" Bryce asked.

Of course I knew this was coming, and right as I responded I noticed the purple canvas bag laying on the sofa table near the front door. "You can pick something out for each other, yes. Within reason. So while we are there, you each keep an eye out for one gift for each other. When you think you know, I'll put it in a bag so the other won't see it. Sound good?"

"Okay," they answered. I knew they didn't really get it.

"Why don't we bring this?" I said, holding up the toy store catalog that they'd already been through a dozen times, with 95 percent of the toys on every page circled over and over again with different colored pens.

"Yes!"

I knew they'd really get that.

We got ready and headed out into the rainy day. After we parked and entered the toy store, we passed a Toys for Tots donation booth. A nice woman working the booth handed me a small flyer and asked for any toy donations before we left the store.

"Girls, we're going to get an extra gift or two today for other children who may not get any gifts this Christmas season, okay?"

"Yeah!"

Maybe they got that, and/or they were thinking of only themselves, but I had them covered either way.

Once inside, the girls began their joyful journey. Bryce, the fearless exploder, began bouncing from one toy to the next, pointing and exclaiming how cool everything was. Beatrice, the reserved imploder, proceeded with gleeful caution, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all, like she was a toy in Al's Toy Barn from Toy Story 2.

"Now girls," I said, smiling big. "Take as much time as you need. I know daddy usually tries to hurry through the shopping experience, but this time take your time. Please."

"Okay, Daddy," Bryce said, not really listening.

Beatrice just smiled.

Aisle after aisle we trekked and talked and touched. Look at this! And look at that! Wow! Cool! At one point I got them to help me pick out their gift for the Mama, and then we continued on the glorious toy campaign.

Without one single tantraumatic meltdown the whole time. Yes, I just made that up.

After some gift options were identified by each girl for the other, I'd quickly misdirect and keep them huddled on one aisle oo-ing and ah-ing over various over-priced toys, while I scurried clandestine to one of the gifts they had picked out (with the $15-$20 cap, of course) and tucked it into my purple canvas bag next to the Mama's gift. After the second gift was tucked away, we roamed for another 10 minutes until I noticed a confused and pained look at Beatrice's face.

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

"You all done now? Ready to go?"

"Yeah, let's go home. I miss Mommy."

Yeah, I miss her too, Sweetie. Knowing we wouldn't see the Mama for another few hours, I misdirected again to the "Buy One Christmas Book Get One More Half Off" stand near the cash registers.

"Girls, each of you pick out one book for our Toys for Tots donation," I said, and then added, "Oh, and pick out one of those candy Troll toy things that you like."

Because I'm just a sucker dressed in Daddy Goat Gruff clothing.

As we checked out at one of the registers I told the toy store employee that I needed to keep the gifts in the bag so the girls wouldn't see what they had gotten each other. She smiled and told me no problem. It didn't seem to phase her and she rang everything up as if she dealt with this request all the time.

I had the girls give the books to the Toys for Tots volunteers when we left. They thanked us and I thanked them. As we drove home, I was happy that this little trip went as well as it did. I thought about running a few more errands on the way home, and realized that could've caused a global nuclear escalation, so decided against it. Amen for that.

We listened to Christmas music all the way home. I sang most of the lyrics and the girls bopped their heads along, chiming in when they knew the words. The girls were fascinated that I knew so many Christmas songs. Then one of the many iterations of "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" came on the radio.

"Daddy, I like this song," said Beatrice.

"Yes, me too!" said Bryce.

"Yes, so do I, girls. Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday, everyone dancing merrily..."

It was a lovely time. Really. We rock-a-billied and sang and laughed all the way home. Fond memories of singing with my mother and family and friends during the holidays, decade after thankful decade going back to my childhood, wrapped themselves around my wary heart of late. I'd been so somber and insular, thinking only of myself and keeping my family safe and sound from what may or may not ever happen in the world around us. I hadn't been open to fully celebrating the joy of the holiday season, the joy and love of family and friends, a hopeful peace that's always meant so much to me not only at Christmastime, but each and every day -- everyone dancing merrily in the new old-fashioned way.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Middle of the Road Can Hold

In those few moments, she made the world's wrath her own.

It started like it always starts -- something doesn't go Bryce's way and the rage spiral begins. This time there was too much honey on her peanut butter toast. The peanut butter jar was nearly empty, and I didn't want to take the time to mix the new jar because of how the oil separates in the organic peanut butter we buy (can't it just mix itself?), so I made due with the little that was left. I thought I had it nailed, adding extra honey to cover for the lack of peanut, but to no avail.

"There's too much honey, Daddy."

"Eat it."

"No! Too much honey!"

"Eat it!"

"No!"

Of course I knew I wasn't helping, but my own spiral had begun as well. I was having a crappy week at work combined with the fact that my wife (known as "The Mama" to my regular readers) had a series of Kidpower workshops and had to leave really early, leaving me to wrap the mornings up and get the girls to school. Plus the recent election, the Dakota Pipeline protest and the general craziness and instability of world unknown, where many of us are still holding our collective breath, hadn't helped either.

Usually I have no problem with managing the morning routine even when I'm working early, which is all the time, but when the Bryce factor escalates, it's a tough road. And the Bryce factor had felt the adult stress in the room of late. Both girls did.

"What do you want then?" I asked her.

"Sunflower butter bagel," she answered, one of her staples to date.

"Fine, I'll fix you the bagel, but please go upstairs and get dressed for school. You know how Beatrice doesn't like to be late."

"Okay."

"I don't want to be late, Daddy," added Beatrice.

Everything mellowed again -- until she wanted the blue jacket. Her warm new blue jacket that was nowhere to be found. I even texted the Mama to see if she knew, but she didn't. Maybe she left it at school, she texted back.

That didn't sit well with Bryce who wailed on and on about it. I made her put on another jacket and herded both girls out the door.

"I don't want to go to school!"

"Get in the car!"

"Daddy, we're going to be late, aren't we," Beatrice said.

Christ, not now, I thought.

"No, get in girls and let's go."

But it was too late. Bryce distilled into a Molotov cocktail that blew up in the back seat. Bryce screamed and thrashed more than usual and Beatrice plugged her sound-sensitive ears, looking helpless in the rearview mirror.

"I don't want to go to school! No!"

"Stop it now, Bryce! We have to go now. We do this every morning. Stop acting like this!"

"Daddy, I don't want to be late!"

I might as well have poured gasoline on this latest flash fire. Every positive parenting action and Kidpower recommendation became a distant fire line in my mind. Only two days before I had picked Bryce up from school and we had a similar stand off, but this time I kept my cool, and not just because some parents watched as Bryce writhed and thrashed on the ground in front of me. I used what's called my "walk away power" -- literally -- and told Bryce I had to get back for a call and she needed to come with me. So I walked away from her. Then she followed, reluctantly, but quietly. All the way back to the car and was quiet all the way home.

Bryce began kicking the back of my car seat near my head and that woke me up. I wanted to pull over and spank her little butt, which we've never done with either girl, but I didn't. I should have pulled over regardless, I know, but we had to get to school and goddammit my girls were not going to be late because of this outburst.

Instead, we sat in the car at a stop sign in the middle of the road, with no other cars around, and I voice texted my wife. Bea continue to plug her ears while Bryce cried and kicked.

Can you call me in the car, I texted. Bryce is really mad. (Which autocorrected to Price is really a sad.)

Upset and kicking me.

Sorry. Pretty bad this morning. Thought hearing your voice would help. Love you.

Nothing like ensuring correct punctuation in urgent voice texts while stopped at a stop sign. She didn't answer so I knew her workshop had already started. I proceeded to school yelling at Bryce to stop while Bryce yelled at me and poor Beatrice tried to help calm us both, index fingers in ears.

We arrived and parked down the street from school like we usually do.

"Daddy, Bryce took off her shoes and socks," Beatrice announced.

I was so done by then, but I sucked it up and firmly opened up Bryce's car door and put her socks and shoes back on.

"Bryce, let's go," I said.

"My-my glasses," she said. She had finally calmed down, but she held one of her lenses in one hands.

I felt beat up, punched in the gut. All I could do was pop the lens back in her glasses, put them on her, and pulled her gently out of the car seat.

Besides Beatrice informing one of her classmate's parents of what had transpired on the journey to school, the same mom I had told of my woes earlier in the week, Bryce and I walked in silence the rest of the way to school.

We've survived all this before and we'll survive it all again. Later that day after school the Mama and I sat down with Bryce and talked about it, or as much as you can talk about it with a firecracker of a six-year-old. We talked about how it's not okay to act that way and that we need to use our words when we're mad and that it's not being safe when she uses her body to put herself and others in jeopardy because she's mad. We talked about how we should use our own words with her when we're made instead of yelling (which ain't easy). We laid out the Kidpowerin' for her as we do for both girls and each other. Bryce listened, and whined, and listened, and tried to articulate how she felt and why she did what she did.

We've survived this all before and we'll survive it all again. We do our best to provide a stable environment for our girls and know that's all we have control over -- and we're not the only parents who deal with emotional swings and childhood angst. It's hard when you're in those fiery moments, but we'll survive and our center will hold.

A few days later we were all in our local Christmas Parade marching down the middle of Pacific Avenue with the Mama's Girl Scout trip that our girls are in, and I couldn't help but think about what we've felt and projected of late has impacted them. I couldn't help but think how much positive energy it takes to keep our centers intact, and like the Yeats poem, how much negative energy is released when we don't.

And there was Bryce at the end of the parade celebrating her center in the only way she knows -- her way. Maybe, just maybe, the middle of the road can hold for us all.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Standing Up to Standing Down

One side wants the other to stand down. To acquiesce. To rollover. To not fight the good fight. History is full of the one-sided smack, usually a government, or a corporation, or a political party, or a cultural norm, or a religious or ideological movement, or some other form of precedented mob rule dominating over the masses, especially the disenfranchised. It's masked in the stance that, if we all come together on this, if you all just do as we say and wish, we'll all be the better for it. No one gets hurt. No harm, no foul. Normalize the rising tide so the rest of us can easily look away from the bodies buried in the sand, reasonable voices eventually drowned out. For a little while at least.

But for most of us, it takes a lot of focus and energy to keep our heads just above that waterline, fighting the everyday good fights for family and community. Those good fights being led by our own subjective voices of reason for a myriad of reasons, a hopeful array of daily disarray. There are so many movements to get behind and support, and yet I always come back to one -- domestic violence awareness and prevention.

Growing up, my sister and I witnessed my mother suffer continuous verbal and physical abuse. Her own parents (our grandparents) had told her repeatedly that she "made her own bed," that she married our birth father and needed to figure out how to make it work. That latter part we didn't know until years later, and while not out of the ordinary with the way families sometimes respond, it always hurt my heart that my loving, evangelical grandparents didn't give our mother more support early on. The domestic violence only escalated from that point on until she got us all out. A single mom with two little kids, no child support from our birth father, we were always one pay check from being homeless. Although I don't know what it was then, today according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families.

However, we did have help from families and friends, and our grandparents did eventually take a stand and help us as well. Not a moment too soon either because we went from one violent home to another before finally finding peace and love with the man I called dad from age 13 onward. Too many times my mom's life was in jeopardy. Too many times all our lives were in jeopardy. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, three women die everyday in the U.S. due to domestic violence.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently called on governments around the world to increase spending in areas that will empower women, help domestic violence victims, and prevent future abuse. This includes an expanded definition of violence against women and harsher consequences for non-physical violence such as stalking, harassment, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse -- something that the perpetrators of certainly want us to stand down from supporting.

Besides Kidpower, my wife (known as "The Mama" to my regular readers) has also gotten involved in women's rights issues of late due to the contentious election our country has endured. I call it "activate the Mama" in honor of her inspired activism and civic duty in support locally and nationally of the Women’s March on Washington. Their mission is to stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families -- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. 

Of course it's not without its critics, and the differences among the women involved are as diverse as the very nation they represent. However, they are standing up to standing down, and since we have two girls growing up in a world where civil rights may potentially be diminished, I couldn't ask for a better partner to help fight this good fight. We've even adopted a family from a local women's shelter this Christmas, a mother and her two young daughters, to give them gifts that they couldn't afford otherwise. It's a little something and every little something helps when you're struggling to live day to day.

Whatever positive movement you support locally and/or globally, get off the ground, activate your family and make a stand happen. Every little bit of positive change and sustenance can go a long, long way this holiday season and throughout the year, the special gifts that keep on giving.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

On the Field in Front of Me

Photo courtesy of Paul Turner

I couldn't believe it; we'd been scouted. Just minutes before our game, during warm up, one of my player's parents approached me to relay that information.

"Guess what."

"What?"

"One of the hyper-competitive parents from the other team scouted us last week."

"Are you serious?"

"Yep. Supposedly they're undefeated and they wanted to find out who our strongest players are."

"Wow. We're in a recreational league. What the heck? They scouted us?"

"I know, right? Well, we haven't lost one yet either, so let's give them a run for their money, coach."

Let's give them a run for their money. As I called out our starting players to take the field, I realized I wasn't that surprised. I never would've scouted another team prior to playing them, not at this level, but I've always been pretty competitive myself. Every week we played I kept the running score of our games on my clipboard, and every week we chalked one up in the win column, except for one tie and no losses. That was something I was very proud of, but tried to temper during each game so as not to get the girls to caught up in the gut-wrenching angst of pure unadulterated competition -- some of them would there in a few years anyway. So, except for posting in our team website after the games for the parents benefit, I kept my coaching cool.

The game started and immediately we were schooled. Their team had crisper passing, better dribbling, tighter shooting and a stronger defense. Obviously they were drilled over and over again on these soccer fundamentals, and they obviously played a starter roster and only subbed in when needed. They quickly went up 2 goals to none well before the first half was done.

And that gut-wrenching competitive angst blew up inside me. I kept it contained, thankfully, but I second guessed my entire approach to coaching this scrappy yet talented U10 recreational soccer team. Yes, we drilled the basics during practice, and we scrimmaged together every single week. And yet, my focus has been teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level their girls are at. That's why everyone got a chance to play every game and rotated positions throughout the season. I subbed the girls in constantly through each half, sometimes because the forwards needed a break, but also to ensure everybody played as much as possible. There are 12 girls on the team and only eight players can play at any given time.

Momentum is a malleable thing, however. At some point late in the first half, we took it in our hands -- and our feet -- and made it our own.

Something changed on the field. Something I'd seen already occasionally during the season but only now recognized it for what it really was: pure, unadulterated teamwork. The girls settled down and it was like their individual identities were blotted out. They dribbled, passed, shot and defended like the other team, except more effortlessly, as if each girl were connected to the other, elementals on fire that scorched the earth beneath their tireless feet.

And they were having a blast doing it all.

Once inside the second half, the score became 2-1, and then 2-2. The entire second half we dominated the field and kept the ball dangerously near our opponents goal over and over and over again. The other team was getting tired. We were just getting started.

Blink. Another score! 2-3! We took the lead with only minutes left!

Wait, what? Offsides? Noooooooooo!!!

No. No. No. No. No. Crap! Keep it together, Coach. Mercy me.

Minutes later the referees blew their whistles and the game was over. It might as well been the end of every underdog sports movie I'd ever seen in my lifetime. In that moment everything I had intended to instill in my team had come to be on the field in front of me. And it gave me hope in an ever-changing world, a world going darker by the day. It gave me hope that our children may someday help this crazy friggin' world figure out how to play like a true team and celebrate together all the fragile freedoms we've fought so hard to secure and keep, that now seem to be slipping away.

Yes, I really did get all that from this game and I know what I'll be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Thank you, girls. You are the future looking bright.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Let's Go All In on Them Instead of Hate

“Half the world hates
What half the world does every day
Half the world waits
While half gets on with it anyway…”

—Rush, Half the World


It was simple, to just have some fun. That's all I wanted us to do that night at soccer practice, including me. I'm the coach, yes, but we needed to play and run around and be a little chaotic. Not hurtful chaotic, just playful chaotic. We raced during dribbling drills. I set up a defensive exercise that turned into a wild scatter-ball chase. Then we scrimmaged and cheered each other on until twilight forced us to wrap it all up, everyone sweaty, tired and full of beaming smiles. It was cathartic for us all, even their parents nervously watching and waiting on the sidelines, wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

The girls didn't talk about it, although one did ask who I voted for. I told her it was a personal decision, and then told her who it was anyway, and she frowned and ran back to play. I never asked for clarity as to why.

Half our world felt marginalized and left behind; half our world feels marginalized and left behind; half our world blames the other. The anger and resentment is real and we've made it okay to hate and hurt again.

Although that's not exactly true, the last part, because the hate and the hurt of scapegoating have never really left us...

Through all the laughter and running around, that's all I could think about during practice, like basking in the sunshine of a clear blue sky 10 feet from a neglected landfill. Regardless of who you voted for in this presidential election, we've again opened an angry wound America has struggled to heal for a long, long time. Too many of us during this campaign accepted bullying behavior and hateful rhetoric, especially from a candidate where half our world went all in on and who is now our national leader.

Sadly, the violent reactions to either side played out before the election and continue to play out now. Hostile acts and protests are rearing their ugly heads across this nation, and even though we're hopers and doers, the Mama and I feel it's only going to get worse before it (hopefully) gets better.

I did try to inject a little levity between us by telling her we read and watch way too many end-of-world stories. She laughed. A little. But we're still worried about what's to come. We admit we feel hoodwinked, gut punched, even assaulted by where our country is now. We don't all have to like where we're at and can voice our opinions about it without violence or hate, because it is still America after all. Half our world tells us that's extreme, that we should get over it, but in all transparency, we won't sit silent for any bullying or violence from either half.

Our girls only gleaned a cursory insight as to what's happened so far and we've done our best to explain what's going on without sharing too much of the violent acts while telling them we'll keep them safe. Thankfully the wisdom and skills we've gained from Kidpower, the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, have emboldened our empathy, positive strength and safety in our lives.

The founder and executive director of Kidpower, Irene van der Zande, again shared Kidpower's values statement about Inclusion this week (and not a moment too soon):

"We welcome people of any age, culture, religion, race, gender, political belief, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity, marital status, any kind of disability, or level of income who share our commitment to integrity and safety for everyone and who can join us in upholding our values."

The angry wound forever festers, but we have to get on with it now to make a difference. The Mama and I know it's not all rainbows and unicorns and never has been, but we're not pushovers either -- we will protect our family no matter what. We will also wear the safety pins that say, "If you feel that you're in danger, you're safe with us, no matter what." This is is clear tenet of the Kidpower Protection Promise, that we can and should make to the kids and adults in our lives.

This is on us all now. Let’s do what we can to transform our fear of bullying, violence and abuse into a future of lifelong safety and success. Our children are the most precious resource that we have today, so let's go all in on them instead of hate.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How We Can and Do Celebrate One Another

“You and I, we reject these narrow attitudes
We add to each other, like a coral reef
Building bridges on the ocean floor
Reaching for the alien shore

For you and me - We hold these truths to be self-evident
For you and me - We'd elect each other president
For you and me - We might agree

But that's just us
Reaching for the alien shore…”

—Rush, Alien Shore


We talked of the end of the world as we knew it. At first it felt harmless, just another day talking about our days during dinner. I even referenced the zombie apocalypse with a smile on my face. But then it all went south and surreal quickly; she wanted to go north, to Canada, and was quite serious. I sat up straight in my chair wanting to stay and fight for our country, for America.

Our fear filled the space between us like something rotten, killing our appetites, as if we'd unearthed something under the dining room table that should've been dealt long ago but instead was buried and forgotten. We talked of hate and divisiveness, the threat of civil war and death, of why a big part of our country felt so angry and disenfranchised. We talked of the future and our daughters' safety, where in many parts of the world, including our own country, they're still viewed as second class citizens and even slaves -- to be discounted, oppressed, abused, raped and killed.

I remembered thinking, Are they listening to this? Do they know what the hell we're talking about right now?

The girls played in the living room while we talked and our volume escalated with our fears. Neither seemed to be paying attention, but I remember the ugly fights my abusive father and mother had growing up, so we can never be sure. This wasn't that, only a heated discussion, but still disruptive to childhood. While we talked, I thought that I hadn't had such dark, visceral thoughts since the heart of the great recession, where we nearly lost everything and had to reinvent and reinvest ourselves to survive with two very young children.

Our democracy is tenuous even in the best of times, and time and again we've nearly brought it to its knees. Today combined with ever-changing global economics, perpetually polarized politics, and contentious social change and backlash -- and it all goes to hell pretty quickly. And now with blatant racism and sexismvoter intimidation, threats of violence and war, and unfortunately so much more, it's all washed away the middle of the road like a sulfurous red tide. It's a wonder the Mama and I don't have these serious dinnertime discussions every night of late.

Thank goodness that recently there was a fresh breeze that blew through our community and carried away the smell of democratic decay. It came in the form of a beloved annual holiday, full of frightful fun and a rich neighborly tradition delivering many more treats than tricks: Halloween. I have nothing but fond memories of Halloween and this year was no exception for our family, even with the perennial fake news of poisonous candy and razor blades buried deep inside caramel apples.

There we all were, the parents, many of us who knew each other because our children go to school together, walking along like peaceful protestors in the middle of the street. Our children ran frenetically from door to door, giddy with the immortality of what happens next and the treats they'd get from the generous neighbors who opened their well-lit homes, offering sweet smiles as well as candy.

This played out for us street after street, and later after the girls were in bed, we talked about how nice the evening was, and we imagined that's how it played out on similar streets across America. On a day and night where we celebrate the dead and faux frights, and in a time of unprecedented political dysfunction and echoes of societal outrage past, it reminded us of how we can and do celebrate one another, our communities, our country. Either way it goes, we hope we all remember that on November 9 and in the years to come.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Ones Who Know the Difference

“Man makes a gun, man goes to war
Man can kill and man can drink
And man can take a wh---
Kill all the blacks, kill all the reds
And if there's war between the sexes
Then there'll be no people left
And so it goes, go round again
But now and then we wonder who the real men are…”

—Joe Jackson, Real Men


As I approached, he didn't move. Hood up, head bent slightly forward, backpack tightly bound to his back, hands in coat pocket, facing due west, he stood as if he longed for something. At least, that's what I projected onto him as closed the distance between us on the beach. I was starting my weekly workout and wanted to catch the morning light that had burst through the cloud cover and landed upon the last of the Natural Bridges, the churning sea around it.

I crossed in front of him and said, "Good morning."

He didn't respond, his eyes fixed on the ocean, a scraggly dark beard masked his mouth. I kept going and then stopped a few yards away to take my picture. Again, he didn't turn in my direction nor did he move.

It wasn't until the last stretch of my workout did he slowly made the trek up the large sand dune that led to the road above the cove. I didn't know who he was, didn't know his story. But yet I couldn't help to wonder what it was, who he was, and why he was. In that moment he represented shades of men for millennia who have who have led or followed, who have loved and protected, who have been abused and neglected, who have assaulted and killed -- or some combination therein. There was no stranger danger here for me. No matter what his story, he seemed to be a broken man.

And I've had plenty of those early on in my life. Boys grow up a product of the biology, their parents and the myriad of complex cultural forces around them pressing down all the time. Of course, it's the same with girls, but I'm focused on the guys in this article. The parental impact is weighted paternal or maternal, even when the combined influence is evident. A recent Hidden Brian podcast -- Episode 44: Our Politics, Our Parenting -- examined how our upbringing, whether strict paternal or empathic maternal, influences how we end up voting. Bigger picture here -- how and why we make the life decisions we make.

Of course there's a whole body of research, decades of it, around how our parents and others influence our behavior and our lives. Most of us I'd argue do the best we can, mothers and fathers, mothers and mothers, fathers and fathers, and especially single parents everywhere.

Unfortunately history shows us that men have pressed down much more violently on the world than women, in the name of, whatever. As parents of boys, we can instill more empathy in them and less "my way or the highway" mentality. We can circumvent aberrant behavior that could lead to abusive behavior later on in life. As I wrote recently, Bea has a friend who's a boy who struggles with her now wanting to also be friends with another girl in their small circle of friends. So much so that he's causing angst for her by trying to scare the other girl away, as well as lashing out verbally and physically to Bea and others in the circle.

It's hard not to project adulthood here -- to see this as a microcosm of what happens when we grow up and how we react to one another. The Mama and I have to remember that they are children still. However, that doesn't mean we don't empower our girls on how to deal with this behavior.

Just like the first kiss Bea received, which was innocent enough, the Mama and I do worry about what happens next, year after year, because we've lived all of this before. So we continue to renew boundary talks with both girls, focusing on the Kidpower strategies (the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, of which the Mama is an instructor for). This means empowering both our girls to develop the awareness of when something's not comfortable and then literally creating a figurative fence and/or wall and saying aloud:

"Stop! I do not want to play this game."

Because no means no. It's not oversimplifying either; it's a critical empowerment practice for all girls and boys. Putting safety first among many other strategies is the very embodiment of Kidpower’s core principle:

The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.

Amen. Thankfully we're still in the sweet and innocent years with the girls, and while we're still vigilant and teaching them these safety skills, we recognize that growing up will happen.

But we keep hearing about these horrible sexual assault allegations that are allowed to occur with little intervention or ultimate punishment. Like the recent ones at Baylor University and the University of Wisconsin, and of course the Stanford student Brock Turner, and we continue to have conservative religious leaders forgiving and/or justifying related abhorrent male behavior, whether straight or gay. Not to mention the violent suppression male-dominant religions apply to women worldwide.

These are not the men many of us are raising today, at least I'd like to believe that, especially my daughter's friend and the many other boys and men that will come in and out of both our girls' lives in the years to come. But like the drifter I ran into on the beach, whether loved and protected or abused and neglected, we don't know every man's story and if they'll be abusive themselves in the wild.

Which is why we must be vigilant when raising our boys and girls -- why we need to clearly instill being personal responsible for every action and inaction we make and take every single day of our lives. It can never be okay for boys to bully and hurt girls, or for men to abuse and assault women. Ultimately the real men (and women) are the ones who know the difference and who can help save the rest of us from ourselves.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Happily Doing Their Own Fancy Dances

“All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watchin' the puddles gather rain…”

—Blind Melon, No Rain

We went out into the rain three times over three hours. Each time wearing our rain jackets and our rain boots, Bryce and me with socks on and Bea without. They bounded up and down our one-way street flooded gutter while I watched and called out when cars approached. They jumped and splashed and smiled and laughed. I jumped and splashed and smiled and laughed.

All of us stir crazy, yes, and the fact that our girls just love playing outside in the rain, the first big rain of our ever warmer and drier California dreamin'-scape. The Mama was away doing a Kidpower workshop, so with Daddy daycare in full swing, and the living room floor already littered with nearly every toy in the house, playing outside on a rainy day was the only way to go. We also made milk carton boats to sail down the gutter and that was a big hit (and something fun I remember doing when I was their age).

And as I watched my girls bound and splash and float their boats, I smiled big over and over, because so far so good with them "dancing as if no one is watching." Plus, not caring even if someone was. Each girl differentiating further from one another every single day with the one common thematic thread of being who they are, of being comfortable in their own still pliable skin. As we all know, that is always a work in progress, and yet, they're already light years ahead of my struggles at the same age.

Proudly the Mama has also launched a Girl Scout troop recently, for both Daisies and Brownies based on the ages of our girls and their school friends. For those who don't know, the Girl Scout mission is all about building courage, confidence and character and to help make the world a better place (fun facts: the majority of the women in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives were Girl Scouts, and every female American astronaut to date has been a Girl Scout -- I did not know).

All these things weren't lost on me recently when work traveling, first going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and then a quick trip to Las Vegas -- all full of people, women and men alike, making their own way while flying their own freak flags. Of course I'm not condoning the debauchery, just the spirit of individuality, entrepreneurial rebellion and celebrating inclusivity and teamwork (like my favorite band -- can you guess who that is?).

There's always an edge to finding your own way and becoming yourself, then being your best self and sustaining it. That's the edge we hope we're helping our girls with. I thought about that as I sat eating dinner overlooking the Vegas strip, watching the buzzing throngs of crazy fly by. As I ate and watched, some of my favorite rock songs played overhead and Blind Melon's "No Rain" came on, a big hit from 1992/93.

Not hearing that song for some time prompted me to later watch the music video online, because I vaguely remembered it tell a story of a "bee girl" doing her own dance and being made fun of. She wanders aimlessly alone until she finds a beautiful grassy knoll under blue sky where many other bee people are happily doing their own fancy dances -- and happily joins in their fun.

As I watched it I thought, Bring on the rain, baby. Bring on the rain. #BhivePower indeed.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Because All This Today Is Not That

“I’ve done a lot of foolish things
That I really didn't mean
I could be a broken man but here I am…”

—Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

I typed the letter myself. A one page, double-spaced, series of scattered thoughts from a third-grade boy about school, playing in the playground and other related school-yard banter, typed on an old Remington Noiseless.

I also added that I liked her a lot, and then I ended it, "Love, Kevin."

We were only nine years old, and it wouldn't be the first time, or the last, that kids write each other notes in grade school professing their "like" for one another. I remember my mother reading the letter because I had to ask her to help me mail it to the girl in question. Yes, I mailed it; I was just way too shy to physically hand it to her at school. So Mom read it, but I don't remember her saying anything about the "Love" part. Maybe she thought it was innocent enough and would be taken in that context.

It wasn't. Her mother called my mother, and while I don't know exactly what they discussed, Mom broke it to me gently that I shouldn't use the word "love" in my notes, and that I probably shouldn't send her any more notes, but that we could still be friends.

I felt horrible. Embarrassed. Mortified. I was painfully shy in the first place. But now? Good God, I didn't want to even go to school the next day. I never thought about the fact that the girl I liked was from a Japanese-American family whose traditional cultural values were such that boys like me did not send girls like her love notes, especially in third grade.

I practically hid from her the entire next day at school, although finally she told me it was okay and she still liked me. Phew. Fast forward decades, throughout which there would be many other like/love letters, most of them appropriate and well-received (especially with the Mama), but then there were others, inappropriate and awkward, moments I'm not proud of, moments many of us have choked on like the unnecessary horse pills they are.

And now, like the Ben Folds song Still Fighting It, "It's so weird to be back here." Beatrice, who's now in second grade, is experiencing this in full bloom -- receiving notes and sending them, from boys and girls alike, to boys and girls alike. It's different for girls than boys I think; they have more open emotional friendships even at this age than boys do. And us boys? Well, we're not as good with that happy/huggy stuff through most of childhood, the teenage years, young adulthood, middle adulthood, old age...

Although there are those who are better able to tap in (I was), boys just aren't as emotionally accessible as girls. Today is no exception, as Bea has a friend who's a boy who struggles with her now wanting to also be friends with another girl in their small circle of friends. So much so that he's causing angst for her by trying to scare the other girl away, as well as lashing out verbally and physically to Bea and others in the circle.

It's hard not to project adulthood here -- to see this as a microcosm of what happens when we grow up and how we react to one another (and as Ben Folds sings, "Everybody knows it sucks to grow up"). The Mama and I have to remember that they are children still. However, that doesn't mean we don't empower our girls on how to deal with this behavior.

Just like the first kiss Bea received, which was innocent enough, the Mama and I do worry about what happens next, year after year, because we've lived all of this before. So we continue to renew boundary talks with both girls, focusing on the Kidpower strategies (the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, of which the Mama is an instructor for). This means empowering both our girls to develop the awareness of when something's not comfortable and then literally creating a figurative fence and/or wall and saying aloud:

"Stop! I do not want to play this game."

Because no means no. It's not oversimplifying either; it's a critical empowerment practice for all girls and boys. Putting safety first among many other strategies is the very embodiment of Kidpower’s core principle:

The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.

Amen. Thankfully we're still in the sweet and innocent years with the girls, and while we're still vigilant and teaching them these safety skills, we recognize that growing up will happen.

And look where we are now. We're in a world where very influential people in politics and entertainment are saying it's okay to demean and degrade women. To bully women. To abuse women. To sexually harass and assault women. And their followers echo these sentiments fervently. Some have even suggested we repeal the 19th Amendment, the one passed in 1920 that granted women the right to vote. Others say we should imprison or shoot those female leaders we don't agree with, that there should be bloodshed. As we all know, this hate isn't just directed at women either.

So this is the part where the Pink Floyd song Run Like Hell could become a reality. And it's not funny, kids. Not at all. It's scary as all hell.

Which is why I need to go from love letters of childhood to the need to speak up (yet again) because of one simple truth: I have a wife and two daughters. Three human beings that reinforce in me every day how precious life is and how important it is to love and respect each other.

I also had a mother, a sister and other strong female role models in my formative years to thank for the respect I have not only for women, but for other men as well. Respect, empathy and restraint. At least for those who share in kind. (God knows the men early in my childhood were no help whatsoever.)

"We're telling our sons that it's OK to humiliate women. We're telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We're telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country," said Michelle Obama recently, First Lady of the United States.

No matter what gender, how they dress, how they speak, how they act, their beliefs, their sexual orientation – nobody’s asking to be hated, bullied and assaulted like this. No one. And yet there are those who not only condone this behavior, they enable it and forgive it, and they are setting back our society 50+ frickin' years. We're making it okay to hate and kill just because we don't like.

Not only will the Mama and I continue to empower our girls to defend themselves and rise above this hate, we'll do whatever it takes to evangelize respect and empathy with all girls and boys, women and men, everywhere.

We've been here before in America and it claimed well over 640,000 lives and had many more causalities. I'm sorry, what? you're probably thinking. Is it a stretch to reference our Civil War here, a war fought over slavery and economic scapegoating? I certainly hope so. But don't forget to throw in all the lives lost since because of color, gender and sexual preference.

I'll tell you this -- if the Mama and I had to, we'd rise up and literally fight for this democracy, for our constitution, to keep the United States of America a free country where all men and women are created equal.

Because all this today is not that. Not even close. It's a tragic social setback. But I have more faith in my Brothers and Sisters throughout this country that we won't let this happen. Like me many of you are hopers and a doers and that's what's made all the difference in our lives to date.

This is why I'm with the Mama. Why we have two wonderful daughters. Why I wrote this love letter to them and to America.




Sunday, October 9, 2016

For the First Time Every Time

“Till I opened my eyes and walked out the door
And the clouds came tumbling down
And it's bye-bye, goodbye, I tried
And I twisted it wrong just to make it right
Had to leave myself behind
I've been flying high all night
So come pick me up, I've landed…”

—Ben Folds, Landed


Prologue: The One Who Leaves

It's amazing how many things you can fit in a Toyota RAV4 when you're finally ready to leave. All your clothes, childhood memories, small furniture, some dishes and utensils, a George Foreman grill, a boom box, CD's and other miscellaneous items packed haphazardly in boxes with a little help from a friend.

I sneezed from all the dust motes floating in the car. I wiped my nose and could feel her watching me from the curtain, still crying, heart breaking. I almost looked back, but didn't, and instead started the car and drove away.

As I drove, I couldn't see out the rearview mirror, only the side mirrors, but it didn't matter. I would be careful driving the 35 miles over the winding highway 17 through the mountains to Santa Cruz, soon to be my new home.

I'd hit the wall of unhappy even before we were married, which is no consolation to the one who wants to stay married, unhappy or not, college sweetheart or not, who still wants children or not. Our friendship compromised by emotional codependence, obsessive instability and anxiety attacks, an affair of the heart, infidelity, and a debt so big it sunk us to the bottom of the sea -- but none of that matters to the one who's left behind, alone with the ghosts and the darkness.

At the end of July, 1997, I drove away at dusk and cried all the way to my new apartment, a mixture of oppressive guilt, painful realities and a new freedom that lifted my spirits slightly. Weeks earlier when I found the apartment, I remember looking down the end of the street at the Pacific Ocean beyond, feeling an overwhelming sense of peace, and thought, I'm going to live here. I'm going to begin again here.

The one who leaves is the monster, there's no getting around that. But leaving then was only thing I could do that was right.


Chapter 1: Today

It's not like Trump was 20, or even 30, or good God even 40, which still doesn't mean he should've gotten a pass (which we unfortunately tend to do with affluent white boys and men in this country). He was 60. And recently married. And he had two daughters.

I'm only thankful my girls aren't old enough to ask me the questions, "Dad, why would he say that? Why would he do that?" Because my answer could just as graphic (but family friendly) about how offensive this truly is. Fathers (and mothers) of daughters (and sons) can never be okay with this.

Ever.


Chapter 2: The Sucker Punch

I had written that the rise in incivility and bullying is being sugarcoated as an appropriate backlash against a supposed overly political correctness.

But that's just a load of crap; it's simply lethargic ignorance to overreact and make it personal. To hurt those we don't like or agree with instead of having a productive and emotionally intelligent dialogue about agreeing to disagree. It's all about the "more" -- we let our misogynistic insults fly more in America than ever. Maybe I'm just paying more attention than ever, but it seems as though as women make more equality progress in the workplace, in public office and at home, and in leadership positions far and wide overall, the more the demeaning rhetoric flies.

I'm livid because of what I'm seeing and hearing, not only from the grand global political stage, but from friends, family and peers who seem to be forgiving this behavior as the status quo. Who add to the bullying discourse by concurring and piling on, or even worse, not speaking up and letting it slide. Who forgive our leaders (men and women alike) at all levels in business, government and in school who belittle our daughters (and sons) this way.

I'm livid and saddened because I believe we're better than that, although the Mama and I are painfully aware of what's coming for our girls as they get older. So like a superhero punch to the solar plexus, we're preparing them as best we can to be fully aware and walk away when they should, and to fight back when they must.

But then an old friend (and girlfriend) from high school sucker-punched me on Facebook after reading my article and called me a bully back then with her, saying I said things about her I never said. And it floored me.


Chapter 3: Back in the Day

Freshman year of high school. Hanging out with my friends at McDonald's after the football game, talking about what freshman boys talk about: sports, school and girls.

Another old girlfriend (not the one from Chapter 2) stormed in and confronted me. She accused me of sharing the intimate details of our relationship from over the summer, which I admittedly had done, and she berated me in front of my friends for what seemed eternity.

When she left, they teased me, but I was mortified. Not because of what she'd done in response, but because of what I had done.

That next week I apologized profusely. From that point on I learned to (mostly) keep to myself what needed keeping.


Chapter 4: No One's Ever Asking for It

No, this is about a young man who didn’t stop himself from raping when the girl lay unconscious behind a dumpster. He was the only cause. Not her. He went too far. Nobody’s asking for it. It wasn’t her fault. I remember one night early on dating my now wife, really drunk, both of us stumbling up the stairs to my apartment, making out and groping each other, and never in my most primal drunken delirium could I have forced myself on her, conscious or not.

Because the 20 minutes of Brock Turner’s rape really comes down to the seconds where he could’ve and should’ve stopped himself. Where he could’ve taken her home, no matter how inebriated, and then gone home himself and slept it off. However, like my dad always used to say (who was in law enforcement for over 32 years), “Should’ves and could’ves only count in horseshoes and hand grenades; they don’t mean shit.”

I have a wife and two daughters. Or, I could have a husband and two sons. It doesn’t matter when it comes to rape and sexual abuse. Either way I will defend their worth unconditionally, as they would defend mine.

I’m outraged. You should be as well. And he only served three months in jail for his rape. We must all give voice to victims of sexual abuse and rape. We must stop blaming the victims and start making the rapists and abusers accountable. We must be the defenders of those precious seconds prior to a life destroyed, to instill self-aware prevention in our children. We must support organizations like Kidpower, a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, that provide positive prevention tips to help us focus on what to “DO” to handle different types of personal safety problems.

We must ultimately and definitively educate society here and abroad that no one’s ever asking for rape or sexual abuse. We're just asking for prevention and justice.


Chapter 5: Birth Story One

She was supposed to be born at home. But do to complications, that doesn't happen. We had to head to the emergency room at the birthing center.

Around 6:00 p.m. I go downstairs to get something to eat. Three minutes after I order a cheeseburger and fries and our midwife runs into the cafeteria telling me to come now. My first thought is the baby's coming. But as we're running back up the stairs, she says, "The baby crashed and they went to the OR!"

The baby crashed and they went to the OR.

The baby crashed.

The baby.

I feel like my body has fallen away and I'm flying towards the room. Everyone's yelling things I can't comprehend and they tell me to get the blue scrubs on. They lead me to the operating room and a nurse lets me in.

"You're the husband? Come this way."

Stark whiteness washes over me and I'm immediately sat next to Amy. She's shaking but strong and ready to go. I'm out of my mind but not showing it. The OB is there. There are nurses and the anesthesiologist and everyone's moving around doing things I don't understand. The leg clamps don't work on the table, so two of the nurses actually hold Amy's legs up. Amy pushes and pushes and the OB coaches her along. They didn't let our midwife in so it's just me holding Amy's hand and urging her on. And praying. I even joke at one point to offer my help in doing anything to get the baby out.

The OB says we're making progress and gets the vacuum ready. Based on what she's telling us, she's only going to try to vacuum three times and then we're doing a Caesarean. But the vacuum isn't holding any suction and they have to change it two times. The OB keeps encouraging Amy to push and push. The baby's heart rate stays in the safe range.

She pushes and pushes. Two sets of labor and two different experiences in 24 hours – at home and at the hospital. Finally the OB hooks the vacuum up and pulls and pop – she looks startled, falls back and smiles.

"There we go. It was the arm. The baby's arm was up over its head."

The baby's arm was up over its head. Wow.

A second later the baby is out, umbilical cord is cut and the baby is rushed over to a side table and cleaned. Amy's still shaking but smiling. She whispers, "I'd better pay my co-pay." The baby cries. The pediatrician who was in the operating room calls me over to see the baby and identify the sex.

I'm still flying when I see that B is a girl – our little Beatrice – all 7 lbs., 14 oz., and 21 inches of her.


Chapter 6: Today Again

God bless us all for our opinions and our choices. This is what America is all about. While I could never vote for tyranny, bullying, bigotry, misogyny or sexual assault -- even if the candidate has economic and foreign policy chops, and we know that score -- everybody has a right to their opinion and choice. But that's just me, and I will continue to be vocal about it.

And by the way, it's not okay for any man (or woman) regardless of where there political affiliation stands. We unfortunately have a long list of white male business leaders and politicians that go way back on this one.

I am speaking up because it's about empowering a bully and sexual predator free life for us all regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual preference.

It's about our girls growing up.


Chapter 7: Birth Story Two

Beatrice had been up since 1:00 AM, primarily because of her cold and snotty nose, but also because she knew something was up.

Because our midwives had everything under control with Mama, it was up to me to tend to Bea if she needed it.

She did. Lots of it. She just couldn't go back to sleep and I had to stay in there so she wouldn't wail. She couldn't hear anything coming from our room; we keep a fan going in their for white noise and have been doing it since before she was born.

But she was obviously unsettled and aware of what's coming.

Mama had been in active labor since around 12:30 and the motion of the womb ocean was a series of storm-driven spindrift.

Things were moving fast and I was missing it.

I stroke Bea's arm one more time and whisper:

"I love you, baby, but I have to go help Mama."

As soon as I'm in our room, Bryce is entering the earth's atmosphere for the first time.

Of course I can't share the intimate details, but I can tell you that earlier she found her baby Zen center as contraction after contraction rolled through her.

Now I'm standing behind Mama on the side of the bed. She grabs my hand with a superhero power I remembered from the first time, pulls me down towards her on the bed and shrieks:

"Get it out of me!"

That's the final reality of birth, my friends. Guys, we have no idea. Nada. Zip. Imagine passing a hot bowling ball through your urethra.

Mother Mary of God, I think. There's a Bryce coming out of my wife.

You see, the first time with Bea I didn't see. That plan was to be at home as well. But this time we were at home and all is well.

And then it's done. We're in the moment of tearful Mama holding wet newborn to her breast, the universe expanding the heart and soul ad infinitum.

All 7 pounds, 8 1/2 ounces, and 20.5 inches of her. Welcome to the world, Baby Bryce.


Chapter 8: The Haters of Happy

I didn't expect to feel this way. To get emotional reading my own children's book to my daughter's first grade class. I'm a self-proclaimed crier, yes, but it was just supposed to be fun. To participate in the class "mystery reader" program where, leading up to my designated time to read, daily clues were presented to the kids to see if they could figure out who the reader would be.

And this time, it be me. Beatrice had no idea, even after I was the one who brought her to school that morning of my reading. I waited in the school office and then two of her classmates came to get me and escort me back to the classroom.

Beatrice beamed when she saw me. Some of her classmates recognized me since I had coached them in T-ball and soccer, whispering, "I knew it was Beatrice's dad." I sat down in the rocking chair the teacher uses for guests and reading and said good morning.

Over 20 six and seven-year-olds from various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures gazed back at me with curious smiles. This budding microcosm of the greater world around us, at least of the California Bay Area, filled me with hope that positive living without the haters of happy may just prevail someday.

Aspirational I know. Always the hopeful hoper I am. But at some point, if not already, these kids will tease and be teased because of misunderstood yet reconcilable differences. That unconditional rite of passage that so many of us experience. And not only teased, since there will be those who bully and get bullied, especially in world that gleans joy from online anonymity and trashing others. Haters gonna hate and all that crap.

A little teasing I get, and I got my share growing up all the way into elder adulthood where I'm at today. I doled out a little myself. Sometimes the teasing was palatable and I'd laugh along, and sometimes it wasn't even close.

Through it all, I survived, and those I teased survived. Never in a million years did I bully verbally or physically to the point of wanting to hurt someone purposely and spitefully because of (fill in the blank). Pushed the teasing on occasion, yes. Bullying, no.

Of course I didn't think about all these things while reading my book to Bea's class, but the emotion welled up when I read the line:

Although I can’t fly like all of the rest
I believe in myself
I’m not second best.

I really believed that when I wrote it, which was a couple of years before we had the girls. I believed it growing up, through all the family dysfunction and violence, and I still believe it today. As I read the story aloud, holding the book up with my left hand so the kids could see the pages, my peripheral vision embraced the new hope in front of me that someday would know the difference between hate and empathy and positive dissension, and could help to counter incivility, bullying and violence.

Good God, I'm surprised I don't have more haters of happy with the positive approach to life I not only write about, but try to live as well, as much as I can. I know how to change their channel, or to confront when need be. The incremental mindfulness and meditation I've been investing in is certainly paying off. Amen to that. Plus, the Mama channeling Kidpower continues to remind me that, no matter how horrible they can be, even the haters of happy should never be second best.


Chapter 9:  When Gravity Triples with Sick

Daddy leaves a Toronto hotel at 4:30 AM EST. His flight is delayed for nearly 4 hours due to a maintenance issue. Daddy is unhappy because he misses his family and doesn't want to miss coaching soccer practice later that day, but safety first. A new plane is towed in and the 5-hour flight home starts shortly thereafter. Based on an average air speed of 490 miles per hour, and then the added bonus of the airport drive home during commute with an average speed of 35-45 miles per hour, what time does Daddy actually get home PST?

Gravity tripled again and I felt sick. Not only was I not going to see my girls for another six to seven hours (by the time I got home), I was going to miss soccer practice. I was going to let them all down -- my girls and the entire team -- and that really, really sucked. The Mama had to change up her schedule to get Beatrice to practice, and one of the other team parents stepped up to coach practice, and I was very thankful for both.

Let go and let Godot; the existential absurdity of it all hit rock bottom when I waited an additional painful 30 minutes for my suitcase at baggage claim. I know, I always say I hate being away from my family but love to travel -- first world problems and all that. I finally acquiesced to the fact that, no matter how long it took, I just needed to get home, safe and sound. That I would see my family soon. That I would also miss soccer practice, but would see my team at the game on Saturday. When gravity triples with sick you have to stand up straight and own it. I knew that all I had control over was my immediate actions and my reactions to this unfortunate circumstance, and although it didn't make me feel any better at the time, I just needed to get back intact.

And get back intact I did. Amen.


Chapter 10: The Night Before 

It was a Friday night, October 10, 1997. I don't remember exactly what I was doing, but I'm sure I was just hanging out in my apartment alone watching a little TV, maybe writing a little as well. The unraveling of my previous marriage and life had only just begun a few months earlier, and my life was only then at the beginning of a major transition that I had barely begun to understand.

Maybe that's why the late summer swell of El NiƱo had warmed the waters of the Pacific, to draw me to the sea below the lighthouse, to be there on that very day at that very moment...

But it was only the night before and I do remember there was an offshore flow warming the air outside on the balcony. One of the most beautiful times of the year in Santa Cruz is the month of October, at least during the years I've lived here, and especially the first one.

I had noticed her for weeks on the beach. Always alone, as was I. She was usually reading, always wearing a baseball cap, and always looking, well, quite lovely in whatever bathing suit she wore on any particular day.

But it was only the night before and I wasn't thinking of her. I was thinking of the wreck my life had become, how I had rammed myself against the rocky shore and then crawled back onto the beach half-drowned, but happy.


Chapter 11: The Day Of

Then it was the next day, October 11. We were on the beach again that afternoon as we'd been in the weeks prior.

I usually get the words wrong, but our lover lore recounts the fact that she walked up to me and asked:

"So, do you always come here alone?"

Like a fool, I almost didn't answer her; I wanted to be alone actually. Too soon, no matter how beautiful I thought she was.

But then, "Yes, I do. And you?"

And that was it. All she wrote. Only (mostly) blue sky ahead. Six years later we were married, on the same date. Five years after that we started a family.

The stark simplicity of how the universe sometimes smiles upon us was new to me. On the night before and the day of the rest of my life, I never imagined that I'd finally landed, and how happy I'd always be.

Happy Anniversary Honey.


Epilogue: For the First Time Every Time

It's like I see you then, now, every day for the first time, every time, 
The lovely young lady in the baseball cap and bathing suit
Perched upright in the orange beach chair nestled against the cliff base.
Your feet massaging the sand slowly, your eyes down in a book
So immersed in story that I didn't notice your glances my way
Or didn't think you noticed mine, my head down writing all the time.
Your long blonde hair like solar flares absorbed the light of others
Who passed between us, keeping the air around you warm and soft. 
The scene now reminds me of a shimmering silk tapestry, rich with color,
Seemingly unreal, a dream state, a place we've been before and 
Will go to again and again, a vista by sea and sand forever in memory.
The moment we met that day on the beach became a stunning ache
That has never left me — the soft light of your moving presence, 
A welcome sun that never fails to rise and lift my heart, hold it high 
In the sky and remind me this is how it feels to live life with love,
To be in love, to live boldly and burn brighter with the happy ache of 
Never wanting to be without, for that would mean we were never real, 
that our fated meeting had never happened, that our heartmeld fusion had
Never transformed two halves into two wholes, birthing two celestial
bodies locked in each other's gravity, a brilliant sun and moon, lovers 
And friends who can't look away from one another, who look out for
One another, who live life unabashed and empower their children in kind.
Two people who long to touch and hold and kiss and love one another 
to burn away any darkness or doubt with feverish clasp, the hungry want,
The kind of mythical pleasure shared only by the uninhibited gods and
Goddesses of antiquity. 

You are my stunning ache, Amy, and I see you then, now, every day
For the first time every time, and I am draped in the purest silken fire.