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, 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."


"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.