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, April 29, 2017

Side By Side And Hand In Hand

"Hands across America
Hands across this land I love
Divided we fall, united we stand
Hands across America..."

Two months later it was still a joke. We'd mock the song and the promotional video and all the stars who appeared in it. We'd mock the do-goodness of those millions of dinks who held hands from city to city and state to state. We were twenty-somethings who didn't have a clue as to the why of the movement and didn't really care. Maybe it was something about helping poor families and the hungry and the homeless. Whatever. It was just cheesy and easy to make fun of.

Until David kept singing the theme song over and over and over again. One minute he'd be standing there catatonic staring at me as if I wasn't really there. And then the next he'd break into a passionate rendition of the "Hands Across America" theme song, his clear blue eyes locked on mine as if he was singing it directly to me, his arms and hands outstretched to simulate holding hands with people on either side of him.

Over and over and over again.

The summer of 1986 I worked as a YMCA camp counselor for kids and teens with developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome and more. Prior to that I had never done anything like it, and to this day I still don't know why I applied for the job. I even convinced my sister to apply, who was much more reluctant than I was to be a camp counselor, especially for special needs kids.

I did the job for less than two months, and although it wasn't a volunteer position (I did get paid a little money for doing the job), in retrospect it was one of the most transformative experiences I had at that stage of my life. David, the camper who sang the "Hands Across America" theme song, had severe autism and struggled to connect in any way to others around him. Except with that song that he obsessively latched onto. His parents would tell me at the end of camp that David had never been so engaged with others until the Hands Across America movement. He watched it live while it happened and anytime it was referenced after the fact on TV he would be glued to the repeated coverage.

But it wasn't until the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had children of our own when we started to pay more attention to the world around us, to how it affected us and we affected it, to the movements that moved us to activate and participate in our community. To try and make a positive impact in our lives, the lives of our children and others. And we most certainly want our children to know they can and should stand up for what they believe in and continue the active, positive path.

And even then, it took some time for us to fully activate. After years of polarizing economic and political events that rattled the hell out of us, we activated to participate fully -- the Mama becoming a Kidpower instructor, the Mama helping to organize the local Women's March in January, my being accepted to join the Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, our whole family participating in the local Science March, our whole family participating in the local Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, and simply volunteering more in our community where and when we can.

Whatever movement you support locally and/or globally, get off the ground, activate your family and participate. Of course we won't all see eye to eye; we'll support what we support, or maybe nothing at all. And yet every little bit of positive change can go a long, long way in a world that continues to rattle the hell out of us.

These activist families today with their peaceful marches and their homemade signs and their spreading good will and their walking a mile in women's shoes. Be the change, kids.

And thank you, David. Divided we fall, united we stand, side by side and hand in hand.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hard C

She asked the person to remove the C-word from the Facebook post. The person responded sorry you're offended by my freedom of speech. And after that for my wife, it was all she wrote, so to speak.

Whether the person was talking about a woman or a man doesn't matter. It's still a highly offensive term to many, especially those of us with young daughters. Daughters that will grow up and read Facebook posts with the C-word in them from family, friends and far removed connections of connections we may never know, but who still impact us with their use of demeaning words.

Recently I saw someone post on another friend's thread that the new leader of the free world was nothing but a C-word. On the other hand, the other leader of the free world recently defended a man with a history of sexual harassment claims against him. Think about the unfortunately clear signals this sends to our children.

Feminist writer and English professor Germaine Greer said, "I love the idea that this word is still so sacred that you can use it like a torpedo: you can hole people below the water line; you can make strong men go pale. It is a word of immense power, to be used sparingly."

She also said, "Yet for most people the C-word is still a very offensive term…"

This isn't about us being easily offended buttercups -- this is about being parents (and my wife being a woman) and wanting to throat punch the offensive ignorance that still abounds. And although I've read there are instances where the C-word can have positive connotations, it's very definition still primarily refers to an unpleasant or stupid person and is usually a disparaging and obscene term for a woman. Think about the destructive slippery slope this hateful rhetoric sends us down.

As a man who has used his own share of offensive words, I now get it more than ever why not to use them, helping to raise two strong and independent children, who just happen to be girls. And while the word is still as loathsome as the mouths that spew the hard C, we've again empowered it and other taboo words to demean and bully one another. Usually without much cause and only because we've convinced ourselves of the limiting constraints of supposed political correctness, and that freedom of speech can and should be used as a weapon of insult and degradation.

And with yesterday being the holiest day for Christians around the world, I again realize there is no convenient time to talk about these things, and that forgiveness is a powerful healer. The inconvenient truth is that we must be willing to talk about these things at any time to be aware of them, to prevent them from happening again, and to strive to be our better selves. Like the similar piece I wrote last Easter about domestic violence, and the fact that this month is again sexual assault awareness month and national child abuse prevention month.

When in doubt, seek the grace of your God if you have one, as well as educational resources and the positive action of organizations like Kidpower and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. And of course the solace of each other's restraint, empathy and civility.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here There Only Be Humans

“Oh, my God! What is with Rick? Again, he does nothing. He’s gotta go,” said the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.

“I know, I hear you this time. At least this time he talked smack back at Negan,” I said.

“He didn’t do anything! He could’ve at least head-butted him. What happened to the Rick who bit that guy in the throat to protect his son?”

“I know, I know. It sucks because I identify with Rick; doing the right thing when he can but not being afraid to fight back.”

“You’re not Rick – you’re more like Morgan.”

“Morgan. Wow. Okay, I’ll take that, but I still prefer Rick.”

As I said that, I thought, What, am I that frickin’ crazy?

“No, you’re Morgan. Me, I identify with Maggie. Yes, definitely Maggie. Nobody messes with me.” [With all due respect to my wife, she's Maggie, not Carol -- all fixed!]

I thought, Yep, I see that. That’s why you’re the Mama Bear, Mama. 

“Maggie, sure. And I agree with you, too – Rick should’ve at least head-butted him, especially after what happened the first time with Negan. I don’t know why the writers didn’t play it that way.”

“Frickin’ Rick. Ugh.”

“I know. Love you.”

“Love you.”

For those keeping score at home and have no idea what we’re talking about, it would be the zombie-apocalypse-survival-fiction series called The Walking Dead. Based on the graphic comics of the same name, we’ve been hooked on the show for a few years now. One of the few shows we watch in that tiny window between putting our girls to bed and us going to bed.

We didn’t watch The Walking Dead from the beginning, though. Although we’re both end-of-world story junkies (Lucifer’s Hammer and The Stand are favorites from back in the day), I’ve never been a zombie fan. In fact, I hate zombies. Just the idea of the undead freaks me out more than any other horror story ever written. The movie Shaun of the Dead freaked me out years ago, and it was a comedy.

No spoilers here for fans of The Walking Dead, I promise. Like many forms of art and media including books, movies, TV and podcasts – fiction and nonfiction alike – the Mama and I consume quite a bit of stuff and discuss regularly how we relate to them as reality and/or metaphors of our world today.

Recently however, the reality of instability in the world has us worried – the continued conflicts throughout Middle East (especially in Syria), North Korea’s escalation and missile tests, whatever the hell is going on with Russia and us, homegrown incivility due to our last election, continued socioeconomic disparity, racial divides, sexual assault and domestic violence and more. We’re not fatalists and we do hope that America can keep it together, as well as the rest of the world, but the fears anew of potential nuclear strikes on our west coast and elsewhere, and the random nature of recent terrorist attacks abroad, has us a little freaked out.

We grew up with Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis and War Games and Terminator and Red Dawn and Iran-Contra and the Cold War ending and the Persian Gulf War starting and OJ Simpson and the LA riots and more.

Then nearly 10 years later came 9/11.

Today we have children. We want our family to be safe. We want your families to be safe. We don’t want to be in a civil war and/or a world war. We’re more involved in our community today than ever and more engaged with our elected officials. Recently we got our passports renewed and got passports for the girls. We have extra rations of food and bottles of water tucked away at home. We have other items of safety safely put away for now.

For those who think we’re overreacting, well, God bless you. I will pray for us all, Brothers and Sisters. Most of our generation grew up relatively safe in America, sans 9/11 and those of us discriminated against and all victims of crime across the crime spectrum.

We do think about what if, though. What if we must flee like millions have fled throughout history, from Jews of yesterday to the Syrians of today. What if we had to pack everything in our car and drive inland to avoid coastal missile strikes. Or drive to the border to avoid domestic terrorism and civil warfare. Or pack what we could carry and must walk miles and miles to safe havens that may not even be there when we get there.

What if.

We just don’t want to think about it because we still have it pretty good in America. Many of us at least. Even with the rise in racial, social and global tensions. Yes, I know that’s a generalization and still we should be thankful and be involved in our communities and elevate what we believe in regardless of our opinions at odds, and especially without rhetorical or physical violent escalations between any of us.

Yet, in the end, like many of you, we will do what we must do to protect our family, zombie apocalypse and all. And if that includes head butts and neck bites, then so be it.

However, there aren’t really any zombies. Here there only be humans.

God bless us all, Brothers and Sisters. Here’s to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where all men and women are created equal, where we can either empathize and thrive, or just simply survive.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Of Their Own Making

By the time we parked, Beatrice announced for the fourth time that she probably was not going to climb the rock wall.

"Did you see it?" I asked.

"Yes," both girls answered in unison.

"It's in the parking lot," Beatrice added.

The rock wall, which was actually a cylindrical rock wall tower over 30 feet high, stood in the corner of the supermarket parking lot. We saw it clearly once we rounded the corner of the parking lot entrance. There was only one girl climbing up its face at that point.

"Daddy, I'm a little nervous, so I don't think I want to climb it," Bea again reminded me.

"Bea, you don't have to do anything you don't want to. If you want to try it, great. If not, that's okay."

"Okay. I'm just a little nervous."

"I'm not climbing that," Bryce said.

"Girls, you don't have to. Don't worry. Let's go check out the other booths."

It was a small "summer camp" fair we'd gone to. There were about 10 small booths encircling a small corner of the parking lot with the rock tower at its head. Represented were science camps, active activity camps, adventure outdoor camps and even a LEGO engineering camp. The latter being the one the girls gravitated to first. Bryce immediately began building and Beatrice drop things on a LEGO conveyor belt that dropped them in a big bucket. Then they switched roles and Bea built stuff while Bryce dropped stuff on the moving belt.

"Very cool," I said.

Bea looked past me towards the climbing rock tower where another boy and girl were giving the climbing a go. "Daddy, I'm a little nervous. Maybe I'll climb it next time."

"Don't worry. You don't have to climb it; it's up to you."

At one of the active activity camps, the girls had to spin a wheel to then do a specific activity to win a prize. They both hit "do 10 jump jacks," and so they did 10 jumping jacks with the people running the booth. In between exploring each booth, we'd have to jump back to the LEGO booth for more building and playing.

About 15 minutes later, Bea said, "Daddy, I want to climb it now."


I'd blocked out the possibility of it, because I just didn't think she'd want to climb it. I didn't want to push her either, or under-encourage her. Instead I just kept making it about her choice. But what I didn't get at that moment was the fact that, with her repetitively saying out loud she maybe didn't want to climb it, actually meant that she was building up her confidence to climb it.

Damn. You go, Bea.

And that was all she wrote, as the expression goes. One of the adventure booth representative fitted the climbing harness on her and away she went. Within a minute, Bryce said, "Daddy, I want to climb, too."

There will be times in our lives where the pride we feel for our children's accomplishments will send us skyrocketing into summer's dusk like brilliant fireworks on Independence Day. This was one of them; I beamed a reverent rainbow while I watched them climb the rock, repel down and then climb up again.

It didn't matter that neither went all the way to the top. It didn't matter that Bea made it twice as far as Bryce did. All that mattered was that they both climbed the rock wall tower by their own volition. They did that. I was supportive, yes, as I should be, but they did that. This part I didn't miss, knowing that their mountains will be steeper at times and potentially more treacherous because of their gender. That having each other as well as supportive and empathic mentors and peers, both women and men, will empower them. My wife and I also know we can only help them develop their confidence and grit one step at a time, and that the cumulative heights they reach will ultimately be of their own making.

Here be the bold and tenacious. Here be the #BhivePower. Amen.

“Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe…”

—Ashford & Simpson, Ain't No Mountain High Enough