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 18, 2018

It Always Burns a Hole

"Big money make a million dreams
Big money spin big deals
Big money make a mighty head
Big money spin big wheels..."

–Rush, Big Money


Because it always burns a hole in their pockets. The moolah. The cheddar. The dough. The cash so hot its molten gravity opens up the earth and speeds toward the glowing core to super-ignite and annihilate the universe.

Or, more accurately, it wants to head to a nearby store. For new toys or treats and other random crap. The girls have been earning their own money, kind of, off and on for the past year, maybe more. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) helped them identify something to do -- fold the clothes, unload the dishwasher, wipe off the counters, feed the bunny, unpack their backpacks, etc. I bring the air support, kind of, reminding them to do their tasks if they want to earn the designated amount of money.

The money that burns a hole in their pockets. But we have to start somewhere.

For me, it all started as a child around eight years old with a $0.25 weekly allowance. That's one quarter per week for my sister and I helping our mom around the house. Yes, it was a long, long time ago, and we did grow up with very little extra money -- just enough to barely make ends meet. But, our mom did want to instill in us a sense of responsibility and reward. And after a few weeks, that amount of money went a lot farther back then at drugstores (five and dimes) like Thrifty's and Woolworth's.

Wow, do any of these kids today even know what five and dime means? I know, right? Probably not. Our kids certainly don't. However, they do know the dollar stores, and that's a place where a dollar can still go a long, long way.

Then, with our crazy and abusive first step-dad, my sister and I got a dollar per week allowance -- but, we'd get demerits, money subtracted from our allowance if we did something wrong and/or didn't complete our chores around the house. My poor sister got the brunt of this punitive approach, sometimes ending up with a deficit that ate away at future allowances.

I'm lifetimes away from those days now, and the Mama and I haven't and won't take that approach. We're fortunate to have a little extra cash to spend on our kids than either of us had as children. And that's why we want them to learn the value of earning their own money that they can spend on whatever they want. Within reason.

Which is why the Mama brought home an idea from a friend about "saving, giving and spending" money. This means that we'll have them save a portion of their allowance, give away a portion of their allowance to help others, and to then spend a portion of their allowance -- the part they're most excited about, of course. We've been talking about establishing a more regular allowance for both girls based on completing weekly tasks, at least one to two tasks each per week (I want two, but the Mama says let's get them consistent on one first). And then they could earn extra if they did even more, beyond the allowance task/s and the everyday things they have to do anyway, something the Mama and I didn't exactly agree on (another story for another time), but have worked through.

Now each week they'll get six dollars each week (I know, right?) for allowance for completing their tasks/chores/whatever you want to call them. And each week they have to put at least $1 in each of the "save" and "give" envelopes we've designated for them, and then the balance can go into the "spend" envelope, which they can use at the dollar store, or for bigger ticket items when we go to Disneyland over Christmas.

It's funny, because our oldest, Beatrice, just watched a commercial about Universal Studios and celebrating the holidays at Harry Potter World. I said we'd go there someday, even if she didn't care for Harry Potter (I know, right?).

"But I do want to go," she said. "Let's go there."

"No, we'll go there someday," I said. "But we're going to Disneyland again this year. It costs a lot of money to go to these parks. Guess how much it costs just for our Disneyland tickets."

"Um...a million dollars," Beatrice said, amused with herself.

"No, not quite. Try again."

"Twenty-thousand dollars."

"Nope."

"Twelve thousand dollars."

"Nope. Not that much. Goodness, we wouldn't even go once for that much."

"I don't know then."

"One thousand and five hundred dollars for all four tickets. So you better start saving."

"I'm already saving for the girl Stitch stuffed animal at Disneyland. You have to pay for the rest."

Of course we do. I know, right?

Because it always burns a hole in our pockets. A really big friggin' hole. And we're grateful we can afford the hole. For now, at least. Which is why we also do our best to practice what we preach, with the saving and the giving, especially coming back from the brink of oblivion during the great recession, still not so long ago, like so many others have done.

Yes, it always burns a hole, this fragility of finance, and yet the economy is humming again. For now, at least. Teaching our children financial responsibility is serious business.

"Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul..."

Sunday, November 11, 2018

All in at 11

Driving behind the FedEx truck, I pushed and pulled inside the moment, but stayed inside it. I knew I had to make it to Best Buy within 10 minutes, grinding bumper to bumper on Highway 1 -- stop start, stop start -- brake lights glaring red. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, told me I wouldn't make it there and back in time to pick up Beatrice after band, but I told her I was sure of it. 

And so I stayed in the moment driving, leveraging the meditation we've been doing, not getting stressed out or worried, knowing that I would make it. I stayed in the moment, but explored the boundaries of it, letting my daydreams fill it with a big volume of recent change. 

Turning up the volume, actually. I think I'd used that expression with other parents dozens of times since this school year began for our daughters. Probably dozens of times in single conversations, with the same parents concurring. Like turning the amp volume up to 11 for those familiar with the comedy This Is Spinal Tap -- going above and beyond what's expected, when you didn't really believe that level existed, or want to believe it existed.

Dear God, now we know it does. 

And it's all stuff we've all signed up for and that both girls have wanted to do -- soccer, theater class, school band -- and more to come. That's not including all the stuff we're doing as the parents as well, in the context of school involvement, community involvement and ever-expanding work (which I so thankful we have). From the first day of school in August the volume has been cranked to 11 for friggin' sure. 

This isn't a pat on the back moment, though. Every day I reach trembling for the volume knob to turn it down. I stop short, hand shaking a little while hovering over it, and then take a deep breath and pull it back. 

I can't turn it down, though; we're all in. We don't get it all right, but we're all in. We knew that from the moment we decided to have Beatrice. We knew it even before that, but it was having children that solidified it.

Five minutes out from Best Buy, the ever-expanding moment moved on to how our girls are growing up. The years of Daddy taking family pictures unchecked were finally recently checked. And it was because of one goofy picture I took of Beatrice with Bryce. She said she didn't want me to post pictures like that anymore and set a boundary that I check with her from now on before I post any pictures of her. Then her younger sister Bryce echoed this request while out with me and the Mama and Beatrice was at an overnight birthday slumber part with friends. 

Bryce wanted a girls' night out with Mama and decided Daddy could go, too. We went out to eat and I asked her:

"Bryce, can I take a picture of us for girls' night?"

"No."

"Really?"

"No."

Sigh.

She was never as into the pictures as much as her older sister was, but now they just keep growing up, faster and faster and faster, with moments that get louder and louder and louder...

My ever-expansive bubble moment held with resilient elasticity and I made it with two minutes to spare in picking up Beatrice after band practice. As we drove home, I asked her about her day. Her voice, already full of pre-tween inflection, bounced off her own inner walls and my eardrums. I may be taking fewer literal pictures of them both from now on, but we're all in at 11 now, and the volume of moments like these will forever ring in our eyes and ears.

Rock on, #BhivePower.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This Was All Them

"Celebrate the moment
As it turns into one more
Another chance at victory
Another chance to score..."

–Rush, One Little Victory


She was prescient. Simple as that. Conversely, I had no expectations at all about the day. I only counted how many games and practices were left and knew the magic number was two.

Phew.

Even after stating last time I didn't know if either of our girls will play soccer again next year, or if I'll coach again, but we're all going to finish out this year strong as a team, tears and all. Winning is great, the competitive side of me knows that all too painfully well. But in the end, it is how you play the game. Not how it plays you. 

How true, and maybe I had a little prescience, too.

One the way to our second-to-the-last game, I asked Bryce if she was excited about playing.

"Yes," she said. "I am."

"Great," I said, again without expectation or biased agenda. I knew the girls were getting tired of being pummeled every single game. So was I.

We drove on, and then Bryce said:

"Daddy, I'm going to score a goal today."

I couldn't help but smile. "You think so?"

"Yes, I am."

"Awesome. Let's go have some fun today."

"I think we're all going do well today," she added.

I smiled again. "Okay then. Let's do it."

As we warmed up on the field, the other team's coach said they were down their bigger and older players, but would have enough to play at least 7 on the field. I told her that would work, that I wasn't sure how many I'd have show up, but we could play 7 as well. I did log in the fact that their "bigger and older players" weren't there – which to me that translated into more experience players than ours.

That seemed to follow the skewed trend for most of the teams we had played this year – bigger, older and a little more experience. Not all of them, but most of them. And it wasn't just me and my coaches who noticed, the team parents had noticed as well.

But I've also had to grapple with the bias inherent in losing with an inexperienced team. Plus, being a father of one on the team meant I always had more on the line. I signed up for this for four years, though. I was in it to stretch and grow, as well as trying to impart a growth mindset to our teams.

Then the game started and something was different. The girls played better. They ran harder, went to the ball instead of waiting for it, controlled the ball, passed the ball – and they scored. A lot. After being pummeled all season, we actually won this game. Six goals to the other team's two. And one of those was Bryce's goal. She made it happen. They all made it happen. We subbed players in and out and coached them along the way, but this, this was all them.

And they knew it. They felt it. They lived it. They loved it. They celebrated every moment of it in every moment of it. That's the stuff we want them to encase in their still-growing hearts, the making it happen and making it their own, to access this confidence as needed throughout their lives.

Because they will need it; we all need it. For right now though, we celebrate the moment. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How You Play the Game

"I got this feeling, 
I can't keep it down anymore
Bring me some healing,
Saint Cecilia, carry me home 
to your house of broken bones..."

–Foo Fighters, Saint Cecilia


Bryce, our youngest, trailed behind me eating her post-game popsicle. We headed to our car after another soccer game of full of injuries, tears and run-up scores. On us. Again.

We got in the car and drove to meet up with the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and Beatrice, our oldest. Bea had her game earlier, which we watched until we had to leave for our game.

"Bryce, you hustled today. Good job. It's so much fun watching you weaving in and out of those players while you dribble the ball up the field. Do you have fun while you're playing?"

"Yes, I do," she said. "Most of the time."

"When is it not fun?"

"When everyone is sad and the other team keeps scoring."

"Yep, I know. Some of those teams and bigger and older and more experienced than us."

"Yes, and sometimes they kick the ball really hard," Bryce said. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror and saw her grab her upper chest where a ball had hit her full force earlier in the game.

"Does it still hurt?"

"No," she said. "I'm okay."

We drove in silence for a few more minutes, and then I thought, Well, we can't do anything about the way the teams were put together, but at least most of our girls hustle most of the time.

"Bryce, thank you for playing. It's been fun being your coach. Only three more games left, so hang in there. Love you."

"Love you too, Daddy."

This is the fourth year I've coached recreational soccer -- the first three years I coached Beatrice's teams and this year I'm coaching Bryce's U10 team. They're a great group of girls, some of whom have played before, and many others who have not. Each year my goal is for the girls to learn some skills and improve their dribbling, passing, defending and scoring. To learn a basic understanding of the game and how to play together as a team. And to have fun.

That's been the harder part, though. The part about having fun. We tell them we want them to have fun, and then most of the other teams this year are bigger and more physical and more organized and score on us over and over again. The old sports cliche of "it's not whether you win or lose -- it's how you play the game" sours quickly when you're getting pummeled. I see it in their hot and tired faces every week, and I feel it as their coach, as does my assistant coach, the parents who help and all their parents who come out each week to watch.

We know it gets tough when the other team keeps scoring, but most of our girls hustle hard most of the time, and that’s all we can ask. We keep trying different drills and creative tactics to keep them growing and moving, and the parent encouragement certainly helps.

The reality is only some of the girls will go on to playing competitive soccer and many others will grow up and do other things, maybe fondly remembering the year or two they played soccer, or maybe not.

During this particular game, the one referenced above, the girl I had playing goalie the first part of the half was getting scored on, and what I didn't know was how upset she got because of it. Her dad had walked over to give me the heads up, that it was my call if I wanted to sub her out, and that's what I did. I put Bryce in as goalie for the rest of the half, a position she's enjoyed playing.

The girl who had been playing goalie came off the field with tears streaming down her face. Her voice cracked and she struggled for breath because of her intense crying.

"I let the team down," she said over and over again. "I let the team down. I'm sorry."

We told her she did not, that she worked hard out there and did her best. She settled down and then I got her back out there. Later in the game, the same girl got tripped up by the other team and went down hard. Everyone took a knee and I ran out on the field. I got her to stand up and she favored her right ankle, so I tried to maneuver her so her arm was around my neck and I could walk her off. But it didn't work, so I just picked her up and carried her off the field.

But I'm nobody's hero; all I could think about as I carried her off was how I had let the team down. That my focus on having fun wasn't serving them well. That maybe we should've practiced more. Drilled more. Played the best girls at their strength positions instead of rotating them to play both offense and defense to learn the game. That I shouldn't have missed those two games when I ran the local event and then had to travel for work.

Except, these girls are 8 and 9 years old, and this is recreational soccer. The crush of competitive life will come soon enough, so I shook off my self-doubt and finished the game with pride, even with witnessing yet again their hot and tired faces. I grounded myself in the reasons I've volunteered to do this year after year: to coach my own girls and to teach all of the team members a basic understanding of the game and how to play together as a team.

And to have fun. At least a little fun.

After the game I got a note from one of the parents that read:

You're doing a great job, and the kids are doing a great job!  They are really having fun together, they have good team spirit, they never give up, and they are all learning and improving! I know it's been challenging to get lined up quite a few teams that seem to be composed of quite a few older and/more experienced players than our group, but you keep things very positive for the kids and all of us. We are super lucky to have you!

I needed that. I'm not ashamed to say that I really, really needed that. I don't know if either of our girls will play again next year, or if I'll coach again, but we're all going to finish out this year strong as a team, tears and all. Winning is great, the competitive side of me knows that all too painfully well. But in the end, it is how you play the game. Not how it plays you.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Manifest the Goods

"Out of sync
With the rhythm of my own reactions
With the things that last
And the things that come apart..."

–Rush, Secret Touch


I just wanted to get ahead of the growing mediocrity in my head and get home to my family. That old nagging voice of self-doubt and mistakes made that had already tainted my confidence going in to the recent work travel and the events I helped organize. The Transforming Together triggered ghosts of the past. The CandE Awards event triggered pressures of the present. And the unknown of the future was, well, unknown. I was tired, fighting the remnants of a cold, still afraid of the infections I had the year before, repeatedly second-guessing myself and feeling the catatonic shadows of a light depression. Even after a great family wedding in between, I still felt overwhelmingly blah and meh.

All I could hear was my wife, the Mama (what I lovingly call her), telling me we manifest the moment; we manifest the good.

However, I only manifested the blah and meh.

And then on the six-hour flight home, I watched Dead Pool 2, and Ryan Reynolds made it all better. Really, I was laugh-crying at highly inappropriate joke after highly inappropriate joke and horrific comic-book violence. Sometimes you need a little of this to fix a little of that. This is a no-judgement zone, so no judging.

When I finally got home, I couldn’t wait to peek in at our girls, give my wife a kiss and go to bed. It was late, nearly midnight, and as I put the key in the lock and unlocked the deadbolt, I felt the mediocrity fall away like old skin. I sighed and opened the front door.

But it wouldn’t open. What the hell? I thought.

Then it hit me – we have a bolt on the other side of the door that was also locked. One that I couldn’t get to from this side of the door. The Mama knew I was coming home, and she had left on the porch light, and knew not to set our alarm or push the other bolt in. But she must’ve forgotten the bolt. And if the alarm was on the nighttime setting, the whole friggin’ neighborhood was going to wake up.

Dammit, Sweetie.

Okay, now what? I could get in the garage, but the door from the garage to my office was locked and for the life of me I couldn’t remember where the key was.

Now what? I could break the bolt and risk damaging the front door and still setting the alarm off if it was set.

I stood for a few minutes and realized I just have to wake up the Mama. Hopefully not the girls either, but I needed to get in the house.

So, I rang the doorbell. Once, twice and then a third time.

Nothing. I could only hear our bunny Dragonlily rattling his cage inside from hearing the doorbell. We have one of those Ring.com surveillance video doorbells, so I hoped that the Mama woke up and checked to see that it was me.

Nothing. I tried to ring it a fourth time, but it didn’t light up and ring like it’s supposed to do.

What the hell?

I pushed the doorbell multiple times and nothing. You’ve got to be kidding me, it’s broken? Now?

I went into the garage to put my bags in there and then tried to find the other key I needed to get in through my office, but had no such luck. I closed the garage and went back to the front door. The night outside was cool and quiet and freaked me out a little, adding to my uneasy feeling of being strung out already. I knew the worst-case scenario was that I could sleep in the garage, but dammit, I wanted to sleep in my bed!

I started knocking on the door, increasing the volume a little with each knock. I waited. And nothing. I did this for another few minutes, knocking and waiting – and nothing. If the girls had heard, then they were minding our safety rule of not going to the front door, especially this late at night.

However, I actually did have another alternative besides sleeping in the garage. That was going around the other side of our house and through our back gate into our backyard. I didn’t want to go that way because the gate was locked (I had that friggin' key least) and we have a big swing chair in front of it.

That was my last shot to get in, though. I walked around to the side gate and was immediately blinded by our motion detector lights. I tried to unlock the gate, but I couldn’t get the right angle, so I stacked up our side yard flagstone to stand on. That worked, and I unlocked the gate, but then had a hard time pushing swing chair out of the way to the get the gate open far enough for me to get through. Plus, we have these makeshift boards set up at the bottom of the gate to prevent our rabbit from getting out.

My neighbors are going to call the friggin’ police on me if they hear and/or see this, I thought.

No one did thankfully, and I finally got into the backyard and into the house through the back door. The alarm wasn’t on either. Thank God.

Amen. I was home. I peeked in at girls. I gave the Mama a kiss. And I went to bed. While I dozed off into an exhausted sleep, I realized I left the growing mediocrity at the door and basked in the presence of my family to move forward – that there was no other way to grapple with the past, the present and the future. That we do manifest our moments and we manifest the goods. And that's treasure worth fighting the ghosts over.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I Believe

"An idea
(I will find a way)
Like a hurt
Like an outrage
(To keep this moment for myself)
Like a sunrise
Like a monster
(I will find a way)
Like a monster
Like a mantra
Like a mantra..."

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor, Mantra 



Then from across the bar he pointed at me and mouthed the words: You're dead.

That's when everything slowed way down, just like in a dramatic movie moment. Except it wasn't. It was real. Actually, surreal, and the alcohol we'd consumed blunted all color and sound. We started toward each other, my friends immediately surrounding me like a protective wedge. They moved me along but I still got within inches of him.

We threatened to kill each other, and I reached for him, only to be stopped by one of my friends. Seconds later we were out the door.

I looked back while they moved me onward toward our cars, telling me to chill out and it'll be all right, but I didn't see him. And I never saw him again -- this horrible and mentally unstable man who had been our first step-father when I was 9 to 12 years old, the man who abused my mother and tried to kill her, who emotionally abused my sister and I, and who sexually abused me. My mother was also pretty sure that he killed his previous wife as well. All this happening during the same time the Visalia Ransacker (Golden State Killer) had stalked my hometown and had broken into our garage. And all this after growing up with alcoholism and domestic violence with our birth father.

When I had finally told my family about what had happened to me, nearly a decade had passed. Although it was too late to file any charges, my mother reported him to child protective services, just in case he had another family in his crazy stranglehold again. Shortly after I told them, we were out as a family for my 21st birthday at a restaurant, and sitting at the bar all alone was him. My mother didn't hesitate and charged the bar. My sister followed. I sat frozen in my seat with my dad (second step dad and the man I'll always call my father).

We watched as my sister and mother confronted him. My mother screamed at him and my sister threw a drink in his face. My dad and I didn't move. The restaurant asked us all to leave, which we did, and then my sister and I went out with our friends to the bar where the above confrontation happened.

I wanted to kill him for everything he did to us. I'll never know if I could've done it, because I never saw him again. At some point years and years later, he passed away. But I finally told my truth, even though it took 10 years, and I was believed.

However, even if I would've said something when I was 10 or 11 years old, he was charismatic and controlling and probably would've covered it all up readily. Maybe my mother and sister would've believe me, considering what they were going through, but I just don't know about law enforcement or anyone else. With our birth father, there was physical evidence of domestic violence, but with this man, there was none. He was careful and made it seem like it was normal behavior, and anything abnormal no one would believe, especially when it came to me and my sister. Even when he was threatening to kill my mother, and once when he poisoned her making her extremely ill, there was never any physical evidence.

All of these memories were triggered during the Transforming Together conference I helped organize locally. It was a day full of speakers and sessions around domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention. It was an amazing and inspiring day, even in the shadow of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation.

As I've written before, according to RAINN and the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 60 percent of sexual assault perpetrators are white (probably higher) and mostly male. There continue to be too many angry white men and boys in American society, encouraged to repress their feelings and humanity, something I grew up fighting against and continue to, while patriarchy continues to fuel it. If you haven't seen The Mask You Live In, I highly recommend it. The documentary follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Judy Chu Ed.D., Affiliated Faculty in Human Biology at Stanford University and author of When Boys Become Boys (NYU Press, 2014), was featured in the documentary and was also one of our keynotes at our local conference.

And yet, even with the community strength we received during our conference on making a difference, something broke me later on that evening -- seeing people I know, some of them women, posting internet memes like "Believe Women Evidence" and sharing related sentiments in other posts. Politicizing and victimizing the victims of sexual assaults and casting doubt on survivors' truths. It's hard enough for victims to report these crimes due to fear and shame and a myriad of other ostracizing fallout, including not being believed. This is bigger than the divisive political polarization that keeps consuming us. There's just so much more at stake for our children's well being and what happens to them and by them as adults.

I didn't have any evidence when it happened to me, but my mantra is clear and definitive: I believe survivors; I am a survivor.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

What We Get

I recognized the jacket immediately. We walked onto the lower field at school for our Saturday soccer scrimmage, and there it was, right next to another sweatshirt I didn't recognize.

"Bryce," I said. "Is that your pink jacket?"

Bryce stopped and bent down. "Yes, it's mine."

"And who's sweatshirt is that?"

"My friend's."

"Why is your jacket here on the field?"

"Because she forgot it, Dad. Why do you think?" said Beatrice.

Good answer smarty pants, I thought.

"Yes, sorry. It was an accident; I forgot it," Bryce said.

I picked up her pink jacket. It was soaking wet from being outside all night on the grass. I carried it over to where we dumped our equipment to start our soccer scrimmage between Bryce's team and Beatrice's team.

"Mommy's not going to be happy about this," I said.

"She said it was an accident, Dad. She's just a kid, you know," said Beatrice.

"Yes, I know," I said. "Thank you, Beatrice."

Beatrice has certainly found her voice at 10 years old. Although, so has Bryce at eight. And actually, they had already found their voices at a much earlier age than this. Which is great, because we want them to be confident, to set their boundaries and to be clear about how they feel. Now that Beatrice is in the pre-tween shadows, that can get a little too sarcastic at times, and we have to curb that with her, but overall they're both forthright and self-assured. And we encourage that.

During the scrimmage, Bryce fought playing and complained that she was hot and tired. I did what I do with any of our players who act like they don't want to play -- I said simply, if you don't want to play, please go sit on the sidelines and take a break.

If they don't really want to play in that moment, that's what I have them do; one of our other team members did that towards the end of our scrimmage. But Bryce did want to play, and kept on fighting with herself about it, and me, and in the end stayed in the scrimmage game, still complaining the whole time.

On the way home from the scrimmage, I pointed this out to Bryce, about being a team player and how attitude is a big part of playing any sport -- and I also reminded her about not leaving her things on the grass at school.

"That's what you get for having an eight-year-old," Bryce said, laughing.

"Yeah, Dad. That's what you get for having kids," said Beatrice, laughing.

"I know, I know girls," I said, laughing.

And yet, what we get is so much more than that; we get the future. They are our future leaders and captains of industry and sports figures, the future of our communities near and far, whatever they do and wherever they end up. And while some will struggle along their paths, we can only hope for the best as they grow older, guiding them as best we can as they do. I thought about all this when we had with some of our friends and their kids over for a little get together recently. I thought about this during our annual back-to-school barbecue, where I got to help out and play emcee, where hundreds of kids and their parents interacting positively with each other and having fun. Each of our lives so different than the other, no matter the shared values, and yet, the very nature of our shared values, our children, are ultimately all that matters the most in our collective worlds.

What we get is so much more, and in a world so divided today, and seemingly getting more so every day, it's up to us invest wisely.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Everyone Is Safe Today

If you've ever experienced it, you know painful it is for all involved. The accusation from someone you love that you've done something heinous, something you know you could never do. There's that tragic betrayed look in their eyes, the seismic tremble in their voice, their shaking hands. Your heart and soul are gutted and you scramble to defend yourself and categorically deny. And even if you're exonerated and it's only temporary, the fact that the accusation was made in the first place takes time to heal, although it never really goes away.

If you've been there, then you know what I'm talking about, because I know what I'm talking about. Of course, any accusation of sexual harassment,  domestic violence, sexual assault, child molestation -- anything accusation related to these horrible acts -- should be taken quite seriously, even if they're eventually found unfounded.

The research is clear about the prevalence of false allegations -- it's between 2% and 10%. But even with this incidence, it's the real victims, those who have actually been assaulted, have the much longer road to healing, if ever truly can. They're also the ones who are in fear of reporting what happened, due to the way we victimize the victims.

I'm a work-in-progress husband and a father today who wants to help with the awareness and prevention of all things related to sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault and child molestation. When I experience my sexual abuse as a child, I couldn't tell you the exact days the incidents occurred and there was never anyone there in the moment to corroborate what had happened. It was my word against his, and I didn't tell anyone for over a decade.

And when the man (who was my first step-father) found out that I shared what happened to me, he threatened to kill me. After one public confrontation with family and friends, nothing ever came of it and no litigation was ever pursued. He has long since passed away, but not only have the memories of what happened to me have never faded, the extreme emotional and psychological abuse my mother and sister experienced from the same man have never faded either.

For those who sympathize with all the men today being accused of sexual harassment and assault and who think, "Wow, no man is safe today," I wish they'd understand the pervasive patriarchal violence that has been committed against women and children for thousands of years. This isn't a partisan problem or a greater prevalence of false allegations. These are brave individuals finally confronting the visceral memories that desperately need to see the light of day in order to heal.

As I've mentioned in another article, according to data collected by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.

In 88% of the sexual abuse claims that Child Protective Services (CPS) substantiates or finds supporting evidence of, the perpetrator is male (mostly parents and relatives and others trusted by the children).

And as few as one in five victims report their sexual assault, so they often don’t get the help they need.

We can be part of the solution, to work together with women to transform their communities and shift gender stereotypes, end rape culture and deconstruct the patriarchy. That’s just what we’re attempting to do in Santa Cruz with the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), holding a one-day awareness and prevention conference called Transforming Together on Saturday, October 6, 2018, at the Louden Nelson Community Center. For those who are local and in the Bay Area, please join us.

The very public attacks against alleged victims of sexual harassment and assault are a painful reminder of how much our patriarchal heritage protects the perpetrators. Why don't we want to believe those who are brave enough to come forward share their traumatic experiences? Why would anyone want to come forward knowing the polarizing and ostracizing assault they'll experience?

I am no longer a victim. And those who come forward take the first steps at instigating justice and healing their broken lives. However, there are so many others who need our help and our support. We need to change the misleading perception that "no man is safe today" to a new reality that "everyone is safe today." Aspirational and idealistic, yes, but that's the world we want our girls to live in, and we will do everything we can to get there. This is our #BhivePower, the very essence of our family's mission.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

An ALL CAPS Family

"Heat of the moment
Curse of the young
Spit out your anger
Don't swallow your tongue..."

–Rush, Stick It Out


Every morning it's the same thing: we have to tell them more than twice. After weekday breakfast and morning homework (yes, we have them do homework in the mornings when they're fresh and the fact that we're all up early every day), then there's free time before school. This includes playing with their toys or a little TV and/or iPad time.

And then it's time for both girls to brush teeth and brush hair and finish getting dressed for school so they can leave on time. Every time it's the same things. We know it. They know it. The things never vary much on a school day.

But every time we have to tell them more than twice.

"Beatrice and Bryce, IT'S TIME TO GO TO SCHOOL! PLEASE GET READY!" calls out the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, and the one who does most the wrangling. I follow her lead and follow up.

"BRYCE, PUT THE IPAD AWAY AND GET READY!"

"GEESH! I'M DOING IT!"

"BRYCE! NOW!"

"GEESH!"

"BEATRICE, THAT MEANS YOU TOO!"

"I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME; I'M DOING IT!"

"THEN DO IT!"

"I AM DOING IT! YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL ME ALL THE TIME!"

Oh my Beatrice and Bryce, but we do...

And then everyone's done and they're out the door off to school. Our kids may still be a few years from the ALL CAPS teen world, but we're definitely an ALL CAPS family now. Most of us know what that means in the texting and email worlds, that ALL CAPS means yelling, whether in excitement or anger.

We're not really screaming at each other, though, not like you would if the heat of the moment escalated and you're literally mad to a boiling point. No, this is more heat of the moment direct communication, a related segue, something we encourage, just not always the bump in volume. This is the parent and older child dance performed daily, and while we don't want them to unnecessarily talk back, we do want them to speak up.

Internalizing angst, deflecting one's own emotional reaction to everyday situations, and avoiding direct and honest communication are things I had my fill of throughout childhood and young adulthood. Even the early years with Amy before she was the Mama, I would shut down like nuclear reactor melting down at its core, and not talk about what was bothering me. At least not until my foundation cracked with sulfurous radioactivity.

Not at all proud moments in the ALL CAPS emotional rage within affecting the loved ones around me. It took time to unravel from that behavior, but unravel I did.

Today we're direct, open and honest with each other and with our children. And in turn, we encourage our girls to do the same with us and others and not to take things personally and react retaliatory, which isn't easy for kids and adults alike. We create a safe space to talk about anything that needs to be talked about, reflecting on our days each and every day, giving thanks and sharing what we're grateful for, and what we might be angry about.

For us, being an ALL CAPS family means being a vocal interdependent unit of independent beings growing up with each other. Helping each other be better humans in a world where too many reactors are melting down at their cores.

And yet, whether we have to tell them more than twice about doing something or not, we're their parents first and foremost, helping their developing minds and souls grow into something special -- and to get all the friggin' stuff done that needs to get done.

"BRYCE, TURN THE IPAD OFF RIGHT NOW!"

"GEESH! I DID!"

"TURN IT OFF!"

"OKAY, OKAY!"

Sunday, September 9, 2018

One Simple Yet Powerful Thing

"Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to deviate
From the norm..."

–Rush, Vital Signs


I could tell she was nervous, talking about everything else except her first game. As we drove to her first game, I thought about the fact that this time I wasn't going to be her coach, the first time in three years. This time I'd be her little sister's coach and our first game wasn't until the next weekend.

This time I was just Dad taking Daughter to her soccer game. As we drove, I thought about how far she'd come in four years of playing and how much she really enjoyed the game.

Go number 7 go, I thought.

I finally had to ask her. "Are you excited about the game today?"

"Yeah," she said. Her tone obviously on the fence.

We drove a few more minutes and then she said, "I'm worried I'm going to make mistakes."

I couldn't help but smile, because as she's gotten older, her self-awareness has awoken and the standard normalcy of this moment could've been captured in a Hallmark card; taking a page right out of the Parenting 101 handbook.

Except, deep down, I knew my response would have to be tempered and kept to the handbook, as the truth to her statement had much more complexity to it. Something that would take years to fully develop, to be able to deal with the many mistakes to come. The mistakes that cause us to sometimes trip over uncertainly into brooding fits and staggering starts, a norm many of us know all too well. Or not. Or somewhere in between. As long as she and her sister always learn to own it in their own ways; to own them and live positively through them; to stay ahead of the doubt and design their own learning curves (with the help and support from us and others along the way).

But Bea's on the cusp of turning 10, so those growing-pain conversations were at least a few years away. I went back to the Hallmark card instead. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

"And that's okay, Beatrice," I said. "We all make mistakes. Without mistakes we don't learn what works and what doesn't and how to do better next time."

"Yeah," she said, still unconvinced.

A minute later.

"I just don't want to make mistakes."

The rest of the way to the game we talked about making mistakes and to keep moving no matter what. She seemed to listen, and nod, and then as soon as we got there she ran enthusiastically to join her team on the field. They played hard on the first game of the season -- mistakes were made and fun was had. When it was over, I took Beatrice out for dinner (the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, and our other daughter Bryce, were both at the game for most of it and then Bryce had a birthday part to go to).

That night we finished reading one of the Wimpy Kid books together before bedtime. The main character, Greg Heffley, is always making mistakes, and Beatrice acknowledged that by another statement of awareness.

"It's okay. I make mistakes all the time, too."

"And that's okay; we all make mistakes," said the Mama.

"Again, it's what we learn from them in the end what matters the most," I said.

"I know," Bea said.

When it was time to go to sleep, I looked down at Beatrice and wanted to say something reassuring to her, something pithy and encouraging about how we're all uniquely strong and learn how to overcome mistakes in our own ways that lead to positive growth. And then all my own mistakes throughout my lifetime flashed before my very eyes. I realized the only thing that mattered in the moment was one simple yet powerful thing.

"Love you," I said, and kissed her on the forehead.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

To Regulate and Moderate

She could've just told me to turn off the TV. Which she eventually did. As did my dad. A lot. But early on she thought something was wrong with me.

"Kevin? Are you listening to me? I'm talking to you. Kevin?!?"

Part of the reason she thought something was wrong with me was because of the angle of my head, tilting it to the left to seemingly favor my right ear to hear while watching the TV. Plus, I'd poke my tongue out a little bit, which has always been a sign of extra focus for me. She'd ask me why I tilted my head, when she finally got my attention, literally standing in front of me waving hands in front of my face.

"I don't know," I'd tell her.

This continued for months, and in all fairness to the magic electronic box of the then limited but hypnotic programming (right before the even more magical cable TV became available), it wasn't always because of TV. I was a consummate daydreamer as well.

Regardless of the origin of my zoning out (and in), she worried that I had a hearing problem. She had also noticed a discoloration inside my left ear and it worried her even more, so she finally took me to get my hearing checked.

Thankfully it was normal. Plus, the hearing health professional told my mom that the discoloration in my ear came from being dirty and waxy. My mom wasn't happy to hear that one, and all the way home I got an earful about paying attention to her when she talked to me, and to please take a shower and use a washcloth to clean my ears.

Never again was there a fear that I had a hearing problem, so what I heard quite a bit throughout adolescence was:

"Kevin, turn that thing off and listen to me when I'm talking to you!"

And that was the edited-for-television version. Fast forward decades to our family today where we've been experiencing the same thing, except we know exactly what the problems are.

TV and iPads. And we know what the answer is.

"Turn that thing off!"

Yes, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I fully admit of our generous approach to watching TV and playing games on devices, which means a lot. But, in our defense we do restrict their programming and the games they play (which is getting more complicated as they get older), and more recently having them turn everything off more in order to play the old-fashioned way, or to clean the living room where kid stuff explodes every day, or to clean their bedrooms where kid stuff explodes every day, or to earn money doing other chores --

Or to get them to sit and listen with rapt attention when we're talking with them. Beatrice is more of a daydreamer like I was, and so it's harder to snap her out of it than Bryce, but Bryce is our little gamer, playing Minecraft as if she was in deep discovering the next theory of relativity, oblivious to Mom and Dad's looming gravity. And don't get me started about the kid's YouTube family reality shows they like (another post for another time).

"Beatrice? Did you hear what I said?"

"Bryce? Did you hear what I said?"

"Girls, we will turn [insert TV and/or iPads] off immediately if you don't answer us!"

Which is what we do now more often than not. It's up to us to regulate and moderate the brain-melting mind control of games and media and to help instill good listening skills.

"Kevin? Did you hear what I said?" The Mama calls out to me as I finish writing this piece.

"Kevin?!?"

Tilt my head to the left, poke tongue out and press publish. 

"What?!?"


Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Childhood Check-First

"Have you seen my daughter?"

The mother who asked me looked around nervously and then back at me.

"Somebody said your wife took some of the kids across the street to use the bathroom," she said.

"I'm sure she did," I said. "Let me go find them."

Her concern was palpable and I could feel it pressing down on my head and back, pushing me toward the park's edge.

I had heard only five minutes earlier that the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had taken at least two of the kids attending Bryce's birthday party across the street. We knew one of the neighbors who lived across from the park, a park where there are no public bathrooms.

As I walked toward the street, I knew the feeling -- the feeling all parents get when they're children are out of sight and you don't know where they are, and only a minute earlier they were right there in front of you. That sick, panicky feel in your gut, when your heart pounds fast in your chest and your mind takes you places you don't want to go.

Then I saw the Mama come out of the house with five kids, not two, and one of them was the daughter the other mother was looking for her. I turned back to her and the other mother saw her daughter, too. The relief was now what was palpable.

"Mama, you've got to check first before you take the kids away," I said, referencing the Kidpower practice of kids "checking first" with their grown-ups before they go somewhere or do something that may be a safety problem.

"I know, I know," the Mama said, guiding the kids back across the street to the park. "Sorry, I was just trying to get the kids who had to go."

I saw the other mother hug her daughter and then say to her, "You always need to check first before you go anywhere, do you understand?"

"Yes," the girl said and then ran off to play with the other kids again.

Checking first, it's really important, but then later it got us talking about letting our girls do more things on their own, like walking to the same park after school with other kids and with or without other adults. We'd never let them walk or ride their bikes to school from where we live. It's too far and we live on the edge of town with unknown homeless population that travels back and forth to a nearby ravine area where they camp, not to mention the the homeless who live in campers and motorhomes in and around the area.

It's not about us being callous and uncaring to the plight of those who live on the streets, but we are concerned about the safety of our family and others from those with mental health problems and/or drug problems, the fringe criminal element, who choose to live in the shadows in the edges of town.

That may sound overdramatic and paranoid, and maybe some of it is, but we've had our share of incidents in Santa Cruz that cause us to be more cautious. All you have to do is read the threads of Take Back Santa Cruz, a Facebook group that continuously posts about the criminal element in our city. I was downtown recently going to the movies with my daughter and a homeless man in a burlap robe was scattering leaves on the sidewalk and the street and then drawing strange symbols on the sidewalk in pink chalk. He mumbled to himself the entire time.

I grabbed my daughter's hand and hurried across the street away from him.

"What?" she said. "That man?"

"Nothing," I said.

As far as I know the man was completely harmless. Or not. I don't know, and while we need to be cautious, we can't live our lives in constant worry of what could happen. Even when something tragic happens, like the murder of Mollie Tibbetts.

As well as the recent story about the 8-year-old daughter take the family dog for a short walk alone and how someone called the police on the mother for letting her daughter walk alone. The mother just wanted to give her daughter a little more independence. To free range or not to free range -- that is the question.

We get it. Our girls are now 8 and almost 10, and we let them walk a short ways down our street and around the corner to get our mail, with us waiting by the front door, paying attention to the time they're gone. They do wait after school sometimes as well now, in the library or playing on the playground, but that also doesn't mean our girls are even ready to walk or ride bikes by themselves too far yet.

When I asked the girls if they would be comfortable walking by themselves from school to the park nearby, they both told me "not really." Beatrice the oldest would be more comfortable with it, but Bryce wants an adult there, the Mama specifically.

We want them to be safe while gaining independence, but there's no rush for us as parents, or them as children, to be wandering off too far by themselves any time soon. Beatrice was at a friend's earlier this year and then they went next door to another neighbor we did not know. When the Mama found that out, she reminded Bea that this was not safe and that she always needs to "check first" with us, her parents, even if the people she's with say it's safe and okay.

Because we don't know what we don't know and wouldn't have known where she was or if she was in harm's way if there was an emergency and we needed to get to her. That's why the childhood check-first is a constant that can never be compromised.