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, July 15, 2018

The Highest Level of Special

“I like your shirt.”

He was older man, dressed for summer golf, and his smile seemed sincere.

“Thank you,” I said.

I wore my Do Good. Be Kind. shirt on the plane and he sat in my row.

“So, do you have the opposite phrase on the other side?” he said. “The yin to the yang?”

He smirked and I smiled.

“No, just the positive side,” I said.

“My wife would totally wear that shirt,” he said.

“Why not you?”

“No, not me. My shirt would read ‘Why do I seem so sincere doing business? I fake it.’ Your shirt isn’t how I make a living; it’s not reality.”

I smiled. “Oh, but it could be.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

Sure, he was honest with me, and it was actually pretty tame compared to how many other men (and women) are behaving these days.

Like the current President of the United States of America recently insulting and undermining yet another female leader and trusted ally, and then walking it back, kind of, if you can call it that, saying the relationship was:

“The highest level of special.”

Whether it had multi-layered meaning or not, the context felt mocking.

I try really hard not to play partisan too much in this writing space. And even though most readers know which direction our family leans, I do my best to not be disruptive in that regard, choosing instead to only sometimes push back on the hateful racist and sexist backlash in our country.

Which is a mistake. I’m not doing anyone any favors when I don’t speak up more often for what I believe in, especially when it comes to inspiring and executing positive change. I don’t have to be disparaging to others make a point; it’s pretty clear our president doesn’t respect women in leadership, or most women at all, and prefers authoritarian men to their empathic and diplomatic brothers. And way too many men and women are celebrating this humiliating trash talk and hate.

Misogyny is a long-term health problem in our society, for women especially, but also men like me. Fathers with daughters (and sons) who they empower to be the best of who they already are, who they are becoming, and who they will eventually be as adults, we all care deeply about the world we're living in and want to become for our kids.

But treating women as the lower class gender because of systemic sexism in global religions and patriarchal societies, degrading them, abusing them emotionally and physically, sexually assaulting them and killing them – has been going on for thousands of years. That's a lot of systemic to fix.

My wife and I did a Kidpower workshop recently with families and children ages 7 to 12 years old. Kidpower’s mission is to teach people of all ages and abilities how to use their power to stay safe, act wisely, and believe in themselves. I’ve been training to be what’s called a suited instructor, where during part of the workshops we teach emergency-only self-defense skills when there’s no other option to get away from a dangerous situation and get help.

There was one little girl in particular, so sweet and a little timid, who really came alive when practicing eye strikes, palm strikes and knee-to-groin kicks on me. I’m glad she did, but also hoped she’d never have to use self-defense in her lifetime. Unfortunately 1 in 9 girls under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. This is why my wife and I believe in Kidpower and similar programs around the world that help people stay safe and empower each other to live healthy, productive and positive lives. This is why we feel the Women’s March and #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been so important.

 Transforming Together
I’m far from perfect, a work in progress. And yet I know there are many other men and fathers like me who want to be a 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.

Our kids are truly the highest level of special and we have to show them we can and want to change how we treat each other as men and women regardless of political affiliation, religious or cultural background, or sexual orientation. Because we can all be better. I really believe that. We really believe that. My wife and I pledge to continue to make this a top priority with our girls, to help transform our community while keeping each other safe in this current celebration of hate.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Perfect Day, Right Here

"You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care..."

–Traveling Wilburys, Handle with Care


It would’ve been the perfect day. The winds were calmer than they’d been all week. The clouds were minimal and the temperature was going to hit over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sea visibility was up to 12 feet, plenty of depth to see the coral and marine wildlife in the Outer Great Barrier Reef.

Earlier in the week we’d all gone to Green Island where the wind was up to 25 knots, and that pretty much reduced the sea’s visibility to nothing but murky water. Plus, there were really no coral beds to be found from where we snorkeled. But we did still see some tropical fish and a big sea turtle (from the island dock), and had okay beach time on the side of the island blocked from the wind, so there was that. No matter what, we still had yet another great family day during our Australian vacation adventure

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and Bryce didn’t want to deal with another boat ride out to the reef, but Beatrice did, so her and I planned on heading out on what seemed the most perfect of our days in Cairns. It was also the last full day of our amazing vacation and Beatrice and I were ready to brave the reef.

Shortly after we arrived at the dock and got on the boat, I needed to complete health forms for both of us, which I did.

“Remember your safety numbers,” one of the crew members told me after reviewing the forms.

“Got it,” I said. “I’m 25 and Beatrice is 26. And my daughter will get the wetsuit. I won’t need one.”

He looked up from our health forms. “No, you should wear one.”

I nodded. “Okay, is the stinger level high right now?” I was referring to the highly poisonous jellyfish that populated the ocean here.

“No, it’s low, but you should still wear a wetsuit.”

“Got it.”

“Use these wristbands when you pick up your wetsuits,” he said, handing me two thin yellow wristbands.

“Thank you,” I said, and returned to sit with Beatrice.

We were going out into the open ocean where there would be no islands or not even a pontoon to dock to on this particular snorkel trip, so I understood there were dangers.

However, when I went to retrieve the wetsuits and snorkel equipment, the crew members handing out the equipment had no idea what the yellow wristbands were for. Had never seen them before. Had no idea why I was given them. I found that odd, but just shrugged and returned to Beatrice with our gear.

We were supposed to leave at 8:00 am, but right before 8, two of the crew members, a young man and woman, ran onto the boat and up the stairs to the upper deck, and then immediately fled back out onto the dock, emergency kits in hand.

The rest of the crew members were calm, so I didn’t think much about it. Beatrice was watching something on her iPad to pass the time, so I took a selfie with her and we waited.

“Are we going to go soon?” Bea asked.

“Yes, very soon.”

When it was nearly 8:30 am, and we still hadn’t left, I felt like something was wrong. That’s when I looked out the front boat window to the upper dock and witnessed someone, I couldn’t see who, who was receiving CPR.

“Jesus,” I said aloud.

“What?” Bea noticed the alarm in my voice.

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Hopefully we’ll leave soon.”

But we didn’t leave soon, and the CPR didn’t stop. I kept looking through the widow and after about 15 minutes, there were emergency vehicles near where the sick person lay on the dock.

Another female crew member was walking around and checking people in again – the same one who had checked us in before we got on the boat.

“Is everything okay up there?” I asked, hoping to find out more information.

“There’s a man with diabetes who had a seizure, maybe even a heart attack, and they’re trying to resuscitate him,” she said freely, here demeanor calm.

“I hope they succeed,” I said. “But’s it’s been almost 20 minutes, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” she said giving me a meek smile, and moved on to check in others.

“What’s diabetes?” Beatrice asked me.

I explained it to her the best I could.

“Will the man die?”

“I hope not. That’s why they’re up there helping him.”

“Will I catch diabetes?”

I explained further that it’s not really something you catch like other colds or diseases because of a virus, but there are those who are genetically disposed to get it, and that if you don’t take care of yourself with exercise and the right diet, you could get diabetes.

“I hope the man doesn’t die. And I hope I don’t catch it,” she said.

By then it was after 9:00 am, and I got the feeling we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Beatrice was antsy and although the crew’s demeanor had gotten perceptibly agitated, they kept it together pretty damn well. More of them kept coming and going from the boat to the lower and upper docks and back again.

When I looked out the lower dock window again, I saw an EMT talking with the boat captain and a huddled portion of the crew. Based on the fact that some of the crew members were crying, including the young woman who checked us in, I knew what had happened even before the captain called all the passengers together on the lower deck to explain the situation to us.

The man on the upper dock had died. They tried to revive him and kept up CPR and other medical treatments for over 25 minutes, but unfortunately, they couldn’t save him. The man’s family was still up on the dock with the emergency and police personnel. Due to the fact that the crew was quite shaken by the entire ordeal, the captain decided to cancel the reef trip.

Nobody said a word. The sad and disappointed faces of the passengers and the crew said enough. We couldn’t exit the boat either, as the top of the dock ramp was where it all happened, so the captain moved the boat to another part of the dock so we could depart. I’d been texting the Mama and her and Bryce met us where we eventually re-docked.

Right before that, as the boat slowly moved past where the man had died, I saw his family sitting on the dock rail talking with an officer, I assume the wife and son. The female crew member who had checked us in was the first one to witness it, and she told me the man was on vacation with his family from Melbourne – and one minute he was fine and then the next – he just swayed, passed out and fell onto his side, hitting his head on the dock. He stopped breathing and she held his head while some passersby started CPR.

We decided that it was best to move on with our day together as a family, enjoying the first day of NAIDOC Week, where all the indigenous people of Australia celebrate their culture, their history and their tribal families. Ironically one of the booths at the NAIDOC cultural fair was the local Cairns emergency and ambulance services personnel, and when we explained to them what had happened, and that the girls had questions about CPR, they gave the girls a little demonstration and explained how it helps save lives.

When they can save them, of course. It doesn’t always work out that way sadly, because the family that Beatrice and I would never meet on a Great Barrier Reef trip we would never make would now grieve for a father and husband they lost. I can’t imagine and didn’t want to imagine if that had been our family. Every memory of our trip fossilized within. My heart ached for his family.

That's the thing, though anything can happen, anytime, anywhere.

“I’m sorry, Sweetie,” the Mama said at the end of the day. “What a way to finish and what a tragedy. It would’ve been a perfect day out there today, too.”

“It was a perfect day, right here,” I said.

She smiled. A minute later she said, “You know, this morning when we dropped you both off, Bryce said she felt like she’d never see guys again.”

I cringed and then shook my head. “She was just missing us.”

“I know, but still.”

I nodded and smiled at her and the girls. I then turned my gaze out over the still ocean beyond. I knew I’d be wearing that nondescript yellow wristband for some time to come.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

These Go Fish Times

“I'm in you 
You're in me
You gave me the love, 
the love that I never had…”

–Peter Frampton, I'm in You


“Does anybody have a 10?”

“Bryce, you have to ask just one of us for a 10, not all of us,” I said.

Bryce giggled. “Ah, c’mon. Okay. Daddy, do you have a 10?”

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

“Your turn, Beatrice,” the Mama said (what I lovingly call my wife).

“Mom, do you have a 2?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Yes! A match!”

Beatrice laid her two 2’s on the table next to her other pairs.

“You know, the way I grew up playing with my sister, we always matched all four of any number before we put them on the table,” I said to the Mama.

“I don’t know; I’ve always played that you only have to match two cards, not four.”

“Supposed to be four.”

“Who cares? This is the way we’re playing now.”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you keep going if you get a match.”

“Yep, that part I get.”

“It’s still my turn! Dad, do you have a 5?”

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh!”

And so it went. I’ve been playing “Go Fish!” for decades, and it just never gets old, especially when you’re playing with your family. Such a simple yet strategic memory card game, we’ve been playing on our latest vacation and it’s a nice break from the go, go, going and the see, see, seeing that the Mama and me like to do when we travel. It’s also a break from the device downtime that we all participate in, even though we have been limiting the girls iPad device time (at least trying to, at home and traveling).

Plus, a deck of cards is smaller than most phones. And you don’t have to charge it.

Too much device time is another story for another time (and me on my phone always posting to Instagram and Facebook without missing a family beat, usually), but the Mama’s been really good about having the girls do “summer school work” during summer break, even on vacation – keeping up with reading and math for both girls.

And how we do like to play games together as a family – Go Fish, Monopoly, Life (where we get our diversity and inclusion talks in as well), and others.

Again, because of the ease of carrying cards wherever we go, Go Fish is the default downtime fun for travel (for now). Especially when we’re taking an afternoon break from sightseeing, or right before having dinner. It’s seemingly easier to connect this way since the girls are only 7 and 9 years old; we’re still a few years from the tween to teenage dramatic dynasties (which were dramatic for us all, boys and girls alike). It doesn’t mean we won’t play fun travel games in the future, but it will be a different fun, just as in every stage of our lives with children.

I love these Go Fish times. We share our favorite activities from the day, what the girls’ favorite foods and treats were, the Mama and me share an adult beverage (or two), we all tell silly jokes and laugh, laugh, laugh. I didn’t have that a lot as a child, at least not as consistently as we’re able to do with the girls today. My sister and I played a lot of games together growing up early on, and our mother shared in the game fun when she could, but too many times we played in solitude to offset the negative energy of domestic violence that surrounded us (and why so many songs of the 1970’s haunt me).

But this isn’t supposed to be a “woe is me” moment; that was then and this is now. Again and again with the now. Sharing our family love for one another and enjoying being in each other’s company as Dad, Mom, Sister, Sister.

“Does anybody have a 4?”

“Bryce, you have to ask one person, not all of us. C’mon,” I said.

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

“…I don’t care where I go when I’m with you…”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Not Always to Cross

"It ought to be second nature —
At least, that’s what I feel
'Now I lay me down in Dreamland' —
I know perfect’s not for real
I thought we might get closer —
But I’m ready to make a deal..."

–Rush, Second Nature


Damn, if it wasn’t Angel’s Landing all over again. That exaggerated vertigo feeling of flying over the edge and falling to my death. Legs weak, head dizzy and every time I looked down I felt the earth’s gravity calling to me, a siren’s song to fly, crash and burn.

But unlike Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah before we had kids, where we climbed along sheer cliffs with nothing to hold onto except a chain threaded through large eye bolts embedded into the rocks under us, the family vacation hike to Honeymoon Bridge at the Three Sisters in Australia was much easier.

We didn’t make it all the way to Angel’s Landing; the terror of plummeting to the canyon floor was too much for us. We had to backtrack and head back down, even as families with young children scrambled past us, urging us to continue to the end.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) wanted to see Honeymoon Bridge, although I had my reservations, unclear as to how high above the valley foliage we’d be. Probably too high. Yep. Way too high.

As we hiked to the bridge and went from a flat walking path to stairs with hand rails descending a few hundred feet to the bridge, my mind wandered to the night before, to how much easier it was to descend a different path.

We’d been out to dinner and the server who took our order forgot to put in the meals that the Mama and me wanted to eat. It happens. The server was apologetic and we still got our food, but I couldn’t let it go. Didn’t want to let it go. The beer and the travel tired didn’t help either. No excuse, though. I was a grump the rest of the night and that didn’t bode well for the Mama.

We’d already moved past it the next day, but it’s a recurring theme for me, gnashing my teeth like a Twitter troll as neutral passersby go about their business when I feel selfishly slighted. And not letting go no matter what.

Each step down to the bridge was actually easier than the last, as long as I didn’t look down the side of the cliff we descended. This time my mind wandered to the continuous acidic conversations I see online all the time, especially between supposed friends on Facebook (had just witnessed another one that morning). Tribal and polarized, these threads quickly dive into anger and frustration because of something one doesn’t like about the other (politically, socially, economically, etc.).

What’s worse, our greater discourse has empowered too many (more than I still want to believe) to stay in that dark and “grumpy” place of ignorant misunderstandings. An angry racist and misogynistic place where neighbor turns against neighbor. It’s one thing to have zero tolerance for hate, but the problem is that hate doesn’t discriminate and we seem to have zero tolerance for one another these days, which keeps us fractured and weak. And not letting go no matter what.

My attention refocused on the height at hand; we made it to Honeymoon Bridge. And although I had to take a picture near it, not on it, we still made it and the family crossed the 10-foot bridge to the carved out cliff of the first Sister of the Three. Nothing but air on either side of the bridge.

As I’ve made perfectly clear, I’m not a fan of heights. No frickin’ way. And yet I always try to push myself to get there, to go beyond my comfort zone and see something new, do something new, learn something new. To make the arduous journey upward and to get another perspective about this still amazing world we live. To rise above our baser instincts, our genetic default, for our better angels' compromise.

So many proverbial bridges to build and share with one another, but not always to cross.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Wonder Never Fades

It's one of the organic touchstones of our house. A hot corner. A slingshot through the kitchen to the living room and backyard and then back again. And no matter what we've done to it over the years -- wiped it down, spackled it, painted it over -- we just can't keep it clean.

It's not like a door frame or other enshrined place on a wall where you measure your kids' growth over the years. We had started that upstairs in their early years, but never followed through to now.

No, this magical touchstone much messier than that, like living life most certainly always is. Little hands that have touched, tugged, smeared and clawed one textured corner in the kitchen where on one side the grocery lists are made and the phone rings and the cabinets are full of kitchen things, and on the other side the same refrigerator we've had for 12 years hums and whirs and fills the rare silent spaces of our busy lives.

Little hands that grow bigger each day and never miss a chance of physical contact with this one kitchen corner. One day recently I watched and counted a dozen times in less than 15 minutes as our girls went from the living room to the backyard and back again.

But there are some specific childhood artifacts that hang down the wall between the corner and the refrigerator delineating points in time -- oven mitts made when Beatrice and Bryce were both in preschool. The mitts have their hand prints, their names and the years they were made.

And now there are so many memories that hang throughout our house, a family museum curated with love and mindful attention year after year. The past school years and other family photographs and memories now boxed in the garage, under-the-bed or in digital archives to be opened again in who knows when. Maybe when the girls are grown and gone and on their own. Maybe sooner. Maybe next week.

It's those handprints on the mitts that touched my heart the other day, though. Touched it, tugged on it, smeared and clawed it, reminding me to hold my family fast every day and to be forever thankful that I get be these amazing girls' father. And of all the ways to be present as Dad, the wonder never fades.

They blur and fray
Yellow and gray
Are carried away
By the gust of days
A childhood haze
And memory maze --
Of all the ways
To be present as Dad
The wonder never fades...


Sunday, June 10, 2018

To Keep Our Souls Above Water

The weight was unbearable. And the gravity of every step we took increased exponentially. Once we exited the church into the sunlight, I choked in ragged crying jags that shredded my heart like broken glass, my face sweaty and flush. I felt defeated, flattened, unmoored from the little stability I had finally gained at that point in my life.

Less than two weeks earlier, I was sleeping in my dorm room when I got the call from a mutual friend.

"Kevin, Brian killed himself."

I remember half-hearing the news, still not quite awake, and I asked my friend what had happened.

"We don't know exactly, only that he shot himself."

That whole summer prior to me going away to college, our friend Brian had been getting more and more belligerent when he drank. And more and more depressed, something he hid from most of us except for his closest friend from our group and his girlfriend. There were rumors of money he owed and other kinds of substance abuse, but the reality was we really didn't know what was going on. He kept himself pretty well insulated from our questions and instead made sarcastic jokes about everything. He was charming and funny, and so we all assumed he was just going through a bad patch, but that he'd be okay.

I remember it was hard to be around him at the end of the that summer. Many times when we'd be drinking together, he'd get so out of the control that he started breaking stuff. One time he broke a window where we were having a party, cutting himself badly and not really comprehending how wasted he was.

And not caring either.

Which should've been a bigger clue for us -- but for me, I had my own set of anxieties and panic attacks and bouts of depression. Going away to college was a big step forward for me and I really wanted to get my proverbial shit back together again. I had already taken a year off after high school, struggling to keep my soul above water in the dark well of my heart.

My friend's funeral was the first one I had ever gone to, and being a pallbearer completely crushed me. All I could think about was me and my emotional mess and the moments I considered taking my own life. My dad was a cop, so there were plenty of guns in the house.

But I didn't, and over 30 years later I haven't forgotten the darkness. Instead, I now prefer the lightness of life, finding purpose and meaning in life. I'm thankful because I also have a loving wife and children, and supportive friends and family.

With the recent celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, the subject of suicide is back in the spotlight. Based on a recent article I read referencing the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent." And today, too many American men are dying lonely and alone, without close friends, and the suicide rate is again climbing for men over 50 years old.

It's complex and getting worse and America "currently has no federally funded suicide prevention program for adults."

My friend Brian didn't shoot himself in the head, he shot himself in the heart. Gun to the chest and pulled the trigger. His message in his suicide note and the way he did it made clear he felt like life had broken his heart, that he had broken his heart, his emotional well a poisoned viscous darkness. He was sorry for those he hurt, but obviously was too hurt himself to go on.

Whether you or someone you know has had longtime mental health issues, or if you've been subjected to domestic violence or sexual assault and are struggling with the aftermath, or if other sudden traumatic changes in your lives has unmoored you from stability, suicide prevention is a conversation we should all be a part of. We need to do away the stigma associated with emotional and mental struggles, and embrace the fallibility of being human, and the fact we can and do heal. Too many of us have lost ourselves in our own dark viscous wells, and with a little help from each other, from our communities and funded prevention services, and even from God, we might be able to keep our souls above water.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Riding a Bike on Your Feet

I didn't think we'd make it more than one time around. It was slow going; she held onto the outside railing with her right hand and my right hand with her left. Thankfully when we'd come upon a group of kids clumped against the railing, they'd move along to let us pass before we had to say "excuse me."

And it was super hot inside. No air conditioning. Only the front and back doors were open to draw air through, and a few ceiling fans near the front entrance. That helped when we were near either entrance, but it was still the hottest day of the year so far for us outside, which made it really hot inside.

So, after one time around, and falling once, both our faces were wet with sweat, and poor Beatrice's face was beet red. We certainly picked the wrong day to teach her how to roller skate at the Santa Cruz Roller Paladium.

That's not exactly true though, because it's always the right time to learn something new, even when you're uncomfortable. Before we had children, I never would've enjoyed overheating in a roller rink; I never would've gone skating on such a hot day. But it barely crossed my mind as I only thought about helping Beatrice learn how to skate. I knew she wanted to finally learn because of an upcoming birthday party she was invited to at this same very rink. So, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our youngest, Bryce, went shopping, and Bea and I went to the roller rink. We'd all meet up together again later in the day.

Bea was nervous, but determined. "But what if I fall?" she asked me.

"You will fall," I said. "And then you just keep working on your balance. Keep feeling your weight on your skates; the more balanced you get, the easier it will be to lift your feet and skate."

"Don't let go," she said.

"I won't."

We made it one time around the rink and then took a break to cool down and drink some water.

"Dad, why is it so hot?"

"I know, right? Because there isn't any air conditioning in here. Keep drinking water."

Bea hung her head and said, "I want to go."

"I get it, sweetie, but the only way to learn is to keep practicing. You do want to learn, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"Remember when you finally learned to balance on your bike?"

"Yes."

"And now you ride it like a champ, right?

"Yes."

"It's like that, only now you have four wheels on each foot."

"Okay."


And with that, we went around again, slowly. As we completed our second lap, sweating and puffing along the way, and Bea falling again, I told her about when I first learned to roller skate around her age. I told her how it took a few times to feel balanced and comfortable, and then ever since, and even now at 52, I've never forgotten how to skate. I told her about all my pre-teen and teenage years skating at Roller Towne where I grew up in Visalia, CA. And how her mother used to skate at a place called Skate Ranch when she was young in Milan, IL. And how we even skated with Bea in the Mama's belly, and then again when she was a year and a half at Roller Towne after one of my high school reunions.

Beatrice and I were only at the roller rink for an hour, and in that time she made it around five times. The last two times she even started to not hold onto me as much, and then letting go of the railing, and she started to learn how to move her feet with greater balance and control.

"See, I told you. It gets a little easier each time. Do you want to come again next week to practice some more?"

"Yes, I do."

"Great!"

"Dad, you’re right. It is like learning to ride a bike, except on your feet."


Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Long Run

"I got this feelin' inside my bones
It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on..."

–Justin Timberlake, Can't Stop the Feeling!


The first show I missed due to work travel; I heard it was one big, fun and hot mess. A bunch of grade-school kids who practiced for weeks to perform a version of the movie Trolls, memorizing spoken lines, scene after scene, and lots of singing practice as well.

These productions are extracurricular for the kids at our school and we have to pay for each child to participate, although each child gets a part no matter what. Even multiple parts to ensure the production is fully casted. The program and production director is really good with the kids, with the patience of a saint.

And for weeks our girls practiced their roles at home, so excited to be in the Trolls production. Beatrice played Branch's grandma and a Bergen, and Bryce was a Smidge, a spider and part of the pet crocodile (of course, if you know the story and the characters).

Then came the final show, the one I could attend with the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), along with my sister and my grown niece who's pregnant with her first child. We all couldn't wait to see it!

It was so adorable! So much stage fright, undecipherable mumbling, subdued singing, director-fed lines, punctuated by moments of immaculate comedic timing. And throughout, nothing but proud smiles and laughter coming from the audience of parents, family and friends.

These were our children bold enough to be in the play/musical in the first place, to going week after week to Monday afternoon two-hour practices, extending Mondays into a grumpy oblivion, one that our youngest struggled with every single week.

But when it came to showtime, Bryce became the over-dramatic consummate entertainer, while Beatrice performed somewhat shyly, delivering much more subdued lines, but working hard, the actor's actor, ensuring she hit her marks each time. Mostly.

Still, for us in the audience who knew the movie and the story, we struggled to follow along, which is what made it all the more memorable. The story for us was one of our children having fun (mostly) and working together with their friends and the director to go all "electric, wavy" when they turned it on.

And turn it on they did. So much fun. Now they're in a shorter production of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!, with Bryce playing the little guy with the yellow going to all the places, and with Beatrice taking on multiple lines this time, willingly, including the part about the "waiting place," a place we've all been to in life, where we grind to a halt due to uncertainty and fear, unwilling to take risks and make moves. When we realize and accept that failure is inevitable and quite important to learning life lessons, then the waiting place is only a transitory respite.

That's one of the things we're so proud about our girls, the fact that they're already learning this at a young age, something that will help them when the waiting place gravity slows them in space.

Temporarily, of course, because it's not a race. It's the long run turned on.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...

...NO!
That's not for you!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Free to Feel

"Jive talkin'
You're telling me lies, yeah
Jive talkin'
You wear a disguise
Jive talkin'
So misunderstood, yeah
Jive talkin'
You just ain't no good..."

–Bee Gees, Jive Talkin'



Visalia Ransacker
The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me. We were asleep, being alone most nights, our mother working the swing shift as a police dispatcher and our first stepdad working graveyard at a tire plant over 40 minutes away.

The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me, breaking into our house from inside the garage. We'd left the door from the backyard to garage open, leaving him easy entry. Fortunately, my mother had left work earlier than usual, some time after midnight. She pulled into the driveway, got out of my stepdad's Corvette she drove to and from work less than 10 minutes away, and opened our garage door. The Corvette's headlights filled the garage with eerie white light.

The bad man stood at garage door that led into our house. He turned and his eyes shone bright through the holes in the dark ski mask he wore. Immediately he fled through the backyard. Immediately our mother jumped back into the Corvette, drove across the street into our neighbor's driveway, and then pounded on their door to wake them. They called the police.

The bad man was long gone by the time the police arrived. I remember being woken by our mother to tell us what happened, why police officers were all over house. Some of the officers asked us questions, questions we couldn't answer because we'd been asleep.

No, we didn't hear anything. No, we didn't see anything. 

The year was 1975, two years earlier than when I thought it all went down -- I was 10 and my sister 8. Which made sense, since the bad man I'm referring to was known as the Visalia Ransacker. He stalked Visalia from about 1974-1975, before moving on and escalating his violence; he was also known as the East Area Rapist, the Golden State Killer and the Original Night Stalker. Joseph James DeAngelo, a white male and former police officer, now 72 years old, was recently arrested after all these years, having committed at least 12 murders, more than 45 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986.

I had forgotten about the Visalia Ransacker for decades until my sister recently started asking me what I remembered. Our second stepdad, the one we always considered to be dad, was a police officer and detective for 32 years. One of his colleagues had worked on the Ransacker case and continued to do so for years, even after he retired. During the late 1970's, that's all the Visalia Police Department talked about. My sister also followed the case for years, theorizing for him to get away with everything he got away with, he had most likely been a police officer, which he was. She got me started reading I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

Chilling now, because more than likely he'd been stalking our family, just like he did with all the homes he broke into, with all the victims he terrorized, raped and killed. In fact, the odds are pretty good that he had already been inside our house prior to that night.

For my sister and I at the time, the horrid irony was that we lived with a real bad man, our first stepdad. He emotionally and physically abused our mother, emotionally abused my sister, and sexually abused me. His crazy didn't escalate until about a year after our mother found the Ransacker in our garage.

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 are simply too many angry white men and boys in American society, something that patriarchy -- in this country's case, white men holding all the power and excluding women and minorities, who are encouraged to squash their own vulnerability and all emotional outlets -- has incubated for decades in the hearts and souls of too many repressed men. 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.

I'm not a criminologist or a sociologist or a mental health professional, and sometimes crazy is crazy, but I am a man who grew up with violence and sexual abuse; a man who's thankfully not emotionally repressed (I thank my mother for that); a man who's now a father of two girls and married to an amazing partner and mother. So, when I hear that the latest school shooter in Texas had pushed his romantic inclinations onto a girl who refused his advances, and then she became one his victims, I'm furious and flummoxed. Same as when I hear crazy talk about the Toronto van killer by this so-called patriarchal proponent: “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him. The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges."

America cultivates this repressive and violent culture. We can no longer stand by as ineffectual bystanders and shake our heads at these tragedies. We have to be the positive change of awareness and prevention that ends this emotional repression, this toxic patriarchy, with both men and women alike. And it all starts with our children, our boys, being free to feel and love in healthy relationships in healthy environments.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

When We Come to Fully Know God

"Write a world where we can belong
To each other and sing it like no other..."

–U2, Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way


We weren’t going to have kids. Ever. Didn’t really want them. Didn’t disparage others who did have them either. Kids just weren’t in our life plan. Never ever.

That certainly didn’t sit well with our families, especially mine. I remember my parents and my sister staring at us in disbelief with the guilt-charged super-stink eye. Then asking me when we were alone if it was all my wife who didn’t want them, and when I told them no, it was me too, then more disbelief and super-stink eye.

“You’ll regret it if you don’t,” they’d say. Shake their heads. Roll their eyes.

But we were resolute in our decision. Without a doubt. No wavering. Year after year we lived our lives fully, with no apologies, traveling around the U.S. and around the world, eventually to again endure the never-ending child question nearly ever visit with family. Nearly 10 years together went by before we changed our minds. And we did change our minds. We’re happy we did. Thankful we did. Gratitude abounds. All the ups and downs that come with parenting, we were all in. Are all in.

The Mama (what I lovingly all my wife) and I have always believed (and know) that we’ve been on a spiritual journey together, having possibly known each other for lifetimes, and having chosen to be together again. We feel we’re closer to God now more than ever, not bound by ancient religious texts and the patriarchal words of men, but embraced the grace of a greater love, a forgiving and nurturing love.

Two important moments in our lives helped us define this greater love, one that celebrates the feminine and the motherhood that comes with having children, although we certainly don’t disparage those who don’t have then, or can’t. That is part of their journey, not ours, and their greater love is their own.

Our journey now includes Beatrice and Bryce, and no matter what important role I’ve played and will always play in their lives, the Mama carried them and birthed them and nursed them and everything’s them, and then together we’ve chosen to raise them…

September 22, 2008

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

The baby crashed and they went to the O.R., I think.

The baby crashed.

The baby.

I feel like my body has fallen away and I'm flying towards the room. Our midwife and doula are shouting 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. She was supposed to be born at home, I think. 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’s spinal tap had numbed her lower half, but pushes and pushes anyway and the OB coaches her along. They wouldn’t let our midwife in because she yelled at the nursing staff, 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 our baby is a girl – our little Beatrice –7 lbs., 14 oz., 21 inches long…

August 21, 2010

It’s 2 a.m. and I'm standing over the crib stroking Bea's arms to soothe here and I know I have to go.

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

Because our midwives had everything under control with the 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 there for white noise and have been doing it since before she was born. (We dig it too.)

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

The Mama had been in active labor since around 12:30 and the motion of the womb ocean was climaxing to a category 5 hurricane.

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, the Mama finding her baby Zen center as contraction after contraction rolled through her.

Now I'm standing behind the Mama on the side of the bed. She grabs my hand with the power of a 10,000 volts, 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. If you're interested you can relive Bea's birth story here.

But this one I am seeing, the visual annealing that softens my Y chromosome for an ultimately stronger bond. And then it's done. We're in the moment of tearful Mama holding wet newborn to her breast, the universe expanding our hearts and souls exponentially

All 7 pounds, 8 1/2 ounces, and 20.5 inches of her…

This journey of parenthood is one fraught with challenges and setbacks, as is all of life throughout our lifetimes, and yet one with the potential to be full of love and gratitude. I believe for us, it is this very journey when we come to fully know God, the one who travels with us, always.

So, today I celebrate the Mamas everywhere. God bless you all.

Miss you, Mom. And thank you.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

How High Can We Get

I'd been traveling when she told me the girls wanted to go to the dance. It was the father-daughter dance for our local Brownie Girl Scout troops, and when the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) ask Beatrice and Bryce if they wanted to go to the dance with their Dad, they resoundingly said yes.

And not just any dance -- a super duper luau. Right on, I thought. This will be fun.

But as we got closer to the big date, the Mama told the girls that probably none of their friends from their troop were going, and that they probably wouldn't know anybody at the dance. Then she asked them if they still wanted to go.

"Yes!"

That's all we needed to hear. 

As we got ready for the dance the night of, the Mama said to me, "Don't worry, they'll probably get tired and want to come home at 7:30."

"What time does it start again?" 

"6:00."

I smiled. It was 5:30 PM already. "Yeah, I know. Bea is usually asleep by 8:00, so I can't imagine her staying up beyond that. Bryce is the one who falls asleep later, although she might get cranky."

"Right, but I'll bet they'll both want to come home early, especially since none of their friends will be there."

"We'll have fun no matter what," I said.

"Of course you will."

We were ready to go and the Mama gave us all kisses and hugs and sent us on our way. When we got to the venue Hawaiian decor, surfboards and faux Plumeria and Hibiscus were everywhere, as were dozens of dressed up Brownies and dads in Hawaiian shirts, just like us. We did run into one of their friends and her dad from our troop, which was great for us, so that's who we hung out through most of the night. 

Before we did anything else, though, the girls wanted to take photos in the homemade photo booth area set up in the far corner of the room. And that's exactly what we did. These are the special moments we share with our children, and while immortalized in retro Polaroids, it's the visceral memories that keep our hearts warm and well lit throughout our lives.

Seven-thirty came and went and the girls were not getting tired. At all. In fact, they got their second wind and I was the one who started to wilt as the night went on. I hung in there, and when the limbo competition started, we all got in line, including me. 

Now, not all the dads were that excited to brave the limbo line, which was probably smart because of possible physical injury. 

"All the vertebrae in my back shattered just watching them do this," I said to another dad while we waited in line and watched the girls and even some of the dads clear the pole effortlessly.

"I know. I don't know why I'm doing this," the dad said.

"We're doing it for them," I said, pointing to my girls up ahead of us in line.

"That's a lotta love," he said.

"Indeed it is."

When it was my turn, I heard my girls yell "go dad go!" and I started the awkward and unnatural backward bend to clear the limbo pole. The tropical music cadence and the girls' shouts inspired me to make it happen, and I did, while all my vertebrae figuratively shattered along my spine. But I did it anyway, only one time of course, because there was no friggin' way I would've made another pole lowering, not in a million years. 

As the night went on and I watched the girls run around, learn to luau (which my dad friend and I did as well), and befriend other girls they met for the first time, me and my dad friend talked dad shop and it was all so much fun. It didn't matter that we don't get dadding right all the time, because we sure as heck don't; this wasn't about how low can we go as the limbo mantra goes. It was literally about how high can we get on the fun, fun that took the girls to nearly 10:00 PM, way past all our bedtimes.  

A high all warm and well lit. Amen.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Boldness Boon

"Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love..."

–Robert Palmer, Addicted to Love


Suddenly I was standing by myself in a large room full of fancy-dressed folk, all parents of the kids who go to school with our girls. Some smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Others laughed and pointed. And there may have been a few who grimaced and shook their heads.

Like one of those underwear dreams sometimes people have, I wore only a white t-shirt and boxer shorts, dress socks and nice shoes.

Except this wasn't a dream. It was a promise made months earlier to my wife, who I lovingly call the Mama.

"Wow, you guys actually did it," one of the parents near me commented. "You look great."

"Thank you," I said.

Just a few hours earlier I had asked the Mama if we should reconsider. "No way," she said. "I listened to a podcast recently based on research that girls lose their confidence to be silly, boisterous and bold by age 9, to then stop trying fun and adventurous things. I don't ever want that to happen to me. You know that. Let's keep being different and have fun doing it."

I nodded. "Indeed. That's why I love you, Sweetie."

"It's okay if you don't want to do it, though."

"No, I'm still in. Don't worry."

She smiled and we changed into our costumes. The idea was partially mine, at least in opening up our  big PTA Auction Gala school fundraiser theme to a much broader spy genre, hence validating the Mama's original idea of dressing up like the main characters from Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the cute spy action flick with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt from 2005. Not the scenes where they were fancy-dressed folk, though. The scene after their house blows up and they're in their underwear. Early on I tried to get her to consider another scene, even another dress-up option, but to no avail.

The main theme of the auction was always supposed to be a James Bond one, but there were some parents who complained about sexism, misogyny and gun violence, and rightly so, whether many others liked Bond or not. So my idea was to have them offer up a broader mix of spy characters, both men and women, that attendees could dress up as if they wanted to.

And they did. However, as I stood there alone, the Mama running around helping in the early evening of the big event, most of the attendees obviously hadn't wanted to.

The Mama is our PTA president, and her along with the auction chairperson and a myriad of other amazing parent volunteers, they put together quite an elegant affair. It's one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for our school, raising thousands of dollars from us parents bidding on donated products and services, as well as amazing artwork from each classroom. The arts program is a big deal at our school and that one of the many areas the PTA funds. Appropriately, most of the attendees dressed up formal for the night -- women in lovely gowns and pant suits, some vintage 1960's, and the men in suits and ties. It's a great night for all the mommies and daddies to raise a little money and a little hell -- all for the kids.

I help out with school activities when I can and when I'm not traveling, and for this particular auction gala, I help put together a video of the kids' class "thank you" pictures and the slide shows. So, for this event, I was the AV (audio-visual) guy, and happy to do it.

There I was, standing in my underwear, with a name-tag on my t-shirt that said "Mr. Smith" (I made the Mama put "Mrs. Smith" on), just to ensure people would know who my character was, even if they were familiar with the movie, which thankfully many were. Thumb ups. Compliments. Snickers. Pointing. The gamut, but mostly positive and fun comments, complimenting our creativity and the Mama's PTA leadership.

I was stressed, though. Not because of how I had dressed; I had already acquiesced to that compromise. No, the reality was I wasn't feeling well, still suffering from residual health issues from last year's scare. I didn't say anything to the Mama until late that night after we got home, not wanting to stress her any more than she already was.

The good news is that we both persevered and helped raise a lot of money for our school. As I watched the Mama thank all the parents in the room for their generosity, I fell in love with her all over again, her boldness such an inspirational boon to our relationship and to the lives of our girls.

And although Brad Pitt I am most certainly not, damn those super hot red rain boots. Mercy me, Mama. Mercy me.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Never Say Never to Ever

In 1975, my sister and I rode our bikes over four miles round trip to school and back home again. I was 10 years old and she was 8. We rode through what was at the time part new housing development and part walnut orchard. In fact, the last half mile to school was through a creepy walnut orchard, one where legend spoke of a scary orchard owner who would shoot you onsite with a shotgun full of rock salt.

Yikes.

Fortunately for us, we never ran into said scary orchard owner with shotgun. Never happened, and I don't remember any of our friends who rode or walked through the orchard every running into anyone near that description. No, each round trip was pretty uneventful, just to and from school, though the chilly fog of winter, and the super hot of early summer and fall.

We rode our bikes everywhere. To the nearby mall, to the donut store after I finished by paper route, to baseball and flag football practice. To school and back. Everywhere.

I've had a bicycle most of my life, and then after the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I got together, we had our own bikes that we rode along the ocean where we live. Considering how environmentally and health conscious folks are here in Santa Cruz, we were only hobbyist bike riders during the warmer months. A lot of hiking, running and walking year round, but not much bike action.

Then we had two children, and our bikes sat for years rusting under plastic tarps in our backyard. Even after our girls started experimenting with little bikes with training wheels and a tiny push bike without pedals, they weren't big fans. I'm sure that had something to do with the fact that we weren't riding our bikes, and they didn't really ride with other friends either. Needless to say, bike-to-school day isn't a big hit with the B-hive. We really thought we'd never be a biker family some day.

Plus, we're really too far away and live down a big hill for them to ride their bikes to their school, and unlike when we were little, they wouldn't be riding by themselves for years to come, even if they did dig their bikes. That's a whole other post about traffic and safety and free-range resistance for another time.

Beatrice started riding a razor scooter more than a bike, and Bryce preferred the non-pedal tiny racer bike, and that's where we've been for some time now. Flitting around here and there on the street above us or an empty parking lot below us was the extent. And then, a new boldness took hold, and the girls wanted to start going down the little hill on our street -- very, very fast. Of course, being the good parents we were, we watched out for cars while they burned rubber and tore around the corner off the hill.

One thing led to another, and when I was on one of my work trips, Beatrice and Bryce both wanted to start riding their bigger bikes (that were rotting in the garage). Just like that. Presto.

Who'd a-thunk we'd be dusting off and pumping up the tires of our decaying bikes and adjusting our bike helmets once again to join in on the bike-riding fun. As adults, we're too quick to say "forget it -- no way" when it comes to trying new or old things and taking risks and simply just making the time to do it. Never say never to ever when it comes to your kids, that's for dang sure. More #BhivePower for me, please.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Grateful Man

Seven thousand miles away from home, the left lens of my reading glasses fell out of their frame and onto the empty seat next to me. It’s the one side where the screw always comes loose over time opening and closing them after wearing and storing back in their case.

When I’m home, we have a tiny eyeglass screwdriver that does the trick every time to tighten them back up again. To date in all my work and family travels the past few years, I’ve never needed the tiny screwdriver away from home. Ever. Until this time.

Although I usually check them before I travel and tighten accordingly, I must've forgotten this time. There I was, on a flight back home to the United States from Istanbul, Turkey, and I take my reading glasses out of their case, and – flop. There goes the lens out of the frames onto the seat.

I mentally thanked the travel gods first and foremost since no one was sitting next to me. Who knows what would’ve happened if there was someone sitting there. Maybe the lens would have bounced off the person’s leg and onto the floor, tumbling into the aisle to then be crushed underfoot by an unaware passerby. Or, what if it fell to the ground and rolled under the seats behind me, or fell between the person’s legs next to me while they slept? Then what?

Well, thankfully all the other "whats" didn’t happen. Then I worried that the tiny screw that came loose had fallen out and been lost forever, but no, it was still intact in its chamber ready to be tightened yet again.

Phew.

However, there was one thing I was painfully aware of – I didn’t have the tiny screwdriver with me. Crap. Probably couldn't have taken it on the plane with me anyway.

What to do, what to do.

I had been on a business trip to Istanbul and also Sofia, Bulgaria. Such an amazing trip and I was quite thankful to have been invited to go so far away to speak at an event and run one of the candidate experience workshops I’m so passionate about doing. I always say that, while I don’t like being away from my family for too long, I do love to travel with them when we can, and for work, to see new places and meet new people. I thank the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) for giving me that little bug.

And so, if it can’t be family travel, then work travel it is. While away on this trip, I learned more about St. Sofia, the Christian widow of Italian ancestry who lived in Rome during the Roman empire, and whose name means wisdom. She had three daughters whom she named after the three great virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. All of the things that remind me of my wife and our two girls, Beatrice and Bryce. The story of Sofia and her daughters is prominent in the history of both places I visited.

What I needed now was some inventive wisdom – how to fix my glasses so I didn’t lose the lens and/or the tiny screw – so it was time to channel my three great virtues. The Mama’s like Mcguyver, the 1980’s action hero who could defuse a bomb with a paper clip, a rubber band and a plastic butter knife; she can do all that and more with her eyes closed.

Our girls are also quite imaginative and resourceful when it comes to utilitarian creativity. Give them an empty cardboard box and shortly thereafter you’ll have a combination luxury leprechaun trap and condominium apartment (Bryce wanted to ensure creature comforts for the leprechaun), or a shelf elf candy extravaganza entertainment center (the latest of many #BhivePower shenanigans around the house).

Me, not as much. I mean, I can get the things done, and I can be creative, but I can also take the long way around to get there.

Not this time, though; I set my mind to solving the problem with what I had. I didn’t think that asking the flight crew for a tiny screwdriver would’ve been fruitful, or smart actually, so I first tore a piece of the flight menu made of thicker card stock, but thin enough to fit into the screw slot. It didn’t work, though – too flimsy to stay in the slot and turn the screw.

Then I started digging through my electronics bag in my backpack to see what I could come up with. There was nothing small and thin enough to do the trick.

Think, think, think.

Then I saw all the USB flash drives. I picked one up and turned it over and over. The metal that made up the plug portion could be pried open and bent, so I went to work. I broke some the plastic insides and got the outside metal sheath detached. There were small outcroppings of thin metal like tabs that could potentially be used like a flathead screwdriver, but unfortunately they were too big.

There was a second sheath of metal underneath the first and it had smaller and thinner tab outcroppings. I separated that from the plastic part of the flash drive. But then I noticed the four gold conductive filaments that ran parallel to each other over the end of the inner plastic plug portion that were also small enough and thin enough. Victory, I thought. I folded back the two inner rectangular filaments and tried to use the outside ones as makeshift screwdrivers, but alas, they were too flimsy and just kept bending when I tried to insert them.

Back to the mangled inner second metal sheath – magic time!

This piece had even smaller and thinner metal tabs that weren’t flimsy like the gold filaments. I carefully bent the piece without cutting myself to single out only one of the tabs that could be used as a tiny screwdriver. I worried that the flight crew might think I was making a tiny shiv, but no one paid any attention to me (which also worried me).

I was ready to test it out. I fitted the lens back into its frame, closed it tight and held on firmly. Then I fit I homemade screwdriver into the tiny screw slot and turned. Success. Then I turned again. And again. And again. Until once again the frame was tightened with the lens safely intact. It worked!

Right on!

I put everything away and settled into my seat to watch A Man Called Ove, the movie based on the wonderful heart-wrenching novel I read last year about a man reminded of how precious life truly is.

Then somewhere over the Northern Atlantic, a grateful man with tears in his eyes longs for his family and drifts off into fitful sleep. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Music to My Ears

"No I can't help myself, no I can't help myself, no, no, no
Caught up in the rhythm of it..."

–Justin Timberlake, Say Something


The speaker wanted us to understand vulnerability. He started by having us stand up and introduce ourselves to someone we didn't know. Then he had us share what we did professionally. Then he had us share something personal that scared us.

The young man I met in this context told me he was scared about being a good father (he was definitely south of 30). He had a newborn at home and was already overwhelmed by the big picture. I told him I empathized; been there, done that, and still doing that.

I told him that for me, not having close friends in my later years was my fear -- good guy friends. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) is and will always be my best friend, but would my best male friends of youth and young adulthood still be around when I was older? I do know as long as we're living we'll invest in the friendships we've had for decades, but outside of that, there are still more women than men with more than a handful of lifelong friends and supportive networks. My friends and I are part of the growing exception to the great American (white) male rule of being tough, keeping women and minorities down and out, and in the end, drinking alone in a roomful of violent, broken Y chromosomes.

The vulnerability exercise got me thinking about being a balanced man today, one who's comfortable nurturing healthy friendships with both men and women and not afraid to say I love you without joking about bromance or being called gay (even my best friends and I have been guilty of this over the years). Today, too many American men are dying lonely and alone, without close friends, and the suicide rate is again climbing for men over 50 years old. 

Recently while traveling, the choice of staying absorbed in my phone apps or starting a conversation came down to the salad in front of me. A younger black man was eating what looked like a chicken caesar, and I was pretty damn hungry. I only had about 45 minutes to eat before my flight.

"How's the salad?" I asked him. We both sat at a long, high-boy table where many individual travelers sat. The airport restaurant we were in was pretty packed and the only quick seats were the high-boy openings. 

The guy eating the salad smiled. "It's pretty good. Especially when you're hungry."

"Excellent," I said. "I'm hungry and really need to skip the French fries this time."

He laughed and said, "I hear you."

I ordered the salad and a beer. We kept talking and then another younger black man next to the one I first talked with joined our conversation, and then a younger white man next to me started talking with us. We started talking about music, something all four of us got jazzed about. 

"Yeah, I'm a drummer," the guy across from me said. "Used to play for church bands, but dang it's gotten competitive." 

I held up my hands and said, "I'm only a hobbyist drummer; no wagering."

They all laughed. The other two guys said they played guitar, and then the white guy next to me shared a story of rocking out in his daughter's outdoor princess castle fort because his wife was tired of him playing in the house. Our conversation was effortless, as if we'd been friends for years. We talked more about our families, music, beer and then the conversation veered to strange travel stories. 

And then it was time for me to head home. I knew I could've kept talking to them all, and if we lived closer to one another, we might even hang out once in a while. It didn't seem like old-school patriarchy kept these guys down at all, although a 45-minute conversation does not a best friend make. I just knew in my heart that many good men, like these men, just as much as other good women, straight or gay and of any background, all long for the regular rhythm of social connection and loving friendships. Friendships that give us the courage to accept the vulnerability of empathy and humane co-existence. 

That's why we have to make it okay for our boys to love each other as friends and to give each other the emotional support they need throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood, without any social stigma or hateful backlash. I believe these healthier male relationships will help break down toxic patriarchy and solve a lot of social ills in America. Definitely music to my ears. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Stigma Be Damned

"But there you give me one - another you just finished
You're my library - always open for business
But you never show it
You're just sitting with it
But I know the score, and you're killin' it
Line after line - when you're taking it in
Time after time - when you try to fit in
To some white shoes, or a blue collar..."

–Arkells, Book Club


When I picked the girls up from theater class, Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 played from our car stereo. Really loud. Probably too loud for a responsible and respectable parent picking up their children from anything school related. Especially since they were rehearsing in a church.

"We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control..."

I quickly lowered the volume and went inside to get them. They were wrapping up another class rehearsing Trolls, a kid-friendly musical based on the popular movie.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had wanted me to help Beatrice ask the play teacher a question. Bea wanted to know what she was supposed to do after saying her line "Branch, watch out!" when the Bergen scare her.

"Go ahead, ask her," I said.

"Um, what do I do after the Bergen scares me? Fall down? Run away?" Bea asked.

The theater teacher frowned, as if maybe she'd answered this question with every kid in the play at least 1,000 times.

"You run away," the teacher said.

"Thank you."

The teacher smiled, exhausted. The girls and I got back into the car and I asked them how the class went that day.

"Good," said Bea.

"Good," said Bryce. "I really like the singing and dancing."

"Right on. Bea, are you glad you asked the teacher your question? Now you know what to do!"

"Yes," she said, smiling. "I do."

"Excellent," I said.

I turned the radio back on and Van Halen's And the Cradle Will Rock played.

"Dad, turn it back to our channel," both girls echoed. They were referring to the local pop music station. They aren't fans of Daddy's rock and roll.

Too bad. I wanted to rock.

"I will in a minute."

"Dad!"

"Fine."

Right before I turned the channel, David Lee Roth sang:

Have you seen Junior's grades? And Eddie Van Halen's guitar riffed on.

And I had recently seen their grades. That sent me reflecting on where the girls were both at in school.

For the most part, they're both doing pretty good. On most subjects, especially science. And on being social. And on being involved in extracurricular activities like sports and theater. All these things are important for their development. We're not pushing them too hard at this age, but encouraging them to try different activities besides focusing on academics.

However, Beatrice, nine years old now, continues to struggle with reading and reading comprehension. When she was three years old, we discovered she had trouble processing the information she heard in the same way as other kids because her ears and brain didn't play well together. It's called auditory processing disorder (ADP). That in turn affected the way her brain recognized and interpreted sounds and how she reacted to various stimuli -- too much stimuli always overwhelms.

We knew then that, no matter how much help she got, there would be future setbacks academically and/or socially. We just weren't sure exactly what and how prevalent they'd be.

Bryce, seven years old now, didn't have the same problem early on, although recently we worried about her reading ability, too. So, it was time to escalate the reading at home. For Bryce, it's been the recognition and pronunciation of words she should've already been getting at her age. For Beatrice, it's recently been figurative language, metaphors and similes and the like, comprehending was she had just read and able to answer questions about it. To also be able to infer meaning from phrases like "reading is as easy as pie."

We've been working on it for awhile now, with the Mama institutionalizing regular reading times for both girls. We read with them in the mornings and after school and every night before bed. We read all sorts of articles and books, have them read to us, and then for Bea ask her questions about what she read, testing her inference ability, her vocabulary and retention.

Both girls are making great progress. Bryce is reading better and pronouncing new words more readily. And as for Bea, she's much better reading and comprehending at home than at school -- literally and figuratively. We know (as does her teacher and other school specialists) that the overstimulation from a myriad of classroom inputs inundating her regularly hinders her ability to understand written instructions in class, and then she gets overwhelmed and anxious, her synapses backfiring on her. Her teachers are willing to give her auditory and visual directions in conjunction with the written word, which we know from experience will help.

Even with the progress they've made, we have no idea what will happen in the next few years, just as we didn't know what would happen when Bea was three. We do know that the pressure to excel will only increase exponentially from all directions, in addition to the stigma of struggle if and when either girl struggles to fit in. But stigma be damned; as their parents we will do whatever we have to do to give them both the tools and resources they need to improve, adapt, thrive and live their best lives.

"But I know the score, and you're killin' it
Line after line - when you're taking it in
Time after time - when you try to fit in..."