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, December 30, 2018

One Grain at a Time

[Spoiler Alert: I don’t give too much away, but I am commenting on changes to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride and one thing that happens in the Ralph Breaks the Internet movie. Just giving you all a head’s up.]

I noticed the female pirate first. Actually, I heard her voice first, then I saw her to my left. She was calling out rivals across the small, man-made river we traversed.

“That’s new,” I told the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.

“I know,” she said. “And the brides for sale are gone. It’s like a market for selling other goods and food now.”

And so, there we were on our annual holiday Disneyland trip, one we’ve been doing since our girls were little, and the #MeToo movement finally hit the Disney-fied raping and pillaging of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The original version of Pirates had opened at Disneyland in Anaheim in 1967, and it was the last attraction that Walt Disney oversaw, but he died three months before it opened.

Good for Disney today, though. While the ride originally was a dark-lit but light-hearted caricature of a “pirate’s life” that we know historically was full of harassment, rape, slavery and violence towards women (and other men) in real life, there’s nothing wrong with updating it with a strong female character and editing out the selling of women. Mind you, there was still only one strong female character in the ride that we noticed. Otherwise, it’s still the same classic Disneyland ride I remember growing up (except with the addition of Jack Sparrow and the successful Pirates movie franchise).

Disney seems to keep moving forward with progressive norms, like Ralph Breaks the Internet in 2018 with all the Disney princesses helping to rescue a “big strong man who needs saving.” A funny and refreshing twist indeed.

That doesn’t mean Disney hasn’t had its own share of real-life discrimination and harassment problems, with the latest one being a middle-aged male former labor analyst at Disney Cruise Line claiming his younger female manager created a hostile work environment by bullying him about his age and more. Plus, this past year, there was the Pixar titan John Lasseter on leave from the Walt Disney Company following complaints about unwanted workplace hugging. And then there was actress Kristen Bell publicly expressing concern about “Snow White” and the prince who kissed her without consent.

Which was exactly what I was thinking about as we rode the Snow White ride at Disneyland. It’s really quite creepy and scary, especially for little kids. And yet, when we got to the end of the ride, it went from the Seven Dwarves trying to save Snow White from the evil queen disguised as an old woman giving out poison apples in a dark forest, to heading out the final door into the real light with “They Lived Happily Ever After” painted on the last wall. Where did the nonconsensual prince kiss go?

I don’t know. Anyway, what I’m more excited about is the blurring of gender types from such a media and entertainment powerhouse like Disney. The massive influence they have on our children (and us) is unprecedented and has been for decades, so injecting strong female characters into the greater Disney animation canon has been refreshing for those of us raising strong females with healthy self-identities, especially since The Little Mermaid. I know that it can be argued these characters’ male counterparts still have had the hero-story edge, but that’s been slowly changing.

For the past two years, Bryce has wanted to go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland, a place where, for a price (always for a price at the Magic Kingdom), kids can be turned into elegant princesses and shining knights. Beatrice wanted to do it too, so this year we conceded and made reservations.

Beatrice had no interest in dressing like a princess; she wanted to be a knight. Bryce has been our traditional princess to date, always dressing like one and enjoying all the related princess accoutrements. We assumed that’s what she wanted. But the day before her appointment, she said she wanted to be a knight.

Usually we encourage the girls to be whatever they want to be. Beatrice identifies as a girl but tends to skew boyish by her own choice, and so it’s no surprise that strangers have called her our “boy” over in the past. Until Bryce got a pixie haircut, cutting her hair really short, that never happened with her. But since the haircut, it has, although both girls seem to roll with it without being offended. This is good and we want them to be comfortable with who they are and how they look, no matter how non-gender specific.

By the way, for those parents who want their girls to dress like princesses and their boys to dress like knights, fantastic. More power to them and no judgement here, as long as their children are not being forced into a stereotypical gender role that they’re not comfortable with, because their parents aren’t comfortable with them being something other than a princess (for a girl) or a knight (for a boy).

We gave Bryce the choice either way the day before her Disney transformation, although now I feel bad as we kept reminding her how much she loved being a princess and how she’s always wanted to get the princess treatment. In the end she chose princess, and she was quite happy with it, which we knew she would be, but we would’ve been fine with two knights.

Yes, things are slowly changing, the sands of patriarchy draining one grain at a time from the happiest place on earth’s golden hourglass. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Year of Learning, Loving and Healing: The GOTG Top 13

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA

What a year! Lots of learning, loving and healing for me and my family. Thank you for stopping by and reading.

Here's the top 13 GOTG articles from 2018, my lucky number. Enjoy!

13. To Be Brave As Needed

I wanted so badly to intervene, but that would've been too easy...

12. This Was All Them

She was prescient...

11. It Always Burns a Hole

Because it always burns a hole in their pockets...

10. Free to Feel

The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me...

9. An ALL CAPS Family

Every morning it's the same thing: we have to tell them more than twice...

8. Unraveling Our Own Patriarchal Demise

It was the Sunday school coloring pages of Jesus smiling with open arms that still haunt me today...

7. Getting Busy with the Bliss

I just wanted to stay home for the afternoon...

6. The Lightness of Us All

The very weight of her unsettled me...

5. The Childhood Check-First

"Have you seen my daughter?"

4. One Simple Yet Powerful Thing

I could tell she was nervous, talking about everything else except her first game...

3. Manifest the Goods

I just wanted to get ahead of the growing mediocrity in my head and get home to my family...

2. A Perfect Day, Right Here

It would’ve been the perfect day...

1. I Believe

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

Get off the ground and make a positive stand happen in 2019. 

Happy Parenting, Personal Leadership and Happy Holidays!


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Holding On With All My Might

"Do you ever dream
Or reminisce
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go..."

The Place Where Lost Things Go, Mary Poppins Returns

On the furthest edge of childhood, she holds on to believing with all her might, dangling precariously over the chasm of the rest of her life.

Yes, she still holds on; our oldest Beatrice believes in the Christmas magic. She's 10 and believes in the Santa and the shelf elves, something we've only gotten into the past year. Our youngest Bryce, who's 8, is definitely still all in, complete with a splash of Baby Jesus and the message of hope and love.

The advent calendar action we provide every year -- aspirational notes in each daily pocket plus a trinket or a candy -- is something they look forward to every year. Although this year they both know it's us filling the calendar pockets and not the shelf elves.

And they're okay with that. Phew.

Bryce is the one who wanted a shelf elf in the first place. Never a tradition for me or the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), Bryce first saw them on one of her kids' YouTube channel shows and immediately shouted from the rooftops for one. So we ordered one for five dollars and girls tracked its travels via USPS from China, an adventure all its own. The day it was supposed to be delivered, it wasn't, and we thought it lost forever. So we ordered another, and then they both arrived.

They were named Pinky and Cotton Candy. And then within months the two became six:

  1. Pinky
  2. Cotton candy
  3. Violet
  4. Peppermint (who you can't touch with your hands or you'll have to place her in a pan and surround her with cinnamon; the girls have special gloves to handle her) 
  5. Buddy
  6. Angel Cakes (who you also can't touch with your hands or you'll have to place him in a pan and surround him with cinnamon; the girls have special gloves to handle him) 

Plus, add in the shelf elf reindeer their grandma Nonna just got them: Cocoa Chestnut.

Every night starting on December 1, our shelf-elfing shenanigans have them moving around and doing fun things every night, a little light mischief without compromising their elven integrity like some do on the world wide interwebs these days. Plus, there's been the occasional note from the girls to the elves, asking them for things, and then the elves writing back, sometimes complying.

The girls are convinced that Santa will take the elves away on Christmas and won't return again until the following December 1. I didn't realize this was part of shelf elven lore. Who knew?

The girls wanted the shelf elves to create a treasure hunt of sorts before they left at Christmas, so they wrote them a note -- and presto! -- a treasure hunt.

The girls woke up and found a note on the elves in front of the fireplace.

"Do you see that note?" said Beatrice.

"Dang, it's in cursive," said Bryce.

Beatrice read the note aloud:

Look on our shelf to start the hunt! --Pinky

One of the bookshelves in our living room has a shelf dedicated to the elves, of course. From there, the treasure hunt continued.

This is where you keep your musical instrument. -- Peppermint

"How does he know where it is?" said Beatrice, talking about her trombone.

"Because he watches you," said Bryce.

"Oh, that's creepy," said Beatrice.

The treasure hunt led to the place where we bake cookies.

"It might be the oven," said Bryce.

And sure enough, it was. What was in the oven, you ask? Four pairs of elf outfits -- one for each of us, of course.

"Yeah!" the girls shouted.

"Let's wear them!" said the Mama.

"But they were supposed to do this on Christmas Eve. It's early. But, I guess that's okay," said Beatrice.

The Mama and I smiled at each other. Within minutes we were all dressed in our new elven garb, and of course, that's when I sat everyone down for a family picture, for posterity.

And for Instagram and Facebook, of course.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. In fact, as I write this, Beatrice is setting up a Santa trap that will wake them up so they can see him when he arrives. The trap prototype includes string "trip-wires" that will ring a bell upstairs in their room, and we'll run down to the hardware store later for some fishing line for the final trap. We ain't playin' at our house.

I too hold on with all my might, over half a century in on this wonderful life I've been blessed with. I've never lost the love and hope of my childhood, even through the dark times. It's alive and well deep in my still beating heart, where Santa and Baby Jesus and Snoopy and Luke Skywalker and Mary Poppins sing Grown-up Christmas List day after day after day:

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list
This is my only lifelong wish

This is my grown up Christmas list

Merry Christmas World. I believe in you, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Family Shop Talk Time

"I'm thankful for mommy, daddy, Beatrice...and...the shelf elves," said Bryce, giggling when she said shelf elves.

This was the kick-off of yet another weekly family meeting (what we lovingly call The Family Bhive Club), where we share compliments, gratitude, appreciation and "noticing" -- something nice we notice about each other and/or ourselves that we share as a family, like being brave in everyday situations. I'm the scribe who keeps all our meeting notes in a journal and the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and the girls write the agenda each week on a small dry-erase board.

The Mama started these family meetings back at the end of October as a way for us to take the time to talk family shop each week about the above and other things such as:

  • practicing safety skills wherever we're at, 
  • homework that needs work like math and/or reading, 
  • everyday self-care, 
  • chores that need to get done for the allowance monies
  • the distributing of the allowance monies (which are always asked for way before we're done with the family meeting), 
  • the giving of the monies and/or related volunteering, 
  • what's coming on the calendar for the week ahead for all of us, 
  • and of course, at this time of the year, talking about the Christmastime -- 
  • all of which we empower the girls to help with solutions.

"Christmas!" both girls will shout.

Then both girls will rattle off something new they want, more than something actually -- all the things actually -- and then they bask in the afterglow of sugar-plum want.

Then we wrap up the meeting with open sharing about whatever else is on our minds and then it's fun time. Each week fun time rotates to one of us to choose what the fun time will actually be. Usually it's in the form of playing a game together like Monopoly, Sleeping Queens, HeadBanz, etc.

No matter what's on the family meeting agenda, each one starts with the compliments, gratitude, appreciation and the noticing. It's our family holy day where we not only share with each other the reasons of why we're thankful about each other and others outsides our family, but also what we're thankful for about ourselves. This to ensure at a minimum a modicum of self-worth and love in such a sometimes hateful, self-loathing world.

For us, this is the most important of the family shop talk time, and I'm so thankful for these moments that bind us together and empower each other.

Stink. Stank. Stunk.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Gift of Actionable Hope

"As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree.
Well, heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul..."

Grown-Up Christmas List

I spoiled Christmas.

I got up before my parents, before my sister, and walked slowly down the hall to our small living room. It was still dark, the curtains were pulled shut, and our Christmas tree stood silent in the shadows. There was only a faint light that leaked in around the curtain's edge from the nearest streetlight outside.

And there in the shadows beneath the tree, I saw the outline of the Big Wheel I had asked for, and the Baby Alive my sister had asked for.

The joy in my heart completely eclipsed any fear I had being up so early in the darkness. It also eclipsed any sadness and fear we still had from the latest fight our parents had gotten into on the way home from our grandparents the night before, from our dad calling our mom some pretty horrible names, from things crashing throughout the house long after we went to bed, from the screaming and crying outside our rooms.

But here, in the quiet of early Christmas morning, there was finally some peace and these amazing gifts under the tree. It didn't matter that we didn't have much money; we never really new the difference growing up anyway, thanks to our mom.

I don't remember how long I stood there staring at the gift shadows. The smell of evergreen, cigarettes and stale beer was almost comforting in a strange way. At some point I finally turned and headed back up the hallway, but instead of going into my bedroom and waiting for the family to wake up, I went in to wake my sister, to tell her what awaited her under the tree.

That didn't go over very well. I thought she'd be thrilled. She was not. Instead, she cried. I was mortified. I had no idea that was going to happen. I tried to calm her down, to explain how great it was she was getting a Baby Alive, but to no avail. Our mom explained shortly after that how I spoiled the surprise for my sister. That she really wanted to be the one to find and see her present first.

I felt horrible. Christmas morning moved on, and so did my sister. While our mom fixed breakfast, we played with our new toys, and our father sat on the couch drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. I remember him smiling through tears as he said:

"Merry Christmas, kids. There's no place like home."

My mom cried softly in the kitchen as she cooked. That moment in time was the greatest gift we could have ever asked for, something that repelled the darkness and sadness growing up in domestic violence. It was the gift of hope. Hope that maybe everything would be all right, that maybe our father would stop drinking and being so angry and unhappy all the time. That maybe we could be a family again. Forever.

We were a family again, but not with him, so in a way, the gift of hope paid off. But I'll never forget what he said, even if I'm mixing memories, which happens as we get older. We were fortunate to have lovely family and friends who supported us and helped carry us through some tough times.

Fast forward to today  my wife and I work hard (which is thankfully easy for us) in providing emotional stability and love and an environment of personal growth and resiliency. We're also able to give them things we never dreamed of when we were growing up, as my wife had experienced some similar parallels as a child as well.

This is why we give back when we can, volunteer locally, practice Kidpower and encourage our girls to give back as well, to donate their toys they no longer play with and to save their money to give to a program that will help others. The past few years we've adopted a family via Monarch Services during the holidays, a program founded in 1977 to offer safe shelter and services to domestic violence victims. We get a list of things they want, usually a mother and her children, and then we purchase them and give them to the agency, but we don't know who they are; we'll never meet them. Their anonymity is protected for obvious reasons, especially if they're still in harm's way. We do get a thank you card from them after Christmas, and we're just glad we could give them some gifts that the mother isn't in the position to provide otherwise.

This year it's a mother and three boys and that's all we know. As we shopped for them and picked out toys for the boys, I knew these presents would be well received (who doesn't want to be a superhero encased in protective metal), but I bet I knew deep down what they really wished for.

We do these things because we can, and we encourage others who can to do the same, to support programs that help others who need it, whatever that is, throughout the year and not just during the holidays. For us, we participate in and support programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).

That's why our wish is that atop their Christmas list is the gift of actionable hope.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

To Be Brave As Needed

"In the whole wide world there's no magic place
So you might as well rise, put on your bravest face..."

–Rush, Bravest Face

I wanted so badly to intervene, but that would've been too easy. The growth moment for our oldest daughter would've been gone. I knew the Mama did too (what I lovingly call my wife), but she restrained herself until very last minute, after progress had been made.

We were at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the MAH as it's known for short, making donuts with felt and hot glue guns (yes, donuts) during a fun arts and crafts event. Afterwards the girls wanted to see the rest of the museum, especially one specific thing on the 3rd floor  the foosball table. I'm not sure exactly why there's a foosball table on the 3rd floor, maybe to entertain children while their parents visit the exhibits, but it's their nonetheless.

This time though there were three boys playing foosball, maybe 10 to 12 years old. The girls wanted to wait, so we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Keep in mind that waiting from a child's perspective can be excruciating, and their quiet angst washed over us as well. Yet, it had only been a few minutes at the most.

We encouraged both girls to tell the boys they were waiting and wanted to be next. Of course, it was obvious we were waiting for the game, and I'm sure the boys got that. However, they continued to play away with raucous laughter.

Our youngest Bryce wasn't going to speak up, but Beatrice started to work up the courage; she told us that her and Bryce really wanted to play the game. We coached her (so did Bryce) and encouraged her, and minutes went by with the girls standing there waiting to play the game. But the boys weren't stopping anytime soon.

I had to walk away; it would've been too easy to speak up and "encourage" the boys to wrap it up for my girls. Intimidating children isn't a quality I want my children to see, so I wasn't going to do that. The Mama was patient too, continuing to coach Beatrice.

Finally, Beatrice worked up her nerve.

"How much longer are you going to play?" she asked the boys.

One of them answered, "Um...maybe another 15 minutes." And then they kept on playing without looking her.

Bea stood there and then looked back at the Mama. I was down the hall, pacing a little like an expectant father, and Bryce just sat on a bench waiting patiently (quite unlike her actually).

That's when the Mama spoke up, "Do you think 15 minutes is a fair amount of time if people are waiting?"

The boys paused their play, and then another said, "Okay, five minutes."

And then two minutes later they stopped their game and moved on.

We were so proud of Beatrice for speaking up and we let her know that. We expressed to both girls that it's okay to ask for what they want, to speak up and set boundaries and expectations when needed coaching them to be more direct with their requests instead of open-ended questions. To be firm and persistent without being mean or rude, whether they're dealing with other boys or girls or both. But especially the boys. In the age of #metoo and #timesup, we want our girls to embody individuality and inclusivity while never allowing themselves to be compromised because their gender.

This will serve them well throughout their lifetimes, because boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And in adulthood, there is magical realm where we treat each other fairly with respect and support each other with understanding and empathy. Some of us work daily on getting there, while still too many others do not.

This is why we want them to be strong and independent, to believe in themselves, to empower others to do the same, and to be brave as needed.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Friend in Family

She asked me to dump the turkey carcass into the green can. The clippings can. The one for grass, weeds, branches, etc.

“Are you serious?” I said.

She smiled and said, “Yes, why?”

“Why would you put the turkey into the clippings can?”

“Because it’s organic; I do it every year.”

I thought about it for a minute. I didn’t think that was right and would swear that if the trash collectors caught it, they’d tag her can. A tag that read something like This is a notice of non-collection because your can is contaminated. 

“You all right? You need me to walk you through it?” she said.

Now she was just being a smart ass and trying to be funny.

“No, I’ll go do it.”

And I did. I dumped the carcass out of the plastic bag it was in and on top of the branches and grass before. I stared down into the can and thought, There’s no friggin’ way they’re taking this.

“They’re going to tag your can,” I said when I came back in the house.

“No, they are not. I told you I do it every year. You going to be okay?” Again, my sister shared her cute snark. She leaned in to give me a fake supportive hug and I moved away.

“Ha. I’m good, they’re just not going to take it,” I said, smiling.

“Yes, they will. It’s just turkey bones. You can put those down your garbage disposal.”

I laughed. God, you really sound like Dad, I thought. That would break the garbage disposal.

A while later, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), looked it up online and sure enough, you don’t put turkey carcasses into your clippings can. Even my sister’s son, my nephew back from his second year in law school, agreed.

“So,” my sister said to me, “go dig it out then.”

“I ain’t digging anything out,” I said.

We laughed. It was funny. And I still thought her can was going to get tagged.

A day later we packed up our things and headed home. It was another very nice Thanksgiving with my sister and her grown children. We also got to visit with my newborn Great Niece, my niece’s baby girl, and she was such a delight. The newest member of our extended family, today.

We’ve been going to my sister’s for Thanksgiving the past five years now, starting the year after both our parents passed away. It’s very important to my sister and I and our families, even if we only see each a few times per year. Since we were children and for most of our lives, we've been very close.

The year our parents died was a rough year for us all, my mom leaving us four months after my dad due to a health complication we knew nothing about until it was too late. And then there was the in-between time before she passed that went okay until it didn’t when my mom stayed with my sister, before we had taken her in and then I returned her back to Oregon. And then there was the six years before that when my sister and I didn’t speak at all. Plus, the way before then of violence and abuse, and the since then of other extended family relationship ups and downs.

Both the Mama and I have the loving memories of big family gatherings during the end-of-year holidays and multiple times throughout the year (even daily when we lived near each other). But then, family fell away and moved away, new family was added and old family taken away. Maybe we see each other a few times per year, if that. (The women in my life have always done a much better job at keeping in touch with extended family than I have.)

Trust and empathy are vital to nurturing any relationship, as well as the reciprocal investment of communication and time. And yet over time, life happens, we fail each other, and even the seemingly best intentions can and do tear at the fine family fabric. We’re hurt. We resent. We retaliate. We cut off. The friend in family is lost. Sometimes forever.

The Mama and I have been listening to Dr. BrenĂ© Brown of late, a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. In Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, BrenĂ© Brown shared a conversation about forgiveness she had with a rabbi. She’d been doing research about forgiveness, and the rabbi told her that true forgiveness can only transpire when something else dies. Not literally a person or thing, but a manifestation of something, letting go of resentment for example. Literally letting it die.

This is the first year in my grateful long life to date that I've accepted I can no longer hold onto any resentment for being hurt. That I can no longer beat myself up for my own past transgressions, or that I can keep judging others because I don’t feel they’re being their best selves (because maybe they are), or because there are those who I don’t see eye to eye with (because sometimes we don’t). I just can’t do it anymore. I've really needed to let those things die. It doesn’t serve a work-in-progress healthy heart and spirit at all, and it doesn’t help me to be a better parent or husband or human. There are so many more benefits to channeling my energy into me being my better self and sharing that with others. God knows it's taken long enough to get here.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries on how I handle any relationship going forward post whatever traumatic event, and what I want our children to understand about betrayal, heartbreak, personal responsibility and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a feral animal, one that is unpredictable and not easy to tame, even when you feel like it’s ready to give itself up to you, and for you. And forgiveness doesn’t mean that all what ailed a relationship makes the relationship whole again. It just means all what ailed it is finally dead.

Trust and empathy take time to build and rebuild, and a lot of continuous reciprocity to sustain, but without forgiveness, there can be no friend in family.

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."


"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?"





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.


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 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.