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, September 23, 2018

Everyone Is Safe Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

An ALL CAPS Family

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

–Rush, Stick It Out


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

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

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

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

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

"GEESH! I'M DOING IT!"

"BRYCE! NOW!"

"GEESH!"

"BEATRICE, THAT MEANS YOU TOO!"

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

"THEN DO IT!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"BRYCE, TURN THE IPAD OFF RIGHT NOW!"

"GEESH! I DID!"

"TURN IT OFF!"

"OKAY, OKAY!"

Sunday, September 9, 2018

One Simple Yet Powerful Thing

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

–Rush, Vital Signs


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

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

Go number 7 go, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah," she said, still unconvinced.

A minute later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know," Bea said.

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

To Regulate and Moderate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Turn that thing off!"

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

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

"Beatrice? Did you hear what I said?"

"Bryce? Did you hear what I said?"

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

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

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

"Kevin?!?"

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

"What?!?"


Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Childhood Check-First

"Have you seen my daughter?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Unraveling Our Own Patriarchal Demise

“So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”

–Hebrews 13:6


"You better think (think) 
Think about what you're trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think) 
Let your mind go, let yourself be free..."

–Aretha Franklin, Think


It was the Sunday school coloring pages of Jesus smiling with open arms that still haunt me today. Jesus and little children gathered around him, all smiling back, seemingly safe and sound.

And Jesus was a man. 

And God is a father.

And Father knows best.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

But they most certainly do. It's a man's world, for God's sake.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family, and while to date I don't have a problem with the idea of a benevolent and loving God, I do have a problem with its human roots in patriarchy and its history of oppression -- a system of society, religion and/or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

A system of control that has enabled horrible atrocities to continually occur. The latest grand jury report out of Pennsylvania on abuse in the Catholic Church revealed that at least 1,000 children had been abused by 300 priests and accusing senior church officials of covering up abuse complaints. 

Not just that it happened, but that the church officials covered it up for decades. Men have been doing this for other men for thousands of years, and it's so entrenched in our social and cultural DNA, it's no wonder the unraveling is so painful for us all, especially for women and children.

For men and fathers like me, and I know there are many of you out there, we are finally understanding that deconstructing patriarchy and its ultimate oppressive control is how we can help prevent systemic domestic violence and sexual assault on women and children (and even other men).

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

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

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

The statistics go on and on and the stories of children being sexual abused continue (like the recent migrant children in Arizona).

The sexual and emotional abuse I experienced as a young boy at the hands of my first step-father, one who told me each time it happened that it was "our little secret" and not to tell anyone, especially my mother. I never repressed it, and I knew it was wrong, but I didn't talk about it for years.

Kidpower teaches that problems should not have to be secrets, and that sometimes grown-ups have to touch kids' private areas for heath or safety, but it should never have to be a secret. Otherwise, other people are not supposed to touch private areas, nor are they supposed to ask you to touch their private areas, or to show pictures or movies about people and their private areas. 

Kidpower is the global non-profit with a mission to teach people of all ages and abilities how to use their power to stay safe, act wisely, and believe in themselves, and one organization I truly believe makes a difference in the lives of children, teens and adults around the world. (For an important related read on protecting and empowering children, check out Doing Right By Our Kids.)

I also know that many religions, their respective institutions and the people who belong to them do many good things for their followers and their communities around the world. I also still believe in a loving, benevolent (and genderless) God. However, as a child I wanted so desperately to believe in those pictures of Jesus loving and protecting the children. And yet, I was let down again and again by lesser, more fallible men pimping out patriarchy in the name of their heavenly Father for their selfish pleasures at the expense of women and children, just as they continue to do today. We will do everything we can not let that happen to our daughters, to empower them to protect themselves.

This may be uncomfortable for some folks to read, but change for the better doesn't come from acquiescing to the status quo and believing its God's will. Because it's our will, and it comes from confronting the very discomfort we've allowed ourselves to live with, the defaulting to faulty male leadership for generations. I'm angry that this destructive male dominance continues to subdue love, freedom and yes, feminism. A feminism that has nothing to do with being anti-male and everything to do with ending oppression, domestic violence and sexual assault (thank you, bell hooks and Aretha Franklin).

"The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

"You better think (think)..."

Anything he wants. So, I'd argue being a real man today is all about unraveling our own patriarchal demise.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Adventures of Sweetheart and Dragonlily: Part 1

Inspired by our pets, a guinea pig named Sweetheart and a rabbit named Dragonlily, I decided to engage in a little creative writing. Enjoy!


The Wormhole

The white rabbit with the black dragon tattoo on its back wanted to go to the beach. The dragon tattoo was actually a big patch of black fur that looked like the outline of a dragon on his back, something their Ooo-menz always pointed out to other Ooo-menz that came over to visit. Although the rabbit hadn’t ever actually seen the dragon tattoo on its back, it was happy it was there because it made the rabbit feel quite special. 

Now, back to the beach – the Ooo-menz went to the beach all the time, because they lived by the beach, and the Kid Ooo-menz couldn’t stop talking about how much fun the beach was. The rabbit hopped over to a triangular wooden hutch in the middle of the backyard. The hutch had a see-through caged section and a smaller enclosed room with a hole in the center, big enough for another animal the size of the rabbit to pass through.

The rabbit wiggled its noise and nibbled on some backyard grass. It was a beautiful day.

“What’s up, Sweetheart?” the rabbit said to the wooden hutch.

The see-through caged section of the hutch was empty.

“Sweetheart, you there?”

The rabbit heard a low groan come from the dark entrance of the enclosed room of the hutch. He couldn’t see anything.

“What do you want?” came a low voice from the darkness. It sounded annoyed.

“Sweetheart, I just –“

“Don’t call me sweetheart.”

The rabbit wiped its nose with its front paws and then ate some more grass.

“But that’s your name,” the rabbit said.

A nose, mouth and dark eyes surrounded by white fur poked slightly out of the hutch enclosure.

“True, but I also know it demeans me as a woman,” answered a voice from the darkness.

“I don’t know what that means. You’re a guinea pig,” said the rabbit.

“A female guinea pig,” said Sweetheart. “A proud female guinea pig that doesn’t like mouthy male rabbits named Dragonlily.”

The rabbit named Dragonlily stopped eating and closed its eyes.

“Dragonlily. Ugh. Who named us these names again anyway? I mean, I like the dragon part because of my tattoo, but Dragonlily? What were these Ooo-menz thinking?”

Sweetheart waddled out of the hutch enclosure into the sunlight. Her white nose and face turned into a large creamy brown body except for another white patch behind her head. Her dark eyes watched Dragonlily’s every move.

“Our Kid Ooo-menz did. And they’re girls – girls rock, you know. And there’s nothing wrong with our names. They’re good names. The Kid Ooo-menz take care of us and you shouldn’t make fun of them. You’re such a mean boy.”

Dragonlily went back to eating grass.

“I’m not making fun of them,” he said between chews, “I’m making fun of our names.”

“Our names are great. Well, mine is great. Yours is, okay,” said Sweetheart.

“Right. And they also call us guin-guin and bun-bun,” said Dragonlily.

“Ha! Bun-bun! That’s funny,” said Sweetheart. “You’re a bun-bun.”

Dragonlily hung his head and his pink and white ears sagged.

“Wow. Thanks, Sweetheart.”

“I’m not your sweetheart.”

Dragonlily sighed. He hopped and ran around the yard, darting from underneath the white hibiscus flowers to behind the Japanese maple tree to the storage shed on the other side of the backyard. Sweetheart munched on a patch of grass pretending not to notice.

Dragonlily darted back to the hutch and then stood on his big back feet and leaned against the hutch. Sweetheart wiggled her bottom and backed up.

“Hey, I really want go to the beach today,” Dragonlily said. “It’s such an amazing day and we’ve never been. Let’s go!”

“The beach? Are you serious?” Sweetheart said.

“Yes, the beach.”

Sweetheart sighed.

“Well, we can’t get out of the backyard, first of all. And second, even if we could, we wouldn’t which way to go and how do we get there. And third, we’re not supposed to leave. Ever. It’s not safe and not allowed.”

Dragonlily shrugged his little rabbit shoulders.

“Not safe? We’ll be fine. Not allowed? They’ll never know if we come and go quickly. And I hear from the sea gulls that there’s some tasty sea grass and other plants for us to munch on. C’mon, our Ooo-menz are gone for a few hours and it’s a perfect time to go on an adventure.”

Sweetheart shook her head and backed her bottom right up against the hutch cage.

“Why would I want to do that? We have no idea how to get there, so how could we come and go quickly? And I’m perfectly happy here. We’re safe here, they take care of us and we have all the grass, hay, fruits and vegetables we could ever want.”

Dragonlily laughed and tilted his head to the right as he stared at her with his big left blue eye outlined in black fur.

“Obviously.”

Sweetheart frowned.

“Are you making fun of my size?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Because I’m the right size for me.”

“Understood.”

“And I’m happy just the way I am.”

“Obviously,” said Dragonlily.

He snickered and pushed on the hutch. He rocked it back and forth with his front paws.

“C’mon, you’re great and I’m great, so let’s go to the beach and do something new! We do the same things every single day. Don’t you want to do something new and fun?”

Sweetheart shook her head.

“And not safe? No, I don’t,” she said.

“Fine,” said Dragonlily.

Dragonlily darted to the back gate. He had tried many times to dig under the fence, but the ground was too hard, like the cement at the bottom of the retaining wall that separated his yard from the upper street behind their house. In fact, any place along the fence where the dirt met the wooden fence was just too difficult to dig under.

Shrink the think, he thought, which was his way trying to figure out the right answer to a big problem.

Shrink the think.

Sweetheart laughed.

“You’re not getting out of here, Dragonlily.”

Shrink the think.

He darted back under the white hibiscus flowers. The ground was moist and softer here. He looked down at his front paws and an earthworm popped its head out of the ground. Or its tail. Dragonlily wasn’t sure.

“What’s up, kids?” it said.

Although Dragonlily couldn’t see the worm’s mouth, if it did have a mouth, he heard its voice, which wasn’t too high or too low.

“What?” was all Dragonlily could say.

“I said, what’s up, kids?”

Sweetheart overheard and called out from behind them.

“Hi, Kes. Dragonlily wants to go to the beach.”

“Kes?”

The worm wriggled out of the ground a little more.

“Yes, Kes. That’s my name. Pleased to meet you, Dragonlily.”

Dragonlily backed up a bit.

“Um, sure. Pleased to meet you – Kes.”

“You kids want to go to the beach today?”

“Not me,” said Sweetheart. “But this crazy guy does.”

Dragonlily nodded. He wasn’t sure if Kes the worm was a boy or a girl, and because he couldn’t figure it out, he really wanted to know.

“Pardon me, Kes, but are you a boy or a girl?”

“Does it matter?” the worm said as it pulled the length of its body out of the ground and wriggled closer to the rabbit.

“No, Kes, it doesn’t,” said Sweetheart, sounding annoyed again.

“So sorry,” Dragonlily said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“No offense taken, just don’t ask me again. I am what I am.”

Dragonlily nodded and then hopped over to the hutch. He still wondered what Kes was.

“You two know each other?” he said.

Sweetheart swallowed a mouthful of grass and nodded.

“Yes, I met Kes in the spring after the last rain we had and our Ooo-menz had put me out in a patch of wet, new grass. It’s a really nice worm. And quite smart as well.”

“Ah, thanks, Sweetheart,” Kes said. “Now, who wants to go to the beach? Dragonlily?”

Dragonlily focused again on how badly he wanted a beach adventure. He hopped and spun in the air like rabbits do when they’re happy.

“Yes! Yes, we do! Can you help us get there?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Sweetheart.

Kes wriggled to the where the shade of the hibiscus flowers stopped and the bright sunlight started.

“Yes, I can get you both to the beach.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sweetheart repeated.

“How?” said Dragonlily.

“A wormhole, of course.”

Dragonlily blinked.

“A what?”

Kes turned the top of its worm body back toward the place where it come up from the ground.

“There. A wormhole. Us worms make wormholes, tunnels through time and space. Like shortcuts. We can travel anywhere we want in a matter of seconds. You didn’t think we just ate dirt and pooped dirt, did you?”

Sweetheart laughed.

“That’s a good one, Kes,” she said.

Kes continued.

“A wormhole is also called an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, but if you’ve never read any theoretical physics, wormhole is easier to remember, of course; consider the source. A wormhole connects extremely long distances like a million light years or more, or even short distances such as a few feet, or down the street, and even time travel between points in time. I could get you to Natural Bridges State Beach down the street in a flash.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if you get us to the beach, we’re in!” said Dragonlily.

“I’m not in,” said Sweetheart.

Dragonlily hopped and spun again. He darted over to the hutch and opened it with his long front teeth.

“C’mon, let’s go to the beach, Sweetheart!”

Sweetheart waddled out from inside the hutch.

“Again, I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

Dragonlily darted behind Sweetheart and shoved her bottom towards the worm.

“C’mon, let’s go! It’ll be fun!”

“I think we’re breaking a safety rule. Actually, many, many safety rules,” she said as she slid closer to Kes and the hibiscus flowers.

“C’mon, the Ooo-menz are gone!”

“You mean humans, don’t you?” Kes said.

“No, the Ooo-menz.”

“Sure,” said Kes and wriggled back to its hole. “Anyway, give me a minute so I can prep the wormhole,” he said. He whispered something at the hole, but Dragonlily and Sweetheart couldn’t hear what it was.

“Has any animal ever gotten hurt going through a wormhole?” Sweetheart said.

Kes shook its body back and forth.

“Not really. I think. As far as I know only worms use wormholes, so this will be a first.”

Dragonlily stopped pushing Sweetheart forward.

“Wait, worms time travel?” he said.

Kes didn’t answer the question. Suddenly a strong wind whipped through the flowers and the hole the worm had come through glowed with swirling tiny bright white stars and opened a few inches bigger than the small hole it was.

“Okay, jump through,” Kes said.

“Jump where?” said Dragonlily. “That’s not big enough for me. And it’s certainly not big enough for her.”

“Hey, watch it, bub,” said Sweetheart.

“Sorry,” said Dragonlily.

Kes wriggled away from the swirling, lit up hole.

“It’s big enough. Just jump through,” Kes said.

“Are you sure?” said Dragonlily.

“I’m sure.”

“I’m not going any—”

But Sweetheart couldn’t finish her sentence. Dragonlily shoved her hard again from behind and they both headed straight for the swirling hole.

Kes called out to them as they slid into the hole.

“Have fun! And oh, don’t forget – you have to find the Monarch Wormhole Station to get back home. And say Home Station when you find it. If you don’t, you may end anywhere or any time!”

Then the wormhole closed up and Kes wriggled away. The worm dug into another moist spot in the dirt and disappeared.

And Sweetheart and Dragonlily were gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Creativelocity

She kept adding things to it. Gummy bears and other little colorful creatures having some kind of elaborate yet fun party around, inside and atop a glass mug full of ice cream, cookies and other sweets in general.

Then there was the back page of her artistic creation, with a pair of eyes peering out from some darkness asking:

Hello, is this the party?

And then one of the other gummy creatures responding:

The party is over here, Jeff.

I’m sorry, what?

This was our oldest daughter’s entry in the Downtown Santa Cruz Association ice cream month coloring contest. Both our girls entered. We assumed there’d be dozens of kids that would submit their entries as well.

The winner would win ice cream every week for one year from these local ice cream and cookie shops: The Penny Ice Creamery, Mission Hill Creamery, Pacific Cookie Company, Marini’s Candies and Coldstone Creamery. The girls were so excited about coloring their respective pages and turning them in – and dreaming of all the super yummy ice cream.

Beatrice’s idea was a to color in an fantastical world of gummy bears having a fun party. She felt pretty good about her final submission, as did Bryce. We told both girls that they each had a shot, but in the end, only one person would win. Maybe it would be one of them, or maybe not.

Two weeks later after they submitted on the deadline, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) received an email stating that out of over 50 different submissions, Beatrice had won the contest.

A whole bunch of tasty ice cream every week for a year. Wow.

Bryce was bummed at first, until we reminded her that we’d all be benefiting from the sweet win. Beatrice beamed when the Mama told her; we were all so proud! She told the Mama she purposely added a lot of creative detail to her picture to make it a story, and that she visualized winning, something she hears from us all the time. In fact, at the bottom of the coloring sheet where it listed the URL DownTownSantaCruz.com, she crossed out the .com and wrote “Thank you” above it and below it “for making this happen.”

Accessing the creative energy of the universe, the inspired spiritual economy of reciprocity. Put it out there, and get it back. Right on, Bea.

She may be struggling in math, but we definitely encourage her and her sister to stoke their creative fires. They’re both always drawing and coloring and building and crafting and experimenting, and for Bea now, writing stories and comic books. We burn through reams of paper. We recycle a lot of paper and keep it for them to use, and yet, when they burn through that, they’re digging into our home printer and creating more stuff with the good paper.

So that’s why the Mama keeps them stocked up with the paper and pencils and pens and marking pens and paints and glue and a myriad of other stuff that keeps them designing at the speed of imagination, a creative velocity of colliding atoms that generates an innovative gravity too many of us lose in adulthood. And like physics, its messy yet intentional and smooshed together, this creativelocity, this coloring of inside and outside the lines and even the spaces in between – to find patterns and insights and stories where none were before. Maybe someday they’ll help solve the world’s problems, or at the very least, keep their souls nurtured and their sanity in check.

Either way the gummy bear party is over here, baby, where the sweets couldn’t be any more divine.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Of Consent and Love

She's already been married three times to the same boy. Received a wedding ring from him. Kissed him at school. Had his baby whose name keeps changing.

And she's only seven years old.

Of course, it's fairly innocent and all in due course of growing up. Not all kids are interested in marriage and kids as a kid; Beatrice certainly isn't. But Bryce, our youngest, she's got that maternal kid thing going on. Has always been interested in babies. Which may or may not be a good or bad thing. At least, not until she's a teenager.

Ugh.

However, we keep it real with the girls no matter what. Having age-appropriate conversations with them about life and love is very important.

One night at dinner, babies came up again during family discussion time. My niece is having her first baby soon, and we had just gone to her baby shower. The girls were very curious about babies again and how girls get pregnant, how the baby grows in the belly, all the baby things.

"Do you know how babies are made?" the Mama said (what I lovingly call my wife).

"You have to kiss a boy," Beatrice said.

"Well, there's more to it than that. Boys and girls have parts that fit together. Do you know what they are?"

The Mama has already had these discussions with them, and we both use the actual words for what the parts are when we need to reference them, not cutesy made-up words that are easier for nervous adults to handle than their kids.

"The penis and vagina," Bea said.

Both girls frowned. The conversation continued and I started to sweat. Not because I was uncomfortable with the content, but because I always remember the context of my early education when my mom kept it real with me.

I was six or seven. He was seven or eight, a neighborhood kid, a friend of sorts, one who led and I followed. There was a little girl in the neighborhood, around four and still in diapers, or some early iteration of pull-ups.

I was extremely uncomfortable because he wanted the little girl to pull her pull-ups down. I knew it was wrong, felt it was wrong, and yet and I didn't do anything. She looked scared. I looked away. She pulled it down and he laughed. We didn't touch her or hurt her.

My mom had watched the whole thing from our dining room window and immediately came outside to make us apologize to the little girl. She sent the boy away and told the little girl to go home (she lived next door), who ran away crying (I don't remember if she talked with the parents of the girl or not, but nothing ever came of it).

She then took me inside and began to explain to me the differences between boys and girls, what a vagina was and what a penis was and what happens with sex and why it was so wrong to do what we did. Why I needed to respect women and never force anything upon them that they didn't want to do, to never hurt them or belittle them in any way. I was mortified, but she made me look her in the eyes and promise.

Now that the Mama and I have children, and since we've been involved in Kidpower, we've reiterated more than once with the girls a key Kidpower safety tenet, that people shouldn't touch your private areas or ask to touch them, or to show you pictures, movies or videos of their private areas. That sometimes adults have to touch for health and safety, and in those situations, it's never a secret.

Keeping it real can also be very poignant and sweet, and watching the girls touch my niece's belly with her growing baby inside reminded me of when our girls were growing inside the Mama. Our children need to understand the how and why of sex and babies, and the long-term context and commitment of consent and love.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Getting Busy with the Bliss

"The night has a thousand saxophones
So get out there and rock
And roll the bones
Get busy!"

—Rush, Roll the Bones

I just wanted to stay home for the afternoon. To work in the yard and get dirty and sweaty. To zen with our little rectangle of backyard earth. I'd been hopping and bopping and traveling so much again, that I just longed for a Saturday at home with some rock and roll streaming from my iPhone. And then play some games with the family and barbecue hamburgers.

But even that was already partly a bust, since I'd agreed to a Saturday midday meeting to continue the planning of the Transforming Together event coming in October. Important to me, though, so all good.

So the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) took the girls to the grocery store. However, earlier she found out about family fun day put on by the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation. Fun games for kids and adults and then swimming and more!

Sigh. I love my wife so much, and yet she's infamous for lining up a multitude of things for all us to do, like planes waiting to take off at Chicago O'Hare during thunderstorms. How can we do all the things in one day! (Smiley face)

"You can stay home and work in the yard if you want," she said.

"C'mon, Dad," said the girls, like little wayward waifs longing for affection. "We're going to go swimming!"

That was in the morning, and at first I was going to pass; sometimes we do things separately, and that's okay. But I've found myself more and more wanting to be with my family when we can. I work enough as it is -- both the Mama and I do (and that includes "taking care of the kids" work) -- and the mindful presence of being with family, whether a Saturday afternoon swimming, eating meals together, or reading stories together at bedtime, all these moments fill our hearts full of joy and love (as long as no one is whining).

Plus, it may all change as the girls get older, there may be fewer moments of togetherness (or maybe there will be more or less the same; we can only hope), which is why I need to be present in every interaction with my family.

That's a tall order, especially when I want to do things like write these articles on Sunday mornings, while my family interacts around me. But that's okay. There are things that the Mama and I need to do without total family immersion, like work and home stuff that need to get done no matter what, and other important activities that fulfill our needs and our desired designs (writing, working out, reading, etc.).

And recently the Mama and I have been meditating together to the Oprah and Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience, Energy of Attraction. Make fun if you want, but damn we're really digging it. Super centering. The latest "centering thought" on day 7 is: My deepest desire is for completeness. The meditation mantra is: Ananda Hum - I am pure bliss.

That validated Saturday, where I acquiesced to going to family fun day event through the horrid Saturday afternoon traffic of going only a few miles. The benefits of living in a vacation town, I thought as we ground to a halt near the Beach Boardwalk. A car ahead of us pulled into the other lane and boogied to the stoplight to get past all the beach traffic. No one was in the oncoming lane, but it was still a bold move.

"Sweetie, do that so we can get past this," the Mama said.

"No way -- that's a big friggin' ticket if we get popped."

"C'mon Dad," said the girls, "Just do it. No one's coming."

"No way."

Another five minutes went by and we hadn't moved.

"C'mon Dad! Do it!"

Talk about pure pressure. So I did it.

"Woo-hoo!"

Kids, don't try this at home. When we got to the family fun day (safely), the day was glorious, blue sky and warm weather, and there was lots of fun games for the kids and swimming for us all -- and then big Yahtzee. Literally five big dice and dry erase scorecards to play the game. 

So while the girls ran around and played their games (including running at each other in blow up bubble suits, something we did as well), we played the big Yahtzee. We rolled the colorful bones, we laughed and we got busy with the bliss. 

And she beat me, but who's keeping score?


Monday, July 23, 2018

With Grit and Gumption

I loved math; I cheated at math.

It was third grade. Our teacher, Ms. Evans, a small, frail woman with rheumatoid arthritis and a really big heart (and really smart), would give us speed math quizzes every week in class. She'd had out a sheet of addition, subtraction or multiplication math problems that we'd have a few minutes to complete (I don't remember exactly how long).

We completed the speed math tests at our own desks and I used my plastic purple file folder as a privacy shield. My goal was to convince the teacher and my classmates that I didn't want any body cheating off my answers. I usually won the speed tests finishing first with impeccable accuracy and longed for the praised lauded on me each week.

But what I actually used the purple file folder for was to conceal the fact that I started answering the math problems before Ms. Evans told us to "start". Always at least a 2-3 minute jump, and always I'd finish first. I craved the praise and the approval. And the more I craved, the more I kept cheating on the math tests.

Now, why I thought my teacher, or some of my classmates even, didn't see what I was doing was the foolish self-deception of a 3rd grader. I'm sure my teacher knew. Maybe she just wanted me to build by confidence, although today behavioral economics point out that low-level, incremental cheating is a slippery slope to a much bigger negative economic impact over time. Thank goodness for me it was short-lived. I was good at math and didn't need to cheat (for acceptance and approval and status).

Decades later, our girls have learned a different math than the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and me learned back in our day. They've learned the "new math" -- the Eureka Math -- the math where you group instead of carrying the numbers.

Bryce does okay with the new math, but Beatrice has struggled, especially when it comes to word problems, related to her reading delays. Neither seem to have the same acceptance/approval issues I did -- I'd argue primarily because when my sister and I were that age, our home life was pretty unstable due to an abusive deadbeat dad who rarely gave us supportive love (although our mother did -- the best she could considering the circumstances), while today our girls have a very stable family environment with the Mama and me.

With Beatrice, too much academic pressure shuts her down like someone flipped off her motivation switch. It stresses her out to be tested in school, especially with both reading comprehension and math, and she struggles to finish those tests with timeliness and accuracy. So it's not apathy, it's more fear and frustration than anything. Interestingly, science, art, music and related social activities she thrives in.

The Mama has done an admirable job of keeping both girls reading and practicing math during the summer and it does help (Bryce has needed a little bit of help as well). I help as much as I can and it does make a difference working with the girls and encouraging them to learn. No matter how much they protest when it's time to "get to work."

Last year during the school year we had math night at school featuring instructors and creative exercises from an organization called Mathnasium. They both loved it and the Mama thought we'd give it a go this summer for Beatrice to take classes from Mathnasium and I concurred.

At first she was livid that we were going to make her take the classes. But once she made it through the first class and realized the fun she could have by earning rewards from the program as she learning and progressed, she's pushing herself more and less resistant to her own shortcomings.

And that's what we wanted -- for Bea to build more self-confidence incrementally, to challenge herself more and more to learn and not shut down if she's overwhelmed and stressed, even if subjects like math and reading comprehension could be continuous struggles for her.

Because it's only going to get harder, and we want them both to be able to adapt and thrive with grit and gumption in more ways than we ever dreamed growing up, without compromising their values or integrity along the way. Because that's what #BhivePower is all about.

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.