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, June 17, 2018

The Wonder Never Fades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 10, 2018

To Keep Our Souls Above Water

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

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

"Kevin, Brian killed himself."

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

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

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

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

And not caring either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Riding a Bike on Your Feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't let go," she said.

"I won't."

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

"Dad, why is it so hot?"

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

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

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

"Yes, I do."

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

"Yes."

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

"Yes."

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

"Okay."


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

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

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

"Yes, I do."

"Great!"

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