Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Highest Level of Special

“I like your shirt.”

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

“Thank you,” I said.

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

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

He smirked and I smiled.

“No, just the positive side,” I said.

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

“Why not you?”

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

I smiled. “Oh, but it could be.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

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

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

“The highest level of special.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Transforming Together
I’m far from perfect, a work in progress. And yet I know there are many other men and fathers like me who want to be a part of the solution, to work together with women to transform their communities and shift gender stereotypes, end rape culture and deconstruct the patriarchy. That’s just what we’re attempting to do in Santa Cruz with the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), holding a one-day awareness and prevention conference called Transforming Together on Saturday, October 6, 2018, at the Louden Nelson Community Center.

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


Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Perfect Day, Right Here

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

–Traveling Wilburys, Handle with Care


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Got it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we going to go soon?” Bea asked.

“Yes, very soon.”

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

“Jesus,” I said aloud.

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

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Hopefully we’ll leave soon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s diabetes?” Beatrice asked me.

I explained it to her the best I could.

“Will the man die?”

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

“Will I catch diabetes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know, but still.”

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


Sunday, July 1, 2018

These Go Fish Times

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

–Peter Frampton, I'm in You


“Does anybody have a 10?”

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

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

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

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

“Mom, do you have a 2?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Yes! A match!”

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

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

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

“Supposed to be four.”

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

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

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

“Yep, that part I get.”

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

“Go fish, baby!”

“Ahhh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does anybody have a 4?”

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

“Ahhh! Whaaa!”

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