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 30, 2018

What We Get

I recognized the jacket immediately. We walked onto the lower field at school for our Saturday soccer scrimmage, and there it was, right next to another sweatshirt I didn't recognize.

"Bryce," I said. "Is that your pink jacket?"

Bryce stopped and bent down. "Yes, it's mine."

"And who's sweatshirt is that?"

"My friend's."

"Why is your jacket here on the field?"

"Because she forgot it, Dad. Why do you think?" said Beatrice.

Good answer smarty pants, I thought.

"Yes, sorry. It was an accident; I forgot it," Bryce said.

I picked up her pink jacket. It was soaking wet from being outside all night on the grass. I carried it over to where we dumped our equipment to start our soccer scrimmage between Bryce's team and Beatrice's team.

"Mommy's not going to be happy about this," I said.

"She said it was an accident, Dad. She's just a kid, you know," said Beatrice.

"Yes, I know," I said. "Thank you, Beatrice."

Beatrice has certainly found her voice at 10 years old. Although, so has Bryce at eight. And actually, they had already found their voices at a much earlier age than this. Which is great, because we want them to be confident, to set their boundaries and to be clear about how they feel. Now that Beatrice is in the pre-tween shadows, that can get a little too sarcastic at times, and we have to curb that with her, but overall they're both forthright and self-assured. And we encourage that.

During the scrimmage, Bryce fought playing and complained that she was hot and tired. I did what I do with any of our players who act like they don't want to play -- I said simply, if you don't want to play, please go sit on the sidelines and take a break.

If they don't really want to play in that moment, that's what I have them do; one of our other team members did that towards the end of our scrimmage. But Bryce did want to play, and kept on fighting with herself about it, and me, and in the end stayed in the scrimmage game, still complaining the whole time.

On the way home from the scrimmage, I pointed this out to Bryce, about being a team player and how attitude is a big part of playing any sport -- and I also reminded her about not leaving her things on the grass at school.

"That's what you get for having an eight-year-old," Bryce said, laughing.

"Yeah, Dad. That's what you get for having kids," said Beatrice, laughing.

"I know, I know girls," I said, laughing.

And yet, what we get is so much more than that; we get the future. They are our future leaders and captains of industry and sports figures, the future of our communities near and far, whatever they do and wherever they end up. And while some will struggle along their paths, we can only hope for the best as they grow older, guiding them as best we can as they do. I thought about all this when we had with some of our friends and their kids over for a little get together recently. I thought about this during our annual back-to-school barbecue, where I got to help out and play emcee, where hundreds of kids and their parents interacting positively with each other and having fun. Each of our lives so different than the other, no matter the shared values, and yet, the very nature of our shared values, our children, are ultimately all that matters the most in our collective worlds.

What we get is so much more, and in a world so divided today, and seemingly getting more so every day, it's up to us invest wisely.

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?!?"