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, October 28, 2018

How You Play the Game

"I got this feeling, 
I can't keep it down anymore
Bring me some healing,
Saint Cecilia, carry me home 
to your house of broken bones..."

–Foo Fighters, Saint Cecilia

Bryce, our youngest, trailed behind me eating her post-game popsicle. We headed to our car after another soccer game of full of injuries, tears and run-up scores. On us. Again.

We got in the car and drove to meet up with the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and Beatrice, our oldest. Bea had her game earlier, which we watched until we had to leave for our game.

"Bryce, you hustled today. Good job. It's so much fun watching you weaving in and out of those players while you dribble the ball up the field. Do you have fun while you're playing?"

"Yes, I do," she said. "Most of the time."

"When is it not fun?"

"When everyone is sad and the other team keeps scoring."

"Yep, I know. Some of those teams and bigger and older and more experienced than us."

"Yes, and sometimes they kick the ball really hard," Bryce said. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror and saw her grab her upper chest where a ball had hit her full force earlier in the game.

"Does it still hurt?"

"No," she said. "I'm okay."

We drove in silence for a few more minutes, and then I thought, Well, we can't do anything about the way the teams were put together, but at least most of our girls hustle most of the time.

"Bryce, thank you for playing. It's been fun being your coach. Only three more games left, so hang in there. Love you."

"Love you too, Daddy."

This is the fourth year I've coached recreational soccer -- the first three years I coached Beatrice's teams and this year I'm coaching Bryce's U10 team. They're a great group of girls, some of whom have played before, and many others who have not. Each year my goal is for the girls to learn some skills and improve their dribbling, passing, defending and scoring. To learn a basic understanding of the game and how to play together as a team. And to have fun.

That's been the harder part, though. The part about having fun. We tell them we want them to have fun, and then most of the other teams this year are bigger and more physical and more organized and score on us over and over again. The old sports cliche of "it's not whether you win or lose -- it's how you play the game" sours quickly when you're getting pummeled. I see it in their hot and tired faces every week, and I feel it as their coach, as does my assistant coach, the parents who help and all their parents who come out each week to watch.

We know it gets tough when the other team keeps scoring, but most of our girls hustle hard most of the time, and that’s all we can ask. We keep trying different drills and creative tactics to keep them growing and moving, and the parent encouragement certainly helps.

The reality is only some of the girls will go on to playing competitive soccer and many others will grow up and do other things, maybe fondly remembering the year or two they played soccer, or maybe not.

During this particular game, the one referenced above, the girl I had playing goalie the first part of the half was getting scored on, and what I didn't know was how upset she got because of it. Her dad had walked over to give me the heads up, that it was my call if I wanted to sub her out, and that's what I did. I put Bryce in as goalie for the rest of the half, a position she's enjoyed playing.

The girl who had been playing goalie came off the field with tears streaming down her face. Her voice cracked and she struggled for breath because of her intense crying.

"I let the team down," she said over and over again. "I let the team down. I'm sorry."

We told her she did not, that she worked hard out there and did her best. She settled down and then I got her back out there. Later in the game, the same girl got tripped up by the other team and went down hard. Everyone took a knee and I ran out on the field. I got her to stand up and she favored her right ankle, so I tried to maneuver her so her arm was around my neck and I could walk her off. But it didn't work, so I just picked her up and carried her off the field.

But I'm nobody's hero; all I could think about as I carried her off was how I had let the team down. That my focus on having fun wasn't serving them well. That maybe we should've practiced more. Drilled more. Played the best girls at their strength positions instead of rotating them to play both offense and defense to learn the game. That I shouldn't have missed those two games when I ran the local event and then had to travel for work.

Except, these girls are 8 and 9 years old, and this is recreational soccer. The crush of competitive life will come soon enough, so I shook off my self-doubt and finished the game with pride, even with witnessing yet again their hot and tired faces. I grounded myself in the reasons I've volunteered to do this year after year: to coach my own girls and to teach all of the team members a basic understanding of the game and how to play together as a team.

And to have fun. At least a little fun.

After the game I got a note from one of the parents that read:

You're doing a great job, and the kids are doing a great job!  They are really having fun together, they have good team spirit, they never give up, and they are all learning and improving! I know it's been challenging to get lined up quite a few teams that seem to be composed of quite a few older and/more experienced players than our group, but you keep things very positive for the kids and all of us. We are super lucky to have you!

I needed that. I'm not ashamed to say that I really, really needed that. I don't know if either of our girls will play again next year, or if I'll coach again, but we're all going to finish out this year strong as a team, tears and all. Winning is great, the competitive side of me knows that all too painfully well. But in the end, it is how you play the game. Not how it plays you.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Manifest the Goods

"Out of sync
With the rhythm of my own reactions
With the things that last
And the things that come apart..."

–Rush, Secret Touch

I just wanted to get ahead of the growing mediocrity in my head and get home to my family. That old nagging voice of self-doubt and mistakes made that had already tainted my confidence going in to the recent work travel and the events I helped organize. The Transforming Together triggered ghosts of the past. The CandE Awards event triggered pressures of the present. And the unknown of the future was, well, unknown. I was tired, fighting the remnants of a cold, still afraid of the infections I had the year before, repeatedly second-guessing myself and feeling the catatonic shadows of a light depression. Even after a great family wedding in between, I still felt overwhelmingly blah and meh.

All I could hear was my wife, the Mama (what I lovingly call her), telling me we manifest the moment; we manifest the good.

However, I only manifested the blah and meh.

And then on the six-hour flight home, I watched Dead Pool 2, and Ryan Reynolds made it all better. Really, I was laugh-crying at highly inappropriate joke after highly inappropriate joke and horrific comic-book violence. Sometimes you need a little of this to fix a little of that. This is a no-judgement zone, so no judging.

When I finally got home, I couldn’t wait to peek in at our girls, give my wife a kiss and go to bed. It was late, nearly midnight, and as I put the key in the lock and unlocked the deadbolt, I felt the mediocrity fall away like old skin. I sighed and opened the front door.

But it wouldn’t open. What the hell? I thought.

Then it hit me – we have a bolt on the other side of the door that was also locked. One that I couldn’t get to from this side of the door. The Mama knew I was coming home, and she had left on the porch light, and knew not to set our alarm or push the other bolt in. But she must’ve forgotten the bolt. And if the alarm was on the nighttime setting, the whole friggin’ neighborhood was going to wake up.

Dammit, Sweetie.

Okay, now what? I could get in the garage, but the door from the garage to my office was locked and for the life of me I couldn’t remember where the key was.

Now what? I could break the bolt and risk damaging the front door and still setting the alarm off if it was set.

I stood for a few minutes and realized I just have to wake up the Mama. Hopefully not the girls either, but I needed to get in the house.

So, I rang the doorbell. Once, twice and then a third time.

Nothing. I could only hear our bunny Dragonlily rattling his cage inside from hearing the doorbell. We have one of those surveillance video doorbells, so I hoped that the Mama woke up and checked to see that it was me.

Nothing. I tried to ring it a fourth time, but it didn’t light up and ring like it’s supposed to do.

What the hell?

I pushed the doorbell multiple times and nothing. You’ve got to be kidding me, it’s broken? Now?

I went into the garage to put my bags in there and then tried to find the other key I needed to get in through my office, but had no such luck. I closed the garage and went back to the front door. The night outside was cool and quiet and freaked me out a little, adding to my uneasy feeling of being strung out already. I knew the worst-case scenario was that I could sleep in the garage, but dammit, I wanted to sleep in my bed!

I started knocking on the door, increasing the volume a little with each knock. I waited. And nothing. I did this for another few minutes, knocking and waiting – and nothing. If the girls had heard, then they were minding our safety rule of not going to the front door, especially this late at night.

However, I actually did have another alternative besides sleeping in the garage. That was going around the other side of our house and through our back gate into our backyard. I didn’t want to go that way because the gate was locked (I had that friggin' key least) and we have a big swing chair in front of it.

That was my last shot to get in, though. I walked around to the side gate and was immediately blinded by our motion detector lights. I tried to unlock the gate, but I couldn’t get the right angle, so I stacked up our side yard flagstone to stand on. That worked, and I unlocked the gate, but then had a hard time pushing swing chair out of the way to the get the gate open far enough for me to get through. Plus, we have these makeshift boards set up at the bottom of the gate to prevent our rabbit from getting out.

My neighbors are going to call the friggin’ police on me if they hear and/or see this, I thought.

No one did thankfully, and I finally got into the backyard and into the house through the back door. The alarm wasn’t on either. Thank God.

Amen. I was home. I peeked in at girls. I gave the Mama a kiss. And I went to bed. While I dozed off into an exhausted sleep, I realized I left the growing mediocrity at the door and basked in the presence of my family to move forward – that there was no other way to grapple with the past, the present and the future. That we do manifest our moments and we manifest the goods. And that's treasure worth fighting the ghosts over.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I Believe

"An idea
(I will find a way)
Like a hurt
Like an outrage
(To keep this moment for myself)
Like a sunrise
Like a monster
(I will find a way)
Like a monster
Like a mantra
Like a mantra..."

Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor, Mantra 

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

That's when everything slowed way down, just like in a dramatic movie moment. Except it wasn't. It was real. Actually, surreal, and the alcohol we'd consumed blunted all color and sound. We started toward each other, my friends immediately surrounding me like a protective wedge. They moved me along but I still got within inches of him.

We threatened to kill each other, and I reached for him, only to be stopped by one of my friends. Seconds later we were out the door.

I looked back while they moved me onward toward our cars, telling me to chill out and it'll be all right, but I didn't see him. And I never saw him again -- this horrible and mentally unstable man who had been our first step-father when I was 9 to 12 years old, the man who abused my mother and tried to kill her, who emotionally abused my sister and I, and who sexually abused me. My mother was also pretty sure that he killed his previous wife as well. All this happening during the same time the Visalia Ransacker (Golden State Killer) had stalked my hometown and had broken into our garage. And all this after growing up with alcoholism and domestic violence with our birth father.

When I had finally told my family about what had happened to me, nearly a decade had passed. Although it was too late to file any charges, my mother reported him to child protective services, just in case he had another family in his crazy stranglehold again. Shortly after I told them, we were out as a family for my 21st birthday at a restaurant, and sitting at the bar all alone was him. My mother didn't hesitate and charged the bar. My sister followed. I sat frozen in my seat with my dad (second step dad and the man I'll always call my father).

We watched as my sister and mother confronted him. My mother screamed at him and my sister threw a drink in his face. My dad and I didn't move. The restaurant asked us all to leave, which we did, and then my sister and I went out with our friends to the bar where the above confrontation happened.

I wanted to kill him for everything he did to us. I'll never know if I could've done it, because I never saw him again. At some point years and years later, he passed away. But I finally told my truth, even though it took 10 years, and I was believed.

However, even if I would've said something when I was 10 or 11 years old, he was charismatic and controlling and probably would've covered it all up readily. Maybe my mother and sister would've believe me, considering what they were going through, but I just don't know about law enforcement or anyone else. With our birth father, there was physical evidence of domestic violence, but with this man, there was none. He was careful and made it seem like it was normal behavior, and anything abnormal no one would believe, especially when it came to me and my sister. Even when he was threatening to kill my mother, and once when he poisoned her making her extremely ill, there was never any physical evidence.

All of these memories were triggered during the Transforming Together conference I helped organize locally. It was a day full of speakers and sessions around domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention. It was an amazing and inspiring day, even in the shadow of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation.

As I've written before, according to RAINN and the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 60 percent of sexual assault perpetrators are white (probably higher) and mostly male. There continue to be too many angry white men and boys in American society, encouraged to repress their feelings and humanity, something I grew up fighting against and continue to, while patriarchy continues to fuel it. If you haven't seen The Mask You Live In, I highly recommend it. The documentary follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Judy Chu Ed.D., Affiliated Faculty in Human Biology at Stanford University and author of When Boys Become Boys (NYU Press, 2014), was featured in the documentary and was also one of our keynotes at our local conference.

And yet, even with the community strength we received during our conference on making a difference, something broke me later on that evening -- seeing people I know, some of them women, posting internet memes like "Believe Women Evidence" and sharing related sentiments in other posts. Politicizing and victimizing the victims of sexual assaults and casting doubt on survivors' truths. It's hard enough for victims to report these crimes due to fear and shame and a myriad of other ostracizing fallout, including not being believed. This is bigger than the divisive political polarization that keeps consuming us. There's just so much more at stake for our children's well being and what happens to them and by them as adults.

I didn't have any evidence when it happened to me, but my mantra is clear and definitive: I believe survivors; I am a survivor.