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, May 12, 2019

Our Fairy Daughter-Mother

"If we go down then we go down together
We'll get away with everything
Let's show them we are better..."

-The Chainsmokers, Paris

We couldn't wait to fly to Paris. No kids, no jobs, no other responsibilities other than our pets that would be taken care of by both our parents. We'd be gone for nearly two months, traveling through Europe, stopping along the way in Internet cafes to email our families about our trip.

At the time, we were never going to have children, and our families, especially mine, didn't understand why. We were seen as selfish for not wanting children, causing a low-level reciprocal resentment between us and my family.

And we were selfish about our lives -- because they were our lives -- and we lived them exactly how we wanted to live them. Unapologetically. Although, my familial guilt nagged at me a lot more than my wife, Amy.

It would be years and a lot of other interrelated family drama later before we changed our minds about having children. Our choice. Our terms. Our love evolving into our own blossoming family, with Beatrice first, followed by Bryce nearly two years later. Some of our past family frozen tundra thawed, and life moved on with various family gatherings here and there, holidays and other days throughout the year.

Even more interrelated family drama later we've made a concerted effort to see and speak with much of our families throughout the year whenever we can. And the "we" in this equation is really singular, the fact that families tend to have specific individuals, usually female, the moms in my experience, who stay connected with extended family, wherever they are in the world. My mom prided herself in doing that until she died, always ensuring loving communication with even the most distant members on birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries -- the endless mesh of life events from childhood to the elder years.

My sister continues to carry some of this responsibility, as does my wife, much more so than me. In fact, I've never really been very good at keeping in touch with extended family over time. It's not that I don't care, I do. It's just that I default to the moms in my life, especially my wife who keeps our extended family fires burning. It's been easier that way. Sadly I am that lazy gender stereotype at times who, in his head, claims to be too busy to do the outreach work.

And yet, there's a new champion in our family for family, one that came on unexpectedly, especially since she doesn't see our families that much, but is always asking about them, always wanting to see them and/or talk with them via iPad, phone, text or in person when possible. That's our oldest, Beatrice. Bryce loves to see family too, but she's too much like her dad, the occasional grumpster who doesn't always want to see or talk with folks, who's too "busy", and who defaults to the Mama to manage all that stuff.

Beatrice -- a caring, compassionate child. An empathic old soul. Our fairy daughter-mother who wants us to be better as a family for our family.

Happy Mother's Day to you, my child.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Building Blocks of the Brave

"My true self is always grateful."

-Deepak Chopra, A Centering Thought Meditation

She changed her mind about the trombone. She played it all year in 4th grade beginning band, and although she didn't practice as much as we wanted, she learned to read music and really seemed to enjoy it.

Our oldest daughter, Beatrice, is a creative visual and auditory learner and has an excellent musical ear and mind, and while she's struggled with reading and math, the music has helped her overall well-being and self-confidence (but science is conflicted on this one as it relates to transferable skill across subjects).

She's also been learning how to play the recorder in music class and really enjoys that even more. She's been proud of her recorder progress, getting different color belts (strings) for every song she masters in class and tying them to her recorder. In fact, it's motivated her to want to learn another instrument -- the flute. Both instruments are similar in how they're played with the fingers, yet held differently and how you blow your air to make it play.

And unlike the trombone that plays mostly the back-beat and never the melody, the recorder and flute do play more the melody. We're not sure if that's why she wants to play the flute, but we support it no matter what to keep her in music. However, she's conflicted about having to play in beginning band again.

Her idea is that, if she practices over the summer, she could go into intermediate band in the fall. We encouraged her to ask her music teacher about the process and what it would take. She didn't want to do that initially, feeling anxious about approaching her. Instead, she wanted her mom to send an email. But we kept encouraging her to pitch her music teacher her idea, until she actually did it. Most of it, at least. She didn't ask about if she practiced over the summer, could she play flute. She just asked if she could switch to the flute instead.

The music teacher responded that, if Beatrice passed the beginning flute milestones, she could eventually move to intermediate band. Not exactly what Beatrice wanted to hear, but she asked for part of what she wanted to with a clear idea, and we couldn't have been more proud. She definitely wants to play the flute and will hopefully practice over the summer no matter what happens (as well as take piano lessons -- something else she wants to do).

Our youngest, Bryce, on the other hand, is a doer without a lot of encouragement. We went to a family wedding recently where at the reception there was a table set up with a guest book to sign and a Polaroid camera to take pictures with. The directions were that each of the wedding guests sign the book with a Sharpie pen color of choice, then have someone take a Polaroid picture and paste the picture in the guest book. There were also fun picture accessories to hold up like cute big glasses to use in the picture taking.

At first, Bryce and Beatrice had fun taking a pictures of each other, and then we all sat down at a table next to my sister and her boyfriend to eat. Beatrice joined us, but Bryce did not. I looked up and saw that she had co-opted the guest book / picture table, welcoming guests and explaining to each one what to do.

We got busy talking to one another, and when I looked up again, Bryce was managing the whole welcoming affair. Not only did she explain what guests needed to do, she took the pictures, waited until they developed, and then pasted them in the book. I even saw her direct guests to the remaining empty seats at the tables.

The guests were thanking her, the bride and groom were thanking her, and she while she enjoyed the kudos, she never lost sight of her adopted task. Even after all the guests had arrived and were seated, Bryce continued to hang out at the registration table, tidying up and checking in with passersby if they had signed the guest book and had their picture taken.

In the end, they were both still kids, and as the reception went on, the grown-up stuff got old and the iPads came out. They hung in there, though. We were so proud, not only because of how they handled themselves at the wedding as our children, but because of the confidence we encourage them and empower them to have; to be building blocks of the brave people they'll someday become. To put themselves out there and being vulnerable knowing that expectation doesn't always align with reality (more painful yet powerful positive lessons to come as they traverse adolescence into adulthood). We're so grateful for who they are and their potential true selves they've already started to embody.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

He Said Cornhole

I never said it wasn't fun. I just asked why it was such a competitive sport. Especially after a recent work trip where, while sitting at the bar eating after a long flight, I witnessed a bean bag toss tournament being broadcast on ESPN, a major cable sports channel.

And had no idea it was called cornhole [snort and laughter] -- complete with the American Cornhole Association and the American Cornhole Organization and the American Cornhole League.

Wow. It's bean bag toss. A game you play at family parties, children's carnivals or to keep your kids busy at breweries while you're tasting beer. I had no idea that the modern game of cornhole, known more commonly as bean bags or just bags in the Chicago area, was likely spread after an article on how to make the boards was published in Popular Mechanics magazine in September 1974. The game spread in Chicago, Illinois, and the Northwest region of Indiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Again, I never said it wasn't fun. It is. And it's competitive as well, like many fun family games can be. It reminds me of growing up playing horseshoes with my grandfather and how much I got into the game. He taught me how to toss in a way that ensured the closest landing to the post. And then of course there's the sweet ringing sound of the ringer. It's the same metaphorical sound with bean bag toss when you hit one of the open holds. 

Right on.

But I have to fast forward, because the game of bean bag toss (i.e., cornhole) wasn't the point of why it even came up in conversation in the first place between me and my wife, Amy. She was researching possible day and weekly camps for both our girls for the summer and reading off options to our youngest, Bryce. Our oldest, Beatrice, was at a friend's house for a sleepover. 

Every camp offering Amy read out loud to Bryce she said no to, except for the theater camp. The girls have been in multiple after-school theater productions and have had a lot of fun doing them. In their latest production, Charlotte's Web, Beatrice played the role of Charlotte and Bryce played multiple roles including the sheep and a baby spider. 

Camps ain't cheap, though, especially when looking at weekly rates. Figuring out the most best bang for our buck, and for the children's time and infotainment, isn't easy. We're balancing our work schedules and budget with the kids' summer vacation and all that time off when they're home. Many parents struggle with this every summer, and yet not all parents have the means to send their kids to even a day camp. We do, but again picking these most cost-effective, learning-effective, engaging and fun camps for our kids is overwhelming to say the least. 

And then we were back to reading the local summer camp catalogue, when Amy came across pickleball (which is also apparently quite big as a competitive sport): 

"What is pickleball? Nobody plays pickleball," said Amy.

"I have no idea. Did you know that bean bag toss is a competitive sport?" I said.

She didn't respond.

"No, really. It's actually called cornhole, or cornholing," I said.

[laughter then a snort]

"That's what it's called."

[more laughter and a snort]

"What is this, Beavis and Butt-Head?"

[snort and laughter]

For those who've never watched the old MTV Beavis and Butt-Head, a highly inappropriate cartoon for kids featuring two teenage boys who like to rock out and who laugh at anything that sounds sexual. Anything and everything. Kind of like my teenage years. Or, wait, that was my friends' teenage years, not mine. 

Right? Right.

Which is why it was so funny to me when we were talking the endless summer camp iterations and costs and I said cornhole and Amy burst into tittered snorting laughter. 

He said cornhole. [snort and laughter]

Cornhole camp it is then!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dance Like Your Kids Are Watching

"Say you'll always be my baby we can make it shine
We can take forever just a minute at a time..."

Bee Gees, More Than A Woman

The song ended abruptly and we stopped dancing. We stood awkwardly in front of the line of teachers being honored at that moment, wondering what to do next. Our dance was to kick off a special part of the night's fundraiser, and while we weren't half bad, it was a little surreal. But it wasn't a dream either; we weren't dancing naked in front of everyone, although the year before we were half-naked. This time we were dressed up in glittery silver, ready to boogie-woogie-woogie till we just couldn't boogie no more.

Here we were again at our daughters' school auction fundraiser, and this year's theme was disco dance party. This was the second year that my wife Amy was PTA president and I also helped out more with our annual auction. 

But beyond all the planning and coordinating with many other amazingly selfless volunteer parents and friends to pull off another successful fundraiser date night for all the other school parents, Amy and I were relentlessly focused on dusting off our dance moves. 

Six years ago we were out with Amy's mom for some wine tasting on Valentine's Day, when a mixed gender barbershop quartet appeared and entertained us with some classic a cappella. They sang 1950's doo-wop and Amy called me out to dance. We danced a little swing and a little traditional hustle, some of the moves we remembered from our dance lessons years ago. 

And remember them we did. Dancing with her in that moment was delightful, just as it was the day I married her, when we actually made up our own dance, years before dance lessons. We choreographed our own dance to our song -- Ambrosia's Biggest Part of Me -- and it was so much fun to do.

Shortly after we were married, before the girls, we took formal dance lessons. Everything from swing to the hustle to salsa and more. We usually did this with an older couple who really knew how to cut a rug on the dance floor. It was fun, but admittedly, not always comfortable for me. Dancing was stressful and awkward; trying to remember each and every dance step didn't come easy. I used to be a much more literal learner, putting a dance together like I cooked -- one recipe step at a time while struggling with the big-picture end result. The sheer enjoyment of dancing magic. 

In the weeks leading up to this year's disco dance party, we started dancing to the Bee Gees' More Than A Woman from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It was just the right speed for our muscle memory to reignite our hustle moves. Amy would write down what we'd remember and we again choreographed the first half of the song. The second half would just be mixing and matching all the dance moves. Both girls would hem and haw and say "Stop, Mom and Dad -- c'mon!" acting embarrassed by our dancing and in-between kissing. 

Even though the auction dance didn't go exactly as planned, we still pulled it off. And yet, the most intimate and special memories were those of practicing at home in front of the girls. Our connection in every beat, step, twirl and giddy laugh filled me with a relaxed and loving satisfaction that I didn't always have when we took lessons all those years ago. We also loved the fact that our children complained, because we knew this was another testament to the love we share, one we want them to witness it every day. That's why I recommend to dance like your kids are watching, whatever the "dance" means to you and yours (only G to PG ratings for the kids, of course). Show your children how important a loving and healthy relationship really is.

We can take forever just one minute at a time...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Their Ultimate Wellbeing

The doctor was wrong.

"These areas here," the doctor said, tracing a few white streaks on youngest daughter Bryce's x-rays of her lungs, "are the beginning stages of pneumonia."

But we didn't know then he was wrong. Not until our primary doctor in Santa Cruz told us the radiologist's reading of the x-rays were that she didn't have pneumonia. Thank goodness, because Bryce just threw up the liquid antibiotic that he had prescribed. Over and over again. The four different times we tried to give it to her.

Bryce was the last to get the bad gunky hacking flu/cold (whatever it was) bug. And she had the worst of the symptoms out of the four of us. All while we were away from home visiting family. I'd been patient zero, bringing back the bug from my last work trip the week before. It came on fast; it felt like my body was being beat up from the inside out. Within 24 hours, Amy and our oldest daughter Beatrice went down in hacking flames. Then Bryce got it.

Then a few days later, I got on a plane for back-to-back work trips, first to Houston and then to Washington DC. Most likely infecting everyone in my breath's wake. No shaming, please. Then I flew to Reno to be with Amy and the girls in Carson City, where Amy's sister's family lives, her mom lives and her dad and step-mom live.

Infecting everyone in my wake along the way. And I'm sure my family did the same, too.

The last night we were in Carson City, of which to that point they/we were having a great time, Bryce had been coughing nonstop for most of the day. Our worry escalated with every cough. We shouldn't have kept dragging her around, going to a pizza party and then playing at a park where the cold Sierra high desert wind pierced all our already compromised lungs. She should've been resting in a warm bed instead.

So, that night, we weren't sure what to do. Go to urgent care? Call a family member for advice? We'd already given her enough doses of child's ibuprofen and my wife Amy had run to the store for cough syrup, which in the end helped Bryce stop coughing and she fell asleep around nine that night.

We all slept on it, but it was really stressful because of a pattern my wife and I have -- I defer many parenting decisions to her, even though we've been a team for most of our relationship. Of course she knows this, and so she doesn't expect me to insist on decision making most of the time. But when I do insist, I'm overbearing and aggressive about it; there's no middle ground for me.

I wanted to go to urgent care. She wanted to call a family member for advice. And then Bryce fell asleep.

We discussed it the next morning, because although I have this long-term regressive emotional latency problem, we communicate openly and honestly with each other and really strive to find common ground. I'd argue this has contributed to us being together for 22 years and further cementing our relationship, not driving us apart.

On the way home Bryce started coughing incessantly again and this time I called the Kaiser advice nurse as we drove home. I had to call more than once because of the off-and-on cell reception coming down out of the Sierra Nevadas, but we've had a good run with Kaiser to date and need some definitive advice and action.

We ended up scheduling a doctor appointment in Sacramento, three hours from home, but it was the right move. Bryce was just so sick and pale and coughing nonstop again. The timing was perfect and we got there only a few minutes late. It was also the last primary doctor appointment on a Sunday, so we were so thankful we took it.

But again, the doctor was wrong, and again thank goodness. We did make it home intact and knew that no matter the adult relationship issues we have to work on to improve our relationship as husband and wife, we're parents as well, and that priority superceded any fallibility we have. We will do whatever we have to do to keep our daughters healthy and safe, making mistakes along the way, but always with their ultimate wellbeing in mind. Amen.

Monday, April 1, 2019

For Everyone They Impact

That's when he showed the open wound on the back of his right calf to the cars in front of us. He held a sign that said "NEED BANDAGES PLEASE" with a meek look on his bearded face. He stood in the middle of the median moving from car to car.

My first visceral reaction: disgust and anger. Empathy was no where in sight.

"What's wrong with that guy?" our oldest daughter Beatrice said.

"Don't look, Beatrice," my wife Amy said.

"Look at what?"

"This guy has a big wound on his leg and he's showing it to us all. It's gross and you don't need to see that," Amy said.

"What? What wound?"

"It's like his leg is cut open and you can see his calf muscles," I said.

"Kevin, don't tell her that."


Beatrice could see, but our youngest Bryce could not. Thank goodness. The left turn lane light changed to a green arrow and we moved past the man, his bad leg turned away from us.

"God, he could lose his leg," Amy said.

"He should go to urgent care or to one of the emergency rooms. They most likely won't refuse him with an injury like that," I said.

"Maybe he doesn't know any better."

"Sure he does; why do you think he's out here begging for money for supposed bandages with that friggin' leg? It's a sympathy play for drug money."

"Sweetie, he may not know any better. He could be mentally ill. I'm calling the non-emergency line."

And so she did. We kept making our way to the store while she talked with the police department. They said they'd do a wellness check on the guy, and when we went back the same way to continue our errands, he was gone.

Like too many west coast communities these days, the growing acrimony between local community members and people experiencing homelessness seems to be at all-time high. Where we live is no exception. Crime and drug use are quite prevalent near the local unsanctioned encampment where conditions have only worsened over time.

And again, as I've written before, we have a family like many other families in Santa Cruz that we want to keep safe, and with 39 percent of Santa Cruz homeless having psychiatric and emotional health issues, 38 percent suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and nearly 30 percent being incarcerated for a night in the past year (as of 2017 local stats). Many of us struggle with "not in my backyard" syndrome. Because they are literally in our neighborhood backyards and the city was considering opening transitional encampments in literally our neighborhood backyards.

We continue to educate ourselves as to what's happening in our community and we most certainly understand that this isn't just a housing crisis but a drug and associated crime crisis as well. Not to mention the safety of women and children experiencing homelessness today in our community.

But this guy with the nasty leg, he's somebody's son. He could even be a father himself. We have no idea about his story and the fact that my wife was compassionate enough to call the non-emergency line, was at least something. Maybe others called, too. Giving him money wouldn't have helped; he needed to a wellness check and emergency healthcare. Could he have faked the wound? Maybe, but it looked pretty real to us. And in the end, he's not part of our family anyway.

Yet, on some greater spiritual level, maybe he is.

These crises are escalating in communities like ours at an alarming rate. They are complex and there is no unifying clear solution for everyone they impact. And they most certainly impact everyone, and every family.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Act with the Artist

"Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission..."

-The Police, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da

The tape recorder had a single speaker with monophonic sound. That's all we had, but it worked. My sister and I rode in the back of the truck, a camper shell around us, and we played Michael Jackson's Off the Wall cassette over and over again while our parents drove us to the coast for summer vacation the summer of 1980. The album had been released the year before and it was one of our mom's favorites, too. Growing up she had given us our love of music, from rock and roll to soul and rhythm and blues to pop and more.

So many fond memories throughout my life related to music. And many not-so-fond either. Music that's inextricably linked to our living, reminding us again and again of where we've been, what we've seen, what we've done -- and what we hoped for and still do.

Then came the allegations in the early 1990's that Michael Jackson sexual abused children. The news sadden me then, and yet I continued to compartmentalize it from my memories of his music, even after growing up with sexual abuse myself.

Why would I stop listening? His musical talents have nothing to do with his fallibility and his alleged crimes. Right? I reconciled in my mind over time and never felt bad about listening to his songs again and again since. And yet, I would never fully forgive the man who abused me, never wanting to associate with any memory of him.

How many perpetrators have we had throughout history -- from painters to writers to musicians to politicians to religious and sports figures -- all of whose brilliance many still celebrate today?

But then my wife and I had children and every year they get older the above gets harder to reconcile. Because they're going to ask us -- why?

  • Why do I keep listening to Michael after what we now know? (The same for those who keep listening to R. Kelly after what they now know.)
  • Why do people still revere presidents who sexually harass and bully (note the plural here)?
  • Why do people still go to church after priests and ministers sexually assault women and children?
  • Why do I still watch football when the NFL goes light on players who commit domestic violence so they can keep playing to win (and make money)?

The list goes on and on. And even I bang my head against the wall with split indifference and well-meaning bias, trying desperately to understand the why of others and myself.

So, why do I still listen to Michael Jackson? My wife has decided she can't do it anymore, and now I find myself removing his songs from playlists, even the playlist we made for Bryce when she was born (we did one for Beatrice when she was born and one for us when we got married, but Bryce's is the only one with a Michael Jackson song).

As I've written before, I didn't have any evidence when the sexual abuse happened to me, but my mantra is still clear and definitive: I believe survivors; I am a survivor. Yet, what I grapple with is how I and others compartmentalize some of these examples over others, and how we will answer these same questions from our children when they're older. Will I forgo any and all forgiveness for those who fail around me, especially when the complexity of failure crosses over into abuse and assault? Or will I continue forgive some without forgetting and without associating the act with the artist? Or is forgiveness ultimately a death that gives us life renewed without compromise?

They will ask us soon enough.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sink and Roll

The Gorilla Tape didn’t hold. Everyone swore that it would, and for the first couple of hours it felt like it did. But then it didn’t, and by early morning we were side by side sunk in the middle, my lower back actually hitting the floor around 5:30 am.

I laid there and read the newspaper, my phone’s wi-fi hot-spot just strong enough to get my iPad online. I got up shortly thereafter to go to the bathroom, already being up nearly every hour, and tried not to jostle my daughter. The church community center was still dark and mostly quiet. An adult snored lightly and another child coughed.

When I returned, I knew I wasn’t getting back in the bed. My poor daughter looked up at me, propped herself precariously up by her elbow, now sunken on her side of the air mattress.

“Dad, what time is it?” she whispered.

“It’s 6, Beatrice. You don’t’ have to get up yet.”

“Okay, but I’m awake now.”

“We can’t do much until more people wake up,” I said.

She grabbed a book from her backpack and stood up. “I’m going to go read in the bathroom then.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

I went to the tables in the center of the room and brought a chair back to where we were camped out. As I sat and answered work emails, I was struck on how much our oldest daughter had grown up. How already independent and resilient she’d become. Still pre-tween and only 10, my wife and I both had witnessed how her mind, body and spirit were changing nearly every day. We used to worry about how she’d adapt socially in grade school, especially having learning and processing delays years earlier, but that wasn’t a problem, at least not now. Sleep, however, is a current problem with her developing mind whirling with more angst than we'd like, so we worried about this trip. So much like her dad back then. Mercy me.

My wife Amy wanted one of us to go if Beatrice was going to go on this school trip – and that would be me. Just like the Girl Scout overnight at the Boardwalk, I volunteered to sacrifice my sleep while having some fun. Amy’s all about fun, but not sacrificing sleep when she doesn't have to.

So here I was again, now with Beatrice’s 4th grade class, her teacher and a great group of parent-volunteer chaperones. We traveled via chartered bus to Columbia State Historic Park just outside of Sonora California in the Sierra foothills. It’s an annual trip for her school's fourth graders, which we pay extra for, but it's definitely worth it. This was gold rush country in the 1850’s, the early days of statehood for California. We went to school in 1850 (completely intimidated by the docent immersing us in that time), learned some local gold rush history from a park ranger, panned for some gold and gems, and then each child had $6 burning a hole in their pocket to spend on candy and souvenirs.

But earlier when I inflated my air mattress for the night ahead, I had pushed it too close to a decorative tree full of barren branches and strung with white Christmas lights. One particular low branch was broken off to a sharp point and as I pushed the mattress right into it puncturing it.

I couldn’t believe it. What the hell was I thinking? Ugh. I had no other bedding other than a pillow and some sheets and the hard floor below. Beatrice had planned to sleep on the floor anyway in her sleeping bag to be near her best friend.

No one had any tape, but one of the parents had band-aids, and so I plugged the hole temporarily with that. Of course, that wasn’t going to hold. The class teacher told me there was a CVS near the pizza place we were going to eat at that night, so I could get some duct tape. Another parent recommended Gorilla Tape, which I had never heard of. I bought some at the CVS store and used it to patch up the hole when we got back to the church where we stayed.

The air mattress seemed to be holding. Phew. That was good. Soon after it was lights out and all the kinds and parents were going to bed, Beatrice told me the floor was too hard and so I told her to share the bed with me.

Two hours later, the bed began to sag under us. It was too quiet to pump it up again; I'd wake everyone up. The more it deflated the more I stressed out I got and the more Bea and I sagged together in the middle. Every time I'd get up to go to the bathroom, the weight displacement caused her to sink and roll over to her side even more.

"Dad!" she whispered frantically, reaching out for me to grab her as if she was sliding into a bottomless pool. God, I felt so bad.

We were up every single hour no matter what. And each hour that slipped away found us sinking deeper into the air mattress. It was painfully comical, but we survived. The next day we visited nearby Mercer Caverns, which was just as fun as day one.

And through it all Beatrice was pretty well-adjusted, especially with Dad there, and even with a sinking bed. These things can be a big deal when you're 10 and all your friends and classmates are there. I was so proud of her and yet kept my distance and observed, letting her do her thing, unless she needed something, and then I was right there.

What I noticed was that she had a blast. She volunteered to show how to pan for gold. She played and spent her $6. She learned to play chess with her best friend. She also liked to spend alone time -- either reading, drawing, running around and kicking around the soccer ball -- and I respected that about her. Again, so much like her dad at that age. Except that, she's more confident and vocal at 10 than I ever was at 20.

But growing up isn't always kicks and giggles or First World problems, and there will be annoying leaks throughout our lives, that in the end, no amount of Gorilla Tape will hold. That's why we have to learn how to roll with it all. Or in this case, sink and roll off it.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Last Release

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, and according to science it does. But for me, it's in the last release where the bond strengthens even more.

That's all I could think about as I traveled back from my latest work trip, a conference in Austin. It had been a great trip, full of seeing industry friends, meeting new people and talking recruiting and candidate experience shop, but in between the work moments there was an influx of goodbye nostalgia.

When the conference was over and many attendees were at the after party, I took a break from talking to people to listen to the live karaoke band that played. They were good, too, playing a variety of hits with some of the attendees singing their hearts out (it was Austin, and music is everywhere, especially this time of the year at SXSW). Then they played a cover of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," one of many songs special to my wife and me. I recorded a bit of it and texted it to her.

ME: For you baby. Love you!

MY WIFE: Love it! Love you!

I miss your magic the most, I thought.

Shortly after that I headed back to my room for a video call with her and our girls, hearing all about their day, and reveling in a moment of focused family love.

The morning I left for home started like most return trips: I got up early enough to workout, then cleaned up, packed up and checked out. I then requested my Lyft ride and waited. And waited. And waited.

Now, that was only a few minutes, but watching the little animated car in the Lyft application on my phone turn around and head in the opposite direction.


I wasn't pressed for time, and the airport wasn't very far away, but it still made me mad. Then the driver disappeared from the screen and the app went on to locate another driver.


Ugh. So frustrating, but first-world problems and all that. The next driver headed my way.

I got in the car and the driver was a nice, older man, wearing thick glasses and a baseball cap. But within minutes, something was wrong. His driving app didn't update and it was still telling him to loop back to the hotel where I had stayed.

"You know, I don't know this area at all. I'm from San Antonio and just came up here for an earlier ride this morning and thought I'd take a few more rides," he said with a friendly Texan drawl. "It's telling me to turn around."

I opened up my map application and entered the airport. "Nope, just keep going straight. You're good."

"Are you sure? It says I need to turn around."

Good God. "No, we're going the right way."

Now time was ticking away and I hate cutting it close at the airport because you never know what other obstacles are ahead.

My hands on her waist, then we pull apart...

I waited in line to check my bag. And I waited. And I waited. A group of female friends traveling together didn't get their bag tags when they self-checked, so the attendant had to reprint them all. Another attendant chatted it up with someone who had also forgotten to print their bag tag, and then the attendant manually wrote it out. Manually, slowly and painfully wrote it out. Then another passenger waiting had to have their passport checked. The line behind me got longer and longer.


Strands of our hair intertwine...

Time was still on my side, and ironically there was no line in the TSA PreCheck line. When I had checked my bag the attendant told me gate 4 and my airline application said gate 4. So, to gate 4 I went.

What was odd, along the way, was that none of the gate monitors had any information on them. Just the airport logo. I kept walking because I always like getting a little extra airport workout when I have the time. I got to gate 4 and there was no one waiting at the gate. Only a couple of people wandering around. I checked my phone app and it still said gate 4.

I walked back to find the nearest departures and arrivals screen. There was my flight, on time, but at gate 22 instead.


We share one more kiss so warm...

So to gate 22 I went. And at gate 22, there was nothing on the gate monitor and no one at the desk to ask a question. I still had about 20 minutes before my flight would board, so I headed back to gate 4. Along the way I called the airline, but I must've called the wrong customer service line, because when I explained my situation, the customer service person said I had to call another number.

"I can't write anything down right now because I'm walking to the gate my flight is supposed to be at," I said.

"Sorry, sir, you have to call this other number."


It lingers over time and distance...

After another hike back to gate 22, I heard a distant voice over the PA system:

"...the San Francisco flight is now at gate 22, and the San Jose flight is gate 34. We're sorry for any inconvenience..."

Gate 34 was the other end of the terminal. That was fine, because it wasn't that big of an airport, but time was ticking. I could also sense a greater confusion in the airport; what I didn't know was that the airport systems were down, which was why the monitors weren't working and the flight boards weren't updating.

I stopped at gate 30 to ask the attendant standing there where the San Jose flight was going out of.

"I don't know," she said.

"You don't know? Can't you check your terminal there?" I said and pointed.

"No, we're a different airline and the systems are down anyway."

"Wow," was all I could say.

Plus, it didn't help that I was hungry, but every line was way too long to wait with less than 10 minutes before my flight was supposed to board. Again, first-world problems, but still.

Ugh, I'm so hungry.

The breath of your being...

I overhead other passengers saying "but it says gate 4" and knew they were on our flight, but they were moving too fast to warn them. I kept moving to gate 34, and when I got there, I asked the gate attendants and they confirmed that, yes, this was the San Jose flight. That they were waiting for the Seattle flight to leave and then they'd tow in the San Jose plane for the gate change.

Thank goodness. Towing in the plane and all. Boarding had been delayed because of the situation, but not by much, and yet it wasn't enough time to wait for food, so I quickly bought a banana and a blueberry muffin where there was no line (thankfully).

The flight ended up not being too delayed after all and soon we were in the air. And all the passengers on our flight found our gate, many of whom like me had walked back and forth between gates multiple times. But we were now in the air, and after giving up on catching up on work because the airplane wi-fi only worked for 10 minutes, I thought about how much I missed home and my family.

However, none of my longing for home matched the moment of last release, when I had said goodbye to both girls, and especially my wife. We're mindful of each other during day-to-day family operations, but it's in that moment of separation where the details distill like a photo burst on a camera -- one fully focused rapid frame after another -- seconds apart that feel like millennia.

It's always in the last release 
when I miss your magic the most
My hands slip from your waist
As air fills in our last embrace
And strands of our hair intertwine
Then unravel us as we pull apart
We share one more kiss so warm
It lingers over time and distance
As does the breath of your being 
And not even my longing for home
Can match the moment of last release

Sunday, March 3, 2019

When Actions Have Purpose

She wanted to stop the deplorable conditions at puppy mills. Simple as that. So she and a friend formed a "save the puppies" group, made a plan and approached those in authority to ask for a platform to promote their newfound activism and start a school-wide fundraising campaign to help the local SPCA.

And she's only eight years old.

When I was eight years old, activism just wasn't in my vocabulary. I had friends and cared about things bigger than me, but I was also shy, and really only worried about my sister, myself and my mom being safe around an abusive father. My rich imagination created an insulation of safety that carried me through those early years; when I saw Herbie Rides Again, I desperately wanted to figure out how to create my own lovable bug that could do anything and take me anywhere, especially away from the family stress.

When our youngest, Bryce, wanted to save the puppies, she checked out books about puppies, wrote up a plan with her friend, and then wanted to ask her school principal to run an assembly to raise awareness and money to stop puppy mills and improve conditions. Puppy mills are high-volume dog-breeding facilities with usually horrible conditions for dogs.

One morning my wife Amy took the girls to school and walked Bryce to the office. They stood there waiting for help from the office staff, and when they got it, Amy asked Bryce to speak.

Bryce was shy and uttered quietly something like, "I want to schedule a meeting with the principal."

But the office staff person didn't hear her, and instead looked at Amy and asked her what she needed.

And Amy, wanting Bryce to take the lead, and for the staff person to acknowledge Bryce, said, "She'll tell you."

Eventually it was worked out and determined that the principal would come and find Bryce during recess or at lunch in the next day or two. Which is exactly what happened -- Bryce and some of her puppy club members asked the principal for what they wanted, and while she didn't get the assembly, it was agreed that she could put fundraising cans in the second grade classrooms with signs about what they were raising money for. (Bryce already hit us up at home with her fundraising can.) Both our girls had already saved some of their giving allowance money for the SPCA at the end of 2018 (besides giving some of their money to the Camp Fire victims). And our oldest Beatrice, and some of her friends, are currently doing something similar around donating to help abused puppies and dogs.

One of the many daily meditations Amy and I revel in is Dharma Hum -- I am -- with the centering thought of "my actions have purpose." It is our mantra and prayer. We long to impart these kinds of life lessons to our girls, such as our actions have purpose, and we can choose both positive and negative actions with matching results and lasting purpose. Of course we'd prefer the positive, focused on a life of empathic action helping others who don't have the same abilities or means to help themselves as we do -- whether they be humans or puppies.

Or now, ocean animals.

"Bryce, how's the puppy club going?"

"We're not doing that anymore, Daddy."

"You're not? What do you mean?"

"We want to help ocean animals now because of all the plastic that's killing them."

"Well, okay then. Good job, Bryce."

When actions have purpose. Amen. #BhivePower

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Assuming Otherwise

The smell was horrible. I knew immediately it was the two men shopping near us, one in a wheelchair, the other with a small dog on a leash. No matter where we stood, anywhere within a few feet radius of them and their pungent body odor smell hit us. By the looks of them, I assumed they were homeless, maybe part of the nearby encampment.

I had been grocery shopping at Trader Joe's with the girls in tow. My wife Amy was away doing a Kidpower training for the day. The girls and I were finishing up the shopping when our oldest, Beatrice, frowned and wrinkled her nose.

"What's that smell?" she said, a little loudly. Our youngest, Bryce, seemed oblivious and ready to be done with shopping.

"Shhh," I said. "I know it smells. Let's just finish up and get going."

"I know what it is. It's those poor people," she said, looking at the two men.

I didn't think they heard her, and I knew Beatrice was just saying what popped into her head without adult bias and judgement. We'd been talking about our local homeless situation with our girls since last fall, so she was equating homelessness with being poor, which wasn't wrong, but not all people who struggle to make ends meet are homeless. And we'd been there during the great recession, struggling and almost becoming homeless ourselves.

Later, when we were home and Amy was back from her Kidpower training, I brought up what happened to discuss as a family.

"What you said wasn't wrong, Beatrice. But the words weren't exactly right; not all poor people are homeless," I said.

Beatrice listened, but I could tell she thought she'd done something wrong.

Amy spoke up. "It's not about right, Beatrice. It's just about being respectful of how we address people we don't know and what's going on with them. You were just saying what you thought without trying to be mean, and that's okay."

"Okay," she said and nodded slightly.

"Right," I said. "And we don't want to say those things too loud so they can hear and make them feel bad. You were just making an observation to me."

"Yes, there are too many people without a home or shelter or running water, so they do smell because they can't take baths or showers like we can everyday," said Amy.

"This is why there are really important organizations in town that are doing there best to help homeless people," I said.

We went on with the rest of our day, but we didn't lose sight of the greater lesson. We talked about it again during our weekly family meeting to ensure that we respond appropriately and with respect in situations like the one at the grocery store and the homeless men, when we don't know them or assume to know their story based on what we see or smell.

And because the girls are getting older and more aware, we then expanded the conversation to include if they were with a friend who was talking badly about another person they knew, and trying to sway them into talking badly about the person. Amy role played with the girls on how they should respond and not to participate in the belittling of others just because we don't like them (when we may not even know them), or because someone else doesn't like them (when he or she may not even know them), or because we assume something about them when we really know nothing about them, only basing it on something we heard.

It's about time we start assuming otherwise.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Safety Mantra Mumble

"I see the world
And I'm looking from a high place
Way above it all
Standing on higher ground..."

-The Alan Parsons Project, Standing on Higher Ground

I cried at K-mart. I had found the front counter and the blue-light special desk (I remember that vividly), and cried to one of the cashiers that I had lost my mother and sister. I was either seven or eight years old, I don't remember exactly. The fear and the crying I do remember vividly. No matter how many times she told us to stay with her, to not wander, I didn't stay with her and did wander. At what point exactly I got lost I don't remember, although I have a vague recollection of being by the televisions when my mother and sister had vanished.

I was filled with fear and panic. It practically bled from my pores, it was that palatable. One minute her and my sister were right there, and then the next they were nowhere to be seen. Just lots of strangers milling around me oblivious to my frantic searching for them.

Besides her telling my sister and I to stay with her, the other safety rule was, if we did get lost, to find someone who worked there and ask for help.

But I panicked and wandered quickly from aisle to aisle looking for my mother and sister, afraid to ask for help, and then I stopped in my tracks at the front counter. That's when I burst into tears.

I don't remember if they called for her over the PA system, I just remember an eternity had passed until she held me tightly in her arms, telling me everything would be okay.

Decades later, our safety rule is a little different with our girls. If they get separated from us, wherever we are, they need to stay where they're at, to stand tall and be aware, even if they're scared and even if they cry. To stay exactly where they're at once they realize they're lost, because when we go looking for them, if they're moving around too, we may never find each other. It's like the getting lost in the woods survival scenario. Even if it's a police officer who tries to help them, because the police officer can call us, as noted below.

"Then what?" we ask them when we're reviewing safety plans.

"We look for an adult who's walking by and tell them we're lost and we need help," they answer, reluctantly mumbling our safety mantra.

"And if they say, 'Please come with me and I'll get you help,' what do you say?"

Sigh. "We tell them we cannot go with them; please find someone who works here to help us."

"Or, what else can you have them do?"

Sigh. "We can ask the them to call you."

"Correct! And what's our number?"


Recently my wife Amy had taken our girls to Costco, a place we frequent at least monthly throughout the year. I was traveling for work this time and wasn't with them. The girls both know Costco pretty well, but no matter what, the safety plan is the same if they get separated from either of us.

Well, our oldest Beatrice got separated, but instead of staying in one place, she went looking for her mother. She felt she knew Costco well enough and that she'd find her quickly. Luckily, when Amy realized Beatrice wasn't with her, she turned around and backtracked with Bryce and found Beatrice within moments.

Of course, the safety lesson was repeated during our next family meeting during the safety plan part of our regular agenda (yes, there's a regular agenda).

Sigh. Yes, I get it; I will stay in one place.

Never going anywhere with strangers is so important if they're lost, which is why staying in one place is safer for our family, where we can backtrack and find them. Or get a call telling us where they're at. And even if they had their own phones, which they're years from having, they still need to stay in one place for us to find them. Staying safe is the higher ground we walk on, even if the safety mantras are mumbled reluctantly.

We'll take the mumbles for safety any day of the week. These kids today...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Underbelly of Us

"Arrows in her eyes
Fear where her heart should be
War in her mind
Shame in her cries..."

-Foo Fighters, Arrows

I saw her in my periphery. She must've come from the 7-11 on the corner of Mission St. and Swift. At first, she stayed a few steps behind me on the sidewalk. I had been walking from home to my business mailbox to check for mail, just enjoying the walk with my AirPods pumping the Foo Fighters into my ears.

Then I sensed her coming up on my left. She reached me, step for step, and looked at me as we walked. At first I wouldn't look at her, not exactly sure if she was just passing me. When she didn't, I turned to see her, a white women in her late 50's or early 60's, blonde-gray hair, some makeup, fairly clean clothes. She smoked a cigarette and through the smoke was saying something to me.

With my Kidpower tingling, and not sure if this was a safety problem or not, I paused my music, but kept walking.

"Hey," she said. "Can you call me a taxi or an Uber?"

Without hesitation, I said, "No."

She mumbled something under her smoky breath and trekked on ahead. I watched her go, but waited to play my music again. She could've been homeless, I wasn't sure, and/or she could've been mentally ill or an addict. Or, she could've been none of those things, just someone who need a ride somewhere and didn't have the means to get there. She didn't seem agitated, just mad that I didn't help her with a ride.

I empathized, and yet I didn't do anything. The war inside me of "staying safe" and "it's not my problem" and "I'm just going to check my mail" and "she seems fine" and "someone else will help her" swirled inside my head, so I started up my music again and kept walking.

On the way back home, I struggled with the guilt of not helping the woman. Only a little guilt, but guilt nonetheless. I thought about the work I do with the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, and the fact that, if this woman was homeless, the chances of her being harassed or sexually assaulted or worse climb exponentially.

California's homeless population is about 25 percent of the nation's in total -- 130,000+ people on any given night. Because of the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing in California, nearly 70 percent of the state's homeless are unsheltered. Meaning, living on the streets, or in parks, or in motorhomes and campers in and around town, like in Santa Cruz where we live. At any given time, low-income families are one paycheck away from being homeless; any of us could be them. In fact, California comprises 12 percent of the nation’s population of homeless families with children. From 2016 to 2017, the state experienced one of the largest increases of homeless families in the nation, leaving 1,000 more families on the streets.

Some communities do a better job of cobbling together resources that result in more shelters, mental health services and addiction medical services. The City of Santa Cruz right now is doing its best to provide services to well over 150 homeless tent campers behind a shopping center right as you come into Santa Cruz. You can't miss it because it's a major intersection in and out of downtown Santa Cruz, when Highways 1 and 17 meet.

This unsanctioned homeless encampment had been tucked away from major traffic and out of view, near one of the main family homeless shelters in town. But just like it always goes, the homeless campers were told to vacate to other shelters, shelters that get full quickly, especially during a winter with record cold and rain in our area. Plus, some of the shelters don't allow anyone using drugs or alcohol. Then the unsheltered homeless are shuffled to another location, like the one behind the shopping center. And now, the over 150 homeless are to vacate and find shelter elsewhere by the middle of March. Forty-two percent of homeless families with children in Santa Cruz are unsheltered (as of 2017).

Which brings me back to safety. I can't imagine being homeless with children, whether a woman or a man, but especially a woman -- according to multiple studies examining the causes of homelessness, among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence. And 38 percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives.

And yet, we have a family like many other families in Santa Cruz that we want to keep safe as well, and with 39 percent of Santa Cruz homeless having psychiatric and emotional health issues, 38 percent suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and nearly 30 percent being incarcerated for a night in the past year (again, as of 2017 local stats). Many of us struggle with "not in my backyard" syndrome. Because they are literally in our neighborhood backyards.

Besides the local shelter and homeless service programs doing their best, there are other programs like Downtown Streets Team in Santa Cruz and other California communities helping homeless people get back to work and eventually into more stable housing (one of my good friends who's also on the commission with me helps run the Downtown Streets Team in Santa Cruz).

We can't just look the other way and hope it goes away, because it's only getting worse. And again, some of us might struggle with mental health issues, addiction issues and could become homeless at any given time after being laid off, with no means of mobility and having limited housing options. I can't imagine being a family on the street today, but too many don't have to imagine.

This eyesore is the underbelly of us, and it's all our responsibility as empathic local communities to help each other, whether that's volunteering or donating money. Whatever it takes to help augment the already strained resources of local nonprofits, churches and government.

I should've called her a taxi, because nobody else was going to do it.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Well-Adjusted Humans

I get upset or happy I go to sleep.
Nothing hurts when I go to sleep.
But I'm not tired, I'm not tired."

-Ben Folds Five, Narcolepsy

"I have to go up again in 15 minutes to check on her."

I sighed and said, "No, just tell her to go to sleep."

"You know that's not how it works. She's got herself all stressed out again."

"I know," I said. "Love you."

And I did know. The fact that the mind of our oldest daughter sometimes races with a myriad of worries, at least those of a well-adjusted 10-year-old girl. Worries that swirl into a frothy mess of wide-awakeness.

Usually when we put both girls to bed, Beatrice falls asleep first. Most of the time she's out like a light by 8:00 pm. But our youngest Bryce can take a little longer to fall asleep, usually by 8:30 pm. While Bryce can still sometimes wake up and need some comfort to go back to sleep, Bea has been having more periodic stress sessions preventing her from going to sleep, sometimes for hours.

My wife, or the Mama as I lovingly call her, is usually the one to go comfort Bea, sometimes having to lay upstairs until Bea goes to sleep. The Mama will watch a show on her iPad with headphones, while I watch the same show downstairs, cutting into the Mama-Dad snuggle time.

The good news is that we've had a regular bedtime routine for a few years now. No more iPad after 6:00 pm, then TV goes off downstairs around 7:30 pm, then we go upstairs to brush teeth and change into pajamas, then we read with the girls, and/or sometimes they read to us, and then the fan in their room goes on, as it does in our room when we sleep. White noise is a special family sleep friend!

Then they go to sleep. Usually. Unless they're not feeling well, or Bea starts worrying about something -- school and homework, a song stuck in her head, friends she had played with earlier in the day, and probably many other pre-tween angst-ridden thoughts she can't or won't articulate. We've also had Bea listen to meditations and even take a little melatonin if she needs it. And we tell her to turn her bed lamp on and read a little if that helps.

Sleep science recommends adults get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and for children 7-12 years old it should be upwards of 10-11 hours of sleep each night. And when our girls go to sleep on time, they're usually getting 9-10 hours each night. The Mama and I get at least 7 hours each night, and we're thankful for that, unless we're having a rough night, or one of the girls are.

We've had our own sleep deprived wake-mares in the past, especially with Bryce. Up every hour, all night, until we went nearly went friggin' crazy. But that was years ago, and today it's just if one of the girls don't feel week, or the occasional stressed out wakefulness of Bea.

Usually it's the Mama who gets up and tries to get her back to sleep, but sometimes it's me. That's because the Mama has already fallen into deep sleep, and I'm restless. And when I'm restless I'm skittish and hear every creak and groan of the house, even with the fan on and the ear plugs in (yes, we've worn ear plugs for years at night).

And if one of the girls comes in our room because they're scared and/or don't feel well and/or can't sleep for whatever reason, it can scare the crap out of me. Sometimes I'll be laying on my side, eyes closed, and then someone touches my leg and I jump. Then I hear:

"Dad." If it's Beatrice.

Or, "Daddy." If it's Bryce.

Every single time I jump. Sometimes Bea tells us that she gets up and comes in our room and watches us, but doesn't wake us up. Super creepy, but we love her!

One night recently Bea came in our room, and then left, and then came in again. The Mama was sleeping away (if was after 10 and we go to bed between 9-9:30), but this time I wasn't scared, already not sleeping well and more than half awake. I got up with her and got her back into bed. I tried to get her to relax and rubbed her back.

"Dad, if I don't sleep, will I die?"

"No, sweetie. You won't die. Just try to relax."

"But I can't sleep; I don't want to die."

"You're not going to die."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Now, try to relax, and read again if you need to."


"Love you."

"Love you."

As parents, we sometimes have to sacrifice the sanctity of our own sweet sleep for the sake of our children. We're their guardian angels, no matter how strung out and tired we get. And strung out and tired we definitely get. God bless those who have children with much more going on than just occasional sleep issues. Whatever the issues are, it comes with the job and our reward (and the world's) is raising mentally healthy, well-adjusted humans. Amen.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

This Idea, America

We live in America, land of the free and home of the brave, where all men (and finally women) are created equal. That was the idea, at least. 

Here in America today, we just want our girls to be safe and sound, armed with safety and self-defense skills we hope they'll never need. 

In America, we just want them to embody peace and love for all peoples and races, not anger and hate, and to denounce bullying, harassment and assault wherever and however it appears.

We just want them to grow up pushing for their own equality, to break through the patriarchal walls that have been so entrenched around us for thousands of years, but not at the expense of other marginalized groups, or even other men, along the way. 

We just want them to be citizen activists of goodness and fairness, to help those who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to better themselves, or a voice to ask for one. 

But we also just want them to be kids for now.

Because soon they won't be, and all these adult American considerations will eventually crowd out much of their childhood sensibilities. 

God, I'm such a buzz-kill sometimes.

These are the things I think about, a lot, and I thought of all these things (again) this past week, especially after spending a weekend with lifelong friends and talking about toxic masculinity. It was the weekend of the women's march, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the past we'd all marched together locally for these events, but this time I was with my friends, and then I worked on Martin Luther King Jr. Day while my wife took our two girls to the local march.

Like we'd done in the previous year, the girls made their own signs. Bryce's said "Peace" and Beatrice's said "You Dream Big."

We're an American family that, for the most part, have been thankful that we've provided a loving, supportive environment, as well as financial stability, for our children. Yet, we haven't had to look over our shoulders our whole lives like many people of color have had to do in America. We haven't experienced prejudice or racism like too many have in this country. A country of immigrants actually, by choice and by force, most of us at any rate.

We've talked to our girls about these topics, and they do have some understanding of what it means to discriminate against others because they're different. We're also the very people who can help make a difference, who's children can pass on a legacy of empathy and positive activism for all. 

This idea of America is in danger, however. Blatant racism has again raised its hateful multi-headed hydra (although it's always been there). Women are standing tall, while unfortunately their rights are being rolled back decades when it comes to domestic violence and assault. White patriarchy is holding on with all its ugly might. And yet, my heart bleeds with endless hope.

We just want our girls to be kids for now. And safe. And to embody peace and love and dreaming big.

But this idea of America is in peril. This idea is impermanent. 

This idea is so complicated. This idea is still celebrated.

This idea is a deliberate dream.

This idea is hated. This idea sets us free.

We the people, do ordain.

This idea, America.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Men of a Women's Age

"Hey hey hey hey it was the D.N.A. 
Hey hey hey hey that made me this way 
Do you know do you know do you know just how I feel? 
Do you know do you know do you know just how I feel?"

-Queen, Sheer Heart Attack

We didn't completely agree on toxic masculinity, but we were close. Decades of friendship had brought us closer than ever, giving us opportunities like never before to stretch our comfort and maturity with one another, and even more importantly, feeling sound and confident within ourselves.

"I get what you're saying, and agree about the toxicity of sexual harassment and assault, but I'm not going to apologize for being a man," one friend said.

"No one's asking you to do that; I'm not asking you to do that," I said. "You don't have to compromise your gender to be more compassionate and empathic."

"So, what are the positive attributes of masculinity then, according to that research you referenced?" another friend asked.

"Leadership and courage," I answered. "Yes, as men we battle with millions of years of biology and thousands of years of oppressive historical and cultural context, i.e., patriarchy, but we can learn to check ourselves, to be more empathic and caring and sensitive to the needs of not only women, but to each other as men."

They nodded, but we still differed in the definition of masculinity, and the contrast to women, class and race.

But we were close.

Even prior to getting together again as adults this year as we've done nearly every year for 30 years, we'd had discussions about the #MeToo movement, patriarchy and the damage that too many men, especially white men of privilege, have wrought on society, women, children and other men of varying backgrounds and ethnicities.

And yet, it's still been hard for us to unravel from the rationale that "we just can't do or say anything anymore," that we'll be next on the empowered female super bullet train out to the boonies to be ostracized and left for dead.

That's not how I feel in the slightest actually, and I've conveyed that to my best friend of 41 years and our mutual best friends we've had since junior high and high school. It's take me a long time to get here, and yes, I have an amazing and inspiring wife who I've grown with over the years, and now to young children, girls, who also inspire me to be a better man.

Yes, we've come a long way, me and my friends, us men of a consequential age. We've shared our own fumbles and foibles with females over the years. And with each other. We've gone from sharing the masculine exploits of our youth to sharing the stories of marriage, divorce and having children, especially girls. From watching adult movies to watching sad documentaries about adult movies. From watching offensive and inappropriate comedies to discussing vulnerability research of Brené Brown. From teasing about the female period to having to wear protective man pads sometimes. From calling each other gay way too much over the years to finally checking ourselves and being conscience of the derogatory context of that euphemism.

We've been good friends for a long time, which is why it's sad to see such visceral negative comments to the Gillette commercial, the one about men being the best they can be, to not being bullies or harassers. This is why it's so important for men like me and my friends to understand the impact of toxic masculinity and that we don't have to compromise masculine identity, straight or gay.

The article in the LA Times I read recently referenced the new Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, the first-ever report published by the association aimed at helping practitioners care for their male patients “despite social forces that can harm mental health.” This is the report I shared with my friends.

According to the article: Citing more than 40 years of research, the APA warns against the “masculinity ideology,” which it defines as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure risk and violence.”


Conforming to the norms of the “masculinity ideology” can result in suppressing emotions and masking distress in young boys as well more risk-taking and aggressive behavior and a lack of willingness to seek out help. The report additionally contends this can lead to traits like homophobia and pave the way for sexual harassment, bullying and violence against others and themselves.

On this, the third consecutive year that the Women's March has happened around the world, full of solidarity and collective action, one that my wife helped organize the first year locally, and that our whole family marched in then and in year two -- I spent the third annual women's march with my best male friends sharing our own evolving feminism.

They may not want to call it that, but we do agree that it's not toxic masculinity. We're men of a women's age, mind you, full of the leadership and courage to help make a difference for us all.

Past posts about these friends of mine:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

No Matter What Growing Up Brings

I used to hate when my sister dated my friends in high school. We were about two and half years apart, and although there were only a few times that happened, it was a few times too many. One relationship in particular was verbally volatile and raucous at times, and I remember confronting him at school one day on her behalf, as well as another mutual friend who had talked smack about her.

There was always some overlap in mutual friends early on when we were children, and then again in high school. There was even an older girlfriend of hers I wanted to date, but never did, because it felt awkward. The awkwardness never affected my sister, though. God bless her for driving me a little batty back in the day.

We still led our own lives and had our own friends, but decades later, our mutual friends still ask about each of us. I can't imagine if we'd both been boys or girls and then shared mutual friends, how that dynamic would've been different, and/or remained the same.

However, I can imagine. Actually, don't have to imagine. Both the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I live it now with our daughters, who are just two years apart. For years now they've both gone to school together since preschool, sharing groups of mutual friends, with many they still go to school with today.

That means periodically being invited jointly to birthday parties, playdates and other friend gatherings. Sometimes we'd even ask the inviting party if the other daughter could join them, whether that was Beatrice or Bryce. That seemed to work well for a few years, the happy well of childhood full of magical and timeless friendships. This meant kids running around together with complete unabashed glee, while us parents stood by and talked adult shop, smiling as our children flew by us.

But as is in life, things change. Now our oldest Beatrice is getting invited to sleepovers and playdates without Bryce. Sleepovers and playdates that included mutual friends that both girls had interacted with, and still do, but now it's different and will continue to be so.

Bryce was hurt at first, and we empathized, but she's had some of her own playdates of late and we've done our best to explain to them both, especially Bryce, that they both will be invited to different events now and will with different friends, and that's okay. When Beatrice was on her latest birthday sleepover with her friends, we took Bryce out for another "girl's" night out, plus Daddy.

The decoupling because of growing pains and pre-teen priorities has begun. And has only just begun. Our girls are close, and love each other, and we hope that love remains no matter what growing up brings.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Cheating Is So Hard

And within 10 minutes, she cheated at least three times. Maybe more. She stole money, property titles and lied about how many moves she was supposed to make.

My beloved and trusted wife, who I lovingly call the Mama, had been a true grifter at heart all along. I caught her, not all the time, but I caught her; she was pretty sly with a wily sleight of hand.

Second to her was our youngest Bryce, and although she telegraphed every cheat she attempted, Bryce still attempted many nonetheless.

I must admit that I pulled off a few cheats myself, but it wasn't easy; I'm so used to following the traditional rules that go with the game. It takes a lot of energy to plan ahead to cheat, to execute the cheat, to not telegraph the cheat -- versus just playing the game as is should be played. I'm talking about Monopoly, the cheaters edition, something that Santa brought our family for Christmas last year.

Now, growing up, my sister and I used to play Monopoly and a related competitive game called Easy Money. According to Wikipedia, both were based on The Landlord's Game created by Elizabeth Magie in the United States in 1903 as a way to demonstrate that an economy which rewards wealth creation is better than one where monopolists work under few constraints, and to promote the economic theories of Henry George—in particular his ideas about taxation.

You know, where monopolists work under few constraints. What could go wrong, right?

Anyway, my sister and I always tried to pull fast ones on each other when we'd play. Her more than me, although she'd say me more than her. And we'd lose our patience with each other and the board would fly -- money, property titles, houses and hotels everywhere.

But damn, was it fun. Super fun. It still took a lot of energy for me to go all in for the big cheating, though. 

However, in retrospect, the occasional little cheats and lies were always easier to pull off. And research from a few years ago tells us just that. Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, ran experiments with 30,000 people and found that very few people lie a lot, but almost everyone lies a little.


Everyone lies a little. So, what's the lesson here for our kids? Why are we playing a game that celebrates the breaking of rules, the law and shredding the fabric of truth and integrity?

Alas, because it's fun. Damn that cliché that being bad feels so good. 

Except, the silver lining came from our oldest Beatrice, in the sweet salvation sound of four little words:

"Cheating is so hard."

Even when it's only a little bit. That's what I wanted to hear, my child. Amen.