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, November 17, 2019

A Life-Lesson Letter for My Daughters

Dear Beatrice and Bryce,

I’m writing this letter for your future selves to read, to talk about a very serious subject for when you’re both young adults. 

Your mom and I hope you never experience what too many women, and men, still experience in the world every single day – being harassed, bullied, sexually assaulted and/or raped. Whether by a stranger, or more likely, by someone you know. A significant other, a supposed friend or family member, a classmate, a neighbor, a co-worker or a boss. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on, multiple iterations of the same tragic story. You may even have friends who have experienced one of the above. 

Yes, I said it was serious, and we hope we’ve helped arm you with the awareness, confidence, safety skills and courage to not allow anyone to overpower you because they want to. Especially because you are women, and especially by men (although women can harass other women, too).

It can all start simply enough, with someone bugging you repeatedly that’s demeaning to you over time, who attempts to put you in your place, that you’re not good enough or smart enough, and never will be. Or, someone who pushes you to do something without your consent because they say they like you and think you’re attractive. When it’s repetitive harassment and/or physical assault, it can eat away at your psyche, your very heart and soul, until there’s nothing left but chronic fear and unhappiness, depression and the rock bottom of self-worth. 

If you let it. You don’t have to let it, though. Ever. Whomever is doing it do you, you can use that Kidpower Mom taught us all those years ago and say “Stop!” Then you throw away those intentionally hurtful words and actions and you get yourself in a safe space. Whether at home or at work, you do not have to accept it, even when it’s enabled by others around you who say “but that’s just the way he/she talks to others; it’s the way he/she expresses love; he/she doesn’t really mean it; don’t take it personally; just deal with it, because that’s life and you need this job.”

That’s all bullshit. Sorry, but it is. And no matter how much you think you like someone, if they bully and harass you, or try to force you to do something sexual you do not want to do, then it’s time to get out, to get away to safety. You have the power to say “stop” and “no” – even if you first say yes.

This also means reporting it if it’s at work or calling it out if you have friends or people you work with who are experiencing it. Or reporting it to the police when it’s a crime against you or someone you know. Don’t try to hide it because you’re ashamed or look the other way when you witness it elsewhere, because someday you could be in a situation where you’ll need the support of others to help shine a light on it. Looking the other way is one of the ways that empowers abusive behavior.

This isn’t easy to do and standing up for yourself and others can sometimes come with heavy social, emotional and psychological costs. You could lose the very people you thought were your friends. You could lose your job. You may want to quit your job. You could be fearful of intimacy for a long time to come. You could be socially chastised by those who support the very individuals who have harassed you, and this is a life lesson I want to share with you both. 

You probably don’t remember, but years ago I was on the Santa Cruz City Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW). Your mom encouraged me to apply for the commission, because I had already been an advocate for violence awareness and prevention. 

This commission was all about preventing sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape in our community and holding those accountable who perpetrated such activities. I was only one of two men on the commission during my tenure. I learned a lot and was proud of the work we did and even served as chair during the last year I served. 

But then our commission got swept into local politics, something we never intended to happen. There were five women – three city staff employees and two city council members – who had come forward and filed multiple workplace harassment complaints against two other city councilmembers, both men. And one of the five women was also the city staff coordinator for our commission.

The city paid for an investigation that did substantiate there was in fact a pervasive pattern of workplace harassment and bullying by these two male councilmembers, along with a contingent of their supporters who worked with and for them. While the investigation concluded that there wasn’t any gender bias in these workplace harassment complaints, all who came forward were women, and none of the complaints were found to be false. 

Now, imagine multiple city council meetings where men and women in our community repeatedly blamed and shamed the women who had come forward, accusing them of the wrongdoing, that is was there fault that these two male councilmembers were being accused because they just wanted the men removed from office. Their supporters were vocal about various conspiracy theories of why these women had come forward in the first place, that it was all political in the end. And that because one of the men were black, it became about race as well. 

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Our commission experienced the same community backlash because the majority of us continued to stand by the five women. We pushed for what’s called censure, a public reprimand of the two councilmembers, but one in which the council majority didn’t pass. 

We were still berated over and over again with hateful rhetoric. That we were wrong to support these women and that we should only support women who are sexually assaulted and raped. That we should leave workplace harassment and bullying for the workplace itself to deal with. 

We were also literally threatened that they would “come after us” if we continued to support the women who had come forward. Especially me, being the only male and the chair. The Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women being threatened with violence because of women coming forward about workplace violence. Can you believe it? Egregious and absurd, but it happened.

The harassment continued online, and sadly, one of the two accused councilmembers wrote slanderous posts on his Facebook page about the commission and me personally. 

But even after all of that, all I could think about after being threatened by them was you two and your mom. Would my family be in danger now? Would they continue to harass us incessantly like they did to those women and their families who had come forward? 

What if either of you had something happen to you someday and then you come forward so those who hurt you could be held accountable, and this was the hateful backlash you received? That it was all your fault? Because there was no way those you accused could do something like that?

No wonder so many who are harassed and abused or worse don’t come forward. Also note that false reporting happens only about 2%-10% of the time, and that’s probably high because of those who actually don’t report. 

While I’ll always stand by all the work the commission did back then, at that time I had had enough of the harassment and bullying and had to step down. It adversely impacted our family life and my work life (again, you probably don’t remember how stressed I was back then, but your mom does). Of course, my personal woes were nothing compared to anyone who’s been victimized repeatedly, sexually assaulted and/or raped. 

My dear daughters, I implore you to always believe those who come forward and help be a voice for those who struggle to find theirs. Sexual assault and rape are horrific crimes, but don’t discount all other forms of controlling harassment and bullying just because they’re not rape. Many times, it’s this very behavior that’s a precursor to other forms of abuse and violence and can have just as much of a lasting traumatic effect. I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and so I know firsthand the lasting effects. That’s another story I’ll tell you someday. 

I’m no hero, but I do want both of you to know that my commitment to preventing violence of all kinds against women, men, girls and boys, including harassment and bullying, has never faltered and never will. I know you will continue to be committed as well. 

I love you both very much. 


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hearts Wide Open

It wasn’t the fact that she had played better than ever during the first ever night game. That was truly a pleasure to watch, especially after her playing for four years and now playing against other girls who were much faster and much better at dribbling and passing the soccer ball.

No, it was what happened after the game. What happens after every game when we’re leaving.

“Great job, Beatrice.”

“You almost got one, Beatrice.”

“See you later, Beatrice.”

And more of that sentiment, from her teammates and the parents. This is still recreational soccer, mind you, but the level of play now at the U12 level is more competitive than I ever saw coaching U8 or U10 girls soccer. Of course, Beatrice responds in kind, thanking her teammates and saying good job and see you next time.

It’s a testament to her coaches and her teammates, and the parents, too, supporting their girls at every game.

But it’s also a testament to Bea’s big heart. She’s compassionate, confident, loving, diplomatic, empathic, understanding, and it really shows in every relationship she has. Her teachers concur. Her friends concur. Her sister concurs. Her parents concur.

Unfortunately she also stresses about things like I did when I was her age, where she internalizes her angst after fixating on something that is stressing her out. Like math and reading, where she struggles academically. The stress keeps her up at night and she can’t sleep, just like I remember doing, and still experience today sometimes.

She can now articulate her angst, though, much better than I ever could. And she doesn’t like feeling that way either, like she has fever that spikes that she longs to break and be free of. We share these blue genes, but she doesn’t like to wear them at all, while I grew used to wearing them (out) over and over as my defense mechanism growing up, battling periodic depression as a reaction to stressful situations. Resulting sometimes in panic attacks that are thankfully a hazy distance these days.

Regardless, Bea certainly doesn’t shy away from trying new things and giving it her all. Like playing flute in intermediate band now. Last year she played the trombone, and then changed her mind, wanting to play the flute instead, to share in the melody instead of the bass back beat. We told her that she’d have to probably start in beginning again unless we got her lessons over the summer, and she practiced, which we did and she did. Then we encouraged her to talk with her band teacher and to “try out” for intermediate band, which she did, and had learned enough to earn her spot. She's pretty good too, but she didn’t stop there. The band teacher likes to have kids from intermediate band help mentor and practice with beginning band, and it’s something Beatrice asked to do. Loves doing it in fact.

And then there’s after-school musical theater, where both her and her younger sister Bryce have been participating in for the past two years. And then there’s the environmental club that Bea wanted to join. And then there was being a recess monitor. And who knows what’s next.

It’s not that Bryce doesn’t jump in feet first as well. She actually dives in head-first from the high dive singing her favorite song as loud as she can. And, when she doesn’t want to do something, she’s just as animated. And loud.

But Bryce hasn’t had the developmental delays her big sister has had to overcome and constantly compensate for. Something that is a continuous feedback loop that we’re all involved in, especially my wife Amy. Amen for that amazing mother, wife and friend, that’s for sure.

Proudly I watched my daughter play better than ever at our very first night soccer game. For a few minutes, she was completely alone at her end of the field under the lights, and it was then I remembered how we used to think she’d never play more than one year of soccer. How we worried about how well she’d adapt to everything the farther along in school we got. How much she would struggle with certain subjects. How well she’d fair socially and if she’d have friends. How maybe she’d completely withdraw and not participate in anything.

However, that’s not our Bea. No, not at all. She may feel alone sometimes in her head, but it’s her confident big heart, not my blue genes, that define her very being. I'm so grateful for that. Middle school and high school will be the challenges yet to come, and our entire family welcomes them, hearts wide open.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The First Astronaut

"Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline..."

–Rush, Countdown

"I'm going to be an astronaut," she said.

"That's awesome," we said.

This after our visit to the Kennedy Space Center over the summer. Both our girls loved seeing all the rockets and the Atlantis space shuttle that day, and it was especially poignant that we were there on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. But it was our youngest Bryce who really fell in love with the idea of space travel. So much so that she begged us to buy her an astronaut suit and NASA hat to wear while we were at the space center.

After some negotiation with Mom and Dad about how much she would spend out of her allowance "spend" money and how much we would cover, we bought the space suit. It was a muggy 95+ degrees outside in Florida that day, and she wore that suit the rest of the afternoon. Shortly after that, she made me promise that come Halloween this year, I'd go as her space shuttle.

I loved the idea of space travel when I was her age. I remember I took a summer astronomy class when I was 10 and the teacher let me each take the telescope home one night. I stayed outside for what seemed like hours, looking at the planets and the stars, until my mom told me it was time to go to bed.

Two years later, Star Wars came out, and that's all she wrote for me. I dove in so deep I've never looked back since. Neither Bryce nor Beatrice have taken to these movies like I have, but there's still time, considering there are many new Star Wars stories to come.

Then came the first space shuttle launch in April of 1981. The space shuttle Columbia was the first space-rated orbiter in NASA's Space Shuttle fleet and such an amazing feat of engineering, science and technology. My favorite band Rush would be inspired to write a song called Countdown about this very launch, a song that still gives me chills today. This inspiration would come after NASA invited Rush to be part of a select group to view the first launch of a space shuttle. So very cool.

This October came and went pretty fast, metaphorically at the speed of light, with work and family trips consuming over half of it. When we returned from these trips, Bryce reminded me of the space shuttle, and I had to quickly get to work on it to complete it before the Halloween events commenced.

I love being creative when I can, and I had lots of cardboard, a roll of white paper, rope, packing tape and marking pens to work with. In less than two hours I created a really simple representation of the space shuttle Columbia, complete with American flags that Bryce made for the shuttle. When she said she was only going to draw three stars, I asked her why, and she said "because". Fair enough. Maybe she was channeling the three band members of Rush. I can dream at least.

We also showed both girls some of the the video of the two female American astronauts who recently took part in the first all-female spacewalk. They'd been tasked with replacing a power controller, and had ventured out of the International Space Station. So awesome to watch. It was also so much fun when I showed the recruiting team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of many organizations that participate in the Talent Board candidate experience benchmark research program I run, the picture of my daughter and I dressed as astronauts and space shuttle. In fact, they said they're hiring!

Bryce was so happy and proud to have me as her space shuttle Columbia at every Halloween event we went to this year, including the Halloween parade at her and her sister's school that all the students participate in. I got a lot of orbit miles out of that cardboard space shuttle in just under one week.

"I'm going to be the first female astronaut to go to the moon," Bryce has told us over and over again.

We of course agreed and, who knows, we may just see her do that someday. And while I don't ever want to take away anything from her about being the first female to go to the moon, to Mars and to who knows where else as the future becomes now again, we long for the day when we can just call her the first astronaut, because.

"Excitement so thick, you could cut it with a knife
Technology high, on the leading edge of life
Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination with the eyes
of the world we stare..."

Friday, October 25, 2019

Like It’s Your Last Day Ever

“Didn't he say how he likes to make the holes?
Time melts away while he tries to make the holes
Turn it on, Salvador…”

–Toy Matinee, Turn It On Salvador

Between our two girls asking me where the other suitcase was, and my wife calling me from the fourth floor asking if I got the other suitcase, I suddenly understood: our other big suitcase was still in the apartment where we’d stayed all week.

And now it was locked with the key inside on the table, exactly where the owners had told us to leave the key. To shut the door behind us. To have safe travels home.

It was six in the morning, and we were supposed to have left for the airport by that point. The plan was to move the big bags one at a time down the tiny elevator from the fourth floor to the first, call the Uber and head to the airport, to start the long trek home from Paris.

“Dad, Mom said you brought the suitcase down, where is it?” our oldest Beatrice asked.

That’s when I got the phone call from my wife, Amy.

“You don’t have it? Sweetie, I already shut the door. It’s locked,” she said.

I took the tiny elevator back up to where she was, unable to articulate how horrified I was. I pounded my fists on my legs.

“I’m sorry, I thought you had the bag,” Amy said. “I’ll call and text the owners right now.”

“I told you I could only bring one bag at a time.”

“I’m calling them now.”

Later, I would relate that extreme sick feeling I felt at that very moment to when George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life chastised Uncle Billy for losing the $8,000 that was supposed to be deposited in the bank.

Where's that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where's that money? Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison! That's what it means! One of us is going to jail; well, it's not gonna be me!

Except that we wouldn’t be going to prison. And it wasn’t a scandal. It was stressful, though, and in stress I tend to run on reactive overdramatic steam, and was already running through all possible (worst) scenarios of what would happen and what we’d have to do. The reality was, at worst, the owners would respond and show up too late, and we’d have to rebook our flights home. At best, the owners would respond quickly, come let us in so we could get our suitcase and get to the airport in time for our flight.

And so, we waited to hear back. Amy and the girls were in the lobby with all but the one missing suitcase, and me on the fourth floor waiting and staring at my phone. I could hear Amy talking softly with the girls all the way down on the first floor. It was early and no one else in the building was up yet. Time hung like weights on my face, arms and legs. It pulled me downward like the superheated gravity of a Salvador Dali painting. The horrified anger and frustration I had at that moment reminded me of the day before, when we were on our way to an Eiffel Tower tour, and hit a snag with our Metro subway tickets. We were losing time, something I despise, especially when there’s something scheduled we’re running up against. Traveling as a family works pretty well for us overall – the girls are great travelers and roll with it all, and Amy and I complement each other along the way.

But I really struggle with time, and Amy does not. Time shorts me, bullies me, shames me. Time protects her, loves her, forgives her. I wrestle with time; she dances with it. For our girls? Time is an open green field under blue skies where they can run and play.

A moment of indecision, defunct Metro tickets, an Uber that would’ve taken too long, and I decided we had to go to another Metro station and try again. I just didn’t want to miss the last scheduled tour on our trip, one that wasn’t cheap.

After going back and forth about it for less than a minute, I blurted out something like, “Fine, you can stay here but I’m going!”

Not a great moment for me, and although I handle stress much better in my life these days, I’m still sometimes sucked into the black holes of selfish anger.

“Don’t fight, Mom and Dad,” both girls said.

The fourth floor was eerily quiet as I thought about the day before, waiting to hear the owner had arrived to let us in.

We made it with plenty of time yesterday, I thought. And we took the girls on the Eiffel Tower, for goodness sake. First world problems and all that. So grateful we were able to go on this trip together. First DC, now this. Such an amazing trip and so educational and enlightening for us all. 

Then I remembered that, right before we made it to the tour with time to spare, I had said, “We just have to better build in that nickel and dime time when we travel. I travel a lot more than you now.”

Which, in retrospect, was just a stupid thing to say, because Amy was traveling a lot more than me when we first met, and now that I travel more for work, it’s easier just to plan for me, and yet she’s the one who has to prep travel for two kids and a dad when we all travel together. I help of course, but she’s always been better at the prep and planning than me. So, it was no surprise when she gently but firmly reminded me of that.

Back to the waiting on the fourth floor – only five minutes had gone by. I texted Amy.

Any response?

No, I am so sorry.

Love you. Nothing we can do about it.

And that was it, really. Nothing we could do about it. I sat down in that moment metaphorically as if it were a hammock chair, fully present in whatever was to happen next, and I repeated the brief meditation I practice more often these days.

Breathe in – I am – breathe out – at peace. Over and over. Amen.

Then I thought of the picture I took of Beatrice staring at a line of graffiti along the walls of the Seine River. It read:

Live like it’s your last day ever.

I received another text from Amy: He is coming now. 


At the airport, before we boarded, Amy said, “You see, everything works out just like it’s supposed to.”

“I know, and you always remind me of that,” I said.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

And then time melts away.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

What Will Remain and Become

I told her to follow me, but she wanted to see and read all the descriptive panels along the way. We were in the National Archives in Washington DC viewing the founding documents of America, something both our girls didn't want to do initially. That's because we were out at lunch across the street and it was raining hard. Over three inches fell that afternoon. Plus, we'd already been hauling the girls to the White House and then a special FBI tour. We're a go-go-go family, so our speed with our girls is always on high.

But, we convinced them to go across the street. Told them we were going actually, and that they didn't have a choice. And so we all trudged through the rain across the street and entered the hallowed halls where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are kept. When we entered the rotunda, the girls were in awe. We were in awe. My wife Amy and I had been to DC prior to the girls and seen all this already, but it never gets old for us. No matter where we are the political spectrum, we're proud Americans through and through. And it was exciting to be able to bring the whole family on my work trips again and make a little vacation out of them.

Which is why it was bittersweet for us, just because of where we're at with our country now, more polarized than ever.

I pointed upwards to the murals above us and said, "Those are the founding fathers — and behind them were just as many founding mothers." Amy nodded and I teared up little because we feel there’s so much at stake for us all right now and we wonder what of America will remain and what it will become for our daughters. Beatrice and Bryce both seemed to enjoy it and even asked us a few questions.

I thought to myself, We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union...

The next day we continued our DC trip by going to the Holocaust Museum. We considered not taking them because of the difficult content, and then it was recommended that we go through the children's section called "Daniel's Story." Either way we decided we wanted them to know the story of the Holocaust, which was sadly only one of too many other atrocities some have brought on others because they feel they’re superior to them combined with the irrational fear of the few losing power and control, over and over again. And even in America it happens -- indigenous people, enslaved people and people held captive at our borders. We talked about how we can and should make a difference. When asked how it made them feel, Bea and Bryce said they were sad. We all left quietly and headed back to our hotel.

While Amy and I have no idea what will remain and become of our great country, we still have faith our constitution will persevere, and we'll do whatever we can as citizens to ensure that the democratic republic experiment of America continues. Yes, we're all fallible and we all have our own biases, but we as a family have no room for perpetuating fear or hate. We can't have room for that when there's so much more positive potential that abounds. That's what #BhivePower is all about.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

My Birthday Wish

I'm exhausted. I never imagined that community service would take such an emotional toll. Even after serving on the Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) for nearly three years, and now being its chair, my involvement in the past three weeks has eclipsed anything I ever imagined this work would entail.

Yes, I'm naive. Especially when it comes to the local politics that have now completely consumed the results from an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment made by five women against two Santa Cruz councilmembers. Two complaints were substantiated, multiple others were unsubstantiated (but not unfounded), which still indicated a pervasive pattern of harassment and disrespectful behavior for all the victims.

I haven't slept much. I'm quick to anger. I've been resistant to nearly every step of this recent journey. Plus, I still have to run my organization day to day with its own set of stressors. I still have to be Dad to our two girls. I still have to be a supportive husband to my wife, who's done nothing but support me the entire time.

And yet, none of that really matters. This is about the victims. This is why I do this work. Those who are brave enough to come forward share their stories and who long for healing and justice. Those who have endured weeks, months and years of all kinds of abuse. How I respond to it all this does matter, but not the fact that I'm tired and stressed about it all, because this isn't about me in the first place. I chose this and took a leadership position to help shepherd corrective change. It's like I've taken a pressure washer to my very soul and blasted away the years of biased emotional rust. Not all the bias, that's tough to do, but enough to understand my current convictions that connect me to my childhood of domestic violence and sexual abuse and back again.

Our president has been accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by at least 24 women. He's retaliated against many of these women, threatening to sue them or insulting them. The president himself has admitted, on the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, that he forces himself on women. And yet, many of his conservative supporters, including Republican congressman and evangelical Christians, are doubling down on his denial. That this is all politically motivated and that the victims are lying.

Our two local city councilmembers referenced above have consistently stated they didn't do anything wrong after 5 women came forward. One of the men, who's white, said he's sorry, that he was misunderstood. The other, who's black, said the reaction of "fragile white women" is one of systemic racism, that their reaction of feeling disrespected and harassed was their fault, not his. And yet, many of their progressively liberal supporters are doubling down on their denial. That this is all politically motivated and that the victims are lying.

Of course, the above two examples aren't the same. They are, however, two sides of the same coin; the same problem we see around the world. That this is about male power and control, patriarchy, and anyone who challenges that status quo, who challenges rape culture -- a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse -- is immediately minimized, trivialized, shamed, blamed and not believed. I was raised in this culture and it's been an eye-opening journey to get to where I'm at today, raising two young girls with my wife.

I cannot speak to what it's like being a person of color and the racism that is still pervasive today, but I can speak to being a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence, and how they can be shamed and blamed. Which is why, when victims come forward, I have to start by believing, because the research is clear about the prevalence of false allegations around harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault -- it's between 2% and 10%. But even with this small incidence, it's the real victims, those who have actually been harassed and/or assaulted, have the much longer road to healing, if they ever truly can. They're also the ones who are in fear of reporting what happened, due to the way we victimize the victims, like what I witnessed at our last city council meeting. If more came forward, then most likely it would reduce the percentage of false allegations overall. It's takes a lot of courage to come forward and say that you've been harassed or assaulted, for women and men alike.

When victims come forward, we have to believe. Especially when any allegations are proven, those who have abused need to be held accountable. To not do so perpetuates patriarchy, power and control, and victims will not come forward, and harassment, disrespectful workplace behavior, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and yes, murder, will go on and on.

Societal change is hard. We just finished our second annual awareness and prevention symposium called Transforming Together where we invited the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.

There are some amazing people in our community working to end sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence. They are providing support services and healing resources for victims who come forward, and push for accountability of those accused of abuse. And now there's an ever-increasing focus on continuous awareness and primary prevention programs that start with healthy relationships, better communication skills, boundary setting and more. Programs that can also help prevent these issues before they start. This will be a big focus of our commission work going forward.

For those who have been bullied, harassed, abused, assaulted or worse, I hear you, I see you and I start by believing.

We all deserve to be safe. We can all help stop it before it starts. Men have to be part of the solution.

That is my birthday wish. That is what I'm fighting for.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

In Susie's Shoes

Someone from the audience yelled, "Man up!"

I couldn't believe it. Maybe I was naive; city council meetings can be contentious. But I'd never heard something quite like this before. We heard disrespectful comment after disrespectful comment and egregious public victim shaming and blaming at the last city council meeting in Santa Cruz. And it all translated as we don't believe you, so be quiet, sit down, and shut up. This from the California coastal progressive bastion of #metoo and equal rights.

Earlier this year, a Sacramento-based law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment. The scope of the investigation included complaints made by five individuals -- all women -- against Santa Cruz Councilmember Drew Glover and Councilmember Chris Krohn alleging violations of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Procedure Order Section II, #1B Respectful Workplace Conduct; and City Council Policy 25.2, Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy occurring between July 2018 and May 3, 2019.

The final report was then submitted for review to the city in late July (and has since been released to the public) and the city HR director later ruled that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the investigation's assessment that both Krohn and Glover had violated the city’s seven-page Santa Cruz Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy. There was one substantiated complaint each confirmed (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations are true) and multiple others filed against each councilmember that were not substantiated (the investigation failed to disclose enough evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations), which does not mean unfounded (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations is/are false). In fact, this shows a pervasive pattern of disrespectful workplace behavior and harassment.

I'm the current chair for the Santa Cruz City Council Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), and myself along with our vice chair and other commissioners attended the September 24, 2019 Santa Cruz City Council meeting to to affirm our commitment to the women complainants who had come forward with regard to the abusive and disrespectful conduct of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. As a Commission, we “Start by Believing” those who have the courage to come forward and share their stories of harassment and abuse. We stood and made that statement to the city council and the public.

We were also there in particular support of Susie O’Hara, who has served as our staff coordinator for CPVAW, and who is one of the five complainants. She made a heart-wrenching public statement at the council meeting with her entire family next to her -- her three daughters and her husband.

During the September 24 meeting, we heard multiple instances of Krohn and Glover supporters who claimed the complaints against them were false, blatantly victim shaming and blaming the women complainants with no replies or outcries to cease and desist other than from three other council members, two of whom were complainants.

Susie O’Hara was also publicly castigated directly in front of her husband and her children, telling her to "toughen up" and "deal with it." I was floored. Who are these people who live in my community? I thought.

The public display was quite destructive and damaging to the victims who had come forward as well as possible deterrent to other victims of bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the city and county of Santa Cruz.

There was also a proposed reprimand of the two councilmembers on the agenda, but the voices of the the victims and public were silenced when a majority of the council moved to table the censure item, an unprecedented act of political manipulation. And the two councilmembers accused of the above disrespectful workplace behavior were allowed to vote to table it.

The next night we had our CPVAW meeting where we moved to implore our mayor to re-agendize the censure of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. Councilmember Krohn attended our meeting and when I pressed him as to why he did not ask the public in chambers to stop their victim shaming comments, he said, “I didn’t realize it was going on.”

Really. You've got to be kidding me. Watch the recording of the meeting again, please.

I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I worried that I wouldn't be believed when I finally came forward. I was thankfully fully supported by my friends and family. But when I now witness my community publicly shame and blame victims who have bravely come forward, witness my community politicize the victims by calling their accusations false and discriminatory to be used against those accused, all the while enabled and empowered by the majority of our own city council, I'm deeply disappointed. All I have to do is put myself in Susie's shoes, with my daughters and wife by my side, listening to my community humiliate me by telling me to man up and move on. My resolve to always believe victims and help them heal, to hold those who have abused accountable, and to strive for greater awareness and prevention, has never been greater.

Join the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and the local Santa Cruz community for the 2nd annual free "awareness and prevention" symposium on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Louden Nelson Community Center from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

The theme is again Transforming Together and we invite the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

To Be Those Parents

We jumped off the roof in the summertime. We'd prop the ladder against the house, scramble up it to atop the porch, and walked from the top of porch to the roof. We'd take in the view of the housetops around us and the horizon beyond, and then take a few quick steps down the shake shingle rooftop and jump right into the swimming pool below. 

From the edge of the house to the pool was only four feet, so we always easily cleared the pool decking 10 feet below us. After baking in the 100+ degree weather of California's Central Valley, swimming in our pool all through high school was such a pleasure. Especially with all our friends over. And my sister and I always had friends over. 

Our mom and dad loved the fact that our friends were always over, except when they weren't there and we were jumping off the roof into the pool. Or, when we were making out with those we were dating at the time. Or, when we were having a drinking party when they were at the coast for the weekend. 

"Son, quit jumping off the roof," Dad would say. "You're going to break your frickin' neck. And if your friends break their frickin' neck, they parents are going to sue us. Do you understand?"

Except that he'd throw the real expletives at me and then some. I'd nod and say I did understand, and then the next week we'd again be jumping off the roof. My dad had been a police officer and detective for over 32 years, and was more than direct at times, and yet still had a big heart. 

What was lost on me at the time was how much our friends enjoyed coming over when our parents were home, even more often than when they weren't. My parents were always so generous with all our friends, even those they didn't like so much. But they weren't just friendly adults longing to be friends with our friends; they were friendly adults who still had boundaries as our parents and who treated our friends as extended family. More than once in years since my friends have reminded me of how much my parents were like a second family to them, a second set of parents they listened to and respected. 

Fast forward decades to our family of two girls, Beatrice and Bryce, now 11 and 9. Both girls have many friends, which we're thankful for, as they are loving young humans with good hearts and grateful souls. With friends over regularly for play dates and now both girls experiencing slumber parties away and at home, the growing up adventures have only just begun. 

In fact, the multiple movie parties we've had with nearly 20 kids at one time have turned into date nights for many other parents, of which they're quite appreciative (with a good-luck wink and a smile). We have fun and the kids have fun, and the latest of these events was Bea's 11th birthday party where over 25 kids shook the foundation of our not-so-big house. 

So. Many. Kids. A little overwhelming for me, but less so for my wife Amy, with us both trying to keep an eye on everything ("Stop feeding the rabbit," and "Stop jumping on the couch," and "Stay out of the garage," and "No pizza or cake or drinks in the living room"), although the kids were pretty good overall (only two spills, that we know of), still listening to the adults in the room as they're all still in the pre-tween shadows.

"There's so many kids here," I said to Amy.

"Yes, and I want to be those parents," she said, "the ones where the kids are comfortable coming over and we know what's going on because they're here."

"True, but there's so many kids."

"I know, Sweetie. Love you. Please go see what they're doing in the backyard."

Of course we're not the only house the kids will want to hang out at, and we're not the only parents who befriend other kids as a second family of sorts. But we do want to be those parents, especially through middle school (which is coming next year!), high school and beyond. We want to know what's going on as much as we can and as much as they're comfortable sharing with us. No fear or shame, just parental guidance and understanding, and a lotta frickin' patience (miss you Dad!). 

The good news for now? We're a few years from the tempests of teenage-land. Plus, we currently don't have a pool, so there's no jumping off the roof any time soon.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

This Was All Them, Again

"From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light
That gets in your eyes
One moment's high
And glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades
In the summer sky..."

–Rush, Marathon

Three years coaching the oldest, one year coaching the youngest, and then I retired. Well, not really retired, I just couldn't do it again due to my work travel schedule. And that was a hard choice, because I really enjoyed coaching recreational soccer. I really enjoyed trying to instill skills, fun and teamwork with the girls I coached, especially our daughters.

It was big investment of time, and worth all of it as well, since I'm always learning myself -- learning how to communicate better with kids and adults alike. I won't sugarcoat -- everyone's an armchair quarterback coach -- and that was especially evident last year. Our girls' parents were always supportive and good-intentioned, and everyone had an idea on how to help the players get better, whether it be from the sidelines or bending my ear. I asked for counsel as well, knowing again I was constantly learning how and what to teach the team. 

That's no different this year; I'm now a spectator parent who coaches from the sideline, calling out where the girls should be, what they should do. I'm not the only one, of course, and we have only our girls best interest in mind. Kind of. Some of us are more competitive than others, and the fun, skills and teamwork gets filtered through the distorted lens of winning. Or at least trying to win.

Ah, the part about having fun. We tell them we want them to have fun, and then you play against teams that are more physical and more organized and more competitive and score on you 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 saw it in their hot and tired faces every week last year, coaching my youngest Bryce and her team.

That feels like a long time ago now. As I wax nostalgic, the reality each year is that is only some of the girls will go on to playing competitive soccer, while many others will grow up and do other things, maybe fondly remembering the years they played rec soccer.

Except, many of them still are playing, including both our daughters. Thank you to the coaches who are volunteering their time this year. What's been fascinating to watch are the leaps they've made this year already, and the season has only just begun. Beatrice has come a long way in four years and she's now playing U12 with some pretty amazing athletes, girls who could be playing competitively. Her team played their first game recently and Bea told us she wanted to score a goal. This reminded me of Bryce last year on our way to our last game together.

We were so proud watching her play, only because she had always been tentative with aggressively going after the ball. Bea turned it on though, and while she didn't score, she gave her shots her best shot when she played forward. And her defensive play was pretty tight as well.

Bryce is playing U10 again, and some of the girls she played with last year on the team I coached and playing together again. Watching them I thought, "Wow, is this the same team?" Sure, there's still the moments of kicking the ball the wrong way, and clumping together on the field watching the ball go by while we scream (positively) to go after the ball, but there's so many more moments of putting skills and teamwork together underscored with fun. Competitive fun, especially when you score, like Bryce did, scoring the first goal of the first game. And then again, and again. That little lightning girl has got it going on.

And like the end of last year, this was all them, again, for both our girls. They owned it and the confidence and clarity of what they did shone brightly in their eyes. We watched them beam back at us as if saying, "Did you see that? I just did that." As a parent, there's no better feeling than watching your child shine with a self-awareness of accomplished progress that they can articulate with action, again and again.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Best Way to Play

I played it nearly every night for weeks until four in the morning. I only took breaks to get more ice and refill my Coke, go to the bathroom and go out on the apartment balcony to smoke. I missed classes and slept until noon. And then one night I finally reached the last dungeon, defeated Ganon and rescued Zelda.

The night I did that, I felt pretty satisfied, but then a day later, I was completely and utterly devastated. The Legend of Zelda was over. I tried playing it again from the beginning, but it just wasn't the same. It was the one and only time I ever invested so much of my time and mental energy playing a video game, second only to my high school years playing Donkey Kong at one of my favorite lunch haunts eating Frito Boats at a place called The Hot Dog Barn. And before that it was the Mattel hand-held football game, or just an old-fashioned paddle-pumping game of pinball.

The Legend of Zelda playtime was during my academically rough third year in college, late in 1987. So rough in fact that I took a break from college shortly after that time, and then finished my degree a few years later in 1993. It wasn't the late night video game play that drove me out, though; that was only a symptom of a greater ailment of not being motivated in school, another story for another time. I did work full-time then and continued to work until I finished school with great grades. Thank goodness.

But that's the point here. The point is that I never really played video games after Zelda. I lost interest; it was such an isolating and lonely exercise with no communication with others (unless they played Zelda, and my roommates at the time didn't). And even though the decades to follow video game creators and developers would produce for the world some amazing immersive and interactive games, I was done.

Fast forward to my wife Amy and I having children. Both girls have grown up with devices and the internet and are quite comfortable playing innocuous and cute kid apps and games. Those kid apps and games have now turned into multi-player games like Animal Jam, Minecraft and Roblox (Adopt Me specifically). Still cute and fun games, at least for them still pre-teen, Amy and I never played multi-player games growing up, because we had no internet growing up. No way to connect with others regardless of where they were at around the world.

That's the positive aspect of the internet -- the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. The problem is the anonymity of the internet -- the sometimes unfortunate toxic, bullying and identity thieving scary side of online. And with games like Animal Jam, Roblox, Fortnite and many other multi-player games of today, user names aren't real names. Just fun made up names. So, we really don't know who these people are who play these games. They are strangers. And the Kidpower safety skills we practice in our family tell us to be wary of strangers, especially if they ask personal information of us -- What's your name? Where do you live? What school do you go to? That's information we implore them to never, ever give out.

We had to play the games ourselves, play with our girls, and we continue to do so in order to understand the scope and content of the game and how other strangers, people we don't know, interact with each other in the game. Many players try to "friend" each other in minutes of playing sometimes, and our rule is that if we don't know them, we don't friend and connect with them. Plain and simple. It doesn't mean they can't "play" with others in the game, it just means we must protect our children, their identities and their privacy and ours.

Since the new school year has started, they have discovered other friends who play the above mentioned games (but not Fortnite for our kids -- too violent), and have shared each other's user names to connect. As long as it's okay with the "adults in charge" -- i.e., us the parents -- then that's okay for them to friend each other in these games.

We're also doing the best we can balancing their screen time with reading time, chore time, homework time, outside play time, being with other friends in person time, and other activities. While there are those parents who don't let their children have any screen time and/or online gaming time, or very little, which is their prerogative, we're okay with it in moderation. And yes, there are times when we're both working away at home and we're not monitoring time as much as we should, but they sure as heck aren't staying up until 4 AM to play!

Recently I played a virtual reality Star Wars game that one of my friends brought with him when we had our annual get together. I wielded a light saber and fought alongside Darth Vader. The experience was fascinating and thrilling (I'm a fan of course) and quite disorienting, especially after playing for 20 minutes and taking off the VR goggles and getting back to this reality. He told me about another application of VR technology to help assimilate autistic children to various social settings, and I know there have been and will be many powerful gaming applications in healthcare, skills-based assessments and workforce training, and much more.

Because we're season pass holders, we took the girls to free-play day at the Beach Boardwalk where we could play most of the video games for free for two hours. There were dozens of video games with eye-popping graphics and sound effects, and there were even old school games from back in our day like Pacman and Donkey Kong and Frogger, a game that our youngest Bryce really enjoyed. Our oldest Beatrice and I played pinball. Then Bryce and I played some old fighting game, can't remember the name, but then I stopped abruptly after we beat on each other's avatars and I knocked hers out -- too violent. And then Amy rocked out to Foghat's "Slow Ride" on Guitar Hero. From the decades-old Pong to Roblox today, video games are here to stay, and the best way to play as far as we're concerned is to steer clear of violent content and to stay safe online.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

That Bastard of a Monkey

"It's not a habit, it's cool, I feel alive
If you don't have it you're on the other side
I'm not an addict, maybe that's a lie..."

–K's Choice, Not an Addict

She knew when I cheated. The first two years were the hardest, and covering up the few cheats were exercises in futility; the stench never leaves the clothes after even just one cigarette, and the residue left in the mouth and throat is unmistakable, no matter the mouth wash or breath mints. I convinced myself that it was okay, that each one was the last cheat. It was such a difficult monkey on my back.

However, after the first two years of quitting in 2002, it became literally a breath of fresh air. I didn't miss it after that. It had been nearly 20 years since I first smoked those nasty clove cigarettes that eventually led to my pack a day cigarette habit. Even with smoking decreasing everywhere, I'm surprised / not surprised when I still see smokers on the streets, in parks, on the beaches, etc. And now vaping is more prevalent that ever, which is nothing more than another way of getting the nicotine smack monkey on your back. And this is something we've talked to our girls about since vaping is has been marketed to younger school-age kids.

My quit date is still a very important date to me, even with the cheats. It's also our oldest daughter's birthday. And my wife Amy wouldn't marry me unless I quit. She had smoked a little herself when we first met, but had long since quit.

If you've been a smoker, then you know how tough it is to quit. You also know how easy it is to start again. I had quit multiple times prior to the official quit, failing each and every time. Nicotine is such a highly addictive drug, and even though it doesn't give you the same "high" as other addictive drugs, the vicious reward cycle is one of the strongest.

According to recent research:

Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in neurons that connect the nucleus accumbens with the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and other brain regions; this dopamine signal “teaches” the brain to repeat the behavior of taking the drug. 

The amount of dopamine released with any given puff of a cigarette is not that great compared to other drugs, but the fact that the activity is repeated so often, and in conjunction with so many other activities, ties nicotine’s rewards strongly to many behaviors that we perform on a daily basis, enhancing the pleasure and the motivation that we get from them. 

Smokers’ brains have learned to smoke, and just like unlearning to ride a bike, it is incredibly hard to unlearn that simple, mildly rewarding behavior of lighting up a cigarette.

Columbia University researchers Denise B. Kandel and Eric R. Kandel have identified a molecular mechanism underlying nicotine’s gateway effect: Nicotine encourages expression in the reward circuit of FOSB, a gene that underlies the learning processes described earlier. Thus, nicotine makes it easier for other drugs to teach users’ brains to repeat their use.

Smoking seems to both enhance and prolong the pleasure of other activities. The reinforcement-enhancing effect applies also when obtaining nicotine from e-cigarettes.

Not to mention that cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, which is about 1,300 deaths every single day. There's enough research out there today accessible to all of us that underscores the dangers of smoking.

I empathize with addicts of all kinds. I do. Unfortunately it's in my genes. I also know the health benefits of quelling an addiction, especially one like smoking cigarettes. Because you don't choose to smoke once you've started, the only choice you have is not to smoke. Addiction is selfish that way. (Learned that from Nicotine Anonymous.)

Recently I was on my way to one of my Natural Bridges State Park beach workouts, and a woman had just finished smoking a cigarette. I didn't see her smoke it, but as she walked in front of me to cross the street, I could smell it. The visceral memories of that smell reminded me all the times I smelled that way. That bastard of a monkey on my back dug its rusted nails into my skin and I literally flinched. Not because I missed it; I'm way past that now. Because I worry it could still kill me someday, just like it continues to kill 1,300 people per day.

God bless you, Brothers and Sisters. The only choice is not to.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mad at Dad

I knew I should've just driven around for 5 more minutes to find an open spot on the street. But I didn't. I wasn't even that impatient this time, at least not the way I used to be when looking for parking, and yet I still didn't keep looking. Instead, I parked where it was clearly marked I shouldn't park without a permit, thinking in my head I'd get away with it.

I did not get away with it.

I wouldn't find out for hours, though. I was taking my daughters and one of their friends to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for the afternoon. We parked up the small hill from the Boardwalk because when it's really busy, it's tough to drive close to it and park. Plus, being a local, I didn't want to pay for parking, and a little walk never hurt anyone.

This was the dad weekend, since my wife, Amy, the mom, was away at her high school reunion. We had wanted to go together, but since it was the first week of school for the girls, we wanted them to stay close to home. Mom was having a blast, and the night before had sent me a cute video of her "mom" dancing with her friends at 11:30 pm, way past our usual bedtime. On the other hand, I stayed up late myself, watching Avengers: End Game after I put the girls to bed.

We know how to rock and roll.

The next day, after I parked the car, the kids and I walked down to the Boardwalk. The fog burned off and it was a lovely day. We rode some rides, got yummy snacks, and overall had a great time.

Until Bryce got hangry. This is a pretty common condition for those of you with kids who, when they get hungry, they get grumpy and angry. This isn't just specific to kids; adults can get hangry, too. Amy used to get hangry when we were first dating.

First, it started with a request to ride one of the rides that we had already walked a ways away from, coming close to the end of our visit.

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"Bryce, I said no, we've got to get back soon. We're still going to ride the bumper cars and the carousel again."

"No, I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"Do you want another snack, Bryce? Are you hungry?"

There's a point where hangry combines with being tired for a truly special meltdown, where no food will help. Bryce refused any new snacks, so Beatrice and their friend tried to help console Bryce and distract her, but the meltdown continued. She tugged on me and hit me with her hat annoyingly.

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

"I want to go on Ghost Blasters!"

In the past, I'd always try to fight fire with fire, threatening punitive measures if she didn't stop with the tantrum. Which, by the way, isn't easy for a 9-year-old. Or, any of us for that matter when we're tired and hungry. I lit the battle fires in my head and hands, battled for a bit, and then extinguished them. There was no point. It wouldn't make any difference. I texted Amy that Bryce was "Mad at Dad" and she texted back "Sorry". I hugged Bryce, told her I loved her and that I was sorry she was upset, and as soon as the bumper cars were over we were going home. Then I just let her burn herself out. She softened after the ride and as we walked back to the car, she held my hand and stayed quiet.

When we got to the car, Beatrice said, "Looks like you didn't get a ticket, Dad."

I saw the parking ticket tucked under the windshield wiper. "No, it's there."

"Oh, right," Beatrice said, pulling the ticket out and handing it to me. "Sorry."

Later that night before bed, I told Bryce that I loved her and was sorry I had gotten mad.

"I'm sorry you got mad at dad," I said.

"It's okay, Daddy. I know I get hangry." She giggled when she said it. "I'm sorry."

"I love you, Bryce."

"I love you, Daddy," she said, and gave me a kiss.

Damn, that was one expensive parking spot, I thought.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The #MeToo Guys

"I said if love has these conditions
I don't understand those songs you love
She said this is not a love song
This isn't fantasy-land
Don't go too far..."

–Rush, Cold Fire

In that moment, all I could think about were the times I pushed myself on another woman. Not physically, thank goodness, but emotionally, yes. Plus, the pining that followed when I was left with nothing consensual; when I was left with nothing but rejection. Every single time a memory of a little self-inflicted cut that healed still left its scar. The scar of how I dealt with it and her, more than being told no. The difference between fantasy and reality.

"I remember every time I went too far," I said aloud.

"Me too," one of my friends said.

"So, both of you tell me," I asked two of my friends. "You both have daughters. Have you talked with them about consent? Especially when they were teenagers?"

Both friends nodded and said yes they had.

"Thank you," I said, thinking of my own daughters, almost 9 and 11. "No means no. And yes when changed to no means no."

"That's why I'm never running for office," one friend said.

We just nodded. The hormonal rage of teenage angst doesn't stop when we hit 18. Sometimes we keep making the same mistakes as adults, with too much emotional subjectivity in our decision making.

Our discussion then devolved into a circular argument about when we grew up, it was a different time, and these things happened. But every generation grows up in a different time, and these things still always happen.

The last time I got together with my friend of 40+ 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.

But that's not really true. We can do better by our children, though, both girls and boys, because girls can and do make ill-fated emotional decisions as well, consensual or not. There are guidelines for us all to teach and to follow. We're in this together, to be better together.

There's a simple Kidpower message that states:

Each of us has the right to be treated with safety and respect and the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards ourselves and others.

My wife works at Kidpower, teaching kids, teens and adults safety skills. I'm also a Kidpower padded instructor who teaches self-defense skills.

In a previous post, I shared that one of the many Kidpower instructors I admire (besides my wife, of course) inspired me with this analogy:

When we're literally on fire, we're taught to -- Stop, Drop and Roll -- to extinguish the fire.

But why are we on fire in the first place? What happened to cause the fire? What things can we do to prevent these fires in the future? To make ourselves safer? To make our families safer? To make our communities safer?

Self-defense skills are important, but consent even more so and so important to teach our children. And our teens and even us as adults, but we should definitely start with our children.

According to Kidpower, children can start to learn the following boundaries and safety rules to ensure positive consent for touch, games, and affection as soon as they can talk, and these rules stay relevant throughout their lives:

Touch or games for play, teasing, and affection should be:

  1. Safe so that no one gets hurt
  2. OK with Each Person so that each person says “yes” (people who are scared, sick, drunk, or otherwise impaired cannot say yes; people who say yes without enthusiasm, or while turning away are not saying yes…)
  3. Allowed by the adults in charge
  4. Not a secret so Others Can Know, because abusive behavior thrives in secrecy

Having skills for protecting and respecting healthy boundaries in daily activities starting as a child is essential to preventing sexual abuse and assault, and ensuring consent in sexual activities as adults.

I had such a good time with my friends. We only see each other once or twice a year, and the fact that we've known each other for decades, and even through all our mistakes, we all want to do better, to be better men, husbands and fathers. And especially for those of us with children, we have and want to instill the values of personal responsibility and consent. We are the #MeToo guys, and I want my daughters to know that there are men young and old who can, will and are doing better when it comes to consent, safety and respect.

Other past posts about these friends of mine:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Love and the Levity

"Too many broken hearts have fallen in the river
Too many lonely souls have drifted out to sea
You lay your bets and then you pay the price
The things we do for love, the things we do for love..."

–10cc, The Things We Do For Love

I saw them laugh together. Then they kissed and hugged and laughed again. Their cute dog running around their feet and barking. I couldn’t help but smile myself – a big one that went from ear to ear.

They were taking pictures. Dozens of pictures. Maybe hundreds. It was their wedding, for goodness sake, and as it should be. The groom, who's name is Ron and is my global program manager for Talent Board the organization I run, had married his sweetheart Carly and I couldn’t be happier. All of us there couldn’t be happier – family and friends all around.

My wife Amy was supposed to be with me, but our childcare for the girls didn’t work out, and so I went solo. Missed her terribly, especially because of the very sentimental moment of being at this wedding. Before I had even arrived to the wedding, somewhere 2.5 hours outside of Minneapolis, on a beautiful lake off a dirt and rock-filled road, I had been reminiscing about our wedding with Amy back in October of 2003.

And so, I pulled up an old picture from our wedding and posted it on Instagram and Facebook. One of the artsy ones that our photographer took, a dear family friend, and it had a soft, grainy, 1970’s feel to it. We stood cheek to cheek, the sun setting behind us into the sea. We put the wedding together ourselves and had lots of help from family and friends.

While at my team member's wedding, the small white lights that hung throughout the reception dinner tent lit up against the dimming light of dusk. It reminded me of the lights we had hung at our wedding all those years one point I was the only one in the room hanging the little white lights.

Or trying to hang them. There was a point where I stood at the top of a ladder holding an extension cord in one hand and a string of lights in another, trying to plug them into each other, and I felt like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I'm lucky I didn't fall and break my neck.

Here's more of that story (the video quality is poor since we waited a long time to convert from VHS to digital):

Ah, the laughter. It was great seeing Ron, his wife and all their friends and family laughing with each other as well. And then later that evening, when I checked Facebook, my friends were all poking fun at the wedding picture I posted. Teasing me more about what I wore than my lovely wife. All is fair in love and Facebook.

And yet, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. It all started with the picture in the beginning of this post, which then led to a dear friend posting a funny picture of the Grateful Dead in white suits.

Which led to Earth, Wind and Fire; ABBA; the Bee Gees and so many more. Check out the thread here.

Some of you may not know who are all in these pictures, but they're pretty darn funny to me considering the context. The love and the levity of what they posted warmed my heart. Every time I look at them I'm crying. So funny.

A little laughter goes a long way in life, in relationships, in marriage. It keeps the endorphins popping in our heads and love and empathy expanding in our hearts. Along with plenty of laughter, other recommendations I would give to Ron and his wife -- compromise when possible especially when you don't see eye to eye; don't hide things from each other no matter what they are; don't judge or shame each other and definitely don't go to bed mad if you can help it (I haven't always done my best here, but am better in my elder age), always be grateful for each other and respect each other in all facets of life; fall in love every single day (that is possible, trust me) and again, laugh as much as you can.

Amen. Mercy me, so funny.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Why These Fires Start

"I'm trying, I'm trying to sleep
I'm trying, I'm trying to sleep
But I can't, but I can't when you all have
Guns for hands..."

–twenty one pilots, Guns for Hands

I almost brought the nearest to me to the ground; the two pops were loud and unmistakable. I flinched and knew in my periphery my oldest daughter was on my right and my niece and her baby daughter where slightly behind me on my left. And my wife was with our youngest daughter at the other end of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. How was I going to help them all?

I couldn't. And then I thought of part of my Kidpower self-defense training: when someone has a gun, you run. You run for safety as best as you can and get help as soon as you can. That most shooters aren't very accurate when people are running away from them, and police departments concur. That doesn't mean you won't get shot, but falling to the ground where you are can make you more of a target. And trying to fight someone with a gun pointing at you, which should be a last resort for those even with a modicum of training, could mean a quick loss of life. 

All these things went through my mind seconds after the two loud pops. But they weren't gun shots – they were just balloons popping in one of the boardwalk games. Just balloons. I sighed and then we were on our way enjoying the day. I can't imagine what it's been like for real victims of shootings and their families.

The immediate fear was palatable, though. Especially considering that only a few days earlier there was a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. And for the first time we discussed shootings with our children, and what to do if it happens and how to stay safe. No surprise, it scared them, but it was still a necessary conversation. 

That's now already 32 mass shootings in the U.S. this year (defined as three or more killings in a single episode).

There have been many arguments as to why this keeps happening in America, but one clear fact documented over and over again is that there are too many guns in this country with relatively unregulated gun ownership compared to the rest of the developed world. In fact, Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. Combine that now with growing civil unrest, resurgent racism, simmering hate and fear being stoked by some of the very leaders who are supposed to call foul and unify us, and we have perpetual societal bonfires jeopardizing the lives of our families. 

I say that because one of the many Kidpower instructors I admire (besides my wife, of course) inspired me with this analogy:

When we're literally on fire, we're taught to -- Stop, Drop and Roll -- to extinguish the fire.

But why are we on fire in the first place? What happened to cause the fire? What things can we do to prevent these fires in the future? To make ourselves safer? To make our families safer? To make our communities safer?

In light of these horrific mass shootings of late, we need to keep our fears in check and work hard to be aware and prevent these societal fires from starting in the first place, including:

  • Practice skills for taking charge of your safety and your family's everyday
  • Learn and practice the safety plan at your school/business
  • Practice speaking up about safety to those with power to act
  • Practice overcoming the “Bystander Effect" and empowering yourself and others to take action
  • Help strengthen a positive social climate in your community

These being just a few of the Kidpower Safety tips for individuals and families

And as American citizens, speaking truth to power about why these fires start in the first place and what we can do to prevent them through legislation and law enforcement is also our responsibility. We can and should be shouting from the rooftops about reducing the number of guns in our country and addressing the racist hate and destructive anger that's driving these mass shootings of late.

Speak up and be safe. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Curse-Funding Our Next Vacation

Maybe you've heard it before: intelligent people swear more, stay up late, leave work at their desks and are messier overall. Various bits of research loosely woven together from random ends of the world wide interwebs seem to circulate like this on Facebook every month.

For example, with the cursing -- people who could name the most swear words within a minute also tend to score higher on an IQ test. The study concludes that a rich vocabulary of swear words is a sign of rhetorical strength rather than the attempt to hide verbal deficits.

Then I must be a friggin' genius. On the swearing at least. The staying up late? Nope, not even close. We're in bed by 9:00-9:30 PM every friggin' night. However, my wife and I leave our work at all our desks (in my office, in the house, etc.), but the messiness varies by age in our house -- our two girls are kids, so they're usually the messier ones, leaving out toys everywhere all the time that we're constantly nagging them to pick up their friggin' toys. And that we're constantly picking up for them.

Good friggin' God. The swearing. When we were on family vacation this year, there were too many times when my wife and I cursed away for whatever reason, usually out of momentary frustration with each other, the kids, or vacation circumstance around us (like not being able to find our car in one of the Walt Disney World parking lot), and both our girls called us out on them every single time.

"Daddy, you said the f-word," said Bryce.

"No I didn't -- I said friggin'," I would counter.

"Dad, that's the same thing," said Beatrice.

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is!"

But now the cursing is going to make us pay if our girls have anything to do with it. Bryce had already created a curse jar awhile ago, so when either of us swears, we have to put money in the jar. Maybe you have one at your house. At first it was just fifty cents here and there, but now, Bryce has created a new "fine" chart based on the swear words used.

For example:

  • The F-word (including the softer friggin' versions) will cost us $5.
  • The S-word will cost us $2.
  • The D-word will cost us $2.
  • The H-word will cost us $1.

They wanted the F-word to cost us $10, but we talked them down (thank friggin' God). We also convinced them that "crap" doesn't count, that "dang" doesn't count and that "heck" doesn't count. But friggin' will cost us, and I use that one a lot.

So, whether or not swearing makes us more intelligent, I don't friggin' know, but I do know that maybe we'll be starting a new savings account. In fact, like crowdfunding, we could be curse-funding our next vacation.