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, 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.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Collective of Little Differences

The waters came with paper straws.

"Nice touch," I said to the waiter.

"I know," he said, smiling.

I drank two glasses of ice water with the one paper straw and it didn't disintegrate or make my water taste like newspaper. This experience was at the tail end of our family vacation in the airport in Orlando.

It's hard enough trying to do our part week to week when we're home, limiting the amount of single-use plastics that now account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year, according to a recent National Geographic article.

That's 40%.

Damn. And 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations that can take hundreds of years to break down. Plus, microplastics are everywhere in our environment -- in our water and the air. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. And eventually, even us.

So, what about recycling? There is some plastic being recycled, right? U.S. recycling rates of PET plastic bottles have historically been sluggish. In 2017 just 29.2 percent of PET bottles were actually recycled compared to the global average of 56 percent, according to the National Association of PET Container Resources. At least more large businesses like PepsiCo, Coca Cola and Walmart are setting bigger longer term goals of using more recycled plastic in their products. But we've got a lot more recycling of plastic to do to get there.

Today, there seems to be this backlash of "it's not that big of a problem; it's not my problem; nobody tells me what to do; I do whatever I want" mentality. It's absurd to us actually, the fact that we're metaphorically mimicking the movie Anchorman scenes where Ron Burgundy and his news team are walking through a park throwing trash on the ground. It's become such a partisan issue that the Trump campaign is selling plastic red straws to combat the evil liberal agenda of paper ones.


Sure, plastic has made our lives easier and more convenient, especially when you have kids, and especially when you take kids on vacation. But my wife Amy wanted us to try and reduce our single-use plastic footprint on our trip (and everyday actually). So we brought refillable water bottles (some that have their own filters), reusable utensils, reusable storage containers for food, and metal straws -- all of which Amy just cleaned at the end of the day for the next day.

Nearly every place we went to eat and/or get a snack that wanted to give us single-use plastics -- lids and straws and such -- we politely declined every chance we got. We explained to both our girls what we were trying to do and why we were doing it. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando also offered paper straws as alternatives, which was a nice surprise, plus recycling for bottles and cans. Of course we couldn't get away with not ever using some single-use plastics, but we did the best we could.

In the end, it's not really a lot of work. A collective of little differences like this can go a long way in keeping our planet healthy.

Monday, July 15, 2019

They Do Last Longer

We saw the lions. It was our second time on the safari, this time at dusk, and we were excited to see other nocturnal animals that were hiding to sleep the day away during our first run. There were three lions laying down high up on a flat rock. Prior to seeing them, we heard them growling and roaring and the tour guide was hopeful we'd see them.

There were two females and a male laying there on the rock as we rounded the corner. Such majestic creatures; we were so grateful to see them. I took a few pictures, knowing that the distance would mean grainier resolution zooming in.

It was only a couple of minutes, and as they started to move out of view, one of the females got up and grazed the male's face with her body, laid back down, and then the male mounted her.

It's natural. It happens. Even on a Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom safari with your family. And all the other families on the safari with you.

All the adults who witnessed it laughed awkwardly. All the kids asked what happened.

Once we were off the safari truck, our oldest daughter Beatrice asked, "What were they doing?"

My wife Amy answered, "They were mating."

"Ewwwww," Beatrice said shaking.

"What?" our youngest Bryce said.

"They were mating."

"Hey baby, you got a hot body!" Bryce said and then laughed.

What the hell? Where did that come from? These kids today.

It was funny, though. Bryce is a riot and Beatrice is growing up so fast; we're so grateful to be able to take them both on another fun family vacation adventure. One where we make memories together and share new and unique experiences. Where we unplug, at least somewhat. Even if I'm mostly checked out of work, which took a couple of days deep into vacation to get there, I'm still sharing and posting the vacation pics on Instagram and Facebook, because that's how I roll. And the girls still have some device time to themselves in between the adventuring.

During our adventuring, for the most part, we're all present and paying attention and our mindfulness accounted for. And while on vacation, early this morning, I ready a little piece in the New York Times about paying attention and noticing your surroundings, without over-analyzing. Just seeing and experiencing. All the sights and sounds and people and animals and things around us. This is where our connectivity comes from, where new ideas come from, where inspiration comes from.

I may take a lot of pictures of it all and share it all electronically, but the experiences are real. Including the experience of forgetting where you parked your rental car in one of the Walt Disney World parking lots. Of walking around hot and tired looking for our car, dragging our kids behind us, and not having a clue of where we parked. And out of hundreds of pictures I've taken so far on our family vacation, we neglected to take one of our parking spot number. We knew the general vicinity, just not the exact number. I thought of the quip you might here when staring at someone for too long, "take a picture, it lasts longer," and the irony of the quip and not paying attention here wasn't lost on me.

After walking around for nearly 30 minutes looking for our car, Amy had gone and found a parking attendant who said about the time we parked that morning, we would've been in section 301. I was looking in section 330, with the girls whining behind me. If Amy hadn't done that, I would've been walking around all night.

Yes, indeed. The pictures and the experiences, they do last longer, so take a moment and pay attention.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Let It Rest

"I'm alright
Nobody worry 'bout me
Why you got to gimme a fight?
Can't you just let it be?"

–Kenny Loggins, I'm Alright

It stopped working for no reason. We'd been driving over three hours to my sister's house and listening to Songs of America: Patriotism, protest, and the music that made a nation, an inspiring new book collaboration from Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw, when the Apple CarPlay software connection stopped working. I swapped out my phone for my wife's, but neither one worked. So odd because it had never happened before. I realized that software can hiccup and yet was still immediately obsessed with why the heck it stopped working.

I unplugged and plugged in our phones multiple times, but nothing.

"Let it rest," my wife Amy said.

"Let it rest?" I said.

"Yes, let it rest."

"That's not a thing."

"Sure it is. Things get tired and need to rest."

"Nope, not a thing."

So I fiddled with it for a few more minutes and then gave up. We visited with my sister and then went to my high school reunion, and on the next day we went out to lunch. The CarPlay connection worked again as if it had never stopped.

"See, I told you," Amy said.

"Damn, what the heck?" I said. "It's still not a thing."

"Yes, it is."

We laughed. After fun weekend of reunion and family time with my sister, niece and great niece, we returned home to find that the gophers had returned to our backyard. In the 13 years we've lived in our house, I can recall only one or two times when we've had gophers in our backyard.

A few months ago I wouldn't have stressed on it as much since we'd let our backyard go. The reason being that our pet rabbit Dragonlily, only a little over a year old, had free reign in our backyard and ate everything in sight. But at the end of April we upgraded our yard with new sod, flagstone and a rabbit run (so our bunny wouldn't eat everything in sight).

We did it all ourselves and we were super proud of it, just like we did when we first moved in all those years ago. And then the gophers came back. With a vengeance. Freshly pushed up dirt piles along the edge of our new flagstone and along the new grass. Plus, we had notice some strange yellow spots on the lawn over the past month and now wondered if it was them -- the friggin' gophers -- digging under the new sod. I tried to flood them out, but that didn't work.

"The gopher can be a friend to bun-bun," Amy said, referring to our rabbit Dragonlily, after I came in cursing about the latest mounds of freshly dug-up dirt.

"No gopher friends," I said.

"C'mon, Sweetie. It'll be fine. A little gopher or two aren't hurting anyone."

"But it's not fine and it's hurting me; you know how much work went into the yard. Should I just let this rest, Sweetie? Maybe it'll just fix itself?"

I tried to say it with a frustrated wink and smile, and she gave me a pass thankfully. She knows how I get and is always much better at letting go than me. Even our rabbit was trying to tell me to chill out, eating one of our flowers when he had a few minutes out of his run, two feet from a fresh gopher hole.

But to no avail; I headed for the local ACE hardware store and asked one of the guys that worked there what humane gopher/mole traps they had. "None that work," he told me. Then I asked for the gopher/mole gas, which looked like little sticks of dynamite with a short fuse. Really.

I wanted this gopher or gophers gone before we left on our family vacation. I lit one little stick of dynamite gas and push it into a hole and covered it with dirt. It was super stinky, too. I did two of these in two different gopher holes, and of course while doing this, I couldn't help remember the scenes in the classic comedy Caddyshack, with Bill Murray trying to blow up the gopher. And the gopher always got away, even after the golf course was completely destroyed.

On the morning we left for our family vacation, I went out to the still dark backyard and noticed a freshly dug out mound of gopher dirt in between two pieces of lovely new flagstone.

I audibly sighed and shook my head.

Nothing to do but let it rest. They can have it all (for now).

I'm alright. I can just let it be.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Healing Hallelujah

"It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah..."

–Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

I got a 6 as my ACE score. Answering yes to questions like:

Prior to your 18th birthday...

Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

Were your parents ever separated or divorced?

Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?

Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?   

These questions are from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being.

Eight-seven percent of those in the original study had more than one ACE. And according to the research, with an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent. 

The research is clear, but that this doesn't mean those with multiple ACEs will suffer chronic illness later in life; there are many factors involved and some people are more resilient than others, especially when they have supportive and loving relationships post-trauma. And those who get early intervention and primary prevention services.

In Tulare County, where I grew up, 43% had 1-3 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which again can include witnessing violence at home and/or experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child; and/or household substance use, mental illness, or incarceration. And 16% had 4 or more.

In Santa Cruz County, where we now live, nearly a quarter of adults (24.9%) had four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

But it was the visceral memories of growing up with some of these ACEs that triggered me and brought me back to the fear and the pain. We were at the 30-year celebration of Kidpower conference, a global nonprofit organization that's trained nearly six million children, adults, educators and peace officers on safety skills when dealing with sexual abuse, bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, domestic violence, and more.

I volunteer as a padded instructor, helping to teach others empowering self-defense skills when all other safety options are exhausted. God forbid we'll ever need them, but unfortunately too many do every day. My wife works for Kidpower and so we made it a family affair with our two girls and a group of over 100 amazing individuals working hard to keep children, teens and adults safe, empathic and respectful to one another.

After learning more about ACEs during the conference (and getting triggered), then some of us watched The Mask You Live In, which follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it, especially if you have children, boys or girls.

This was the second time I've seen the movie and it triggered me further. I was compelled to go find our two girls who were being chaperoned by wonderful volunteers along with all the other children attending with their families, doing fun kid things while the rest of us attended the conference.

I just wanted to see them, to tell them I loved them. They were happy to see me, but also engrossed in their kid activities, making address books so they could all contact each other, their new found friends. Healthy kids doing fun, healthy things. Amen.

Then I went for a walk on the beach, listening to music to clear my head. The Leonard Cohen song came on, Hallelujah, but even more poignant version (for me) sung by Jeff Buckley. I gazed out over the Pacific Ocean as the line "It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah..." echoed in my head.

I am here. I am alive. I am loved and supported. I love and support others. I can help make a difference. It's a warm and it's a healing Hallelujah.

All forms of violence are preventable. Early intervention programs for children and teens can help. We can all help. Support your local service providers that provide primary prevention. Be an advocate for those who need support and safety.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What We've Become

"Don't you try and pretend
It's my feeling we'll win in the end
I won't harm you or touch your defenses
Vanity and security..."

–Simple Minds, Don't You Forget About Me

It was all the things we don’t want our children to do when they grow up. Even though we did them. A lot.

Not all of us, mind you. But I did, as well as many of my friends. We were young adults, celebrating our class of 1984 5-year high school reunion, living our kinda new-found pseudo-independence – some of us still going to college, others done or onto grad school and many others already working full-time jobs. I was working full-time, going to college and mostly taking care of myself financially.

Adulting never comes easy when you’re re-entering the earth’s atmosphere from the late teens and hurtling toward your 20’s, and my experience was not any different, especially growing up in a small Californian Central Valley town. Add to that the mind-numbing anxieties I experienced at times and had since the end of high school, and damn, my adulting was tough. However, high school was a very important coming-of-age time for me and I was very involved in sports and student government, so I was still super-excited to go to our first reunion post high school, and nothing was going to stop me.

And mercy me, nothing did. In writing this, I couldn’t even remember where our first high school reunion was held and had to ask our Facebook reunion group where; I got three different answers. A long, long time ago indeed.

What I do remember quite well was the inviting of everyone back to my house. Well, my parents’ house, as it was theirs, not mine, and I only visited now and again since I lived in the Bay Area at that point. My parents were gone, away on a months-long motorhome journey across the US, but my younger sister and her husband were staying there, as their home was being built at the time.

Yes, I was the one who invited the drunken debauchery over for an after-party. My sister and husband were not happy and multiple times came out of my parents’ room where they were trying to sleep to tell us to settle down. Yet, the after-party raged on, and at some point we turned into our own 1980’s young-adult comedy, complete with skinny dipping in the pool, strange hook-ups and awkward morning wake-ups with the shameful drives home. Plus, the trashed house that you have to clean up under the watchful eye of a grumpy sibling.

All the things we don’t want our children to do when they grow up.

Fast forward 30 years later and there we were celebrating our 35th high school reunion at the very same roller rink that some of us skated at in junior high and high school. Many of us now with children and grandchildren and lots of life’s ups and downs in between. A smaller group than at all the previous reunions, with some classmates who had never attended one our reunions, we all seemed to be more comfortable in our own skins than ever before. I didn’t even take as many pictures as I usually do because I spent more time roller skating and visiting with old friends. My wife and I didn’t go to school together, but she’s attended many of my reunions and always has a great time.

So much life behind us and (hopefully) still so much life ahead, it felt like we’d become all the things we wanted our children to be when they grew up. Or at least, felt better about it. And now many of our children are grown, starting families of their own. Our girls still have many years yet before their adulting begins, but I know I’m proud of what my wife and I have become, regardless of where we’ve been, and because of where we’ve been.

Unable to stay up any longer, it was time for us to leave the reunion and head back to my sister’s house to go to bed. Feeling content with the night from visiting old friends, we said a few goodbyes and turned to leave. That was when one of my old friends called out.

“Kevin Grossman!”

He ran up with another classmate at his side, they both gave my wife and I a hug, and then he put his hand near my lower back and quietly handed me a piece of toilet paper.

“You can’t leave without saying goodbye. Oh, and this was sticking out of the back of your pants. I didn’t want anyone else to see.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Wow, Sweetie,” my wife said. We all laughed.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “So good to see you!”

“You too.”

Yep, proud of what we’ve become. Let’s queue up Don’t You Forget About Me and leave it at that.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Family Fandom

"He's a rebel and a runner
He's a signal turning green
He's a restless young romantic
Wants to run the big machine..."

–Rush, New World Man

"What's Dad's favorite band?"

From that question comes the attempted eye roll from Beatrice.

"We know, Dad. Rush. Ugh."

"Yes, Rush!"

At least Bryce sounds a little more enthusiastic for me when she says it. In fact, although they both prefer the pop music of today, Bryce is a little more of the rocker, bopping her head when I'm playing rock and roll in the car. Beatrice however makes me turn the channel immediately.

Yes, I'm that rockin' dad who ain't afraid to embarrass his kids with thrashing air drums and head bangin'. Wayne's World a-go-go.

But I wasn't always the Rush super fan. When I was a freshman in high school, Moving Pictures had just been released, probably the most iconic album from the rock band Rush, and they were coming to play Fresno, CA in early June of 1981. A friend at the time asked me if I wanted to go see them, and while I wasn't sure my parents would let me go, I was sure I didn't have the money, and at the time I just wasn't a fan. The song "Tom Sawyer" rocked and all, but I was still more into Boston, Journey, Kansas, Aerosmith, Kiss, Van Halen and other arena-rock bands at the time (music my dad couldn't stand). So, I said no thank you. I just wasn't a fan yet.

But of course, anyone who knows me (and who reads this blog with all the lyrics I quote in every other post), knows that all changed. The album after Moving Pictures, Signals from 1982, resonated with me, especially the first track "New World Man". And then after that, it was all over. I fell in love with their driving progressive rock music; their intelligent messages of independence, self-confidence, being your true self regardless what others think and celebrating differences and inclusion; their love of continuous learning and pushing themselves to new heights; plus, so much more (all things we celebrate in our family). That's when I became a big fan going forward as well as looking back to their early days (all the way back to 1974).

I was fortunate to see them many times over the years with some of my best friends until their final tour together in 2015, but never had the opportunity for a super-fan meet-and-greet. Or, never had that kind of cash to spend. More the latter actually. In fact, every time I watch the Time Stand Still super-fan-love documentary and hear fans saying they've seen them 100 times, 110 times, 120 times or more, I think to myself, Mercy me. That's super awesome.

Sigh. That's why one of this rockin' dad's bucket list items has been to meet the band, or at least one of the members. The drummer and writer, Neil Peart, has never been the meet-in-greet kind and prefers much more privacy than his other two bandmates, so that was never going to happen anyway. The guitar player, Alex Lifeson, and the bass and keyboard player, Geddy Lee, are the social members of the band and the ones who do the meet-in-greets and other events.

Which was why I was so excited when one of my work trips to Toronto aligned with Geddy Lee's book tour promoting his collection of electric basses (titled Big Beautiful Book of Bass). He was going to be interviewed on stage and then do a book signing.

Here it was -- my opportunity!

I included my global program manager who was with me on this particular work trip and we went to the interview and book signing outside of Toronto. After the onstage interview with Geddy was over, the host opened up questions to the audience.

Here is was -- another opportunity!

I asked him, "Besides initially playing guitar and then bass, what other instruments did you aspire to play over the years?"

I was so proud. I got to ask Geddy Lee a question!

"Well, I kind of fancy the piano and keyboards," he said.

The audience laughed. Ugh. In my head I had included keyboards, because of course I knew that, but didn't say it out loud. I was thinking of about my daughter and the fact that she had learned trombone and now wanted to learn how to play the flute.

"Duh," I said. "I knew that. I meant other than the keyboards, too."

"Hmmm," he thought. "I guess the violin."

"Excellent. Thank you," I said.

Was I embarrassed? A little, but who cares -- I got to ask Geddy Lee a friggin' question live and in person, so la dee da to you.

After the Q&A, we moved on row by row to the book signing. When my turn came, I made sure my global program manager had my iPhone camera ready to go.

Here it was -- my even bigger opportunity!

I fist-bumped Geddy and said, "I was the brilliant one who forgot to reference you played the keyboards, too."

"I know," he said, nodding. He smiled and laughed while he signed my booked.

The meeting was brief, but I didn't care. I got to meet Geddy Lee live and in person, so la dee da to you.

Check that one off the bucket list. My girls weren't impressed (unless it was Katy Perry or Taylor Swift I had met), but my wife was thrilled for me (and keeps buying me Rush stuff when I ask!).

And yet, besides all the musical and lyrical reasons why I'm a big Rush fan, another important reason I'm a fan, at least since we've had kids, is the fact that the band members are all husbands, fathers and friends. Intensely committed ones as well, something they've made crystal clear publicly over the years. Even with the all touring and traveling they did over the four decades they played together, their families were and are always the priority. When Neil lost his wife and daughter in the late 1990's, he wrote intimately about his grieving and healing in Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, and how important his friends and family relationships were to him. He's since remarried and had another young daughter.

It's this, the family fandom, that's now the most inspiring part of why I'm a lifelong fan of Rush and why I'm such a proud father of the #BhivePower.

Happy Father's Day, my family!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Weight of Hate

"Girls and boys together
See what it is we lack
Boys and girls together
Let's paint the mirror black..."

–Rush, War Paint

Mom pointed it out when I was in sixth grade. Part surprise and part shame, she wanted to let me know that I had a little belly. A little belly that was too big for my size, a skinny asthmatic kid who was always active, but had recently began working in the school cafeteria at lunch. And when you worked in the school cafeteria at lunch, not only did you get your lunches for free, you also got second servings for free. Sometimes more.

For a few months I had carte blanche to eat as much as I wanted while I worked in the cafeteria. I didn't think anything of it, even if I was putting on weight. At that time my mom was married to our crazy scary first step-father, and my sister and I never had sweet treats or snacks of any kind at home. He wouldn't allow it and our mom was fine with it, just because she felt that it was healthier for us anyway.

But then I got a little belly, and Mom pointed it out. She grew up with a family that was more than direct (and shaming) when it came to body image, something she struggled with her whole life. She recommended at the time that I shouldn't eat so much at lunch. I was mortified. When the cafeteria work was over, I quickly and thankfully went back to my skinny asthmatic self.

When I look back, who knows how many girls (and boys) and women (and men) I made fun of and shamed (behind their backs) over the years because of the way they looked. I was a pretty decent kid overall, but the shame you share always find its way to those you make fun of, and they feel it, even if they don't hear it directly.

When I hit my mid-twenties, my high school beefing up for football began to balloon on me. I got big. Real big. An unhealthy, unhappy, anxiety-ridden big. Plus, I smoked cigarettes back then, so I was the total toxic time-bomb. Who knows how people made fun of and shamed me (behind my back) during those years. No one ever said much to me back then, not that I remember, not even my ex-wife.

Eventually, years after that, I got back to my fighting weight (within the margin of error year after year since) and quit smoking, but also began to understand a positive body image was more about a positive personal image -- spirtual, emotional and physical. These were the things that mattered, to be true to yourself, to be yourself, to be comfortable, healthy and happy with yourself, and to be in relationships where the reciprocity of all things true to self were of utmost priority. But never at the expense of others, no matter how they treated you, and also never as a bystander and watch it happen without speaking up.

That ain't easy either, but that's what my wife and I work to instill in our daughters today, because that's how we feel and live our lives. When you have children, you experience all over again the many things you experienced as a child, just through the retrospective lens of that sometimes painful experiential learning. Which is what caused me angst when our oldest began to grow a little thick in the middle, just as much as she was growing taller. Teaching your children healthy eating habits is important, while acknowledging to yourself that their bodies will change as they get older and hit the pre-tween shadows, adolescence and early adulthood.

But we would never say anything to my daughter, not like my mom did to me. Instead, we just focused on healthy eating habits and staying active (although, she did bring it up to her mom, not from being made of, just being self-aware). However, what I worry about even more are those girls and boys that might make fun of her and shame her (behind her back -- and in front of her, too). She's active and growing and her body keeps changing like many other girls her age (and boys a few years later). Someday she'll be a young woman, both girls will be young women, and the more they go in comfortable with their true beings, and not at the expense of others no matter how they act, the better.

Sadly, when we shame others unabashedly and repeatedly, we usually do so with spite. We either lack empathy, or we push it way the heck down. We know nothing about their circumstances or their true beings, and yet we'll judge them solely on appearance and differences based on our own fears, to make ourselves feel better because of our own inadequacies. This is the well-worn path to indifference, prejudice and hate.

Nearly every week I post my beach workout pictures from Natural Bridges State Park with usually positive song quotes and the hashtag #BigDaddyPower (as well as #BhivePower for my family). But it's no longer the weight of age or the daddy belly I struggle with. I'm good with all that. No, today it's the weight of hate I struggle with, and I hope you and your families join us in shedding it.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Stuff That Makes Them Smile

"Every day we're standing
In a time capsule
Racing down a river from the past
Every day we're standing
In a wind tunnel
Facing down the future coming fast..."

Rush, Turn the Page

He said he didn’t want any of his old kid stuff. The awards, the papers, the artwork – any of it. But when his mom said she’d have to throw it away because her and her new husband were downsizing and moving to a new place, and he had to move out, he had a change of heart.

My airport shuttle driver told me this story about his older step-son, who had been living with them for the past few years. It’s not a surprise that more men and women in their 20’s and even 30’s have moved back to live at home with their parents because they just can’t afford living on their own. Especially in the Bay Area where housing costs are insane.

But it wasn’t the fact that our two daughters may have to live with us someday as adults that got me thinking about stuff. They’re years away from high school still and light years away from college, if that’s their path.

No, it got me thinking about other stuff. Their school (and even home created) stuff. All their papers and writings and awards and artwork – all of it. Like many parents, we’ve been collecting their stuff since before preschool. My wife is the sorter and tosser and keeper of the kids' stuff and has done an amazing job of it to date. But damn, it’s a daunting task, and now she’s starting to lean on me more for rhetorical “what to do” advice.

“What are we going to do with all this stuff?” my wife said to me recently. With this school year nearly complete and the end-of-year open house past us, we again brought home a bunch of papers, journals, artwork and more, and it’s again time to sort, toss and keep.

Of course, my wife will still manage the bulk of it; she's amazing at that stuff, and I am not. When it’s your child’s stuff and you’re super proud of anything that they do, it’s tough to decide. What helps with our tough decisions is the fact that space is finite at our house and our garage is already full of all our stuff and hasn't sheltered our car in over a decade.

And then there’s the hanging of their art all over the house, which we display proudly. Both girls are very creative and insightful and we feel like they are amazing artists (of course we do, right?). Year after year we swap out the old art for the new and keep what we think are the best ones to eventually pass back to our daughters when they're on their own someday (once they're not living with us anymore, of course).

I have a special box in our garage. Just one special box, full of sentimental stuff that my mom saved for me over the years – stories, poetry, reports, artwork – all the stuff. Add to that the special photo albums she made for me including a very special one when she threw me a surprise birthday party for my 21st birthday with friends and family, an especially anxiety-filled time in my life (God knows I've had my share of those). After I had gone away to college and lived on my own, she asked if I wanted to take them all, and I did. Even with the good and the bad of my past, I would never deny my heart and soul my box of special stuff.

It's like a time capsule I can dig up anytime I want and look through. The fossilized remnants that still anchor me to my childhood and my teenage years, remnants that make me smile and make me sad. We'll want our girls to have their own special boxes someday as well, we hope mostly full of stuff that makes them smile more than we did growing up. And if we have anything to do with it, which we have and we do, they will.