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, January 27, 2019

This Idea, America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This idea is a deliberate dream.

This idea is hated. This idea sets us free.

We the people, do ordain.

This idea, America.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Men of a Women's Age

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

-Queen, Sheer Heart Attack


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

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

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

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

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

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

But we were close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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


Past posts about these friends of mine:





Sunday, January 13, 2019

No Matter What Growing Up Brings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Cheating Is So Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh. 

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

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

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

"Cheating is so hard."

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