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, March 24, 2019

The Act with the Artist

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

They will ask us soon enough.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Sink and Roll

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, but I’m awake now.”

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

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

“Okay, sounds good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Last Release

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

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

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

ME: For you baby. Love you!

MY WIFE: Love it! Love you!

I miss your magic the most, I thought.

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

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

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

WTH?

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

WTH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTH?

Strands of our hair intertwine...

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

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

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

WTH?

We share one more kiss so warm...

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

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

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

WTH?

It lingers over time and distance...

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

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

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

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

"I don't know," she said.

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

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

"Wow," was all I could say.

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

Ugh, I'm so hungry.

The breath of your being...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

When Actions Have Purpose

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

And she's only eight years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or now, ocean animals.

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

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

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

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

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

When actions have purpose. Amen. #BhivePower