Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

No Matter Their Truths

I simply asked her to turn off the tv so she could read.

"No," she said.

"Beatrice, turn the tv off, please," I said.


"Beatrice, turn if off."


"If I have to get up and turn it off myself, then there won't be any tv tonight."

Now, I usually get to the threatening of natural consequences much sooner than my wife Amy, and much gruffer than her, too. Yet, in this same moment, I was also on the phone with my best friend.

"Dad is cracking down," he said to me over the phone. "You're raising the sass."

"Yes, I know," I said. "Here I come, Beatrice."

"Beatrice," Amy said. "Please go upstairs to read."

"I turned it off," Beatrice said, right then turning off the tv.

"Okay, then read," Amy said.

"Beatrice, you're so sassy," I said.

"Don't call me that in front of people."

She finally read while I finished my phone call, but I could tell that she was upset about being called sassy. Later she'd tell her mom that she felt bad that she made me mad, and I'd apologize for calling her sassy.

Whatever the context, both girls have found their young voices and they push it more and more these days. Push it in the sense that they challenge us -- more me than us (my perception anyway) -- and talk back and say no.

No, no, no.

All the time. Well, a lot more of the time these days.

And we -- more Amy than me actually -- empower them both to speak up and speak their truth, to challenge and push back.

Then I pushed back. I felt disrespected when they talked to me that way, that they're empowered to talk to me (us) this way. So I got mad spoke my truth. Bryce got upset that mom and dad fighting, which we told her we were talking about it and not fighting, and Beatrice was still upset about being called "sassy" at that moment.

Maybe not the best defense, but I am fighting against millions of years of biological, cultural and religious evolution and systemic misogynistic white male privilege and patriarchy. No matter how "woke" I feel I am, I still struggle to differentiate between feeling disrespected by my own children and raising empowered children, children who are now girls and will be young women someday and have to stand up to the still frothing male privilege that won't think twice about disrespecting them, harassing them, assaulting them, or worse.

These are the growing pains our children go through, young women and men alike. But there is a difference between being blatantly rude, being a bully, being disrespectful and being a confident human being with a balanced sense of compassionate respect and justice. God knows how full the world is of rude today.

We want our girls to live their truth and speak their truth, while ensuring to research it, corroborate it, challenge it, validate it, and not at the expense of others, no matter their truths. To communicate truth calmly and respectfully while not being afraid to speak up when others' truths impact and infringe on respect. That's a tough balance to aspire to reach, and yet aspire to reach we will.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Shine a Little Light

He didn't think he did anything wrong. That she was the one who abused him, taunted him, tempted him to do the things he did. It was always consensual sex, not rape. It was always her yelling at him and hitting him, not him punching her, or hitting her in the chest, or holding her by her wrists over a balcony.

But one of the things that got me the most were the letters and cards he continued to send her over the years, telling her how sorry he was, how much he missed her, how much he loved her. That if they got together again, it would be alright. That they would make a lot of money.

This was all from the new Lorena Bobbitt documentary produced by Jordan Peele, a four-part series that investigates the events of 1993. Yes, the part where she cuts his penis off is the sensational part most of us remember, but for anyone who wants to try and understand the cycle of abuse and domestic violence, I highly recommend watching it. I remember following the case back then, and even though I'm an awareness and prevention advocate now, and I had no idea of the full story. 

Watching it reminded me of my birth father and the cycle of abuse my sister and I witnessed when we were young children. How he would drink way too much and then twist things and tell our mother she brought this on herself, all his angry screaming at her, his horrible degrading words, and the escalating physical abuse she suffered over the 12 years they were together. I was 9 years old and my sister 7 when she finally separated from him. 

He would always apologize afterwards, and say he'd do better, but it never changed. Even after they divorced and he moved away, he'd tell us it was as much our mom's fault than his, and that he never really hurt her. But we saw the bruises, we heard the fights. We knew. We hated having to see him after that when it was his visitation time, and we eventually told a judge that we didn't want to see him anymore. 

I remember asking my mom years later why she stayed with him so long, why she put up with it all. We were young and scared way back then, and although he never abused us, he was never really dad to us. He thought I was a sissy and he ignored my sister. I never really knew him other than the drunken tirades and the violence.

She told us she didn't know what else to do. She had us and was dependent on his income; she didn't have a regular job until later in the marriage and after the divorce. Her family felt that it was between her and her husband, and it was none of their business. Her best friend encouraged her to leave, but had her own broken marriages and kids to take care of. For years our mom believed him when he said he was sorry and would never hurt her again. She had struck back at times, and there were times she wanted to kill him, but would never actually do it. 

And for the first years after their divorce, he did tell her more than once that he'd do better if they got back together, even though he was already in another relationship and our mom had remarried for the first time, another unfortunate abusive relationship for all of us

1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

I wish it were as easy as saying "Stop! Leave! Help!" like Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower recommends, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids and adults how to prevent kidnappings, abuse, bullying and sexual assault. My wife works for Kidpower and is a program coordinator and instructor, and I've also helped by dressing in a padded suit so that kids and adults can practice last-resort self-defense skills. Telling an attacker to "Stop! Leave! Help!" can take away his privacy and control while you're getting the attention of other people, and you're also creating uncertainty in the mind of the attacker, according to Kidpower Executive Director and Founder, Irene van der Zande.

It's difficult to have to deal with harassment and bullying and abuse and assault, but Kidpower does work -- it's helped millions of people of all ages become more aware and protect themselves with empowering safety skills.

However, systemic gender bias and a patriarchal power structure has complicated things for women in abusive relationships for a very long time; we continue to protect the male predators, especially the white men. We see it play out again and again in the news, and those are only the high-profile cases that are actually reported. He said, she said, and today unfortunately, the he said still trumps.

That's why we need to continue to challenge the status quo, to believe those who have the courage to come forward, to find our voices and shine a little light for those who can't find theirs, and to empower them all with the safety skills they need to end the violence in their lives.

Check out this ABC news video with 
Kidpower Executive Director and Founder, Irene van der Zande, and my wife!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Our Fairy Daughter-Mother

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

-The Chainsmokers, Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother's Day to you, my child.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Building Blocks of the Brave

"My true self is always grateful."

-Deepak Chopra, A Centering Thought Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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