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.

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.