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, September 29, 2019

In Susie's Shoes

Someone from the audience yelled, "Man up!"

I couldn't believe it. Maybe I was naive; city council meetings can be contentious. But I'd never heard something quite like this before. We heard disrespectful comment after disrespectful comment and egregious public victim shaming and blaming at the last city council meeting in Santa Cruz. And it all translated as we don't believe you, so be quiet, sit down, and shut up. This from the California coastal progressive bastion of #metoo and equal rights.

Earlier this year, a Sacramento-based law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment. The scope of the investigation included complaints made by five individuals -- all women -- against Santa Cruz Councilmember Drew Glover and Councilmember Chris Krohn alleging violations of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Procedure Order Section II, #1B Respectful Workplace Conduct; and City Council Policy 25.2, Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy occurring between July 2018 and May 3, 2019.

The final report was then submitted for review to the city in late July (and has since been released to the public) and the city HR director later ruled that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the investigation's assessment that both Krohn and Glover had violated the city’s seven-page Santa Cruz Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy. There was one substantiated complaint each confirmed (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations are true) and multiple others filed against each councilmember that were not substantiated (the investigation failed to disclose enough evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations), which does not mean unfounded (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations is/are false). In fact, this shows a pervasive pattern of disrespectful workplace behavior and harassment.

I'm the current chair for the Santa Cruz City Council Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), and myself along with our vice chair and other commissioners attended the September 24, 2019 Santa Cruz City Council meeting to to affirm our commitment to the women complainants who had come forward with regard to the abusive and disrespectful conduct of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. As a Commission, we “Start by Believing” those who have the courage to come forward and share their stories of harassment and abuse. We stood and made that statement to the city council and the public.

We were also there in particular support of Susie O’Hara, who has served as our staff coordinator for CPVAW, and who is one of the five complainants. She made a heart-wrenching public statement at the council meeting with her entire family next to her -- her three daughters and her husband.

During the September 24 meeting, we heard multiple instances of Krohn and Glover supporters who claimed the complaints against them were false, blatantly victim shaming and blaming the women complainants with no replies or outcries to cease and desist other than from three other council members, two of whom were complainants.

Susie O’Hara was also publicly castigated directly in front of her husband and her children, telling her to "toughen up" and "deal with it." I was floored. Who are these people who live in my community? I thought.

The public display was quite destructive and damaging to the victims who had come forward as well as possible deterrent to other victims of bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the city and county of Santa Cruz.

There was also a proposed reprimand of the two councilmembers on the agenda, but the voices of the the victims and public were silenced when a majority of the council moved to table the censure item, an unprecedented act of political manipulation. And the two councilmembers accused of the above disrespectful workplace behavior were allowed to vote to table it.

The next night we had our CPVAW meeting where we moved to implore our mayor to re-agendize the censure of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. Councilmember Krohn attended our meeting and when I pressed him as to why he did not ask the public in chambers to stop their victim shaming comments, he said, “I didn’t realize it was going on.”

Really. You've got to be kidding me. Watch the recording of the meeting again, please.

I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I worried that I wouldn't be believed when I finally came forward. I was thankfully fully supported by my friends and family. But when I now witness my community publicly shame and blame victims who have bravely come forward, witness my community politicize the victims by calling their accusations false and discriminatory to be used against those accused, all the while enabled and empowered by the majority of our own city council, I'm deeply disappointed. All I have to do is put myself in Susie's shoes, with my daughters and wife by my side, listening to my community humiliate me by telling me to man up and move on. My resolve to always believe victims and help them heal, to hold those who have abused accountable, and to strive for greater awareness and prevention, has never been greater.

Join the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and the local Santa Cruz community for the 2nd annual free "awareness and prevention" symposium on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Louden Nelson Community Center from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

The theme is again Transforming Together and we invite the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

To Be Those Parents

We jumped off the roof in the summertime. We'd prop the ladder against the house, scramble up it to atop the porch, and walked from the top of porch to the roof. We'd take in the view of the housetops around us and the horizon beyond, and then take a few quick steps down the shake shingle rooftop and jump right into the swimming pool below. 

From the edge of the house to the pool was only four feet, so we always easily cleared the pool decking 10 feet below us. After baking in the 100+ degree weather of California's Central Valley, swimming in our pool all through high school was such a pleasure. Especially with all our friends over. And my sister and I always had friends over. 

Our mom and dad loved the fact that our friends were always over, except when they weren't there and we were jumping off the roof into the pool. Or, when we were making out with those we were dating at the time. Or, when we were having a drinking party when they were at the coast for the weekend. 

"Son, quit jumping off the roof," Dad would say. "You're going to break your frickin' neck. And if your friends break their frickin' neck, they parents are going to sue us. Do you understand?"

Except that he'd throw the real expletives at me and then some. I'd nod and say I did understand, and then the next week we'd again be jumping off the roof. My dad had been a police officer and detective for over 32 years, and was more than direct at times, and yet still had a big heart. 

What was lost on me at the time was how much our friends enjoyed coming over when our parents were home, even more often than when they weren't. My parents were always so generous with all our friends, even those they didn't like so much. But they weren't just friendly adults longing to be friends with our friends; they were friendly adults who still had boundaries as our parents and who treated our friends as extended family. More than once in years since my friends have reminded me of how much my parents were like a second family to them, a second set of parents they listened to and respected. 

Fast forward decades to our family of two girls, Beatrice and Bryce, now 11 and 9. Both girls have many friends, which we're thankful for, as they are loving young humans with good hearts and grateful souls. With friends over regularly for play dates and now both girls experiencing slumber parties away and at home, the growing up adventures have only just begun. 

In fact, the multiple movie parties we've had with nearly 20 kids at one time have turned into date nights for many other parents, of which they're quite appreciative (with a good-luck wink and a smile). We have fun and the kids have fun, and the latest of these events was Bea's 11th birthday party where over 25 kids shook the foundation of our not-so-big house. 

So. Many. Kids. A little overwhelming for me, but less so for my wife Amy, with us both trying to keep an eye on everything ("Stop feeding the rabbit," and "Stop jumping on the couch," and "Stay out of the garage," and "No pizza or cake or drinks in the living room"), although the kids were pretty good overall (only two spills, that we know of), still listening to the adults in the room as they're all still in the pre-tween shadows.

"There's so many kids here," I said to Amy.

"Yes, and I want to be those parents," she said, "the ones where the kids are comfortable coming over and we know what's going on because they're here."

"True, but there's so many kids."

"I know, Sweetie. Love you. Please go see what they're doing in the backyard."

Of course we're not the only house the kids will want to hang out at, and we're not the only parents who befriend other kids as a second family of sorts. But we do want to be those parents, especially through middle school (which is coming next year!), high school and beyond. We want to know what's going on as much as we can and as much as they're comfortable sharing with us. No fear or shame, just parental guidance and understanding, and a lotta frickin' patience (miss you Dad!). 

The good news for now? We're a few years from the tempests of teenage-land. Plus, we currently don't have a pool, so there's no jumping off the roof any time soon.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

This Was All Them, Again

"From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light
That gets in your eyes
One moment's high
And glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades
In the summer sky..."

–Rush, Marathon

Three years coaching the oldest, one year coaching the youngest, and then I retired. Well, not really retired, I just couldn't do it again due to my work travel schedule. And that was a hard choice, because I really enjoyed coaching recreational soccer. I really enjoyed trying to instill skills, fun and teamwork with the girls I coached, especially our daughters.

It was big investment of time, and worth all of it as well, since I'm always learning myself -- learning how to communicate better with kids and adults alike. I won't sugarcoat -- everyone's an armchair quarterback coach -- and that was especially evident last year. Our girls' parents were always supportive and good-intentioned, and everyone had an idea on how to help the players get better, whether it be from the sidelines or bending my ear. I asked for counsel as well, knowing again I was constantly learning how and what to teach the team. 

That's no different this year; I'm now a spectator parent who coaches from the sideline, calling out where the girls should be, what they should do. I'm not the only one, of course, and we have only our girls best interest in mind. Kind of. Some of us are more competitive than others, and the fun, skills and teamwork gets filtered through the distorted lens of winning. Or at least trying to win.

Ah, the part about having fun. We tell them we want them to have fun, and then you play against teams that are more physical and more organized and more competitive and score on you over and over again. The old sports cliche of "it's not whether you win or lose -- it's how you play the game" sours quickly when you're getting pummeled. I saw it in their hot and tired faces every week last year, coaching my youngest Bryce and her team.

That feels like a long time ago now. As I wax nostalgic, the reality each year is that is only some of the girls will go on to playing competitive soccer, while many others will grow up and do other things, maybe fondly remembering the years they played rec soccer.

Except, many of them still are playing, including both our daughters. Thank you to the coaches who are volunteering their time this year. What's been fascinating to watch are the leaps they've made this year already, and the season has only just begun. Beatrice has come a long way in four years and she's now playing U12 with some pretty amazing athletes, girls who could be playing competitively. Her team played their first game recently and Bea told us she wanted to score a goal. This reminded me of Bryce last year on our way to our last game together.

We were so proud watching her play, only because she had always been tentative with aggressively going after the ball. Bea turned it on though, and while she didn't score, she gave her shots her best shot when she played forward. And her defensive play was pretty tight as well.

Bryce is playing U10 again, and some of the girls she played with last year on the team I coached and playing together again. Watching them I thought, "Wow, is this the same team?" Sure, there's still the moments of kicking the ball the wrong way, and clumping together on the field watching the ball go by while we scream (positively) to go after the ball, but there's so many more moments of putting skills and teamwork together underscored with fun. Competitive fun, especially when you score, like Bryce did, scoring the first goal of the first game. And then again, and again. That little lightning girl has got it going on.

And like the end of last year, this was all them, again, for both our girls. They owned it and the confidence and clarity of what they did shone brightly in their eyes. We watched them beam back at us as if saying, "Did you see that? I just did that." As a parent, there's no better feeling than watching your child shine with a self-awareness of accomplished progress that they can articulate with action, again and again.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Best Way to Play

I played it nearly every night for weeks until four in the morning. I only took breaks to get more ice and refill my Coke, go to the bathroom and go out on the apartment balcony to smoke. I missed classes and slept until noon. And then one night I finally reached the last dungeon, defeated Ganon and rescued Zelda.

The night I did that, I felt pretty satisfied, but then a day later, I was completely and utterly devastated. The Legend of Zelda was over. I tried playing it again from the beginning, but it just wasn't the same. It was the one and only time I ever invested so much of my time and mental energy playing a video game, second only to my high school years playing Donkey Kong at one of my favorite lunch haunts eating Frito Boats at a place called The Hot Dog Barn. And before that it was the Mattel hand-held football game, or just an old-fashioned paddle-pumping game of pinball.

The Legend of Zelda playtime was during my academically rough third year in college, late in 1987. So rough in fact that I took a break from college shortly after that time, and then finished my degree a few years later in 1993. It wasn't the late night video game play that drove me out, though; that was only a symptom of a greater ailment of not being motivated in school, another story for another time. I did work full-time then and continued to work until I finished school with great grades. Thank goodness.

But that's the point here. The point is that I never really played video games after Zelda. I lost interest; it was such an isolating and lonely exercise with no communication with others (unless they played Zelda, and my roommates at the time didn't). And even though the decades to follow video game creators and developers would produce for the world some amazing immersive and interactive games, I was done.

Fast forward to my wife Amy and I having children. Both girls have grown up with devices and the internet and are quite comfortable playing innocuous and cute kid apps and games. Those kid apps and games have now turned into multi-player games like Animal Jam, Minecraft and Roblox (Adopt Me specifically). Still cute and fun games, at least for them still pre-teen, Amy and I never played multi-player games growing up, because we had no internet growing up. No way to connect with others regardless of where they were at around the world.

That's the positive aspect of the internet -- the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. The problem is the anonymity of the internet -- the sometimes unfortunate toxic, bullying and identity thieving scary side of online. And with games like Animal Jam, Roblox, Fortnite and many other multi-player games of today, user names aren't real names. Just fun made up names. So, we really don't know who these people are who play these games. They are strangers. And the Kidpower safety skills we practice in our family tell us to be wary of strangers, especially if they ask personal information of us -- What's your name? Where do you live? What school do you go to? That's information we implore them to never, ever give out.

We had to play the games ourselves, play with our girls, and we continue to do so in order to understand the scope and content of the game and how other strangers, people we don't know, interact with each other in the game. Many players try to "friend" each other in minutes of playing sometimes, and our rule is that if we don't know them, we don't friend and connect with them. Plain and simple. It doesn't mean they can't "play" with others in the game, it just means we must protect our children, their identities and their privacy and ours.

Since the new school year has started, they have discovered other friends who play the above mentioned games (but not Fortnite for our kids -- too violent), and have shared each other's user names to connect. As long as it's okay with the "adults in charge" -- i.e., us the parents -- then that's okay for them to friend each other in these games.

We're also doing the best we can balancing their screen time with reading time, chore time, homework time, outside play time, being with other friends in person time, and other activities. While there are those parents who don't let their children have any screen time and/or online gaming time, or very little, which is their prerogative, we're okay with it in moderation. And yes, there are times when we're both working away at home and we're not monitoring time as much as we should, but they sure as heck aren't staying up until 4 AM to play!

Recently I played a virtual reality Star Wars game that one of my friends brought with him when we had our annual get together. I wielded a light saber and fought alongside Darth Vader. The experience was fascinating and thrilling (I'm a fan of course) and quite disorienting, especially after playing for 20 minutes and taking off the VR goggles and getting back to this reality. He told me about another application of VR technology to help assimilate autistic children to various social settings, and I know there have been and will be many powerful gaming applications in healthcare, skills-based assessments and workforce training, and much more.

Because we're season pass holders, we took the girls to free-play day at the Beach Boardwalk where we could play most of the video games for free for two hours. There were dozens of video games with eye-popping graphics and sound effects, and there were even old school games from back in our day like Pacman and Donkey Kong and Frogger, a game that our youngest Bryce really enjoyed. Our oldest Beatrice and I played pinball. Then Bryce and I played some old fighting game, can't remember the name, but then I stopped abruptly after we beat on each other's avatars and I knocked hers out -- too violent. And then Amy rocked out to Foghat's "Slow Ride" on Guitar Hero. From the decades-old Pong to Roblox today, video games are here to stay, and the best way to play as far as we're concerned is to steer clear of violent content and to stay safe online.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

That Bastard of a Monkey

"It's not a habit, it's cool, I feel alive
If you don't have it you're on the other side
I'm not an addict, maybe that's a lie..."

–K's Choice, Not an Addict

She knew when I cheated. The first two years were the hardest, and covering up the few cheats were exercises in futility; the stench never leaves the clothes after even just one cigarette, and the residue left in the mouth and throat is unmistakable, no matter the mouth wash or breath mints. I convinced myself that it was okay, that each one was the last cheat. It was such a difficult monkey on my back.

However, after the first two years of quitting in 2002, it became literally a breath of fresh air. I didn't miss it after that. It had been nearly 20 years since I first smoked those nasty clove cigarettes that eventually led to my pack a day cigarette habit. Even with smoking decreasing everywhere, I'm surprised / not surprised when I still see smokers on the streets, in parks, on the beaches, etc. And now vaping is more prevalent that ever, which is nothing more than another way of getting the nicotine smack monkey on your back. And this is something we've talked to our girls about since vaping is has been marketed to younger school-age kids.

My quit date is still a very important date to me, even with the cheats. It's also our oldest daughter's birthday. And my wife Amy wouldn't marry me unless I quit. She had smoked a little herself when we first met, but had long since quit.

If you've been a smoker, then you know how tough it is to quit. You also know how easy it is to start again. I had quit multiple times prior to the official quit, failing each and every time. Nicotine is such a highly addictive drug, and even though it doesn't give you the same "high" as other addictive drugs, the vicious reward cycle is one of the strongest.

According to recent research:

Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in neurons that connect the nucleus accumbens with the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and other brain regions; this dopamine signal “teaches” the brain to repeat the behavior of taking the drug. 

The amount of dopamine released with any given puff of a cigarette is not that great compared to other drugs, but the fact that the activity is repeated so often, and in conjunction with so many other activities, ties nicotine’s rewards strongly to many behaviors that we perform on a daily basis, enhancing the pleasure and the motivation that we get from them. 

Smokers’ brains have learned to smoke, and just like unlearning to ride a bike, it is incredibly hard to unlearn that simple, mildly rewarding behavior of lighting up a cigarette.

Columbia University researchers Denise B. Kandel and Eric R. Kandel have identified a molecular mechanism underlying nicotine’s gateway effect: Nicotine encourages expression in the reward circuit of FOSB, a gene that underlies the learning processes described earlier. Thus, nicotine makes it easier for other drugs to teach users’ brains to repeat their use.

Smoking seems to both enhance and prolong the pleasure of other activities. The reinforcement-enhancing effect applies also when obtaining nicotine from e-cigarettes.

Not to mention that cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, which is about 1,300 deaths every single day. There's enough research out there today accessible to all of us that underscores the dangers of smoking.

I empathize with addicts of all kinds. I do. Unfortunately it's in my genes. I also know the health benefits of quelling an addiction, especially one like smoking cigarettes. Because you don't choose to smoke once you've started, the only choice you have is not to smoke. Addiction is selfish that way. (Learned that from Nicotine Anonymous.)

Recently I was on my way to one of my Natural Bridges State Park beach workouts, and a woman had just finished smoking a cigarette. I didn't see her smoke it, but as she walked in front of me to cross the street, I could smell it. The visceral memories of that smell reminded me all the times I smelled that way. That bastard of a monkey on my back dug its rusted nails into my skin and I literally flinched. Not because I missed it; I'm way past that now. Because I worry it could still kill me someday, just like it continues to kill 1,300 people per day.

God bless you, Brothers and Sisters. The only choice is not to.