I Was a Third Grader

November 15, 2022

I guess it’s a normal thing to compare yourself to your kids. “When I was your age I had to walk three miles to school, in the snow, and barefoot, and uphill, and backwards!” I remember when I was in high school we all took our shoes off on a snowy Georgia day and walked to school so we could foist that same flex on our kids.

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. There seems to be some clear differences between 3rd grade Randy and 3rd grade Cozy. In 1972, I loved to play outside in the woods, she loves to be inside playing Minecraft. I had brain-numbing Saturday morning cartoons, she has brain-numbing YouTube videos on demand. But much of it is the same. Our aversion to any food that is good for us, or to going to sleep, or to getting up. I loved Elvis Presley (“Burning Love” era), and she loves Dua Lipa (“Levitating” era), but other than that, not that dissimilar.

So, as I drop her off at school each day, I’ve been trying to remember what I remember from my 3rd grade experience at Atherton Elementary.

My teacher was Mrs. Weldon and we were supposed to get candy bars for completing our times tables, but I never got mine. I did a presentation on Boston by building a version of the U.S.S. Constitution from a huge cardboard box. The teacher read us James and Giant Peach and we had discussions about the 1972 presidential election. (I supported Nixon because I liked his funny-looking face.) My best friend was Keith Harrison and we focused our arguments on Elvis, Hank Aaron, and how to make the best go-cart. And I definitely thought girls had cooties.

For me, third grade was my introduction to Southern culture. Like many Slavic-rooted Americans, I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. My family fled the rustbelt for the sunbelt after the steel industry crashed, and after year in Boca Raton, Florida, we ended up in Stone Mountain, Georgia (for reasons I still don’t understand). Red clay, black-eyed peas, thick accents, and one classmate who took a dead possum home for “supper” presented me with an alternate reality that was both dreamlike and hostile to a “damn Yankee” 8-year-old. A neighbor named Kenny called me “Polish monkey,” which I later figured out was because of my non-WASP name. Church was king in Stone Mountain, so that was the vehicle of assimilation, although it always felt unwelcoming.

So I wonder what my own 3rd grader is collecting to be reflected upon 50 years from now, in 2072. Will she remember the names of her friends and practicing make-up application, like I remember playing in the creek with Tico and Kip? Will she remember the insanity of MAGA, like I remember the madness of George Wallace and Lester Maddox? Will she remember binging on Takis, like I remember seeing how many Little Debbies I could shove into my mouth? Will she remember her parents living apart and then together again (but still apart), like I remember my father gone on extended sales trips?

Eight seems like such an in-between age. I see my daughter carry herself like she’s 5 minutes from college, but she’s still a child (who wants to set up a spy-cam to catch Santa in action this Christmas). Her peer culture has gained power. She just got her ears pierced and is starting to use slang, like “That’s suss, Dad.” She calls me, “bra” like I’m a bro. How do I tell her to eat her vegetables?  Was I that the age when I started separating myself from my parents? (I staged sit-ins in protest of their demand that I eat canned beets, I do remember that.)

If I could go do 8 again, there are certainly things I would do differently, besides buy stock in IBM. I would be kinder to my little brother, and pay more attention to the marginalized kids in my school. But much of 3rd grade seemed to not be about finding your direction, but finding that you could have a direction, any direction; that, at some point, you’d be able to do your own thing. I see that in Cozy, the potential to do really big things if she wants to.

What I needed from parents at 8 was a message of assurance, that they had my back even if I made mistakes. That they’d keep me safe but allow me to see how far I could walk across the ice. And I need encouragement to match the curiosity I had in myself with a curiosity in others. That’s the least I can do for my 3rd grader.

The Complexity of the Game: Making Sense of the World Series

October 28, 2022

Something happens to me in October. All that hipster rejection of professional sports as “redneck hyper masculine bullshit” flies out the window like a ball smacked out of the park by Aaron Judge. I become a baseball lunatic. Post-season brackets become my obsession and holding my breath for every pitch becomes my cardiac workout. Who am I?

The World Series starts today and, of course, I’m rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, they beat my hometown Atlanta Braves, but I’m a National League loyalist. (Designated hitters are a weeny cop-out!). Plus the Phillies have a lot of weird looking players, like Brandon Marsh, who looks like Sasquatch hovering over home plate. Besides, we all understand why the Houston Astros suck (even if I want to pinch Jeremy Peña’s cheeks). So yeah, the only thing that matters in October is baseball, and I hope the Phillies lose a few games so we get the full seven-game series all the way to November 4th. I want to squeeze every minute of baseball joy out of the coming week.

All this began for me when my dad started taking me Braves games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1973. It was the reign of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron and I would wear my glove hoping to catch Homerun 714. I remember the racists screaming that a black man should not be allowed to top Babe Ruth’s record (Apparently, Aaron routinely got death threats), but Hank was my guy, my gateway into America’s pastime. I’ve loved tracking batting averages and ERA’s ever since.

So what’s the problem?

Baseball Boys

The most obvious issue is that Major League Baseball is a male only sport. Unlike U.S. soccer, where the women’s teams often outdraw the men’s team (at least in Portland), there is no female equivalent in MLB. And women’s Olympic softball doesn’t count. It’s a celebration of nut scratching maleness. There’s now an obligatory female interviewer on the field asking the male players and male coaches what the hell happened in the 6th inning, but other than her and the lucky lady on the Kiss Cam, that’s about it for women in baseball. But, as Andi reminded me, at least they don’t have cheerleaders.

I want my daughter to love baseball the way I did when I was a kid, but she doesn’t see anyone that looks like her on the field. Why should she care?

White Bread Sox

The complexion of MLB has changed dramatically over the years. When I was a kid, players of color were relegated to the outfield and the high profile infielders were lilly-white. Now it’s all We are the World (if the Dominican Republic was the biggest country on Earth). Black, brown and Asian players dominate. (Can I get a hell yeah for Cleveland Guardian Steven Kwan?) The Astros manager, Dusty Baker, who happens to be black, is a baseball legend. But the owners remain uber white. (And there is not a single African-American player in the Series this year.)

MLB still looks like a plantation system where white owners look to Caribbean islands for the next money maker. Lured with big salaries but short careers, they play their hearts out until their bodies are used up and they are retired to the field of dreams (typically a used car lot). The average career of a MLB player is only 5.6 years, so what’s a 30-year-old over-the-hill Puerto Rican to do? He’s been replaced and forgotten. 

Feeling sorry for seven-figure salaries?

The average salaries of major league players is $4.4 million. It’s hard to see them as victims. But they’re also workers struggling for agency. When MLB players went on strike in 1994, the whole game shut down for nearly two years. It looked like greedy players were just pissed over a proposed salary cap, but it was really about the economic exploitation of men whose likenesses were generating billions for others. The goal was the better share of the revenue, but players are still eaten up and spit out at will by the league machinery.

So being a modern baseball fan is a constant internal dialogue. I have to see that a lot of fandom each October is a performance of a fairly pedestrian form of masculinity. “Did you know Justin Verlander is the first pitcher to pitch in the World Series in three different decades?” he says as he thumps his chest. My father would be proud of me dropping everything to scream at the TV at every possible moment in the post season. But I’m also aware of the many contradictions this massive baseball machine represents. It’s both deeply problematic and infinitely beautiful.

Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of women who are baseball mad just like me (including Andi, whose head almost exploded when Houston shut out the Seattle Mariners). The sport is full of pathos, including watching players age out of the game before our eyes. There’s David and Goliath stories, like the (wildcard) Phillies against the Houston Yankees (i.e., the Astros). There’s the collective held breath as a well hit ball approaches the top of the back wall. The emotionality of baseball could be seen as essentially feminine as relationships work together to create a moment, not to destroy one. There is crying in baseball.

The ever-quotable Yogi Berra once said, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” The poets can argue about the metaphorical value of “America’s past time,” and the rest of us can settle in for the story wrapped up in each pitch and the thrill of the crack of a bat. I don’t have time to feel guilty, I have to review the stats for tonight’s roster.

Ukraine Days: Reflections During a DakhaBrakha concert

October 1, 2022

Last night Andi and I went to see the brilliant Ukrainian band, DakhaBrakha. They were playing a sold out concert at an art center in Beaverton, Oregon before they head back to Europe. (Their November 11 show in Krakow, Poland will be one for the ages.) They’ve chosen to tour the globe while their homeland burns under the continuous assault of Putin’s invasion to share the need for the world to act. Their music is so other-worldly, the best way I can describe it is, imagine Kate Bush joins Radiohead and they are kidnapped by Cossacks and taken to Neptune. They call it “ethno chaos.”

As Andi and I let the exotic sounds wash over us, animations of Russian missiles falling and photos of bombed out apartment buildings in Irpin and Mariupol filled the screen behind the four-piece band from Kyiv. Occasionally slogans, like “Russia is a terrorist state” and “Arm Ukraine” would flash across the screen as the music crescendoed. The one male in the band, Marko Halanevych, implored the audience to do what they could to support “Free Ukraine.” The audience, made up of Ukrainian-Americans, recent refugees, and Portland music fans, responded to his “Slava Ukraini” with “Heroyam slava!” – Glory to the heroes.

The message of the music was magnified that day because Putin had just held a dog & pony show in Moscow to declare the regions of eastern Ukraine as formally annexed into Russia, to be defended as a part of Russia. Adding to the significance of the day, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy submitted Ukraine’s application to NATO. It felt like the last moments before World War 3. Andi clutched my hand as the music and the moment consumed us. Children, like our daughter, were being killed or driven from their homes while we sat in a brand new arts center half a world away.

The concert is certainly in my top ten now, but also helped Andi understand why I had to go to Ukraine this past spring. “When white people are at war with each other, things are really serious,” she said, only half-joking. I bought us DakhaBrakha shirts after the show, proceeds going to Ukraine, and talked with some local Ukrainian residents about the power of the night’s performance.

I will always reflect on my trip into the war zone to provide what little help I could. Portland and Lviv, Ukraine are now “friendship cities,” soon to be sister cities, partially because my experience championing Ukrainian coffeeshops as air raid sirens blared in Lviv. I feel a deep connection to the local Ukrainian population and Andi, Cozy, and I often have our fill on pierogis in the basement of a local Ukrainian church most Saturday afternoons.

I wanted to post the eight blog posts I wrote before, during, and right after my trip to Poland and Ukraine in one place as a chronology. I was briefly a hot topic in the local news when I was there, but now, as we pass the 6 month mark, the war in Ukraine becomes just another story as the world seems to turn upside down. It’s still raging (although Ukraine is advancing and Russians are fleeing their country to avoid conscription) and the lessens I learned there still resonate.

UKRAINE BLOGS

Entry 1: In the Toilet Paper Tube of History: Watching the Battle for Ukraine in Real Time (February 27, 2022)

Entry 2: Psychoanalyzing the Attraction to Chaos, or Why I Want to Go to Ukraine (March 14, 2022)

Entry 3: On the Polish Border with Ukraine: Watching the World Change from Up Close (March 25, 2022)

Entry 4: The First Two Days on the Polish-Ukraine Border, as Bombs Fall on Lviv (March 26, 2022)

Entry 5: One Night in Lviv (Makes a Hard Man Humble) (March 28, 2022)

Entry 6: Panic in Auschwitz: Putting the Present Moment in Context (April 2, 2022)

Entry 7: Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Seen, Who I Am: A Brief Reflection of My Time in Ukraine/Poland (April 5, 2022)

Entry 8: The Rescue of the Girl in the Red Coat: Gratitude for One Ukrainian Dad (April 17, 2022)

Sept. 26, 2012: My 10-year Reconstruction Begins

September 26, 2022

Everything changed on September 26, 2012 at 10:15 AM (maybe 10:17, she was late). But first, the backstory. And it’s messy.

My forties were emotionally confusing. I had successfully risen up the academic ranks to a tenured full professor position but my love life was always in turmoil. I hadn’t yet connected the abuse I experienced as a child to the bad patterns I had perfected in adulthood. And work and romance tended to overlap. Pew research reports that most Americans meet their spouses at work, and I had habit of dating former students (with the emphasis on “former.”) While the university had no policy against relationships among faculty and university students, that line mattered to me. After grades were turned in, two consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want. It never was an issue, nor should it have been. There were several respected professors who were married to former students. Let love rule.

About a dozen years ago, I had a brief relationship with a former student that started off fun but, as new relationships sometimes do, quickly hit a dead end. It was clear that not only were we not a good match, there were red flags popping up all over the place. (The university would later deem this woman “unstable.”) I tried to end it amicably but she was not having any of it and went into full Glenn Close/Fatal Attraction mode. She found allies in the administration to champion her cause. They’d drag me into regular administrative tribunals and lecture me about “power dynamics.” (One of these administrators was having a “romantic, amorous, and/or sexual” relationship the administrator who had appointed her to her six-figure job.) I hired a lawyer who shut it all down and I recorded her confession that she made all her accusations up. Hoping to expedite my return to normalcy, I offered to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t date anyone who was enrolled at the university. Although I did briefly date an administrator after that. Because irony won’t be lost on me.

September 24, 2012 was the first day of the 2012-2013 school year and I had asked to teach a Sociology 101 class that started on Monday mornings. I wanted to be the first professor a fresh batch of college students would encounter. So I put a lot of work into that first class. It was a true performance, a sermon on the salvation of critical thinking. There’s always a few students who blow off the first class because they think nothing important happens on Day 1, and it always annoys me because everything important happens on Day 1. I make note of their absence and develop a grudge. One of those absentees was named Andrea Barrios.

So before she walked in late on Wednesday, I already had a bias against Ms. Barrios. Then she walked through the door. I’m not being overly dramatic when I say it felt like being struck by a bolt of lightning. It was an out-of-body experience. (She has told me of a similar experience.) My first clear thought was, “Oh no, universe, do not put this woman in front of me. I signed a contract!” as she sat in the front row and smiled. I was on the tail end of a two year relationship with a wonderful woman that was sputtering because I didn’t have a basic understanding of how to be in a relationship. But I was a good professor and stayed perfectly professional the entire term (while my teaching assistant routinely hit on Andrea). I stayed focused, as hard as that was.

At the end of the term, I posted on Facebook that I was going to see local singer Storm Large at dark club to celebrate the end of the quarter. It was a rainy December night and I was sitting by myself at the end of the bar when Andrea walked in. Of course I was thrilled to see her. She was probably the smartest person in a class of a hundred students and she radiated. She bought me a shot of tequila and said we should hang out sometime. I told her I didn’t date students. She bought me another shot of tequila and we ended up making out at the bar.

A mature man would have stopped right there. I began building my career as sociology professor at 17 as a freshman in college.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to risk it over a woman in her twenties, as fascinating as she may be. I invited her to dinner the next night so I could explain the situation, that I had signed a contract with the university and if I dated her I could lose my job. “Maybe nobody will find out,” she said. That’s all I heard. I was already head over heals in love. I just wanted to be near her. She tried to get into another school to avoid the conflict but that didn’t happen. We were two adults who just wanted to be together. Two years later we were married with a baby.

But it wasn’t easy for her. I was only just starting to figure my shit out. The first lesson was how I tended to keep old relationships on the back burner in case the current relationship went south (a product of deep abandonment fears). I learned that only burned the person I was with and I almost lost Andrea. Fortunately, it was a surprisingly easy fix. So many of my other issues, wrapped in my narcissistic tendencies, made her feel invisible. But, as a tenured professor, I represented the stability she craved. Then all that changed.

This is the part of the story that involves a psychotic inmate in an Oregon prison. (“Psychotic” isn’t hyperbole. It’s in his medical records.) He was a “former” racist skinhead who I had worked with before his incarceration. He had decided, for some stupid reason, that I had aggrieved him. He made it his personal mission to destroy me and found allies in the university who were endlessly annoyed by my role as a faculty union agitator. I was dragged back in before the administrative mob, with our daughter in her baby carrier, and asked me if my wife was a university student. “Yeah,” I said, “She’s taking an online Women’s Studies class.” That was it. They had me. I was toast.

My long career was successfully destroyed, not by a nazi skinhead, but my failure to make better choices. I could blame Glenn Close girl, psychotic skinhead, or a university administrator who was banging her boss, but it all came down to bad decisions I made over the course of years. I just wasn’t ready to accept that fact.

Who was I without my career? Certainly not the stable provider Andi and our baby needed. My issues began to cascade. I thought I was one of the good guys, but I centered my anger, creating less and less room for her in the relationship. To her credit, she not only finished her undergraduate work but earned a Master’s Degree and began teaching her own classes. All while I tried to pick up the pieces of my life and figure out how the hell to be a good father and husband.

There are numerous details but suffice it to say she told me in very clear terms what she needed but I was so wrapped up in my pain and anger that I repeatedly failed to deliver. It was when things were at their worst, that I started remembering the experiences of early sexual abuse. But it’s not like one has a realization that leads to an immediate change, “Oh, I was abused. Now I can stop being a self-centered prick.” I still had a ways to fall before I hit the bottom. And that happened on last New Year’s Eve when Andi told me she was in love with someone else. The floor opened up and I was ready to cease to exist. I felt beyond repair. Beyond redemption. There was nowhere to go but oblivion.

After that, as I have written much about, I found a wonderful therapist who helped me not only connect the dots from my trauma to my behavior, but who gave me practical tools to start to change the patterns. My trip to Ukraine to resettle refugees this past spring encouraged me to be a source of healing instead of pain. And Andi’s patience helped me to see how childish my behavior tended to be. I’ve learned that love is more than a feeling but behavior in the small moments; a comforting look, a curious question, a snarky text not sent.

I’m marking this ten year point for two reasons. First, that psychotic skinhead is out of prison and still threatening me. I need a public record of my journey. But the main reason is that this ten year effort to deconstruct myself and build a better version of me may not be enough to be Husband 2.0 to Andi, but it’s been worth the attempt. We all can repair harm and fix ourselves to reduce harm to the people we love. I’m proud of who I am becoming.

The Catch-22 of Trump 2024, or, How Donald Trump’s Comical Death is Democracy’s Great Hope

September 19, 2022

The good news is most Americans don’t want Donald Trump to run for president again. In a  recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, 61 percent of Americans said they want the orange oaf off the ballot. Of course, another poll, from Harvard, found 67 percent of Americans don’t want Biden to run for re-election (citing his age, not his attempt to overthrow the government). But Trump has become the drunk uncle who won’t leave after the holidays. Based on the spotty attendance of Ultra MAGA weirdos at his recent rallies (“Huge!” pfft!), Trump’s cult of personality seems to be shrinking like his legal team.

But it only takes one Timothy McVeigh to ruin your whole day.

Just take one look at the people showing up at these MAGA rallies. On one hand, if you ever wondered were old white people go to die, it’s to a mostly empty arena dressed in red, white, and blue “Let’s Go Brandon” golf shirts. But on the other hand, these people are batshit crazy. That fascistic devotion to Trump is reflected in numerous polls that report the majority of Republicans still believe the Big Lie, that the Con Man from Queens won the 2020 election. As Joseph Goebbels is alleged to have said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Behind the wack-a-doo attendees at Trump rallies are numerous “patriot” militia members who are heavily armed and waiting for the go from their dear leader to kick off their “boogaloo” with the promise that the rednecks will win this civil war. A recent ADL report found scores of Oath Keepers in the ranks of the military, police, first responders, and among elected officials. Like a page out of the racist playbook, The Turner Diaries, these Timothy McVeigh-wannabees hope to make January 6 look like a Beach Boys concert on the DC Mall.

Which brings up to the conundrum of 2024 and Trump’s concerning attempt to force his way back into the White House. There are three possible scenarios, and none of them end well for this great nation.

Scenario 1: Trump runs in 2024 and a crushing recession, endless memes about “black crime,” the harassment of poll workers, and a well-timed news story about an undocumented immigrant from Latin America savaging a white woman (whether true or not), and 45 becomes 47. Trump takes it as a mandate to further deconstruct American democracy. Can you imagine what the federal courts will be capable of doing after another four years of Trump appointments? Suddenly The Handmaid’s Tale will look like a utopia instead of a dystopia. As forces loyal to the Constitution try to prevent America from sliding into an authoritarian state, civll war becomes eminent.

Scenario 2: Trump runs in ’24 and loses to Biden (or Kamala Harris because Joe fell off his bike). It will be seen as evidence of another “stolen election.” Nearly every MAGA candidate that lost a primary this year claimed to be a victim of “voter fraud.” As funny as it’s been they are sitting up the expectation that if Trump loses in ’24, it will be because the unseen evil forces. (Spend some time on Trump’s Truth Social or Gab and you know it’s the “Jews.”) Since peaceful means will be seen as no longer effective, violence will be called for – Civil War 2: The MAGA Boogaloo.

Scenario 3: Merrick Garland indicts Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection or handing over classified documents to Putin, or throwing ketchup at the wall. Whatever. Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits ANY politician who has taken the oath of office from holding future public office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” Engaged in, not caused. You better believe the DOJ is mulling this one over with sweating brows. While this is probably the best option that demonstrates that our Constitution and the rule of law actually fucking mean something in this country, the “defund the FBI” crowd is still going to be triggered and urged to drag themselves out of their troll holes and shoot SOMEBODY.

This really sucks. It sucks for America and for those of us that just want to live in peace and not have to have to defend ourselves from roving gangs of MAGA militias looking for liberals, Black Live Matter activists, and drag queens to hang. I have weapons training but I’d rather spend my gun budget on some shrubbery and taking my kid to Disney World (if the DeSantis Army hasn’t nuked it). Plus, I suck at that Big Buck Hunter game. I don’t know how good I would be at mowing down marauding Proud Boys on my street.

So America’s hope seems to lie in Scenario 4: The death of Donald J. Trump. And it can’t be from the most likely cause, a massive heart attack. The QAnon loons will see conspiracy all over that outcome. You thought bunker dwellers had a field day with JFK’s (and JFK Jr.’s) death. They will see the hand of Fauci and/or Antifa in Trump’s “natural causes” bucket kicking. And then we’re back to the armed rebellion of the sub-moronic legions. No, it has to be in public and as mundane as possible.  He’s gotta trip over his feet and break his neck at a golf course, or fall off a stage at rally while doing that embarrassing white man dance. He could choke on an Egg McMuffin or maybe he could step out of a speeding limo after an argument with Eric. It’s gotta be Darwin Award-level stupid.

We know from research that cult-like movements tend to fade when the charismatic personality at the center expires. (Except for the Dead Head thing. That shit refuses to go away.) The MAGA faithful might rally around Junior, or the more frightening Ron DeSantis. But they can’t give them what Don gave them, the ability to be stupid but feel smart. And the Trump chapter closes, not with a bang, but with a briefly lingering oder.

This is where we are America. The threat of armed political violence is very real and the clock to 2024 is ticking. The great hope of America may just be Donald Trump driving his golf cart into a pool at Mar-a-Lago and getting his khakis caught in the pool drain or being hugged to death by Diamond and Silk and the My Pillow guy. But it’s gotta be spectacularly stupid, like the man himself.

PS. Scenario 5: Ukrainian victory drives Putin from power and the kompromat that Vladimir has on Trump falls into pro-democracy hands. Trump is told it will be released if he doesn’t permanently retire. Trump moves to Moscow where he spends his remaining days paying prostitutes to pee on pictures of Barack Obama.

“Where did my friends go?” Wives as Unpaid Therapists

September 14, 2022

Masculinity is a truly fragile thing. In our youth, we are hit over the head with the message pushing male bonding. No girls allowed in the treehouse. There are plenty of negatives associated associated with that, including that it devalues all things female and blocks girls and women out of the avenues of power (“Bros before hos!”), but there is an unintended benefit to all the bro-time.

Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings and that’s what gets us into trouble. “When boys cry, they cry bullets,” I remember a child psychologist saying on The Oprah Winfrey Show after the 1999 Columbine shooting. But when we do manage to share a bit of vulnerability, it tends to be with our bros, maybe after a few beers or a lost match. We learn that we can lean on our male friends without being called a “cry baby” because they are looking for the same thing. Then after opening up, we have to “cowboy up” and revert to the same stoic bullshit.

So what happens when we get married?

The story goes that marriage means leaving our male friends behind on the playground, soccer pitch, or tavern. Male friends celebrate the interest of a single man and now he must trade his dudes in for a woman. John Lennon had to leave the Beatles for Yoko and her screaming. And now the wife is the “best friend.” On one feminist level, that makes a lot of sense if the man is leaving the toxic grab-ass world of Bro Culture to finally see at least one woman as an equal partner, but on another feminist level what does this really do for the wife?

This is exactly what happened in my marriage.

And soon as Andi and I connected and certainly after we got married and became parents, I shed my wonderful posse of friends, most of them men. No more going out to shows together, planning weekends at festivals, or just hanging out after work. She became “my world.” That can seem very romantic and much of it seems like a wonderful dream, but I never once saw the burden I was laying on her by making her “my person.”

She suddenly was cast into numerous roles, from my therapist to my financial (and fashion) advisor, all of which were unpaid. I relied on her opinion and no-one else. In co-dependent relationship, we often give people power they don’t actually want. You can put me in charge of the criminal investigation of Donald Trump, and while that might sound awesome, I don’t actually want that power. And it is a power thing because it’s not equally shared. If I played the exact same roles for her, it wouldn’t be an issue. I didn’t expect her to do the laundry but I did expect her to “fix” me.

I would often be confused by her response to me saying things like, “You saved me.” I considered it a compliment. But it wasn’t her job to save me. And who was supposed to save her if she was spending her time on the project that was her husband? She couldn’t save herself because she was supposed to be saving me. All this saving. It didn’t occur to me to just save my goddamn self. After all, I had her to do that.

It’s not surprising that my wife began to quietly resent me. My broad social circle shrunk down to just her and it must have been suffocating. She was my “rock,” which meant I relied on her for everything, without really returning the favor. Where, previously, I might complain about work with my friends over a beer, it was now on her shoulders. The encouragement to make it through the matrix of life now only came from her (and phone calls with my other female/therapist, my mother). Where was the reciprocity?

One of the wonderful things this separation has given us is the space to save ourselves. Watching her evolution this past year, free of my emotional burdening (and constant need of her approval) has been wondrous. I now have an amazing therapist who I pay to do the emotional servicing I expected from Andi. And I’m rebuilding my friendships with peers. I live in a city with countless coffeeshops and bars. There are plenty of places to share some bonhomie with my dudes.

The division of labor makes sense. Brothers, don’t expect your wife or girlfriend to be your “everything.” It’s not fair to them. You are not their project. Learn from my mistakes, save yourself. And get a good therapist.

To Escalate or De-escalate, That is the Question

August 23, 2022

Fifty-four years ago this week, the dramatic violence outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago (August 23 to 28, 1968) defined an era of protest. It is now generally viewed as a “police riot.” The Chicago Police violently assaulted peaceful demonstrators, leading to numerous arrests and injuries, escalating the bloody street clashes. The mayhem was mostly broadcast on live TV, with the young protestors chanting, “The whole world is watching!”

In 2011, 43 years later those who studied the carnage from Chicago ’68 put those lessons to work. As the Occupy Wallstreet protests spread across the country, especially here in Portland, police utilized a new tactic – de-escalation. The old method of police knocking hippie heads tended to backfire and bring more civilians into the battle (and spurred increasingly costly lawsuits against police departments). In 2011, I spent many long nights in the three downtown squares claimed by Occupy protestors. The police kept their distance and let the people air their grievances. Eventually the protest ran its course and everyone went home. No teargas. No violence. The opposite was the case in 2020 when federal law enforcement arrived to quash the Black Lives Matter protests and turned downtown Portland into a war zone. I will never forget hiding behind concrete columns as feds, in heavily militarized gear, shot their weapons randomly down 5th Avenue.

Following the January 6th riot, we’ve re-entered the debate about de-escalating the violence. A 2022 University of California, Davis survey found that 1 in 4 Americans think violence against the government is sometimes OK and 1 in 10 feel political violence is justified right now. (Not surprisingly, these numbers are much higher among Republicans.) This call to violence has only escalated in the wake of the FBI’s warranted search (it wasn’t a “raid”) of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound to retrieve stolen classified documents. America suddenly seems close to falling into the tarpit of another civil war. Maybe the country needs to take a massive chill pill.

I’m privileged to be a part of a federally funded project to look at ways to interrupt extremist violence in America called Cure-PDX. The basic idea is that if there are individuals at risk of committing acts of political violence, whether they’re coming from the right or left or somewhere off the charts, there should be a way to get them to “de-escalate” and find a non-violent way to express their, perhaps legitimate, grievances. It’s not about de-radicalization. (As a sociology professor, I like to joke that I’m the radicalization field.) It’s about moving individuals back from the ledge of violence, before they go on a shooting spree, blow something up, or commit a hate crime.

The logic of de-escalation makes sense. Fewer victims of extremist violence seems like an easy sell. But our team ran to some push-back from some activists on both the right and left who argued, given the current state of affairs, this is the exact time TO escalate violence, before things tip over. Political scientists will tell you that extremists movements tend to have an apocalyptic element. The sky is always falling. But these days it’s hard not to share that sentiment. The left thinks democracy is one election away from disappearing and the right thinks the “Biden FBI” is coming to throw patriots into concentration camps. I will admit one thing, a part of me has considered arming up to protect my family from Proud Boys and the unorganized militias of the right.

I reflected on my time this spring in Ukraine. I was not involved in de-escalation. I was helping the Ukrainian army escalate the you-know-what out of things. The stuff I brought in from Poland in the back of a van ended up in the hands of soldiers in Irpin and very likely helped them kill many Russian conscripts as they valiantly reclaimed the city. I may have Russian blood on my hands. How do I sleep at night? Like a baby. I wish there was a non-violent solution but if you had seen what I had, you wouldn’t want de-escalation in that moment either. While there, I kept remembering a Bruce Cockburn song that went, “If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die.”

So who am I to tell other people to de-escalate?

Well, we’re not Ukraine, occupied by a civilian-slaughtering invader. We still have a Constitution and free elections. Despite Trump’s attempt to dismantle our democracy, the house still stands. Everything the left and right want can be addressed without violence. There are political strategies that can build the middle while giving voice to those who feel marginalized, including 70-something straight white cis men who are scared shitless by “woke politics” (whatever that is).

I just watched Netflix’s three-part documentary on Woodstock ’99. (I was briefly a Limp Bizkit fan, shhh.) The violent destruction at the 3-day festival, including the numerous sexual assaults, is a perfect example of the contagious nature of violence. Kids were suddenly burning down buildings. The madness of the moment consumed them. If I had been there (as I had planned to), I could have been one of them. America is at risk of “Woodstock ’22” becoming our descent into political violence as the mob mentality of us versus them sweeps the nation. Libtards versus Nazis. But, there is no us versus them, just us. And we have a brief window in history to de-escalate. If we miss it, it’s gonna make Woodstock ’99 look like Woodstock ’69. 

Recent data shows that 80 percent of domestic terrorist plots that have been prevented were stopped because someone known to the potential offender came forward. We all can play the role of “credible messenger” to those at risk of escalating to violence. “Hey Frank, I now you want to storm the capitol, but can we just hang out and watch some cat videos?” Frank just got saved from a world of regret. It is worth pursuing this approach first and save the insanity (and body count) of escalation for another day. Non-violence is still the preferred path.

Gender – Nature vs Nurture 8: The Looking Glass Self

August 7, 2022

There was a clear moment this past year when Dad picking out Cozy’s outfit for the day slammed into “societal expectations.” For the historical record, there is an event in the life of a second grader that sounds like this; “Dad, I don’t like how that makes me look!”

Legendary sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863 – 1931) often referred to Charles Cooley’s concept of the “looking glass self.” When “I” look in a mirror, I see “Me.” Me is society’s reflection and I evaluate myself by that reflection. It has nothing to do with who I am, only how they see “me.” I love mentioning to my students how they will never see their own face as it is. They will only see photos, videos, and reflections in mirrors, all versions of their face mediated by some external source. You don’t actually look like what you look like on Instagram. Sorry.

Even the most rugged individual’s sense of self is shaped by society. You’re a mountain man? Society says you have to have a beard, jeans, and flannel shirts. “But that’s just what I’m comfortable in,” says the rugged individual. “You know what’s even more comfortable?” asks George Herbert Mead. “Silk pajamas!” “But that will make me look like a cissy!” says the mountain man. Bam, society.

So me picking out my daughter’s clothes is starting to get filtered through the various mirrors of society. That’s not necessarily bad (“Pick out your own damn outfit,” Dad has screamed), but as we know, “society” is kinda messed up, like a funhouse full of distorted mirrors.

The first mirror is gender. This trip hits girls first. The boys in her second grade class seemed oblivious to what they should wear. Cozy has already been playing at wearing make-up with her friends. She has even said, “That outfit makes me look fat.” (Mom and Dad had a big “family time” conversation about that one.) And the way the fifth grade girls dress at her elementary school dress looks more college co-ed fashion than “kidswear.” According to feminist sociologists, like Carol Gilligan, all of this will be put in the service of attracting boys. 

Instead of being evaluated on her brains, her humor, or her ability to build a sustainable fairy house out of a bundle of sticks, society wants to primarily place her value in her “attractiveness.” Gilligan found that the self-esteem of 13-year-old girls plummeted as they began to realize that their worth was not based on what they had to offer the world but what they had to offer boys. The soccer player quits the team to become the cheerleader. Her research was first published in 1982. Forty years later, I fear the creeping insecurities of the 13-year-old girl who is told, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” will arrive in the gender politics of 3rd grade.

The second mirror is race. Less visible to white girls, BIPOC girls know that white girls set the beauty standards, whether it’s the latest fashion, straight hair, or Instagram make-up tips. My brunette mixed-race daughter has commented, more than once, about wanting an outfit because the “blondies” will like it. Already in second grade, the Aryan girls are the mirror that the other girls are seeing themselves in (and never seeing a blondie looking back at them). This isn’t any critique of Cozy’s blonde classmates. We live in a white supremacists patriarchal culture that puts “blonde girls,” at the peak of the attractiveness scale, but that scale is changing rapidly.

The third mirror is class. Not only are these kids looking up to the wealthy, to keep up with the Kardashians, they (or their parents) are expected to shell out the money so they can “look cool.” The first day of school everyone gets evaluated in their new outfits and the poor kids are always shamed. “Your momma is so poor that when I asked her what’s for dinner tonight she lit her pocket on fire and said, hot pocket.” We can still find Cozy outfits at Goodwill but we are about 60 seconds away from that door closing and it’s gotta be the latest trend OR SHE WILL DIE. We’re trying to give her a bohemian ethic that rejects wealth in favor of a decidedly downwardly mobile artist esthetic. My credit card really needs her to be a beatnik.

All of this is tied to the process of “our baby” becoming her own person. But, as Mead explained, her sense of self is being formed by the culture she lives in and more than once I have been tempted to smash the mirror.

Here comes third grade.

My Jim Crow Marriage: MAGA Co-dependency

July 21, 2022

There’s so much going on in the world. The Earth is literally on fire. It’s a nice distraction from my personal problems. I can doom-scroll through some GoPro footage from the battlefields of Ukraine or watch endless hours of commentary on the January 6th hearings. I used to drink through the rough patches. Now I just mainline the outside world.

As a Pisces, I tend to be overdramatic. Things aren’t that bad. Just the summer doldrums of separation. I’ve been trying to learn more about co-dependent relationships and, man, did I have one. I’m not 100% sure that learning about it makes you any less co-dependent, or will help Andi end up back under the same roof, but it sure shines a light and why we were stuck and not making any progress. She was the fixer and I was he who perpetually needed be fixed.

I’ve been having some pretty good conversations about the topic with my therapist. Knowing I’m a Pisces, she’s liberal with the diagrams. She drew two overlapping equal sized circles on a piece of paper and explained that in a healthy relationship two people take up equal space and they overlap in the space of their relationship but they have a larger part of themselves that’s not defined by the relationship. And they can both bring in things to share in the overlap or keep them as part of themselves.

In a co-dependent relationship, one person is a bigger circle that completely envelopes the other circle. That enveloped person has a) a smaller space, b) has no self outside the relationship and c) is always struggling against the confines of the bigger circle. That was us. Even though I encouraged her life outside of our relationship (she got a master’s degree and was an elected officer in her union without my help), when we were together, I did a pretty good job of swallowing her back into what I was jokingly referred to as “Randyland” (a term she understandably loathed). Just like how a person of color is forced to define themselves in relation to “whiteland,” her existence was shaped by our relationship instead of the other way around.

My therapist asked me to conjure up a romantic image of us and I remembered our first trip to Andi’s home town of Morelia, Mexico in 2013. Instead of me being the tour guide in Portland, she led me through her beautiful city, holding my hand. I imagined myself as a balloon safely in her grasp, seeing the world through her eyes. But it was just a flip of our co-dependent dynamic. Now I was the small circle, encompassed by her. As wonderful as it felt, it still wasn’t balanced.

Then she asked me to remember another romantic moment that seemed more balanced and I immediately flashed to our trip to Oslo, Norway in 2018, a city that was new to both us. I was returning from a day at a conference and Andi was coming to find me because she had discovered the most amazing record store on earth and when we ran into each other on the sidewalk, we were those perfectly equal interlocking circles.

The reality is that we had those moments (our first week in a youth hostel on Isla Mujeres with sand in the bed and Macklemore playing every night), but there was a lot more suffocation in Randyland. I get why she needed to break free.

OK, this is the part where I link it to Trump. Hang with me.

You know the MAGA thing? That “Make America Great Again” implies that America’s not great but it was sometime in the mythical past. Trump picked 1950 when America was last great. 1950, the peak of Jim Crow segregation. 1950, before the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, and the disability rights movement. If you were a black transperson in a wheelchair, America was not great in 1950. Or a woman. And TVs sucked. Give me my 2022 Samsung flatscreen TV and my pronouns and leave 1950 to your back & white fantasy. Father knew best, or so we were told. The MAGA crowd wants that bullshit past back. They dream of the by-gone days of Jim Crow. Colin Kaepernick “knew his place” in 1950.

But that’s the thing. We over-nostalgize the past. It was always better back then. Music was better. Fashion was better. It was a “simpler” time, blah, blah, blah. In fact, the past was both great and shitty, just like the present. And it was plenty complex, but we were familiar with the complexity. The future is uncertain and the past is a cozy blanket. No wonder people want to go back to it. And that tendency just gets worse the older you get. The 2010s, ah those were the days. The past is a safe haven for the timid. The future is scary as hell. You saw what happened with Bitcoin. But you’ve really gotta embrace the unknown, as frightening as it is. It might kick you in the crotch, but it’s better than spending your life reminiscing about your baseball card collection.

We do the same damn thing when a relationship is ending. “But it was so great! Look at how happy we are in these pictures.” The reality, like America in 1950, is more complex. It was great and shitty. There were plenty of hard times. But I remember it more fondly because I was the planet she revolved around. I was white Father Knows Best guy. For her it was Jim Crow. She was the “colored girl” who needed to get the hell out of Mississippi.

Coming to terms with co-dependency means acknowledging the imbalance. I don’t know if Andi and I will have any more “Oslo moments.” I hope so. But I understand why she had to escape Randyland. I’m escaping it, too.

Talking to My 7-year-old Daughter About Abortion

June 25, 2022

I got a text yesterday morning to turn on the TV. I was worried that someone famous I loved had died or there was another 9/11 unfolding. It was much worse than that. The health and safety of girls and women of child-bearing age was being thrown under the bus by five people, Clarence Thomas, Samual Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kananaugh, and Amy Coney Barratt. Remember their names. They pulled the lever to turn the United States into Afghanistan.

Going against the will of a vast majority of Americans and 50 years of precedent, Roe v. Wade was overturned on a Friday morning in June. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t end abortion (despite the spontaneous celebrations of tools like Marjorie Taylor Green), it just returns the practice to the back alleys of Mississippi and Missouri. And girls and women will die. But, apparently, America cares more about guns than girls and women.

The Friday morning news woke up my seven-year-old daughter, Cozy, who now, as a female, had fewer rights than she did the day before. She wondered what all the yelling on TV was about. Seven-year-olds should not know about abortion. That information should be reserved for 11-year-olds who are raped by a family member. I didn’t know how to answer her. How do I explain this to a child? Of course, she’s heard the word “abortion” and she’s gonna hear it a lot now thanks to the conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court.

Knowing that that word was going to be everywhere and that I would be dragging her along to a reproductive rights rally in downtown Portland later in the day, I decided to have “the talk” with her. Sort of like how black parents have to talk to their kids about how to the police might kill them if they don’t understand how racism works, millions of parents now have to talk to their daughters about how the state might kill them because of how patriarchy works.

So yesterday afternoon, after she came in from playing in a neighbor’s new tree fort, I sat her down on the couch for America’s new family tradition. The word is now everywhere. She’s an inquisitive child, so I knew she had questions.

Me: Hey, Cozy can we talk a minute? (She gets a worried face, like she was in trouble.) No, it’s not a bad thing. Well, it is a bad thing for society, not for you at the moment. I just want to talk about something that’s been in the news. Have you heard the word, “abortion.”

Cozy: Yes (She got uncomfortable, feeling like we were going to talk about sex.)

Me: Do you know what it means?

Cozy: No

Me: I know you’re hearing that word a lot right now and I just want to explain it to you. So when Mommy and I first got together, we really wanted to have a baby one day. And the day Mom found out she was pregnant with you was one of the happiest days of our lives. We were so excited. But sometimes women get pregnant and they are not happy about it. Maybe they’re too young, or they already have a lot of kids, or having a baby might be really bad for their health. So there this little operation called an abortion that lets women decide if they want a baby or not. Women have had the right to make that decision for 50 years. But this morning some judges picked by Donald Trump decided women no longer have that right.

Most Americans believe that women should have this right but some people think abortion is bad because it stops a baby from being born, so there is a lot of fighting about it and people get really angry on both sides. You really don’t have to worry about it now but let’s say 20 years from now you want to be able to decide whether or not you want to have a baby, you will want to have the right to make that choice.

Cozy: How long until the law changes back?

Me: I don’t know, sweetheart. That’s why we have to vote, and march, and fight for you and Mom’s rights. So we’re going to a demonstration downtown later today to protest the decision these judges made. Just imagine if judges said we can have slavery again, how much that would hurt some of your friends.

Cozy: Yeah, that would be really bad.

Me: We have to protest so we can get your rights back. Hopefully it won’t take long. You’ll see a lot of angry people today. I’m angry. Your mother is angry. You might even hear some bad words because everyone is so angry. But you can ask me anything you want about it. You know how much I love your questions. Do you have any questions?

Cozy: Yeah, can I go back outside and play?

And she did. I know it was a lot to lay on a kid, but the Supreme Court and the Trump cult has foisted this upon our families. I shouldn’t have to talk to her about these things.

Later, we headed downtown to the rally. I told her if it got crazy we would leave. Black clad anarchists have a tendency to hijack demonstrations for their own narcissistic reasons and start fires in the middle of the street. (Haven’t they heard about the CO2 problem?) She was a little uneasy walking into the large crowd, but she’s a veteran of marches, rallies, and protests. So she settled in to the cacophony. She only had one question.

Cozy: Daddy, what’s the deal with the coat hangers?

Me: Can I answer that one later?

We were joined about about 1500 other Portlanders in a panic over the rollback of rights. At the moment, women and girls in Oregon are safe, but we could easily have a Republican governor (a horrid anti-choice woman named Christine Drazen) elected in November and be as bad off as Mississippi. Democratic Socialists at the rally told the crowd to vote for them and not Democrats, which is exactly what the anti-abortion Republicans are hoping for. I just let all the chants and speeches wash over my daughter and I. I wanted her to be able to say she was there.

After about an hour, Cozy asked if we could leave. It seemed like a good time as I saw the teenage anarchists in their black uniforms start to circle the diverse crowd like hungry sharks. Often, I’m right there with them, sharing in the rage against the backward slide. But today I wanted my daughter to still believe in non-violence and the democratic process. I wanted her to believe in Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Margaret Sanger. It’s too soon for me to teach her about the politics of desperation or how enemies send agent provocateurs into demonstrations to start fires in the street to make demonstrators look bad on Fox News.

But, apparently. It’s not too soon to talk to a seven-year-old about abortion.

Note: They (anarchists, agent provocateurs, Fox News producers, whoever) did start a fire in the middle of the street last night. But don’t be surprised if the next fire is women burning down the Supreme Court building.