Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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Watching fragile men freak out over a Gillette ad

January 17, 2019

I’ve never been a big fan of Gillette razors. Gillette is owned by Proctor & Gamble, one of the least-socially responsible mega-corporations and I remember boycotting them in the 1980s over their commitment to animal testing. So imagine my surprise this week to learn that Gillette was launching an awareness campaign called The Best Men Can Be that acknowledged the issue of toxic masculinity. What wasn’t surprising was the backlash from snowflake “macho” men who saw the corporation trying to dismantle maleness itself.

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The ad for the campaign aired this week and it’s powerful, linking the issues of bullying and sexual harassment to the type of “boys will be boys” masculinity that for too long has gone unchecked. And when it is checked, for just one minute and 48 seconds, a lot of bros simply freak out, swearing they will never buy a Gillette product again. These men fall into three categories.

  1. Misogynists who think it is their (male) God-given right to harass women and bully boys and men they view as less “manly.”
  2. Men who think the term “toxic masculinity” refers to all forms of masculinity. (As I’ve written, masculinity isn’t toxic. Toxic masculinity is.)
  3. Men who don’t understand that gender is something that we learn. We learn different definitions of masculinity at different times in history and in different places in the world. Masculinity has very little to do with having a penis.

When gauging the freak out, you see plenty of all three types of men. They’ve already made response videos, which I can’t stomach to watch. And I’ve given up on trying to educate these men in the comments section on the YouTube video. They are in full defense mode, many hilariously claiming the Gillette is a “Marxist corporation.” Seriously.

Here are a few of the prize-winners just from today:

Gillette the gayest a man can get – kdubs_r

Legal system: Innocent until proven guilty. Gillette: Men, guilty until proven innocent. – Nathan Drake

You do know that feminists are quite proud to not shave right? – Ben Haworth

“Because the boys watching today will be the women of tomorrow ” – Taffe M

It’s Toxic Irresponsibility. Not toxic masculinity. Why would you inject gender into this? The fight is against social irresponsibility. There are just as many irresponsible women in society as there are men. Why is the tip of the spear pointed only at men here? – Nic 9Volt

And my favorite;

Men account for around 80% of suicides. Men are most likely to fall victim to violent crimes. Men work the most dangerous jobs. More men die on the front lines of war/ Men have shorter life spans. GTFO of here with your social justice propaganda this is not a man’s world in the slightest – Mickey Rourke

Mickey just made the case that toxic masculinity is killing men without even knowing it!

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I have a feeling that someone at Fox News or some alt right website told their mob of triggered bros to flood the comment section, because, it’s pretty hilarious/sad. Maybe I live in a Portland bubble where most men know there are many ways of doing masculinity that don’t include beating up “sissys,” harassing women, of going on shooting sprees for that matter. These mouth breathers seem to think Gillette is describing ALL MEN. Maybe they missed former NFL player and male feminist (and TV hunk) Terry Crews in the ad saying “Men need to hold other men accountable.”

The first category of men, the committed misogynists, are going to see what they want to see in this commercial. They’ve labeled it “anti-man,” “anti-white,” and “anti-American.” They are committed to their inherited rights to have their authority remain unchallenged and will be in high attack mode to prevent a woman from being elected in 2020. (Several of the negative comments on YouTube reference doughy rich boy Donald Trump as the paragon of masculinity.)

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The other two categories can be reached through education. Why is violent crime overwhelming committed by men? Toxic masculinity, but there are scores of men who model other forms of masculinity that resists the harm men do to themselves and others because “boys will be boys.” Where does this toxic masculinity come from? We learn it at an early age when we learn that “boys don’t cry” and you show a girl that you like her by punching her. If there was ever a time for a sociologist it’s right now!

This is the message that I’ve been sharing with my students for nearly thirty years. We can construct gender any way we want. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad and I love Marvel superhero movies. This week I called out a guy on Facebook for referring to a female elected member of congress as a “bimbo.” Another guy, a rather well-known former cop named CW Jenson, claimed that I must have “burned my man card.” I told him I proudly burned it in college. “It’s called growing up,” I said. I’m just as much of a man as Mr. TV Cop.

Terry Crews is right. It’s up to boys and men to shut this shit down whenever and wherever it appears, on Facebook and in the office. I was walking Cozy past a schoolyard to the park recently and two middle school boys were beating up a third. I broke it up but where were the teachers? Boys will be boys? Silence is permission and it’s time to get loud. THAT IS NOT COOL!

It’s not surprising to see the Old Boys Club freak out over the Gillette ad. The writing is on the wall. The times they are-a-changing. And the genie is out of the bottle. Women are holding a mirror up to men’s faces and they don’t like what they see. Some men will change. Others will just try to smash the mirror. As Gloria Steinem recently told me, the moment when a woman is most at risk of being murdered by her abuser is when she finally tries to escape him. The abusers are fighting hard as we try to break free. I hope efforts like this will mean my daughter will be safer than my wife is and my mother was. In the meantime, I think I need a shave. Know any good razor companies?

“Thanks, punk!” (For David Dickens)

January 10, 2019

I know the first time I saw David Dickens I was both frightened and liberated. I was a 16-year-old kid trying to figure out “punk rock” in 1980 Georgia. I knew what punk looked like long before I knew what it sounded like from reading Creem Magazine in the late 1970s. There were no internet streams of music or satellite radio. If you didn’t have a friend who had an older brother or sister who had somehow had gotten their hands on a Ramones album from some far-off big city record store, you were SOL. But I knew punk looked wild and David Dickens was a punk.

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In 1980 I was 16 with a drivers license. On the weekends I would tell my mom I was going to the midnight movie. Often I did. It was Rock n Roll High School on Fridays and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturdays and I know David was often there, screaming “Where’s your fucking neck?” at the screen. Most of those weekends, I would head to the punk rock clubs with my fake ID. (Sorry, Mom.) The Metroplex on Luckie Street, The Bistro on West Peachtree, and 688 on Spring Street. They seemed like a million miles away from my subdivision in Stone Mountain. And Dave was there, all in black, blonde mohawk, and snarl. He looked just like the punks in Creem. I didn’t have to go to London. 688 was close enough.

David worked the door at a lot of those clubs and instantly identified me as a fellow misfit, part of the diaspora of suburban refugees looking for escape from Southern hypocrisy and fueled by the energy of the guitar and bass drum. In the suburbs, people married their high school sweethearts and raced into the doldrums of adulthood. Here there was space to be your true self. In your free space. It was a subterranean world of anarchist bohemian spirits, set free in a little corner of the Deep South. And David always let me in the door, no matter how fake my ID was. “Come on in, kid,” he’d say, his cigarette hanging out of his mouth, looking like he just walked out of a frame of Taxi Driver.

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By the time I was 19, his scene was my scene. I was practically living at 688, crashing on couches in Pershing Point, Atlanta’s short-lived East Village, and occupying space with punk artists at the Blue Rat Gallery. By then, David’s intimidating persona had given way to a kind of Catcher in the Rye character, benevolently keeping the scene in line and true to its ethos, occasionally corralling renegade punks like Billy Asshole and Malibu back into the fray. As a budding mod socialist and non-drinker, I had many after hours debates with him about the benefits of Marxism verses anarchism, with some four-piece band bashing in the background. Me in my Air Force parka, he with a ton of hardware clanging on his body. He was super-smart (not a dumb punk) so I was forced to raise my pee-wee game.

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David died a couple of days ago in his sleep. His heart just stopped. Apparently he’d had heart troubles and a recent gall bladder removal. As the word spread on Facebook, the heart of the scene stopped as well. Many of us had reconnected with the David through social media and he was still a warrior for freedom, ready to debate liberals and conservatives. I was glad to have him back in my world. The night before he went to bed for the last time, he posted a picture of a rich man trying to enter his grave with bags of cash, writing, “Like the man said … there’s a reason you never see a hearse pullin’ a U-Haul.” Maybe he knew.

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The news hit me harder than I expected. I found myself sobbing. Not because we were such close friends. It was because I never got to thank him. His persona was larger than life and as soon as I saw him, I knew I didn’t have to go to London or CBGB’s to find my tribe, it was right there. He could’ve looked at a little suburban punk wannabe like me and said, “Fuck off, you poser!” But instead, he said, “Come on in, kid.” I’m sure he died having no idea what an influence he had on so many of us misfits. He gave us permission to follow our unformed bliss and not be afraid to pay attention to our internal compasses.

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In 1977, George Harrison recorded a great song called “Pure Smokey” because he didn’t want to die without thanking Smokey Robinson for his wonderful music. George is gone and Smokey Robinson is still touring (and producing a Motown-based cartoon my kid loves) and knows how the George felt. I never got to say that to David. “David you gave me permission to be me. Thank you.”

As I get older, the rate of friends and comrades passing away will only increase. It’s time to start saying, “thank you.” David Dickens, thank you for letting me in.