A Dad Love Supreme

May 11, 2017

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There’s a scene in the 2016 film La La Land (Yes, I’ve seen it twice. Wanna make it three times?) where Seb (played by Feminist Ryan Gosling) is trying to explain jazz to Mia (played by Superbad Emma Stone). Mia, like many folks, thinks of jazz as the boring background music you hear in elevators and therapists’ offices. (Just think of the musical bowel movement that is Kenny G.) Seb wants her to know that real jazz is far from boring. In the scene, set in front of a bebop quintet, he explains that jazz is built on tension and conflict, as each musician struggles to express him or herself, to make a solo musical statement, then come back to the melody in a blissful synergy.

I grew up on jazz music. My mom played saxophone and hung out with Louis Armstrong when she was a teenager. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is woven into my DNA. I could go on, but I’ll just say I saw Miles Davis play live twice and last year got to hang out at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan for a Christian McBride show. I deeply love jazz, so, say what you will about the honky-ness of La La Land, Feminist Ryan Gossling got it right.

Meditations on jazz have been common for the two and half years I’ve been home with Cozy. I’ve had time to think about that moment of soloing and then coming back in to the group right on the beat. There’s bliss in that moment. It’s some type of metaphor. The tenor sax is screaming and the bassist is waiting for the eternal return and suddenly the sum is greater than the parts. There’s some wisdom there for our little trio and the world.

There are lots of new emotions associated with parenthood. It’s genre where divas and rockstars are definitely not needed. I’ve written about the intense fear that is constant. (As I write this I realize I should make sure my daughter is still breathing.) There’s another emotion that is pure jazz bliss, the eternal return.

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Cozy has been in daycare for seven months now, two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays. Those two days each week I try to cram as much soloing in as I can. Some of it is “work” related, including some legislative work down in Salem,  Oregon’s capital. If I have some time, I’ll go to my favorite local bar and have a beer and commandeer the jukebox. Any stay-at-home parent will tell you that this time is vital. But our Cozy is never far from my mind. “I wonder what she’s doing right now? Painting? Napping? Having a secret meeting of the Minnie Mouse Club under the slide?”

So here’s the thing. I’ll pick her up at around 5 pm and the walk up to the daycare, an old church the Black Panthers occupied in the 1960s, is like waking up on Christmas morning every damn time. The anticipation feels like an endorphin rush as I approach the door. Sometimes I sneak in quietly. I don’t want to surprise her, I just want to watch her at play at the end of the day. And that moment she sees me, bam! Everything else stops.

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“Daddy!” she’ll scream. “You came back!” sometimes she’ll say. My own abandonment issues aside, I want her to know I will always come back. I will always come back just for this moment; the moment where there are only two people in the world, my daughter and I. It’s like we are suspended in a purple cloud of happiness. Sometimes I hang out for a little sociological observation. I’ll watch other parents in the same moment. Last week I saw a dad close to tears as his toddler threw herself into his arms.

This must be a universal truth, how parents feel when reunited with their children. It might even be true that Donald Trump could have actually felt that way about his children (before they were old enough to talk about how he would date them). Right-wing and left-wing, anarchists and cops, jazz fans and everyone else with a child has had that moment. As smooth jazz stylist Sting once, during the Cold War, sang, “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

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There’s another great movie scene, the opening sequence in Love Actually (2003). It’s a series of real life shots of people meeting their loved ones in an airport terminal. Boyfriends and girlfriends, grown children and their grandparents, long separated siblings. It’s one of the most powerful things ever captured on film. Actors could never recreate that emotion. Director Richard Curtis had his film crew at Heathrow Airport for a week capturing countless reunions. I remember the audience in tears and the movie hadn’t even really started yet. I know that when I see my dad after a year (or more) apart, in that instance there are no political divisions, just love.

We are so divided right now. We are soloing in our echo chambers. Some of it seems like avant garde shrieking, music to the maker, but baffling to others. (All love to Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders.) I wonder when we will get back to the melody, when the chorus of “A Love Supreme” returns to anchor us in our common place in the cosmos. I’ve been wondering if that parent-child reunion might be the lure. That moment. How do we bottle that moment for the world?

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Probably a better jazz film than La La Land is the recent John Coltrane documentary, Chasing Trane. Coltrane was on a spiritual quest through his music, continually pushing boundaries, trying to connect harmonically with God. Just before he died, at only age 40, in 1967 from liver cancer, he was soloing for hours, literally, trying to find transcendence, a musical offering of complete submission to an ultimate reality. His short quest still captivates the world. As I was driving home from the theater I realized what he was going for, that moment of pure love. I have it every Thursday and Friday around 5 pm.

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Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Watching the Wheels turns 2 and can use the potty!

November 23, 2016

Well, when they say “time flies,” they really mean it. Two years ago, Cozy was an infant, Andrea was off to work at Planned Parenthood, I was enjoying my parental leave from Portland State University and the country seemed in good hands. Now, Andrea is working at a great law firm, Cozy’s hanging with her posse at daycare, I’m looking to return to academia and the country is about to be handed to a buffoon who wants to use the White House to build his anemic hotel empire. A lot has changed since I started this blog.

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I’ve had a productive year as a writer. My second short story was published in an amazing collection called A Journey of Words, forever linking the words “ants” and “Uranus.” Most significantly, my new novel, The Dream Police, is out and currently being read by actual people. The first few reviews on Amazon are wonderful. It couldn’t have happened without the amazing support I got on Kickstarter. As if in a dream, when people asked, “What do you do?” I’d just say – writer.

The real great leap forward has been Cozy and her brain. Like last year, we celebrated her birthday on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. She turned two and her verbal skills just went though the roof! We went from a limited vocabulary (in both English and Spanish) to full sentences in a flash. Her brain is connecting concepts and linking them at lightning speed. Instead of “hat,” it’s now “Cozy’s hat” or “Mama’s hat.” Possessives! That’s huge! Pretty soon she will be jamming on verb tenses. It’s an exciting thing to watch evolve.

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I think any new parent will tell you, one of the best parts of this phase is that the kid can tell you want they need. When she was a screaming baby, we’d wonder, “Is she okay or does she just need a boob?” Now she can say, “Tummy hurt” and “Where is it?” (Which usually refers to Rocco, her beloved pet rock.) It’s liberating to be able to have actual conversations with this former-baby.

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She’s off to daycare now a few days a week and loves going to “school.” She puts on her little backpack and heads off for a day of art projects, Spanish lessons, and walks around the neighborhood, including past “the big castle” (aka St. Andrew’s church). When she gets home she goes to her books. “I’m reading!” she exclaims. My nerd in training. Have I mentioned her love of The Beatles yet? Just ask her to sing, “Hey Jude.”

This blog has been a great place to explore her development and the development of the world she is inheriting. I’ve tried to keep the focus on issues related to gender and feminism, but my work is also about racism and the abuses of power, so how could I not discuss Trump, Black Lives Matter, and yoga pants? The blog has had over 400,000 visits. The pieces on Trump have been most popular but my blog on breast feeding dads continues to get creepy viewers by the score.

There is definitely a parallel between Watching the Wheels and Cozy Blazak. Both can walk on their own and are learning to talk in world where it’s not given that we’ll just get what what we want. How will liberals advance in the Un-united States of Trumpland? How will a little girl grow up safe in a country where voters elevated the symbol of rape culture to the highest office in the land? There will be plenty to write about in the next year as we guide our daughter through this backward moment in out history.

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The biggest change this past year has been in me and my desire to get back to work. Andrea and I were in New Orleans last week for the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology. I was reunited with my colleagues who do research on hate crimes and terrorism. It was a reminder of how important my scholarly work is, especially now as we see hate crimes on the increase. I was just on a program on Al Jazeera discussing the climate of hate in Trumpland. It was a tap on the shoulder, reminding me that I am a global voice on this issue. I’m incredibly proud of how The Dream Police turned out but it’s time to get back into the trenches.

So come along for a ride on this 2-year-old toddler of a blog. You KNOW there’s some good stuff coming. At least before Trump shuts down the free media.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bring on the anal phase!

November 15, 2016

What goes in must come out. That’s the mantra for the transition from the oral phase to to the anal phase. Sigmund Freud may have gotten some bits of our psychological development wrong, but, at least in Western culture, potty training is a watershed moment. (Are desert nomad toddlers potty trained? I don’t know.) Suddenly, “poop” becomes the most important word in the entire language! Poop!!!! There’s a bit of an anal fixation in the house at moment. Just ask Cozy.

I tried to calculate how many diapers I’ve changed in the last 27 months. It’s gotta be over 3000. (I know my wife has change a few, as well.) I’m about done. Let’s get this kid on the john, stat!

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Doctor Freud put a lot of weight on this stage of child development. The first phase is the ORAL PHASE, taking up the first two years of life. Here, baby is just a raging ID, feeding its hella selfish “pleasure principle” by sticking anything and everything in its mouth: binkies, boobs, toes, Cheerios, checkers, and mortgage checks. Cozy was a freaking Hoover. I’m surprised I didn’t have to Heimlich the house keys out of her esophagus. The oral phase is just me, me, me! Feed me! Wipe my ass! Vote for my best interests!  It’s exhausting.

The oral phase is followed by two years in the ANAL PHASE. “Me” is balanced out by “They” as Selfish Baby learns there are external rules to play by, called “society.” You just don’t eat whenever you want, there is mealtime. Get a good night’s sleep because day is wakey wakey time. And you can’t crap in your pants forever, we have something called a TOILET. (Although, this past week, adults were excused for profusely pooping in their pants.) So potty training is one of the ways we first learn about the expectations of the culture we live in.

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Freud put a lot of weight on this rite of passage. It’s meant to balance the pleasure seeking Id with the socially oriented SUPEREGO. Think of a devil on one shoulder (The Id) and an angel on the other (The Superego). The head in middle is our EGO and decides who to listen to. If parents don’t potty train a child in time, they can become an Id-driven sociopath. (Don’t mention Trump. Don’t mention Trump.) But if the potty training is too severe, parents can produce Superego-dominated little neurotics. Jerry Seinfeld must have been potty trained at 6 weeks. So a lot of weight is placed on parents not to create future serial killers.

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Cozy is starting her Superego training. It must me nice to have someone change you whenever, but she needs to start letting us know when she has to go. Even just after she goes would be helpful. We’re spending more and more time on the potty, trying to make something happen. I like to grunt like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Constipation Blues,” to give her the hint to put her back into the effort. She’s starting to get it. She’s currently obsessed with farting, so we’re almost there. (Sorry, Mom. That’s on me.)

For Freud, potty time is supposed to be “They” (society) time, but it can also be me time. I’ll see her sitting on her IKEA kids’ potty with a book or singing to herself, or just pondering the merit of the electoral college. As much as I’m ready for this to be the norm, I don’t want this sweet child to inherit my neuroses because I was in a rush to cancel the diaper service.

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They must be smarter at her daycare because she had a BM in the toilet last week (getting a blue star!) and I’m still trying to coax a tinkle. I feel like the balance of her entire personality rests on this process. She seems strangely comfortable in a wet diaper which has me worried she might become an arsonist or an ultimate fighting fan. She’ll say, “Daddy, poop,” not when she needs to drop a deuce but when she’s trying to get out of taking a nap. Psychopaths tend to be highly manipulative. Should I start to worry?

When I was a kid in the seventies, I knew hippie parents who had their children in diapers to almost puberty. Those kids are now all Tea Partiers. But I also don’t want Cozy to be so afraid of pooping in her pants that she becomes sadistically anal retentive. That’s what Virgos are for.

The responsibility is almost too much to bear. I know we’re not the first parents to hold our child’s future psychoses in our sweaty hands. I’m anxious for any helpful hints on this project. We want poop in that pot.

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My toddler has flown the nest and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Nov. 3, 2016

Today is Cozy’s first day in daycare and I’ve come undone. We’ve been attached at the hip for the last two years, two months, and two weeks. Except for my work-related trips and her time with her family in Mexico and Salem, she’s never been out of my sight; maybe in the next room, fast asleep. Now I have actual child-free time and I’m not quite sure what to do. Write a novel, perhaps.

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My wise wife suggested we put our daughter in daycare a few days a week so I can get things done. I’m always complaining there’s not enough time to get things done. Things like writing, and cleaning, and working on the house, and getting a goddamn job. The day is spent entertaining the kid. Yesterday we spent an hour just in the sandbox at the OMSI “science playground.” Sand is pretty scientific, until you start dumping buckets of it on little boys’ heads. Well, that might be social scientific with a big enough sample.

There’s a great daycare place in our neighborhood that’s in an old church. The woman who runs it told me that the Black Panthers served meals to Portland families there in the 1960s. Pretty cool place for a radical toddler. We signed Cozy up and I began to fantasize about dropping her off when the doors opened and picking her up right before they locked up, and all the things I would do in the hours between. Hours! Get things done hours!

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I bought her new rain boots and a backpack and she was so excited when I told her she was going to “school.” She wouldn’t take her backpack off (or her bike helmet, for some reason). I wrote a little note for he teacher about Cozy. “She’s a little Leo lion who loves all the animals and making animal sounds. Just ask her what an elephant says.” This morning when Andrea and I dropped her off, she was so ready to go, in her pink dress and hat. (I tried to stop the pink thing, I really did.) And with a few besitos, that was it. She was out of the nest.

It’s only been a few hours but I just want to go and check on her. I should’ve asked if this place has streaming nanny-cams. Maybe an app. Did she take a nap, have a snack, pour a box of crayons on a baby? Where is my child???

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It’s been strange that, for the last year, my best friend has been a two-foot tall munchkin that likes to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle.” When she says, “Come, Daddy. Cubbies!” I just don’t really want to be with anyone else. We have a tight connection of the heart, as Bob Dylan once sang. There’s such a bond after two years of stay-at-home parenting. We’re like a synchronized bath tub swim team, in each others’ heads. I don’t know if she cares about the outcome of this election (although I did let her mail my ballot for Hillary Clinton so she could brag about it later). I do know that I care when The Count announces the number of the day on Sesame Street. (“Daddy, come! Count!”)

A friend of mine who left work to take care of her small children told me how it’s both joyous and depressing because you miss your “outside” work life. That’s exactly right. I do miss being a full-time full professor and having deep water-cooler conversations with my peers (often about how corrupt the administration was). I didn’t have to explain to anybody that Milk Duds were not “poop.” It was given that that was understood. Or time just to sit at the bar and shoot the shit with likeminded shit shooters. Andrea and I have amazing conversations, but child-time has seriously diminished my normal adult interaction. I might even drool, occasionally. Pudding!

So for these two days a week I should make a “get done” list. So many things. We’re turning the basement into an apartment and I need to get out an promote my new book and maybe fill out a few applications and… but if you see me in the coffee shop or/and the bar, please come talk to me.

Note: Okay, I just drove by the daycare facility and saw Cozy on the playground, with a teacher, pointing at a bird. She was probably translating.

adios