Taking Manhattan with a 4-year old

Oct. 23, 2018

My first experience in New York City was the summer of 1982. I was 18 and my dad and I were driving to Kennedy Airport from Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was heading off to go to school in London and we made it a leg of the journey. That first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, with the looming World Trade Center towers and the Statue of Liberty floating in the foreground, injected me with an energy. So much bigger than the biggest thing I had ever seen. And somewhere in there was Lou Reed singing, “Take a walk on the wild side.” I would soon return to explore every corner.

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I’ve probably been to NYC fifty times since, but never like this trip. I was booked to speak at a forum on extremism in mid-town Manhattan and we thought, why not bring the kid? She had just spent a week in Mexico with Andrea and was fine traveling with one parent. Why not the Big Apple? I’ve been traveling so much this year without her I thought it would be fun to bring her along. So I called a travel agent and got her booked on my flight and we started planning what New York City with a 4-year-old and a 54-year-old would look like. No Russian bars. Can you tell me tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Cozy is great on planes. She’s been flying since she was a baby. But navigating JFK airport was a challenge. I forgot how huge it was and she was tired of walking before we were anywhere near Baggage Claim. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. Our first night was at an AirBnB up in Spanish Harlem and she fell asleep on the subway ride across Queens and Brooklyn. Once in checked in she was more excited by her bunkbed than the city streets outside. What to see first?

We took the 6 Train down to Grand Central Station and rode a pedicab to Times Square. Her eyes exploded. It’s a pretty overwhelming site for any first-timer, more lights, more people, more out-of-shape Spidermans than the kid could imagine. (And she’s been to Mexico City.) Fortunately, there were no drunk Elmos to contend with. We stopped in the Disney Store that I remember was a dildo store in the mid-1980s. I wanted to tell the kids working there but it seemed inappropriate. 

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Then we caught a train down to the East Village where I had a meeting with an old friend and his colleague who are turning a novel of mine into a stage musical. But first we happened into a diner on Broadway that just happened to be called Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burgers. “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a chef here!” said Cozy, munching on her grilled cheese sandwich. The kid seemed to immediately take to the city, bouncing with its energy, as I had in 1982. I wondered what it would have been like if I had gotten that faculty job at CUNY and this was our life.

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She slept through a noisy night in Harlem. That’s a lot in one day for a 50-month-old. The next morning we moved into our hotel in midtown and started another day of adventure that included going to the Met to where we had a date with Picasso, a trip to the Central Park Zoo, where she saw her favorite animal, the impressive snow leopard, and then dinner in Greenwich Village with some of friends who had kids who were super NYC-savy. Seeing Cozy run around Washington Square with her squad while nobody tried to sell me pot made me reflect at how much New York had changed since the Lou Reed days.

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Day 3 we had breakfast in bed and then headed downtown to hop the Staten Island Ferry for a gander at the Statue of Liberty. She wasn’t prepared for the cold wind off the water as we wandered around Wall Street and tried to compete with a huge crowd of Chinese tourists for a picture with the Fearless Girl statue in front to the Charging Bull at the U.S. Stock Exchange. I don’t know if the tourists understood its significance but Cozy got it. Later, during my keynote, an old friend whisked Cozy off for a matinee of Frozen: The Musical on Broadway and a trip to the M&M Store (apparently her highlight of the entire trip). We topped the day off with a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center and an ice cream sundae from room service.

Our last day we had breakfast with feminist scholar Michael Kimmel at Veselka in the East Village, picking up an order of pierogis to take home to Andrea. Soon we were in a cab for LaGuardia and beginning our journey home.

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I had so much fear about bringing a 4-year-old to the big city, but Cozy was amazing. She mastered riding the subway (including the Lexington line during rush hour). She also loved catching cabs, no booster seat needed, and always had a good conversation with the driver. “Do you like kitties?”  When I go to NYC I just like to walk most places, but after a day Cozy reminded me that her feet were smaller than mine and that I should carry her, “because it’s good exercise.” After a few blocks she’d ask, “Do you feel stronger, Daddy?” Sort of, not really.

Manhattan has evolved so much since I started coming to hang out in the 1980s. Did I ever tell you about the time I accidentally bought heroin in Alphabet City? I was hanging out with the Portuguese boyfriend of a college friend of mine when he saw somebody he knew. “Man, I don’t want to talk to that guy because I owe him money. Would you give him this $20 from me?” I handed the guy his 20 and ended up with a small white packet in my hand. Not cool. But I’m sure there’s a Starbucks on that corner now and we can be all romantic about the drug infested days of the Lower East Side. New York is now a city of families, and it’s not just the Disney-fied Times Square. As a parent, it’s nice to see so many kids inhabit the city and I can still cherish my memories of barfing in the toilet at CBGBs on the Bowery. I’m glad Cozy got this version, because she could see herself in the city.

John Lennon ended up in New York City in 1971 because it was the center of the world. He became a father and househusband here and died on its streets. NYC might not be the center of the world anymore, (Nǐ hǎo, Beijing), but the Big Apple still feels like the place to be. Even though much of it’s twentieth century character has been gentrified into oblivion (I mean, a Target in the East Village?), much of it is still iconic and I could see Cozy soak it up like a Sponge Bob costume in the Hudson River. She gobbled up Denino’s pizza on MacDougal and asked if we could spit on Trump Tower on Park Avenue and threw a mean right arm up to hail a cab. She’s 4 and has been to one more Broadway musical than I have. It’s already her kinda town.

Manhattan is life. It is the culmination of American grit and diversity. It is the world on one island. I’m glad my kid has begun her New York story.

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My best friend is 4

August 17, 2018

When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, illusion of the “happy homemaker” was forever shattered. Women were more than “Mrs. Joe Blow,” finding a sublime happiness in a spotless house with dinner on the table at six sharp. Feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith wrote that women were given the domestic sphere of the home so men could occupy the whole of the public sphere. Suddenly, the word was out and girls and women said, “I’m coming out into the wide word. Time for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Forever love to our queen.)

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My experience flipping the script and becoming a house husband while my wife went off to work at various Portland law firms revealed some unexpected truths. Expectedly, as Friedan would have predicted, I hate housework. The reality of the that drudgery came rather quickly. But I’ve found a sense of fulfillment out of getting dinner on the table. The thrill of the grocery store hunt for ingredients (“Excuse me. Is pesto a spice?”), the kitchen assembly (while this week’s Spotify Discover Weekly playlist plays behind the Food Network website), and then the ultimate cliffhanger (Will they eat it??). John Lennon once said that, when he became a house husband, preparing a meal that his wife and child actually liked was better than making a hit record. I can totally relate, John. All we are saying is give pasta a chance!

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But the other part that has crept in is the intense bond I have built with my child, who turns four today. That moment when we brought her home from the wild ride of her birth, she was just this helpless little blob that looked like my father but acted more like a slug than a member of the family. In those four years she has become a full-fledged person with the world in her sticky palm. Yeah, she’s cute but,  yeah, she knows how to work it. Somehow she picked up on the social lessons of how to work a room. She’s got work to do before she truly understands how to win friends and influence enemies. She’s still fairly id driven – “What can you do for me? That might work for our emotionally stunted president, but we want her to ask, “What can I do for you?” I guess, until then, she’s just half-fledged.

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My wife can see the bond between Cozy and I. We have our own secret language (called Kupa Sana) and her weird hand mannerisms are the same as mine. (Sorry, kid.) We fill our days with adventures. This week we spent some time wandering around Lone Fir Cemetery, full of nineteenth century headstones of Oregon pioneers and twenty-first century headstones of Russian immigrants who lived through the rise and fall of the Soviet empire. We talked about life and death and how we can be sad when people die but happy because their memories surround us. “You mean, the spirits of all these dead people are floating around here?” she asked. I was worried that the death conversation would traumatize her, but, instead it gave her a sense of calm. I guessing that’s because she’s half Mexican (and really loved Coco).

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A few days later we trucked up to Sauvie Island to pick blackberries on an organic farm. The smoke from the west coast wildfires hung low, but we lost ourselves in rows and rows of sweet berries, learning which ones were sour (“Daddy, this one’s not ready. Can I spit it out?”) and which ones were perfectly sweet. We were in a little cubby hole of fruit, with the occasional tiny green frog crossing our path, laughing and eating more berries than we were putting in the bucket. Her face and hands were purple and I had a moment where I thought she had been sent to me from another dimension to help me connect the real world to the one that exists in dreams.

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It’s strange having such an intense connection to a child. Andrea is right in that we celebrate Cozy as the intersection of that’s everything that’s right about us. We had to bust through some seriously evil roadblocks just to be a couple. Cozy represents everything that is pure about our desire to be together. Her birthday is a reason to celebrate what a good job we’ve done. But she’s also her own entity that’s full of depth and wonder separate from us. Last night we took Cozy to see a band recreate The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ album and on the first note of the third song she screamed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!” This is my child. I vowed not to be the parent in “She’s Leaving Home” and held her tight.

Each moment of these four years has been a gift. I wonder about the fathers who see the “domestic sphere” as an alien, feminine space. Do they know what they are missing? Do they know the unadulterated thrill of having a child say, “Daddy, you make the best spaghetti ever!” (even when you know that they’ve only had spaghetti made by you). As much as I’m ready to return to full-time public life, this experience has given me a great friend and expanded my soul. I might not know who’s playing in town this weekend, but I know someone who digs nature walks,  old Batman episodes, and endless blackberries, and that’s cool enough for me. Happy birthday, Cozy Pozy.

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Watching America die, I sent a Statue of Liberty to Donald Trump

June 20, 2018

My wife crossed the border from Mexico into Texas when she was 8 years old. She was on foot with her mother in the middle of the night. An old man carried her across the desert because she had lost a shoe on a railroad track. Within 15 minutes of entering the country, her and her mother were picked up by a U.S. Boarder Patrol van. Welcome to America.

She was never separated from her mother, who was trying to lead her to a better life in the United States. But spending a night in jail together in a new country must have been frightening enough. The men were kept in one cell and women and children in another cell. After processing, the Border Patrol dumped them back at the Mexican border. Fortunately, the father of the coyote (the people that ferry migrants across the border) felt guilty that his group got caught and tried again the next night. He waived the additional $3000 per person price which was a good thing because my future mother-in-law barely any pesos left in her pocket.

Because of a provision in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (authored by Senator Joe Biden), Andrea was awarded a green card in 2010.  The section allows the victims of domestic violence visas and a path to residency. It’s sad that women have to experience excruciating abuse to feel safe in this country. It’s also sad that Republicans tried to have the provision removed in 2012.

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As my wife and I watch the news stories of Donald Trump’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of children and babies being stripped from their parents’ arms, we wonder what happened to the country that passed VAWA 24 years ago. A father from Honduras Marco Muñoz, after having his 3-year-old son taken away from him by Homeland Security agents in Granjeno, Texas, was so distraught that he hung himself in his cell. These children look so much like our 3-year-old daughter and the thought of ICE agents taking Cozy from us to God-knows-where is unbearable. It’s like watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s the evening news. Even seasoned journalists are in tears. How is this happening in America?

This policy, created by Trump’s favorite in-house racist Stephen Miller and deemed “Biblically justified” by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has disgusted even Conservative voices like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, former First Lady Laura Bush compared Trump’s policy to the U.S. internment of the Japanese during World War 2. Even Tea Party rocker Cherie Currie (once of The Runaways) posted, “Bottom line is you don’t separate a helpless child from their parents. No matter what. Not ever.”

Beside the fact that somebody is making a lot of money off these private shelters that are now housing children and babies, including converted Walmart stores, the trauma these kids will face because of Trump’s irrational policy will last a life-time. Children screaming for their mothers won’t deter this White House from its “zero tolerance.” The majority of Americans oppose this draconian action as inherently counter to our values, but what can we do?

It’s not “your” country.

At the root of this problem is this binary thinking of “us and them.”  A lot of white people think this is “their” country and they have some sort of divine right to decide who gets in and that, somehow, their family came to America the “right way.”  There is so much ignorance here to unpack, it hurts. Before the The Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act) , there was no legal or illegal immigration into this country (unless you we coming from China). People just showed up. My great grandfather, Michael Blazak, arrived in 1891 from what is now the Czech Republic. He just got off the boat and started his life as an American. The 1924 law restricted immigration from non-European and non-Protestant countries (Only WASPs allowed) and has been praised by Jeff Sessions as a policy that was created to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.” My Catholic ancestor wouldn’t have made it in and Jews trying to escape Hitler in the 1930s were turned back.

When my great grandfather came into New York Harbor, he passed the very new Statue of Liberty (dedicated in 1886). He might have missed the poem at the base of the statue. “The New Colossus” was written by Emma Lazerus who had been aiding the refugees from the anti-Semitic pogroms of Eastern Europe, looking for safety and freedom in America. I hope someone translated the sonnet for him as he contemplated his uncertain future in this new land.

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The world looks to America for that freedom and but the golden door been shut and the lamp has been extinguished. It’s now a false promise of America as a baby is literally taken from its immigrant mother’s breast. I would like to point out that you will not see any undocumented immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, or Canada in any these Trump camps (and there are plenty undocumented whites in America). I have a friend from Ireland who over-stayed their visa but has no worries that ICE agents will come knocking. This is the great clampdown on brown people because it is not “their” country. Make America 1924 again.

We have been here before

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I have the privilege of having a friend who has been through this before. George Nakata was 9 years old, living in Portland, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. President Roosevelt signed an executive order ordering the “evacuation” of every Japanese person, alien or “non-alien” (aka U.S. citizen) on the West Coast, to be rounded up and placed in internment camps. 120,000 people, most American citizens, were ripped from their homes, losing everything. Young George spent the summer of ’42 in a converted animal stable on the outskirts of the city. The Oregonian proudly declared my town to be the first “Jap Free City” in America. George was then shipped off to a camp in arid Idaho where the soldiers pointed their guns in, not out. He rightly calls it a concentration camp.

No Japanese-Americans were ever found guilty of engaging in espionage or colluding with the enemy. In fact, the 442nd battalion, made up of all Japanese American soldiers, liberated Nazi death camps and is the most decorated battalion in U.S. military history. In 1988, President Reagan formerly apologized for the mass internment but as George is fond of saying, they never put a Statue of Liberty on the West Coast.

If you ever get the chance to hear a holocaust survivor speak, please do. There aren’t many left. I’ve heard several and inevitably someone will ask, “When Hitler was first elected, why didn’t you just leave?” The answer is always the same. People thought it was a temporary bout of political madness. That it would be corrected at the next election. But then there was no next election. A policy was instituted here and a new law was passed there. Like the frog in the slowly heated pot, all of a sudden there was no escape. Democracy seamlessly transitioned into authoritarianism.

This is where we are. We are in it. America is dying.

We have a president, not elected by the people, but by the electoral college who is having a love affair with dictators right before our eyes and we are unfazed. It’s as if we are watching a reality show and as long as the kids behind the chain-link fences are not white, it’s just a show and not reality. But these people are slowly raising the temperature and at some point there will be no escape. Childish Gambino might think this is America, but it won’t be on my watch. Trump has described undocumented immigrants as an “infestation” and hinted that legal immigrants who receive federal benefits could be next. If they will do this to babies and toddlers, what makes you think they won’t do it to you? Because you’re white?

There is much we can do. I’ve called my senators and asked them to make the security of these children a priority. We can appeal to the decency of the Trump supporters in our circles. The emperor has no clothes! Remember your values! We can make November 2018 a massive referendum on these lunatics who are trying to hijack this country. I envision a Revenge of the Jedi wave striking down Trump’s evil space force. But there is one thing that might be more direct.

Send Trump Lady Liberty

I’m not willing to let these “America first!” nutzis define the values of this country. Not while the Statue of Liberty remains above ground. Maybe Mr. Trump needs to be reminded of what this country stands for. We don’t tell immigrants that their children are being taken for “a bath” and then place them in “tender age shelters.” Does that sound revoltingly familiar to you?

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I just sent a miniature Statue of Liberty (that I bought for 12 bucks on Amazon) to President Trump at the White House. I have a dream that, in the spirit of Abbie Hoffman, every American, conservative, liberal, or otherwise does the same. I want the White House mailroom to have boxes and boxes of statuettes to deliver to the president. And maybe a few thousand copies of “The New Colossus” as well. Here’s the address:

President Donald Trump

c/o The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

And if that goes well, maybe we can commission statues of Lady Liberty to be erected in San Francisco Bay and the stretch of Texas desert where my wife crossed the border, missing one shoe, many years ago. Let’s lift our lamp beside the golden door.  Por favor. #LadyLibertyforTrump

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Entering the Phallic Phase: Psychoanalytic Feminists, Help!

May 24, 2018

Poopy poop head. Our daughter, Cozy, is transitioning out of what Freud called the “anal stage” of child development. She was was fully potty trained by three and half. Sometimes I’ll look for her in the house and she is sitting on the toilet having her morning constitutional. The diapers are long gone and her kiddy potty is in the basement for the next trainee. She has marked this occasion by proclaiming that calling everyone “poop head” is the funniest thing ever. It’s pretty funny.

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Sigmund Frued (1856-1939) made the case that there are three stages of child development and by the end of the process the child’s psychodynamic (essentially, their personality) is formed. The first two years take up the oral phase. I’ve written about how Cozy survived putting nearly everything not nailed down into her mouth. Two to four takes up the anal phase, where the requirements of society appear in the form of potty training. It’s been fun sharing Cozy’s journey to the john with the world. Next and last for Dr. Freud is the phallic phase in which children become aware of sexual pleasure and learn to control their sexuality, going from age 4 to 6. In this phase it’s not uncommon for little kids to “touch themselves” as they figure out what the rest of know. That God put our junk exactly at arm’s length for a good reason.

Let’s get this out of the way at the start. There is a danger in putting all our faith in Sigmund’s tight timeline. Added to that is that Freud theorized that girls in this third stage develop “penis envy,” when they realize they are not getting a tallywhacker. This leads to the quintessential “anxiety of womanhood.” (Um, that can’t compete with my male anxiety, Siggy.) There is a whole Electra Complex as the little girl has to detach from her mother and fight her for dad’s attention. Freud has been roasted for reinforcing the sexist tropes of his time.

The cool news is we don’t have to eject all the insight Freud had to offer because of this really dumb and sexist idea. (I remember a bumper sticker in a feminist bookstore that said, “War is menstrual envy.”) There are Freudian psychoanalytic feminists who make the case that penis envy isn’t about the envy of male genitals but of male power. It’s patriarchy envy. There was a classic cartoon in the 1970’s that had a female baby looking in a male baby’s diaper and saying, “Oh, that’s why you’re going to make more money than me.”

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Cozy doesn’t turn 4 until mid-August but the phallic stage is already showing up. When she was 2, I was getting out of the shower and she came into the bathroom, pointed at my crotch and said, “Daddy, your booty is CRAZY!” It was funny and also the first acknowledgment of the physical differences between us. Last month, though, was the classic Freudian moment when, while she was on the potty, she asked me she when her penis would grow. I had to explain to her that, because she was a girl, she wasn’t going to have a penis and she burst into tears. Then I tried to explain to her that her vagina was pretty awesome than there are plenty of boys who wish they had a vagina instead of a penis.

Why I didn’t know this would come up or how to respond says a lot. I can’t be the only one that’s had this conversation land in their gendered lap. Apparently, it’s just me and Thor, God of Thunder.

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Psychoanalytic feminists put a lot of emphasis on the early bonding girls have with mothers and learning the domestic house duties. In our home, that’s me. As the stay-at-home dad, Cozy gets a lot more of time with me, including preparing her meals, washing dishes, and doing the laundry. (Oh, the drudgery.) Much to the chagrin of my wife (who is the most wonderful mother), Cozy seems more attached to me just based on the number hours and diaper changes I’ve got with her. I have a feeling that’s added to her “penis” envy in one way, but since my wife has been working more, it could just as easily be vagina envy. Inspired by the work of psychoanalytic feminist Nancy Chodrow, I’ve tried to model both male and female attributes for Cozy as does her mother. (Are Mexican mothers more authoritarian? I’m just asking.)

I feel like as we enter Freud’s phallic stage, there’s a real possibility of screwing up the whole thing. She’s already confronting sexism from the outside world. A little boy in her pre-school told her that “girls couldn’t be bosses.” (The owner of the daycare facility is a woman). The message that those with penises are the defacto authority and those “without” are the second sex is showing up with more regularity. There’s gotta be a good way of turning this penis envy thing on it’s head, or, even better, just erasing it. Maybe we need a handy psychoanalytic guide for parents with cute pictures and tips to spare our children years of therapy.

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Dad Love: An Open Letter to Non-Breeders

March 19, 2018

Note: We were lucky enough to be able to have children. Many of my friends can’t. My heart goes out to them. I hope their love still makes the world spin.

I’m from the generation that was in a panic over overpopulation. The mathematicians had crunched the numbers on their room-sized computers and figured the planet’s accelerated population growth would strip the resources until the day when there were more people than peanuts. It would be Soylent Green, then The Omega Man, straight through to Planet of the Apes. Only Charlton Heston would survive.

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This went through to the 80s punk-era when we devoted much vitriol for the “yuppies in the suburbs.” They were popping out kiddies faster than they could buy “Baby on Board” signs for their SUVs. (The U.S. birthrate did accelerate after 1980, as the  Millennial Generation started to arrive.) The Chinese were on to something,  limiting couples to two children. (I know, “ethical issues.”) More than two and you are taking more than you are giving and that’s evil; I don’t care what kooky offshoot of a mainstream religion you follow. How about none? “Who would want children in this over-populated cesspool. It’s gonna go all Road Warrior in, like, five years.”

We’re still racing to 8 billion people on the planet but the green revolution bought us some time, staving off the Malthusian tipping point when your town becomes The Road. Nevertheless, I am a product of my environment. Whenever I thought I might make a good parent, I would hear Lydia Lunch’s epic rant about children as vanity items, born of unrestrained egos. Children that grow up to destroy their creators. No thanks.

I don’t know if men have anything akin to a biological clock. When I hit my forties, some of friends from my youth were already becoming grandparents. Do the math. You have a kid at 18, and your kid does the same, you are a 36-year-old Mee-Maw. The thought started to re-enter my head and then after one week of dating Andrea, I knew we were going to become parents together. It was a cosmic message I’ll attribute to her goddess radiance (and a few whiskey gingers).

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I am now a breeder and I’m sorry it took so long to join the club. Yeah, I worry that our daughter will inherit a world that makes Black Mirror episodes look like My Little Pony. Or that the current idiot regime will end up selling America to China in some “art of the deal” maneuver and she’ll be working in a factory selling crap to be sold in a Beijing Walmart. But I have a feeling parents have had the same worries for a millennia. It always seems one generation away from end-times. It’s 2018 and we’re not eating soylent green. (Although I’m not 100% sure of the complete composition of Nutella.)

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I have a three-and-a-half year-old and every day is crazy bliss. The world could be on fire but I will be laughing hysterically because she just said, “Daddy, come in here and wipe my butt.” I still watch her sleep in complete marvel that we made this perfect creature. There are maybe half a dozen pictures of me at 3. There are a good 10,000 of our Cozy. Every milestone is celebrated. The first day she could open the front door, I panicked but now she asks to play outside. She now dresses herself, loves Tchaikovsky,  and says things like,  “I have a hypothesis” and “You have to stay hydrated.” It’s an endless sense of amazement every single day. Non-breeders must be disgusted by all our drooling and I could care less. I’m in a dopamine induced dream-state and each day brings a new high. As I write this she is putting on her ballet clothes because she wants to do a “beautiful dance” to the Kate Bush album I’m playing. Top that, hipsters.

On a side note, I don’t understand people who are not connected their children. There must be a dislodged silicone chip inside their heads. I have no doubt that I would take a bullet for this kid and am more than happy to know my life now is about serving her. I don’t mourn the loss of the guy who could spend an hour waiting in line for Sunday brunch. We’re making oatmeal with blueberries. When we fly together and the flight attendant says, in case of emergency, put your air mask on before you put one on your child, I have to really think about it. I can hold my goddamn breath, okay?

For a long time, I was a militant vegan. I would tell people, “Meat is murder!” Then I had sushi for the first time and I shut up about that meat is murder shit. Sorry, I just didn’t know. If you haven’t ever had a glass of really expensive wine, you can;t knock people who drop $100 on a bottle of pinot noir.

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I get the snark about breeders. Eight billion people is a lot of assholes. Sometimes I wish a virus would cover the earth and just wipe out dudes named Lance. We gotta get this down to a manageable 5 billion, but, hey, that’s not up to me. But I get the attitude. That was me until it wasn’t. Now I’m on the other side. I go to birthday parties for four-year-olds and talk to parents about the joys of potty training and cognitive development and joke about possible arranged marriages for our kids.

I look at my child and I see all the joys and sorrows of the world. I see babies being bombed in Syria or the toddlers being carried through the swaps of Myanmar. But I also see every child who looks up at the sky and dreams to fly. Cozy recently told me, “Daddy, I have I have something to tell you. I really love you and the moon. Can we go there someday?” I used to read the weeklies, looking for the next hip thing. Now I just look at her and wonder what took her so long to arrive in my life.

I’m not saying you should join the breeders club, but if you do, you will ask yourself the same thing. How did I not know?

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On becoming the working poor or How I robbed Peter to pay Paul

February 9, 2017

There is a Blazak tradition whenever I’m at a big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with my conservative family members in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While the dessert is being passed around my aunt, out of the blue, will just say, “All these people on welfare need to get a job.” All eyes turn to me and then I have give my lecture about how most welfare payments go to children, the elderly, and the disabled and the “able-bodied” adults who receive welfare are, for most part, working at low-wage jobs. (Fully one third of those working at Wal-Mart receive government subsidies.) They nod and go back to their pie and complaining about “aliens.”

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I’ve had a comfortable middle-class life. As a kid, I got pretty much everything I asked for Christmas. Went to a posh private university for college and grad school. Got the first tenure-track job I applied for (with an competing offer from one I applied to second). Paid off my student loans fairly quickly. Bought a house in my mid-thirties. Fattened my retirement fund. Started a family.

And then the shit hit the fan.

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When I was studying the rise of the racist skinhead culture, I developed an explanation called the status frustration theory. It’s certainly frustrating to have nothing in this land of plenty which frames the “American Dream” as one of endless economic upward mobility. I argued it is even more strain inducing to have some economic status and then lose it. My skinheads were the victims of Reaganomics. They witnessed their parents being downsized and laid off as America became a “post-industrial” economy. They saw the American Dream ripped away from them and hate groups gave them convenient scapegoats: minorities, immigrants, and, wait for it, the Jews.

Twenty-five years later, after a bizarre collaboration between a psychotic skinhead inmate and a few union-busting university administrators, I was joining them in the ranks of the downwardly mobile. I resigned my tenured position to focus on raising our daughter and my fantasy of writing full-time, but the loss of the salary (and benefits) had a bigger impact than I expected. Suddenly I was the guy I had been talking about in my lectures on social stratification and poverty. Unemployment benefits (which ran out quickly), Medicare, and WIC were not bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation. They were my social safety net.

Fortunately, I married a Mexican and those folks know how to double down and work their asses off. So while I tried to figure out what our “next steps” were going to be, my new-mom wife worked at whatever job paid the best, while trying to nurture her art and family. Andrea told me not to worry too much about the financial situation. “You’re a white guy with a PhD.,” she said.

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Three years later, the pressure is on to get back to full-time work. The writing, consulting, and part-time teaching has been hugely fulfilling, but this 50-something needs a salary again. The whole experience has given me a window into the world of the working poor. Glimpses came at left angles. The first time I tried to use our WIC vouchers at the grocery store to “buy” my allotment of milk and bread the cashier helped me because she was also on WIC. Sitting in the free-dental clinic so Cozy could have her new teeth looked at and the social worker asking about my home life. There was a good chance he had been one of my students. Watching the debate over Obamacare and wondering if congress members, fully-insured by the taxpayers, we going to take away my own health insurance. Those glimpses became just looking in the mirror. I was them.

There’s a lot to consider here, but the main rude awakening was just the hustle. The hustle to get to the end of the month. Will the bills get paid? How much room is left on the credit card? Will I ever pay them off? Should I get another credit card? Can I make a payment for one credit card with another credit card? Where can I borrow some money? What can I sell? Can I combine errands to save gas? Do I have a coupon for that? Does anybody owe me money? Can I tap into my retirement account (again)? Can I qualify for a home equity loan without a full-time job? (No.) Can I find a gig that will pay enough to cover the cost of daycare while I’m at work?

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That last one is a big one. I could pick up a job while I wait for a real position to land in, but what do I do with my daughter? The average price of daycare in the United States is about $1000 a month. (We pay $510 a month to have Cozy in daycare two days a week, plus the occasional drop-in when I’m working, plus a baby sitter on Wednesdays to cover the period when Andrea is still at work but I have to commute to teach my night class.) It’s not surprising that the number of children living with a grandparent over the last 20 years rose 64 percent. I wish we had a grandmother handy. But that’s America now. Working families have less time with their children. And many, like some of my community college students, add school to their work and family responsibilities. It shouldn’t be surprising that most Americans owe more than they own. I have $13 in my savings account. If we have an emergency, I can buy half of a cheese pizza.

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On the lucky side, my parents taught me how to be frugal. (Hey kids, Google that word: FRUGAL). I learned to save my pennies. “Don’t throw that away, it might be worth something someday!” my mother would chant. So I’ve been “liquidating” some assets. It was hard to sell my first Spiderman comic book (autographed by Stan Lee). At age 13, I bought it for $200 and sold it 40 years later for $11,000. That could have been a much-needed kitchen remodel or a grand trip to Europe but it kept the roof over our heads, so thanks Spidey. The nest egg was for a rainy day, but it’s been a mild winter so I can’t help to (finally) feel optimistic about adding to it instead of all this subtracting.

Understanding the daily stress of this insanity (How many phone bills can you miss before AT&T disconnects you?) has helped me to understand how most Americans exist in this nation where the rich get (much) richer while the rest of the country counts the days until their (totally inadequate) payday. It justifies buying a few lottery tickets for the fantasy of paying off all the debts in one fell swoop. It justifies the anger at a neighbor putting in a hot tub while you wait another year to fix the roof. And it justifies daydreaming about putting a crew together for a jewelry heist to rip off people who will drop a couple of grand on shoes they will never even wear.

As a criminologist, that’s been one of the more fascinating psychological aspects of this experience. I get it. I get the temptation to commit the “perfect crime,” playing a self-serving Robin Hood. But also, as a criminologist, I know there is no such thing as a perfect crime and arrest only make poor people poorer. It’s a financial black hole. It might make a great book but one I imagine my daughter would rather I don’t have the opportunity to write. I’m just saying, I get it, and I’m guessing a lot of my not-private-school students do as well.

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The only human path that matters is the one that builds empathy for our fellow humans. I am on that path. And when I climb out of this financial hole (and I will), I will remember the daily stresses of the working poor. I will advocate for them. Don’t fall for the “trickle down” lie again. People need living wages that actually meet the cost of living in America. And I will tell my wife to feel free to quit her job. She’s been shouldering the economic weight of our family for three years. She deserves a break. As do most working Americans.

Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 7: Baby – Toddler – Girl

January 25, 2018

It’s a common refrain around here – “Where did the baby go?” She’s just grown up so fast (said pretty much every family ever). Besides becoming a full on person, somewhere this past year, she became a full on girl. As a sociologist, for decades I’ve harped on the mantra that we are products of our environment and that gender is social construct. So I’m not quite sure how this happened. Is it my fault?

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We really worked on the gender neutral thing from day one, including dressing her in “boy” clothes, but the girl just loves all things pink. She’s had her stay-at-home dad as her primary caretaker but she’d still rather put on make-up with mom. And it’s not that her working mom is the most girly-girl. (Mexican women seem to have a bad-ass streak woven into them, but you didn’t hear that from me.) All our plans to dominate her nurture seem to have been thwarted by her nature.

Or have they?

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I’ve said it before. You don’t raise children in a vacuum. Cozy is not a lab project. She has countless influences outside of mom and dad, including little friends, teachers, grandmas and tias, and, of course, the media. All play a part in the nurturing of her gender cues. I blame Minnie Mouse. I think that was her first role model. Minnie, who just got her star on Hollywood Boulevard last week (40 years after Mickey), is not exactly an action hero. She’s come a long way, baby, but she still plays her cute card. Just watch where her knees go (in) compared to Mickey’s (out). Is Minnie a virgin to Mickey’s playa? We love Minnie Mouse around here but I’m betting that rodent has her own #metoo story. (I’m looking at you, Harvey Weinstein.)

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Cozy’s moved off Disney (maybe because we lost our Disney Channel connection) and on to the Paw Patrol. I don’t quite know what to make of this cartoon that has been mass marketed beyond belief. (Yes, she is wearing Paw Patrol undies today.) I like the positive go get ‘em attitude – “No job is too big, no pup is too small! – but it’s not like they are taking all that canine energy to improve access to the treehouse for dogs with disabilities or out defending the Paw Pussy Cats from being grabbed by the evil Drumpf. The gang is mostly male but there are two females (don’t call them bitches) named Skye and Everest. And Cozy is obsessed with them. She named her cat Skye and she has Everest socks. The patrol is led by a male (Chase), so we’re going to have to have a little Paw Patrol talk. “Wouldn’t the Patrol get more done if Skye took over?”

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She recently discovered the Little Einstein cartoon series. It’s another gang led by a (white) boy. These four kids fly around in their rocket, and have adventures based in famous works of art and classical music. It’s pretty cool, actually. There’s an episode based on on Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz” and Warhol’s Fish painting. My kid is humming Bizet and talking about Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Her favorite character is June, the dancer, and Cozy will dance to some Edvard Grieg like she was auditioning for the Bolshoi. I love my classical music-loving kid!

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I think seeing the Nutcracker last month was a turning point in her gendered idea of herself. It wasn’t the Nutcracker, or the Rat King that ignited her. It was the Sugar Plum Fairy. She just started glowing when the SPF tiptoed onto the stage. It reminded me of when I saw Elvis Presley in concert at age 9. “That looks like a good job,” I remember thinking. Cozy got to meet the ballerina who performed the role after the show and she was hooked. Now she is constantly dancing in her own ballet for one in a way that’s making us think she might actually be a natural at this. It’s feminine and flowing. How did this happen and how much are ballet lessons? And can she be a ballet dancer and community organizer at the same time?

I recently asked Cozy if she thought there was a difference between boys and girls. She told me that girls can jump higher and then started talking about the difference between kids and grown-ups. I think that’s still the main binary in her head. She still mixes up “she” and “he,” and I purposely don’t correct her. She’s “gender-fluid” on her own but suddenly really cares about being “beautiful.” Maybe it’s just a phase and by this summer she’ll want to be a basketball player. But at the moment, there is very pretty ballerina dancing in our living room.

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Dad Love 10: We Become Gendered

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 6: Fierce Fashionistia in a Fiercer World

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a black girl?

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1