Dad Love: The Wonder of Parenthood

November 30, 2017

Cozy was at her abuela’s for Thanksgiving weekend so Andrea and I used the rare child-free time to reconnect as “just us.” You know, like before everything became endless kid clutter and whose turn in was put the girl to bed. We’re talking wine bars, non-wine bars, a lot of making out in the car, sleeping in, and going to the movies. I didn’t dare to suggest The Justice League, because I knew Andrea wanted to see Wonder. It’s not a prequel to The Justice League (that’s Wonder Woman), but Julia Robert’s new film about a cute kid with a facial disfigurement. (How often have you heard that tag line?) If we thought we were briefly, “child free,” that film quashed that illusion.

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I blame my tendency to cry in films on my being a Pisces. That scene in Spiderman 2 when Spiderman (Tobey McGuire, dammit) is fighting Doctor Octopus and ends up on the commuter train with his mask ripped off. You know the scene? When the commuters realize he’s “just a kid.” Every time I lose it. (Even writing this I want to weep for Spiderman.) So Wonder was hard. I did not bring tissues. (Note: There are no spoilers in this post other than the fact the goddamn dog dies.)

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Wonder, directed by newbie Stephen Chbosky, follows the Pullman family who has a kid named Auggie with Treachers Collins Syndrome that makes him look a little like the Mole Man in Fantastic Four #1. (There are already way too many superhero references in this post.) The very first scene was the birth. Mom (Julia Roberts) and Dad (Owen Wilson and his beautiful nose) are filled with excitement as their second child pops out. You see the horrified faces of the young doctor and nurses as they rush the baby out of the room. Julia and Owen don’t know what’s wrong, but we do because we’ve seen the previews. And let the sobbing begin. Two minutes into the film.

Those of us who have had babies or who have held the right knee of our spouse while she gave birth know how emotional that moment is. It’s not just the nine months of anticipation. It’s the lifetime of wondering if you’ll ever have kids and what those kids will be like. Will they be healthy? Will they have all their parts? Will they have a few extra parts that will give them super powers? (Sorry.) In the birth video of  Cozy’s arrival you can hear my voice go into some range that doesn’t actually exists for humans. I was so happy she was finally with us after a crazy detour in her trip to be born. That moment is us at both our most mammalian and most human. All the hopes in dreams placed on our lineage are in that moment. We are the dreams of our ancestors and those dreams are now placed on this tiny baby. Bam.

We were so lucky that, even though Cozy was seriously late, she was completely healthy. That’s not the case for the Pullmans in Wonder. Little Auggie is facing countless surgeries that would have broken our hearts. So many parents go through this hell, but they do it without question, and often without much help. Their lives become consumed with surgeries, appointments, and special needs. Their lives, as well as their other children’s lives, orbit around the sick life of their child, losing much of their own identity in the process. That’s kind of the set up in Wonder when rejoin the family about ten years later.

The rest of the film is about how Auggie, who has been homeschooled by Pretty Woman, is starting middle school and likes to where a space helmet to hide his funky face. So that means cruel kids, bullies, inspiring teachers, Saul from Homeland, asshole parents of bullies, sweet kids, supportive siblings, the dog dying, Mom’s dreams deferred, cool dads, and, finally, acceptance. There’s a lot of tropes found in such films. (Will the bully be redeemed?) Ebert & Siskel might have felt a bit manipulated. But as a parent, I fucking bawled through the whole movie, and so did Andrea. In fact, my throat physically hurt from trying to choke back the tears for two hours. Thank God there was a bar nearby.

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Here’s why. You experience life differently as a parent. The young people in the theater (and there plenty of kids in the audience) must have had no idea how all of us parents were seeing this movie. I would have loved to interview them. “It was funny, not sad. Why were all these people crying?” But a switch is flicked when you become a parent. I felt it the first time we heard Cozy’s heartbeat. It’s not about you. It’s about them. You’re sole mission is to protect them so they will be ready to live without you. If this wasn’t true, women would give birth to 18-year-olds who who climb out of the womb and head straight to college. We have one job. And that job is 24-7 and does not get Thanksgiving weekends off.

I kept thinking that while watching the movie. What other job is 24-7 with no time off? I think we could do a better job of letting teenagers who think getting knocked up means a show on MTV in on this truth. It’s just not your time. (“My mom will help with the baby.”) It’s your mind. I’m never more than two thoughts away from Cozy. Right now I’m sitting in a Portland coffee shop and I know that Cozy is in daycare 9 blocks in front of me and one block to the left. She’s having her lunch and then a nap. I will pick her up at five o’clock and fall to my knees, knowing she’s had a fun, supportive day and is telling me all about it while I wrap my arms around her.

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The Sunday before Thanksgiving we were at the packed grocery store getting supplies. I was trying to get some Tillamook cheese out of the case, along with a few other shoppers. When I turned around, Cozy was gone. Just like that. Gone. Did she wander off? Was she abducted? Did I even bring her with me? My first thought was to find her but my second thought was my wife was going to kill me. “Oh, we’ll find her. I have to go back tomorrow. I forgot the almond milk.” So I’m yelling for my three-year-old. Who cares what people think? I don’t care about their judgment at this point. What am I going to do? Before I can grab an employee and order an immediate lockdown, I hear “Daddy!” Cozy was three isles away playing with some colorful soap she had found. In those 30 seconds there was the entire range of emotion, from sheer panic to an endorphin blast of picking her up again.

As a criminologist, I know that kids that don’t have close emotional bonds with their parents are more at-risk of becoming delinquent. The clearest example of this is the research on kids who are in foster care. They may have a roof over their heads and hopefully non-abusive guardians, but it’s not the same as an emotionally invested parent (biological or not) who has made that child’s well-being their priority above absolutely everything else. Someone needs to tell Kylie Jenner that her kid will take precedence over her Instagram account and make-up supply. It also makes me wonder about abusive parents. Do they have some genetic abnormality” To hurt my child seems contrary to every cell in my body. Every time I pick her up, I immediately think, “Don’t you dare drop her.”

I might just be neurotic. That’s also a Pisces thing. I’m still more than a parent. I’m still a sociologist and vinyl junkie. Andrea is still an artist and an immigrant. But our identities have been formalized by being Cozy’s parents. My being is shaped by this primary duty. “What do you do for a living?” “I make sure my kid is OK.” It’s a wonder we ever get to exhale.

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And Jill came tumbling after. Why? Purging sexist kids’ stories.

September 22, 3017

I am Bunny

My mother has always been on the verge of serious hoarding. “Don’t throw that away! It might be worth something someday!” I heard that a thousand times. When Cozy was born, I was grateful. Stuff my mom had held onto for 50 years started to come our way, including my 1960s Batman sweatshirt. And a ton of kids books. Each one zapped my brain backwards. I just have to open I Am Bunny, and I’m sitting on my mommy’s lap, fascinated by the artwork and stories. And my mom read to me a lot.

I was excited to introduce Cozy to my love of books (Thanks, Mom!), so I wasted no time reading to my daughter. I took about two seconds to realize that the message that this father was sending to his girl was dramatically different than the one that my mother had sent to her boy. On the one hand it was exciting to see these books sold for only 39 cents when I was little, but on the other side the messages about gender were heartbreaking. From the time when Donald “Dotard” Trump thought America was “great.”

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Many of the stories are a continuation of the fairytale traditions from Hans Christian Anderson where some damsel in distress or dainty princess has to be rescued by a dashing prince. So much of the classic Disney filmography is rooted in this sexist trope that has, thankfully, been exploded by Frozen and Moana. These two movies mean so much to Cozy and now I understand why. (Mulan had too much fighting. “I don’t like this, Daddy. Turn it off.”) More of these books followed the domestic dynamic of the mid-century model. There’s mom in the kitchen. A legion of my friends reminded me how messed up the Berenstain Bears books are when you read them through a gendered lens. The same is true for most of the books by Richard Scary and Dr. Seuss. (But I still have a soft spot for Cindy Lou Who.)

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Even more books are just male-driven stories. How can my daughter find herself in Where the Wild Things Are? The imbalance really hit me when I was reading Cozy a book called Jumping. It’s about how much boys love to jump. Seriously. I grew up reading the adventures of the Hardy Boys. Will Cozy be left with the Bobbsey Twins? Was Nancy Drew a feminist? Can we get a 21st Century reboot? I do not like green eggs and misogyny.

It became a real struggle to find a book in the boxes that were arriving that had a female character that was somehow equal to the males, let alone in the lead role. Cozy was getting that in her contemporary cartoons, like Disney’s Elena of Avalor and PBS’s Peg + Cat. It was time to update my girl’s library. So we took a walk up to Green Bean Books.

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Cozy loves any store that has a “kids’ section.” She appreciates any space that is carved out for “kids not people” (adults are “people” – we have to work on that one). Green Bean is all kids’ section and she loves the feeling that it’s all there for her. (Wait, I’m smelling the seeds of a generation gap.) When I asked for a storybook for a three year-old, the clerk had the perfect recommendation, The Princess in Black. Cozy set down her book about dinosaurs and grabbed the book, plopped down on the little sofa and pretended to start reading.

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The Princess in Black is a five-part series by Dean Hale and Shannon Hale. It follows the adventures of prim and proper Princess Magnolia who sneaks into her broom closet to become… The Princess in Black; a superhero who fights monsters. Cozy loves both princesses and superheroes. (Ask her to do her Spiderman imitation.) Seeing her respond to this book was fascinating. It’s 15 short chapters, cleverly crafted, that we’ve read pretty much every night since we got the book. She’s got the whole story memorized and has even picked up on hints that our superhero may get a sidekick in future volumes – the Goat Avenger (aka, the mild mannered Goat Boy).

It was almost like a shock to the system after all these books about male characters, including Richard Scary’s male bunnies, to have a female-driven story. It must have been like women 200 years ago reading a Jane Austen novel for the first time. (I’m not equating The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate to Pride and Prejudice, but I kind of am.) As a male, I could read all these male-driven kids’ stories to Cozy and not notice the impact of it all on her, as girls and women were pushed to the background (and draped in aprons). But three pages in to the PIB and I saw the shift. She has a place in the world of stories.

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Of course, there is a debate worth having that this place is in occupying the traditionally male-dominated world of superheroes, which often relies on violence to solve problems.  The Princes in Black does open a can of whoop ass on a big blue monster. Sparkle kick! This is at the heart of the debate between liberal and radical feminists. Does gender equality mean that females should want half of the world that patriarchy created. When 50% of serial killers are females can we raise a toast and say, “Equality!” Or are their other ways of organizing ourselves that don’t don’t involve trying to beat men at their own game? As a parent of an evolving girl, I wrestle with this question. A female version of Trump saying she is going to “totally destroy” a nation of millions of people would not be progress.

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For now, story time will be about a consistent messaging that Cozy will not be marginalized because she is a girl. Andrea has been reading her Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. My mother sent a new book about Frida Kahlo, Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, that Cozy fell madly in love with. And I know that there are now tons of others out there. (Please feel free to make any recommendations.) Seeing how my daughter responded to this one book pierced a gaping hole in my male privilege bubble. It might be time to put The Cat in the Hat on the bottom of the stack. What would you do if your mother asked you?

“You’re gonna need a shotgun” Raising a daughter in a rape culture

September 7, 2017

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I was speaking at a civil rights conference in Michigan this week and over lunch I was having a conversation with a jovial guy who worked in law enforcement. Since it’s always a unifying topic, we began chatting about our children. I showed him a cute pic of Cozy milking a cow at the Oregon State Fair. “You’re gonna need a shotgun,” he said.

I wish it was the first time I’d heard that line. Even before Cozy was born, when friends, family, or strangers heard we were having a girl, the calls for “better get a shotgun” came from men of all ages.

I understand that these men are trying to be cute, but it always injects two thoughts into my head; 1) I don’t want a gun, and 2) thanks for reminding me that boys and men will try to rape my daughter.

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I mean, isn’t that what that line means? If Cozy is hanging out with a boy that she likes, it’s her time, her body, her choice. Right? It’s only if said boy crosses some boundary into nonconsensual douche-baggery that hero dad is supposed to rush in with his 12-gauge Remington to rescue his damsel in distress by threatening to blow this kid’s head clean off. “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

I’m not buying it.

What patriarchal vision has a father guarding his daughter’s window, weapon loaded, to make sure sex-crazed boys don’t rob her of her precious virginity? Cozy can arm herself with the wisdom to surround herself with the type of boys who can use the front door. I’m trying not to think too much about her inevitable transition into a sexual being, but my hope is she will own it responsibly without the anxiety of a father who wants her locked in a chastity belt, or who is lying in wait, with a Winchester across his lap.

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The cute line about shotguns is more an acknowledgement of the rape culture we must raise our daughters in. I can trust that Cozy will make good choices with the boys (and/or girls) in her life and know how to shut down any unwanted advances (and accept the wanted ones). We will load her up with lines from TLC (“I don’t want no scrub.”) and bell hooks (“There can be no love without justice, asshole.”) But the harsh reality is that there will probably be boys and men than blast right though those defenses.

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Self-report studies have found that one in four women in America will be raped in their lifetime, many numerous times. The numbers are even more bleak for the more broadly defined “sexual assault.” He may not force his penis into her, but “just” grabbing her breasts may be enough to demonstrate who is boss. The same research shows that only 22% of rapes are committed by strangers, the majority are men known to the victim. This might happen in a dormitory, on a date, at a family gathering, or all of the above. It could be a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or thinks-he’s-a-boyfriend, or all of the above. There is no place that girls and women are safe from the potential of unwanted sexual contact; not home, not work, not school. So I know this, and it kills me that Cozy will know this, too.

We’ve tried raise a generation of girls who can defend themselves. We’ve given them guns, pepper spray, German Shepherds, and rape whistles. We’ve taught them how to walk in groups, cover their drinks in bars, and trust their guts about guys who give off rapey vibes. But we haven’t done a very good job teaching boys and men not to rape. When their presidents and faux-medieval TV heroes do it, you can understand why they might think they are entitled to women and girls’ bodies. According to a 1998 study by the National Institute of Justice, 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. A recent University of North Dakota survey found that 1 in 3 college males would rape a female if they knew that would not face any consequences. Boys will be boys, right?

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If there’s any good news it’s that the rates of rape and sexual assault have been falling (along with the violent crime rate in general). Rape victims coming out of the shadows and sharing their stories have surely been a part of that decline. Every man has at least one woman in his life who has experienced this horror. Maybe boys need to hear these stories as well, from their mothers, sisters, teachers, doctors, neighbors. It makes all that Game of Thrones rape a bit less entertaining. I do know the decline in what is still an epidemic of sexual violence has nothing with dads chasing aspiring rapists off with shotguns.

So here’s how that conversation is going to go next time:

“You’re daughter’s very cute. You’re gonna need a shotgun”

“Why?”

“Because she’s going to have boys all over her.”

“What if she wants boys all over her?”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“So, you’re saying she’ll have guys harassing her and trying to rape her.”

“It happens.”

“And she won’t be able to take care of it herself?”

“She might not be. I’m just saying you might need that gun.”

“How about you teach your boy not to rape her and we spend that gun money on something else?”

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Postscript: A friend pointed out that also coded in this is that only pretty/skinny/cute girls are targets of rape, as if rape was an act of sexual attraction. All types of girls and women are rape. It’s about power, not sex.

Cozy turns 3 in Fantasyland

August 22, 2017

“I like road trips.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear my daughter say those words before our 990 mile drive to Anaheim, California to seek an audience with Minnie Mouse. My fondest memories of my family are all about loading my brother and I into the station wagon and hitting the road, often to Disneyworld in Florida. Later my dad bought a van camper (with a CB radio) and we would head off to visit my cousins in Colorado. Much of my childhood was spent watching America go by a car window, with stops at Howard Johnsons for ice cream. Andrea and I both love to hit the road, so if Cozy didn’t have the wanderlust gene we were screwed.

The baby was turning three and she was very clear about her desire to go to Disneyland and find Mickey, and Minne, and Elsa, and maybe Doc McStuffins.  It’s a never ending source of amazement watching her evolve into a fully formed person with her own opinions on everything. She spits out gold like Rumpelstiltskin with a haystack. “I gave a good idea. Why don’t you get me some ice cream and I’ll watch Frozen.” (This routine is worth it as the sugar rush is sure to inspire her death metal version of “Let it Go.”) She’s ready for adventure and whatever surprises the open road brings. As long as I pack her potty that is.

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So we hit the road. With a car full of snacks, an iPad loaded with The Secret Life of Pets, and stories of what awaited in Disneyland (“I’m going to see all my friends,” she said.), we took off on our last day of owning a 2-year-old. The first day was a 12-hour ride that took us as far as Stockton, California. The reward for putting up with mom and dad’s music (and Fabcast podcasts) was a giant pancake at IHOP.  When we woke up the next morning in our bleach soaked room in the La Quinta Inn, the rising sun was in the right position to blast through the peephole in the door, creating a cool effect on the wall. “It’s a rainbow hole!” she exclaimed. Our girl was three.

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We got into LA in time to hit the hot tub in our Hollywood AirBNB and meet some friends for an impromptu birthday party at the Hollywood Hard Rock Cafe. One our friends, former radio maven and current Disney queen Delia Rae Saldivar, brought a giant “3” balloon as a present, and Cozy roamed the Hard Rock with it. There was a cover band playing and Cozy went right to the stage (with her balloon) to watch them set up. I caught myself thinking, “She better be planning her own band and not a life as a groupie.” During a break in their 80s glam metal set, the guitarist took a moment to wish Cozy a happy birthday. “I wish I was three again,” he said. Then he dedicated “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” to my daughter, commenting that the song was about putting sugar on your cereal. Thanks, dude.

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Disneyland, the birthplace of princesses, is such a strange place. I was last there, at the original park, in 1969, when I was five. It really hasn’t changed much. But I certainly have. Part of the experience was like being five all over again. (The Peter Pan ride is exactly the same as I remember it.) But now I see it through a much different lens. Do all these people dressed in cartoon costumes get a decent wage with health benefits? Where were those Mickey Mouse ears made and by whom?  Child labor? What’s it like to be 62 and work in an amusement park? Does the It’s a Small World ride promote a colonialist view of the world? We were floating through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, past the “wench auction,” and one of the guys behind us said, “We’ll take two and take them home,” to another guy. Their wives sat next to them. We took a picture of Cozy beaming in front of the statue of Walt Disney and posted it on Facebook. One friend posted, “Famed anti-Semite Walt Disney” and another commented, “Tear down that statue!” You can’t win.

But I wasn’t there for me or my political agenda. In 1989, I smuggled a quart of oil into the Disney Epcot Center in Orlando and dumped it into the fountain in front of Exxon’s Universe of Energy ride to protest their “propaganda” after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. So I was good. This was about Cozy. Although, I’ll admit, after a stroll through Fantasyland and the faces of kids from across the world, I was closer to five in my head than fifty. And even by the parking deck, Cozy was shining with excitement. We parked in Mickey, 5-G. “There’s Mickey!!”

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What is this wonder? All things are new and magic is real. Her face was and endless expression of joy at every corner. This radiance. It’s intoxicating. And now she has the language skills to convey it. “I want to ride the tea cups and get dizzy!” We made our way to Mickey’s Toontown in search of her favorite mouse. The lines were pleasantly short so when she saw Minnie’s house, she knew we were close to pot of gold at the end of this thousand mile-long rainbow. When she finally entered Minnie’s living room and saw her in 3-D (instead of just on Mickey’s Road Racers), she about burst, immediately hugging the giant mouse like they were life-long friends. When we told “Minnie” that it was Cozy’s birthday, she got a big hug and kiss and Cozy was just pure bliss. There was even a birthday cake in Minnie’s oven that was surely for Cozy.

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Mickey’s house was right next door (begging the question about Mickey being a backdoor mouse). He was also quite wonderful to Cozy, who, after two-living legends embracing her, was ready to explode. All the nooks and crannies of the Magic Kingdom provided moments of happiness for her, especially the Enchanted Tiki Room. The day ended with the Main Street Electrical Parade. I saw the first parade at Disneyworld in 1972 and this was the parade’s final weekend. It hadn’t changed a lick. Same 70’s Moog soundtrack, Pete’s Dragon, and (my lost love – long story) Alice in Wonderland on a giant mushroom. Cozy’s face was aglow and when it was over, she cried. “All my friends are gone!” We’ll come back Cozy. I promise.

The following day, after some podcasting and lunch with a friend who animates at Dreamworks, we hit the road north, trying to beat the eclipse back to Portland. Cozy would wake up from naps, singing the Tiki Room song and saying, “I want to go back and see my friends!” The happiest place on earth.

Now we are home with our three-year-old who has lots to say about the world, but it’s a world where there is still magic and wonder. There are flying elephants and Cheshire Cats and submarines that will take you “down, down, down” to see Nemo. While she was too starstruck to talk to Moana, she hugged Pluto like he was her favorite pet And of course it’s a world where she is good friends with Minnie Mouse. I hope this world lasts for a while.

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August 22, 2016: I found a 2-year-old!

August 17, 2015: ¡Cozy turns uno! Happy first birthday to our daughter!

Note: A sincere thanks to the Saldivars, Chases, and Sullivans for helping to make Cozy’s birthday so wonderful. We’re lucky to have such good friends.

 

 

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The World of Wonder in the Backyard

July 20, 2017

When I was little, I know I could look at a three-inch space on the ground or on a brick wall and find a whole world to become enchanted with. My parents had a massive hifi console in our living room. I’d play their records and stare into the blue “On” light on the base and imagine it was the rabbit hole into Alice’s Wonderland. I would plop down in my mom’s rock garden and find magical realms in the cracks and under leafs. Being small gave me a microscopic view of the world I think the adults missed. They were busy thinking about taxes and war and hippies ruining the nation. I was happy staring endlessly at ladybugs and pretending a peanut shell in a puddle was a speedboat.

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Once Cozy started walking we began going on strolls in the neighborhood to “see what we could find.” There were lots of stops to smell flowers and look for honeybees. The wall at Little Big Burger she is particularly fond of. (She gives it a little big hug every time we pass it.) Every step is filled with a reason to be amazed. To make it one block it can take an hour. “Daddy, what’s this?”

“It’s a leaf, honey,” Now we include hikes in Forest Park which might as well be the jungles of the Yucatan (where we all were a year ago.) It’s more than father-daughter time. It’s a time to experience the sense of wonder in the mundane. The sacred in the profane. The awesome in the gross.

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This summer we’ve been spending a lot of time in our yard. There’s a spider who lives on one of her old boots that we made into a planter. Of course she’s the “Itsy Bitsy” spider of song and legend. There’s a good 30 minutes watching her and the crows on the telephone wire who might want to gobble her up. Our small backyard has a bounty of delicious raspberries, dancing white butterflies, and bees harvesting pollen from our dandelion forrest. “See their legs, Cozy? How yellow they are? They’re going to turn that into honey!”

“Yum, Daddy! Can I go with them?”

At her daycare they go on “nature walks.” It’s a gaggle of 2-year-olds strolling through the neighborhood blocks looking for adventure. St. Andrews church is a “castle” they pass by. I’m sure local front yard gardens offer a thousand lessons. It must require a certain abound of zen to get these kids all headed in the same direction. Every step offers an opportunity to freak out over something the rest of us see as insignificant.

When I was a pre-schooler, my parents felt perfectly fine turning me loose into the woods by myself. I would build damns and collect leaves until Mom rang the dinner bell. Times have changed, but Cozy really doesn’t have to leave my sight to find a magical world under a rock or inside a hole in the porch steps. The big world doesn’t have much bearing on the microcosmos for a toddler.

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She’s become fascinated with a Netflix show called Beat Bugs. It’s the adventures of five bugs built around Beatles songs. (Yes, they have a friend who is a blackbird.) Their whole world exists in the backyard of a little girl not much older than Cozy. It’s full of music and mystery. Their joyous theme song is “All You Need Is Love.” I have to think Cozy thinks the same plot lines are playing out behind our house. (We’ve certainly got at least one Walter the Slug who is probably singing “I am the Walrus” as we sit here.) I see the show as a way to turn her on to Beatle music, but I’m starting to think it’s her bonding with other tiny things. We’ve been calling her “Bug” for a few years now so it makes sense that she feels more kinship with the ants on our sidewalk than the G-20 Summit.

The world is so big. A one trillion-ton iceberg just broke off of Antarctica. The President is having secret meetings with a Russian dictator (who may or may not have serious dirt on him) with no Americans present. Your kid’s talking doll might be a spy for the FBI. (Or in Trump’s case, the Kremlin.) A new study just found plastic particles in most brands of Mac & Cheese. There’s just a great weight of it all. It makes sense to take some time and find a small crack in the ground, one you step over every day. It’s actually a massive canyon teaming with life. Maybe it’s the Beat Bugs, or maybe real bugs. Let your mind go just for a minute like you did when you were a kid. If the earth is just a dot in the infinite universe, that crack is as important as we are.

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Seeing the world through Cozy’s eyes puts the big picture into perspective. (This blog post didn’t need to be very big.)

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A Time to Refrain from Fighting

14 July 2017

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Tuesday afternoon I had just completed one of our weekly civil rights bus tours of Portland. I’m a presenter for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon ride through our state’s tortured racial history. My part of the program is about hate crime that now links the 1988 bludgeoning death of an Ethiopian immigrant by racist skinheads to the brutal attack by an “alt-right” lunatic on a Portland Max train last May. The bus rolls from the street where Mulugeta Seraw was murdered to the Hollywood Max station where three heroes were stabbed for standing up to hate, two of them paying for it with their lives. I try to connect the dots and have yet to do so without choking back the tears.

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I end my part of the tour by talking about the difficult work of reaching out to the haters and leading them to the side of love. That that’s where the true justice is. I talk about an organization called Life After Hate, a group of “formers,” who used to be members of white supremacist groups and now do important anti-racism and de-radicalization work. I mention how this group was awarded a $400,000 grant by the Obama Administration that was just rescinded by the Trump Administration. (Gee, why would Trump want to stop the work of a group that drags people out of right-wing hate groups?) And I talk about the 16-year-old girl with the swastika tattoo who, in 1988, handed her skinhead boyfriend the bat used to bash Mulugeta Seraw’s skull in. She’s now one of my most cherished friends. She served her time, befriending an African-American girl she was locked up with, and now speaks powerfully about what sent her down the ugly road of hate.

Tuesday’s tour was for a group of fresh-faced graduate students at Lewis & Clark. Afterwards a young woman approached me and said, “I’m a radical feminist anarchist and I think these people should be attacked, physically attacked.” I tried to explain to her that that approach only pushes them farther into their little Nazi boxes, making them into the victims of another kind of hate. That it makes more sense to try to make a connection with them and bring them to our side. That I’ve been doing this work for almost thirty years and this is the only thing that actually works to reduce the hate and threats of violence. She was having none of it, harumphed, and stormed off.

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I’ve been reflecting on that interchange this week. One one hand, I don’t think she understands the concept of “radical feminism.” If you think the appropriate response to a social problem is more macho violence, then you are not a radical feminist. On the other hand, I get it. If someone had knocked the crap out of Jeremy Christian before May 26th, maybe he would have thought twice about opening his hate spewing mouth on a crowded train that afternoon.

And I was thinking about it last night. Andrea and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary at a great new jazz bar in Portland called The Jack London Revue. The Jim Beam was settling into my veins as the Mel Brown Quartet played. I looked at my wife in the dimly lit club and thought of how lucky I am to be her husband. We are a team on multiple fronts: parenting, home-maintaing, creative projects, financial struggles. We’re in this together. And we’re stronger when we come at life as a partners instead of rivals. There are fights, when somebody is convinced they are right. I would love it if she rinsed her plates and I’m sure she would love it if I stopped thinking farts were “funny.” She’s very Antifa on that one. (Anti-Fart)

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But there’s another way. I jokingly think of it as “feminist husbandry.” There’s a challenge when we are so committed to our position that there must be a “winner.” My charge is to just stop. Just stop. Lose the ego and remember we’re a team first. My job is to take care of my partner, not win an argument. We can find our common ground. I don’t always do it, though. It’s easy to let the anger win and just want to (like my “radical feminist anarchist” rider) attack. That’s why I’ve put little reminders up in our house. Signs that say,  “appreciate,” “acknowledge,” and “be loving” are taped up on walls. (It’s cheaper than getting them tattooed on my hands.) There is time in life to take a breath and remember what the mission is.

One of my favorite songs growing up was The Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The lyrics are actually from the Christian Bible; Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time to fight, but also a time to refrain from fighting. Love wins out over hate. Ultimately, we are all on the same side. That includes the haters and those that hate the haters.

Please support Life After Hate here (click). Maybe someday I will form Life After Farting.

The Monsters Under the Bed

July 7, 2017

I’m learning all about the many stages of child development. For example, Cozy suddenly doesn’t want to stop wearing diapers. I figured she’s be ready to move to the next big thing, undies! It’s her connection to her safe dependency on her parents, perhaps; a security blanket she can pee on. I mean, once you start wearing underpants, what’s next? A 9 to 5 job? Days spent deleting spam emails and right-wing family members? Awkward conversations with canvassers on the front porch?

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We’re now in the monster stage. The monsters have arrived in our home. There’s a monster in her bedroom or, just one in the closet. She doesn’t want to sleep in her room or go downstairs and help me with the laundry. “There’s a monster down there!” I’m not sure where it comes from. Oh, yeah, I do. Scooby Doo, and Frozen and everything else that’s “kid friendly.”  She won’t even open Where the Wild Things Are yet.

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I know there are twisted parents that won’t think twice about exposing their kids to the most horrible images. (“C’mere baby. We’re gonna watch Aliens. It’ll be good for ya.”) I’m still suffering from watching Dark Shadows with my mom as a toddler. In 1999, I ran into a couple with their small child at a theater buying tickets to 8mm, the Nicolas Cage movie about snuff films. They were in line in front of me and I knelt down to the kid’s level and said, “Little girl, your parents are seriously fucked up people.” The mother looked like she was going to get another beating as dad glared at me. I should track that little girl down, probably in Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility.

The point is, we’ve been trying to shield Cozy from the basic fact that there are truly monsters in the world. If only they were as manageable as Sasquatch or Marshmallow the Snow Giant. I don’t want her to know that there are people who would snatch her off a playground or murder her parents for a little bit of money. I’m old enough to remember stories of garment manufactures who cut corners on flame retardant pajamas, soaking them with chemicals that mutated kids’ DNA. (Explaining why they keep making X-Men movies.) Those creeps were monsters.

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In the most recent episode of my podcast, Recovering Asshole, I was talking to feminist educator Jen Moore about male privilege. There are so many monsters that I, as a male, can ignore. We discussed that, at some point, my wife and I will have to explain to our daughter that there are boys and men who will try to rape her and those monsters might appear to her as friends. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of potential threats. Add drunk drivers and politicians that want to take away your health care (some of whom are surely drunk themselves) and more. When I was a kid, I thought the city-stomping line-up in 1968 Japanese film, Destroy All Monsters, was the worst possible thing humanity could face. And then Donald Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accord.

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I was listening to a story on NPR about the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London in which they are still counting the dead. The building designers seemed to forget sprinklers and adequate fire exits, but it was low income housing so why bother. There was a witness account of a woman who wrapped a baby in blankets and dropped the baby from a 9th story window. I had to pull over the car I was so consumed with sadness. I thought of the World Trade Center jumpers on 9/11 whose last choice was one form of death over another. Then I thought of a mother choosing to say goodbye to her little baby before she perished in flames, hoping that at least her child would survive. I thought the people responsible for those deaths are the real monsters under our beds.

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Cozy has taken to playing “Monster” this week. “Daddy, you be a monster and I’ll be a princess.” Or the more fun version, “Daddy, I’ll be a monster and you be a princess.” This monster prefers tickling to abduction or regulation violations. I think it’s her way of having some power over the feeling that something evil is lurking just out of view. When she was born I believed I could protect her from it, but now I know I can’t. Not truly. But let’s pretend, just a little longer.

Postscript: About 1 a.m. this morning, Andrea and I were still up. (I had a late-night job talk with someone in Ethiopia.) Cozy came in, sleepily carrying her Minnie Mouse doll, Pink (her favorite blanket), a Frozen kickball, and a green mylar balloon on a string. We were laughing so hard, we let her climb in bed with us. No monsters here.