Monday, August 3, 2020

Talking to Teachers About Social Justice and Returning to School During Covid-19

We are all concerned about what the fall semester is going to look like. We are concerned about our kids and their educational and social development. We are also worried that if kids don't go back to school, we can't go back to work. Then what? Foreclosure? Eviction? Who knows. What is clear, is that it isn't safe to reopen schools. We've already seen that camps and schools that have gone back to "normal" have seen outbreaks and re-closures.

What we sometimes forget, is that teachers working from home also have kids who will be there with them. For teachers who have young kids, this means trying to work with our kids and their own. So what do teachers want, fear and expect for the coming semester?

In this episode, I talk to three teachers about going back to school in a time of social upheaval and Covid-19. Berkeley Unified School District teachers, Leah Alcala, Michael Hammond and Shoshana O'Keefe share a unique set of perspectives, in that they teach and have kids in the same school district they themselves attended. They share their thoughts on teaching and parenting during this period of social justice awareness and Covid-19 that are applicable to parents and educators across the country.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Social Awareness: How much? How Soon? Too Much?

I've been reading through old posts of mine on the topics of social justice and taking action. I grew up going to protests and being politically active. My parents talked to me about the world, or at least that's what I remember. When I was in first grade, my friend and I woke up early one Saturday and hand made as many flyers as we could with a six-year-old's attention span. Then we put 8.5 x 11 "Ronald Reagan Sucks" leaflets in all the mailboxes on our block. As an adult, I would refer to this as "canvassing for Mondale."

When I reached 5th grade, I really was canvassing. I spent two years working on the GE boycott with I.N.F.A.C.T. I spent two years setting up an ironing board, selling buttons, collecting signatures. I even flew out to a GE shareholders meeting in Milwaukee for a direct action. I spoke to the city council about making Oakland a nuclear free zone. I joined an environmental group that held a lot of meetings and a couple retreats and ended up hosting an arts event for kids in San Francisco, but I'm not sure we did anything for the environment.

By the time I got to high school, I was burnt out on political movements. I became a typical Gen X cynic. I marched against the first Iraq war and Prop 187, but if I'm being honest, I was just happy to be ditching class. Rodney King, OJ, I stayed home. I voted. I kept myself abreast of what was going on in the world, but I didn't get involved outside of going to a couple protests against police brutality in 2002 where I got hit by a rubber bullet and faced down police that charged the crowd on horseback. I'll admit, that felt pretty badass.

When we had kids we half made a decision to not shield them from the world or our lives. The other half is that I think we just can't help ourselves. T and I are not the quiet, reserved, stoic type of people. We talk a lot. Like, a lot. People used to remark that our kids were "so verbal." Well yeah, mom and dad never shut up so they hear a lot of words, and a great many of those words are about politics.
I've always struggled with finding the line between making sure my kids know about the world and about our lives so they won't be surprised by things that happen, and telling them more than their developing minds are ready to process. I don't know what the bigger trauma could be, the shock of having things happen without warning, or the anxiety of knowing too many possibilities.

Lou, 2015
We took the kids to Obama's second inauguration in 2013. We thought it was an important moment. Buddy was four, Lou was two. Neither of them remember it. The next year, we went to Ferguson. Buddy was five, Lou was three. They don't remember that either. In 2015, it was the Million Moms March in D.C. Each of these included conversations about why we were going, the precipitating events and the desired outcomes. We talked about race. We talked about policing. I taught them the things I had been taught about how to survive encounters with law enforcement, even after I realized that their inherited genetic whiteness would make these lessons moot.

Then came the 2016 election and the beginning of years of having to explain new uncomfortable things to the kids about racism and sexism and homophobia and hate crimes. There were marches for women and pride and detention centers. During this, maybe bolstered by it and our discussions of marriage equality, Lou came out as transgender. If this is the one benefit of over sharing with the kids, it'll all be worth it.

Now it's 2020 and we're in the middle of a pandemic and a period of civil unrest. T is back to taking to the streets every night to protest. Lou is back to making protest signs. Xe has a strong sense of right and wrong and all xe wants in the world is for people to be fair. Xe thirsts for justice, which makes sense as xir survival depends on a just and fair world. So we've talked about George Floyd. Just like we talked about Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castille and so many others. Lou was excited to be able to ride in the Oakland Car Caravan protest. Everything seemed fine until that night. After the kids were in bed, T commented that maybe we've told them too much. She said that Lou and Yo now hated the police and were afraid of them and were afraid for us. They were afraid the police would kill us. They were worried about T going out to protest. Not long after, Lou emerged from xir bedroom unable to sleep, wracked with anxiety over police brutality. A few weeks later, a Black Lives Matter protest passed by the busy cross street near our house. The kids wanted to go down to the corner to hold signs and show support. As the main body of the march drew closer, police officers positioned themselves to block cross traffic ahead of the marchers. They were keeping the marchers safe. When Lou saw the police blocking our street on either side of the route, xe turned pale and started to retreat back to our house. Xe was convinced the police were there to hurt people. 

I'm wary of most police officers, but I can't bring myself to hate the police as a whole. I spent the spring of 2017 trying to become a police officer. While I acknowledge the systemic problems of policing as a whole, though I have been a victim of police violence, I just can't hate everyone who wears the uniform. This inability to hate doesn't stop me from being wary of any individual officer. I still do all the things I was taught growing up to make sure I get through police encounters alive. I support Black Lives Matter and I'm terrified of the Thin Blue Line crowd. I also don't want my kids, who by the privilege of their complexions will never need to fear a routine stop, to hate the police or fear them to point where they won't ask for help when they need it. I do want them to understand when to call the police and when to just leave things be. I want them to understand everything that calling the police really means and everything that could result. I don't want them to come to me at 25, seeing an unjust world and telling me, "Daddy, did you even know this stuff happens?" And I would have answer, "Yes." Because if I know then why wouldn't I tell them. If not to keep them safe, then to raise conscious, aware white looking secretly Latino-Asian allies?

It took some convincing, but Lou was persuaded to stay on the corner with us. I wanted xir to understand a couple things. First, that the police were not there to hurt people. Second, that there are things are worth standing up for, even when there's danger. I admit, that's a hard line to figure out. Whether to stand in the face of oppressive force, how much and for how long is dependent on so many factors I couldn't begin to try to explain them. I don't want T or the kids to stubbornly allow themselves to be beaten or gassed or worse. I also want them to start developing a sense for when to stay and when to leave. I want them to recognize danger rather than presume it (or on the other side, presume safety when it isn't real). I want them to be brave without being foolish. I want them to be cautious without being afraid. I want them to understand the world so they're not surprised by it. 

The thing I'm still not sure of is how much, how soon?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Five People, Four Sets of Pronouns: Introducing the IDL Podcast

Hello Friends,

Today's post is a short one because I'm hoping you'll give a listen to my first ever podcast episode. It's an interesting one, if for no other reason than because Buddy decides it's time to start using their real name. Many of you have gotten to know me in real life, or in closer online conversations and friendships and know who the kids are. Even for others, the identities of my kids is at best, a loosely guarded secret. After all, once you start doing TV interviews the jig is pretty much up. Still, I have tried to afford them some shred of anonymity so that at least their peers won't find them through lazy googling. Then they signed their names on the information for the protest they organized and things have progressed from there. 

One of the other tipping points, and the reason I decided now was a good time to launch the podcast is that Buddy recently came to us with big news. They came out as being non-binary. It was an emotional night for us, many tears were shed in relief that Buddy was finally living out as the person they really are. As I walked Buddy to bed at the end of the evening, they looked at me and said, "Well this is blog post."

I wasn't sure what to say to that. Did Buddy want it to be, or not? Did I want to write about this? I understood the comment, I write about these kinds of things. But for this, it felt like it wasn't my story to tell. As the kids grow up, they take more ownership of their identities in the world. They'll tell me to post or not post pictures I take. I've started asking them about what I can write about, and what they'd rather keep in the family. I knew I wanted Buddy's story out there. I thought it was important, not just for us, but maybe in the wider conversation on trans issues and the emergence of more trans youths. Still, I didn't feel like it was something for me to write about. Buddy's 11, they can tell this story better than I can. So I asked the kids if they wanted to do it as an interview so they could tell their stories in their own words. They both agreed, and I can't imagine a better way to launch a podcast than to talk to these two wonderful kids about a topic this personal. 

Oh, the title of this post! Right. Buddy is using they/them pronouns. Yo has decided to use xe/xir like Lou. Though we're not sure of Yo's motivation, we're going with it. T and I are using our cis gender pronouns. So we now have five people using four sets of pronouns. We're constantly correcting each other since we're all still getting used to Buddy and Yo's. It feels right. Everyone is happy. 

Thank you as always for reading, and I hope you'll give this a listen.

Friday, July 10, 2020

My Fears and Hopes of 2016 Have Been Realized

Our house on 11/09/2016

January, 2017 was a fraught and uncertain time in a way that seems almost quaint now. I kind of miss it. Looking back, it's like starting up a movie where you know how it's going to end, but you're watching anyway to see how they get there. I didn't exactly keep a diary of my thoughts at the time, but I did write a post about having to teach the morning after the election with a bad emotional (and admittedly, physical) hangover. I also contributed to a collection of short essays for Dads 4 Change. The editors at D4C asked us to write about our fears and hopes for the coming presidential term. I had a lot of fears and not much hope. Here's a excerpt of what I said:
"Like many Americans I worry about losing the progress made over the last eight years. I worry about the dismantling of our regulatory institutions, like the EPA, Department of Education, HUD, the SEC. I worry that this whole administration will be a boondoggle that strip mines the country for the benefit of the 1%. I’ve never had much faith in our intelligence agencies, but the new president seems intent on blinding them. Those are the concrete fears of today.
I hope that the Black Lives Matter sign in our yard, and seeing mommy interpreting at protests inspires my kids to avoid the apathy that cost us the last election. The one thing that could come from this is that they are turned into activists, that they feel compelled to be a part of the political process, that they never think that their vote doesn’t count. I cling to the idea that they will be the ones to help drag the country back out into the light."
You can read through the piece and those written by other dads and see that none of us were off base. What we feared came to pass. The country is divided. Hate crime has been on a steady rise. Kids are in cages. Intelligence and watch dog agencies have been dismantled. The country has erupted in protests over police brutality. There's also some kind of contagion loose, but I haven't had time to read up on that one. 2020 has seen all the sins of "but her emails," and over indulgent faith in polling come to a head. There isn't a single worry we had that hasn't become a reality in one way or another. It's numbing and enraging all at once.

Lou in Ferguson (2014)
The thing is, as we enter the latter half of what could be the last year of this particular madness, the hope has begun to manifest as well. T has continued to march. When the George Floyd protests took off, T was out there every night. She believed that she needed to put herself out there as a white body on the front lines to face down the police who might do harm to BIPOC protestors. Her aim was to shield them and I admired her even as I feared for her safety. They needed her, she needed to be there in that way, but we need her too. I need her to make it home. 

Seeing her example has also inspired the kids. They want to march. They make signs. They talk to us about justice. We've had a couple large marches go past our house. The kids were desperate to join in. I was concerned about Covid and even though everyone we saw had masks and was distancing as much as possible, it took a lot of asking before we relented. Then the kids went to a nearby action that had been organized by other kids. It was small and from what I heard, went about as you would expect a kid led protest to go. They marched circles around the park and made some speeches that were difficult to hear. But they had the experience of getting people together, taking collective action and getting their message out to the world. Buddy and Lou were inspired and decided to plan their own protest. 

T helped them with supplies and guided them through thinking out what they would need. The kids planned the theme, Black Lives Matter with a focus on LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. They planned the route, the program and looked up who to invite. The kids wrote a solicitation inviting people to participate, speak, donate supplies and act as medics and marshals. Reading their email made cry.

We are two kids ages 9 and 11, and we are organizing a protest. We are hoping to show people that the current system of how we treat Black and Brown people is not okay, and that police brutality needs to be stopped. We especially want to call attention to queer people of color and disabled people of color.

We were wondering if you could provide some help with making sure we have the resources to do so. We're not sure how large this protest will be, but we want to be ready for a large event. We will need food (small portable snacks), water, and hand sanitizer. If we find that we have more supplies than are needed, we will give the rest to a shelter and/or another protest in the future. It would also help if we had some volunteer marshals to help organize.

We would also be very grateful if you would like to send a speaker to be part of this event. It will take place at (Time, Place, Route). We are hoping to have a short rally with speakers at both ends of the march. We will be providing ASL interpreting and there will be easy access for wheelchairs.

We're very thankful that you are taking this into consideration.

Buddy (they/them) and Lou (xe/xir)"
This email encapsulates all the hopes I had for them. They're aware and active. They want to be involved. They want to lead. They want to focus on specific communities within the larger movement. This is key. It's not "All Lives Matter," it's "These lives within the greater set of Black Lives will get particular focus today." It's notable because it brings in and includes LQBTQ+ and disabled BIPOC communities into the movement. It's uniting rather than dividing. They made sure to include interpreters, and a route that is accessible to people with mobility issues. They already understand inclusion and intersectionality better than I did when I was 30. 

The part that really got me was the signature. They signed it with their pronouns. They are so comfortable with who they are that they're not afraid of putting it right out there in a cold call solicitation. Whether they planned it or not, including the pronouns is also a final way of telling the reader, "You're safe here. You're safe with us." It's such a beautiful and subtle touch, it's probably the part of this that hits me the hardest. These are good kids.

The march was yesterday. The solicitation worked. People donated masks and supplies. They had volunteer interpreters and some marshals. T and I helped with publicity. It helps that I run Facebook groups and twitter accounts with over 10K followers. Our city council member came and said a few words. I'm not great at estimating crowds, but I'd say they drew 50-100 people. I'm proud of the kids for putting in the effort. As much as I'd like to see them rewarded with a big turn out, I know that they'll learn things from this that we may not have taught them otherwise. In taking on this project, they are learning to write professional emails, to engage with stakeholders, to research local organizations and how to plan with diversity and inclusion as foundational pieces rather than last minute add-ons. Most important, they saw something wrong in their community and they took action. 

I have hope.

Monday, June 29, 2020

"I Thought I Wasn't Ready," A Busy Month on the Gender Front

A child looking up while having face paint applied to their nose
(Note: "xe/xir" are non-binary pronouns preferred by my child.)

October-November, 2019 was a busy couple months for us. The Washington Nationals went on an improbable run to a World Series title and our family was suddenly in the middle of participating in a lot of media. T, Buddy and I were interviewed for a CBS News documentary on raising boys and the "new masculinity." CBS cold called me after a producer read this post I'd written about encouraging platonic friendships between kids of different genders. Though our best material didn't make it in, we did make the final cut. You can watch the documentary here, but it isn't captioned. Or you can view this captioned clip of me and T. The show ended up being about aggression, while T and I talked a lot more about gender relations and presentation. I understand they had to choose a direction due to time, but I do think that discussing how gender norms are pushed on kids and how that relates to their behavior as adults deserves a platform.

Buddy taking a turn in front of the camera
During this same time period, Lou was asked to participate in a documentary about coming out as a transgender child. Aurora Brachman is a filmmaker studying at Stanford University. She came to our house for two days of filming and once more to interview Lou. Aurora is a wonderful person and a good film maker. She put all of us at ease and was able to get Lou to be xir natural self. The filming was tough on Lou at times. One session happened in our tiny bathroom on Halloween. Lou did xir best, but after a while xe really wanted to go out trick or treating instead of continuing to film. Aurora filmed and interviewed several other transgender kids in the area so when she shared the final film with us, I was surprised that Lou ended up providing all of the narration. I'm biased, but watching Lou tell xir story in xir own words makes me cry every time. I deal with the day-to-day kid who has tantrums and leaves messes and makes excuses. I forget that there's this beautiful, insightful story teller inside the nine-year-old  whirlwind.

We couldn't say a lot about the documentary, "I Thought I Wasn't Ready," until now because it wasn't publicly available. It was submitted to Sundance and is now posted to their website. I'd love for you to follow the link and check it out if you are a hearing person. However, that version is not captioned. With Aurora's permission I created a captioned version, which I can send you upon request. If you do not need captions, I encourage you to follow the Sundance link so they can capture people's interest in the film.

I'm very proud to be parenting these kids. They continue to grow and develop into very cool people despite my many mistakes as a father. One thing I feel we've done right has been creating an environment where they can be themselves. Gender, gender norms and ideas about gender presentation are changing. These kids will be prepared for that new reality as society realizes and accepts that gender goes far beyond the binary.

You can hear the kids talk more about their journeys in their own words on the debut episode of the Interdisciplinary Life podcast: 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Day Trip to the Backyard Cafe

Holy molĂ©, two posts in a week. Lucky us. This Father's Day was such a treat, I felt compelled to share. It really started about a month ago when T asked if I wanted to have Father's Day early. I was happy to oblige and was gifted with an AppleTV HD. We had a first generation AppleTV that was working fine, this new one is amazing. It's really really cool. The biggest change is the ability to download new apps, which the first generation lacked. Hello Sling and Disney+! So that's been cool. We've had a ton of fun with family movie nights. 

But that's not what I came to talk about. You may remember a couple years ago, I wrote about the opening of The Backyard Cafe. In the intervening years, it has morphed into the Backyard Mall offering hair and nails among other services. This Father's Day I had a chance to return to the Cafe for two meals. 

The staff did a great job with the menus and even had a special place card for me. I have to say, the quality has gone way way up since the last time I was there. This time, the only mishap occurred before I got there. It seems the cook made a pot of coffee without checking to see if there was already coffee in the pot. Other than that, everything was perfect. The bacon was crisp. The eggs over easy were perfect, which isn't easy. The potatoes came out on time and were cooked all the way through. 

I was so impressed, I went back for lunch. The chef surprised me with an blast from the past favorite. 

I spent four years during high school and college working at the Togo's deli across the street from the university. While I was there, I started getting creative with ingredients for my meals. As a broke student, I definitely took advantage of working at a place where I could get free or discounted food that I could make myself. My finest creation was, The Bertissimo. In Togo's parlance, the base of it was #24, turkey and avocado. On top of that, I added provolone, bacon and BBQ beef. Then all the veggies and a bit of mayo. I haven't had one in 20 years. Until today.

Buddy, remembered me talking about it and had gathered the ingredients. When I sat down for lunch, there before me was a reasonable facsimile of my original creation. It was on T's home made sourdough instead of the sandwich rolls we used back in the day, and the bacon wasn't pre-cooked from a box. So it was probably better than what I used to make. The real treat about it was the thought and effort that went into it. My little pre-teen boy loves and pays attention to what I say so much, he remembered a sandwich recipe I told him about in passing several years ago and made it for me. Sure, he doesn't listen to anything else I say, but this was still pretty special. 

It was a really great day. It was something I didn't realize I needed so badly during this pandemic and time of social upheaval. I really do feel appreciated far beyond the superficial Hallmark banality I typically associate with these holidays. T's contributions were subtle and necessary, but allowed the kids' contributions to shine through. After lunch, we played Rock Band as a family and just hung out. It was everything I could ask for as a dad.

Bike riding and hair styling in the front yard of the Backyard Cafe

Friday, June 19, 2020

Kids, Your Dad is a Gosh Darn Hero

I wish I had a more dramatic picture, but I was busy being a hero.

I don't usually do a Father's Day post, but I guess I'm doing it this year because I'm feeling awfully fathery this morning. I've written a little bit about how I sometimes feel inadequate as a parent because I haven't taught my kids enough practical skills. They can barely swim. Aside from the 5 year old, they learned to ride bikes late and she only learned because the other kids did it first. I've lamented about the deterioration of my own hands-on skills. After taking wood working and working on construction sites as an adolescent, I convinced myself over the years that I didn't know how to perform basic repairs. I've recently been reversing that trend and engaging with the kids on home maintenance projects. We've been repairing windows, painting the exterior and caulking the tub. It feels good. I finally feel like the kind of dad I want to be.

Which brings us to last night.
It was a lush yard

Last night, I finally got the chance to do something really dadly.

This morning, at about 2:00am I heard someone coming up my front stairs. Yesterday, the neighborhood email list had been full of conversation about a mysterious series of occurrences where someone was knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in the middle of the night. When the knock and ring came, I sprang into action, convinced I was about to confront the Midnight Ringer. When I opened the door, there stood my neighbor from two doors down. 

"Charles? You're the Midnight Ringer?" Before the thought was fully formed, he yelled, "Your back yard is on fire!"

I sprinted to the back of the house. I could see the orange glow through the kitchen window. I reached for the phone, "Alice called 911," he offered out helpfully. It didn't register. 

"911 what's you emergency?

"My back yard is on fire"

"The whole yard, sir?

"No, uh mostly the fence. It's my neighbor's shed that's really on fire, but its in my yard too."

I stood at the back door momentarily stunned by the flames that looked like something out of a movie. The corner of the shed that abuts my fence in the yard behind my yard was engulfed in flames. I say shed, but it used to be a horse stable and had recently been converted to an outdoor covered patio. The fence that separates the yards was on fire about a third of the way along its length. I could smell apples on our tree being roasted.

I rousted myself from my stupor and ran to turn on our hose. I didn't want to wait for help as I realized that fire along the fence could get to my shed and then my next door neighbor's house. The neighbor on my left also has a garage that sits next to the burning barn. So, I faced the flames with my little garden hose expecting the water to turn to entirely ineffective steam. I was right. It was a futile gesture, at first. When I changed the hose nozzle from mist to stream, I was able to start putting down the flames. 

Honestly, it felt kinda badass. 

That's when I heard T yelling to the kids, "Get out! Get out! No that way, away from daddy. Go to the front." Sure, she was 100% correct from a safety perspective, though standing there on top of our garden box with my hose, I didn't think there was any imminent danger. My thought was, "But I want them to see their father being cool," though I didn't have the time or the inclination to really argue with her. 

By the time the firefighters came from two blocks away, I had things on my corner of the barn pretty well in hand. That is to say, it wasn't spreading but I was sure glad they came in to really get the deep soak that would ensure that there were no invisible embers that could reignite. They also put out the far side of the barn that I couldn't effectively reach with my little garden hose. For the next 90 minutes or so we chatted with the firefighters, the neighbors and each other. The kids made tea before going back to bed. We all forgot about distancing and masks for a minute as we assessed whether the remaining smoke was more embers in the wall, or just steam. (It was embers, they cut out a good section of the cross beams to quell it.) Yo got a fist bump from a firefighter. I asked if the foam they used was safe for our vegetable garden and they assured me it was basically dish soap.

As 4:00am rolled around, things were settling back down. The firefighters left. I secretly wanted some kind of "attaboy" or recognition for holding things down until they got there, but none came. Yes, inside I am still a 12-year-old hoping for affirmation from the people I wanted to be when I grew up. I did get a lot of thanks from my neighbors on each side for helping to save their yards. I in turn thanked Charles for knocking on the door. Though they didn't watch it all go down, I do think the kids see me as being a little more capable as a protector. I feel a little more capable too. Even though I spent many years training as a first responder, I still carry doubt about what I'll do when faced with an emergency. I feel better about myself this morning than I did at bed time last night. When we all got up in the morning I extolled the kids on how their dad saved the entire neighborhood.

Now, if only I could crack the case of the Midnight Ringer...


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Obligatory Covid-19 Post, with Dancing (Video)

Hi! How's it going? Did you miss me? It's OK, you don't have to pretend. I know we've all had a lot on our minds. I've been doing a bunch of writing, just not here. I've been trying to work on my dissertation and right now, I feel guilty writing anything that isn't my lit review.

So, Covid huh? Pretty wild amirite?

Look, I don't have a topical post. I have no tips on how to work from home. I have no listicle of fun ways to home school your kids. I have no creative dinner ideas for the things you were planning on giving to the next canned food drive. (OK, I do have some of those, it's how I met my wife. But that's for a different time.)

What I do have is a fun thing my wife did for a friend of ours. Quick digression: In an earlier social post about this, I referred to our friend as "T's friend." It wasn't until the next day that I realized how oddly distancing that was. I've known her for at least 10 years now. I think subconsciously, I didn't want to presume a relationship with someone so cool, even though she's never been anything but totally friendly toward me. So yeah, she's our friend.

Our friend is now a 20 year cancer survivor. They couldn't have a party, so her wife took her on a driving tour of their favorite spots including stops in front of the homes of friends and family so they could wish her a happy anniversary. Of course, I was the dumbass who called out "Happy birthday" from my porch.

But anyway, T took this occasion to put together a dance number, because it's a fun tribute and let's face it, we have the time. So T designed the choreography, taught it to us, got costumes together and made everyone's day. She also made a video.

So yeah, there's a ton of videos out there of people doing things to pass the time. This is kinda one of those. It's also a tribute to our friend who not only lived, but has lived a life of service to others that has brought a lot of good into the world.

How do we help get each other through this time of social distancing and holding every single interaction on Zoom? You gotta have faith.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Co-Ed Slumber Parties: Fresh From City Dads Group

Old School Slumber Party Crew

My oldest is now 10. Last year, or maybe it was two years ago, he went to a sleepover birthday party, as kids do. At the time, I didn't think anything of the fact that it was a co-ed invite list. I think my oldest son may have been the only boy invited, I'm not sure because I didn't care enough to examine who was there when I dropped off or picked up. After the party ended, I forgot it had even happened. A few months ago, I was at another party where the topic of "that party with the boy sleeping over" came up. The parents I talked to were sagely nodding to each other, relieved that one girl just went for the movie and didn’t sleep over. According to the group wisdom, her parents had done well. "Uh, yeah." I said, "That one boy there was my son."

What happened next? How do I feel about topic? Please head on over to City Dads Group to read more, Mixed Gender Sleepovers: Cause for Scandal or Celebration of Diversity.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Kobe Bryant and Teaching Consent

When I heard Sunday that Kobe Bryant had died, I was surprised. Of course I was, it's surprising when you hear that a person younger than yourself has suddenly died. Beyond that, I felt...nothing. This was also surprising. I was in the middle of helping coach at a youth rugby tournament so at first I chalked it up to that. During a break in the tournament I thought about it again. I'm not really into celebrity news outside of whatever it is people do when they're doing whatever it is they're famous for. So while I love say, Steph Curry as a Warrior, I don't know a ton about him off the court. So at that moment I chalked my lack of feelings on Kobe to my general apathy towards celebrity news in general. When the tournament was over and the kids and I were getting in the car, I reexamined my feelings and I still felt nothing. Why?

Why wasn't I upset?

I had been a huge Kobe fan between 2000 and 2003. If you know anything about Kobe, you know what happened in 2003. I was living in DC at the time and saving up for a sweet, crisp white Kobe Bryant jersey, which was a significant expense for a broke grad student. Then the news hit that Kobe had been accused of raping a woman in Colorado. After that, I always appreciated Kobe as a great basketball player, but I was no longer a fan.

In the years since his retirement Kobe had an impressive second act as a content creator. I never watched any of his work, not out of disdain or a sense of morality, but just because there's a lot of content out there to watch and it didn't interest me enough to seek it out.

Now he's gone.

When I mentioned his death to my wife, T was even less interested. Her thoughts were squarely with his victim. We agreed that it was a notable cultural event and that we were sad for everyone on board. They were all family and friend and co-worker and mentor to someone. There were kids, which is always sad. But that it was Kobe isn't any more sad than if it was anyone else.

It came up again over dinner. I don't remember how.

We have been deliberate in teaching our children about consent. We started with each of them from the time they were able to express a simple yes/no preference. We ask them if we can pick them up. We ask if we can hug or kiss them. We allow them the space to say, no. The goal of this with little kids is to teach them that they have bodily autonomy in their interpersonal relationships. They don't owe anyone physical affection, not even their closest relatives. We are not a physically distant family. We are very snuggly. My 10y/o son will still curl up on the couch with me to read or watch tv. My 8y/o still wants to be carried and tucked in. My 4y/o is basically glued to my wife every waking moment and asks me to lie down with her sometimes at bedtime. We're an affectionate crew, but always with consent.

Our conversation at dinner was the first time I remember us ever talking about consent in the context of sex or adult physical intimacy. I don't remember what prompted it, but one of the kids asked, "What's  wrong with Kobe Bryant?" I guess you don't really plan for these conversations, because we tried to skirt the issue, hoping they would drop it quickly. They didn't.

"He hurt at least one person very badly." (Silently hoping they drop it.)

"What did he do?"

"He touched a woman in ways she did not want be touched."

"Like what?"

And there we were. My kids have known about the existence of sex for a long time. The older two were in the room when the youngest was born. They know where babies come from, though I don't think they know all the mechanics of how they get there. They know about sperm and egg and which party contributes each one. They understand most of the biological facts of procreation, but I don't know if we've ever really talked about sex outside of procreation. It was a little disorienting that Kobe Bryant's death had me charging into this discussion with my kids.

We covered everything you might want a young person entering adolescence to know about consent in an intimate relationship. We talked about peer pressure and coercion. Emphasized that they don't owe their bodies to anyone, no matter how nice the other person has been. We told them that there's no point where they can't say, "stop." It doesn't matter if you've been dating, kissing, or moved on to something more, you can always say, "stop" and expect your partner to stop. Using ourselves as examples, we showed that no matter how much you believe that the person in front of you is the only person for you, there is always someone else who will love you the way you deserve. They were a little surprised that T and I had dated more than a couple other people before we met, though they knew I had been married once before. The point was that the fear of losing someone shouldn't be the driver for doing things you don't want to do. Anyone who makes you feel that way is proving to you that there's someone better out there. The bottom line is that your body is yours. Anyone making you feel otherwise through word or deed is someone you should consider removing from your life. You don't need to acquiesce or compromise.

It was a good talk. One that I'm glad we were able to have and will have again. The fact is, no amount of teaching consent will prevent what happened to that 19 year old woman in Colorado. She did exactly what we told our kids to do. She said no. She tried to leave. She made her unwillingness known. She was raped anyway. That's not her fault. Understanding consent isn't magic armor that will keep you from all harm. I only hope that it can be a tool that keeps people from the less visible harms that come into too many relationships.

Kobe Bryant is dead and feel terrible for his family, his friends, and even his fans. They lost someone dear to them. For me, his legacy will be in continuing to try to protect my kids from people who commit similar, silent, deniable crimes against vulnerable partners, and to make sure my son grows up to be a better man.

More Commentary on Wrestling with Kobe's Legacy:

Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies

It's Not "Too Soon" to Talk About the Kobe Bryant Rape Case