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 is embedded below. 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.

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Recipe Post: Bacon Explosion and a Decade as "The Bacon Guy."

I read or heard once that every crew has "the ___ guy." I guess maybe this applies to all male or maybe mixed gender crews. I'll admit, I don't know as much about all female crews but I imagine there's a similar concept at play. There's the "fedora guy," the "indecisive guy," the "quiet guy," etc. Of course, these are just examples of types, your crew may not have a quiet guy or whatever. During my youth, I was the "funny guy." Then about 10 years ago, I somehow became the "bacon guy." I'm not sure how it happened but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the Bacon Explosion. The thing is, I don't remember if I came the Bacon Guy because of the recipe or if I was sent the recipe because I was the bacon guy. What I do know is that for years my friends would send me bacon memes and bacon photos and bacon recipes on social media. They would also give me bacon ephemera on holidays or just randomly. Bacon chocolate, bacon mints, bacon body wash, I got it all. It was fun, and it was all somehow tied to the Bacon Explosion.

December is full of holidays. I learned about a ton of them at my kids' holiday show at our local theme park. One of them is today, December 30th, which is National Bacon Day, another in the long line of National Days. (Seriously, it seems like National Bike to Work Day happens 4-6 times/year). You may be thinking, "He's writing about another National -insert food- holiday? Didn't he just do this?" Well, yes. It's fun and I need a break from the more serious stuff so bear with me, OK? Thanks. After all, if you remember my old SAHD Kitchen posts, cooking posts aren't off brand for me. I promise I'll have something more uh...meaty coming up next month. (Get it? Meaty? Get it?) Besides, I couldn't pass up a chance to write about bacon. I'm the Bacon Guy.

The Bacon Explosion was invented by BBQ Addicts back in 2008. I don't remember how it came to mu attention. I remember someone sending it to me and saying I should give it a try. Or maybe I heard about it on NPR. Who knows. What is clear is that I had to try it.

I made my first Bacon Explosion for the 2009 Super Bowl. It was clear right away that I'd have to improvise some things as I did not have a smoker, which is called for in the original recipe, and that's what I want to focus on for you here today. If you just wanted to make a bacon explosion, you could find the steps on the BBQ Addicts site. I want to offer you something else. After making these in my kitchen for ten years, I would like to share some tweaks to the original recipe that work for the typical home cook. So I'll document my latest attempt and let you know where my approach differs from the original recipe.

What you'll need:

2 pounds of your favorite bacon
1 pound of uncased sausage
BBQ rub
BBQ sauce

Baking sheet, deep is better
Rack for over the baking sheet.

Prep time: About an hour
Cook time: About 3 hours

Step 1: Lay down a bacon weave. The original recipe says 5x5 for the weave. I say just make a square and don't worry about how many slices that is.

The first difference between my approach and the original is in the bacon. The original calls for only thick cut bacon. What I've found is that it's better if you use regular thin bacon for the outer weave. Because you slow cook it, the inside of the weave doesn't cook the same way you might be used to for bacon. It's cooked, but it's more like ham than bacon and thicker bacon cooks even less evenly on the inside of the weave. So I prefer thin bacon for the weave. It gives a better texture.

Step 2: Dust your weave with some of your rub.

A sweeter rub is nice as it counter points the saltiness of the bacon. If you don't have rub, you can make your own or use other spices. In a pinch, I've used Old Bay or a mix of paprika, chili powder or other things. I've never tried brown sugar, but I bet that would be good too.

Step 3: Add sausage layer over the weave.

This is another place where I deviate from the original. BBQ Addicts wants two pounds of sausage. For me, that much sausage causes the sausage to dominate the dish and takes away from the bacon. This is a bacon recipe. We want bacon to be the primary experience, so I only use one pound of sausage. I used to buy cased sausage and cut the casing off. Lately I've been buying uncased sausage. You can use whatever you like. I like using Italian, but if you want more of a breakfast taste you could use breakfast sausage. Spread the sausage all the way out to the edges.

Step 4: This isn't really step 4, it's more of a concurrent step if you can swing it. You want to cook up the rest of your pound-plus of bacon. Cook it up how you like it. I like mine crispy. Take all that yummy bacon and crumble a layer over your sausage. Remember to only snack on bacon from the plate. Once you put it on the sausage, it's on raw pork and you can't eat it until after it's all cooked. Next, drizzle your favorite BBQ sauce over the crumbled bacon layer.

Step 5: From the top, carefully but firmly roll the sausage layer towards you, rolling up the crumbled bacon in the sausage. This will give you a pinwheel of bacon and sausage. Make sure you roll it tight, take your time.

Step 6: Roll the sausage tube back up in the weave. Here, you don't want much overlap for the reason I mentioned above. Any bacon in the weave that isn't expose to the outside won't cook up the way you want. You just want enough overlap to keep it closed up at the seam. If you end up with an extra apron, cut it off and enjoy your bonus bacon snack. BBQ Addicts says to do another layer of rubin the outside of the weave, which is good, but I usually forget and I don't think it changes all that much. 

Trim the extra and cook it up as a snack

Not quite ready
Now you're ready to get cooking. The original wants you to put it in a smoker at 225 for about 2 and a half hours. I didn't have a smoker so I had to use my oven. I still set it to 225. In order to get some air flow and to allow the grease to drip off, you want to put it on a rack over a deep baking sheet. Bake it for an hour, then flip it over. After the second hour, check it for an internal temperature of at least 160. I usually need to flip it again and give it another 30-40 minutes. Once you get to 160 you're ready for the last step.

The original recipe wants you to get to an internal temp of 165. That's where they end the cooking. For me, the weave is still not cooked to where I like it at this point. So when I get to 160, I turn the oven to broil. If you have two broil settings you can do about 5 minutes on each side on low broil. If you only have a high broil setting then go for 2 minutes on each side or until the outer layer looks how you want it.

Last, baste the whole thing in BBQ sauce and you're ready to serve. Go ahead and treat yourself to the crispy end, it's the best slice.

So there it is, a decade of tweaking and improving on the ultimate BBQ-bacon recipe. I've brought these to every super bowl party I've attended in the last ten years. My cousin used to insist that I bring one to Thanksgiving each year. It's made me a hit at workplace parties. I'm the Bacon Guy.

I've also experimented with it in various ways (pics and serving suggestions below). I made little ones that I called bacon grenades. I made on with turkey bacon and chicken sausage for my wife who doesn't eat mammals. I tried a cheeseburger explosion with ground beef and cheese in the middle, but at 225 the cheese didn't melt right and I hadn't thought of adding the broiler step. I want to revisit that one.

However you make it, I hope you enjoy it.

You can make any day a holiday, give your office or classroom something to celebrate, or just enjoy yourself by checking out every National Day at the National Today website.

More pics and serving suggestions:

For breakfast

Turkey bacon explosion

Bacon grenades

As a burrito