Monday, September 30, 2019

Home Sweet Homefield


It a dump. It's a sewer. It's old. It's ugly. It's cramped. There's a infield on the football field. There's football lines in the outfield.

The complaints about the Oakland Alameda County Ring Central MacAfee Network Associates O Dot Coliseum are numerous and well known. It was one of the last cookie cutter stadiums of the 1960s. Built to house multiple sports, it's the last multi-use facility still home to both a major league baseball team and an NFL football team. The football team that shall not be named is leaving next year, but the stadium will remain largely the same, still encumbered but the monstrosity in center field that ruined the park's aesthetic and its wind patterns. The A's, the buildings last tenant, have done a lot to improve the park over the last couple years, but the reputation remains.

I remember the Coli the way it was. I'll never forget walking across the bridge from the train the first time. I was somewhere between 4 and 5 years old. Before the monstrosity, there was just a simple chainlink fence across center field. To prevent people from watching for free, the fence had those long plastic slats pushed through the chainlink so that you could only see the field if you walked by really fast. The effect was similar to a Zoetrope. You could see the players warming up on the field but the frame rate was so slow that they looked like films of ball players from the 1920s.

That fence was a time machine connecting baseball's past with its present in the mind of a small boy.

It was magic.

That was 1981 and I've been coming to the grey lady ever since. After my dad left, I went with my mom during the heady and wonderful Haas years. I fell in love with Mac, Canseco and Walt Weiss. I was crazy about Rickey. I liked that Carney Lansford looked like an actual carney. I always wanted a batting helmet with a huge jaw guard like Terry Steinbach wore. I remember that my biggest take away from the 1989 World Series is that its existence likely saved my mom from being on the collapsed Cypress Freeway the day of the earthquake. She had elected to work late in San Francisco to avoid traffic. Like a great many others who made the same choice, baseball may have literally saved their lives.

My mom wasn't really a fan. She took me to games because it was something to do. She liked going, but didn't know anything about the game. I remember throwing a tantrum one time on the train because there were no seats. I don't know why I was so worked up. Even in the moment I couldn't figure out why I was so desperate for a seat near a window, but I also couldn't stop myself. Being a kid can be really weird. I did not get a malt cup that day, and I learned to stand on the train in silence.

My grandmother was the opposite of my mom. She was a fan, knew all the players, looked up the box scores each day and listened to games on the radio, but she never went. She would get free tickets at the senior center and give them me and my best friend. She'd drop us off at the gate with $5 each for malts and a soda. Then he and I, all of 10 and 8 years of age, would go in and spend four hours on our own. We would sit in the nearly empty third deck and when the soda was gone and the ice was gone and the sun was beating down, we'd fill the cups up with water from the fountain, return to our seats and dump 32oz over our heads. We never thought to try to move down to better seats. Grandma would listen on the radio and at the bottom of the 8th, she'd drive back to the Coli to pick us up. It wasn't until 2001 when my grandmother finally attended her first game since the Charlie Finley era. We put her in the wheel chair and pushed her up to the 300s for game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. The Jeter Flip Game. As 45,000 people went from manic frenzy to dead silent I told her, "Well grandma, you picked a hell of a game to come out to. People are going to talk about that forever."

When I was a 19 year old college student looking for a way to connect with my 6 year old brother, I brought him to baseball games. It became our thing and for years we never missed an opening day. Our best year, we made it to over 40 ball games. During that time the coliseum was my refuge. When I had an afternoon to myself, or if I needed to escape and be alone, I'd head to game. It was a great place to be anonymously social. You could almost always find someone to chat with, or you could sit with your headphones on and listen to Bill and Ken describe the action. I got to know the some of the vendors, particularly Joyce who ran the Pyramid Ales stand on the main concourse. I worked for Pyramid at the time, so I always liked chatting with Joyce and grabbing a familiar beer.

Much later, I started bringing my family to games. When I was teaching and had summers off we made a habit of attending a couple games every home stand. It got to the point where my kids felt so at home, they'd run off as soon as we got through the gates. It took a few talking to's and a few tears for them to understand that even though it was familiar, it was still a big public place full of people we don't know. But I was thrilled that they felt so welcome and at ease in this place I'd been frequenting since I was their age. They love game days. Some of it is the baseball. Some of it is being together as a family. A lot of it is knowing that "ballpark rules" apply and they're going to get some kind of treat, usually a malt cup or cotton candy.

We got season tickets this year. It's the first time I've had season tickets to anything. It's been everything I'd hoped. We had a great time going to games and the A's made the playoffs. On Wednesday, Buddy and I will attend the first home playoff game I've been to since Jeremy didn't slide. I wish I could have captured his reaction when I told him. He has no idea that the coliseum is ragged. He's been to a few stadiums, but he's never complained about Oakland. All he sees are the improvements and the opportunity to hang out with his friends and family.

My house is 96 years old. The floors need work. The water pressure is unreliable. There's mold on the back wall. The windows all need to be replaced. It's a mess because we have three kids and two old dogs and two working parents and everything that comes with all of that. It's not a beautiful house, but it's the one I want to live in because it's home. The Coli was built in 1966 and it still works for me. I know there's fans who feel differently. The team wants a new stadium and they're working on getting one, though that's a whole other ordeal. For teams, stadiums are less about places to play and more about real estate development in the surrounding area. The players probably want a new home. I hear the locker rooms and training rooms are the really out dated parts of the building. I've only seen glimpses, but it does seem a bit dreary.

I want the players to be happy. I want my fellow fans to be happy.

For me though, I don't need a new stadium. I've been to a lot of parks. Some major league, some minor league. They all have basically the same plastic seats and the same types of concessions. The prices vary, but the views are largely the same. Once I sit down, I could be anywhere and the surrounding structure fades into the background. Whenever the new place is built, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'll go to the park and marvel at its newness and its amenities. I'll look forward to seeing the fans with whom I've developed friendships. I'll sing the songs and drink the beer and hope I still get to see Joyce. It will be nice, but it won't be home. Home will always be that dingy old concrete mausoleum where I was allowed to run free and then eventually let my kids do the same.

If home is where the heart is, then mine will always reside at 7000 Coliseum Way, just over the BART bridge. Where you can forever enjoy "beer while you're walkin', beer while you're talkin'," and it always smells like bacon wrapped sausage.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It's OK to Love a Sports Writer


I couldn't find a relevant banner photo, so I'm using this one because we look happy.
I had a cool experience recently. My sports fan alter ego on Twitter (@RallyLamb) has been slowly picking up traction. I set up the account because I wanted to interact with local sports fans, but I didn't want those of you who follow me for my writing on parenting to suddenly get hit with 100 hot takes per game for 162 baseball games. On a summer evening last year, I got an alert that made my heart jump a bit. My favorite sports writer, Susan Slusser followed me. Look, it’s a small thing, but it’s one of the reasons I do any of this. I don’t make much money from writing. I started because I just needed to do it, it’s my heritage. Later, as I gained a small audience I was motivated by the opportunities I had to meet cool people and do cool stuff. Being followed by a writer I’ve been reading for over twenty years, less than four months into creating this account, was pretty cool. Then I saw that I had a DM, “Hi there, I’m looking for people to talk to for a story on the new ticket strategy and liked your response - would you be ok with a quick interview by phone?”

Dude! Susan Slusser wanted to talk to me for a story! I was in the driveway at the time and my wife came out to the front porch like, “Hey, why are you dancing?” Uh, because I’m going to get to talk to Susan Slusser, that’s why. (I had also gotten an RT from Dan Szymborski at the same moment so I was definitely winning Twitter that day.)

I forget how long it was until we did the interview. I know I spent the whole time rehearsing and editing my fan boy speech. I wanted to let her know how much her writing had meant to me over the years. How much I appreciated her work during the Twitter era, during most of which I was an out of market fan and relied on her reporting as my lifeline to the team. Once the interview was done, I half asked/half warned her that I was going to geek out for second. I told her about how much I respected her work and her career, she had also been president of the Baseball Writers Association of America (the people who vote on the Hall of Fame). I worry now that maybe I was being presumptuous of her experience, because I talked about how part of my admiration was due to my mom having been a journalist and knowing what she went through and how much harder I thought that might be in sports. I talked about how I thought it was super cool that my home team had four women covering them regularly (shout out Ann Killion, Melissa Lockard and Jane Lee). Maybe I over did it on the rah-rah women in sports feminism, but I was feeling it and I didn’t know if I’d ever have another chance to let her know how cool she is.

I guess I did OK as an interview subject. Susan (I call her that because according to my son, we are now close personal friends) sent me a message to let me know I’d be featured in the article. I was happy, but didn’t expect the first sentence to read, “As a sign-language interpreter and teacher with three children, Roberto Santiago figured season tickets for a sports team would be out of his reach.” So yeah, that was really cool.

Over the course of the season we tried to find a time to meet in person, but it never worked out. After all, when she’s at the game, she’s at work. It’s hard to visit anyone at work and I never wanted to be a bother. We were finally able to make it happen this season. Again, I didn’t want to bother her, or act like she owed me her time so I waited until I had a copy of her recent book so that when I reached out, I could at least show that I was supporting the cause. Yes, it’s still asking for her time while she’s working, but at least it’s a conversation starter.

She came down to the concourse to meet Buddy and I between innings. She was gracious and just as cool as she seems. I grew up around notable people, mostly writers and musicians, but I still get a little giddy meeting someone for the first time after reading them for so long. It was after this meeting that my son went on a routine about how we were all now totes BFFs and we should expect Susan at pizza night. He’s hilarious that way.

One thing that stands out for me in this experience is how we see sports writers and how they see themselves. Along with the book, I asked Susan to sign a baseball. She said she doesn’t like signing balls, that it seems weird because she doesn’t play. She agreed to sign for me because I’d also had the book. (See, I knew having the book as an opener was a good call). Throughout this whole experience, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George is asked who he reads.

  
Mr. Lippman: Who do you read?
George: I like Mike Lupica.
Mr. Lippman: Mike Lupica?
George: He’s a sports writer for the Daily News. I find him very insightful…
 Mr. Lippman: No, no, no. I mean authors.



I always loved this scene because of how it depicts the difference between what “literary” people consider writing, and what people who read consider writing. My favorite “authors” are mostly academics. Have you read any Dorothy Smith or William Labov? They rule. But if you ask me who I like to read, it’s a lot of sports writers. I’m super into Bill Barnwell. I really like reading Zach Lowe’s breakdowns of specific plays. I am dependent on Susan Slusser to keep me connected to the A’s. This was especially true when I lived in D.C. The A’s don’t get a ton of national attention even when they’re good, so it was Slusser and SFGate.com that kept me up on my home team. Most years I’d send a tweet to her at the end of the season thanking her for helping us transplanted fans stay abreast.

So right, she doesn’t play. She’s never taken a swing or recorded an out for the team. But to us fans, she’s as much the face or voice of the team as any player or manager. Really, she’s been even more a part of our experience of the team than any of the PsTBNL or managers who are hired to be fired. Slusser has been with us for twenty years. Can we say that about anyone associated with team other than Ken Korach or Billy Beane? Sure, the reporter isn’t the story. It’s only recently that journalists have become personalities, and even then that’s mostly screamers on TV. So no, we don’t know Susan Slusser outside of the glimpses we get through social media. We know a hell of a lot about the A’s because of her reporting, and I think it’s folly to try to completely separate the story form the story teller. In many ways, Susan Slusser is the A’s for us because she’s the source of most of our information about what’s happening with the team. So for me, meeting her was just as exciting as meeting any player past or present.

Susan Slusser is one of my favorite writers, and that’s as legit as anything else.



Friday, June 14, 2019

Dignity in Defeat: Beyond Sports Hot Takes

Graphic courtesy of People's Choice Printing
9.6 Seconds
That’s how much time was left on the clock when the Warriors called their last time out. Somehow, someway they had managed to force a turnover down just one point with the season on the line. As they huddled up to discuss what might be the game’s final play, I looked at my son and thought about what I wanted him to know in that moment.
It had been a tough series for the Warriors. Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the game had played only 12 minutes in 5 games and was out again, this time for good. Klay Thompson, the cool hand Splash Brother who had put up 30 points was out with a serious knee injury. Gritty big man Kevon Looney had played three games with torn cartilage in his ribs. But here they were, with a chance to win or go home and the best shooter in the world at the ready.
On the broadcast they put up a graphic showing that Curry was 0 for his life on game winning shots in the last :20 of regulation. Winning this game was less than certain. If they lost, how could I soften the blow for my son?
He looked panic stricken. “Hey, Bud.” I said, “Isn’t this cool?” I was channeling Joe Montana during the last time out of the 1981 NFC Championship game. He looked unsure. “I mean look, no matter what happens on the next play, we’ve seen an amazing series. And this is what sports fandom is about. It’s not just about the plays or the wins and losses, it’s about right now. It’s the anticipation of this moment, not knowing what will happen. It’s about possibly seeing something amazing, and hoping for a miracle. Think about how you feel right now, the tingle. We might be about to see an amazing shot that sends us to game 7. Or we might see the season end with a clank. But whichever it is, we get this moment right now.”
And it’s true. Being a fan means experiencing more disappointment then elation over a lifetime. Your team can’t win a championship every year. In every season there’s 29 to 31 fan bases that don’t get what they hoped for. But winning really isn’t everything. The chance to see something inspiring is what makes even the losses worth watching. Sports isn’t just Twitter hot takes and bragging rights. It’s about having 9.6 seconds to dream of the impossible.

IDL and Lou at a Warriors game in November 2018

Thursday, January 17, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Registration to Dad 2.0 in San Antonio!


Four years ago, you probably weren't reading what I write. This is not because I wasn't writing. If you care look back all the way in the archives in that right hand sidebar, you'll see that I started this blog back in 2003. Back then I was lucky if I got 50 views on any post. If a post got 100 views I knew I'd written something really good. This was before social media, and even before search engines as we know them today. It was harder to find things back then. So shout out to social media, thanks for the assist. But the thing is, four years ago you may have already had a Facebook account for eight or nine years. You'd been on Twitter for five years or more. Four years ago you were IG, and I was not.

So what happened? Four years ago I was added to a group for Dad Bloggers on Facebook. Through that group I met other writers who helped advise each other on how to build an audience, how to improve as writers and how to be better men and better fathers. The group was also a place to share your writing. The feedback was invaluable. People also started sharing my writing more, and I shared theirs. There was no quid pro quo like you hear about in some blogging cabals. People share what moves them.

In 2016 the Dad 2.0 Summit came to Washington D.C. The Summit is an annual conference for Dad Bloggers and influencers. They host workshops and keynotes on everything from building a brand and SEO optimization, to parenting around issues of race and masculinity. I decided to attend, mostly so I could meet some of these guys I'd been interacting with online for the previous year. Then I was chosen as a Spotlight reader, which was an honor. I made a ton of great connections both personal and professional. Going to the first two conferences led to writing opportunities, and gave me friends in most of America's major cities. Two years later, I hosted on panel on raising children with special needs. Every year I attended, I left with new friends and new connections. And that's probably why you're reading this right now. Attending Dad 2.0 helped me learn how to build my audience. Sure, I'm not a huge blogger with a million readers. But I know you're out there. I know how you are. I see you reading what I write, and I appreciate you.

If you're a writer and a dad, I highly recommend attending.

Which brings us to the giveaway. I cannot attend the conference this year. Housing uncertainty and not yet having a job that affords vacation time have conspired to keep me home. I'm super bummed. The swag alone is worth the trip. I haven't had to buy soap or toothpaste in three years.

So I want you to go! I want you to have the experience. I am giving away my ticket, maybe to you. You'll need to cover your own flight, hotel and everything else, but hopefully this entices another writer to get out to Texas, see the Alamo, meet some great people and improve as both a blogger and as a dad. If you've been before, go again. If you've never gone, go.

Check out the conference web page here: Dad 2.0 Summit 2019

This giveaway is not being run by Dad 2.0. I just don't want my ticket to go to waste.


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Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Was a 20-Year-Old Republican (An Immigration Post)


OK, I wasn't really a 20-year-old Republican. I was conservative enough on some issues that my hippie, Berkeley mom used to sometimes call me a Republican, but by the standards of most of the country I was still pretty liberal. One issue where I converged somewhat with modern day Republicans was on US intervention around the world, and immigration.

To sum it up, I was an isolationist.

I leaned toward the idea that breaking the isolationist seal with US involvement in WWI was a mistake. I resented the Marshall Plan. I pretty much despised US military deployment around the globe. The main reason I didn't join the military out of high school was that I didn't like how they were used. I wanted NATO and the rest of our allies to do more to pitch in where intervention was deemed necessary. I was also strongly in favor of closing the borders, building a wall and a fence and a moat and anything else that would keep people from sneaking into the country. I was 100% in favor of legal immigration and asylum, but I didn't want people coming undocumented.

My reasons for these convictions would sound familiar to anyone who has heard Republican talking points on immigration over the last couple years. We had too many problems to address here at home. Where I diverged from Republicans is that I wanted stronger social programs to help poor people. I had just read Rachel and Her Children, Jonathan Kozol's excellent book on homelessness. I was inspired by the story of the WPA. I figured that we could divert the money spent on the military to jobs programs and public education.

To sum it up, I was naive.

Like many young, half-educated people, I did not hesitate to talk about these ideas. I'm sure I sounded like an idiot to folks on both sides of the aisle. Unlike many young people I had my beliefs put to the test.

In 2004 I was going through a divorce. I was 27 and in my last semester of graduate school. My wife had left me for another man. She had denied that she was seeing anyone during our "trial separation," but I had come back to the apartment one morning before work and found him there hiding behind the bedroom door. I was hurt and angry. I wanted to lash out. I wanted to hurt them. Not physically, I wanted to hurt them in a way that made them feel the way I was feeling. At the time the issue of her boyfriend's immigration status was a bit of an open question. I had strong reason to believe that he was here illegally. If I'm remembering correctly 15 years later, it was the overstayed visa variety, not the snuck-over-in-the-dark-of-night act that the president puts forth to scare red state voters. Some people were worried about an immigrant taking their job, this guy had taken my wife. I knew I could get another job, but I wasn't sure I was lovable enough to get another wife. I figured that reporting him would get him deported and then they wouldn't be together, just like she and I weren't going to be together. Even if he was here legally, an investigation would be a major disruption. If I couldn't be happy, no one would be happy. So I did what any angry young Republican would do in that situation, I called the newly formed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to report the location of a suspected illegal immigrant.

In fact, I called several times because I kept hanging up before completing the process. The first time I called, I hung up while it was ringing. The second time, I hung up during the phone tree. The third time was the charm. I told the woman who answered that I wanted to report an illegal immigrant. She asked me to hold while she transferred me to an agent who would take my report.

I hung up.

To sum it up, I grew up.

It's not easy to admit that it took me going to the brink of doing something so incredibly harmful to another person before I realized who I was. In those few moments of being on hold I was forced to face what I was doing and why I was doing it. I had to analyze everything I thought about immigration and about who I was as a partner to my wife. It was in that moment that I came to terms with being astoundingly wrong on both counts. Immigrants, legal or otherwise are running from and to things that are much deeper and more complicated than I could fathom. They weren't just looking for a better life, they were often looking to hold on to life itself. My ex-wife was unrepentantly liberal, yet she somehow stuck by me and all my political nonsense for four years. And that was just one of many areas where I had been a terrible husband. An immigrant hadn't stolen my wife, I had pushed her away by being a surprisingly bad partner to her. I realized all of that in the 30 to 90 seconds I was on hold. Before I spoke to anyone else, I hung up for the last time.

My views on immigration have continued to evolve in the 15 years since that day. I have slowly become more liberal in my beliefs. I started by looking to people like my ex-wife, whose views I respected and tried to craft my votes and my views to parallel theirs. I'm not all the way there. I would still prefer that we had a robust program for accepting and processing asylum seekers. I do strongly believe that once people are here, they're here and we should take care of them just like we'd take care of anyone born within our borders. I believe in DACA and Dreamers and in sheltering unaccompanied minors. I am against the idea of a wall.

I was a 20-year-old Republican, because I had ideas about the world without an understanding of it. I saw a problem, but didn't see the root cause. I was smart enough to be dangerous, but not smart enough to know how little I knew.

I was a 20-year-old Republican, but I'm getting better.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

When a Loss is a Gain (or Why I'm Relieved my Fundamentalist Family Disowned Me)



I started writing this post almost three years ago. At first it was about how my cousin had gone off the deep end of religious fundamentalism. The thing is, I couldn't figure out exactly why I was writing it. I wasn't sure I had a larger point beyond, "Hey look, isn't this weird?" Somehow, even though it was an important topic to me, I couldn't figure out how it said anything about the larger world.

My cousin used to be a partier. Addiction and recklessness run in our family so he seemed perfectly normal to me. At some point, he decided to make changes. He went into recovery. He tried to eat better. He moved way out of the city, beyond the suburbs to a small rural town. He moved away from his old haunts and his old influences. But he was still himself. He was still fun and engaging and loving. If anything, he was more fun because he didn't do the irrational things he used to do when he was drinking. He also started becoming more religious.

I'm not against religion. I've become more religious over the last decade as well. I was confirmed into the same faith as my wife. My children were baptized. I had a brief tenure helping teach Sunday School. I find a lot of wisdom in the sermons. They've helped me learn to forgive and how to come to terms with things that have happened in my life. I believe that religion, like youth sports, can be a really positive thing even though it's been warped and misused for a long time. We chose my cousin and his wife as God parents for my middle child, even though their brand of Christianity was a little more hard core than ours. We felt that might be a positive. They would present a different perspective, and maybe we'd learn something.

But as time went on, my cousin abdicated more and more of his personal agency to the church. He'd long been a liberal, and claimed he still was. He made this claim even as he voted against same sex marriage and refused to discuss the topic. He began to see any disagreement as an attack on his faith. I admit, I did challenge his views on scripture at times. It wasn't typical internet atheist vs. believer head butting. My sect is liberal and teaches acceptance, forgiveness and love. My cousin's mega church teaches the things that fall more to the right of that. Still, I saw my conversations with him as exchanges between believers with slightly different approaches. My cousin lost the ability to have a conversation about these things. He followed the teachings of his pastor without question. When I asked him why he'd become so unwilling to entertain another view he'd answer with "What makes you think you know more than the pastor?" or "It's not for me to question, I am simply supposed to follow." It was astounding to see this man who saw himself as a leader in his family and his community become so blindly dogmatic. After a while I unfollowed him on social media, still connected but muted and didn't discuss scripture with him at all.

The final straw came early in the 2016 election season. He quickly became a hard core Bernie Bro, the kind who called Hillary Clinton a cunt, claimed that her and Trump were exactly the same and vowed not to vote at all if Bernie wasn't the candidate. The strained relationship between our family and his ruptured completely. He got involved in a Clinton-Sanders political spat with my wife that ended with one of them blocking the other. The final straw was when he posted a junk science link by a disgraced psychiatrist "proving" that trans people are mentally ill. He posted the link with a triumphant and emphatic "I knew it! I told you so!" and something about supporting conversion therapy. In the comments, I posted links to the many professionals and research refuting these ideas. He again railed at me for questioning his faith.

"Primo, I'm not questioning your faith," I replied. "I stopped trying that a long time ago. I promise I won't question your faith. I am questioning your science. If you had posted that God said this, I would have kept scrolling. You posted this claiming that science had proven something you had long hoped was true. You brought this into my realm. So I am definitely going to present the research that counters this so called study."

That was it. He disconnected from me on all platforms and I haven't heard from him since. It was sad. It was frustrating. I love my cousin and I remember the man he used to be. I was also a little relieved that he wouldn't have a chance to influence his God child anymore. If that were the end, this post would probably still be languishing as a draft.


I didn't know a lot of trans people growing up. Being from Berkeley I was pretty solid on LGBQ issues by the time I graduated from high school, but trans people still seemed peculiar to me. At the end of college I had at least learned that my attitudes towards trans people, while not outright discriminatory, were not what they should be. So I decided to fake it 'til made it. I decided to publicly support trans people on whatever they wanted regardless of how I felt about it. In 2015 the trans bathroom issue made me uneasy, but I found myself debating one of my students and taking the pro-trans people side. By the time we got to 2017 I felt like I had finally come around in mind and spirit.

I was just in time.


In January I wrote about my six-year-old "coming out as liking blue." At the time, I acknowledged that it was an odd way of looking at the kid's announcement.
"I know, maybe that's an extreme way of describing it, and yes, it's supposed to be funny. I'm sorry, I hope it's not offensive, but the way she talked about it, that's how it seemed to be for her. At the ripe old age of almost-seven, she talked about how she had always liked blue, but for some reason when she got to day care she just let everyone tell her to like pink. 'So I just went along with it. I don't know why, I wanted to tell them I really liked blue, but I felt like I couldn't. Then I started telling everyone that I liked pink. I don't know why. But now I tell people about what I really I like, and I don't care what they think."
I didn't know at the time that my child was practicing. Maybe they didn't know it either. About a month after I wrote that, Lou told us that they were no longer "she," they were "they." It was a surprise. I went through a lot of thoughts and emotions. My newfound acceptance of trans people was challenged. It's easy to support other people, it's different when it's your child. It probably shouldn't be, but it was for me. I had to fight against myself. I had to go through a similar process as I'd gone through the previous few years, but I had to do it a lot faster. I hoped it was phase though I never admitted that to anyone other than my wife. I wondered if this was the result of society making being trans seem cool. I realize how this sounds.

The calculus was simple. I've known too many gay and lesbian people and read too many stories of traumatic LGBTQ childhoods to not see what I had to do. The story is almost always, "I've known who I was since I was three-years-old." followed by whatever trials came with being able to finally come out and live as the person they always knew they were. As a parent, I often look at what my kids do and ask, "What's the risk?" In this case I had ask what would be the risk in accepting what Lou was telling us, or denying it. If it was a phase, the risk was that they would feel pigeonholed into having to keep this up as their identity within the family, like being "the smart one" or "the funny one" or "the loser." (In my family I somehow ended up being both "the smart one" and "the loser," and I've lived up to both at different times.) If I denied it the risk was raising a severely damaged trans person who told their friends, "My dad never accepted me and it was really hard on me." That risk was too great, I'm already sure to traumatize my kids in some other way, avoiding the obvious missteps is an easy choice. It was clear that I had to swallow hard, look to my wife for support and try to live my values.


Since then, Lou has identified as gender fluid. I use "they" in writing because it's the most true pronoun over time. In real life, Lou has three post it notes that are changed out each morning. Each has he/him, she/her or they/them printed on the face and we use that so we know which pronouns to use that day. It's been surprisingly easy. The anxiety I had during the first few weeks has faded. It's helped that Lou's teacher and classmates have been supportive. It's helped that Lou isn't the first trans kid at their school, or at our church. The new reality of Lou's identity has even produced some typical toddler moments for Yo who spent months saying things like, "Daddy, Lou said they/them won't share with me!" Now it's become normal for us.


I still think about my cousin. I still miss who he was. Maybe I hadn't been thinking of him for a while because it wasn't until yesterday that the real impact of his disowning me became clear. There's no way he'd have accepted Lou for who they are. Maybe there's some small chance that knowing a trans person, loving a trans person would have brought him around, but this isn't a Hallmark movie of the week. I think it's far more likely that he would have made bad jokes, or worse, direct refutations of Lou's identity. The split we had over trans rights would have come at some point no matter what. Instead of losing him over "politics" I would have lost him over respecting and loving a child he swore before God to nurture and protect, not knowing that the protection the child would need is from people like him.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Grinch Bay Area Movie Ticket Give Away, and How I Keep Trying to Forgive Seuss

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(If you'd like skip my socio-political commentary on the career path of Dr. Seuss and just enter the raffle, skip to the end.)

I have a complicated history with Theodor Geisel. More specifically, I have a complicated history with his work. It's not complicated in any real world way, it's complicated like a relationship status on social media. Which is to say, it's entirely one sided and all in my head and heart.

Like a great many North American children, I grew up loving Dr. Seuss. From The Birthday Book, which was read to me on my birthday every single year, to the adventures of young Bartholomew Cubbins, I read everything Seuss had written at least 20 times over by the time I was 10. Or at least that's what I thought. What I didn't know about were Geisel's early advertising works or his WWII era propaganda cartoons. They were problematic to say the least. Geisel supported the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, an action on the part of the government that resulted in my family being sent to prison camp and losing their house to the military. It wasn't until I read, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street to my kids that I began to understand Seuss' transformation over the course of his career. If you don't remember Mulberry St. (the book, not the street) it's about a young boy who makes up a story about things he saw on his way home. He strives to come up with the most outlandish things he can possibly think of. The capper, the most outlandish, bizarre, inconceivable thing he can come up with is, "A Chinese boy Who eats with sticks."

What?

I was floored. I remembered everything else in his fanciful parade, but I had never registered the Chinese boy. It turns out that in the original 1937 printing it was a "Chinaman." Ouch.

I've had some long and involved debates about Mulberry St. (the book, not the street). The opposing view is that it's not racist because it's a product of its time. Well sure, but that was a time when it was OK to be racist. After all, it was just five years later that the government shipped 120,000 people off to prison based solely on their race. (Not to mention Jim Crow, segregated military units, and rampant anti-Semitism.) The fact is, through the 1940s, Dr. Seuss was kind of a racist.


Lucky for us, the story doesn't end there. Seuss' views changed over the years after WWII. He wrote, Horton Hears a Who as a commentary against the bombing of Hiroshima and dedicated it to a Japanese friend. In 1978, Seuss made a re-write to Mulberry St. changing "Chinaman" to "a Chinese man," and changing the color of the character from bright yellow, to something more neutral. This came after writing a 1966 book under his Theo LeSieg pen name called, Come Over to My House, which celebrated different cultures rather than mocking them. In the end, Seuss fully deserved the reputation he enjoys today, as a celebrated and beloved author whose books contain both humor and morality. Still, I don't read Mulberry St. to my kids because they are Asian and I'm not going to subject them to anti-Asian iconography. I refuse to normalize their ethnicity and culture as something peculiar. There's also at least one Dr. Seuss based movie I haven't shown them. (More on that below the picture)



Which brings us to, The Grinch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas has to be one of Dr. Seuss' most well known an beloved works. It was another one that we read every single year at my house. It's one I can quote up and down, often using the quotes outside of Christmas or anything remotely related to Christmas. It's also one that has been controversial for completely different reasons, adaptations.

The 1966 animated version of the book is so far, the best. It's essentially the book, with animation and a great song. Little is changed in terms of the wording and it's read by Boris Karloff, so that's going to be hard to beat. It's also just 26 minutes long, which means it's easy to digest and of a length that it could be shown on television in a standard half hour block. I used to beg my mom to be able to watch it the ONE time it would be shown each year, usually along with the Peanuts Christmas special, and a one-off Cone Heads cartoon. It was something I looked forward to every winter almost as much as Christmas itself.

Then there's the Jim Carrey version. Yikes. I was excited about a live action Grinch movie and I thought Carrey was a good choice for the role, but how would they stretch it to 104 minutes? The answer was with a lot of back story, including neglectful adoptive parents and a key party. Ew. Critics gave it mixed reviews, I don't know anyone who liked it. And like that, The Grinch was put away for the next 18 years.

18 years?! It must be time to try again right?

Right.

Just like I kept looking for reasons to forgive Dr. Seuss and his early career, I'm really hopeful about this latest film. First of all, it's a return to animation, which I think is a good choice for Seuss adaptations. It has an all-star cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Rashida Jones. It clocks in a tidy 86 minutes so it won't be too long for the kids. I'm 100% certain it will stray from and embellish the original book, (the preview articles pretty much promise that) but it has to do that and I know it can be done well. I thought Peter Rabbit was pretty good for what it was. I'm also the guy who cried both times I watched The Peanuts Movie, so I know there can be adaptations that provide an updated experience while holding true to what we all loved about the source material.

So I'm excited to bring my kids to an advanced showing of The Grinch coming up on Wednesday, November 7th at 7:30pm at the AMC Bay St. 16 in Emeryville, and I want you to join us. I'm running a raffle right now, through Friday, October 26th. Check out the info below on how to enter. I have at least 6 sets of 4 tickets to give out. I may have Grinch swag for the winners as well. So if you want to hang out, meet the fam, or argue with me on my Dr. Seuss takes, enter below and I'll see you there!

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