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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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Get Involved: Toddler Storytime at Children's Fairyland



Last year I had the pleasure of attending Toddler Storytime at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. Moving back to the East bay has been great for so many reasons. One of the big ones has been being able to bring my kids to many of the places I loved as a child. Every school kid in Berkeley and Oakland makes trips to the Oakland Museum of California, and so does my family. We also became members of Children's Fairyland. Walking in, seeing that friendly dragon and the coffee stand shaped like a pumpkin brought back a flood of memories I didn't know I had. Like Tahiti, it's truly a magical place.
Robert Liu Trujillo

Fairyland however, is more than just story book themed attractions and rides for people under 5 feet tall. The park also puts on educational and community programming. I attended Toddler Storytime with my youngest child, where we saw a fantastic artist and author, Robert Liu Trujillo read his book Furqan's First Flat Top. The day also included local community and city sponsored literacy groups, who talked with parents, led fun activities and gave away books. It was very cool, Yo and I had a great time. 

"Great," your thinking, "why are you telling me this? Is this an #ad?" Well no, it's not. Sure, I think it would be great for you to bring your kid to Toddler Story Time, or to sign your older kid up for the Children's Fairyland summer theater camp. (Dude, I totally wish I had gone to summer theater camp here when I was  kid. It looks really cool.) But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this to encourage you to get involved as a reader at Toddler Storytime.

Children's Fairyland is holding their next round of trainings for readers coming up on November 2nd and 3rd, 2018. Dads, they are specifically looking for you. In fact, the event I attended with my kid was specifically geared towards dads. But I'm sure they'd be happy to have you come read any week.

They are looking for adult volunteers (18 and older) who want to be trained to lead toddler-specific Storytimes on the outdoor Emerald City Stage. Volunteers will commit to two days of training and lead approximately two Storytimes per month. Readers should be comfortable engaging with and leading a group of children, parents, and caregivers. In the training, you will develop skills in reading aloud, song leading, and other fun literacy-focused activities. We strongly encourage men to apply!

Toddler Storytime takes place on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. with 20 minutes of interactive early literacy activities: reading aloud, singing, and movement. It encourages language development in a joyful environment. The training is led by Fairyland’s librarian, Angela Moffett, who is also a teen services librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

Training dates:
Friday, November 2, 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Saturday, November 3, 9:30–3 p.m.
The training is highly interactive and both days are required!
 
If you or someone you know would like to become a Storytime volunteer, please email Vicky Chen at outreach@fairyland.org. You'll be asked to complete a short questionnaire to find out more about your experience and interests.


Please give them a look if you're in the East Bay.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Stories We Tell About Our Family


Life happens. It happens and it ends, and other lives go on. Somewhere in that chain we tell each other stories of what was, who was, and how we came to be here. Sometimes those are big stories, like Ken Burns documentaries. Sometimes they are small stories, like how your family, and by extension, you came to be where you are right now. 

My family is lucky in that we have a lot of that history written down. On my mother’s side there is a scroll that traces our lineage back to the early 400s. One of my great uncles had it translated from Japanese, and then later wrote a book that updated the family tree up to about my brother. When I was in middle school I read that scroll translation over and over. It’s the official record of our family from the time our oldest traceable ancestor moved from China to Japan, to when our happy band of half-breeds extended our deep roots into my hometown. That’s the for-real story.

There’s another version though, probably more than one, possibly as many as there are living family members. The version I tell my kids is based more on what I remember my mother telling me than it is on that scroll. My mother’s version is based on what her mother and grandmother told her. The general story is the same, but the details are probably very different. The stories shift and change like folklore handed down within very small tribe. Each generation wraps it in a little more color, a little more romance. 

The version I tell, and that I believe to be true as much as I believe anything that doesn’t have scientific research to back it up, goes like this:

My great grandfather left Japan shortly after feudalism ended. He had been a Samurai, but since he was not the oldest son he didn’t stand to get an inheritance. With no lord to serve, he made off for America like so many other hopeful Asian men. While he was here, he worked in a bicycle shop, but refused to handle money as such things were beneath his station. He later helped to organize farm workers in California’s central valley. I imagine him like a Japanese Cesar Chavez whose work was lost to history, wiped away when white farmers seized Japanese land and businesses during WWII. In between, he was sent a wife in a marriage arranged by their families. My great-grandparents settled in San Diego. My grandmother told me a story about making jam sandwiches and loading them into her red wagon to take to the Okies camped next to the stream near her house. She said that when the men would knock on the door looking for work, or for food, it was the first time she knew there were poor white people. 

That house is gone now, the subject of a mystery that was never fully resolved. By the time WWII started my great grandfather had died. I’m told it was just as well, that the indignities of internment would have killed him. My great grandmother and her children were sent first to the racetrack at Santa Anita where they lived in horse stalls they were forced to clean out themselves, and then to Poston III in the Arizona desert. The house was left empty with neighbors agreeing to keep an eye on it. The house was fine. Then there were G.I.s living in it. Then one day, it was gone. Just gone. Lifted off the foundation and carried away. The government denied there had ever been a house there. When I graduated from college in LA (from a school that used to be an orange grove where boys took my grandmother on dates, she told me) we all took a trip down to where the house had been. The street corner is now on the naval base. The annexation of my family’s house, and now much of their neighborhood seems to be complete.

My grandmother and a few of her brothers were able to get out camp. One joined the 442nd all Japanese American regiment, another was already enlisted on that day that shall live in infamy. My grandmother moved to Utah to attend college and live with her brother in a converted mortuary. She bathed in the corpse tub and worked in a Chinese restaurant, as they were the only ones willing to hire Japanese. She took her degree in journalism to occupied Japan as the editor for the Stars and Stripes Army newspaper. While there she interviewed Tokyo Rose and Helen Keller. She also met an enlisted reporter named Kelly Roberts. She was his boss. They got married. After leaving Okinawa for Chicago and then spending a couple years in Pakistan while my grandfather was definitely not working for the CIA, they moved to Berkeley because they felt it was the best place in 1950s America to raise mixed race children. 

And that’s how it came to be that my kids’ school interviewed me for a family history project. They wanted to update some of the murals around the schoolyard with stories of how students’ families came to Berkeley. The kids in the class chose our family as one of the mural subjects. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t sure how much of what I told them was 100% accurate. I remember trying to verify some of the details years ago. “Is that what I told you? Gosh, I don’t remember.” was my grandmother’s response to most of my questions. Grandma is gone now. She never saw the mural her great grandchildren helped paint. I fretted over the details for a while, but in the end I decided that the story as I know it is true enough. It’s the one I think I was told and the one that I tell my kids. As family stories go, that’s close enough. 


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Review: The Backyard Cafe


I don't do a lot of reviews. You can find a couple album reviews here, which I enjoyed but found I couldn't keep up with the volume of CDs being sent my way. But I felt compelled to write about a new spot in my neighborhood after I was presented with a coupon for a free brunch for three. There was no explicit quid pro quo in terms of trading the brunch for a review, but it was a unique dining experience and I believe it deserves a few inches of print. 

The coupon was delivered in person by the proprietor, a young man (well, not really) who had admittedly just recently learned how to cook enough dishes to be able to present an actual menu. As you can see in the photo the coupon was originally for four people but was amended after a new policy allowing children under six to eat for free. The run up to our reservation was a little out of the ordinary. Due to scheduling conflicts, we were not able to get to the cafe for a few weeks after the coupon was delivered. During this time the owner approached me several times to ask if I would be coming in that weekend. I got the impression he was holding off the soft open of the place for a time when I could attend, which is sweet but also a little unnerving.

I'll cut to the chase here. The owner, who is also the head chef is very green and I think in a bit over his head. I get the sense he's never worked in a restaurant, and neither has his one staff member who I found out is also his sister. When I first arrived at 8:00am, the waitress insisted that I sit down and order right away and I was shown to a table that had been set up for us. The table was out on a sunny deck and included a name placard, which was a nice touch. 



I took a look at the menu and placed my order. From the kitchen I could hear an argument between the waitress and the cook. They hadn't agreed on a shorthand for orders. He insisted that she write everything down completely, she said that would take too long since she wasn't really good at writing yet. Having worked in food service in both the front of the house and the back of the house I offered to help them settle on a system. That wasn't the end of the commotion in the back though as the cook saw my order included three items rather than two. "You can't order three things!" I heard him exclaim. Unable to help myself, I poked my head into the kitchen, "At a decent cafe I should be able to order what I want. Even if it's a little extra. But I don't think it should be too much to ask for eggs, meat and potatoes."


I didn't think I was being harsh so I didn't expect his anguished response of "Fine!" followed by a complete breakdown into tears. I felt bad so I tried to console him. We went back to his office, neatly appointed with bunk beds but no desk. (He's really all in on this venture.) "What's the matter?" I asked. "Does it all feel overwhelming having to cook so many different things?" He replied that if everyone ordered everything he'd have to do SO much cooking. I assured him that he could do it. "Besides," I added, "I'm patient. No one's rushing you through this." He returned to the kitchen where I noticed an older woman standing in a corner surveying the scene. When I say older, I don't mean old, just older than the children running the cafe. She seems to be some kind of consultant brought in to help with the soft launch. She noted the lack of food in the prep area. "I can't start before I have the orders. I won't know what to cook." said the young man. "OK, but you haven't done any prep at all. If you wait to start chopping potatoes until after the order is in it'll take you an hour to get anything out. That's why most restaurant staff show up hours before opening to prep. They're not sitting around watching cartoons waiting for orders." At this point I realized I wouldn't be eating for a while. Lucky for me I was able to take my coffee to a cozy lounge area that had wifi.


Sure enough, I wasn't served until around noon. When the food came out there was further confusion about plating, and the waitress didn't know who had ordered what. Her first plan was to have us all come to the kitchen to pick up our plates. After having intervened more than I'd wanted to already, I asked that my order be brought out to me. The food was good. Though the options were limited and I tried a bit of everything I have to say it all came out quite tasty. The general theme seems to be to use less seasoning and let the flavors of the fresh food speak for itself. The bacon, which came as either pork or turkey, was crisp. The the eggs were cooked perfectly; medium for the scrambled, over easy for the fried. I ended up dining with the consultant and found her company quite lovely. She provided French toast she had prepared herself as an opening day special. The cook, clearly a bit frazzled from his first day, sat at an a nearby table with the waitress and another young lady I didn't have a chance to meet but who I presume was another sibling of theirs. 

My visit to the Backyard Cafe was unlike any experience I've had dining out. Parts of it were downright bizarre. But the food was good, and I suspect the service will improve as they get more experience. I'm definitely going to go back.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Inventing Cereal Day



Look, it’s getting silly. It is. It’s too much. There’s now a “National _______ Day” every damn day. And I swear there’s several days dedicated to both donuts and biking to work. (Come to think of it, those two should come in equal proportions.) March 7th is National Cereal Day. It’s one of the few National Days our family observes. The thing is, we've been doing it since the mid-1950s. According to NationalDayCalendar.com no one can “identify the creator of National Cereal Day.”  Well, I would like to remedy that.

This is what love looks like
When I was a kid my mother told me about a glorious day. It was a day to be anticipated and revered in the same light as Christmas or Easter. This was Cereal Day. It was 1982 and I was going to be introduced to a family tradition. You see, my grandmother wasn’t interested in feeding her family the sugary cereals that were coming to prominence during the Mad Men era. My mom and her siblings grew up on Cream of Wheat and Corn Flakes. But grandma wasn’t made of stone. She designated one day each year, March 5th*, as Cereal Day; a day when each member of the family could choose any cereal they wanted. 

My mom was tie-dyed in the wool socks hippie. I was raised in true Berkeley fashion on a diet of sprouts and whole grains. I choked down Mueslix with goat’s milk or granola and soymilk. But my mom was a fool for tradition, so once each year on March 5th, I was allowed to choose any cereal I wanted. I went through phases. I drifted from Cocoa Krispies to Cap’n Crunch with brief forays into Lucky Charms and Froot Loops. As a young adult I continued to celebrate Cereal Day. Even though I was living on my own and could have had any cereal at any time, there was something special about maintaining the discipline and singular joy of waiting for that one time each year.



You need to get the one with the most sugar

As a dad it was a no-brainer that Cereal Day would continue for my kids. Luckily, even though my wife evolved into being an even bigger hippie than my mom, she doesn’t totally hate fun. So Cereal Day lives! My kids look forward to Cereal Day like they look forward to Halloween. They revel in it. They talk about it and plan for it for weeks ahead of time. They have even started their own tradition, mixing all their cereals together into a chocolaty, fruity, marsh mellow morass that makes my teeth hurt as type. None of it would have been possible if not for my grandmother inventing cereal day. Long before the Internet, long before the proliferation of 365-special-interestdays-a-year, a single mother in Berkeley invented a holiday in order to control her children’s diets. I have no idea how the cereal industry got wind of the date, but I can’t entertain it as a coincidence. I'm sure they moved it by two days in order to avoid a controversy, but I'm on to them. My grandmother invented Cereal Day. Your welcome.



Monday, March 5, 2018

(Video) Beyond the Call: Raising Children with Special Needs



I still feel like an imposter here. Not in the imposter syndrome way, but like I really don't belong here. "Here" is the disability community, specifically as someone who has been out here talking about raising kids who have special needs. I didn't set out to be a public voice for raising kids who have disabilities. I started writing about this topic as part of the writing I do about being dad. Then in 2016 I submitted a piece and was chosen to read at the Dad 2.0 conference in Washington D.C. Outside of that, I have had a long association with various disability communities, mostly through my work as an ASL-English interpreter and as an academic specializing in sign language.

With that in mind, I was honored and little surprised when I was invited back to Dad 2.0 as a panelist to discuss raising special needs kids. When I realized I was moderating the panel I was nervous. Who am I to be leading on this issue in any capacity when I know that there are other parents who are far more knowledgable and qualified? I think the best answer is that I'm decent with words and I can keep people on topic and keep conversations moving.


The panel was intimate and became more of a conversation with the audience, than a traditional panel. The panelists and audience brought a range of perspectives and backgrounds from active bloggers and activists, to people working in social services, to dads just now learning about and dealing wit their child's diagnosis.

Some of the conversation revolved around dealing with that initial diagnosis from both an emotional standpoint, and how we spring into action as parents in those early days. We talked about navigating the continuing journey, including some of the things people don't often consider when they think of raising kids with special needs. For example, we don't often talk about how much time parents miss at work and how much instructional time special needs kids miss with pull out time (i.e. speech therapy) and doctor's appointments. These are some of the hidden costs of special needs parenting. Finally, since Dad 2.0 is a bloggers conference, we discussed how much and why we should or shouldn't write about our kids. The consensus is that if you are writing about your special needs experience, it has to be about you and your journey rather than about your child. You need to be telling your story, not theirs.

I hope you'll give the video a listen/watch, and let me know what you think on the Facebook page. Also, please follow our panelists on social media.



Thursday, February 22, 2018

Home Birth: A Conversation with Dads

Home birth dads!
This is another of the content pieces that came out of Dad 2.0 in New Orleans earlier this month. The great thing about Dad 2.0 is it can be so many things. If you want to network with brands, you can do that. If you want to network with other writers, you can do that too. One of my favorite aspects is simply meeting other dads and talking about being dads. It's funny, because I would think that in Berkeley I'd end up having more of these kinds of discussions with dads, but in the wild, I still find that I'm not sure how to approach the dads I encounter. I can't always tell who's a gung ho dad, and who's just out with their kids. I guess the distinction shouldn't matter, but I get nervous with new people, so it does.

Which brings me back to Dad 2.0, where you can absolutely geek out over dadding and know for sure that you're going to met with enthusiastic nods and high fives. Which is how I ended up doing a spontaneous Facebook Live conversation about home birth with four other bloggers, Mat York, Anthony Griffin, Glen Henry, and Eli Lipman. Over the course of the last two Dad 2.0 conferences we had all met and talked in different capacities and at different times. Mat and Eli had done a series called Demystifying Home Birth. For me, this was the first time I'd had a chance to sit with other dads and talk about this topic.

The video below is mostly geared towards encouraging other dads to be open about home birth. We each talk about how we came around on wanting to do home birth with our partners. Each of us had different reasons, from bad experiences at hospitals, to not having set foot in a hospital. I think there's something in the conversation for any parent, or prospective parent. So click play and let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Stop Panhandling Online

Comic used with permission. Check out megadads.org for more awesome content

Seriously. It's becoming an epidemic. Stop it.

I've been struggling to write this post for a long time because I'm worried about calling people out. Then I came across this fantastic comic from Mega Dads and it gave me that extra push to get this thought out there. (Except I started writing this like three years ago and chickens out again.)

It started with...well I don't actually know where it started, but I going to make some wild and probably inaccurate generalizations here.

I first saw it with Kiva.org, a micro financing site that gives loans to people in "underbanked" areas. The great thing about Kiva is that the loans are well, loans. If the entrepreneur is a success you get paid back. Pretty cool right? Yeah! Then you can use the money you get paid back to fund another business. That's a micro-finance model that seems like it could work pretty well.

Next I saw Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. These sites wanted you to fund projects in exchange for...something. It seems like you mostly get offered potential stuff. At first you'd be getting the actual product they were trying to develop, and maybe some more shit on top of that if you gave at a higher level. Then later it was that you could get a chance to be the first to pre-order the thing they might develop if they got the money and then actually developed it. So, I guess that's cool.

I did give $10 to help my friends finish their movie. It was in the early days of online panhandling, and it was a project I believed in. I really wanted to see it come to fruition. And it did! And it was awesome! And you could see it on Netflix! And here's a link to their website! In return I got my name in the credits, which was pretty cool.

The thing is, it didn't stop there. The next thing you know everyone has some project they want you to fund. Then it's every parent on Facebook trying to get you to donate to their kid's school. Not buy stuff as a fundraiser, just give money to the school. Like I don't have kids in a school that I'm already giving money to. And look, I get it when you set up a GoFundMe when someone dies or gets really sick and didn't sign up for the ACA. I'm down. I give to those when I can. But it didn't stop there. Oh no. It's gotten all kinds of weird now.

The first time online panhandling struck me as being weird is when I saw a plea to help fund a vacation. It's not like it was some kind of quest to help underprivileged people somewhere, it was just for a vacation. "OK," I thought, "so this is just one yahoo who doesn't quite get the point of micro-finance or crowd funding. I'm sure it's an isolated incident." It wasn't. I've also seen people asking for friends to crowd fund their wedding. Like, I don't even know if I'm invited to the wedding yet, but you're already asking me to pay for it?

Then actual for profit businesses started getting into it. I remember reading about restaurants that crowd funded for things like new dough mixers and latte machines. Seriously? You're a business! You sell things in order to make money. Be better at that. Make better pizza, have better service, do something other than ask me to donate money on top of paying $5 for coffee. I'm sorry, I wish I had links to these articles, some of these were years ago now. Here's one about a coffee shop from last year. 

The pleas that really sent me over the edge with the whole thing came from a group of people who are generally well off, and who should have planned better. I'm talking about some of my fellow interpreters.

The Federal government is probably the largest employer of Deaf people in the country. As such they are also the largest consumer of interpreters. Here in Washington D.C. most interpreters and interpreting agencies are heavily dependent on the Feds for work. During the government shutdown of 2013 interpreting requests were cancelled and a lot of non-federal employees, contractors who relied on interpreting requests, were also out of work. 

On top of this most interpreting agencies were declining to honor the job cancellation policies that allow interpreters to get paid for untimely (short notice) cancellations. As the days stretched on some interpreting agencies started to furlough their staff interpreters. Suddenly the D.C. area found itself in a position it had never seen before, there were more interpreters available than were needed in the market. There simply wasn't enough work in the schools, hospitals, or private industry to keep all of the interpreters in the area working. It was a tough time to be an interpreter in D.C.

Please, please, hire me.
Tough, but not impossible. Frankly, interpreters (who work hard and deserve acknowledgment and respect) have pretty cushy gigs compared to people in many other jobs. In places like D.C. they also make a decent amount of coin. There aren't any millionaire interpreters, but they're not having to #FightFor15 either. So it was shocking to me when I started to see my Facebook feed littered with crowd funding campaigns to help support out of work interpreters.

It ticked me off. It was tacky. Here were members of a privileged class asking for handouts after being out of work for less than a month. And yes, interpreters are members of a privileged class. They are generally highly educated, highly employable people who earn a living due in large part to the fact that their industry is basically mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Aside from that, interpreting is a highly portable skill. No work in D.C.? Take a trip up to Delaware, or Pennsylvania, or New York. It's not unheard of for an interpreter who wants to travel to book a couple weeks with an agency in another city. Heading to a nearby locale that is less impacted and less dependent on Federal work is a feasible solution for interpreters facing something like a government shut down. I understand that people have kids and commitments and may feel like they can't go somewhere else for work. I have kids and commitments. When I need to feed those kids and put a roof over their heads I'll go wherever I can to get it done. Finding help with kids can be hard, but it can be done.

Interpreters aren't poor. We're not usually rich, but almost all of us have access to enough credit to get us through a couple weeks. Most interpreters I know take vacations. They budget for time off. This isn't any different. Yes, using credit sucks. Yes, using your savings sucks. But you know what sucks more? Asking a bunch of people, most of whom are also out of work, to support you because you didn't plan well. And that's what really bugs me about it. When your plea for money comes across my feed I'm sitting in the same city with the same problem. So are many of the Deaf people you know, and many of them earn less than you do. Interpreters panhandling online is like athletes crying about missed checks during a strike or lockout while the people who are really in dire straights are the stadium employees and people in other service and support industries who don't make six figure base salaries.

So I'm begging you. Please. Stop panhandling online.

If you're out of work, I'm probably out of work too. You're kid's school needs whatever? So does mine. Someone suddenly died, or was diagnosed with a terrible disease? OK, you got me. I'm in.

And hey, for profit endeavors, how about a different model? Why not go back to what crowd funding should be? Call for investors. You need money to develop your game? You need to finish that movie? You think you can build a better mouse trap? Great! Instead of offering me a beer coozy with your logo on it, or a chance to download early, why not offer me a piece of the action? You think you need $10,000 to do your thing? Great, for my $100 I want 1% of the net profits. Maybe I'll get my money back, maybe I won't. But I'll be much more likely to bet on your idea if I'm getting more than a commemorative tote bag. My issue isn't with you asking for money, it's with what you're offering in return.

I know I'm shouting into the void. I know that online panhandling will only get more bizzare. I can't help it though. I need to call for some kind of sanity. I mean really, I haven't even gotten into the allegations of fraud or people using conservative outrage to get rich quick. It's like I tell my kids, if you want something, work for it. Begging is usually just kind of ugly.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Hanging with Ronnie Lott and Von Miller (for like, 5-minutes)

Me and a blurry but happy Ronnie Lott
When I started this blog back in 2003, it wasn't what it is now. For one thing, only nine people read it. The focus was also very different. I wrote a lot about sports, especially baseball, and I tried to bring a unique analytical spin. This was back before Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders started providing really good stats based writing and blew me out of the water completely. After I became a parent the focus of this space changed. I still write about sports, but mostly as it relates to my kids and what I can teach them (or what they teach me) through sports.

Last week was the annual Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference for dad bloggers to network with each other, and to interact with brands. It was also my chance to meet and chat with Super Bowl winning NFL players past and present. The opening key note featured former San Francisco 49ers great and Hall-of-Famer, Ronnie Lott and his son Ryan Nece talking about fatherhood. They both emphasized the importance of vulnerability, and being able to show that you are vulnerable, as key components of not only being a father, but also being a teammate, and a man. Lott explained that he wanted Nece to take his mother's maiden name so that Nece wouldn't grow up carrying the name of an all-time great player. It gave Nece a chance to be himself, and even to turn away from football if he'd wanted, without pressure from others.

Beyond fatherhood, the two gave insight into an NFL locker room. Nece indicated that a lot of "locker room talk" really centers around parenting and personal finance. The numbers behind athletes going broke after retirement are well known, and modern players are trying to avoid doing that. Nece also said that many players talk to each other about where to send kids to school. Lott added that with men for whom the locker room is a workplace, there's little time or space for bawdy conversations. Said Lott, "The thing is, it’s your job. There’s not many jobs where you go talk about of off color things. You’re trying to figure out life."

There was a touching moment when Nece told a story about asking his dad how to cope with failure. "I asked him, 'what did you do when you had a bad game, made the wrong play?' He told me, 'Son, I never made a bad play.'" The larger point was that you learn from failure and you move on. You understand that everyone fails at some point. It's what you learn from it, how you move on to the next play that matters. It's something I've tried to impress on my students in the years that I've been teaching. Nothing succeeds like success, but nothing can teach you to succeed better than trying and failing.

Lott also addressed the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem.
For me there's always some trepidation in meeting people you looked up to as a child. I loved Ronnie Lott when he was with the 49ers. I was five-years-old when Lott and the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. This was back before 24-hour sports networks (we didn't have cable) were pervasive. It was before social media. All you really knew about athletes was what they said in post-game interviews. So there's always a fear that they'll end up being something other than what you hope for. Brent Jones and Gary Plummer are staunch republicans. Even Jerry Rice threw out a #MAGA tweet during the election. So I was worried about what Lott would say. He was everything I'd hoped for. He made little five-year-old Tito beam with joy.

At previous Dad 2.0 conferences NFL stars Peanut Tillman and Michael Strahan were whisked away fairly quickly. Lott and Nece walked out through the ball room, stopping to chat with people. I didn't want to take up too much of Lott's time, but I had to say hello. I expected a quick handshake and greeting. He surprised me by stopping and seeming genuinely interested in my question, what was it like coming in as a class with Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright? "It was great, because we all genuinely liked each other. We had a special bond." I asked him about a story I'd read about him and Williamson passing off receivers and switching coverages without discussing it with the coaching staff. He didn't seem to recall it, but said it probably happened. I wanted to ask him about the psychology of switching positions, something many great athletes hesitate to do, but his handlers wanted him to get moving.

(More after this enormous embedded photo)

 This year I was also lucky enough to be included in a chance to meet Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, thanks to Best Buy. It was clear from the ticket that we wouldn't have much time with him and I had no idea what the format would be. I wracked my brain for something I could ask that might be even slightly original. He'd already answered every conceivable sports question. I wasn't a big enough Broncos fan to know any cool trivia. ESPN had already scooped me on the chicken farming angle. Then I remembered his ads. He always comes across as a kind of a nerd, from his dancing to his glasses. I decided to ask him how much input he gets when doing a commercial. How much does he get to guide the look and feel of how he's presented?



His answer was predictable. It was the kind of answer you get form a savvy, polished media personality. "I choose my endorsements carefully and work with brands that already understand who I am and what I'm about. So I don't need to control the process that much. I trust the people I have around me." It was a solid answer, even if it wasn't eye opening. We also took a moment to reminisce about his two strip-sacks of Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. As I was finishing my time I had to ask him his thoughts on free agent quarterback Kurt Cousins. "Oh he's coming! He is coming!" Miller exclaimed.

So there you have it. My NFL reporting from Dad 2.0 uncovered that Von Miller is all in on Kurt Cousins, geek is chic, and vulnerability is masculinity. Take care, y'all.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Let Them be Friends

No one asked if they were getting married.
I hated it when I was a kid. You probably did too.

It made me squirm a little, I could feel the heat rising up in my ears. I grew silent and stared straight ahead. My brain suddenly felt thick, not knowing how to respond, searching for an answer that would be both cutting and safe, but feeling strongly that the best approach was probably to say nothing at all. It was the same feeling I'd get when I was being bullied and knew, without any doubt, that help would not be coming. I was cornered, no matter what I said or did next, I would be punished in some way. In this instance the suffering would be limited to mental and/or emotional trauma. It would pass soon enough, but the sediment of this, and every moment like it would build up into a reef of seething resentment and distrust.

The thing is, it was probably usually an innocent query from most people. It was never innocent coming from my dad. Though it wasn't malicious, he had a way of taking things too far. Most of the adults, and even some of the kids who engaged the topic, likely thought it was all in jest. Just a little fun. They didn't know what it was doing to me, and I imagine, many boys and girls around the country.

What is it? (I know, I'm doing the click bait long mysterious intro thing. Sorry.) What's the one question that caused so much anxiety in young Berto? It's this:

"Do you have a crush on anyone?"

Why?!!! Why do we ask kids these things at such a young age? Especially if they're not offering up the information on their own? And when we ask, why don't we take it seriously? Why is it a joke, a way to tease? Don't kids have enough to deal with socially that they don't need adults piling on to what is already a fraught social navigation?

"OK. Take a breath, Berto. You're over reacting a little bit."

Am I? AM I?!

I don't think I am. Think about it, how many friendships have you seen in young kids, hell how many can you remember from your own life, that ended because of outside questions about a crush? It happens, and it's not OK.

When kids are little they play with whoever is around. As they get just a little older, pre-school according to this article from Psychology Today, they start to gravitate towards same-sex friendships. Having read a few articles about this, I wonder at how matter of fact they are about this pull towards same-sex friendships. Most of them describe it as being totally normal and natural, and not at all due to societal factors like parents who consciously or not, push their children into this division. I don't wonder this in a vacuum. I see it every day. I remember it from my own childhood. Parents who nudge their children into whatever gender roles they themselves were nudged into. It's pervasive, and when it comes to the "crush question," it's largely unacknowledged.

Pink Chicken Footies
Sure, maybe you're sitting there thinking about the new-age parents and the recent tidal wave of gender neutral parenting. I think back to a yard sale we had in 2010 when we were moving to D.C. We were selling a bunch of baby clothes. A hip young couple came by, the woman was visibly pregnant. I listened to them as they picked through our assorted onesies and other newborn size offerings. "Ugh, turtles" she said. "Hmm...footballs and basketballs," he remarked disapprovingly. "I like this one, but the chicken with the bow is just so normative." she said about a pink footie PJ that Buddy had rocked like a straight up boss. "Yeah," her partner remarked as they turned away, "it's a shame people just can't do gender neutral."

"Thanks for coming." I offered cheerfully as they walked back down the driveway, too good for our 25-cent/piece infant clothes. Inside I screamed, "You idiots! Gender neutral doesn't mean only giving your kid green and yellow! It doesn't mean avoiding footballs. It doesn't mean any of that! It means just putting clothes on your kid without giving a shit about what's on it. My son wore a pink striped footie featuring a chicken with a bow. HE LOOKED AWESOME! AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! GIVE YOUR DAUGHTER A BASKETBALL! IT HAS NO GENDER!!"

My man looks good in pink.
Lou provided an example of this just last night. I don't remember how it came up, but she was talking about coming out as someone who prefers the color blue. 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."

OK, I know I'm straying a little off topic here, but I'm coming around to it.

Just friends
When you press kids about crushes or tease them about who they "like," you're simply highlighting and emphasizing societally contrived differences between boys and girls. You're teaching children that they should only see the opposite gender as a potential romantic partner, rather than as another person in the world. When you do this before children are ready for those kinds of relationships, especially if you tease, you also introduce the idea that they should feel ashamed or uncomfortable about their relationships with the opposite gender. There are many reasons why our country is going through its current and long overdue awakening over how men treat women at work (and in general). One of these reasons is how we adults socialize little boys when we turn their platonic friendships into something they're not.

This often starts when kids are inappropriately young. I've heard parents of toddlers, or babies who are still crawling joke about how kids from the playgroup, or at the park are sweethearts. Really? Ew. Can you do me a favor and not sexualize my 20-month-old? Thanks. Beyond that, this line of questioning and teasing is almost exclusively heteronormative. When I hear parents engage in this behavior they're never saying "Hey Timmy, is that your boyfriend?" I've never heard anyone predict that little Jane and Samantha are going to get married based on their enjoyment of playing in the front yards together. Statistically your kid probably isn't homosexual, but do you really want to chance nudging them towards the closet before they can even walk?

It's tough because even if you refrain from this kind of behavior, it's still out there. Lou has been coming home telling us who she's going to marry since she was in daycare. I don't know if she got it from teachers, or parents, or kids, or Disney movies, or from having married parents. It's been about a 60/40 female/male split on who she's said she's getting hitched to, and I don't know if that means she's gay, or didn't really understand what being married meant. I'm fine with either explanation. I don't need my 3-year-old (now 7-year-old) to fully understand any of that yet. Though, she's known the biological facts of reproduction since she was about three, and she knows that men and women can marry anyone they want, I don't need her to feel pressured to declare herself until she decides.

I recently broached the topic with Buddy. He's been having some trouble with rough play at school. It's been mutually agreed upon rough play, and for the most part no one has been hurt by it. But the teachers don't like it. A couple of times he's mentioned verbal spats that grew physical. I wanted to know what the issues were. Buddy has a lot of girl friends that he plays with at school. At age 9, I know the kinds of things kids tease about. For all the reasons above, I didn't ask him about any crush he might have. I asked "What kinds of things do people tease about?" He was non-committal. "Do they tease about crushes? Like, who likes who?" They do, but for him that's not what any of his altercations were about. It seems that most of teasing at school starts not with boys and girls being friends, but with someone telling a friend who they themselves like. Being nine-year-olds, the secret never keeps and someone tells the object of the crush, and sometimes problems arise. From there we talked about the nature of crushes. How it's OK to have them, or not have them. How if someone accuses you of a crush (what a terrible concept "accused" of a crush) it's OK to brush it off, because ultimately it's not something to be ashamed of. It's either true or it's not, and either way it's between you and the other person. Relationships, in any form, aren't subject to public approval.

You can fight crime together without other entanglements.
I hope my kids have a good sense of this stuff. I hope they know they can come talk to us when they do start to venture beyond feelings of normal friendship. I hope I can foster an environment where they know they won't be made to feel ashamed of their feelings. I also hope they continue along their current trajectories, having friends of the opposite gender who remain just friends. My goal is for them to form and maintain comfortable relationships with people in general at school, at work, and socially, that are devoid of "will they won't they" complications.

I want my son and my daughters to move through their lives seeing the person in front of them, not a bunch of external complications and societal noise. It starts with helping them cultivate normal friendships with members of the other gender. It starts early. It starts at home.

Just let your kids be friends.