Monday, September 7, 2020

Renaming Berkeley Schools with a Local Focus: A Case for "Carolyn Adams Elementary"

We are in a period of national awakening. I don't need to recap the state of the world for you right now. If you're reading this, you know how to spell "interdisciplinary," so I trust that you're up on current events. OK, just incase, heres the scoop: COVID-19, Democracy on the precipice, California on fire and the most widespread movement for social justice since the 1960s. Welcome to 2020. 

I wasn't alive in the '60s. I grew up listening to my mom's stories of her adolescence in Berkeley, at the center of the free speech movement. I spent a good part of middle school listening to her old psychedelic rock LPs and studying the civil rights movement, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers, feeling like I had missed out on an period of change so monumental, we'd never see or need its like again. Through the incremental ebb and flow of the '80s and '90s, it seemed like the slow arc of the universe was indeed bending towards justice. 

Then there was Ferguson. Then it was 2016. You know the rest. Hate crimes on the rise. Extreme division between Right and Left with a nearly as wide chasm between Left and Far Left. Then George Floyd. 

I won't say that anything good comes from murder. Martyrs are good for history, but martyrdom sucks for the martyr and their friends, family and community. George Floyd's murder has led to movements as progressive as defunding the police, ripping down of confederate monuments and widespread moves to change the names of buildings and institutions that honor slave owners or secessionists. 

Here in Berkeley, the school board has announced that the district will change the names of two schools, Jefferson and Washington Elementary Schools. As a Washington alumnus, I support the move to change the name of the school. We recently changed a school named for  Joseph LeConte, to honor Sylvia Mendez who was instrumental in the movement to integrate schools in California. Before that, we renamed Columbus for Rosa Parks and Garfield Jr High became Martin Luther King. No one here would argue that naming schools for these leaders was a poor choice. Naming buildings and institutions for people whose primary work ended up being on a national or statewide scale is fine. It means we can usually settle on something that most people agree on, and is generally unassailable in the current climate. It's also kind of generic. There are three schools named for Dr. King in the Bay Area. Rosa Parks and almost any nationally recognized figure have schools or other institutions named for them from coast to coast. These are beloved national and state icons, but as we look towards the near future and renaming another school, I would like to propose a different lens through which we select our honoree. 

I am fiercely loyal to my hometown and to the people who live and work here. I was inspired by the decision to rename a portion of Shattuck Ave. after Kala Bagai, a South Asian woman who was driven from her home in South Berkeley by racist neighbors in 1915. Bagai's story resonates with me. My mother was brought to South Berkeley from Pakistan in 1957. My family is also Asian, though unlike Bagai, my grandmother was Nisei, Japanese-American. Also unlike Bagai, my family was only allowed to move to South Berkeley. We have been here in one way or another ever since. What stood out for me about the naming of Kala Bagai Way is summed up well in this Berkeleyside story from July, 2020. 

"[Berkeleyans] have been pushing for Bagai not for the usual reasons — because of what she accomplished in Berkeley, or because she live [sic] here a long time. She wasn’t wealthy or well-known. She didn’t win awards or hold political office — the reasons why most people get streets named after them.

Rather, Bagai was an early immigrant from what is now Pakistan and the racism she experienced at the hands of Berkeley homeowners is a history all residents should know."
Carolyn Miyakawa at Cal

When I heard that the district was planning to rename Washington, I knew who they should name it for: not someone who did their work in another state, not someone who changed lives in Southern California, but someone who lived and worked and changed lives here in Berkeley. That person is Carolyn Adams. Mrs. Adams, a second generation Japanese-American born Carolyn Miyakawa, was living in Sacramento when the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. She was sent, with her family, to the Tule Lake internment camp. After leaving camp for Boulder, Colorado, Mrs. Adams returned to California to attend U.C. Berkeley. She met her husband and became a teacher here in BUSD, where she taught for 31 years at Whittier, Jefferson, and, for most of her career, Washington. When she wasn't teaching, she tutored neighborhood kids, including another famous Washington: Claudell, who would go on to star athletically for Berkeley High and the Oakland A's. 

Honoring Mrs. Adams would fulfill all of the district's published criteria for renaming. Her story of losing her home while being put in camp, then getting out and coming back to California to become a teacher, is inspiring and educational. Her name will endure and stand the test of time. Her name and reputation are pristine. Her story fits perfectly with BUSD's values of equity, inclusion, social justice, and diversity. The name would have strong ties to the community, history, and BUSD. I cannot think of a name that could better exemplify excellence and a right to public education than naming a school for a teacher who taught there and whose kids attended school there. Carolyn Adams is a member of a group that is underrepresented in BUSD. Berkeley does not currently have a school named for an Asian American person. Finally, the name is certainly not widely known or in use elsewhere. 

Mrs. Adams with family at their home in Berkeley 
 I'll digress to tell my Carolyn Adams story. When I came back to Washington for third grade, I registered late and didn't have a classroom assignment. I don't know what was going on behind the scenes; maybe no one wanted me. I know that I paced the hallway outside the main office for three days. It has to be the most bored I've ever been in my life. Some time on that third day, Mrs. Adams noticed me. I remember her walking by because she seemed really tall for an Asian woman. My mom was 5'2" and my grandmother was shorter than that. I don't know how tall Mrs. Adams is, but she seemed like a superhero-sized Japanese woman, and she would become my savior. As I heard it later, she went into the office and asked who that boy was and why he wasn't in class. She asked if I was Japanese. I don't think the people in the office knew, but she insisted that I be placed in her class right away. I don't know if the part about her asking if I was Japanese is true, or something my grandmother added in. I don't think it mattered: I think she would have taken me anyway. One thing that may have played into the question is that the class that year included a kid from Japan who didn't speak much English and another kid whose family had moved from Japan a few years earlier. The three of us became fast friends, and after he moved back to Japan, Mineo and I kept up a pen pal relationship for many years.  

I wasn't an easy kid, but Mrs. Adams never let me know that. I know it now because I'm an adult, and I'm me. I carry the scars of my life and can see myself with greater perspective now. When I was a student and a person still growing into who I would become, Mrs. Adams meant everything to me. She never made me feel like anything other than strong and capable and smart. She was the first person outside my family who made me feel like she truly believed in me. She was the first person in the school district who made me feel seen and valued. She had the same expectations for every student. Even as tracking and shifting standards and expectations wound their way through each iteration of the curriculum, she always believed that every kid could succeed and meet those standards if you gave them a chance and met them where they were. Whenever I felt like I couldn't make it through BUSD, I thought about how good I felt in her class and I'd remember that I could be successful. 

Mrs. Adams came to my wedding even though we hadn't been in touch for years. My wife and I were recently going through things from my mom's memorial and found a card from Mrs. Adams. I don't think these things make me special. I'd be shocked if she hadn't kept up with many students over the years. After retiring, Mrs. Adams stayed dedicated to educating the next generation on speaking tours, teaching kids about Japanese internment during WWII. She worked with the Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League to establish the Carolyn Adams Family Scholarship, given to graduating high school seniors in the Bay Area. She is now living in the East Bay, enjoying time with her son and grandchildren. 

A lot of ink has been spilled this year thanking teachers for their work during the pandemic. For years we have held teachers' appreciation days and given gifts at the end of the year. We both laud and lament the educators who purchase their own supplies and work long hours to make sure kids don't get left behind. Yet how many of our schools or lasting monuments honor the people who do the work within the walls? It's a fine thing to honor well-known activists or historical figures, but how can we say we value teachers and then pass over them when dedicating the buildings in which they teach? Naming a school for one of its most dedicated denizens would be an honor not only for Carolyn Adams, but for all the teachers past and present who have dedicated their lives to teaching us, our kids, and for some of us, our parents. It is time to name a Berkeley school for a Berkeley teacher: for someone who lived here, raised kids here, had an impact here. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

When the time comes, I hope that you will join me in supporting renaming Washington as Carolyn Adams Elementary. 

Six people standing on the beach with the ocean behind them. Front row left to right Mrs. Adams, older Japanese woman. Three young women. Middle aged woman. Behind them, Carolyn's son John Adams
Carolyn Adams with her son John and family.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Running for Charity: Announcing the Berto 77 At Home Marathon

Berto wearing a blue jersey with a white number 14 on the back running during a rugby match being pursued by opponents in yellow jerseys
I've done most of my running in cleats

I'm not really a runner. I've run as part of my fitness routine over the years, but I'm not a runner. I know this because I've been around runners. T has run several half marathons and one full marathon. Our former roommate, Jay, used to run 50 and 100 mile ultra marathons. I've tried to keep up with them here and there over the years, but they definitely outclass me. I've always been athletic. Heck, now that extreme sports are considered sports, I guess I've always been an athlete thanks to my many years skateboarding. But even when I was running regularly, I've never been a runner. The farthest I've ever run is 13 miles while training for a marathon. On that one, my knee gave out and I had to call T to bring me home.  Right after that, my mom died and I never seriously considered a marathon again, but I also never gave up on the idea. 

For a long time, my idea was to go down to the local high school track around my birthday some year with a bunch of water and try to run it there. The thing is, that also always seemed like too much effort. I never know when the track is open or available. I definitely don't want to do it with people there watching. Yikes, no thank you. So, it never happened. 

And then...2020.

So it's been a crap year for everyone. We were getting through it OK until I lost my steady job. So now I'm home a lot more hoping to pick up freelance work. In the meantime, I may as well chase a dream.

I started running with Yo a couple months ago to distract xir from causing a ruckus while T tried to attend virtual church. Xe is a surprisingly enthusiastic runner for a five-year-old. Xe recently did 2+ miles with me, going around and around our block. I'd taken to running around the block some mornings before work and I knew that once around was almost exactly .34 miles. I did some quick math and figured that if I ran around my block 77 times, I'd complete a marathon.

77 times seems doable. For one, I'll have a great support system right there in front of my house. The kids can set me up with water and there's a bathroom that I know and trust. Second, I'll have a cheering section rooting my on every 1/3 of a mile. They can even join me on the course for a lap or two. Best of all, I'll never be more than .17 miles from home. I could blow out my knee and still crawl home if I had to. Or maybe Yo could pull me back home in the Radio Flyer. The thing is, I think I can do it. There's no time limit, I can't get kicked off the course, I'm not trying to qualify for anything. I just want to get it done so I can say I did it. 

Then I had another thought...

Of course I was going to hype this up on the blog and social media. It's a fun, quirky idea. Maybe people will get a kick out of it. If I'm going to write about it and Tweet about it, why not try to make it bigger than myself? So I decided to do this for charity. T and the kids jumped on board and now we're all going to be running some part of it. Each member of the family has picked a cause they want to raise money for. While I am committing to running all 77 laps, the others will do as much as they can (or want). We're going to livestream the event to create engagement and so donors can track our progress in real time. So with that, the #B77AtHome Marathon has come to be. We will run on September 27th, 2020, starting at 8:00am. You can find all the details on how to pledge on the Berto 77 At Home Marathon home page.

I will be running in support of the Alameda County Community Food Bank. This is the charity most often suggested by my followers on social media. Food banks are being heavily utilized during the pandemic as people struggle with finding steady income. I wanted to raise money for a place that would have an immediate impact on people's lives. T has chosen the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which works in the East Bay "to break the cycles of incarceration and poverty once and for all." Buddy will be running for Camp Indigo, a summer camp for transgender and gender diverse youth. Lou will be supporting Berkeley Humane, where we adopted our dog, Saracen. Yo will harken back to xir preschool walk-a-thon days in support of the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (CEID), where Yo attended day care. 

So if you can donate an amount per lap (each lap is about .34 miles), please do. Or, if you'd like to come by to cheer, drive by to cheer, or maybe even join us for a socially distanced lap, please do. There will be more info at the blog An Interdisciplinary Life, on Twitter: @bertoinpublic, and on IG: @aninterdisciplinarylife. We will try to live stream the day as much as possible through the event website and on Facebook Live so you can see us go.


A couple pics from when we ran Bay to Breakers

Monday, August 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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

Hello Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2020

My Fears and Hopes of 2016 Have Been Realized

Our house on 11/09/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have hope.

Monday, June 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Day Trip to the Backyard Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 19, 2020

Kids, Your Dad is a Gosh Darn Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"911 what's you emergency?

"My back yard is on fire"

"The whole yard, sir?

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

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

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

Honestly, it felt kinda badass. 

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Obligatory Covid-19 Post, with Dancing (Video)

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

So, Covid huh? Pretty wild amirite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Co-Ed Slumber Parties: Fresh From City Dads Group

Old School Slumber Party Crew

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

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Kobe Bryant and Teaching Consent

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

Why wasn't I upset?

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

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

Now he's gone.

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

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

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

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

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

"What did he do?"

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

"Like what?"

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

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

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

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

More Commentary on Wrestling with Kobe's Legacy:

Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies

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