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...