Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who do you trust?

This is my first entry in the Write-Of-Passage Writing Well Challenge. Like Mrs. Flinger, whose brainchild this challenge is, I like good writing. I read blogs to get a sense of the personalities behind them, but mostly I read them for stories. Well told stories. Yes, this includes using reasonably good English and not murdering spelling and grammar. But (and don’t believe anyone who says you aren’t allowed to start a sentence with a conjunction) it’s more about using language to engage readers and evoke an emotional response.
Anyway, I’m all about good writing and shit. So, I thought, sure, I’ll take the challenge. The first challenge was to describe your most embarrassing moment.
Some of the stories other writers in the challenge have shared are really brilliant. There are links to them at the end of this post so you can see what I mean. Reading them and wracking my brain, I honestly couldn’t come up with a single good story about an embarrassing moment. The few I did come up with paled in comparison to the gems shared by others. Try as I might to exhume a hilarious anecdote about public nudity, flatulence, or general buffoonery, I either had a very high tolerance for embarrassment or I’ve successfully blocked out those parts of my life. There’s no way I was cool enough to avoid them, but I just can’t come up with any.
So, I’m skipping right over run-of-the-mill embarrassment to abject humiliation. Why not go all the way, right? This is a post I’ve been trying to figure out how to write for a long time, and maybe this was the trigger I needed. Here goes.

Junior high sucks. This is a fact like gravity is a fact. You can fight it, but sooner or later it’ll drag you down. Some have it better than others, but for most people there are few times in life more full of awkwardness, confusion and despair than adolescence. Plenty had it worse than I did. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I wasn’t an outcast. I was smart, I did well in my classes, and I had friends. Good friends, I thought.
When I was nine, my parents got divorced. Their divorce was not the horror show some could describe. I never heard them fight. I never saw my mother cry or my father storm out. No doors were slammed, nobody got hit, and when it was over we could all still be in the same room together and be basically decent to each other.
My parents were fairly evolved about how they handled their split. Both veterans of the EST training, precursor of today’s Landmark Forum, they were steeped in self awareness and understanding your true motivations and being honest with yourself and all that self-actualized crap. Taken to extremes this can be crazy making, but in moderation there are plenty of worse ways to approach life.
Having done all that self exploration, when the paths of their lives diverged, my parents were pretty grown up about it, as much as my nine-year old self could tell. By the time we kids found out they were splitting up, they’d been discussing it for at least a year and had made the decision to go their separate ways. For many kids my age, this might have prompted a tortured exploration of why this happened. Did my parents not love each other anymore? Did I do something to break the family apart? Why, why, why?
But I knew why. My father told me why. My parents were getting divorced because my father was gay.
“Do you know what it means to be gay?” he asked as we stood alone in his bathroom. He’d just explained to me and my two younger brothers, six and three, that he and my mother were going to be splitting up, then asked me to stay while they went off to play.
“Yes,” I said. And I did, basically. I’m not sure exactly what I knew, or how I knew it, but I had the basic idea. It was the 80s. Reagan was president, AIDS was in the news and gay people were on TV. My parents were both singers and theater people, and had plenty of gay friends. So I knew what it meant to be gay as much as I knew what it meant to be straight in my prepubescent nine-year old way.
“I’m gay,” he went on. He said that was why they were getting divorced. They still loved each other very much, and loved us boys very much, but he was attracted to men, not women, and said he needed to be honest about that and live his life accordingly. I’m paraphrasing now. He said something like that, but after your dad says “I’m gay,” things go a little staticky for a while. He asked if I had any questions and I said I didn’t, and I asked if I could go play, and he said yes.
My memory of that conversation is clear, but the days, weeks, and months after are a blur. My life changed significantly. We moved to a new house. My mom started dating someone almost right away. And I had this new weight on me I hadn’t carried before. My parents were divorced, and my dad was gay. These things were now with me constantly like an invisible, non-fatal illness. I couldn’t change them. I couldn’t make them go away. I just had to carry them around and try to understand them.
My best friends in school at the time were Dale and Mark (not their real names). I didn’t tell them right away about my dad. They knew my parents were splitting up, but that wasn’t so unusual. Lots of kids had divorced parents. It took a while before I was ready to share more details. I don’t know how long it took, where we were, or how I brought it up, but in my very evolved and mature way I told them what, for me, made my whole family situation make sense. My parents were splitting up not because of anything mysterious or sinister, but because my father was gay. No big deal. He’d only just realized it, or come to terms with it, or whatever, and had decided he couldn’t be honest with himself and stay married to my mother.
In hindsight, I can’t say I’m surprised they didn’t take this well. Neither of them came from families that were very socially progressive. Mark lived with his mom. I never met his dad, but I know he at least had some perspective on divorce. Dale, on the other hand, lived with his still-married parents, who could fairly be described as … backward. I don’t know exactly where they were from. Maybe West Virginia. Somewhere south and east of our small Northern California town. Where ever it was, they’d brought their values and attitudes with them and imparted them to their son. Dale would not have sworn allegiance to his parents, but when faced with something as fundamental as homosexuality, he reverted to his roots.
It didn’t happen right away. It started gradually. Dale would make jokes about my dad. About him being gay. Being a fag. He’d draw semi-pornographic sketches of my father with a man. To be funny. I didn’t object at first, tried to be cool about it. It was just Dale. He’d always had a biting and sarcastic sense of humor. But it didn’t stop there. The drawings got worse, the comments more hurtful, and then things took a nasty turn. I’d confided in my two friends. I wasn’t ready to tell just anyone about my personal situation, but them, I trusted. They didn’t take that confidence as seriously as I did.
I emerged from class one day to find Dale and Mark standing with a group of guys who weren’t exactly regulars in our social circle. These were the guys who liked to push the smaller kids around. Guys who took pleasure from intimidating those smaller or less confident. I wasn’t friendly with them, but neither had I spent much time as the object of their abuse. I wasn’t a small kid. There were easier targets. But now they had ammunition. My secret wasn’t a secret anymore. Dale had told the school bullies my dad was gay, and in doing so had allied himself with them as the ringleader of his own humiliation squad. Target: me. Mark stood with them, not quite among them, but not on my side, either. He might have offered a half-hearted “Hey, knock it off, dude,” but no more. They taunted me. They said things about me, about my father, my mother, my step-father, and my brothers. Nasty things about anal sex and incest and things I still don’t like to think about in relation to my family.
I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what to do. I might have been able to beat the shit out of Dale on his own, but he, knowing that, had surrounded himself with guys I had no hope against physically. I’d like to say I brilliantly tore him down with my superior intellect like a character in a John Hughes movie. But I didn’t. I screamed “Fuck You!” I cried. I shoved him and was swiftly advanced on by his newly formed gang of thugs. I backed off. I walked away. And I cried some more. Like a fag, as far as they were concerned.
What I felt can’t adequately be described as embarrassment, though that was certainly an aspect of it. I was humiliated. I was hurt. I was devastated. I’d chosen to share a deep personal truth with people I considered my friends, and they had betrayed me fully and with gusto. Our friendship ended there. We still had some friends in common, but the closeness I thought we had was gone.

There’s still a part of me that has trouble trusting people with important but potentially damaging pieces of myself. I have thoughts I don’t share. Or if I do, I share them in a joking tone from which I can easily retreat if pressed. How much of that is because of what happened in seventh grade? I don’t know. But if the essence of humiliation and embarrassment is exposure of something dear and personal, I certainly felt exposed that day. I still cross paths with Dale and Mark now and then. We have friends in common on Facebook. I’ve had beers with them at parties and stood around fire pits talking about mutual friends and our lives now. But we’ve never spoken of what happened then. Part of me wants to forgive them, openly and fully. But another part of me still feels the shame I felt that day, and if it’s possible to grow up enough to move past that, I’m not there yet. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

bam bam

We've never been really big on nicknames for our kids. I mean, we call our kids by pet names — Owen is often "O," "Little Dude," "Big Guy," while Nicholas is "Baby," "Little," etc. But neither has really had an official nickname. Now one of them does. From this point forward, Nicholas shall officially be known as Bam Bam. You know, like Barney and Wilma's little cavekid on the Flintstones? Lisa came up with this, and it's pretty much perfect for him. He's small, cute, is a man of few words, and smashes the hell out of anything he can get his hands on.

As I wrote in a post back in September, our kids are so different from each other. They have stuff in common, too, but in some fundamental ways they are just very different people. Owen is curious, but cautious. Careful to avoid risks, he weighs unknown situations and challenges before trying anything new. This has been his M.O. pretty much forever. He wasn't too quick to start walking, waiting till he was sure he could pull it off before getting up from the safety of all fours. Once he was up, he took it slow, measuring his steps, making sure there was was something or someone to grab if things got wonky. He's the same with food, new activities, school, and just about everything else. Especially anything physical - he'll try stuff, but he thinks about it first, analyzing the situation, and occasionally needing encouragement or help if he decides it's not within his reach.

Then there's Bam Bam. He started walking at 10 months — a full 4 months before his older brother. I think he crawled exclusively for about a week. Having mastered that, he was up on his feet, cruising around holding onto whatever he could get his hands on. Not long after that, he let go and went for it — look Ma, no hands! BAM! He'd fall down and bash his head/eye/nose/face/whatever. Short pause to cry, then up again. And while Owen walked slowly at first, Nicholas pretty much just fell forward until his legs couldn't keep up anymore. He was a festival of bruises and scrapes, mostly on his face. I sometimes felt compelled to tell people, "Really, we don't beat him, I swear," but it never took long for them to see for themselves where all those little injuries were coming from. Now, at almost 18 months, he's unstoppable. He runs almost as fast as his 4-year old brother, climbs almost as high, and is within inches of learning to really jump, which scares the shit out of his mother and me. To his credit, he's amazingly strong and sturdy with great balance, so he does fall a lot less than he used to. Or at least, when he does, he falls well, catching himself with his hands, rolling on his shoulder, or plopping on his diaper-padded bottom instead of faceplanting into the concrete, hardwood, or wherever he happens to be. If there's a natural athlete among us, it is Nicholas.

I have visions of who my kids will be later in life, and Bam Bam is so clearly going to be the trouble maker. While Owen stares up at the ball lost on the roof, working out whether there's something he might throw at it or a stick long enough to knock it down, Nicholas will be dragging over the ladder, or whatever's handy to give him enough of a leg up to climb up and get it. Since he's three years younger and bound to be shorter than his brother for a while at least, I can also easily imagine him talking Owen into doing the climbing. "C'mon, dude, it's not that high. I'd totally do it but I can't reach. Dude, you'll be FINE!" This will translate later in their lives to Bam Bam convincing Owen that "Mom and Dad TOTALLY won't mind if we take the car out for just a minute to go pick up girls/get beer/drop in on a friend's party. We'll be back before they even know we're gone. It'll be totally cool."

But we've got a few years until then, I hope. Meanwhile, it's great to watch little Nicholas give his all to keep up with his brother. In addition to being the destructor, Nicholas is also the total clown. Owen's funny in a verbal, occasionally mugging face kinda way. Nicholas is Charlie Chaplin. Well, maybe that's crediting him with more finesse than he currently has. Maybe he's more like a one-man Marx Brothers. He's the total physical comedian, and loves to dance. Let's take it out with a little video of Bam Bam rocking out with Ernie. If Bam Bam doesn't stick, we can always just go with "Trouble." And yes, that's a wine refrigerator in the background. We almost always wait till the kids are asleep to unlock it. Almost always.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

losing the baby weight

{Note: I don't know what's going on with the fonts in this post. Blogger and I are not getting along today. Apologies for the visual weirdness.}

This is kind of an update on a post from mid-October about getting in shape and barefoot/minimalist running. I'm still at it!

Before Owen was born, I was in the best shape of my life. You know those guys who are like, "I was in awesome shape in high school but as I got older things started going downhill." I wasn't one of those guys. I wasn't fat in high school, but I was, uh, soft. I didn't play sports. I did choir and drama and it pretty much showed. But in my early thirties, I got serious about getting in shape. I picked up a copy of Body For Life, started working out 5-6 days a week, eating 6 small balanced meals a day with an emphasis on protein, avoided sweets, gave up soda, and pretty soon I was looking and feeling badass.

Then ... we had a baby.

You've heard this story (or lived through it) before. Sleep became a luxury, food was something shoveled in whenever possible, often whatever the kids didn't finish, and if there was an option for comfort food, you took it. Cookies? Sure. Ice cream? OK. More wine? Yes, please! In addition to the food, I stopped going to the gym. Pretty soon I was back up to the weight I was at before I started working out.

So for the last 4+ years I've wanted to lose my baby weight. Lisa has since been pregnant again and given birth to our second child, but I've been struggling to drop the 15 pounds I added after the first one.

I mentioned in a previous post I've been working with a personal trainer. While that workout is very effective, it requires one to be pretty disciplined about what one eats. Truthfully, so did my 6-day-a-week workout routine. I was eating really well then, so I can't pretend exercise alone EVER did the trick to take and keep weight off. I have to exercise AND eat right if I want to lose weight. Fuck genetics. (Sorry, Mom and Dad).

So after I stopped going to the trainer, I started doing other things. I seem to be at a place in my life where almost every activity involves some sort of gadget. So I picked up a few.

First, I got Wii Fit Plus. This wasn't really planned. My friend and fellow blogger Kim invited me to a yoga party. I wasn't sure what to expect. Or what to wear. But Kim said I would be the "token man." I said I'd be there. Turns out the party was sponsored by Nintendo to let people (mostly bloggers) try their new Wii Fit Plus. [Full disclosure — I got a copy of the game and a Wii Fit board as gift for attending the party. I already had a Wii.] The Wii Fit Plus is Wii Fit, Plus some new stuff. I didn't do all the new stuff, but I did a little yoga and checked out the new games. They're fun and, like most Wii games, challenging but not super hard, a little goofy, and family friendly. The new "My Wii Fit" feature lets you save personalized workouts. They've added the ability to weigh your babies and pets. Cute, but if they think I'm picking up my 90 lb Black Lab to get him on the Wii Fit board with me, they're insane. My favorite of the new games is Wipeout, or whatever they call it. It's basically like that show where people make idiots of themselves going through an obstacle course. You get to do that without actually getting wet or injured or humiliated beyond the spectators in your TV room. Good times.

But if you want to do serious exercise, the Wii only goes so far. It doesn't really qualify as what I consider a vigorous workout, especially compared to what I did in my trainer's gym for the last year, which felt as close to weekly childbirth as I ever want to get.

So next I got a free iPhone app called "Lose It!" It lets you log everything you eat and any exercise you do. You tell it what you weigh, what you want to weigh, and how fast you want to lose it. It tells you how many calories you can eat daily. Everything you log is tracked against that goal. I've found logging what I eat to be the single best way to eat better. When I have to write it down, I think before I stick something in my mouth. Food. I'm talking about food. But come to think of it, if I have to write it down, it might work for other stuff, too. I've been using Lose It for about a week, and I give it a thumbs up.

After that, I got this:

When I broke up with my trainer (I hope it's a temporary separation), he kindly gave me a home version of his workout to try and help me stay in some sort of shape. It requires almost no equipment. The problem is it doesn't really have a good exercise for the large muscles of your back. The Iron Gym Xtreme takes care of that. It's a fancy chin-up bar you stick in a doorway. No hardware required to attach it, and it'll hold like 300 lbs. Thankfully I'm a few stones shy of THAT number.

Finally, I'm doing the thing I said I'd NEVER do: running. On purpose. And kinda far. For me, anyway. I've mostly run in my Vibram Fivefingers, and once totally barefoot. It's fun. Despite being one of the lowest tech activities one could do, running has still resulted in acquisition of several gadgets. I got another iPhone app to track my runs – a fancy pedometer called iTreadmill. I also started logging my runs on It's a social media site for runners and athletes. It's cool. If you use it, friend me. I'm even considering signing up for a race or two. I'm not ready to start training for a marathon yet, but for the first time in my life the idea of doing that at some point doesn't strike me as completely insane.

And for the last gadget, because I am a dad, after all, I got this baby:
The BOB Ironman Sport Utility Jogging Stroller. I got mine on Craig's List, so gratefully I paid slightly less than the crazy money they want for one of these things new. Still, for a cheap hobby, running is starting to get expensive. It's a cool chariot for the little dude, though. Nicholas has been out with me a couple times and he loves waving at the other runners (especially the ones with dogs), chatting, and kicking his feet.

The quest for a fitter me continues. I've also started singing more again, but this post is already way past too long, so that'll have to wait for another day.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

nearly wordless wednesday: school picture day

This is my nice smile for mommy.

Don't I look innocent?

Uh ... gotta go.

Dude, are you still pointing that thing at me?

I'm telling you, man, we're done.

Seriously? Do I have to tell you again?

Dude is gonna rock picture day.


Friday, October 16, 2009

oh how many feet you meet

In July I wrote about fighting the urge to sit on the couch. About getting out and enjoying the outdoors, breathing fresh air, and generally being more active. I think we've done reasonably well these last few months. We haven't been camping, but there's been a lot less video game playing and a lot more time outside — even if only in our own backyard. The kids still watch too much TV, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

For myself, I committed few years ago to make regular exercise part of my life. My family history is littered with men having heart attacks (and occasionally dying) in their 40s and 50s. I intend NOT be one of them. For a little over a year my main exercise has been training at an amazing private gym called Myogenics Fitness. They aren't giving me anything to say this, but for any of you who lives within driving distance of West Hollywood, you owe it to yourself to check them out. Their program is 30 minutes of incredibly intense weight training with a personal trainer once a week. Tack on some nutrition coaching and that's it. There's no other exercise involved, and the results are pretty remarkable. I'm not genetically predisposed for rippling muscles so I don't look that impressive, but I honestly think I'm in as good shape as I was when I used to work out 6 days a week. The only reason I don't weigh less (and consequently look better) is I cheat too much with the food and wine. Sue me.

So, while Myogenics is great, and I recommend them, as of last week I stopped going. Great though they are, it's private training, they take one client in the gym at a time, and it ain't cheap. I bought a year's worth of sessions in advance, and when they ran out I couldn't justify buying more while I still have essentially no income. So, as of now, I'm on my own.

If you've met me or seen pictures of my feet on Twitter, you know I have a thing for odd shoes. More specifically, I wear almost exclusively what I call barefoot shoes. For me these take two forms. There are my relatively normal looking (but in fact revolutionary) Vivo Barefoots from Terra Plana. I have three pairs of these, and unless you look really closely you wouldn't know these were not "normal" shoes. My wife has two pairs, and also loves them. 

My other barefoot shoes, pictured here, are impossible to miss, and so far my wife hasn't bought any. They're called Vibram Fivefingers, and they are anything but normal looking. They have toes, a thin flexible sole, and are as close as you can get to being barefoot while still having some protection from the elements. I have two pairs of these, and I want more. I almost never leave the house in them without having at least one conversation about them with a complete stranger. "What are those? (They're barefoot shoes) Are they comfortable? (Yes) Do they have any arch support? (No) Are they socks? (Not really)" Etc. A certain NY Times columnist referred to them as gorilla shoes.

If you've been paying attention, you might have seen Christopher McDougall making the rounds plugging his new book Born To Run. I haven't read the book, but it sounds like an amazing story. Thing is, even without reading his book I'm convinced about the benefits of barefoot, or at least minimalist footwear. Ever since I read this New Yorker article about how shoes are ruining our feet and generally doing us harm, I've been on a quest to find alternatives to traditional shoes.

Until this week, though, I wasn't sold on actually running in my minimalist shoes. It wasn't the quasi-barefoot part that put me off — it was the running part. I don't like running. I have never liked running. Running hurts. And not just the muscle soreness that comes from hard exercise. I'm OK with that. Running hurts my back, and my hips, and my knees, and my ankles. But two things changed my mind, or at least started to. First, there's being broke and stopping my personal training sessions. I now need to create my own exercise program. Second, there's all this discussion of barefoot running. Largely inspired McDougall's press blitz, suddenly everybody's talking about running barefoot. 

In one of many "I love the interwebs" moments, I've discovered this great and (mostly) supportive online community of barefoot or minimalist runners. Sites like and, and a discussion group on minimalist running have opened my eyes to yet another great community of people online. Like any group of humans, there are the bad apples — people who want to tear others down instead of build them up — but of those I've seen on other sites, not the ones linked above.

So this week I started running in the Vibram Fivefingers Classics pictured above. First I walked/ran 2 miles. My quads and hip muscles were sore for a few days, but no joint or back pain. I let few days go by, and yesterday I ran 2.5 miles. Now my calves are sore, but no joint pain, and my quads and hips feel much better. I plan to keep extending my distance until, well, I don't know what. The thing is, running this way isn't like any running I've done before. The sites above have helped me learn things about running form I never knew, so the running isn't as punishing and jarring as what I've always thought it had to be. And I'm still learning. So far, this kind of running is fun. I don't know where it will take me, but I'm enjoying the journey.

But this isn't a fitness blog, it's a dad blog, right? Yes. Mostly. I refuse to be pigeonholed! But in fact this does relate to dadhood. First, it's about what I wrote about back in July — being active. It's about doing things for recreation and fun that are physical, outdoors, and generally unlumpish. Second, it's about staying healthy so I can play with my kids now and for years to come. And about setting an example for them to become healthy and active themselves. And, finally, it's about community. Like blogging and Twitter and all of the amazing people I've met through those avenues, there's a whole world of runners and barefooters and other wacky folks to connect with out there. I don't know how much we have in common, but I'm excited to find out.

So, while I don't intend to turn this into a barefoot running blog, I may update you from time to time on this toe-wiggling adventure of mine. And if you too are a runner, barefoot or otherwise, I'd love to hear from you. Take off your shoes and stay awhile.

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