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. 

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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.

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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 Dailymile.com. 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.

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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.

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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 birthdayshoes.com and runningbarefoot.org, 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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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

risk

Our boys are so different from each other. They're similar in some ways, too — they look a lot alike, they both wake up at the asscrack of dawn, they're both pretty happy kids. But in many ways they are just very different people. One such difference is how they approach taking risks.

Owen — four years old — is cautious, thoughtful, and sometimes downright fearful. (He's also smart, verbal, goofy, stubborn, sweet, and hysterical; but that's not what this post is about). When he was a baby, we learned not to worry he'd put something unauthorized into his mouth. The kid would never put anything he didn't know was food (and food he LIKED) in his mouth. This hasn't changed (much to our consternation at the dinner table). With physical stuff, too, he talked early, but didn't walk until he was pretty sure he'd be good at it. He wasn't a big climber, jumper, run-headlong-into-wall-er. While I sometimes worry he'll hold back too much and miss out on things, I also take comfort knowing he isn't likely to do a swan dive off the jungle gym. I see a lot of myself in him here.

Nicholas — almost 16 months — is crazy. The dude has no fear and does not hesitate to do pretty much anything that strikes him. Partly this comes from being the younger brother. He sees Owen do things and he wants to do them, too. Never mind Owen's three years older and generally able to do a lot more stuff without risking death. But even when Owen's not around, Nicholas does things Owen never would have. Whether climbing onto tables taller than his head, running headlong down our steep driveway, or sticking anything he can get his hands on into his mouth (apparently chalk is now a snack food?) the kid just knows no fear. And pretty much always has at least one good facial bruise to show for it.

In this photo I imagine Nicholas struggling to free himself so he can stick that chalk back in his mouth and leap to the concrete below while Owen tries to take the chalk away and hold him back from certain doom. Is this who they will always be?

Watching Owen over the years, he's changed. Grown is probably a better word. He's overcome some fears, while others have surfaced. I used to think he was going to be a kid who wasn't afraid of the dark, but as he got older and his imagination started to bloom, so did his capacity for fear of the abstract unknown. At his core he's still the same kid — cautious, thoughtful, a little scared about things he's unsure of, especially physical danger.

Owen's gymnastics coach — the always amazing Coach Scott — tells him fear is your body's way of telling you to be careful. When you do something even though you're scared, that's bravery. Being brave doesn't mean not being afraid. If you're facing something truly dangerous and you're not scared, you're not brave, you're stupid. The key is to listen to that fear, allow it to heighten your awareness and proceed with care, but don't let it stop you.

So I guess in a way I hope Owen will continue to conquer his fears, if thoughtfully, while Nicholas learns to be at least a LITTLE BIT scared of things that are potentially life-threatening.

I find myself taking some new risks lately. I've decided not to look for a "steady" job like the one I left (note my inaccurate but self-affirming choice of verb here) and instead go to work for a startup I think has great potential but which at the moment has no money to pay me. I hope I'm striking a healthy balance — being thoughtful and conscious of the risks I'm taking, without being too afraid to take a well-considered leap now and then. I hope I can learn from BOTH my kids and show them how to blend the best of each of their strengths.

No matter what, they'll still be way cuter. I'm learning to live with that.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

mute monday

I'm too impatient to wait for wordless Wednesday. Credit to Lisa for this awesome series of photos.











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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

dear badass dad

Dear Badass Dad,


Hi! Remember me? It's been a while so I just thought I'd make sure you hadn't forgotten about me! LOL! Like you would! Ha!

Luvs,

Your Blog

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Dear Badass Dad,

Hi, again. I don't want to be a pest - LOL! - but since I didn't hear back after my note a couple weeks ago I thought I'd write again, just to make sure you got that last note. Can't trust email, you know! Ha ha! Anyway, drop me a line, or even toss some photos my way for a Wordless Wednesday. Whatevs! Just wanna stay in touch.

Totes lurve you,

Your Blog

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Badass Dad,

Hi. Uh, this is awkward. I know you got that last email because I sent it return receipt and I saw you opened it like one minute and 38 seconds after I sent it, so since it's been almost a week I'm really wondering if I did something wrong. Was it that thing a while back where people couldn't leave comments? I swear that wasn't my fault. I have NO IDEA why that happened, but it won't happen again, I swear. Please, just post something. ANYTHING!

Your Blog

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All right, Assclown. WTF? It's September, dude. You posted like TWICE in the WHOLE MONTH OF AUGUST! You expect people to just keep checking their reader or clicking the bookmark to your blog to find the SAME OLD SHIT!!!??? They won't, dude. They'll fucking punt your ass and move on. You may think you're some hot shit dad blogger but man you are a DIME A DOZEN! Anybody can put up a blog, dude. It's not hard. It's totally easy and FREE, so seriously, ANYBODY can do it. I mean, you didn't even customize your fucking blog template. You used some stock Blogger bullshit theme and expect people to give a SHIT ABOUT YOU!? Whatever, dude. They don't, and neither do I. I'm done. I give up. You can fuck off for all I care.

Your Former Blog

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I'm sorry. Please write.

Love,

Your Blog

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Seriously, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean those things I said. Of COURSE people still care about you! You're a GREAT blogger! I mean, you've got like 47 followers! And I'm sure that's just a drop in the bucket since most people don't even know what following IS! I'm sure you totally have HUNDREDS of people who read EVERY POST you write, and would read every day if you posted more. Not that you need to post more. You totally don't. I mean, three weeks seems like a long time to go without a post, but that's totally just my opinion. I'm sure you have some brilliant cunning plan or whatever (LOL!), and your next post is probably going to be huge! EPIC!!! Not that all your other posts aren't. They totally are!

Friends? I hope so. Please write.

Love,

Your Blog

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Now I'm worried you might be dead. Are you dead? Please write.

Your Blog

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Dear Blog,

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Just been busy and haven't felt inspired to write. Don't worry, I'll write soon. Thanks for checking in. And, uh, chill out, ok?

Sincerely,

Badass Dad

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Monday, August 10, 2009

who am i?

There are many mes. (I refuse to use an apostrophe for a word that is neither possessive nor a contraction, but the plural of "me" does look very strange.) I don't mean in a clinical, multiple personality disorder sort of way. Rather, I wear different faces/hats/pants in different aspects of my life. Maybe it's more accurate to say there are multiple versions of me (also doesn't look so weird). They are more alike than different, but they are distinct. They sometimes overlap, they occasionally collide, and I find myself struggling to decide how separate I want them to be.

Most people have some separation of church and state, don't they? Separation between who they are at work/school/church/bingo and who they are at home/the bar/online/bowling, or where ever they feel at ease. For some these lines are bright and clear. For others they might be blurry, even nonexistent. I do have lines. They fade in and out, sometimes to my detriment, but they're there. Here are a few of the mes (there's that word again) I know.

  1. Work me: Veneer of professionalism. Moderated sarcasm and snarkyness. Confident. Capable. Reduced use of profanity. Somewhat detached. In the course of my working life, more of my true self has come out, but work me is still several steps removed from who I think I really am.
  2. Real life me: Who I am with people I know well. More relaxed. Funnier (I think). Laugh easily. Cry sometimes. Say fuck a lot. Give hugs. A bit self conscious. Avoid confrontation. Keep things light. 
  3. Blog me: Not so different from real life me. A bit more thoughtful. Certainly better edited (I think!). Brave enough to say things I might not say elsewhere. Wise enough to hold back some I might regret. I explore things I rarely talk about, and no one gets to interrupt me. I crave attention comments. I like to know you're there, and what you think.
  4. Twitter me: Almost no filter. Self-assured (mostly). Flirty. Hilariously funny (I'm certain). Brave in my relative anonymity, yet supportive and (mostly) friendly. As long as you can read sarcasm.  

Identity is funny. Mercurial, you might say. No one is who they were yesterday, yet we remain who we are (witness protection and sex changes notwithstanding). Identity and blogging have an interesting relationship. Some bloggers create a persona completely separate from who they are in life. A nom de plume. Their blog world is completely separate from their real world. Friends and family may not know they blog. Blog readers don't know their real name or their families names. Mr. Lady and BHJ are in this camp. Mr. Lady recently flirted with taking down the wall and revealing her real name on her blog. BHJ, by contrast, shut down his much loved (by me, anyway) blog and started a new one after being discovered by some folks from life he did NOT want knowing about his blogself. I respect this path. Sometimes I envy it. They can write anything they want, yet all the while flirt with potentially damaging exposure. It's a bit like working for the CIA. Ok, only a little, but still.

Others take the opposite approach. Heather's last name is in the title of her blog. Dooce, the most popular "mommy blogger" there is(?), shares her name, her city, photos of herself. I presume these people started their blogs to share their lives with friends and family. It made no sense to hide who they were. The fact they've become widely read and followed was not part of any plan, it just happened. In any case, they chose the path of openness.  

I'm somewhere between. I use our real first names, but not our last name. I talk about where we live. There are photos of us on the blog. My parents read and comment regularly. Many friends know I blog. I link to my blog on Facebook. I don't hide it. 

You might think Mr. Lady and BHJ's recent musings on this topic inspired this post, and perhaps they did. But the real trigger? Business cards. Yes, business cards. You see, I'm faced with another question of how separate these worlds should be. I'm looking for new employment. Do I put my blog on the card I'll use to look for a job?  In exploring what I might want to do, writing comes up as something I enjoy and would like to do more. This blog is an example of my writing. For now, it is the best, certainly the most readily available example of my writing. Yet I hesitate to reveal it to prospective employers, at least initially. I blog about my kids, but also drugs and kids toys that look like vibrators. I say fuck a lot. The name of the blog is badass dad. How seriously can anyone take THAT? 

I've already faced some consequences of the various versions of me intersecting. A comment I made on Facebook resulted in a talking to from my boss about setting a professional example as a manager. An email I got from a friend, misdirected to a colleague I didn't know, which just happened to mention ass fucking, also got me in some trouble at work. And my comment on Twitter about how in California we can buy booze anywhere and have all the anal sex we want raised some eyebrows when a coworker discovered it. (No it seems like I'm obsessed with anal sex. Another blog post for the resume!)

I don't like having to hide. But again, perhaps this is what everyone does, to a degree. This blog, Twitter, and Facebook have created a scenario where things that would traditionally have been semi-private are now quite public, and can have real consequences. This may have worked out well for Dooce. Not sure I want to bank on the same happening for me.

When I was an adolescent searching for meaning in the universe, I came upon Richard Bach's Illusions. New agey, yes, but exactly what I as a curious, thoughtful, lovesick, non-religious youth needed. There are many things about that book I still believe and work to hold in mind. One in particular I do my best to live by:

"Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world. Even if what is published is not true." 

I think it means own who you are and what you do. Be secure in your self-knowledge, and unconcerned with the opinions of others. 

But how do you do that in daily life? How does that stand up to the need for a paycheck? I'd love to work for someone who knows and embraces all I am. But I'd also like to pay my mortgage and feed my family. Can these things be one and the same?

The answer I came to was no, for now. No blog address on the cards. Name, phone, email. There's plenty of room to write on the card. If it makes sense, I can always scratch it in.

How about you? Are you friends with your mom on Facebook? Does your boss know you blog? Are your yous fully integrated, or are there streams you just don't cross?

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

girls and their toys

As a father of boys, I consider myself lucky. When it comes to buying toys for my kids, I know if I get them something I think is cool, they'll be totally happy. Spaceships, super heroes, dinosaurs, pirates — none of this is a stretch for me. But what about all the fathers of girls out there?

I have a friend. A single father of an adorable little 4-year old girl. He loves her, and of course like any father wants her to be happy. He mans up and doesn't balk when she wants unicorns and princesses and frilly dresses and all manner of girly things. So he didn't think twice about buying her a pink princess bubble wand. All hearts and flowers and little stars, it looked perfectly innocent and completely girly. Everything seemed right in her little pink princess world. Then he turned it upside down.



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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

curling

I like saying parenting is like curling. You know, that sport in the Winter Olympics where they push a big heavy polished stone across ice and then frantically sweep in front of it with brooms to try and guide its course and make it go as far and as straight as possible but they can't actually touch it? I think parenting is like that. We can try and clear the way, but mostly kids go the way they're gonna go.


Lately I've been wondering how well that analogy holds up. There have been a lot of pretty major changes at our house lately. Not counting babies being born, I'd say these are the biggest changes we've gone through as a family. Definitely the biggest Owen's seen besides his brother being born and changing schools. Here are some of the highlights.

  • I got laid off, which means I'm home almost all the time versus being at work 50+ hours a week.
  • Lisa has a break from work until October, so she's home, too.
  • We let our nanny go. She was here five days a week for about seven months, spent more waking hours with the kids than either of us, and we all loved her. She was amazing and we miss her.
  • Owen took three weeks off preschool then went back for summer school (at the same place). But some of his best friends aren't there, and some won't be coming back.
  • Michael Jackson died.
  • Nicholas turned one, and got serious about walking. He's a walking machine now.
  • Owen turned four, and has agreed to wipe his own butt for a whole month in exchange for the most coveted toy of his young life - Ahsoka's Starfighter Lego set.

The Michael Jackson thing was mostly to see if you were paying attention, but Owen did come home from school one day and said "Who died?! Michael Jackson died!" Seriously, no idea where that came from. 

But besides that pop quiz, the passing of MJ has been a blip compared to other recent milestones. It's a lot of change for kids to absorb, right? I mean, they're resilient and probably more durable than many of us when it comes to bouncing back from hard times, but they're also creatures of habit and routine, and changes like this don't go unnoticed.

Not surprisingly, Owen's reaction is the most noticeable. He's been much quicker to cry lately. When we ask him to do something, he ignores us about 80% of the time. He continues to refuse to try new foods, and completely loses his shit if we try to push him to do it. He's quicker to get frustrated with his little brother.

But I have to wonder - how much of this is because of what's going on with our family, and how much of it is just who he is at this moment in his ever evolving and developing life? The level of stress and uncertainty is unquestionably higher than usual. Most of this comes from me and being out of work. I try to keep my sharing of this mostly between Lisa and me (and my blog, of course), but sometimes I'm sure the kids get a taste of it. 

Like the day we had this fun family outing to the La Brea Tar Pits (which, by the way, is totally repetitive, since translated it means The The Tar Tar Pits) which stopped being fun when we returned to our car to find it had been towed away because I didn't pay attention to the "No Parking After 4pm" sign that apparently everyone in LA but me knows are all along Wilshire Blvd. But I'm not used to parking on Wilshire Blvd at 4pm on a weekday because I'M USUALLY AT WORK AT 4PM ON A WEEKDAY!!!! It was a stressful afternoon. I tried to keep my shit together as Owen peppered us with questions the entire way home, in traffic: "Why'd they take your car away?" "Why'd you park in the wrong place?" "Why didn't you read the sign?" "Why couldn't we take a taxi to get the car?" "Why couldn't I go with you to get the car?" "Why was there a man in the only stall in the Koo Koo Roo bathroom when I suddenly had to poop as if my life depended on it while Mommy was off finding us a ride to the impound lot so I crapped standing up while you attempted to catch it with a paper towel while imploring me to hold it just a little longer please?" (Ok, he didn't ask me that, but he could have, since it did happen.)

But there haven't been that many days like that. Mostly we've kept things pretty even keeled. So how much should we worry about what this is all doing to our kids? I don't think we're scarring them for life, but how can I be sure? The only thing I can think to do besides trying to keep my own cool is talk about what's going on openly and honestly with them. I don't think pretending nothing's changed is the answer, but I also don't want to make more of it than it is. I remember when my dad told me and my brothers he and mom were getting divorced. It wasn't long before I was like, "OK, that sucks, can I go play now?"

If my curling analogy is right, I'd say we've hit some rough ice, and the brooms might be showing a little wear and tear. Is this going to dramatically alter the course of our kids lives, or will they come through more or less unscathed? I suspect no one knows for sure, but I'd love to hear anything you care to share about how you've helped your kids navigate when the ice gets a little less smooth.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

OK, break's over.

Today I embarked upon my search for a job. This is not within my comfort zone. Many people, likely many of you, have changed jobs many times. Sometimes by choice, sometimes not. I have been at the same company for 12 years, and fully believed I'd have the option to be there for my entire career. As those who read this blog know, this was not to be, and not by my choosing. So, I set out in search of the next thing. 

(Remember that show In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy? It was Twilight Zone meets Nova meets The X Files. It has nothing to do with this post, but that was a trippy show, man.)

Throughout my time at my former company, at least once I accepted it was more than just a day job, I always said if I left it would be to do something completely different. Not to find a similar job at another company, but something truly new, something I was really passionate about. Though I didn't choose to leave, the fact is I've left, so why not look for the job I really want as opposed to the thing that might be easy to get but not that exciting? As I start looking for the next thing, I've been advised to search for a job I will love. A job I'll have fun doing. Because such a job will give energy instead of sapping it. It will be fun, and won't feel like work. I'll be better at it and happier doing it because I'll really want to be there.

Sounds good, right?

But what is that job? And what if that job doesn't pay the mortgage? What if that job doesn't allow us to send our kids to the schools or camps or classes we want to send them to, or to go on vacations or do the things we want to be able to do? For all that I've never been exactly passionate about the work I've done these 12 years, I've worked hard, I'm good at it, and I've done pretty well. And I've grown accustomed to the things that's allowed us to have and do. We aren't so well off we can have everything we want, but we certainly have everything we need, and a lot of what we want. How much can we give up and still be comfortable? Still be happy?

I know if I can find a job that truly connects to who I am I will be happier doing it, vs. doing something I may be good at but don't really enjoy. In theory my family will be happier if I'm happier. I'll be more fun to be around, more engaged in everything I do. But if that means we have to live in a smaller place or scale down to one car or take fewer trips, will we really be happier? I want to believe the answer is yes, but who knows? 

I've been told to search for a job I truly want for as long as reasonably possible. Then, if that doesn't materialize, shift gears and look for something to just pay the bills. And if I do settle for a job that is basically more of the same simply to make ends meet, I should keep looking for my ideal job. Sounds logical. Sounds good. It also sounds like a lot of work. 

How many people really love what they do? How many have turned away from the safe thing to embrace that which was less certain but held great promise, great hope? And how many of them have succeeded in doing it? I have so often been a victim of inertia. And now it us up to me to create my own energy and venture out into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory to find that which is truly right for me. This is a true opportunity, one I may not have again. 

I hope I have the strength.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

could there be a cuter evil laugh?

For Father's Day I did an interview with Tatiana over at It Was A Very Good Year. One of her questions was what badass things my kids have learned from me. Here's one.


video

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

fighting nature

I see myself in my kids. This can be good and this can be bad. Something I'm seeing now in Owen, who will be four in a couple of weeks (and again, where the hell did four years go?), is my tendency to sit around like a lump. Watching TV, playing video games, generally avoiding physical activity. Like right now, as I sit here, writing at my computer. When it's gorgeous outside. (But, baby Nicholas is napping, and Lisa and Owen are out running errands, so I can't really leave. So gimme a break). Once we actually get him out of the house he's happy to run and climb and jump and play. But ask him what he wants to do? The answer will almost always be Lego Star Wars. 


This is my fault on several levels. First, there are my genes. He's his father's son and his father is at his core a sedentary being. When I was a kid it was books, and also TV. Now it's the computer, iPhone, TV, Twitter, my blog, other people's blogs. And occasionally still books. Second, there are the things I've introduced him to. TV, movies, video games. I didn't have to buy them. I didn't have to let him use them. But I did, because I like them, and thought he would to. And boy, does he.

When Owen was a baby Lisa and I talked about making sure he saw us doing physically active things for fun - walking, hiking, sports - going outside and moving around. These things don't really come naturally to me, and I already see my son developing what I can only describe as a serious video game addiction. Luckily, so far, he doesn't have his father's tendency to eat constantly while sitting around not moving. This gives me hope that in some ways he'll be better off. And it's not that I think he should never play video games again, or watch TV or movies, or, eventually, read books! These are things I enjoy and sometimes ya gotta do stuff inside. But when it's a beautiful sunny day and all the kid wants to do is play video games? It just feels all too familiar. 

So again, here before you all, I commit to going outside more. We'll go for more walks. We'll go to the park. We'll hang out in the backyard instead of the living room. And I will stop fighting my wife's desire to take the family camping. As long as there is indoor plumbing nearby. And WiFi.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

dangers of re-entry

In high school I experimented with various mood-altering substances. There was alcohol, naturally, but also marijuana and one really lovely afternoon on hash trying to play it straight in front of our friend's mom as she drove us home. To this day I don't know if she knew how high we were, but I can't imagine how she could have missed it. But I never did a LOT of drugs, and never tried anything harder than the aforementioned. Also, incidentally, I've never bought drugs. I wouldn't know where to get them. I suppose I could find my way through people I know, but I've never been that inspired to try. I basically gave up smoking pot after college. At some point I started to have rather strange reactions to it. Like my whole body going numb and noticing I couldn't feel my heartbeat or my stomach and I might actually be dead but not know it and that's just not a feeling I really wanted to seek out, you know?

So I admit it was a little random when, the other night, while hanging out with a bunch of parents from our son's preschool, I decided to try it again. Before I describe what came of all this, I should probably back up a little. There were a few factors which contributed to this turning into a particularly festive evening.

There was the decision to postpone our roadtrip until after Kate's housewarming party. We were supposed to be out of town, but wanted to go celebrate her new place. Next, walking instead of driving. The party was nearby, and we figured if we walked who'd care what state we're in by the end of the party? If we're on our feet, we can get home. In hindsight, had we driven, the car outside might have served as incentive to control the intake of alcohol and other substances. But this was not to be. There was also the bottle of wine we shared over with dinner before the party, the several glasses once we arrived, and having almost no water. When one of the other preschool moms mentioned she'd brought some really good pot, and then one of the dads fashioned a bong from a Coke can and the screen from the sink faucet and started passing it around on the back porch, I was like, "meh, why not?"

So I took a hit. 

Having done this a few times before, the technique came right back to me - inhale deeply, hold it in, talk like Tommy Chong, let it out slowly.

That went fine, so I took another hit. And another. 

And the thing I remembered much later was that unlike booze, I don't feel the effects of pot right away. With wine or liquor, I basically get drunk as I drink. There's not much delay, so I know when to slow down, and when to stop. Pot is different. I took three (really large) hits because I wasn't really feeling it after the first, or the second. When I started feeling it, I stopped smoking. That was so too late. 

First things got a little fuzzy. Like my head. I poured another glass of wine, but didn't finish it before realizing water was probably the better choice. Pretty soon, things became outrageously funny. That is, laugh my ass off funny. Someone said something (do not ask me what it was because I have zero memory of it) that sent me into complete tearful hysterics. I had to leave the room, weeping with laughter. Around that time I lost track of most of what was going on. 

This is another thing about being high versus drunk. When I'm drunk, even really really drunk, I can still kinda see, through the haze, what's going on. Not like "I'm in complete control, no really I can drive, no problem." Not saying that. But it's almost like I can watch from outside myself what's happening and still have clear pictures of it in my mind. I can tell roughly how drunk other people around me are, for example. When I'm high, I have no idea. Everybody else could be totally sober, or just as fucked up as me. No clue. You're all fucking hilarious.

Some time passed. I probably did some stupid things. At some point I might have casually suggested a threesome with my wife and the hostess. That didn't happen. We walked home. I vaguely remember this. I was none too steady on my feet. I know we walked home because eventually we arrived home, paid the babysitter, and I started tweeting. This began with "Dude, I'm REALLY fucked up." Progressed to "I should go to bed. Anybody know where to find the "off" button for the spinning?" And arrived at the classic, "Dude, fuck cottonmouth." There was some other stuff I think my followers on Twitter found quite amusing which I won't go into here. My parents read this blog. But I'm not sure broadcasting my state was the best idea at that point. Of course, now I'm posting this. Whatever.

In the end I managed not to throw up, got myself into bed and closed my eyes and next thing I knew the kids were up at 6am. Which was when our 8-hr roadtrip was scheduled to begin. That's a whole other post, one that may not even be worth writing, so I won't go into it. Suffice to say I did not feel well, it was surface-of-the-sun hot, and one-year olds do not take kindly to being strapped into a car seat for seven hours.

Is there a lesson here? I will say there are indeed some nice things about the weed. Different things than with wine or booze. There are also some downsides. If I do try it again, I'll probably stop before I start propositioning my kid's friend's moms. Hopefully.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

father's day is for idiots

I write a dad blog. It says so right up in the title. (A title which, I realize, is not very imaginative. When I started the blog I called it "The Once and Future Badass Dad." But was both pretentious and totally nonsensical, so now it's just Badass Dad Blog. Which is lame, but tells it like it is.) So I think the fact I write a dad blog means I have to write a Father's Day post. So, here it is.


Father's Day is stupid. As are Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Boss's Day, Administrative Professionals Day, and Arbor Day. Actually, I kind of like Arbor Day. Trees are cool. But all those other ones are stupid.

First, they aren't really holidays. The word holiday is derived from "holy day," so by definition holidays are days of religious observance. In this way Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day are also not actually holidays, but I give those a pass because they're patriotic and that's almost like religion to some people. But the others, especially Father's Day and Mother's Day, exist for two reasons. Reason 1: To sell greeting cards and gifts. Reason 2: To remind people to appreciate people in their lives that no one should need to be reminded to appreciate.

I mean, c'mon. If someone has to tell you to love your mother and give her flowers and tell her she's a great mom, you are an idiot. She's your mom. She gave birth to you, and raised you, and refrained from killing you at any point during your young life. Rest assured, there were many times she wanted to. And she didn't. She is to be honored and admired.

Likewise with dads. They spent their whole lives loving you and caring for you and playing trucks and trains and dolls and house and catch with you and most of them never even ordered up that DNA test that would once and for all prove you were actually their kid. That's true love. And you need Hallmark to tell you one day a year to tell the guy you love him and buy him a card and an Amazon gift certificate? You suck.

Thing is, I also suck.

I don't call my parents enough. I don't visit them NEARLY enough. They come to us much more than we go to them, which I know makes a sort of sense because they don't have small children to cart around but still, we should visit our parents more. I rarely get them really great birthday presents. I have almost no idea what they would like, and am too lazy to put in the effort to find out. I love my parents and appreciate everything they have done for me through my life to support me and care for me and raise me, and I don't say those things to them enough. Because it's mushy and sappy to say that stuff and how often do you really go there in day to day life?

Which I guess is why we have Father's Day. Do tell us it's OK to go there. It's OK to tell your dad you love him, and you appreciate him, and he did an awesome job because you're still alive and basically doing OK. We shouldn't need the greeting card industry to remind us to say these things, but the truth is we need to be reminded.

So I still think Father's Day is stupid, and is basically a day for idiots. Trouble is, I'm an idiot, so I probably need to accept that in the end, I need it. Crap.

I love you, Dad. And Greg. And Thom. All you guys are awesome dads in your own way. And if it's possible you're even awesomer grandpas to Owen and Nicholas. Those kids love you so much, and seeing how much you love them makes me tear up with the joyful humanity of it all. Like I'm doing a little right now.

Happy Father's Day.

p.s. Also in honor of Father's Day, I was interviewed on It Was A Very Good Year. Have a look and also check out what my fellow dad bloggers have to say over the next few days.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

as one door closes

I learned Monday I no longer have a job.


I'll spare you the technicalities and simply say that after 12 years at the same company, working up from an entry level job through the ranks to Senior Manager, in a few weeks I will be unemployed. In fact, other than cleaning out my office and possibly a few transition discussions, I'm essentially no longer working as of today.

So, what does this mean?

First please do not worry about me or my family. We are and will be OK. The upside of being with the same company for 12 years is I will get a generous severance package which will allow me to conduct a sane and thoughtful search for whatever is next. You won't see my pulling shots at Starbucks. Unless the baristas are slow or try to put water in my grande nonfat dirty chai latte. 'Cause then, outta my way.

Before I even think about my next job, I'm going to take a little time to regroup. That may mean I'll be doing a lot more writing on the blog, tweeting in Twitter, and whatever the verb is for what people do on Facebook. (Does that have a name? Is "Facebooking" a thing now?) So for those who read, follow, stalk, or are "friends" with me, this could be a good thing. Or it could be very bad, as it may rapidly devolve into even more mundane minutia than it already is.

Possible tweets/status updates during unemployment:
  • Ate breakfast. Can't believe how many calories are in cheese. So good though.
  • Staring at breakfast dishes. Knife and fork perfectly aligned. Is this plate REALLY dirty?
  • Thinking about clearing breakfast dishes. They look so peaceful there, though.
  • Can this microwavable container be recycled?
  • Have an itch.
  • Are those ants? No, crumbs. Sherman!
  • Where are my pants?

So, be looking forward to that.

Before too long I'll need to find another job. I mentioned my severance was generous, and it is, but not "never need to work again" generous. Besides, even if I thought we could go for months without me working, I honestly think I would lose my mind, both from boredom and the anxiety of needing to support my family. I never thought of myself as the caveman type, but when faced with the possibility of prolonged unemployment and lack of income, with the idea that I might not be able to continue providing my children the things they want and need, I start feeling very Cro-Magnon. "Ugh. Must protect woman and man-cubs. Grg. Must hunt and gather. Mmm. Need more cheese." They probably didn't have cheese, I guess.

Some have already asked me what I want to do next. Truthfully I'm not sure. I'll need to refine my ability to describe what it is I do (and want to do). Not "where do you work," but "what do you do?" Because clearly people are hired to DO things, so there must be a way to tell people what I DO that will make them want to pay me generously to DO that thing for THEM. I'm not sure "I write emails and talk to people and go to meetings" is going to get me very far.

Is there such a thing as a job where I can be at various times focused, silly, raunchy, serious, irreverent, lazy, brilliant, dedicated, aloof, committed, creative, annoyingly specific, argumentative, fiercely logical, self-contradictory, all the while doing something that excites me while still having some time and energy for my family and my non-work life and being handsomely compensated both monetarily and emotionally? That job exists, right? Hm.

So, for now, I'm brielfy hitting the pause button on my working life. I'm thinking about what I want and what should be next, and starting to casually talk to people I know in a slightly less casual way than before - realizing all these people I know are, in fact, a "network," and that before long I will need to "activate" them. Hopefully that isn't grounds for divorce.

There will definitely be more to come about this nascent next phase of our lives. I hope it's more interesting than what I had for breakfast. Though, seriously, really good cheese.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

what a badass eats - at eatdrinkandblog.com

I put my recipe for turkey burgers with brie and grilled apples up at the awesome new eat drink and blog. Want to know how to make turkey burgers badass? Here's how.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

guest post at a day in the life

Two posts in one day? Crazy, right? One here (see below) and one at Pamela Perez' A Day In The Life. That one is one of our best dog stories.

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the birthday party conundrum

What do you do for a four-year old's birthday?

Every parent faces this, right? Do we have a party or take them someplace special with a friend? If we have a party, who do we invite? How big should it be? Do we have to invite the whole class? Do we have to invite THAT kid? Do we have to invite that kid's PARENTS?

We are facing this now. Owen will be four in July. He's old enough to be fully aware of this. He knows the date and will tell you if you ask. At his age, birthday=party. They are the same, inseparable. It's not your birthday if there is no party. I'm already anticipating psychic chaos when we tell him his birthday PARTY is on a different day than his actual BIRTHDAY. His little mind might crack.

But once we're past that, and assuming he's still functional, what are we going to do? Owen and Nicholas are three years apart. Nicholas will turn one about a month and a half before Owen turns four. We're not going to have a big blowout for the one-year old. I mean, he has zero clue. He'll be stoked about cake and ice cream, as this child lives for food. Other than that, who are all these people, and why is that thing on fire?

But for Owen it's a different thing entirely. He's a birthday party connoisseur now. He's been to so many he could plan the fucking things. He has strong opinions, some of which he has expressed out loud, some simply through his actions. Here are some of Owen's rules, as I understand them, of what makes a proper birthday party:

  1. Bouncy house? Yes.
  2. Cool toys and stuff scattered around for everyone to play with? Yes.
  3. Open presents at the party? Yes (we'll fight him on this).
  4. Organized party games? No. Absolutely no. Get that parachute away from me, I'll show you where you can pin the tail, and why is that dude wearing makeup?

So at least we have some clear dos and don'ts if we go the party route.

But is a party the best idea? Parties are expensive, and messy, and stressful. Somebody will end up in tears. Probably one of the kids, and quite possibly also me. When it's over we have to clean up and manage our exhausted children who live in our house and don't leave at the end. We could do it at an indoor playground, but we've done this twice before. Owen seems almost old enough to graduate to the next level of pay-to-play fun, but I refuse to take a child to Chucky Cheese who will not eat pizza. We've told him this. He says he'll eat pizza when he's four. We'll see. We could go to a park, but it's mid-July in Los Angeles. If it's 100 degrees, nobody wins.

So that brings us to Plan B - amusement park with one or two friends. I happened to land four free tickets to Legoland through work. I've never been, but folks tell me it's a cool place for young kids - better in some ways than Disneyland (less commercial and more age appropriate, and hopefully less crowded). So we're thinking we might invite a friend or two of Owen's to come along and spend the day there instead of a party. We'd still do cake and presents and stuff with the family, but no big thing. Lisa floated this idea to Owen, and he was into it. But I'm not sure he understands this would be INSTEAD of a big party. We'll see.

Whatever we do, I'm sure he'll have a good time. And the truth is, he's four - is he really even gonna remember this birthday? I sure don't remember my fourth birthday. I don't really want to try and out-party his friend's parties, and ultimately I'm not sure anything can top our day at the LA Department of Sanitation Open House. The day he got to drive sit in a garbage truck. They even let him blow the horn and run the thing that lifts the cans. I don't know about your kids, but next to spaceships and dinosaurs, garbage trucks are about the coolest thing ever.



Wish us luck with the birthday celebration. Whatever we do I expect you'll hear about it here before long.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

happy birthday, little brother

Hi. This post is a bit messy. I don't want to start with an apology, but I think an explanation is warranted since this is so different from what's usually on this blog. All this happened 14 years ago. Though I think about it nearly every day, it's doesn't haunt me like it used to. I don't dwell on it. But when Heather and Mike lost their little girl Madeline this year, and so many rallied around them to try and prop them up in their darkest time, many things came back to me. What I went through is not the same as losing a child. My point of view is different. But there are enough parallels that I wanted to get all this out in writing. This also ended up being a lot more about me than I intended, but that's just where it went. So, thanks for reading, and I'll understand if you'd rather not.
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Details are fuzzy. I'm not sure this happened the way I remember it. Probably not, considering how scattered my memories are. Time does that to memory, and it's worse when the events themselves were surreal, as these surely were.

I was in San Francisco, on my way back to LA. My stepfather got in touch with me at SFO as I was heading to get on the plane home. I think he called my friend Nate who showed up to tell me I needed to call home. This was 1995, before cell phones were everywhere, and certainly before I had one. So somebody walked up to me and said I needed to call home. I called from a pay phone. Greg sounded serious, worried, and tired. Jeff wasn't doing well. I should be there. I should come now. I was worried, certainly caught off guard, but he was probably overreacting. He can be a bit dire. Sure, I'll come home. But I was sure it'd be OK.

I changed my plans and flew east instead of south. Jeff was in a hospital in Roseville. My dad picked me up and we went from the airport to Jeff's hospital room. What Greg said on the phone was right, he wasn't doing well. He looked like hell - puffy, pale and rough. His breathing was fast and shallow. I think he was asleep when I first got there. He was clearly having a hard time. I remember nudging him to try and get him to breathe normally. I wondered what they were doing to fix it. To fix him. He'd been having problems with his kidneys for months. Something to do with an illness he'd had several years before plus damage from lots of painkillers after surgery. He'd been on dialysis. There was some talk of a transplant, but it didn't seem very focused. Maybe they were talking more to my parents than me. Or maybe it was confusing and vague for everyone. It started with his kidneys, but now his heart was enlarged and he had water on his lungs. Congestive heart failure, they call this. Which is weird, because heart failure sounds like you're dead, but really it means his heart wasn't working efficiently. Did you know when your heart doesn't work well you start getting fluid on your lungs? Apparently they're related. Also, it's weird how when your heart is weak it gets bigger. You'd think a bigger heart would be all strong and shit like The Hulk but it's more like it's swollen and trying hard but just not doing its thing. He wasn't doing well.

I was having a very hard time processing all this. I was in college, missing classes to be there, but clearly needed to be with my family. I spent the next few days hanging around the hospital, sitting in Jeff's room, talking to him when he was awake. Sometimes just sitting. It was an awkward time for us. We hadn't spent much time together recently, and didn't have a lot to talk about. I was 21, he was 18. I'd been out of the house more than a year, off at school, thinking myself very grown up. I had all these plans. Or visions of plans. I didn't really want to hang out in a hospital with my sick brother. I'd rather hang out with him when he got better and we could do stuff. Like have a beer or go to the river or get high or watch TV. Whatever. Not this. I didn't understand how sick he was.

After a few days, I went back to LA. Back to school. Back to my life. It looked like he was doing better. They'd decided to transfer him to a bigger medical center in Davis. That seemed like a good sign. They were better equipped to help him, and I figured they wouldn't move him if they didn't think he had a good shot at recovering. Before I left I went to Jeff's room and we talked a little. He was sleepy, not saying much. We talked about how I'd see him in a few weeks when I came home for Thanksgiving. We hugged. He held onto me a little longer than I thought was normal. Or maybe I held onto him. Maybe both. I don't know.

I flew back to LA. There was this guy from out of town that I barely knew staying with me. Long story why, doesn't matter. My girlfriend (now wife) was at her parents' place in New York. So it was just me and this guy I didn't know. As I said, my memory of the timeline and series of events is fuzzy, but I think I was home for like 12 hours. I got home, said hi to this guy, went to bed.

The phone rang. Woke me up. It was around 3am. It was my dad. Jeff had passed away. He'd died. He was dead. I should come back.

I went back to LA thinking I was going back to school for a few weeks while Jeff recovered, then going home to visit for Thanksgiving. By then we'd know more about what was going on with him and be able to talk about what was next and make plans. And hang out and have turkey.

I fucking left.

Because of school. And because bad things don't happen to us. Bad things happened on TV and to other people, not to us. People got better. People were OK.

So I went home. Except in November 1995 things didn't get better. They got worse. They got worse fast and they tried to save him and there was nothing they could do and he died. And I think maybe he knew when I left, somehow, that things weren't going to get better. I think maybe that's why he held onto me a little longer than usual. Maybe he knew even though we were saying "see you at Thanksgiving" we were really saying goodbye.

Or maybe he didn't know. But that's what we were saying, whether we knew it or not.

Things start spinning. This guy is in our apartment and my brother just died and I have to buy a plane ticket or maybe my friend Chris did that for me because I think he flew home with me though I'm not really sure and I had to leave pretty much right away so I threw some clothes in a bag and told this guy he probably needed to find another place to stay because I didn't know when I'd be back and it was weird for him to stay there alone and I left and my girlfriend still wasn't there and I remember when we came home after what seemed like years after the funeral there was leftover macaroni and cheese in a pot uncovered in the refrigerator and honestly that bothered Lisa way more than seemed logical but what the hell did logic have to do with anything at that point and he'd just left that there in the refrigerator of these people he barely knows and who the fuck does that?

When Jeff died I called Lisa's parents in New York to tell them what happened. I called her dad at work because I wanted to talk to him before I talked to her. She was there for an audition. That day. So we decided not to tell her right away but make arrangements for her to fly to Sacramento after her audition to be with me. But let her do the audition before telling her. I still think that was the right thing to do, though she was pissed about it. She said we should have told her. She didn't get whatever she was auditioning for so maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but we didn't know that then, and we'd only been dating about a year and who knew we'd get married and have two amazing kids and it didn't seem right to disrupt the whole reason for her trip when there wasn't anything she could do except make plans to come home which we were doing for her.

A lot happened in the next few days. A funeral. Many, many people. More than we expected. More than would show up for my funeral. Jeff was an amazing person. He touched a lot of people. He'd been seriously dating a girl for a while and we listed her in the paper as his fiance. What the hell difference does it make now? Clearly they're not getting married. Listing her as "girlfriend" seemed strange, less than the truth. So we rounded her up. I think her parents were bugged by it but who cares. We created a custom headstone with a guitar on it that was supposed to look like his guitar which was all 90s metal. He loved Metallica. I still have that guitar. It's almost unplayable but I won't get rid of it.

I stayed home for a while - I'm not sure how long - before coming back to school in LA and going back to school. Most people at school knew what had happened and they were cool about it but those first few weeks back in LA were the strangest part of this whole thing. Because my world had a huge hole ripped in it but for everybody else it was the same world it had been a month ago. When we were home for the funeral everything was about Jeff and how awesome he was and how crazy and horrible it was that he was gone. And for me everything was still about that but it wasn't about that for anyone else. Except my girlfriend who was incredible and my close friends who were amazing about all of it. And really everyone was pretty great but there's no right way to be at that point. No right thing to say.

And it's been almost 14 years. Jeff was 18 when he died. The way time is speeding up (it is, you know), in a few blinks he will have been gone longer than he was here. That's crazy. I wanted this post to be not just about his death but about his life. But I guess what I needed to write about first was the end. And maybe that means there will be other posts about his life. I think there will be.

Today is his birthday. Jeffrey William Blanchard was born June 2, 1977 in our house on Hughes Road in Grass Valley, CA under a rainbow my father painted on the wall of our little eat-in kitchen. And today he'd have been 32. And I have no idea what he would have done or who he might have become, but it would have been awesome. I wish I could see it.

Happy birthday, little brother.


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