Category Archives: family

My Sister

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The family she arrived to

My earliest memory of my sister was of a man coming to our house to speak with my parents. He was there to see if our home was a stable one. One where my sister would be welcomed and provided for. One where she would not only be safe, but hopefully nurtured and loved. I remember my mom essentially asking me to be on my best behavior before they arrived, but who’s to say whether or not that actually happened. I was, after all, just 6 years old.

I didn’t really understand why we were getting another sister. I had 2 already. There were 3 of us boys. I don’t think much of an effort was made to explain it, but that said, I have a six year old now and it’s remarkable the things he doesn’t hear us saying and the things he does. Maybe there was a giant family meeting. Maybe it was just the few words of encouragement to act normal when the interviewer came over to meet us.

Maya Lin (this is the name of the designer of the Vietnam Memorial and I will be using it in place of my sisters name in this post) was a teenage girl from Vietnam and we were a very big and ever growing family of white, suburban, Great Lakes style americans. We must have been quite a shock to her. Tall, pale and rembunctiously carefree. We were loud and curious, bold and kind. We were a station wagon with wood paneling kind of family who couldn’t have been more American. I can’t for the life of me, now, imagine what it was like for her to be dropped into this story as a young girl. At the time it never ocurred to me to wonder.

I was not all that welcoming. It’s just not a strength of little boys. I argued with her over the TV. A lot. To my memory my mom always sided with Maya. I was always cordial in screaming about how unfair it was and storming out of the room. I was a real charmer back then. Before long she acclimated. Never has more been swept aside in so short a time as me brushing past the acclimation process. But what can I know. She was plopped down into a new home and made a member of a new family in an instant. It was never questioned, never fretted on. Not from our side, my side at least.

Sure, my mother will tell you, if you ask, about that time, about her incredulous reaction to seeing snow fall, a thing she’d come accustomed to in no time as we lived in the 3rd snowiest city in America according to the video I watched on Facebook yesterday. It was from The Weather Channel and it meshes with my memory and the common understanding of where I’m from. She’ll tell you about how she had to have the TV to watch Soap Operas, a thing that was banned in my house for the wild disregard for moral behavior, to learn the language. My mom, and I don’t know how she figured this out, showed her these shows because all the characters spoke slowly, they over emoted, they spoke directly to the camera in close up and they repeated themselves over and over. Minus the horrid personal behavior, they were ideal for teaching the language. The other favorite was West Side Story. Musical theater courses through both sides of my family and while the appeal of this was lost on six year old me, the effect for language acquisition was also helpful. And she flat loved West Side Story. Mom would also tell you of her struggles acclimating to school and the challenge it was for her in that short time before she got the language down and made a friend or two.

I’d tell you about the new smells that as a 6 year old I thought were horrifying. This shouldn’t shock anyone who’s ever had a little boy. I had to leave the room the other day because I was eating a banana and this was just too much for Teddy to handle. In my case it was the smells of the food that I now realize I really missed out on. My palate has grown in sophistication since then and at this time when half my calories comes from cough drops and the other half comes from cold, discarded, nuggeted meats it feels like a real missed opportunity. Then there was the smell of bad overboiled hot dogs coming from the bathroom when her friend came over. It was just a home perm, a thing a thousand teenage girls that year did in my town, but none lived with us. My older brothers were yet to pull the trigger on the home perm.

Whatever her experience I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that it was a fully family version of growing up. It was sadly not the ideal version of family that was taken from her. But it was a very loving one she made her way to and became a part of. And because she did I learned of the small but thriving Vietnamese community where we went to shop with her. I saw the food from all over the world I had never imagined existed so close to me. I learned the look of government issued, self enveloping, light blue international letter paper that allowed her to get what I think were censored letters from her family in Vietnam. It taught me that I could love her in all the same complicated ways we all love our individual family members. I remember being sad when we dropped her off at college and happy when she could and would come home for holidays. I remember missing her way of eating, a thing you don’t think can be different, so different before you see it. I remember feeling like something was missing when she wasn’t there and feeling like we were all home when she was.

Our whole family was growing as this all took place. We were adding new members and each of us growing as well. By the time she was done with college she had a boyfriend. A Vietnamese boyfriend. I was 16(ish) and we were now 6 Medler’s (My youngest brother was born in 84) and everyone that would be a part of our family had arrived, to one degree or another, by this point. Whether it was right after college or a few years later her boyfriend eventually asked her to marry him. She said yes.

The wedding was to be in King Of Prussia, just outside of Philadelphia. I don’t know why, but I think they were living there at the time. She worked at a bank, I know that much, but honestly, she could have been president or a part time teller. Regardless I now look back on her asking me to be in her wedding with immense pride. It’s a real honor that she thought of me. I’m afraid at the time I was not so gracious. I said no. Yeah. I was also from a family where they respected my right to do such a thing. I’m sorry I did that. I’m incredibly thankful that they also asked my older brothers, both of whom have been and remain far more gracious in such matters.

Well, shortly before the wedding, and I mean very shortly, one of those government issued, self enveloping, light blue international letters arrived to alert Maya that her whole family was being released (had been granted visa’s.) I can’t begin to imagine how this felt for her. She hadn’t seen her mother and father and sisters and brothers since leaving. They hadn’t seen her since she was taken away. I can’t get into details I don’t know, but I know that what happened in the time between her leaving home and arriving to us was scary. She was made to leave in a moments notice and she was in a camp for some period of time. There were long periods when she was cargo on boats with no place to go, having no idea what life would hold if there was a future. She experienced and endured, as a teenage girl, innocent and surely terrified, things I know I never would have endured. But now she was here. My big sister. Annoying and loving. My honest to god sister. All the while waiting and hoping she could see her family again.

They would be arriving in a short time and once there the wedding would be in a matter of days. I remember us all, now in a minivan, making our way from Brockport New York down to Philly and checking into as few rooms as were reasonable for our large family, and getting dressed in our fancy duds. Mike and Eric in their tuxes and I in my Don Johnson whites (it was the 80’s) and my sisters in their best. My parents were old pros. They left enough time for us to woof down some happy meals and such in the parking ot of the McDonalds before heading over to the wedding, where all the food would be stuff our sensibilities hadn’t yet caught up to. I’m sure they were traditional Vietnamese wedding foods, but we weren’t really the traditional Vietnamese wedding goers. Not by a long shot. My Abraham Lincoln looking father matched old Abe in every detail, even height and frame. 6’4″ and slender, of Irish and Finnish descent. Still, we were there, her family. We weren’t in the front row, as that was for her Vietnamese family, but we were ushers and pasrticipants, those of us wise enough to recognize and accept that honor. Again, very sorry.

Anyway, there I sat, a foreigner in my homeland at a joyous celebration for my sister and her new husband. The ceremony was in Vietnamese and we knew to follow along. Our little league of nations pew at the church each weekend was one that taught us how to be attuned to ritual and cermony and this was no different. Just a different language. I remember looking back as the music started. My father and sister emerged, arm in arm. They walked down the aisle, she a bride and he her dad. It was beautiful. When they got to the first pew my father stopped, removed his arm and kissed her cheek and handed her hand to her fathers arm who took her the rest of the way and ceremonially gave her away.

I can’t imagine what this was like for her Vietnamese family. I can say that a lot of what I now see as extraordinarily meaningful was not so profound in the moment. I didn’t realize it all, what it all meant at the time. I’m discovering layers even as I write it here.

Our lives take on different meanings as they beat ever forward. Contexts and understandings change as we do. I know that my sister was meant to be a part of my family. It may not have been predestined, it may have come as the result of wretched circumstance. But in the end the love that we had, that persists to this days as we are all flung far and wide is something I’m so thankful for.

Fathers and Suns

You perform a rhapsody

Day in and out

Of love and pain and laughs and tears

And I fall for every prop

You look at me for all

As if I caused the sun to shine

Told the moon to rise and sparkle

Were it asked you’d say 

I was the one. The one.

Who dragged the moon to the sky 

Who put the sun to bed

Who rose at dawn to wake the world 

Shook it out of bed

I won’t abuse you of this thought

Or fail it while you carry

A necessary delusion that keeps us all merry

That makes me large enough to carry

The love and pride and fear  and worry

That you alone have brought

I warrant a giants space

A gods all knowing visage

With all the pride and love you give me

The illusion won’t stand forever 

Soon you will discern

That who you thought were mighty

Were little but concerned

And eager and bemused

Agobbed at what life wrought

As soon as you arrived we knew 

The gifts that weren’t yet bought

The truth that we disguise

Is evident to other eyes

To any looking at you and the grown ups who can’t catch up

While you labor in a lie

One we all must cling to

The truth, it’s you not I

That we all revolve and cling to

You are the sun and we the earth 

As much as we can figure

But if that’s wrong and you’re the earth

Than that should only figure 

Of all celestial bodies it’s the moon that we must be

As the sun that shines and alights us

Is all that we can see. 

Why I Acknowledged My Bias

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAU9AAAAJDVlMjNjMjQ1LTIxOWMtNGViZC04ZjA0LWQ2YzgzZWEzZjlhYwI recently took to the keyboard and wrote about something that has felt wrong for a long time. I acknowledged my bias. I tried to avoid over explaining so as not to water down the message. The message being that even those of us who pine for a more equal world, who understand the vileness and ubiquity of racism and hate it, who at worst would be considered allies in the fight for equality, even we are affected by the structural racism that is so ubiquitous as to be invisible like air to those unnoticing of it and equally as unavoidable as air to those so effected by it. That’s one reason I wrote that piece. Here are a few more.

Firstly, I gave my testimony because it is true. I’ve been thinking about race and racism since I was a kid. I’ve had endless encounters with kids and later adults who said racist things and denied being racist. That’s okay, it’s not really up to you as to whether or not you are racist. To a Klan member I imagine they are perhaps okay with the title, but believing their bullshit completely they might think, ‘No, I’m not racist. I’m just aware of the differences between us that make me superior to N***ers.’ You don’t get to behave or speak in racist ways and retain any viable ability to assess yourself unless you acknowledge you are racist, at which point, by acknowledging it you’d be making an admission that it is wrong to be so. The truth is to the best of my ability I’m woke. But the reality is that I’ve been tainted by the environment in deep ways I can’t avoid. I can balance, I can counteract and I can own up. But I can’t avoid.

Secondly, I understand the power of words.The reality is that for all of my attempts to call out racism I’m afraid the coded message getting through is only reinforcing the beliefs of others who agree and hardening the defiance of those who either deny racism or ignore it. It’s worth sending the signal to those oppressed that you are on their side, but it is not really moving the conversation in a way that will reach the ears of those most in need of hearing the message. The reality is that it’s far more palatable to someone to acknowledge a failing or a blind spot after someone else does.

There’s real damage in suggesting we don’t see color. In not acknowledging the real ways that racist imagery and repeated reporting of only the worst of humanity in one segment of society has colored ones way of seeing the world. This type of racism is so ubiquitous that it is insidious. It can get in even when you are fully on guard and fighting it at every turn. I don’t remember the conversation around race being so suffused with people denying it’s existence when I was a kid. Sure, people didn’t really see how much it might effect an individual and might argue it isn’t as bad as it truly is, but we all for the most part acknowledged it was a thing.Nowadays it seems all shame has been lost by racists who come out screaming and yelling their ridiculous hate. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge it exists. Racism is real and it ruins whole lives and in shockingly large numbers.

Thirdly, it’s not my job to lead this fight. I can be as liberal as I want and I can claim to understand anything I want, but if I don’t acknowledge my role in the larger picture I’m tacitly allowing it. Once aware that there was some wish from some people of color for white people to acknowledge their bias if they truly wished to change things I had to do so. It’s the only suggestion I’d heard that was different. That could be something I could say, writing from a position of whiteness and maleness that could have an actual impact. I had to do it. Once I saw how it fit in to the larger conversation, I was compelled.

Finally, because we have to normalize the understanding that bias exists within us. It is real. We, even the allies, perhaps for now especially so, have to be the ones to say we know it to be real and the only way to do that so others can hear it, those who may know but not feel like they can say it, we have to be honest. How else can we ever hope to change a problem so ingrained in our hearts and minds. I want my kids to know that I tried to change this. That I wasn’t just acknowledging awareness and avoiding discomfort. That I was doing what I knew with whatever ability I had to make a difference.

Our Adventures…

img_4314I’m running out of nights like this. I lie in the dark trying to get comfortable in a single bed with a big four year old who wants me there and wants me out of his way all at once. We talk a lot about how he doesn’t want to sleep, how he doesn’t know how to sleep. We used to talk about how closing his eyes hurt him. I’ve since learned to stop asking him to close those eyes.

This is all after I’ve read the 6 year old as much Harry Potter (we’re on ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and he seems to love it!!) as I can before my eyes fail or his drift off. I love that we’ve gotten to the Harry Potter stage, even if I did rush it a little. The natural magnetic force keeping us ever connected is loosening as he ventures out in the world and our relationship is evolving, as it should. I’m happy we’re taking these nightly adventures to Hogwarts. I loved reading these books the first time around, but for me that was my 20’s and 30’s. Reading with him is making me acutely aware and evermore enchanted by all I am seeing now that I’m experiencing it all with a little guy who is more able to see the wonder and magic that Harry Potter and his friends and their escapades have to offer.

I haven’t always relished the putting the kids to sleep thing. Until recently we were each taking one kid and not getting out until real late, at which time we’d start the nightly cleanup. I’d be grumpy and tired and frustrated and my wife, far better at transitioning than I, would be left looking for adult conversation with a brooding lump who couldn’t be bothered to take his headphones all the way off. If you ask my wife I could still probably use an exit room akin to those ones I’ve seen in therapists offices on sitcoms. A place to process my feelings and decompress after putting the boys to bed.

Making the transition to the daddy that shares an interest with a kid from one who is the caretaker is one that happens organically. You recognize it piece by piece. You mark it in books first. Lifted his head, rolled over, first solid food, crawled, first words, first steps. Somehow they feel like your own accomplishments. To a small degree they are and in perspective they are amongst the most important minor roles you’ll ever take in any endeavor in your life. But they aren’t yours. These things, all of them, are there’s. We get the early credit as we should, but they are emerging. Each milestone marking a tick further along as they make it all the way to the people they will be. We are so caught up documenting every tree that the forest grows up around us and behind us and without us noticing we are wrapped up in discovering the life we missed along the way. Understanding the journey we made from lifting our heads and rolling over all the way to now. In doing so we learn that we were magical creatures once too. We were once the tour guides of life for the great adventurers we were once so unable to notice as they were disguised as our parents.

img_4321Eventually it’s an adventure inside an adventure inside an adventure out into infinity. We can look backwards and imagine our lineage as a seemingly never ending line, emerging and submerging each to the next all the way to the horizon. I find myself endlessly curious about the lives of all of them. I lie in bed wondering if my own parents felt this strange mix of weary burden and enlightened awe as they lie in the dark wondering if they were doing it right. Did they ever lie in that bed as the defiant and playful 3 year old while there parents wondered why they were given so much to carry and so much to be carried by. It’s all so obvious now, to me, this joy that I feel in the midst of the frustrations and among fluctuating confidence that can bounce so wildly between feeling absolutely assured that I’m nailing this whole parenting thing and the utter and obvious understanding that I am completely unequal to the task and am failing in ways that will inevitably go echoing into a future that scares me because I can’t know how it will all turn out. If it will all turn out.

Before long I’m back to the story. Back to the excitement of seeing what will happen to the boy who lived under the stairs. Excited to see how he will once again foil the indefatigably awful Dursley’s so he can make his way back to where he needs to be, with his friends, finding the life that is awaiting him. Full of adventure and meaning and life and love and tragedy. Hoping that he makes it through without the scars burdening him so greatly that he can’t be who he was supposed to be. Hoping beyond hope that there’s a story about the evil ones that makes it all make sense in a way that wasn’t just pure evil. Hoping the Dursley’s find peace and Harry can find forgiveness and understanding when he eventually gets to an age and thinks, ‘What the hell was all that about?!’ Hoping love will find each and every one of the people that matter. Hoping it will reach the Harry’s and Ron’s and Hermione’s, sure, but also the Neville’s and even the Draco’s and Crabbe and Goyle’s.

The adventure goes on far further than I ever imagined as a kid. It stretches out before me and beyond me ever morphing and suddenly surprising. The further I go the more I want. I lay in the dark adrift in adventure, wondering and wanting more than I ever could have thought imaginable while also knowing I won’t be around to see it all play out.

Let’s Talk About Sex (The ‘You Have Kids!’ Edition)

We’ve been DTF  since jump. It’s one of those things I guess. Pretty happy to find that it’s hardly diminished in quality despite the rapid aging and overall physical toll raising kids has had on me. No, quality is not the issue. Our problem is quantity.

img_3372That’s right. This is a married, middle aged sex post. There’s nothing graphic to scare you away, though the topic is the topic. Grab a glass of wine or a cold one and see if any of what I’m saying strikes a chord. If you know me and have no wish to think of me as a sexual being and it’s already to late as I referenced my sexual life already and you have inadvertently and regretfully already constructed a horrifying picture in your mind I’d advise you go find the old bottle with the handle in the liquor cubby. The one in the back you bought for a super bowl party 15 years back, and just guzzle. After slamming your computer shut or throwing your phone away and smashing it like those guys with the fax machine in Office Space, erase all record of me. Wake up, check that you retained enough senses to unfollow, unfriend and unremember me before blacking out and move on with your life. Nothing to see here.

I don’t want to hear any morality nonsense. Firstly we’re married so discussing the beautiful coming together (Not literally. Too high risk. We are committed turn takers, a stance I’ll defend to the death.) of a portly man who retains mere glimmers of his former beauty and his ageless, perfect wife (Seriously. Think Peter and  Lois of the Griffin family. This image will reflect the vast disparity between her physical appeal and mine. It’s great to be in it, for me at least. Can’t speak for the wife, but I don’t need any photos either so I get where you might be coming from. Pics of her, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, but yeah, as for me, nah.. That’s a hard pass (Boom)) is decidedly in bounds. As far as your pearl clutching at the idea of middle aged folks doing the deed, I just don’t care anymore. Don’t let anyone tell you there are NO advantages to becoming an old man and losing your fastball. I may be a junkballer now (boom) but at least I no longer care about your opinions regarding my life. It’s remarkably freeing getting old.

So, anyway…

img_2150Here’s my complaint. We would love to have more ‘alone time’ then we get. Let’s not beat around the bush (boom), it’s all their fault. These little, well, let’s just say ‘rhymes with dockblockers’ are unwitting masters of their chosen form. It ain’t just the simple stuff either. There’s plenty of that garden variety salt in their game, sure. There’s more though. They’re playing the long game as well. Let me show you what I mean.

Sex is a generous and warm way for us to give and receive love. It’s great for that. Do you know when those feelings of love are often stirred? When you are being that version of your family that you hoped you’d be as you strolled out of that hospital, baby in hand wondering, ‘Holy crap. Is no one going to stop me? Am I just allowed to take this person home? What the hell. I don’t think I’m tall enough for this type of responsibility.’ Say after grabbing pumpkins and cider at the farm market. Everyone was cute in their autumnal sweaters and cords. Maybe I threw on those jeans that make me feel sexy. A flirty scarf might have even been thrown on last minute. Why not. We’re worth it. For a sunny, crisp afternoon it was easy to think we were the couple we impersonate in our professionally staged family photos. It felt great!

So great that we lost our heads. We started making out in the kitchen while lunch was being defrosted in the toaster oven and the kids were distracted by the Curious George Halloween special on Netflix. These were heady times. We should have proceeded with caution. But we didn’t. That’s kinda the point of heady times.

‘Wanna have some sexy time..’ one of you says.

‘Hell yeah! I’m a man ain’t I?’ one of us replies. Okay. It was me. ‘I mean seriously. I am right? I can still do this right?’ My lady is my support in many ways and confidence is a fleeting thing in your forties. At least in so far as physical prowess goes. At least for me it is. Stop judging me. Move on.

‘After the kids go to bed.’

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod… That’s it. That’s the time we can do it (boom)! She’s serious.

‘Yes. Oh my god, yes!’ I reply.

‘I don’t know, they’re looking pretty beat at the moment.’ It’s a joke, but you know, whatevs. She’s digging me.

This is a good day. There’s a ton left to do and seemingly endless hours until we reach the promised land. But it shines in my minds like a beacon on a hill as I climb. Through meals, laundry, cleaning, laundry, playing, cleaning, laundry and folding laundry and bath time all the way until we put them to bed. Through it all we stole kisses and wayward grabs, having fun and laughing. Smiling and flirting, knowing we knew what was coming (boom) and we were excited for it. Fueled by lust and love and coffee we finally arrived at nightfall. Kids fed, cleaned, watered and pottied there was only one hurdle left to clear.

This is where our ‘bad’ parenting comes in. Please note, we are wonderful parents. They are nearly as lucky to have us as we are to have them. But the component skills of parenthood, the things one must master to be able to sustain without losing your mind daily, well, we haven’t been great about those things. This is never more evident then at bedtime.

To be fair the look we have by now, sun having gone down (we never really adhered to that early to bed approach so many successful put-to-bedders have ascribed) baths and meals prepared and given, our energy is waning. But that’s okay. Our enthusiasm for the endeavor remains. We give one another a wink as we head to seperate bedrooms and begin the long days journey into slumber. Falling asleep is not a default reaction to being tired. So the nightly wrestling match begins. I can’t speak for her but in our room, it’s almost impossible to survive the process with anything approaching an iota of energy left.

Thus begins the ‘dockblocking’ of which I noted.

img_1811Board books. Curse thee. Sure, some are better than others. I get that.. I can get down with the Little Blue Truck. I have a love hate relationship with Goodnight Moon. I can certainly appreciate the cleverness of the assorted Seussian delights that dot the bookshelf (piles next to the bed) of my kids bedroom. The problem is that they are a very VERY powerful narcotic once you’ve read them, in the right order, 200 times or so. By now, 1800+ readings in it’s positively deadening. The ability to read an entire book with my eyes closed, turning the page at the right times is a cool trick, sure. But its accompanied so often by my kid, bright eyed and bushy tailed turning to wake me up and force more of this on me. Any more of this little blue truck and a little blue pill wouldn’t even be able to get me to the ‘finish line’ of our earlier promise.

Next, lights out and in bed. More bad at parenting here. We have never had the will to let them shed a tear in pursuit of sleep. We’ve tried but our inevitable, lilly livered buckling has left these boys unable to close there eyes without us laying next to them. For, at times, hours. This is the death of me. More often than not when my forty something constitution collides with their toddler level energy for a whole day I am unaware, perhaps, but the game is over. Long over by this point. Lets say, by some miracle I don’t fall asleep with my kids. Just for arguments sake. This series of events, this hustle (I’m convinced they are doing this on purpose to keep me away from mommy) has already worked.

As I exit the room I am weary. My ears are hot with exhaustion and I’m long overdue for bed. Having taken the hours I was expected to take my wife, having succumbed as well, in her own way to the other one in the other room has decided that I’m not coming out. On goes the jammys and the robe. These are not anything other than comfortable and delightful. I too am in my formless, baggy, old and tattered ‘sleep shorts’. We are not ideally clothed for this endeavor, but it could happen. We are kid free. At least we should be for the next 3-5 hours when kid 2 makes his way to our bed. We let him sleep there. It’s in line with our other poor decisions, it really shouldn’t surprise you. By the time we are on the couch, either said or not, that’s it. Ballgame (sad boom) over.

I should note, there is germ warfare at play as well. In general we all have varying degrees of chest and head colds at all times. This wasn’t true before they showed up. I’m not accusing them of purposeful espionage, per se. I’m not ruling it out though. For whatever the reasons might be symptoms get real persistent at these times. I doubt this is intentional, but again, I don’t rule it out.

That’s it. More often than not this is how sexy time plays (itself) out in our house. Stoked by feelings of warm connectedness. Given oxygen with stolen kisses and hidden grabs. Promised and anticipated. Doused. Dissipated.

 

 

Owning My Bias

  ‘Well, you just turn over your card, and then, you know.’ 

He says it casually. It’s out of step with anything we are familiar with, but it comes close. Charlie, who will be 6 soon, is trying out ‘ya know’. He’s approximating it’s use and misappropriating it. But he’s coming close and it’s pretty great. I won’t say it was adorable. I want to be respectful of his attempts at growth. 

There will be more of this. Much more. I know because it’s how I came to be as well. I tried things on. I tried on jock. I tried on brooding teen. I tried on funny guy. I tried on ladies man. I tried on urban Joe or black Joe if you prefer. I tried on tragic Joe. I tried on social warrior. I tried on writer. I’m still trying it on. I put on these identities and parts of each were unearthed in me. I eventually rejected all of these as a whole person is way to big to fit inside something so narrow as an identity so narrowly and externally defined. There was a reason for each and that reason remains and lives on within me. 

Watching Charlie start this I have to say, I don’t envy him. The journey to understanding who you are, determining who you are, leveling intent and native instinct as well as philosophy and temperament is arduous. It’s a journey I’m still struggling with. I’m still trying to figure it all out. I hope he navigates it okay. I’d say that I hope he navigates it better than me, but I woudln’t mean it. If he navigated it exactly like me, well, I’d buy that right now. I hope he finds his truest self faster than I did. 

I had great freedom. Charlie, so far, knock on wood, appears that he will have similar opportunity. He will be able to be all the things, all the component emotional realities along the way as he grows from nearly six to man sized and ready to be freed of the tyranny of parents. It will seem like torture at times, as it certainly will for us as well but he’ll have that chance it appears. He should consider himself lucky. I should. Not every kid is afforded such a wide berth in which to experiment. Not every parent is afforded the confidence that the world will at the very least look the other way as kids growing up try on identities. 

I had friends who were black when I was growing up. I have brothers whom I love who are and were black. Our dinner table had black people at it, black men. It had a young woman who was Vietnamese. Not to mention six tall, white, irish/finnish Medler’s as well. We were all fucked up in our own way. In the way that all good and happy families are. But at bottom we were well. We were loved and we were safe. 

At least us white one’s were. Especially us boys. We could fail repeatedly. We could fall down and the world would be there, over and over to pick us up. We were given chances, seen for the good people that we were underneath our outwardly destructive behavior as we grew into fine men. We were forgiven our absences and absolved of wrongdoing. We got consequences, but just enough to make us better for it. Just enough to learn a lesson. Maybe it took a couple of times. Maybe more than a few. I can’t say that all my black friends wee afforded the same liberty and leeway. 

As I’ve gotten older and I’ve looked back on my youthful friendships I think that we were all playing with a cartoon. A racist cartoon at that. When I say all I mean myself, my white friends and the relatively few black guys who were our peeers. I had three best friends in high school, all in separate contexts to some degree. Two redheads and a young man who was black. I essentially was drawn to each of them for their similar qualities. They were all funny, still are. They were all smart. Super smart actually, but like me they were largely smart in the room and not really caring about grades or accomplishment. They were and remain all guys you could sit in a car and split a six pack and talk about life with and you could learn and elucidate. Good guys. But when I was with certain collections of people, during times when I was trying on black joe, I have to say, it was pretty inherently and in hindsight, downright insidiously racist. There was no intent there, but that only makes it more dangerous. It was aping a culture to feel something. I don’t really know what that something was, but it was not ours, not come about honestly. We felt some kind of glow of hardship and reveled in it from a place of safety that wasn’t afforded the members of our groups who weren’t white. To some degree, perhaps they shared some of those safety nets, but we had more. I’d be sent home if caught doing the bad thing. He wouldn’t be. Wasn’t. 

I take pride, shamefully, in being right racially. As if this is some honor. As if I should be given some special honorary brother status for merely acknowledging racism exists and saying it’s wrong. For a long time, 40+ years I thought that was enough. I don’t think that anymore. Now I think I need to acknowledge what biases I have. I need to respect the hardships of others and not usurp them. I have to stand alongside not only my my black friends and say we are in this together, I need to stand next to my white ones and own my reality as well. 

What’s most painful for me is acknowledging my personal bias. I am scared to write what comes next and as much as I want to be brave and just say it and let it live. I can’t. I have to first say another truth. One that is honest and self serving. I am aware of my bias and whenever I catch it infecting my thinking of another human being I acknowledge it and put it aside and find out more about the person. In doing so I’ve met more wonderful people than a person my age has any right having known and I know that others who have had preconceived notions of me have done the same. I’m proud of that. Which is kind of sick. Because other times I’ve only found my bias in the rearview mirror. I can miss it and not recognize it until it is too late. I’ll always try to make amends if I can, but sometimes I can’t. I imagine there are times I don’t even see it. Ever. Me. Someone who grew up with black people. Who has written boldly on the ill of racism in America and who has spoken out at every turn decrying it’s outcomes, I can be overwhelmed by irrational and unfair bias against black men. Particularly young black men. I try always to counter it. I am disciplined about breaking through that feeling as swiftly as it is recognised. But I’m not immune. It breaks my heart that this is true. 

I believe we all have biases. For much of my life these biases have put me ahead of most others in all pursuits, even before we’ve encountered one another. Even if we never encounter one another. That’s what being white and male is in my case. I have friends from homogenous areas of the world who will disagree with this, but I don’t think any of them honestly believes their lives would be easier if they were black. Or that any of the black guys they know wouldn’t think, on some level, the world wouldn’t be a safer place for them if they were white. It doesn’t mean life is easy for anyone. So many factors have lead to my life being what it is, not the least of which being my inherrently good traits. But I also see a world where I was forgiven much, allowed a lot and not restricted because the world has been trained to see me as a threat. And I’m big. I’m 6’2″ 235 big. But I”m not big and black and in threat of being exterminated like a roach or a snake because my appearance inspires blind fear of a visceral nature that has caused young men of color to be shot essentially for being black men. Or even boys. 

As disgusted as I am to live in a world where this happens I can no longer go forward without acknowledging that I know what those cops were feeling. It was fear. I can have the same response to black men in situations that feel risky. I hate everything I’m saying and I’m more the type of person that will cross the street to be on the same side of that person because I’m civilized, understand that it’s my obligation to actively counter this reaction when I feel it, but I’ve felt it. I can feel it. 

I hate myself for feeling it. But nowadays, with racists running for and winning office openly espousing profiling of religious belief and questioning the very humanity of people of color, turning their backs on the poor and destitute ravaged by war and strife and hunger, I can’t afford to deny my bias in defense of my ideals. Honesty is the least I can do. I don’t want to ever live in a world where those who know say nothing. Where people who can speak don’t. Right now I feel like I live in a world, in a country that has lost sight of the founding principle that we are all created equal. A myth that was a lie knowingly told by men who hoped to be cured by it’s aspirational sentiment and the actions of those people who followed them. We are failing and we are approaching a point where we must exercise not only our rights, but our better selves and the first step for me is acknowledging my bias. By moving past the foolishness of ‘I don’t see color’ and owning our bias. Owning it and letting it out into the world so I know I’ve done everything in my power to be free of it. So that there can be any hope of ever getting past what is so inherently unjust. So others can see the insidiousness of hate and it’s effect on all of us. 

Funny Boys

Charlie: I like this one.

Teddy: I like pick pun

Charlie: What’s a ‘pick pun’?

Teddy: Um.. It’s a kind of pun?

Charlie: What’s a ‘pun’?

Teddy: It’s a type of berry.

************

These conversations happen all the time now. So often I don’t even hear them. They are part of the white noise of parenthood, the ever present hum that fills the background of our lives and colors the corners of the spaces we share. They are amazing and we hardly ever notice them. But we were in the car and I happened to note the entire exchange. Once it hit me I couldn’t stop laughing. Like, fully exhaled, tears coming, hysterical laughter. This was brilliantly funny.

First is the simple mock of ‘I like pick pun.’ This is a four year old’s greatest tool when confronting an irresistible force such as an older brother with whom he is endlessly enamored with and to whom he feels the yoke of tyranny. The force is strong in Teddy and he will be free the yoke sooner than I might even imagine, but for now the older brother is living up to his first born obligations as an authoritarian leader. He can’t and won’t be dissuaded. Though we do check his power whenever we see him abusing it. We’re even preemptive if we think any situation, from which order to eat his dinner to how long he is entitled to play with his own toys before ‘sharing’ them (like a feudal tax) to his (tor)mentor, the older brother.

Charlie, for his part, ever the straight man in this entire exchange, took his younger brother at face value. He was genuinely curious as to what a ‘pick pun’ was. The air of my second child changed. What was a playful, mocking tone immediately became something far more worthy of genuine consideration. His idol and hero noticed him. He asked him a question. He was interested in what was being said to him! I could practically hear his inner monologue as he pondered what to say now that he’d found himself here. ‘OMG, this is really happening. He want’s to know something that I can tell him… Don’t blow it… What is a pick pun, what is a pick pun.. ‘It’s a kind of pun.?.’ ‘

A good deal of the humor was in this shift from total silliness to serious.

‘What’s a pun’ said Charlie.

It worked! Teddy tested the waters with nonsensical logic and he bought it. He was on the line. This was more than a bite.. Now, how to reel him in..

‘It’s a type of berry.’

Talk about nailing the dismount…Brilliant! My boy is a creative genius!

Some might say that this simple exchange is not worthy of this level of line by line analysis. To them I say leave the assessment of my child’s genius to me. For now I will proceed knowing that regardless of whether or not these boys decide to develop this act, regardless of whether they choose the fame and riches of comedy genius, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they will find more fulfillment in some other line of endeavor. But I’ll know, I’ll always know that they will always have this talent to fall back on. Not only as a career, but as a tool to navigate everything from meeting people to handling rejection. These boys are legit and the ‘yes and’ crowd should keep an eye on this up and coming improvisational duo.

What’s a pick pun.

It’s a kind of pun.

Gold, Jerry!

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