No Two Kids Have The Same Parents

The first time I can remember hearing, “No two kids have the same parents,” was from Rose. It was maybe a year ago.

Those words instantly seemed true, but now, with Ruby in my life, it has been very real. I’m not that much older than when Rock was born, but we are in a different country, we own a house, we own a car, we have a second dog, and most importantly–there are two kids. When Rock popped out we hadn’t done this before; many things were terrifying. Every time he stopped making noise I thought he might be dead. But that isn’t Ruby’s life. Also she snores like a piglet with hay-fever.

The experience that we gained with Rockford has made us remarkably different in our comfort with children in general. Rose is nowhere near as burdened by what-ifs, because we survived an international move and living in a van with our first little monkey–that is hard to top as a challenge. I am more laid-back about the development of Ruby, more understanding that I am of little use to her for the first few months. Thankfully neither of our children seem to be gentle souls. The just scamper/squirm/flop to whatever beat is happening.

Ruby will not get the kind of direct scrutiny that her brother gets (he hits the milestones first), but she will also live with a different kind of scrutiny. She will live in more a panopticon with many eyes, ears, and cold wet noses milling about. Now that we “know” enough to get ourselves in trouble we have to remember that “the same as last time” isn’t the goal. With Rockford becoming more sophisticated and Ruby being an entirely different adorable little monkey my goal is to focus less on the act of parenting. From this point forward I am focusing on being a role model.

I can’t be the same dad to both of them, they are not the same kid (right?). So, I’ll look to enact what I want them to learn, and grow with them, to be a better man. If I tell them to do one thing, but do another myself, I will just raise kids that are the worst of me, and good liars. Personally, I would prefer them to be honest rather than civil (both, fingers crossed). In the end, I hope, they will overlook my parenting failures because they know I am one of the monkeys too–even though I run the monekyhouse.

We vs. Me in Relationships

Two common perspectives I’ve seen in our interviews and group discussions about relationships are people who focus on Me and people who focus on We. That is, their perspective is being driven by either individual concern or group concern.

Me people tend to see a relationship as two individuals that are each wholly responsible for their self, and have a mutual point of interest. This is often expressed like this, “If each person makes sure their needs are met, the relationship will be healthy.” Clear enough, right? Each person should be taken care of, so the group as a whole should be happy.

We people often approach relationships as an interdependency; that is to say, that the relationship is a third, separate entity. “If each person contributes to the shared interest (relationship/partner) then everyone has time to care for their other needs,” is a cosmmon description given by We people. So, many hands make light work.

In theory both approaches work. Many conflicts that I have seen come from places where partners have opposite approaches. One person gets very well taken care of and the other doesn’t.

Few of us apply just one approach in all situations. We have things that we are comfortable sharing and things that we like to approach strictly as self-interested individuals. As far as relationships go, it is good to be self-aware about places that we have strong preferences toward an individual or group mentality. Take a moment to think about what parts of your relationships that you expect to share, and what part you expect each partner to be personally responsible for.


What Is Your Gender?

One of the topics that we haven’t addressed directly is the issue of gender. Recently I have been seeing an increase in discussion on these topics and a change in how the mainstream is presented with gender. To that point Facebook supports between 50 and 71 choices for gender and OKCupid will soon have about 20 gender and sexuality options.

When I say gender I don’t mean biological sex, I mean your expression and what your culture expects based on how they perceive that expression. For example if I describe someone as a Man or as a Gay Man do you have different expectations about their behavior, dress, and appearance? That is part of your cultural expectation of gender.

Here is a rough estimation of my gender expression (as scored by Rose)

Gender Identification

As you can see she sees me as having some very feminine qualities. This is a pretty comprehensive description of the categories that describe how I present to the world: my body shape, how I dress, how I speak/sound, my behavior, and what my interests are. This is what people see when they make an assessment of what my gender is. Overall, you can see I didn’t score particularly high on masculinity.

You will notice that this is very basic, it is the stuff that exists from across the street, or over the phone. Think about that for a moment. If you are talking to me on the phone (according to Rose) I am much more masculine than if you see me on the street and can’t hear me speak. Your interpretation of my expression can be entirely different from my internal identity.

Why are there so many gender identities?

Part of why there are so many gender identities is because that chart above is only part of the story. How we choose our label is more than just the behaviors that are readily observed, but also the motivations behind them. Factors like where we fall on a biological sex spectrum (see this article for more) and our identity in relation to sexual orientation can affect how we choose our gender identity, and how we express it.

This means that as we change various things about our behavior and appearance we may shift subtlety. Even though a person may spend their entire life in the same general area that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed. A wide variety of factors including changing cultural groups, medication, and parenthood (even a fathers hormones change in response to children) all can change the factors that make up your gender identity.

Remember this please, gender is not sex or sexual orientation, two people with exactly the same identity and expression can have different sexual orientations.

So, how can you tell what a persons gender is?

You can’t. You have to ask them. Viewing yourself as a man has nothing to do with being manly. Viewing yourself as queer has nothing to do with your sexual preferences. And, wearing short hair and a flannel shirt doesn’t make you any less a woman.

Love and Empathy

Previously I have said that the cost of love is ego. While enacting love we show empathy for another’s experience. But, it turns out that showing empathy for people we don’t identify with is difficult.

Today I read an article by Jonathan Chait. It is best described as a deeply flawed pan-flute of bigotry. He intones a wide variety of dog-whistle political attacks with carefully coded language to cast blame on women, people of color, and liberals for policing the tone and language of discussions/arguments about bigotry. In total it was a difficult thing to read through, but it is a very resonant display of distain. Chait does not have empathy for other people’s experience, he is the kind of man whose opinion about a thing is directly linked to whether it affects him. Like when a politician changes their stance on marriage after their child publicly comes out.

What Chait puts forward is a powerful ego response, many of the things he critiques are ego too, constrained by his personal experience and identity. He shuffles through a variety of stories about people that failing an ideological test. When a real world opportunity for empathy comes to them they hide in the letter of their philosophy, instead of the spirit. They become ideologues and extremists, because they fear a loss of identity if they occupy an opposing view or feeling.

In my real life I run into a frequent test of my empathy. When someone tells me that they have lost a loved one. I know what that is like, I have experienced it. Reliving my experience is not empathy, accepting and taking on their perspective–there in that moment–is empathy.

This year I took Rockford with me when I got a flu shot. Imagine being two-and-a-half years old and a stranger has a hypodermic. My kid is a trooper he wanted to sit in my lap, he remembers what a shot is, his ego response was to solve this imminent problem through comfort. He calmed down immediately when he realized that he wasn’t getting a shot. His eyes got wide and he pouted when the nurse pushed the needle into my shoulder. He reached out his hand and said, “Papa, ouch?!” I told him, “I’m okay,” he sat in my lap to gently (thank god) pat my bandaid and coo, “Papa. Ouch, okay.”

To me that is what empathy and love are, it isn’t about my experience, it is about sharing the other person’s experience.

Who Are You

Recently, I attended an interesting presentation by Dr. Antoinette Izzo. The presentation was based on findings from an anthropological study she is running with the help of UNLV. She found four strong themes in how we label ourselves.

How we label our self, or others, comes from the intersection of:

  1. Our Philosophical Values
  2. Our Ideological Values
  3. Our Identity View
  4. The Practice We Observe

Antoinette confided that this was her first delivery of her presentation, so I am going to take some liberty with what she said (she has not formally submitted any papers on the work yet). I hope that this comes close to the mark.

Our philosophical values are the foundational beliefs we hold that are to some degree changeable through exploration. Our ideological values are foundational beliefs that are embedded and harder to change. When it comes to love my philosophy is love is lack of ego about another’s actions or state. Ideologically, this brings me to believe feelings are always okay, actions range from good to bad.

Because I identify as a dad, a husband, and a silly person, I strive to take actions that display love for my wife and child (soon to be children). But, sometimes being funny/silly on my end leads to discomfort/pain on their end. In these moments my actions of love become really important. These actions include things like:

  • Don’t use words that deny feelings
  • Listen actively when my loved ones speak to me
  • Create space for for them think about their feelings
    • Give time to think
    • Don’t ask them to feel differently
    • Focus on actions, not perceived motivation
  • Acknowledge that disagreements can’t be won

When I label myself, or others, I am trying to describe their actions in relation to my philosophies, ideologies, and existing identity categories. Sometimes this means there will be conflict between what I mean and they understand from my words.

That is a tense moment–I suggest dealing with it by saying some form of, “What does that mean to you?” When someone is hurt by something you say you have most likely attacked one of their beliefs. There is little way to tell which one, though.

Taking responsibility for how your actions affected them is really the least you can do to diffuse the situation. Showing that you care, even before you understand, shows good faith in the process, even if the problem can’t be solved immediately.

Fear of Loneliness

Love is, perhaps, just our natural reaction to an intense fear of feeling lonely.

One of the first books that ever touched me was The Bluest Eye, it is about intense loneliness. A kind of lonely tundra filled with many other people running away from each other. It is the first book that Toni Morrison wrote. The Bluest Eye exposes many ways that people feel alone, and misplaced attempts to right one’s self. Recently I learned from her interview with Stephen Colbert that Toni feels she did not do justice to one of the characters.

I am certain that Toni has a different character in mind, but I did feel that there was a missing chapter when I read it. One that I created in my mind, wrote for, and presented to the english class that assigned The Bluest Eye.

I wrote a letter as Cholly.

Cholly is not a good man: he is an alcoholic, he is violent, he is an arsonist, he rapes his daughter, and in all things he is a wild and rootless man. He is the catalyst, but not the cause, of many plot points. And, he disappeared in a way that drew my mind to draw him in greater detail.

Love is never any better than the lover.

As a 15-year-old boy I felt the most in common with Cholly, because he lived his life arrested in his teen years. His life started abandoned in a trash heap. He was a teenager when the woman who raised him died, and a pair of white men interrupted and made spectacle of his first sexual experience.

Extending my mind into this character at 15-years old in many ways helped me cope with my sexual experiences and sense of alienation. It helped me to deal with some of my experiences as narrative, instead of terminal experiences. Needless to say, at 15, I was a better writer than lover.

At least in my writing I could be certain, less confused, and less ambivalent about what my words meant. After years of barely surviving social systems that didn’t want me as a member, and weathering constant implication that I didn’t have value because the system didn’t want me–I was confused. I saw the picture that was painted of romantic love as both a life-raft and a constant threat. It was part of a system that hated me, and it offered the possibility of connection in opposition to that very system.

As a teen love is clumsy and physical. It is holding hands, and kissing, and touching, and sex–it ranges from mystically important to taboo. For many of us as we grow older it gets more complicated. For others it stays the same, but becomes less effective at its goal as life becomes more complicated.

Over the years my understanding of love has grown fed by this line from The Bluest EyeLove is never any better than the lover. Take the challenge to see yourself as the story of what you have done, not what you thought your motives were. Observe yourself from an outside perspective.

It is harder to be lonely if you love someone.

When I think about my darkest points, they are not when I lacked people who loved me. It was when I had no love for others. There wasn’t anyone that I had the necessary openness to consider as beloved. When I admitted someone into that part of my life alone was no longer the same as lonely.

I think that is why so many fear being alone, and long to be loved. Because company and attention of others appear to be the shortest route to avoid loneliness. I think that the shortest route away from, and best protection from, lonely is to give love. Even if it is just one day, make that day about someone else by showing only the parts you like of yourself, and shine light on the parts of them that you like.

It Is Not JUST Racism

On November 24th we learned about some of the unfortunate misuse of our judicial system. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch failed to convince a grand jury to send Darren Wilson to trail for killing unarmed Mike Brown. The entire concept of the Grand Jury is meet to a minimal threshold of plausibility to enable a District Attorney to take anyone to court–even a ham sandwich.

From Google:

The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to decide whether there is probable cause to prosecute someone for a felony crime. The grand jury operates in secrecy and the normal rules of evidence do not apply. The prosecutor runs the proceedings and no judge is present.

Did you see that? There are no rules of evidence, no judge. It is a dog and pony show, when the prosecutor says whether they want to indict. Robert Paul McCulloch got on stage and lied to you. He misrepresented the entire concept and purpose of the grand jury, and his role in shaping their decision.

He lied to you so hard that the National Bar Association has castigated DA Robert P McCulloch. A Bar Association that represents 20,000 members feels that the only possible explanation for this outcome is that District Attorney McCulloch failed to properly perform his duties as he was sworn to do. The National Bar Association endorses that the US Department of Justice ignore the grand jury and pursue federal prosecution. The National Bar Association feels that no competent prosecutor, or properly informed, functioning jury could have reached the result of November 24th.

It Is About Greed

You may not remember, but there were multiple requests that Robert McCulloch recuse himself from this case, based on conflicts with performing his duties. Among his conflicts of interest are very strong ties to the police department, a history of tanking grand jury investigations against cops, and being the president of an organization (Backstoppers) that collects money on behalf of the police. Beyond that, this particular incident has similarities with an incident that killed Paul McCulloch, Robert’s father.

Robert McCulloch has gotten away with this before. Even in cases where he was forced to go to grand jury (like this one), he usually fails to secure an indictment when the defendant is a police officer. He has a history of choosing the side of his own interests over those of the public, and he does not make any effort to hide that fact.

DA Robert McCulloch is not the only party who stands to gain from this situation. There is, unfortunately, a lot of money in jailing people. John Oliver points out several very disturbing statistics about the US penal system.

  • The number of prisoners has grown 8-fold since 1970
  • Around 9% of US prisons are entirely private
  • Food and medical care are increasingly privatized
  • Around 50% of prison population is related to drug offenses
  • We spend around $35,000 per prisoner per year

The NAACP, using statistics provided by the FBI, finds that black Americans are 10-times more likely to serve jail time for drug offenses than white Americans are. This is problematic in part because there are 14,000,000 white Americans that report using drugs, 5 times the number of the black population that report using any illicit drug. Black Americans are sentenced to an average of 58.7 months (almost 5 years) for drug offenses. By contrast, white criminals serve an average of 61.5 months for violent offenses. That means that I would serve almost as much time for drug possession as Rose would for attacking a stranger with a bat.

A pervasive characterization of dark skinned Americans as criminal, and scary, leads to not only higher arrest rates, but longer sentencing. So, there is plenty of money in not installing cameras, like Ferguson, or in destroying footage, like Seattle. Body cameras range from $120-$200 from a company like Police One. A taser is $400. A SWAT vehicle is $250,000. The reason that your town doesn’t have cameras is because cameras cut down on profits, not because the police can’t afford them. Ferguson PD claims they spent $6,000 buying dash cams, none of which have been installed. They spent $6000 that could have equipped 30 of their 54 officers with body cameras, but instead chose to buy and fail to utilize car-mounted cameras. Ask yourself why that happens.

Yes, It IS About Race

Even when the cameras are watching, race is still a problem in how we are policed. Time and again, police and civilian surveillance footage makes it clear that emergency personnel carry a clear and disgusting disrespect for black lives and black bodies. John Crawford was shot in a Walmart, not even carrying an air-rifle, in an open carry state (Ohio). After Cleveland police shot twelve year-old Tamir Rice, they left him injured for 5 minutes before first aid was administered. EMTs refused to administer care to Eric Garner after he was choked by NYPD, and Mike Brown was left lying in the street for 4.5 hours.

You just don’t see this level of disrespect being inflicted on other populations. Chokeholds were banned by NYPD in 1993, long before the officer who choked Garner even started his career there. Between 2009 and 2014 the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigated over 1,000 complaints of choking by police officers. Fully 63% of the victims were black.

Tamir Rice was shot within seconds of the police car arriving. They were called to his playground by dispatch, and informed that the weapon he had was probably fake. Knowing that the call was about a child, the officer identified Tamir as a 20 year old black male. Even having back-up, police see black children as a threat. While responding to a dispatch about a youth with a probably fake weapon, the officer was nonetheless afraid enough to shoot first and justify it later.

This is how deeply racism is driven into our system. In NYC, a black person is choked by the police more than twice a week, because the police believe that the rules of conduct don’t apply to them. And unfortunately, It’s not just the police, it is emergency medical personnel, too, who are afraid to treat black American as worthy of basic respect. I promise you that black is not a weapon or a disease, you can’t catch it, and it can’t injure you.

What Can You Do? 

The least you can do is change the way you speak. Change the way you talk about these incidents.

Don’t pluralize. Don’t talk about individuals in the plural. Mike Brown was a person, not those people. If someone changes the subject from an individual to these people, that neighborhood, or any other plural thing–shut that person down. No one deserves to die because they are in that neighborhood. If someone is trying to change a conversation about what happened to one person into a generalization about what those people are like, they are telling you that they don’t see black people as human. If someone is trying to dehumanize an individual by calling on generalizations they are a bigot trying to hide. Don’t let them get away with it. Don’t let them cower behind generalizations and pretend that they are anything but a participant in the disrespect of humanity.

Promise me that one thing, that you will stop pluralizing and talk about people as individuals.

Love and Lies

I love my country, warts and all. One of the these warts is voting.

As I see it there are 3 fundamental lies about voting that pervade the mainstream:

  1. It doesn’t matter who you vote for because all politicians are bought by corporations.
  2. Everyone has equal access to vote.
  3. Vote percentages are honest.

Who you vote for is incredibly important!

Yesterday someone said that all politicians and political parties are corrupted by corporate masters, so it doesn’t matter what party you vote for. That is a terrible equivalent. He used fast food chains that all buy from the same distributor as a metaphor, what follows is my response:

If you imagine the political parties as restaurant chains that all get their food from the same distributor it is still true that they don’t buy exactly the same products, don’t charge the same prices, don’t keep the same hours, use their base ingredients in different proportions, and some only thrive in very specific geographic areas. All of them have to serve a central list of items considered the cuisine du jour, labeled mostly the same.

Outside the cuisine du jour you have acceptable deviations (Overton’s Window) and radical deviations. You can get cuisine du jour anywhere, but if you get it from the people who serve radical deviation away from your tastes you will wake up to find that no one serves anything you find acceptable.

Yes, all politician are corrupted by corporations, but by different corporations. Mobil Exxon lobbies to drill in national parks and maintain corporate loopholes, the ACLU lobbies on immigration and protection of civil rights. These corporate masters have different agendas for you as a person, they are not equivalent. Also, your state legislation is hugely important as those bodies have passed over 24,000 bills in the time that the Federal Congress passed 185.

You have a right to register, not a right to vote.

Because the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Rights Act (VRA) this year many states got away with ID laws that will likely get overturned on the basis of breaking the second article of the VRA by putting undue burden on minority voters. I will add to this that Florida has ongoing battles over unconstitutional disenfranchisement of people that serve prison sentences, and Texas has had over 200 pieces of legislation reversed for breaking the VRA. Below you will see a comprehensive table of state and US turnouts and voter ID laws. I add to this that Washington, Oregon, and Colorado all do mail in ballots to step around the issue entirely, and the requirement that we vote during work hours on a Tuesday that is not a national holiday is unduly burdensome to the poor.

We report our elections wrong.

To be fair we should report percentages in elections as the percentage of registered voters, not turnout, because the act of registration is empirical evidence that you wish your vote to be counted. So, if you are registered and you don’t cast a vote I think it should be seen as a vote of no confidence in all races. The reason for this is that the current model creates a false signifier about the support of politicians.

In Ohio it is reported that the Governor was elected with 63.85% of the vote. That makes it seem like he has a great deal of support, but that is a lie. The reality is that only counts 32.2% of the registered voters. The reality is that 20.56% of Ohio’s registered voters voted for him. We should report that number.

It should be made clear that 8-of-10 registered voters in the state of Ohio did not vote for the man who will be Governor next year. This is roughly true in every state in the US.

The way we report election results is part of why voter suppression is an effective political tactic. It creates a false indication of support. All politicians should look at the humbling fact that you serve people that have no confidence in your ability. We have so little confidence in you that 2-of-3 registered voters can’t be motivated to jump the hurdles just to tell you how little we believe in you. It isn’t that we are apathetic, it is that you are too pathetic to motivate us.

All of this said, don’t believe the lies. Who you vote into state legislature matters immensely (they become the federal nominees), be honest about the results, and for the love of god register and vote.

Raising a Free-Range Child

In response to my current Toddlerist (toddler+terrorist) and in preparation for our new baby (Nibbler) I am re-reading The Art Of War. It is full of great parenting advice. The parts that are of particular interest to me today are:

  • Never fight a battle with nothing to win.
  • Winners come to battle having already won, losers come to battle and seek to win.
  • Always leave your enemy a route to retreat.

These three tenets lead me to a free range style of parenting.

Procedure, Over Timetable

During Rockford’s second (now THIRD!!) year of life I have been a laid back parent. The fact that he has been healthy helps make that easier. I let almost all of his time be unstructured:

  • He grazes instead of sitting down for lunch
  • He plays with junk mail and laundry
  • He can play with anything he asks for as long as he wants (except for the knives)
  • I let him be in a room I am not in, or even go up and down the stairs

In place of having strongly outlined times of day that we do things, we have compartmentalized procedures that can be counted on to happen.

  • If you throw your food, snacks go on hiatus
  • We change our poop diapers in the bathroom
  • After bath time we play in the bed
  • At some point Papa says: “It’s nap time now”

My overall goal is for Rock to be aware of his states and needs, self-regulating, and willing to articulate these things to me. It has worked in some cases, not in others. Still, most of the time, he only gets in my business if he actively has an interaction in mind. Today’s feature image is the product of him being bored with blocks while I was writing this, so he requested “take picture.” Because I had nothing to gain from not taking a break to play his game, I didn’t object to it. After a dozen pictures I told him “I need to go back to writing,” and he was happy to move on to something else, mercifully.

The Destination Is More Important Than The Path

I think the pragmatic outcome is acceptable thus far, but there are definitely parts of my day that are extra work. One of these things is that I find him taking naps in weird places. I will set him down in his bed, in his room, and go about my business–today it was mopping the kitchen. I will actively ignore the fact that he stays in neither zone, as long as he leaves me alone to get some work done. And this happens:

sudden nap

That is where he will be for about an hour (if I am lucky). As much as I would prefer he choose the bed upstairs to sleep, I like that he is comfortable just sacking out next to me when he is sleepy, instead of powering through to total crankiness.

I know that some people think this approach is odd, but I feel like I won: he left me alone while I mopped and he took a nap. I see my best advantage in the war on growing up is my larger view of the field and broader conception of time. By letting him have all the ground that does not impact me, and letting him have the space to figure out that my instructions aren’t about control, I hope that I am building a relationship of trust.

So, as long as he isn’t bothering anyone, I let my little chicken roam free.

Faith and Perseverance

Way back in 2009, when Rose and I decided to get married, we hadn’t been dating long. This meant that even by the time we were a couple years in, we still had some kinks to work out of our roles around the house. One of these was dealing with unclaimed tasks.

In the beginning I would generally just jump on tasks and do them, or finish things that I saw dangling. You know, rather than nagging about them or spending time discussing them, since 50-percent of the time it gets delegated to me anyway. So, imagine my surprise when I came to take on a frustrating task and Rose said, “I got this, and I don’t want anyone else to do it.”

There she was, standing next to an Ikea bed. Rose was staunch that she would accomplish the task singlehanded. When we went to bed that night there were still several, thankfully not structurally imperative, pieces left. She told me,”Don’t worry, I know where those go.”

After this I had a new option, just show faith that she will work it out. To be frank this option is sometimes frustrating for both of us. But, it has created some moments of growth for both of us.

  1. It forces her to admit that she wants help.
  2. It helps me remember that I should have a reason beyond *because I can* for getting involved.

Still, seeing a stack of thank you notes sitting on top of the refrigerator for months makes me want to cry out, “For the love of jebus! Why won’t you put stamps on these?!” It is like the weirdest game of chicken, she says, “I’ve got this,” and I want to prove that I have faith.

A couple of weeks ago I figured out what was happening. She didn’t want to send the cards because we weren’t blogging.

Theses last couple of weeks we have just been chipping away at that impediment. My job in this project has been to attend social functions, read blogs, start conversations, and conduct interviews. Rose’s job is the editorial calendar, reading blogs, helping with interviews, and (most of all) being in charge of this blog.

I’m happy that this blog is up again, but most of all I am happy that Rose is reemerging to follow through on the promises we made to you all to write this book. We are getting the thank you notes out this week, and come hell or high water, several of you are getting incredibly awkward ukulele serenades.

Thanks for having faith.

image courtesy of h-bomb