Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Working Parents Hate Life

Having read a lot of chatter on the blogosphere about Jennifer Senior's July 4th article, "All Joy and No Fun, Why parents hate parenting" in New York magazine, I finally had to break down and read the damn thing.  I realize I'm a day late and a dollar short with my contribution to this conversation, but I've been pretty busy with the allegedly heinous drudgery of child care.

In her article, Senior examines a number of studies concerning the effects of parenting on the happiness of adults.  As you might expect from the title of the piece, the implications are overwhelmingly negative (unless you happen to live in Denmark or other countries with progressive parental work-leave policies).  Despite the findings, which include lower reported rates of happiness in virtually every aspect of life among parents as compared to non-parents, and "child care" ranking near the bottom in a survey about the enjoyability of tasks and activities; and despite the provocative title of the piece and hazy photos of quietly desperate-looking parents on its pages, the article ends on a note that is, if not upbeat, at least hopeful.  Senior does not dispute the findings that suggest that parenting makes us unhappy, but she questions what we mean by "happiness," and invokes psychologist Tom Gilovich, who asks whether our "minute-to-minute happiness" is more important than our "retroactive evaluations" of our lives.

 Photo by Jessica Todd Harper for New York

Of course I can only speak from my own limited experience as a parent, but I have a few quibbles with the bleaker implications of this research and the way it is framed by articles like Senior's.

First of all, the subjects of the research and the characters in Senior's anecdotes are by and large harried parents who work full-time jobs and only deal with their kids when they are already exhausted.  I realize that I am in the minority insofar as I have the luxury of being able to stay home with my kids.  Yesterday on the NPR program Tell Me More,  where Senior was among the guests and the discussion revolved around dads' reactions to her article,  Rice Daddies and Daddy Dialectic contributor Jason Sperber (daddy in a strange land) explained in a concise and moving way why parenting makes him happy.  Like me, Jason is a stay-at-home dad with no regrets about having kids and no major resentment toward the day-to-day chores of child care.

I'm not aware of any studies about how having children affects the happiness of those of us who don't have the added stress of trying to bring home the bacon, but I suspect that we would be significantly less unhappy than working parents.  My argument, then, is that the existing research does not really measure frustration with parenting, but rather frustration with trying to fulfill the responsibilities and expectations of both work and family.  This is not a huge revelation, and in fact both Senior and the authors of the studies she cites acknowledge that this is the case.  However, by framing their work in terms of "grueling life with kids vs. freewheeling childless adulthood," they cast parents as victims of their own decision to have children rather than critique a socio-economic model that makes it almost impossible for most parents to both provide for their children and enjoy them.  Maybe the conversation shouldn't focus on parenting as problematic, but instead should be framed as "why working parents hate life." 

Of course, I could be way off base in suspecting that the work side of the equation is at least as soul-sucking as the parenting side, because I'm not a huge fan of being employed.  I have had jobs that I enjoyed, but I have never had one that I would trade for staying home with my kids, and I think that the majority of people I know would rather take care of their kids than go to the office.  I want to see the study that asks people if they would quit their jobs and be full-time parents if they could afford to do so.  Or at least reduce the hours they work by half and spend those hours with the family.   

Senior's article and her comments on NPR emphasize that much of this unhappiness epidemic is caused by a feeling of lost independence on the part of parents, especially those who (like my wife and me) started families later in life, after having lived unencumbered for so many years.  This made me wonder what these unhappy parents were doing that was so awesome before the kids came along and ruined everything.  My wife and I had been together for twenty years before our twin girls were born a year ago, and we had many adventures in the pre-kid era.  But it's not like as soon as the kids were born, everything got boring.  Quite the contrary.  Raising children has been exciting, scary, and hilarious so far.  Sometimes I miss traveling, but if my parents are a valid example, traveling with kids is neither impossible nor necessarily painful.  The other stuff--movies, parties, restaurants--bah!  Who needs it.

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to bicker about the implications of this research, which seem to be bolstered every time a new study comes out (except in Denmark).  Maybe I'm trying to convince myself that I will be able to avoid the crushing stress and disappointment that most parents apparently experience.  Or maybe I don't want people who read about sociological research to be discouraged from producing classmates for my kids.  But part of me feels like the people who report being unhappy as parents probably would have been equally unhappy had they decided not to have children.  And the happy, childless subjects had much more exciting and fulfilling lives than the rest of us schmucks could ever have hoped for with or without kids, and had the foresight to know that parenting was not for them.  The other study I want someone to conduct is a comparison between parents and these childless gadabouts of  their "retroactive evaluations" of their lives once the children have grown up.  I hope that it would show no significant difference.  

Please visit me at Beta Dad, where I post cute pictures of babies.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Random Memories of The Today Show

So, apparently, on Tuesday I was a guest on The Today Show:

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1. When I walked up to the studio, the guest entrance was besieged by awe-struck teenage girls. Were they waiting for me? Er, no, they were there for a supernaturally handsome dude I later learned was Peter Facinelli, one of the stars of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse:

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Peter and I were ushered into the studio together; he gave me the once-over to make sure I wasn't somebody famous, and then ignored me. That's OK, because I didn't recognize him either, and I would rather gouge out my own eyes than watch The Twilight Saga.

2. Did you know that The Today Show allows same-sex couples to compete in its "Modern Wedding Contest"? Thank you, Today Show.

3. I got my hair and makeup done -- and my blazer vacuumed (?!) -- then hung out in the guest lounge with the producer Josh and Stacy Kaiser, who seemed very smart and nice -- and who looks normal in real life and great on TV, which strikes me as unjust given that I look like a dork both in real life and on TV. I also chatted with the husband of the foot doctor who went on after me and Stacy. He was interested in the anthology I co-edited, Are We Born Racist?, which Beacon Press is publishing next month. He turned out to be a big, big fan of musical theater and suggested that "Carefully Taught" from South Pacific become the theme song of the book:

Why not? Henceforth, I declare "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" to be the theme song of Are We Born Racist?!

4. In the lounge, I watched coverage of the not-funny domestic abuse saga I shall call The Mel Gibson Saga: Idiot. Let it be noted that he disgusts me, and I would rather gouge out my own eyes than watch anything with him in it. Except for Mad Max and The Road Warrior, which are classics. Also, the first Lethal Weapon is kind of funny, if you happen to be as wasted as I was when I watched it in college. It was Gibson's mullet. The mullet made me lose it.

5. I liked the segment of Lance and his family that preceded my interview, which I watched in the lounge; he and his wife are really the stars of this show, and I'm not sure why Stacy and I were necessary, though I'm happy enough to chat about my book with any national TV audience. (Because I've become a media whore?) The night before, I'd had dinner with Lance and Matt and Patrick of NYC Dads. What a great bunch of guys and what great work they're doing.

6. I was dismayed that Willie Geist was filling in for Kathie Lee -- because, come on, it's Kathie Lee! -- but Willie seemed like an amiable fella. In person, Hoda came off as bigger than life.

7. I was quite sick that day, and the interview itself was a blur. I recall being disappointed by the questions; I remember Willie looking pretty uncomfortable when I rejected the idea that stigma defines stay-at-home dads and when I brought up paternity leave. (Thought-ballon I imagined over his head: "Crap, he's not going to get political, is he? I thought this was supposed to be about stay-at-home dads!")

8. I'm pasting in the code for the clip without having actually watched the clip--and I don't plan on ever watching it, truth be told. I can't stand to see myself on TV.

9. Apparently, Liko can't stand to see me on TV either. Since we don't have a TV at home, he and my wife and my mother went to a diner with a big flat screen on 24th St. to watch the show. About two minutes in, Liko finished his breakfast, sighed heavily, and said, "Can I go home now?"

That's exactly how I felt! That's my boy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Keep it Low and Slow: from Rad Dad 18

A movie script about a father, three kids, the evil media, and the perils of sex education

I always thought this would be easy. I humored myself with assurances that I wouldn’t handle the subject like my parents did, that I would be a beacon, a guide, dare I say, a confidant for my children.

Ah, the bullshit we tell ourselves when we’re rocking babies about how we will parent in the future. Let me tell you right off what the moral of this story will be: humility.

Scene 1: I was driving in my car with my thirteen-year-old son; I discovered a few days earlier he’s acquired some pornographic material. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal about some adult magazines tucked up under a mattress. Oh, how I long for those good ol’ days. You see, if only I discovered a dirty magazine. Nooooo. Thanks to the Internet, instead I discovered 45-second clips of hard-core group sex on my computer desktop.

It’s time for The Talk, which I’ve had many times before, so this should be easy.

Hey, I found some…stuff…on my computer I think we need to talk about.

Awkward silence.

Really? What? he asked.

More awkward silence.

He continued, do we have to talk about it?

Cue cheesy music.

As I pulled over, I mumbled something like, Well, if you’re gonna look at it, I guess we need to talk about it.

I‘ll spare you the gory discomfort (though if you are really interested, check out Rad Dad 3) but admit that: Joking about sex with him when he was ten, was nothing like having the first real conversation with him about the seriousness and the responsibilities of sexuality.

Flashback: I was standing with my father in the garage. It’s dusk. I was about fifteen. I rarely had time with him alone anymore because he’s a busy man, he’s a silent man, but I knew he loved me, I knew he tried the best he could. He didn’t look me in the eyes. He called me out here because he caught me the other night getting down like only teenagers can in the horrifically uncomfortable backseat of my ‘76 Toyota Corolla.

So now was my The Talk.

Listen, he told me, and waited, the pause pregnant with anticipation.

He said, Keep your willy in your pants. I’m serious. Then he walked away.

And I’m serious; that’s what he said, the extent of our birds and bees conversation.

Of course, soon his advice became my way of joking with my girlfriend about getting it on, it’s time to release the willy; it was funny until when, at the age of eighteen, she becomes pregnant.

Non-sequitor Flash Forward:
The horror and accompanying popcorn gag as my son and I were getting ready to watch Aladdin (don’t ask why my son was invited to a three year old’s birthday party at a movie theater) when I witness for the first time the preview for the movie Free Willy.

Scene 2:
After having a difficult discussion about drug use with my fourteen year old daughter, I jokingly asked her, Well anything else we should talk about, like are you having sex?

Now, of course, I joked with her too from around age four about sex, but once again not really prepared for her response.

No, dad, I mean I‘ve made out with a few hot boys that’s all.

I stared blankly at her.

And, once again, in a moment that highlights the generational differences between my teenage years when you had to have a girl/boyfriend to free willy, today’s young people are more empowered to be sexually active without having to have a significant other; the wisdom is shocking.

I stuttered something like, I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend…

I don’t.


Picking up on my mental conundrum, she explained, There are boys you want to be your boyfriend and then there are hot boys you just wanna kiss.

Still stuck somewhere in the1950s, I asked, But don’t you want your boyfriend to be hot?

Yes, but sometimes you just want to kiss a hot boy. Can you leave my room now?

The third time really is the charm. I understand that now. From the sheer horror at the need to talk with my son about masturbation and pornography, to the disorientation of generational changes with my middle child, to finally the self-reflection, the epiphany of oh I’ve been here before with my youngest. Now some people may not need three children to see the light; unfortunately, I did. Of course, my cynicism almost makes me blow it again. And here’s where I blame the evil media. I hate all this faux female bisexuality (it’s almost never male) that has became a pop culture trend; it’s all over YouTube videos, hip-hop songs, and Facebook groups, but then again who am I to judge or question Lady Gaga’s sexual dalliances.

Scene 3:
When my youngest daughter informed me that she’s joining the Gay Straight Alliance at her middle school, I almost missed it. When I was twelve, I was still playing with tractors and thought my willy was indeed a whale.

Uh huh, I mumbled while trying to decide what the hell to make for dinner for two daughters who never want the same thing.

But after a second, her words reached me. I remembered my father, the dark garage, the silences. I stopped what I was doing, and I looked at her. I told her how proud I am of her. I asked her questions, and I just listened.

And a few weeks later, I listened again as she shared with me her frustration that even people who are members of the alliance use the word gay derogatorily.

And later still, I apologized to her when she overheard me joking with a neighbor about a friend of ours who is a self-proclaimed fag hag. I saw her face; I knew immediately she only heard me saying the word fag.

Scene 4:
We are watching the movie La Mission; it’s three teenage girls and me. At first they wanted to see Hot Tub Time Machine. To be honest, I did as well, but I knew that it’s not often we get to see movies that bring up issues critically. It’s true though that even bad movies are opportunities to discuss the way things are fucked up: sexual violence, gender rigidity, racism; but tonight I wanted to go the high road. We’re in the dark, and it’s the scene in which the father is refusing to listen, to know about, to acknowledge his gay son’s desires. It’s the familial version of don’t ask, don’t tell. We’re in the dark, and my daughter reached to grab my hand; she leaned into me and said, I can’t believe there are still people like him.

It’s then that I am thankful for the privilege of being a part of communities in which the homophobia I remember as a teenager seems surreal, seems like Hollywood exaggeration to my teenage daughters.

I rented The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and planned on watching it with my kids, but now they’re busy, now they have so many other things to do that they just wanted to watch the funny parts. Funny, you might ask. They simply loved the scenes of street life in the Castro. They commented on the clothes, the hair-dos, laughed at the Castro street parade footage, the dancing. But as the story shifted to the spontaneous memorial that moved down Market Street after Harvey Milk was killed, they watched silently; I saw their sadness, felt their disbelief. They soon left and returned to their rooms. I didn’t have to say anything. They knew.

And when I tell them about the event I’ll be reading at a few weeks later to celebrate the city’s first annual Harvey Milk Day, they smiled and one added, that’s cool, but just don’t embarrass me, ok.

So it’s come to this. Even though I don’t have to explain things anymore and even though I am so clearly the last person they want to confide in about anything sexual, I still ask questions. And they still hate it.

I still ask if they are having drugs and doing sex. They just roll their eyes and look utterly offended. My mantra now to them is low and slow; I’ve stolen the line from La Mission. I tell them in my best vato accent to have fun but keep it low and slow.

I think it’s better than telling them about willies and freedom.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Green Eggs And Sam

On Wednesday I sat on our bed, fully clothed, reading Green Eggs And Ham out loud to my one-year-old son, and wondered how it had come to this. That our bed was now for getting Sam to sleep, rather than for nookie.

“That Sam-I-am.

That Sam-I-am.

I do not like that Sam-I-am!”

He gets to choose two books, then I pick the third. The third book needs to end with sleep, so that he’ll get the message that it’s afternoon naptime. On Wednesday, he picked out Green Eggs And Ham, a classic, and not only because the main character is called Sam-I-am. The real Sam grunted and shifted positions, managing simultaneously to unbalance himself and put a heel into my groin.

“Careful, Sam.” There goes my shot at a second baby.

We even kissed the other day. Not me and Sam. My wife Fitzsimmons came back from work and looked cute in her new jeans and we had a little snog in the hall. And then she broke away, hair all muzzy, and checked her watch.

“How long has he been asleep?”

“An hour and forty minutes.”

“Ahh.” She smiled, forlornly (he never sleeps for two hours). I smiled too, though it was the smile of a trapped Chinese miner who wants a drink but gets a picture of the mine company president.

Sam reached forward and started to help me turn the page, then tried a swivel-flip to reverse off my lap.

“Hang on, Sam. Do you like green eggs and ham?”

Now that’s what I need. Sex served up on a platter. Instead, I’ve got seven hours of childcare after barely six hours sleep. By the time Fitzsimmons gets him to bed in the evening, she’s shattered and I’m already thinking what 5 a.m. is going to feel like.

“Would you like them here or there?”

Last week I read a chapter in one of these parenting books, all about two parents’ sizzling sex lives. Probably not with each other, the snakes. How they were constantly hopping on and off the washing machine, or the sink, or the dishwasher. A washing machine would really make my life better. I think I’d rather take that, on balance.

“We did not do it here or there.”

Who are these people, who have the energy and time to get their leg over, while the baby sleeps? Haven’t they learned the perils of procreation? Wasn’t once enough?

“We did not do it in the house.

We did not do it with a mouse.”

Sam flailed his arm and elbowed me in the stomach. He didn’t seem sleepy, and this was book two. Book one had been Frederick, about a poet mouse who told stories while the other mice humped corn and grain back to the burrow for winter. Sounded too close to my own situation for comfort.

“We did not do it in a box.

We did not do it with a fox.”

When does the sleep thing change? Fitzsimmons has been angling to get a sleep consultant for weeks now. Someone super at diagnosing infant sleep problems. I can see it now, the wise old lady coming in and doing psychological feng shui on our living situation.

“Ze baby must sleep facing east (all therapists must have German accents, even the feng shui ones). Turn ze crib that way. Ze muzzer must sleep in an adjoining room. You, you are ze fazha? You need more sex.”

“We did not do it in a car.

We did not do it in a bar.”

No, the word bar is not in this legendary American children’s story, but the old ham-and-eggser doesn’t always do nouns in couplets. And besides, not only do we not own a car, but we’ve only been out for one drink in nine months – one pint of Anchor and a small Hefeweizen, please. Total time away from baby? 42 minutes.

“We did not do it in the rain.

We did not do it on a train.”

Jesus. Stop with all the transportation, Seuss. Seven hours, childcare… you do the math. No cars, no trucks, no trains. I need energy, space, time to shave so I look almost presentable. And for my wife to stop worrying over our kid for long enough to put on her fancy underwear.

“We did not do it on a boat.

We did not do it with a goat.”

No boats either. Although, we did once take a Croatian overnight ferry from Dubrovnik to Rijeka. That was fun. No goats though. There’s always something missing.

What’s with the green ham and eggs, anyway? Green bacon is the closest I’ve come to this cartoon breakfast. Although nothing in America seems to age – endurance milk, long-suffering sour cream, astronaut cheese – I grew up in a British house where food had to be savagely rotten not to be eaten. My mother would scrape the mold off the marmalade and say, “Perfectly alright.” Which was how I came to eat bacon that had a silvery green sheen, like the wings of a pigeon which has seen better days.

Sam yawned and didn’t bother turning the last page. In five minutes, with some coaxing, he should be asleep. His namesake, Sam-I-am, was now in the ocean with the unnamed grinchy character with the stovepipe hat, surrounded by boat, goat, fox, box, mouse, bar, and washing machine. The green ham and eggs were dripping, but still intact on the platter.

“You do not like them, so you say.

Try them, try them, and you may.”

He’s so persistent, Sam-I-am. Maybe that’s the lesson for parents in Green Eggs And Ham – just keep showing up. I picked up Sam and put him in his crib, then buttoned him into a rather Seussy sleepsack with blue and green stripes. He grumbled a little, then slumped into a downward-facing pigeon pose. I stroked his back until he fell asleep. Behind me, our duvet was strewn with Sam’s colorful books and Fitzsimmons’s cotton pyjamas. I sat down on the bed and tucked the pjyamas under a pillow. Perfectly alright.

Simon Hodgson

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Who changes the diapers in your house?

In The Daddy Shift, Jeremy Adam Smith explores the ways in which perceptions of parental roles and responsibilities are changing and argues that gender is becoming less of a factor in the fundamental decisions families make about raising children.  The broad scope of Smith's project is alluded to in the book's subtitle, How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.

Many aspects of Smith's argument resonate with me as a novice stay-at-home dad, and one thread in particular corroborates a hunch I had based on the logistics of my own household.  Smith cites research that suggests an increasingly equitable division of "unpaid family work" within American families; however, he cautions that this doesn't signify an inexorable move toward an egalitarian utopia.

Although he characterizes the trend of men taking on more family work as "tenuous," Smith's profiles of non-traditional families serve as models for a much more balanced distribution of household labor than in the "traditional," male breadwinner/female caregiver home.  (Although the single-income household is a rarity these days, the legacy of the "traditional" family often manifests in women doing the bulk of the housework and caregiving even when they work outside the home.)  He suggests that in "reverse-traditional" (i.e., caregiver dad and breadwinner mom) and same-sex parent families, there tends to be less specialization, so that the breadwinner is likely to participate more in caregiving, and the caregiver may dabble in breadwinning--thus the workload is shared more equitably.  

This pattern became obvious to me when my wife returned to work after spending the first four months of our twin girls' lives at home with them.  At that point I became the primary caregiver (who occasionally gets paid to build something or teach a class); but contrary to what the term "reverse-traditional" may imply, my wife didn't suddenly transform into a disengaged patriarch.

I often receive more credit than I am due--and rarely try to deflect it--for the amount of work people assume is involved in taking care of two toddlers.  And it would be a lot of work for just one person.  But when my wife, a family practice doctor at a non-profit community clinic, comes home from work, she wants to spend every minute that she can with the babies.  There's no time for reclining with a pipe and the evening edition of the Mayfield Press for her--it's all about feeding, bathing, reading to, and playing with the kids.  But people tend to expect that from a mom, regardless of how much work she does or money she makes outside the home.

I know breadwinning fathers who likewise come home from work and immediately engage in as much caregiving as they can in the few hours before bedtime.  But I also know fathers who try to squeeze in as much time away from their families as possible.  This is unfathomable to me for a number of reasons (but who knows--maybe I'll develop an interest in golf and multi-day fishing trips in the next couple of years).

As much as I am philosophically down with the notion that work is work, and certain things need to be done to keep a family as healthy and happy as possible, and it's all equally important, I have to admit that there are times when I feel like the archetypal frustrated housewife.  When I'm just finishing cleaning up the mess from lunch in time to start making dinner, for instance, it's hard for me not to dwell on the Sisyphean nature of my labors.

But there are two things that assuage my frustration.  First, I have worked for decades outside of the home as a carpenter, contractor, and more recently as a teacher; and I know that any job can at times be tedious and seem endless and thankless.  When I grouse about rinsing out diapers (we use cloth as penance for the environmental havoc wreaked by raising kids) or washing bottles, I only have to remind myself that my wife could very well be gritting her teeth while doing her tenth pelvic exam before lunchtime instead of playing with her babies.  Would I rather be building a deck than scraping poop?  Probably.  But on the other hand, I would rather feed a baby than grade a stack of essays.   

Secondly, I receive plenty of recognition for my housework.  Not only from my wife, who notices my domestic achievements (and if she doesn't, I point them out), but also from acquaintances and strangers.  Unlike many of the caregiver fathers profiled in The Daddy Shift, I have not heard any withering comments or noticed any sideways glances about my domesticity (of course, this could be due to my self-preserving oblivion).  Instead, I am lauded almost universally for my willingness to face not only the supposedly daunting task of raising twins, but also the censure (yet to be felt) of our sexist culture.

The only sexism I have encountered in discussions about my stay-at-home status is of the condescending, mildly misandristic variety; e.g., "Oh my God--you watch them every day?  I can't even leave my kids home with their dad for the weekend!"  These comments usually make me seem heroic, and may reflect more on the speaker's perception of her schlub of a husband than on men in general, so I let them slide.

Although I'm usually perfectly happy to be compared favorably to other men, a couple things irk me about the attention I get for being a competent (as far as they know) parent.  The first troubling aspect is that it's still sometimes considered noteworthy that a man can take care of children and "keep house."  The other side of that coin is that women don't get enough credit when they do the same, since to do so is considered a function of their chromosomes.  The bar is set much lower for fathers, which is unfair to all parents.

My wife is reading this over my shoulder and thinks that the fact that men are perfectly capable of, and responsible for, doing every bit as much "unpaid family work" as women is a no-brainer, hardly worth discussing.  It's true that among the progressive types we usually hang around with, it goes without saying.  But in my conversations with moms at the dog park, members of my Asian mommies group (yeah--I'm the white guy with the double stroller), and even my stay-at-home dads group (members of whom often encounter incredulity at the idea that they can be trusted with kids), the assumption that men can't or won't contribute as much as women to the glamorless aspects of family life is a common theme.  Also, on the mommyblogs I lurk around on, casual kvetching about shiftless husbands surfaces regularly, especially in reader comments.

In The Daddy Shift, in other print and electronic media, and in his appearances on TV and radio, Jeremy Adam Smith has been an advocate and spokesperson for stay-at-home dads.  But he also stresses that gender equity in the home is not a done deal, exhorting us--especially caregiving fathers--to share our stories so that we can contribute to the evolution of the American Family toward this end.

What do you think?  Is the idea and/or practice of gender equity within the family so mainstream that we don't even need to talk about it anymore?  Or is someone doing more than their fair share of dishes? 

Please visit me at Beta Dad, where I'm much less serious and tell stories about my mommy group, daddygroup, and post adorable pictures of my kids

Monday, July 05, 2010

We Remember! On the Eve of The Oscar Grant Verdict

It was an accident that I hopped on the wrong train heading back to the East Bay lost as I was in the gallery of Sunday characters riding BART: tourists, hipsters, workers, and young teens. I smiled at them especially, the teenagers, excused their loudness, their energy. I imagined my teenaged daughters and son acting a little crazy just like them on the BART.

As we slipped past West Oakland station, I began to close my book, gather my belongings, but when we pulled into the Lake Merritt station and not 12th street I was confused. I realized I had boarded the wrong train. On or off? I couldn’t decide in time, and the doors closed.

No biggie; I’d just get off at the next stop. Which was Fruitvale.

I froze right there.

The skyline swept into view as we emerged from the tunnel, late afternoon sun spilling over the port of Oakland, serene and blinding.

It hit me then: Fruitvale BART station, the place where Oscar Grant was murdered.

His murder has stuck with me since it happened on New Year’s Eve 2009. I have been to vigils. I have facilitated discussions in classrooms and at Rad Dad readings. I have refused to forget for the last year and a half now the violence that is consistently perpetrated on the youth in our society. Especially youth of color. Especially young men.

But I have not come to where it happened.

The train hummed to a stop and I stepped off. The platform was empty, barren, almost peaceful. The geography was familiar. The cement walls. The red tile flooring.

Immediately, those bumpy, pixilated cell phone images come to mind, and then the noise, the chaos.

It was nighttime.

There were kids along those walls.

There were cops strong-arming and stomping back and forth.

There was Oscar Grant pushed face down on to the ground.

Then, there was the shot.

Standing in the Fruitvale BART station, I couldn’t help but feel my chest well up with such emotions, such sadness, such anger.

I searched for the spot thinking there must be a memorial: candles, pictures, flowers, something.

But there was nothing.

No sign to mark the spot, no image to bear witness. Everything wiped clean. I wonder what is left behind?

I walked the platform.

Soon, the first train heading my direction arrived. Two young men stepped off, laughing, holding cell phones to their ears. They nodded at me and walked to the stairs.

I was alone again and felt that I should do something.

But then I saw it; someone had written something in black sharpie, on the railing.

“We remember.”

I remember this as I, like so many in the Bay Area, await the verdict that will most-likely come out in the next few days. Initially, I was nervous, but still sure that justice would be served. Nothing could bring back Oscar Grant, nothing could give his daughter her father back, but at least a message would be sent to other officers of the law.

Now, I am not so sure this will happen.

I don’t know how I will respond to the verdicts. I fear the police are all too ready to subdue, to quell, to brutalize.

But they will not scare me away.

One thing I do know is that my daughters and I will be there with other people in downtown Oakland the evening the verdict is released.

I know we will not forget.

Join us.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Bay Area Event with Don Unger, author of "Men Can"

Hello. Today at 3 pm at Modern Times bookstore in San Francisco, Donald Unger will talk about his terrific new book Men Can: The Changing Image and Reality of Fatherhood in America. I'll be joining him, and I hope you'll consider joining us.

Men CAN tells the stories of a half dozen families—of varied ethnicities, geographical locations, and philosophical orientations—in which fathers are either primary caregivers or equally sharing parents, personalizing how Americans are now caring for their children and illuminating the ways that popular culture both reflects and influences these changes in family roles.