Friday, October 10, 2014

This just in: Dads aren’t dimwits.

I have noticed recently that Dads in the media are portrayed increasingly as dolts, dummies and dimwits. This post is going to attempt to alter the course of that nonsense.

How dare you!

As a single Dad to four teens, I have been the grounding voice of discipline, authority, wisdom and common sense in lives of my kids. I'm their Rock of Gibraltar. Now, I'm pretty damn far from perfect. But I can cook, I can clean, I am college educated and I'm the holder of all the highest high-scores in the family. I have the best jump shot and make the best omelet in the house. (butter, not oil).

Sit down, dummy. According to TV, women get the job done better.

So why does Hollywood, TV and advertising portray Dads as clueless dolts and dopey dudes who can barely tie their own shoes, know nothing about fashion and can’t boil a pot of water without their wife or girlfriend? Give me a brake! I'm the first to admit, women offer an amazingly diverse perspective on everything from raising kids to shopping to running a household. I cherish every suggestion my girlfriend has offered over the years. But that's not because I'm some doofus who wouldn’t be able to function without some woman telling him what to do. 

I know how to iron, I know how to tie a half-windsor, I know how to bake bread, I’ve made lobster croquettes and bake a mean lemon cake (yes with lemon-shards and ground vanilla). As a classically trained artist, I can paint, build furniture, organize color schemes and cook better than most women I know. So sorry Hollywood, I’m pounding an angry fist on the BS button on your views of men!

Double tuning the carbondifibulometer with a 3” torque ratchet… thingie. 

I played organized softball, volleyball, football and basketball. I bench-press a considerable portion of my 270+ pounds. I do indeed, enjoy watching sports. Pretty manly stuff, right? But lift the hood of an automobile engine, and you might as well be showing me the operating schematics to a rocket propulsion system. In arabic. Backwards. Upside down. In short, I'm lost. 

I understand (fundamentally) how internal combustion works. But that's as far as it goes. I know nothing, repeat, noting about cars. I did not spend time as a grease monkey, huddled under a hood or a cranked ’72 Chevy Bartooga (or whatever) learning why the chronic flan-ger-ator doesn’t syphon off properly. With today’s computer-driven cars and repair systems, this seems completely unnecessary to me. 

Dad or bust.

Given the mixed messaging from society and the media, men have an increasingly convoluted picture about what it means to be a man. Or a father. Actually its really quite simple. Mothers give a caring, nurturing and loving perspective to life. And so does a man. A woman can have patience, compassion and emotionally ground. And so does a man. What women CANNOT show a child, is what it means to be man. To be there, to be engaged, to be a stern voice of authority when necessary, to show both daughters and sons what manhood really means. To take care of business, problems and your family. 

So, Hollywood, take out your notepads. Anyone can lay down and make babies. The real test of manhood is to stand up and take care of them. Everything else is a careful mix of common sense, fear, intelligence, lede expereince and blind guesswork. We all trip, stumble and make mistakes. Just admit when you’re wrong, apologize for any mistakes and pain you have caused, hold your head up and persevere when you would rather quit. I don't need a woman to help me with any of that. 

So that’s what it means to be a father and to be a man, according to me. Its not easy but its pretty simple, right? That's because it.

P.S., For the record, my Dad was never around. Which taught me the #1 most important part of being a Dad. Being there. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

18 things to remember when you're 18

On September 30th, 2014, my daughter turned 18 years old. What an amazing milestone she has reached and I will save all the “it seems like only yesterday, when…”cliches you’ve heard them all… even though they still apply.

Instead, I thought I would offer this quick reference guide for the savvy young adult entering into a new phase of life. These are (mostly) my thoughts, not borrowed from somewhere else_though if they were -profound enough that would be ok too. Enjoy. 

1. Life is a precious gift. Don’t squander it on people or pursuits that don’t make you happy. 

2. Travel. It will give you life perspective and help you understand people.

3. Don’t marry anyone before age 30. Live, love, travel. If you meet the love of your life, they will be there waiting for you at age 30.

4, Trust your instincts, they are rarely wrong.

5. Keep an open mind. You’ll be amazed at how full and rich your life will be.

6. Maintain a good sense of humor. No one likes a grumpy puss.

7. Listen before you speak. Don’t just wait for others to stop talking before you start. 

8. Your family in life will be defined by the people who stand by your side when they could have looked (and ran!) the other way. 

9. You are important and you matter. Vote. 

10. No one loves you more than God. Its true. When all feels lost, he is there to help you find your way. 

11. Do kind things for strangers. What you get back is immeasurable. 

12. Doing something you love is far more important than making a bunch of money. 

13. Never stop drawing, it promotes neuro-elasticity in your brain and enhances critical thinking. You'll need that to out-think the dimwits. 

14. Take care of your body. Its the only one you’re going to get. 

15. Your family loves you. Remember that during the tough times. 

16. Don't be too quick to judge others. Remember how much it sucks when it happens to you. 

17. Put the technology down and go outside. The sun is good for you and flowers smell good. 

18. Everything in moderation. Including moderation. Lets face it, sometimes you gotta just cut loose. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I decided “getting old” just isn’t my thing.

Nothing makes you feel the weight of your years like your children. They know nothing, yet have all the answers. Their music is “better” (also known as worse), their TV and tech is almost out of reach if you are over 35 (I am) and they have boundless wells of energy and seem to be able to not sleep. Me? well the concept of mid-afternoon naps sound like a heavenly way to a complete day.

I frequently hear people ‘my age’, namely those part of Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981) say things like, “us old folks got to stick together” and “kids these days’ and other old fart bag statements that make the person saying them like they have one foot in the grave. It hints at a old, grumpy person’s mentality that I just don’t adopt. 

I won't.

At 46, I workout more, eat better and watch more (and admittedly cooler) movies than the teenagers in my my life. I also play more video games, watch more sports, do more things that bring my life joy and meaning than they ever have. “Me time” is essential for healthy longevity and I plan to keep that going. It works. When asked about my age I always say “guess”, I have gotten everything from late 20’s to mid and late 30’s. Hah! See? Either 40 really is the new 30 or the youthful way I live my life is paying dividends. Or I could just have some decent genetics.

Be mindful I am NOT in denial. Again, I am confidently able to state my age; 46 in case you missed it, and to me, there is a huge canyon of difference between "growing up" and being an adult.

Sure ‘kids come first’ and ‘everything I do is of them’ those are both true. What is also true is my teens don’t have a lackadaisical Dad who sits on the couch, drinking, smoking and wailing about the “good old days.” No I’m the Dad taking them to the opening night premieres, the Comic Cons, watching (and playing) sports, checking grades online (that's not very popular with them but whatever) and sitting and talking with them whenever possible. Heck I even co-host a gamer podcast to discuss the video games I play with them. Yeah, I’m that Dad. 

I’m too busy, too enthralled with my world, my art, writing and design, my job, blogs, my love life, my love of entertainment and my growing “where I want to go” list of travel to worry about ‘getting old.’

Sure I’m aging, but getting old is a way different mindset and I decided long ago, It just ain’t for me. Listen, I’d love to chat more but I’m heading out on a raid in Destiny and the kids are telling me my online fire team is waiting for me. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Ferguson is such a personal outrage

This is NOT the post you think it is. 

As a man of bi-racial heritage, I find it difficult to swear racial allegiance to one “race” or another. Like I have shared with my four bi-racial children, when two people of two different colors come together and create life, that child is now a unique and distinctly different "color." When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. Orange is now a uniquely separate thing with its own properties and identifying characteristics.

Seeing things through a racial filter has-at best–always been tough for me. There were a lot of different nationalities of kids I played with growing up in my inner-city  Boston neighborhood. As an adolescent, I played with  2 Ethiopian kids (brother & sister), 2 Haitian brothers, a bi-racial boy, two white kids (brother and sister), 2 Black kids and another white boy who lived above me (it was a 24-unit, four-story tenement). We knew nothing about racial segmentation. Nor did we care, we were too preoccupied with having fun together, rain, sleet or snow.

So when a young back man is gunned down by a white cop (the young man was unarmed and the cop shot him six times at point blank range), I'm stunned. Not by the event, not even by the outrage of the multi-nationality of the protesters. I am not even off-put by the scores of police using dictatorial-style military tactics to ‘disperse’ the crowds. I am appalled by the reactions of those of us who are so far removed from these events and yet have so many opinions about it. 

Facebook and Twitter exploded just hours after the news broke and the chose-up-siders went to town. Memes that explained outrage over how a black cop shot a white guy and that got no news coverage, where were the protesters for that? Really? What about the two black guys who beat up a poor white US veteran and the story never got any media play (something I find astonishing since we all somehow know about it). Then there’s the multiple stories of how the young man, Michael Brown, had (allegedly) robbed a convenience store of a cigar a day before being killed. He stole a cigar. When did the crime for THAT warrant an immediate execution-style death?

Here’s what we know; a young man (who was slated to start college course two days after being killed) was gunned down by an officer. I don’t know what the officer’s motives were, I wasn’t there. But 10 shots were fired. Ten. Six found their mark. Two to the head, four to the body–anyone else find this excessive? And a white cop, Darren Wilson, patrolling in an all-Black neighborhood, that has had a history of racial tension with the police, is not a good backdrop. 

The brutality of the police was mind-numbing to me. The dismissal that this was not a racially motivated event. The police chief of Ferguson said, in a press conference, "this was not an excessive use of force the officer, discharged his firearm not many more then two times.' ("Not many more?")

Tear-Gas, rubber bullets, footage of cops antagonizing and goading protesters. Name calling (albeit on both sides) made me ashamed and fearful for our country. Did I really watch a news clip of a police officer calling people who are outraged and fed up with injustice “animals?” What the hell? Its a scenario as volatile as any imaginable. 

The specter of racism hangs over every facet of our society. It has not gone away. It will not go away. Not until every single factor gets addressed. It is NOT okay that anyone loose their life over anything. Period. Even if Mr. Brown was charging the cop, they are trained to put someone down with non-lethal force. But that's not what happened. If this was a white man, he would have been pepper-sprayed or tazed. You know it, I know. The officer Wilson knew it. And now, Michael Brown, son, friend, would-be college attendee knows it. But the cost of acquiring that knowledge cost him his life. 

This all brings me back to when I was playing with children from a spectacular number of nationalities and ethnicity when I was growing up. I knew nothing of race, each kid was as fun as the other and figuring out how to play with so many kids was our challenge, not race. 

My offering for progress. 

In 2013 I traveled to Atlanta and met a life-long friend and his wife (he’s Jewish BTW) and we all went to DragonCon, the big Sci-fi convention held there every year. While there, we attended a panel of stars from the great Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica. A panel which included actor Edward James Olmos. In a giant exhibition hall of nearly 5,000, he explained how his belief system informs him that there is but one race… the human race. That nationalities are just political excuses to divide us and drive derision. 

He then challenged the crowd to embrace and spread this vision and to recite the catch phrase of the colonial fleet. We all stood on our feet to utter, in fist-pumping unison the prophetic words; “So say we all!” The entire throng chanted back “So say we all!” Exchanging this phrase back and forth, louder and louder until the thunder of more than 5,000 people shook the very halls of the Atlanta Hyatt’s convention center. Remembering It still sends shivers down my spine. 

Edward James Olmos is right. When there is no black race or white race but just a human race, humanity can truly take a step toward bettering itself. If it had happened sooner, young Michael Brown would be alive and in his first semester of College today. And the national tarnish of racism would be a distant memory. 

So say we all. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

There must be something wrong with me

Getting hurt isn’t funny. No matter what the idiots who run MTV will tell you, their million-dollar programs like “Ridiculousness” or VH1’s World’s Dumbest… whatever. Or the Jackass movies and TV series. I can't barely watch them, let alone get any amusement form them.

Maybe its because I’m a Dad and I’ve had to pay for some serious injuries. Broken legs and ankles, broken fingers and arms, sprains, muscle strains and more sinus infections than I dare to count. Also two asthmatic kids who have been hospitalized in the past, don’t make for ‘loads-o-laughs.’  My daughter even had to be rushed to the ER because her brothers put Pine Sol cleaner into her shampoo bottle and it got into her eyes. She could have lost her eyesight. Was that  when the belly laughs were supposed to begin?

To be honest, I have NEVER thought it was funny when people fall and get hurt. Not only is it embarrassing for the person who falls, but physical trauma can lead to permanent debilitation. Is this where the giggling kicks in? I’m sure it’s because of how I'm wired, but seeing somebody hurt–even marginally–is not an all-day laugh session. 

Not to me. 

It may also be because I want to keep the people I love out of harm’s way. Perhaps it’s because I have had a near-death experience myself. Or maybe because I simply don’t find physical pain (or physical humor for that matter) all that funny. 

Sure, sure. I watch NFL football, play violent video games and enjoy violent action films as much as the next guy. But NFL players are paid handsomely for their efforts, video games are make-believe and movies are at worst, co-ordinated, choreographed performances. This does not absolve me of watching similar content, but in no instance do I laugh a hearty laugh at someone else’s expense. 

Go ahead and get yourself a concussion, snag a major surgery or two or even just slip and fall. Then please share, at what a laugh-out-loud funny experience it is. 

Obviously, it’s funny time. But you'll have to pardon my lack of amusement. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Mad Bro?

Always angry behind the wheel?
Maybe it’s time we looked at why.

Time for a rant, kiddies. Not a day goes by while driving in Phoenix, Arizona that I don’t get at least one stare-down from angry and distracted driver. This is when the other driver is so angry at me for some nonsense reason, that he—or even sometimes she–will mean-bug me as they drive by or if I should pass them. For the life of me, it seems like the most silliest of reasons to rage over. 

Let me paint the picture for you.

I’m not a ‘pokey’ driver. I’m commonly 10-15 mph over the speed limit. I am courteous, I always use directionals. Always. My movements are NEVER a surprise to my fellow drivers and I am fair when it comes to letting others merge or when I want merge I am sure as try and not piss-off others drivers, In 65 mph Freeway sections, I’m doing 80 so there is discrepancy about my driving. I’’ve been in two accidents. Once, one of those fancy Priuses zipped in front of me, cut me and my much larger car (a Chrysler Pacifica) totaled his. The other time, a VERY distracted driver T-Boned said Pacifica and totaled it. I walked away from both, very pissed. 

Back to the lunatics. 

So I am a decent driver. In truth, I drive as if I believe every person on the road is out to get me. Works out well. So why all the angry mugs on the road? While I am the first one to admit (as I am not pre-disposed to being right) the answer lies with them. Here are the five character types we can all identify with: 

1. The Texter. This words-before-roads communications genius is often seen on highways and at stoplights, furiously sharing important info like industrial spy secrets, hacking the NSA's servers or even solving world hunger problem. It must be one of those things because these ding-dongs can’t even be bothered to drive or pay attention. What’s more, they are furiously startled and may even share an unhappyy emoticon via hand-gesture when you beep at them.

2. The Talker. Who can be bothered driving when theres important topics to discuss like shoes, last night’s game or leaving kissy-face messages for their snuggle bunnies? Not these dopes. Driving at 15 mph in a 40 mph zone is all the rage and perfectly fine when you got stuff to say. 

3. The Startled One. This jittery dip pulls up to every stoplight, Yield and Stop Sign in the county. Is then suddenly distracted by their iPhone /Coffee / Text /radio or whatever they can find to distract them. hen when its time to go, they miss their cue and that’s when it gets weird, you or even someone behind you, honks their horn and and they practically leap out of their skin! Really? 

4. The Testosterone Fiend. These troglodytes are often driving a giant white, ozone-crushing Ford F-350, with all the fixin’s. They swerve and accelerate in and out of traffic like its a game of groans. They cut you off and won’t think twice elf it. Then they flip you off, or even better, completely ignore the fact that you’re even on the road. Oh, and as an added bonus, these d-bags are men 100% of the time. (sigh)

5. The Road Owner. You are in the presence of royalty. Yup, this member of the roadway aristocracy needs you to get do one thing and one thing only get out of their way. Often a BMW or Audi, these entitled d-bags drive with a sense of purpose. Their purpose. Which is to say, you don’t exist and they are far more special than you are because you don’t matter. See? Now you know. 

So in the end, I don’t know who’s more hostile–them or me–but in the end, is either prospect a good one? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Superheroes and the quest for the larger-than-life man

(or what my beloved super heroes taught me that my Dad never could.)
The Avengers Age Of Ultron, Marvel, Superheores
Illustration by Arthur Milano
The phenomenon that is superhero culture has grown exponentially and I think I know why. Thus, may I present my arm chair philosophy concerning the appeal of the American super hero fantasy genre. They are urban myths, they are larger than life and they are what we all aspire to be. Men (and a few choice women) who stand tall in the face of adversity and do so even when triumph is not certain. What’s not to love?
In a world where so many men (and again, a few choice women) abandon their families it is nice to see someone step forward and commit to taking the hits for the weak, meek and defenseless. To stand strong for the weak, to be there when… okay you get the idea.
In classic literature we call a protagonist’s plight the hero’s journey. This is earmarked with tragedy, sacrifice, pain, suffering and finally, redemption. Ancient heroes were quite super as well. Perseus, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hercules, Homer. Magic and mysticism has been wrapped around King Arthur. Instead of Gamma rays and and radioactive spider bites, these ancient heroes had special abilities derived from the Gods (Zeus, Hades, Athena, etc).
The rise of the American super hero is largely due to the need for young boys looking to an ideal—for a blueprint of manhood. I speak from experience when I say that when there is no father, or father figure around, the child suffers. Trust me, in light of a bad father, like one who is abusive–in any way—often the child is better off. I mean if the Dad is there, actively engaged, encouraging, a spiritual compass, a family leader and is there to give a hug or an ass-kicking when needed. Believe me, there's nothing better for a child’s formative years.
So who were my heroes?
Growing up, I wasn’t much into sports (that would come later) and so fantasy, science fiction and comic books were where I–an only child to a single Mom–raised in the shadow of a butt-ugly divorce–went to look for inspiration. I found that inspiration in the muscle-bound, testosterone-laden super-dudes of Marvel Comics. Now and then I dug some DC books later, but all of DC’s characters–Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash among others–were largely unrelatable to me. They all seemed like perfect white men leading already perfect, privileged lives. They didn’t seem to struggle with life like Marvel’s characters. Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman) was a nerd who was terrorized at school, who wasn’t popular with the ladies, wasn’t a jock and because his parents were dead was being raised by his aunt and uncle.
Now THAT was a character I could relate to.
It gets better. The X-Men, largely teenagers, had to deal with all the same problems as most American teens but also had to contend with weird powers they didn’t understand, world-conquering maniacs, giant killer-robots built to hunt them, alien attacks and crazy murderers around every corner (hmm, sound  like my old neighborhood growing up). Iron Man was a brilliant industrialist but also a raging alcoholic. The Hulk was a euphemism for rage, like a modern-day Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Powerman (Luke Cage) was an ex-pimp and street enforcer turned 'good', the Fantastic Four were a dysfunctional family of misfits and–well, again, you get the idea.
But I still haven’t answered the question yet, who were my (super) heroes? First was The Vision. A super-android who was built to destroy the Avengers, a team of haphazard do-gooders. He chose differently and eventually fell in love with, married and divorced the Scarlet Witch, a mutant sorceress and long-time Avenger. He was an android, a synthetic man, who was built to do the bidding of his robot master, Ultron–a sentient AI who was obsessed with killing off the human race but who also had a huge Oedipus complex. I was bi-racial (actually I still am) and I could relate to someone who was a part of two different worlds but fit into neither. Now don’t get me wrong, when the s#!t went down, you wanted this guy on your side. And that’s what drew me to him. In spite of his inner turmoil, he knew his allegiances. In short, he would make the correct choice.
Then there was Bishop, a big, powerful mutant super-soldier from the near future. Muscle-bound with a big attitude and even bigger guns. He was a leader and took no s#!t from anyone. And he was Black. Something else as a bi-racial kid (half black, half white) needed to see was balance. I could see someone who is strong and tough who isn’t a blonde-haired blue-eyed ideal I could never live up to. Something else I fancied about Marvel, they were diverse. The X-Men had members from Africa, Latin America, Canada, Germany, Russia. They even had a Native American strongman named Warpath! Marvel created the first black superhero in the Black Panther and frequently had their women equally powerful (or more so) than their male counterparts (single-Moms rejoice!).
These fictional characters had all the shortcomings of a regular person yet, were able to rise above their station and do extraordinary things. My father, who never once showed his face to me, was a man who I never got to know. That was his choice. Mine was to find examples of manhood that were good, solid compasses. I turned out to be a father–and eventually, sadly enough, a single Dad–who is always there with hugs, words of encouragement or the threat of a smack down when needed. 
My kids know I mean business when I say something. While I’m the farthest thing from perfect I share my love of comic books, art, movies, reading and sports with my daughter, 17, and three teenage sons. We even attend local ComiCons together. I believe in supporting my kids as much as any committed parent. I’m there for them and want to coach my kids to be the very best they can be. To accomplish acts of kinds and unselfish citizenship. To make a positive mark on the world and if at all possible, leap tall obstacles in a single bound. Just like the heroes I grew up idolizing. 
After all, would the the Vision or Bishop do any less?