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So, it is a sad day.  It is a sad day that I knew would come one day.  It came yesterday.  My son has received his first experiences of what it means to be black in this country.  My son is in sixth grade and I recently discovered that a kid in his school has been using racial slurs against him.  The situation makes me sad, angry, and unfortunately, unsurprised.  I knew this day would come, and quite frankly I am more surprised that it hasn’t happened earlier.

We had a conversation with my son last night.  Talked to him about some of my own experiences, and gave him some advice on how to handle this situation in the future.  We also told him that he is a great kid and let him know how much we love him.  Other than that, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say.  My first reaction was to advise him to kick the kid’s ass.  I told him this, but informed him that I was not completely sure that was the best advice.  We did advise him to make it clear to the kid that he was not someone to be messed with, but to do so within the confines of his comfort level.  At the end of the day, we settled on informing the teacher if an incident happened again.

Whether or not we handled the situation perfectly as parents remains to be seen, but the situation saddens me.  It leaves me with this simple lesson to all parents that might read my blog:  Teach your kids to NOT be racists.  How else do kids learn these types of repulsive behaviors?  If you are a parent and you are reading this blog, and you are thinking, “My kid would never use racial slurs against another person.”  My question to you is, “How do you know?”  Have you talked about racism to your kids?  Have you discussed the reality of differences and the fact that these differences are to NOT be ignored, but respected.  Never say to me, “I don’t see color.”  We all see color and just because you don’t have a white hood in your closet does not mean that you have not treated or reacted differently to someone simply because of the color of their skin.  And trust me, although you did not recognize it, the other person did.

I am not looking for white guilt, and I am certainly not looking to encourage you to find your local minority and give them a hug.  I would hate that.  Give me and others like me, the same respect, attention, acknowledgement, and subtle reactions as you would give anyone else.  Do your best.  You will make mistakes, but when you do, apologize for it and keep trying.  Don’t sweep this under the rug.  Don’t ignore it.  We are ALL racially biased, and until we acknowledge this fact within ourselves, we will never change.  But most of all, teach your kids these lessons.  They will not learn them if you don’t.  Teach your kids to defend these principles.  Silence is the same as endorsement.  This is true of all ages.  Do not accept racist behavior in your presence.

I am sad.  I am angry.  My son is awesome and nothing nor anyone will take that away, but he has been scarred.  And as someone who knows exactly what it feels like to be attacked because of the color of my skin, it is a scar that never heals.

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If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about racism.  You might think that they would never get a racial bias from you, but if they get it from somewhere else, are you going to know?  And more importantly, will you do anything about it?  I’m just sayin …

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So, my son bought a fedora.  I don’t know where he got it from, or why he bought it, but when I picked him up from his mom’s house yesterday, he had it on.  Don’t get me wrong, he looks great, but is a fedora something that a 5th grader should wear?  Or more specifically, should he wear it to school?  I can honestly say that I want my children to grow up independent and secure in who they are and  I don’t want them to worry about what other people think or say.  They should be themselves and not let anyone dictate who or what they should be … in theory.

You see, in my mind, when he arrived to school wearing a fedora, kids were going to point at him and laugh.  They were going to tell him that he looked stupid wearing that hat, and then spend the next 20 minutes making him cry.  The scene finishes with him eating alone in the cafeteria working really hard to hold back tears.  Or there was the other version, the version where kids take his hat, rip it up and beat him up for being a pretentious little fedora-wearing panzy boy.  He arrives home with a bloody lip and runs to his room crying.  What I have just described to you is the real thoughts that ran through my head this morning as I contemplated keeping the fedora at home.  Instead, I simply asked him “You sure you want to wear that hat to school?”  He responded simply, “Yup.”  And that was that.  I said nothing else.  he got ready for school, which included his gym shoes, backpack, violin and fedora.  Him playing the violin, in my mind, did not help.  As he leaves the house, about to close the door, I say one thing, “You look great in that hat.”  He said, “Thanks” and walked to school.

He is wearing that hat. You go boy!

I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew one thing, my son was going to leave the house knowing that I thought he looked great in that fedora.  And he did look great in that fedora.  My goal for my kids remain the same.  I want them to be independent and not worry about what other people think.  But I added another goal to my parenting list today; I want my kids to know what I think.  I think my kids are awesome, and he looks good in a fedora.
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I wondered this morning, “what crazy thing would I do if I was filthy rich?”  When I say rich, I mean light your cigar with a burning $100 dollar bill rich.  Here is what I would do: I would purchase a barber style chair, I would make a special room with a HD television on the wall, and wall speakers connected to my voice activated i-pod that is connected to the internet and automatically downloads any song that I request.  Blu-ray with surround sound of course.  I would hire the most attractive woman I could find.  She would be paid $50,000 a year to wear high heel shoes and a nice low-cut black dress, and at least once a week, using tweezers, pull the white hairs from my beard one by one.  Happy ending would be optional.  I’m just sayin …

He is very good at the violin, and the fedora completes the ensemble.

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So, I am at home visiting the family for Thanksgiving.  My wife, and three kids braved the crazy airport scene to arrive in California where most of my family resides.  If you can avoid LAX, I highly recommend it.  We landed at 8:45 pm and did not get out of the airport until 10:15.  Here is the thing, we got all of our bags at 9:20.  It took us almost an hour just to get out of the airport, CRAZY!  The bizarre thing is that I was born and raised in LA, but now this place feels like a foreign country to me.

If you are from the Midwest, which now I must say I am a Midwesterner (You have no idea how sad it is to write that.  I am even looking at it now and thinking if I should erase it, but sadly, I can’t, the Midwest is my home now. Sad clown), you should consider a trip to LA for the experience.  I promise you, the city will not let you down.  It starts with the flight into the airport, where you will see more lights on the ground then possibly anywhere else on the planet (and I have been to a lot of the planet).  When you arrive, you will see every walk of life; black, white, hispanic, asian, muslim, greek, jews, gentiles, you name it, they will be there.  Also, foreign languages will be spoken all around you.  When I go to the grocery store near my mom’s house, the dominant language by far is Spanish.  You might find that odd, I find it very cool.  The bottom line is, despite having way too many people, too many cars, traffic at 3am, and times of smog that could kill a canary, I love LA.  However, I now must say, great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

Alright, now that was a huge digression.  I want to talk about family, my family, all of my family.  On Thanksgiving we ate at my Dad’s house. 

This picture is nothing like dinner at our house. First of all there are no ribs in the picture. Secondly, there is no can-shaped cranberry sauce (A must have. Don't eat, but must have). And who eats fresh green beans? Where is the green bean crap?

At the house were my father, stepmother, stepsisters and their families, my stepbrother and his family, my sister and her kids, my cousins, my family, some random people I didn’t know and my mom.  There was like 35 of us.  The dinner was planned and hosted by my stepmom and it was a great time.  There were babies everywhere and multiple generations.  We shared stories, laughed, and ate; we ate a lot.  Looking around the gathering I couldn’t help but think to myself, this is who I am, this is me.  All of this is what has made me who I am and if you are like me, I would encourage you to embrace that fact.  Your family and my family has made us who we are today.

My sister who tells a story of my father’s arrogance.  She says, “Am I right? He is arrogant!”  My father notices that no one is disagreeing with her.  Everyone in the room doesn’t say a word as everyone looks at each other and bust out laughing because we all know it’s true.  Even my mom chimes in on how my father has the ability to smooth talk his way through any situation, fully expecting to get his way. – this is me.

We share how my mother used to make all of us stand in line at the grocery store as she headed back into the store to find more items.  If she came back and we did not hold our position, or if the checker made us move, she would get mad at us for not standing our ground.  Always stand your ground. – this is me.

My father talked of not knowing his father and being raised by his mother.  It is very clear that despite not being raised by his father that he did not take that path.  He broke his cycle, and became a father to his kids, all of his kids.  You see, my sister’s dad is not my dad, nor my older brother’s, and obviously not my stepbrother’s and stepsisters’, but you wouldn’t know it in that room.  He may not be the father by blood, but he is father by action. – this too is me.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I hope you spent the time with your family.  Maybe it was stressful, maybe it was joyous, maybe your drunk uncle got out of control again, but remember this:  Your family has made you who you are, some for the good, and some for the bad, but all you, and if you take a moment, you will see the little origins of you in the faces and actions of your family members.

I could go on and on with family stories from this weekend, but what I will remember most is that we may not be the Brady Bunch, the Cleaver’s or even the Cosby’s, but we are truly the Modern Family.  They made me who I am.  And remember this, if your family is the best at pushing your buttons, you shouldn’t be surprised because they are the ones that installed them.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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I went golfing with my father, brother and stepbrother yesterday.  It was awesome.  So awesome we are going to try to do it every year.  The funny thing is we all complained of the cold.  I live in Wisconsin, so it made me laugh because the temperature was about 60.  I now know why I hate Wisconsin winters so much, I clearly have a California weather gene.  I’m just sayin …

I’m Just sayin … (Part II)

Is it just me or when you go home you walk through a time warp and the family dynamics become that of when you were a kid?  I’m a grown-ass man with kids, but when I am home I can’t help but wonder why it’s Thanksgiving and my mom has not made my apple pie yet.  I may throw a tantrum soon.  Wrong? Yes, but true.  I’m just sayin …

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So, originally I was planning on posting on the hypocrisy of people wanting to modify the 14th amendment.  It is as hypocritical an idea I have ever heard and as far as I am concerned it is yet another veiled act of racism.  Although I wrote that post (coming soon), I was distracted by an idea I had about an experience I had at the gym involving very naked and very old men (also coming soon).  Unfortunately, I had an incident today that I feel compelled to talk about in this post.

As some of you may be aware, my son is taking football for the first time.  The coaches tell me he is doing great.  They have been extremely supportive and I have had great conversations with them and their insights to how they think they will use him in the game.  He is slated to play defensive line.

In the beginning, I don’t think he liked it because the first week was all conditioning, but whenever we talked about how he would hit people in the future, his eyes would light up and it was clear he was excited to play football.

Now don’t get me wrong, my son is awesome, but his interactions with the world and other people are not the same as other 10-year-olds.  It is for this reason that I worry about him constantly.  I worry that he will have difficulties making friends, understanding his teachers to be successful in school, and now being able to learn a game he has never played before with several coaches giving multiple instructions.  He is a big kid, and like most people who are especially big, tall, or strong, certain expectations/assumptions are made upon them.  Although he is large, he is also the sweetest, nicest, and most unassuming kid you will ever meet.  He is a pleasure to be around, and probably not a single aggressive bone in his body.  The funny thing is, I was the same way at his age, and I believe I am trying to fix MY “flaw” in him.  I stated in a previous post (Parenting: Raising Children in a Bubble) that “nothing will make you more angry than when your child does or experiences something that is a direct reflection of your own flaws.”  You see, my son did nothing wrong, yet I saw in him something that I wish I would’ve done when I was his age.  It was as if I could fix my flaws through him.

You may have kids and if you do, I’ll ask you this: What is your flaw that you try to fix in your kid(s)?  Maybe you think that if only your son/daughter would apply their God-given talents they would be more successful than you ever were.  Or maybe you wish your child wasn’t so lazy, because you know how lazy you were at their age.  Maybe your child gets too emotional, not emotional enough, no initiative, not prepared for the future, or dating the wrong guy or girl.  But I will ask you to seriously think about it.  Is the thing that annoys you the most, also your flaw?

If you don’t have kids, my guess is that the parent you have the most struggles with are most like you.  If you don’t believe me or you think that it isn’t true, just ask someone else.  For example, my father and I are very alike.  He has an annoying way of saying things to you that are not exactly kind.  They are often true, but it is in the tone that is truly irritating.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my father, and he is significantly more tolerable than he used to be (I think age does that), but he can get under my skin like no one on the planet.  And today, the tone I used with my son after his football practice was from page one of my father’s handbook.  It was like I was acting just like my father, something I promised I would not do, but it was like I was hovering over my body and it was channeling my dad’s tone.

I think we all struggle with our parent’s “mistakes”.  I have placed the word in quotes because I am no longer convinced they were mistakes, but consequences of being human.  My friend, Doug posted a comment (Don’t Have Kids … Please) that I believe states it best:  “But as Don Luis Miguel said in his book, “The Four Agreements,” we hear these things, make an agreement with it, and then later on spread this same negativity. Hopefully today for that mom, and in the future for that child, they begin to break that cycle by making new agreements. 1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don’t take things personally. 3. Don’t make assumptions. 4. Always do your best. I have had to work very hard at not doing some of the same things to my kids that my parents did to me. At the same time, I had to let go of resentments about those things and realize that my parents did what they were taught and did the best they could with what they knew.”

I don’t resent my parents.  I think they did a bang up job, but it does not mean that there aren’t cycles I would like to break.  At the end of my little tirade at my son today, I apologized.  He did not deserve my tone.  I told him how great I think he is and how his dad unfortunately gets carried away sometimes.  It was not my intention to make him feel bad.  At dinner I told him that I did not need to be at practice, and he could ask me when he felt he needed my help.  Before he went to bed he said he wanted me at practice, and I was very relieved.

I know I am not the best father in the world, but I hope I am the type of person that can learn from his mistakes and continually strive to be a better person.  I don’t know if I broke the cycle as my friend Doug discusses above, but I do know that I apologized to my son for a mistake that I made, and I am pretty sure that is different.  Maybe the cycle has been broken after all.

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My father is not perfect, but he has been supportive to all his kids and you will not find a more stable, supportive, give the shirt off his back, did the best he could father on the planet.  Not funny, but true.  I’m just sayin …

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