Archive Page 2

02
Jun
15

Responsibility and Charity

wirekidsI just watched the fourth season of The Wire again. If you haven’t watched the series, I cannot recommend it enough as it is a fantastic depiction of inner city life and struggles in Baltimore.

A running current throughout the fourth season is the struggle of schools in a large city, especially schools in more impoverished areas. As we follow many of the same characters we had been watching the previous season, we are also introduced to new ones, including four boys who are attending middle school.

All four students suffer from less-than-stellar home lives. For three of them, their situation ends up worse. The fourth gets taken in by one of the adult characters and the hope is his life will have a chance to be better.

The other three though, they get left behind. The system fails them, even when members of the system try to help them. Sometimes those helpful people learn how little control they really have in the lives of the children they interact with—others find their efforts make things much worse.

This was all on my minds last weekend when my older son’s friend came over out of the blue. We don’t see this young man all that often, but had run into him at a sports orientation for the high school (oh Lord, I’m about to have a high-schooler) and I told him to drop by any time.

So he did the very next day.

I don’t know this young man very well. He’s a very good kid from what I’ve seen and from what we understand, has a tough life.

His mom has moved in and out of town several times, moving this boy and his step-brother into different schools and school districts. One such landing spot saw this young man in a poor school with a lot of fights and what sounded like a bad situation. Looking to get him back in a better school district (and away from trouble), his mother moved him into an apartment back in our town with some relatives. It wasn’t ideal of course, since the family had a two-bedroom apartment, multiple kids of their own and my son’s friend slept on the couch.

Then the school district realized he wasn’t living with him mom, who was no longer in the confines of the town, and kicked him out of school. If your guardian doesn’t live in the district, you don’t belong in the district.

So back to his mother he went, back to the school with the fights and bullying. He told his mother he refused to go back, that he would get himself suspended if she made him and lo and behold, that happened.

His mother recently moved back to town and after several months of not being in school at all, my son’s friend is back at school.

We’ve become one of the places he shows up at when he is trying not to be home. He doesn’t talk about home life much but those of us who have reached out to him have pieced together what seems like something close to the truth.

His mom and he don’t get along. I have heard a step-father mentioned (most alarmingly once when he smashed the young man’s X-Box in a rage) but it doesn’t sound like he lives with them. His dad is an ex-convict who is in town but can only afford a studio apartment. I don’t know a ton about his interactions with his son.

Nobody seems to care that he disappears for a day or two at a time, floating from couch to couch. When he was over last weekend, we invited him to sleep over and asked if he needed to call home. He looked like us like we were crazy. Why would they care seemed to be his attitude.

Of course, all most of what we ‘know’ comes from the boy. Another parent has spoken with his mother a few times, and it seems as if a lot of our assumptions are right, but really we don’t know all of what is going on.

It seems very much as if this is a boy in danger of being left behind by the system and the people who should be supporting him.

And I’m very aware that there are elements of his life I cannot understand. I’m white, I grew up in an affluent suburb and really didn’t want for much. He’s African-American and having to struggle to make ends meet.

I’m very conscious of my privilege in this situation, very conscious of not ‘white knighting’ (in a very literal sense) and coming to the aid of someone I cannot understand. The assumptions we have about his home life concern me because they are very much assumptions. I’m not saying he’s a liar, but he is still a kid and kids stretch the truth.

It’s one of many reasons nobody has involved Child Protective Services—that and knowing that it could make things a whole lot worse in many ways.

But as he floats from house to house and various people feed him, make sure he’s showered and eaten and going to school, it’s clear to me that somewhere, somehow the ball has been dropped.

If we had an extra room, I’m pretty sure my wife and I would let him crash there all the time so he knew he always had a safe place. We don’t though, so we do what we can and hope it’s enough.

And so I think about that season of The Wire and hope he’s the one boy for whom things managed to get better and not one of the kids who drop through the cracks.

20
Aug
14

Let’s Share the ALS Love Around

So I’m sure you’ve heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and how it’s raised more than $30 million for research over the last month.

To say it’s been successful is an understatement. There are certainly varying opinions on it and we’re not going to get into them here because that’s not what this is about.

I’ve had a few conversations with people I care about over the last few days and one thing which struck me in those discussions is that while it’s fantastic that so much money is being raised fore ALS, we shouldn’t forget that it’s not the only cause worth donating to.

It reminded me of what the Red Cross said after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

After both tragedies, the Red Cross was inundated by people donating blood. Great, right?

The only problem was (and in some ways I suppose it’s a good problem to have) is that they were quickly at capacity. Blood only lasts so long and they had more than they could use before it “went bad.”

So they asked people who hadn’t given yet to wait and hold off. They wanted people to give blood at a later date, when they were sure they would need it again and supplies would be lower.

So I’d like you to consider this an extra Ice Bucket Challenge—minus the bucket. And ice. And water.

Donate to ALS if that’s what you want to do. But I challenge you to match what you’re donating to another cause—one you either are more passionate about or that you think deserves it as well.

Now, money is tight and I get that. If you can only afford to donate $10 anywhere, consider splitting that $10. Half to ALS and half to your other cause. We were all just focused on the impact of domestic violence on women when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for too short a time. So send $5 to a women’s shelter. Or to cancer research.

Or be super-cool and donate to the bike ride to raise money for diabetes research my sister-in-law and brother-in-law are doing.

It doesn’t matter what you donate to or how much. Just do it.

In our zeal to help ALS, let’s not forget about all the other things which need our help.

Let’s spread the love.

05
Aug
14

Ladies and Gents: Your New Disney Princess

I had another post I was working on, but this came into my Facebook feed so it gets precedence because, well:

 

Can’t wait to see her in the Disney Parade of Princesses or whatever they call that gridlock several times a day on Main Street.

 

Back with more substantive things later.

17
Jul
14

Female Thunder Gods, Black Avengers and Other Things That Seem to Scare Comic Fans

We’re about to get super-comic-book-geeky here so, you may want to grab onto something and hold on.

I’m not 100 percent certain, but the world might be ending.

image via BleedingCool.com

First, Marvel Comics announced that Thor, god of Thunder, will be a woman.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough for one week, they announced that Captain America will now be…..black. Yes, Sam Wilson aka The Falcon aka just about the coolest part of Captain America: Winter Soldier will be taking up the mantle after Steve Rogers somehow got really old and is more concerned with his Depends than what the Red Skull is doing.

OH DEAR GOD PLEASE STAY OFF THE INTERNET AS IT EXPLODES.

Listen, I’m no fan of change for the sake of change or PR stunts. I’m not bothering to buy the “How Wolverine Dies Until The Next Movie” series going on right now. And honestly, they can talk about how neither of these things are stunts, but we all know things will go back to normal when the new Thor, Captain America or Avengers movies come out. Just like Wolverine will come back from the dead the moment Wolverine 3: Even More Wolveriney or X-Men: Seriously It’s Only About Logan comes out down the road.

But I don’t get the knee jerk and, frankly, ridiculous reaction to either of the above changes.

Let’s assume for a moment they are both well written. I know, that can be dicey in comics, but indulge me. Isn’t story the ultimate determination as to whether something is worthwhile?

We all knew Cap was coming back when he was shot and killed in the comics because it was before the first movie. But writer Ed Brubaker did such an extraordinary job making Bucky (Cap’s former partner) transition into Captain America that when Bucky left the role (died, sort of) it was actually a bummer.

When it was announced that Barbara Gordon was returning to her role as Batgirl, we weren’t sold. She had been defined by the events of The Killing Joke and been in a wheelchair for so long it was who she was to fans. In fact, in many ways her struggle to overcome her disability and the wheelchair were an excellent thing for kids to see.

But Gail Simone came along and absolutely nailed Babs in her return to crime-fighting and (more importantly) walking that we forgot about our misgivings.

What is it about change in comics which makes us upset?

In the recent instances, it’s hard not to see the push-back in purely racial and gender terms and it seems as if a lot of the issues people have with it is that they immediately assume it’s the “PC-police” forcing a change.

I actually understand that thought as once upon a time, I thought it too. When Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) was brutally killed and replaced by Jaime Reyes, I wondered if it was driven solely by political correctness. I wondered the same thing when The Question died of cancer and was replaced by Renee Montoya.

image via Wikipedia

I’m not proud of my gut reaction, but I want to be honest about it to make a point.

Something about it seemed unfair. I can’t tell you what it was, only that it happened. In so far as The Question, that was likely in part to my love for what we did when I worked on the Justice League animated series. Seeing him replaced bugged me and that might be why.

But I ask myself why I disliked the idea of Beetle or Question or even Firestorm (who died in the dumbest way possible) being replaced and I don’t have a rational answer. I didn’t love any of the characters save Question (and again, for personal reasons) and none of them were comics or characters who drew big numbers on the sales racks.

And I have no rational reason because, if I’m honest about that time in my life, the reason wasn’t rational. I think I was upset on some level because I was watching three traditionally white, male characters get the brush off in favor of a different gender or color.

Again, I’m not proud of that, but I think looking back on it that it’s true.

And I can’t help but wonder if that’s true of many people reacting to Falcon-Cap and Fem-Thor.

image via ABCnews.com

Certainly if you read the comments (never do that) it’s there in subtext if nothing else.

Why is that?

I mean, not to get even more geeky here but Norse gods have always been mutable (hell, gods in general – Zeus anyone?) so Thor being a woman isn’t insane from the mythology. And honestly, if Captain America is the representation of the US as it stands, it makes sense to me that he isn’t a blond-haired, blue eyed white dude.

And who better than Wilson, his long-time partner (now that Bucky/Winter Soldier isn’t a choice)?

I have no explanation as to why changing a race or gender riles comic fans up. It doesn’t do that to me anymore (especially once I read the rebooted characters). I’m not sure why it ever did.

But I think it’s time to get over it. I think it’s time for readers – particularly white, male readers who have been the bulk of readership for a long time and get pandered too far more than we should – to let go of it.

If the story is good, the story is good. What does it matter if  Thor a woman? Or Ms. Marvel is a Muslim or Superman of Earth-2 is black?

The stories are either good or they aren’t.

And speaking of stories, let’s applaud comics for trying anything new. After all, there’s no new story to tell, just different ways to tell them. How can you make the same superhero nonsense fresh? Shake things up.

Too often that mean rebooting the universe *coughcoughDCcoughcough* and changing little or reverting things to status quo regardless of past stories *coughcoughMarvelcoughcough*.

image via Marvel Comics

So Thor is a woman? He’s also been an alien and a frog,  used to turn into a crippled mortal with a cane and at one point was a construction worker.  Cap’s been replaced at least three times I can think of in his own comic, and according to Marvel mythology, was several different people in the 50s and 60s.

Who cares if we change up who is holding Mjolnir or the shield? This could be a good jumping off point for stories as it was for Batgirl, Bucky-Cap and Ultimate Spiderman (currently Miles Morales).

That’s what will matter .

The stories are either good or they aren’t.

Hopefully these stories will open up opportunities for creators to put together more original female and minority characters like the aforementioned Ms. Marvel (on of my favorite books right now).

Meanwhile, maybe this is a chance for some new takes on old stories.

And if you don’t like it, oh well. As you can say about the weather in some states: wait five minutes and it’ll change.

Meanwhile enjoy the ride and stop bitching for once. We have two new heroes to follow. Let’s see where they take us.

06
Jun
14

Macho Macho Man

via Nantucket-Bucket.com

So we’re wrapping up our inaugural lacrosse season here in New Jersey and while there have been some frustrations with communications, I’d say it’s gone well.

Alpha Tween has been playing excellently as a goalie—the most thankless job on the field it seems—and his coach has been very excited saying “He’s making saves on pure athleticism! Wait until he has technique!”

Which is a nice compliment, although it made me chuckle. It’s like saying “hey you’re really good with no idea what you’re doing!” It happens to be true as well, but it’s funny.

The Professor has been enjoying himself as well, and I’ve really seen a lot of hard work from him to improve.

Last night was the last official games for both and in the cases of both games, it got a bit physical and chippy towards the end. People likely don’t realize it, but lacrosse can be a tough, violent game at any level. And the more tired people get, the more frustrated and the more they use their sticks to hit and not control the ball.

At one point late during The Professor’s game, one of the kids got hurt—I can’t quite recall the circumstance—and was laying on the grass as coaches tended to him and made sure he was OK.

My wife—football mom that she is—yelled for the kids to “take a knee” as that’s what we do in Pop Warner when someone is hurt. You kneel down out of respect for the guy hurt and you clap when he gets up. This has been taught to Alpha since he started in football back in New York, and when my wife coached soccer last fall, she drilled it into the kids on her team as well.

It’s just good manners. I’ve never given it a second thought—all the other teams in our Pop Warner league do it and as a coach, I just figured everyone else did it.

Apparently not.

What I didn’t hear, but my wife did, was the gentleman to our left who muttered, “Why is it always a woman who shouts that?”

image via USAFootball.com

Now, maybe he was wondering “why don’t more men do that?” or maybe he was wondering “why women are so soft?”—I can’t say. When my wife relayed it later it definitely sounded as if she felt it was the latter.

I had echoed her shouts the first time, so it seems like an odd comment.

When the next kid went down a quarter or so later, she didn’t say anything.

I noticed no kid knelt down and no parent or coach said anything to motivate that.

I didn’t say anything, though I almost did—but it’s hard to be the lone voice. My wife didn’t say anything, which I found odd at the time, but now makes sense.

She didn’t want to be “that woman.”

I’m saddened for a couple of reasons. That she felt she couldn’t show compassion for a kid who was hurt (on our own team the

second time). That she felt like her consideration was marginalized because of her gender. That clearly the whole “kneeling down thing” isn’t widespread among all teams and sports in our town. That some guy (who for other reasons struck me as nobody I want to have a beer with anyway) felt the need to comment on how “it’s always a woman.”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, comforting a hurt kid is a human thing, not a woman’s thing. If you’re a dad and you think otherwise, I’m going to go ahead and suggest you rethink what being a dad means.

That doesn’t mean you coddle or throw your child in a bubble. It means you show compassion. Yeah, yeah, men aren’t supposed to do that, I get it, but you and I both know that’s crap. It’s one thing to roll your eyes when you or someone’s kid is whining for a new toy, it’s quite another when someone is hurt.

image via PrincipalsPage.com

This also gets into the whole macho aspect of sports. This is where I used to type “machismo of football” but it’s all sports, especially on boy’s/men’s sports. All athletes are taught to play through pain—it’s part of the game and there is something to be said for learning to fight through it. To fight through adversity and determine whether what you are facing (be it a sprained ankle or difficult math assignment or being overlooked at work for a promotion) and how serious it is.

And more importantly whether it should stop you, and how to keep it from doing so.

But one thing the organization I coach football for is big on is teaching the difference between being hurt and being injured—and being OK with admitting when you’re injured and can’t go on.

I hate when parents—and this goes for both genders, because I’ve seen it from men and women—tell boys to “be a man.” I mean, listen, there are times to tell your kids “oh grow up” and times to point out that what they have is a bruise not a broken leg and shouldn’t stop them from doing what they’re doing.  But when a kid is laying on the turf, not moving—and maybe I’m nuts—that’s probably not the time.

It irks me when parents comment like this dad did. It irks me that he saw good sportsmanship as a “woman’s thing” instead of good sportsmanship. It angers me that my wife felt like she couldn’t encourage that sportsmanship because she was being judged. And it frustrates me that I didn’t pick up on it and I was just as silent.

The idea that we shouldn’t be compassionate on the field or concerned when a player on any team gets hurt and is down on the field is garbage and I don’t care what gender you are. We’re supposed to be teaching sportsmanship as much as anything else and clearly, that’s not on everyone’s agenda.

image via PackersHistory.net

And here’s the thing—compassion for an injured player isn’t a woman’s thing. It’s a human thing. You want your son to “be a man?” You teach him that even when it’s your opponent on the ground, you treat it as if he’s on your team, you treat him with respect and you hope he gets up. You kneel, or stand silent or whatever it is your team does and you clap when he gets up. You play with passion and aggression, but fairness as well.

These things are not mutually exclusive. I cover the NFL and while some of these guys truly don’t like each other, the majority of the players in the NFL are friendly with each other even right after a game. And what do you see them do when someone is badly hurt?

They kneel. They pray. They worry about someone on the other team as well as on their own.

That’s being a man in my book.

27
May
14

It’s not about you

So I’ve been letting this site whither a bit, and I didn’t mean for the first post to be heavy but here we are anyway.

Here’s hoping this is viewed in the spirit I intend it to be: to open up dialogue and help us understand each other a bit better. To help us get past the issues which roadblock us from solving our problems both personally and from a wider societal view.

It took me hours to write this and I don’t even know if it’s ready to go out into the universe, but here goes.

I’ve kind of avoided commenting on the whole #YesAllWomen hashtag thing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is I felt that, as a man in a patriarchal society, this was perhaps something to be observed and considered but not commented upon.

So I watched the posts come, written in some cases by friends, and thought and considered and remained silent.

Then I searched for the hashtag to widen my understanding of what was being said and…. well, I was disturbed.

I was disturbed by the stories women were sharing which, while we all know they happen, we rarely confront face to face. I was disturbed by the endless stream of them, the entirely too frequent incidents  that these women were sharing.

More than anything though, I was disturbed by the guys.

Listen, I more than anyone understand the nature of twitter and twitter trolling. Hell, internet trolling. I don’t read my comments on Bleacher Report anymore because I can only have hate spewed at me for so long before I start regretting things I type.  I’ve been told hateful things on twitter and they pale compared to some of my fellow writers.

I say this and yet I was stunned by the response some men (not all) were having to the #YesAllWomen hashtag.

That’s why I’m writing this.  Because I have something to share with my brothers. Ladies, feel free to stay, but this one is for the fellas.

It’s not about you.

Let me be clear, I get the initial visceral reaction to something like this. Generalities get thrown around in discussions of racism and sexism and as a white male it can feel like everyone is pointing a finger at you.

But it’s not about you.

My wife and I are both passionate people and we argue about a lot of things. There are topics where I feel attacked on a personal level no matter what she says. I have to remember one thing….

It’s not about you.

Listen guys, you have to stop taking this personally.

Wait, check that. You SHOULD take this personally but not for the reasons you have been.

None of this is an attack on you as an individual, but you have responsibility in it.

Let’s separate these two things. First of all, the majority of women are not pointing their finger at you, calling you a rapist.  I’m sure there ARE some but we need to stop judging the whole by the fringe. Just like I shouldn’t judge conservatives by whatever idiocy comes out of Joe the Plumber’s mouth  or all liberals from what whackadoodle junk passes for Bill Mahr’s latest rantings, you shouldn’t judge every woman by the one pointing a finger at you.

If you do, you’re missing the point. Whenever we get caught up in the extremes we’re missing the point.

And pointing out men died in the Santa Barbara shootings, while tragic and true, is also missing the point. Because there wasn’t a 140 page manifesto about eliminating the male gender save for breeding purposes or Youtube videos complaining men weren’t sleeping with this guy.

While this man killed other men, his hatred of women was his motivation. If you focus on the death of the men as a rallying cry to dismiss what these women are saying, you are missing the point.

In this case, you’re missing the point that while you, personally, haven’t assaulted any women, WOMEN GET ASSAULTED.

You know women who have, even if they haven’t told you about it. I know a lot of women who have. I’d never say who-it’s not my story to tell-and there are women who haven’t told me but I suspect were. Many, many women have.

Forget the old saw about “these are mothers and wives and sisters” because the real statement should be “these are people.” People who a nutjob hated so much he ranted about wiping them out and then decided to get a head start.

The point is that, while none of them are shooting anyone right now, he is far from alone in his thoughts.

The whole #YesAllWomen is about that. Saying #NotAllMen is missing the point because more then enough men are.

Listen, intellectually you understand sexism or racism or any other inequity but as a guy you can’t possibly understand it fully.

Once, quite some time ago, I got into a debate on twitter (SHOCKING) about race. A gentleman I very much respect wrote a very good article about race and how it’s approached in our society. One thing I took issue with was the idea that white people-especially white men-cannot fully understand racism.

We argued and debated in the way you do on twitter (with less putdowns) until the light went on for me about what he was really saying. It’s not that I didn’t understand racism on an educational or intellectual level. Of course I did. What I didn’t understand-indeed could never understand-was racism as an actual occurrence.

Nobody was ever walking across the street to avoid me. No old woman would see me in a hoodie and avoid me. And even if a woman did avoid me on the street, that was about gender, not race.

I will never understand what it is to be a black man in America. I just can’t. And I will never understand what it’s like to be a woman in America. I can intellectually understand what they go through. I can cite history of the suffrage movement and women’s rights and all of it but I will never understand how it feels to be whistled at, leered at or attacked as many women are.

And before you say “men get attacked/judged/leered at” please remember:

It’s not about you.

There is absolutely a discussion to be had about societal expectations around men and what it is to be a man. What Hollywood and sports and culture tell us is the right way to be a male. Heck, Joe the Plumber clearly equates his maleness with his gun….which good Lord let’s not dissect that frightening metaphor. I think there are things such as father’s rights and the emasculation of men which should be talked about as well.

But this isn’t the place, and attacking women dealing with their issues with those discussions is missing the point and on top of it, part of the problem. You’re marginalizing their issues, reinforcing the same damned problems they are fighting against.

If you want to raise awareness about domestic abuse against men, I will fully support you in that. Unless you use it to try an downplay the very serious issue of violence against women.

Which brings me to the second point here-we, as men, have a responsibility to change this. Not just by not being jerks to women, but to actively support women in their rights as human beings. Forget equality because it’s not even about that. It’s about treating people like people.

Shocking, right?

We may not actively discriminate against women, but we passively support a system which does. And before you start typing that angry rebuttal, please remember:

It’s not about you.

It’s not about accusing you or making you wrong. It’s about a society where the game was rigged a long time ago, where things were institutionalized before most of us were born. Now, sure, the majority of men on the planet didn’t actively make this mess, but just saying “not my fault” is never going to fix it.

In fact, it’s pretty much what we get on our kids for. Just because you didn’t actively make the mess doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a hand in fixing it.

No, it’s not our mess, but we’re the ones who have some power to fix it. While we might not have magical powers to fix everything on a global scale, we can change the world locally.

We can do it by teaching our sons AND our daughters to treat people like people. Not objects, not goals, not things to win. Just people.

And to broaden the scope a bit, we should do this across the board. It’s not just about gender. It’s about race, sexuality, age, on and on and on.

Because it’s not about you. Or me. Or any one person. It’s about us. All of us across this whole country, across this whole world.

It’s not about you, but you can fix it. You should fix it.

We all should.

#YesAllWomen isn’t about pointing a finger at me or you. It’s pointing a finger at an issue. #NotAllMen is a reaction which, frankly, is missing the point.

Might I suggest #AllMenShould?

As in “All Men Should Work to Improve the World?”

That seems like a much better way to go.

14
May
14

I am NOT ready for a Solo Professor

image via thetoddanderinfavoritefive.com

So this week, the Professor started biking to school in the morning.

Alone.

I’m not ready for this.

My wonderful wife will point out that you need to let go some time—and she’s right—but I wasn’t quite ready to do this yet.

When Alpha Tween was Prof’s age, he was walking to the Boys and Girls Club for aftercare in New York City  (Yes, Queens is New York City) and I was definitely nervous. But both my wife and I were working and couldn’t pick him up so it was a necessity.

He had a cell phone and was to call or text when he left school and when he arrived at the after-school program and he kind of remembered to do it, sometimes, maybe.

We got used to it though, and we saw a tremendous change in confidence and independence which, in the long run, I think will be invaluable for him as he goes through life.

So it’s a good thing that The Professor is doing this. I think that soon we’ll let him bike home on his own as well.

But it’s so hard to let him go. I love our town and I feel like he (and Alpha) are as safe roaming the streets here as anywhere else—maybe more. But all I see right now are bad drivers and all I do is worry about my kid as he bikes to school. Every morning I spend time worrying that I’ll get a phone call or something and that he’s been hurt or worse.

The thing is, he’s so proud and happy right now. He feels independence in a way that he never has before and he feels “grown up” and responsible. And all that is so important, so vital to his confidence and makes him so damned happy.

So I’m trying to get over myself and mentally prepare for the next step—getting him keys and a phone and anxiously waiting for him to come home.

I’m not ready for it—but I’d better get ready and soon.

 




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What I’m Into:

Reading: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher Listening to: The Heist, Macklemore Watching: Damages