people

But that could never happen!

One thing I love about life is that profound experiences happen when we least expect them–like in the bathroom with my two boys doing their nightly bedtime routine (brush, floss, fluoride, pee, wash hands–not necessarily in that order except the last two). Owen is doing one of his usual made up rap songs…”I’m gonna pop some tags, I heard that man say, then they would say hey and they would be gay.” My ears catch the lyric. I say, “What’s gay mean?”  Owen says, “It’s like when two boys grow up and get married–but that could never happen, I know,” he adds, quickly. “Well, it could happen, O. There are gay people in this world and they do get married. Where did you hear about the word gay?” “At school,” he says. I can’t tell the context of the experience and I don’t want to overreact.

The conversation ends suddenly as Hayden runs out of the bathroom and Owen chases after him. “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for that tonight,” I think. A few minutes later, Owen is back in the bathroom (he always has to go number two just as I tuck him in and get ready to read him a story!) I am lying on our bed reading my wife’s most recent People magazine. As I hear him come out of the bathroom, I call him in to our room. “Look at this,” I say, “these two women are gay.” I point to an article featuring news anchors Jenna Wolfe from the Today show, and Stephanie Gosk from NBC News. His eyes widen with surprise. He lays down on the bed with me. “They love each other and are starting a family together.” I flip through the magazine and quickly find another example for him, one that I know will make an impression. It’s of Neal Patrick Harris getting slimed at the Kids Choice Awards. “And look at this guy. The one from The Smurf‘s movie. He’s gay. He’s married to a man and they have children.” He shoots up from the pillow: “A MAN CAN GET PREGNANT??” “NO!” I say. “Good question, though. A man can never get pregnant.” We both seem relieved by that.

“This is confusing, I know.” I search for a way to help him understand how okay this all is. “You know how you’ve read stories about Martin Luther King, Jr?” “HE WAS GAY?” he shoots up again. “No. No. No. But you know how he was hated by others because of the color of his skin? Because he was different?” “Yeah.” “Well, throughout history, people have hated others because they were different. But what we’ve come to find is that everyone is different in some way; it’s okay to be different. Differences are good. It’s important to accept people for who they are.” Pam comes in and I inform her about the topic of our conversation. Without prompting her, she shares the same type of message that I have been giving him.

A few minutes later, we are in Owen’s bed reading an Encyclopedia Brown detective story. As we finish, I think ahead to the times to come when Owen and Hayden will hear this word. When they might be called it, or worse, use it as a name to call others. I try to preempt his next encounter with the word. “You know, the next time you hear the word gay, all you need to say is ‘it’s okay to be different; everybody’s different.'” “Okay,” he says. And I believe him. I believe he will say that when he hears someone using that word in a cruel or ignorant way. But right now, he’s tired. It’s the last night of spring break. And as I look into his innocent brown eyes, I’m so thankful that he is living in a time when we are one step closer to ALL men and women being created and treated equally. I am reminded of how much this topic has permeated the media, political and judicial realms as of late. And I am proud to look at my son when he says “but that could never happen” and think about how far we’ve come as a nation, not only in conversation, but in action, and say to him with all sincerity, “Oh, yes it can. Oh, yes it can!”

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Writing My Wrongs

Javier PachecoA few weekends ago, a friend of mine, a guy I’ve known for most of my life, was talking to me about my blog. He likes it. He thinks it’s been a good platform for me.  “I think you found your new therapist,” he said. I think he’s right. Writing is very therapeutic. It is a great outlet, a way for one to process  thoughts, ideas, fears and fantasies. Writing this blog has allowed me to do that.

I’ve been blogging now for three months. Recently, I’ve been sitting on a piece that was hard for me to write. And it got me thinking about why I do this…Should I do this?? And the answer I keep coming back to is “Yes!” This blog has been a wonderful experience for me. It has reinvigorated some old friendships; it has brought me many new perspectives; it has connected me with people across the globe and right in my own backyard. If you have been reading it, I want to thank you. Thank you for letting me in, for letting me rant and reveal, pontificate and pester. Thank you for visiting with me—if only for a few moments in your week.

A lot of people claim to like the format of my blog. How I write about an incident that happened with the boys just moments ago, and then throw in a piece from my past. To some, it may seem random, but this blend is purposeful. My past makes up my present. When I see my sons, when I look at the man I am in front of them, I am a father, but I am also a husband, brother, son, friend, student, teacher, neighbor. All of who I am is represented when I parent.  I am the sum of my parts, as you are, too. And I am constantly seeking a better understanding of that. Bringing in the past allows me to do that more, and, hopefully, better.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I have been brutally honest about my upbringing and my experiences in my family—both current and past. In talking to another friend, she cautioned me to not forget the good stuff in the past. That is an important reminder, and I thank her for that. I did not start this blog with an axe to grind or out of anger. I am saddened by some of the topics I cover, but they are what resonate with me.  I am not trying to play the blame game or point fingers, I am merely trying to write about my experiences. These are the memories and the relationships I have struggled with.

One of those relationships is with my mother. When I was young, I thought my mother was a living saint. Married so young (21) and 7 kids by thirty. With little means, she made the most of it. She gave us each a spark of her personality. She taught us how to have a big heart and she loved us all the best she could. I was hesitant to show her my blog because I thought it may offend her. However, I did not want to do this behind her back. Around my birthday, she stopped by to drop off a cake for me. We visited for a while, and then I asked her to sit and read the blog. I was so nervous  I went for a run while she perused each entry. When I got back, I was relieved (and surprised) that she loved it. I asked her how she felt about the entries where she may have looked bad. She exclaimed, “Well, it’s all true. How could I be mad?” What a great moment for mother and son. Permission to tell the truth. I recently came across a quote that speaks to this very theme: “The truth hurts for a little while, but a lie hurts forever.” This blog is my truth.

My father also did his best. He lived during a difficult time for men to be alive— they were taught not to show their emotions. My dad was a boy during The Great Depression; he never went to college, yet he was very smart; he never made it passed middle management in the insurance business. He was a staunch Catholic with a strong moral code. He had some bad breaks in his life, like a heart-attack at age 44, and he never truly found peace on this Earth. My father has been deceased for more than a decade and a half. There is some guilt in me for writing about him when he no longer has a voice. I feel bad that he is not here to speak with me about these words I write, but sadly, I think if he was here, and he read what I wrote, he would not speak to me. Perhaps it would be different. Perhaps.

These are my parents, and they are flawed—as we all are. And it is through their flaws that my identity was formed, and that of my six brothers and sisters. And I cannot stop what I have started. I believe in the power of writing and its ability to bring us to a greater understanding. If I ever come across as whiny or petulant, please call me out on it. And please understand that the writing you find on these pages has been developing in my mind for years, decades even. I do not write about the past without having given it much consideration and deliberation.

Finally, some thoughts from the teacher in me. When I talk to my high school students about writing, I inform them that the word essay means an attempt; to try. These essays I write are my attempts. Like all attempts, some will be more successful than others.  Which brings me to my second teacher point. When I discuss the art of argument with students, I explain to them the old adage “Everything’s an argument.”  I tell them that what we are trying to do when arguing is “enter the conversation.” My blog is my attempt to enter the conversation. I have something to say, and I am glad I am finding a way to say it. I have started a conversation and I would love it if you would join me.

What do you have to say? Tell me your thoughts. Let me know what topics you would like me to cover more. If you blog, what scares you about writing? Please let me know what you are thinking. It matters.