Family

Old Friends, Cancer, and Child Pornography

Apps, Social Media, and ChildrenThis week has been pretty rough. I received two pieces of terrible news. Both involved old friends, both caught me by surprise, and both continue to defy my attempts to work through and find some semblance of balance. In other words, I’m still struggling to get my head around both of them.

I’m not going to get into the first topic much, other than to say that the sister of one of those friends is out of remission, losing her battle to cancer, and is now in hospice. It’s heartbreaking – for her, for my friend, and for her family. She’s 50, she’s dying, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do other than be there for my friend. It sucks.

On the heels of that phone call I saw a FB post spreading the news that another old high school buddy is a pedophile. So there’s that.

August A. was arrested for, and admitted to having and sharing, child pornography. You can find more information about the case and arrest here, but the short version is this: a Special Agent at the Department of Homeland Security was working an investigation of kik users (an online app I’ve not heard of until now), and after connecting and interacting with August, reached out to the Pearland Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. A warrant was issued, his house was searched, and after admitting to, “…engaging in discussions about sexually abusing children, and also to downloading and sharing child pornography with other users”, was arrested. August is now in jail awaiting trial.

He and I weren’t ‘besties’, but we did hang out. We had lunch together. We had mutual friends. Hell, his father was my math teacher in 8th grade. And while I haven’t seen August in close to thirty years, I have no doubt that other parents have.

And he stalked children through an app that your kids, or theirs, might have and use.

I posted a link on FB not long ago about this topic, but I’d like to post it again here. If you have kiddos, please take ten minutes and read this article. It’s by author Anastasia Basil, and it focuses on the app music.ly (not kik, as mentioned above). It’s informative, insightful, and absolutely terrifying. Consider the following excerpt:

There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan.

It seems we have the device/app debate with our oldest kiddo just about every other day. And while I’m miles away from ten years old, I get where  she’s coming from. It’s hard enough to fit-in or find your place (to say nothing of being on the front edge of that never-ending search to figure out who you are) in those early years – being cut-off from all the things that other kiddos are doing to connect no doubt seems a kind of torture.

But what she doesn’t know, truly, is that the Internet, social media, and the countless apps her friends use aren’t just about connectivity. They’re also doorways. They’re points of access for things dark, and evil, and spirit-crushing. And the the things that slither through those doorways come in all shapes and sizes.

Part of our job as parents is to keep those monsters at bay, and to bar those points of access, for as long as we possibly can. I just wish there weren’t quite so many doorways or that some of those monsters weren’t disguised as old friends of their parents.

 

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The Beatles, Don McLean, and Ellie Goulding

One of the things I love about my wife and her childhood can be summed up with two words: Abbey Road.

The Beatles, Abbey Road

You see, when she was growing up, Saturdays were cleaning days. The school week was over, Sunday’s church requirements (as the family of a Presbyterian Minister, those requirements and obligations were many and varied) were still a day away, so Saturday was for, among other things, getting the house ship-shape after a week of wear and tear.

But, because A&P (Sarah’s parents) have a true and lovely link to music, there was always a soundtrack pushed through the turntable during those hours. And, I’m told, that soundtrack was often Abbey Road.

As a more wonderful and perfect album is almost impossible to find, imagining my wife X-years ago (I’m not foolish enough to quantify that) doing this and that around the house almost always makes me smile.

Another standard was Don McLean. And while “American Pie” is a favorite for many, “Vincent” has always had a special place in her heart. So when I heard Ellie Goulding’s new cover of the song I was excited to share it. I mean crazy excited. Unlike Sarah, I didn’t grow up on the original, and I think Goulding’s version is a-ma-zing.

Put on some headphones, lean back, and give it a listen. Even if you’re a McLean purist, I think you’ll enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

A Word or Two on Easter, Neil Gaiman, and Conversations Around the Dinner Table

While the last couple of years have been difficult on many, many levels (more to follow on that), there have also been more than a few ‘silver lining’ moments that have helped ease the journey. My wife’s patience and positivity certainly top that list, but another has been my renewed focus on reading.

I’m not sure what the trigger was (it may have been the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan that I read over lunch hours at Charles Schwab), but I’ve been gorging on books, articles, short stories, and on since then, and it’s been wonderful.

In fact, I finished American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, three or four days ago and I spent a few minutes talking about it with my father-in-law over Easter dinner this afternoon. Big time kudos, by the bye, to BA (mother-in-law, not Baracus) for a place and a moment that seamlessly welcomed, embraced, and nourished – more than food – so many disparate elements.

Side note: If I’ve not mentioned it before, my father-in-law is a (now retired) Presbyterian Minister. It seems like he’s working as much (if not more) now than he did before retirement, but those are stories for another time. For now, know that he’s an amazing and thoughtful man, and when I find (or stumble across) topics or thoughts I think he might have some interest in, I’ll bring them up.

I didn’t, however, get into the American Gods manifestation of “Easter” in our conversation – that would have definitely pushed the conversation into a place that wouldn’t have been good for anyone – but we did talk about Shadow’s (the protagonist in the story) conversation with Jesus. I’ll not spoil the conversation if you’ve not read the book, but as a Cabernet drinker I totally appreciate Christ’s perspective on the making of wine.

But American Gods isn’t the Gaiman book I wanted to talk about.

the ocean at the end of the laneIf you’re not familiar with the author, I respectively suggest you pick up a copy (hard or digital) of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finished this one yesterday, and I just can’t get it out of my head. I’m not a professional reviewer, so I’ll lean on my friends at NPR:

Ocean is told from the point of view of a melancholy but successful artist returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England. On a lark, he visits an old farm where he played as a boy, and is suddenly overwhelmed by memories of being entangled in a magical conflict with roots stretching back before the Big Bang.”

For the full review, click here.

But it’s so much more than that. It’s one of those amazing books that, once finished, almost demand a second or third read. It’s a snapshot of our childhood, viewed through the lens of both the common and the terrible, framed by interactions with the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone – and is, at heart, a fairy tale.

Perhaps.

So. Give it a shot and let me know what you think once you’ve read it. Also, if there’s a book that you’d suggest – you know, one that just touched you in a way that left a mark – I’d love to hear about it. For those that are interested in connecting with about nine readers, I’m totally down with you jotting down a sentence or two that I’ll post here on your behalf. You will, of course, get the by-line.

Happy Easter, everyone, and thanks again for coming by.

The lies we tell, part 2


A better title for this post might actually be, “The lies we don’t tell.” Not long ago I wrote a bit about how I’m going to handle my bright, lovely, and inquisitive daughters and the questions they’re almost certainly going to ask one day about difficult topics. The original post is here, if you’d like to check it out.

The gent that commented, bless him, said basically this: be honest; appropriate to the point of their maturity and emotional ability. Good advice, right? It was this kind of thinking, coupled with the Graham essay I quoted in the post, that caused me to blink, shake my head a bit, then re-read a post titled, “Talking to children about evil.”

It’s by a wonderful and witty writer named Delia Lloyd; a journalist who currently lives in London and writes about adulthood, politics, family, and a host of other topics definitely worth reading. Check her out.

You can find the post I’m talking about here, but the first paragraph reads thus:

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”
“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”
“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.
“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”
She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

“But it’s Hitler.” What the hell do you say to that?

I won’t spoil her post, but I’m left with another point of view that’s both valid and worth consideration. It doesn’t conflict with Tim’s comment, necessarily, but it might provide a different definition of what’s “appropriate.”

What do you think? 

Image by John-Morgan

A query about pigskin. Kind of.

First, I should say that my father traveled all the way from PA and stayed with us this weekend. For reasons passing understanding he drove, but that’s a different conversation. It was actually a pretty nice visit. His trips typically include at least a few moments when we’ve rubbed each other the wrong way and temperatures rise. Blame it on genetics. Not so this weekend. Things went smoothly and we hung out, played with the kiddos, and enjoyed each other’s company.

So that didn’t suck.

While he was here I had the opportunity to do something I don’t often get – watch a little football with a guy. Don’t get me wrong, Sarah enjoys football just fine and she’s always down for kicking back and watching a game, but watching it with a another guy is, well, different. It was nice.

So my question: since Minnesota’s absolutely ridiculous loss to the Saints I keep thinking about Brett Favre, his last play of the season (as well as the look on his wife’s face one of the multiple times he was pounded into the ground) and continue to draw a blank.

So let me ask you: Does he come back next year?

Bonsai

This image found its way into my inbox under the title of, “a little something to inspire you.” I’ve been thinking about it off and on for the last couple of days and I keep coming back to a phrase I picked up in Japan years ago: Mono no aware. Loosely translated, it means ‘the sadness of the transience of things.’

In other words, things don’t last. 

The brief moments when all is still, music plays softly in the background, and you and your wife cuddle and chat on the couch. Or the bright, sweet smile of your new baby (you know, before they learn the word “no”). Or the taste of a perfectly prepared filet. Or a night out with friends that’s both easy and wonderful. Or whatever. The phrase above tells us that those lovely moments, even when they’re measured in days or weeks or years, will, at some point, trail behind you in the rearview.

Compare that with a conversation I had on Twitter recently that ended with my friend writing, “this too shall pass.” She was having a bad day where everything seemed to go just about as wrong as it could and the only thing she wanted to do was close the book on the day, go to bed, and start over the next morning.

But you have to wonder – how much energy and time and engagement are wasted or lost as we look ahead or behind instead of paying attention to the now? Note to self: kiss your wife, play with your kids, and don’t waste today. It’s not coming back.

image by zest-pk

The lies we tell

Rummaging around my bookmarks not long ago I found a little treat I’d set aside to read. It’s the homepage of a writer named Paul Graham and you could do worse than spend a bit of time reading his essays. One in particular, titled “Lies we tell kids,” dovetails nicely with the thinking I’ve done about the challenging, inevitable conversations I’ll be having with my daughters in the years to come. You know what I mean – the conversations where they’ll ask if I’ve ever smoked, experimented in other, let’s say less legal pastimes, and how I’m going to handle those questions.

I’ve pulled out one of the paragraphs from Mr. Graham’s essay below but you can find the entire piece here. Definitely worth your time. If you’re interested, I originally stumbled on his work from a list Inc. Magazine put together – 19 blogs you should bookmark right now – and you can find that here

For you parents who have already crossed that bridge, how did you handle it? Or, for those of you like me who are still on the front end, how do you think you will?

“Innocence is also open-mindedness. We want kids to be innocent so they can continue to learn. Paradoxical as it sounds, there are some kinds of knowledge that get in the way of other kinds of knowledge. If you’re going to learn that the world is a brutal place full of people trying to take advantage of one another, you’re better off learning it last. Otherwise you won’t bother learning much more.”