All Parents are Terrible

Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.

I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.

*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.

Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?

I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.

So, boring book.

I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.

People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).

I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.

My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.

***

In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.

But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

 

RBDM: Table of Contents (Limited Time Only)

UPDATED: The blogs containing the chapters have been removed, as promised, so the links below will not work. I leave this post up to preserve the reason for the removal at the end of it, and also for those curious about the book itself. Hopefully, I’ll bring the whole thing to you again one day, bright and shiny and new.

ORIGINAL POST:Below is a table of contents for all the chapters. If you haven’t finished yet, you should be able to find where you left off and pick it back up. I’ll leave all the chapters up for another week or so, but after that I think it’s better to take them down, including this post. If you’ve been reading along, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just a “hi.” I miss contact with the world!

RBDM TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue – Ready: The funeral is over and it’s time to go to the cemetery, but before we get there my mother has a striking revelation to share.

I.

Ch. 1 – Shooting: Eight years earlier, two men burst into my father’s store and immediately begin shooting.

Ch. 2 – The Call: Alone and dying, my father desperately dials 911 to get some help.

Ch. 3 – Bullets: While my brothers and I dance in the living room, oblivious, my mother receives a mysterious phone call telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

Ch. 4 – M&M’s: At the hospital, Mom crumbles and I get a whole bag of M&M’s all to myself.

Ch. 5 – Educated Guesses: My father is in critical condition and no one–not even the doctors–know if he’s going to survive. But I do.

Ch. 6 – Playing the Part: While dad struggles in the hospital, I head back to school to enjoy all the attention thrown my way.

Ch. 7 – A Suspicious Peace: Dad returns home from the hospital and I become a bullet wound cleaning expert.

Ch. 8 – Superdad: Months later, Dad is unstoppable, coaching little league, attending Sixth Grade Camp with me, and running down a guy who steals from him.

II.

Ch. 9 – The Wrong Side of Town: On the night before 7th Grade begins, a FBI sting operation gone wrong in our neighborhood prompts Dad to grab his gun and head out on his own to track the criminals down. 

Ch. 10 – A Friend in Need: When helping one friend comes at the expense of my relationship with another, I’m at a loss for what to do.

Ch. 11 – Fight: A friend turned enemy wants nothing more than to beat me to a bloody pulp. A school yard confrontation leads to big changes.

Ch. 12 – Hollywood: A reality show comes calling and Dad leaps at the chance to reenact his shooting for national television.

Ch. 13 – Talking to a Dead Man: The shooting reenactment airs on television and my eyes are opened to what Dad really went through in a whole new way.

Ch. 14 – Edited for Television: Dad’s rush to the hospital is depicted, and he talks about the shooting and what he was really afraid of in his own words.

Ch. 15 – How It Ends: How Dad knew he was going die young. Plus: The reenactment concludes with my national (embarrassing) debut.

III.

Ch. 16 – The Nerd Herd: A move across town means a new school and new friends. 

Ch. 17 – Breaching Brute Protocol: High School begins and I’m determined to make a new start, but the four bullies picking on me at once have other ideas.

Ch. 18 – Good Intentions: Sick of all the misinformation out there about my church, I’m determined to go to a friend’s church and correct her pastor. My parents have other ideas.

Ch. 19 – Sitting On a Chair with Wheels: Is God real? Is my church true? I honestly don’t know and it’s tearing me up inside. A caustic confrontation leads to Dad trying to talk me down.

Ch. 20 – Flood: Holed up in a church building late at night, my friends and I have no idea our entire town is flooding, threatening to trap us.

Ch. 21 – The Last Time: I finally get the answers I’ve been searching for, just in time for Dad and I to make peace and go on a road trip together.

IV.

Ch. 22 – Speaking in Tongues: My life as a missionary begins, but there’s a catch: I have to speak Spanish. I hate Spanish.

Ch. 23 – Bad News: Ten months into my mission, I receive a phone call from my grandfather with news I do not want. 

Ch. 24 – Faithless Prayers: While waiting for confirmation that I what I know in my gut is true, I pray.

Ch. 25 – Worse Than Death: How my father died and the devastating first few moments after I found out. 

Ch. 26 – To The Lord: The Mission President and his wife come to visit and console me. I’ve got a big decision to make about what to do next.

Ch. 27 – Being a Human Being: It’s the morning after and I want nothing more than to do the missionary work I’m supposed to do. But are my motives less than pure?

Ch. 28 – In the Absence of Kneeling Dragons: I return home from my mission many months early to a very different world.

Ch. 29 – The Shoulders: The house has been overrun with mourners, and I doubt very much all of them are there for the right reasons.

Ch. 30 – Speaker for the Dead: Mom has asked me to speak at Dad’s funeral, but I have no idea what to say. A forgotten recording reveals Dad’s feelings about the shooting in his own words and confuses me further as I wrestle with his contradictions.

Ch. 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man: The day of the funeral has arrived and it’s my turn to speak.

Ch. 32 – Grounded: It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m home. Should I stay home and not return to the mission?

Ch. 33 – Life After Death: It’s been a long week. Two moments stand out in particular, putting everything else into perspective.

Epilogue: Decades have passed. What happened to me? To my family? What’s the takeaway?

Why take it all down? Because:

I’m just going to do it. At the encouragement of my wife and a few of you, I’m changing the name of the book to The Other Side of Fear and I’m shopping it out…again. After 7 years.

RBDM CH 33E copy

The funny thing is that The Other Side of Fear is SUCH a better title and I don’t know why I never thought of it. That’s really what the book is about: what is on the other side of the worst thing thing you can imagine happening? This is such a theme in my life (and I’m sure many others). I have faced down my worst fears many times–literally the worst things I could think of–and you know what’s on other side of that? Peace. Quite honestly, it’s peace. The worst thing is never so bad as you imagine it to be, and you can never anticipate the ways you will grow and learn and change from those awful happenings. Calamity is how God operates on us. It’s how He fixes us into who we should be (but only if we allow it). And that’s a good thing. That’s what’s on the other side of fear: good things.

Maybe the syncing up of all this with the coronavirus is nothing, but it feels oddly right and clarifying. I’ve been in the house for two solid weeks now, and despite the occasional passing panic when I give into the temptation, I don’t really have any trouble centering myself. There’s a great freedom in knowing the universe will you up at any given moment and that you can take that beating and emerge victorious.

So, into the world this book goes once more. Maybe it will find a home, or maybe it won’t and I’ll get beat up again. Whatever happens, I’ve certainly got enough time on my hands to find out.

She Told Me My Family Was Afraid of Me

BrockFace

Last week, Erin sat me down on the swing at our back patio and we had a “come to Jesus” moment. She, like a good spouse, chose not the heat of the moment, but a time separated by hours from my increasingly ill behavior. She gave it to me straight: I’m angry all the time, I’m on a hair trigger, the kids are afraid of me, and I’ve made the house an extremely unpleasant place to live in–to the point that sometimes she takes the long way home from dropping our oldest off at junior high just to avoid the scene that ensues daily when I berate our youngest for not knowing where her shoes are and making us late for her preschool.

It was a huge gut punch. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so small and low. I’m not a crier, but I started to cry then because I had no defense to give. Erin was 100% right. I was making our home a miserable place. Worse, I kind of knew I was doing it. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but I think, in the back of my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I was okay to be this way because a) pressures and b) no one was saying anything about it.

Well, of course they weren’t. They were rightfully afraid to talk to me.

The bulk of our conversation that night dealt with why I was behaving this way. I don’t want to go too deep into that, but suffice it to say that I’m not great at being a stay-at-home dad (Erin kindly reminded me it took her years to be any good at being a stay-at-home mom) and the external pressures that come from work and achievement and failure were getting to me. Or rather, I was letting them get to me. I actually thought that since things were so hard for me right now that it was okay for me to be a bit of a jerk. It was justified.

Which, of course, I was not. I was operating from an incredibly unkind, selfish place, especially since Erin has been working on her Master’s Degree for the past year, a work that requires you to stand on your head and recite the Constitution backwards while cats lick milk off the bottom of your feet. Or something. It’s hard, that’s all I know. I was making things even harder.

My wife had popped my delusional bubble. I recognized my behavior as the sort of thing that would slowly force my family to retreat from me, which, of course, they kind of were doing already. I needed to dial things back in a big way. So, I told Erin the most cliched thing a person can possibly say in a moment like that: I will change. I could tell she didn’t exactly believe me.

The thing is, I meant it. 100%. (This is a common thing: I tend to apologize and change my mind very quickly. If I can see the logic of something, it’s very rare that I wait for my emotions to catch up.) I was sick of myself. I was sick of being angry and I was sick about what I was doing to my girls and my wife. I had hurt them. Not physically, but I had hurt them. I needed to not just turn the truck around, I needed to throw that sucker in reverse and floor the gas pedal until this big heap of selfish garbage I had built up was just a speck through the windshield.

I made a decision to stop letting my emotions–particularly the rage-filled ones–take over. The benefit just wasn’t there. I was able to do this for one, simple reason: my family’s emotions and perception of me is more important than my need to vent or act out frustration. I needed to sacrifice that release of anger on the altar of their precious feelings to give them a chance to like me again, and to not damage them or my relationship with them. 

Basically, even though nothing really changed about my circumstances, I made a conscious effort to let go of my anger over it all.

That has not been terribly easy, but it has been terribly worth it. I’ve gone six days without a blow-up and the spirit in our house is radically different. I think, as fathers, we underestimate our impact. I know society does. But I’ve gotten a crash course in just how much I matter to my family, and how invested they are in my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Everything is different around here now, which illustrates quite clearly that I was almost entirely responsible for the tension in our home over the past couple months. It’s a sobering realization.

I had never thought of myself as a bad father. I honestly didn’t think I was capable. I thought if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s be a father. People have even told me, in the recent past, that I am a good father. I hoped I was worthy of that. I kind of thought I was. But, I was wrong.

I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom their progression is a nice straight line that reaches continually upward, but for me it’s a rocky thing, filled with peaks and valleys. Just when I think I’ve got one thing licked, some other issue pops up and takes the wind out of my sails. This all crept up on me, and none of it fit my perception of myself. I’m still learning all the time, even as I approach 40, who I am and what I’m capable of, for good and for ill.

My prayer–and this is always my prayer–is that whatever my moment-to-moment progression is, the trend, at least, is upwards. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. There’s still a ton of stuff I need to work on, but, in simply letting go of the justifications and the outsized emotions that have been holding me back in those most important of roles, father and husband, I feel like I grabbed hold of a valuable piece of the happiness puzzle this week.

Pretty sure my girls and my wife would agree.

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings

My wife badgered me about Mother’s Day something fierce this year.

“You always do it,” she said. “Every two years.”

“Every two years,” I said. “I don’t remember committing to that. I don’t have any ideas this year.”

“It’s my favorite thing. Please?”

That was the first conversation about five weeks ago. We revisited the conversation every few days after that, and each time I insisted that just because I did a cartoon drawing of our family every two years in the past, that didn’t constitute a promise for the future. Erin was not persuaded. In her mind, I will be doing these drawings until the day I die. Maybe even after that.

So, I gave in. I did another drawing, I gave it to her this morning, she gushed, and Facebook nodded their collective approval. And then I sat down to write this blog and I discovered I’d been swindled.

I have literally NEVER made Erin a cartoon family Mother’s Day drawing two years after the previous one. I’ve drawn one four years after the previous one, and I’ve drawn one three years after the previous one, but until today I have never put myself through the hours and hours of work it takes to make these thing a scant two years after the previous one.

Well played, Erin.

* * *

This is more for me than anyone else.

I put a lot more thought into these drawings than it may first appear. I see them as capturing a moment in time, and I try to fill them with details that speak to their respective moments. Thought it might be fun to try to do a little recapturing. Let’s go back 9 years.

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, even as I type this eleven years later, still does not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in her most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Here it is, the drawing I gave to Erin just this morning.

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing the world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and we’ve been rebuilding ever since. Going back over these drawings, I’m impressed by the ebb and flow of life. Ups and downs are just part and parcel, but in revisiting them I’m impressed by how much that plays out over the long term. It gives me hope, honestly, that we’ll be back on top in no time… and then we’ll probably fall again, somehow. This is just the way things work. There’s comfort in that.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken off the dog from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, is quite the poised young woman now and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She’s only an inch shorter than Erin now, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. Last Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets are no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school this year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dress right now as I fulfill my role as a stay-at-home dad and work on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I work (mostly at home) as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe is deteriorating. My hate for clothes shopping coupled with our financial challenges leaves me with little motivation to improve or update my wardrobe. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet has been just OBSESSED with Star Wars this past year, and particularly with Rey. She actually does own and wear this costume, and she has a light saber, too. Her enthusiasm is adorable. Even if she grows out of it later, the is the Star Wars year. (The fever extends to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she asks for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.)

* * *

Just to bring it back, I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and not cheap (ex. I’d have charged about $500 for this latest one), but if you’re interested in exploring the possiblity, feel free to drop me a line at bwhheasley (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Stop Calling My Daughter a Slut

GirlBack

Dear Men of the Internet,

Stop calling my daughter a slut.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled “Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt” as a letter to the “Boys of the World” kindly requesting that they stop trying to give my daughter body image issues by commenting on, among other things, her butt. ForEveryMom.com picked it up, but you probably read it over the weekend because when the Independent Journal Review picked it up and re-published it, it went viral.

You also had a lot to say about it. So, let’s talk. You go first.

Technically, all these comments are public record and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with me showing you the names and faces of these people, but I’ve covered them up anyway so as not to focus on the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter who said this stuff. What matters is that they were said.

“This will change nothing and help no one”

Maybe! But let’s give it a shot anyway. Can’t hurt to try.

“…As a man and used to be boy this Dad knows full well that at one time his life he probably did and said some of the same things these boys he talks about says and does… maybe you should go out and buy her clothes that’s a little too big so these boys you talk can’t see what your little girl’s body looks like. Remember the old saying Dad boys will be boys.”

First of all, me trying to buy my daughter clothes is a non-starter. I don’t even know her size.

Second of all, I’ve always hated the phrase “Boys will be boys.” It’s simply not true. When I was a boy, I didn’t make inappropriate comments towards girls about their bodies. I just didn’t do it. And if I didn’t do it and other boys didn’t do it (trust me, I wasn’t alone), then this isn’t a boys-will-be-boys situation. It’s a misogynistic-jerkfaces-will-be-misogynistic-jerkfaces situation. It’s a learned behavior.

The cool thing is that a Misogynistic Jerkface can change and become something else. He can stop saying stupid stuff and become a man.

“Wonderful, another whiner that doesn’t like something that someone did… Tell her to get over it… Where is the picture of this girl? Is there something wrong or is there something right?”

I humbly submit I wasn’t whining. A lot of you also accused me of being offended. Honestly, I don’t really get offended. Taking offense is a waste of time. I identified a problem and suggested that it should be corrected. Isn’t that a good thing? It’s certainly not whining.

Wait, I just read that back… are you saying you want to see a picture of my daughter’s butt?

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 9.56.58 AM

“Butt, where’s the photo?”

You are asking to see a picture of my daughter’s butt. This is so weird.

“Well? Where’s the picture of her butt?”

Guys! She’s 13! Do you even think about this stuff before you type it?

“I can only imagine she is probably dressing provocatively.”

Why is that? Why is that my daughter dressed provocatively the only thing you can imagine as the reason for the boys’ comments? My wife had a great response to this. Let’s remember together:

“…actually she dresses extremely modestly. What is most concerning is that… people like you suggest it must be her fault this is why we have a rape culture.”

She makes a good point. Why isn’t the automatic go-to when unthinking boys spit out their garbage words, “I can only imagine those boys are rude and haven’t been taught proper respect for the opposite gender”? No, instead the Men of the Internet blame the girl. In the past couple of days, there have been lots of these comments directly blaming my daughter. For something boys did. This happens with nothing else.

“Sorry, officer, I was driving just fine until that cat jumped over that bush. I was so surprised, I swerved into oncoming traffic. Stupid cat, right? C’mon, let’s go find her together and arrest her!”

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 9.55.09 AM

“We do not have a rape culture, that is a myth.”

Y’know, honestly, I used to think rape culture was a myth, too. Then I posted a blog asking boys to stop talking about my daughter’s butt and you guys showed me I was very, very wrong.* It was like Nessie held a press conference only to tell us she’s not real.

Look, I still hate the term “rape culture.” It’s incendiary and off-putting (but then, so is rape). I keep thinking there’s got to be a better term for it, but it is a real thing–it’s this idea that how we talk about women has real consequences. Here’s one, partial definition:

In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . .

In other words, violence against women starts with stuff like “Boys will be boys.” When you normalize inappropriate behavior as inevitable, you create an environment where people aren’t as responsible for that behavior–and that leads to more bad behavior. If a Junior High boy feels bold enough to cuss at my daughter and comment on her butt, if he isn’t stopped and corrected, where does that lead? Maybe he’ll grow out of it, but maybe that’s the beginning of a path that leads to rape. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I will rape today.” But a violent disposition towards women starts somewhere. It starts with a dismissive and unsympathetic attitude towards women’s feeling and experiences that places the responsibility for bad behavior towards women on the women themselves.

Did that sound convoluted? That’s because it is.

“…Girls wear very little during the summer, use profane language…have sex/drug parties. It’s no wonder young boys think it’s perfectly alright to appraise a girls butt and anything else.”

I love the world that’s being painted here. So, basically, the Earth would be full of virtuous, righteous boys if it weren’t for the sexy, decadent girls making it so hard to not talk about their butts?

Look, do I think girls should dress modestly and that the sexualization of even the youngest girls is a problem? Of course I do! Do I think that absolves boys of bad behavior? No. That’s like saying my little brother took my toy away so I had to hit him. That’s baby reasoning.

Men of the Internet, your logic is that of a toddler.

“So, you never looked at a girls butt? Tell your slut daughter not to wear clothing that accentuates her butt whether it is a good one or a bad one. Out of sight is out of mind to a hormone raging boy.”

So much to unpack here. Let’s break out the numbers.

  1. I have looked at girls’ butts. You got me. I’m a heterosexual male and attraction leads me to appreciate the female form. However, I do make an effort to control my thoughts. In controlling my thoughts, I control my actions and, amazingly, I manage to not tell women what I think of their butts. I know, I know. It’s like, what? How do I do it?  I’m a freakin’ unicorn, that’s how. (Except I’m not. I just respect women, like so many other guys who would never think of calling a woman a “slut.” Speaking of which…)
  2. Straight up, you owe my daughter an apology. You don’t call any woman a slut. You don’t do it. It’s matter of respect. Men of the Internet, you messed up today. Big time.
  3. No girl who works so hard to find shorts that extend to her knees can ever be accused of wearing clothing that accentuates her butt. You have no idea who you’re talking about. You have no idea what my wife and I have taught our daughter.
  4. I’ll grant you that immodest clothing makes it difficult to keep thoughts pure, but out of sight is not out of mind. A hormone raging boy has a pretty good imagination.

I want to thank you, Men of the Internet. You’ve really opened my eyes. Rape culture is a real thing. Not a great name, but a real thing.

You’re so willing to give the boys the benefit of the doubt that you’ll characterize my modestly dressed daughter as “provocative” and a “slut” with zero evidence. Literally, all you knew about her from what I wrote was that she’s 13 and she told me what some boys said about her body. All you know about the boys is that they made some inappropriate remarks. How are they the automatic good guys in this scenario?

Do you get it? Do you see that the way women dress is not what this is about? It’s about how men choose to treat women, full stop. Women don’t make men treat them badly. That’s so asinine.

I think all this defending of the boys and all this demonizing and shaming of my daughter and girls in general comes down to this: you recognize yourselves and you feel attacked. Who are the boys who said these things to my daughter going to grow up to be? They’re going to grow up to be you. I’m talking about you and you don’t like it.

So, you strike back. And who’s your target? Why, the girls of course. That’s who you know to blame.

The anger boggles my mind.Why is the idea that we place more value on the feelings of our girls than the whims of boys with big mouths so offensive to you? What is it about what I’m saying that you’re really so upset about? I’m not a Progressive or a Social Justice Warrior or anything else you accused me of this past weekend. I’m a conservative Mormon dad who was raised with no sisters in a house where gun control was the devil’s program designed to take away our freedoms.

“This should stop something which has been going on since the dawn of time.”

You say this has been going on forever and it will never stop. Well, I think you’re probably right. As long as the perpetrators of this behavior–you–do nothing to teach your sons better, it will keep going.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wasting my time with these letters. Just because you’re not listening, doesn’t mean no one is listening. I’ve heard from a couple people already who were inspired to sit down with their sons to have a heart-to-heart and I’m told it went well. That’s some kids right there, changed.

Men of the Internet, I would like to humbly suggest that a heart-to-heart with your sons is what is needed. Even an immodestly dressed young woman is still, completely and thoroughly, a daughter of God. She has His love. She deserves your respect. If you’re not teaching your sons about these things, chances are, to one degree or another, she’s not getting that respect.

Whatever you decide to do, can you at least do this much for me?

Stop calling my daughter a slut.

Because that word is just the worst. Seriously.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Well done! You’ve probably given some Women’s Studies major just what she needed to complete her thesis.

How to Not Deal Appropriately with a Slow Eater

Violet loves to eat slowly. Scratch that, she loves to talk, jump around on her chair, change her shoes, give hugs to her sisters, sing Adele’s “Hello,” twirl, walk our dog Batman on a leash around the house, talk, jump on the furniture, lose her tiny glasses, go to the bathroom, talk, draw on our chalk table, tell me all about Jesus, talk, ask for drinks of water, talk, and talk–all between bites.

You’ve never seen a tiny bowl of Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal* endure so long on a table with a spoon in it. Quite often, it ceases to be breakfast and turns into an fossilized artifact of some long, lost civilization where people went hungry because Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on TV.

*Which, in her defense, is kind of gross.

IMG_0045
The remains of this morning’s breakfast. She simply ran out of time.

I, of course, handle this terribly. I often remind Violet of external pressures that might lead her to feel a bit more inspired to get a move on–like time. I say things like, “We have to leave in five minutes or we’ll be late for school.” Since five-year-olds have no concept of time whatsoever, she pretends to take this very seriously and then proceeds to chase our dogs around the living room with a lightsaber.

Another tactic I sometimes use is to tell her how truly great that oatmeal is. It’s SO delicious. If she doesn’t get to it quick, I’m going to eat it. This has literally never worked.

Other times–less prouder moments–I try to intimidate Violet. I tell her how upset I am. I sigh loudly. I even hit the table for emphasis on the word “GOT.” As in, “You’ve GOT to eat. Please, please, PLEASE, eat!!” This also never works. What usually happens–because I’m a 5’10” man and she’s a sub 4′ little girl–is that she starts doing that frozen, shaking thing. Her big eyes look into mine and she doesn’t know what to do. My heightened frustration is intimidating to her, and it incapacitates her.

Technically, Violet does chew at an appropriate speed. I’ve seen food go into her mouth and within what seems like a suitable amount of time it does appear to go down her throat. (I swear it happens, but don’t ask me for proof. Violet eating is like Sasquatch running through a forest–we all know it happens, but the camera lens refuses it.)

What finally seems to work is to tell Violet how many bites she has left and then let her count them out. There’s something about that limit–that boundary she can operate within–that gives her enough calm and comfort to proceed to eat like a human girl and not a caffeinated monkey bouncing all over the house. She likes knowing when it will end instead of being overwhelmed by what to her is a mountain of food. It doesn’t even matter how many bites I tell her she has to eat–I could say three bites or five or ten and I could even even say they have to be big bites–she’ll eat every last one of them with a speed on the human side of the Human-Sloth Scale, and then she’s done. And we get to school on time.

I don’t know why I’m so slow to remember this tactic each and every time Violet sits down for a meal. It probably has something to do with the fact that I want Violet to eat appropriately in the first place, and not through trickery. But trickery is Parenting 101. I should know this–I should remember this. Violet is hardly my first slow eater. Watching my oldest inhale food now like she’s been learning at the feet of our vacuum should give me a bit more patience and faith.

I’m working on it. Violet is working on it. We’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m gonna buy better tasting oatmeal.