Standing on your head matters

Dad is not “right” as you all know.

In the midst of a crazy conversation before lunch one recent Saturday, I decided to show him and Heather, his home attendant, how far I have gotten in my new goal: a hand stand.

I interrupted Dad’s crazy talk, and in quintessentially child-like manner, I said, “Look at me!!” and I did a facsimile handstand facing a wall.

“What in the hell are you doing?  You could hurt yourself!”

I peeled myself down in shock. 

Dad, as if snapped back into the present, was being my Dad.

The sheer shock factor brought him back.

Next goal: The tight rope from the Freedom Tower to the nearest high building.

If it doesn’t kill Dad, it may make him sane again.

The Holy Father and what I learned on Yom Kippur

I know, it is odd for me, a veritable caricature of a New York Jew, to restart my blog with a reference to Pope Francisco.

These have been odd days.  I haven’t written much because much has been the same or, in my father’s case, declining in an incremental and mundane manner.  (My siblings and I have resorted to an Olympic point system for the daily insanity/dementia status, as if it were a gymnastics events.  BOB (brother of blogger) is the former USSR, with low marks.  I am the USA, with high marks. SOB (sister of blogger) is Belgium or Switzerland, splitting the difference.)

On Yom Kippur, certain things resonated with me.

First, debunking a myth.  Jews fast for 26 hours on Yom Kippur.  If one has an easy fast, then supposedly he or she has been righteous with little need to repent.  The obverse is also true, a difficult time fasting (hunger, headaches, fainting) means one has to atone for really bad stuff.  As in, when we recite how we will die, “who by fire, who by flood, who by beast . . . .”, you ought to start praying for the quick and painless.  I had a relatively easy fast (ok, I had a cup of coffee), and I soooo had stuff to repent for.  So, midway during the fast, I knew that, easy fast be damned (ooops another sin), I should start praying for death by wild beast because it is a quick bite to the jugular and then they eat you.  No pine box needed.

Second, maybe G-d who doesn’t care if people believe in G-d.  Our rabbi believes in such a G-d.  Believers and non-believers alike can atone and lay off the yolk of sin, for themselves or before G-d, whichever.  What matters is that one owns one’s sins, resets one’s inner compass toward that which is good, right and noble.  And then keeps sinning but amortizes it with good deeds.  (Ok, the latter part is the Blogger Corollary.)

Finally, a person’s essential goodness can shine through all of the divisions and barricades that we humans erect to separate us from each other. I am thinking of the Holy Father.  I have read about the Pope and (here comes ANOTHER Yom Kippur sin . . . ) I watched the Pope address those assembled at the White House before going to shul.  I saw him greet well-wishers.  I have read about his opening his home to the poor, the hungry and the outcast.  And I have heard him take on the pressing issues of our time.

While I don’t agree with some of his views (seeking to limit some access to contraception under Obamacare comes to mind), I think his message is essentially to love life, do good, care for the stranger and walk humbly on this earth.

As I walked to synagogue, the Pope’s message stayed with me.  Aren’t these the universal precepts of our common humanity?

And I thought, he is rightly called the Holy Father.  (This coming from a Jew who has invoked G-d, Jesus and Moses in unholy ways.)

I could actually believe in a G-d who doesn’t care if a person doesn’t believe in G-d or in the G-d of Jews.  People of all faiths can be holy through their hearts, souls and by their examples.

G-d bless Pope Francisco, the Holy Father of his faith.

 

Beyond Queer

My son turned to me, in a loving voice, and said, “E-Mom, you are my father figure.  I mean that in a good way.  And, if you were younger, I would call you a tomboy.”

There is so much to parse in those sentences.  I, of course, thought, “waaaaait, I am not young?”

If you were to look the historical attributes of “father” — the predominant wage earner, the one who handles “big boy” problems (like girls, budding sexuality and buying Sports Illustrated swim suit editions), the one who works late, and the one who desperately wants to play sports with my son — then I fit.

Except I am not a man.  I am a woman.  And I don’t want to be Ward Cleaver, whether or not my son thought it was a compliment.

I think maybe he was trying to give me legitimacy as a parent in the paradigm of the traditional family, even though I am not a newcomer to him — I was there at conception (a doctor’s office) and present throughout these ensuing 13 years.

It struck me that, while we have seemingly endless vocabulary and theories about gender identity (there are apparently at least six) and sexual orientation (there are so many more than six), our community has not spent as much time or effort on the vocabulary for our queer marriages and families.

So many default to the terms, “wife” and “husband”.  And yet in same-sex families, we know that we don’t one of us called “Mom” and the other called, “Dad”.

I believe that my son was trying to tell me that: (i) I am old, (ii) I have a place, (iii) he struggles sometimes with the non-traditional family structure and may have had to defend his two-mom home, (iv) he is relieved that he can shoe-horn me into something uncomplicated, and (v) he loves me.

Maybe it isn’t vocabulary, but just society lagging behind marriage equality.

But some new vocabulary would help.

Belonging

When my grandparents came to these shores on a boat (in steerage), they were strangers in a strange land.  And they had nothing.  They remained that way their whole lives.

America.  Such a strange country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as he shook his head about something peculiar he read in the newspaper or saw in person or on TV (female wrestling was one such thing).

America.  Such a vondehful [wonderful] country, America,” is something my grandfather would say as looked at the success of, and integration of his children and grandchildren into, American society.

My grandparents were not of this country, although they were naturalized citizens.  They left their home countries to escape atrocities.  So, they were not of those countries either.

They were displaced people their whole lives.  But they felt safe here.  They were citizens here.  They loved this country.

Next to the pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day and our various graduation pictures, was a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act. 

Because a person could do anything and be anything in America.  And America took care of its people who worked hard and raised the next generation of contributors to society (and tax revenue).

My parents and we, their children, grew up with a sense of belonging.

We belong.  This is our country.  We are Americans. 

And, in this country, we have the luxury of a prefix — Chinese-, Japanese-, Polish-, Russian-, Anything-American — because 

We belong.

That is not to say that being Jewish or of Polish, German, Russian and Prussian descent was easy.  Educational and employment discrimination, fights and name-calling of my parents’ generation gave way to schoolyard name-calling and social discrimination in mine.

And, in the next generation, there is still anti-Semitism.  Because prejudice will always exist.  Because crazy people vandalize synagogues.

But we belong to this country and we can, and do, succeed in this country.  But we had to work hard and deal with stupid people and prejudice along the way.  That is a fact of life.  But because I am a citizen, I have the same rights as the bigots.  With education, I can make sure they don’t lord over me.

I think about the Algerians and other North African people in France or “guest workers” across Europe.  These individuals and their families can be two or three generations in Europe and still not be citizens.  Bigotry and malice can cripple their advancement.  They are effectively ghettoized.

In Europe, Asian and African immigrants cannot be citizens. Even when two generations have lived there and no where else.  Even when the grandchildren only know how to speak French, Dutch, German, Flemish, etc. and not the language of their grandparents’ country.

And so they DON’T belong. ANYWHERE.

And they have opportunities. NOWHERE.

And their country of birth claims them as citizens. NOT AT ALL.

And they have bright futures and integrate into the larger culture without losing their cultural and religious identities.  NOPE. NOT HAPPENING.

(This sounds like the story of the Jews in Europe (other than, ironically, Germany) up until just before Hitler came to power.)

I wonder what would happen if these immigrants and guest workers, or at least their children or grandchildren, could be citizens.  I wonder what would have happened in my parents’ and my generation didn’t “belong” to our great nation.

What if they belonged . . . .

Is a Kippah a Kippah if . . .

it is tattooed on your head?

I was in a museum the other day and a fairly heavily tattooed man was opposite me.  He had a very intricate, colorful design on his head in the shape of a kippah, which conveniently also covered his bald spot.  The design was continued on his neck.

The following doesn’t do it justice (it is not intricate or colorful enough), but just to give you an idea of what was IN this guy’s head:

44711_white_floral_bukharian_kippah_by_yair_emanuel_view_1So, does ink count as a head covering?  Does the pain of tattooing one’s scalp tip the balance?

Or are we all just grossed out?

 

Tim Cook

Tim Cook is gay.  Everyone thinks his coming out is so revolutionary and so game-changing.  I just think it points out how far we still need to travel.

Tim Cook had to make sure the Apple board of directors was ok with his coming out, because it might affect stock price or product sales, and ultimately his job.

He had to ask permission to come out.

I guess that is better than a subsistence wage earner who has to worry about whether the boss or foreman is anti-gay, or frankly any person who is 2 pay checks away from being homeless.

But asking permission is not the same as being free.   

It actually makes me sad for him, for me, for all of us.  And yet I believe that scared and closeted gays and lesbians all over are silently cheering.  My hope is that Tim Cook’s coming out will free them to be who they are, love who they love and be happy.

And, sadly, I am more free than Tim Cook.  While I work in an industry where gays are not equal, I don’t worry so much about workplace harassment or losing my job. Maybe that is because I live in a state that protects me.

Imagine a world where you, as a straight person, would have to pretend to love a person of the same sex.  You would have to be affectionate in public, go to company functions and try to live a life that conformed to society’s standards.  And sometimes, you would seek out the love and companionship of a kind and wonderful person of the other sex.  Because you are lonely, and tired, and need to be loved and feel love. And you want to be understood and forgiven for the charades and the lies.

Live in that desperation for a minute.  That pain.  That emptiness.

And, imagine you were found out.  And lost your friends and your job and your family.  Because you were being you.  Authentically, you. 

That is life in so many places in the US and in so many countries around the world.

And while the titan of global industry had it easier, he was still “private” about his life.  Lies by omission.  Vague references.  Even though he didn’t have a “cover” family, he needed three years at the helm and a vote of the board of directors to come out.

I glad that Tim Cook came out of the closet. 

But I guess that I will really celebrate when no one thing defines him, but all make up who he is. The CEO of Apple.  Out-Sourcer-in-Chief of jobs and Avoider-in-Chief of US taxes. A gay man. White son of the South.

He is all of these things. And that is what is important.

The next frontier is looking beyond the “boxes” and looking at the whole human with all of his/her faults, attributes and gifts.

Then we will be free.

Party of One

Lunch with Dad today.  As he declines, he looks so forward to an activity with family on each weekend day.

I decided that I would run to Dad’s house through in Central Park, and then all the way east to Dad’s house.

As I was running, things seemed a bit off.  I didn’t know why.  There were people all around doing usual Park things — running, skateboarding, picnicking — and East Side things —  shopping and arguing and looking at maps to figure out their bearings.

All the usual sights and sounds . . .

EXCEPT

I was surrounded by straight people — couples, singles or with their families.  Ok, maybe not all straight.  Just not embracing their inner gay.

Where were the other gay people?  WHERE WAS EVERYONE?

Did I not get the flyer?

Wait, ah . . . 

They were downtown at the biggest NYC outdoor party of the year!!!  Celebrating the revolution and evolution of gay rights, which feels a little like this photo:

10488404_10152589639573854_7060073252843280101_n

In truth, I haven’t marched in a Gay Pride parade in many, many years.  Because, to riff on the old ACT UP chant:

I am here, I am queer and I am soooo used to it.

I hope it was a fun party.

And don’t worry, I kept things integrated uptown.

 

Father’s Day 2014

Hallmark holidays suck.  At least on Father’s Day.  At least for this mother of a father-less son.

I block it every year.  I can’t ever remember that it is Father’s Day until we trip over it.  And then I think,

“Oh shit, will SOS be ok?”

Ok, I am not a good planner when it comes to this “holiday.”  I block it because I cannot conjure up a facsimile dad.  There is no vegan turkey for this thanksgiving holiday.

And then I fixate on our aging Dads.  Because it is easier.

SOS was not in a great mood today.  But, thank G-d, he spent some special time with Cousin Gentle.

The clan gathered for dinner.  Still, SOS was in a whiny mood.  I assumed it was the Father’s Day thing, but interestingly, he was very cuddly with me. I could not read the signals because usually when he is feeling different about having two moms, he is mean to me. I was bracing for that treatment all day.

At dinner, we toasted our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and grandsons.  Dad was disconnected and confused.  FOPOB was surprisingly present and engaged.  The world was upside down.

After the ganza mispocheh (the big family) left, I went into SOS’s room to talk.

“Dude, I want to talk about Father’s Day.”

“Why?”

“Because this is one of those days when I regret that you don’t have a dad, because it feels like everyone is celebrating having a dad and, so today, but really only today, I hate that you don’t.”

“Really, E-Mom?  It is ok.  It is like being Jewish at Christmas.  Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

Ahhhhh. I made special note of the “OMG-you’re-so-lame-how-do-survive-a-day-in-the-world” tone.

I smiled to myself.  (I couldn’t give SOS the satisfaction.)  And I thought of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young:

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

SOS, my best and toughest teacher, in the subject of life.  I learn these lessons because my happiness depends on it.

Happy father’s day to all, whether or not it applies.

Christmas

Tonight is a night of tradition.  In years past, we assembled, young and old, religious and not, to observe the Jewish rituals of Christmas.

First, we ordered in Chinese food.  And it wasn’t kosher in the least.

Sidebar:  Many years ago, there was only over-cooked Cantonese available. Then, we were blessed with Hunan and Szechuan.  And now, “Chinese food” is a term that includes the foods of all of the Asian continent.

Second, over dinner, we discussed which movie (at the local theater) we should see on Christmas day.

Sidebar: Until recently, there were no lines at the movie theaters, unless you lived in a particularly Jewish area, in which case you had to go to the movie theater in another neighborhood.  Also, no computers, internet or streaming movies.

Third, we searched the TV for something other than midnight mass from Vatican City or the Yule log.

Sidebar:  Remember, this was pre-cable/internet/Apple TV.  Channel 9 always had a marathon of the Joe Franklin talk show — it was low-budget and he wore polyester suits and had a comb-over.

Fourth, we felt bloated and restless because, even though we didn’t need to go to a store, just the knowledge that the store might be closed caused claustrophobic reactions among those assembled.

Sidebar:  It is like the anxiety-induced hunger pangs a day before the Yom Kippur fast.

Fifth, we discussed each Anti-Semite we ever knew and practiced our usual Easter refrain, “It was the Romans!”.

Sidebar:  It is amazing what happens when Jews feel bloated and unable to shop.  And it is never too early to sway public opinion and why wait until Lent?

There was a spring in my step as I came home — for ’twas the night before Christmas and we had tradition to uphold.  Imagine my reaction to the smell of cooking — COOKING — emanating from the kitchen. Oy. Tradition unravels.

First: we ate quinoa, tofu and chicken soup.  (These were options; not one concoction.)

Second: we discussed what we would watch on Netflix.

Third: we couldn’t agree on anything, so we channel-surfed THOUSANDS of channels and found nothing to watch except something about antelopes, pronghorns, and bears.

Fourth: Amazon.com.  Enough said.

Fifth: Mere anti-semitism is so, well, quaint.  There are crazy people with nukes out there who hate lots and lots of people, all for the same stupid reasons.

But we still practice, “It was the Romans!

Merry Christmas to all.

 

Life Inside the Bubble

(I will get to SOS’s visiting day SOON)

My mind has been all over the map.  I visited SOS at an idyllic summer camp, where his best friends are all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, athletes, mathletes, geeks and jocks (ok, quasi jocks).  Yet, the preponderance is white and Jewish, let’s not get carried away.

We drove home that night back to New York City because of ULOB’s condition.  The night has a mournful quality, mused POB.

It was particularly mournful.  On the highway, in the darkening day that gave way to night, I thought about Trayvon Martin and my son.

I don’t know much about the facts (if any) that came out in the case (as opposed to the media) and I didn’t listen very closely to the proceedings.

Why?

Because if the police tell a man who says he is afraid of an “interloper” to stay in his car, and he gets out and goes after the ‘interloper” with a gun, and the “interloper” dies, there is no question that the first man is not only criminally responsible for the death of the “interloper” but, in this case, of felony racism.

It never occurred to me that George Zimmerman would go free.

Not because I don’t have “ist” tendencies — we all do.  But because in my world, I have learned so much from my child and his friends.  Children can teach their parents about life and community, if only parents wouldn’t poison them with prejudice.

Children don’t naturally draw lines; they just want to play with whomever wants to play with them.

But they feel societal “norms” in their bones.  So, when my son was 7, he was having a play date with his best friend, and said to us:  “I just want you to know that he is bi-racial.”  OK, SOS is being raised by two moms. We couldn’t care less. Meanwhile, up in Riverdale, his best friend was telling his parents, “Just want to let you know that [SOS] has two moms.”  And they are a biracial couple and they didn’t care about our sexual orientation.  In fact, we parents are friends, simply because we like each other and we have fun together WITHOUT THE KIDS.

Both sets of parents called each other and immediately giggled and then sighed at our boys who are leading the way.  Our children opened up a way to discuss differences in a way that helped their parents.

“Teach your children well, and their fathers’ hell will slowly go by … “

And sometimes I forget that two generations — including mine — have to die out before our children can make the decisions.

And then Trayvon’s death makes us remember. 

And let’s focus on this young man’s tragic death.  A young man, who died not on the battlefields of Afghanistan with the condolences of a grateful nation, but in a silent and unacknowledged skirmish along race lines.

Did he smoke pot? I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I did.  Did he do some bad things? I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I did.  But I got a free pass (or six or seven). Why do you think?

Trayvon was a kid.   Did he hit Zimmerman? Hell, I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I would, if I got the better of someone after me with a gun.  I would have beat the guy with all my might. I would have kiiled him.

Let’s imagine the worst, and Trayvon was doing something bad.  Trayvon was shot dead. If I were shot dead (and doing something misdemeanor-ish), Zimmerman would be in jail or on death row.

BUT THE PITY OF IT ALL IS THAT WE HAVE TO IMAGINE THE WORST OF TRAYVON.  IF TRAYVON WAS A WHITE , DARTMOUTH FRAT BOY NAMED TREY (OR TRIP), THE ENTIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT WOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED AND THERE WOULD BE A WHOLE CAMPAIGN TO WIPE OUT NON-LICENSED SECURITY SERVICES.

Close your eyes.  And don’t think about the fact that Trayvon is black.  You know the answer.  The same damn answer that has plagued generations.  But, PLEASE, let’s not poison our children who have a real chance not to repeat this travesty.

If George Zimmerman has the right to be judge, jury and executioner, then we all have that right and Zimmerman should be very afraid.  As should we all because then society is irretrievably broken.

Trayvon was a young man — a kid — why did he have to die?

A young man a little older than my son died violently.  And the killer went free.

A killer went free. 

Four words that indict our society.  And the victim was a young person with a life ahead of him, full of hopes, dreams, disappointments, and we hope happiness and success (as he saw it).  Like any of us.

We enabled this to happen.  Look in the damn mirror. 

We should all turn ourselves into local precincts.

Every child is simply too precious to lose to this kind of travesty.