Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Keep it Low and Slow: from Rad Dad 18

A movie script about a father, three kids, the evil media, and the perils of sex education

I always thought this would be easy. I humored myself with assurances that I wouldn’t handle the subject like my parents did, that I would be a beacon, a guide, dare I say, a confidant for my children.

Ah, the bullshit we tell ourselves when we’re rocking babies about how we will parent in the future. Let me tell you right off what the moral of this story will be: humility.

Scene 1: I was driving in my car with my thirteen-year-old son; I discovered a few days earlier he’s acquired some pornographic material. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal about some adult magazines tucked up under a mattress. Oh, how I long for those good ol’ days. You see, if only I discovered a dirty magazine. Nooooo. Thanks to the Internet, instead I discovered 45-second clips of hard-core group sex on my computer desktop.

It’s time for The Talk, which I’ve had many times before, so this should be easy.

Hey, I found some…stuff…on my computer I think we need to talk about.

Awkward silence.

Really? What? he asked.

More awkward silence.

He continued, do we have to talk about it?

Cue cheesy music.

As I pulled over, I mumbled something like, well, if you’re gonna look at it, I guess we need to talk about it

I‘ll spare you the gory discomfort (though if you are really interested, check out Rad Dad 3) but admit that: Joking about sex with him when he was ten, was nothing like having the first real conversation with him about the seriousness and the responsibilities of sexuality.

Flashback: I was standing with my father in the garage. It’s dusk. I was about fifteen. I rarely had time with him alone anymore because he’s a busy man, he’s a silent man, but I knew he loved me, I knew he tried the best he could. He didn’t look me in the eyes. He called me out here because he caught me the other night getting down like only teenagers can in the horrifically uncomfortable backseat of my ‘76 Toyota Corolla.

So now was my The Talk.

Listen, he told me, and waited, the pause pregnant with anticipation.

He said, keep your willy in your pants. I’m serious. Then he walked away.

And I’m serious; that’s what he said, the extent of our birds and bees conversation.

Of course, soon his advice became my way of joking with my girlfriend about getting it on, it’s time to release the willy; it was funny until at the age of eighteen she becomes pregnant.

Non-sequitor Flash Forward:
The horror and accompanying popcorn gag as my son and I were getting ready to watch Aladdin (don’t ask why my son was invited to a three year old’s birthday party at a movie theater) when I witness for the first time the preview for the movie Free Willy.

Scene 2:
After having a difficult discussion about drug use with my fourteen year old daughter, I jokingly asked her, well anything else we should talk about, like are you having sex?

Now, of course, I joked with her too from around age four about sex, but once again not really prepared for her response.

No, dad, I mean I‘ve made out with a few hot boys that’s all.

I stared blankly at her.

And, once again, in a moment that highlights the generational differences between my teenage years when you had to have a girl/boyfriend to free willy, today’s young people are more empowered to be sexually active without having to have a significant other; the wisdom is shocking.

I stuttered something like, I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend…

I don’t.


Picking up on my mental conundrum, she explained, there are boys you want to be your boyfriend and then there are hot boys you just wanna kiss.

Still stuck somewhere in the1950s, I asked, but don’t you want your boyfriend to be hot?

Yes, but sometimes you just want to kiss a hot boy. Can you leave my room now?

The third time really is the charm. I understand that now. From the sheer horror at the need to talk with my son about masturbation and pornography, to the disorientation of generational changes with my middle child, to finally the self-reflection, the epiphany of oh I’ve been here before with my youngest. Now some people may not need three children to see the light; unfortunately, I did. Of course, my cynicism almost makes me blow it again. And here’s where I blame the evil media. I hate all this faux female bisexuality (it’s almost never male) that has became a pop culture trend; it’s all over YouTube videos, hip-hop songs, and Facebook groups, but then again who am I to judge or question Lady Gaga’s sexual dalliances.

Scene 3:
When my youngest daughter informed me that she’s joining the Gay Straight Alliance at her middle school, I almost missed it. When I was twelve, I was still playing with tractors and thought my willy was indeed a whale.

Uh huh, I mumbled while trying to decide what the hell to make for dinner for two daughters who never want the same thing.

But after a second, her words reached me. I remembered my father, the dark garage, the silences. I stopped what I was doing, and I looked at her. I told her how proud I am of her. I asked her questions, and I just listened.

And a few weeks later, I listened again as she shared with me her frustration that even people who are members of the alliance use the word gay derogatorily.

And later still, I apologized to her when she overheard me joking with a neighbor about a friend of ours who is a self-proclaimed fag hag. I saw her face; I knew immediately she only heard me saying the word fag.

Scene 4:
We are watching the movie La Mission; it’s three teenage girls and me. At first they wanted to see Hot Tub Time Machine. To be honest, I did as well, but I knew that it’s not often we get to see movies that bring up issues critically. It’s true though that even bad movies are opportunities to discuss the way things are fucked up: sexual violence, gender rigidity, racism; but tonight I wanted to go the high road. We’re in the dark, and it’s the scene in which the father is refusing to listen, to know about, to acknowledge his gay son’s desires. It’s the familial version of don’t ask, don’t tell. We’re in the dark, and my daughter reached to grab my hand; she leaned into me and said, I can’t believe there are still people like him.

It’s then that I am thankful for the privilege of being a part of communities in which the homophobia I remember as a teenager seems surreal, seems like Hollywood exaggeration to my teenage daughters.

I rented The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and planned on watching it with my kids, but now they’re busy, now they have so many other things to do that they just wanted to watch the funny parts. Funny, you might ask. They simply loved the scenes of street life in the Castro. They commented on the clothes, the hair-dos, laughed at the Castro street parade footage, the dancing. But as the story shifted to the spontaneous memorial that moved down Market Street after Harvey Milk was killed, they watched silently; I saw their sadness, felt their disbelief. They soon left and returned to their rooms. I didn’t have to say anything. They knew.

And when I tell them about the event I’ll be reading at a few weeks later to celebrate the city’s first annual Harvey Milk Day, they smiled and one added, that’s cool, but just don’t embarrass me, ok.

So it’s come to this. Even though I don’t have to explain things anymore and even though I am so clearly the last person they want to confide in about anything sexual, I still ask questions. And they still hate it.

I still ask if they are having drugs and doing sex. They just roll their eyes and look utterly offended. My mantra now to them is low and slow; I’ve stolen the line from La Mission. I tell them in my best vato accent to have fun but keep it low and slow.

I think it’s better than telling them about willies and freedom.

Monday, July 05, 2010

We Remember! On the Eve of The Oscar Grant Verdict

It was an accident that I hopped on the wrong train heading back to the East Bay lost as I was in the gallery of Sunday characters riding BART: tourists, hipsters, workers, and young teens. I smiled at them especially, the teenagers, excused their loudness, their energy. I imagined my teenaged daughters and son acting a little crazy just like them on the BART.

As we slipped past West Oakland station, I began to close my book, gather my belongings, but when we pulled into the Lake Merritt station and not 12th street I was confused. I realized I had boarded the wrong train. On or off? I couldn’t decide in time, and the doors closed.

No biggie; I’d just get off at the next stop. Which was Fruitvale.

I froze right there.

The skyline swept into view as we emerged from the tunnel, late afternoon sun spilling over the port of Oakland, serene and blinding.

It hit me then: Fruitvale BART station, the place where Oscar Grant was murdered.

His murder has stuck with me since it happened on New Year’s Eve 2009. I have been to vigils. I have facilitated discussions in classrooms and at Rad Dad readings. I have refused to forget for the last year and a half now the violence that is consistently perpetrated on the youth in our society. Especially youth of color. Especially young men.

But I have not come to where it happened.

The train hummed to a stop and I stepped off. The platform was empty, barren, almost peaceful. The geography was familiar. The cement walls. The red tile flooring.

Immediately, those bumpy, pixilated cell phone images come to mind, and then the noise, the chaos.

It was nighttime.

There were kids along those walls.

There were cops strong-arming and stomping back and forth.

There was Oscar Grant pushed face down on to the ground.

Then, there was the shot.

Standing in the Fruitvale BART station, I couldn’t help but feel my chest well up with such emotions, such sadness, such anger.

I searched for the spot thinking there must be a memorial: candles, pictures, flowers, something.

But there was nothing.

No sign to mark the spot, no image to bear witness. Everything wiped clean. I wonder what is left behind?

I walked the platform.

Soon, the first train heading my direction arrived. Two young men stepped off, laughing, holding cell phones to their ears. They nodded at me and walked to the stairs.

I was alone again and felt that I should do something.

But then I saw it; someone had written something in black sharpie, on the railing.

“We remember.”

I remember this as I, like so many in the Bay Area, await the verdict that will most-likely come out in the next few days. Initially, I was nervous, but still sure that justice would be served. Nothing could bring back Oscar Grant, nothing could give his daughter her father back, but at least a message would be sent to other officers of the law.

Now, I am not so sure this will happen.

I don’t know how I will respond to the verdicts. I fear the police are all too ready to subdue, to quell, to brutalize.

But they will not scare me away.

One thing I do know is that my daughters and I will be there with other people in downtown Oakland the evening the verdict is released.

I know we will not forget.

Join us.