Dad2.0: A Conference for Dads & a Conversation About #MeToo

Posted on February 13, 2018

A little over a month ago I received a message from Doug French about speaking on a panel at the Dad2.0 Summit in New Orleans. I was at work and found myself slipping on my readers and leaning into the monitor to see the words in the small window.

“…it’s about gender relations going forward, and how men in particular can contribute by listening, etc. You’ve written a lot about it, and Asha and I thought of you when we were discussing it. If this is even a possibility at this point, could we set a time for a call?”

The timing could not have been more perfect or more challenging. I’ve been stuck; not knowing how to channel all that I’ve been feeling, but also so busy at work that it’s been easy to ignore everything but the most pressing demands. I miss writing, but I want more. I want to dig into conversations that go beyond text boxes. I don’t want to accept my anger or my pain as action enough. Hearing Asha’s name piqued my interest. She has been a purpose personified as the events and movements unfolding in our country have moved her to say, “I must act.”

Her posts about calling politicians drove me to pick up the phone, even as my hand and voice shook. Her unwavering kindness also influenced me. We can be strong and maintain soft edges, have opinions and compassion. I went back and forth with Doug about the panel and asked Sean what he thought.

“I mean, can I possibly go? We’re so busy and I don’t know what this would really mean.”

“Amanda, if they invite you, you go. You belong there and need to do this.”

It was the answer I wanted, which made guilt creep in until I remembered how it’s felt to watch the headlines, or to go on twitter, or to walk down the street. Being busy our having writer’s block doesn’t make me stop being a woman or a parent of three daughters in a world that still gives the benefit of doubt to someone other than women.

I booked the flights and hotel room with tickets for Sean. We made our way to New Orleans and met with the other panelists Saturday morning. We all waited a bit anxiously, or maybe just me, as the doors opened for our session. The tables began to fill, but the remarkable thing was that as we kicked off, the guys kept pouring in the door. I saw friendly faces from Mom2.0 in Laurie White and Laura Mayes. We shared the mic and had a frank discussion about privilege, responsibility, and perspective.

I am used to having a supportive partner, but being in a room that was filled with men wanting to participate, made me feel something I’m not even sure that I can articulate. Much of it is a blur, but I remember talking about the idea of knowing that someone is out there trying to do their part in their circles being a comfort. When I begin to think of it in those terms, it doesn’t seem so insurmountable. It feels like we can make a difference, as Karen said, “If we stay true to that, I think we’ll be all right.”

 

Here is a glimpse inside the room where Karen Walrond, Mike Reynolds, Kimmy Wolf, Joe Spector, and Creed Anthony participated in an unfiltered conversation about what comes after #MeToo . Thanks again to Doug and Asha for presenting this opportunity to me and to Whit Honea for making me feel at home and for helping me see that there are many of us working to change things.

 

Following Signals

Posted on January 30, 2018

Sean and I have this saying, “It’s a push.” We say it when an opportunity presents itself or when something bad happens. It’s a push to take a chance, make a change, or acknowledge that something is done. Ideally, there is only one push at a time or there are multiple pushes that point toward the same thing.

The end of 2017 into 2018 was a massive swell of pushes, so much so that I got a bit lost. It’s like when I set up a baking project in the kitchen with all three girls and they each have questions—

“Can I crack the eggs?”

“Does this look right?”

“Do I need a second measuring cup?”

“Did Beso fart?”

“Alexa, turn up the music.”

“I’m kind of hungry.”

“Avery! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”

And then the dog and both cats walk in, the doorbell rings, and Alexa starts playing Chainsmokers’ Closer two ticks too loud.

It all becomes too much to process and I crumble. I can feel myself faltering and rather than tuning something out in order to focus, I get stuck.

“Alexa!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” Alexa says and Closer comes back on, inexplicably louder, and the girls parrot Alexa, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” The dog runs to the door spraying urine like a fire hose as he barks. The cat jumps on the counter and a text comes through from Sean, “What are you doing?” By some benevolent twist of fate, I don’t think I’ve ever completely snapped, but I’ve come close.

Back to the idea of pushes. I always knew that my writing would shift, I saw other writers transition from writing about child rearing to re-entering the workforce or building toward publishing a book. Some writers simply stopped, fading quietly away only to resurface occasionally on different social media platforms. I understood, even as I grieved.

The push I got was to write and live using the same template I was teaching the girls. Courage, tenacity, advocacy—I talked a big talk, but when it came time to live it, it was often inconvenient, unrealistic, and uncomfortable. I’d love to say that the push was something about wanting to be a better person, but it was actually the repetition of witnessing other people be silenced. It came to a point that I had no choice. I watched it happen on twitter and on the street. I saw it in the grocery store, at the gym, and on tv. The tv instances weren’t so much silencing as they were outright absence.

The roar of injustice and futility became deafening and I froze. Where do you even start? Who am I? I’m certainly not the perfect witness or speaker. The neighbor’s boys that digitally penetrated the girls in the neighborhood. I don’t have back up witnesses who will say, “I remember when she told me after being called in at sundown that during the game of tag the boys repeatedly “captured the girls” by putting their hands down their pants and carrying them across the street. This is the kind of testimony you see in so many of the “believable” #MeToo stories. Nope. I don’t have that.

I haven’t been involved in policy, haven’t known about implicit bias and structural racism. I am only just understanding intersectionality and comprehending the idea of holding space, listening, and using my privilege. Writing this tonight, I know that there is so much more that I don’t even know exists. This is very plainly like how I came into motherhood. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it legitimately became life or death and I did the work.

This week we are hosting my parents’ dog Sophie. She is very sweet and irresistible to anyone who meets her. She is also afraid of everything from the wind and her shadow, to the sound of, well, any sounds really. This means I have taken to walking outside with her in the morning to coax her back inside after relieving herself. We also hand feed her and make her beds of fuzzy blankets and pillows, and generally think, “Man, in my next life I think I’d like to be Sophie.”

As so often happens in life, the inconveniences or detours offer insight. My morning and nights with Sophie are introducing me to quiet and light, crisp air that makes my eyes water and uninterrupted time that clarifies and reminds me of how wide open the world is if we quiet the distractions.

Friday I’ll fly to New Orleans with Sean by my side. Our girls will be with a dear friend who has adopted us as extended family. I’ll be at the Dad 2.0 Summit speaking on a panel about the #MeToo movement and what the next steps are for dads as they navigate parenting, social media, and being men in a country that makes it hard to believe women and support women, and even harder to raise boys who will be men that defy stereotypes. I’ll be there because I was given a push.

I’m grateful and open to these moments. I am hitting publish on this as the president takes the stage for the State of the Union. I know with everything in me, the state of our union depends heavily on the way each of us participates or opts out of participation.

I think we can do this.

 

Imperfection isn’t Useless: Building a Movement #TimesUp #MeToo

Posted on January 8, 2018

I hadn’t planned to watch the Golden Globes. I had heard about the initiative to wear black to show solidarity and I thought it was great to see a movement, but I was dubious about the stage of an awards show being the platform. A part of it may also be that as I age it’s less magical to watch the pomp and circumstance. The young women, the older women, the hot young actors, the grizzled-and-still-deemed-hot-older-actors—it can be hard to make peace with the freedom to have work done or not have work done, to choose to be sexy or to not. I might feel sheepish watching in sweats while eating pizza.

My point is activism and life both come with flaws, some cosmetic, others fundamental. Initially, I thought not watching would be a stronger statement, but then Briar and Avery said, “Are we watching the Golden Globes?” and I didn’t have a solid answer on why we wouldn’t.

“Sure.”

I continued making dinner for all of us and Ave found the correct channel. The first few minutes were filled with awkward small talk between the hosts and both girls played on their phones. When a few of the kids from Stranger Things showed up they chattered about how great they are and wondered where Millie Bobby Brown was. Their phones fell to their laps.

“Hey mom, how come the women are all wearing black? Like every single one?” Briar asked.

I explained that it was a collective statement about sexual harassment in the workplace, a kind of violence that has been going on for decades. The black attire was to say that it’s over and the hashtags #TimesUp and #MeToo were to reinforce that same message.

“Oh, I get it. It’s like a funeral for 2017,” Briar said.

I rolled that around in my head for a bit, smiling. “That’s right. You are right.”

We kept watching the show. I nodded and pumped my fist when Debra Messing and Eva Longoria each took E! to task for the gender pay inequality. They asked me about the women accompanying the famous women.

As we are currently obsessed with The Greatest Showman Avery asked, “Is Michelle Williams married to Tarana Burke?” The question was very matter of fact. I smiled, in our house homosexuality isn’t at all interesting. “No, honey, that is the woman who founded the #MeToo movement. Michelle and other actresses invited activists to attend the show to give them a different and very high profile platform to speak.” She nodded. “Oh, cool.”

They listened to Laura Dern’s +1, Monica Ramirez, talk about the connection between women in all fields facing sexual violence in the workplace. I was reminded of all of us watching the Obama Inauguration together, discussing the gender dynamics as Hillary Clinton ran for office.

It was in many ways just an award show as they grow up in a time that is breaking down many of the “way it’s always been” norms that I grew up with, and my mom before me. It also wasn’t just an awards show. I’m glad that we watched. I am looking forward to showing them the parts they missed. Hearing Natalie Portman address the all male  field in the Best Director Category, the speech Oprah Winfrey gave as she accepted her award.

I would have been wrong to not let them watch. I need to remember to let them steer too.

 

 

 

Focus on a Plan for 2018: Self and Purpose

Posted on December 27, 2017

The gaily decorated cards, received or sent, the increasing intensity of sales alerts, and the obligatory, or beloved, gatherings of family and friends; it makes sense that we move toward change at the holidays. We’re facing an ending as we move into a new year. Facebook hammers us with choosing words of intention, emails promising the best way to fight holiday weight, and people we know declare this to be the year that they’ll do Whole 30, run a marathon, or go vegan. We focus on self and community with a different intensity.

My mom gave me a book about authors describing their favorite bookstores. “I never give a book as a gift without inscribing it,” she said. Sure enough, there was her familiar hand with words about how I’d been born with a book in my hand. She also gave me Felicity by Mary Oliver. Its pages are filled with spare poems, short wisps of language that carry an emotional value far greater than the ink on the page would have me believe. My mom inscribed the book with words of how I brought her felicity. My face flushed and the books felt strange in my hands. It’s been so long since I’ve read with any regularity and longer still since I have felt like I have the time, space, or voice to write.

It’s impossible not to think, “How did I get here” and “How can I change it or deserve it more?”

A focus on self care

 

Self Reflection:

I can be a difficult person, I set high expectations for myself. I am alternately forgiving and unyielding with people. The credence I give old instances of not fitting in sometimes hold me back and I am nearly incapable of declarations of what I want, more incapable still of unclenching my hold on the family to-dos. My writing and my dreaming have always been where barriers fall to dust and where time expands. I can share without hesitation, whether about how deeply the ache of motherhood has healed me or how the after-shocks of abuse are timeless and unpredictable. I share, and yet, even though I may strip myself bare, there are parts I keep and in the end all of me is stronger for the process.

Yesterday I put the tree away. It seems strange after loving the spirit of the holidays, but my sentimentality hits a low point every December 26th and I cannot wait for the vestiges of Christmas to be gone. The dimmed light and twinkles of the holidays become a thick veil through which I cannot focus or breathe. It is a ceremonial purge for me. Away with the needles, down go the decorations, stow the gifts, wipe the surfaces, and open every blind.

2017 certainly had its share of challenges, wounds new and old, but even if it’s hard for me to admit, there has been good as well.  As I consider self, I realize that I will always have work to do. The things I can focus on for self are writing, dreaming, and working out will always refill my cup. This year I learned to draft on the battle cries of others as well as to turn away from the things that aren’t for me (kale, lularoe, crossfit). It has been the beginning of, as Sean would say, running my own race.

 

Some words for 2018:

I envy people who can set an intention for a year, but I am not one of them. I am going to try exploring different words at different times, because my tendency is to let cobwebs gather in one place as I focus on another. Currently I am intrigued with a few words, though I won’t limit myself to these:

Consider—in so many ways. Consider how much of an impact a single decision can make, a smile on the sidewalk, the phrasing of something to subtract petty barbs, the emphasis of a yes or a no. Also this, consider a new thing, a new way, sit in the seat across the room, don’t make hollow air apologies. (incessant I am sorry saying)

Shame—evaluate where it comes from. Shame chips away at things, never benefitting anyone. I don’t believe that shaming the dog, your spouse, your child, or yourself yields the things that we want. Don’t wield it, don’t wallow in it, but also really, figure out where it’s coming from.

Release—the bitterness. I’m all for grudges and letting the bridges we burn light the way, hell yeah, but if it comes to a point that you are unable to function or override the grinding of your own teeth, that’s not lighting anything but an ulcer in your gut.

I haven’t been writing a lot and books have been gathering dust, but I am still a reader and a writer. Perhaps I’ll keep the word pencil in mind as well, to remind myself that we can erase and rewrite. Or underline.

 

May your 2018 be full of words, purpose, and care of self.

 

 

The Greatest Showman: A Lesson in Why

Posted on December 24, 2017

Last night we found ourselves at a 6:50pm showing of The Greatest Showman. It was a bold moment of rule breaking, though the rule was not anything we’d ever officially made. The weather was awful, freezing rain on top of snow on top of ice with visibility no further than our front bumper on account of fog.

I’d just said yes to letting the neighbor’s daughter sleep over. “On Christmas Eve,” Sean asked incredulously.

“No, it’s the eve of Christmas Eve,” I said. “Is that ok?”

He sighed, “Fine, I don’t care.” A few minutes later he said, “Want to take them to see The Greatest Showman?”

“Tonight? Out in this weather?” I asked.

He smiled, “Why not?”

We’d been gasping at the trailer to this movie since June when we’d seen Wonder Woman.

Seeing it before it's there.

“Mom, don’t you think that will be the greatest movie?” It was Finley who was the most excited. When we called upstairs to to let them know the plan, it was clear that they too realized we were breaking a rule of sorts. The delight in the forbidden made the process of picking seats in the car and getting buckled up much less contentious. We drove slowly and watched quietly out the windows as every street light glowed with a little extra magic.

 

The Greatest Showman streetscape

 

The movie wasn’t exactly as I imagined. It was much more musical than I had expected, but the way it swept me into its story and cinematography was immediate. Light play and raw emotion hooked me for a ride I needed, high above the details of deadlines and broken dryers, and up to a place where all that matters is that you let go in order to latch on to hope.

I’m not here for spoilers and this isn’t a sponsored post, it’s a revelation about imagination, humility, and grit. I watched this video last night after we returned home. My friend Natasha Nicholes linked to it. “This is literally how church services look. You’re not supposed to be singing. That head gets to shaking, and then EVERYONE feels it.”

I’m certainly not saying to ignore a diagnosis, but this movie, this cast, and our family’s decision to buck what made sense, is a reminder that it’s worth going for it. Chase the dream because you can, do the hard things because people don’t believe you can.

 

It also demands that you look beyond the sparkle and the high and ask why. Why have you been silent? Why do you run? Who are you fighting for? Are you brave enough to launch toward love and toward a happy, even if it isn’t the tidy definition of happy that society force feeds us.

Zendaya & Zac Efron ropes scene

I loved every minute of this movie. I don’t care what the reviews may say, I don’t care if other people appreciate it. What matters is that we each find a way through to the place, people, or conditions that allow us to breathlessly say, “That was gorgeous and I am changed.”

 

All I want is to fly with you
All I want is to fall with you
So just give me all of you

 

 

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