Saturday, March 26, 2011

Welcome, Granddaughter!

She arrived tonight in Berkeley around 8:30 pm, a perfectly beautiful little baby; not so little, actually, 8 lbs. 8 oz. Just back from our first visit.

Mom and baby doing well.


Friday, March 25, 2011


Last night, in a driving rain, my youngest and I went over to Ross Dress For Less because she needed new shoes. I think she is now growing so fast that her feet are just bursting through each new limit the show industry tries to impose on her.

In any event, we found two types she liked (and bought both), the most striking a bright orange pair of sneakers.

As we were making these purchases, what kept going through my mind was something she had said on the way to the store.

"I never realized how much you love music, Dad." (We had been listening the to the local alt.rock station, Live 105.) "But then again," she continued, "when I think back, there have always been many clues that you do."

As she linked arms with me on the way into the store, I told her a bit about my past, skipping my youth and early adult years to the time when her older siblings were around her age and introduced me to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction, MGMT, and so on.

She came back at me with the things she's heard me play over the years -- Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Beatles. Okay, that does go back to my younger days.

But also, she noted, the Flaming Lips, the Ramones, Cheap Trick, the White Stripes, all courtesy of former girlfriends she remembers fondly; not to mention all of today's groups -- the Black Keys, Weezer, Rise Against, Foster the People, Foo Fighters, Social Distortion, Cage the Elephant, Mumford & Sons, which come down from her teenage brothers.

Then I told her of my love of classical music, especially Mozart, but by then we had parked so I never got around to mentioning my absolute favorite genre -- the Blues, like BB King and Lightin Hopkins, but also including white blues, which most people call country.

Later on, back home, I found this rendition of an old favorite, which is oh so relevant:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day in My Life

Early morning in a heavy rain.

Phone call; you're suddenly alert. Nope, the baby is not coming, not yet. But, after a couple of sick days, one kid would like to get a ride to school.


On the way to my car, I see a woman from behind in a black coat and black tights with a girl, probably 9, in a pink coat and pink tights, hurrying through the rain, no doubt also on their way to school.

As I drive up to and around Bernal Hill, a flood of brown water is flowing south.

Back home, later, the phone rings again. I don't hear it; I'm deep into preparing to deliver a speech tonight on behalf of a program I care about.

When I catch up to the message, it is the third time in three days that one of my kids' schools is calling; this is the third of the three. Now it's my daughter who is sick.

Back home, with her wrapped in a comforter and sipping tea, I start wondering what would happen if I actually got a real job?

A friend calls --"It's getting better out there," he says, "I'm seeing more jobs for people like us."

My cellphone company sends an urgent message -- apparently my bill is overdue again, a monthly occurrence. I have a family plan, which includes me, my three youngest kids, and someone we used to know. Weird how that happens.

The rains continue. A tree goes down nearby. I post to my weekly blog about the tech industry in San Francisco. I put on a white shirt, nice slacks, and a sports coat (I don't wear ties.)

Checking how I look in the mirror, I ask my daughter, who's observing me from bed. "What do you think, jeans or the nice pants?"

"I like those ones (the nice ones)," she says. That's it, a decision is made. She is not only my chief fashion consultant, at the age of twelve she is the main woman in my daily life, the only one whose judgment I trust implicitly.

Soon enough it is time to take her back to her Mom's, back over Bernal Hill, where an even bigger brown river now heads south and an even bigger tree nearby has gone down, blocking Folsom Street.

As we get there, her brothers show up, home via buses from their high schools, with backpacks and wet sweatshirts.

She hugs and kisses me as I drop her off.

"'Bye, Dad. Good luck with the speech. You'll be great."

As I drive away, downtown to a hotel ballroom where a room full of adults will decide whether what I have to say matters at all or is pure BS, a song comes on the radio. It's "Creep," by Radiohead.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hidden Flowers

The rainstorms continue to batter us, but we, of course, are the lucky ones. In Japan, an unspeakable tragedy continues that breaks my heart and many others' as well. The Japanese people never ask for help often enough, collectively or individually; in many ways they are the true "rugged individualists," not us.

It makes me sad to think about how isolated many Japanese men and women choose to remain in this time of horrible tragedy. It's almost as if they cannot imagine that there is a different way of being -- a way that speaks to our common humanity.

What I mean is just this -- it doesn't matter who you are or what your history is or who you know or don't know when a disaster of this sort strikes. We are all simply human beings, inhabiting a violent planet, and we can often forget how much we need each other until this sort of event provides a reminder that all of our lives are short, and nothing more than we make of them.

Everything else, all of the professional and personal issues, are relatively insignificant.

Although we often may not act on the impulse, at times like these, we need to be available for any of those people feeling lost, hurt, scared, lonely, sad, or on the verge of giving up.

Don't give up. Everybody hurts somtimes. Hold on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Families Tell Stories

As winds and rain slam this place, the boys and I went over and back across the Bay Bridge tonight, trying to move an ancient bed from my house to the house where any day now, my first granddaughter will arrive to start her own special time on this planet of ours.

The boys have been sick, and standing out in such miserable weather was not good for them, but they never uttered a word of complaint.

We're family.

I am blessed to be the patriarch of an exceptional line of young men and women, who with their partners, children, and friends represent the best our society has to offer our common future.

For this, I can claim no credit whatsoever. All of my kids have transcended any accomplishments of mine and show the promise of contributing to our common good in ways far beyond anything I have done.

But this is as it should be. Each generation must improve upon the record of the last; particularly now, with the specter of global climate change upon us, as we will need our best minds to contribute if we are to find the ways to survive as a species, and to continue to tell our stories going forward.

Meanwhile on this night, in the heavy rain and the bitter wind, two teenage boys tried to help make an old bed fit into a doorway in El Cerrito, but failed. The laws of physics prevailed, as they always do. But tonight, a new family memory was also born. Some day many years from now these boys will laugh about it with their brother-in-law and their big sister, and perhaps also with their nieces and nephews, who will be enthralled at its telling.

I was there tonight too but I will be gone by the time this story gets retold. What gives me pleasure is knowing how this story will go on, plus the certainty that I will be laughing along with them, way out there in my version of heaven, an atheist's heaven to be sure, but a story-teller's heaven as well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do you like chocolate? If so, c'mon over...

The reason my apartment smells like chocolate these days is my daughter's science project is about how fast different types of chocolate melt.

I was dreading having to tell her some bad news today when I picked her up at school. Her dog-walking job has come to a sudden end since the man who was paying her to take care of his two dogs is now unemployed, and therefore no longer able to pay her to walk them.

She may have been disappointed when I told her, but if so, she did a pretty good job of hiding it. She now, as she pointed out to me, is freer to start her homework earlier, and also no longer has to go by Bernal when I fetch her from school but can come straight to my place, where she now spends every afternoon, since her Mom has taken a job.

As the parent of a 12-year-old girl, I have to admit I am always getting surprised. First, by her maturity; second, by her inner strength; and third, by her perspective on things.

Maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention when my older daughters were this age (though I think I was), but the ways in which boys and girls diverge at this point is about a lot more than sex, gender expectations, or emotional growth.

There is no way for me to generalize in a manner that anyone else would agree with, so I'll leave it at this -- females mature in ways that are much more about us than about me.

With boys, it often, though not always, is a different story. They key is empathy, an under-rated quality if there ever was one.

Then again, an empathic boy is every bit as impressive by this age as any girl. Perhaps even more so, given the built-in gender differences that this post explores. But I am not talking about my sons tonight, only my daughters...


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Only Outcomes that Matter

My main frame of reference about what matters most, when all else becomes too much to endure, is through parenting. Even though I have a rich career's worth of dealing with external realities to consider, often in pivotal companies or groups at key moments in the history I've witnessed up close, in the end, I know, it's not what you do in your career that matters.

Thus it was in a heavy rain and the San Francisco version of bitter cold (everyone living outside of the west coast please stand down), that I watched my youngest child yesterday play in her team's first soccer game of the spring season.

This particular team has not had a glorious history, in conventional terms. In fact, if my records are correct, they enter this season with a historical record of three wins, 25 losses, and two ties.

However, these girls are now more experienced, they have grown, and a few new and very talented players have joined their ranks. All of a sudden, they look like a pretty tough U-13 soccer team, perhaps very tough.

Accordingly, in yesterday's rain, they beat a traditional rival 2-1. My own member of the team, a defender, played well.

But she also did not get to play as much of the game as she usually has in past seasons, for the simple reason that the team has more options now, and her place on the team may well be slipping from a starter to, perhaps, a substitute.

I'm not sure whether she realizes this yet, and even less sure whether it will matter to her once she does. But I have to admit, as I watched her play and then sit in yesterday's cold rain, that a big part of my already fractured heart broke on her behalf.

Yet I know that in all realms of life, with greater success comes greater competition. That's how it is in all aspects of life in a capitalist society. Only the very best rise to the top, at least in theory.

Winning, after all, is what it is all about. Right?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. I have written long enough and extensively enough about my theory of youth sports for my perspective to be clear. I agree that winning matters, and that the best players should rise to the top.

I also know that sports is mainly about character-building, and part of character is learning to accept your own limits in the context of what others around you may possess in pure physical skills.

And in that latter context, sports allows you to learn how to lose. Not only how to lose games, and keep going, but also how to lose position, prestige, your place in the scheme of things.

This last lesson may be the most important of all. When circumstances determine us to be stars,"successful," and the type of people others envy, the entire trajectory almost seems god-given, especially if you believe in the construct of god.

But when we turn out to be judged as less than stars, less than successful, and perhaps the object of other people's pity, none of this seems god-given. Although acceptance of your apparent fate is, of course, what most religions counsel.

I, for one, do not accept either polarity. While it is nice to be a star, and I have often been so in my career, it is not always so bad to be something less than a star, which I also have experience at being.

After all, as I said at the top, what you do out there in public, with all of the accompanying judgments -- both positive and negative -- pales with what you accomplish within the fabric of the social group that most matters, which is your family.

And in every family that is worth its name, we know that each member who tries, regardless of the outcome, is a superstar in her own right. We cheer ever louder as she does her best, and we do not count wins or losses or any other measurements to know how we feel about her.

In our eyes, in fact, she is perfect.