church

Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt

To all the Boys of the World:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Back of a zebra

Look, a good blog has photos, but I’m not showing you butt pictures. Not human ones, anyway. This is a zebra butt.

When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“The test was hard.”

“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”

“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”

What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”

“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”

“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”

“Your butt?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)

“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”

This is a ladybug butt. Cute, right?

This is a ladybug butt.

Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.

My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?

This is a butt hinge.

This is a butt hinge.

When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.

Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.

You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.

Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?

Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:

“You look nice.”

That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.

This is a butte.

This is a butte.

And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.

I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

The Mansion

I’ve had this image of rolling around in my head for awhile now. It’s an image that attempts to explain a frustration. Were I a painter, I would paint it. But I think it makes a better story. 

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THE MANSION

A group of people seeking knowledge came upon a mansion bigger and grander than all other mansions. They made attempts to venture inside, but after multiple tries they found that every door was locked.  Still determined, the group tried to peek inside instead. They could not. Every single window on the mansion was blacked out.

After some time, the frustrated group noticed a small keyhole on the front door through which they could spy the inside of the mansion. At last peering in, they saw a great many wonders: a wide, ornate staircase leading up to the second story; a mantle over which hung a stunning landscape painting; shiny wood flooring; red velvet furnishings; and much more.

The curious group made an extended study of the mansion. Observing only what could be spied through the keyhole, they drew all sorts of conclusions as to its purpose and construction. They could not help but note both the mansion’s beauty and that it seemed to be entirely without occupants. Conjectures were made as to what additional wonders might lay within. Complex theories were crafted to explain the mansion’s very existence.

While this was happening, another group came upon the large mansion. As they approached those gathered at the front door, one man in this new group heard a small, quiet voice coming from one of the nearby, blacked out windows.

He listened closely. The voice was friendly and told him all about the mansion, including much about what could not be seen from the keyhole. For hours, the man sat enraptured as the voice told him about indoor swimming pools, cavernous ballrooms, luxurious baths, a library full of every kind of book, and dining halls with the most savory and delicious food.

The man expressed his desire to enter the mansion and meet the person behind the voice. The voice responded that the man would be welcome to come in along with his friends, and gave the man instructions on how to do so.

Excited, the man told those that were with him of the voice behind the blacked out window and all about what he had learned about the mansion. His friends, for the most part, shared in his excitement, but some were skeptical. They wanted to know what the group looking through the keyhole made of all this.

The man went over to the group looking through the keyhole and told them all about the voice and everything it had told him about the mansion. They laughed at him.

“A voice,” they scoffed. “A voice in your head, perhaps!”

“Not just a voice,” the man said. “There is a person inside the mansion. He wants us to come in.”

“There is no one in the mansion,” they said. “If there were, we’d have seen him.”

Frustrated, the man told the group at the keyhole about the indoor swimming pool and the library and the ballroom. He would have told them more, but they cut him off.

“And what of the staircase?” they said.

“The voice didn’t mention a staircase,” the man admitted.

“No? What about the painting over the mantle? The furnishings?”

“I know nothing of those things.”

“You don’t seem to know very much at all.”

Embarrassed at the man’s ignorance, his skeptical friends departed from him to join the group at the keyhole, doubting fully his stories and ashamed that they’d entertained them in the first place.

The man stood fast with those who still believed his words. “I know what the voice told me. I trust it. Listen, and I will tell you how to enter the mansion.”

The group at the keyhole refused to listen and laughed at the man all the more.

“We have done a thorough examination of the mansion,” they said. “The spaces you describe do not exist and there is no way in. To enter is a fantasy.”

“Let us try to enter the mansion together and see,” the man offered.

“We will not waste our time on something so absurd,” they said.

“I believe what the voice told me.”

“Then you are a fool.”

The man and those who believed on his words went away saddened as the large group at the keyhole continued to laugh and mock. When they were far off, they followed the voice’s instructions, passed through a narrow gate the group at the keyhole missed even for all their searching, and entered the mansion together.

Inside, the man behind the voice greeted the believing group with open arms. To their great pleasure and astonishment, all the wonders the voice described were there, and more besides.

* * *

The world will always mock those who refuse to be limited by what can be seen through the keyhole and choose instead to listen to the small, quiet voice coming from inside the mansion.

Days 61 and 62 – Cami’s Halloween Surprise

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday and Thursday – October 29-30, 2014

Wednesday

We had our church Halloween Party tonight. Party was fun, kids were cute. Always great to see everyone out of their church clothes and in witch costumes and dressed up as characters from the LEGO Movie. A friend of mine, Nate, dressed up at Lord Business, complete with cape and giant hat. I had the great pleasure of informing him that from the back the character looks like a giant neck tie. I can’t remember where I heard that, but it’s true.

My favorite moment was hanging out with Cami during the Trunk or Treat portion of the party. Cami doesn’t go for large crowds, so by the time it got dark enough and the kids were going from car to car to collect their candy, Cami was done and wanted out and she was going to cry and whine and claw to get out of there all night if she had to. Instead, we opened the back hatch of the van, sat inside, and, on a whim, I asked Cami, decked out in her Wonder Woman costume, to hand out the candy. (I love candy. Too much. And candy corn is best of all. Although, if you eat too much of it, it gets disgusting. But if I’m a dog, that’s my vomit.)

Cami as Wonder Woman, with her sister Violet who went as Merida.

Cami as Wonder Woman, with her sister Violet who went as Merida.

Since she’s nonverbal, I had no idea if Cami even understood what I was asking, but sure enough as the first kid came in, Cami happily reached into the bowl and pulled out the candy and deposited it into the kid’s bag. She did it again and again that night, for each and every kid that came along. She moved a little slower than Iron Man and Princess Anna and Michaelangelo may have liked, but she did it all, and pretty much by herself.

We underestimate, constantly, what Cami is capable of. This was a fantastic surprise.

Thursday

Spent a lot of the day writing, which makes for poor blogging. I did, however, hit a real milestone as I began the last chapter of WORLDS APART. There is nothing quite like the torture of writing the last chapter of a book. I’m gripped with fear and inadequacy. The last chapter is a terrorist.

I feel a great sense of urgency to finish this book. Once I finally have a job again, my spare time to work on projects like this will be once again be drastically reduced. Can I finish the book before that time comes? It would be nice.

Of course, it would be a far nicer thing to just have the job already The book will get done one way or another. The job is a far bigger question mark.

Day 60 – The Two Most Important Things We Can Do in Times of Trial

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Tuesday – October 28, 2014

Our biggest trial. And yet, I look at this picture and I wonder how that's possible.

Our biggest trial. And yet, I look at this picture and I wonder how that’s possible.

I needed today in a big way. Without fail, it is those days I get out of the house to visit and serve others that I am most the most calm and optimistic about my own situation.

Case in point: I went three hours without fidgeting. I am a big time fidgeter. In the fidgeter olympics, I medal every time. I think it’s just because my mind is always working, usually in overdrive. Fidgeting, changing my position in my seat, biting my nails–all of it helps me to focus on the task at hand. Or at least it seems to.

Tonight, while out visiting with families to assess their needs with the Bishop, I just never felt the need to fidget. I sat and listened carefully to the conversation with nary a switch to my crossed legs or a tap of my finger. I was in no hurry to leave at any point and I enjoyed the visits immensely. It was glorious.

Just before our last visit was over, I got a call from Erin in a panic. Two of our friends had just been in a serious car accident. Their truck rolled three times but, miraculously, they were just fine with only a couple of scratches and a completely totaled truck to show for it. Understandably, they were, sure, grateful to be alive, but also freaking out. Their truck was gone.

It was more than fortuitous that the Bishop and I were together. We headed their way quickly to find them frazzled and angry and upset and lost, as any of us would be. They wanted a blessing, which we were pleased to give, but also just to talk. They couldn’t see how their lives could accommodate this disaster. It wasn’t just a truck. It was a vital part of how they conducted their day-to-day lives and a financial obligation they had to meet despite the fact that the actual truck no longer existed. They were facing complication upon complication upon complication.

One of the things I said that either helped or didn’t was that I felt a lot of the same things right after I lost my job. Even as I was being let go, I couldn’t help but have grand, terrible visions of losing our house and not being able to feed the kids and panhandling on the side of road and splitting a chicken nugget between the five of us with a now-useless credit card. I thought of every awful thing the future held for us, and more besides. And the more I thought about it all, the more anxiety I had. All was darkness. I couldn’t see a any way out of our previously unfathomable situation.

I told my friends I did two things to help myself make it through:

1. I stopped projecting past the present.

This is a trick we learned with Cami, our middle daughter with special needs. After six years of testing and worrying and struggling and no more answers about who Cami is and what is wrong with her little body and mind than when she was first born, Erin and I finally just decided to stop thinking about the future and to let go of the past. We couldn’t reverse all the hundreds of hours spent with doctors and the expensive tests and the heartache of coming to terms with having a daughter with special needs, and we couldn’t contemplate what her future would look like–whether it be in a home with other people like her or at our side as we cared for her for the rest of our lives, or even if she would ever be able to talk to us or have a relationship with a man or live into adulthood or any of that–so we decided to ignore all of that in favor of the present. The present, which is far more singular in nature, can be dealt with much more easily than the disappointments of the past or the endless, difficult-to-comprehend possibilities of the future. In the present we found so much joy that we hadn’t known was there all along. As it turned out, Cami was a deliriously happy kid, and we had been missing that. And the things we had to do to help her through her life? They didn’t seem so bad when we just took them one at a time and ignored the rest. We found Cami, the real one, by doing this, and we actually got to know her. Likewise, when I lost my job, the magnitude of the responsibilities that now lay ahead for me seemed too impossible to handle. But when I broke it down into “today, I will apply for unemployment, follow up on some job leads, and spend some extra time with my kids,” the task of finding a new way to support my family and surviving the time it took to do so didn’t seem so bad at all. It actually seemed quite nice.

The present is always a more pleasant place than we give it credit for. The problem is we weigh the present down so much with the future and the past. It’s not built to really bear those burdens. When you don’t let it, the present starts working for you, not against you.

2. I reminded myself of all the times I was down so low I  thought I might never get up again and yet I did anyway.

Experience doesn’t do us any good if we don’t learn from it. How many times in our lives have things seemed hopeless only to turn out quite differently from the negative outcomes we imagined and believe in wholeheartedly? Obviously, not every bad thing turns out well in the end, but enough do–I would argue the majority do–that we should give positive outcomes more of the benefit of the doubt. All those impossible ordeals I’ve been through? They’re just a memory now, something for me to reflect on and grow from. I never thought I would, for instance, find someone to marry. I was terrible at dating and insecure and had never even kissed a girl for a long, long time. I thought I was hopeless. I truly, genuinely did. I thought relationships with the fairer sex was one of those things that I just didn’t–and would never–get. And yet here I am, all of that past me. It’s just gone. It’s better than gone, it’s actually reversed. I didn’t just find a girl, I found the most beautiful girl in the world and trick her into marrying me and having kids. The proof is in my wedding ring: we make it out of bad situations all the time.

I encouraged my friends to believe on their past and look forward to that future where all these matters were settled and they were taken care of. That’s a difficult perspective to have especially in the middle of a trial, but it’s important to have it.

Days 51 and 52 – Leading at Church and Guiding in the Mall

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Sunday & Monday – October 19-20, 2014

On Sunday I performed my first acts as President of the Elders Quorum in the new McKinley Ward. I attended a ward leadership meeting in AM, and then during church I called someone to a position within the Quorum. I’ve never done that before. I’ve been on the other side of the experience dozens of times, but I’ve never sat with someone, said a prayer with them, asked them to serve, and then told them what I expected from them.

Actually, we didn’t sit down at all. I don’t know our new church building well enough to know where we can go for privacy, so I opened the first door I saw and we ended up standing together in the janitor’s closet among the mops and brooms. Now I know where to change into my super suit to fight giant robots.

We held our first Quorum meeting during the third hour. I had expected maybe 8 guys to fill the chairs, but we had twice as many show up, all looking to me to for what to do for an hour.

I’ve lead people before, but this is on a different level. We deal in the things of the eternities and salvation at church, so the only way to do a job like this is to have wisdom that reaches beyond mine. This is a spiritual job, and I am very much a temporal being. I have great faults. I stumble. I fall. The only difference between me and the other 17 men in the meeting today is that I was called to preside at this time, however long that turns out to be. No doubt some of them are thinking, “Please find a job in Albuquerque. Soon.”

* * *

Today, I got connected a little more to my baby girl. Violet is at the phase where she’s constantly pushing me aside in favor of her mom. She might just hate me a little. “No, not YOU!” is something I hear a lot. She’s three.

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We went to the mall together to exchange a belt at Macy’s, but that only took about ten minutes. For the rest of the three hours, I let her tell Violet be the guide. We went to the Disney Store and she explored every princess item they had on display, but she also got very excited when an ad for Star Wars came up on the big screen in the center of the store. If we’re going to have a geek girl, she’ll be the one.

She was fascinated by the fountain in the middle of the mall, and I had to explain to her why I couldn’t fish out the money to pay for the candy she wanted from the nearby dispenser. I also had to explain why my pockets cannot spontaneously produce quarters. We went up the escalator in JC Penney and back down again, per her request.

We ate at the Food Court, went back for another trip up and down the escalator, and dove back in for another round at the Disney Store. She insisted the singing Anna and Elsa dolls be next to each other so they could harmonize, never mind they were singing two different songs.

We capped off the afternoon with a double shot of Orange Julius. As we stood in line, Violet spotted more fountains outside. She asked if we could sit out there and drink. I told her we could and she screamed “Hooray”, jumped up and down, and hugged me.

I really needed this time with Violet. Not gonna lie, as heart melts go, mine turned to a puddle more than once.

I will allow that all this dad stuff is probably pretty boring, but this was one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had since starting this whole unemployment mess and I’m telling you about it, dang it. This was special. It deserves to be recorded.

And yet… there were odd moments of disconnect throughout the afternoon. At times, I felt like a passenger on the trip, not the one driving the boat. I didn’t smile as much as I wanted and lacked an energy you’d think would go along with making your daughter happy over and over again. Even now, as I’m writing this, I feel not totally plugged in.

It might be because I’m posting and rewriting this blog today, October 31st. Eleven days from the mall and Violet and fountains with money we can’t take for ourselves, things are tougher. The constant striving and disappointments are wearing on me. I’m not completely hopeless. I’m just having a harder time seeing the light.

But we’ll get to that.

Day 44 – Faith/Religion in the Blog: Sprinkle or Shower?

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Saturday – October 11, 2014

powerI was on deck as the Stay-at-Home Dad today, a role I fill with complete and total adequacy. It wasn’t quite supposed to work out this way, but Erin had a lot of places to be and I trust they weren’t all “day spa.” I’m actually quite happy to be the parent on deck. I think the (quite excellent) job Erin has done raising our kids at home over the past 12 years is maybe the hardest job a person can do. It’s child-rearing, it’s cooking, it’s cleaning, it’s taxiing, it’s giving comfort and aid, it’s educating, it’s disciplining–it’s all of that, 24/7. No real breaks or vacations. I think I could do a more than adequate job if I had to, minus the cooking part. It probably helps that she loosened the lid a bit and our household already runs like a well-oiled machine.

Since it was Saturday, I started the day by taking Cami out to the Heart of the Horse Horse Therapy Ranch for her half hour ride. Once again, she had a hard time letting go. She let everyone know, forcibly, that she wanted a couple more laps before she was willing to be her usual, agreeable self and get down. Seeing her assert herself like that and make her wishes known is a new thing. I like it.

The rest of the day was spent in the house with the kids, sneaking in an occasional bit of writing here and there. At 4pm I had a church priesthood meeting at the Stake Center.

I’m going to try to unpack this as best I can:

Mormons attend church according to geographically designated “wards.” Everyone who lives within certain boundaries attends church at the same time, in the same building. A Bishop and his two counselors run the ward according to the direction they receive from the Stake President, who leads the stake. A “stake”* is made up of about 6-10 wards. The Stake President gets his direction from the Area Authority who leads many Stakes. You can can follow this on up the chain to the President and Prophet of the Church himself, Thomas S. Monson.

*Why “ward” and “stake?” I don’t know. We’re not crazy people and we’re not building tents or killing vampires at our churches, so the designations only seem right to me by virtue of the face I’ve been using them all my life.

But let’s stick to the local level.

So, this afternoon was a meeting at the Stake Center–the chief meetinghouse where the Stake President has his office–of all the priesthood brethren in the Fresno East Stake. In the Mormon church, boys and men 12 years of age and above hold the priesthood. This means I ill-advisedly number among them, but I’m glad for it on several levels–not the least of which is the brotherhood we all enjoy.*

*Right now, admittedly, my interaction with everyone is a bit different than usual. Those at the meeting who met my eyes all asked the same question: how’s the job hunt going? I’ve lost a bit of my identity in that way. I may as well wear a badge that says “Hello, My Name Is Unemployed.” It’s okay, though. I understand how it is. It’s always nice to know what to ask a person to create an instant conversation. Makes things easier. 

To get further away from the point of this blog and back to the topic at hand, I’m giving all of this background info so you can begin to understand the frame of mind everyone was in today as we went into the meeting. You see, there is a rumor there are big things about to go down.

The rumor is this: that all the ward boundaries are about to be redrawn. While there have been slight adjustments from time-to-time, if this rumor pans out, it’ll be the biggest change in over 25 years.

It’s a necessary change because of the shifts in population growth over time. For example, my current ward, the Fresno 7th Ward, was one of the smallest wards–if not the smallest–in the Fresno East Stake when we moved in 10 years ago. Now, it’s far and away the biggest. We’ve got people sitting in the choir section and on the floors in the foyer because we’re just too big to handle right now.

If the change does happen, it’s going to quite difficult for many people. Our closest associations happen at and through church. Friendships will be tested as people will be moved to different buildings and simply not able to be in as much contact with each other as before. I remember when this happened to a friend a friend and I between 6th and 7th grade. Our ward split and he went one way and I went the other. He got new friends and I didn’t see him as much. I hated it.

This time around, I’m looking forward to it. It didn’t happen in today’s meeting, nor in the second, general adult meeting in the evening, but I don’t think anyone really thought it would.

Still, there’s a sense of finality in the air. Tomorrow, we have another special meeting. We’ll see what happens.

* * *

I didn’t go to the second meeting because I took my turn with the kids again so Erin could go. To her surprise, a friend of ours, Jennifer Ward, was one of the featured speakers and she made lengthy reference to this very blog. She even quoted a fair bit of it. I gave permission for this to happen, but didn’t think to ask during which meeting it might occur. And I didn’t tell Erin about it. She was somewhat… shocked to find that suddenly the hundreds of people in the chapel with her were learning all about her unemployed state. I was super bummed I missed it.

Jennifer’s purpose was to hold this blog up as a positive example of how to share faith online without being preachy or hitting someone over the head with it.

I hope that’s what I do, if that’s what I’m doing at all. My faith is not my focus here, but my faith is a big part of who I am so naturally it’s appropriate at times to share that perspective and insight. Sometimes it’s a sprinkle, sometimes a shower.

To be honest, I’ve never been particularly interested in preaching to the choir in my writing. It’s a far more interesting challenge to try to reach outside of my world to reach others. It’s just more exciting to me.

You all are better judges than I am. This particular entry was obviously a little heavy on the Mormon of it all, but I don’t think I go to this well too often.

Do any of you read other blogs by people of faith? Does it bug you when they don’t shy away from that, or do you appreciate it for what it is?