Saturday, May 27, 2023

It’s still a Strange World

Jenna Barbee showed Disney’s Strange World in her fifth grade Florida classroom last Spring and is now “under investigation” and set to resign. The angry parents from Hernando County School District ignore the heterosexual kiss but convey an incidental same sex crush is apparent grounds for dismissal of a teaching professional.  It feels almost natural to assume LGBT depiction equates to sexual permissiveness.  Gender expression, sexual orientation, and physical sex appear to be intertwined.  But this conundrum has the potential to reveal a forest of red flags even we don’t want to see.

Make no mistake, there is no sexual touch or even talk between young Ethan and Diazo, yet it’s referred to as a same sex “romance.”  And, not for nothing, if just seeing someone who is gay in this age is a new experience for a person, they really need to ask themselves why that is. The fact is that a lack of exposure to anything different cloaks truth from both sides.  And I’d say that’s been pretty well tried when it comes down to a gay/straight dichotomy. However, I t’s just not natural.  We emerge even amongst animals and while I can’t speak for all of us, my parents were straight.

But believe it or not I get this objection to the term “Woke” these days. My go-to conscious state at the end of almost any day once the kids get the remote is “un[conscious] I work for a living, raise a family and care for my mother-in-law.  There’s only so much energy I have left for the same ol’ same ol’ animation.  

But, last Christmas the kids put on Strange World - a show that just seemed to appear on Disney+ for me.  It wasn’t a remake.  I didn’t know the story already.  I predicted zonking was about 10 minutes away.  I snuggled in and got comfortable with my family on our living room couch.

9.5 minutes in I got the shock of my life.  The adorable little main character was gay!  

The movie goes on to tackle some very familiar difficulties via interesting and innovative dialogue between several very dynamic characters, but never that one! The gay thing is nothing here nor there.  The same is true in The Mitchells vs. The Machines.  Just plain-ol’ not-crucified gay folk living their best life amidst a mysterious magical underworld or battling AI topside. (You know, like real life).

Why is this such a shock?  I’ve been to Disney - open mindedness seems almost like a prerequisite to work there.  I have my own interpretation of the subtext in Little Mermaid.  And I saw Frozen II!  I mean did anybody else find the ice island was so obvious it was almost cringe?  

But why is it cringe?  I mean I am gay.  I literally feel attracted almost exclusively to other women.  Why should I sometimes be so homophobic?

Not too many people know or contemplate the significance of the 1934 Hays Code for motion pictures only finally outlawed as late as 1968, but this bothered me so much when I learned of it in college.  Showing healthy or happy LGBT characters was literally forbidden along with mixed race couples, and white (yes only white male) slavery.  As an Gen Xer I’ve always known I was heavily influenced by the media.  By now, it seems everyone can see that sometimes the media is our main window to the world.  But what still isn’t questioned nearly enough is who really influences that view. 

We think it’s all too permissible now, I get it.  The other day I stumbled over some kind of blatant porn scrolling Facebook and thought about what my kids might be glimpsing now and then that I can’t always stop.  The porn honestly bothers me less than the violence, but both can seem just too much too soon these days.  My only recourse is to lean on the ratings PG, PG13, R, etc.  Did you know there are only 2 modern PG rated movies with LGBT main protagonists? Does this bother anyone else who has asked themselves exactly when Snow White legally consented? Or how coerced Cinderella was through abject poverty? Parental ratings are determined by the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA), via a board comprised of an independent group of parents. They can be followed @FilmRatings on Twitter. I question the representation of these “independent” parents however. On what basis should specific LGBT sexuality be so vehemently policed?

People who are so quick to assume the worst without really questioning their own assumptions are exerting very fallible control over situations they aren’t diligently investigating.  I know and love so many good people who are scared to even engage in courageous discussion but they aren’t too shy to vote simply on talking points opposing issues they have little to no experience with.

And why not?  Who’s to say whose opinion is right or wrong?  When it applies to kids, parents have the right to filter what children see - but not everyone’s children unless you’re making a value judgment over everyone.  (And if you are, don’t you owe it to your cause to altruistically engage in the discussion and exploration with due diligence and transparency?)  It’s a teacher’s goal is to initiate critical thought.  But teachers rarely make it into politics when they can be fired for showing a PG rated movie the loudest detractors couldn’t even understand. It’s a bigger job than people realize.

Friday, June 24, 2022


 I’m having some feelings.

   Earlier this week we heard that not so far away, the board of Smithtown voted to remove the library’s Pride displays.  Now, this pales in comparison to the bar raids I remember seeing on TV as a child, and anti-marriage movement that dominated my young adulthood.  But it scared me.

   Amy and I are together almost 24 years now.  Our oldest is about to be a Bar Mitzvah.  The outwardly racist, ableist, misogynistic cretin, Donald Trump, was voted President of the United States (well, the first time he was).  It’s scary to think about what other crazy things are possible in the modern universe.

   And I have friends and family who are Republican.  We all do, and we all debate but people don’t tend to stray far from where they’re planted.  I have well-meaning people in my life who read the “Don’t Say Gay” Law in Florida as ironic.  They claim to have sought the primary source and come away noting only that “Gay” is not specified.  But they cannot see that the early gender and sexual indoctrination is not a liberal agenda.  It is, in fact, the conservative one.

   And then this hits you.  A Pride display scoffed at and judged by people who never experienced Pride.  These people did not even seek out understanding until children peacefully protested their outrage.  Millions discussed their actions and thousands attended the meeting to reverse the call.  As much as I am proud that an intelligent assessment made after thoughtful and inclusive discussion was rightfully apologetic and remorseful, I’m still scared at how easy I can still be so quickly judged on a life that was not easy to procure, but that I and my wife have built step by step on love.

   My right to live my life should not be dependent on another’s generously extended understanding.  It should be the other way around!  I understand that we’re still dealing with the very real dilemmas of economic distribution, appropriate conservation of resources, the problematic decision of when initiation of life is to be defined.  And I understand that the world is increasingly specialized.  Education does not always reach or connect with people wrongfully charged to make decisive choices so far outside their experience and understanding.  So many do not know or have the stamina to explore the complexities of adorning a body-dependent entity with rights superseding its host.  They often can’t see the foundational misogyny embedded in our religions and our culture.  Just as many did not understand why we needed marriage for more than a thousand reasons above heterosexual unified counterparts.  Or why we even celebrate coming “out” in the first place.  

   We should change education to include an early  awareness of one’s social location.  White people need to comprehend and adjust to the effects of their skin on others just like black people.  They need to hear the intonations of their speech as much as foreign language speakers.  They need to comprehend their gender and sexuality and earn their pride as much as queers.  We’ve come a long way.  We must not slide backwards now. Everyone needs to question their actions, and react only from quiet, measured, researched places inside themselves. If you don’t have the energy to put in, then stay out.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Granny’s Eulogy

My life was fairly normal for a while until one day when I was 6 years old my mother/her daughter was hit by a car and killed.  It was the kind of wound that affects a lifetime.  Actually it affects several because I can see in my own childrens’ eyes.  I was sent spiraling off in another direction from the rest of the entire world that day.  And so was she.  It felt like there was nothing anybody could do for us, just stark reality.  To put it mildly, it was lonely.  Our mothers are our first sources of unconditional love in this world.  I knew then, at 6, that life kept no promises.  Granny knew that too.  

We weren’t very close for a long time really.  I mean we mingled, but we were both so thwarted and by the time we kind of eased back together, we saw those scars in each other and connected through them.  Well, pretty sure she saw mine first but… she had that way of really seeing people.

I mean it could have gone any number of other ways.  We’ve all seen it happen over much less.  Families look very different sometimes even year to year.  Things happen, issues get complicated, tiresome even.  People die.  Different connections are established.  New connections are formed.

And to be honest Granny and I, we had nothing in common…except family.  But, somehow or another, that was enough.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was come out of the closet to her.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t even remember doing it.  I remember the many years I’d often practice doing it - every lunch, every hopeless annual winter coat shopping search - and then there were the years after I’d done it.  Years complicated by communication issues, and cemented in time.  I may not actually remember many details of that first moment but I feel it was full of grace.  And from my lil’ ol’ devoted Catholic Mary-loving Granny, that meant more than so many others ever get.  

Granny taught me the value of the little things.  That moment when you push yourself and grow even just a little bit?  She’d see it.  That thing you needed more than anybody else?  She’d get it to you if she could.  That effort nobody else would put in?  Granny was there.  Countless stories I’ve heard of rides she procured, and concern that she showed.  Every little thing in every little moment.  

And every one of her children, and children’s children, and children’s children’s children… every one of us try.  But we fail because none of us have what she had.

There are Christians who say they love Jesus.  This woman knew Him.  This woman lived like a student of Jesus who’d reached the upper level class.  I was in the Emergency Room once with her and this man and woman sought me out to ask me if this was indeed my grandma.  When I said yes they acted like I held VIP Backstage passes to Heaven.  Granny was in full blown Dementia at the time but her character showed so plainly through.  Every person in that room was experiencing a tremendous amount of stress whether they were doctors, nurses, aids, family or patients.  And Granny watched, saw, spoke encouraging, empathetic messages, and prayed for them all.  

I wish I didn’t always have so much on my mind.  I’ve come to a lot of realizations in my life, but they still creep up on me daily.  I had a procedure a few months ago I was nervous about and as they were about to put me under a nurse told me to “Find [my] happy place.”  On a dime my mind instantly went to the old Obernburg front porch.  Not to do anything big or particularly special.  I wasn’t talking.  It wasn’t to say anything or even for any specific event or person.  It was just to listen to all the ol’ voices I used to hear, or ignore or be bored by a lot of the time.  It’s a twisted irony I guess - youth being so wasted on the young.  I miss that opportunity.  I think we all do.  There is a way though.  There is peace in this kind of life.

Some people have Jesus.  Some people have God.  Others have the Universe, or other gods.  We all - one way or another - had Granny.  And we were all listened to, and laughed at, sung to and gently guided.  We were all lucky and loved.  Thank you.  We’ll keep trying to deserve it.

Saturday, February 12, 2022


Granny was 96 years old, losing her mind and her body for the last few and yet still there are people all over, friends and family alike mourning her loss like she was secretly their best friend.  There’s a magnitude in that.  She hasn’t even really been present for most of us in years.  How many of us will ever be that missed?  - That important?

But she was magic.  Granny knew what you were feeling even when no one else in the room knew or cared.  She spoke when she knew it was valuable and she listened when no one else would because Granny had a secret. 

Granny was love.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

She was smart and powerful at the very same time as being weak and overwhelmed.  She was selfless, because she loved herself. She knew God, and when she chose you to love and focus on, you felt it.  When she’d attend to you to protect or nurture, to comfort, to listen or to laugh with - when Granny gave you her attention, that was everything.  Her friend Fred used to call her the “Boss” which she hated but it was an arcane remark on the quiet power people would trip over themselves just to accommodate. 

The last clear words I feel like I really heard from her were a boisterous and relieved “Oh hey Doll…”.  For a moment it felt like we were finding each other again like a couple good old friends who’d just lost touch for a little while.  

But there are never the words for this.  Each loss compounds the others and is unique, and painful, revealing and exquisitely beautiful.  Really, each moment is (beautiful) if you live like this smart lady tried to.  

So many people in life love her even if most of them are people we can’t see.  There are her people: her mom and her dad, both brothers, Pop-pops, Aunt Elsie, both Uncle Franks, her cousin, Norman, Aunt Gert and Uncle Ed, Aunt Helen and Chris. Her friends: Mary Jane and Charlie, Fred, Uncle Al, and the old gang.  Everyone who spent time with her, Mrs. Lauth, Beth, Gladys, my other grandma, Rosa, of course my mom and my dad and Maureen, Aunt Margie, Uncle Dany.

The people who populate your childhood kind of erode into the background of your mind.  We are all the good guys in some stories and the bad in others.  Funny thing is, it doesn’t really matter.  They’re just stories.   It’s the people that matter.  The connections are what it’s really all about.  And that’s the secret Granny always knew.  

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Participation Trophies

 Let me tell you a little something about Millennials. 

   As a teacher I meet a lot of them.  As time goes on I realize that few can claim to really know more Millennials then me and my colleagues.  And honestly, as a teacher I feel we have more of a daily right to be annoyed with them as a whole.  

   I often hear people complain they’re shallow or callous, distracted or lazy.  They’re entitled.  I can see where those people are coming from.  What they’re missing is the fact that they’re also far more emotionally intuitive, worldly, authentic, discerning, and awake.  These kids come into a world with it all at their fingertips, and just as easily and obviously slipping from their fingers.  They are raised by a bunch of dinosaurs who complain about the very behaviors some have wallowed in for decades - many who are still essentially grappling with the fact that the only constant is change.

   I hear people grumbling about the “differences” between this generation and theirs, citing participation trophies and some lost art of spanking as somehow related our troubles.  They just don’t seem to ever look in the mirror as they do this.  The violent fury they learned early is so deep it’s right there in their angry words, disgruntled thoughts and tortured souls. 

   These kids may have been rewarded for participating, and they do get discouraged quickly in a world that prizes only the elite, unnatural, or extreme.  This kids inherited a world built as a house of cards, on the backs of turtles, saved by a dead man on a cross, or a fat guy purported to eat grain of rice a day.  We hammer children into seats for hours during the most energetic time of their entire lives.  We shove endless piles of random “lessons” their way, argue over STEM or arts, script or coding, analog and judge whether they interpret those lessons exactly the way they were expected to.  Who learns like that?  We’re miserable and grow even more miserable when they won’t tolerate misery.  Ours is a ghost world we keep trying to sell them, but we charge too much and we give too little.  Whether it’s in the name of science or religion, our time is up.  We failed big time.

   But theirs is now.  And failure is how challenge and evolution work.  Is a participation trophy such a bad thing?  Is there something wrong with rewarding those who show up?  Is it wrong to value presence?  Effort?  We all have an inherit existential choice, and we made ours consciously or unconsciously for us.  Is it no wonder they value their own immediate gratification?  This generation doesn’t need your dusty old God or your minute incremental successes.  This generation knows there’s only one thing anyone is ever guaranteed, and that’s right now.  Isn’t that all we’ve left them?

   It sounds dire, but it’s not.  This generation doesn’t wallow. This generation doesn’t wait.  This generation gives back what it’s given in energy, attention, and love.  These guys love beauty and they see it in more than Barbie dolls or gas guzzlers.  They follow no canon or even movie that doesn’t grab them.  They’ll grant you the respect you deserve, and they judge that for themselves.  This generation sees right through the lies you’ve told yourself.  And they open up just as much.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

On the road again…

Anybody else feeling like this?  I honestly didn’t anticipate the panic I’d feel waking up to the first road trip of 2021.  But it was palpable.  I don’t like to succumb to fear but my goodness is the universe ever nagging at me about it!  I physically feel my knees shake the moment I even contemplate going to the attic (where I fell 2 stories the beginning of last year from).  And then there’s Covid.  And vaccines.  And Breakthrough Covid. 

   But this morning, it was more than that. It was car accidents.  And lakes.  Horseback riding - and I’m just swelled up and teary eyed trying to gulp it all down! We cautiously came around to planning this trip just because we knew we had to get out of the house.  Just knowing we were going to had relieved some of the claustrophobia. But I’m running statistics and equations in my head trying to mitigate the safely of me, my wife, my mother-in-law, and most of all, my children.  Equations I’ve been able to set aside for the most part just knowing we were all sleeping under the same roof each night. But now…

   This isn’t me.  I jumped out of planes for Pete’s Sake!

   And yet, here we are on the road again knowing we’re not going home later (we brought our own pillowcases!)  My wife has been amazing with me this year.  Year and a half.  It’s been probably the bumpiest ride of our relationship - testing boundaries and tolerance and love. We just discovered Pandora (It’s like the regular radio used to be!) We’re singing and discussing lyrics to songs we haven’t heard in a while.  We’re looking at mountain scenes I remember seeing with her decades ago.

   I haven’t really been up here in a while.  Used to come all the time for Uncle Dany, and later my dad.  Both of them are gone now.  Amy and I went to colllege up here.   We made Kody traversing these roads from all directions.  And here we are now living the dream we designed way back then.  It’s a lot like we’d hoped. And a lot we never really saw coming. But, from here, life just kinda looks different.  

   But, it’s not bad.  There’s much to do.  Lots of experience and challenge and growing and most of all love.  Good intention.  Change.  Evolution.  Cautious optimism.  It’s just you never really know what’s around the next bend.  There’s much I’m not saying. Everyone is in a different place. Guess we’ve all kinda sustained a common trauma.  But I’m starting to feel I can breathe again.  And for now, I think we’re all a little more aware - one breath at a time.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Eyes Wide Open

Dad always said he loved when I would write.  He said I could somehow always make him feel, and anybody who knows my dad knows that wasn’t always easy.  But as far as a eulogy, this is the best I could do after Amy insisted I remove all the inappropriate jokes.

Understanding how Dad thought or felt was often reserved for those quiet 1:1 moments, of which I had many.  He wasn’t an over-sharer.  In fact one of the blessings my wife afforded me was the practice of reviewing safe and possible conversation topics prior to visits, not that I was very good at compiling, but it always helped.  

This last year nurses would call very often to ask me about what kind of man Dad was.  I started to just routinely joke that he was a pretty entitled white guy, just because I know that was the part they were struggling with.  My dad would get frustrated and angry if he wasn’t able to contact me, and on more than one occasion, he’d deal with this problem by throwing his phone.  Bad news is he wound up moving around a lot which left more in house phone lines to navigate. Good news was, there always seemed to be new phones to throw. We joke now when we’re dealing with 1st world problems that we’re just gonna go throw our phones just cause we like irony.  But that was only when he was helpless, or frustrated, in pain, angry or depressed, and that was the best that he could do sometimes at low energy.  But nobody should ever feel low energy.


I guess that was part of what we needed to face.

I had a complex relationship with him.  I both loved him and at times, resented him, both fairly and very unfairly.  I admired and I judged him.  I was struck by his generosity and furious at his selfishness, sometimes moment to moment.  I know him as a sap and a hard ass.  In some ways he was immensely intelligent and stoically stupid.  He was 8 steps ahead of anybody in a game of chess, but he rarely knew who he was playing.  I’ve built so much of who I am out of him - both his warning and example.  I am the teacher I am today as a result.

Growing up many times my dad was criticized for giving me too much freedom as a kid.  There were times those critiques were mine!  My dad saw how life makes us strong.  He believed we learn from experience.  And he didn’t have an ounce of patience.  And he knew full well how much was out of his control.

One time while teaching me to jump my car I found myself standing on its bumper in a corner hunched under a bunch of hanging bikes, holding cables in each hand to connect them to the battery when my dad warns me to “not touch metal” or the bled battery acid could “explode.”  I stood there stupid paralyzed trying not to let my knees buckle when it dawned on him what he’d done to me and we both just laughed and laughed...

But that’s the kind of life he knew and that’s the kind of life he gave me.  And in a lot of ways, that’s the kind of person I am.  I’ve learned that you don’t teach subjects.  You teach thought.  You teach language.  You teach access.  Teaching is all about facing your mortality because it’s not about answers or even questions.  It’s about facing your fears.  It’s about the unknown.  It’s about progress.  

We tell ourselves stories about why or what.  We narrate our lives like we’re heroes or victims but real life, love, art, magic, and intimacy stems from knowing full well all sides.  I watched him succumb to the silliest of obstacles, and brace through some of the worst hardships.  I knew both his staunch acceptance and his clumsy desperate embrace.  I didn’t learn those things as much from my mother. I learned them from 4 decades with him.

He’s woven into my existence, my thoughts.  And I always know he tried his best.  It couldn’t have been easy.  And he never questioned or guilted me about my boundaries, even while we all struggled through this paradigm shift of social etiquettes.  He accepted it like he accepted everything, quietly, bravely, and mostly alone - with the occasional broken phone to clean up.  He forgave me my lessons, and I forgive him his.  I eventually learned how to hold my own in his presence, but was more than flattered this last year when we’d talk and he’d go from rage to calm in one simple (successful) phone call and then thank me for just being there.  And I hope that it matters I was there for that last moment; the one we will all face one day.  The one we worry about our entire lives.  

He struggled in life, but not in death.  We all did.  We all do.  But through him, I know how.  And that’s all we ever really have to offer each other.

Thanks Dad.  I love you, and I know it’s okay.