Monday, February 12, 2018

Emails I Don't Know How to Answer

Every once in awhile I get a sincere email (or sometimes a sarcastic one) asking me how to be a good parent. I honestly have no clue. I don't even really know what that means. Learning most things is so linear. You learn, practice, do. Not with kids. We don't ask rocket scientists to build a rocket while simultaneously launching said rocket. They have years of school. They have simulations. And sometimes the rocket still explodes due to forces that may or may not be outside of their control.
So I don't know how to reply to emails asking me how to be a good parent any more than I would know how to respond to someone asking me how to build a rocket.
That said, kids are arguably more durable and less likely to explode than rockets, and replying to emails about parenting with rocket metaphors probably just pisses people off. So here's what I tell the backs of my eyelids when I find myself asking if I am being a good dad:
If you show up,
If you try,
If you try to be better,
If you listen with the intent of hearing,
If you talk with the intent of communicating,
If you teach instead of telling,
If you apologize to them when you fail,
If you fail and try again,
If you succeed and don't use it as an excuse to rest,
If you rest when you need to rest,
If you can be weak when you need to be weak,
If you ask for help when you need help,
If you admit to your kids when you're wrong,
If you tell them when they're right,
If you speak with kindness,
If you tell them their questions are good,
If they see you defend others,
If they see you defend them,
If they know you love them,
If your love is your attention,
If you show up.
If you try...
you'll probably be an OK dad.
I know there's more that I am missing. I know my failures will only be clear when they are behind me. But this is what I have for now, so it will have to be enough. It helps me sleep, and it keeps me showing up.
And that's all a parent can really ask for, enough confidence to keep trying and enough doubt to keep trying to be better.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Guns and Silence

Did you know you can hear your own heartbeat? You can. All the time. It’s loud too. Try this sometime. Find a very quiet place where you can be still. Close your eyes and listen. It might sound faint and far away, but it’s there and I promise, it’s loud.

How do I know this? A few years ago, I got a call from my wife telling me that she was short of breath, her heart was doing “weird things,” and that she was going to the emergency room. Somewhere between 15-45 minutes later I too found myself in the emergency room screaming at the poor lady at the front desk to tell me where my wife was.

She was down the hall and she was fine. Turns out she has heart palpitations. Every once in awhile her heart skips a beat or it has an extra beat out of rhythm to help catch up for some small fraction of beats it missed at sometime leading up to the palpitation. At least that’s how I interpreted what the doctor was saying as I worked my hardest to suppress my own heart attack. He also said that part of why heart palpitations are so uncomfortable is because we’re so used to the normal beat of our heart that when even a single beat is off, our body become alarmed and we feel discomfort.

Last night Stephen Paddock, who had been staying for the last few days at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, used a hammer to smash out the window of his 32nd floor hotel room, and used between 1 and 10 of the guns to fire indiscriminately down into a crowd of sixty-thousand men and women attending a music festival below. The number dead is currently around 50. The number injured, 500. The Mandalay Bay Concert shooting of 2017 is the worst mass shooting in modern American history... second only to the Pulse Nightclub Shooting of 2016. I spent my morning calling everyone I know in Las Vegas to make sure they were alive. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are on fire.

We have to talk about gun control.

We can’t we can’t talk about gun control.

We have to prevent mass shootings.

We can’t prevent mass shootings.

Can’t we avoid politics and just focus on the dead and their families?

Now is when we have to talk about gun control.

The answer is that we need to love each other more.

You’re the problem.

No, you’re the problem.

Don’t worry. In two weeks someone will tweet something ridiculous, we’ll find something shiny to distract us, a Kardashian will marry someone or divorce someone. We’ll put a plaque in a field somewhere and login into Facebook in a couple months to see that a susceptible teen trusted the wrong people online, or our friend was depressed and took their life, or someone who needed mental health treatment had easier access to assault rifles than they did to healthcare, or gang members got a hold of untraceable guns that were purchased legally at one point in their existence but then sold and sold again through unregulated markets. Subconsciously we’ll check the number in the headline and if it’s a 1 or a 2 we'll shrug and scroll on, and if it’s a 30 or a 50 we’ll cry and feel uncomfortable, maybe reach out, maybe say it hurts, maybe ask for change… for a minute.

Somewhere around 30,000 people die a year in the US from gun related death. Just under two thirds of those are suicides, another third are violent deaths resulting from homicide, the rest are accidents and unclassified. 30,000 people. That is 2,500 a month. 208 a day.

That’s our current normal. That’s the heartbeat we can’t hear.

The heartbeat of America is 208 bullets killing 208 people a day, every day. Every. Single. Day.

And the only time we notice, when things are irregular, out of the normal rhythm, uncomfortable, is also the time we’re not allowed to talk about it.

It’s disrespectful.

I want to respect everyone’s feelings. I really truly do. I desperately want to put enough love into the world that it will somehow shift the scales of chance away from a person becoming so damaged that they want to shoot and kill people. But I will never understand why we can’t address the issue from both sides, the person and their access to a weapon designed to kill as many human beings as it can as fast as possible.

Too soon though. It is disrespectful. I’ve been told to wait 24 hours... which is someone else’s 72... which is someone else’s 30 days, which is someone else’s never. "It's too soon to get political."

This isn’t politics to me.

And honestly, I’ve been quiet all day today. At work, online, at home. I wasn’t going to say anything at all. Not out of respect (I do) or out of mourning (I am), but out of defeat. I am defeated. I don’t believe anything is going to ever change.

The big ones are getting closer and closer now. They’re getting less coverage. The half-life of a tragedy is decreasing with each mass shooting. Columbine was covered for nearly a year. Pulse was covered for a few weeks.

The big ones are becoming our new heartbeat, and pretty soon we won’t be able to hear them either.

Earlier this morning Bill O’Reilly made a lot of people mad when he wrote in a blog post about the Vegas shooting “This is the price of freedom.”

I very rarely agree with Bill O’Reilly, and only partially do in this case. This is the price we choose to pay for our freedom to have easy access firearms, these daily deaths, the less and less anomalous big numbers. We can fight about the "politics" of it, but somewhere inside we all have a kernel of the truth in us. This is the price we pay. This is our Hunger Games. Only it’s not once a year. It’s every day. Forever.

Sorry. I love you guys. It’s been a rough day for me, much much rougher for others. If you hate this post, just ignore it. Or message me and tell me you hate me. My love to you and your family. My heart for those who died and theirs.

- John

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Horrible Moments in Parenting #3569

Last week during dinner I was trying to ask Duchess about her day and she matter-of-factly told me that she didn't feel like talking. A few minutes later she had chewed her tortilla into the shape of a star and was remarkably proud of herself.

"Look dad! I made a star."

"I don't feel like looking at it." I quipped back.

And then she started bawling.

I thought I was being snarky and she would immediately relate it back to what she had said earlier, but that's not how it came across. It came across as cruel and dismissive... which honestly she has probably never experienced from me before.

Anyway... not my finest parenting moment. But, there are no take-backs. We fill our lives with irrevocable acts, and its only later we find out which ones actually mattered.

One time, when I was about my daughter’s age, my dad and I were going to the store. I was probably a year into reading and was paying particularly close attention to business signs. When we pulled into a strip mall I asked “Dad, why are the O’s on the Payless Shoe Store sign orange dots.”

“I don’t know. That is a really good question,” he replied.

Let’s be honest. It wasn’t a really good question. It was kind of a dumb question. Knowing the answer to why a graphic designer decided to make the O’s orange dots on the Payless Shoe Store sign probably would not have been a life changing realization. But all six-year-old me could think was ”YES! I asked a good question!”

Friday, December 9, 2016

In Defense of Santa

The other day, a buddy of mine posted an article about how lying to your kids about Santa is bad for them. He agreed with the article. I disagreed. We're still friends. No big deal. BUT at one point in the conversation he said, "I still have yet to find an argument FOR perpetuating the Santa myth that is the least bit compelling."

AND I thought, "Challenge accepted. I am going to convince this guy that the Santa myth is awesome." I started to write a point by point rebuttal, and halfway through realized that it didn't matter one bit. Trying to convince people why they shouldn't feel how they feel about something tends to become more of an exercise in self-justification than a sincere effort to make a connection with someone who sees things differently than you. I wasn't really trying to convince my friend. I was just having fun writing about Santa. So I’m giving up any pretense of trying to change my buddy’s mind, or anybody's mind for that matter, and admitting that this post is all about me. And my kids. And Santa… who. Is. AWESOME.

We play the Santa game. We tell the stories and perpetuate the myth. We visit the guy in the mall, and at various company parties. We make cookies and leave out milk. We stay up late after the kids go to bed wrapping presents in paper we've kept hidden all month. We eat the cookies they left out as messily as possible so our overzealous crumbs will provide the obvious clues needed to figure out that, indeed, Santa was here... and he's kind of a slob. Why do we do it? What's our compelling argument? It’s fun. The kids enjoy it. Stevie and I enjoy it. 


We like magic

Stevie and I feel that it is important for our kids to believe in magic for a bit. We think that a belief in magical things is great fertilizer for cultivating imagination in tiny humans. The magic of the world will be removed by the curse/blessing of perspective soon enough. For these few years we want to let them believe reindeer fly, and see where it takes them. Yes, some people will say that it is our job to drop as much reality on our kids as possible so that when they’re eventually confronted by a world full of it they have the faculties needed to cope – but I like to believe that having that tiny memory somewhere in the back of my head of what it felt like to believe impossible things were indeed possible is what helps me cope with the harsher realities of being an adult.

We don't mind lying

“But what about the lie? You’re lying to your kids?” Says the imaginary person in my head I am arguing with.

If the worst thing I ever do to my kid’s is lie to them, then I will be forever happy with my parenting score card. We lie to our kids all the time. We tell them they are safe. We tell them we’ll never go away. We make promises we know we may not be able to keep. And we do this to help them feel secure, because the fallout from discovering the lie is less than the fallout of dealing with the truth. 

Chances are that I’m not going to die any time soon, so I tell my kids I’m not going to die. I tell my kids there is a Santa because I believe that the joy they get from believing in Santa is more than the disappointment they will feel when they discover the truth. Do I know this for sure? No, but I don't really know anything for sure... not since becoming a parent.

Learning the truth is a great exercise in... learning the truth

I do know that, for me, discovering the reality of Santa was one of the first times in my young life that I can recall gathering facts, exploring their validity, questioning what I had been told, and finding out things weren't the way I had been taught. I wasn't resentful of my parents for lying to me. I felt empowered by the process of figuring it out, and excited to move to the other side of the myth. It felt like a right of passage. Yes, all of that is anecdotal. I don’t really care. I don’t need to.

You know why? 

We don’t have to dissect everything 

That may be my least favorite part of being a parent. Sure, this may not be a compelling argument, but it honestly doesn't need to. Sometimes, when I've buried myself in facts and theories and arguments about what is and isn't best for my kids, when I've kept myself up at night asking over and over if the choices I am making for them will break them or form them into happy humans, I come to the conclusion that no amount of advice will help. I just have to trust my gut. I just have to believe.

I believe in Santa. Not, that he exists, but that letting my kids believe that he does is better for them than making sure they know he doesn't. I believe. And trust me, as a non-religious, science loving, fact finding kind of guy, that is hard for me to say. Well... it's hard for me to say until Christmas morning when my kids run out to the tree yelling "Santa came! Santa came!" Then it suddenly becomes pretty a compelling argument.

Merry Christmas,

The Kinnears

P.S. Yes, my favorite Christmas movie is Miracle on 34th Street. Both the original and the remake. I love them both.

P.S.S If you want to give me a Christmas present, please come visit me on Facebook. It would make me tremendously happy.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

3 Simple Reasons Why Voting is Important

I Voted Sticker

I wrote this in 2008. I still believe every word of it. Voting is important. It is our obligation. It is our privilege. It is what makes us American.

Why I Vote ( Written November 2008)

I voted early yesterday. I stood in line for forty-five minutes with a few hundred other people and cast my ballot for the 2008 election. It wasn't very hard. I didn't have to take too much time out of my day. A little planning, one skipped class and it was done. For others in line it seemed considerably harder. The lady in front of me was about my age and had two children with her. One child, a blond haired, wide-eyed 5-year-old ball of energy insisted on saying hello to everyone in line. The other was a teething baby in a carrier. The gentlemen behind me in line had to be at least 85. On his arm was a young lady who I eventually found out was his granddaughter. After cordial greetings we returned to our waiting. I silently admired their tenacity to come and stand in line to do what many people these days regard as an act in futility, especially in Utah.

For those of you who read my blog that don't live in Utah, we are that state that is highlighted red on pundits maps the second the polls close. Utah always goes Republican. We are a Republican stronghold. And that is OK. The problem is, being in such a Republican state discourages people from voting. It discourages everyone. Democrats and Independents say "what's the use?" And Republicans have become complacent living in a state that last voted for a Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1964. So I just wanted to take a few minutes and explain why, even living in Utah, I feel it is incredibly important to vote.

Let me just start with a reality check, because as we approach Tuesday everything coming from both sides of the ticket ends up getting drenched in hyperbole. I know that I am not saving the country by voting for my candidate. Neither major party candidate is evil. Neither one's election will mean the end of the U.S. 

There is no nefarious plot by either party to undermine the constitution or send our country spiraling into oblivion. Some things may get better under one or worse under another, but I believe it is safe to say that both candidates want what is best for the country. They just disagree on what is best. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the fear of "the other" that our motivation for voting doesn't come from our belief in one candidate, but from our fear of their opponent. All of the blog posts I have read for the last two weeks have been about how evil or wrong "the other" candidate is. Let me tell you what I know. I know that if my candidate loses, America will go on. I'll get to that later though. Let's get to the reasons I vote.

1. Local Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and State Referendums.

My vote for President may be a grain of sand on the beach, but my local votes can be rocks in a bucket. Whether I am voting for or against Zoo funding, the Governor, School Board appointments, Vouchers, the Definition of Marriage, or any other variety of ballot initiatives - my local elections are the ones that have the most significant impact on my daily life. The state level is where the decisions are made on how to fund public education. The state level is where laws are made and created regarding who and when you can marry. We even get to elect whether or not to keep our judges! Many of these elections are won or lost by a few hundred votes, and I have the opportunity to voice my opinion. In these elections my vote could possibly be the deciding vote. That's exciting to me. That is the opportunity to make real and immediate change. How often do we get that chance?

2. Education

Voting makes me curious. I go online. I research different candidates and issues. I learn about both sides of arguments. I make educated decisions about my positions. I listen to other people's reasoning. I don't turn the radio station because I hear something I disagree with. In preparing for an election I become a more rounded person in the world by studying the world.

Elections bring important issues out into the light of day. Even if we're not voting on something in particular everything becomes fair debate around election time.

Before this year I didn't know anything about labor issues in Ohio. In 2004 I had no idea why Palestine and Israel didn't get along. Until about a month ago I didn't really have a clue what a Socialist was. I researched these things, and although I am no were near an expert on any one of these topics, I have thought about them. Just thinking about things is important sometimes, and elections make us think. On a side note, after reading about Socialism I can definitively tell you that Barack Obama is not a Socialist, but that is a completely separate blog.

3. Obligation and a Peaceful Transition of Power

I feel like voting is my responsibility. I've often times heard the saying "If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain." While that sounds witty, and at times I'm sure people wish it were true, the fact is that we all the right to complain whether we vote or not. Voting is not a requirement, but it is a responsibility. It's an obligation. It's part of a bigger picture. 

Sure, everyone has the right to not vote. That is a great thing, and it's important. Still, Voting in any election is not just about supporting the candidates or amendments or referendums in that specific election, it is about supporting the idea as a whole. It is about believing that the will of the people is a driving and important factor in the success of our country. And it is about supporting a peaceful and consistent transition of power. 

Both major party candidates have spoken at times during this election about setting an example for the rest of the world. We don't always achieve this, and often some of the things we do as a country are out of any one citizen's control. Yet one major thing we have done right every four to eight years since the civil war is facilitate a peaceful transition of power. I don't think most people realize what an amazing accomplishment that is. We check ourselves. We give people power. We take it away. We limit authority. We cycle public servants because we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

That is why I know that we'll be fine after this election, because we are the deciders, and 232 years ago we decided that a consistent influx of new ideas was necessary to sustain a growing experiment in democracy. I absolutely believe in this. I absolutely believe in the idea that voting for any candidate, any side of any issue is supremely important. Because when I vote I know that I am not just voting for a candidate or a zoo or a judge, but I am also voting for the future. So maybe I'm not saving the country by voting for my selected candidate, but I am saving the country just by voting, and so are you. Take that for hyperbole.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Still Believe

Last night I went to a political debate at the middle school near my house. There, my friend Zach Robinson sat with his Republican opponent Robert Spendlove at table in front of about 40 people. The two of them talked about what mattered to them, and how they thought they could help the constituents of Sandy, Utah. They differed in ideology, but they were steadfast for their love of us. It was exactly what I needed this week.

Presidential elections are my Super Bowl. I look forward to them in the same way my kids look forward to Christmas. I believe they are a sacred time in our country where our obligations as citizens of our country cross paths with our obligations to each other. The peaceful transition of power in this our country is, in my opinion, among our finest achievements.

My daughter thinks that President Obama is the boss of America. That’s probably my fault. In a random, from the back seat conversation when I was distracted by trying not to drift into lanes of oncoming traffic I probably answered her first political question with an oversimplified answer. A few months ago when I told her that President Obama would no longer be our president, she asked if he was getting fired. I explained that no, he wasn’t getting fired. Presidents don’t stay presidents forever and every so often we get to choose a new one.

That blew her mind.

“We get to choose?”

“Yep! We do. That is called democracy.”

“I choose Pinkey Pie”

Pinkey Pie is a cartoon pony, and ineligible to be president. Not wanting to get into this, I explained that she could pick Pinky Pie when she was 18. She was fine with that.

Since then she has been wonderfully curious about democracy and civics. We’ve talked about the different branches of our government. We’ve talked about the different ways people can serve. We’ve talked about how a lot of the time people disagree on what the best choice is for our country, and the reason why we vote is to give everyone a voice in choosing.

“Just like we got to choose what to do in gym yesterday, huh dad?”

“That’s right.”

Things were going great. Then they weren’t. I told her she could watch the debate last week, not knowing that the first question would end up being whether or not one of our candidates meant it when he said he sexually assaulted women.

Superbowl canceled.

How do I explain that to her? Politics aren’t perfect, and the subject matter can be tricky, but I was planning on having trouble explaining tax policy, not consent and rape.

Don’t get me wrong. Those are really important topics and not ones we will shy away from in due time at our house. I just hate that it may have to be explained in the context of someone who may be “The Boss of America.”

So instead I played her the live-stream of Zach Robinson and Richard Spendlove talking about air-quality on the Wasatch Front. I let her listen to Zach talk about the years he spent as a fireman and how they taught him that everyone’s life matters, even those he doesn’t agree with. She heard these two men be kind to each-other and gracious. She heard what is right with America. She also got bored quickly, and wanted to play on the iPad… but that is more of a six-year-old thing than a problem with politics.

Like I said. The debate was exactly what I needed. I needed to believe.
This presidential election has felt like a punch in the chest. It has gotten worse and worse, and I have started to end every day burying my head in my pillow and just wishing it was over. Until last night…

Until last night, what I’d forgotten is that there are only two presidential candidates compared to the thousands of other candidates and volunteers out there working hard every single day to gather signatures, knock on doors, and talk about issues that matter to real people.

There are propositions and amendments to be voted on. There are Federal and State Senators and Representatives. There are bond measures, and taxes. There are issues that will affect each and every single one of us on a personal level. Last night I saw two people who had different ideas about those things, but a shared love for the people of our country.

The greatest kindness you can do for a person is know them, and last night I saw two candidates who genuinely wanted to know their constituents. They both stayed after the event and had long, sometimes difficult discussions with everyone who wanted to talk to them. It was exactly what a civil servant should be. Civil.

As long as we still have people like that, good people of any party willing to commit their time and talents to the public good, I have to believe our country will be ok.

I still believe, and I hope you do too. Our kids are watching.

P.S. I endorse Zach Robinson for Utah State Representative, District 49. Robert Spendlove seems like a nice guy too though.