What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 1, Beginning of the End.

In the moment, endings often feel sudden. However, when looking back, you can see little bits and pieces leading to disaster. Cracks in the foundation, leaks in the roof, holes in the sheetrock, broken windows. You might be blind to these flaws, yet ignored long enough and your house will collapse.

When my ex-wife asked for a separation, I was devastated. I felt blindsided. But her request didn’t come out of nowhere. Upon reflection, I realized this had been planned for a long time. For years, we’d ignored the cracks in concrete causing our marriage to crumble. Our union didn’t end suddenly, and these songs help me understand the beginning of our end.

Breathe Carolina: “Hello Fascination
Narcissistic abuse goes through three phases: idealization (making infatuation, fascination, affection), devaluing (criticism, mockery, blame), and discarding (rejection, shunning). If you’re interested in more details, you can read about this pattern HERE. This song from Breathe Caroline aptly describes how it feels to be on the receiving end of this type of abuse. “You build me up just to break me down, You're being loud without a sound, You paste me in just to cut me out.”

Seether: “Here and Now
I don’t enjoy giving up. Not sure anyone really does. Sometimes, I give up too easily, yet other times I hang on far longer than I should. When it comes to toxic relationships, I’m more like Shaun Morgan singing, “I'm weary of fighting this alone, so tired of holding on to strings much better left to fray.” But with marriage and kids and family, you’re not supposed to quit. Or, at least that’s what I thought.

Quietdrive: “World War U
We were caught in a cycle. She would manipulate me, which I allowed her to do. But then I’d get mad at her for manipulating me. Then she’d be angry because I was upset so she’d manipulate me more which I let her do causing me to … well, the cycle never ended. I’d retreat to avoid the conflict and she’d attack me for retreating which would cause me to retreat even further. That cycle didn’t end either. Who started the fight? No idea, she probably blames me. For me, I feared her entrance. This song asks, “Tell me what you came here for. To start another world war?” I got that feeling often. Yet at the end of every fight, whether it was reality or not, she made me feel like another line from there song, “You’re the good girl, I’m the bad guy.”

Hoobastank: “Never There
Bekah asked for a separation in August but in reality, she left me several months before then. At the beginning of the year, we made an agreement to let her study outside the home. She was in college at the time, and the kids were always distracting her, even when I was home. In theory, she was to go to her mom’s house or a friend’s to get her school work done. At first, she would leave when I got home from work and be gone for a couple hours. Then a couple hours grew into the entire evening, returning after the kids were in bed. Soon, she started leaving on Saturdays as soon as she was out of bed and be gone all day. Then Sundays too. And the hour she returned home started getting later and later, often after midnight. I kept telling myself it was only for a couple months, long enough to get through the school year. Yet when school was over, she still left every day as soon as I was home from work during the week or as soon as she was out of bed on weekends. When the dudes from Hoobastank sing “You were supposed to be the closest thing to being me but your furthest away,” I understand exactly what they mean.

Candlebox: “Far Behind
A broken relationship involves two people. Rarely is all of fault on the shoulders of one individual. This Candlebox song walks the wire between owning your own faults “Now maybe I didn't mean to treat you bad but I did it anyway” and blame “Shame you left my life so soon you should have told me, but you left me far behind.” As my marriage fell apart, I couldn’t control my partner. My only choice was to accept the role I played in our demise. Like the song says, “maybe I could have made my own mistakes but I live with what I've known.”


What It’s Like to Be Me: The Family Man Pt 2, #DadLife

When Christian was born, I was in the middle of a training class for a new job – a class with a 100% attendance expectation. My boss had to kick me out with the assurance I wouldn’t get fired for leaving. As I drove to the hospital, I imagined what our lives would be like, the changes that would come with a new baby. I could have never predicted what was to come.

Parenting isn’t easy. It is simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding job I’ve ever held. No matter how hard you work at being a good dad, there are things for which you can’t prepare. Heartbreak is unavoidable, mistakes will be made, and life has a way of veering off course when you least expect it. The hope is to learn, and grow, and get better along the way. This set of songs reflects my efforts and errors as a father.

Sho Baraka: “Words, 2006
Christian was always a bit quirky. After transitioning from a crib to a daybed, the toddler version of him piled all of his toys on the floor, climbed onto his bed and stood in a crucifix pose, leaned forward until he fell and belly-flopped into the pile of toys. Then he did it over and over again. He refused to eat pizza. What kind of kid doesn’t like pizza? Adults everywhere thought he was an amazing and well behaved kid, but he struggled to get along with other kids. And he would never make eye contact with people when he talked to them. His diagnosis of autism answered many lingering questions and explained all these quirky behaviors. It also opened an overstuffed box of challenges. Raising a kid on the spectrum takes all of the difficulties of parenting and turns it up to eleven. When I heard Sho Baraka share his story of parenting and autism, it wrecked me. He admitted “A child with special needs didn't fit in my plans,” a sentiment familiar to any dad raising a kid with autism.

The Swirling Eddies: “Pyro Sets a Wildfire
One of the biggest causes of conflict in any relationship from friends to lovers is saying things you don’t mean. With kids, actions and statements can have long lasting unintended consequences. It’s the Steve Urkel dilemma: survey the chaos in your wake and ask, “Did I do that?” Mistaken, misinterpreted, misunderstood, intentions often don’t matter. This Swirling Eddies song states those intentions in the midst of blundering errors. “If played my role as diplomat, you knew it wasn’t just an act. I couldn’t stand to stand in back a faded little wallflower. I’ve maybe taken too much on, naïveté and youth is gone. But at least the juice is still turned on, I’m dancing on a live wire. I’ve summoned up a thunder cloud but I always meant to do you proud. Still, certain things are not allowed like setting off a wildfire.”

The Cure: “Why Can’t I Be You?
Perception and reality are two different states. Between the kids’ mom and me, the perception was one of us was the parenting expert and the other was wrong about everything. I’ll let you guess which was which. In reality, I had voices outside the home telling me I was a good dad. I heard it from coworkers, pastors, my in-laws, extended family. However, their input was drowned out by the single critical voice telling me otherwise. Internally, I kept thinking something like this song: “You're so perfect you're so right as rain.” Because she was my wife, I was supposed to trust her. Why should I ever doubt her statement of facts? Even if those “facts” were telling me I was worthless. Now, as I listen to this song, I hear Robert Smith’s declaration of adoration and infatuation, but I also hear the dark underlining of someone suffering emotional abuse. “You're so wonderful too good to be true” often isn’t good or true.

A Rotterdam November: “Trainwreck
I don’t believe anyone is ever really ready to become a parent until it happens. No matter how many books you read or classes you take, reality is much different than expectations. Even after your first kid is born, everything you thought you knew becomes irrelevant and parenting becomes a learning process. As a dad, I’ve constantly felt inadequately prepared – and often incapable. Even on my best days, I feel like a train wreck. So when the guys from A Rotterdam November sing “I could never promise I won't let you down, I won't give my word, you won't get hurt,” I’m reminded of my own inability to give my kids the lives I wish they had.

Underoath: “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape
More than anything, parents need grace. We need to receive it for the mistakes we made; we also need to give it for the mistakes our kids make. This is our job, to model this for our kids. The chorus of this Underoath is how I endeavor to be a dad: “Hey unfaithful I will teach you to be stronger. Hey ungraceful I will teach you to forgive one another. Hey unloving I will love you.”

Matisyahu: “Obstacles
The first year that JJ was with us, his health was fragile. He was in and out of the hospital a dozen times eventually getting a surgery to help resolve his respiratory issues. Since then, he’s been our accident prone child. Almost had his pinky finger amputated the night before Easter when he was three. Broke a leg when a kid on a trike ran into him during preschool. Bit through his lip while learning to ride a bike. Wiped out on his scooter and skateboard more times than I can count. Christian and Chloe have their own obstacles too. Progress raising them has been chaotic. Like Matisyahu sang, “Take two steps forward, one step back, every time I get on track the light fades to black.” No matter what challenges we’ve faced, whether beyond our control or the result of my fumbling ways, the kids and I are in this together. "Me and you, you and me, I share my heart with you, you're my family.”

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: “Rememory
Marital conflict took a toll and the strain I felt trying to hold it all together was killing me. I cannot describe the emotional turmoil anywhere near as well as this verse from Chance the Rapper, “Take a break when I break my leg, save the day when I take her hand and she break my heart and she take an arm and leg and the car and the kids.” Everything felt broken. By the time all three kids reached school age, I was suffering from depression, adrift and aimless at work and home. The only thing that mattered to me was the health and happiness of my kids. These days, they don’t remember the worst moments. Thankfully they were young enough to forget. Now they only recall the stories worth telling and retelling. But I remember.


Tour de Bux

The City of Coeur d’Alene could (if they wanted) hold a unique race every year. No, not Ironman, that’s already a thing. The city also runs their own triathlon, duathlon, marathon, and 10k runs. There’s a marathon done in the neighboring town of Hayden. And you can compete in a scenic bike race around the lake called Coeur d’Fondo.

My proposal for the city by the lake is a new bike race – one that combines this region’s love for fitness and coffee. Part race, part scavenger hunt, and part endurance test: I call it Tour de Bux.

Here’s how it works. Riders must race their bikes from one Starbucks to another, stopping at every location to consume a drink of their choice as quickly as possible, and collect a tag documenting completion for each individual store. First competitor across the finish line with the correct number of tags win. Starbucks swag and gift cards could be awarded as prizes.

The race begins with the first drink at the Coeur d’Alene Resort where Starbucks is served in the lobby cafe. Stop number two is two miles up Northwest Blvd to the Riverstone Starbucks. Next, riders head over the hill and one mile east to Ironwood Square. After drinking their third coffee, racers will ride 1.2 miles north on Government Way to the Starbucks next to Costco, then across the street to the Starbucks inside Safeway. The next two stops are also inside stores: Fred Meyer is less than a mile to the west, followed by Target about a mile and a half north on Highway 95. The final stop where competitors will drink their eighth cup of coffee is one mile north of Target at the Cornerstone Starbucks.

Finishers won’t sleep for days.

If that sounds a bit ridiculous, it is. Actually, it’s a lot of ridiculous.

Combined population for Cd’A, Dalton Gardens, and Hayden is around 69,000 people. With eight different Starbucks to choose from, that’s roughly one Starbucks per 8600 citizens. Contrast with the city of Spokane Valley (population is 99,700) where there is also eight Starbucks locations. Coeur d’Alene is comparatively coffee crowded.

In calculating Starbucks per capita in Coeur d’Alene, you can easily reduce the ration by eliminating people who (like my older brother) refuse to consume anything related to Starbucks. You can also remove people who are loyal customers of the various drive through stands and rival coffee shops like Thomas Hammer, The Human Bean, and Dutch Bros. Generously speaking, you’re left with half of the population who might frequently or occasionally patronize one of the local Starbucks which leaves us with one Starbucks per 4300 residents. Store hours are often open for business 15 hours a day. According to my overly analytical nerdy brain, each Cd’A area Starbucks exists for 287 locals during every hour it’s open.

photo courtesy of Eventige

This is overkill. Unlike my brother, I don’t despise Starbucks. I enjoy their salted caramel mochas during the holidays and I think their vanilla bean Frappuccino can be deeply satisfying on a hot summer afternoon. Yet I wonder if we really need eight different Starbucks so geographically close to each other?

News earlier this week announced the closure of 400 Starbucks stores. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of those closures is in Coeur d’Alene. The market is saturated, too much of a good thing.

However, if there are no store closures in Coeur d’Alene, there should be a Tour de Bux as soon as this whole COVID pandemic is over.


Rise of the Sidekicks

As a straight white male, there are a few aspects of American life I will never experience.

I will never know what it’s like to be gay in America. I will never truly know what it is like to come out of the closet with your parents and closest friends. Even though I’ve observed friends of mine go through that process, I’ll never feel that same feeling of trepidation, the worry of rejection and loss mingled with the hope of acceptance.

I will never know what it’s like to be a woman in today’s culture. I know (statistically speaking) one in six American women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape – and the frequency of sexual assault is much higher, yet I’ll never be one of those statistics. I will never feel the shame or stress of being openly harassed in public. I’ll never fear the intentions behind the way dudes look at me in passing.

I will never know what it’s like to be a person of color in a white world. I have never watched TV without finding characters who shared my lack of melanin. No one has ever crossed the street to avoid coming into contact with me and I’ve never heard a driver lock their car doors when I walked by. I’ve never been stopped by the police because I resembled a suspect in a crime. And I’ve never worried that my interactions with a cop could be fatal for me.

image courtesy of USA Today

My friends who are not white, straight, or male have lived these through these troubles. Intellectually, I understand what they’re going through, however I only share their trials vicariously. There is no first hand experiences for me. I know what happens but I don’t know at the same time. I hear their stories, I grieve with them in times of hardship, yet I cannot fully comprehend what it like to be them without actually being them.

Racism is the America’s original sin. Our nation was built by slave labor and sharecroppers. At every moment of progress, there’s been someone wealthy and powerful pulling strings ensuring there will always be loopholes to legally exploit and disparage African Americans. Bigotry infects our culture - from explicit and obvious forms of hatred to subtle biases of which most are unaware.

Battling racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice is an underdog’s fight. For generations, discriminatory language has been socially acceptable. Exposure is essential to overcoming the bonds of hatred. Unfortunately, those mired in their own bigotry are unlikely to befriend someone they hate based on bias.

A homophobic person isn’t giving an empathetic ear to a gay person describing anxiety over revealing their sexuality. A misogynist will dismiss a woman’s admission of feeling unsafe in the workplace. A white nationalist will laugh off a black person’s account of racial profiling. Bias deafens us to stories contrary to our world view.

If those with narrow world views won’t listen to a story from someone in the LGBT community, or a woman, or a person of color, who’s story will they accept? They’ll listen to a straight white dude.

At this point in history, honest stories are crucial. Black narratives have the power to influence a generation, change the tide of legislation, and instigate waves of legal reform. Recent events have awakened a righteous anger across white America, they’re finally recognizing something is unjust and needs to change. This isn’t a new feeling to my black friends. They have felt this injustice their entire lives. They’ve been urging change for years yet no one listened until now.

With eyes slowly opening to see the institutional problems in our criminal justice system, many are still uncomfortable with or dismissive of black voices. They see something wrong but are not ready to listen to those impacted by injustice. This is where I come in: your racist uncle might not listen to Killer Mike address the challenges of being black in America, but he’d listen to me. He’d listen to you sharing real stories of real lives affected by real pain.

However, this is where white allies need to be careful. It would be easy to take over the story and make it about us. “Look at us white folk fixing everything.” Doing so would turn us into a move trope come true: the white savior.

Movie tropes are storytelling devices common enough to become predictable. When used, movies follow a similar course of events. Like dudes walking away from explosions. Sure it looks cool but does the main character have to walk away triumphantly while something blows up in a giant fireball behind them? Or do damsels in distress always have to say “my hero” when rescued from peril. While we’re at it, why do damsels always have to be in distress?

Tropes are used because they’re familiar. They’re comfortable. They make writing easier. The white savior story found from animated classics to war dramas to sci-fi blockbusters. FernGully. Dances with Wolves. The Last Samurai. Avatar. In each of those stories, a white person begins as an oppressor for a native population. Then once they’ve immersed themselves in the minority culture, they turn against the invading forces of their fellow white men and save the locals from desolation.

This fate awaits white folk if we’re not careful. We could easily insert our white privilege into black stories to save them from our white oppression. Look at us, hail the conquering hero. It's a temptation we must resist.

We (white people) need to remember African Americans are the heroes of their story. From slavery, to sharecropping and segregation, through redlining and the drug war, into our current state of militarized police and racial profiling, our system has been set up to hinder the pursuit of the American dream for minorities. They suffered every plot twist and escalating tension in the story of these United States. This is their long dark night of the soul. They are the protagonist rising to face the villains of racism and bigotry. If we are to become their ally, we must not replace their role as hero.

Heroes need sidekicks. Batman had Robin. Captain America had Bucky Barnes. If life is a comic book, white people need to be the sidekick, there to support and elevate black heroes and not demote them to a footnote.

Share the stories from black people to those who won’t listen to black people, but don’t repeat them as if they’re your own. Crave justice but don’t take over someone else’s cause just to make yourself feel better. Use your privilege to elevate those who lack privilege. Support those fighting against impossible odds. And do all you can to make the fight easier for the hero.

You know, like a sidekick.