Friday, June 16, 2017

My father is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)🐐

Circa late '1970s

"Daddy, I have a problem."

I untangled the cold, wet, metal coil that connected the matte, black handset to the payphone.  The  collective rancid breath of the hundred or so other people who had used it that day was almost visible against the fog.  I covered the receiver with my gloved hand and turned my head away to take in a deep breath of sweet, rain-washed air.  Placing other my hand over the coin slot, I pushed my face closer to the phone box so that no one who might be watching could read my lips and figure out what I was saying.

"What is it, Laura?"

I felt my shoulders collapse against the booth.  His voice was that warm, full-toned blanket that I used to wrap myself up in at bedtime when I was little.  I felt as though he was standing there with me even though we hadn't lived in the same state since I was four-year's old.  But I could hear the alarm underneath his cool tone.  I tried to imagine what he must be thinking.

"Laura, did someone hurt you?  Is your mother okay? What's happened?"

"I'm at a payphone," I said finally.

"Okay, I can tell. What's going on?"

Just tell him.

"I haven't told anyone yet..." my voice broke off in sobs.

The rain was starting to come down in sheets.  My breath was a steam cloud that seemed to punctuate each pitiful, choking exhale.  I pulled my navy, JanSport back pack inside the booth with me to keep it from getting drenched.  I pulled off my useless knit gloves and shook the water off of my fingers, one hand at a time before wiping them dry on my painter's pants.  I took a deep breath.

"I think... I think I might be pregnant."


I'd said it so fast I thought maybe he hadn't understood me.

Oh God!  You said it!  Now he knows you've had SEX.  Now you can't ever go back to being his little girl!  Look what you've done!!! He's going to tell you that you got yourself into this, you can take care of it.  He's going to be like, "LOOK, LAURA! You're almost 18 -- handle it yourself."

I looked around quickly to see if anyone might have snuck up on me and heard my admission over the pounding rain and the downtown Berkeley rush hour traffic.  

"Okay," he said finally.  His voice was unaltered -- completely calm.

Okay??? That's it?!?

"So, what's the problem?" He continued.

So what's the problem?!??

My laughter snuck up on me and caught me by surprise.  My trembling angst and shame faded away for a moment and I allowed myself to feel a modicum of the warm IV-like rush of relief that seemed eager to replace it.

"So, what do I do, Daddy?"

"First of all, you need to find out of you're really pregnant."

"I have an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get a test on Monday."

I heard relief in his exhale.

"Good," he said.

"But Daddy?  What if I am?  Then what do I do?"

"Is it...Mike?" He said tentatively.  "Is he the one who uh -- is the possible father?"

He remembers Michael's name?

"Michael," I corrected him under my breath.  All at once, shame whooshed through my veins like iodine.  Suddenly my NorthFace down jacket was unbearably hot.

"Okay, then.  Do you want to have a baby -- with him  — with -- Michael?"

"I don't know.  I don't think I'm ready to have anyone's baby."

Another noisy exhale — this time it was actually more like a low whistle — "Phewwwwwww".

"Okay then.  Just get the test and we'll see what your options are.  I know it might not feel like it, but this is something that happens every day.  Hell, maybe every minute of every day!"

"But not to me," I could actually feel the self pity steaming out of my pores against the chilly air.

"Hey Laura," he said. "We don't know anything yet for sure, right?"

Only now you know that I've had sex.

But there was that blanket-voice again.  Suddenly, almost against my will, I felt a new sense of calm edging in.  I nodded my head and closed my eyes.

This is why you called him. This feeling right here.

"We'll see what your results are," he continued.

It sounded like he sensed the shift in my energy.  Like he knew that his "daddy-magic-comforting-spell" was working.

"And then whether your pregnant or not, whether you have a baby or not,  I'll handle it with you.  Okay, Laura?"

*   *   *

"Here he is, Daddy!"

My dad had just walked in and put his suitcase down.  He hugged me awkwardly, as four-week-old Miles was in the Baby Bjorn I had strapped to my chest.

My dad peered around the side and lifted the white, cloth diaper off of Miles's head.

"Let me see him."

There is nothing like my dad's smile.  When he smiles, his whole face smiles -- his eyes smile, the black moles that freckle his cheeks smile -- even his ears look like they're smiling.

"Laura, he's so beautiful."

"Can you believe it, Daddy?  I'm a mom!"

I lead my dad upstairs to the master bedroom and we both sat down on my bed.

"You're too young to be a mom," he smiled.

"Some people think 32 is old to be a mom," I laughed.

"You don't look 32,"said my dad with admiration in his eyes.  "You look like you're still a teenager."

"Thank you, Daddy."

I unstrapped Miles and sniffed his thin, wavy, black hair.  The smell of his little newborn head was nothing short of intoxicating.  I held him out a little toward my dad.

"Wanna hold him?"


It was a strong, definitive YES.  Everything with him is like that.  His "Yes" is the most resolute, most enthusiastic "Yes!" in the world.  His "No" is also, the most resolute and most adamant "No!" in the world.  There is no gray area with my Dad.

I handed Miles to him and watched him expertly adjust him in his arms so that he could put his face inches away from Miles's.  I watched as Miles squirmed and settled, turning his face toward my dad's chest, pressing his mouth determinedly against the cloth of his blue, button-down shirt and thrusting his tongue in and out.

"Ha, ha, ha!" He laughed.  "You won't find any milk in there, man."

He looked up at me,  his brown eyes were glistening.

"Wow, Laura...."


He raised his eyebrows in response, like "Yes?"

"Any advice for me?"

"Um, let's see," his deep voice startled the nearly knocked out Miles. "Any advice...."

He stood up and slowly rocked Miles back and forth.  Miles's eye lids began to flutter and close.

"Um yeah, I have something that might qualify as advice," he turned around and faced me.  His right index finger pointed gently toward Miles.

"So look, you're going to feel like smothering this little baby with love.  You're going to do everything in your power to protect him.  You're going to hover too close, you're going to comfort him too fast, you're going to spoil him with love -- DO IT LAURA!  That's your maternal instinct working.  Your job is to love and protect this child.  He NEEDS that love and protection from you — his mother."

"Okay," I nodded.

My eyes grew round as though I were falling under a spell.  I could see the next few years like a movie in front of me.  I could see Miles falling and me scooping him up before he was able to cry.  I could see me sitting in my "parent chair" carefully watching Miles sitting in "circle time" at pre-school, at the dentist or at the pediatrician.  I could see me snuggling in bed with Miles reading "one more story" long after we'd read, "Goodnight Moon."

"And as for Brian," he continued, breaking into my reverie.  "He's going to roughhouse with him, he's going to let do things that you might not want him to do.  He might yell at him or discipline Miles when he needs it.  LET HIM!  That's what he's supposed to do as his Dad.  His instincts may run counter to yours at times.  And that's okay."

He handed the now-sleeping Miles back to me,  carefully wrapping the loose end of his blanket around his bare, feet as he did so.

"Miles is going to need both of those things.  He needs you -- his mother and he needs Brian -- his father.  Do what comes naturally to you and allow Brian to do what comes naturally to him.  That's probably the best advice that I can give you."

*  *  *

"You have phone call."

I jumped up too quickly from the plastic, armless chair in the waiting area, almost knocking it over.  I looked around to see if anyone saw, but no one was looking at me.  The 112 degree heat outside had made my head feel like it was filled with mud.  The two or three other people in there with me were sitting on a beige, leather couch, looking at their hands or at the ground.  One of them seemed to be fascinated by a framed black and white picture of a White, brunette woman sitting on a rock by the ocean — The Serenity Prayer sprawled out in big, white letters near her feet.  I took in a deep breath of cool, air conditioned air to clear some of the fog.   None of us had moved much since we'd been called in out of the heat a few minutes before.

"Thank you," I said finally.

I froze for a minute trying to remember the last time I'd said, "Thank you."
Politeness seemed like it was something we'd done "out there." In here, it felt more like every man for himself.

"Thank you," I said again, popping a Spree candy into my mouth.  I savored the stark sour flavor, which was immediately followed by the syrupy, cloying sweetness of cherry.  One of the couch-sitters startled when I noisily sucked in the extra (bright red) saliva that the Spree made in my mouth.

"Sorry," I murmured as I stepped over his legs.

"No problem, Hon!" said the cheery, stick-thin blond behind the desk.

Why did she think I was talking to her?

She walked around and handed me the old, yellow push-button, desk phone -- expertly unwinding the  extra-long, worn, dingy cord  -- stretching it so that I had could walk around the corner a bit.
I walked as far as I could, making the faded, yellow coils pull into long, curly S's. I turned to look back at her with a question mark on my face.

"It's the best we can do," she shrugged apologetically.

"Thank you," I said again.

Three "thank you's" in under a minute. 


My heart started to drum out a protest song.  I wiped away my-now-ever-present band of hairline sweat with my free hand.

Hang up!  You know you don't want to talk to whoever it is.


The sound of my dad's voice made my knees give out.  I righted myself and leaned against the wall that I faced.  I was close enough to smell the musty odor behind the old, wood paneling.  I held my breath and bit my lower lip.  I felt hot tears racing down my cheeks.



He sounds so relieved.

"How ah — um, are you okay?"

I swallowed hard.  I didn't trust my voice. I let my Spree fall out to my mouth into my hand.  Blood-red streaks instantly ran out of my closed fist down to my wrist.

"That's probably a silly question, right?" He asked.

I sat there staring at my wrist.  It looked as though I'd sliced it open.

Say something!

"I'm fine, Dad," I said dropping the Spree in the corner waste paper basket and wiping my red, sticky hand on my white cut-offs.  I was desperately trying to keep my voice light.

"I'm mean as fine as I can be, being that I'm in treatment in Wickenburg, Arizona in the middle of July."


Oh God!  Please don't let this get serious.  Talk faster.  Say something funny.

"Not very good planning timing-wise to hit my 'bottom,'" I continued.  "If I could have waited until January, I would have had a much cooler stay."

I was so relieved when he joined me (briefly) in my thin laughter.   All at once, we were both silent again.

Oh God, I've failed him.  I'm 44-year's old and I'm in rehab!  He must be so disappointed with his "little girl". 

"I was going to uh, come and see you next weekend..." he started.

"No!"  I was surprised by how involuntary and adamant my "no" was.

I can't possibly bear to see him here.  I can't bear to see anyone.  It destroyed me when Brian brought Miles and Justin and I had to say goodbye to them after a few, short hours.  I can't go through that again.

"I mean, no THANK YOU, Daddy.  I'll be home in a couple of weeks.  You can come to LA then and see me.  Or I can bring the boys to come and see you.  There's nothing to do here.  It's so hot and dry -- much different from Florida.  You'd hate it.  And also..."

"I don't care," he interrupted.  "I don't care about the heat or having 'something' to do there.  All I care about is you."

"I know..." my voice broke.

Doesn't he know that's exactly why I can't have him here?  I can't be around one more person who cares about me that much.  It's way too painful.

Now I was crouching on my haunches near the floor,  covering my ear with my free hand and staring at the reddish, clay tiles.  A trail of ants had made their way out of the heat into the cool of the air-conditioned office.  I zoned out on the "ant-rivers" my tears were making in the caulking between the tile.  I pushed my face closer, captivated by the way the ants noiselessly signaled the others to change course and maneuver around these new "water ways" -- suddenly I heard an unfamiliar sound.

What's that?  Is he...crying?

There was more silence than sound, but he was definitely crying. A deep sense of sorrow filled my gut and sent bile up the back of my throat.  I swallowed hard against it.

I've made him cry!!

I buried my face in the crook of my arm, silently soaking the sleeve of my thin, white, elbow-length t-shirt with my tears.  It went on for a while like that -- me knowing that he was crying -- him knowing that I was crying, but neither of us saying anything.

You see what you've done?! You've failed him. Just like you've failed everybody else.

"This is all my fault, Laura," he said finally.

I was startled out of my quiet sobbing by his words.

What?!?  How could it be your fault?  I'm the one who's failed you!

"I'm so sorry," he continued.


Why was he saying this?

"None of this is your fault, Daddy.  This was me choosing 'left' instead of 'right' over and over again.  Plus, they tell me that this is a medically diagnosed disease.  They say that there's nothing you or anyone could have done to prevent me from getting it.  If my being here is anyone's fault -- its mine.  If anyone has failed anyone -- its me."

I was standing up straight now and pacing in a small circle.  I realized that I was no longer crying.  My voice sounded more normal than it had in the two weeks since I'd been there.

"It is a medically diagnosed disease, Laura" he said slowly.  "And if it's not my fault that you have it, then it certainly can't be your fault either."

"Maybe not," I said too quickly. "But I've let you down."  My voice was small now, like a five-year-olds.

"No, Laura -- you have never let me down!"  I could hear his smile through the phone.

"You should hear the way I talk about you to everybody," (He adopted this gregarious, boisterous tone):

"My daughter this, my daughter that -- my daughter, my daughter, my daughter...!"

I heard my laughter before I felt it.


"I can only imagine how hard that must have been -- leaving Miles and Justin and going so far away to get well.  But do YOU know how brave that is, Laura?  Do you know how proud I am of you?"

I licked the wet, saltiness of my tears off my lips and wiped my nose with my bare forearm.  I felt my mouth forming into the beginnings of a smile.

"Thank you, Dadd..." The word was abruptly sliced in half.  I was starting to hiccup.

"Was that a hiccup?" he chuckled.

I was hiccuping and cheese-grinning now -- facing out toward the others who were still waiting for their phone calls. Just for a few moments, despite the hiccups, the heat, the intense sorrow and desperation -- I felt the fringes of a new lightness and sense of hope.  Something that had been unimaginable 15-minutes earlier.  I pursed my lips together and held my breath, attempting to hold on to this new feeling (and hopefully stop the hiccups in the process).

Daddy magic comforting spell...

"I love you, Laura," he said after a minute had passed.

I let out the breath and felt my shoulders relax.

"I love you too, Daddy."


Is your father the "GOAT" too?  Please tell me why in the comments section.  And Happy Father's day to all of the dads out there!

Friday, June 9, 2017




Being "Woke" means being aware.  Knowing what's going on in the community.

(Relating to racism and social injustice)

Person 1: Stop bringing racism into everything
Person 2: You're clearly not woke

*  *  *

"I think this is more about cultural bias, than racism," she said.

I had my phone "on speaker" next to my computer.  After two days of emailing her college essay back and forth, Lily had remembered that she and I could both be on the document at the same time using Google Docs.

"Well, you're really talking about both," I said.  "On the second page you basically say that our conversation in the car during last year's road trip, regarding systemic racism, made you aware of your own biases, right?"

"Yup," she said.

"Okay, good."

My eyes were burning from staring at the screen for so long.  I closed them for a moment and took a bite of the Hersey's chocolate square that sat plateless on my desk.  As the exquisitely sweet, chocolatey-ness melted like lava over my tongue, I couldn't help but smile.

Of all of the things she could have written about, she chose to make this the subject of her essay! Who knew that something so routine for me and my boys would have made this kind of impact on her?

My eyes popped open when she started typing again.  I could see that she was working on another paragraph now.  Panicking that I was falling behind in my "editing duties," I struggled to keep up with her (enviously fast) typing.

"Are you done with those first two paragraphs?"  I asked.

"Almost," she said slowly.  "I want to put in some detail about what it FELT like when I heard you quizzing Miles and Justin on what to do if they got pulled over by the police."

Letters began to appear on the screen.

"My palms began to sweat.  I shifted in my seat.  I had sat there comfortably for hours, but suddenly I could not find an agreeable position..."

"Good, good," I said softly.

I wanted to encourage her without interrupting her flow, so I closed my lips and grew still as she typed.  Both of our houses were silent.  I was bathed in the blue light from the wall-mounted TV in my office.  It had gotten dark in the past twenty minutes since we'd been on the phone and I hadn't bothered to turn on any lights.  Rachel Maddow's almost muted voice cut gently through the quiet.  Lily's finger's were playing the computer keyboard like a piano.  I became hypnotized by the click, click, click sound as I saw her words appearing on the computer screen in front of me.

"The discernible sense of importance was clear in Laura's voice," she typed.  "But masked behind it was something I had never heard before,  fear."

"I like that," I said.

"I was all like -- 'is it okay for me to ask what's going on?'" she said.   "'Why is getting pulled over such a big deal?'"

"Which," I responded, "is totally understandable since as you said, you have a completely different relationship with the police in Stowe, right?"

"Oh yeah, totally," she laughed.  "The policemen here just give us rides home if we need, or maybe a drinking ticket if someone has been drinking.  Everyone knows all of our policemen by name."

"They give you drink tickets?" I said with a slight smile. "Like for free drinks?"

She laughed again.  "DrinkING tickets! Like a traffic ticket, but for drinking.  Mostly they give them at parties and stuff."

I shook my head, trying to picture any kid in LA getting a "drinking ticket" and ride home after being busted for drinking or possession.

"Do you think there's a lot of racial profiling in Stowe?" I asked.

I'm pretty sure I know the answer here.

"No, not really," she said.

Of course not. Everyone's White.

"Do you have an idea as to why?" I asked.

"Ummm maybe," she said thoughtfully.

Could it be --  'cause there ain't no Black folks in Stowe?

"I think," she continued thoughtfully, "I think its because there are barely any people that aren't White in Stowe."

Okay! Points for Lily!  

"In fact, I could probably give you the name of every non-white person who lives in Stowe.  I feel like people think, 'Oh no!  We don't really deal with racism here.' But to me that's because we don't really have very many different races here."

That's facts

All at once, her cursor appeared two paragraphs down.  "I turned my focus back to the road," deleted itself on my screen.  Now I could hear her typing away again.

Click, click, click

"The essay is due on Thursday?" I asked,  calmly perusing the next three paragraphs for typos.

"Tomorrow," she said grimly.


"Okay, then so let's move onto the 6th paragraph" I said, trying not to sound so panicked.

She's never going to finish this tonight.

"Okay," her voice was full of concentration, she was still typing.

"When you're done with that sentence, let's go to where you reveal that I'm Black," I said.

"Okay, ready."

I saw her cursor move down to the next page.

"My stepmother is black, and as a mother of two black teenage boys..."

As I watched her typing, my mind started to drift again...

This whole step-parent thing...

I've been in Lily's life since she was nine and her sister Nora was four. I love them both, but I'm also very conscious of the fact that Lily and Nora are Scott and Jenny's children...

"I'm going to add that other thing that you said about getting pulled over here," said Lily.

"Which other thing? I asked, coming out of my thought cloud.

"About how if one of them puts their hands under their seats they could get shot."

"Oh yes!" I said.  "Definitely use that!  That's important."

Lily started typing furiously again.  A hip-hop Pepsi commercial suddenly blared through the quiet (disturbingly louder than the Rachel Maddow), startling me.  I hit the mute button and then sat back, marveling at the girl-dancer's flexibility on the now-silent screen while Lily continued to type.

It's just that now our relationship has evolved from a "Daddy's girlfriend level" to a more "parental" level.  You see this?!  She keeps referring to me as her "step mother" and Miles and Justin as her "step brothers...

"Almost done," Lily mumbled under her breath.

"I'm good.  Take your time," I said, tearing my eyes from the TV long enough to glance at the clock.

8:35?  That means it's 11:35 in Stowe!

"That line is important!" She said suddenly.  "It's important, because this one conversation made me see every everything from a different perspective.  Before our road trip last year, stories on the news could be sad or even tragic, but not personal  -- not really.   Maybe I wasn't ready to see it before then, but that conversation on the roadtrip that day made me suddenly want to see past my own perception.  It made me want to look deeper than the first glance."

Right on.

Lily moved down to the next paragraph.

"The simple fact is that I am white," she wrote.   "It had never occurred to me because it has at no point been an important part of my life, or at least not that I realized."

Actually, that's really great.

"So where next?" I asked.

"Umm the paragraph about my mom?"


"I thought about my mother, how she cried as I backed out of the driveway alone for the first time and she pounded into me the rules of the road."

"I love that transition," I said.

"Me too," she said, keeping up her typing-rhythm.

"Or!  I might have an idea!" said an excited female voice.


I froze like my dogs when they think they've hear a critter outside.

Who said that?

 I strained my ears to listen.  I heard Lily's voice scale up.  It sounded like another voice responded.

Wait!  Are there two voices?

I picked up my phone and took it off speaker.  I could hear better, but the sounds were still muffled.

She's definitely talking to someone.

Suddenly Lily's voice was clear, as if the volume had just been turned up.  The hand holding my phone jumped away from my ear.

"I was just thinking it might be good to put that earlier," said the other voice.

"Mom!  That was like three drafts ago.  Please, I'm almost done," said Lily.  I could hear the exhaustion in her voice.


Suddenly I felt as though I'd been busted helping Lily cheat on a test.  I held my breath as I listened to their exchange.  I was afraid to speak and reveal my identity.  I didn't know if Jenny knew who Lily was talking to on the phone, or if she even knew that she was on the phone.  My mind started to race.

What if it makes Jenny feel funny that Lily refers to me as her "step mother" (especially since Scottie and I aren't even married)?  What if she doesn't like the fact that said "step mother" has been spending the last three days helping her oldest daughter with her college essay?  Maybe she thinks that's just a "mom job" (or maybe a "mom and dad" job).  Also, so much of this essay is Lily wondering for the first time what it must feel like to be Black in America.  But what if that makes Jenny feel left out?

"So Laura, what you think of it?" said Jenny, brightly.

She knows it's you!! 

"I think they're going to be blown away by both the subject matter and the writing skills," I said, finding my voice.

Does that sound like I'm taking too much ownership? 

"You're right, you're right," I could hear something clang closed in the background.  "She's doing a great job," she said cheerily.  "I've actually liked all of the drafts so far."

Well, she's been reading it all along!

"Yeah, her piece is really great," I said, hearing the relief in my voice.  "Lily is an amazing story teller."

"Hey, you know what?!" Laughed Jenny.  This could be a blog!  "You and I helping Lily with her college essay from two different coasts at the same time."

I laughed with her and then stopped abruptly.


"Wait, that actually could be a nice piece, Jenny" I said.  "More evidence of our modern family!"

"Yes!" Said Jenny, "exactly!"

"You guys!!" Lily broke in sounding exasperated.  "Mom, I've got to finish, I need to be asleep before midnight!"

"Okay, okay," Jenny said tenderly.  I could hear Jenny kissing Lily gently on top of her head.

"Laura," said Jenny.   Her voice had a sincere tone.  "Thank you.  Thank you for helping her with this."

"Hey, it's my pleasure, Jenny" I smiled.  "Have a good night!"

*  *  *

Post script:

My "stepdaughter", Lily, on the strength of her essay (and her grades, school activities, athleticism, community service-work, teacher recommendations, etc) was accepted to a variety colleges and universities (UVM, Emmanuel, USC, Occidental, LMU, New School-Eugene Lang and more).  She has decided to attend LMU (Loyola Marymount University) here in Los Angeles, where her father and I live.  But first, she will take a "gap year" during which she will go to Bali with a program called Yayasan Widaya Sari, where she will teach English to elementary school children for three months.  In winter, 2018, she will go on a backpacking trip through Thailand before finally returning to Los Angeles to spend the summer with Justin, her father and I (with stops in Stowe to see her mom, Chris, Nora and Maisy in between every trip -- also Miles will join us all in LA whenever he's home from NY).

Lily's unflappable desire to know more, to explore more, to push the boundaries of her world, makes me well with proud, emotional tears.

*  *  *

To Lily:

I am so proud of the woman that you've become.   I can't believe that you are graduating from Stowe high school tomorrow!!! -- WOW!!!!)

Stay curious Lily.  Keep asking those questions that make people uncomfortable.  Keep pushing the boundaries of what "is" to see what else there is.  Remember that there is never only one way.

My wish for you is that you to stay woke and that you do your best to "wake up" others from your generation.

Congratulations, Lily (class of 2017!!!).  I love you.

(from left to right - Justin, me, Miles, Linda and Lily
Robbins/Slaughter roadtrip 2016