Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Bullying”

When One Word Is Not Enough

Without giving it much thought, the phrase “I am not a racist” used to seem reasonable to sum up my position when it comes to those of different color.  But recent events have taught me an important lesson, it is not enough to claim you are not a racist.

Let us get the easy part of the equation out of the way.  There is no mistaking a racist.  If you exhibit a behavior that discriminates, intimidates, humiliates, demeans, or worse, commits an act or participates in an act against someone of a different color, based solely on that reason, you are a racist.

So there you have one side, you either “are a racist,” and the inclination is to want to say “or you are not a racist.”  To simply state you are not a racist, is just not enough.  There is a complicity about taking the position of “not being a racist.”  There is no effort in that statement.  “I said it.  I can move on.  There is no more racism in my life.”

The example I am going to give is going to prove just how wrong that thinking is, and actually makes the problem worse.

Remember the days back in school, and acts of bullying on the playground, how the big, bad kid, picked on the little squirt, just because he could?  Do you remember how the crowd of other students would gather around, and chant “FIGHT!  FIGHT!  FIGHT!”?  Did you ever take a look around the crowd, even behind the crowd, some of the faces of horrified kids, knowing how bad the situation was, but either felt powerless or had no interest to get involved?  Why?  Because it was not them.  They were not the bully.  Nor were they the victim.  But their complicity made them more a part of the incident than their denial otherwise.  Any one of them could have chosen to do something.  Instead, “I was not the bully.”  “I was not the victim.”

Whether or not you related the example as being comparable, I do.  It is not enough to state, “I am not a racist.”  Sure, anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a racist, especially given my own ethnicity having a Native American background, and daughters who are Asian.  It is not enough to believe that I am not a racist.

You are either for, or against.  You are either a racist, or you are anti-racist.  Being “anti” implies an effort is taking place.  Without that word, there is no effort.  You are just standing there, watching or cheering another fight.  And that is not good enough.

I will be the first to admit, I do not grasp every detail of what it will take to not only address racism, how to deal with racism, and how to get rid of racism.  But between my childhood, and now my adulthood, I am at least trying to do my part.

“A picture tells a thousand words.”  You are not born a racist.  You are taught to be a racist.  Our children are the only proof we need.  It is unnatural to “hate” someone just because they look different.  Have you ever heard the concept “nature versus nurture?”  This is where that applies.  Racism has been around for hundreds of years, but only because some of our parents may have taught us, because more of their parents taught them, and the numbers increase the further generations that you go back, one thing is clear to at least start the process of dealing with racism.  Stop teaching our children to hate.

Growing up, I literally lived in a small town that was not only predominantly white, it was all white.  Without me mentioning that I was Native American, no one noticed as my skin color did not signal any awareness.  Unfortunately, I did have one characteristic that falsely labeled me as “Asian,” my almond-shaped eyes, often resulting in me being hit with all kinds of Chinese slurs.  But I was not Chinese.  This was my first exposure to racism back in the 1970’s.

Around the time of third grade, a new boy had arrived in my class.  He was Hindu.  I do not recall his name (apologies but my age does have its limits).  But I definitely do remember, I did not notice his skin color was not the same as mine.  The only thing I did notice, was that he did not seem very popular, or at least have many friends around him.  He was friendly, actually living within minutes of my house, though he was never invited to my house (an issue I will get into later, but it had nothing to do with his ethnicity, at least to a point), I did visit his home on occasion and meet his family.  They were all nice.

We remained friends through elementary school until he and his family moved.  I never did know why.  I also would move, and switch school districts, this time to a “city” or urban school district.  And guess what I found out, there were a lot of people of different color.  But just like my Hindu friend, everyone was friendly with me regardless of the color of our skins.

I want to back track now.  I mentioned that my Hindu friend had not been to my house.  To be clear, I had two close friends across the street from my house, as well as a couple of kids that lived next door, and none of them were ever in my house.  The house was owned by my grandmother, and occupied by she and her sister, my mother and my sister.  It was kind of an unspoken rule, we only had family in our house.  I would ask a couple of times for friends to be allowed, but not having the stamina to hear “no” more than a couple of times, I gave up asking.

Only recently, and I do mean recently, I have discovered why.  I have had multiple discussions with my mother over the years, about my admiration for my grandmother, and the high regard I have held her, my moral compass in my life.  But as the expression goes, “nobody’s perfect.”  The conversation lasted less than fifteen seconds, because I wanted to hear nothing more once I heard “your grandmother had a bit of ‘racism’ in her.”

No way!  Not my grandmother.  She was perfect.  She loved everyone, and anyone who knew her, loved her.

I decided to open this can of worms following the recent events of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.  So I phoned up my mother to continue the discussion that we had years earlier.  I had a hard time believing, since I was “not a racist,” my mother was not a “racist,” there was no way that my grandmother could be one.  I needed an explanation.  I lived with my grandmother for nearly fifteen years, and never heard her mention color let alone use any slurs.

Intentional or not, I am hoping that the fact that I had not heard anything from my grandmother’s lips, it was because she wanted me to be better than what she was taught.  What was she taught?

First, I want to be clear, my grandmother was not a textbook definition of a racist, belief that her race or ethnicity was superior to anyone else.  But there is an issue that she did grow up with, and it technically applies when it comes to dealing with racism.  Because, had I learned this from her, this might actually be a different post than what I am writing.

I realize many around the country/world may not know the culture I am going to mention, but my grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch.  Actually German immigrants, they came to Pennsylvania.  Their make up is religious in nature and foundation, often associated with the Amish, Mennonites, Moravian, Reformed, and Lutherans.  And though my knowledge of the PA Dutch culture is limited, the whole behavior revolves around isolation, keeping outsiders just that, outside.  Sure it seemed like an odd thing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but other than bringing a significant other into the house, that is pretty much all I ever saw.  Which brings me to my next point.

Pre “me”, my mother has told me of a certain section of this town that I grew up in.  I had heard the “nickname” of it before, but like everything else that was mean-spirited, I had not paid attention to it at the time.  Recent chatter on a FB page stirred up that nickname a memory, but clearly it affected many who grew up during that time.

Nicknamed “Hunktown,” and I want to be careful because I know very little of its history other than, it was a section of my town where many Hungarians and other Europeans lived that were not considered “PA Dutch” or other form of immigrant that was clearly “American.”  Again, I want to remind you, my town was all caucasian.  And clearly those living in this section would blend in at school and work.  How could you tell?  By their accents?  Nope.  They spoke perfect English.  But just as the PA Dutch were able to speak German at will (I heard a lot of this growing up, but only remember the bad words), the other Europeans were also able to speak their native languages.

So, how did my mother, her two brothers know who not to bring home?  Their last name.  Their name would give their nationality away just as it “assumes” today.  My last name, I am often told I am Jewish, just by my last name, which is incorrect for one, my name is not spelled correctly to be Jewish, and second, I was named after the living, a “Jr.” of my father.  But if someone had any other name than a German name, they were basically “shunned”, yes, like you have probably heard done by the Amish.  Remember, they come from the same mold.

Okay, so my grandmother never demonstrated a blatant “color” racism if for no opportunity because of where we lived.  But I never saw or heard any hateful words from her lips either.  But looking back, clearly, the only way to make sure, since I was not being taught to not like others different than me, was to keep our doors closed to those outside of our family.  It was the only way to not appear “racist” in nature.

Yes, the way my grandmother raised me, not blatantly teaching me to be racist by accepting the PA Dutch way, she actually broke the cycle of racist beliefs and tendencies.  And though I am shocked to have learned this history of my family, it is the foundation to learn that it is not enough to just be “not a racist.”

And that is why, my daughters are taught to be “anti” racist.  That it takes a pro-active role against one of the most evil and hurtful ways that we treat our fellow friends and neighbors.  It is the whole reason that there has been no progress made in race relations in hundreds of years.  Even as we have all the technology to see racism at its worst with our own eyes, too many still stand back like the bystanders and cheerleaders of a playground bully incident, complicitly.

I was too young for the rioting of 1967 and 1968 associated with the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Watts riots of 1965.  But I was alive and watched in horror, the riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of 5 police officers , accused of severely and brutally beating Rodney King.  The beating was caught on video camera (we did not have cell phones or social media), but the incident was seen on all three major network news.  News of the acquittal sparked of rioting like I had never seen before to the injustice.  Until now.

And now, my daughters old enough to see what is playing out for the whole world to see, that in the 21st century, we still do not have equality for all, regardless of it being written in our Declaration of Independence.  Part of their adoption process, includes racism education and how to deal with the issues that may come up being from a bi-racial family like ours.  And then again, the issue of racism against them being of Asian heritage itself.

Which is why I take such a strong stance, anti-racism, when I hear a president not use his words carefully, and even when warned that it could incite those who are racist, speaks those hurtful ideas and words regardless, intentionally.  He does not get a pass for doing it accidentally, because he is warned about his words, and uses them anyway.  I am tired of hearing “he talks like us and that is why we like him.”  Well guess what, when the president uses those words so carelessly, and you approve them just because he talks like you, then that makes you racist.  No, not the cross-burning lynching level, but racist by complicity.

I will admit to not knowing what all I can do to be anti-racist, and there are physical limitations that I have as well (especially as we deal with Covid19 and me being vulnerable, protesting in crowds is not an option for me).  But I will at least do my part, to make sure my children know that I will always protect them and who they are, and respect each and every person that comes into their life regardless of color or ethnicity.  And that example gets set, by respecting everyone that way.

It is up to us to teach the simple concept.  You are either racist, or anti-racist.  You either participate in the evilness, or you stand up to it.  There is no complicity.  That is not an option.

A Lesson On Behavior From Parent To Child

From the days that I became a father, I knew what I did, what I said, and what I thought, would matter to my daughters.  I would have four eyes and ears surrounding me from different directions, taking mental notes of the many things I would say or do, looking for consistency and if they were correct legally and morally.  Decisions I would make, words I would express, and actions I took, would have an impact on both of their lives, forever.

The first ten years for each, it was always by example.  It was basic.  Sharing.  Empathy.  Telling the truth.  Manners.  Fun with friends.  Anticipation.  Doing things with no motive and no expectations.  It was all about doing the right thing.  Learning and doing all of these things would never require a correction or an apology.  Sure, things could get lost or broken, but my lesson would always include, did anyone get hurt because of it.  As long as the answer was no, we were going to move on to another day.

During the third quarter of their lives, just as things around the home that once were new, they may not work as reliably as in the beginning.  And it is important to pay attention to when things begin to change.  Reinforce well enough, and it can last even longer as the first day.

And so it goes with teenagers.  Other influences appear in their lives, wearing on the values and ideals that you raised your children with.  And that can mean mistakes.  The lessons begin then on how to work through the errors in judgements, minimize any lasting effects, make any corrections necessary, and then move on.  As a result, character develops, because that is who you are.

So throughout their lives, I hope that I have given my daughters everything they need, to figure out the difference morally between right and wrong, how to manage time, differentiating between want and need, and that quite possibly their thoughts and actions may have an impact on others.  It especially starts with their lives, adulthood just a short time away.

My daughters have witnessed a lot of circumstances that can lead to struggles and sorrows for others.  And they have the best of hearts and intentions to want to help, to empathize at the very least.  The legitimately want to treat others the way that they want to be treated.  Which is what makes the current situation we are all dealing with so difficult for at least one of my daughters, if not both, to understand.

As typical teenagers, they were not really aware of the beginnings of the Covid19 crisis.  But the very first thing that came to their attention was not illness around them, but behavior.  A simple thing as shelves in a grocery store, being empty of not just one item, several items.  To my knowledge, my daughters have never been through something like we are experiencing.  They had never heard either of their parents complain about a store being out of something we needed.  This was too obvious, because too many things were out of stock.

And so, my daughters learned about panic and hoarding.  I spent so much time trying to teach them the right way to live life, I made the mistake of not preparing them for the bad behavior of others.

In the northeast U.S., news of a winter storm rushes people to the grocery store for milk and bread, but rarely are the shelves bare.  Along the east coast and southern U.S., hurricanes make people rush out to buy gas, water, ice, and other non-perishables to survive for days if not weeks.  Admittedly, things could get kind of testy among us humans as supplies definitely do run short.

Under normal circumstances, shelves would not remain empty for long, maybe a couple of days.  But my younger daughter noticed, the shelves were staying empty.  What she may not have realized, at some point, the shelves may have been restocked, but by the time they got to the store, the shelves had been emptied again.  It was then that I explained to her the behavior of panic and hoarding.  I explained that people, just like when they prepare for an extreme weather event, they were doing the same now.  The only problem, that unlike a weather event, there was a good chance that we would be asked to remain home much longer than a couple of days.  With most of us not having been through a third world experience, the thoughts of preparing for shortages was unfathomable.  Yet here we were, and still are.  My daughter struggled though with why there was not enough for everyone.

This was just the beginning of the behaviors that would come into question as we all dealt with Covid19.

Commentary from certain people, including “Chinese” as part of the blame, and how it has an effect on them, just because they are Chinese.  My children know they are innocent in this, yet they hear the rhetoric that is generically cast out to spur racist outrage toward people in our country of Asian heritage.

They do not understand the necessity to go to a state capital, armed with weapons of war to stage a protest.  My daughters have learned about protesting from me, because I have participated in them.  And at no time, did I ever present a weapon.  My weapons were presence and words.  But when a question is asked, “what were they going to do with the guns?”

But this is one that definitely gets to them, because they can kind of relate, as the participants being interviewed by various media resources, are young, and as far as I am concerned, ignorant, stupid, and selfish.  “I’m just like taking it like, if I get the virus and die, like, then it was my time.  I’m like going to have a great time at least with my freedom.”  Other than the too frequent use of the word “like”, my daughters have nothing in common with what these “kids” were saying while being interviewed on the beach.  My daughters are doing their part, not to be responsible for spreading or contracting the virus.

They could not understand why these morons first off, felt they were hanging on to their freedom.  My daughters knew that they had their freedom and were not aware it was being taken from them by staying safe.  But even my daughters could understand the dumb thinking that these selfish buffoons were not thinking about anyone but themselves.  How would they have felt had they come down with the virus and taken it to their parents or grandparents, or someone else close to them, costing them their lives.

Sure, it’s easy to be so cocky and confident, “won’t happen to me,” as long as it does not happen to you.  And then it does.  And my daughters have witnessed that too many times with my health.

This crisis has definitely affected their worlds.  But at least the one thing I do not have to worry about, is them losing their common sense, and their core values on respect and empathy for others.  They are not waiting for something bad to happen to make them see the truth.


This Day Does Not Get Any Easier

I hate May 20th.  For many reasons.

Today marks six years that my father passed away from lung cancer.

The loss of a parent is the most painful emotional pain second only to the loss of a child.

In order to even move on with your life, you must be able to grieve.  But what happens when you cannot grieve, either because you do not know how, or are not given the opportunity to grieve.

My father and I were estranged through most of my childhood as a result of issues from my parents’ divorce.  A family emergency early in my adulthood, would open a door to allow my father and I to mend fences.  For over two decades that followed, my dad and I grew close, both as father and son, and as friends.

But in 2013, he was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, thought to have been treatable with a good prognosis.  Because of my health history, my father felt I would be a good health advocate for him to be able to make sure he understood everything being discussed and to help with decisions.  My father had also directed my step-brother to handle all of his other affairs through legal power of attorney.  Both my step-brother and I had no issue with what my father was asking.

Personally, I was dealing with my own health issues, well-documented here, super involved with my children’s school, working full-time, campaigning for our local school board, and had just begun the process of my own divorce.  I am known for my calm and skilled time management, as well as being able to delegate things that were able.  I was confident that I would be able to deal with my father’s health as well.  Especially with the prospects of a good prognosis.

I have documented my dad’s journey on a separate post in the past.  This post however, is going to go where I have never discussed with anyone, let alone publicly.  Clearly though, it has had an impact on my being unable to grieve for my father.

The important part that my father expected of me as my dad’s medical representative, was to make sure that all of his medical wishes were followed.  Unfortunately, even when put in writing, it is difficult for anyone not put in the position, to understand the harm and damage caused when trying to inflict one’s own opinions and beliefs, to over rule what the patient wants.

With me, my father knew that I would make decisions that would have to be made, without emotions.  I had to do what he wanted, as his representative, not prevent what I wanted done as his son.  And nearly everyone around my father refused to accept that.

The funny thing, is not one person has ever talked to me about the decisions that were made and why.  I have heard of things “told” and responses have gotten back to me.  But yet, not one person has ever talked to me, at least given me the chance to explain things.  At this point, I do not give a shit anymore.  Estranged from 95% of my family and those around my dad, I know what happened, what my dad wanted, and I made sure his wishes were carried out.

From the moment my dad’s health went way south, I worked with my step-brother to make arrangements for most would be impossible.  My dad and my step-mother had been together over four decades and for the first time in their lives, would be apart in separate facilities because of an insurance technicality.  But decisions were made, at a cost that had no impact on someone who was going to die, yet allowed the two to be together in the end.

That cost, was the loss of certain medications that he had been taking for years, now terminal, in hospice, were no longer going to be of benefit to my father.  In return, my father and step-mother were allowed to be in the same nursing home in his final days.

Another issue I get blamed for, was not fighting for “clinical testing” for my father.  At the time, there was a lung cancer drug in a clinical trial, basically a drug that shows promise, just trying to scientifically prove it works.  Ironically, the company that I worked for was the one doing the clinical trial.  I knew all about the drug.  But I also knew how clinical trials work.  And the fact was, my father was too compromised with all of his prior health issues, and definitely too far advanced with his lung cancer to have qualified.  I was faulted for not fighting for my father to be an exception.  After all, I fight for my health care and can get things done.  But those around simply felt I just wanted my father to die.  Fuck all of you.

Perhaps even most cruel, was when some of those family members actually told my father about that clinical trial.  Horrible, horrible human beings.  I believe their intent was to talk him into convincing me to pursue the clinical trial, but instead all it did, was give my father false hope.  How lovely was that.  He was going to die, something that he had previously understood, but selfishness caused my father further pain.  Fortunately, this did not last long, as when the cancer spread to his brain, his memory was affected and those kinds of conversations stopped.

Up until this point, my father and I would have many conversations.  He was still concerned about my health, and about what I was experiencing with my divorce.  One of the last conversations that I had with my father, at his insistence, was making sure that I did everything I needed to do with my divorce case.  He was aware of the many issues that I was facing, but insisted no matter what, I make the decisions that I must, that I must protect the relationship between myself and my children.

Facing an aggressive judge and warned so by my attorney, I was seeking extreme measures to meet the demands of what was expected of the judge’s rulings, currently unable to do so, because of my failing health.  And that required me looking for work, out of state, away from my children.  And the one thing that stood in my way, being able to get interviews in person out of state.   My father was made aware that I had an interview to get to, and I would need to travel.  Given his current status, I did not want to leave his side.  But he was adamant realizing the urgency on me getting hired, and being able to meet the judge’s likely rulings.  He wanted me to go.  My ticket for travel was purchased for May 20th.

On May 12th, the family all received the call that my father was in end stages, that his vitals were beginning to fail.  There is not timeline when this is recognized.  But soon, several days had gone by, leaving even staff confused about my father’s vitals and status.

My step-mother was wheeled into my father’s room daily so that she could be with him, in the event he passed.  Close to a week had gone by and nothing had happened yet.  One thing that is believed about someone lying in hospice, they need to be “let go.”  And we all had believed we had done so with my dad.  Each of us had said the things we needed to, to allow him to go to his father and siblings who had passed before him.  Yet, he was still hanging on.

Because of the situation of my divorce, I was spending the nights with my dad for a long while, going home in the morning to shower, get changed into fresh clothes and return.  But on the morning of May 20th, I also had to grab clothing for travel later in the day.  I was now at that crossroad, afraid to leave my father for something that would have major implications for me with my divorce, at the risk of not being there if my father would not pass.  There could be a chance that I could get back in time as he had been holding on much longer than expected.  But I remembered what my father wanted me to do.  And just as he had asked me to be his medical proxy because he knew I could make decisions without emotional handicapping me, he made a point to tell me prior to his incapacitation that I would need to go.

I left my home for the nursing home, spending several hours there.  There was no change with my father.  As noon approached, I had a decision to make, and I made it, as my father wished.  I left his bedside with the intent to do what I needed so that I could appease the judge in my divorce case.  I would get back as soon as I could.

That chance never came.  Fiver hours later, I got a phone call.  My father had passed away.

During my dad’s battle with lung cancer, I sacrificed my own appointments for my health issues, delegated everything I could in regard to my school board campaign, tried to carry the load of my involvement with the school where my children attended, all the while trying to figure out how to do what the judge was demanding I do, accepting no excuses for health or inability to earn  what I had been because of my health.  I did everything I possibly could, but it was not enough, especially to save my father.  And in the end, whether it was his intent or not, his insistence on me travelling, did pave the way for me to get my divorce case on the right path.

There are many other little “fires” that occurred throughout the time, that many did not agree with decisions that were made.  Again, I made sure that my dad was cared for, and that his wishes were met.  And for those that want to still challenge me, I am right here.  I know you are reading this.  You are willing to take commentary and make judgement with things said second hand, and certainly brave enough to react back.  It has been six years since any of us have talked.  And I am okay with that.

No, my dad would not be happy with that last sentence.  In his final months, even during some of his most difficult days, he tried his best to mend fences, to get everyone to spend his final days in peace with each other.  We all failed in that.  As his son, I failed at that.  And the problem is, no one can accept that there was a difference between me as a medical proxy and his son.  I can admit, as his son, I could have easily felt as passionate as everyone else about his final care.  But that is not what my dad wanted.

And because I never really got to spend my dad’s final days as his son, there is still so much left unsaid, and undone.  And I cannot get that back either.  And because of that, I cannot grieve either because I have never been able to deal with his loss.

I miss my dad.

Post Navigation