Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mr. Optimist Predicts 2010 Will Be A GREAT Year!

Recently, the "Lexington" column in The Economist opined about the virtues of pessimism and the role of optimism in America. To provide outside support, Lexington included information found in two recent books: one by a "left-leaning" American woman, the other by a "right-leaning" British man. Regardless of their individual political beliefs, they both, "confront optimists and beat them down."

With all due respect, in my opinion, both of those authors are dead wrong.

Today I received a (late) holiday card from my friend Anne. She and I have known each other literally our entire lives. We grew up just three houses from each other. Our grandparents had been friends in Bingham Canyon.

A couple of years back, Anne emailed to tell me that her daughter had just been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrom. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Anne and her husband turned to their deep LDS faith and believed with all of their hearts that one day their girl would walk again.

This year their positive attitude paid off: She's walking with braces! WALKING!!!

Eight years ago, my brother Ted was on the wrong side of an auto - train accident. The doctors told our parents he'd never make it. But he did. When I saw him a few weeks later, he was still in a coma, and I tried desperately to make my parents understand that this was it for my brother, and they needed to start planning for his long-term care. I remember telling Kelly I felt like the ancient Greek prophet Cassandra: doomed to tell the truth but be believed by no one.

When I made my impassioned, reasoned, educated arguments, Dad would just smile at me and patiently remind me that Ted would be fine.

Dad was right. Ted came out of the coma and now leads a life pretty much like any one else.

It made me wonder: were the esteemed authors quoted by Lexington parents?

Nothing has changed my world view for the positive more than becoming a father. Two little boys moved me from seeing the doom to seeing the hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for my family. Hope for, well, everything.

The economy still stinks - but it WILL get better.
The president has let me down - but he IS trying.
The environment is threatened - but we ARE doing something to change it.
Everything WILL be alright.

I'm so glad my parents patiently smirked at my predictions about my brother. I'm so glad that Anne always knew that the Lord would take care of her daughter. I'm so glad Gus and Niko have shown me that it's better to hope than despair.

2010 is going to be a great year, trust me, I can just tell.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Present Ever

Sometimes I remember weird events from the past. I suppose some of them stuck with me because they're associated with really good or not so good events in my life: like when my best friend growing up, Russ, accidentally hit me in the knee with a shovel one afternoon when we were sledding down the little hill in his backyard; or the time my yia yia, mom and theia "Mimi" came to my Kindergarten class to make Greek cookies for us. (Um, I was the "ethnic" kid in school growing up, LOL.)

A couple of Christmas events are also burned into my memory. Like the Christmas Eve when I was 5 and I got to open the doctor's kit my brother John gave me. Or when I was a teenager and we thought we were so smart because we could tell that the package from Santa was a VCR...only to open it up and discover the box contained 3 Duralogs - placed there by Dad, convinced to teach us a lesson!

Well, Gus provided me with a wonderful memory this year that I hope I remember the rest of my days. Not just because of the Christmas "message" he provided, but because it was a glimpse that we're doing something right in raising our kids.

We had spent Christmas Eve with our families - lots of fun, lots of food, lots of sweets. It was well past the boys' bed times when we left our last stop at Kelly's nephew's, and both Gus and Niko had fallen asleep on the drive home.

As I laid Gus on the couch, he popped one eye open, looked at me and said, "Hey, you guys said I could open one present tonight!" (He had made his pitch earlier in the day, too. Much earlier...6:15 a.m.!)

Well, we had indeed made that promise, so when Kelly finished putting Niko to bed, we directed Gus to small box under the tree, which he ripped open in record time. At first, he thought the camera box was holding something else, but the look on his face when we realized that we'd gotten him a small point-and-shoot was priceless.

He looked at the camera, turning it around and around, smiling from ear-to-ear.
Almost meekly, he said we could open our present from him if we wanted. Earlier in the week he'd placed his small treasure chest under the tree - shooing away anyone who went near it: mostly Niko.

I hadn't paid much attention to the treasure chest. Hearing it contained a present for us took me completely by surprise since we had both individually taken the boys shopping in order for them to pick something out for us.

Kelly popped the lid and held the chest up to me. There nestled in the red felt lining were a dozen or so different colored crystals his Nouna had bought him at Clark Planetarium a few weeks ago. They are his most prized possession.

When asked why he was giving them to us, he kept looking at his new camera and almost embarrassed said, "I couldn't think of anything else to get you."

My kid couldn't think of anything else to give us, so he gave us his most prized possession.
We thanked him profusely but told him it wasn't necessary, he had after all gotten us presents.

He took another look at his camera, smiled from ear-to-ear and said, "I love you guys!" and threw himself into our arms before heading to bed.

The amazingly touching moment was fleeting, giving way to the morning chaos resulting from a visit from Santa. And his focus moved from the camera to the real tool set St. Nick brought. But that's OK. He's a kid, beyond the birth of Christ, the magic they believe in is what the holiday is all about.

In 10, 20, 50 years, I don't know if he'll remember the camera or not. But I know I'll remember the amazing present he gave me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Theater of the Absurd

I think it's fair to say that I've seen a lot of theater in my life. When I was in college, my friend Greg and I were subscribers to Salt Lake Acting Company. Kelly and I enjoyed season tickets to American Conservatory Theater and Theater Rhinoceros when we lived in San Francisco.

I've seen Patty Lupone play Evita, been to all 8 hours of Angels in America (I and II), and witnessed a lot of experimental theater -- including a one man show the finale of which consisted of that one man stripping naked and putting clothes pins all over his body...his entire body.

But this weekend I may have had the strangest theatrical experience of my life. We took the boys to see the Salt Lake Acting Company's first-ever play for children: Go, Dog. Go! Based on the children's book by PD Eastman.

Now to be fair the actors were all very, very good, and the sets were fun. Gus loved it (he saw it with his school earlier in the week as well). Niko watched whole thing with a suspicious, confused look on his face and then deemed it simply too loud.

I sat through the entire 50 minutes wondering if the whole thing had been hatched when a group of artsy types stumbled across the book while on an acid trip. As a matter of fact, I bet a few adults in the audience wondered if they'd unintentionally dropped some acid themselves before the curtain went up.

As we left SLAC, it dawned on me: it didn't need to be great theater. Shakespeare in the Park is seldom great theater. But it introduces many people to The Bard's work in an easily accessible manner: I mean seeing Romeo and his buddies dressed in gang colors certainly makes one rethink the play's relevance in our lives far better than fumbling through it in Freshmen English class.

Go, Dog. Go! Didn't need to be great theater either. It just needed to be theater.

My job as a parent is to introduce my kids to new ideas and activities. It's why we've taken them to college basketball and minor league baseball games. It's why we're members of the Natural History Museum and visit the Fine Arts Museum. It's why we take them hiking, and why we see popular movies.

It's not about what we enjoy; it's all about what they might enjoy.

And for what's it worth, as strange as Go, Dog. Go! was. It was still a much more enjoyable theatrical experience than the week's earlier event: Niko's pre-school holiday program. He took one look at the stage and let out a scream that could be heard three counties over. Before a single note was sung, I had to rush the stage and rescue him.

Pity none of the parents of the fine actors in Go, Dog. Go! thought of doing the same for their kids ;-)

(By the way, I in no way meant to disparage high school English teachers. The three very wonderful women who taught me Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and Hamlet did a great job and helped instill in me a love of his work.)

Be sure to check out my column, Who's Your Daddy, in the current issue of QSaltLake (found at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Yes, Gus & Niko, There Is a Santa Claus

Christmas has exploded at our home. Perhaps more correctly, Christmas has thrown up. Violently so.

Yes, I know, it's still early in the season. Technically, as I write this, it's not even December. But it's close enough. And the boys, well, the boys are already winding themselves up into knots of excitement. And good lord is that fun to watch!

I'm so happy to be giving these kids a boring, middle class upbringing. I want them to look back on their childhoods and see nothing different from what their friends experienced...except they happened to have two dads.

Oh and in the future, if they watch the video from today of the Christmas tree being decorated, they'll notice that the carols in the background are being sung in Greek. If asked about it by a future spouse or child I hope to hell they respond, "Gah! Who doesn't love 'Rudolf, to elafaki?'"

But the highlight of the day for me came when I asked the boys whose birthday we celebrated on Christmas. "Santa's?" Gus offered.

"No, some one really special."


How do you tell a kid his grandfather really isn't in the same league as God? LOL!

Along with our army of nutcrackers and my Andean Holy Family nativity set - one of the wise men is wisely bringing the Baby Jesus a chicken! - we've added some really wonderful decorations this year: decorations inherited by us from my precious Theia "Mimi", who passed away in June. Now there was a woman who loved Christmas.

Maybe that's why I was so willing to start the celebrations early this year. Seeing the impish little elf that I had played with as a child, or the ancient Merry Christmas sign that hung on her front door, made me feel that a little part of her will be celebrating the holiday with us.

Maybe that's my early Christmas gift from Santa.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting the thanks back in Thanksgiving

(Yeah, I know, cheesy title. That's why my column has an editor.)

Gus' teacher, Mrs. F. as the kids call her, has a strict rule about class work: if it doesn't get completed during school it becomes homework. Like a lot of other students, Gus had to test Mrs. F.'s conviction during the first few weeks of school, and ended up with extra homework. But once he realized she meant what she said, he finished his work in class.

So imagine my disappointment this past Monday when I opened his backpack and found an incomplete set of work sheets with the word Homework!! scrawled across the top in intimidating red ink!

Really, I guess I couldn't blame him. He was overly excited this week. There were only 2 days of school, no spelling test was scheduled, no homework was planned, and the coup d' grace: it snowed Sunday evening. Snow makes Gus crazy with excitement.

As I launched in to my lecture about the importance of staying focused at school and how disappointed this made me, I thumbed through the worksheets. That's when I saw it: a picture of four stick people and four stick animals, and in his still learning handwriting: "I am thankful for my dad, papa, brother, dog and guinea pigs".

The lecture stopped, I hugged Gus and said, "I'm thankful for you too."

So, in the spirit of thankfulness, I am grateful for:
- my kids, who every day teach me how to be a better man
- my partner, Kelly, who stands by me in thick and thin
- my parents, siblings, cousins, uncles / aunts, nieces / nephews; if I lost everything else, I know I'd always have them
- my dog, Gracie, whom we've had 9 years this week, and never lets a minute go by without letting me know, as far as she's concerned, I'm the greatest guy in the world
- my old friends with whom I get to spend time again and new friends, who are enriching my life in all sorts of fun ways
- John, Sabine, Carol and a host of other folks in California whom we no longer get to see as often as we want, but are always in our hearts
- my Dilworth girls (who know who they are...)
- my fellow Arcadians and our "club", through which I get to see my cousins regularly and which connects me to my family's past (and my very personal past in the form of my 5th grade teacher eating dinner with me once a month!)
- my AHEPA brothers, a never-ending source of amusement...come on, Greek men and "organization" in the same breath???
- my church where I am always welcomed with open arms
- the seasons, something I really missed in California
- all of you, who read my blog, share it with friends and colleagues and provide me with such great feedback

And most of all, I'm thankful for my life, warts and all!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Come On, It's 2010!

The other day I went to pick up Gus from school. As I waited for class to get out, Shawn, the father of one of Gus' friends, arrived and came over to talk with him. He mentioned that he had just read my column in QSaltLake.

I was rather surprised, since he's neither gay nor on my own personal distribution list. Now that doesn't mean that Q doesn't have a wide cross section of readers of every persuasion. It just surprised me.

Turns out the paper had recently interviewed him. He and his wife bought a bar earlier this year that, until its sale, had been a gay bar called Naked.

At one point the reporter asked Shawn if his place, Gracie's, was a gay bar. His response was brilliant: "Well, it's not a straight bar. And it's not a gay bar. It's just a bar. Come on, it's 2010."
What an amazingly refreshing attitude.

The way I see it, if we think too much in terms of gay and straight, we end up isolating ourselves. And I can't do that.

Not only do I think a world where all of my friends were gay, or white, or Greek, or Orthodox Christian, or liberal, or vegetarian, or mid-40s would be excruciatingly boring, I think it'd be really unfair to my kids.

What could they possibly learn from a world where everyone was exactly like their dad? (Fabulous though he may be?) I want my kids to experience people and ideas different than what they know. I want my kids to question beliefs and ideas. It's about growth.

And I recognize that it's a two-way street. I need people to be open to having their beliefs or their kids' beliefs challenged by my family.

But isn't that the way it should be? No gay families or straight families. No LDS families or Orthodox families. No traditional or non-traditional families? Just plain families? Come on, it's 2010!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family Values Voter

I've become a family values voter. I know! It's kind of scary, isn't it? I realized my new position a couple of weeks ago when I went to the polls to choose my new Salt Lake City Council member.

After a jam-packed primary for this open seat, the general election offered my neighbors and me a choice between two fine gentlemen: Phil Carroll and Stan Penfold. Both run not-for-profits. Both have lived in the neighborhood for many years. Both are well respected.

About a week prior to the election, The Salt Lake Tribune profiled the candidates. It noted that during a recent debate, when asked to distinguish himself from his opponent, Mr. Carroll mentioned that he had raised a family - unlike Mr. Penfold. It seemed a not-so-subtle reminder that Penfold is an openly gay man.

The Trib also noted that whereas Penfold strongly supported the City Council's move to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance, which would protect gay men and lesbian women from being evicted, fired or denied services, Carroll was worried the ordinance would create a special, protected class (his words, not mine).

His statement left me scratching my head, so I emailed Mr. Carroll. I said that like him I too am raising a family in the Avenues. But unlike him, because I am a gay man, I could be evicted from our home, I could be fired from a job, I could be denied services. I told him I needed to vote for a candidate who is best for my family, and in this case it seemed to be Penfold.

To his great credit, he responded the next day. He told me that The Trib had simply gotten it wrong and that he did support passing the ordinance.

I thanked him for his response and added that the proposed ordinance was very significant to many people in the district. If The Trib had indeed gotten it wrong he should immediately contact them and get a correction.

No correction - not even a letter from Carroll - appeared in The Trib challenging its earlier statement. And two days prior to the election the paper reiterated his views on the subject.

On election day, Kelly, the boys and I walked into our polling station as a family. And I cast my vote for the guy whose views best reflected our family values: Stan Penfold.
I wasn't alone. Mr. Penfold was elected the Council's first openly gay member by a comfortable margin.

I guess there are a lot more of us family value types out there after all.

(Side note: earlier this week the Salt Lake City Council unanimously passed the anti-discrimination ordinance. And the added bonus: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ("the Mormons") threw its considerable weight solidly behind the ordinance. Thank you to Councilwoman Jill Remington Love for spearheading the efforts, thanks to her colleagues for voting "aye", and thanks to the LDS Church for standing up for what is right.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

A couple of days ago, The Salt Lake Tribune's lead story focused on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's announcement that he will not challenge U.S. Senator Bob Bennett for the Republican nomination. Shurtleff cited recent threats to the well being of his daughter, who suffers from mental illness, as his reason. I applaud the attorney general for putting the needs of his family over his own political ambition.

So, why am I writing about this? Because the story mentioned that the daughter in question is adopted.

To me there seems to be only two plausible reasons why the reporter or his editor (or Mr. Shurtleff if he was being quoted) was compelled to state the girl is not biologically Mr. Shurtleff's daughter. The first is to allay any concern that he shares DNA with this girl, and thus could also have mental health issues. The second is the belief that adopted children are somehow not "really" your child.

Personally, I'm not sure which is more offensive. The former shows great insensitivity to those with mental health struggles, while the latter reinforces the myth that somehow adoptive families aren't "real" families.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive. But can anyone imagine The Trib writing, "...his biological daughter was dealing with mental health issues and needed family support."? Well, can you? Then why add "adopted"?

All children struggle. Adopted children can (but of course not always) struggle with a sense of belonging and identity. Continuing to give life to the misguided notion that there are "real" families and "adoptive" ones only intensifies theses struggles.

Kelly and I are exceedingly lucky that we have the love and support of family and friends, who see only grandsons, nephews, godsons, and cousins free from any classification or segregation from any other members of the family. It's a pity not everyone shares that same vision.

I hope for the very best for the Shurtleffs and their daughter. Plain and simple.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

We experienced a little of all three over Halloween.

The good:

Let's face it, our costumes were simply fabulous!

Niko gets props for the best line of the night. After visiting his second house, he looked down into his bag, saw the candy and announced, "Hey! This really good idea!"

The bad:

We trick or treated out in Midvale so Yia yia, Papou and Uncle "Gaga" could see the kids. The number of people whose houses were dark was pretty astonishing. (But, don't worry, the boys scored enough candy to last well until Thanksgiving....even with Daddy and Papa appropriating a candy "tax" of a piece or two now and then!)

The ugly:

Still high on sugar, and not having eaten prior to Holy Communion, Sunday morning found Gus' blood sugar dropping faster than USC in the rankings. The lack of Halloween sugar in his system turned our delightful, well-mannered boy into, well, a monster. A meltdown of epic proportions ensued. We're talking Chernobyl level. Long and short, he had to skip church, missed Sunday School class pictures, and was forbidden from even looking at sugar for 24 hours. By dinner time he was back to his old, delightful self.

Next year, maybe we'll all be pirates: ARRRRRGH!

Friday, October 30, 2009

This is Not The Life I Expected

This morning, as I sat in the auditorium / lunchroom / gym at Ensign Elementary waiting for the Halloween parade to begin, I turned to Kelly and said, "This is not the life I expected".

I mean let's just take a look at my week:

Gus and Niko and I played football in the backyard. Gus is a natural quarterback - he has a great throwing arm but can't catch to save his life. After dinner we moved the game up to the park, where it morphed into one of the boys "hiking" the ball, Kelly or I handing it back off to them, and then chasing after them as they half screamed, half laughed themselves out of breath.

Then there was the snowball fight following the first real snow of the season (yes, to all the readers outside of the Mountain West - October is the start of snow season...). Gus relished being pelted by me as Niko sneaked up behind me to toss fist-fulls of snow at my butt.

And there was last night, when I carved our pumpkins - taking artistic direction from the boys - just as my dad had carved my pumpkins when I was a kid. Gus was uncontrollably excited about the mounds of candy he expects to receive, while Niko determined pumpkins go, "ooooooooooooh!" as he waved his arms around.

Tomorrow night I'll be dressed up at the request of the boys, so that all three of us can be vampires. I'll watch them go door-to-door asking for treats, watching how they handle the adults' not-all-that-funny question, "Where's my trick?", and I'll remind them to say thank you.

Yeah, thinking about it, this is definitely NOT the life I had expected. This one is definitely better.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Birthday Gifts

Today is Niko's 3rd birthday.

On my sons' birthdays, I always think about their mom - the woman who unknowingly gave me the greatest gift I've ever received: fatherhood. I wonder if she thinks about them, longs for them, speculates about their lives.

This morning at church I prayed for her. I prayed that she would know that her boys are in a loving home where they are part of a strong family - one that isn't quite Norman Rockwell but in which they are adored nonetheless. I prayed that she understood that their lives are filled with happiness and they are surrounded by people of all ages, who cherish them.

I prayed that if she thought of Niko today she smiled.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Of Mice and Men

The other night, I was watching a movie when out of the corner of my eye I saw a small, dark furry thing scurry by along the wall. We had a mouse. Another mouse actually. Earlier, Gracie the good dog had managed to catch and kill one in the back yard. But this little bugger was in our living room.

Kelly set a trap and we waited.

The next night I was sleeping when I heard the excited voices of the boys and Kelly. I figured it was morning and they were getting ready for school. But man was it dark. I wondered if maybe it was raining outside. But I couldn't hear any rain. Then I looked at the clock. It wasn't even 5:00 a.m. yet.

In my half-stupor I bellowed, "What the hell is going on?" And the boys ran into our room announcing that we had caught a mouse. Gus had actually discovered it when he was wandering out of his room for some unknown reason.

Here's the thing: since we're vegetarians for ethical reasons, we can't really be in favor of using traps that crush the little rodents' spinal cords now can we? We use humane traps, which means we literally had caught a mouse - freaking out in the little trap.

The problem with these humane traps is that you have to release the mouse. Kelly decided he'd walk it up to Lindsey Gardens Park, but when he went to transfer the mouse from the trap into a box, there was a bit of commotion, Kelly screamed like a girl, and the mouse tore off down the road. Or as Niko says, "Little baby rat took off like rocket!"

Over the next week we captured and released another 7 mice! It may have been 8, but the second captive may have been Rocket returned. Since there was no "evidence" of them anywhere in the house, we figure they must be coming from our creepy cellar. So during the day, the trap went down there.

We're trying to use this whole experience as an opportunity to teach the boys about respect for all life, about the ability to be kind to all animals - not just the cute ones you can pet. But I can't help but believe that one day as adults, when the conversation in a dorm room turns to the insanity of parents, these stories will take off out of their mouths like, well, like a rocket!

I can hear it now: "OK, I can beat that! My dads are all 'be kind to animals' and once we had a sh-t load of mice, but we couldn't kill em. We'd catch them and release them in the park up the street!"

Hey boys, you're being raised by a Greek guy, it's OK to embellish a little. Tell your future buddies that we put little radio transmitters around their necks before relocating them back to the game reserve just like on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Letter to My Son Gus


Tonight I wasn't a very good dad. No, wait, I'm a good dad, but today I didn't parent very well. I became frustrated while we were practicing for your weekly spelling test and I yelled. I'm sorry for that.

I should have known that you would focus on the number of times I thought we should run through the list. Especially with ice cream waiting. Practice makes perfect was my mantra growing up, it doesn't have to be yours. I should have recognized that a compromise was necessary when I noticed you had already written the first three words before I'd read even one (written them correctly, I might add).

But I didn't. Instead I made it a power struggle. I ended up yelling, you ended up crying - seeking refuge at Papa's side as Daddy looked increasingly unreasonable.

Doing well on tests was my thing. Proving I was "smart" was my issue. They don't need to be yours. Yes, I want you to do well on tests. Yes, I want people to understand you are smart. But I promise I'll try better to keep from unfairly burdening you with my own childhood insecurities.

I apologized to you tonight but you said you were still mad at me. I told you I didn't care. Of course I care. You're stubborn and strong-willed, just like I was as a kid. Yia yia tells me that's my payback for what I put her and Papou through growing up. Maybe she's right.

But here's the great thing about mistakes: we learn from them. Tonight I learned I'd rather not be someone who yells at his kids...especially over a spelling list. So I resolve to try better.

Don't get me wrong, you still need to do your very best. But maybe I'll step aside and let Papa practice these spelling lists with you.

And since I want you to look back on your childhood and remember far more good things than bad ones, tell ya what, Saturday morning we'll go for a run, just you and me. Deal?

Oh, and I'll tell you again in the morning, but Gus, I am really sorry that I yelled.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who's Your Daddy

This marks the maiden voyage of Who's Your Daddy. Over the coming posts, I plan on relating the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of being a dad. A gay dad at that.

The name comes from my monthly column for QSaltLake. (I need to check with the editor if it's OK to post the column on here). I hope it will serve as a expanded version of the column because being a dad in general is the most difficult and most rewarding "job" any man can take on. But when you consider our society's biases against gay men - especially when it comes to children - you've got whole knew series of challenges!

Having said that, I hope this blog will serve to (A) chronicle my experiences beyond the record the column provides; and (B) is seen as a resource for all men - gay and straight - as they navigate the crazy world of fatherhood.

I'm not perfect. I'm NOT the greatest father ever known. I make mistakes. But I'm qualified. Hell, today alone I also changed a DefCon Level 5 diaper, took a 3-year old on errands with me (and NOT to see his friend Erin as he believed), and helped a 6-year old struggling to sound-out reading words. Oh, and I made chili and chocolate chip cookies!

So, sit back and enjoy the armchair vantage point of my successes, my failures, my headaches and my joy of being a dad!