Category Archives: Bravery


LAST NIGHT WALKING BACK from a special-treat dinner at a pharmacy counter, my eight-year-old scientist asked if rum, whiskey, wine, beer, alcohol, and scotch were all the same kind of alcohol. So I told him about it, and since he recently learned about percentages, I explained what a liquor’s proof number means. He sees me with a glass sometimes, but never drunk, for which his only references are Captain Haddock in TINTIN and the sentries Toshiro Mifune gets soused on sake before he kills them in SANJURO.

That led to a conversation about the stages of drunkenness, which led to revelation of the existence of alcohol poisoning, and how it works, which led to the contexts in which it’s most likely to happen, which led to teenagers, young adults, and parties.

Which led to silence as I tried to decide what to tell them, what would scare them, and what they’d misinterpret.

So I asked what would happen if they drank, and the scientist said he’d want to run around and act silly, and I said what if you drank more and kept drinking? And he guessed he’d want to punch people for no reason, and I said, you’d pass out. Then I had to clarify what “pass out” means and this whole time, I’m wondering how much he even gets anything I’m saying. So if you pass out, I asked, what can happen to you?

You could fall down. People can laugh at you.

Take your money, I said. Punch you in the face. Draw on you with permanent marker. So here’s what you need to know. And I thought, am I going all the way with this tonight? Are they ready for this? Can I make it general enough that it doesn’t freak them out? So here’s what you need to know. What if you’re with someone who passes out? Then people can do those things to them. So if you’re with someone who passes out, you should probably watch out for them, and make sure those things don’t happen. Especially if it’s a girl.

Well that’s okay, he said, because girls don’t like to drink alcohol.

Sure they do, I said. Some do, some don’t. Some of your ideas about boys and girls are—they can do all the same things.

OK, he said.

But if it’s a girl who passes out…if you’re ever at a party and a girl passes out, sometimes there can be boys who will want to do bad things to her and hurt her.

But why? Why would anyone do that?

Because they’re not good people.

But why?

Because they’re not good people. So if you’re ever at a party, and there’s a girl who passes out, you be the one who looks out for her and keeps her safe. Right? So—what would you do?

I would punch them in the face!

Well, uh—no, you don’t have to punch anybody in the face, just make sure she’s safe, and tell the other people to knock it off.

Tell them to knock it off! That’s like how a grownup talks.

Yeah. But you be the good guys. Right? You be the ones who don’t let her get hurt. Got it?

Got it.

And then over to the silent boy who’s been holding my other hand: You interested in this?

Not really.

But he’s the one who listens when you don’t think he’s listening, and who nurtures and protects every child on the playground, and who a father once swore he wanted to marry his little daughter after he championed her safety during some swingset contretemps, and who thinks he’s a superhero, and whose safety my heart clutches for the most when he gets his chance to stand the good stand against villains he doesn’t realize use actual fists and boots, and it’s Dad who told him to do it.




Filed under Being a grownup, Bravery, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Gender, Kids, Parenting

David Brooks feels superior to you

FROM DAVID BROOKS’ New York Times article, Let’s All Feel Superior:

…a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption.

None of us? Not one? Really? Or are you just talking about yourself and the herd, David?

Because I don’t disagree that you and the herd are cowards.

IF I EVER have two seconds before a meteor hits me, and I want to tell my six-year-old boys what a man is, this is what I’ll say:

A man stands up.

If I misjudged the meteor and I have another thirty seconds or so, I explain that when I say “man,” it’s because of my personal associations with the word, not because women are excluded from the thought, and that because I have boys and need to address what they will do when they are men, I’m being specific with my language and we’re all male.

If it turns out it wasn’t a meteor, it was just a Nerf ball with orange streamers taped to it, I retrieve my glasses and return to my point:

Standing up is difficult. We’re trained since childhood to be good, be nice, be respectful of authority, do what all the other children are doing, strangle our natures for the good of the collective and the sanity of the teacher. Sheep training begins on day one of preschool. Sit still, don’t speak without raising your hand, don’t yell, don’t hit, don’t object, don’t allow yourself to be triggered when your sense of right and wrong is activated. Never take responsibility for halting an injustice. Leave the scene, find a teacher, and assume authority knows better than you do. Be a social animal. Go along to get along.

Here’s what I guess nobody ever taught you, David Brooks: To know you’re going to stand up, you have to decide what you’re going to do in advance when you walk around that corner and find that child being abused, because that’s the very moment when your herd mentality and your subordination to authority and fear of physical harm are going to kick in. Yeah, you got that much right in your article: You are going to feel those pressures and fears, your adrenaline is going to go crazy, and your moral blinders are going to slam shut.

But none of those—not one—is what you’re going to do next.

So what are you going to do next? Do you know? Apparently the answer is yes: You spent a whole Times article forgiving yourself, in advance, for doing nothing.

But you don’t speak for the grownups, child.

I DON’T THINK you even speak for the children. I think you speak for the Times writing you a check to get people mad.

BUT LET’S SAY I’m wrong, and you write things you really believe, with no consideration for the number of comments and page hits a little button-pushing gets you.

You invoked the Holocaust: I invoke Oskar Schindler.

You invoked Rwanda: I invoke Gisimba, Wilkens, and an unknown army major.

You invoke you: I invoke me.

The main difference between us, I imagine, is that I know who I can stand to be afterwards. I don’t know whether I’m strong enough to do it when an army is approaching—I haven’t been tested, hope not to be, and frankly doubt I’m up to that—but I know what I’ll do if I see a child being raped.

You say you don’t?

I accept that.

So many people do nothing while witnessing ongoing crimes, psychologists have a name for it: the Bystander Effect. The more people are around to witness the crime, the less likely they are to intervene.

THIS IS TRUE and incontrovertible.

It also doesn’t support your premise. It’s about groups. It has little bearing on one person encountering one person committing an atrocity on one person.

May I, and those who believe as I do, be given the opportunity to prove ourselves. Because it will mean that when someone needs help, we—not you and the herd—are there.

For some of us, it’s a test we will feel the need to rise to.

Some of us won’t.

Some of us will.



Filed under Being a grownup, Bravery, Community, Favorite, Kids, Parenting, Whatever

Little Big Heart

I SAW THE BACK WHEEL of the little yellow bike flip up in the air and a little body go over the handlebars. He hit face-first on pavement. It wasn’t a little-kid impact. If it happened in a mountain bike race, they’d suck their breath through their teeth and cut to slow-mo.

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Filed under Bicycling, Bikes, Bravery, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting