Tuesday, May 8, 2018

There Comes a Time In Every Man's Life

My "WTF? Expression." Photo credit: Jordan Mattingly
An excerpt from Dating,Getting to First Base: Dating, Sex, and Relationships The Second Time Around


As autumn turned to winter in 2008, my children were still pretty young. My oldest was on the verge of young womanhood at 11-years old, while her sister was a precocious eight-years old. The Blue-Eyed Devil (aka The Favorite Son), just four, had just started his second year of preschool, the three day a week version. As for me, I’d been a single father on his own who’d been responsible for his three children and dating, learning about myself, other people, and the singles scene, for almost four years. It was into this environment I introduced Sonia.

After a few dates with Sonia, there was nothing that I discovered that would give me pause about involving her more in my life. Candidly, if we “wanted to find out where this will go, or if there is even anything we can call a this,” then we needed to spend more time together. Because I didn’t want to reduce the parenting time I had with my children or their time with me, I introduced Sonia.

Photo Credit: Wendy Neidich
Sonia and the kids took to one another like a flower to sunshine. While Sonia had surely experienced a wide range of emotions in her work with pediatric cancer patients, she radiated love and tenderness onto my daughters and son who soaked it up and blossomed. Simultaneously, Sonia reflected their energy and bloomed in her own way.

Sonia worked a rigorous four-day a week schedule at her hospital, starting early and working very long hours. For her, Friday was the first day of the weekend. After catching up on her sleep and working out, she often started her weekend by making the drive from her metro New York City apartment to the lower Hudson Valley. That schedule worked well for me, too, because I worked for a couple of hours in the morning while my son was in school. After my trip to the preschool for pick-up and then home for lunch, Sonia was on her way and usually not far from my house.

Depending on the time in the afternoon she pulled in to the driveway, we’d go to the park with my son. If it was later and my daughters had also gotten home from school, we might cook dinner, once in a while go out to eat. For dessert, we’d have the cookies or granola that Sonia always brought with her. Depending on the weather, stay in for a movie night or visit the local drive-in. In no time, it seemed the energy that Sonia and I had created was comfortable and very nice.

For months, Sonia and I adhered to what an old friend of mine called a “beautiful rut.” One week in four or five, I’d make the trip to New Jersey to her place, but Sonia understood the logistics of the kids’ schedules, sitters, and so forth, and made things easy for me. Through the fall and winter holidays and into the spring, we maintained our beautiful rut, during which she and I balanced time between spending time together alone on dates and interacting together with my daughters and son. Frankly, that balance was probably tilted a little toward the latter considering the strong chemistry that existed naturally between Sonia and my children.

I really don’t understand the variables that constitute the “It,” or that magical, exciting, romantic chemistry that one person feels toward another person. I don’t know if it’s the “pheromones, those elusive, odorless chemicals given off in response to sexual stimulation or even romantic fantasy[i],” facial or body symmetry, which “shows that an individual has the genetic goods to survive development, is healthy, and is a good and fertile choice for mating[ii],” or if it’s something else entirely that creates that It.

I’d gotten to know Sonia after previously dating, having become friends who occasionally talked on the telephone and corresponded via email, and then, finally, getting to know her in the framework of my family life. She couldn’t have been more perfect. She was attractive. She was intelligent. She had a heart of gold. She was good to me. Practically, she had absolutely nothing tying her to one place, neither her children because she didn’t have any, nor mine because they’d connected so well, nor even necessarily her job considering her skill was in such a high demand. So, I was completely baffled when, after several months, the It didn’t happen for me.

"There comes a time in every man's life, and I've had plenty of them.”
-Casey Stengel

Try Elevate Coffee. Click HERE.

[i] “Love Is All in Your Head – Or Is It in Your Genes?” Laura Barclay, MD. WebMD Health News. February 14, 2001.
[ii]“Rules of Attraction in the Game of Love.” Bjorn Carey. LiveScience.com. February 13, 2006.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Favorite Son Saga: Only One Green Jacket

Master's champion Patrick Reed receiving his green jacket.
The weekend before last, The Favorite Son (TFS) and I watched on television the final round of the Master's Tournament. TFS's favorite golfer is Tiger Woods, but we didn't get to see much of him during the last round.

As final rounds go, the final 18 holes at August National this year was fairly entertaining. Patrick Reed finished at -15, holding off Rickie Fowler (-14) and Jordan Spieth (-13), who tied a Master's Tournament record with a final round of nine under par.

With Fowler in the clubhouse at -14, Reed continued to make great shots and clutch putts as he came in. TFS asked, "What happens if two players tie?"

I answered, "The golfers who finish 72 holes, tied, play sudden-death holes until one player scores better than the other or others."

TFS thought for a moment and, finally, said, "Well, there's only one green jacket."

Ain't it the truth?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Harmful to Children? Introducing Dad's Girlfriend

The Perfect Woman may not be so perfect.

True story.

A widower of three years, the father of a middle-school age daughter, and an all-around solid-citizen and good man uses an on-line dating app. After many starts and stops, the widower single father (WSF) finally meets a woman, who seems too good to be true. She’s educated. She’s unusually attractive. She lives only one town away from the WSF. She enjoys the same kinds of recreation and hobbies that he enjoys. She has children of her own. She appears to be as attracted to him as he is to her. She’s the whole package. WSF wonders, “Could I be so lucky to find a second true love in one lifetime?”

Within a couple of weeks and after a flurry of wondrous honeymoon-phase dates, the woman and WSF are physically intimate. WSF is even more astounded; the woman beautiful and generous and patient. A few more days pass, and WSF introduces the woman to his daughter. WSF introduces the woman to his family. WSF introduces her to his late wife’s family.

The woman begins to stay the night with WSF’s his house. Rather than sleeping in his bed, however, the woman stays in in the bedroom with WSF’s daughter so as not to suggest any inappropriate behavior between WSF and her. WSF’s little girl who experienced the most heartbreaking loss that she could possibly imagine, the death of her mother just three years earlier, quickly begins to connect in a very profound way with the woman. Within two weeks, WSF has introduced his daughter to the woman’s children. WSF includes the woman in a family holiday celebration. WSF’s daughter begins to refer to woman as, “Mommy.”

Literally, within a month, WSF has what he believes is a life partner. Moreover, his daughter not only has a new mother, but almost instantly, he and his daughter have an ostensibly big, spirited family including the woman's children. “Although it may be a little soon,” WSF thinks to himself, “I know what I want. I want to make this woman my wife.”

WSF buys an engagement ring and, at Christmas, plans to ask the woman to marry him. Then, three weeks before the special day and only about two months after WSF’s first date with her, the woman abruptly ends the relationship to pursue a relationship with another man.

Uh, no. If you're wondering, I'm not the WSF in this case.


Not only did the woman devastate WSF and break his fragile heart, she also, very literally, traumatized the man’s daughter who developed a very profound connection with the woman.

As single fathers, our first responsibility is to our children.
Is the woman at fault for creating additional suffering in the widower’s life and in the life of WSF’s innocent daughter? Well, yeah. What were the woman's intentions with WSF and his daughter? Frankly, it doesn't really matter.

As adults, we should know that there are people in the world who don’t have our best interests at heart and may even intend to do us harm. Heck, we have locks and security systems at our homes and businesses to prevent those who want to injure us or steal from us from doing so. Should we as single men, whether divorced or widowers, be any less cautious when it comes to protecting our hearts and the well-being of our children?

The answer is, obviously, “Of course, not.”

When should we as single fathers introduce our children to a woman with whom we have a relationship?

In The Single Father’s Guide to Life,Cooking, and Baseball, I included among my “Single Father Golden Rules, “It should be an exception that you introduce your children to your romantic interest, and do so only if you are reasonably certain there is potential for a relatively long-term relationship.” While true, what does that actually mean? In my estimation, there are two, perhaps three factors a single father should consider when introducing his children to his romantic interest.

Before a single father even considers dating, much less introducing his children to his romantic interest, the single father should first make sure he’s ready to date. The single dad has had a meaningful relationship with his wife or committed partner end through divorce or death. When something as important as a marriage or committed relationship ends, we tend to feel loss and must grieve. One important step for a man to become “ready” to have another relationship is to fully grieve the loss. If there was a behavior that directly contributed to the end of that relationship, perhaps an addiction or other detrimental habit, the single father should resolve those behaviors before starting a new relationship. Otherwise, that new relationship will also be doomed to fail. Why even considering involving children in a relationship that will not last?

Next, in terms of the example of our widower with the middle school-age daughter, a single dad should really know something or, more accurately, quite a bit about the woman he’s dating before he introduces his child or children to her. At the very least, WSF should have waited several weeks, if not several months, before he introduced his daughter to the woman. While a woman may not have malicious intent, she may have. Maybe, she was just ignorant about her own behavior, desires, or intent. She may not have been emotionally healthy. A single dad may be infatuated; he may be lonely. Still, the single father has a responsibility to protect his children. 

Perhaps a third determinant is a child’s age. A single father may make one decision about introducing a romantic interest to a child who is 17-years old and a different decision if child who is seven-years old. Obviously, the older the child, the more likely the child is to have realistic expectations about his dad's girlfriend. In general, a single father should take more time with his romantic interest if he has younger children. Had WSF taken just three months, for example, the woman he dated would never even met WSF's daughter. While WSF may still have had his heart broken, he would have spared his daughter the pain of enduring another devastating and, perhaps, life-altering loss in her life.

Considering all of the people in the world who carry relationship baggage, emotional scars, and unreasonable expectations, dating is tedious and exasperating . . . on a good day. When you combine parenting and dating, well, I’m not sure if it’s like mixing oil and water – they don’t, or if it’s like mixing nitric acid and glycerol – they become volatile.

If in doubt, the best course of action is to first consider a child's welfare. Of course, a single father can’t make a mistake if he waits until his kids are in college before he introduces a romantic interest. By then, kids will probably think that Dad waited too long to introduce them to his romantic partner, but what do they know?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

GUEST BLOGGER Alisa Pittaluga: Boyhood Is Not a Disease

The Favorite Son: competing and being a boy.
Why we are failing our sons and what we need to do about it?

The current ages of my three sons span from toddler to teen, and so my world is now consumed with everything boy. My oldest child who recently left for college, is not only a beautiful young woman, but also a convenient model for comparison in my now boy-centered world. I am worried about my boys. I believe boys in this country are in trouble. How many boys, compared to the number of girls do you know who have been diagnosed with a learning disability? How about prescribed psychiatric medication? Diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder? Diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Autism?   

A lot more boys, right?

Our education system, our culture, and our medical professionals have been waging war on boys. Elementary schools today are staffed mostly by women. Anyone who has ever worked in a female dominated workplace knows that the atmosphere is much different than in a male dominant work place. Young boys are brimming with energy, which is not appreciated in elementary schools today. Assignments, topics, rules, and expectations are all geared toward female students. From the time they start kindergarten, boys get that message that their activity level and interests are wrong. Add Common Core to the equation and now you have over-stressed teachers trying to cram developmentally inappropriate curriculum into too small a time span. Truncated recess and physical education to make more time for classroom instruction confound the traditional male learning style.

Expectations for kindergarten students today are equivalent to the expectations for a second-grader just a generation ago There is little socialization play and significant book learning and computer time. This approach is a disservice to young children who are multi-sensory, learn through movement, touch, sound and vision. A one-dimensional medium, i.e. looking at a screen, does not produce learning. By contrast countries with the best education systems, such as Japan and Finland, incorporate much more play and movement into the early years. And no testing. Other countries know and acknowledge the basics about boys: boys are less able to sit than girls, boys require more physical activity.

Now in the United States, kindergarteners come home and, rather than being able to play after their long day of sitting in school, regularly have an hour of homework. Five-year old boys are routinely diagnosed with ADHD because they can’t sit through kindergarten (or their homework) and are medicated. These medications have short term and long-term side effects. And, medicating gives the message to boys that they are not okay the way they are and a pill is the solution to all problems. Is this really a message we want to give our young boys when drug addiction is an out-of-control problem in this country already?

Our culture has become outrageously and ridiculously hyper-sensitive. Any form of aggression is not okay. Anything even resembling a weapon is not okay. Competition is not okay. Standing up for yourself is not okay. Killing animals for food is not okay. Being too loud is not okay. Even looking at a woman in the “wrong way” is not okay. Men and boys are in a precarious position.

A seven-year old student in Maryland was suspended from school for
using his imagination and making his Pop-Tart look like a gun.
The natural instinct of the human male is to protect, to fight when threatened, and to compete for power. Men are driven by their desire for respect. A man who does not protect his family and stand up against a threat cannot gain respect. Yet, the feminization of our culture communicates boys from the earliest age that all of their instincts are wrong. Let’s face it, if you watch two eight-year old boys playing there is a lot of noise and a lot of aggression. There is usually some type of made up weapon, wrestling, screaming and shoving and . . . they love it. This play, common among many mammals and, in particular, most primates, develops skills in boys that will make them develop into strong men. However, these behaviors are no longer permitted in our schools.

Recently, my son told me that he was playing football at recess. He had the ball and elbowed his friend out of the way while running. The lunch monitor pulled him out and screamed over and over “Why would you do that?” My other son pushed another boy at recess because the boy told him he was a better football player. The boy pushed back and they moved on. I received a call from the school from the principal who said to me, “I’m not sure why they would do that.” I responded, “They’re boys. That’s the reason.”

At home, we are a firearm responsible family and have guns and a gun safe where the firearms are securely stored. My husband hunts and teaches my boys to hunt. I believe if we eat meat, my sons may as well know where it meat comes from. There are people that won’t let their kids near a house with a gun. And believe it or not, many boys want to hunt. Hunting was the basis of society and was rite of passage for boys throughout history. Yet, boys are unable to talk about hunting in school. At Thanksgiving years ago, my preschool age son drew a picture of a turkey and told the teacher we chopped the head off and then cooked it. Not surprisingly, his teacher asked for a special conference to discuss the “situation”. 

As an Occupational Therapist (OT), my job is to evaluate and improve the child’s level of functioning. I have learned in my 18 years of being a therapist that the there is always a reason for a behavior. OTs are put in a unique position. Because OTs do not diagnose conditions or prescribe medication, many have become master sleuths to answer the question, “Why does this child behave the way she (he) does?” We have to look beyond the most likely causes and consider the less than obvious- like sleep, lights, sounds, touch, and reflexes. Did the child start the behavior after a certain food? After a vaccine? After being in a crowded loud room? Behavior is a symptom. Even nonverbal kids give clues. A ten-month old who repeatedly bangs his head on the floor is suffering from brain swelling from a vaccine reaction and is trying to relieve the pressure in his head. The autistic child who becomes aggressive after lunch just ate gluten and now has severe stomach pain.

Health management organizations and socialized medicine encourages quantity and not quality. As such, doctors now spend less than five minutes with patients. There is absolutely no way they can get to the root of the problem in that amount of time. A parent goes to the pediatrician and says her son won’t sit still in school. Rather than an answer and a course of treatment, the parent leaves with a prescription. Unfortunately, medicating the symptom without resolving the problem only exacerbates the problem and long-term side-effects from the medication can be profound. 

So, how can we save our boys?

Do your homework. Question everything that is injected, prescribed, or fed to your son. Do your research. The number of vaccines given to children has quadrupled since the mid 80's. Kids eat more sugar and processed food than real food. Children take more medications than ever before. Still, diagnoses of childhood diseases including autism, ADHD, and obesity among others have never in our history been more prevalent. And, research suggest the biological make-up of boys is such that they react more severely to toxins in food, medications and vaccines. Hence, this may contribute to the increase in diagnoses among boys.
There are many health professionals who can get your son on the right track such as chiropractors, naturopaths, functional medicine doctors and craniosacral practitioners, to name a few. Consider how your son spends the majority of his school day. The environment where he spends his time is crucial to his self-esteem and well-being. The academic success of a five-year old is not the are not the most important thing. Consider his emotional health first or he will be less likely to be successful in the long run.

There are alternatives to public school including home-school and private school. A parent can put all the boy-friendly activity and boy-friendly curriculum you want into the day. There are many great private schools out there that offer more hands on and outdoor activities for boys.  And many of them will work with you on finances. If circumstances preclude home schooling or private schools, there is still much a parent can do within the constraints of the local public schools. Remember, generally, teachers are not the enemies. They, too, are trying to survive under immense pressure. Have and open dialogue with your son’s teachers about movement and sensory breaks throughout the day. Many teachers may be more than willing to bring these things into the classroom. Say no to homework in the early grades and opt out of standardized testing to relieve the stress on your son. Most teachers will accept your limits on homework if you explain up front that your child is having trouble with the amount assigned. Help your son select boy-friendly research topics and boy-friendly books. Introduce these to the teacher if they are not already used. There are even books on finding boy-friendly books.

Alisa Pittaluga
And lastly, let your boy be a boy. Restrict screen time. Let him play in the dirt, wrestle, fight, run, and yell. Let him take risks. Question everything. Resist the culture and teach your sons that being a boy is not wrong.

Having earned an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from New York University, Alisa Pittaluga has worked in pediatric occupational therapy with infants through teenagers for nearly two decades. She is the mother of three boys, ages 2, 10 and 14, and a 19-year old daughter. Alisa lives with her husband of 20 years and her children in Orange County, New York.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hilarious Dating Quotes

Garry Shandling
"I'm dating a homeless woman. It was easier talking her into staying over."

Dave Attell
"I was on a date with this really hot model. Well, it wasn't really a date-date. We just ate dinner and saw a movie. Then the plane landed."

David Spade
"I'm a gentleman and I was always taught it's rude to talk about a woman's age or weight unless you are breaking up with her."

Joey Adams
"Never let a fool kiss you, or a kiss fool you."

Clark Gable
"It is an extra dividend when you like the girl you've fallen in love with.

Larry David
"Golf and dating don’t mix."

Matthew S. Field
"There should be a CarFax for single women. If you were interested in dating a woman, you could check her major accidents, hidden problems, whether she’s a lemon, and warranty information."

Alex Reed
"I hate first dates. I made the mistake of telling my date a lie about myself, and she caught me. I didn’t think she’d actually demand to see the bat cave."

Rodney Dangerfield
"I like to date schoolteachers. If you do something wrong, they make you do it over again."

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Java Junkie: My 30-Day Trial of Elevate Coffee

A lot of folks around here are waking up to Elevate Brew Coffee.
(Image courtesy of Marie Molnar)
So, in the little town where I live, there’s been sort a groundswell for a healthy coffee called Elevate. I decided to check it out for myself. Wait, I think I’m getting ahead of myself a little.

Let me start again.

I meet a friend for coffee a few times a week. A little more than a month ago, my friend, who's a professional fitness athlete, told about an instant coffee she'd started to drink and suggested that I try it.

I said, “Instant coffee? Um, no thanks.”

After a few more days, my friend told me that this instant coffee, Elevate, was really changing her life. She told me about another mutual friend, a local business owner, had been drinking the coffee and lost a ton of weight.

I said, “Yeah, that’s great. Whatever.”

Finally, my friend gave me a couple of single serve packets so I could try it myself. So, I did. Frankly, the first time I drank a cup of Elevate, well, I felt . . . different. It was good feeling. It wasn’t so much the taste, but the way it made me feel.

During my single father journey, admittedly, I’ve become a java junkie. On a typical morning, I'd drink a half a pot of coffee, or about eight cups, at home. Then, have a couple of more cups at a café during the day. Ironically, I’d drink as much as a half-gallon of coffee a day, but I’d still crashed every afternoon. I had tried everything I've heard would eliminate the afternoon crash from Vitamin B to 5-Hour Energy and Red Bull, but nothing worked for me. Literally, there were days when traveling for business I’d have have to stop at a highway rest stop to catnap.

I’d drink as much as a half-gallon of coffee a day, but I’d still crashed every afternoon.

After drinking one cup of Elevate a day for a few days in a row, I noticed a couple of other effects from the coffee that gave me pause. I resolved to do a test, albeit not necessarily scientific. Using myself as the guinea pig, I resolved drink one cup of Elevate Brew Coffee each morning for a month and report my findings. My 30-Day Elevate Test ended on Saturday, March 4, 2018. These are the results.

Company marketing materials claim:

Drinking Elevate Brew Coffee will help you lose weight, feel great, and change the way your brain craves the wrong foods. We attach the root of your bad food eating habits in your brain while suppressing your appetite. Your body will reboot, burn more calories, and speed up your metabolism.

Included on the list of ingredients, Elevate’s “proprietary blend,” are caffeine anhydrase and other natural stimulants from a number of sources including dark roast coffee, espresso, cocoa, green tea, and green coffee extract. Another ingredient, chromium polynicotinate reportedly helps to improve the effectiveness of insulin to keep blood sugar at an optimal level and reduce carbohydrate cravings.  Other claims made by Elevate include more natural energy, more clarity and focus, elevated positive mood, memory booster, increase metabolism, curb hunger cravings, eliminate jitters, and lose weight naturally.

In spite of the “official” name, Elevate is not a “brew coffee.” No one will confuse the taste of Elevate with brewed coffee or a pour-over using good, fresh-ground beans. Frankly, Elevate’s a little bit bitter and has a hint of an herb flavor. It certainly isn’t any worse than Sanka, though, which I would occasional choke down during my college days when cramming. I drink my coffee black, but my friend who drinks it adds a little bit of non-dairy creamer to take the edge off.

Did Elevate deliver more energy for me? Absolutely. Whereas, I would drink eight cups of regular coffee a day, one Elevate each day immediately stopped my afternoon crash. Elevate’s claim that its coffee does not create “jitters” has been true for me. Finally, at the end of the day when it was time to sleep, wow, did I sleep well? Yes, I did. I slept the sleep of the innocent, although there is still some question about the state of my innocence.

At the end of the day when it was time to sleep, wow, did I sleep well? Yes. I slept the sleep of the innocent, although there is still some question about the state of my innocence.

One, rather irritating, consequence of drinking one cup of Elevate is the diuretic affect it had on me. For about the first two weeks, I had to empty my bladder on the hour, if not more frequently. Frankly and pardon the reference, I had to (urinate) like a race horse on Lasix. Because of the increase in urination frequency, I was often thirsty. I estimate I drank a gallon or more of water each day to remain hydrated. The good news? The diuretic influence of the coffee moderated to almost normal during the third week.

For me, the weight loss impact has been moderate. The first time I stepped on a scale was on Day 5 of my 30 Day Elevate Test. I’d lost four pounds. However, I’m certain that weight loss was water. On Day 7, I stepped on the same scale and I’d gained back two pounds. My net loss wast two. My weight did not change by as much as an ounce for almost three weeks. Then, on day 25 when I stepped on the scale, I dropped those two pounds again and I'm pretty sure that is real weight loss and not just water. So, my net loss is about four pounds, which is within the range of my regular weight fluctuation. My professional athlete friend lost exactly 5% of her body weight in roughly five weeks. The business owner whose body type is similar to mine has dropped 15 pounds.

And, yes, my craving for carbohydrates has declined precipitously. I had been in the habit of munching on nachos or chips ‘n’ salsa while watching a ball game in the evening before bed. Now, I rarely eat again after having dinner at around six o’clock each evening.

As far as the other claims about providing more clarity and focus, an elevated positive mood, and a boosted memory, I’m not sure Elevate has really done any of those things. I’m usually in a pretty good mood and I don’t think Elevate has had any impact.

Want to learn more? Click HERE.

One unintended consequence that has turned out to be a nice benefit, at least for me, is some money saving. During a typical month, I’d go through at least two pounds of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at home at a cost of $10 per bag. Then, I’d buy more coffee at a café on weekdays, or on at least 20 days during the month at $5 per day. In total, I spend about $120 each month on coffee. Now, I only want (need) one cup of Elevate each day to satisfy my coffee and caffeine appetite. Considering month’s supply of Elevate is $50, I saved about $70 this month. Now, rather than sipping coffee all morning and during the early afternoon, I drink lemon water instead.

Bottom line? While I’m not sure every one of Elevate’s claims were true for me, the benefits that have impacted me have been well worth the investment. I’ve had the energy to avoid “hitting the wall” in the afternoon. My food cravings have curtailed, but the jury is still out whether it will have a material impact on my body mass index. Anecdotally, I know a people who have lost weight while drinking Elevate. My biggest complaint, the diuretic aspect of Elevate, was distracting for a couple of weeks. However, that hadn’t been as much as an issue as the month progressed.

Snake oil?

I don’t think so. In fact, solely based on the fact that Elevate has eliminated my afternoon crash, I recommend it to people who experience a similar problem. If it also makes people get healthier by assisting weight loss and reducing the likelihood of diseases linked to obesity like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis, among others, well, that’s pretty good, too.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Favorite Son Saga: I Wouldn't Want To Be His Friend

TFS: Stylin', profilin', and always
ready with the one-linin'.
Both The Favorite Son (TFS) and I have a Spotify account. Because I tend to be unable to tolerate his mix of songs, it's my Spotify that is usually played on a blue tooth speaker at home or in the car.

One of the songs on my playlist is the Jim Carroll Band's People Who Died. It's a pretty groovin' tune, but it's also pretty depressing as Jim Carroll sings the list of people in his life who have, well, died. He even describes the method each of his friends met their demise:

G-Berg 'n' Georgie let the gimmicks go rotten,
So, they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head.
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night that he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine.
Two more friends that died. I miss 'em. They died.

Recently, People Who Died came up in the Spotify queue on the car stereo as I drove TFS to the bus stop. We listened for a few seconds when TFS guilelessly commented, "I wouldn't want to be this guy's friend."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What We Can Do RIGHT NOW To Prevent Another School Shooting

Well, let me start by saying that I am heartbroken for the Parkland, Florida parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who were senselessly murdered on Wednesday by the coward Nikolaus Cruz. I can hardly fathom the anguish a parent feels as he or she mourns and tries to make sense of the death of a child. The only consolation I can offer to the parents, families, and friends of the victims in the context of this incomprehensible tragedy is, “I’m so very sorry.”

A popular image on Facebook and Instagram recently.
Immediately after the Parkland, Florida massacre on Valentine’s Day, the hand-wringing, finger pointing, and politicization of the tragedy began in earnest. Social media has made every damned moron in the world a political spin doctor. Supporters of gun control point fingers at supporters of gun rights directing culpability to President Trump, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Congress. Some claim gun rights supporters care more about guns than children. On the other hand, gun rights supporters assert that the anti-gunners would take away the rights of responsible citizens to own firearms for protection and sport and leave guns in the hands of only those who would do us harm including criminals, the mentally ill, and a hypothetically tyrannical government.

Social media has made every damned moron in the world a political spin doctor.

Reasonable people, and many unreasonable people as well, continue to debate meaning of Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Short of a Constitutional Convention, during which the efficacy and legitimacy of the United States Constitution would be debated and, perhaps, changed, the Second Amendment remains and continues to be debated in the context of gun laws in the United States.

Nathan G weighs in.
While that debate continues, little has changed and school shootings continue. Even as those opponents spar over the value of existing laws, Congress is frequently blamed for the snarl of new gun control legislation. It seems when it comes creating legislation, the more disputed an issue is, the less effective the compromise. The House passes a bill, the Senate changes it to satisfy enough senators to get a majority, and thereby dilutes the original intention. So, it is with our bicameral legislature.

Frankly, I don't think any sane person wants these sorts of tragedies to happen ever again. Considering the strong, opposing views relating to firearms and the current bearing of the United State Congress and Senate, however, what can realistically be achieved to keep our schools and our children safe?

Perhaps, an answer lies within our local school districts rather than with Congress.

A community elects a school board to represent the preferences of a community as they relate to how its children are educated. Board members are our neighbors and, often, our friends. Those elected board members establish education guidelines in the context of federal and state mandates and the collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union. While education is a school district’s principal charter, support services like administration, custodial services, student transportation and, yes, even security are within the purview of the school board. It turns out, a school board has many options at its disposal to help insure the security and safety of its students and employees.

An option that has been bandied is the use of armed security. “Some school districts are already moving in that direction. In September, a state board in Arkansas voted to allow 13 school districts to train their teachers and staff as armed guards, and at least seven states – including Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Washington – have armed guards in schools.[i]” School districts in New Jersey “ . . . will now be allowed to hire a retired police officer under the age of 65 who has the training as a police officer, has had a career as a police officer. They will be able to hire them to be an officer in the school. He will be allowed to carry a gun as long as he continues with the requirements for the permit.[ii]” However, the use of armed guards is not permitted in many states and some school administrators may express concern about the vetting process for privately contracted armed guards.

Both sides of the debate have statistics to support their position.
Some school districts have created the position of “Student Resource Officer (SRO)” and have partnered with local police departments to fill those positions. The SRO is a law-enforcement officer employed by the municipality’s police department. The SRO’s job description involves student character education. The SRO may almost be an extension of the school guidance department as he or she forms constructive relationships with students. The SRO potentially identifies at-risk situations among students and follows up with the school or even a student’s family. An SRO may also act as a deterrent of drug use/dealing, cyber-bullying, and even technology threats. Of course, as a member of the local police department, an SRO carries a side-arm, which both may discourage a school shooting or stop an active shooter.

Both the option of a third-party armed guard and an SRO is an expense. For example, the annual cost of each SRO to a school district including salary, benefits, and mandatory pension contribution may be $125,000 or more. It would be up to the constituents in a district to approve a school budget which includes such positions.

Reasonable people, and many unreasonable people as well, continue to debate meaning of Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Another and, likely, less costly option is for a school district to develop a partnership with local law enforcement agencies. Such a partnership may require the leadership of a school district including a superintendent and board members to identify opportunities to develop that relationship. Perhaps, a superintendent of schools invites a police chief to attend and participate in or hold a non-voting position at school board meetings. A superintendent of schools may join and participate in a local chamber of commerce or attend Police Benevolent Association meetings to foster those professional relationships.

No citation for this meme found on Facebook.
Using those relationships as a foundation, school district leadership can brainstorm with law enforcement ways to improve safety and security at the schools. Some ideas that may come from the partnership include random visits, assemblies, or even linking police vehicles and/or police dispatch to school cameras. Such a partnership would probably not be difficult to develop. After all, not only is it in the police department’s best interest to prevent potential criminal activity in its jurisdiction, many police officers themselves have children in school.

Still another effective control is a monitored secure vestibule for school visitors. A secure vestibule for visitors when they enter a school can provide time to check identification and, for a potentially dangerous person, contain that person in that secure space and prevent him or her from entering the student area. Many school already employ a greeter, although a capital expenditure approval would have to be granted, again, by voters to construct or modify a building for the secure vestibule.

Other ways our school districts have to help insure the safety of students and faculty at our schools include:

• Eliminate building master keys in favor of key cards or biometric verification access issued only to background-checked, authorized school district staff;

• Use exterior surveillance cameras at automobile entrances for license plate verification and checks;

• Require regular parent and other non-faculty volunteers to complete background checks;

• Install contact alarms on all non-monitored doors.

Clearly, not all solutions that a school district can undertake are appropriate for all school districts. Moreover, these and other safety and security practices and tools are small pieces that create a much larger safety and security tapestry. Some of what may work in St. Louis, Missouri, for example, may not work in Brooklyn, New York. On the other hand, the same tools that work in Baltimore, Maryland may also work in San Antonio, Texas. Factors including finances, building limitations, and voter preferences will determine the protocols a school district will undertake.

Until a Constitutional Convention is convened to resolve, once and for all, what the Second Amendment of the Constitution means, we have a better chance to agree about ways to protect our children from gun violence within our own school districts than Congressional members from St. Louis, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, and San Antonio, Texas have on agreeing on gun legislation.

Of course, no solution will be completely effective. However, hand-wringing and special-interest social media debate is, clearly, accomplishing nothing. By proactively tailoring a safety and security plan to a school district and, more specifically, to each school that includes a combination of these and other tools and practices, we can reduce, possibly to nearly zero, the chance that another tragedy like the one in Parkland, or Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or . . . will ever happen again.

[i] “How Schools Are Working to Prevent School Shootings.” Allie Bidwell. U.S. News & World Report. January 15, 2014.
[ii] “NJ Schools Can Hire Retired Police Officers for Security.” Briana Vannozzi. NJTV News. December 2, 2016.