Monday, August 11, 2014

An Even Dozen Anniversaries in the Books: Cars, Sports and The notion of Balance

As the Mrs. and I prepared to celebrate another year of partnership, we were blessed with the news that she had sold her first TV show.  Aside from all of the euphoria that followed immediately after, it was a reminder of what can happen when you stick to the plan you have set out to reach your goals.  These milestones become even sweeter when we reach them now as they happen within the context of trying to raise our boys to be responsible citizens who will grow to pursue their own passions knowing that their parents are there at their back every step of the way which is no easy task.  Plotting out how to achieve these professional and familial goals at the same damn time has been one of the lessons for me this year and I have found myself seeking out the advice of my marriage mentors more than ever.

Lil Man discovered a passion this summer for baseball and it took over our world this summer.  He not only completed his first season of Little League, but was honored with a spot on his age group All-Star team.  This commitment meant more practices and weekend-long tournaments that changed the way weekend family time was constituted.  Date nights became more sparse, and it became more necessary to plan time to catch up and make sure that we were still on the same page.  In the span of year, we went from a rec league mindset to the borders of travel ball land, no small feat.  I'm wary of specialization and want to hold it off as long as possible, but it's no easy task when Lil Man would happily play everyday year-round.  The increased commitment to kid activities means the excitement of seeing game winners and winning tournaments.  However, it also means professional sacrifices need to be made.

In order to be the parent that I want to be, the kind who is present to witness as many kid "firsts" as possible, there's some things that won't happen.  I haven't been able to be as civically active as I'd like, I didn't get to go out and get my "Married to the Franchise" world tour on in the way that I would've liked, but the book is done, and I will always have time to spread the word.  One of the things I learned this summer is that a passion project is by definition a pursuit that is meant to stay in the background, until the time that it becomes the main hustle.  It doesn't take precedent over making sure we find the right day care for Munchkin or make sure that Lil Man is prepared for school to start.  Somehow with all that's going on Nkechi and I have found enough creativity to maintain the excitement of our partnership.

I had good reason to pat myself on the back about when I successfully surprised the Mrs. with a new ring set at my book signing.  With the increasing number of days when we don't get to go to bed together, I feel it necessary to not just say "I love you" and "I appreciate you", but to create moments that show it.  I know that she feels pressure to continue to excel in her profession and these special moments are meant for her to understand that I've got her back and she doesn't have to feel like she has to be superhuman.  The thing that continues to make us work is that she has the same mindset.  This week she matched my new ring set by surprising me with a new car, complete with bows.  Her message came through loud and clear, and all I could muster was a "Thank you".  So now we start Year 13 working on getting TV shows on the air, winning CIF titles, and raising Rhodes Scholars.  Looking forward to what another year of work will bring.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Contract Extension for the Franchise, Navigating the Waters of Sports Parenthood

Most dudes figure out the most elaborate plan that they can to propose to the one that they want to spend the rest of their days with.  The hope that is that the public pronouncement and accompanying symbol that will adorn the index finger will sufficiently demonstrate one's love.  For some reason, I wasn't that dude in 2001.  I don't know why I didn't figure out how to gather all of Nkechi's family and friends in one place so that I could get on bended knee in front of them.  Perhaps I was too much of a wimp for such a public display.  I do know that I felt I had a good enough sense of our relationship that I didn't need to have the Rock of Gibraltar for her to say yes.  In fact, I had no ring at all (click for the whole story).  Over the years it became a goal of mine to deliver that public proposal as I felt it was something that the Franchise Player of Team Carroll deserved.  My original goal, the ten year marker, came and went and I couldn't quite deliver.  As we come up on Year 12, I wanted to make up for being overdue.  The celebration of my book launch seemed like an appropriately public event as many of our friends who've embraced us since switching coasts would be in attendance.  One thing that I've realized all these years later is that the public proposal when done in the presence of loved ones, is a way to say "Thank you".  It's a tip of the hat to recognize their part in keeping the relationship together.

All that said, twelve years of marriage doesn't erase the nervousness that comes with getting down on bended knee and asking the one you love to be your (continued) partner moving forward.  My heart was racing and I tried to move slowly so I didn't fall over or drop the ring.  Thankfully, unlike the first time I ever asked for her hand, she said yes.  Now to start thinking of what to do at the 20yr marker of this journey.

Speaking of journeys, Lil Man's selection to an "all-star" baseball team this summer has fully immersed us into the abyss of Sports Parenthood, a land where the allure of scholarships and the pros become more palpable with each strong throw, hit, or cleanly fielded grounder.  I'm shocked at the practice schedule for a seven year old, but he seems to love it, so like most parents I know, I'll have my stadium chair in hand all summer as I cheer him on.  I've sworn to keep from pushing Lil Man over the edge into burn out land by swearing these three things.  I expect my friends to hold me accountable as you're part of the village.

1.  NO year-round baseball (or any other sport) until high school.  This baseball road is looooong.  Might as well keep it fresh and fun as long as possible.  In my own experience as an athlete, I know the cost of being immersed in a sport for so long without a break.  I've also seen it as a coach.

2.  NO extra "work" with Dad unless requested.  There's plenty of practice time.  No need for me to add to it to satisfy my ego.  If Lil Man doesn't like his performance at practice or a game and wants to take some extra time, then I'm there with my glove.  Otherwise, I'm just Dad.

3.  NO "coaching" once we leave the field.  I know nothing substantive about baseball.  I like it that way.  I trust the coaches to do their job, so I can just do mine of being the loudest cheering Dad.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

5 Reasons I Wrote A Marriage Book

For almost five years now I've been reflecting on my marriage in this space.  They are the most personal things I write and they resonate the most with those of you who take the time to read this blog.  Three years ago, the Mrs. and I celebrated significant career milestones as I finished my Ph.D. and Nkechi became a full-time TV writer.  In that moment, I thought it would be cool to write a book to memorialize that day.  Over the last three years as I've worked to complete the project, I've realized a number of other reasons why I needed to do this work.  Below are a few of the most notable.  Hopefully you'll check out Married to the Franchise when I finally release it on the world.

- I'm not that cool - A lot of married dudes act like they walked the aisle because they got tired of so many women chasing after them, so they finally had to pick one. Or they only got married because their wives wore them down. It's not the cool narrative to admit that you fell for a woman, and did everything you could to make sure you could spend as much time with her as possible for the rest of your life.  I'm not that cool. Most men aren't. I'm also not too cool to share what my journey to the altar was like . It took a lot of hard work, and people need to understand what that hard work is all about.  By the way, it still takes a lot of hard work.

- It needs to be told - Most married men are so busy tending to their business that they have little to no time to share how they're making it work. I suggest that some probably think sharing would jinx everything if they started to speak about how they make it work.  Therefore, they keep their heads down and focused on the grind. Thankfully I've had some free time to share.

- A way to say thanks - We have had a large cheering squad supporting us along the way to thirteen years. This book is a way to acknowledge those who've looked out for us, mentored, cheered, loved and befriended us.  The circle people that we actually count as friends starts to shrink as you become more immersed in maintaining a family and we sincerely appreciate all of those who have taken the ride with us.

- The discussion needs a remix - Too many men and women are lead to believe that they are lesser humans if they can't find a partner. Men who delay commitment are "immature", women who reach a certain age and haven't partnered up might as well wear the Scarlet Letter "F" for failing to achieve their womanly duties. That philosophy needs some rethinking and our children need to be taught as much. The partnership life is a choice and those who choose to blaze their own trail of independent happiness should not be seen as somehow missing a chromosome. In addition, I get tired of so much of the relationship discussion being about blame and not about the lessons learned from taking accountability for mistakes. Remember, I'm not that cool, so sharing my stumbles and mess along the way wasn't that hard.

- Defense mechanism - It's easy to share and reflect when things are going well. However, at some point there will be struggle and I see this project as a reminder of the blueprint, a reminder of how far we've come and of where we're trying to go. When the distractions come, you've got to have your defense mechanisms that keep you focused. This book is one of mine.  My goal is that it will also help someone avoid some of the pitfalls that I fell into along the way. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Unintended Lessons of Competition

As a parent I often watch with one eye covered when Lil Man participates in anything competitive.  I worry about dealing with the failure.  My instinct as a parent is to protect both of my boys from the hard stuff, and I've found that if I don't check myself, I will prevent my offspring from learning valuable lessons that they will need for the rest of their lives.  The irony of this is that I spend the majority of my time encouraging and prodding athletes to compete at  the highest levels they possibly can.  It's this knowledge of what the competitive process can do for a young person that outweighs the parental instinct and has me watching Lil Man compete in a variety of events on almost a weekly basis while the coach and parent personas within me battle it out to see who's agenda will prevail.  This site of this week's lesson came was the school Spelling Bee.

It was good enough for me that Lil Man got selected to participate in the Bee in the first place.  He was sent home with a list of 100+ words to study that could potentially be used in the competition.  Every thing from "jam" to "pictograph" and as we went through the words in practice, I became more and more impressed with the amount of words that he could tick off without even having to think about it.  Of course, being seven, there was a limit to how long he would practice before becoming bored and irritable.  On the eve of the Bee, we only got in fifty words and the parent overruled the coach.  Squeezing out an extra thirty-minutes of spelling practice with a whiny kid just throws too much drama into the equation.  Lil man was insistent that he was ready so the coach just had to sit on his hands and stew, knowing that something might go horribly wrong.

As a rule, I try to sit in the shadows while watching the Lil Man because then I can go through the anxiety of whether or not he'll succeed by myself.  I settled into the back row of the dance room with the Mrs, camera in hand interested to see how things would turn out for my naturally talented speller.  He got through the first two rounds with no problem.  "Jam" and "Nail" were child's play, but "Worm", a nemesis in practice, was his downfall.  As he got to the end of spelling it "W-A-R-M", he knew that he'd made a mistake, and the confident smile disappeared as he sat down.  I thought for sure that as he took the short walk from the row of chairs where his fellow competitors sat to the holding area that there would be tears as he was the first to miss a word.  When he sat down, there was a quiver of his lips downward, but then he pulled it all together and composed himself as he awaited for the competition to end.  The parent wanted to jump from the back row and console him, but this time the coach won and I sat there to watch him figure it out on his own.  In that moment, I forgot all about the fact that he, as he put it, "won 12th place".  He whiffed on a word that he could have gotten if he would have practiced it a few more times, but that didn't matter anymore.  Nor did it matter that he routinely rattled off many of the words that were spelled throughout the rest of the competition.  I was extremely proud at how resilient he had been in a moment of failure.

The coach hoped that Lil Man had learned that with a little more practice, he could've lasted longer into the competition.  When I asked him what he thought of the Bee he said "It was good, I was just a little upset because I know I could've gotten first place.  I knew all those words."  So much for learning the work ethic lesson.  I guess that will have to wait a little longer.  The parent, however is still smiling at how well he handled that moment of expecting so much and dealing with not even coming close.  I know this will serve him well going forward.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lessons I Have to Teach

George Zimmerman walked for killing a young Black man armed with Skittles and tea.  Michael Dunn shoots ten times into a car, feeling threatened by loud music, kills a teen and is convicted only of ATTEMPTED murder.  These stories piled on top of countless others of young men killed while being Black make me understand what James Baldwin meant when he said the following:

It's a dangerous feeling to have the fire of rage stoked within.  And the irony of it is that the more educated I become, the more frustrated and helpless I occasionally feel. The prison industrial complex, the destruction of public education and the criminalization of people of color all continue to  occur with little resistance.  I empathize with those youth who survey the social landscape and decide not to care because they understand that the game is rigged against them.  If I were still a single man, I could easily see making a move as Mr. Baldwin did to another country because this jungle is far from safe.  Thankfully, I'm blessed with a family, and I've got to make sure my boys are equipped to maximize their potential.  My focus on them keeps my inner Incredible Hulk in David Banner mode.  There are too many lessons they need me to teach to let rage get the best of me.

My not-so Lil Man, for all his smarts at seven, struggles with the notion that in the eyes of the world he is not Brown.  Recently we took a field trip to the historic black bookstore, Eso Won Books and I explained that the trip was appropriate given that it's Black History Month.  He replied by asking why it's called Black History Month, when his skin is brown.  I've also had to explain to him that his mother and brother are not peach, but are black like he is.  This empirical evidence that notions of racism and prejudice are the product of nurture not nature leave me no time to wallow in anger.  It's not productive.  I've got to figure out how to equip my boys with an identity where they are both aware of the ignorance prevalent in the world, but hopeful about their potential to be great in it.  I can only hope that I do a good enough job that they become skilled in disarming those who would view them as a threat because of their physique, dress or music.  This is but one of necessary skills of the Black Man survival handbook.  American history has made it crystal clear that it's justice system is not blind enough to protect all of its citizens.  Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and now Jordan Davis have all now paid the ultimate price in teaching us this lesson.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Anniversary Chapter 11: Adding to the Tool Belt

These anniversaries are starting to creep up on me too fast.  I feel like the 10-year anniversary party we had was a couple weeks ago, but indeed another year has come to a close for Team Carroll.  As I was thinking about what I wanted to write, I happened to catch John Legend's newest single "All of Me" and one of the lines of the chorus struck me as it succinctly sums up the attitude I bring to my  marriage:

"Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all, all of me
And you give me all, all of you"
I talked last year about always doing the self-work that would enable me to be the best partner that I could be, however I had no real idea of how I would grow.  Turns out that with my new gig I was afforded much more time to be a part of the day-to-day lives of my boys, which required me to access parenting skills that had previously been dormant.  My household management skills were exercised like never before this year and I relished every minute of it (Don't believe me? Check drjoncarroll on Instagram).  I found myself having to create a memo in my phone to remember Lil Man's activity schedule.  I had to step up my cooking skillz as I was in charge of serving it more often than I ever had.  I embraced the opportunity to be a better household admin because of the time it allowed me to spend with the boys as well as become a more well-rounded man.  I know there are many fathers who don't get to spend that kind of quality time with their offspring, so I felt blessed to be able to do so.  My hope is that they one day feel they are better men because of the discussions we've had and that they've seen Dad do the same things Mommy does when she's home with them.  My appreciation of the years when Nkechi held down the bedtime routine grew even deeper this year.  Many days I'd fall asleep as I put Lil Man and the Munchkin to bed yet it was after bedtime when Nkechi used to get most of her writing done. 

I know that the fluidity of taking care of the house and kids has helped Nkechi and I as partners because we are better able to communicate about what we're seeing with the kids.  My goal is that as Nkechi continues to become the next Gina Prince-Bythewood, she'll continue to have confidence that she won't come home to a burned down house with the kids and I standing across the street in our pajamas because I started a grease fire making turkey burgers.  On the flipside, Nkechi continues to be my biggest cheerleader, supporter and PR agent.  Her encouragement has lead me finally finish a book on marriage I started three years ago as well as produce a companion man-ologue show.  I'm excited to see both come to fruition.  What I have come to understand is that the more we root for each other to grow, the closer we become becasue that rooting makes you an active participant in your partner's development, not simply a bystander.  We make a point to constantly check-in because the winds of change are always blowing, and it's important to understand where your partner is trying to go.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a number of my friends and mentors for my book Married to the Franchise.  One of the themes that arose early on when it came to understanding why these dudes continue to have successful marriages is that there is no part of their marriages that they don't want to be involved in.  Bringing home a paycheck is just as important as raising the kids which is as important as maintaining a fulfilling relationship with their wives.  The tricky part is not to lose sight of any one part for the sake of another.  Here's to another year of keeping my eye on the prize.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Which Way to March? Navigating the Road to Being Part of the Solutions

I pledged after the Supreme Court launched Jim Crow 2.0 as far as Voter Rights go that I would be more politically active.  Clearly, being a husband, father, and educator wasn't enough.  When the George Zimmerman verdict came down as I thought it would, an aquittal, it only made the call more clear.  What has been frustrating is that in the wake of these massively symbolic events that make me recall when I learned about Emmet Till and having to present freedom papers to vote, the mobilization process and course of action has been difficult to decipher.  It has also been disappointing to see many "prominent voices" in the Black community taking this time of anger and emotion to do more analyzing from the cushy pundits chair than strategizing.  I find myself no less resolute to be involved in striking down institutions that have targeted youth that look like my two sons, but I am now more conscious of just how difficult this road will be to travel.

I went to the Trayvon Martin 100 cities vigil at the LA Federal courthouse organized by the National Action Network (NAN).  I wore a shirt and tie, slacks, and a hoodie.  Perfect combo of how Trayvon will be immortalized (hoodie), and what he might have been (shirt and tie wearing professional).  When I arrived, all the media outlets were setting up and there were not more than twenty people milling around.  As the nine o'clock start time arrived and NAN LA President, Rev. K.W. Tulloss began to speak, the crowd continued to swell to hundreds.  What was encouraging was the organization of the rally, the number of organizations that were represented, and the general respect of TIME.  There quickly comes a saturation point when the same talking points are being hammered home by each speaker:

"George Zimmerman may have been acquitted, but he is not guilty"

"Trayvon Marin did not die in vain"

"We must force the Dept of Justice to file civil charges against George Zimmerman"

I left the rally looking forward to seeing the coverage of the rallies in other major cities and was happy to find that they had gone off without incident.  I felt like momenutm was building towards the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington event taking place on August 24th.  I believed that until the President spoke out on the case, and everyone had a comment.  I'm nowaleft with more questions than answers a month out from what I hope will be a unifying event in Washington, DC at the Lincoln Memorial.

1.  What is the agenda?
There are a lot of things on the table that adversely impact the Black community in particular, and communities of color in general.  The NAN flier for the March on Washington is set to address Stand Your Ground Laws, Racial Profiling, Poverty, Voter Registration, etc.  The question is, which gets top billing at this moment?

2.  What is the best way to attack?
Once you figure out the areas of "deployment", what is the plan of action?  I think it is admirable that artists like Stevie Wonder have decided to boycott Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is amended or repealed altogether.  It is reminiscent of artists who boycotted the Jim Crow South.  But Stand Your Ground is hardly the most damaging issue threatening the Black community.  How do we begin to stem the growing percentage of people who are out of work, beiung stopped and frisked, undereducated, and being sent to private-owned prisons as "new slaves"?

3.  Who wants to build?
The current percentage of the US population that is Black stands at 13%, hardly enough to topple institutions designed to maintain the privileges of those who created them.  History tells us that the greatest advancements for minority communities have come at key moments of interest convergence with those in power.  So the question becomes, what groups have a vested interest in eradicating gun violence in urban centers like Chicago like we do?  What groups will also benefit from making sure that the federal preclearance clause is reformed and restored to the Voter Rights Act?  With allies, the ability to lobby effectively increases.

4.  Can there be unity?
Any successful group or team, must be able to get on the same page in order to accomplish its goals.  When I see Dr. Cornel West calling out other Black leaders as members of President Obama's plantation, I worry that we will not find that rallying point.  SNCC, CORE, SCLC, NAACP, etc found a way to do it in the 1960s, it needs to happen again.

5.  What is the President's role?
Speaking of President Obama, what issue will compel him to put aside his pragmatic identity in order to take up a more revolutionary one?  Yes he plays the political game well, and he's been rewarded with a second term.  With three years remaining in office, what is the issue that will move him to forget strategy and start ramming executive orders through Congress?  I certainly don't want to look back on these eight years and remember historic speeches, Obamacare, and how he got handcuffed by Congress at every turn.