HAMILTON …

Hamilton is the hottest show on Broadway.

When I first heard of the show’s production, I remember all the the hubbub over the “white people need not apply” casting call. But art has a way of finding transcendence. I always try to remember that. So I reserved judgement.

Now, months later, I was in New York, and got an unexpected ticket (thanks to a good friend) to witness this juggernaut first hand. And I was going to see what this phenomenon was all about.

Curtain up …

As a music artist, I was dazzled by the hip-hop style lyrical flourish. I’ve never seen that on a Broadway stage. Bravo. But the craft of the show (which is second to none) wasn’t what really grabbed me. I found the deeper concept coursing through the bloodline of the work itself, more important than the rhythms and the rhymes.

As the story and artistic expression unfolded, I began smiling to myself. This was genius. And by the first song in, I realized why it was so important for this piece to be performed by people of different races …not white. This wasn’t an exclusionary move against white people. It wasn’t “reverse racism.” This was a re-imagining of true, historical events in a way that allowed us ALL to participate …in the 21st century …without the ever-present distraction of race.

The brilliance of watching George Washington being re-interpreted as a black man allows you to examine what the man actually DID …rather than being constantly halted by what he LOOKED like.

And as I watched the two dark-skinned men next to me and the asian couple in front of me and the Muslim woman behind me all mesmerized by this re-telling of the birth of the American experiment, I realized they were seeing this through different eyes than mine. Now THEY got to feel a part of something extraordinary based solely on its merits, rather than feeling excluded from it because of powder wigs, harpsichord music, the King’s english …and pasty whiteness.

One might say, while watching Hamilton, that we get to judge the people who formed this country based on the content of their character …rather than the color of their skin. Seems like another great American might think that’s a good idea.

Alexander Hamilton (the actual man) was all the things the musical says he was: Bastard child of a (probable) whore, orphaned at 12; wayward immigrant to the new world; self-educated nobody from nowhere special. And yet he literally helped change the world as it had been known to that point, and created the one in which we all live today.

That is the very essence of individualism: the idea that no one has to be bound by their background or standing or the shade of their meat suit. THIS, my friends, IS what America is supposed to be about. And Hamilton makes that point over and over again.

Before I got on the plane for New York, a day earlier, my father and I had lunch together. He was recounting his involvement with some civil rights events in the 60s. But he also spoke about how confusing it could be for people at times.

One of his best (white) friends worked behind one of those infamous, segregated lunch counters. He was just a teenage kid with a job, not realizing the moment he was living in. A black woman walked in to protest. Then, she pulled out a pistol and shot his friend right between the eyes …at point-blank range.

Those types of things don’t fit easily into the “peaceful protest” narrative.

My father got a far-away stare and said, “son, these things aren’t always as cut and dried as people think they are. My involvement with the civil rights movement sometimes leaves me with mixed emotions. People are people and they can be bad OR good …no matter what their skin looks like. That’s why you have to take them all one at a time.”

Three hours later, I was in a city that is literally engulfed in surface diversity …meaning it is diverse in how it LOOKS.

But is visual diversity really the only kind of diversity we need?

I think there are three stages to racial freedom:

1. Classic racism.

You start out your life with people who look and act like you. And sometimes (not always …but sometimes) you’re taught that “other” is like this or like that. “They” do this and “they” do that. “They” are better runners or “they” are better at math or are “they” are horrible drivers. I mean come on …you know how “THEY” are. And so you become a racist on some level …probably without even knowing it.

2. Apologetic racism.

This is where most white people (who think they have achieved true racial enlightenment) get stuck …and stay. You decide that there is inherent VIRTUE in “other” just because it’s “other.” You want to right the wrongs, now. You believe “those poor people” NEED you to help them. You want to embrace all races (except your own) and celebrate diversity …of skin only. You’re still kind of a racist …you’re just really, REALLY sorry for it.

But the final and most important stage is this:

3. Individualism.

Once you realize that anyone from any background or race can rise or fall, kill or nurture, cut or heal, help or hurt, create or destroy – only then are you truly post racial.

Once you see a person as an individual …not just part of a group …they are harder to hate. THAT is true racial equality.

These days we seem to be more interested in what someone looks like than we are in what they THINK like. And if we’re not careful we’re going to have a society of different LOOKING people who all think the same way. And that is dangerous. Group-think is where everything falls apart …no matter what color it’s packaged in.

Hamilton takes us to stage 3 of racial enlightenment, whether it knows it or not. And we get to see INDIVIDUALS arguing and fighting over how to form a nation. And how a diversity of opinions and personalities can create something beautiful and strong.

Did that nation commit sins based on race and color? You bet. Is it still trying to get it right? Absolutely.

But as I landed in back in Nashville, on a plane full of white and black and brown men and women, and took my Chinese daughter to a prom for people with special needs – people of all different shapes, sizes, colors and races – it just felt like we might be moving in the right direction. Forward …not backward. Forward to the place where absolutely nothing about the exterior matters …except that smoking dress or dope tux you’ve got on.

The true diversity of Hamilton isn’t just the color of the skin on the stage. It’s the diversity of thought that is represented in the story. That story goes on …

And THAT kind of diversity …diversity of thought …is the most important of all.

R

THIS HITLER NONSENSE …

I am not an expert on Hitler. But my father is.

He toured post-war Germany extensively in 1957 and ’58 as a child performer. And he often recounts the stories. He befriended  teenage Lebensborn children (if you don’t know what Lebensborn children are …well …before you post anymore about Hitler you should read about them). He visited an SS widow and got a peek at her husband’s uniform and Luger (that he’d committed suicide with), she had stored in an old trunk, in the attic.

These and other intense experiences in Germany sent my father on a life-long quest to understand this sociopath (Hitler) and the country that allowed itself to be dragged into one of the darkest chapters in world history. My dad is a Hitler/Nazi buff the way Indiana Jones’ dad was a Holy Grail buff.

As the son of a man with this hobby (one might call obsession) I learned a lot about Hitler and the Third Reich just by osmosis, growing up. My father would weave WWII stories into his sermons. He would talk about new books he was reading on the subject. When I was nine-years-old I bought him a book on the battle of Stalingrad for Christmas. Not a tie or a pair of socks. A book …on the battle …of Stalingrad. Yeah …it was kinda like that.

The thing my father and I have often discussed, through the years, is the eye-rolling art of comparing American presidents to Hitler. It is such an absurdity we find it amusing …and frustrating. It’s often just a punch line. Like the Soup Nazi wasn’t really a Nazi. He was just mean. The Nazi part made it funny. You know …over-the-top. Like “grammar Nazi” or “spelling Nazi.” Nobody is really a “Nazi.” It’s our representation of something we consider jarring, strident, intractable and inhumane.

But the truth about Nazis isn’t funny at all. It’s bloody and horrible and gut churning. And it involves machine guns and butchery and inhumanity on a scale that takes your breath away. Nobody is really a “soup Nazi” …unless they served it in a concentration camp.

The idea of comparing an American president to Hitler is just as absurd …from any angle, in any context. The American system ITSELF pretty much prevents “Hitlers” from showing up. And America ITSELF is anathema to what Hitler was trying to create. An American ANYTHING or ANYONE is hard to fit into the Hitler model. It’s just not apples to apples.

There are some fundamental things to understand about Hitler:

1. He took over a small, failing state that didn’t have separated government, enumerated powers or checks and balances. It’s difficult for a guy like that to show up here, in this system.

2. His entire political career was violent from the beginning. There was always death in his wake. He didn’t just suddenly “turn” violent. It was a pattern …as it always is with sociopaths. This is THE most important thing to watch; the violence. I always keep an eye on who is rioting …breaking things …throwing rocks and bombs. It doesn’t make them Nazis. But it signals how far they’re willing to go.

3. He entered office with his own personal military construct (the SS) with allegiance to him ONLY. They would carry out things the regular military would never carry out: i.e. the murder of private citizens and political opponents. Nothing like that exists or COULD exist in America. We simply wouldn’t allow it.

4. He didn’t start out just killing Jews. He started out euthanizing people with special needs …for the betterment of the care-givers’ lives. (You can decide which side of the aisle favors the extermination of “inconvenient” people).

5. He disarmed the population, then nationalized healthcare and education. (Two-out-of-three of those are Bernie Sanders moves …But, guess what? Bernie isn’t Hitler either …not by a long shot)

The list goes on and on. But the deal is this:

Hitler was a real life murdering sociopath. He wasn’t just a charismatic speaker who incrementally fell into bad behavior. He wasn’t just a racist corrupted by unfettered power. In other words, you or I probably couldn’t end up being Hitler. A garden variety KKK leader probably couldn’t end up being Hitler either …or a community organizer …or a New York real-estate tycoon. It’s not that easy or simple.

NONE of our American presidents have ever been Hitler. But the people of Germany certainly thought FDR was a murdering dictator when B-17s started dropping bombs on them. This is why you have to KNOW what you believe and why you believe it. Good guys and bad guys are often in the eyes of the beholder. And they often look similar in the fog of conflict. I would imagine Japanese Americans in internment camps wondered if their president was Hitler-like. Nope. Horrible act …but not close to Hitler.

To that point, ironically, the American president who could’ve actually been likened to Hitler (before Hitler) in some of his methods was …wait for it …Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln broke more constitutional law than any other president in U.S history. He imprisoned political opponents without due process. He suspended habeas corpus. He was personally responsible for the deaths of six hundred thousand people.

He invaded countries that had declared their own sovereignty and forced them back into a union they didn’t want to be a part of. He unilaterally annexed Nevada, without 60 thousand residents, (a pre-requisite for becoming a state) in order to carry it and win the 1864 election. In other words, he pretty much rigged it.

And when he was killed by one of the highest paid and most famous actors of his day (ironic …don’t you think?), the actor screamed “thus always to tyrants!” (in latin) because the man thought he was being a patriot for ridding the world of a dictator. But he wasn’t …and he didn’t.

Lincoln did all of those things to end and win the Civil War. And today we love him for it …as we should. Because in the end, his vision was right …even though his methods were suspect in the heat of the moment.

When people think they’re seeing a Hitler, they might actually – sometimes – be seeing something closer to a Churchill. Before WWII everyone thought Churchill was the big bad wolf. His own people hated him and thought he was a Hitler type character (again …pre-Hilter). But he just kept saying, “guys …I’m telling you. This Hitler guy is the real problem. Not me.” And he turned out to be right. There’s a difference between an abrasive leader who makes you uncomfortable …and a despot.

Now, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. And the countdown has officially begun, to …well …I don’t know …but something really bad. I get that someone who is combative with the press and who wants to vet refugees and shut down open immigration fits the bill some are always looking for when it comes to finally getting their “Hitler” villain.

But if you study enough about it, you realize the guy vetting and banning refugees is probably not Hitler …the guy CREATING refugees probably is.

If we keep looking for Hitler in every United States president we disagree with, we’re not going to recognize the real one when he actually shows up …in a different country.

R

CONTINENTAL PRIVILEGE …

I have a son in China. Well …not really. He was almost my son. Maybe he should’ve been. He is probably around 17, now. And I think about him almost every day …

During the dramatic adoption of my daughter, we had to rush her to the Chinese hospital twice in two days. This wasn’t the beautiful hospital, tailor made for photo ops. This was the utilitarian, open-air, urine-trough-in-the-floor, blood-and-puss-on-the-examination-table triage hut, the Chinese didn’t want Americans to see (I was asked to put my camera away several times). I’m always amused at theoretical communists who’ve never actually SEEN it in action …but I digress.

As the over-worked nurses were trying to put a needle in my daughter’s head, suddenly, high-pitched Cantonese was being yelled into my right ear. I jerked around, startled to find a very loud, tiny, determined “peasant lady,” complete with dirty head-scarf, missing teeth and weathered, cracked skin, yelling at me.

At first I didn’t know what was happening. But then, on closer examination, I saw that she was holding a 3-year-old boy (about) on the examination table next to her.

He was smiling at me and wearing a red sweater. I still see that sweater in my dreams. The peasant lady was showing me his teeth and his hair while she jabbered on incessantly. I had no idea what was happening. Finally, our translator pulled away from the drama playing out on our own exam table, and told me the woman was trying to give me her son to adopt and take to America.

I thought, in my semi-shocked state, that this was some sort of joke. I laughed a little, trying to lighten the mood. But the translator said, in her slightly broken english, “she serious. She has never seen American before. Thinks this her only chance to get son out of China.”

And that was the day I fully understood birth privilege. This woman and I were only separated by the fact that we had been born in different places …as different genders …under different governmental systems.

Some people roll their eyes at concepts like “white privilege” but I believe it’s a real thing.

Although I cannot change the skin into which I was born, I understand all too well that I write and create and LIVE from the perspective of a white male. And that comes with a certain amount of privilege in this current culture (at least for now).

Once you understand your privilege, it’s up to you (individually) to try and balance it. But the tricky thing about privilege is that everybody has it in some way. And it can play out in paradoxical ways. My daughter was born into less privilege than that little boy. But ironically, his “male privilege” kept him trapped in China. And her LACK of privilege (being born a female orphan) got her out of China …and into more privilege than he will ever know. Life is interesting.

Since that day in that hospital, I’ve tried to level my white, male, American privilege in ways I really don’t care to talk about …because it’s no one’s business but mine. But just know that YOU have some sort of privilege too. White women in America probably have more privilege than black women. But black women in America have more privilege than that peasant woman in China. Privilege is a global thing.

One of the biggest privileges on earth is being born in the United States. We all kind of know this. And many feel guilty about it. But there is also a certain privilege to being born on the North American continent. Why is that?

Being born in Canada is certainly its own privilege. And believe it or not, being born in Mexico has its own privilege when it comes to immigrating to the US.

You see, they didn’t allow me to bring that little boy back from China. There were armed guards and public officials and government agencies LITERALLY everywhere, blocking that from happening. The little peasant lady and her son were ushered away from me by two men in uniforms. She didn’t understand the protocol. And as she was being led away from me, she was still yelling and trying with all her might to get her son out of rural China, to a better life.

What she didn’t understand is you can’t just go to China and pick out a kid and bring them home. There are processes and forms to fill out and back ground checks to do. And there’s a lot of cross talk between both countries and their various adoption and immigration agencies. This is how things have to work.

Even though I still dream of that little boy …I simply could not take him home with me. And some days I have a hard time reconciling that. But laws and borders are serious things. We all know this in the abstract. It just gets difficult to accept when human lives are caught in the middle of that realization.

We’ve had an open southern border in the United States for decades. And we’re the ONLY organized nation on planet earth that allows people to simply walk across that border and live here. We’ll only try to catch you at the point of entry. But if you make it past the guards, you’re pretty much home free …literally.

Nobody else does that. You can’t do that in Canada or even MEXICO. Definitely not China. And reasonable Americans have often wondered to themselves, “Should we build some sort of wall or fence? Don’t we need a secure border? And maybe a vetting process of some kind for people who want to come here? That seems reasonable to me. Am I wrong about that?” But no one wants to say that out loud because they don’t want to be labeled a racist.

No U.S president in my lifetime has ever tried to truly address this …until now. And the can of worms has been opened.

The truth is we who were born in the U.S do have privilege. It’s absolutely true. But, in our attempt to level that, should we keep our borders open and simply allow people to walk over? If so, then why can’t I go get that little boy from China and bring him over? I’ll tell you why. Because he doesn’t have continental privilege.

He was simply born in the wrong hemisphere.

The fact is, if we gave the southern half of the U.S back to Mexico, people from Mexico would still be crossing into Utah and Colorado. Because Mexico has some problems. BIG ones. And people want to get out of there. And THAT’S the issue you have start squaring once you drill into your own privilege.

The ultimate goal is not to have all 7 billion people on earth come to America. That is not physically possible. But what IS possible is to support countries who are moving toward more freedom and equity. And call out counties who aren’t …and help move them in that direction. If China were a better place, there would be no peasant women trying to give their sons to Americans. If Mexico were a better place there would be no inflow of people racing to get out of there.

But laws and borders are necessary. Even if you think the enforcement of such things is unseemly.

If people from Mexico are simply allowed to cross the border without process, then why do we have customs? Why do we have to carry passports? Why do we have border check points going in and out of our countries?

If walking across a border is acceptable, just because …you know …IT’S RIGHT THERE …then someone owes an impoverished teenage boy in China, 14 years of a better life in America …with me.

R

 

PUPPIES …

We hadn’t planned on actually getting a puppy. We were just window shopping at the animal shelter. But when we went to put Buster – the cutest little fuzz ball I’d ever seen –  back in his cage, he reached his paw out toward us and motioned for us to come back. My wife crumbled. “There is NO WAY we’re leaving that baby here!” she exclaimed. And so, the first of our several adoptions took place …that day.

Buster was the best puppy I ever had. He was well mannered and smart. He never cried and he house trained in about two days. He was perfect.

One day I was walking him down the street to drop some bills in the mailbox at the end of the road, where we lived. It was a busy street and I always held the leash tightly. But as I opened the box to drop the envelopes in, the leash loosened in my hand just long enough for Buster to lunge away and chase something out in the street. It was literally in a flash. Just as he did …he was instantly run over by a car going too fast.

The man behind the wheel didn’t know what he’d done. But he’d run over Buster’s hind quarters, basically like a speed bump. I saw the whole thing happen. And it was horrible to watch.

The driver unbelievably just shrugged it off and kept going, as if nothing was wrong. And he left my perfect puppy yelping and squirming in the middle of the street. I raced out to scoop him up. And as I reached down, he clamped down on my finger so violently he almost severed it. But I kept trying. I knew I had to get him out of the road. Finally, I was able to lift him and walk him to the animal hospital that was mercifully two buildings away.

The entire time we walked he was biting at me and yelping and basically out of his mind.

When I entered the hospital they rushed over to help us. Apparently I was bleeding pretty badly. I didn’t even realize it. The vet on call said the pup was in so much pain he was just lashing out at whatever was close. And he could see by the ashen look on my face I was kinda in shock as well.

They cleaned my wounds and sent me home. They sedated and ran tests on Buster. And they said if he could go to the bathroom by the end of the day, he was probably, miraculously going to be okay.

As it turned out …Buster WAS okay. The vet off-handedly quipped that there might have been some damage to his hips but it probably wouldn’t even show up for ten to fifteen years. That sounded pretty good to me. You always think ten to fifteen years is going to be long enough.

I’ve always remembered how rabid and angry sweet little Buster looked and acted that day. It wasn’t really him. It was just the pain he was in. He loved me – he love EVERYBODY – and would never want to hurt anyone. But I was there and I was touching some traumatized nerves in his fluffy little body. He couldn’t control his response. And so I got bit a few times. But I knew he was just acting out of instinct.

These days, we all seem to be lashing out at each other so much. And I understand it. Politics and religion are intimate pieces of our lives. We are directly affected by such things. And so we have these exposed nerves that are constantly being touched as we scroll through our “feed” or read our “wall.”

And with all those nerves exposed, social media has become a place for us to do battle instead of a place to congregate and learn or have fun or share life. No side of any argument ever wins. We reinforce what we believe or we throw bombs at the other side.

But I think we’re all just puppies, writhing in the road. We’re acting out of instinct. When someone lashes out at me, I try and remember Buster and how much pain he was in that day. At the root of all the anger and vitriol and sarcasm and ALL CAPS and exclamation points and profanity, there’s a wounded puppy in there somewhere …just biting what’s in front of them.

After fourteen years, Buster’s hips did finally give way to crippling arthritis. Time caught up to him. After the kids came along, he pretty much lived with me in the studio, on the ground floor. And by the end of his life he could barely walk, much less get up steps.

On the night before we had to put him to sleep, I took him out one last time …around 1 in the morning. He tried his best to go to the bathroom. But his hips kept giving out and I had to hold him up. Finally he just laid down. As I scooped him up to carry him inside, he almost snapped at me …like he had done all those years ago. But he caught himself and licked my hand instead.

I was hurting him. I knew it. But this time I think he knew I was trying to help him. We were old friends, and we’d been through a lot together. Millions of thrown balls …bags and bags of treats and chew toys …hours and hours of ear rubs on the couch.

I don’t know if dogs remember those things. But his eyes seemed to say, “Thanks, pal. I know you love me.”

And now Buster isn’t here anymore. But I keep a picture of him in my office. And the bites aren’t the things I remember. It’s all the other stuff …the really, really good stuff. The fun stuff. The sweet stuff.

Maybe we can all grow old together, friends. Maybe one day we’ll stop biting and snapping at each other. Maybe, when we work through our own pain, we won’t be so quick to inflict it on others.

Because as long as you’re focussed on the bites, you forget how cool dogs …and friends …are. And how much you miss them when they’re gone.

R

WOMEN …

“Dad, it’s just science. Girls are superior to boys IN EVERY WAY. Everybody knows that.”

My (then) 9-year-old son was adamant about this.

I tried to tell him gender doesn’t matter. I tried to tell him that everyone was different …special …unique. But it was falling on deaf ears. And I realized my son is being raised in the world of “girl power,” beta males and Homer Simpson dads. He’s never seen a father or husband be right or smart or clever in ANY TV commercial in his life. The man is always the foil. He doesn’t know he’s supposed to be a hero. Because the male hero archetype is being systematically removed from the culture. Nobody needs a man to complete, help, heal, fix or rescue them. We get it. And so, males are currently a bit adrift.

Men are in the process – literally as we speak – of going from Viking marauders to domesticated care-givers, complete with soft hands, gentle smiles and baby front packs. And it’s actually wreaking havoc on our testosterone levels. There is science that backs this up.

I always wanted to elevate myself beyond my gender. I refuse to allow my wife to care for me in any way when I get sick. I’ve driven myself to the ER several times with kidney stones. I will not be the “man/baby” with the cold. I wash and fold my own clothes. I vacuum. I change diapers. And I never require sex. I’ve chosen booze to take its place …but I digress.

This has nothing to do with my wife or our relationship. This started years before I met her. I never wanted to be “that guy” …the stereotype …the simpleton, easy to bash. I was raised during the “me” generation, and Hellen Reddy let my 7-year-old self know exactly how it was going to be. I was sent the signal from my youth, “YOU are the problem, young man.” And so I guess I’ve spent my life trying to not be the problem.

Enter a 70-year-old alpha male, child/billionaire/president, driving women insane and into the streets. I understand the marches I suppose. But I sure wish someone had marched with a sign decrying all the Muslim nations that actually DO abuse women …again, I digress.

The truth is, here are a few points where a lot of men (okay – just me) are coming from regarding women and marches and such:

1. We hear you the first time.

This march that attracted millions of women, was pretty much a lot of women telling us …

* “We refuse to allow mysogonist billionaires to get away with disrespecting women!”  Got it. Trump bad. 50 Shades of Grey, good. K …

* “You can’t just grab us by the privates.” Got it. We’ll pass the message on to the Donald. In exchange, could ya’ll tell Madonna that threatening to blow up the White House is kind of a thing?

* “We are NOT giving up the right to terminate our potential offspring.” Got it. Even if I can see a foot print in your belly …you get to get rid of it. Check. More on that later …

EVERY single man I know, knew all of this already. But thanks for reminding us …again. Because we love that. Especially when you scream it at us.

*** As an aside …were the vagina costumes on Pinterest or something? How did that many people know how to find/make one? Anyway …moving on …

2. We’re not trying to make more money than you.

This 78 cents on the dollar thing is a good sound byte figure. But it’s misleading. There is literally no place in America where someone can systematically hire women at lower rates than men …BECAUSE they’re women. At least not legally. This has been against the law for over 40 years. You can only make something a law so many times. There is no “man pay chart” and “woman pay chart” at any company, anywhere. We all know this, right?

But there ARE market forces in play. Take movies for instance: All actors don’t get paid the same thing because of the market. And a lot of that market is, ironically, driven by …women. More women will go see a Brad Pitt movie than they will a …oh …I don’t know …Ashley Judd movie. Film people know this and offer Ms Judd the amount they can project based on her past box office performances. They’ll do the same with Brad. And no matter how many laws are on the books, those two numbers will never be equal. The market simply won’t allow them to be.

Incidentally, this is the same reason I don’t earn as much money as Harry Connick Jr. And we both have pianos and penises …I’m assuming.

When you factor the dozens of variables into the equation, the pay discrepancy between men and women is actually less than a nickel per dollar.

3. You (ladies) body shame each other. We just like your bodies.

Marilyn Monroe was a size 14. And I don’t care. Men don’t sit around and talk about who is a size what. Women are the ones who focus on all that stuff. We don’t really even know the difference between a size 6 and a size 10 …or a size 18. We think you’re hot just like you are. We’ll take you being nice to us over flat abs any day.

4. Sometimes we NEED to fix it.

We know you always say you don’t want it fixed. You just want us to listen. But trust me on this …fixing it is WAY easier than listening. And we break so much stuff, we should fix some things, sometimes. At least let us THINK we’re fixing it on occasion. We need to feel useful.

5. Motherhood and fatherhood are viewed very differently.

I understand the part of the recent march that focussed on reproductive rights. As much as I think abortion is an abomination, I am on record as not wanting to imprison women who have one (as long as I don’t have to pay for it …I think that’s fair). But think of this …

When you demand the right to “choose,” what is that “choice” you’re asking for, exactly? You’re demanding the right to choose MOTHERHOOD or not. That’s pretty much the core of it. You want the right to say, “I’m not ready for this and so I am terminating it.” Okay …fine.

But if a man decides HE doesn’t want to be a father …he’s labeled a “deadbeat dad.” I dare say if a million men marched in the streets to demand their right to NOT be fathers, we would call them cowards and pigs and dismiss them as horrible human beings. As someone who CHOSE to be a father, I certainly would.

But maybe I should re-think my view of deadbeat dads if we all get to decide, POST PREGNANCY, if we actually want that responsibility or not. In the spirit of true equality, why does a man have to be a dad if he doesn’t want to be, if a woman doesn’t have to be a mom if she doesn’t want to be? Just a thought …

Finally, you should know ladies, that most of us men ARE trying to be good fathers and good husbands and good citizens toward you. We’re pretty sure we’re on our way to just being sperm donors and strong backs in your future society (I’m already out on both counts).

But we’re not trying to subjugate you. We don’t want you to shut up and sit down (well …at least not sit down). We don’t think of you as less than us. To the contrary, most conversations I have with my bros are about how much smarter women are than us. We know you’re not servants. We don’t want to rape anybody (at least the large majority of us doesn’t).

Just like my 10-year-old son, we think of you as superior to us in almost every way. And we’re actually cool with that.

We still just don’t quite understand you. That’s probably because we’re not all that smart in the first place. So, grant us a little grace.

The only definite thing we’ve figured out so far is …we’re pretty sure you’re all crazy.

R

PS – that last line was a joke. PLEASE don’t send pages and pages of emails. I’m winking and laughing. Laugh along with me! Seriously …only send a paragraph at the most. I just can’t read it all. I know every detail is important but …cut me a break. I have chores to do! Seriously …

BY THE PEOPLE …

If you watched the Department of Education confirmation debate between Elizabeth Warren and Betsy DeVos, and your first thought was, “Man, this DeVos lady has no clue! Elizabeth Warren is taking her to school. This is utterly frightening …” then you have completely missed what is happening right now. In fact, as I watched Ms Warren run circles around Ms DeVos, with numbers and figures and quote regs chapter and verse, I realized that she, herself, has no idea what is happening right now.

She still thinks this is about qualifications and resumes. But what’s happening right now is not about any of that. Elizabeth Warren, in her well-prepared, intelligently laid out, sound-byte-savvy banter, showed herself to be obsolete in a world that has just changed. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Let me explain …

I was cautiously optimistic eight yeas ago, when Mr Obama took office. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was a little afraid of his socialist leanings (by his own admissions, in BOTH of his books). But sometimes, on the campaign trail, he sounded downright Reaganesque. So I watched and waited …without judgement.

Then, in March of ’09, he made a speech that solidified who and what he was. In that speech he said, “some things only government can fix.” And he went on to tell us how much we needed government and how much it needed to be a part of our lives. Then, he went on to appoint 45 “czars” (all ivy leaguers and political philosophy folk) above and beyond department heads and cabinet positions.

At that point I knew what Mr Obama was …a political theorist and a “statist.” And in fact, a lot of his presidency was as much political theory as anything: If you put the smartest people (with the right mind sets) in the right positions, things work better. And “average” people’s lives will benefit. Because we’re all really smart and we will take care of all of you who aren’t all that smart.

But the truth is it didn’t really work out that way. Because there’s theory …and there’s reality.

I’ve been watching Mr Trump’s actions closely …again, without judgement. I’ve been very intrigued by the steady stream of disparate mind sets being ushered in and out of that golden tower in New York. Everyone from Leo DiCaprio to Mitt Romney; Henry Kissinger to Kanye West. I’ve been asking myself, what is happening here? And then I remembered …

There’s something called the “8-year-old” pitch. When you’re pitching a product or a business idea or just a concept to someone, many times the potential investor will say, “explain this to me like I’m an 8-year-old.” If you can’t explain it to an 8-year-old, it’s probably too complicated or unwieldy. This axiom almost always holds true. And if it’s too complicated or complex …it has to go.

What you’re witnessing with the Trump administration is managed attrition.

He is putting warriors in charge of the military. On the surface, that looks like war mongering. But it’s actually the opposite. People who have been in battle are the least eager to go to war. They know what it really means. So, you’re less likely to speak to them in terms of “battle theory” and more likely to speak to them in terms of “battle reality.” Ironically, more warriors in charge of the military probably means less war. That’s military attrition.

Conversely, he is putting people in charge of domestic government agencies who have NO experience whatsoever in those fields. Believe it or not …that’s actually what I would do. So, instead of someone having a whole bunch of plans on how to expand this or that agency or big new ideas on what this or that agency can do, you have people literally getting the “8-year-old” pitch on the agency itself. When Ms DeVos replied to Ms Warren’s question about a certain rule within the dept of Education, “We’ll be looking at all the rules,” I instantly knew what was happening. Ms Warren still doesn’t.

Someone with fresh eyes, who is not steeped in the inner workings of a government agency, is now going to examine it from top to bottom. They’re basically on a fact-finding mission to determine if that agency should even exist in the first place. These people are smiling and taking the verbal hits from the professional politicians and looking naive on camera. But they’re there to actually audit the government ITSELF.

How many times have I had to explain to an IRS agent, who has NO CLUE how a creative person lives, what I do? How many times have I had to quantify the numbers? We the people have to constantly justify our existence and our livelihoods to our government. Now, it appears as if the government is going to have to justify its existence to us.

I’m not saying this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing. What I AM saying is this government (and all its agencies) is now having to make the “8-year-old” pitch to its citizens. I’ve never seen that happen in my lifetime.

That “fundamental change” you thought you were voting for in 2008? Well, THIS is actually what it looks like.

There’s a movie called “Dave” starring Kevin Kline. A guy who is a perfect doppleganger for a sitting president steps in and “plays” the president, after that president has a debilitating stroke. This regular guy brings one of his business-owner friends to the White House one night. And they sit up and balance the budget over sandwiches and soda …in about 12 hours. They can do this because they have no ties to any of those agencies. They can look at it objectively and say, “why are we doing this? Give me the 8-year-old pitch on this.”

Well guess what? “Dave” is now the president …for real.

There are two kinds of people: those who believe everything should be managed by a government agency …and those who don’t. I fall (more often than not) into the later category. When I watched the Elizabeth Warren/Betsy DeVos exchange, my reaction was, “why on earth does the government have an education agency that filters a trillion dollars a year? What are we getting for that?” Everything else was just noise to me.

Now, I understand there are implications with children with special needs, etc. And I am sensitive to that as a parent of a special needs child.

But I wonder if some of these agency rules and actual federal laws don’t overlap? We shall see. All I know is if ONE person at ONE government agency holds the power over my daughter’s education rights, then that person and that agency both have too much power. And I personally believe that’s what Betsy DeVos is being sent there to find out.

In the meantime, if you don’t like Ms DeVos you are free to write your representative or senator. And you should.

Me? I’m wondering what an average person would find out if they ran one of these agencies for a while. Would it pass the 8-year-old test? I wonder.

As you watch the hearings, if you think you’re watching stupidity in action …think again. You’re watching YOU get the government pitch for its own existence.

My hunch is Betsy DeVos doesn’t get confirmed. The optics are too bad for her. But watch whoever takes her place. I’d be willing to bet they don’t know the numbers and regs and tedious minutia either. And maybe they shouldn’t.

R

TRUMP SYNDROME …

I swore I would never pull the lever for Donald Trump for all the veiled reasons Meryl Streep laid out for us …in her seven thousandth acceptance speech …where she sets us straight on a few things. Thanks Meryl. Please send me some tips on what to have for breakfast …I need your opinion on my everything in my life. Anyway …

I have a special needs daughter and I work with veterans. Mr Trump disparaged both of those groups during his campaign. And it kind of took my breath away.

I kept wondering why people stayed with him. But I watched …and listened. I had discussions and tried to steer clear of arguments. I took it all in. And by the time he won, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

I’m still not telling anyone who I voted for (or if I even voted at all). But Mr Trump’s victory still intrigues me. HE still intrigues me. And the fact that a legend in her field would dedicate her lifetime achievement award to commenting on HIM, rather than creating her own historical, timeless moment …is intriguing to me.

Personally, nobody gets to live in my head cheaply enough to wreck my lifetime achievement award speech. But clearly, he’s STILL making great real estate deals.

I believe I was the FIRST blogger to assert that I think the man has a personality disorder or some sort of special need (maybe even on the Autism spectrum). But guess what? He’s about to be the president, now. And there’s a reason for it.

Over the holidays, I was in contact with some unlikely Trump voters, who you would never guess were on his side.

I spoke with several minorities as well as (God forbid) entertainment folk, who all either secretly voted for the man or completely get why he won (even if they didn’t vote for him), and would prefer no one know it. The irony is they don’t want anyone to know it for the EXACT reasons Trump opposers are scared out of their minds right now. They are afraid of being discriminated against and yelled at and lectured to and made fun of and even harmed, physically. The wrath of the tolerant is often too much to bear when things don’t go their way. As we saw last night, it always shows up at Hollywood award shows. And sometimes the darkest side of it shows up on Face Book live …but I digress.

In all the unlikely Trump voter cases I just cited, nothing about Hillary Clinton’s hacked or leaked emails made the difference to them. It wasn’t about her alleged corruption. It wasn’t about her being shrill (that’s not alleged …that’s for real). It wasn’t about her owning a vagina. It wasn’t about style points or pant suits or the Democrat machine not messaging to them correctly.

It also wasn’t about Donald Trump’s crazy uncle routine. None of the people I mentioned, crossed over for Trump because they wanted to see minorities silenced or the clock set back a hundred years or any of those well-worn cliches. In fact, most of them voted for Trump IN SPITE of having to roll their eyes at his tweets and public statements every other day. In every case I’ve mentioned, it came down to a couple of things: reversing current policy and getting rid of the status quo.

All the people I know who secretly voted for Trump did so with trepidation. None of them want to have to own the crazy tweets at 2 am. ALL of them wish he would stop yelling at SNL. And they all pretty much know he’s probably a world-class jerk they would not want to have dinner with.

But you can’t go 8 years without cracking 3% GDP and not have people feel it. You can’t have an unsafe America and it not shake people to their core. You can’t have a culture spinning into chaos without people reaching for something to steady them. People know subconsciously that this – America – is the last stop. If THIS ship goes down …there’s no place left to go. And people are feeling the starboard bow dip …at the very least, they’re hearing the ice berg scrape the hull.

And so, unlikely groups of people went to the polls and gave this unlikely guy a chance. And if you’re in the arts and don’t understand why …then you’re too insulated.

Everything Ms Streep said in her speech was correct on its face. But she never has to juggle utility bills and isn’t stressed about her health insurance rates going beyond her ability to own a policy. She’s not worried about going to a mall and getting capped by some self-radicalized maniac.

But the rest of America is in enough crisis – enough real crisis – to have turned to a guy they would’ve never considered in different times. If you want to measure presidential legacies, look no further than the arms into which they drove the country. Want to know how we felt about Nixon? Look at Carter. Want a sense of what we needed after Carter? Look at Reagan. And if you’re trying to reconcile the legacy of Barack Obama …I give you Donald Trump.

So, the 45th person to take a shot at this will take the oath in a little more than a week. And we will all move on into uncharted waters with him …whether we like it or not. And we’re probably going to have to endure speech after speech by celebrities who are pretty immune to the day-to-day struggles of middle Americans …for at least the next four years. Then we’re going to have to watch our president tweet something sophomoric back at them and call geniuses in their field “overrated” and never allow himself to be the bigger man.

Yep …THIS is where we are.

Having said all that, believe it or not, I have an odd feeling we will be strangely fine. I’m a big believer in the American system and the American people. We’ve survived a lot of crazy in our two-hundred and forty-one years. And Donald Trump, for all his faults (which are legion), does manage brands pretty well.

Now, his brand is the United States of America. I’m curious to see how he manages it. My hunch is it won’t be unlike how Howard Hughes managed a multi-billion dollar empire from a chair in a movie theater, completely nude and stacking and re-stacking Kleenex boxes. Still …

My diverse and multi-dimensional friends are curious about this as well. They found themselves voting for someone they didn’t really like …to hopefully restore a country they love.

So far, his pre-oath actions have been a mixed bag for me. Some of it I have found to be brilliant. Some of it has been very non-presidential. Some of it has been downright disturbing. Most of it has been unconventional. But ALL of it has been interesting. And we’re just getting started.

I may be the only person in America (or the world) who doesn’t have passionate feelings one way or another about the upcoming presidency (my feelings for the MAN, not withstanding). Mainly, because I don’t really know what Donald Trump is. He’s DEFINITELY not a conservative. But he’s not really a liberal. He’s not an actual Republican. But he’s not an actual Democrat.

As a person, he’s a petri dish of contradictions and “issues.”

But if you’re looking at him through any of those lenses, you’re missing the point of what’s actually happening right now. What is happening right now is something we’ve only seen in the movies Meryl Streep says are better than MMA or the NFL (clearly, she hasn’t seen enough of either). The 3-minute, elevator pitch is the perfect “high concept” for Hollywood: “What would happen if an eccentric billionaire/global real-estate tycoon, who had NEVER held any public office (local or state), ran for president of the United States …and won?”

Well, we’re are all about to find out …together. And all the speeches in Hollywood aren’t going to change it.

R

Oh …and PS – He’s not Hitler. Neither was Obama. Neither was Bush. Shut up.

THIS IS US …

You think you’re alone …until art shows up.

That’s the whole point of it in the first place. If you’re an artist and you’re still trying to “entertain” people …you’re not yet an artist. Art isn’t pretentious. It isn’t a rich man’s word. And it’s not always about helping people escape. It’s just a mirror. That’s all. And real artists don’t just work in paint or notes or words or film or lenses. True artists work …in honesty. THAT is the most important thing required for an artist. Honesty.

I rarely fawn over episodic television. It’s my guilty pleasure and I try to keep it to myself. But this year a couple of shows have surfaced that have moved me in foundational ways. The first one I wrote about some weeks ago …Speechless. And it nails the comic and tragic aspects of dealing with special needs, day in and day out.

But the TV show that continues to wreck me week after week is …This Is Us, on NBC.

For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll be as vague as possible. It follows several different lives that all connect at a center point. And that center point is unlikely and unexpected. One of those lives is an adopted man named Randal.

Randal’s particular journey is complicated at best and he’s caught in several conundrums he will never fully simplify.

As the father of two adopted children, one having severe special needs and the other having all sorts of “issues” that are nearly impossible to diagnose, I struggle with the natural order of things, constantly. I read incessantly on “nature” vs “nurture” issues. My wife and I never quite know how to act when someone tells us one of our children looks just like us (especially when they say that about the oldest one …because she’s from China and TOTALLY looks like it).

But this TV show …this prime time soap opera …is connecting with adoptive parents in ways we cannot even express. The emotions and pain this man feels are the things we all hope our children don’t feel …but fear they do. And the fact that someone knows our secret and is putting it on the screen is resonating with millions of people. Definitely with me. That’s what art does. It resonates.

I’ll leave the details of the show to those who haven’t seen it yet. Do yourself a favor and make it part of your entertainment diet. It might actually be important. And I never say that about entertainment.

But in a larger sense, the dynamics of the show are metaphors for where and who we are Americans and where and who we are as a nation …

The beautiful, good-natured-yet-kind-of-dumb white boy has more opportunity than the rest of the characters. Mainly because we all just like to look at him. He’s the ideal. He’s uncomplicated on the surface and we treat him as the ubiquitous leading man. But he’s more complex and volatile than we want to believe. He’s trying to grow and exceed everyone’s expectations. And that’s harder to do than you think.

The obese woman (who is EXACLY his equal – literally) is in a constant state of struggle, fear and transformation. She never feels okay about who she is …even though she’s actually very okay. She has love standing right in front of her …but she refuses it because she doesn’t yet love herself. She has miles to go to achieve everything she’s been missing her entire life. And just by looking at it on the surface …we’re not sure she’ll ever get there.

And then there’s the adopted black man …a strong metaphor for race in the United States itself. He’s trapped in the center of two worlds colliding. He feels unwanted and rejected, no mater how successful he becomes or how much he’s told he is loved or how perfectly he lives his life. He cannot escape his own skin, even though the people closest to him call him brother and son …and they shower love on him as best they can. He is still a perpetual victim of ghosts of the past. And he will never be able to shake them completely. WE …will never be able to shake them completely. And no matter how we try …our good intentions can’t bind deep, deep wounds.

I believe the struggles of this moment in history are wrapped in the questions and paradoxes of the adoption of different races.

In the micro, there are constant elephants in the room when you have adopted children of ANY race. You can either address them early and give yourself a shot at a decent relationship with your adopted kids, or you can avoid them and give yourself NO shot at a relationship with your adopted kids, whatsoever.

Being adopted is a dichotomy. On one hand, you were rejected and unwanted. On the other hand, you were fought for and fiercely wanted. That internal reconciliation adopted children must always feel is the reason my wife and I stand in our kids’ rooms, on more nights than I can count, and watch them sleep and cry while we kiss their sleeping little heads until it’s almost embarrassing.

But there are also bigger elephants in the bigger room: why do you never see a black family with adopted white children? Why are there no Asian parents traveling to Scandanavian countries to adopt those orphans? Are white people, who adopt children of other races, doing it to simply assuage some kind of guilt? Should people of a certain race be adopted into families of the same race?

These are questions all of us who have adopted children of different races think about at some point. There is no escaping it. My Chinese daughter is just Bella, at my house. I don’t even really see her Asian features anymore. She’s simply my Sunday driving buddy who likes hard rock music and bad, animated movies. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally wondering about her biological mother and father. And wondering about all of the circumstances that had to take place to produce a scenario where I could have enough disposable income to basically buy my way to her country and buy her out of it. I think about it more often than I probably want to admit.

One of my son’s best friends is also adopted. He is half white and half black, being raised by the white woman who adopted him. I often think about the system that led him to her home. And I wonder about the choices, compulsions, laws, stereotypes and socially acceptable (and unacceptable) notions that resulted in his particular journey.

As is the case with everything, we aren’t going to address these elephants effectively through politics or high-minded morality or marches or movements. We’re going to address them through our children. That’s how life evolves …through your kids.

And I, for one, am glad This Is Us is looking in the corner over there and saying, “hey guys …look …there’s an elephant. But he’s not as mean as you think and you can actually pet him. He won’t bite.”

That’s what art does. It helps with the elephants. And it makes me feel not so alone.

R