Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Newtown, Connecticut


Dear Mackenzie,

A few months ago I wrote you a letter about the senseless killings in Aurora, Colorado called “On the Existence of Evil”.  Sadly, it encompasses many of the themes and emotions I felt again yesterday as I read about the shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.  By all means re-read it if you are moved to do so.

But today, as I hug you for dear life and tell you how much I love you, I’m feeling a bit differently about our individual and collective responsibility to put a stop these heinous acts. So buckle up, my sweet daughter.  Your dad is about to go on a rant.

For the past twenty-four hours I've been reading the many comments on Facebook and Twitter about yesterday’s horrific violence which resulted in the deaths of twenty-eight people, twenty of them kids your age and even younger. No doubt the comments are all genuine and well intentioned. I too feel grief, loss, fear, nausea, regret, sympathy, vertigo, sadness, and many other emotions.

But far worse than any of those, I feel a sense of resignation that this is the new reality in America. I also feel a sense of unbridled anger that we as a people are unwilling to do anything about it even though we can.

Yes, us.  And yes, unwilling.

No doubt we need better mental health care in this country. We need better parenting. Better guidance on movies and video games. Better everything, really. Check every box, as my friend Stu likes to say. I hope by the time you’re an adult, we’re doing all of that a lot better than we are today.

But the immediate problem is guns.

Guns. Guns. Guns. Access to guns. Fucking guns.

How is it that deranged, stupid, evil, insane people are able to legally access entire arsenals with which to kill our children? The answer is unfortunate and simple. It’s because we are unwilling to do what it takes to stop them.

A fascinating statistic is making the rounds in social media outlets today. Here it is: if you added together the number of handgun deaths this year in Japan, Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Israel, Sweden and West Germany, and then multiplied that combined total by seventy (!!), that outrageously high total would still be smaller than the number of handgun deaths this year in the United States alone. Are you kidding me?

Here’s why, and we have to look in the mirror to see it.

First of all, forty percent of people who are eligible to vote in the United States simply don’t.  What is that, fifty million people? Sixty million? More? Imagine if fifty million people went to the polls tomorrow and threw out every politician who refused to vote for real gun control reform. Real gun control reform would happen overnight. Literally. Why don’t people vote? They can’t be bothered? They think their vote doesn’t matter? They’re too cool? I don’t know.

I have little doubt that even the most ardent opponents of gun control are horrified by this latest slaughter of innocents. We’re all horrified. What sane person isn’t? But being horrified is not enough. Your very life is at stake, Mackenzie. I hate to say it, but people who don’t vote are part of this problem and I can’t forgive them for it.

Secondly, the gun lobby in this country is enormously well funded and effective.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle take their money and become beholden to them. I find it hard to blame them. They know they will not be voted out of office on that basis. Why? Because even those of us who vote rarely take the time to know or care who is funding our politicians or why.  Because we put other selfish interests first. Because we have different priorities that make us look the other way. And because we don’t really believe it can happen to us or to our kids.

You more interested in how your congressman feels about lowering your personal tax rate than about the safety of our children? RAT-AT-AT-AT-AT! RAT-AT-AT-AT-AT!

You more concerned with stopping gay marriage than about the safety of our children? POW! POW! POW! POW! POW!

You more excited about showing the length of your sexual organ about the “fiscal cliff” economic debate than about ensuring the safety of our children? BOOM! PING! PING! BOOM!

You don’t think it can happen to your own son or daughter? BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! RAT-AT-AT-AT-AT! POW! POW! POW! RAT-AT-AT-AT!

I know you can’t vote for another few years, my little one.  But I hope the adults around you will speak with the powerful weapon of their votes, and I hope they’ll do it now. I pray the grief and horror we feel across this nation today will stir us to real action. If it doesn’t, more heartbreak and tragedy await us.

And then no amount of prayers and condolences on Facebook and Twitter, or tearful recitations of beautiful scripture, should make us feel one bit less guilty about our role in these terrible deaths.

All my everlasting love,

Dad












Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Building a Furry Family


Dear Mackenzie,

Last week I had to go out of town. Since you and your mom have been living in NYC while you shoot “Nurse Jackie”, we had to board our dogs while I was away. As I went to pick them up this morning, I realized that though I sometimes complain about our overgrown pack of mutts, I was excited to see them.

Charlie was the last dog I ever bought. I use the past tense not because she’s no longer with us.  On the contrary, Charlie is alive and well and running amok in our house. I use the past tense because I will never buy another animal.

One day about seven years ago we had lunch at a deli that was located near a pet store.  Afterwards, you asked if we could look at the “beautiful puppies”.  Against my better judgment we did, and predictably you fell in love with a cute little Pomeranian/Maltese mix.  Then you did what most children tend to do when they want something. You pleaded with us to buy you this ball of fur.

I could tell that your mom loved the puppy too but she stayed neutral, which emboldened me to put my foot down and say no. To my relief we left the store puppy-less.

That night at dinner, Jamie opined that Dixie could use a play mate (for more on Dixie, re-read my letter to you called “On Playing God”) but I held firm. Then the next day I had the brilliant idea to surprise you with the puppy. Several hours and several thousand dollars later, Dixie had a play mate and Charlie had a home.

I told the story to a client of mine who is active in the world of pet rescue. She in turn told me about puppy mills, and about the millions of shelter dogs who are euthanized every year. Once I educated myself on the issue, I vowed that if we ever wanted another pet we would rescue one instead.

Not long after, your mom was out running errands and stopped to buy dog food.  They were having a pet adoption day at the store, and she fell in love with a big, black mutt named Jackson. “That’s the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen”, I said when she showed us the picture. “And besides, the last thing we need is a third dog”.

That Saturday morning the doorbell rang.  “That must be Jackson”, your mom said sheepishly. “I organized a play date for him with Dixie and Charlie. We don’t have to keep him.”

Now that’s dirty pool, Mackenzie, but welcome to married life. You yelled “let’s keep him” before we even laid eyes on him. The woman from the adoption organization suggested we come meet him outside because “he’s a little skittish”. That turned out to be quite the understatement.

Jackson was huge. The moment he saw me he started to growl ferociously, and the woman told me to “walk beside him and don’t make eye contact.” Great.

The first few weeks were tough.  Jackson clearly had issues from his past and wasn’t comfortable around people, especially men. And by men I mean me. Every time I walked into a room Jackson would jump up, growl, and run away.

You loved him instantly, my sweet daughter, except the time early on when you played a little too rough with him and he snapped at you.  You ran into the living room crying hysterically.  When we asked you what was wrong, you told us between tears that “I don’t like Jackson any more. Let’s return him”. 

This was my chance to be rid of him. But I think rescue dogs, even ones who have known only abuse, have an instinct for real love.  As you were crying Jackson came up to you, rolled over, and started to squeal in apology. It was as if he’d had a chance to think it through and made the distinction between the roughhousing of an eight year old girl and someone trying to hurt him.

So Jackson became part of our family. And wouldn’t you know it, in no time I couldn’t get enough of him either. In a home where he experienced love instead of abuse, Jackson transformed into the sweetest, happiest animal you’ve ever seen.  His deep, menacing bark the only reminder of what his life before us might have been like.

When Dixie died the pack went back down to two.  Then one day I stumbled upon a place called Bark ‘n Bitches, a pet store that rescues dogs from animal shelters and finds them homes. The owner told me she had “re-homed” over a thousand animals who would otherwise have been euthanized.

So we went there “just to look”. You fell in love with a little Lhasa Apso mutt you immediately named “Lucy”.  Lucy was beyond grungy; with hair so long and so matted you couldn’t even see her eyes. Lucy had just been rescued from the Baldwin Park shelter and hadn’t yet been bathed, taken to the vet, or otherwise checked out.  But you were adamant this was the dog you wanted.

The owner told us we could come back in a few days to take Lucy home. When we came back Lucy was bathed, had a haircut, and had something else we hadn’t noticed before: a penis! It turns out Lucy was a he.

And of course while we were there your mom fell in love with some kind of Poodle/Terrier mix, and suggested we take that one too. Since I have no real clout in our family when it comes to these types of things, Lucy became Lucky, the terrier mix became Lucy, and now we have a pack of four.

And today, as Charlie, Lucky and Lucy danced on my lap while we drove home and Jackson licked my ear, I said a little prayer of thanks for our motley furry family.

Don’t tell your mom I admitted that.

All my everlasting love,

Dad