Bojack Horseman and Unseen Victims of COVID-19

This evening, I sat down to eat my dinner quickly as Stephy fed a grumpy wee-baby-Shelby. Most days, the timing works out where she’ll swing on her baby seat while we eat hasty panicked mouthfuls before she grows impatient with the lack of attention. Today, we had no such serendipitous scheduling. I ate my way a little bit too quickly through a Post-Mates Pad Thai and settled down with a watered-down Thai Tea. And then, invariably, I revved up the engine on that old demon…Netflix. 

I may or may not have spent my weekend watching some of the trashy mid-budget action flicks Netflix seems to be pushing out for the masses. Spenser Confidential didn’t know what movie it wanted to be. Triple Frontier felt like it had the potential to be good, but fell flat at the end. 6 Underground was unwatchable. This week, it felt like I needed something to cleanse the palate. So it was finally time for me to watch Season 6 of Bojack Horseman. 

I enjoy Bojack Horseman. It reaches deep down and resonates with some of the best darkest places. It’s a show that shines a light on addiction, self-loathing and despite the prevalence of animals, it really highlights humanity. On top of that, Bojack from time to time tumbles into interminable tongue twisting tirades of titillating tête-à-tête. But this post isn’t really about the show.

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mmm… so good


This post isn’t really about the show because about two minutes into season 6, I sort of freaked out. I thought about AA meetings. In the midst of all of the confusion with COVID-19, I hadn’t thought about AA meetings. How are people going to meetings? For a lot of people, monthly, weekly, even daily meetings were and are the life-blood for a life of sobriety. A steady routine of accountability and catharsis, or at the very least, stale coffee and familiar faces was an essential tool to stem the tide of a personal darkness.

About a year ago, I went to a meeting in Orange. It was an assignment for my Pastoral Ministry class, but if I’m being honest, I’ve always wanted to go to an AA meeting. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I pictured a cold room with a circle of chairs and a lectern, people wearing khakis and work polos would share stories about hitting rock bottom. What it ended up being was warm. People were warm and friendly, but not pushy.

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When I was waiting, I could see that a lot of people were there as part of their routine, or as part of a court-ordered mandate, so there wasn’t intensity in the room, just a kind of familial energy. It felt like people waiting for a pick-up basketball game to start.

Then, when we did start, people casually opened up and shared about what they’ve done and how they were doing. When I think back on it, I can’t remember the specifics of any of those stories, only how it felt to be in the room. The meeting itself seemed to have a liturgy, a routine that lends special power through repetition and consistency. 

I saw people sharing about their lowest points. And after they finished, other people would smile at them and nod and clap. They accepted each other because they knew they were the same. Think about that. Think about the hardest truths you’ve never had the courage come to grips with about yourself. What would it mean if you voiced those out loud and had people not judge you. It felt like Sunday Nights at Winter Retreat. Sunday nights are testimony night where sleep deprivation takes hold of everyone and the walls come down. There’s a mighty power in this, a power that is sometimes just enough to keep us from tumbling back down into the pit.

I think about AA meetings amidst this crisis and I find myself praying. Super hard. For some reason it’s gnawing away at me.

You know, almost every day, I think about Thomas. Thomas is neck-deep in the muck of fighting this disease in the New York epicenter. My best-good-friend is a verifiable hero in a time where heroes are going to make the difference between a death toll in the thousands and one in the tens or hundreds of thousands. He’s trained his whole life for the skills and character to dutifully save lives without any fanfare and recognition.

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He saves lives every day in an overworked New York Hospital and I #stayhome. So you can say we’re both doing our part.

Like everyone else in Quaran-Town, I’ve been glued to the news. Every day Stephy gives me some updated numbers and I can’t help but watch how COVID-19 ripples out into the world affecting industries and lives even outside of the health ramifications.

I don’t know if you think this way, but when there’s a crisis, I think about my role in it. This is because when you internalize something like the Amazing Spider-Man, you truly believe that you have a great responsibility to help. Now, I know I’m already a hero because I’m staying home and watching Netlix in my pajama bottoms (#stayhome), but for this whole crisis, I’ve had a sinking feeling that I’m on the bench for this one. I didn’t know my role in all this, and I began to suspect that I didn’t have one. But then Bojack, and addiction and a light bulb seemed to go off. It feels like this is a clue, a hint at my way to be a part of it. 

I don’t know how to help. I wish I did. I’ve contacted Orange County AA. They’ve put me on a list of resources, but neither of us knows what that means. I’m reading as many articles as I can, including this excellent NY Times article. Maybe I can train some folks to use Zoom. Maybe I can donate some Pro accounts or some pizzas for meeting hosts. Maybe, quite possibly, I can offer an ear to anyone who might be reading this. If you’re isolated, or deep in a well, or living too much like you’re in a Bojack episode, I’ll be here for you as best as I can. I don’t know how to run an AA meeting, but I can sit, I can listen and I can accept and I can pray. 

True to Its Brand, BoJack Horseman Shows That Happily Ever Afters ...

Warrior, The Fighter and What If’s?

Last night, I watched Warrior (2011). I don’t know why I haven’t gotten around to it before. It’s right in my wheelhouse. There’s fighting, family strife, addiction and Tom Hardy with traps the size of mountains ranges. Even Cameron from House M.D. is in it (playing a very cookie cutter wet blanket character). On paper, it would seem to be custom made for me, but for some reason or another, I haven’t gotten around to it. Probably because I saw Fighting (2009) and I was worried this would be another low-budget, over-the-top, MMA porno. 

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geez, look at those things.

While watching, there were scenes that made me so tense, I wanted to skip through them. They weren’t, as you might expect, the fight scenes. They were the scenes where Joel Edgerton’s character needed to think about how to pay the mortgage, or explain to a superintendent about his black eye. The fight scenes were gripping but they weren’t the object of tension, they were the release. It was the day to day that left me feeling battered. It always seems to be the day to day that leaves me feeling battered. 

The fights, on the other hand, are a catharsis. I envy the way fighters in movies get to let it all out. During a crucial fight, Joel Edgerton’s trainer tells him “ You don’t knock him out, you don’t have a home.” The entirety of his struggle is made tangible. Everything he was helpless to change before is now malleable in his hands. Outside of the movies, day to day life doesn’t come with a release valve. The frustrations of work, the pressure of life, a lifetime of struggle— these don’t come with that button you find on your Instant Pot. I guess there are adult coloring books and transcendental meditation, but I don’t know man, I just feel like there are some amounts of steam that don’t get blown off with colored pencils. 

In The Fighter (2010), Christian Bale plays Dicky Ecklund, a crack-addicted former boxer, who gives Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a moving speech in Mickey’s title fight. After the family overcomes failures, addiction, imprisonment, injuries and embarrassment, Dicky tells Micky “You f***in’ get out there, and use all the s*** that you’ve been through, all that f***in’ hell, all the s*** we’ve gone through over the f***in’ years, and you put it in that ring right now. This is yours. This is f***in’ yours.”

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“take all of you s***, and get it together.”

There’s something incredibly powerful about the idea that you can take everything, everything bad in your life and channel into your fists and bring it into a ring. I don’t know about you, but there are aspects of my life that I’m deeply disappointed by. I feel like made me these promises that it didn’t keep. I feel like there’s a type of person I could have been and a kind of role I could have had in society but society decided it didn’t need what I have to offer. Sometimes, I feel so mad at God that I don’t know what to say to him. Sometimes, I feel like I’m Jonah and I ran away and God never bothered to send a big ol’ fish after me. He just said, “oh well,” slapped the dust off his hands and moved on. I can almost taste what it would be like to pour all of this damned heavy heaviness into my hands and let it all out. 

I envy the fighters because they aren’t helpless like me.

***

Yesterday, I was lying in bed thinking about the destiny I was meant to have. I could have been a great man. I could have led people through war and strife. I could have penned great American classics, composed compelling ad campaigns, directed masterpieces of cinema and stage. I was mad at the world for not wanting the qualities I love most about myself and replaying my favorite Fight Club (1999) speech in my mind.

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*** we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.” Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

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How can you face that level of disappointment and not want to fight?

I stayed up at night and thought about what I wanted to say about all of this. I thought about how I would explain it to Stephy. I was gonna tell her that I love fighting movies because I can live vicariously through the hero who can fight a manifestation of his problems. And as I got to this section of self-pity, it sort of flipped around on me. A question kept popping into my head that I couldn’t put down. It’s the question that Stephy would have asked me, but she went to bed first. The question is this:

“Who’s stopping you?”

Who’s stopping me? The answer, frankly is no one. I have to come face to face with the fact that I, like the fighters in these movies, have the opportunity to take fate into my own hands. I want the chance on the big stage with the bright lights, but I don’t put the work in on the ground. I want the title shot, but I don’t want to live out the training montage. No one stopped me from doing the things I love. No one came crashing through my door and slapped the pen out of my hand or threw my laptop to the ground. I sabotaged myself through Instagram Explore, Covid-19 memes and my fourth rewatching of The West Wing. I do hold my fate in my hands, I just don’t live like it.

You know, I don’t think this piece turned out the way I thought. I thought I wanted to rail against the decline of masculinity, about the vacuum of leadership that exists in the world, and the minimal stakes in which we find ourselves out here in suburbia. But I think the place where I’ve arrived is the same as the best part of any truly good boxing movie. Good fighting movies aren’t about dealing with the world outside. They are about a man by himself, a man learning to conquer the demons within.

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I have a lot of demons to conquer. I don’t have any discipline. I’m an addict, just not to anything sexy. I’m a glutton and a deadbeat. I’m a coward and I’m quick to point the finger elsewhere.  Maybe the takeaway from this isn’t to crave fight scenes, but to commit to the training montages. In a pivotal scene in Creed (2015), Sly Stallone (Rocky) points to Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and tells him, “You see this guy here staring back atcha? That’s your toughest opponent. Every time you get into the ring, that’s who you’re going against. I believe that in boxing and I do believe that in life. Okay?” You can feel the intensity when Jordan begins to confront his own demons as he shadowboxes. Stallone begins to step out of frame. As he takes a couple steps back, I can hear his voice speaking to me and my demons, speaking to where I need to put in some work. In that thick, tough guy accent, he says quietly, knowingly, “I’m gonna leave you two alone for a while.”  

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Noodle Note

When you grow to my age, you don’t remember much about elementary school. You remember the names of your teachers and some of the names of your classmates. You remember making edible dirt with crushed brownies and gummi worms. You remember playing with a parachute in gym class and being sent to the principal’s office for making prank Valentine’s cards for classmates with crude names that you borrowed from that old PC game Scorch (well, I remember that last part).

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I seem to remember worksheets that asked me what my favorite color was (don’t know), who my personal hero was (Raphael from TMNT), and what I wanted to be when I grew up (inventor/President of the United States).  I didn’t know it then, but there was only one question with an answer that has not changed. What is my favorite food? My favorite food always has been and always will be beef noodle soup, 紅燒牛肉麵.

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I grew up in Queens County, the most diverse county in the entire world (Google it). P.S. 163 and P.S. 173 were no different. People from every tribe, nation and tongue gathered a stone’s throw away from Manhattan to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They still do. But when you’re in grade school and you write beef noodle soup in a box on a worksheet, people don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. They think of chunky beef and vegetable soup. They think of beef stew with carrots and potatoes.

But they’re wrong. Beef noodle soup isn’t American. It isn’t Irish or English. Beef noodle soup is Taiwanese. Fatty beef shank, braised and slow cooked with bones for a deep, rich flavor. Soy sauce, rock sugar and star anise. Dough, delicious dough, hand pulled or knife cut into thick, chewy noodles that soak up the flavor without falling apart. Beef noodle soup is God’s gift to mankind, and it came by way of a little island formerly known as Formosa.

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Main Street looked different when we were kids. When I was growing up, before there was Flushing Library, before there was Big Bowl or Starbucks, there was that wicked place Mega Academy and a string of excellent restaurants and supermarkets. On Main Street, in between 41st and 42nd ave., there was a Taiwanese Restaurant that made the best damn beef noodle soup in the city. Right smack on that street was a place that sold us 紅燒牛肉麵. I remember the sound of the bell against the door and the way the cashier had a booth before you got to the seating area. I remember the waitress with the hoarse voice, and the pulled back ponytail and a mole above her lip like Cindy Crawford. I remember the anticipation as we drove back home with it, burning hot even through the plastic container that I would hold to make sure it wouldn’t topple. Back then, I didn’t eat the meat or drink the soup, I just ate the noodles, and then I ate the extra noodles my mom would order for me and then I would eat my brother’s noodles that he didn’t finish, because beef noodle soup was my favorite food. 

***

When I was 21, I had essentially dropped out of college and moved to California (sorry mom). Then I decided to tag along with my dad and stepmom as they explored some business opportunities in China and Taiwan. It’s the longest stretch of time I can remember spending with my dad. I celebrated my twenty second birthday in a two bedroom condo in Taoyuan. It was during this time that my stepmom began to see some of the odd freakish similarities between father and son. Not the least of these similarities was the fact that we found an amazing beef noodle soup place on ZhongHua Rd. and without her intervention, my dad and I would have eaten there for every meal.

My dad, too, has always loved beef noodle soup and much of the mythology of my dad involves it. My mom used to tell me a story about my dad when he was growing up. My dad left home to go to high school in Taipei, so my grandma would give her beloved son enough money for two bowls of noodles. Two bowls, because beef noodle soup was his favorite food. A classmate of my father’s lost his parents when he was young and didn’t have the means to eat out, so for three years, my dad bought two bowls a day, one for himself and gave one to his friend. We now know that friend as uncle Liang.

Later, in college, uncle Liang introduced my dad to a precocious young lady from Chiayi. That lady was and is my mom.  

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And thus, my parents fell in love (and out of love too, but that’s another story). When they were dating, my dad would take my mom all over Taiwan on his motorcycle. They rode through mountains and by the ocean, and when the engine would overheat, my dad would pull over to the side of the road and pee on it to cool it down. Dad would take off his belt and wrap it around the both of them as they cruised through the countryside day and night. My mom would fall asleep with her cheek pressed up against his back.

But they didn’t just travel around, they had their regular spots too. One of them was none other than a beef noodle soup shop. In certain restaurants, they will differentiate between 牛肉麵 (literally beef noodle), and 牛肉湯麵 (beef soup noodle). There were two differences between the two. First, the fact that the latter had no meat and second, the price. Since my parents were broke and in love, they split a beef soup noodle and the kind shopowner would give them a free tea egg.

After many shared bowls and after many long years of courtship, they decided to get married. The problem is, my grandparents didn’t support the marriage. They didn’t think my mom was good enough for their cherished son, so they didn’t show up for the wedding. When they did, guess who acted as a father for my own father when he married my mother. That’s right. The man who ran the noodle shop.

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My grandparents would get furious because my dad would spend his holidays with the owner of the noodle shop.

 

***

Usually, Stephy reads these things when everyone else does. I catch her on the bed or couch scrolling on her phone. If I’m lucky, she’s moved by something she read and accepts my kisses. With this post, I read it to her in different phases as I wrote it. She asked me where I was going with it. I think this is where. 

Stephy likes beef noodle soup too. And so does her family. When we were in Taiwan, her dad brought us a really damn good one from somewhere deeper in the city. We ate it together—  myself, Stephy, her dad, aunt, niece, nephew, grandma and NaiNai the dog. We also ate beef noodle soup in a famous shop in YongKang Street, and at another place with my mom and brother and a couple of instant ones from 7-11. All told, I ate at least one bowl per day during our two week trip in Taiwan last year. What was I saying?

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Stephy makes a hell of a beef noodle soup. 

Anyway, sometimes when she has the time, Stephy’ll make it at home. She makes it in the instant pot which spouts the smell of stewed beef all up in the air and when I walk through the door, I feel like I could cry. I feel at home. Maybe Shelby will feel that way too. Maybe it will be her favorite food, and she’ll think of good memories from growing up. Maybe she’ll think of the places she can count on, or her ethnic identity, or maybe she’ll think of people who love her. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll have a different favorite food. Maybe it’ll be pastrami. I love Pastrami.

Thoughts You Might Have If You Binge Watch The West Wing While Social Distancing

When I finally got to the cashier at Trader Joe’s, I asked, “do you think I should’ve bought more stuff?” She looked down at my purchase, three bundles of flowers and a small bag of lemons. “Umm, probably,” she chuckled, then asked “Was it worth it?”

I had just waited for about half an hour in a line that was one among many lines that stretched through the aisles and went all the way to the back of the store. People filled their carts with foods, non perishables, and whatever supplies they felt would help them as they prepared to hunker down for the next who-knows-when. I was just there to pick up some daisies, baby’s breath and lemons for the wee baby Shelby’s 100 day shindig. Yellow daisies and baby’s breath were gonna match the balloons and the lemons were for the ice water in the glass dispenser.

I stood in line with these items in one hand and with my other hand caught Pokemon and worked on the New York Times crossword. It took some time, enough to catch ‘em all, but not enough to finish the crossword. By the time I got to the cashier, my eyes were a bit fuzzy and my hands were a little sore, so it wasn’t unusual for the cashier to ask me if I thought the wait was worth it.
“Yeah.” I said, and I meant it.

That was last Friday. Later that day, Orange County schools would announce that they’d be shutting down. A few days later, the county would announce a prohibition on gatherings and businesses involved in non-essential activities. The lock-down had begun.

***


It’s been a lovely time working from home. Stephy has a set up with the big monitor up in the loft, and I’ve put together a two-laptop battle station on the dining table. We eat all of our meals together and perhaps most importantly, we spend lots of time with the wee baby. Well, mostly, the baby hangs out and falls asleep and poops and cries and smiles at us, God, we love her so much.

When I’ve taken out the trash, or retrieved things from the garage, I gotten a chance to look around outside. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but it feels different. This week, I see more parents walking or playing with their children. I hear more laughter from through our windows coming from the other homes in the complex.

This morning, I left our self-imposed quarantine to run a couple of errands. One of my tires is underinflated, so naturally I’ve ignored the warning light for the past two weeks. Stephy gently reminded me this morning to take care of it, so I promptly went to our local gas station and failed to reinflate it. Afterwards, I ventured to go see what Sprout’s looked like. I kind of expected what I’ve been seeing on the news, empty shelves, a line around the block and fist fights over Charmin Ultra. What I saw were families shopping contentedly for supplies, dutiful workers stocking shelves, and a relatively normal looking store.

It wasn’t mayhem. It was… normal. And maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching the West Wing (Sorkin Seasons only), which is basically patriotism-porn, but as I left the store and walked through the parking lot, I felt an immense sense of pride in my countrymen. We are indeed a resilient people.

***


Later, we took the family out for a little drive. The baby likes to nap in the car seat, and Stephy wanted to see firsthand if I might be able to reinflate the tire with a second try (I was not). Everywhere we went, we saw families walking around in parks and while the restaurants and stores were empty, life continued to flourish despite our circumstances.

You can say that America was ill-prepared and naive to the gravity of the situation, but there is something admirable about the aura of invincibility with which we walk. You can call it hubris (and you ought to) but it’s lined with a confidence that comes from a long history of leadership and heroism. You can call those spring breakers idiots (and you ought to) but Americans are trained with an ethic where we don’t let circumstances dictate how and where we’d like to exercise our freedoms. 

***

I read a passage once that, like all great pieces of writing, latched itself deeply, irrevocably onto some part of my soul. Steinbeck wrote that “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” He writes so in response to his family who, upon discovering about his ailing health, discourages him from getting into his RV and driving around the country with his poodle, Charley. He won’t allow fear to stop him from what he wants to do. 

I grew up in New York, where every bit of logic told us to fear large gatherings, avoid public transportation, and I don’t know, build smaller buildings. But we didn’t do that, we said “**** the people who would have us crawl in our holes in fear” and we built the tallest building in the western hemisphere, designed it like a middle finger and named it The Freedom Tower.

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Our country is not composed and classy like other ones. We don’t sing opera from our balconies, or organize group dinners across an apartment complex. We sort of hoard toilet paper and beat up Asians. We’re a young country, but we’re full of heroes like the cashiers at the grocery stores, like the nurses and doctors, like the government workers, mailmen, restaurateurs and delivery guys.

And we also like the little things, like insisting on having a good time for spring break. We also laugh in the face of danger, like going for walks with our family because of course it would take an unprecedented worldwide health crisis to get us out of the house. We like to do what we like to do, even if it’s unwise, like buying flowers for your baby even when she doesn’t understand what they are and there’s a pandemic to be hoarding for. 

What Would Kobe Do?

I’m not sure how these things are supposed to go. I’ve been slow to write this because I don’t know my end point. Part of me feels like I want Kobe to know what he meant to me. Another part wants everyone else to know. Then again, I think part of me just wants to remind myself. Something inside of me needs to know with certainty, that I am truly a fan. It’s important that this is true of myself. I am a Kobe Bryant fan.

Like everyone in this city, I have Kobe merch. I have tees, a couple hundred dollars worth of his signature shoes and for different phases of my life I’ve worn a custom-made bracelet on my wrist that reads “What Would Kobe Do?” My first real basketball shoes were the white Kobe IV’s that I wore until my foot would touch the floor through the hole in the bottom. For years, I made it a point to be the last person to leave the court because the shots I took while people were resting meant I was out-working them. I challenged anyone better than me to one-on-ones after games because I wanted to figure out weaknesses for the next game. Kobe has been one of my great sports role models. He’s shaped my approach towards challenges both on and off the court. Even still, it feels like I took him for granted. 

 

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May 2012

 

Some people are asking why? Why is there so much mourning over just a basketball player? I think part of why it’s so crushing is that, more than anyone in the NBA, people were most excited for the next chapter of Kobe’s life. Kobe’s post retirement saw him as an Oscar-winner, a coach, a philosopher and a mentor to the young superstars of the NBA. Kobe’s nod of approval is what the young bucks looked for. He became a statesman and a patriarch, not just for basketball but for all realms of life. Calling Kobe Bryant just a basketball player is like calling Bruce Lee just a kung-fu movie actor. 

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Mamba Mentality
For so many, the connection with Kobe goes so much deeper than basketball. For anyone feeling helpless on or off the court, the Mamba Mentality instilled a great power. You could be a killer, a warrior, a winner through sheer force of will. You see, Kobe wasn’t the most gifted or talented. He didn’t have the build like Jordan or Lebron. He didn’t have the giant hands or the indestructibility. He just worked harder than anyone in the league.

There are legendary stories of Kobe practicing for hours before teammates even get into the gym.

Then, just as many stories of Kobe playing through injuries because an ailing body could not get in the way of a man and his mission.

Then there are just legendary Kobe-isms:

The Matt Barnes inbound play.

“Job’s Not Finished” press conference.

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The Kobe System

For scrubs on and off the court (like myself), Kobe’s career was a portrait of something truly special. It was special but attainable, because to be a Mamba was a mindset, not a set of God-given tools.

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As I wade in the collective sadness, it kind of feels like Kobe is inspiring the masses towards something else. Maybe it has to do with the tragic nature of the crash and the fact that Gianna was involved, but it feels like Kobe’s teaching us to be better fathers, to do more to elevate women. Elle Duncan shared a beautiful story about Kobe that seems to be resonating deeply with people, including myself as a recently christened girldad. While he always supported women athletes, it seems that his role as a father, not a player, is making the biggest impact. 

It used to be, when I thought about Shelby grown up, I felt a sense of loss, because I can’t transfer my love of sports, camping, and violence to a daughter. Now, I’m convinced that it’s even more essential to instill that strength and confidence in Shelby. It’s what Kobe would do. It’s what he did with Gianna and all the girls.

There are a lot of things that I can say about Kobe Bryant. His impact on my life is dawning on me more and more as the world mourns together. I could talk about my approach towards basketball, my bastardized version of the elbow fadeaway, how I pin an opponents hand against their hip. I could talk about staying at the park late and shooting jumpshots in the dark.

But as I think about his legacy, I wonder if the best I can do is to make sure he impacts what he cared about most: family. Maybe the best I can do is to make sure Kobe leaves a mark, not just on my game, but on my daughter. As I’ve been wearing my “What Would Kobe Do?” bracelet in the past few days, it feels like it’s taken on a different meaning. Sometimes, I look at it when I hear Shelby cry and I decide to run over instead of waiting for Stephy to handle it. Sometimes, I look at it when I’m dying inside at work and I think about what my job means for my family. Other times, I look at it and it makes me think about a brighter future with better GirlDads and more representation and compensation for women. I think about a world filled with more people like Gianna and Kobe Bryant in this world.

 

Danger Was Almost My Middle Name

This all started because I’m wearing a mask at work. When your job is to work with dozens of Chinese students and their day is spent going to school with other Chinese students and one of the first domestic cases of the Wuhan CoronaVirus was confirmed in your city, you might be concerned about managing the risk of infection. The thing is, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have cared at all.

Adventuroot
You see, in my teens and twenties (I resent needing to phrase it this way), I took every adventure available to me. If there was a cliff, I’d find a way to climb it and jump off it. If there was a distant land, I’d find a way to travel to it whether by train, plane or automobile. In Mama Liu’s Rav4, I drove half the distance to the moon (five times the circumference of the Earth), making my way to every state in the contiguous United States, staying in shady motels, camping out in the back of my car, or better yet, spending the night in a frosty bivouac sac. I got a handful of speeding tickets and a boatload of parking tickets. I drank all the coffee and ate all the slow-smoked barbecue I could find in this great country. I almost legally changed my name to make Danger my middle name. While I didn’t go on drug-induced benders or get into low-level violent crime, I lived my life as hard as I could, or as far as commitment to my faith afforded me (plus some extra-curricular, extra-biblical activity on top).

I’m the blip in the middle.

When people would question me, discourage me or otherwise rein me in, they used the threat of danger. “Don’t do that, that’s dangerous.” “Don’t eat that, you’ll get cancer.” “Don’t go there, it’s not safe.” My response was always the same; live longer? For what? Live longer? At what cost? In the words of the great George Strait “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.” I wasn’t looking to extend my time at the expense of how I spent it. Greasy food tastes better, driving fast is more fun, the road less traveled makes a better story.

Existentialroot
At the bottom of all that, there was the fact that I didn’t want to live long, regardless. Like my sad existentialist heroes, I was weary. I was weary of life. The point wasn’t that I was willing to pay the price for a lifestyle that I wanted. The point was that I wanted a lifestyle that cost me more life. In other words, burning the candle at both ends wasn’t a means to an end, it was the goal. I was tired, and on a lot of days since those times, I’ve been tired.

Something always resonated with me in Ecclesiastes. From the moment I stumbled across it in my teens, it’s been my favorite part of scripture. Ecclesiastes echoes a meaninglessness that burrows deep into the marrow of your bones and saps joy from so much of life. There is a fleeting quality to this world that doesn’t make it ephemeral and beautiful, but cheap like a disposable napkin. 

The one solace was that we have a chance to make a difference in something eternal. The one solace was that somewhere, there was a way to have a legacy.

We shine most brightly when we can reflect the good graces of God. We leave a mark by dipping our toes into the eternal. But even still, there is a longing for the other side of life. The apostle Paul says as much in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He knows that the things of this world pale in comparison to just a sliver of the goodness of God. What we experience here is but a shadow of what is to come. He stays to possibly do some good. But in his heart, he longs for the other side of the veil.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t eat my vegetables.

Just kidding. I like vegetables, actually. But Paul encapsulates a big portion of my approach towards life and particularly my own safety. When I took the 16PF at Talbot, my three highest factors were High Threat Immunity, Thrill Seeking Behavior and Low Energy Depression. If you’ve known me for some amount of time, you look at those three phrases and you recognize all of it immediately in how I live. I never saw the need to shield myself from the dangers of this world. What’s the worst that could happen? My untimely demise? Perfect, I could use the rest. Let’s roll the dice.

Saferoot
If this all sounds awfully morbid, rest assured. I’m not embarking on drug-fueled benders or living my best hedonistic life. I spend my days in a two bedroom condo in one of the safest suburbs in the world. I go to and fro from my safe job in a sensible mid-size SUV with lots of airbags and even a dashcam. I lock my doors now. Take a snapshot of my life these past few years and I venture to guess that it’s largely indistinguishable from the safety-seeking people I pass on the freeway.

And today, I’m wearing a goofy facemask at work.

(facemask photo)

I’ve never been known to be the most cautious one in the room.

In 2002, When SARS broke out in eastern Asia and around the world, I was a teenager. Like any teenager convinced of his own immortality, SARS was a just punch-line and a means for taking self-deprecating racist pot-shots at my own people. My only responsibility on a day to day basis was reading Fitzgerald novels and getting Kennedy Fried Chicken from the corner of Fulton and Fort Greene. The closest thing I had to a bank account was a new paperback novel and a receipt from Barnes and Noble.

Now, in 2020, I’ve got a job, a mortgage, a wife (total babe) and most recently, a tiny baby to take care of. I can’t afford to joke around. I can’t afford to be cavalier about my own life because the outcome of other lives depends on it. If I get hurt, if I get hurt, it’s not me that pays the price, it’s these other two. And it’s a heavy weight to carry.

Dadroot
You know, I thought that I would resent this weight. All of the married characters in my writing resented their families for it. I thought I would be bogged down by the responsibility of caring for a family. I’d spend my days in a cubicle, rotting away under fluorescent lights instead of under the stars somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. But now, now that I’m on the other side, I think that I imagined it wrong. 


No, I don’t love the suburbs. I don’t love the safety. I don’t love having a mortgage, and furniture and a life that I can’t pack up and leave on a moments notice. I love my family, and the other things are necessary costs to that end. I do enjoy a home, and I suspect that they do too. Instead of looking to speed through life, I’m trying to slow it down. I’m trying to stretch it out because my family doesn’t need a martyr, they need a father. They need a rock, an anchor, not a rolling stone.

I know I’m not always going to have to sacrifice things. When Shelby isn’t a tiny bitty baby, she will come along on adventures. She will sit in that center seat between me and her mom while we explore the world together. I’ll do dumb things to try to impress her. But even now, with my quiet day to day, I am at peace. I realize that what I do with these two ladies will be the greatest adventure I embark on, and how I do it will be my greatest legacy.

look at these two babes

How I’m Doing

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging more lately. This is mostly because we’ve organically settled into a rhythm where I take the first night shift. Stephy tries to sleep at around 10pm after the baby is fed and changed. Then, I usually I wind down and write until the baby wakes at around 1AM to impatiently demandsfood. After feeding and changing, I sleep too. Stephy takes care of things in the awful hours of night until around seven or so. Then, I take over so she can get some rest before I head to work.

Close Call: This child just peed AND pooped moments after I swapped diapers.

This irregular schedule has given me lots of time to compile goofy lists and think about things. It’s also given me more time to work on the novel (coming up on 50k words). I’ve been stuck plot-wise for a few weeks now, but steadily grinding on the passages that I know will happen. It seems to be moving away from detective novel into thriller territory. This is fine with me.

Anyway, one thing that I haven’t really written about is my current stage of life. This makes sense because it’s in flux. Not only am I trying to figure out what is happening, I’m also trying to figure out how I feel about it.

The first thing I want to communicate is that I miss ministry. I miss pouring my time and energy into the service of people, their understanding of God and His role in their lives. I loved every minute of study, preparation, even all the cleaning up. Most of all, I miss the kids. The role I was allowed to play in their lives was one that I never took for granted and the void left from stepping down from that responsibility has been the hardest part of this process.

It’s weird to go from having an important role in so many lives to kinda not. The past few months of “secular” work has been a mixed bag. I manage teachers, prepare curriculum, and help students apply to schools. For the most part, I’m not doing the things I’m best at. The work can be challenging and interesting at times, but there are always the parts of it that reek of the mundane. I think often about Jesus making tables or Paul and his tents. I wonder how they did it when they knew that the fields were ripe with harvest.

On the flipside, I have been able to commit more of my time and energy into my little burgeoning family. You see, for the past few years, I have to admit that there’s been a tension. When I was in ministry and with family (even pre-baby), I had to make compromises. It was hard to go full speed into ministry because I had new financial obligations, a wife to be present for, and a new set of affairs to be concerned about (1 Corinthians 8:33-34). Paul describes the married man as a man whose interests are divided, and that was an apt description for me. At the same time, it was hard to be fully present for my family. I had to give up most evenings and weekends, I missed birthdays and anniversaries.

More importantly, my attention would be divided. I took a look at my inbox today, and for the month of January, I have (as of writing this on January 21st) less than five emails in my primary inbox. As a minister, I’d routinely have hundreds of emails, let alone calls and messages. These were not nuisances, but they could be taxing. While a big part of me desperately wants to get back to doing the work of ministry, I can feel how this time has given me rest and an ability to focus on my family.

It was important to me to be there for Stephy and the wee baby Shelby, and although I’m occasionally too immersed in a TV show, I like to think that I’ve been a good father so far. I didn’t want Stephy to ever feel like there was something competing for my attention and affection and I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose. 

I feel like it sounds like I’m complaining. I don’t mean for it to sound that way. I just wanted to say that it’s been hard. I miss the youth, and I worry that every day I’m spending apart from them in this season is another step towards a day where they no longer see me as someone they can go to for help. I worry all the time that the day has already passed. 

But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve gained. First, you have to understand that for me, home was an unstable thing growing up. For parts of my life, my church family was the most nurturing family I had. I could count on those people to love and accept me. It’s why I committed my life to building the church. Growing up, I always had this home away from home. But now, I have a home at home.

I don’t know exactly how to express what it feels like to come home from work every day to my family waiting for me. Every morning, I don my necktie, brew my coffee in my travel mug, pack my lunch and mosey on over to the same office in a lifestyle that would make 20 year old Sunroot cry (I still want to cry sometimes). But then, I speed through regions of Irvine and Tustin to get home to these two women that I would do anything for. I come home to my family. After I park the car, I look up and see the lights on through the windows and my heart swells with a weird sensation. For the first time in my life, I feel completely at home.

At the end of the day, yes, of course I want to get back into ministry. A few times a week, I’m looking for jobs at non-profits where I can serve again. My thoughts and feelings are still jumbled. I’m still figuring it all out and I’m trying to know the right thing to do is. But as I write this on my laptop in the dark, my wife and my daughter are sleeping peacefully next to me and I know, without guilt or shame, that I’m doing my best to give my best to them. And that thought helps me sleep peacefully too.