My Latest at Life As A Human: Raising Respectful Sons

"Raising Respectful Sons: A Father's Reaction to the 'Slampigs' Scandal":


Back in the early stages of my wife’s pregnancy, before we knew we would be having a son, people often asked me whether I wanted a boy or a girl. My response usually went something like this: “Well, I’d be happy either way, I think, and I don’t have a preference, really. I don’t want one more than the other. Honestly, though, the idea of having a daughter kind of terrifies me.” That’s the thought that occurred to me again Monday morning when I ran across this article in fellow Life As A Human author Schmutzie’s Twitter feed.


My Time of Day Is the Dark Time

Somewhere around 10:30 or so every evening, my dog, Cooper, lets me know that he has to go out. By this time, Jason has been in bed for several hours, and usually even Juliette has said her goodnight. I will be sitting alone on my living-room couch, the room dark except for the one dim lamp on the side table. Sometimes I'm writing and sometimes screwing around on the Internet. Sometimes I'm just putting off going to bed. The house is quiet, except for the sound of Cooper breathing, and the occasional smack of Jason's foot against the side of his crib as he rolls over in his sleep. I'm usually oblivious to the world, ensconced in whatever it is I'm doing on my computer. Then I'll catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye, and I look over to see Cooper staring at me expectantly.

"Do you have to go outside?" I ask? He responds by running to the back door and sitting, his nose pointed at the door handle.

I unlatch the door and slide it and the screen open. "OK," I say, and Cooper rushes out, his fur tickling my leg as he brushes by me.

As I step outside, my yard is a featureless shadow--my eyes haven't adjusted yet, and not much light makes it out from the lamp in the living room. I step over to the edge of the patio, feeling the cool grit and cracks in the concrete under my feet. I cock my ear toward the side yard where Cooper does his business, listening for the telltale trickle. The evening air is cool but not cold, and has that subtle scent that I can never quite pinpoint or define, other than "Southern California on a summer night."

In front of me is the fence that separates my yard from the neighbor, which reaches to just below my eye level. There are never many stars out, and never any really bright ones, not like the ones I used to see back home. But when I look out over the tops of the yards in my neighborhood, south toward the shops and movie theater, eventually toward downtown and then Mexico, there's this soft orange glow that warms the bottom of the marine layer fog, silhouetting the rooftops and palm trees and eucalyptus that surround my house.

Looking out at that light, the surest sign that I live in a city now and not the little country town where I grew up, I sometimes feel like I ought to feel resentment or disdain. After all, this is another part of what we call "pollution." I never do, though. I just can't deny the beauty of it, different from what I ought to be used to, what ought to feel normal and right. A sense of peace, calmness comes with that sight.

I've been realizing that this moment has become one of the high points of most of my days. I rarely think about it until it's happening, and my immediate reaction when I notice Cooper looking at me is annoyance at being interrupted. Then I step outside and my attitude shifts.

It's a lonely time, though. I always find myself wishing that someone were still awake to share it with me, someone other than the dog, who, well-meaning and affectionate though he is, can't really appreciate the spectacle. At least he can't tell me about it.

It's usually not long before I close up my laptop and head to bed. When I slide under the covers, the sheets are already warm from the heat of Juliette's sleeping body. It's not as familiar or fulfilling as a hug, but I don't want to wake her, so it will do.

Problem Child?

Friday morning when I dropped off Jason at day care, one of his teachers took me aside and said she wanted to talk to me. I got a sinking feeling, because I was pretty sure I knew what this was about. As I mentioned before, Jason has been whining and crying a lot lately, and although we've been working on it and he is showing some improvement, it's often two steps forward, one step back. This wouldn't be the first time a teacher had mentioned this behavior, but every time before it had been a more offhand comment, often delivered with a conspiratorial grin. This time, though, the teacher was making sure to catch me before I left the room so she could have a discussion with me--not a good sign.

Just as I feared, the teacher wanted to talk about Jason's crying. It actually wasn't so bad. Mostly she told me about some strategies they use to manage him when he's being difficult (my word, not hers), and asked me to try them out at home. She felt that he was responding well to these changes, and wanted to make sure that we kept them up so he didn't backslide over the weekend.

For the most part, we were actually already doing a lot of what she said, with just some minor tweaks to how we would need to phrase our corrections. And she was really quite pleasant about the whole thing, not complaining or making it sound like he was a huge pain--which is to her credit, since I know he can be a pain. Even so, Juliette and I both felt horrible about the whole thing. The last thing either of us want is for Jason to be that kid.

The weekend ended up being a mix of high and low points. Sunday was a lot of fun, what with the trip to the splash park in the morning and a very good nap in the afternoon. Saturday was a little rougher, with a couple of screaming breakdowns, though I think those may have been exacerbated by tiredness. We tried to be consistent with what his daycare teachers recommended, though it's hard to know for sure if it worked.

Talking it over with Juliette last night, she said that if there's one bright side to this, it's that we know that the day care staff is seeing the real Jason, which means that he's very comfortable being around them and the other children. I actually think the reverse is also true: it means that we are seeing the real Jason.

I keep coming back to the surprise that one of our good friends expressed after hearing us talk about our struggles with his behavior. "It's so weird to hear you say all this," he said, "because I just see him as this wonderful kid." We do too, as we hastened to explain. We love how curious and intelligent he is, how articulate he can be and how funny, and even how generous and empathetic. It's just that he can also be stubborn and willful and just plain difficult, and those aren't behaviors that he usually displays around other people.

Hearing our friend's surprise, both Juliette and I felt a little guilty, and I started to wonder whether the stress of parenting wasn't coloring our perception a little too negatively. So, in that respect, knowing that Jason's teachers see this side of him too is a bit of a comfort, a little validation that, as great as Jason is in many ways, yes, he can also be a pill sometimes. As I think more about it, I think I'm finding that having that confirmation is making it a little easier to focus on Jason's good qualities, and hopefully these behavior strategies will have an effect, because the more time I can spend with a happy Jason, the more time I can be a happy Daddy.

Time Enough for Rock Band 3?

I have three guitars. There's the crappy classical that I picked up for $21 at a dorm auction when I was a freshman in college. Then there's my Danelectro U2. And last year my family gave me a Washburn steel-stringed acoustic for my 30th birthday. That's kind of a lot of guitars for someone with my level of skill at playing the guitar. Which is to say, not much.

It's not that I'm uninterested in playing guitar. On the contrary, I would love to be able to play. Actually, I'd love to be able to play just about any instrument. The problem is time--I just don't have enough of it. This is always my problem: I have way more interests than time to pursue them. Heck, even if I didn't have a wife, child, dog, and full-time job, I still wouldn't have time for all the the writing, learning, music playing, listening, games, movies, TV, books, photography and all the other nonsense that intrigues me.

Which brings me to the subject of Rock Band 3.

One of the things about music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero that always seemed a little odd to me is how disdainful some musicians and music critics were of them. You'd see stories in the gaming (and music) press with people saying things like "It's nothing like playing a real instrument." But that really misses the point, since what matters is whether or not the games are fun--and they are. Moreover, I think it's obvious that some people who might never have picked up an instrument are now taking lessons and rocking out for real because of games like these. Aside from which, any opportunity to appreciate music seems good to me, whether or not you're able to play it.

Interestingly, the folks at Harmonix seem to have taken that criticism to heart, because one of the big changes coming in Rock Band 3--along with the addition of keyboards and harmonizing vocals--is the new "Pro" mode. Unlike previous games, which reduce the song-playing to following a simplified rhythm, Pro mode is designed to much more accurately emulate the real activity of playing the drums, bass, guitar, or keyboard. By the time you work your way up to the Expert level playing as a Pro, you will be expected to play every single note, just as you hear in the real song.

In order to enable the new mode, they're adding more new controllers. If you already own Rock Band, then you're familiar with the amount of space that the drum kit and guitars take up. To play as a Pro, you'll now be adding a two-octave mini keyboard; three add-on cymbals to the drum kit; and a six-string, 102-button guitar. That's right, 102 buttons--the new guitar controller has one button for each of 17 frets along six strings down the neck. And if that isn't real enough for you, Fender is actually making a real guitar that can be used with either the game or a normal amp. There's also a converter box that can be used to connect MIDI keyboards and drum pads.

What's appealing to me is the idea that I might actually be able to kill two birds with one stone. I often find myself bemoaning the sad state of disuse that my game consoles have fallen into--almost as often as I think to myself "I should really sign up for some guitar lessons." The idea that I could conceivably become a better guitarist (or keyboardist or drummer) by playing a video game is wildly exciting to me.

There are certain impediments to this dream, though. To begin with, there's the price tag: even though I already have the original guitar, drum kit, and microphone, the full set of new game plus add-on peripherals will run $320. That's not exactly chump change in the Sakasegawa household.

Then there's the issue of space and hassle--setting up the first game already involved moving furniture and a mess of cables. This one will only be worse.

And over everything else, there's still the question of time. Mastering an instrument takes daily practice, and between work, writing, photography, and wanting to spend time with my family, the only thing left to give up is sleep. I'm probably giving up too much of that already.

The solution, I guess, is finding a way to combine even further. Maybe some day when Jason is older, we'll be able to pick up this game (or its successor) and play together. Hopefully there will be enough time in the gap between him being too young to handle the controls and being too old to want to play with his dad. (To say nothing of actually being in a band with your parents. The memory of my teenaged self shudders at the thought of such staggering lameness.)

Maybe it's all just a dream, but as dreams go it's pretty nice.

Encinitas and Santee

This weekend turned out to be a lot of fun. Saturday morning I went out on my first group shoot with the San Diego DSLR Photography Group. SDDSLR is, as they put it, "an informal camera club of digital photographers." I first heard about them through a coworker, whose husband is our office's IT consultant, as well as the photographer for all of our company events. I happened to be poking around his photo site and noticed some galleries from previous shoots with the group. I asked him about it, and he invited me along.

I was a little nervous at first, since I am still quite an amateur and my gear is pretty limited. But the group was, as advertised, very welcoming and helpful, and I had a great time walking around Encinitas with a bunch of people doing what we love to do. Sure, I did have a little lens envy from time to time, but all in all it was a lot of fun.

Here are my favorites:

Texture and Color

End of Spring

Sunday morning after some nice Skype calls with family, Juliette, Jason, and I headed out to Santee Lakes to check out the splash park that Juliette had heard about. We had a nice picnic lunch by the lake, and then headed into the "sprayground."

Unlike the last time we visited a splash park, Jason was pretty timid about approaching the jets. I hadn't initially planned on getting all the way in, but I found that just hanging around the edge taking pictures wasn't going to cut it, so I handed the camera to Juliette and waded in.

Couldn't quite convince him to join me.

He never quite got comfortable enough to completely jump in, even after other kids showed up and started playing. But, as you can see, he did eventually come in and have a good time:

The rest of this week's set:

The Pacific vs. Band of Brothers

Ever since I finished watching HBO's miniseries The Pacific a couple of weeks ago, I've been mulling over the reasons why I didn't like it as much as Band of Brothers. Not that I was surprised about that, mind you. After all, Band of Brothers is probably the best war series I've ever seen, and is one of my favorite shows of all time. Aside from which, in my previous experience, stories about the Pacific Theater of the war tended to be less appealing.

(It seems strange to use phrases like "favorite" or "less appealing" in reference to stories about real events, especially events that were, for many of their participants, life-altering and utterly horrifying. This is the vocabulary I have to discuss film and television, and I can't help but approach these particular works in the same way that I do any other sort of story, but it nevertheless feels inappropriate.)

As I was saying, I tend to be less attracted to stories about the Pacific war. That may be in part due to some latent ambivalence about that part of the war, having had some small view of the Japanese perspective of the war through my mother's mother. My grandmother, for example, is still haunted by the loss of her brother in the Battle of Okinawa. Maybe it makes me uncomfortable to see someone that could be my relative presented as the other. Maybe I'm uncomfortable because the picture is inaccurate. Or maybe because it might be true.

Yeah, maybe there's something there.

But I think the greater part of it has to do with the types of stories I like to experience, and the types of stories that are told about the Pacific war and the European war. Stories about the war in Europe often highlight the heroism of the soldiers, the camaraderie of the men, or the particular genius or ineptitude of the commanders and their strategies and tactics. Stories about the war in the Pacific, on the other hand, are often about the awful conditions, the terrible isolation of war, and the alien and brutal nature of the enemy. These patterns play out in the two series just as much as in other movies, and everything from the writing to the combat scenes to the choice of source materials bears it out.

Band of Brothers is, at its core, the story of a community. The series begins with the formation and training of Easy Company in 1942 and follows the group through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, ending shortly after V-J Day in 1945. Things are difficult for them; some men are killed, while others are broken by the strain. Through it all, what comes through is the deep bond that's formed between the soldiers, and how they rely on each other to get through the war. Though the various episodes highlight particular soldiers or platoons, it always feels as though you are seeing different threads of the same narrative, and even now, nearly nine years after it first aired, I can easily call to mind the names of over a dozen of the men in Easy Company--Winters, Nixon, Speirs, Randallman, Guarniere, Foye, Webster, Lipton, Malarkey, Blithe, Heffron, Cobb--and looking over the list of characters on the IMDb page, I can place at least ten more from the names. The closing scene of the series is a montage of the men playing baseball together while the "main" character--Major Winters--tells a bit about what happened to each after the war.

By contrast, The Pacific is a story about individuals. Not all of the main characters are introduced at the beginning, and many of them never meet each other. They're all marines, but they're not all in the same unit, and over time some are rotated home while others come in as replacements. As the series opens, the men haven't yet joined up, and are largely separate from one another. As the series progresses, what becomes clear is that these men lived through a nightmare: unceasing rain, heat, and mud; disease and crushing fatigue; and a vicious, incomprehensible enemy. Nor do their comrades provide much support--indeed, one of the most interesting parts of the series is the weirdly antagonistic friendship that grows between Eugene "Sledgehammer" Sledge and his squadmate "Snafu" Shelton. The episodes flit back and forth between three central characters--Sledge, Sgt. John Basilone, and PFC Robert Leckie--whose stories are quite separate and rarely even touch. Aside from those three characters, I can only remember one or two others; the rest have faded into the mists of "supporting cast" in my mind.

I don't point out these differences as a complaint. The reason the stories are different is because the real life stories of the men involved were different. Each series draws most of its content from firsthand accounts, so if in one story we see friendships and heroism and in the other we see darkness and despair, most likely that's because that's what these soldiers went through. In many ways, it's probably even more important that we see the latter type of story, because we do no honor to our veterans by forgetting their tribulations. If I don't find one of the stories compelling, it's a failing in my own ability to appreciate it.

Having said that, The Pacific does have problems as a film, separate from my preference in subject matter. I think it all stems from the overwhelming success of Band of Brothers. Now, I believe that Hanks and Spielberg are honest when they say that there intention in making The Pacific was to get these stories out there and making sure they're not lost as the men who lived them die. But it's simply unavoidable that the creators of this series would look at the previous one's success and try to replicate it. And that's the problem: The Pacific is too self-conscious in its attempt to be successful. Rather than simply telling the story, it's as though the writers and directors felt that they had to constantly instruct the audience how to feel. They're constantly reaching for our emotions, which ends up feeling clumsy.

I keep coming back to this scene at the end of the second episode. Leckie and his platoon are finally relieved at Guadalcanal. Once they making it back to their ship, they head to the galley, where the cook's assistant tells them that there's no food, but he can get them a cup of coffee. He makes a passing remark about how tough they must have had it, to which one of the marines angrily responds by asking whether he'd ever even heard of Guadalcanal before. The cook's assistant gravely tells them that they've been all over the papers back home, that everyone knows about Guadalcanal, and that they're heroes.

I'm pretty sure that this scene was meant to bring home the marines' situation and to make us appreciate their heroism. For all I know, it may actually have happened. Either way, the cook's performance was so overly emotive, it ended up feeling clumsy. If I were going to feel that these men were heroes, I would have already felt that way from watching them in action. But as much as I respect and admire the real marines of WWII, after watching the first two episodes I mainly felt pity for the characters, not admiration.

Everything about The Pacific seemed to have that instructive quality about it, from the splintering charcoal pen in the opening credits to Tom Hanks' narration at the beginning of each episode, to the emotional swell of music when an important character was killed. Even the ending sequence, showing photos of the marines during and after the war alongside a bit of text explaining their lives, had that feel. And what it accomplished for me was to make me feel more detached from the story and characters, and a little irritated at feeling like someone was trying to manipulate me.

At the end of the day, though, I am glad that a series like The Pacific exists, because I do appreciate the desire to document and disseminate these stories while we can. And despite its flaws, The Pacific was still probably the best and most personally engaging dramatic treatment of the Pacific war that I've ever seen. True, it didn't live up to Band of Brothers, but I doubt there was really any way it could.

Night Night

If you had asked me five years ago whether I would some day watch The Little Mermaid five times in a weekend, I'd probably have looked at you like you were an idiot. (I was a jerk, five years ago, I guess.) Of course, since Jason seems to have inherited our passion for movies, this has now come to pass. I'm not sure, exactly, but it's possible that I am now the world's expert on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Sword in the Stone. I'm at least on my way.

Anyway, the other day we were watching the end of Beauty and the Beast again, though this particular time was somewhat less tedious since we had skipped the first two-thirds of the movie. (Jason doesn't care much about continuity; he just likes particular scenes and doesn't care what order they come in.) We came to the scene after the climactic battle between the Beast and Gaston (OH NO! SPOILERS!) where the Beast has been mortally wounded and is dying in Belle's arms. In case you don't recall the exact scene, Belle begs the Beast not to die, the Beast tells her it's better this way, he slumps back and closes his eyes, and Belle collapses on top of him, weeping.

Just as the sad music came up, I heard Jason say, "Oh no! Booty night night." I looked over and he was pointing at the screen, saying "Night night!"

"She's not sleeping, buddy, she's sad," I replied.

"Sat," he repeated, nodding. "She sat."

Then it occurred to me: Jason sometimes gets Beauty ("Booty") and the Beast ("Beess") mixed up. Moreover, both characters were in a lying position with their eyes closed, so I couldn't be quite sure which one he was talking about. And it got me to wondering how much of the scene he understood. It seemed like he understood that something important was happening, and that it was bad--at least, the "Oh no" suggested that. But there was really no way that he could already understand a concept like death--he still struggles with the idea that Big Sur is too far from San Diego for us to see his grandparents every day. But if he was actually talking about the Beast's apparent death, how could I begin to explain that to him?

Before I could figure out a course of action, the movie ended and Jason wandered off to find something to pull off of a shelf.

I've since been able to determine that he probably did mean Belle, because now any time a character cries in a movie, whether it's Belle or Ariel or whoever, Jason will announce "Sat! Sat!" And, actually, that in itself is kind of remarkable to me, that he can extrapolate the concept to other people and other circumstances. But he's doing things like that all the time lately, which is why Juliette and I have been asking each other "Can you believe that?" a lot.

Family Visit

Last week, Juliette's brother came and visited us.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We had a good time going out to lunch on Friday at my favorite Mexican restaurant.

He's a good looking boy, don't you think?

As you can see, it runs in the family.

My Latest Obsession

As you may have noticed, photography has become my latest obsession. I've been doing a ton of reading on photographic technique and composition, submitting photos to online communities for critique and publication (so far, none have been up to snuff), and taking a ton of pictures. The question that's come to my mind a lot, though, has been "How long will this last?"

I tend to be very single-minded in terms of what I'm passionate about. A year or two ago, all I wanted to do was play poker, and while I still enjoy it, both my interest and my skill have waned considerably since Jason was born. Before that, it was web design. Before that, movies. All of these things still have a place in my heart, but in terms of active pursuits, I've moved on.

Will I stick with photography? It's hard to say. Based on my track record with hobbies, it looks like I'll probably cool again some time in the next four or five years. On the other hand, although I've only recently taken it up again, I've had an interest in photography since I started high school, which is coming up on 17 years ago now. Too, as long as I have kids in the house, I'll probably have at least a little motivation to document their time with me.

The fact that my skill seems to be growing pretty rapidly (in my somewhat self-congratulatory opinion) helps, too. It's gratifying to be able to see the progress in my work over a very short time. On the other hand, it's also been frustrating since I can see how much more I have to learn. Some of the critiques I've gotten have been difficult to take, even though they were both spot-on and quite civilly delivered. I know: this is how you grow, you have to start somewhere, etc. And I do enjoy the process. But sometimes the gap between where I am and where I want to be seems insurmountable.

Usually around that point I have to remind myself to stop being so melodramatic and self-absorbed.

I think I had a point somewhere in there that I was swirling toward, but I seem to have lost the track. Anyway, here are my favorites from the trip home this past weekend:

Treacherous Footing


Garden Walk



And the rest of the set:

Where Did Jay Jay Go?

We drove up to the Monterey Peninsula for the holiday weekend in order to visit family. As with any long car trip (this one took about 9 hours, including stops), we tried to schedule things to maximize Jason's sleeping time. We also mentally prepared ourselves for his inevitable crankiness. But, as it turned out, the ride went pretty smoothly in both directions.

In fact, Jason was surprisingly playful on the drive up. He'd do something cute, then laugh and declare "Jay Jay funny!" My favorite was when he started playing "peek-a-boo" with us. It went pretty normally at first--he'd lift his blanket over his head and Juliette or I would gasp in mock confusion. "Where'd Jason go?" we'd ask incredulously. Then down the blanket would come, and we'd start in surprise. "There he is!" we'd shout, and Jason would laugh uproariously.

This time, though, the hilarity of it all became too much for Jason to keep it together, and he'd start giggling while he was still under the blanket. He started prompting us when it was time to play, too. "Wheh dih Jay Jay go?" we'd hear, followed by a conspiratorial titter, and, sure enough, when we looked back he was covered.

"Oh no!" we'd exclaim. "Is Jason gone?"

A muffled "Yeah!" would sound from under the blanket.

"Is he in the car?" we'd ask.

"No!" he'd laugh.

Finally, he couldn't keep it in anymore, and he'd burst out from under the blanket with a happy cry.

He kept that up for a good half hour, all the while giggling at how he'd pulled one over on his old mom and dad.