Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day 2020

It’s Father’s Day, and I am so excited for all the new daddies out there! 

We have 3 in our family alone: my son, who just became a dad for the second time 2 months ago; our son-in-law, whose baby was born last week; and our other son-in-law, who will become a first-time daddy next month.

This is a great time to become a dad, as compared with some 50 years ago. 

Back then, societal norms summarized dads as the providers for the family and maybe the disciplinarians for the children, with women staying at home and doing everything else for the kids, from changing diapers to teaching them to ride their bikes to cleaning the house to kissing away salty tears and on and on and on and on.

That particular division of labor may have made sense at one time, but it set up minimal expectations for dads, sending the message that men aren’t needed as caregivers. It also implies that women wouldn’t want or need careers or to contribute to the world beyond their own families. 

At some point, a shift began to emerge. I saw it when I worked with young moms who separated from the baby daddies and were trying to work out child support.

In one particular instance, a dad insisted on a 50/50 split so he wouldn’t have to pay the ex-partner as much as if she had the kids the majority of the time. I remember being mortified that this dad felt it was appropriate to set up this arrangement to avoid paying more, and that the judge allowed it floored me. Over time, however, I began to eat my words, as I started to see some tremendous benefits. Not only did a greater involvement with dad free up my co-worker to continue building her career, but the dad and son started to develop a relationship that would never have happened otherwise. 
I don’t recall having had much alone time with my dad other than for Saturday morning car washes and one particular weekend when my mom went away to be with her girlfriends. I’m sure he had been nervous about the weekend, too, and I bet he was relieved when she came home.

I contrast my childhood relationship with my dad with the times I see my son having with his kids, primarily his playful 2 ½ year old daughter. She paints his toenails sparkly pink, together they sing and dance to Disney songs, they run around in sprinklers in the back yard, dig in the dirt and throw a football around when it’s his turn to pick the activity. I’ve never seen my son look as happy and relaxed. Playtime is healthy and fun for everyone, regardless of age.

There is infinite potential for dads to get in the game, to bond with the baby early on and right alongside their partners. Moms may start off one step ahead, given that they house the baby in utero and can nurse them with milk they produce (if they decide to). 

While this unique distinction can’t be overlooked, the fact remains that a good man who wants to be a good dad can parlay this parenting gig into anything he wants it to be.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

“The Times They Are a-Changin”

It’s that time of the year again to pick the Pennell Elementary School essay winners. This school was in my Philly neighborhood when I was growing up.

In 2006, my mom started the “Councilman David and Florence Cohen Award for Academic Achievement and Good Citizenship” which selects one male and one female 5th grade student who writes the most compelling piece in response to the question, “What does Pennell mean to you?” 

The winners, which our family chooses each year, are announced at graduation, and they read their essays to the audience. We also present gifts to them.   

If this sounds familiar, it may be because I wrote about this contest 5 years ago (June 14, 2015), to the day. At that time, I didn’t mention that Pennell is predominately black, and that the award was created in the spirit of wanting young black men and women to take pride in their school and school work, to stay in school and achieve great things and to not follow in the path of others who dropped out before graduating from high school.

It didn’t seem necessary back then to mention skin color when talking about an elementary school contest; I was going through life with the assumption that not talking about race was better than talking about race.   

But today’s events – the murder of George Floyd, police brutality, racism in all its ugly forms – has made me realize what a teenager recently said so well:  It’s harder to tackle problems that largely remain unspoken.

After years and years of racial injustices, blacks are now sharing their stories with the world, and lots of people everywhere, of all different ages and backgrounds, are listening. Why did it take so long to get this conversation started? Will change actually occur?

My parents had lived in the Pennell neighborhood since about the mid-1950s, about 50 years before my mom established the essay contest.    

Shortly after they moved in, they got a taste of the black experience, when a white neighbor moved out and a black family moved in. 

This exchange of white for black sent panic to the other white neighbors on the block of row houses as well as to other surrounding blocks and, before long, lots of houses were up for sale, with more and more blacks moving in.

When my parents asked their white neighbors why they were moving out, many of the responses centered on wanting “good” schools for their children and not wanting their own kids to be bused out of their neighborhood as a result of efforts put into place to combat segregation.

No whites admitted to the fact that they weren’t comfortable living among blacks.

My parents were appalled by this mass exodus.  They made the decision that they were going to stay and be of service to the community, however they could.    

Knowing they felt that way forced me to open my eyes, too.    

There was a gang of young black men that hung out on a street corner that I had to walk by to get to elementary school.  They either tried talking to me or ignored me, but every time I walked by them, I wondered why they were always there at that corner, on those steps, at 8:30 a.m. when I walked to school, when I came home for lunch, when I went back to school after lunch, and at 3:30 p.m, when I walked home from school.   

“Don’t any of them work?” I’d ask my parents. They explained that some haven’t been able to get a job for 2 main reasons:  1 – they may not have graduated from high school so their knowledge and skills are limited and 2 – they may have been in trouble with the law – deserving or not – which had prevented them from getting employment…so they had essentially nothing to do all day, and there were no job training programs at the time. This made no sense to me. How would things turn around for them, just hanging out all day? This would likely lead to more bad outcomes.  

A number of our neighbors ended up in jail; calls to my dad by crying and scared parents to help get their kids get out of jail were a regular part of the dinnertime hour. He was so angry about the system that was rigged against blacks:  rampant abuses toward residents regarding the arrest process such as not being read the Miranda Rights and poor access to legal representation and police brutality throughout, with no accountability. He was honored to help and did so free of charge for decades, all the while sickened by the reality so many black families faced on a daily basis.

My parents did all they could in their lifetime to even out the score, to try to provide for the community what whites had at their fingertips, to try to advance the lives of blacks in every way they could. 

Today’s youth has me feeling hopeful. They are open-minded and aware and want the world to be a better place. They are learning to listen to voices of blacks and other marginalized groups, to identify racism in all walks of life and to protest police brutality. 

We will have a ton of new voters come November, and they will be casting their votes for better leadership in all levels of government.

They too will do what my parents and so many others did and are doing:  creating change where they can. 

Maybe one day there actually will be a world that everyone can call their own.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Something Seems Fishy

When it comes to choosing fresh fish at a grocery store seafood counter, my eyes are W I D E open.

This focus on detail may seem out of character given last week’s story about using my hand mixer for cauliflower leek soup instead of an immersion blender but hey, we all have our priorities.

I start off checking out all the fish that’s in the running (salmon, tuna, branzino, trout, and a few others) and compare my options. I determine the most appetizing fillet(s) based on color, shine, cut, and so on, depending upon the type of fish it is.

Salmon is our go-to for 6 reasons: 1 – It’s always available; 2 – It looks appealing, even raw; 3 – It can be made in a variety of ways; 4 – We like it hot and cold; 5 – It’s reasonably priced; and 6 – It’s a very healthy omega-3 fatty acid-packed meal option.

My typical order sounds like this: “I want about 2 lbs., thick side please.”

It’s always under or over the 2 lb. mark, never spot on, and the person behind the counter might ask if that’s OK. I say yes, because I don’t want an additional nothing piece which would be a pain to cook as it would be way thinner than the larger fillet. Or, they’d cut off a piece, which seems quite wasteful given we will eat it if we have it.     

I never really thought about what was done with these discarded pieces that are left behind by other customers, until we entered the Covid world and food delivery.  
We ordered our usual 2 lbs. of salmon each week. The first few deliveries consisted of one fillet (perfect), later orders included one large and one small piece (OK) but then we got to an order of “ends” (not OK).

Ends as I define them are the thin/puny segments of a one-time larger fillet, often around the tail.
Talk about UNappetizing. These little suckers looked quite nasty.   

I know there are far more important concerns in life, and I debated with not saying anything at all, knowing I am lucky to be having salmon, having it delivered to my door AND having a husband who is going to make it, too.   

Plus, there’s no way I could realistically expect store personnel to scrutinize the fish like I would, with the overload of orders and stress these employees are experiencing.

At the same time, it didn’t seem right to let it go when were increasingly dissatisfied with our purchases. We also know this store strives to offer good customer service, which has kept us loyal customers. However, we didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, either.  
David decided to email the store, stating our appreciation for the hard work of their staff and for the market’s responsiveness to meeting the needs of the community. He also acknowledged that we know our feedback about the salmon isn’t their top priority. 

He received an apologetic reply with a comment about better training the employees and that a gift card was on its way.  

Wow! Great customer service!

We had fun trying to guess the gift card amount.  I guessed $25; $50 would be amazing (albeit unlikely).   

It came a few days later…boy was I way off…it was for $15. It covered the majority of the cost of the salmon, so I couldn’t really complain, even in jest to David, without sounding greedy. 

He was skeptical about ordering the salmon from them again, but I assured him that our account would probably be flagged in some way and it’s likely that we’d get a scrumptious fillet next time.

I couldn’t wait to open the package.

WOMP WOMP… awful!

This time the package consisted of 4 small pieces of contrasting thicknesses, 1 of which was mealy looking and another was dried out and had no skin. It’s not like they were uniform and sold as individual portions. They were definitely the scraps. 

David contacted the store again, and they reimbursed our credit card for the entire portion of fish.

We have a new order of salmon in the frig…any guesses?

Looks like you’ll have to tune in next week.