Re: Married

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I like being married.

No, I love being married!

And not just the last three weeks, though they have been great! I loved being married before. I like having a partner. I like sharing life with someone. I love making a home with someone.

I’m also not well suited to being a bachelor. Partly because, as much I need my alone time, I don’t like being alone for long. This is the dilemma of a people-loving introvert. There was a time after my divorce where I thought I might be the swinging bachelor type. I am not. I was told by a woman I saw briefly in that period, “there are guys you marry and there are guys you fuck. you are the first type”. At the time, desperately wanting to be the second type, I took it as an insult. She didn’t mean it as one. I don’t think…

I’m assuming she meant that I’m the kind of guy with whom you can have long, meaningful conversations, share laughter as well as sorrow with, and that I’m generally good company.

That’s how I’m gonna take it.

In any event, I’m better as half of a couple and it’s nice to be that again officially.

I’ve been thinking about writing this since the big day and I’ve stopped myself on a couple of occasions. Other things have come up about which I wanted or needed to write. That’s part of it. But there’s also the fact that this wasn’t my first rodeo.

I got married… again.

There are almost unavoidable temptations to compare the first wedding to the second, the first marriage to the current one. That seems unfair to both my current and ex wives and yet it also feels somewhat inescapable. I don’t want to dishonor either, especially my ex.

I have a friend who refers to his first marriage as his practice marriage. It makes me laugh every time, but it’s not a sentiment I can share. A marriage that produced two amazing kids can hardly be called “practice”.

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No, my first marriage was just that… a marriage. Filled with more joy than pain, more laughs than tears, more good times than bad, it ultimately ended because in some ways we both stopped being an “us”. I take most of but not all of the blame for that. It takes two to tango. When one person wants to keep tangoing while the other wants to start a waltz… I’m not going to continue on with this metaphor. You get my point.

I don’t regret my first marriage in the least. Yes, I got married way younger than I would advise most people to get married, but I don’t think that was the problem. We both changed. I don’t think we changed together. And I don’t think we particularly liked the ways the other changed. And we didn’t talk about that enough.

She might disagree with my diagnosis. <insert shrug emoji>

While I don’t consider my first marriage “practice” I bring a lot of lessons learned into this new phase of life. I’ve learned a lot about myself, what I need in a partner, and what I have to offer someone else. I’ve also learned a lot about my own capacity for selfishness, apathy, and cruelty.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is not to be scared of big emotions, mine or my partner’s. Shannon has big emotions and expresses them in big ways. I love that about her! There’s was a time when it would have been “too much”. I would have felt smothered. Now, I can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather be smothered by…

…I stand by that statement.

I’m not afraid of my own big emotions either. Some things make me really angry. Some things make me laugh uncontrollably. Some things make me cry now that would have gone unnoticed only a few years ago. I’m growing comfortable being someone more oriented toward feelings than thoughts, a big shift for someone who always liked to be thought of as cerebral. I love that Shannon can pull feelings out me, even if it is a slow, tedious process at times.

Our couples therapist said to us that getting married again after all we’ve both been through was a major act of hope and faith. Maybe. I see what she was saying. It would be easy to be calloused, hardened by unmet expectations, disappointment, and betrayal. To make yourself vulnerable to yet another person after you know how badly you can be hurt is difficult.

But faith and hope imply a lack of empirical evidence. We’ve been challenged a lot over the last couple of years, some by our own demons, some by outside circumstances. We’ve managed to forgive, love, and reconnect through all of them. I’ve learned more about grace through Shannon than any scripture, sermon, or commentary could teach me. Together, we’ve learned that we can overcome just about anything as long as we stay in the room with each other. So yes, I take the strength of our marriage on faith, but it has also been tested and proven strong.

I write this shortly after our second batch of wedding photos has arrived. It was a perfect day. We invited only folks who know us as couple which made some friends and family (mostly mine) pretty angry, but I hope that those who were angry will take the time to get to know us as a couple.

The pictures remind me of the perfection of the day. It was a day full of love and family, and friends, and laughter, and good food, and drinks (lots of drinks), and grace, and yes, hope. Hope that two broken people could come together to live one life. Hope that two broken families could come together to be one, big, silly family. Hope that the demons of the past would not be the obstacles of the future.

I love being married.

I love being married to Shannon.

I love our family.

I love our life together.

An right now, I love life!

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“Night” and Day: What do we do with Elie Weisel?

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Ever since the accusations against Harvey Weinstein emerged, women have felt empowered to raise their voices against powerful men who have sexually assaulted or harassed them. The perpetrators have ranged from other Hollywood elites like Ben Affleck to journalist Mark Halperin, to former President George H.W. Bush. It seems any time we men are given a little bit of power, we use it against women.

Kudos to the brave women who have stepped up and named the perpetrators knowing that their names could potentially be dragged through the mud next. Many of the men being accused now are, at the very least, owning their misdeeds, apologizing, and at least in the public sphere, facing some consequences.

That’s a good thing.

One accusation hit me harder than some of the others, though, and I feel like I may have to go into some unpopular territory to work through it. Please stick with me.

Earlier this week, I read Jenny Listman’s article, plainly titled, “When I Was Nineteen Years Old, Elie Weisel Grabbed My Ass“. Even writing that here makes my brain and my heart hurt. What a surreal world we live in.

Before I go any further, let me say that I fully believe Ms. Listman. I say that without equivocation or qualification. I believe you, Ms. Listman! Thank you for being brave enough to share your story!

So now… what do we do with Elie Weisel? What do we do with any powerful man who has produced great work, done great things, contributed to society at large and still commit heinous acts?

What do you do especially with someone like Weisel who has had an incredible impact on shaping our collective moral compass since the end of the second World War?

I don’t have easy answers. To me, Night will always be a must read. I will never shy away from posting Weisel’s words, words such as:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
To me, those are strong adages to live by. But as any of us who have any kind of public platform know, we must be diligent in practicing what we preach. It’s Weisel’s own words that force me to speak against him here.
Weisel died just last year. I don’t know what would have happened if he had lived to read Ms. Listman’s accusations against him. I want to believe that he would have owned his mistake, apologized to his accuser, and done what he could to make amends for his frankly cowardly act.
I want to believe that.
But that door has closed.
What’s left is the tarnishing of a great man’s legacy, brought about by his own willingness to use his power against a vulnerable person.
I suppose this is where I’m supposed to go into Calvinistic, total depravity territory. I hate that language. We’re all imperfect, but I still start from the framework of all of us being created in the Divine image. At the end of the day, we all carry good around with us.
As the “woke” kids say, all of our “favs” are “problematic”. MLK was an adulterer. All of my favorite rappers have used homophobic or misogynistic lyrics. Every pastor I know has unhealthy coping mechanisms.
We’re all complicated.
That’s not to let anyone off the hook. People need to be called into account for their actions. I do think there are cautions that we should observe as we think about how we approach these kinds of scandals.
I’ll start with where I think many may disagree with me: I don’t believe that bad behavior disqualifies good work. Like I said, I still think Night is a must read. Harvey Weinstein still executive produced Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, and most of Tarentino’s films. MLK is still… well, MLK.
No piece of work has ever been produced by an uncomplicated person. Great work does not vindicate a person, but we run the risk of throwing out a lot of babies, which should never happen despite how dirty the bath water is.
That said, we also have to be aware of our own triggers. Personally, I can’t watch The Cosby Show right now. It’s an amazing, groundbreaking show, but I can’t look at Bill Cosby without being a little sick to my stomach. Ms. Listman may not be able to read Night again, and I think that is within her right. We need to respect that people will set the bar at different places.
So here’s the other unpopular thing I’ll say: we have to talk about sexual assault in terms of degrees. In our current climate, we have a broad definition of sexual assault. Sexual assault can range from an unwanted touch to rape. I don’t disagree with that all, but unless a whole lot of information comes out about Weisel in the next few weeks, I can’t put Weisel in the same category as Weinstein.
That may be unfair to the victim of a Weisel. It may seem like it is discounting Ms. Listman’s experience of being violated. That is the last thing that I want to do. She has every right to be heard and were it possible and her attacker should have been held to account. The difference is that Weisel should have been shamed and forced to apologize and maybe make financial restitution to Ms. Listman. By all accounts, Weinstein and Cosby should be in jail.
Part of this conversation needs to leave room open for abusers, men or women, to grow and that isn’t always something we do well. Again, looking at the breadth of the accusations against him, I don’t take Harvey Weinstein’s week long “sex rehab” very seriously. That said, I do believe that people are capable of doing better once they know better.
Men, including some who have been caught up in the recent scandals, often make the claim that having a daughter has changed their perspective on how they have treated women in the past. I think that can be a positive thing as long as it is not tied to a desire to control their daughters’ sexualities.
For some men, the recent #metoo campaign has been an eye opener. While it shouldn’t take knowing someone personally to take sexual assault seriously, nor should it take the knowledge that the experience of harassment and assault are nearly universal, but for many, these realizations are the beginning of positive change.
Since I started writing this, accusations have come out against Kevin Spacey, one of my all time favorite actors. In Spacey’s case, his “apology” and subsequent coming out may have done more harm than good. Disappointed as I may be, I can’t see myself not watching The Usual Suspects, Baby Driver, or House of Cards ever again. I side with the victim but I don’t discard the work. It’s complicated…
I wish I had a nice bow to wrap this up in, some sunshiny “and the moral to the story is…” ending that would make us all feel better. I don’t. People are messy. All people are messy. Power adds to the messiness considerably. I believe in grace and redemption. I also believe in accountability and siding with victims. Sometimes it feels like those sets of beliefs come in conflict. I believe that the evils of powerful men, even great men, need to be brought to the light of day so that victims can heal. Our ultimate goal, I believe should be restoration to community, first for the victim, then for the oppressor.
What does that look like?
We’d better start coming up with answers because these revelations will only become  more frequent…

#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 7: The Death of Fun

I peeked.

I was sitting in a bar, waiting for my wife and my friend to join me for lunch. I didn’t intentionally sit where I could see the screen, but…

… I peeked.

I saw scores. I saw highlights… and it was glorious. I miss the NFL. I don’t know if I can explain this to a non-fan, but I miss my Sunday ritual. I miss the game. I miss all the commentary. I miss managing a fantasy team. I miss wearing my gear. I miss it all.

I miss the Steelers.

During the highlights, they showed the scoring plays from the Bengals vs. the Steelers. Immediately after one of the Steelers’ touchdowns, Le’Veon Bell and rookie wide receiver JuJu Shuster-Smith did an end zone celebration that was essentially a mock game of hide and seek. It made me giggle to watch. Despite the No Fun League cracking down on player celebrations, the Steelers have been defiant in their willingness to make asses of themselves after they score.

Sigh… I miss that.

They beat the Bengals, which is in and of itself a good time, and they did it in Heinz Field. Good times. I miss it.

Watching Roethlisberger throw laser-accurate passes to Antonio Brown, watching Le’Veon stiff arm Bengals defenders, watching the defense swarm to the ball for an interception…

UGH!!!!

I hate this!

And yet…

When the protests began across the NFL, one of the common refrains was “stick to football, don’t get involved in politics!”. The implication was that the enjoyment of the NFL audience was more important than the issues being raised by the protests, more important than the lives of black men and women lost to brutality and those whose lives have been affected by harassment…

Yeah… fun isn’t the most important thing in the world.

There’s another side to this, and I have to be honest here: I never expected this thing to last this long. Last week, Aaron Rodgers got hurt and I thought “oh, thank God, I hate this moral high ground thing!” I was sure the Packers would be calling Kaep. Then I saw this…

@Edwerderespn

Are you kidding me? Packers! Sign this man!

Nope. They decided to go with… (checks NFL.com) Brett Hundley? Who the hell is that?!

It probably didn’t help that Kaep decided to bring a lawsuit against the NFL last week. I’m sure he doesn’t expect to win, but I get the principle. He’s been blacklisted unfairly and a light has to be shined on that fact. Still… I bet he’s kicking himself a little, launching his lawsuit the week A-Rod gets hurt. How’s that for timing?

I expected this to be over by now and it looks like it won’t end this season. I wonder if football will ever be as fun for me as it once was. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the NFL again without thinking about this season. I won’t be able to watch without thinking of the influence Trump, Jerry Jones, and Roger Goodell have had on my enjoyment of the game. I won’t be able to watch without thinking of comments that I’ve read on websites about how “entitled millionaires” (niggers) need to shut up and play. Something about the game has been fundamentally lost this year and I wonder if I can ever get it back.

I know a lot of my friends would read this and say “good, you should have given this mess up long time ago!”.

I really wish those friends wouldn’t.

I get that you don’t have the emotional attachments I have, but please try to respect what this has been like for me. It’s not fun.

A lot of things have been less fun since November. I sincerely think that the latest season of “House of Cards” was sabotaged by the election. I think Negan was a little too Trump-esque for the last season of “The Walking Dead” to be fun. Had Cersei Lannister’s hair been a bit worse, maybe “Game of Thrones” would have been lost too. When shows like “West Wing” and “Newsroom” feel escapist, you know that the world is in desperate need of release.

I think that’s part of what’s frustrating right now: the horrible, orange man that half of the country decided should be president has infected so many of the things that I use to love. His influence feels inescapable and I feel like that’s exactly what he wants. It disgusts me.

So I get my life these days where I can: the little bit of fall gardening that I can do, planning next spring’s garden, podcasts made by black people who are as geeky as I am, Bourbon, my work, my friends and family who have been bombarding me with love lately… Oh, and The Roots are coming back to town after Christmas!!!!

The weight of what’s happening in the world feels enormous and our personal need for entertainment can’t get in the way of taking notice of what’s happening in the world. Last year, Essence magazine posted a list of 13 organizations leading the fight against police brutality in cities across the country. When the very first organization is in the city that I currently call home, it’s hard to ignore the realities that are right down the road from me.

It’s ironic for me to write this in the middle of one of the most fun months of my life.Fun need not be dead in this era when everything feels like a matter of life and death. It’s just that the joy that is to be found in the world in these days is the joy that can be found in relationships and community versus the joy found in those things that we consume.  It likely should have always been that way. Perhaps I should be thankful to Supreme Leader Trump for bringing my focus back to where it should have always been.

Yeah… no.

 

https://www.patreon.com/derricklweston

#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 6 – Toxic Masculinity

Going into the 2011-2012 season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault. Put more bluntly, “Big Ben” was accused of rape. For at least the second time. The evidence in the incident in Georgia was mounting against number 7 when the defendant decided to dismiss the case. The young woman didn’t want to be dragged through the media ringer. My guess is that she was already receiving threats and finding herself on the receiving end of nasty accusations. After all, she was drunk. She had it coming. Because of the violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Roethlisberger, received a four game suspension. The Steelers went 3-1 in his absence. Then he came back and lead the team to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Green Bay Packers. Since then, Roethlisberger has had to rebuild his reputation. He and his wife Ashley were married in the same church as my first wife and I. The family recently welcomed their third child. My most standards, Roethlisberger is considered among the NFL’s elite as his position. Since his return from his suspension those years ago, I have cheered for him. I cheered for him, sometimes while holding my nose, but often in full throat. I sometimes rationalized that I was cheering for the players around him. As a dyed in the wool Steelers fan, I was cheering for the team, for the city. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good redemption story. By all accounts, Roethlisberger has genuinely turned his life around. He’s a father, husband, team leader, and good citizen. The Roethlisberger saga, redemption and all, allowed me to live with the cold comfort of knowing that, at the end of the day, the league was a meritocracy. All could be forgiven on the field.

This year, of course, has put the lie to that and so much else of what the league has stood for. It seems that the act of speaking out for racial justice is far less excusable than the act of sexual assault. Or domestic violence. Or even murder… allegedly. This week, the quarterback who beat Roethlisberger in that aforementioned Super Bowl was injured. Part of my boycott has been distancing myself the league news as much as possible, but my understanding is that Aaron Rodgers may be done for the season. I’ve waited a couple of days to write this, hoping that I would have a happy “Kaep got signed, boycott over!” post to write. I do not. The Packers, a perennial favorite to win the NFC will trust some lesser known talent to lead them to the playoffs because the NFL is not a meritocracy. It is a tool of empire.

As I watched my Facebook timeline fill with #metoo’s yesterday, I couldn’t help but ask myself how much the NFL has contributed to cycles of violence against women and the overall ethos of toxic masculinity in this country. Many have tried to link CTE to instances of domestic violence. While I’m not sure that there is sufficient evidence for that yet, I think the effect goes beyond the field. After all, the rates of domestic violence in the league essentially mirror those in the nation at large. But American football is the most macho of macho sports. Star athletes have always been seen as somewhat untouchable when it comes to the “he said, she said” cases of sexual violence that emerge in these situations. Stories of sexual assault against women at the hands of football players are familiar in most American high schools and colleges. Only the ones where the athletics  program itself was involved in either the assault or the cover up, like Baylor, seem to rise to the surface. In no way am I suggesting that the NFL is the source of our nation’s toxic masculinity epidemic, but it is one of the major normalizers of it.

As I’ve taken a step back from the league I love to watch, I have had to confront the ways that I have supported a league that often gives lip service to caring about women (note all the pink apparel floating around for breast cancer awareness this month) but does little to protect women off of the field. I appreciated the campaign, lead by Steelers cornerback William Gay against domestic violence in the wake of the jaw dropping video of Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancee, now wife. Gay, whose own mother was a victim of domestic violence, and other players around the league spoke up forcefully about the need for men to do better. It was a start that quickly lost momentum once Rice’s situation was out of the headlines. Millions of women are NFL fans, but I know a good percentage who have been alienated by the Roethlisbergers and Rices in the league. Rice has been out of the league since the video emerged, but the fact that his name was floating around for several years as after as a “good option” for several teams shows that there at least the notion of sweeping yet another incident of assault under the rug.

As I think about how I can do better by the women in my life, I have to confess my complicity with a league that has often devalued the lives and worth of women. In response to the #metoo’s that began circulating, a female friend suggested that we men might want to confess something like the following “I have harassed, abused, or objectified a woman to her face at some point in my life”. While that’s a good start, it feels like just scratching the surface. I think we have to confess all of the ways that we as men make women feel vulnerable, unworthy, and less than human in this world. I personally confess that I have manipulated, gaslit, lied to, and undervalued women in my life, including both my former and current wife. That my wife has stuck with me through my unhealthiness, that we got to the altar at all, is a testament to how strong women often have to be for sake of the men that they love. My experience has been that women are often willing and able to forgive men’s indiscretions for the sake of maintaining relationship. In my case, my wife was able to see past the hurt and pain that I was projecting on to her to see the future that we could have together and she was willing to fight for me and fight for us.  It is a burden that men unfairly place on women that we love.

Instead of highlighting another activist or group of activists this week, which no doubt would have been another unsung female hero, I want to call upon my male readers to be activists in our own lives. We need to speak up and advocate for women’s safety in the spaces that we occupy. We need to live with integrity so that the safest women we know are the ones who live with us. We need to call out bad male behavior where we see it. We need to own our shit when we are called out on it and do everything in our power to make things right. We need to raise our sons to see their mothers, sisters, and classmates as equals. We need to teach our sons that they have no rights to a woman’s body. We need to teach our daughters that they owe no man their body. We need to change the public image of masculinity from one of aggressor to one of protector, friend, and supporter. There is so much more that i can say about this. Men, we must do better! Derrick, you must do better!

I will end with one last word to my female friends and readers: sexism and misogyny, like racism and white supremacy, are so deeply engrained in our culture and psyche that men often overlook the ways that we are falling short. Call us out, but if and when you can, please extend grace. When you encounter those men that you deem are earnestly trying to do better, give them the room they need to grow. Don’t excuse bad behavior. Don’t sweep anything under the rug. Don’t act like you weren’t wounded. I only ask that, in those cases where it is safe to do so, stay engaged. It is a lot to ask and I understand why you would want to retreat into your safe spaces. And there are times when that it is absolutely necessary. But I deeply believe that the places where growth happens are in the spaces where we can be in relationship. That is how I endeavor to engage around issues of race, hard as that has become. I simply offer that as a request, knowing that I’m asking a lot, that you not disengage. Thank you, Sisters!

 

https://www.patreon.com/derricklweston

#metoo Raise Your Hand If You’re Sur

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Ahh, social media, you’ve done it again… the Harvey Weinstein story has started a hashtag trend, and it’s good, great in fact. I am not surprised at all by the number of when posting #metoo and if you are then, wow, open your eyes.

I have not posted a status update that declared #metoo. And I want to be honest about why. The encounters with sexual harassment and assault haven’t been as traumatic as the post-encounters. And friends, that is a bold statement.

I have not posted #metoo because I wouldn’t be able to handle one more shred of “are you sure?”

Let me say, I keep my Facebook friends tight, I don’t think one of them would ever say to me, “Are you sure?” (however, they have in the past) but I will not have that discussion one more time. I won’t. (and yes, it is far more dangerous…

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#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 5: I’ve Created a Monster.

Sorry this week’s is a little late. I was getting married and stuff. 

My son loves football! This, of course, was a part of the plan. He was born on a Friday. We stayed in the hospital through the weekend and the first thing we ever watched together was playoff football. We watched Peyton Manning and the Colts take down the Jets and Drew Brees and the Saints beat out Brett Favre and the Vikings in overtime. He was only a couple of days old, but I know that on some level he was absorbing the experience. Of course, as he’s aged he has received copious amounts of Steelers gear from family members. One of my favorite pictures of him is when he was only 8 months old. His little butterball frame was stuffed into a little Steelers shirt. The cute still overwhelms me.

When his mother and I separated, football became one of the things that kept us bonded. On one of his kindergarten assignments he had to fill out a sheet about his family, a potential minefield considering the many configurations that family can take these days. One of questions was bout his daddy’s favorite things to which he either responded “football” or “The Steelers”. He wasn’t wrong, but it has always stuck out to me that that is what he remembered (or was reminded of) as a thing that I love. It’s always been a connection point for him. When the Steelers lost to the Broncos in the AFC playoffs in 2015, he was inconsolable. His mom put him on the phone with me, I reminded him that it was just a game and that we would do better next year (technically, I was right). It was hard to cheer him up when I was also a bit of a mess at the time, but sharing the grief of a playoff loss with my son felt like the kind of thing that makes family bonds real.

Earlier this year, he discovered Madden. We have a Wii and the version of the game that I have has the 2011 teams, but he doesn’t care. Just as it had for me, Madden met him at the intersection of his love for football and his love for video games. We played a few times at our house then I let him take it home to play at his mom’s house. In those interim periods, he got really good. I’ve never let him win. He either legitimately beats me or he doesn’t, and now, it’s about a 50/50 proposition. I love that he’s learning to love the what I love about the game; the strategy, the chess match. We’ve started talking about what various positions do, when it’s better to run or pass, when you should blitz or drop into coverage. This is why people have kids, right?

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This fall he’s started playing flag football. He likes to play running back. He wishes that he got thrown to more often. He hasn’t gotten to play quarterback yet, but he’s not too upset about it. The QB on his team is “really good”. After his first game he called me and told me he had a few really good plays on defense but that the team lost. I told him that I was proud of him and asked him if he had fun. His answer was a resounding “yes!”. I told him that that’s what matters. Right now, he totally buys into that. When he and his sister went to Virginia Beach with his mother and grandparents, they bought me a little black football that says “Virginia Beach” across it in green letters. This past weekend, we played catch for a good half hour or so. He’s got a good arm. Maybe he should be the quarterback on his team? I mean, they haven’t won any games… maybe its time to shake things up? Anyway, on a weekend where I got married and spent most of the weekend with many of my favorite people, playing catch with him was still in the running for highlights of my weekend. I love his enthusiasm! He’s so like me! He overthinks things and I have to encourage him to get out of his head and trust his body to make catches.

I haven’t told him about my boycott yet. He’ll call and ask if I saw the Steelers game and I say “No, buddy, I didn’t. Tell me what happened!” HIs description of the games is hilarious. For instance, the Steelers played the Bears a couple of weeks ago. In his recap, he kept referring to them as the Cubs. A natural mistake and really, Chicago, you could have made that one easier! I loved his description of an interception that the Steelers got against the Ravens. “So this one play required a lot of really good teamwork,” he started as he went on to explain how one of the Steelers defensive linemen batted the ball in the air while another defender dove to make an interception. I love that that is what he got from watching that play!

We’ve watched a couple of college games when he’s been in town since the season started. Neither of us has the attachment to the college teams that we have to the NFL, but his enthusiasm for the game isn’t diminished. As our friends gathered at our house the day before the wedding, the Michigan/Michigan State game ended up on the television. One of my friends came up to me later and told me, “Thomas is really fun to watch football with!” It’s true. He gets worked up, he jumps around, he yells at the screen! He’s a true fan!

Before the season ends, I will tell him about the boycott. I want him to know that even though I love football, it’s really important to stand up for things that we believe in and sometimes that means sacrificing things we enjoy for things that really matter. I won’t make him stop watching. I enjoy his recaps too much for that! I will explain who Colin Kaepernick is and why he’s important. It’s not nearly on the same level, but I imagine it is the same kind of conversation that parents had during the Civil Rights era. I also imagine that one day we’ll have to have a conversation about his future with the sport. I wouldn’t be comfortable with him playing tackle football at least until he’s in middle school, if then. I started around then. I have to be honest, when I think about playing as a kid, my regrets are that I didn’t play longer, not that I played at all.  If he really loves the game, that will be a decision that he, his mother and I help him make with as much information as we have. At the rate things are going, playing anything but flag football may not be an option for him.

It’s amazing to me, with all the things for which I have enthusiasm, my love of football is what has stuck with Thomas. He kinda likes Star Wars.  He’s maybe a bit more into Marvel. He’s okay with Jesus. But football is what he loves and I know he loves it because I love it. The day before the wedding, I took he and his stepbrother to our local garden store and told him that it was favorite store in the world. “Really?! Why?” “Because daddy loves gardening!”. He knows that, of course, but it felt like maybe he was a bit more engaged because I said it was my “favorite”. Maybe. I might be imagining things. Maybe one day he’ll find some of my enthusiasm for growing things…

Speaking of growing things, I wanted to highlight a woman and a book that literally changed my life. The woman’s name is Natasha Bowens. For a while she ran a blog called Brown. Girl. Farming.  From the work she did on the blog, she wrote a book called The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience, and Farming and moved her work over to a site of the same name. I say her work changed my life because she was the first person I saw explore the concrete connection between racial injustice and food justice. Most people of color in this country have a deep agricultural connection that involves inequality and exploitation. Whether that is the slave labor of African Americans, the stolen land of Native Americans, or the indentured servitude of Hispanic Americans, there have been deep ties to using brown bodies to build the agricultural infrastructure of this country with little or no compensation. Bowens ties reconnecting to the land to liberation for black and brown people through a captivating photo documentary. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s one I hope to read to Thomas someday and tell him about his namesake, my grandfather’s love of the land and gardening.

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#NoKaepNoNFL, Week 4: A History of Violence

One of the biggest knocks against American football by non-fans is that it promotes violence. While I don’t totally agree with that assessment, there is no getting around the fact that football is violent. There is hitting, blocking, tackling, all in the service of furthering a goal or stopping the other team from achieving theirs. For me and most of the people I know who have played the game, football is about channeling the aggression that already exists, not furthering aggression. I’d always been taught that hitting someone on the controlled environment of a football field lessened the chances of me hitting people in a less controlled environment like a classroom, my house, or a street corner. I guess I still believe that to some extent. America has a shameful hypocrisy around violence. When the ratings for TV shows and films are generated, warnings are far more likely to be due to sexuality than violence. I wonder how many murders I had seen on TV or in movies before I had seen my first sex scene. I’m guessing that number would terrify me. You can build any number of “child-friendly” franchises around the idea of war and violence. Almost everything I watched as a kid had guns in it. Almost all of my toys came with guns, the only exceptions being my toys that were guns. But it is different when it is on TV, right? And its different when you’re part of team, be that for a sport or the military. Football was seen as one of the suitable ways of channeling all the aggression I had absorbed for as long as I can remember.

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I awoke, as most of you did, to the news about Las Vegas. 50 plus murdered, hundreds injured by a man with a cache of weapons who decided to use them on the innocent attendees of a music festival. We universally agree that this was violence gone awry. The disagreements come in those rare moments that we start to think about solutions. For some, the idea that this man should not have had access to the kind of weaponry that he had seems obvious. For others, that is a conversation nonstarter. The conversations about mental illness would be welcomed if they were followed by a commitment to make navigating the mental health care system more efficient and affordable. I say, as someone who has mental health issues and a pretty high level of privilege, the mental health care system in this country is neither efficient or affordable. Some will say you can’t do anything about these kinds of things because sin will always exist in the human heart. Those people seem unwilling to explore how much damage a sinful heart can do when it has limited access to assault weapons. Personally, I am firmly entrenched in my camp: guns are bad and nobody’s life would be worse off if we universally lost access to them. I get angry that people don’t see it this way. I am frustrated that people’s rights to self defense and gaming are worth more than the collective right to feel safe. I am sickened by our seemingly high tolerance for violence and death.

And yet I have to question my own tolerance for violence. This past Sunday was the first meeting of the Steelers and the Ravens. It was the first game that this boycott really hit home. I can’t remember the last time I purposefully missed a Steelers/Ravens game. So much of my bonding with Shannon has been over this game. Historically, these games have had great importance for the standing in the division and in the conference. They’re usually tight, low scoring affairs. The commentators go on and on about how physical a Steelers/Ravens game is. Some call it a “two chinstrap game”, which is highly impractical, but never mind. The point is, these games are usually violent.

Before I rail at the darkness of the world, and oh how I long to rail against that darkness, I have to turn the light on the darkness within me. Where do I tolerate violence in my own life? Where do I seek to dominate or to oppress? Where do I seek to humiliate or embarrass? Where do I seek revenge? I tolerate a fair amount of violence in my own heart and if there is to be change in this world, it must begin there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still want to see every gun melted down and turned into tomato cages. At the very least, I want to see military grade weaponry taken out of the hands of civilians. And I’d love to see us being less fearful of our sisters and brothers so that we see less need to defend ourselves from them.

I bristle against the criticism that football is a violent game. I suppose it is because I bristle against the notion that I am a violent person, or at the very least, I am a person who enjoys violence. And yet hear I am, right now, at this moment unable to separate the violence I enjoy on Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and yes, football from the violence that has shattered people’s lives this morning. Can a nation that tolerates so much violence in its past times be anything other than a nation that tolerates violence in its communities?

One of the places where we seem to have the highest tolerance is in sexual violence and one of the places where sexual violence goes least noticed is in our agricultural system. I mentioned in my last post that I have been boycotting Wendy’s for a few years now. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is the organization that began organizing the Wendy’s boycott and they have begun a new initiative to combat sexual assault among food workers. The farms where Wendy’s has been purchasing its crops from in Mexico have numerous reports of rampant sexual abuses. A group of female farmworkers are creating the “Harvest Without Violence Mobile Museum” that they will use to shed light on the violence that exists on farms that are outside of fair food program with which Wendy’s refuses to participate.  Along with their boycott, they will be protesting at Wendy’s headquarters in Columbus, OH and in New York. I take a cure from these brave women: the only way that injustices will be dealt with is if we shine a bright, glaring light on them. May we have the courage to do so in all of the places that we see people being unnecessarily harmed.

 

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