Monday, March 20, 2017

To Keep the Koalid Safe

Shana Grice, 19, killed by her ex-boyfriend after the
police turned her away when she asked for help.
Source: The Independent
I read an article this morning that got my blood boiling. Shana Grice had an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her and she went to police for help. The police did not help her and eventually fined her for wasting their time. The ex-boyfriend Michael Lane ultimately killed her by slitting her throat.

I've had pretty strong feelings about men who harm women for my entire life. Maybe it's a bit of a "white knight" mindset, or just the natural reaction that a gentleman has to the idea of a man harming a woman. However, since the Koalid has come along, that natural instinct has been greatly enhanced because every woman I read about I see as someone's daughter.

Then I had some more nuanced thoughts. In my previous post, I talked about the overblown fears of "stranger danger." Humans are notoriously bad at accurately assessing risk. Parents will keep their children inside because of the fear of some imaginary predatory, but those same parents 10 years later will not be there for their daughters (and sometimes sons) when they face the real dangers of domestic violence and abuse.

So, what would I do if the Koalid came to me and told me that a man was stalking or threatening her? The first part of my answer starts long before the event occurs. It starts when I lay the groundwork, creating a relationship where she will feel comfortable coming to me with these kinds of problems. Shana Grice was 19. The article doesn't say, but it's possible that she didn't go to her parents for help because shew as trying to assert her independence. I want to do everything I can to make sure the Koalid will come to me with this and anything else that worries her.

I will do this by not being judgmental when she confides in me. If she tells me about a boy she's dating and I don't think he's a good one, the right answer is not to say "he's a bum, get rid of him." It's to be happy that she is happy, remain vigilant, and keep the lines of communication open.

That was a nice bit of self congratulatory throat clearing before I get to the answer to the hard question of what I would do if she told me that she felt threatened and the police would not help. Of course, my first, visceral response is that I'd go find this asshole and break his fucking legs. Mind you, I have not raised a hand in anger since I was 6 years old, but I think I could figure out how to do it I needed to do protect the Koalid.

Possibly not the best solution.
But is that the right thing to do? There's legal concerns. There's moral concerns. So, maybe the fucking legs should remain unbroken, but I do feel that it is important to know the extent to which I would go, and that is as far as I have to. If I need to stay up all night in her living room to make sure he doesn't break in, I'd absolutely do that. If we need to move across the country to keep her safe, I'd do it without a second thought. I'd even go silent online (the greatest sacrifice of all for someone like me) if that would keep her safe.

Perhaps it would not be necessary to go that far, however. You see, I know the state of mind that can lead a person to behave like Mr. Lane in the story above. I'm proud to say I've never stalked anyone, but I know what it is like to have that hole in your heart; to feel that nothing else will ever matter again except being with this one person again and that your life is over. In that mindset, an individual with a weak moral center can find themselves doing things that they would not do normally.

So, rather than tracking the guy down and breaking his fucking legs, it might be better to track him down and have a chat. Not a "I'll be here cleaning my gun" chat, but an honest man to man chat. The kind of desperation that can lead a person to homicide is similar to that which can lead to suicide, and the solution can be similar. Sometimes a single kind voice reaching out can pull a person back from the edge.


Certainly worth a try first. However, when it comes to the safety of the Koalid from a real threat, I would not rest easily. If she told me that she was scared of a guy, I would not say "oh, I'm sorry to hear that" and send her back to her apartment on her own and hope it clears up.

In modern America, we are used to being safe. We don't make the sacrifices that real personal security would require. Even basic things like situational awareness are alien to most people. How often do you see people walking down the street with headphones blasting music, oblivious to all threats around them? If most people won't curtail their music enough to engage in basic personal safety practices, how many people do you think would actually curtail their daily activities for personal safety. It is a difficult mindset shift to realize that you really face a serious enough threat to require a serious response. It's this resistance to accepting the concept of danger that leads a woman who is threatened to remain alone in her apartment rather than stay with friends of family.

The Koalid in her first music video.
As her father, it is my job to think that way. If I need to take time off work to keep an eye on her and keep her safe, there's no question that I'd that. However, there's only so much I can do. This ties in another concept I have spoken about.

The Koalid, even at her young age, is a relatively public figure. She's all over social media. We bring her to conventions. Lot's of people know her. This is not just because I enjoy the spotlight and want to share it with her (although I do), it also ties into matters of personal safety. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes a village to protect one. I like to believe that, as she grows up in the community of people that surround her, she will know that any number of them would come to her aid if she were threatened.

As she grows up, I will teach her not to be ashamed to ask for help when she needs it, and teach her that she has friends, many friends, who would rush to her aid if she were ever in danger. She has parents who would do anything to keep her safe; extended family who would come running without a second thought; and numerous chosen family among our friends in the fandom/convention/faire circles who I would expect would come running as fast as any family member would.

And, if all else fails, there's always the option of breaking the guy's fucking legs.

Not my first option... but still an option.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Talking to Strangers

I have a different view on strangers than most people do. I think talking to strangers is awesome. Every person we meet is an opportunity, and you never know how you may benefit.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way. May people speak of "Stranger Danger." Children are taught from a young age never to speak to strangers. But is this the right thing to do? Before I talk about kids and strangers, let me talk about my own experience.

A train very much like the one I rode on. Full of strangers.
Strangers on the Train
I was inspired to write this by my experience on the train last night. I travel to and from New York City one day a week, and I travel by train about three hours each way. I almost never speak to anyone on the train because the people I see on the train don't seem too keen to speak, and I'm usually working on my computer (writing the previous blog post for example).

Last night, however, I ended up chatting with both the gentleman sitting next to me and two young women across the aisle. It started when I noticed he was playing what looked like an interesting game on his phone and I asked him what it was. He obligingly stopped the game and exited to find the name so I could play it. (Air Navy Fighters Lite, is the name, by the way, a fun little fighter jet game.)

The two women, it turns out, were from eastern Connecticut like me, and we chatted about this and that. Turns out they were in New York for a hair convention (they work in cosmetology, which is quite different from cosmology, in spite of the similar spelling).

So, we got off the train in New Haven, and I looked up at the upcoming trains. I had left early so I could get back to New London before they closed the roads. Much to my surprise, the 7:11 train only went to Old Saybrook as did the 8:00 train. The next train that would take me all the way to my car was at 9:00, 2 hours later. Fortunately, these two thoughtful ladies were heading that direction and offered to give me a ride, saving me the experience of a 2 hour layover at the train station.

During the course of the drive to New London, we had a lovely conversation. It turned out that one of them was thinking about moving, so I was able to refer her to a good Realtor, in addition to a few other connections I was able to offer. It was a beneficial connection all the way around.

Strangers in my Life
A highway full of strangers, two of whom once pulled over
late at night to help me when my tire blew out.
It got me thinking about my various interactions with strangers over the years. I once picked up a another stranger stopped top help and loaned me his spare tire.
hitchhiker who ended up becoming a customer at my store. When I had a tire blow out on the highway, a stranger pulled over to help me. When the spare blew out 30 miles later,

In fact, as I think about it more, I realize that, while I have had many people do unpleasant things to me, not one stranger has every really done me harm. Any time I've been ripped off, cheated, manipulated, mistreated, or made to lose something I valued, it was at the hands of someone I knew, not a stranger.

The thing is that most people are just good people. Sure, we hear on the news all kinds of horror stories about serial killers and con men and all the rest, and it certainly does happen out there, but the vast majority of people are just people. They are going about their lives, trying to get by, and generally wishing the best for those around them, and the most strangers you interact with, the more you see that. Unfortunately, the converse is true. The less strangers you interact with, the more likely that your opinion of strangers is based on the media.

It is uncommon to encounter a ruffian who wishes to threaten
you with fisticuffs.
Strangers of Ill Will
Perhaps you wish to stop me right here and tell me that you hardly ever interact with strangers, but the one time you did, something bad happened. Here's the thing. People who mean you harm will find a way to do so. Con men and crooks are well practiced at appearing harmless and kind, thus they will seem more harmless and kinder than the average random person, so if you tend to avoid strangers, then the only stranger who would be able to pierce your veil is the one who is trained and practiced at doing so.

Avoiding strangers doesn't keep you safe. It just prevents you from encountering opportunity and experiencing the joy of feeling that you live in a community of mankind.

Strangers All Around
Most people you know were strangers at some point. Unless you somehow manage to only befriend people who come recommended, many of your friends were once strangers, and, for some reason, you let them in. Imagine if you had avoided that first meeting, what would you have missed out on.

Think of the Children
This is a blog about children, or at least one child, so let's talk about strangers and children. The media has created a perception that there are gangs of pedophiles roaming the streets looking for children to abduct. This is, of course, absurd, yet too many parents act as if this is the case.

First, let's look at the facts. Stranger abductions are astoundingly rare. I'm sure I can find more current data, but this article gets the point across.
Only a tiny minority of kidnapped children are taken by strangers. Between 1990 and 1995 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children handled only 515 stranger abductions, 3.1 percent of its caseload. A 2000 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reported that more than 3/4 of kidnappings were committed by family members or acquaintances of the child. The study also found that children abducted by strangers were harmed less frequently than those taken by acquaintances.
Why is this important? Because if parents believe that their children are constant danger of abduction they make wrong choices based on wrong information. They don't let their kids walk to the playground down the street or play with their friends in the woods.  They teach them a fear of strangers.

Why is that man wearing a hood? What is he up to?
Oh, nevermind, it's raining and he wants to stay dry.
One might think that a little extra precaution is good, but every precaution comes with a cost. Perhaps the child who cannot go to the park stays home and plays video games instead. Exercise and socialization replaced with solitude and inactivity, and as this very blunt rant from 2004 points out, a child is 17 times more likely to commit suicide than be abducted by a stranger.

But it's worse than that. Unless a child is privileged to be born into a well connected family, every opportunity they encounter will come from an interaction with a stranger, and you can't spend 18 years telling a child to avoid strangers and be afraid and suddenly turn around and expect them to know how to interact with strangers and develop contacts in the world.

We are robbing our children of the chance to develop the skills they will need to thrive in a very tumultuous economy in order to protect them from a "danger" that is less prevalent than dying of the flu.

Every precaution has a cost. The Koalid will be taught to be alert to her surroundings. She will be taught self defense. She will be taught to be skeptical of strangers, but not afraid.

Strangers are just friends that you haven't met yet. That is lesson I live by and that is the lesson I shall pass on.

Monday, March 13, 2017

When Did My Friends Get So Old?

When I taught driving, a youthful and energetic client in her 70s commented to me once "when did all my friends get so old?"

Younger, thinner, darker (and longer) haired, running the
first Pi-Con in 2006.
I realized the other day that many of my friends are in their 40s, an age which never struck me as old, but certainly as older than I. Then it hit me that I will see my own 40th birthday before I see the next Summer Olympics. It's one thing to play math games and see that I'll be in my 50s when the Koalid graduates high school, but it's quite another to see my current age and compute that I am very close to the point where I have more years behind than I can expect ahead.

So, what does that mean? 

In some ways, it means nothing at all. Age is just a number. There is no magic age at which I must suddenly start doing things differently.

In other ways it implies various things. I am now old enough that I have seen things that seemed like they must last forever run their course and end. I have learned many things. I have forgotten many things. I have learned what I do not know.

Photo taken on the train as I write this post, looking like
the father of the guy in the other photo.
I have seen that the cycle time for a phase of life is about 5-7 years, which means three such cycles before the Koalid becomes an adult. What does that mean? I ran Phoenix Games for about 5 years. I wandered through various jobs and mismatched relationships for about 6 years. I then met Amy and came to my current phase of life.

It is easy to reach this point of life and think that time is running out, but when you realize that great enterprises can rise and fall in 7 years, there are quite a few 7s left before I run out the clock.

But when do you look at the clock? There are two times. When you want it to run faster and when you want it to run slower. If you are in a boring class or an unproductive meeting, you look at the clock hoping it will go faster. When you are young and long for the freedom of adulthood, you hope it will go faster.

When you look at it wish it will slow is when you feel that not enough has been done with the time that has already passed and you wish for more time to make up progress. So, perhaps this recent awareness of time comes of some sort of dissatisfaction. Do I wish I had done more with my lift to this point? No. I think I have done quite a bit. I do, however, wish I had progressed further: better credit, owning a home, those kinds of things. Of course, it is not too late to achieve those things, but it's certainly later in the game than might be ideal.

Age is, indeed, just a number, just like a FICO score, a bank balance, and the mileage on a car. Not all-defining, but not unimportant either.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Inspired to Write Again

Early Koalid
These days, I work for a company called EZBZ. It's a virtual concierge service that connects users to businesses that they need, and we promote the business by partnership with various partners who have an audience that they want to share our service with them. Through this, I have come into contact with a great variety of mom blogs and moms groups. I have, however, encountered very few dad blogs.

Well, this is a dad blog, and I figured it was time to represent again.

The Koalid Blog is moving into a new intellectual phase. When I was writing before, it was a lot more speculative. Navel gazing and pontificating on what I thought might happen. I think back to my idea of my office being in the Koalid's room, which seemed like a wonderful and sweet concept in imagination, but was an absolute disaster in the event.

The Koalid gets an early start in the
marketing field.
The Koalid is now a toddler. She talks, more or less. She asks for what she wants. She has will and desires. She is coming into being a person, so it's no longer theory. It's now practice. This is what I was waiting for. So many parents I speak to have this longing for when their children were infants. I was told then that I would miss that time, and I believed I would not. In that one case, I was right. This time is better than that time.

When the Koalid was an infant, it was like keeping a pet. Now, I am helping to raise a person. The things I say, the things I do, have clear impact on her and who she is becoming. I can teach her things and she may remember them a week later (or she may completely forget them five minutes later).

Going forward, I'm going to be making a bit more effort to get this blog out there. I think I have a few things to say that are not in the discourse, so why not. After all, it's not like people have strong opinions on parenting or anything. I can't see anything that could go wrong with this.

The Koalid finds my naivete amusing.