I used to be worried that I wasn’t colorblind. I didn’t judge people based on the color of their skin, but I saw it. Not only was I aware, I was hypersensitive to race. I wanted to talk to black people about their experiences, their lives, their families. I tried not to. I tried to see people just as people, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I’d seen too much, knew too much.

My dad was a terrible person. He’s also a racist. I grew up listening to him say terrible things about blacks, blame them for things, accuse them of things. Meanwhile his actions were as bad or worse than the crap he was projecting onto African-Americans. Besides that, as a drug addict, he was buying drugs usually from black people. The very people he lambasted he gave everything he had to. Instead of taking care of his kids, instead of putting food in the house, he gave it over to people who were supposedly terrible, but who, as far as I could tell, weren’t anywhere near as bad as he was.

My best friend growing up was an African-American girl. Her father was kind of well off, so I was invited to do cool things with them. I went swimming in the underground pool, I went with them into the country, I went to Beauty and the Beast On Ice. I got to do so many things I wouldn’t have been able to if it weren’t for my rich black friend.

So I knew, I really, really knew, how stupid racism was. How real it was. How fucking ridiculous, meaningless, monstrous. That’s what my dad showed me. Racism was the stupidest ideology that ever existed. It disgusted me and enraged me and called me to do something. All this colorblindness makes it worse. People ask like racism isn’t real. People act like its over, and that whatever problems there are don’t exist because of consequences from oppression and poverty. My dad didn’t even go to jail for a year. He never went to prison. Even while I listened to him say his crap, I knew most black men wouldn’t be treated the same way be police. I think about the officer’s who took his word over mine, over my mother’s.

Being a white man still means so much.

So when I see black people, I see people I want to talk to. I want to help. I want to work with. I want to help. I want to stand up for. I don’t of course, because I don’t know them and don’t know their lives. But I think about them. I’m definitely not colorblind.


What can we learn from how animals cope?

I talk a lot about the effect of abuse and addiction on children and families. Many times, the result manifests as a mental illness. This is an interesting look at animal mental illness and what humans can learn from them.


Author of the book Animal Madness, TED Fellow Laurel Braitman shares 5 ways in which animals and humans suffer from similar mental illnesses. Anthropomorphism run amok? You decide.

A golden retriever chases his tail every morning for hours on end. In the evening he compulsively licks his paws till they’re bare and oozy. When he’s given Prozac, he calms down and stops injuring himself … After the death of her mate, a scarlet macaw plucks out every last one of her feathers and doesn’t stop until she’s befriended by a cockatoo … A tabby cat who grew listless and stopped eating after his favorite human went off to college is cheered by the arrival of the family’s new pet rabbit, whom he likes to follow around the house.

Is the dog obsessive-compulsive? The parrot struggling with trichotillomania? The cat, once depressed, now recovered?

Making sense of animal emotional states…

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A Letter to a former friend’s mother

To the mother who rejected,

I was friends with your daughter when we were in fifth grade. Breann was nice to me when I was having a hard time at home with my parents and at school with bullies. I invited her to come over to a Halloween party. Before that, I came to your house for a party she hosted. I made a Halloween toast and I used the H-word. I must have left a bad impression because suddenly she wasn’t allowed over.

I want you to know I understand. You felt the need to protect your daughter. When you saw me, maybe you saw a bad influence. Maybe you saw something you didn’t want your daughter to know more about. You had to do what you had to do to take care of your kids.

And I wasn’t one of your kids, so I know you couldn’t take on helping me, talking to me, looking out for me. I’m sure you didn’t have the time and energy to find out why I acted out in the little ways I did.

It hurt to be rejected like that. It hurt to realize I wasn’t good enough for my sweet, kind friend. It hurt to find out I didn’t know how to act appropriately. Obviously I thought my toast was a fun little thing, but apparently it scared you enough to keep your child away from me. It was a little frightening. My sense of normal is just so skewed.

I was having so much trouble at home. My parents were abusive. Most of the time they ignored me.

I know this wasn’t your problem. I know that. And your daughter turned out so well. When I look at the two of us and where we are in our lives, I guess you made the right choice.

So sayeth the government “help the alcoholics and kick the drug addicts to the curb”

Many conservative people I talk to think that the drug war serves some godly purpose, protecting our children, keeping drugs off the street, and putting those terrible drug criminals behind bars. This is just such an inaccurate perspective.

Addiction is a problem that can tear apart families, is expensive for communities, and can lead to crime. But we need to step back, start over, and really ask “what is the best way to deal with the problems of addiction?”

I have had the unique opportunity to watch police forces deal with alcoholics and drug addicts. The difference is astounding. My father was a mean drunk. I think the fact that this phrase, mean drunk, exists, tells us all we need to know about how dangerous alcohol is. My father turned violent after a few drinks, and everyone fell to his wrath. Even the dog was abused. The police came to the rescue and dragged him away.

But my mother never pressed charges. She was too dependent on him for that. But the police got sick of coming out to our house, so they eventually pressed charges against him and made his stop drinking. He had to detox, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and take that pill that makes you sick if you drink.

The government treated my dad like an addict with a problem, and they dealt with the problem.

Years later, my parents had serious drug problems. Pills, cocaine, crack, I don’t know what else. He wasn’t a mean drunk anymore. He didn’t stop being violent, but without the alcohol driving him into a rage, he was able to be cunning and cruel instead of just dangerous. The police were still over to our house frequently. Child abuse, stealing, embezzlement, a new string of crime. My father was still arrested, my father was sent to detention centers, to jails.

Where was he never sent? Detox. Rehab. Narcotics anonymous.

There was never a plan to deal with his drug addiction even though that fueled his property crimes and contributed to dangerous situation we had at home.

And when he was in jail my mom fell apart. She hallucinated, she slept all day, she delved into deep depression and all but abandoned her children at home. Things were harder for us at home while he was away because my family had no way to deal with the repurcussions of his addictions.

Isn’t the point of the drug war to protect children and serve the community?

The drug war did nothing to help us, the children of drug addicts, while the police were very helpful when alcohol was the problem.

Past meets present: My parents screwed up love story and contemporary women’s issues

I was talking with my sister, Mimi, and we inevitably get to our parents, or rather my parents, us sharing only a mother. It’s always sad. She has a harder time with it because she has all these memories of times before my dad showed up with his rage and his addictions. She remembers our mother acting like a mother, making dinner and helping with schoolwork. She rails against the mother that let a man pull her away from her children and into his dark world. The other day she told me the story about how they met. I knew some of the details, but she knew the whole sordid tale.

They were both serving jury duty, some medical case. At lunch one day, she was chatting with a friend she made. They were complaining about men.

I can hear my mother’s voice as she says “Men are such assholes.”

My dad overhears this, interrupts them at their table, and so elegantly says, “Not all men.”

Not all men. Oh my god. I nearly keeled over when my sister said that to me. I had followed the commentary closely back in March/April of this year, when the news and social media were such a flutter with that exact phrase. “Not all men” was the interruption men made to stop the nation from considering what might be happening in women’s everyday lives, violence, oppression. “Not all men,” was their contribution, making a statement loud and clear that it was more important to talk about innocent men then the real problems women face.

It is fitting that this is how my parents met. While promising to be the man of kindness, of compassion, of sensitivity, he brought with him like a Trojan horse more violence and despair than we can understand. Or imagine. There must be men in the world who respect women, but my father was never one of them. He broke her nose and cracked her ribs. He contributed to her drug addiction. He framed her for violent crimes. He pushed her away from her children. He ruined her life, her mind, her body.

When he said not all men are assholes, he wasn’t talking about himself.

The one thing I wish someone explained to me when I was ten

There are many, many things that I needed to hear as a kid, things that could have helped build my self-esteem, battle my depression, curb my suicidal tendencies. But instead of list all the many things that would have been good to hear, I realized that there was only one thing that I really needed to understand, that everybody needs to understand, especially children growing up in abusive households.

My parents taught me to be helpless. I was afraid of doing anything because of my father’s explosive and unpredictable anger. I believed I couldn’t do anything right, that I was a failure, that I was useless. So even though there were resources available to me that I could have used, I didn’t see them, understand them, or really believe I was capable of helping myself. There were so many things I didn’t do for myself because I didn’t believe I was worth it. I

Everyone has to take care of themselves.”

There are exceptions. There are caveats. There are extremes where we go too far and need to let others take care of us as well, but really, this is the basic human truth. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to bath ourselves, dress ourselves, feed ourselves. Most importantly, we have to guard and protect our freedom, our happiness and our well being. If we do not guard these things ourselves, if we leave these essential duties in the hands of someone else, we risk abuse, neglect and abandonment.

We have the power to take care of ourselves, to go out and get the things we need, to talk to people, to move our lives forward. But power is worthless if a person doesn’t know he or she has it. Useless if a person does not know how to use it.

So please, take a minute to consider what it means to have the power to take care of yourself. For me, it meant the freedom to buy a pineapple at the grocery store (just for fun), to buy new clothes (because I need and deserve good fitting and nice looking garments), to go on vacation out of town (because I can and I want to). What does it mean to you? Do you have a story about how you realized you had power in your life?

Bad Parenting 101: How to give your children nightmares

The ways to screw up a child must be limitless. Some are grotesque and obvious. In my home, there was a constant presence of violence and drugs. At times, my father would be overcome with anger, and would act out in rage. At times, my parents’ desire to fulfill their addiction would win out and they would have to have something. It wasn’t entirely in their control, and I feel certain that my parents knew these things were wrong, on some level.

Unlike those things, there are many instances where my parents did bizarre and unacceptable things. And I don’t think they knew how wrong they were. I say that in part because I didn’t know they were wrong until years later. Only with time and distance away from my parents, away from the crazy, could I see that lines had been crossed.

The Story

My father was a mean drunk, but my mom never did anything to protect us. It was my oldest sister, Mimi, who took care of us. She called the police even though our mother always grounded her for it later. One time, (I was very young so I don’t remember all the details) but my sister struck my father, her stepfather, after one of his episodes began. When the police showed up to arrest him, he demanded they take her too. Days later, after they came home and everything was back to its “walking on eggshells” normal, Dad sat me down to talk about what happened. He told me he was sorry about what he did to my sister, having her arrested when she was just looking out for the rest of us. He told me he felt bad right away, but it was too late and there was only one thing he could do. He tried to kill himself by hitting his head on the wall in his cell. He knew she would be walked by his jail cell, so he used his blood to write to her on the wall, to tell her he was sorry.

I was six when this conversation happened. I don’t remember how I felt at the time. In general, I was very sensitive, raw, in tears at the slightest chastisement, and terrified of the man telling me this story. Blood and violence were normal to me, so this sort of blended into everything else, a quiet little story amidst screaming and breaking glass.

The Image

But it’s actually a terrible thing to say to a child, maybe to anyone. It’s literally a nightmarish image; my sweet, protector sister dragged in handcuffs in front of my dying father, his head bashed in, an apology smeared in blood. What could he have hoped to accomplish by telling me this? Was I supposed to forgive him? Understand him? Feel bad for him? How could he conceive that this story was a good idea? The story may not even be true, which only makes my father’s mistake more glaring.

More than anything else, I just can’t understand why he wanted to do that, to say such disturbing things to such a young child. But my father never made any sense. I don’t think he ever understood right from wrong, not really. I don’t think he ever understood how normal people behave and operate. He walks like a stranger through the world, mimicking as best he can the behavior he sees, a sociopath in his heart, unable to understand what being human really means.

Maybe this is part of what drove him to drugs. Maybe the drugs rotted his mind and with it his sense of morality. It could just as well be both. I can’t know for sure. But from my parents I inherited an inaccurate sense of right and wrong, a skewed idea of normal and abnormal, of appropriate and inappropriate. It is the subtlest of ways they have impacted me, and I walk the world like a creature, trying very hard to fit in but not quite pulling it off.