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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Soft Pharaoh Gets Daughter an IPhone...

An offer I couldn't refuse!...
Alright, I caved in.

For years I was adamant; my daughter was not going to get a cell phone until she was in high school (in two years), period!  No questions!  No exceptions!

In other words, my heart was hardened, like pharaoh in the Old Testament when the plagues kept afflicting Egypt but noooo way was he about to give in to Moses; that snot nose, who was like a brother to him growing up but then betrayed him by becoming the leader of the Israelites! (It helped that my wife was on the same page!) 

However, a funny thing happened at the beginning of the year.  First of all, my daughter earned first honors again last semester, for the third time in last two years (the first time, I took her to the One Direction concert!) and her 13th birthday was fast approaching.

Furthermore, all her friends have cell phones and the few, whose parents were also holding out, got them for Christmas, making her the only one in her group not to have one (some got them as early as two years ago!).

Therefore, not only is she more physically developed than most of her friends, making her very self-conscience and insecure, but to top it off, she was also the nerd without a cell phone; i.e. the Rudolph in her friend's reindeer games. (Man, it must suck to be a teenage girl!)

Not that I was very aware of this psychological warfare she's been going through until a recent night when my wife came up and sat next to me on the couch with a glass of wine in her hand (in other words, let's talk) and said, "I think we should get Manu a cell phone for her birthday."

Say what?  The pharaoh in me reacted, "No way!  Absolutely not."  I didn't care how many locust flew in our house, she was not getting a cell phone!

She shot back, "Carlos, she's a good girl.  She just got first honors again.  She's turning thirteen and she's the only one of her friends not to have a cell phone.  She's embarrassed every time she has to borrow a friend's phone to call me to pick her up from basketball or softball.  You don't understand because you don't get the call and you don't know what it's like to be a teenage girl!"  (I could have sworn I heard Tom Petty singing in the background, "She's a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too...")  Was this a conspiracy?

Say what? No way buddy!...
I thought of coming back with the old reliable, "Well, if her friends jump off a bridge," analogy but I didn't think it would go off too well at that point. 

Instead, I said, "Cell phones are dangerous.  Kids today have no social skills because they communicate via text instead of talking.  Not to mention, they get exposed to all sorts of dangerous images and things!"  (I work in TV news and am horrified even by the thought of "sexting" or the temptation of it for my daughter!)

She answered, "Carlos, she has an IPad for school!  She could be exposed to the same dangers."  Ok., so I didn't think about that.  She continued, "Anyway, I already monitor all her text conversations when she uses my phone and, to be honest, they're pretty silly and innocent.  In fact, the photos that her friends posted that I objected to, gave me an opportunity to tell her why and that they will be on the internet forever.  She gets it."

"No!"  I said, "We agreed she wasn't getting a phone until high school!"  I was putting my foot down. That was it.  I had about enough of the conversation.  In fact, I could have broken into The Police song right there, "Doo Doo Doo, Da Da Da.  That's all I want to say to you."  Again, not even frogs, or gnats, or blood coming from the sink was going to change my mind!  End of discussion; my word is final! (Ok., maybe blood from the sink would have freaked me out but...)

She got up and left in disgust.

I sat there smoldering, "Oh, no you di'int just come to me with that idea!  I'll tell you what you can do with your idea (I think I was rotating my head).  Get my daughter a cell phone... Are you kidding me?  We agreed!  Not until high school!  She's just a little girl and so what if her friends have phones!  They're dangerous." (This was all in my head, mind you.)  I was working myself up pretty good. Although, part of it, I know, was my ego and pride talking.        

Then, I started thinking, "She really is a good girl and, at some point, I'm going to have to start trusting the way we're raising her (But, does it have to start now?).  Then again, good girls can be corrupted.  I should know.  I did my fair share of corrupting when I was a teen!  As the saying goes, 'Payback is a female dog!' (more or less)  But, where is God in all this?  Do I trust that God will protect her?"  I was pulling myself in every direction internally.

I paused and prayed for guidance and, in the process, softened my recalcitrant heart. 

After a while, I got up and walked to the bedroom where my wife had gone and, with my tail between my legs, said, "Ok., we'll get her a cell phone... but it has to be the older IPhone that only costs a penny!"  (If I was going to give in, might as well be practical, right?) She agreed with a broad smile on her face.

So, a week later, days before her thirteenth birthday, we got her the phone and I honestly think it was one of the happiest days of her life! 

In the years to come, I know raising a teenage girl will bring many more pressing decisions and issues to deal with (and to think, I have another one close behind!), but, for now, this was a big one. 

Let's just hope I don't change my mind and have to chase her across the Red Sea any time soon.  It didn't work out too well for pharaoh!...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cuomo, the Nazis and Prejudice in America...

Andrew Cuomo...
During the Nazis' rise to power and subsequent purging of "undesirables," a German intellectual and Christian pastor named Martin Niemoller wrote a poem, which stated:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me."

I was reminded of the poem after watching Fr. Robert Barron's latest commentary (see below) on prejudice in America; not so much based on race or ethnicity but on religion, specifically Catholicism.

Those of us who hold true to the values and the teachings of our faith are being meticulously and calculatedly marginalized by the same laws and lawmakers who are supposed to protect our rights to practice freely.   

Now, while anti-Catholicism has been around since the infancy of our nation, Barron uses the recent egregious example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who stated during a speech that "extremists," referring to conservatives but waving a broad stroke by including those who are "right-to-life" and "antigay" (meaning those who oppose gay marriage), "have no place in the state of New York."

The theologian contemplates the effects of Cuomo's father, Mario, who is Catholic and professed being against abortion privately but for it as a matter of public policy, on his son, who just one generation removed is now aggressively attacking and willing to oust anyone who opposes abortion and believes differently then he does (i.e. the purging of "undesirables").

In other words, the problem of religious prejudice goes much deeper than at first glance.  Unless people are willing to live what they believe publicly, including speaking out when injustices occur, even when it's unpopular or not directly against them, as Niemoller pointed out, there is a troublesome danger between political rhetoric and it's degenerative consequences.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."...  

Monday, January 20, 2014

My A-ha Moment in the Cafecito Line...

Con espumita!...
My wife and I were waiting in line to order a couple of Cuban "cafecitos," after going to Mass and having breakfast with the kids last Sunday, when all of a sudden, Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive comes on the speakers behind us. 

Let's be honest, it's one of those "girl songs" (as my son says) that many men, of my generation, know the words to!

A few seconds later I heard myself singing, "Go on now go, walk out the door.  Just turn around now..."

Just as fast as the words came out of my mouth, I abruptly caught myself and stopped.  I looked at the Mo-hawked guy with the tattoos standing in front of me, behind the overweight lady with the purple hair and flowered dress, and the old men smoking cigars at the table behind me and I asked my wife, "I just sang that pretty loud, didn't I?" 

She started laughing and nodded, "Oh yes you did."

I said, "I was like the guy in the Volkswagen commercial, who belts out the lyrics of the A-ha song (Take On Me!), during a meeting at work and then asked, 'Was that me?  Was I singing?'"

She started losing it.

Talk about having the music in me!  Fortunately, my kids were waiting for us in the van and were saved from the embarrassment!...

Friday, January 17, 2014

For Cuban Jazz Legend, It's All Because of God...

Arturo Sandoval...
In the U2 hit, All Because of You, Bono sings, "I was born a child of grace.  Nothing else about the place.  Everything was ugly but your beautiful face and it left me no illusion."

The lyrics came to mind after watching a recent interview with Cuban jazz legend Arturo Sandoval.

Now, follow me on this.  Sandoval was born in the scourge of poverty and repression in his homeland.  He often says in interviews that his family lived in a dirt-floor house. 

Yet, while, the struggles of everyday life was bad enough, the oppression of what they thought and did was even worse.  His family couldn't practice their faith freely.  They lived under constant watch and fear, even from neighbors, that something they said or did could be construed as offensive to the revolution and get them thrown in jail.

After getting a trumpet at the age of twelve from an aunt, music became his escape and, by the age of fifteen, he was introduced to jazz, which became his passion. 

As he got older, Sandoval was forced to serve in Cuba's mandatory labor camps and was jailed for three months after getting caught listening to the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and  Clifford Brown on the Voice of America because it was the "music of the enemy."      

Even as he gained national recognition for his musical skills, playing alongside Chucho Valdes and Paquito D'Rivera, among others, and was allowed to tour outside the country (without his family, of course), he was always under constant watch by state security, who would monitor the musicians' every move.

However, on the first chance that his wife and son were allowed to travel with him, during a tour in Europe with his childhood idol, Gillespie, in 1990, they defected.

Medal of Freedom...
Since then, he's sold millions of albums, received international acclaim, won nine Grammy Awards (17 nominations!), six Billboards, an Emmy, written movie scores, was the subject of an HBO movie about his life, For Love or Country, starring Andy Garcia, and last year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Yet, through it all, despite all the success and fame, he credits God.

During the interview, with Univision and Fusion anchorman Jorge Ramos, Sandoval made several references to God and the TV host, who is a self-professed non-believer, quickly interjected, "You just said God a couple of times and you said God gave you the talent."

Sandoval said, "Oh yes, absolutely."

With the tinge of sarcasm, the anchorman asked, "You actually believe that He or She gave you the talent?  It's not your hard work, your biology, where you came from, your tradition?"

The 64-year-old musician answered, "That is what is around or the culmination of things but first, God has to give you the talent to do anything."

Ramos then noticed, "You carry a cross around you neck.  Do you always wear it?"

 "Oh, yes," Sandoval answered, "I have another one inside (meaning inside his shirt).  I have had it there for 30 years or more."  He continued, "That created a little problem for me too because they (the Cuban government) were against the Church and anything Catholic.  All my family has always been very Catholic."

Ramos asked, "If you die, you are completely convinced that there's an afterlife?"

Sandoval paused briefly and said, "I never think about that too much.  I think you have to do your best while you're here now.  Whatever is going to happen in the future, or after you die, is in the hands of God.  You have no control whatsoever."

In other words, as Christ would say, "Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself."

Maybe by now, you understand why I thought of the U2 song, since I think the veteran trumpeter would agree with the words that say it is, "All because of you; I am." (and that's the Great 'I AM, who identified himself as such to Moses at Mt. Sinai!)...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Old People Know a Lot of Songs...

One recent morning, I had just broken into Queen's, Bicycle Race, -- "Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle.  I want to ride my bicycle.  I want to ride my bike!" -- after my 9-year-old daughter told me she wanted to ride her bike, when she turns to me and asks, "Daddy, why do you have a song for everything?"

Thinking about it briefly, I answered, "Because I'm old!"

Maybe, one day she'll be breaking into song at the drop of a hat with her kids as well...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Harry Potter, Plans and a Wonderful Life...

Disruptive Little Sucker!...
I don't know if I've ever mentioned it but, unlike the famous Broadway song, I'm not wild about Harry (Potter that is!). 

After doing some reading on the books early into the series, I didn't want my older daughter to watch the movies when they were popular and I'm still not a fan of them today.

Without getting into specifics, and I'll admit I only started reading the first book, suffice to say that I'm against what Harry Potter represents; a pop culture phenomenon targeting kids, which intertwines black magic with good wholesome family values, which some, including author Michael D. O'Brien, of the Father Elijah series, have referred to as, "A cancer wrapped around a healthy organ that no surgery to remove is possible."

However, this is not about Harry Potter, it's about how he ruined my post-Thanksgiving plans!

For the past several years, my family and I have watched, It's a Wonderful Life, as a way of kicking off the Advent and Christmas season, usually on Thanksgiving weekend. 

One of my favorite movies...
If you have never seen the 1946 classic, which is played regularly on TV during the holidays (In other words, where have you been?), it's a beautiful and inspiring film, ironically about how life sometimes gets in the way of best laid plans but, if we stop and smell the roses, as the saying goes, things usually turn out better than we may think.

Therefore, I excitedly announced several days prior, that we would watch the movie on Black Friday this year, which to my chagrin, was received with lukewarm interest at best!  In fact, my younger daughter blurted out, "Oh, no!"  (And here I thought we all loved the movie!), which wasn't enough to deter or damper my enthusiasm (although, that was soon to come!).

So, on D-Day, after running a few errands and getting home to relax (and settle down to watch the film, in my mind), I noticed that my wife and children quickly huddled into bed in my room and to add insult to injury, instead of watching the Jimmy Stewart classic, they started watching Harry Potter!  Say, what?   Oh, no they di'int...  Oh, yes they did! 

I felt like Matt Songer, the package delivery guy in the Feed the Pig radio commercial, who after being told he inherited $32 million dollars and starts to celebrate, is then told that it was just a joke!  Nice.  Thank you, Harry!

Yes, I was hurt and, maybe, sulked a bit.  Wouldn't you?  I felt rejected, disrespected and, in all honesty, betrayed in my own household (Nothing like a little melodrama and hurt pride to kick off the holiday season, I say!).  Moreover, it was my wife who was leading the parade!

Come to think of it, maybe, that's why I like, Wonderful Life, so much.  It was during a time in America when men wore the pants in the family instead of wearing shorts, like me!  (You can play the violin music here...)

I got bitter and stewed in my own self-pity.  Like a jilted lover, I refused to partake in their fun. 

Things were looking good...
Instead, I went to the couch and watched Million Dollar Baby.  Yes, it's a depressing movie, which only added to my somber mood, but let's not go there, since the dilemma in the film, specifically the portrayal of the priest's character, who basically pointed a finger at Clint Eastwood instead of going to console and give Hilary Swank some hope to live, really ticked me off! 

But, can you blame me for sulking?

It put a damper on the whole weekend and in all sincerity, on the beginning of Advent as well.  Thanks a lot, Harry! 

It wasn't until my brother, who was visiting from out of town, and his girlfriend came over to trim the Christmas tree with us several days later (and a couple of bottles of wine) that we finally put the conflict behind and started enjoying the spirit of the season.

As I reflected on the episode in front of the Blessed Sacrament later that week, I couldn't help but think of how easily disruption (aka evil) can creep into a family, often in the most minute, inopportune and subtle way.  One minute, everything is going good and everybody is happy and the next, there was Harry, hurt feelings, ego and bitterness.

It made me sincerely thankful to God for being part of our life. 

That bitterness could have easily festered.  Things could have easily degenerated and gone from a Merry Christmas to a miserable one in the wake of misunderstanding, selfishness and neglect (Which sadly happens in far too many families across America today).

Hence, despite the short interruption by the unruly broom-flying wizard in our house, and not ever watching It's a Wonderful Life with the entire family (I watched it with my older daughter several weeks later), reminiscent to the movie, my plans may not have gone accordingly but, in the end, I know I am truly blessed.   

There were no unexpected deaths or crippling blows to get in the way of dreams, like in Wonderful Life and Million Dollar Baby, and, more importantly, I have the faith, love and family to give me the hope that I can get through them, if they ever do.  So, with or without the family movie night to kickoff the Advent season, it was a fantastic Christmas season because we really have a wonderful life!...