Our Family Matters Blog


It was a privilege to live in Seattle. It is privilege to leave.

Our family is moving.

In two weeks, we will pack our car and drive east on I-90.  Our destination is Philadelphia, where Patrick will start a new job this summer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Our cross-country trip will take us on a very similar route to the one I followed—albeit in the opposite direction—in 1993 when I moved to Seattle.  Patrick also moved here that year after attending graduate school in California.  We have lived here for twenty-seven years.  A lifetime. 

A couple of weeks ago, Patrick and I headed out after dinner to drive around downtown Seattle.  We wanted to see the city in its current state, a warren of boarded stores and restaurants, shuttered against the virus. 

To move cross-country in the middle of a global pandemic, after suffering from the virus, requires not a little bit of tenacity and perhaps a fair dose of stupidity.  But it also includes a huge amount of privilege. 

We drove down Pike, heading into the retail core peopled with one lone masked couple walking a dog and peeking into store windows stripped of fashion. Heading south on 5th Avenue, we passed dark hotels and cafes. The 5th Avenue theatre proudly advertised the musical Sister Act, a show that at the last minute had been cancelled. On 4th Ave, homeless people wrapped in sleeping bags occupied doorways on every block. The blocks surrounding Pike Place market felt to us like a ghost town.

I said to Patrick that it reminded me of a Seattle out of a dream.  If you looked past the empty store windows and ignored the new glass skyscrapers, it had the whiff of the city in 1993. You could almost hear the Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

A few days after our drive, we watched on television as protestors lined those same streets following the murder of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis police.   An afternoon of peaceful protests transformed into a nighttime of violence.  Police cars were burned at an intersection we passed. Store windows we had seen boarded up had been stripped of plywood and smashed.  Police used tear gas and flash bangs to chase protesters through block after block, hour after hour.  Gone was a bucolic sleepy grunge-era Seattle, and in its place was the city of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests. It was Seattle of a nightmare, not a dream. 

To move cross-country in the middle of a global pandemic, after suffering from the virus, requires not a little bit of tenacity and perhaps a fair dose of stupidity.  But it also includes a huge amount of privilege.  As white men, Patrick and I walk through the world with a great deal of it. That privilege has propelled us through life with economic stability, access to safe neighborhoods and good schools, trust that those who are supposed to keep us safe will see our whiteness first. 

We sold our house in one week in a neighborhood that has changed significantly in the last five years we have lived here.  We made a good deal of money on the sale.  We got tested for Covid-19 almost immediately after exhibiting symptoms, able to rely on excellent health care provided by our employers. 

It was also our privilege that allowed us to watch those early protests and wonder about the motives of the looters, willing to believe the narrative that they were from out of town. After all, who in Seattle would want to destroy their own city?  

But we can easily turn away.  Choose to focus on hotel reservations for our trip.  Concern ourselves with packing. Move through our world with privilege that is baked into our bones, that shines through the color of our skin. 

We have the ability to walk away.  To turn a blind eye.  To see what we want to see. The world works for us because of our privilege.  We try our best to be aware of it, to interrogate it, to make changes.  We work as educators to disrupt the system of institutionalized racism that leave black and brown students disproportionately under served, by design.

But we can easily turn away.  Choose to focus on hotel reservations for our trip.  Concern ourselves with packing. Move through our world with privilege that is baked into our bones, that shines through the color of our skin.  It is, at this moment, an uncomfortable garment.  And that’s okay.  More white people need to feel uncomfortable.

About a year ago, Patrick and I were driving home through downtown, another trip through Seattle’s crowded, glimmering, city.  It was late at night and Seattle Mariners fans were pouring out of the stadium after a baseball game.  Police had blocked off several roads around the stadium to aid traffic flow.  Our direct path was blocked.  We would need to detour.

It was an inconvenience.  Patrick rolled the window down and yelled his frustration at the police.  He shook his fist.  How dare we be so inconvenienced. 

After telling the story to some friends, our friend, who is black, stared at us, mouth agape, and shook his head in disbelief.  “You did what?”

That is privilege. 

We don’t have to worry when we walk into a store that we will be followed and suspected of stealing.  It is assumed that we are law-abiding citizens.

If we go for a run or a bike ride or a walk in the park, we don’t have to worry that someone will be threatened by our mere presence and call the cops.

One of our children, who is also white, was treated fairly and appropriately when he acted out during school and was not too severely punished because of the color of his skin. 

When we watch television shows and movies, we see characters who look like us and share many of the experiences we have as white people. 

We don’t have to pay the accumulated tax of systemic racism that compounds over time, building on itself in horrible dividends of challenge, frustration and anger.

We have walked through this world with the unearned advantage of a privilege that comes by virtue of the color of our skin.  The insidious nature of that advantage propelled us for years to be unaware of the vastness of the benefits as well as the ability to retreat to its comfort when addressing it got too uncomfortable and difficult.  Levers of power functioned very effectively to support the continuation of our privilege. 

We don’t have to pay the accumulated tax of systemic racism that compounds over time, building on itself in horrible dividends of challenge, frustration and anger.

At this moment, our work to change the way we educate our students does not seem enough. The protests do not seem to be enough. It is not enough.  The way things are—and the way we move in our world—is not okay. 

What is enough? What is a place to start? Recognize the anger, sadness and fear.  Listen.  Recognize our privilege.  Listen some more.  Do work to educate ourselves.  Challenge and interrogate the privilege.  Move forward with empathy.

It’s what we are trying to do right now.  It’s not enough.  But it’s a start. 

We will pack our car and drive away in two weeks’ time.  We will drive through an America torn apart by a system of institutionalized racism that daily confers privilege on some and denies it to others. It is also a country that is still reeling from the impact of a deadly and unprecedented pandemic, a health crisis that has disproportionally impacted communities of color and is potentially only going to get worse in the wake of the crowded protests that are attempting to change the systems of power that exacerbate that devastation. 

Our privilege allows us to look through the windows of the car and maintain a safe distance from that which may be too uncomfortable, too threatening, too bleak.  But it will be there.  And we will force ourselves to not turn away. 

We will drive to a city where we will continue to work to challenge the systems of power that benefited us when we were students and continue to benefit those who look like us.  We will listen, reflect, and do more.  We will do better.  Our conscience requires that we do better.  Our humanity demands it. 


Blood in the time of COVID-19

In the first few weeks of March, as the country was just beginning to understand the corona virus and our daily lives still seemed normal, the virus made its way around our family, infecting first Patrick, then me, then Isabella and most likely Jordan. 

Patrick caught it from one of his medical providers who, although completely asymptomatic at the time of the appointment, started to have symptoms the next day, tested positive two days later and just like that Patrick was in quarantine. 

When Patrick’s symptoms started just a few days later, he decided to isolate himself in our bedroom, hoping to spare the rest of us.  He picked up trays of food we left for him outside the bedroom door while I furiously disinfected every surface of the house multiple times a day and harangued the kids to scrub their hands raw.

A week later, as Patrick was just starting to feel better, we switched places.  I didn’t leave the bedroom for two weeks. The third week I could join the family for meals but was still fatigued and worn out.  It was a full month before I felt like myself again. 

Right around the time that I started with symptoms, Isabella lost her sense of taste and smell.  An article in the New York Times tipped us off that these were symptoms of the virus.  Too young and otherwise healthy to qualify for a test, she struggled through about a week of feeling tired and achy.  Jordan never had symptoms at all, but it is hard to imagine that he could have made it through unscathed. 

In the scheme of things, we had it easy.  Patrick experienced some shortness of breath and still has a bit of a lingering cough.  I had a fever, chills and night sweats for the first week, but the fatigue was the most irritating symptom and I thought it would never end. None of us required hospitalization, oxygen, or ventilators.  Aside from Patrick’s cough, we all seem to have made a full recovery.

Patrick and I were lucky enough to get tested—exceptionally rare at the time—and the positive results led to phone calls from the Washington State Department of Health with a battery of questions about our symptoms, places of work and efforts to isolate and quarantine. 

By the time we were well on the road to fine, letters had arrived from the Centers of Disease Control indicating that we may have valuable blood:

“If you have fully recovered from COVID-19, you may be able to help patients currently fighting the infection by donating your plasma. Because you fought the infection, your plasma now contains COVID-19 antibodies. These antibodies provided one way for your immune system to fight the virus when you were sick, so your plasma may be able to be used to help others fight off the disease.”

Almost immediately, Patrick and I completed donation applications through Bloodworks Northwest, our regional blood collection center.  After answering some clarifying follow-up questions, I received this email reply:

“We are bound to evaluate donor eligibility by the standards defined by the FDA, and unfortunately gay men are still prohibited by a temporary deferral. As a note: currently that deferral period is 12 months from last sexual contact, but earlier this year the FDA announced that they would reduce that to a three-month deferral. (That change has not been implemented yet, but it will be a part of our criteria ASAP.) However, while that deferral is diminishing, it is nonetheless still an obstacle for many.”

Yes, a three-month deferral is an obstacle.  We all need to make sacrifices during this time, but c’mon. This FDA policy is outrageous. 

Andy Cohen, the famous gay celebrity, host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, new dad and recovering corona patient, summed it up this way:

“The FDA says there is an urgent need for plasma from survivors. All donated blood is screened for HIV, and a rapid HIV test can be done in 20 minutes or less, so why the three-month rule? Why are members from my community being excluded from helping out, when so many people are sick and dying? Maybe because we’re valuing stigma over science — I don’t know. My blood could save a life, but instead it’s over here boiling.”

Our blood is boiling too.  The folks at Bloodworks NW have been understanding and sympathetic.  Their website indicates that they oppose the FDA policy and have advocated for it to be rescinded.  At least twenty state attorneys general agree.  In a letter sent at the end of April to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they called on the FDA to rescind its regulations, citing an overall shortage of blood donations in the wake of the current health crisis. 

“The discriminatory restrictions against blood donations by healthy gay and bisexual Americans have persisted for far too long; the steps you have taken acknowledge current rules are informed more strongly by bias than science,” the letter read. 

My contact at Bloodworks NW indicated that our blood “may be eligible for donations that will be used for research instead of transfusions.” So, it seems that gay blood can be of some use. We are waiting patiently to hear back from the research specialist.  It’s been more than two weeks, and still no word. 

Donating blood and plasma is a simple, easy way for individuals to help out in the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic.  But as gay men, we are faced with options that are limited and ridiculous.  Straight individuals are not asked to abstain from sex for three months before they donate. Allow us to do more.  Give us the opportunity.  Change this policy.

“This pandemic has forced us to adapt in many ways. We’re quarantining, we’re social-distancing, we’re wearing masks,” Cohen said. “Why can’t we adapt when it comes to this rule? It is bad enough that quarantine has us wondering what day it is. I’m sitting here wondering what year it is. We need to think about this and do better.”

Being Invisible

It’s easy to be invisible.  Be an old woman, or an old man (without the debate of which term to use—-elderly,  senior, golden ager), be LGBTQ,  be poor, be black or brown.  So many ways. 

Bob and I are in Florida for a month.  In the communities we have stayed there are a plethora of the old like us.  Here we command some attention.  Mostly from young clerks who want to sell us more weeks in these gated communities of the almost infirm.  We are still up and walking about; most of us, that is.  Some folks have oxygen tanks and walkers, but they are less visible (see what I mean).

Yesterday we drove the hour or so to South Beach Miami.  There we encountered the lively street scene of a vibrant community.  Lots of salsa music, skimpy outfits. In a club on the beach men donned wigs, outrageous makeup to dance to dollars pushed onto them.  The opposite of being invisible. But were the patrons, fueled by lots of margaritas, jeering them or applauding them? I don’t know.  Maybe the performers didn’t care as they collected crumpled ones and fives. Invisibility is overrated they thought. 

Among the raucous mob of glad partiers a very old woman threaded her way along the sidewalk next to the many cafes filled with patrons eating Cuban sandwiches, drinking tequila. She stopped at an outdoor table every so often.  Mumbled something and continued shuffling on, ignored by all.  And so were we, two elders invisible in the parade of the young: bikini clad women, shirtless men, sun worshipers, shoppers, dancers.

But being invisible did not prevent a mother (me) and son (Christopher) from writing our story.  On December 30th, a crisp cold Buffalo day, about 100 friends and family joined us to celebrate our book.  And even better read it.  Amazing to me.  Often I resisted when Christopher and Patrick told me my story was a big part of our family story.  Christopher’s bravery inspired me. He heard a different story growing up than the story we planned for him.  He heard a different message from the rest of us in the family when we attended Mass, when we watched TV, when we joked with friends.  What he heard was that he was invisible, and even worse, evil.  If he could overcome that and grow into himself then all of us invisibles can too