Applying the Billy Graham Rule

Last year, when he was running for Vice President, Mike Pence caused a lot of angst by saying he went by the Billy Graham Rule–that is, he was never alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

Like most things, the application of the Billy Graham Rule is more complicated than the snap judgements that seem to accompany every issue. It is unfair to women and guys working with attractive females should be professional first and always. In other words, you should be able to walk through a Victoria’s Secret dressing room and keep your hands and private thoughts to yourself.

That said, it’s the Al Franken situation that clouds things up. If you look at the picture (displayed below), you easily see that Senator Franken isn’t touching Leeann Tweeden in this picture. And, at the time, Franken wasn’s a Senator.

But, in this case, you can clearly call him a schmuck. And the charges Ms. Tweeden lodges about his stuffing his tongue in her mouth during rehearsal are clearly in the he-said, she-said range. If Senator Franken had been, say, Dennis Miller or Tom Selleck, most of the people defending him would be condemning him and vice versa.

Fortuanately, most of us exist in a work environment where French kissing your co-workers without clear consent is obviously way over the line. That said, were I rehearsing a scene that even called for simulated kissing, someone would damn well be there.

For the rest of us, there’s still risk. Sometimes you have to have conversations with women and they have to be private. Sometimes you have to deliver a message that’s not going to be well-received. Sometimes, you work with some who lacks scruples, but not lust for revenge.

In those cases, at least on my opinion, unless someone has clearly shown they aren’t trustworthy, you have to take that chance.

I’m not really anyone’s boss right now, but I have had to deliver difficult messages to people. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes, it’s best to deliver those messages in private. In every circumstance, regardless of context, there’s always a danger someone’s going to throw down the two words that can kill almost any career: hostile workplace.

And if you’re the guy delivering the message, that’s part of the gig. If you really care about the job you’re doing and the people you work with, you have to take that chance. (Unless, someone has a reputation of abusing such a charge, in which case, common sense rules.)

The key is to conduct yourself in a way that such charges are simply unbelievable.

I’ve worked with people who’ve regularly played hopscotch with that line. They haven’t (to my knowledge) raped or groped people, but they’ve done things most would consider to be in questionable taste.

In most cases, it’s your own reputation that puts you at risk, not some shrew with a Fatal Attraction fetish.

In the end, it comes down to love. There’s too many people making too many problems, and not much love to go round.

It’s not that hard to care about the people around you.

 

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The Bathroom Door

The Bathroom Door

Gillian

I stop in front of the mirror and run my hand over my stomach. Still flat at forty-seven years old. The hair’s jet black and shiny, though I have help with that. I turn and check my butt. Not too saggy. The lines in my face are the give-away, but they aren’t bad. Any other time I’d smile at what I see.

Instead, a shiver passes up my spine because I’m in my apartment’s bathroom and Michael’s in the bedroom.

The first time I walked out of a bathroom naked to a man, Ted was a junior at college. I was a year behind. We were at his aunt’s cabin near Whiteface Mountain that summer. The windows were open that night and the breeze cascaded though the bedroom. A line of storms passed by and the smell of the damp woods was almost as intoxicating as the beer I’d drunk to give me courage.

Even with one of the lights on, we could see some of the fireflies speckling the night.

Two years later, on our wedding night, Ted didn’t complain at the task of unhooking the forty-four buttons on the back of my dress. We weren’t new to each other by then and the wedding-night sex wasn’t the best. But we were married and I fell asleep with my head on his shoulder, looking forward to building our lives together.

Part of me still loves Ted.

He took his lunch to work the first two years we were married so we could save the money to see Seattle because I’d always wanted to go there. Then he agreed to move there because I loved it.

He sat wordless with me when we found out I couldn’t have kids. He let me be an angry shrew for longer than he should have. Six months later, he held me again when I broke down crying for no reason while we made love.

He never left me during the forty-one hours between my mother’s stroke and her death. He handled all the arrangements because he knew I couldn’t. No questions asked.

Even now, I feel his hands, thick and powerful. I can feel his breath on my neck as he stands behind me, his arms wrapping me like a shield. I can still smell his earthy, musky scent, the one I’d take a second to breathe in if I was putting his shirts in the wash. He was big and solid and immovable and he made me feel like nothing could hurt me.

And then he took me to hell when I found out what kind of man he really was.

 

Back in the present, there’s noise on the other side of the door. A murmuring.

“What?” I ask.

A couple seconds go by.

“What?” Michael says.

“Did you say something?”

A short delay, then “No.” Not an emphatic no, kind of unsure. Ted never seemed unsure.

 

The sky was turbulent that March Thursday afternoon when everything came apart. Ragged clouds raced inland toward the mountains. The wind that pushed them found every gap in my clothes and made me strain against shivering.

That day, I wore a coffee-colored insulated leather jacket, black slacks, a red turtleneck, and my favorite boots. I don’t have those clothes any more. I don’t have a lot of the things I had that day.

Three police cars sat in front of our house. Two marked cars and one that wasn’t.
When I pulled up, the police were taking him away in handcuffs. They took all of our computers, too. They took my work computer from my hands as I stood there. Explaining that was no fun.

“Mrs. Hyatt?” The detective’s eyes were hard on me. She a little younger than I was, thick in the middle, like maybe she’d been able to have kids and couldn’t quite get rid of the baby fat. Her iron eyes made me feel small and guilty.

“Wh-what’s happening?”

When she told me, my eyes went to Ted’s and found nothing. His silence told me everything. The mirage of our lives together staggered me.

Eight-hundred ninety-six counts, they said. One for each picture. I don’t know how I found out, but there were eleven hundred sixteen kids in those pictures.

All those years, Ted took me in his arms and made me feel secure. And all those years, he was a monster. He is my worst nightmare. I still try to convince myself I had no clue.

“I love you so much it hurts,” I told Ted the night we moved into my dream house in Seattle. Four bedrooms and a back yard because we didn’t know I was barren. In retrospect, it was better that way.

Twelve years and five months later, the day he was arrested, I found out what that loving till it hurts really means.

I lost the house—lawyers aren’t free. I lost most of my friends. I lost my church and my workout partners and the good will of my colleagues at work. They’d ask how I didn’t know, why I didn’t stop it. It wouldn’t have hurt so much if I weren’t asking myself the same questions.

Everything we built was a lie and I was stupid enough to believe it. Maybe I looked the other way because of how he made me feel.

Kids are abused because guys like Ted want the pictures. And guys like Ted want them because women like me don’t say anything. Maybe I wasn’t a victim. Maybe I was an accessory. That uneasy truth is the worst part.

I don’t like living in Florida. There aren’t mountains and navy blue lakes. The scent of the trees doesn’t remind me of the woods in the Adirondacks all those years ago. The grass doesn’t kiss your bare feet when you walk across it. But down here, people don’t know who and what I am. Down here, I don’t feel their eyes on my back and their judgements on my heart.

As much as I dislike it, down here is best.

 

I met Michael when he saw me reading a Robert B. Parker at Barnes and Noble.

“I miss him,” he said. “Since he died.”

As soon as I looked up, his eyes dropped, and then came back to me.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Ted wouldn’t have apologized.

Michael’s eyes are brown, not blue. He’s small and his hands are thin and soft. I didn’t intend to talk to him. I didn’t intend to ask him to buy me coffee. I didn’t intend to have dinner with him that weekend.

Our first date was four years and sixteen days after I packed everything in my car and left Seattle.

Last week, I told him about Ted. We were walking along the beach at Honeymoon Island. It was cool and there weren’t a lot of people there. I don’t know why I decided to do it then, but I did. There was no one there to hear—no one to watch as he inevitably walked away from me.

He said nothing as I spoke and when I finished, my heart froze during his long silence. I almost turned to leave, but he took my hand.

“I don’t know what happened. But I know you. And you couldn’t do that to someone.” When he smiled at me, I felt warm inside for the first time since the afternoon they took Ted. That’s when I decided to do this.

So I’m standing naked in my bathroom, my clothes heaped on the floor like the armor I never really had. And he’s waiting for me. Out there. He knows what I am and he’s still waiting.

I ought to be happy, but I’m scared. I’m shivering and staring at the door like I’m facing a death sentence, running water in the sink to buy time. But I can’t stay in here forever.

Michael’s not redemption. He’s a salve, a step toward a world where redemption might be possible. He’s the first blade of grass when the snow starts to melt.

My hand goes to the doorknob and I take a breath.

Then I turn the knob and step into the rest of my life.

Michael

I’ve run obstacle courses with live electric wires and vast dumpsters of ice water to swim through. I’ve gone into meetings fairly certain I’d lose my job. I held my son Roger, this new, helpless little boy in my arms and realized he was dependent on me—the guy who used to get drunk and belch the alphabet—for everything he needed in life. After my wife’s funeral, I came back alone to the empty house we’d called a home.

I’ve done scary things before.

My heart stopped when Gillian decided I could come to her apartment after our dinner together.

So I’m sitting here in the bedroom fully clothed while there’s a witty, attractive, fun, sexy, and probably naked woman on the other side of her bathroom door.

And I’m thinking of Vince Lombardi.

He was once recorded saying, “After all these years you’d think I’d be nice and relaxed and look at me. I’m a nervous wreck.”

Nothing says romance like thinking about a dead football coach.

For a second, I consider leaving. I’m fifty-two and age can limit a man, if you know what I mean.

“Good, jack ass,” I whisper. “Set the mood by thinking of Lombardi and impotence.”

“What?” Her voice is soft and inviting from behind the door. And I die a little.

“What?” I say.

There’s no way she heard what I said. If I act like I didn’t say anything, maybe she won’t think I’m a lunatic. Maybe she won’t walk out in a formless flannel nightgown and demand I leave.

“Did you say something?”

Dammit.

“No.” It sounds more like a question than a statement.

Actually, it’s not the performance that scares me. What scares me is being naked, stripped of pretense. What scares me is taking down the wall I worked so hard to build after Mary died. I tended that wall like she tended the flowers in front of our house. Like she tended our marriage and our son.

Like she tended me.

She built a life for us that was as colorful and fragrant as the flower beds. She told me I was responsible for all that, too, but in truth, I might’ve built the structure.

She made it special.

The wall I’ve built has served its purpose. It’s stopped me from hurting the way I did after she died.

Three years ago, I stayed home from church one Sunday. I’d run a half marathon the day before and then we’d gone out with friends.

“I’m toast,” I told her. “Go without me.”

“Really?” The doubt in her voice was almost all in jest.

“Did you hear me eating Rice Krispies during the night?”

She pulled back at the stupidity of my question. “No.”

“That’s because I didn’t. That was the sound of my legs as I hobbled to the bathroom.”

She sat down on the bed next to me and smiled, her green eyes radiating contentment. That’s what I remember most about that morning—how content she seemed. She always had an easy smile, but something felt different that morning.

I just didn’t pick it up.

“It’s not your legs betraying you. It’s the beer you drank last night.” She swatted my ass through the covers and let her hand stay there a few seconds. It made me smile, having her touch me, even through the sheets.

I buried my face in the pillow. “Leave me alone.”

She kissed me on the back of the head and left for the living room. I knew she was doing her devotional, highlighting the old Bible her grandmother gave her, probably biting her lower lip as she stared down through the half-glasses. I never told her, but I found the lip-biting thing irresistible.

I asked her once if they bothered her—the granny glasses. I was playing with her, expecting mock anger, but I didn’t get it.

“I’m fifty. And in four months I’m gonna be a grandma. The glasses don’t bother me.”

I chuckled. “I’m gonna score with someone’s grandma.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Not if you keep talking like that.”

Our grandson Brock was born four months later, almost to the day. Mary cried as she held him. She told Roger she’d buy everything in Toys R Us and make me pay for it. And she’d spoil the baby and make sure he never doubted her love.

She only got to be a grandma for six months, though she’d probably take the only out of that sentence. I’d never seen her happier.

When Roger’s wife Jo Anne said they needed help babysitting Saturday afternoons, Mary beamed in a way I hadn’t seen since she first wore her engagement ring. The best part of babysitting wasn’t the baby, it was watching her tend the baby.

From some reason it was vitally important that we miss the first Saturday of baseball season to take the kid for a walk and see the ducks at a pond not far from our house. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any ducks, or that Brock slept the entire time, or that I missed the Mets win 11-2. I got to see her being a grandma. Roger had given her a gift I never could.

When we got back to the car, she buckled Brock into the front seat carrier and I tried to imprint the moment into my mind forever. The effort was successful.

Mary didn’t like driving in the rain, a fact I conveniently let myself forget that Sunday morning. After the accident, one of the cops told me she wouldn’t have felt any pain when the truck skidded across the road and hit her head on. I’d love to believe that.

If I close my eyes, I can imagine the fear frozen on her face, the last expression she’d ever have, as the truck obliterated the front of her car. The funeral was closed casket and though the pastor told us all she was in a place where there were no more tears, I struggled to believe it.

“If you’d gone,” Gillian said over pizza last weekend, “she’d still be dead. It’s just that you would’ve died, too.” Her hand fell on top of mine as she said it and I didn’t mind.

She’s the first person who could say that without making me angry.

My going to church that morning wouldn’t have solved anything. It ought to be that simple. Like taking care of the checkbook or sleeping through the night or seeing a women who looked vaguely like Mary without feeling like someone ran a hot poker through my chest.

It’s been three years and the wounds still feel fresh.

 

In the bathroom, the water’s running now. At some point, Gillian turned it on.

She’s attractive—hot, even. She smells like cherries and has jet black hair and often looks like she’s pondering life’s greatest mysteries.

And in spite of everything that’s happened to her, she seems to know that she’s enough. And she’s getting herself ready, only to come out for…for this?

I’m in pretty good shape for my age, but holy crap, I’m a mess.

When I thought about this moment, I thought I’d be the man. I’d be lying on the bed, my legs crossed, left arm casually behind my head. My right arm splayed next to my side, ready to pull her to me as she slips into bed.

Instead I’m still fully clothed and it feels like nothing’s going to work. Here I am, after all these years, a nervous wreck.

She’s gonna walk out with no clothes on. She’s gonna have the courage to bare it all for you. You have to at least take your shirt off.

So I do.

We met one rainy Sunday afternoon at Barnes and Noble. She was reading a Spenser—one of the ones written after Robert B. Parker died.

“I miss him,” I’d said.

She looked up the way you do when someone interrupts a good read. As I started to look away, embarrassed, I caught something in her eyes. They were green, too, and they made me feel warm under my shirt, even though the store air conditioner was on. But I didn’t feel the hot poker. I felt something different.
I forced myself not to look away.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

She studied me for a second, at first suspicious, then less so. And then she smiled back at me. “Buy me a coffee and all is forgiven.”

All is forgiven. As if it’s that easy.

Last week, she told me about her husband, the jerk. Actually, he’s worse than a jerk, but I keep that to myself. That’s not about us. I can’t imagine her ever hurting children like that, not after trying so hard to have one. I don’t know tons about her but I know she’s not her ex-husband.

We’ve been dating almost five months. Made it to second base a few times, then the inning ended. Sometimes I ended it and sometimes she did. Compelled to go further but too afraid.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked a woman in the eyes and just let my gaze settle there. Since I’ve let my hand linger on her cheek. Since I’ve combed my fingers through her jet-black hair.

If tonight was just sex, it wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve had sex before. But this was revelation. This was baring my soul, allowing this stranger into the place I’d walled off. It was putting her in a position to understand who I am.

To judge me. And maybe find me lacking.

I’m sitting on the corner of her bed, my shirt in my lap. And I can feel my heart beating.

The water turns off and, because there’s no other noise in the house, I hear her feet padding across the floor.

The doorknob turns and I take a breath and decide it’s too late to do anything but go with it.

And hope I’ll pass her judgment.


Harvey Weinstein, my daughter, and the evil men do

Harvey Weinstein, it turns out, was a monster. A powerful, vindictive monster who could ruin people who stood in the way of what he wanted. A gaping hole of entitlement who saw other people as less than objects. After all, you take care of a nice car or mansion. A young actress? That’s another matter.

He’s hardly the first. Bill Cosby. Bill O’Reilly. Bill Clinton. Roman Polanski. Lawrence Phillips. Jimmy Savile. Any number of Catholic priests and administrators. People who saw those who were weaker as somehow less than human, to be used and thrown away–and ruined if they pushed back.

It would be shocking if it weren’t so commonplace. Back in the 1980s, when I did radio news, I’d call the local police agencies for any news each evening. The most common news was a middle-aged man–someone about my age–arrested for sex with someone too young to possibly consent.

Over the years, I’ve had a good number of women friends. And during those times, I’ve almost never wondered what they’ve had to go through. I’ve almost never considered that someone might have groped them, demeaned them, bullied them into bed, or even raped them–then enforced silence because of the power differential.

I’ve never let that soak in, never let it influence my view of the world.

And then this.

It’s not just Hollywood. It’s not just the church. It’s not just Roman Polanski and Cybil Shepherd. It’s not just the athlete arrest of the day. It’s not just the creepy-looking guy in the mug shot on the evening news.

It’s probably in my workplace and yours. It’s probably somewhere within a few miles of your house. It’s probably happened to women you know and respect and love.

And as my daughter starts her career, it could be her, too.

Not every man is a potential rapist. Not every man parlays his power into predatory behavior that would shock you. Not every man gropes, coerces, and threatens. But there are enough that it has to make a difference in the way the rest of us look at the world.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not about abortion or birth control or anything of the sort.

It’s about awareness. And it’s about being alert to the ugly secrets almost in plain sight.

It’s about listening and considering and allowing for possibilities you’ve previously dismissed. It’s enough to reconsider how my views and actions–and inactions–might contribute to making things harder for people I admire and care about.

To be clear, I’ve never raped or coerced or threatened. But I’ve dismissed. And in my own ways, I’ve objectified. This isn’t about not being attracted. It’s not about ripping heterosexuality. It’s about how you view other people.

No one deserves to be raped, coerced, and threatened. Not my daughter, wife, or friends. And not yours, either.

 


The worst hypocrisy

During a meeting for a ministry I’m involved in, there was a lot of talk about how the church is full of hypocrites. Hypocrisy is often mentioned as one of the primary reasons that people avoid the Christian church.

It’s a valid complaint. I know it is, because I’m a hypocrite of sorts.

I believe in–or claim to believe in–a God who loves me exactly as I am. I claim to believe in a God who doesn’t need me to change before He’ll give me the time of day. I claim to believe in a God who doesn’t expect me to become some perfected version of myself that really only exists in my mind.

On those points, I’m a liar to the people.

Let’s say I really did believe in all of that stuff. How would I react to the crap that happens in any typical day? How would I react to people who anger me or crap on me or–and this is the worst–get to the front of the line at Dunkin Donuts and have no freaking clue what to order? (What did they think was going to happen when they got up there?)

The answer is that if I really, really believed in all that stuff, my view of that other stuff would be correctly sized. I wouldn’t think there’s a rain cloud over my head.

I’d know that the freaking Architect of the Universe kind of digs me and that <person X> might have a different opinion and too bad.

As for the Dunkin Donuts thing, I think God might actually agree with me on that one. I mean, we all have our limits, right?

In all seriousness, though, if we believe in the stuff that Christians are supposed to believe in, we wouldn’t get a stick up our butts about <insert outrage here>. We’d live in joy and act to try to make other people feel that joy.

But if you believe that you suck–that you don’t measure up to God’s freely given love, then you can’t extend it to other people, either. Too many of us–including me far too often–fail on this count.

Maybe it’s best to love them all (or try really hard) and let God sort them out.


What’s really offensive about the Anthem protest…

Let’s say for a minute that every day when you got to work, you had to stand at attention in front of people and take what amounts to a public loyalty oath to your country. A lot of you are saying, “It would be my pleasure to do such a thing. I love this country. I would be proud, unlike those stupid ingrates in the National Football League.”

Okay, I hear you. But let’s change things up a little bit. Let’s say it was a condition of your employment. You okay with that?

Now let’s say it’s a condition of your employment because the Federal government paid your employer in exchange for you and your fellow employees to profess your loyalty. In other words, it’s not a spontaneous expression of respect and appreciation, but a marketing effort by your employer–not to mention a revenue stream.

Until 2009, players weren’t typically on the field for the national anthem. Starting that year, under the Obama Administration, the government started paying not just the NFL, but MLB and other professional leagues. In the grand scheme of things, the amount of money is insignificant. But part of what it pays for is players to be on the field during the anthem.

Suddenly, the anthem isn’t the symbol of national pride. Suddenly, you aren’t honoring America, as the PA announcer always says. Suddenly, you are selling your affection for your country–so your employer gets paid. Your mileage may vary on this one, but to me, this practice is cynical, ridiculous, and more offensive than what happened on the field this weekend.

My patriotism is meaningful to me. It’s not something to be bought and sold, and it sure as hell isn’t something my employer should count on as a revenue stream.


President Trump ill-conceived tirade against anthem protesters

It all started when Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in protest for police brutality against blacks. Kaepernick, it should be added, didn’t vote in the election and showed up for practice wearing socks that depicted police as pigs.

A few players here and there followed suit last season and into this season. Four players even demanded that the NFL set aside the month of November–typically used to honor the military, more or less–as a month to promote social activism.

To be clear, Kaepernick, who is currently unemployed, has every right to wear pig socks and sit down during the anthem if he chooses to do so. The NFL has every right to employ him or not. The fans have every right to vote with their wallets, as they seem to be doing, based on ratings and attendance figures.

This is what it is to be an American. People are going to push ideas you think are horrible and you’re going to push back that they’re wrong.

And then the President weighed in. He said to a crowd at a Senate campaign rally “wouldn’t you love to see one of these owners…say get that son of a bitch off the field now?”

When Roger Goodell pushed back, President Trump took to Twitter saying that the Commissioner was trying to justify “the total disrespect certain players have for this country.”

And now, the league’s players are more unified than ever, and more of them will protest during the anthem than ever. The protest has even spread to baseball as Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the anthem.

Again, if the collective bargaining agreement permits it, the players have every right to kneel, sit, or stand for the anthem. And a country that demands a loyalty oath as a pre-condition for employment doesn’t sound like a free country to me.

As this mess swirls around–and threatens to drain even more joy from following professional sports–one thing is clear: by his actions, the President has done more to draw attention to this effort than Colin Kaepernick and his pig socks could ever hope to.


Love and performance

Love based on performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

I don’t know who said that, but the words, if not the source, have stuck with me over the years.

As you hear those words, hear them spoken bluntly, without softness. With no room for negotiation.

Love based on performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

Not every kind of love can move into that realm. It’s a realm that’s hard to achieve and harder to maintain. It’s a risky love that gives it’s object the a sharp knife and directions to your heart and soul.

It means that the person to whom you give the knife has nothing stopping them from carving up your most cherish, most protected, most precious part.

As human beings, even the best of us does some carving from time to time. Even the closest person alive to perfect lets you down. The closest person to perfect currently in this world is Nolan Ryan–and he could only do it on a baseball field. And he hasn’t done it in a long, long time.

And yet, to love–to truly love–means that you understand the risk and you hand over the knife anyway.

The problem comes when you hand over the knife inappropriately to someone who doesn’t value what it can carve. Worse yet is when you have the knife yourself and you don’t value what it can carve.

Still, both externally with other people and internally with yourself, love in return for performance isn’t love, it’s pay.

Performance and pay have their place. Without them, we’d still be living in caves, victims of whatever nature throws our way.

And there’s still a necessity in a loving relationship to return some aspect of care and respect.

But that doesn’t negate the one true fact–the one thing we as a society and as a human race miss far too much.

You can’t base love on performance. They’re two different things.