Empowerment – How no one can give it to you.


Scarlett Johansson’s speech at the recent Women’s March was earmarked in every single media lead as a “smackdown of James Franko,” but her speech contained a message far more important than pointing at hypocrisy.

In the media, it, like so many women’s voices, went unheard.

She revealed a key insight into women’s empowerment (and indeed anyone’s empowerment) as she was, “Digging deep to understand where we are and how we got here.”

The word Empowerment is defined as “Being in control of your behavior.  The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

Johansson said that she, “…sometimes compromised what felt right to me…compromising my voice and therefore allowing myself to be unseen and degraded…it allowed me to have the approval that women are conditioned to need.”

Compromising your truth for approval that you are conditioned to need cuts to the heart of what becoming empowered means.

In general, if we carefully examine any given situation in a very unbiased and honest way, we will realize that to a large extent we are also responsible for the unfolding of events.” 
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

As I grew up I was told that becoming a man means owning your truth, walking your path regardless of cost, and at the expense of the approval of others.  It certainly didn’t mean taking advantage of those less powerful, but not every man got that memo.  There were other social narratives at play that were a lot easier to follow.

Johansson realized she felt a “rage on behalf of herself.”  Over time, I have slowly come to realize that when my own boundaries are ignored, the rage I feel is of two parts; the lesser part for the imposed injustice, and the greater part for myself at failing to protect those boundaries.  It is not an easy admission.  The unempowered feel a dichotomy of rage, rage toward those who were willing to take their power merely because they could, and the rage at themselves for failing to define and defend their own boundaries and truth.

Realizing and owning the latter is the difficult part, and the most important.  For women to confine their rage only to “those terrible men who did this to me,” is the very thing that will keep them, victims.

Without a realization by the unempowered, that a full part of their rage, though projected outwards, is truly reflected upon themselves, there can be no personal change such that will end their victimization.

Scarlett Johansson reveals each side of this dichotomy:

“How is it okay for someone in a position of power to use that power to take advantage of someone in a lesser position just because you can.  Is that ever okay?”



“I have made a promise to myself to be responsible to my self, that in order to trust my instincts I must first respect them.”


Taking this responsibility means being willing to give up the approval we are conditioned to need.

Compromising your truth in a bid for approval and respect will never gain you genuine approval or true respect.  As you choose to own your truth, be ready to give up the approval and respect of some others.

“No more pandering,” Johansson concluded. “No more feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings when something doesn’t feel right for me.”

This path is not easy, but it is part of becoming an empowered woman or man.  Ultimately, there are no excuses and no blame that will bear fruit.  No one is going to hand you your empowerment.  This is what we must teach the next generation of men and women.  It is only when we learn to value our own self-worth and voice our rights, that the social narrative will turn and engender compassion and respect for those with less power.

The good news is, that the approval and respect that you do receive by owning your truth, using your voice, and being responsible to yourself, will be both genuine and true.  And it will be worth it.

Labels are important.  The #MeToo tag means “I too have been a victimized.”  I would like to think that it also means “This is about me too.”

The #Time’sUp tag seems closer to the mark.  “Your time of taking advantage of the less powerful is up.”  I’d also like to think that it means, “We are putting you on notice that we have decided to own our truth.”


Generation B for Blame: Waiting on the World to Change


A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:

“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”

As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly.  And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.

Every generation
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics

Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.

The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society.  Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for.  It was far more than disapproval, it was war.  And it was ugly.  And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!

Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason.  For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon.  The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.

Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving.  They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.

They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future.  Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials.  I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children.  The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you.  (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)

When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt.  They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”

You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you.  The world is a tough place.

When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for.  It isn’t right, but it’s human.

At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.

Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other.  But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children.  Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would.  You persevered, and so will they.  Ease up.

I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed.  You are SO MUCH more alike than not.  I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes.  Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.

And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.

PROTEST: Millennials find their purpose and define an era


Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.

So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).

So, we take to the streets and we protest.

Flower 6.jpg

The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.

Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties.  I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire.  Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today.  I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.

So, they took to the streets.

In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.

In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.

Flower 7.jpgWhen we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family.  If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks.  It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!”  Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.

The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.

Flower 3.jpg
Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times 

Now it’s different, now it’s personal.  A once lost generation has found its purpose.

For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring.  What will they forge in their crucible?  What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.

Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun.  It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower.  The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence.  The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.

flower 2 (1).jpgThe protests mattered, and we eventually won.

I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago.  They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose.  There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now.  Adversity reveals true mettle.

I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.

And we’re going to need more flowers.

Flower4 (1).jpg

PART III: Father/Daughter Stories–Flat Tire

I don’t like being angry. I grew up consciously avoiding the emotion, and with good reason. I will get angry, but not often with people. Mostly it’s an inanimate object that refuses to do my bidding then mocks me that really pisses me off. I know what anger is, it is the dispelling of a pretentious assumption. You assume that the lid will come off the jar, that’s what lids are supposed to do, but it doesn’t. The laws of physics have no master, least of all you. You assume that you are in control of your situation and you are not. Causality has its own plans that you are not privy to. Control is an illusion.

Every parent I know has at one time or another lost it in front of his or her kids. Kids can push buttons like chimps in a Soyuz, and if you are not on your game they can catch you out, even without their meaning to.

A few years ago, our late August trip to Nantucket involved going to my Dad’s house in Fayetteville the night before, so that we could leave from there in the morning. We were to meet him for dinner around six at Huller’s Restaurant.

I had gotten very little sleep for several days prior, a condition I do not function well under, and was more than uncommonly stressed on the lead up to the exodus. I packed the Nissan Murano to the gills with a precision I like to describe as NEARLY obsessive, but I could be wrong. We used to bring EVERYTHING. Madi was six, and very excited about going on vacation. She was delighted, sitting in her booster seat with her snacks and her video player lashed to the passenger headrest, all set for her big adventure.

I have in my time produced massive productions, with hundreds of people and myriad detail, but nothing was ever as hard as getting a six-year-old packed and in the car for a vacation. Dinner at six became dinner at eight by the time we left the driveway. It was dark and rainy, Madi was chatty and needy, and I was exhausted and hungry, and doing my best to stoke a pleasant façade.

We were just outside of Cortland when I felt that funny pull and knew I had a flat tire, right rear by the feel of it. I pulled over on a narrow shoulder on a long dark stretch of route 13 with heavy, fast traffic, and rain; I get out to look, yup, right rear, “Son of a bitch, that’s all I f*ucking need!”

I got back in the car and searched my phone for a garage, but it was Friday night and nothing was open. I could probably fix a flat tire blindfolded, but I just wanted someone to come out, take my tire, plug it and put it back on so I didn’t have to drive a spare (fearing it was a half spare) to Massachusetts to catch a ferry. I also knew where the spare lived. “Suck it up dude, change the frickin’ tire and get movin’, you’re already late.”

I backed onto a small side road I had just passed, and Madi caught on that something was up. “What’s happening Daddy?” Now, suffice it to say that when I was a child, going on vacation sometimes seemed more like visiting an anxiety ward, so I was going to be damned if I was going to inflict my anger and lack of grace on my kid. Period. “No problem sweet pea, we just got a flat tire.”

“Oh no! Daddy does this mean we can’t go to Nantucket!”

“Gosh no, I’ll just fix it and we’ll be on our way.”

(She started to look scared) “Are we going to be late for dinner with grandpa?”

“No honey, we’ll make it. Look, Madi, sometimes things don’t go exactly as you planned them to, and you have to adjust and make a new plan. Do you know what we call that? An adventure!”


GARY’S INNER VOICE: I call it getting f*ucked up the a*ss!

I grabbed a flimsy umbrella from under the seat and went to the back of the car. As the hatchback door lifted, I realized that what once looked like an expert packing job, was actually a cunning barricade. The spare you see, was underneath EVERYTHING I had carefully packed, there was no sliding it out from under the ample gear, it all had to come out, into the rain.


“What sweetie?”

“I gotta go pee.”

“uhh… there is no… it’s rain… uh, can you hold it for a little while?”

“No I gotta go really bad!”

INNER VOICE: Jeasus Christ! What the f*uck!? Why didn’t you go before we left!??”

INNER INNER VOICE: Calm down, it’s not her fault, she’s six, you’re the adult here.

“Ooookay, sweetie, I’ll be right there. Noooo problem. You’re just going to have to go outside okay?”

I got her out of the car into the drizzle. Holding the umbrella awkwardly with my chin, I had her squat down, her pants pulled down to her ankles.

“You’ve peed outside before right, with your Mom, right?”


“Do you remember how to do it?”

“I think so.”

INNER VOIVE: Don’t pee on your clothes kid, I’m warning you, do NOT pee on your f*ucking clothes!”

“Let me help you, now, okay, LEAN FORWARD…”

Madi’s aim was perfect, right in the center of her underpants. She was right; she really did have to pee. It soaked through her underwear, her pants, her socks and her sneakers. There in the rain, pee-spray tickling my bare shins, I reached a crossroad. Which path would I take? I summoned every ounce of empathy and love that I had, determined not to make my daughter pay for my frustration. I grabbed the curse as it vaulted up my throat and forced it back down to my spleen. Sensing Madi’s expectation of my response, I countered in my most matter-of-fact tone, “Aw, that’s okay Madi, let ‘er rip kiddo.”

“But Daddy it’s going in my shoe!”

“It’s alright punkin’, we’ve got lots of clothes (buried somewhere), we’ll just take those off and I’ll get you some new clothes and shoes, not a problem… no problem at all.”

INNER VOICE: OK, what the faaack is going on!! What’s wrong with you Izzo? Don’t you know how girls pee?!

Actually, I didn’t. Sure, I have been around plenty of women peeing outdoors, but I was always too polite to watch closely, and frankly, I was never interested enough to ask how they did it. As the pee flowed and mixed with the rain and mud, my anger turned inward where at least Madi would be safe.

INNER VOICE: HOW do you NOT know this!! Asshole! You work at Renaissance Festivals!!! How could you not notice?! Women are peeing in every corner! If you had night vision goggles you could see them perched like seagulls at a landfill!   What do you think Renaissance Festivals ARE? They’re urinals with a theme!! You moron, Jueasas #$@#@%!!

INNER INNER VOICE: Stop being so hard on the guy, you’re not helping.

I put the soaked clothes in a grocery bag I brought as a car trash bag, tied them up and set them on the floor. Madi climbed back in, feeling pretty special sitting in the car with no bottoms on while I went to the trunk and unloaded all the stuff, found her suitcase, got her clothes, dressed her up again with a second pair of sneakers, hauled out the spare and the jack, devised new expletives for the guy who designed the hold downs for Nissan spares, reloaded all the luggage and crap in a messy pile mostly out of the rain, and proceeded to change the tire while holding an umbrella in my teeth.

I was about half way through the change when I looked up to see someone had pulled up and was coming over.

“Need any help?”

“No, thanks, it’s just a flat tire, and I’m almost done. Thanks for stopping, I appreciate it.

INNER VOICE: Wait! Ask him if he has a gun. Hey mister, do you have a gun? If so, please, SHOOT ME!”

INNER INNER VOICE: Come on now, chillax dude, you’ve almost got this.

As I was back at the trunk unloading everything out into the rain again and devising more expletives for the evil genius that designed a hold down for a spare tire that refused to let you replace the tire, Madi piped up again.

“What was that sweet pea?”

“ Daddy, I gotta go pee again.”

“Wha.. d’… Guh… How’d… (breathe) How come you have to go again sweetie, it’s only been fifteen minutes, and you really went quite a lot before. Can you wait a little while for me?”

“No, I really really gotta go like before.”

INNER VOICE: What the f*uck! Are you bullsh*iting me?! What the hell kid, did you contract Ebola?! @#$%$%*…

“Nooo problemo kiddo, I’ll be right there.”

I came to terms with the hold down for the spare by pulling it out altogether and sneering at it and quickly loaded all the stuff out of the rain again. With Madi back squatting in the rainy pee-ridden mud in her new dry clothes and last pair of clean sneakers, me holding the umbrella as before, I tried again to unravel the mystery.

“OK, we’re gonna get it right this time, ok? You and me, okay kiddo, you ready?   Okay, now, LEAN WAY FORWARD.”

Yes, I know, I thought about it, but leaning back just did not look right. Bull’s-eye, through the pants, the socks, the last pair of clean sneakers; I tried to steer her, but it was no use. I could not believe she could reproduce the same deluge in that short amount of time.

“Daddy, I’m peeing my pants again!”

“Aah go ahead Madi, we don’t care, we got lots of clothes!”

INNER VOICE: Mother f*ucker! Mother F*ucker!!! #@$&@#*$#@#!!

INNER INNER VOICE: …well if you paid more attention to the women you were with maybe…


I wrapped up the soaked clothes and went back to her suitcase to get her more dry clothes. I had placed her suitcase at the very bottom of the pile, requiring another unload.


I dressed her again; she was getting hungry and tired now. I chatted her up, and then completely repacked the car again. Out of sheer spite, I repacked it EXACTLY as I had originally packed it, in all its quasi-obsessive compulsive glory.

Just as I put the last piece into place, Madi says, “Daddy I’m really really thirsty, can I have my Juicey Juice?”

“Sure you can Sweetie Pea, let me get it for… ‘yu….” The cooler with her Juicey Juice, which I had not planned on using, was at the bottom of the pile.

INNER VOICE: (that sound you make, when there are no more curse words that will satisfy)

One well-rehearsed repack later, Madi had her Jucey Juice and we were on our way to Fayetteville. We were an hour and a half late to Huller’s, but Dad showed up going with the flow, and Madi adopted a booth full of college girls delighted to be the focus of her effervescent showmanship. I eventually allowed her to bring her plate over and they all dined cozied up and giggling. I had a second beer.

The next day brought clean clothes, tire repair, and another vacation adventure started. No big deal.

INNER INNER VOICE: I would just like to say how proud I am of Gary, that through all his rage and folly he never once upset his little girl.

INNER VOICE: Thank you.