Teddy’s Three Month Update

This week’s post is much more uplifting than my last post. My son is now three months old and healthy as a horse; 12 solid pounds, vibrant energy, and a strong appetite. At this moment, I am watching him play and attempting to roll over – it’s a half roll but I imagine he’ll get it within the month. Christina and I regularly change his clothes because of spit up – sometimes we have to change our clothes because of projectile pee. If you have been following our journey, you may be wondering how the cloth diapers are going? Thanks to my in-laws I have a stockpile of disposable diapers that will keep us supplied for at least two months. The hardest point in the last three months was when Christina had to go back to work. Christina is an awesome Mom and a much better caregiver than me – my son is currently glaring at me while I write this blog. We’re trying to balance the transition but Christina is constantly missing her little sweet potato. Christina spent nine years to get her doctorate and her career is something that I wholeheartedly support; that statement may sound funny coming from a stay-at-home dad/philosopher but I believe she is at her best when helping psychiatric patients.

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Some highlights of the last month were Teddy’s vaccines and his circumcision. Both occasions left Teddy grumpy, restless, and irritable. The vaccines were a no brainer but I got some flack for the circumcision. People were worried that the procedure could be botched and Teddy’s wiener would be permanently damaged. I am happy to inform everyone that new methods of circumcision are 100% safe – when I say 100%, I mean 100%. There are no knives or sharp objects involved – all they use is a plastic ring and a string. The string goes around the foreskin while the ring protects the penis; after 7 to 14 days the foreskin and ring fall off. Teddy was in discomfort for two days and after that, he was back to his normal self. If in the future he yells at me for defiling his penis I will guide him to procedures that can regrow his foreskin – yes they actually exist. I don’t feel bad about the decision but I wanted to dispel some myths that it is a barbaric/irreversible procedure. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that the medical benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks: – risks that include post-operation infection and minor loss of sensitivity (a debated side effect that in gold-standard studies has been entirely refuted)(source)(source). If this subject interests you, I highly recommend reading the sources provided.

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Enough about circumcision. Let’s get to the cute pictures that our photographer took. Teddy continues to grow, mature, and marvel us with his personality and ability to fart hundreds of times a day. If you know a working mom, give her a hug – it is the hardest two jobs in the world. Thank you, Christina, for all you do and thank you, everyone, for the continued words of wisdom.

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Cleopatra≈Game of Thrones

Have you heard about the series Game of Thrones? For sure it’s a stupid question because even a squatter in the middle of the woods has the mass market paperback. Christina and I started the HBO show about 4 years ago, and I finally convinced my parents to give it a try – they are almost caught up after binge-watching for a month straight. I started to read the first book because I figured in 50 years it will be considered a classic like Lord of the Rings – there are five total installments in the series with two more set to release in the distant future. The reason I love Game of Thrones is that it reads like historical fiction and it helps me understand real life ancient history. Of course, the plot, characters, and dragons are not real, but the foundation of the series is based on an era of our very own past: an era of kings and queens,  love and murder, conquests and defeats. While reading the first book in the series – A Song of Ice and Fire – I was concurrently digesting a nonfiction work on Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. At times I thought both books were fiction because Cleopatra’s life mirrored the drama taking place in the medieval fantasy. Cleopatra’s rise and fall is no fantasy, but I hope to clear up a few misconceptions about one of the world’s most powerful women.

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Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, Egypt and was a member of the royal Ptolemaic family. The Ptolemaic dynasty began its rule over Egypt after Ptolemy I – a general of Alexander the Great – was appointed the leader of the region. The Ptolemies believed in keeping their family line pure and hence practiced incest. The very close-knit and confusing family tree of the Ptolemies resulted in an endless stream of murder for the sake of political power. By the time Cleopatra took control in 51 BC, the Ptolemaic dynasty was in a severe decline from its once prosperous beginnings; that decline was primarily due to the rising power in the west – the Roman Empire. Cleopatra was a ruthless politician who understood how to wrestle with Rome; her domestic resume included killing her brother-husband and most of her family members to ascend the throne.

 

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The most authentic image of Cleopatra we have today…not what most people imagine.

 

Along with murder, Cleopatra understood the art of seduction, and she found favor with Rome’s highest official – Julius Ceasar. The couple would have a child together and Cleopatra gained a critical military alliance. All came crashing down however for the Queen when Ceasar was assassinated by his fellow senators. Wasting no time, Cleopatra seduced Ceasar’s predecessor Mark Antony. Mark Antony was one of three Roman rulers after Ceasar’s death and was the man most likely to take total control of the empire. Antony would eventually be defeated by his co-ruler Octavian – later known as Ceaser Augustus. Cleopatra and Antony both committed suicide in their defeat; arguably history’s most dramatic love affair.

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Cleopatra’s life is fascinating, and throughout the ages, her image has been negatively caricatured. She is portrayed as a beautiful temptress who used sex to advance her political power. This picture is not entirely accurate and doesn’t give the Queen her due justice. Cleopatra was not physically beautiful, and she had to use her personality to seduce the greatest playboys of the age. That speaks to Cleopatra’s intelligence and wit during an era when women were little respected for their minds. Cleopatra also was not a sex-addict who was only concerned with hedonism. She was a compassionate ruler who was loved by the Egyptian people – her conquests of love brought prosperity to the citizens and her dynasty. More than anything, Cleopatra genuinely loved Antony and her children – a benevolent wife and mother until the very end. Cleopatra was one of the most wealthy and powerful women in the history of the world. We turn her into a sexual sound bite today, but have no doubt, she was an intelligent, reliable, and compassionate ruler. To understand Cleopatra’s success, let’s remember that the span of the Ptolemaic dynasty covered three centuries – a period longer than the current age of the United States of America. Cleopatra was the most successful and famous leader during that long rule. Before you dig into Game of Thrones, read about Cleopatra; incest, murder, politics, and power has no better model.

Without Further Adieu…My Son!

Last week, January 5th at 2:40 in the morning, Theodore Wallace Reynaldo Oldham came into the world. He weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces and measured 20 inches in length. These stats pale in comparison to the circumference of his head – 13 inches. Christina had to push that dome through her pelvis!!! Let’s go back in time before this herculean feat to fully grasp the immensity of her labor. The date was January 4th, and my wife was very pregnant; a state of pregnancy that requires not only a pregnancy pillow but also regular back massages, pep talks, and trips to the bathroom. There is a joke that fits Christina’s state of mind at this point…

How many days are there in a month?

Each month has an average of 30-31 days, except the last month of pregnancy, which has 5,489,234.

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In short, she was ready for Teddy to come out. Her readiness escalated on January 3rd when we went to her OB appointment and found out that she was already 5 cm dilated. Later that day, we went to the hospital because we thought her water broke. She wasn’t having intense contractions, but we wanted to be cautious – after three hours and Christina’s only complaint being chapped lips – we were sent home. The next day, January 4th, Christina was off work and tried everything possible to induce labor. The morning entailed three hours of bouncing on a yoga ball. The afternoon entailed a nice walk outdoors. The evening entailed a spicy burrito at our favorite Mexican restaurant. There was no progression, and by the time I went to sleep at 10 PM, there were no signs of labor. Now I want to be honest and give you guys the real story – the story that gets censured in polite conversation. When I went to sleep, I prayed to God that if He thought it best, we would have sex to induce labor. You may be wondering why I would pray this odd prayer. Without going into to much detail, our sex life at this point was far from honeymoon status. I was scared to death of poking Teddy in the head, and Christina felt the opposite of attractive.

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Hence the prayer and the unlikelihood of us having intercourse the night of January 4th. Yet something strange happened. I woke up at midnight because I was restless and decided to hit the bathroom. Before going back to sleep, I noticed Christina was still up watching TV. Our eyes met, and something clicked in our loins – the dirty commenced like we were fresh fawns in a field. Immediately afterward, and I mean immediately afterward, Christina went into full blown labor! She had contractions that bent her body in half, and she felt a strong urge to push. I told her to push on the toilet, and we waited to see if the contractions would abate – they got stronger, and her water conveniently broke. By that point it was 12:45 AM and we rushed to the hospital. At 1:00 AM I dropped her off at the Emergency Department, and a tech wheeled her to the labor and delivery floor – when I say wheeled I mean he ran like hell through the hospital. I parked the car, and by the time I got to the room it was 1:15 am. The nurse checked her cervix, and she was 8 centimeters dilated. Contractions were getting worse, and because her dilation was so advanced, there was no time for pain medications. At 1:30 AM, Christina was notified that she would have to go through a natural labor. When I told her to embrace the pain, she looked at me like our marriage was on the line. The contractions continued to worsen, and she got on her knees to relieve the pain. By 2:15 AM the doctor was in a position to catch the baby – his head kept prairie dogging. Chistina looked exhausted, and her face had broken blood vessels from all the pushing. By 2:35 AM she was about to give up – another contraction was out of the question. I tried to coach her. I tried to relieve her pain. I tried to videotape.

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The final contraction came, and with all her might Christina pushed out the behemoth 13-inch head. Teddy slid into the world crying and needing a hair cut. Both Christina and Teddy came out healthy; Christina had to be stitched up but she is healing nicely, and now she has a war story to tell. Teddy lost 20% of his body weight after two days but is now back to his birth weight after 24 hours of constant feeding. I am so proud of my wife and new family. My son is beautiful, and I am thankful to God for answering all of my prayers :). I am tired, and I apologize for the delayed post – my writing feels a little choppy but bear with me – we’ll have many more refined Teddy posts in the future.

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Pregnancy Update – Gender Reveal

I’m back and feel rejuvenated. I needed that break, and I appreciate all the support from my readers. August was a quick month because the whole family went on a vacation to Rapid City, South Dakota. I didn’t know what to expect, but the Great Plains did not disappoint. We saw Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and a whole host of wildlife: bears, bison, prairie dogs, elk, deer, snakes, and fat motorcyclists.

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The highlight of the trip was Mount Rushmore for obvious reasons – my favorite President – Theodore Roosevelt – was smiling down on me. Of course, every Oldham vacation entails a large amount of calorie consumption, and I yet again had a special moment in the ice cream aisle. The whole time on vacation, Christina was pregnant and using the baby as an excuse to eat an endless stream of junk food.

“Jon I want more cereal!”

“You just finished your second bowl.”

Her stomach throbbing in anger, “Are you trying to starve the baby!”

The Oldhams are not the type to lay idle all day, and we went hiking and biking nearly every afternoon. My back was bothering me from a previous injury, so Christina and I got into a routine of asking each other the “Two B questions” – “How is the baby?” and “How is your back.” I highly recommend checking South Dakota out and exploring one of America’s most underrated states. 

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Usually, I am sad to come home from vacation, but on this occasion, my emotions were swinging in the opposite direction. This anomaly was due to the fact we were scheduled to find out the gender of the baby. My views on the gender reveal are mixed. My Amish side tells me to wait while my millennial side tells me to take a peak. We decided to find out the gender mainly because it gets old calling the baby an “It.” The day came this past Wednesday. We were both excited to the point that Christina was unable to sleep and I was unable to control my armpit sweat. I threw on a white shirt, and Christina waddled into the doctor’s office – it should be noted that this waddle has placed her higher up the ladder of pregnancy dominance. We were beckoned into the ultrasound room by an elderly-limping nurse. Years of finding baby sex organs had worn her friendliness into a subtle light, like a dying star in a distant galaxy. I quickly got on her good side by asking a million questions about the baby and the ultrasound. The fetus came on the screen and looked much bigger than the last time. It was moving and kicking – giving the old lady a run for her money. She checked the kidneys, spine, heart, gut, brain, and overall growth – all healthy and normal. I was thanking God during this time and smiling with the revelation that my baby was blessed beyond measure.

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The final moment had arrived – the gender reveal. I was putting my money on it being a girl. I felt this way because every person told me it would be a girl – based on the logic that I would get the opposite of what I wanted – a boy. I wanted a boy because I think boys are easier to raise after puberty. Boys typically don’t care about getting cards on birthdays or arranging bridal showers or bringing up a decade-old argument – typically girls do. Hence, I wanted a boy, but I knew God would help change my mind with a little girl. The white and black blob moved on the screen, and the old sage moved her instrument towards the inguinal region. My fate as a father was only a couple of centimeters away. I tried to keep myself calm by convincing myself that my daughter would feign romance with a “Bad Boy.” One more centimeter. I tried to convince myself that my daughter would be one of those girls who didn’t give the silent treatment when mad. Half a centimeter. I tried to convince myself that my daughter would take after my easygoing personality and not the emotional typhoon of the Philippines. All of a sudden the baby moved slightly and all was clear. It was clear before the nurse even had to say anything. There before my eyes was the sign of the future. It was a protruding mass between my unborn child’s legs. A cocktail weenie instead of a taco.  A baby boy. Theodore-Wallace Reynaldo Oldham. I guess both God and Teddy were smiling down on me that day.

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PS – I’m sure God will give me three girls now…and I look forward to it 🙂

 

A Sperm Update

A couple months ago I wrote a blog about my exhausted sperm; at the time they were being depleted for the goal of fertilization. Christina was using an App that was the reverse of the Handmaid’s Tale – a female whip which summoned my penis like I dystopian computer program running an “insert” program. Neo couldn’t even comprehend the Matrix in which that pregnancy App put me through. By the last “blue day” – one of seven which highlighted an increased chance of pregnancy – my masculinity was stressed to limits like a desert flower on a hot day. Nevertheless, I survived the ordeal and came out of the process not only holding a bag of ice on my crouch but also a new found pride in my heart.

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I gave it my all and I left it to God to decide whether my sperm would make the arduous journey through the booby-trapped crevice. The journey of sperm is best described as an amalgamated movie; Samuel L Jackson firing a pistol, Indiana Jones running away from a boulder, and Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. I honestly didn’t think my sperm could get past the opening credits; I figured I wouldn’t have enough of them or maybe their tails didn’t rotate in the right direction. These worries were based on my own physical ineptitude which still forces me to carry rash ointment and take one step at a time while descending stairs.

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Worries aside, I allowed meiosis to recharge my supplies and we patiently waited for any signs of life. This waiting period is excruciating for normal couples who are expecting – unfortunately, we are not a normal couple. Armed with her App, Christina began to experience every pregnancy symptom known to science. I need to preface this statement with a quick explanation of the Filipina body. A Filipina is always in a state of distress and can never reach homeostasis. As soon as Christina hits puberty, her Spanish, Polynesian, and Asian ethnicities ignited into one hormonal explosion. My wife’s hormones vary as much as the topography of a mountain – with the ascent there are hot flashes, cramps, cravings, moodiness, tears, etc. There is no time in my wife’s day when she is not on a carnival pirate ship; swinging between menstruation and menopause. These facts made the “Do you feel pregnant?” stage impossible to gauge – was my wife bloated because of my successful sperm or the carton of ice cream she ate.

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The day finally arrived when the almighty App told us to take the pregnancy test; I was anxious and frustrated with Christina’s refusal to pee in one of our “nice” cups. I scavenged the house for a plastic container and shoved my wife towards the bathroom. I heard the stream that was going to spare my manhood or force it back to the slavemaster App. The result finally appeared, and we both stared at the words – the words that could change our lives forever. It was final. It was absolute. The Death Star had been infiltrated. It said “Pregnant.” Another journey has begun, and I am free of the App’s whip – my sperm can finally dictate their own schedule. Stay tuned for what comes next. She is 11 weeks and due in January. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to share.

Mormons – Murders – Multiple Wives

In 1984, two fundamentalist Mormons – commanded by God – slit the throats of their sister-in-law and baby niece. Brenda and Erica Lafferty were victims in a long chain of Mormon-related violence stretching back from the 19th century. Today, mainstream Mormonism is a peaceful religion with almost 15 million followers – equal to the world population of Jews. I once knew a Mormon and toured their facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah – quite a sight if you ever get a chance to visit. Mormon history is very peculiar, and I wanted to learn more about it through Jon Krakauer’s book – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. Krakauer highlights how fundamentalism can lead to violence and subjugation in his compelling tale of present-day murder and the Mormon church’s growth from obscure to mainstream. 

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Let’s start from the beginning. Joseph Smith – the founder of Mormonism – was visited by an angel named Moroni while praying one evening in 1823. This angel revealed the location of golden plates that contained lost religious writings. After several failed attempts, Joseph was able to acquire the golden plates at the Hill Cumorah in Manchester, New York. The plates contained sacred records in an unknown language called reformed Egyptian. Joseph was the only one able to translate these tablets using special glasses. These plates would lead to the publishing of the Book of Mormon in 1830 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1838. Several followers joined Smith’s church which claimed that a lost tribe of Isreal came to America and that Jesus visited them after his crucifixion. Early followers joined Joseph’s church because he proclaimed that God could be reached through personal revelations and that there were no barriers in communicating with God. This was at a time when American religion was experiencing a Second Great Awakening. Unfortunately, membership was not boosted by the sight of the golden tablets because they had to be given back to the Angel Moroni.

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Joesph moved his church from New York to Ohio where Smith was charged with financial fraud – forcing him to take his flock west to Missouri. While in Missouri, the Mormons fought with their “gentile” neighbors and after a bloody fighting, they were forced to relocate to the state of Illinois. The Mormons, being a tight-knit group who disliked outsiders, did not get along with their Illinois statesman – violence and murder were common. Things began to fall apart for Joseph when he received a revelation from God that he should take multiple wives. The church split from Joseph’s philandering, and the prophet was arrested for suppressing the local press. While in custody, Joseph Smith was killed by an angry “gentile” mob who saw him as a religious fanatic. The Mormon church was in chaos after their founder’s death but one of their leaders – Brigham Young – led them westward to safety. By 1847 more than 2000 Mormons had left American soil and entered the Mexican territory of what is now Utah. 

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Joseph’s polygamy revelation was not taken well by most of the Mormon leaders. Joseph’s wife actually declared that God had revealed to her that she should have multiple husbands – this did not sit well with the prophet. After the prophet’s death, the church split into polygamous and non-polygamous sects – the polygamous group headed to Utah and the non-polygamous group faded into obscurity. Brigham Young supported polygamy and believed it was the best way for men to live virtuous lives since they wouldn’t be tempted by extramarital sex. The United States government banned plural marriage and fought the Mormons on this front until the late 19th century when they passed laws to seize all Mormon church holdings. The Mormon church finally bowed to the law and changed their policy of polygamy in 1904. Since the prophet proclaimed polygamy to be a God-given right, many Mormons broke from the main church to establish their own “fundamentalist” branches.

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Today about 40,000 Mormons are fundamentalists and still practice polygamy. A famous example is Warren Jeffs, who was purported to have 70 wives, many of which were 14 years old at the time of marriage. These fundamentalists are responsible for most Mormon-related violence and kidnappings – the most famous being Elizabeth Smart in 2002. Of course, there is a lot to say about this subject, but the point I want everyone to take from this post is that fundamentalism – in any religion or secular viewpoint – is never a good thing. To be a fundamentalist is to believe that there is nothing more to learn from the world – many times an outlook that leads to dehumanization. Remember that we must be open to both truth and empathy – when those two things are absent the result is the murder of a mother and her child.

What are your views on Mormonism, Fundamentalism, and/or Polygamy? I love to read your comments.

Rethink Your Righteousness

Have you ever gotten into a political argument with someone on the other side of the aisle? With the 2016 tire-fire-election still burning, I can guess the response to that question. Liberals think Conservatives are uneducated and unsympathetic. Conservatives think Liberals are bleeding-hearts and unpatriotic. Around and around we go till Uncle Fred is blue in the face and millennial Sally is red with furry. Growing up I was more conservative because of my parent’s love for the Republican party and in my college years, I swung more liberal because of inequality enlightenment. So what are my views now? Well, that is complicated because I just read an excellent book by Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a moral psychologist and has made it his life’s work to figure out what defines personal, community, and world morality. Let’s test your own morality…

A family’s dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They have heard that dog meat is delicious, so they cook it and eat it for dinner. Is this wrong? Why?

Or how about this one…

Julie and Mark are a brother and sister who, one night on a vacation together, decide to make love. Julie is already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. Was it wrong for them to have sex?

One more just for fun…

A woman cleaning her bathroom decides to cut up an old American flag and use it as a rag to scrub the toilet. Is this morally wrong?

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So what do you think? Is it OK that the brother and sister have sex or the old lady scrubs the crapper with the American flag? Some may say that if the actions are not harming others, then there is nothing immoral being done. Others would say that there is a sanctity to specific objects and the human body, so those previous scenarios are entirely immoral. Haidt found that these questions are answered very quickly by people based on their intuition or “feelings”; reasoning in morality is an afterthought and falls short of ever explaining a knee-jerk reaction. Put in another way, we are tiny riders on large elephants. The elephant is our moral and emotional intuition that is powerful and somewhat wild. The rider is our reasoning and rational brain that tries to steer the elephant in the right direction but does little of the actual legwork.

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Our elephant is an amalgamation of life experiences, evolution, genetic predisposition, and worldviews. Haidt discovered through years of research that there are six “taste” buds of morality: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. People have different moral tastes just like they have different tastes for cuisine. Liberals are concerned with the care and fairness tastebuds and are much more likely to accept the above questions as moral because they do not harm others. Conservatives actually have a wider moral palate with the proclivity for liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. This is why historically, conservative candidates receive more votes because those politicians can run on a wider platform. In general, worldviews outside of the West focus more on the last four moral tastebuds because the social fabric of society is far more important than self-expression or “American Individualism.” The point here is not that Conservatives are better than Liberals or more righteous. The point is that both sides of the aisle have legitimate moral concerns that complement the spectrum of human good.

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So what should we do with all this information? First, we need to train our rider to control the elephant. Realize that your beliefs may not always be 100% correct and that listening to others is an excellent exercise in understanding. Realize that your liberal/conservative foe is not someone to defeat but actually someone to embrace – a ying-yang effect that covers the entire moral spectrum. Realize that there are many worldviews out there and that yours is only one type of lens. Hadit makes this recommendation for liberals – progress is good, but it must be taken with caution to protect the traditional pillars of society (Hadit is a Liberal). Hadit makes this recommendation for conservatives – use the liberal  “care and fairness” attributes when businesses prey on others with entrenched interests. Overall, the point is that both sides have important things to offer and neither is entirely righteous. Let’s control our elephants and steer our beliefs from their normal head-on collision to a more amicable side-long saunter.

We’re all Chihuahuas

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated everyone on my chihuahua – Max. For new readers, Max is a rat-dog that spices up my life by transmitting love through excessive barking and shaking. Max is in his teen-doggy years, and like most teenagers, he is experimenting with his nether regions. A typical night involves me reading while Max lies next to me – vigorously licking his wiener. Life is not complete until one sees a Chihuahua orgasm, but for those who never will, it entails half of the scrawny body flailing around like MC Hammer putting on a new pair of parachute pants. Each time it happens I sit there and ask myself, “What has my life come to?” 

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When Max isn’t masturbating, he is usually lying down shivering or trying to entice Christina into playtime. His favorite toys are a green-level Tae Kwon Do belt and an orange frog with no eyes. In previous posts, I have mentioned Max’s singular focus and his ability to exert intense concentration; an example of this focus occurred last night. Christina likes to eat while watching TV but is entirely incapable of multitasking. She will hold a spoonful of food near her mouth for minutes if a show is grasping her attention. This is ideal for Max because he knows that Christina will put her guard down – allowing for a quick gastronomic theft. Yesterday, as usual, Christina was transfixed by an infomercial for closet organizers, and Max seized the opportunity – he ended up eating an entire drumstick – bone and all.

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Upon this python-like feat, Christina began to panic and like any 21st-century woman – she immediately got on Google. For the next hour, while trying to watch the Lions game, I heard my wife read articles about dogs dying from chicken bones and how we should monitor Max’s crap for the next 99 hours. She ended up spoonfeeding the dog oatmeal so that his stomach would be protected from the razor edges of the bone – all while Max was trying to play with his orange frog. Max survived with minimal discomfort, and in the end, the only member of the Oldham family who had a stomach ache was my wife – at one point she was ready to rush Max to the emergency room. This whole ordeal made me think that we are all like Chihuahuas. Max shakes and is scared most of the time. Unlike Max’s physical shaking, we are always mentally shaking.

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We worry about things that have no real impact on our lives. Max has to worry about being squished or dying of hypothermia at temperatures of 75 degrees. What real dangers lurk around the corner for us? Most of our worries revolve around social status or future plans – things that are intangible and hard to control. So when we look at these small dogs are we not just looking at ourselves? When I ask Max – “Why are you shaking?” – shouldn’t I be asking myself the same question? Extending this analogy, do we also have a loving-Filipina woman looking out for us when we accidentally eat a metaphorical chicken bone?  We do but multiply that Filipina by a billion, and you have God. God cares for our shaky insignificant problems – He loves us more than we can comprehend – virtually the same as a dog’s understanding of his owner’s love. In the end, Max yet again gave me some wisdom, but hopefully next time it won’t require me to examine his poop.

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My Chihuahua – Max

How Reading can Prevent Sexual Harassment

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvey Weinstein lately and how appalling he was to so many women. Mr. Harvey was like an incubus always searching for his next penile power grab. A lot of women have come out against Harvey, and the world has generally begun to talk more about the closeted topic of sexual harassment. Some of my friends on Facebook have written “Me Too” on their wall to show people that these disgusting acts are happening close to home. The question is how to fix this epidemic? Obviously, we must continue conversations about sexual harassment and push the message that it is never okay to take advantage of another person. That is an excellent starting point, but in my opinion, it falls short of what will actually help the problem.

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Let’s first point out the obvious – the majority of sexual harassment involves women as victims and men as predators. Not all men are like Harvey Weinstein, and not all men are predators, but a lot of men have a second brain dangling between their legs. This second brain is exceptionally persuasive. How powerful is it? Speaking for myself, when I went through puberty, my penis was like a mini-Danny Devito continually giving me commentary throughout the day. Suffice it to say, Danny Devito never really goes away because of the evolutionary urge to procreate. The primal default of a man is to spread his sperm throughout the world. The penis is constantly screaming “ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!!!!”

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These urges along with other primal tendencies, like aggression, are kept in check by societal norms, laws, and morals. Norms can only go so far; when push comes to shove, that second brain gives a rat’s ass about standards, punishments, or consequences. Sexual harassment usually occurs behind closed doors when the predator can get away with the act. So what can be done to control that second brain? I think a lot of men have a good handle on their Danny Devito because they were taught from a young age what was right and wrong. Maybe they had a great set of parents who modeled a healthy male/female identity. Maybe it was a community role model who exemplified the attributes of respect. Maybe it was a religious upbringing that taught the importance of the Golden Rule.

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Whatever the reason, some men have no problem shutting down that bald-headed beast. But, not everyone is so fortunate to be raised with these types of people or messages – and sometimes even with these efforts – some men miss the point. Speaking for myself, I was raised in a home with excellent parents who taught me morals, and I had friends who came from similar backgrounds; in later years I found out that some of my friends did sexually harass women. So how can we fortify this cracked roof of parental advice and community support so that young men won’t continue to slip through and cause irreversible damage? The key is empathy.

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In my opinion, empathy is the single hardest trait to master in life. Empathy entails stepping into the mind and body of another person: seeing what they see, touching what they touch, feeling what they feel. It is such a complex idea that no person will inadvertently acquire it as a skill – one has to be deliberate. So how do we become empathetic? One of the key ways we evolved to acquire empathy was through storytelling: stories allow us to use our imagination, gain knowledge and think more deeply about problems. Books provide the most in-depth opportunity for storytelling through first-person and third-person accounts; allowing one to fully understand the emotions and personalities of various characters. Reading permits people to step into worlds which are very different from their own and to explore divergent viewpoints. I was never very empathetic until I started to read the classics and entered the masterful characters of Dickens, Tolstoy, and Melville. These stories force a person to see, think, and feel what a character feels – empathy anyone?

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I never grasped the magnitude of rape, murder, harassment, and adultery until I took the time to sit down and open a book. This brings me to my ultimate point: We need to push young men** to read great works of writing so that they can begin to understand what it feels like to see life from different vantage points. Parents, teachers, and community leaders need to stop thinking books are for SAT prep or just entertainment and start realizing that they are instruments of empathy and deep-psychological understanding. For example, try to read Anna Karenina, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Les Liaisons Dangereuses without wrenching over the emotional states of the main characters. There is no excuse for not reading to your child, setting time for your teenager to read, or sitting down to read yourself – only a high source of empathy will allow a predator to stop – and step – into the soul of its prey.

This post started to get a little long (I actually want to turn this post into a book), but I would love to hear your comments on the effects of reading on your own empathy and how we should go about sexual harassment prevention. 

**We obviously also need young women to read, but this post is mainly targeted towards young men. 

The Original Desperate Housewife

Do you ever desire extra spice in your life? Ever wondered what it would be like to be rich and famous? Or even just daydreamed about an evening that didn’t include the word “Netflix?” I for one have a high threshold for boredom. This characteristic stands out starkly when I spend time with my sister who is an adrenaline-junky-extrovert; a fun night for me is usually turning on the X-Files while a fun night for her is turning the pedals on her bike for a 20-mile ride.

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An awesome component of modern life is the plethora of options available to avoid boredom. This was not the case back in the 1850’s. Life during that time for the poor entailed a lot of hard work for both men and women. If you were lucky enough to have money, life could be filled with all sorts of social activities and luxuries. One of the worst places in society for boredom was that of the middle-class woman. Women in the middle-class had enough money, so work was not required but not enough money to be a member of the social sphere. This equation more times than not ended with the original “Desperate Houswife.” This was the situation that inspired Gustave Flaubert to write his most famous work Madame Bovary in 1856. A story that broke the mold for novels and was banned for some time because of its literary realism.

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Madame Bovary follows the marriage, affairs, and extreme dissatisfaction of Emma Bovary. Emma simply wanted more from life than what her simple doctor husband could provide – she dreamed of “true” love which she read about in her novels. Love to Emma was supposed to feel like a gush of refreshing water falling from the skies, not the humdrum monotony of her marriage – even though her husband was patient, caring, and intimate. She not only wanted a prince but wanted to be respected as a princess – when in reality she had the means of a farm girl. At one point Emma did feel she had reached complete bliss during her first affair…

“‘It’s because I love you,’ she would interrupt. ‘I love you so much that I can’t do without you – you know that, don’t you?…I’m your slave and your concubine! You’re my king, my idol! You’re good! You’re beautiful! You’re wise! You’re strong!”

As with so many affairs, the woman and man had very different outlooks…

He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.

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Ouch! Unsurprisingly, the relationship dissolved when the chap realized Emma was a little nutty. This dialogue represents the main point of the book: seeking happiness and contentment from outside sources will never be satisfying. Emma never finds happiness because she is always looking for the wrong formula: If I could only have (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Happiness is never something that happens to us. Happiness is something we cultivate internally. It is a practice just like building muscles at the gym. Emma never “exercised” and many people today fall prey to the same idleness. Are you bored? Are you discontent? Are you fed up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to practice happiness. The best way to avoid the “Desperate Housewife Syndrome” is to be proactive and grateful. Gratitude is the single best exercise to prevent Emma-like mistakes that always end in disaster. What are you grateful for? I for one am thankful that I am not Madame Bovary’s husband.

***To practice daily gratitude, I downloaded the app “Insight Timer” which provides various meditation breaks. Try it out and friend me (Jon Oldham).***