causes + charities
I’m continuously amazed at the evolution of Oren Miller’s legacy. Last summer’s walk along Hadrian’s Wall (to open a camp in Oren’s name) recently received recognition at the 2017 Iris Awards. Winning in the Philanthropic Work of the Year category, now even more people are aware of Oren, Camp Kesem, and the cause to support families touched by cancer.
The Iris Awards are given out at a swanky ceremony held in conjunction with the Mom 2.0 Summit. Nominees and voters are from within the parent blogging community, so it’s particularly meaningful to receive kudos from dear friends and respected colleagues.
But it was also pretty amazing being honored alongside the 12 men I now consider my brothers. Being able to celebrate with them only amplified my excitement, as well as my pride in our achievement of walking nearly 100 miles and raising over $40,000.
Check out the video of our award being announced (and of me speaking), beginning at the 24-minute mark.
And the story has chapters yet to be written. The Camp Kesem started in Oren’s name at the University of Maryland is training counselors this fall, and will hold its first summer camp next year. You can bet I will be there, cutting a ribbon or rowing a kayak or whatever I can to celebrate my friend, his life, and the hope and strength for kids affected by their parents’ cancer.
I’ve written about Super Heroes on this site a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Spandexed super beings have been part of my life for as long as I can remember; and becoming a father only deepened my fandom as I passed down all this adoration, excitement, and knowledge to my son. Yet while I ensure that Jon is up on his origin stories and rogues lists, I want him to know heroes exist in real life, too.
A Family of Super Heroes
We’ve been lucky enough to know such a team of heroes, in the form of The Scheer Family — who I’m nominating as part of Marvel’s Heroes Come In All Sizes campaign!
I’ve written about the Scheers before, too, but am always thrilled to share their heroic story.
For seven days in July, I and eleven other dads hiked 90+ miles along England’s historic Hadrian’s Wall. We walked to fund a camp for kids whose parents had been touched by cancer. We walked to honor our friend Oren Miller, who had died of cancer the year prior – and for whom the camp would be named. We walked for those in our own lives impacted by the disease, including several in our group. But we also walked for ourselves.
The experience was exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and tedious; breathtaking — both literally and figuratively. It was the undisputed apex of my year, and near the top of any other.
Until now, I’d only shared about the walk on social media. Life and all its complications — and my perfectionist tendencies — kept me from documenting it properly here.
But in light of the announcement that the University of Maryland Camp Kesem will officially come to be this fall, I thought it high time I collected my thoughts, memories, and images from that life-changing week in a more permanent fashion.
I still haven’t decided if this can be done in one post or seven (or something in between), so bear with me as I return to the rolling hills of Northern England and allow this epic outing to re-unfold.
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Imagine yourself a kid at summer camp.
Perhaps it calls to mind bunk beds with flimsy mattresses. Potato sack races and three-legged races and racing around at dusk playing hide-and-seek. Scratching mosquito bites, catching fireflies, watching sparks swirl up from a fire into the night sky. A night sky so black and stars so bright, it’s like you’d never seen them before. An escape from school and parents and all the baggage that entails; a chance to be on your own, yet surrounded by others in the same, wonderfully wobbly paddleboat called childhood.
Now imagine one of your parents has cancer. Perhaps they’re in remission, or they’re enduring chemotherapy; or maybe they lost their battle and now you’re a teenager (or preteen, or younger) without a parent.
A friend recently asked if I was going to the Pride festivities in DC this year. And for the first time in nearly 20 years, not only was I not going — it had completely slipped my mind.
I came out as gay my first year in DC, and Pride has been an important part of my history ever since. I’ve braved the crowds as a newly single man, sung with the Gay Men’s Chorus from the main stage, took my brother to his first Pride as an out gay man, and marched in the parade with my husband and son, dressed as superheroes. DC Pride also falls near my birthday — often on the very day, as it did again this year.
But the weekend was already booked solid with decidedly non-gay activities, chores, and other familial stuff long before my friend’s reminder. On Friday night — as younger LGBTs were disco-napping and float-building — I was corralling my son into bed and mentally reviewing the weekend’s busy schedule, when I was inspired to create this graphic:
I posted it on Facebook Saturday morning, with this caption:
So how do LGBT parents celebrate gay pride? Well, for this gay dad, mimosas are replaced by juice boxes; Dykes on Bikes give way to tykes on trikes; shirtless go-go boys become toddlers streaking thru the sprinkler. And the only drag is us dragging our tired bodies to bed well before midnight.
Our hair may be grayer, but our lives couldn’t be any more colorful!
I don’t do a lot of memes, but I was feeling a bit out of the loop, and this made me feel a bit more Pride-y. By the reactions I got from many of my LGBT parent friends and readers, it rang true with them as well.
The “fallout” from the boycott of American Girl just keeps getting sweeter. In November, right-wing fringe group One Million Moms called for a boycott against the American Girl company for featuring an 11-year-old girl with two fathers in their magazine. As Amaya and her dads are friends of our family, it frustrated and saddened me to see them attacked. However, the controversy gave the family an amazing platform to share their story and the amazing work they do through their charity, Comfort Cases. In an ironic twist, the flurry of media coverage resulted in a banner year for Comfort Cases, with a 65% increase in goods delivered to children in the foster care system, and a 300% increase in donations.
So how could it get any sweeter than that?
Dads Rob and Reece, Amaya, and her three brothers were recently honored at Family Equality Council’s 2016 Impact Awards! The family was flown cross country to LA, where they got to walk the red carpet, hob-knob with celebs, and be recognized for their advocacy, their generosity, and for being such an inspiration to us all.
For both Rob and Reece, the most memorable part of the evening were the two standing ovations the family received from the crowd of over 500 celebrities, corporate sponsors, and activist. They were the only ovations of the night!
I was invited to the White House recently, and initially I had no idea why. That’s not to say I wasn’t thrilled to receive the invitation. I’ve lived in DC for 20 years, and while I’ve toured the West Wing and attended the Easter Egg Roll, I’d never been to an official event there. I’d never been inside – not really.
And this was about as “inside” as you could get. The invitation read: First Lady Michelle Obama invites you to a conversation about the health of our nation’s kids…
This was part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative. You know, the one trying to get kids to eat healthier and exercise more. Now obviously I want my kid (and all kids) to be healthy, but had they not read my recent post, 19 Things My Kid Has Eaten Since He Last Had a Vegetable? Had they not seen photos of me? They had clearly slacked off in their vetting process.
So there I was, the overweight dad of an under-vegetabled kid, summoned to 1600 Penn to talk about fitness and nutrition. Not one to look a gift house in the portico, I excitedly RSVPed in the affirmative — all the while questioning my inclusion in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
One year ago today I lost my friend Oren Miller, and the absence of his voice and his friendship is still as profound.
I think of him often, particularly of his “Cancer” post, which not only announced the diagnosis of the disease that would eventually take his life, but also recalled a moment years earlier when he chose to step back into life and be present.
If you’ve never read it, please take a few minutes and do so, now. If you have read it before, read it again.
I think of him often, particularly when I’m feeling out of my element, unengaged, not taking life in as it comes to me. Oren’s epiphany of choosing to be involved in his own life resonated so deeply, and has continued its echo throughout the 365 days since his last.
Think for a moment about the last year of your life. Scroll back through your mental calendar, and consider the holidays, the birthdays, the everyday. Where you were, what you experienced, who you were with. The times you beamed with pride, fell in love all over again, cuddled during story time. And the times you shouted too loudly, held grudges too closely, cursed your job or the lack of one. Think about the losses you’ve suffered and the things you’ve gained.
Earlier this month I shared the story of 11-year-old Amaya, featured in the most recent issue of American Girl magazine, chosen from among thousands of submissions because of her inspiring story. Part of her story is that she and her brothers were adopted from the foster care system by two loving parents, both of whom are men.
This ruffled the right-wing feathers of One Million Moms, who called for a boycott of American Girl Doll and parent company Mattel over this supposed furthering of the Gay Agenda. From One Million Moms’ web site:
“The magazine… could have chosen another child to write about and remained neutral in the culture war.”
Yet One Million Moms were fighting a one-sided war, as their boycott all but backfired. Due to the group’s homophobia, the story gained momentum and went viral. Amaya, her family, and American Girl were discussed, interviewed, and featured in an endless number of publications and news outlets, among them local Fox and NBC affiliates, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, ABC News, Good Housekeeping, Upworthy, Slate, Perez Hilton, and The View. Even Ellen DeGeneres posted in support of the family on her show’s Facebook page.
The other part of Amaya’s story is Comfort Cases — the charity co-founded by one of her dads — and its work supporting foster kids. As a result of the boycott and the related coverage, Comfort Cases is ending 2015 on a very, very good note.
THE BACKFIRED BOYCOTT, BY THE NUMBERS:
• Comfort Cases held its annual Holiday Packing Party on November 21, assembling 500 more cases than the previous year, a 70% increase.
• The total number of cases collected and distributed in 2015 topped 10,000 — 4,000 more than 2014, and an increase of 65%.
• With contributions coming in from all over the world, monetary donations to Comfort Cases will triple what they were in 2014. That’s 300%, folks.
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As National Adoption Month comes to a close and we enter the holiday season, please consider making a contribution to Comfort Cases or a similar organization in your area. Let’s keep showing those that boycott, fear or hate, that family, respect and love always win.
Five years ago today, a young girl named Amaya was legally adopted by her foster parents.
Two weeks ago, Amaya was featured in American Girl magazine. In her own words she shared the story of coming from the foster care system, becoming part of her permanent family, as well as the charity work she and her parents do in support of other foster kids.
Not long after the magazine was published, right-wing watchdogs One Million Moms called for a boycott of American Girl Doll and their magazine, warning parents against exposing their daughters to such a family.
And such a family it is.