Category Archives: Friends / Family

The End of Innocence

My six year son is having regular, recurring nightmares. Even before he falls asleep, he tells me that he is scared because he doesn’t want to have “bad dreams”. Normally when I ask, he says he doesn’t remember them, but yesterday morning he snuggled next to me on the sofa and said, “Daddy, I know what my bad dreams are about. War.”

It all started last month when his class began studying Picasso’s Guernica. He was fascinated about the painting, especially because his book on Picasso said the painting was bigger than a soccer goal (and my son is obsessed with soccer). But one night before going to bed, he asked me why planes were bombing the town of Guernica and what happened to the people when they were bombed, especially the kids his age. I did my best to say that the war happened a long time ago.

He then said, “Daddy, what was World War II?” which he only knew about because according to his book it is when Picasso lived in Paris. I told him that it was a war that happened mainly in Europe a long time ago. When he asked if Grandpa was alive then, I explained that his great grandmother (who is still alive today) had two brothers who fought in the war and that one of them was awarded the special Purple Heart medal.

My great uncles were first generation Italian Americans, who like many first generation immigrants were the first to be drafted and sent to war. I didn’t get into details, but here is an extract from a short piece about the one who was wounded (not the one in the photo):

In 1942, as a very young man, Ralph was drafted into the U.S. Army 441st Auto-motored Weapons Co. His first time out of the Metro New York area was for Basic Training at Camp Stewart, Georgia. From Georgia, his world travels began in earnest with his unit being deployed to Africa. Ralph and his army unit then became part of the Allied Forces that invaded southern Italy in 1943. Ralph became a member of the four-man team half-track crew, which housed a twin 50 caliber machine gun. Ralph’s unit then moved from Sicily to Anzio, where they joined Patton’s 5th Army.

As the 5th Army proceeded next to Rome, Ralph was very seriously wounded and left on the battlefield for dead. By some stroke of very good fortune, Ralph’s cousin happened upon him and carried him to the medic station. From there, he was taken to a hospital in Naples for the start of his treatment. Ralph Perrotta was awarded a Purple Heart, during his stay at the Naples hospital. He was enrolled in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in recognition of exceptional sacrifice in defense of the U.S.

My son then wanted me to confirm that the war was a long time ago and that there were no longer wars or bombings. I told him honestly, yet gently that there are still some wars in the world, in particular one in Syria. He then asked if in Syria they bombed at night time and where the kids would go during the bombing.

I lied and said that the children were safe and that Syria was far away. But Syria is not far away, the kids are not safe, no one is safe, and no one can say that wars like the brutal civil war in Spain or the world war shortly thereafter won’t threaten my children in their lifetime. Certainly I cannot imagine what it was like for my uncles to be sent off to Italy to fight in a war, ironically they didn’t believe in (at the time many Americans, especially anti-communists like my great-grandfather, were very much against U.S. intervention in Europe).

Maybe it’s the man we now have in the White House, his utter disregard for the world order and all décor, the fact that on the other side of the Mediterranean, a horrendous war continues and that when a fire spreads, there is likely nowhere to hide – but I feel like I am losing the fatherly innocence that the world will be safe for my children. If my child is terrified by the 80 year old painting of a war, I cannot begin to imagine the life of a Syrian child or parent today.

* * *

A few weeks later, my sister and niece came to visit us in Madrid, and my son was very excited to go the Reina Sofa Museum with them to see the Guernica. “Daddy, it’s bigger than a soccer goal!” But when we were just turning the corner into the large room that holds the painting, my son began to cry and say that he was too scared to see it. After fifteen minutes of back and forth, I finally convinced him to take a look. He loved the painting, especially its size. It’s funny because I never thought much of the Guernica, but it is a real testament to Picasso’s art that 80 years later, his painting – which was intended to depict the horrors of war – can have such a profound impact on a child.

About the same time, Audi premiered its Super Bowl commercial about how girls face greater challenges than boys. I have two boys and a newborn baby girl. Until that commercial – even though I considered myself very conscious of the disparate treatment of women in society, I had never given a thought to the fact that the little girl before me would face a different reality to that of my sons. Who said art no longer has an impact?

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If You Vote for Trump, You Are No Longer Friend or Family

oh-canada

Looks like we‘ll need a Plan B if Trump is elected.

Canada may be the closest place in North America that Mr. Trump will allow my family. And I say this as a person who had to degrade himself by pretending to be Canadian just to get some in Europe during the Bush years.

In all seriousness, family and friends, please do not vote for Donald Trump. I understand and get that you may dislike, detest even, Hilary Clinton. I am certainly no fan of hers.

BUT PLEASE DO NOT VOTE TRUMP.

Think about it: besides Mr. Trump running a campaign centered fully on hate, fear and division, he has also pledged that if he becomes the next President of the United States of America, he will prohibit my wife and children from entering our country. That means that if you vote for Mr. Trump, you are saying that is is perfectly alright to:

  • prohibit my family from entering the U.S., and
  • never see any of us again.

I say “never see us again” because if you vote for him and I find out, you are not welcome in my home. I will take your vote for Trump as a personal rejection of me and my family.

If you don’t like Hilary, either vote for a third party candidate or just vote down ballot. If you are a Republican or a Conservative Christian, you know quite well that Trump is neither. He is a dishonest cheat in absolutely everything he says or does. As USA Today recently wrote in its unprecedented editorial against Mr. Trump,

He is erratic. Trump has been on so many sides of so many issues that attempting to assess his policy positions is like shooting at a moving target. A list prepared by NBC details 124 shifts by Trump on 20 major issues since shortly before he entered the race . . .

He is ill-equipped to be Commander-in-Chief. . . .

He traffics in prejudice. . . .

His business career is checkered. . . . A series of investigative articles published by the USA TODAY Network found that Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits over the past three decades, including at least 60 that involved small businesses and contract employees who said they were stiffed. So much for being a champion of the little guy. . .

He isn’t leveling with the American people. . . .

He speaks recklessly. . . .

He’s a serial liar. . . .

For the life of me, I don’t see anything concrete that Trump stands for other than racism, xenophobia and insult. If you vote for him, that is what you stand for.

Finally, I am a U.S. citizen as are my children, and what possible argument can there be for denying my family from entering my home country and the place where my parents and siblings live? Because my wife and children are Muslim?

2-brothers

As far as I know, no one in my wife’s family has ever advocated for or supported:

  • Capital punishment
  • Bombing, invading or occupying another country, preemptively or otherwise
  • Carpet bombing
  • Killing human shields
  • Killing the (innocent) family members of terrorists
  • Torture or enhanced interrogation
  • Humiliating women or your political adversaries.

Meanwhile, Trump (and arguably Hilary even) have supported all of these.

So you have a choice this election. Do you ever want to see me again? Because if you vote Trump, you are rejecting me and my family. That is clear. It is not a joke. It is not funny.

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Filed under Elections 2016, Friends / Family, Married to a Moroccan

Photographs and Memories (dedicated to Chantal Cavé)

Shadowlands

There must be something endearing about the fact that when I was thirteen years old, my then girlfriend and I used to listen to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” – a song that was not contemporary at that time – conscious that due to our age, our puppy-love would not last forever. Yet it was Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” that I had found more haunting at that time. It’s funny that as a thirteen year old boy – the extent of whose “bedroom talks” consisted of talking on the phone until late into the night – I was impressed at how such a short and simple song lyrically, could so adeptly transmit the tragedy inherent in love and memory.

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you

Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day
When I called you mine

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Summer skies and lullabies
Nights we couldn’t say good-bye
And of all of the things that we knew
Not a dream survived

Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Fast forward almost 30 years, and one day in the summer of 2014 when trying to come up with a new song to sing goodnight to my first born son, “Photographs and Memories” and its lyrics came back to me almost instantly. And for some strange reason – maybe the mention of “Christmas” – my son loved the song.

Sadly, rediscovering that song coincided with my brother’s fiancée, Chantal Cavé, being admitted into the hospital and then a few weeks later passing away, two years ago today.  Those nights when Chantal was in the hospital on the other side of the Atlantic with my brother at her side, I would sing that song to my son, and I did everything in my power not to break out in tears.

As I have written before, I did not know Chantal well. I met her once but knew about the year she and my brother had spent together and that it would define him forever. The most I could do was write a short poem about that year.

Now two years later, my son still asks me every few nights for “Photographs and Memories” and each time I sing it, I think about how few photographs and memories are left from when I was thirteen, about the people we love and cherish, and about the huge hole I feel in my heart for my brother and Chantal’s family that can never be filled with photographs and memories alone. But sometimes photographs and memories are all we’ve got.

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#ParisILoveYou

ParisIloveYou

Paris holds a special place in my heart. It was in Paris that I met my wife and in Paris that we were married on a sunny day beneath the red, white and blue French flag.

For three years I commuted between Madrid and Paris to be with the woman I love, and during 2010 while my wife was pregnant with our first son, I made 27 trips alone to the city to be with her. And we still travel frequently to Paris to visit friends and family.

The three cities I feel closest to are Washington, DC (my home town), Madrid (where I have called home for the past 15 years) and Paris. All three have suffered terrorist attacks since 2001. After the attack on the Pentagon in DC in 2001, my immediate sense was of doom, anticipating that my country would take drastic measures and that the world would forever be changed for the worse. I was in Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004 during the Atocha train bombings and was (and continue to be) amazed by how the Spanish reacted calmly, without panic and without the thirst for revenge. Now today after the Paris attacks, I am left with only profound sadness. There are some many things I love about Paris, about France and its multiculturalism (which I generally see succeeding in ways it doesn’t always do in America), and my heart breaks.

No one has the right to take the lives of others, and certainly no murderous, sociopath terrorist has the right to speak on behalf of anyone other than himself or to invoke the name of a god he certainly does not share with a billion other people around the globe or with my children who are citizens of the great nation of France.

Thankfully our family and friends in Paris were unharmed, yet we know others – including friends of our friends — were not so fortunate.

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One Year Without You

Chantal

It has been a very tough year for the friends and family of my brother’s fiancée, Chantal Cavé. I never really knew her, but barely a day goes by that I don’t think about her and how much her loved ones miss her.

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In Defense of Ryan Napoli, In Contra False Outrage

ryan napoli

Full disclosure: Ryan Napoli is my brother. Nevertheless, nothing that is written here has been approved or authorized by Ryan Napoli or in any way represents his views or opinions. This is entirely based on my personal reading of the events and facts.

There is a growing phenomenon – an epidemic even — of false outrage that consumes our public discourse and is destroying the very fabric of the United States and our society. Whether it is trumped up panic over the imminent threats of Ebola, Shari’a law in the heartland, crypto-Muslim socialist presidents, vaccines gone bad, or the never-ending treasure trove of ludicrous conspiracy theories, our mainstream media, pundits and politicians are increasingly insulting our basic intelligence – while we all seem so willing to play along – to slight opponents and foes in a childish gotcha battle to gain the political upper hand in this new culture war.

When we snub our noses at the backward sectarian and tribal violence in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, maybe we should stop for a minute and a look in the mirror. Isn’t that where we’re headed at home by spewing the most absurd accusations and attacks based on shoddy, half-truths, partial evidence, and an all-or-nothing my team vs. your team mentality?

A fantastic example of this involves my brother, Ryan Napoli, a lawyer for the Bronx Defenders (together with his colleague Kumar Rao) accused of promoting violence against the police by appearing for under two seconds in a rap video that has been dubbed widely throughout the press as the “cop killing video” (example here) (note that no cop is actually killed in video).

The facts of the story as they pertain to Ryan Napoli, both as detailed in DOI investigation findings and through my own understanding of the events (obtained through the news, recent public statements by Kumar Rao, and my own understanding of the timeline of events) are far from damning.

In a nutshell, an employee at the Bronx Defenders whose boyfriend is a music producer asked Ryan whether the Bronx Defenders would be interested in participating in a rap video “concerning the policy brutality & police violence against unarmed citizens”. Ryan who has no authority – and never attempted to assume any such authority – to sign off on the Bronx Defenders’ participation in the video, followed office protocol and chain of command, forwarding the proposal for the project to those responsible in his organization and commented that any offensive lyrics could be edited.

From that point on, he played absolutely no decision-making role with regards to the Bronx Defenders’ role in the video.

His participation in the filming of the video was extremely limited. He neither offered to appear in the video nor sought out participation. And when he did finally agree to appear there was absolutely nothing offensive or controversial in the role that he portrays.

At no time did Ryan or anyone at the Bronx Defenders have any knowledge or reason to believe that the video would include a scene where a gun would be pointed at an actor dressed as a police officer or any other depiction of violence or threats against the police. Throughout the process, the staff at the Bronx Defenders in charge of signing off on the project were given assurances that they would have final veto rights over the lyrics and content of the video.

The record also clearly shows that the video was released without the Bronx Defenders knowledge or approval, and upon release of the video, the Bronx Defenders made an immediate statement denouncing the video and any violence against police officers and asking that their name be disassociated with the video.

The entire case against Ryan comes down to the fact that he allegedly made an email statement that he “loved the song” and thus, must of have been fully aware of certain anti-police lyrics and thus approved of them. That of course is ludicrous.

Mark Draughn’s Je Suis Bronx Defenders does any excellent job at describing the utter silliness of the claims that the video and song center around “cop killing” rather than police violence towards African Americans, and that police outrage is not about the video but something else. But I am no expert on rap lyrics or New York politics, so I will leave it there.

What is very clear is that there is absolutely nothing in the record to support any allegation that Ryan Napoli has endorsed violence against the police, engaged in any unlawful activity, or violated any rules of ethics. It was never his role or responsibility to vet the lyrics or make any assurances to anyone. He never asked to take that role and that role was never assigned to him. With the sole exception of allowing himself to appear for two seconds in the video, he made absolutely no decisions whatsoever with regards to the Bronx Defenders participation in the project, made no misrepresentations to his superiors about the project or pressured them to approve the project.

As a result, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Ryan Napoli engaged in any misconduct at all. His only real peccadillo here was saying that “he loved” this song.

Except for pure political expediency, there is no justification for asserting that Ryan Napoli failed to exercise judgment befitting an employee of the Bronx Defenders as concluded (though not supported by the facts) by the Bronx Defenders board. Doing so would be tantamount to sanctioning the female employee whose boyfriend was the producer for her poor judgment in picking a partner.

Go ahead and call me biased. I am and will gladly accept the label. But, I don’t know anyone who I consider better at doing his job – be it a lawyer, doctor or school teacher — than my brother. In my family, as in most families, we are made up of people with vastly diverging politics, worldviews and religious beliefs. And while we often disagree on all of these things, one thing that none of us would ever dispute is that when it comes to Ryan Napoli and what he does day-in and day-out, making personal sacrifices for his clients, he is undoubtedly a hero, one that we proudly take our children to watch and learn from.

When his fiancée suddenly fell gravely ill last summer, my brother took a temporary leave of absence from work to be by her side. For three full weeks he was by her bedside literally day and night, refusing to leave her alone. When she could no longer speak, he was her voice, and when she could no longer breathe on her own, he did everything he could to convince the doctors to keep her alive. And when she finally passed, Ryan took no additional time off from work but was back in the office giving himself fully to his clients.

Ryan is the epitome of what a public interest lawyer should be. He is a role model.

But don’t take my word for it. That is exactly what anyone who interacts with Ryan Napoli on a daily basis thinks about him. Earlier this week, Ryan and Kumar’s co-workers issued a letter to the Bronx Defenders board expressing their unfaltering admiration for Ryan and Kumar. While I am not at liberty to disclose the contents of that letter, the overwhelming sentiment about Ryan Napoli and Kumar Rao was one of complete admiration. Ryan was uniformly praised as a being a tireless advocate for his clients who demonstrated a unique sense of integrity and respect for his clients’ fundamental humanity.

Of course, the police union and the press have not wanted a nuanced version of the events. No one really wants to know what Ryan Napoli or Kumar Rao actually do for the Bronx Defenders or why what they do is so important. They don’t care that Ryan Napoli is a family defense lawyer who has dedicated the vast majority of his strength the past seven years to keeping families together. Ryan Napoli has kept a steady case load of 70-105 cases at a time over these seven years. In each and every one of those cases, the stakes were enormous: a mother or father was at risk of losing a child, a child at risk of losing a parent.

Maybe if we knew what the lives of Americans were like in the Bronx, we wouldn’t be so comfortable with the image we have of ourselves.

And certainly no cares that the most damning fact in the entire investigation relating to my brother – that he said he “loved the song”, ergo he must have signed off on the lyrics – occurred two weeks after his fiancée had passed away.

Instead, we are left with the most extreme cynicism and hypocrisy. A police union that does everything in its power to shield its members from any accountability whatsoever for their actions  but calls foul at the smallest hint of a slight; in this case demanding defunding of the Bronx Defenders and disbarment for Ryan Napoli and Kumar Rao when no misconduct has been proven.

It is so indicative of our current climate that instead of accepting the Bronx Defenders’ original statements of apology and perhaps engaging directly with them in good faith, the police union made the conscious decision to ruthlessly go for the jugular. And to what end and for what purpose? Are the New York tax payers better off now that money was wasted on an investigation that concluded little more than what the Bronx Defenders had originally stated: a video was released featuring their name and lawyers without their final approval and they regret their appearance? Does anyone honestly doubt that the Bronx Defenders ever intended to promote violence against the police? I can only defer to Misters Draughn, Balko, and Greenfield on why the police union may have preferred to use all of its power and influence to damage the Bronx Defenders than to choose other less vindictive alternatives.

But what I ultimately find so troubling and outrageous about the police union’s campaign against the Bronx Defenders and staff – and the Mayor’s office’s willingness to take the bait — is that it has been clear since the beginning that neither the Bronx Defenders nor anyone within its organization (including Ryan Napoli or Kumar Rao) had any intention (or has ever had any intention) to promote anti-police violence or propaganda. In the wake of this proxy battle between the Mayor’s office and the police union, not only has Ryan Napoli’s reputation been slandered and person been threatened and defamed, these tactics of false indignation have proven themselves once again effective political tactics that only harm the interests of the American public.

[UPDATE FEB. 6, 2015: I have removed two paragraphs unrelated to the events described here and re-posted them separately here]

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Give Me One More Thanksgiving Holiday

Charlie and EvelynEvery year since I started this blog, at this time of year I always eagerly write about how excited I am with the coming Christmas season. And today being Black Friday, I can now officially start playing my Christmas favorites and decorating the house.

And as much as I love Christmas, I think that if I had one wish. If I could ask for anything in the world. There is nothing that I would want more than to take my wife and son along with, say 30 years back, to spend just one Thanksgiving holiday with my grandparents just like I did as a child.

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