Thursday, January 28, 2021

Gay Sitcom Dad

Often I ask myself whether today’s best story is about a Father, a Writer, or a Lawyer. Readers vote overwhelmingly for “Father. 

So here’s Year 5, Episode 1 of Gay SitcoDad: “Facing Addiction.”

Glee. Rachel's birth mother was Idina Menzel.

My kids have been attending Zoom School since March 13, 2020 – which means they spend weekdays invading the dogs’ and my space and sucking up all the wi-fi. 

Even though Bellingham is blessed with excellent public schools, we’ve all struggled with the challenges of online education. Quarantine came as a surprise to everyone. Last spring local educators focused on helping families cope with the once-in-a-century crisis long enough to make it to summer. Because pandemic supply chains limited the availability of ribbons and gold stars, the high school ended up giving every student who logged on A’s in all their classes.

Modern Family switched child actors mid-run. 

Like both The Partridge Family and my son

For the 2020-21 school year, Bellingham Schools’ administrators, teachers, and counsellors prepared an elaborate online curriculum. With real grades. It’s been a challenge for everyone.


My high-school nephew is living with us this month while my parents snowbird in Hawaii. That means the dogs and I are stuck with four teenagers. The house’s Apple products include five iPhones, three iPads, two iMacs, and one ancient Macbook. We also have four cheap school-issued laptop PCs that run Windows and Chinese spyware. 

Today the kids were particularly stressed as they approached the end of the semester, with Zoom finals scheduled for tomorrow and the next day. The first period of high school begins at 8:30 am. At 8:23 am this morning we discovered that our Centurylink wi-fi had gone down. At 8:24 am we discovered none of our AT&T iPhones worked either.

Ordinarily I would apply Ockham’s Razor and look for a simple explanation – operator error, unpaid utility bill, divine plague, etc. But none of these alternatives explained why Centurylink’s DSL cable and AT&T’s cellular reception both failed at the same time. 

Jack Donaghy’s 30 Rock gay nemesis Devon Banks (Will Arnett) 

with one of Devon's surrogate triplets

Like rest of their generation, my children are justly accused of being addicted to their phones. Addition is a serious thing. But today began with a period of farce.


First we tried turning everything off and on. Nada. As we continued searching for answers we kept looking in the same place – i.e. the internet, which turns out to be completely useless without DSL, wi-fi, or cellular data. Doh.


Someone remembered that radio stations provide useful information about local disasters that is not only streamed online but also broadcast on the airwaves. Somewhere in the garage there is an old-fashioned radio for emergencies. Apparently it’s migrated to a mislabeled bin. 


Cars are also equipped with radios. For the last six months I’ve been driving my dad’s old Honda. Unfortunately, my daughter ran down the battery a few weeks ago when she was banished outside to finish making loud TikToks. When we jumpstarted the Honda the stereo returned to its factory settings – and I keep forgetting to ask my parents for the security code to reinstall the radio.  


What about the ancient minivan, you ask? The Kia is parked on the street in front of the house, uninsured, waiting to be traded in for a new car after my ship finally comes. We discovered the minivan battery is dead when I tried to jumpstart the Honda. (One of the neighbors came over to give us a jump instead.) The powerless minivan remains parked on the street, its radio silent, dreaming of being smashed by a heavily insured drunk driver.

Brothers & Sisters (& Sweaters)

Eventually Bear and I walked over to campus to log onto WWU’s guest wi-fi. 

I was able to read one page of the 29-page legal document I’d been waiting to download. And I finally found the local news. According to the Bellingham Herald, an “unrelated contractor” cut the fiber optic cable serving Bellingham public schools, Centurylink home customers, and “some” AT&T cellphone users. Like us.

The New Normal, cancelled after one season.

Andrew Rannells also originated the role of Elder Price, 

one of the obviously gay missionaries in The Book of Mormon.

Back at the house the situation remained unplugged and dire.


Some Leishmans were anxious because they couldn’t attend classes or study for finals. (Obviously that was my conscientious nephew, not my lazy children.) Others were excited about skipping school – until they realized everything fun requires a connection. Eleanor was the hardest hit. Eventually she wandered downtown in a daze, hoping to find some methadone. 


I suggested activities like reading a book, or sorting the craft cupboard. This reminded Rosalind that just last week she mourned the departure from Netflix and Hulu of her favorite movie Coraline. Rosalind was disappointed when I wouldn’t pay $19.99 to download a movie when we already owned at least two copies on DVD. So today she and the other kids found a Bluray player that sorta worked and opened the DVD closet.


Ordinarily the dogs and I would relish an unplugged day where we couldn’t do legal work, and were forced to read and write between naps and walks. But we couldn’t enjoy ourselves while surrounded by whining children going through withdrawal. So Bear and I drove over to Whatcom Falls Park and took a long walk in the sunshine.


Afterwards we stopped by my parents’ house and confirmed their Comcast connection still worked. I decided if our wi-fi was still down after 4 pm I would take pity on my children and drive them back to Grandma’s for a fix. However, shortly after I arrived home my computer reloaded Facebook, and bars returned to everyone’s iPhones. 


According to the Bellingham Herald, internet service to the schools and other affected locations was restored at 4:12 pm. At 4:13 the children barricaded themselves to their rooms to stare at screens and reconnect with the Borg.

Mr. Brady died of AIDS-related cancer in 1992.

When Rosalind gave me a hug at bedtime, she said the best part of the day was watching Coraline. Until it started skipping.

Sean's Single Gay Dad was cancelled after just 13 episodes.
I'm still going strong years later.

Click here for more episodes of Gay Sitcom Dad

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Walking Around Sidney Spit

During the 1990s, my friend Jim regularly invited me on his spring sailing trip from Seattle north to the San Juan and Gulf Islands. We would arrive in Victoria’s Inner Harbour in time to watch our more intense sailor buddies compete in the annual Swiftsure Yacht Race. After a fun weekend in Victoria fraternizing with friendly Canadians, our group would sail off to explore otherwise inaccessible gems like Wallace, Prevost, Sucia, and Patos Islands, before returning home to the drudgery of legal practice.

One of my favourite spots was Sidney Spit, just across the border in the Gulf Islands. We tied the Stella Maris to a mooring buoy in the bay, opened some refreshing beverages, and relaxed at the centre of the Salish Sea.

 Mt. Baker from Sidney Spit - © Mike Lathrop

From Sidney Spit you have a stunning view of four major mountain ranges:  the Olympics to the south, Vancouver Island to the west, the B.C. Coast Range to the north, and the Cascades to the east. 


As the crow flies, Sidney Spit is about thirty miles due west of Bellingham. On a clear day, the dogs and I can see the same four mountain ranges on our morning walk.

Last Friday morning Bear, Buster, and I began the walk in our own backyard on Bellingham’s South Hill. To the southwest we could see the Olympic Mountains looming in the distance beyond the San Juan Islands.

Crossing the street, from the neighbors’ driveway we saw the Cascade Range and Mount Baker to the east. As with so many other Northwest landmarks, Captain George Vancouver named the mountain during his voyages on H.M.S. Discovery. Joseph Baker, Vancouver’s third lieutenant, sighted the mountain on April 30, 1792. The native name for the mountain is “Kulshan,” which also refers to a local brewery and a middle school.

Mount Baker is the third highest peak in Washington, the second most active volcano, and the largest glacier field. Mount Baker ski area holds the world record for snowfall, with a total of 95 feet falling during the 1999 season. Like Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens, Mount Baker is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc which extends from Mount Shasta in California to northern British Columbia.

“Coast Range” and “Cascades” are actually names for the same set of mountains in two different countries. Geographers drew their boundary not at the 49th parallel but rather at the Frasier River, thirty miles north of the border. On our walks the dogs and I can see the Coast Range from the boardwalk at the foot of South Hill.

The fourth mountain range we saw on our morning walk is the spine of Vancouver Island in the distance to the west.

It was easier for Bear and me to see Vancouver Island during our sunset walk Friday evening:

You can’t actually see any mountains from our house itself – only from the top corner of the backyard. In contrast, at our previous rental house I could see a mountain in Canada with a distinctive double peak as I brushed my teeth in the master bathroom. It’s part of the Coast Range.


A couple years ago in “Photographic Memories,” I wrote about trying to identify the jagged mountain due north of Bellingham. Here’s how I drew it from memory:

Now that I have a fancy new iPhone with a telephoto lens, I can zero in on distant vistas. I figured out the name of the double-peaked mountain to the north is Golden Ears.

The city of Vancouver is forty miles northwest of Bellingham. Even without the zoom lens I can see the mountains of the Coast Range that tower above Vancouver. 

In the distance beyond Bellingham harbor you can see the familiar pair of snowcapped “Lions” above Capilano Gorge. Even though I can’t see Stanley Park, I know it’s there below the guardian peaks that give Lions’ Gate Bridge its name:

In the same picture you can see groomed ski slopes to the right of the Lions. When I was growing up in suburban Vancouver I saw the same white clearings from my bedroom window. 


Here’s how I drew my childhood view in “Photographic Memories”:

Pretty close, right?


At night, folks in Bellingham can see the ski slopes lit up:

It’s like a beacon from the Promised Land – reminding me that the Canada/US border has been closed by pandemic for the last 320 days.

Bonus pictures of Bear and mountain ranges:

Thursday, January 21, 2021

You Got This

Our house is one block away from Western Washington University. Bear, Buster, and I take a walk through campus most days. The dogs love college students, and vice versa. 


Sadly, campus has been deserted since the Covid Zombie Apocalypse began in March. The upside: the dogs enjoy their illicit off-leash frolics in the Quidditch Quad, and even in normally crowded Red Square.  

On one of our walks through campus last week we encountered a group of students holding posters. As I wrote earlier this week in “Mind the Gap,” these are trying times of transition. So I was cheered by their message:  “You got this.” 


When I asked if the signs were for the dogs and me, the guys laughed and told me they were encouraging students as they started Winter Quarter. I didn’t realize school was back in session after the holidays. Other than the heartening posters, campus still doesn’t look any different to the dogs and me.

Change is a process, not an event. 


One of the most useful books I read last year was Bruce Feiler’s Life is in the Transitions. Feiler interviewed several hundred individuals who had gone through a wide variety of major life changes, such as career shifts, illness, divorce, and gender transition. 


Feiler defined these “lifequakes” as “a forceful burst of change that leads to a period of upheaval, transition, and renewal.” He identified several shared themes, and found interesting repeated patterns. Although there’s “no one single way to go through a life transition,” for most people the process involves “the long goodbye, the messy middle, and the new beginning.” On average the transition to a new you takes about five years. In the meantime, life is what happens while you’re busy figuring out a new plan.

Five years ago this month, I realized that my homophobic, ableist, and incompetent employers were trying to get rid of me. Since then I’ve learned to endure the gap between my old pre-PTSD life and my new post-lawyer reality. Now I’m struggling to see the endpoint to this tectonic period of transition.


It’s not just me. Earlier this month in “It’s Almost Over. That’s the Problem,” Slate writer Susan Matthews asked:


When will it be over? 

For a while last year, that question and its possible answer seemed be comfortingly specific—would America vote Trump out in November? That Election Day stretched into a tortuous week ought to have served as a cosmic reminder that there would be no neat “end” to the Trump presidency. But still, even after it became clear that Joe Biden had won the election, even as it was recertified again and again and again, the question lingered. When would the fight over the election results be over? When could we exhale and look forward toward the inauguration, when surely Joe Biden would become president, and whatever the next phase of America will be could actually start? When could we turn away from the dozens of baseless lawsuits, the president’s refusal to face reality, the right wing media’s willingness to say whatever it wants, and move to the next phase, whatever that is?

As the New York Times’ television critic observed, the “steady drip of videos and reports, each bit seemingly more disturbing than the last, has created a feeling of delayed-onset trauma.” 

In the NBC series Smash, Broadway veteran/Whidbey Island native Megan Hilty plays an actress who is competing for the part of Marilyn Monroe in a new musical. One of her showstopping numbers is “They Just Keep Moving the Line.” Megan/Marilyn sings: 


They cheered at my persistence
But prayed for my decline
The path of least resistance
Led to Hollywood and Vine
I tried to go the distance
But they just keep moving the line.

Me too.

Joe Biden is President of the United States. Kamela Harris is Vice President. Florida Man is awaiting trial. Covid vaccines are on their way. The courts will finally rule on my cases. Zoom School will end. The economy will recover. Eventually the border will reopen and we’ll sing again.


Just breathe. You got this.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mind the Gap

After a long, exhausting, and surreal week – including vandals sacking the US Capitol – on the first Friday afternoon after New Years I found myself on a Zoom call with one of my children’s teachers. Sadly, it was not Gay Sitcom Dad’s first episode of scholastic triage in 2021. 

At the end of our weary parent-teacher conference, the teacher sighed and revealed what all educators know:  the week after a long break is the toughest part of the school year. If we could make it through the first week of January 2021, we can survive anything.

2020 was extra stressful for everyone. Our covid-amplified background anxiety was scheduled to peak on a definite date:  Tuesday, November 3. Unfortunately, thanks to the worst president in history and his insurrectionist followers, the election was merely the beginning of the end. Still, I can feel a huge improvement in my mood as we finally close a particularly dark chapter in American history. 


Nevertheless, my personal anxiety level remains off the charts. As I relate in the tedious legal part of my story, misconduct by my employers triggered midlife PTSD symptoms five years ago that continue today. The State’s lawyers exacerbated my disability by gaslighting and discriminating against me, then proceeded to spend thousands of tax dollars on a clumsy and illegal coverup. Even without the election, the pandemic, the economy, and the Trump legacy, this winter I was already facing mounting anxiety as my two separate legal disputes coincidentally reached major crossroads at the same time. 


In a blog post about walking the dogs, “Rescue Me,” I reported that my weekly bout of stress currently spikes every Wednesday at 4 pm. That’s when the Washington Supreme Court announces which opinions are scheduled to be released the following morning. The Court’s ruling on the sleazy private investigator firm’s appeal, which we argued in June, is due any week now. I never expected the process to take this long. Hopefully the Court will do the right thing. After four years of stonewalling, defendants and their insurers might finally come the table before I exhaust my retirement savings and have to move in with my parents. But the longer we wait the higher my anxiety rises.


Meanwhile, my efforts to uncover the truth about misconduct by my former employers are on a separate legal track. Five years of misconduct and cover-ups culminated in another high-stakes lawsuit against the State last spring. The parties are currently waiting for United States District Judge Richard Jones to rule on a couple of pivotal motions that have been pending for months. Judge Jones’s decision could come any day. So that particular component of my anxiety peaks every day at 5 pm (except for weekends and federal holidays). As soon as the judge announces his ruling, the pieces of this particular legal puzzle will arrange themselves into a much less anxious picture.

Everything takes longer than you expect.  Especially litigation.  


Last year in “Schrödingers Summer Vacation,” I wrote about my experience waiting for the Court of Appeals to rule on my appeal from the trial judge’s decision to throw out my damage claims against the investigator firm on an inapplicable technicality. Fortunately the Court of Appeals eventually ruled in my favor – but I ended up waiting an extra three months because the opinion was assigned to the slowest judge on the court. Now I’ve endured another year’s delay because the attorney-investigators from Seattle’s sleaziest law firm sought review by the Washington Supreme Court.


My son says I’m a “liar” because I told him I expected a ruling from the Court in November. Based on my years of appellate experience, I made the same prediction publicly in this blog. I was wrong. Between the coronavirus pandemic and the Supreme Court’s cycling through three Chief Justices in one year, the Court is a couple of months behind its usual pace for issuing decisions.


Meanwhile, five of the seven federal judge positions in the Western District of Washington are currently vacant. Despite numerous baby boomer retirements from the bench, the Seattle legal community managed to stall long enough to avoid any Trump appointments. As a result, the two remaining judges have fallen way behind. It’s been 159 days since defendants froze progress in my lawsuit by filing a frivolous motion to dismiss. And it’s been 117 days since the parties finished briefing my motion to disqualify defendants’ current lawyers based on their obvious conflicts of interest and other unethical conduct.

Under the local federal rules, motions are “decided as soon as practicable, and normally within thirty days” after briefing is complete. The Court encourages counsel to contact the clerk’s office “to verify that a motion is scheduled for determination if a decision on the motion has not been received within forty-five days.” After exactly 45 days, the State’s lawyers sent the bailiff a polite inquiry. Here’s her response:




Thank you for your email.  


I've had an opportunity to consult with chambers regarding this matter.  As you may be aware, Judge Jones is one of only two non-senior judges remaining on the bench in Seattle. Accordingly, due to this court's tremendously heavy caseload and the volume of motions pending before it, now including urgent matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and additional cases transferred from now-retired Judge Leighton, the court has not been able to provide you with decisions on the pending motions as quickly as it would like. Unfortunately at this time I am unable to provide you with a date by which you can expect rulings, however, please know that Judge Jones will turn his attention to this case just as soon as he is able.


Another couple of months have now passed with no word from either court. As with every other 2020 challenge, I’m trying not to take the courts’ delays personally.

Maybe it’s Seattle that’s cursed. In recent years citizens have endured earthquakes, floods, Amazon gentrification, and angry protesters. Each of the last six Seattle mayors left office early for a wide variety of reasons, including lost primaries, riots, and pedophilia accusations.

In December 2020, about the time that I was hoping for rulings in my cases, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she too would not be seeking reelection. More riots. Not coincidentally, that same week both the Washington Supreme Court and Judge Jones found time to issue decisions that sharply criticized Mayor Durkan’s handling of the police response to protests last summer. 


I appreciate each court’s careful consideration of these issues. Black Lives Matter – but so do disabled and LGBT lives. Likewise, police misconduct warrants careful judicial review – but so does undisputed evidence of serious misconduct by government lawyers.

The first book I finished reading in 2021 was The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson’s account of Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister. I’d already read numerous Churchill biographies, including his own history of the Battle of BritainLarson’s fascinating new book traces the daily lives of Churchill’s family and friends during the period beginning in May 1940, when Britain faced Hitler alone and civilization rocked above an abyss. 


Reading about German bombers and prowling U-Boats reminded me of a nautical truism from Churchill’s era: “a convey sails at the speed of the slowest ship.” Even with three kids, two dogs, one pandemic, and PTSD, I’m still not as slow as a judge. And that’s a good thing. 


All lawyers and litigants are completely obsessed with their own case. We forget the court has a busy docket filled other people’s legal disputes, as well as other demands on limited time and judicial resources. After living and breathing this story for six years, I have the record and the caselaw practically memorized. In contrast, the judges and their law clerks have only been involved for a few months. And they have numerous other cases pending before them, each deserving careful consideration. 


As a lawyer, sometimes you have cases where you don’t want the judge to pay close attention, because that’s the only way your client wins. My lawsuits against the State’s lawyers and their sleazy outside investigation firm are not that kind of case. To the contrary, both cases involve complex legal issues and a voluminous evidentiary record. 


Our convoy will keep sailing for as long as it takes to get it right.

In 1953, the Swedish Academy honoured Winston Churchill with the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” During his first year as Prime Minister, Churchill’s speeches inspired the world. On June 4, 1940, Churchill thrilled Parliament and the British people with this message:


Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender….


On June 18, 1940, Churchill returned to Parliament to utter this prophecy: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”


Years ago I memorized Churchill’s inaugural speech as Prime Minister. On May 4, 1940, he warned Parliament “We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering,” with “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Churchill’s answer to the question “what is our aim?” is the same one I would offer in response to a similar question about my aim eighty years later:


I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs – victory in spite of all terror – victory, however long and hard the road may be.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

St. John's Day


The traditional Christian church calendar begins at the end of November with the season of Advent, which culminates with the excitement of Christmas Eve. We then celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. Purists can finally decorate their trees and sing carols other than “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” 


The Christmas season ends with another big party on Twelfth Night. The next day, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men and their giftsThe season of Epiphany then lasts until Mardi Gras and Lent. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted yesterday when she called on Congress to complete its work as soon as Trump’s mob could be cleared from the Capitol, Epiphany is about recognizing the truth. January 2021 offers us all the opportunity for a clear-eyed fresh start. 

In the church calendar, January 7 is the first day of Epiphany and nothing else – no memorials to saints or other feasts are allowed. Everyone needs some guaranteed rest, reflection, and detox after all the holiday parties. 

I was raised in the Mormon church, which for various historical and theological reasons does not recognize most of the incense-infused papist celebrations of the liturgical calendar. All we got was Christmas and Easter. Instead, in our family January 7 marks the birthday of my father, John Leishman.

When I was growing up in Canada during the 1970s, the counterweight to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals was the “Progressive Conservative” party. Back then the phrase wasn’t an oxymoron. 


This year I intended to honor my father’s birthday with a blog essay about what it means to be a Christian conservative. But after the events in Washington D.C. yesterday, I decided to shelve that particular writing project.


Instead, I will simply say that a “progressive conservative” is someone who respects tradition, who values most what actually works, who approaches each day with a positive mindset, and who is always looking for a way to help fix things. No one represents those values more than my father.

After various moves and household consolidations over the last few years, this fall I finally sorted through the accumulated boxes of tools in the garage. I discovered five hammers (not counting various specialized mallets, gavels, and sledgehammers). Two of the hammers were fancy models with graphite steel heads and weighted handles. Two were generic wooden tools from Ace Hardware. The fifth one was a more substantial but weathered wooden hammer left over from my house on Whidbey Island.


While we were at my parents’ house a few weeks ago, my father showed me that his own hammer was broken beyond repair, its handle crumbled into dust. He sadly revealed that he’d been using the same hammer since he got married. 


The next time Dad was over at my house, I told him to choose a new hammer from the collection in our garage. He picked the old wooden one. It looks just like the hammer he’d been using for 57 years. Each of my brothers and I would have picked the same one.


The cognitive bias referred to as the “law of the instrument” is often summarized with the aphorism “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I am blessed with a father who not only can swing a hammer, but who can also look at a pile of rubble and identify the buried nails, and who knows how to use the right tool to fix anything.

Happy 81st birthday Dad