Category Archives: parenting

Words Hurt


Sticks and stones?  Nah!  Words hurt.  Do you remember the last time someone hit you with a stick?  Probably not. It’s barely a memory and the injury has long since healed itself.  But that’s just it. Our body heals. Our mind…not so much.  
There’s two kinds of doctors: medical doctors (M.D.) and doctors of philosophy (Ph.D). We tend not to think too much of the latter because we put a greater importance on our physical health than on our mental health.  

When we get sick, we make an appointment to see a physician.  It isn’t until we can not pinpoint the physical ailment that we consider  an alternative remedy.  Some of us will turn to holistic remedies before we decide to sit in a psychologist’s chair.  Others may seek counsel from clergy or the comfort of a prayer group.  

Personally, I believe a spiritual sense will bring about more healing than any of the above;  but that’s because when we pray, we release. The stress on our flesh and our souls is often too much to bare.  A simple but thorough release of all worries and stressors will be met with miraculous results.  

But what of the sticks and stones?  “He who is without sin, should cast the first stone…”  And yet we are encircled by stone throwers daily.  When we find ourselves in the center of that circle receiving all those blows, it’s hard to drop to our knees and await a hedge of protection.  Heck no!  We fire those stones right back; and with impeccable aim.  


Metaphors aside for a moment, real stones damage the flesh.  Healing is required.  That healing comes from physicians and the medical establishment.  Unlike with bullets or blunt objects, no tourniquet or bandages are required.  Sticks sometimes pierce, but they are not spears.  A wack with a stick bruises!  Again, no ambulance or emergency medical services will be called. 
“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but [words] will never hurt me!”  

Nonsense!

Why do we teach this to our children?  It’s an age-old tradition that we all recall from our childhood.  The bully teases.  The child responds.   Sometimes with this unwitty chant;  other times with a cry for help, we just want it to stop.  

In second grade, I grew tired of the teasing.  I can’t recall what caused the harassment.  It could have been because I looked different.  It may have been because of where I lived.  Either way, no one deserves that type of treatment.  My parents behaved like it was a part of growing up.  To this day, I can’t quite determine whether my folks were entertained by my growing pains or whether they wanted me to become stronger and wiser.  Instead, what I learned was far less pleasant.  

I came home from school whining that the kids at school were mean to me.  My mother offered a solution.  She didn’t ask what caused it, or what remedies I’d already attempted to stop the bullying.  To her, it was irrelevant.  She didn’t ask who or where.  It just needed to stop.  

Mom said, “I want you to get the biggest stick you can find and find the biggest kid you can spot on the playground.”

“Now you take that stick and beat his ass with it!  And you be sure to do it in front of ALL the other kids!”

“You beat his ASS!”

It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, especially since it wasn’t THAT kid who was bullying me.  But I would do what I was told.  After all, momma knows best, right?

Wrong!

I found that big stick. I found that big kid.  I made sure I had an audience, and I swung that stick at that kid!

I’d like to tell you that I became an instant hero amidst all my watching peers.  I’d like to  reveille in the 15 minutes of fame…that I liberated all the school-ground-kids from the throws of tyrany.  I’d like to, but I can’t.  Nope.

It didn’t happen that way at ALL!  When I spotted that kid, I walked right up to him. Swinging and muttering, I was just a sight. Whew!  I was going to do THIS!  He saw me coming.  He was surprised, but not worried.  When I got within three feet of him, I swung aiming for his shoulder. He stopped me mid swing.  He caught that big stick. He grasped it from my sweaty hands.  He took that stick and beat MY ASS with it!

I came home bruised. Both my body and my ego hurt.  No one got in trouble.  No ambulance was called and no physician was sought.  I was still stunned. I was almost afraid to approach my mother. But I needed comfort.  


Here’s what she said:

“What happened to you?!?”

“I did what you said.  I got the stick, and I found the biggest kid…”

“Hmmm…I should have taught you how to fight first, huh?”

Warm tears rolled down my face. My eyes burned, and I was no longer reviling in the pain from the blunt force trauma.  My trauma was internal.  I hurt. I was confused. I was angry.  

Those words hurt.  The smiling lips they leapt from exacerbated my torn ego.  Comfort in my mother’s arms I did not find.  Nor was there any respite on the playground the following day.  

My hurt was emotional.  My physical pain had already subsided. My pride was restored when I learned to coexist with my peers, but avoid my tormentors.  
Plenty of lessons are learned in our formative years. Each of us could tell a story.  The biggest hurt in our lives didn’t come from a bullies swing though.  The biggest hurt came from betrayal–the words spewed from someone we thought had honored us.  


Even the malicious acts that occur contrary to our personal and emotional safety hurt.  Why?  Because we thought we were safe.  We’d convinced ourselves that we would not be in harms way.  

It’s when our belief system is rocked–that’s when we hurt.  And that’s the kind of hurt for which a medical doctor can not prescribe a cure.  Even a physchiatrist can not truly heal that trauma.  Monsignor Vitty BoomBox  can’t pray me back to righteousness.  

Words hurt.  Even the good ones; like LOVE.  Words that represent the greatest joy can bring forth the biggest pain.  It’s these types of words that dwell so deep in our heart, not even our brain can make sense of it.  Words that connect the brain, heart, and soul–these are the most dangerous of all.  


Words can drop us to our knees.  Words evoke understanding (or misunderstanding). They cause pain.  Every now and then they heal.  But ignoring the words is no easier than avoiding the pain.  

Sadly, I can find enough words through writing or speaking, through joy or anger, to undo the pain or that will birth pleasure.  At some point those words,  stringed together in the right order will manifest a plan of action.  It is the actions that may create change.  

But regardless of how we act, it’s the words the cause fear or reduce anxiety.  A pill can ease the pain, but the pain is mental.  It’s emotional. It’s spiritual.  And it will return.  

Do you remember the pain?  Use your words, but choose them carefully. 

Words

Bartering Death for Life

Last will and testaments are designed to determine who will inherit a legacy (financial or otherwise) after death.  Often its contents are secret–revealed by an actuary.  Alas, the disappointment that follows the revelation that there is nothing to be had.  It’s fantastic though when someone is named in a will that might have otherwise been overlooked.

But what happens when the living use their will to manipulate a future that is uncertain?

When my father was alive, he made a statement to my mother. He was not at all worried about what would happen after death. He said, “if you die before me, I’ll have all your things thrown into a dumpster!”  He didn’t want to be bothered with the remnants of anyone else’s remains. It hurt my mom to hear this.  And when he pre-deceased her, it took years to sift through his personal belongings.  An eventual house fire finished off the job, and now we sift through the ashes (and the boxes of personal effects that survived the disaster).

The only will he left was one that was surely crafted with the help of a spouse, rather than legal counsel.  But it didn’t matter, because all he left us was a loan.  Not alone, but a LOAN.  Bills!

Fire insurance converted that debt into assets.  The last will and testament that once existed is irrelevant after years of recovery and acceptance of things we can not control.  His legacy lives on in spirit.  The circumstances that precipitated his death have been forgiven. We don’t stress over the recovery.  We miss him and reminisce about the the way he carried himself, his thoughts, and the impact he had on us.


He once told me, “death is a part of life, son…the end part.” He’d chuckle, but I would snare in the inappropriateness of it all.  He said if you ever want to know how much I love you, take a look at my will, and then he’d gesture to where in the house he kept all of his important documents.  I never had the desire to check.  It was irrelevant.  I didn’t realize then how much HE would be missed once he was gone.  No life insurance claim can compensate for that. There’s no grave to visit–no ashes to hold.  Only a memory and a whisper.  “If dad were still here…”

But his widow has survived.  All that was his was replaced with what is she has earned. Sweat and tears, a new legacy is born. Everything has changed but the address.  Photo reproductions line the coffee table as we look back, laugh, and cry.

Talks of a new last will and testament recur occasionally.  “How will we divide all of this?” Who will get the house?  Who will manage the affairs.  Who will liquidate the assets and pay off the debt.  Whoever volunteers is certainly entitled to a little something for their troubles.  I felt better about it when I was convinced that it was all trash.

But their are pictures…and memories.  Heirlooms and keepsakes aren’t replaceable, but the don’t have value to anyone but family.  I am reluctant engage in the plans because I don’t want any of it.  I resent that these talks elude to entitlements, requirements, obligations, and guilt.  I don’t want to behave differently because there is a reward on the other side of death.  I’d rather not.  I decline.

There is a guilt in not wanting be bothered.  And the grandchildren hear things that equate to spoils and unearned riches.  Is it fair to them to not consider their well being?  Are they not entitled to a hand-me-down or a piece of a legacy?

For some, a legacy is inherited.  It could be something as simple as a surname.  For others it’s a dynasty.  For us, it is neither.  It’s a burden…and an empty promise.  Good will and favor now will translate into an inheritance 10 years (or 30 years) from now. That’s a long time to pledge allegiance to an otherwise healthy matriarch.

If I had a choice, I’d give up any supposed riches for a nice cup of coffee and a non-judgmental conversation that is not disguised as a lecture. I long for genuine advice and fellowship. I choose life over death.

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As I evolve, death still seems so far off.  With no will of my own, I can only hope that my own children will not sacrifice their character for a few cold bank notes.  I procrastinate the inevitable.  I hope that I will not fall to manipulating their loyalty in exchange for insincere elder care and a power-of-attorney.

I choose the living.  I will not barter a lifetime of wealth (and eventual death) in exchange for appreciation while I am alive.  I can not take it with me, but only my namesake will be my legacy.  The rest can be thrown away.

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Gee, Daddy is Pissed!


There comes a time when being carefree and jovial is more of a liability than an asset. Parenthood is no exception.  I admit that I am much harder on my son than I am on my daughter.  I love them both but my tolerance levels are on par with their acceptance of me.  

It’s important to convey how important my children are to me. In a world that is full of disappointment, my children are a reflection of my best efforts to make the world a better place.  My love for them both cannot be quantified.  However our love for each other is evident.  

The circumstances by which each of my children were brought in to this world were distinctly different, and like most families may contribute to why my daughter is treated differently than my son.  Five years apart, the age different between them is the same as that of their parents.  I married their mom when I was 24.  She was 19.  Neither of us were mature enough to recognize the gravity of our decisions.  But with the birth of our daughter, we found a renewed hope and a desire to live right.  

We had a home with a lot of potential. I had a promising career and good credit.  We were rooted in the church and innocent enough to believe that as long as we did more good than harm by the end of each day, we were managing the world around us.  

My wife nurtured our daughter and most times      enjoyed watching me dote over her.  We shared our parenting responsibilities and I was so proud to be living “the dream”.  

Honeymoon periods end, marital bliss fades, and the typical family disputes arise.  Only true love prevails, so the first separation brought with it a reality check.  My son was conceived on the other’s side of a reconciliation.  But the damaged relationship hadn’t healed.  

Insecurity, disappointment, and mistrust welcomed my son into the world. Sadly, by the time he was three years old, his parents were divorced.  He can not remember a time when his mom and dad got along.  But his older sister had plenty of memories of family trips and dozens of holiday photos of mommy and daddy embracing her cuteness.  

This dynamic plays out as we endure the teen years.  Dylan doesn’t even flinch at the thought of an unpleasant interaction between his parents.  He’s never known a happier time.  Conversely, when his older sister Emily witnesses a civil conversation between “mommy and daddy” it comes with surprise.  It’s been so long.  It’s almost cause for alarm!

“They are smiling?  And they are talking about me and my plans to travel and work and camp and dRiVE?!?”  The thoughts that must go through her head.  

If there was ever something that my ex-wife and I are most passionate about, it’s our kids!  Sometimes support and custody, consent and childcare are ideals that are convoluted by control and resentment.  But we are not without our differences in opinions.  

Court involvement exacerbates problems but we are still learning to co-parent.  I figure by the time my son gets to high school, we will have a mastery of it (I hope).  

My daughter, however, has begun to test our limits and may infact hope to capitalize on our handicaps. I’m grateful that the preteen years were painless.  We even enjoyed three more uneventful teen years.  But it’s happening.  The anticipated freedom that comes with a driver’s license out weighs the worry of teen suitors. 

A few years ago, in leui of a well deserved consequence, I choose instead to lecture my son.  Emmy intervened.  She said, “don’t you think he’s had enough?”   Brakes!   Caught completely off guard, I warned that unless she was preparing to take one for the team…   The conversation ended abruptly. 


On a prememptive strike I pulled my son aside and recalled the incident. He remembered vividly.  He was wise enough to see the mounting tension. He’d watched as his mother and father conferred over parent stuff.   He even commented, “Dad, that’s the longest I’ve ever seen you and mom talk…”

But I wasn’t upset by mom.  I was upset at the general willingness to ignore Dad–that plans were made without my consultation.  And although I recognize that the path to adulthood is paved with independence and the neglectful willingness to rebel against parents, not here.  Not now!

As a father, I don’t apologize for speaking up.  I certainly don’t regret putting my foot down.  My demeanor is usually pleasant, but once I’ve become vocal, I cannot be stifled.  The thought of it inflames me.  

This time, my anger was heavy.  It was direct. It was poinyant. It was also misdirected.  I love my daughter, and would never deliberately hurt her.  But I will not allow poor decisions to manifest into a disregard for common sense.  

“What’s the big deal, Dad?”  Or I believe that the comment she made was that she’d much prefer to go to camp this summer than to go to work…and that earning money for a car wasn’t that important.  Yesterday’s discussion  turned into today’s request.  This evening, Mom suggested that Dad contribute to the driver’s ed “behind-the-wheel” course.  But now driving has suddenly become a desire?  Yet no effort went into earning her own money?!?  Because she’d prefer…?

Dad’s can I get a hand here?


Every father hopes to see his kid off in a safe reliable car (hopefully one that he’s fortunate enough to provide).  I was blessed with that great fortune.  My dad gave me his old truck when I was fifteen.  I had two years to prepare.  It was a hardship that I truly appreciated.  But he also made it possible for me to mow lawns for cash when I was fourteen.  My ability to get my license was contingent on my hard work.  It was more than understood.  I was reminded frequently!!


Because my dad was better off in his career when I came of age, he was able to do for me in ways he’d regretted not being able to do for my siblings.  I was the youngest.  

My daughter is my eldest.  I’ve convinced myself that with planning, devoted parenting, and a lot of help from the Lord, I’ll be able to do for my daughter (and son) what was offered to me.  

But I need a little help from the kids.  Not financial. Not physical.  But emotional.  Appreciation!  Enthusiasm.  Effort.  When Dad is taken for granted though, all bets are off. 


I model intelligent decision-making. I share. I work hard, and I rarely ask for help.  I’m not just a father.  I’m a man.  I have dignity.  I have pride.  I’m kind, but I’m stern.  And dammit I expect respect.  

Somewhere along the way, my kindness was mistaken for weakness.  When I’ve had enough, the beast is awakened.  I roar!  And my point becomes crystal clear.   My own upbringing may be to blame.  I’m ultra tolerant and watchful for results.  I learn from my mistakes, but I’d prefer to learn from someone else’s mistakes instead.  


I’m not a good dad.  I’m the best dad (that I can be)–but only because I do what I’m supposed to do.  The fact that not every dad is able or willing does not make me good.  They have to bare their own cross.  


Everyday brings with it a new opportunity.  I have high expectations of my kids.  They have no excuse for failure except for their own unwillingness to try.  Mediocrity seems to be  accepted collectively.  But individually, we must work hard to achieve.  I once argued with their mom that academic achievement is not a way (of life); it’s a standard.  


I mean what I say.  I’m not just picking fights. Every experience we’ve had brought us to this very moment. I won’t waste it!

Clichés anyone?  Every moment brings with it an opportunity…

I speak up.  I asked my son recently to come from his room and help out in the kitchen.  He mustered some attitude.  At eleven years old he is primed and ready for conflict. Every request triggers a response. 

My son kicked over the cat food which caused all the “fur babies” in the house to react. He then complained that there was a reaction to his action…   The dog growled, the cats ran, and the turtle withdrew in his tank.  

I had to seize the moment!

I’m certain the neighbors heard me stammer as I begin to bellow–loud enough for everyone in my home to hear.  

I proclaimed, “disappointed?  Good!  Mad? Fine!  But get used to it!  Because you’re only months away from manhood!  Biblically you should be preparing for the rights and responsibilities of a man!  And you know what?!?   No one is going to care that your feelings are hurt!  No one is going to ask if you are ok.  No one cares enough to help you out because you’d ‘prefer’ to play and not work!!!”

I saw this glisten in his eye, and I knew I’d gone too far.  My sheer volume rumbled the room.  My voice carried.  I knew my daughter could hear and she knew that this declaration was really for her ears.  I killed two birds with one stone…and I felt…awful. 

My son lipped, “I’m sorry,” while my daughter never peeked from behind her bedroom door.  

Gee, Daddy was pissed!   Now a tear runs down my face.  I’ve got nothing left (until tomorrow).  

Surreal?

After reading two different blogs about monogamy and online dating, I began to wonder. Like churning cream into butter, my mind began to churning concepts into ideas. How could I waste an opportunity to capitalize on my own opinion.  Two distinctly different concepts in the same day?  Stop the presses!

Now when I refer to two distinctly different concepts, I am not referring to the monogamy and online dating.  You see the past year and a half I’ve been blogging mostly as a way of creating an online journal. I decided to do this for two reasons:  a journal will allow me to document the plethora of emotions I’ve been harboring as I ascend to a higher plateau; and also to share with my family and friends how passionate I’ve become about the events surrounding us.  

I was once reminded that the difference between small minds and intellectuals is the content that we discuss.  Small minds gossip.  Intellectuals focus more on events rather than individuals.  So my quest began.  And through journaling I’ve strengthened my mind (or so I’d like to think). 

  

Earlier today I wrote a poem about love. I was feeling nostalgic and sentimental.  Enamored with my past experiences and excited about what is to come, I was inspired to write a little ditty.   It will be years before its appreciated for its true worth, but it did earn me a few new subscribers.  Sometimes I just can’t predict my own success–and there’s a blessing hiding in that as well.  

One of my subscribers herself wrote a blog today about monogamy.  I could relate.  I enjoyed it–so much that I reblogged it, which is a gesture of appreciation and praise.  But then I read on.  Another piece referenced sexting.  She had my attention!  Not for the reason you might think though.  

We are in an age that evolves so quickly that we don’t even have time to learn a lesson from technology.  Too quickly the dilemma morphs into another life-lesson that needs as much attention as the last.  I can only imagine the terror that other parents, educators, and youth advocates experience trying to develop a set of rules or internet policy that protects our children.  Heck! We can’t turn the damned radio down quick enough to guard their ears from the violent/erotic nature of pop music.  How can we effectively protect them from the internet. If you don’t believe me, Google whitehouse.com.  Nothing is sacred!  

  
So it only goes to suggest that children who can not make good decisions on their own are destined to make some interesting mistakes.  And yet they won’t learn from our mistakes because we are too embarrassed to reveal them.   How do you warn a kid about sexting without referring to a lapse in judgement that “someone close to us” has made?  Not so easy.  

How do you warn a teen of the dangers of promiscuousness without referring to the mistakes of our own formitive years?  Let me know how THAT works for you.  Any better than when your parents tried to teach you the importance of abstinence??

Now take those same lessons and transfer them to how we need to behave as consenting adults.  Ah this is when the hypocrisy becomes bolder.  We begin to lip, “Do as I say…”

  
We’ve seen our use of the internet evolve.  The web connects us to share all kinds of information that has all kinds of intrinsic value.  Intellectual content, entertainment, political, sexual and social. How we use this information is an indicator of how we’ve grown individually and collectively.  

   
Some of this information exchange has enhanced us as a culture (webMd), while other exchanges brought us social media (MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook).  The latter we rely on more frequently to learn of world events as they occur.  SnapChat was once a way to temporarily convey illicit content.  Now it is embraced as an effective marketing and networking tool.  Match.com and Chemistry have taken the mystery out of online dating; while normal texting on “old fashioned flip phones” has devolved into sending “private” photos that never die. 
  
Imagine, if you will, that this technology that has become a part of our everyday lives has in fact enhanced our lives. What if the flow of information, despite its incredible speed and volume, forces us to read more.  What if it requires us to be more critical, less gullible, and better informed.  Think about it.  There’s no question to which we can’t find multiple answers.  

  
We know that we can use Wikipedia, but we also know how not to trust everything we read.  We experience video through YouTube and TEd at a rate so alarming that we rarely buy our entertainment or educational content anymore.  Playboy magazine no longer prints nudity because that type of content is readily available online for free, forcing the pornagraphy industry to adjust.  The movie industry plans for bootlegging by prepping films for simultaneous release on Blueray while cross-marketing books, clothing, and apparel to recoup the production costs.  Professional development for educators, public officials, doctors, and lawyers no longer rely on academia.  Instead a steady stream of content is uploaded from their handheld devices.  

 
The list of evolutions is enumerable. One thing is certain:  we will personalize our use of data, online, and mobile content.  The same public figures that advocate for positive change (and plead for our votes) use their smart phones to send inappropriate content to undisclosed recipients.  Use your imagination here. 

We are more connected than we’ve ever been. Better informed, more mobile, and less restricted!  And yet we are the most disconnected from traditional values (and each other) than we’ve ever been.  

Perhaps this is the best way to offset the population explosion.   Imagine. How packed woukd the bars and night clubs be if that was still our most reliable way to meet a partner?

  
So let the use (and misuse) of the internet continue.  After all, the same conservative mindsets and religious zealots that warn against its dangers are using it to spread their message.  We’ll have to develop our own levels of discernment and draw our own personal lines of decency–because the same mother who cautioned against polygamy, promiscuousness, and pedofiles just accepted a proposal from a guy she met on ChristianSingles.com (using the newest app on her iPhone).  

  

Dad, What Is A Renegade?

Dad, what is a renegade?
While driving my son to school, the song Renegades by X Ambassadors begins to play on the radio.  I tap my fingers to the beat while my son begins to sing along.  

The difference between me and my father is that my father listened carefully to the lyrics, so most music selections were at his discretion. If the content was inappropriate or suggestive, it wasn’t played in the car.  Needless to say, a lot of our travel time was silent.  

Now, I’m the cool dad; letting my kids choose the station.  And most times they decide on their own to select positive, upbeat, or otherwise “safe”songs.  When the vocalists sings a verse that my kids KNOW they could never safely repeat, they are quick to change the station.  

I, on the other hand, am often lost in the moment.  Thinking about the challenges ahead or playing through my head a scenario that I could have handled differently from one of yesterday’s meetings. I tap my fingers to the beat instead.  The lyrics beam past my ears.  

“Long live the pioneers

Rebels and mutineers

Go forth and have no fear

Come close the end is near”

At best I’ll catch the rhyme, but now my feet alternate now with the rhythm.  

“It’s our time to make a move

It’s our time to make amends

It’s our time to break the rules

Let’s begin”

My son pauses and asks, “Dad, what’s a renegade?”

“Huh?  What’s that, son?” I replied.  I looked around, thinking that my son was referring to that new mini-jeep.  

He said, “…the song!  What’s a renegade?”

“And I say hey, hey hey hey

Living like we’re renegades

Hey hey hey

Hey hey hey

Leaving like we’re renegades

Renegades, renegades”

Zoning back to the real world, I formulate the semblance of a response.  “A renegade is…”

Why has my son asked me this?  Was it simply about the song, or was it about more than that?

“…it’s a rebel,” I say, “yeah, a rebel who usually works with a small group of others; to undermine the status quo…” 

“Like you, Dad?”  

I am glad that we’d just slowed to the red traffic light.  “Well, kinda son.  I mean, I don’t always go along with the others, but I know what’s right. I try to do the right thing, even though it gets… complicated.”

“I know, dad.  You don’t always think the rules are right.” 

“Right!  I mean…no!”

What have I been teaching him?  Is he really watching that closely?  Focus. Set a good example.  Offer an analogy…

“Ummm…ok.  It’s like this:  you have to wear a uniform to school, right?”

Eager for me to explain,  “Yeah…” he says.  

“Well, a renegade might refuse.  A renegade might discretely gather a few trusted friends to demonstrate their position against uniforms.”

“The principal might not like that,” my son mumbles.  

“Well, the principal has a job to do too, ” I remind him.  “He has rules to follow, and it’s important that the students have a routine they can follow and a structure to help them develop…”

I lost him. 

“Hey hey hey

Leaving like we’re renegades
Renegades, renegades”

“So you suppose that if I wore the wrong color uniform, and got a bunch of my friends to do the same, we’d be renegades?”  

“You want to have a cause,” I warned.  “Otherwise you’re wasting your time–and everyone else’s.  What’s your purpose in breaking the rule?”   

Silence. 

“I guess I’ll just follow the rules then.”

Crisis averted…I think.  Or is this a conversation that we will revisit (possibly in the principal’s office)?

As we pull up to the school entrance, Dylan hops out of the car, grabs his backpack from the trunk, and hums the song as we walk in together.  We go inside.  He turns to me for our routine departing hug.  I kiss his forehead and whisper, “let’s make good decisions today.”

“Ok, dad.  Love you”

Hey hey hey

Leaving like we’re renegades

Renegades, renegades

Read, Dylan, Read!


I’m looking for innovative ways to get my preteen son to read.  A friend of mine has repeatedly declared that we are living in a  “post-literate society” which suggests that we’ve decided collectively to read less. There have been few truer statements.  Our children don’t read.  Their parents don’t read.  And there’s no resolve in sight.

Our media has been transformed. Print has become digital.  Even homes that used to have shelves lined with books are now filled with Bluerays.  Flea markets sell used DVDs for less than a dollar and VHS tapes go out with the weekly trash.  Digital content is easily obtained and as easily discarded.

You’d think that we’d be using fewer resources to create our info-tainment, but somewhere in Asia there is a wasteland of  unrecycled circuit boards.  And for every 100k gigs of digital content, there’s piles of non-paper waste.

The digital content that was supposed to enhance our lives is consumed, digested, and disposed far quicker than any books ever were.   We used to keep our books as trophies of collected wisdom.  A lifetime of first editions in the most affluent of homes are now replaced with a wall of bluerays and video games.  Those velvet paintings are no longer the masterpieces on the living room wall.  The couch is now on the other side of the room facing that big wall with the 52″ flatscreen television.


Vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and HiFi stereos that were once the source of our musical content have been replaced long ago with MP3 players and streaming content channeled through Bluetooth in every room.

And not a book to be found.

As early as preschool, we are replacing paper storybooks with tablets and digital learning games.  Toddlers in grocery store check out lines are tapping out color coded beeps and bops on a parent’s smart phone. I recall playing video games close and loud enough to trigger kicks and punches from my unborn child inside my wife’s womb.  Fascinating once. Now normal. Digital all the way!


So it really is no surprise that our young people don’t read.  Reading has gone the way of cursive writing.  Penmanship is no longer taught in many schools.  Spelling tests are a things of the past.  And fantastic tales of fictional characters have been replaced with the mandatory informational texts.  The boards of education insist that all these new standards will bolster standardized test scores.   

We are not reading to our kids. We are not reading!

Books in the pediatrician’s waiting room go untouched as juveniles grasp their parents’ (or their own) mobile devices.  Elementary school students more accustomed to sliding their fingers across a glossy screen have little knowledge of the world of paper books.

Local libraries that once offered their internet access as a viable alternative to print or media content can’t keep their doors from closing.   Their discounted books that used to sell for a couple dollars can’t be sold for cents on the dollar.   

Bookstores close–to be replaced with coffee houses with free wifi.  We read, but our content is filled with vibrant and animated images.  No match for a book.

Every aspect of our world is changing.  The way we interact with each other has evolved with social media, YouTube, and Skype.  Even with on-demand cable, the internet side of Netflix and Hulu stream unlimited content. Our smartphones parallel our televisions.  And again, no need for a book.

Owners manuals are digitized.  Maps are now navigation systems, and calculators can be replaced with scanners, apps, and Siri.

The generations to come won’t need to think as hard as their parents.  And yet they’ll rely on their parents to care for them much longer.  Colleges prepare their students for diminishing careers; student loans will likely not be repaid; and graduates will be more skilled in Xbox games, Instagram posts, and waiting skills at the suburban Appleby’s.


Our impatient young readers will develop a temperament to have the world cater to them.  I’m not as concerned with my son Dylan’s unwillingness to read as much as his reduced  desire to develop his mind in the years to come.

Read, Dylan Read!

Single parent (?)

question mark

 

What does it mean to be a single parent in 2016?  As an educator, I have a glimpse of what single parenthood looks like.  As a community leader, I can see the impact that children with multiple parents (from different homes) has on our collective success.  As a divorcee, there’s probably no better way to convey my opinion of what it means to be a single parent.

Our society takes positions on cultural phenomena based on certain perspectives.  We attribute a plethora of problems to the crumbling family values of our nation.  On the surface, it’s easy to look back at a time when households had a sense of normalcy–a time when Mom stayed home all day and kept house, while Dad brought home the bacon.  Crime was down, industry was good, and every household’s needs were met…

So we’ve been led to believe.

But that scenario speaks volumes.  Let’s ask some questions.  Where did these families live?  Of what demographic are we speaking?  Exactly what time period are we referring?

Clearly there are fewer households that can be described this way.  Either the story was told by an extremely conservative perspective or some important facts were left out.  There’s plenty of reasons why the “traditional home” no longer exists.  We have enough information now to suggest the reasons for the “broken home.”  Dad got bored.  Mom felt empowered.  Kids found ways outside the home to grow and develop. With the evolution of the family unit came new ways for our families to grow.  And we did just that!  We grew…out of the home!

I’ve often wondered if “Leave It To Beaver” type families ever truly existed. How would the story have continued?  In the 60’s, would Ward have had an affair with a bohemian beauty and left the family nest to spite his obligatory family?  Let’s have a look at the first time the “Beav” had a bad drug trip.  How long would it have been before the stereotypical TV mom took the lead in the house and did whatever it took to makes ends meet?

Back to reality.  Let’s take some of these question marks and literally turn them on their sides.  What do you get?  In text lingo, it looks more like a winky face. That winky-face haunts me as I think of all the single parents who have lives (and needs) separate from their children.  Traditional two-parent homes OR families who strive to put their children first at all costs sometimes condemn the “single parent.”

“If we can do it, why can’t they?” they criticize.  But it’s that perspective that brings us to an in-pass.

But single parents do “it”all the time.  Single parents are making it work everyday–sometimes through the most unpleasant circumstances.

Single moms are glad to have me (as an educator) in the lives of their children.  I know this because they tell me at every back-to-school night and parent conference.  And they do this without the winky-face.  It’s genuine.  Positive energy is always welcomed.

For many years I discounted the impact that I had as a male role model in the lives of my students.  I didn’t want to believe that I brought something to the table that my female cohorts could not.  It wasn’t until I had a student teacher tell me bluntly that she adamantly believed that men had no place in the classroom.  I was disappointed at her perspective, but respected it nonetheless.  My colleagues overheard the exchange and supported me as I demonstrated the kindness, assertiveness, and positive attitude that I modeled for my students.  My students, their parents, and my fellow educators see the value.  That’s good enough for me.

Little do they know my plight as a single parent has it’s challenges as well. I too rely on others to have positive interactions with my children.  I am glad that those interactions do not rely too heavily on the marital status/gender of their educators, caregivers, or mentors.  I am glad that I am not all that they have.

I noted recently that my role in the community as a “self-proclaimed civil rights leader” has come with a bit of skepticism.  Personally, I can’t quite figure how much longer our community can wait for someone to step up and loudly lead the oppressed to demand equality and impartiality.  We look out to a sea of parents (both single and married) who are concerned about how receiving the world is to their children.  How hard will our children have to work, fight, struggle to achieve levels of success (that may not be attainable when they become adults)?  Do our children suffer more because they are products of single-parent homes?

Plenty believe that our children are disadvantaged because both parents are not always present simultaneously.  Our children are not raising themselves, contrary to popular belief.  As a result, we are witnessing a generation of youth who have become resilient through controversies and tribulations that would have stifled their parents entirely.

This world is changing quickly.  And the evolution is being fueled by single parents.  Some of those parents must compensate for what is missing from the ideal two-parent home.  Other parents (like myself) juggle time between the children and career, while knowing that the other parent has just as many resources (plus child support) to offer our kids.  In theory, shouldn’t these children–my children, your children, our children–have plenty of support to be successful in adulthood?  Shouldn’t they be better off??

But there’s an element here that we might be overlooking.  The element of happiness in the home.  The measure of frustration by either parent that comes from being alone.  When the children are away, on whom can their mom/dad rely on to enjoy their time, their home, their happiness?  The love in a single-parent can not be solely a love between child and parent. Happy parents are essential to emotionally nourished children.

How we as parents find that happiness is as integral to our own development too. Mom needs a partner.  Dad needs a partner.  And although either “can do bad all by themselves”, who wants that?  In the pursuit of happiness, parents seek either to have a bond beyond their children, OR they decide to allow another adult to bond with their children.  These are choices that married couples with children don’t face.

To be a single parent does not mean that a parent is raising their child alone.  It can mean that parents need more than just help raising their children.  It can mean that parents need add components to their own mental health and emotional well-being.   To be single does not mean to be alone.