Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category.

Man Goes on Killing Spree – No One Surprised Except His Victims

Yet another psychopathic murderous rampage becomes a Rorschach Test for the Left or a chance to score cheap political points depending on your point of view as a 22 year old hyphenated American male goes on a rampage. This time a Washington Post film critic is under fire from white males in Hollywood for blaming white male culture in Hollywood for Elliot Rodger’s rampage. A victim’s father has already criticized the NRA, and even an aunt of Rodger living in France told the Daily Telegraph, “He was always a disturbed child. I don’t know how he was allowed to get a gun. Something has to be done about gun laws in America.” No word from aunty on how the 2nd Amendment is to blame for the three men he stabbed to death.

In therapy since the age of 8, Elliot Rodger was a broken human being. In that respect he is no different from any other run-of-the-mill psychopaths who’ve killed their way into the newspaper headlines. But instead of blaming guns, or “white male culture” in Hollywood, or video games, how about blaming Elliot Rodger?

If we can’t do that, then perhaps we should consider other responsible parties. Face it we all know broken human beings of one sort or another. Chances are none of them have done anything even remotely threatening to another human being, and those that have we have a responsibility as a friend and loved one to make sure they receive the care they need. But our responsibility doesn’t stop there. We also have a responsibility to Society at large to protect innocents.

If Elliot Rodger was as screwed up as reports suggest, and given the creepy photography of his dad’s that alone is enough to cause issues, there is no reason why that man should have been allowed to walk free. Decades ago he would have been locked up for his – and Society’s – own good. Clearly no one, including his parents, his therapists and even his aunty in France, was surprised by his outburst. So why wasn’t he institutionalized?

Instead of blaming violent video games or guns, isn’t it time we refocus on the psychopath and the family that supported him? As a parent I sympathize with all the parents shattered by this man’s actions, but I also recognize my own responsibility to both my son and the Society I am part of to make sure the former doesn’t grow into a psychopath that wantonly murders. Roger’s family failed in both responsibilities, and while aunty blames others I hold her at least partly to blame for Roger’s actions.

And we as a society need to rethink our involuntary commitment laws. As a libertarian I am extremely hesitant to give the government this power, but would welcome it in the hands of family members and medical professionals. Current laws make it almost impossible for either to put someone into protective custody, and I’ve experienced this difficulty first hand as my family tried to commit a relative against her will. She’s dead now and luckily she didn’t take anyone out with her, but there’s a very good chance she would be alive today had we had the ability to keep her off the streets.

It seems that we’re passed the days of John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer types who surprised their neighbors with their depravity. Instead we have people we clearly recognize as threats to themselves and others, but current laws make it all but impossible to confine them to mental hospitals where they can get the care they need while protecting society from their demons. If we want to learn any lessons from Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, we can start with that.

Update: Police were evidently aware of Roger’s disturbing Youtube videos when they conducted a welfare check on him.

Prom Night Thoughts

Here’s something to add to the list of things no one has ever said, “Parenting sure is easy.” It never ceases to amaze me when I look at families and see children being reared in the same environment by the same people who turn out so different. My family was like that, as was the wife’s. And though I believe I have been a bad father in many ways, the Kid stretches his wings and catches the sunlight and I see glints of the man he can become as he dons his prom night tuxedo. It almost seems that my failures as a father don’t really matter, that if I replayed the tape and re-did my role knowing what I know now, things would not be all that different for the Kid. And for that I’m grateful.

Peter Lanza was not as lucky as I was. His son transformed into the monster that murdered children and their teachers at Sandy Hook. The New Yorker has a well-written article about the father of the monster, and even with 20-20 hindsight there is nothing that I find that I can condemn him for. Sure he made mistakes. He worked too much and pretty much left his ex-wife to manage their son’s brief, imploding life. Yet the same two people raised an older son successfully, and much of what both he and his ex-wife did others have done with varying degrees of success. Adam Lanza didn’t have the tormented childhood that other psychopaths have. No, his demons were all built into him, born with him.

His father states calmly that he wishes Adam had never been born. That is what we as human beings need him to say to prove that he is one of us, but for a father to say and mean it is itself a tragedy. I truly pity him, his ex-wife and their surviving son. It’s almost as if there are two dice throws when a child is born: one for the child and one for the parents. A child may achieve greatness or infamy regardless of his upbringing, while parents may be the best or worst and still raise high-achieving children regardless.

Perhaps these are the lies a poor father tells himself when he looks at his grown son and realizes that there’s no way to fix the mistakes, that all the time that laid ahead to remedy them has gone, evaporating into the air like a hot breath on a cold windless night.

 

 

Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

26. (For IT professionals). Learn New Programs/Tools Quickly. Every program or software tool has a unique logic to it. The only way to discover that logic is to use the program as much as possible. You can start by reading the manual, a Dummies book or similar guide, or even reviewing YouTube videos but nothing beats actually using the tool or program as much as you can. What I like to do when I pick up a new program is where the dragons be. These are the places where you’re guaranteed to break something. Learn whee it is then avoid that area. The more intrepid make a beeline for those places and claim they can learn a program or tool much faster by working on the edge. In my view this is selfish when dealing with a distributed tool on a network, so keep to the safe areas unless you are working on your own copy on your own machine. Not only will this skill enhance your earnings potential, but each tool you learn makes others that much easier to learn and the more tools and experience you have, the more important you become in your realm.

 

Life Lesson in 17 Minutes

A chat session between the Kid and me this morning.


8:32 am Kid: High school is in lockdown, teacher said this wasn’t planned. Probably just a drill though, don’t worry.


8:33 am Me: Are the doors locked?


8:37 am Kid: Yes


8:37 am Me: Are you near a window you can escape through?


8:39 am Kid: We’re in the corner but I can get out the window. I’m on the floor where the roof is right outside. I could get through the window and jump down to the patio area.


8:39 am Me: Ok, so you have an escape plan.  Good. Any unusual sounds?


8:41 am Kid: Drill sign hasn’t been given like it’s supposed to during a drill. And it’s been a bit long.


8:42 am Me: How is the teacher reacting?


8:44 am Kid: She’s actually pretty scared. I’m calm though. She said it could be a threatening parent in the office.


8:45 am Me: Does the door have a window in it? Is it possible to break the window and reach in to unlock the door?


8:49 am Kid: Door can be opened from the inside. All clear sign given. No one knew about this. Cops are here.


8:50 am Me: Good job keeping a cool head.


8:50 am Kid: They said it was a realistic drill. 5 cops with cars outside.


8:52 am Me: Always keep a cool head. First thing is to breath deeply to stay calm. Second thing is to figure out your escape route. You did both. Excellent job son.


9:01 am. Kid: Thanks dad.


What he doesn’t know is that at 8:45 I called the police department. No one answered. He also doesn’t know how close I was to heading to the school but I kept a cool head too.


I’m reminded of the Kipling poem, “If”


If…

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—-and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—-which is more—-you’ll be a Man, my son!
—Rudyard Kipling

Free Justina Pelletier

A family from Boston decides to take a trip across the country for a vacation. While in Nebraska their 16 year old son falls ill and is taken to an emergency room. While there a doctor notices that the son is homosexual. When confronted with this news the parents admit that yes, their son is openly gay. What the parents don’t know is that in Nebraska, homosexuality is viewed as a disease that can be cured through behavior modification techniques. The doctor suggests enrolling him in a program to treat his homosexuality. The family refuses. The state’s department of children’s services is called in. By withholding this therapy from their son, the state alleges the parents are abusing their child. The state removes him from their care, slaps a gag order on the family preventing them from discussing the situation with the Press. Later the child is placed in foster care while he undergoes aversion treatment for his homosexuality.

Sound crazy? Well this situation is actually happening to a family, except it’s not in the Midwest, it’s in the liberal Northeast. And the child isn’t gay. She has Mitochondrial Disease – a disease recognized in Europe and the United States with the exception of backwaters like Boston’s Children’s Hospital. In January 2013 she was a happy figure skater. The next month she fell ill while in Massachusetts and was taken to Children’s Hospital where a newly minted doctor denied the existence of Mitochondrial Disease and called in Children’s Services believing the parents were abusing their daughter by treating her for the condition. The State swept in, took the daughter into their care, and have limited her family to only brief supervised visits. They have forced the child psychiatric therapy of dubious scientific validity with disastrous consequences. Just over a year later the girl can’t walk anymore and is stuck in a wheelchair.

Stop for a moment and consider: The family was not refusing medical treatment. In this case the State of Massachusetts is the one refusing medical treatment. When I first saw the headline I thought that maybe they were pulling a Christian Scientist/Jehovah Witness stunt by refusing to allow medical treatment of their daughter. This is not the case with the Pelletiers, who have had several children with the disease, and whose daughter Justina was undergoing treatment at nearby Tufts University. Is Tufts some medieval institution that uses barbaric treatments on its patients? If so, then the Cleveland Clinic is guilty as well. In fact it’s more difficult to find an institution that views the disease as in the patient’s head as Children’s Hospital in Boston apparently does.

This story has been making the rounds of the right wing and libertarian blogospheres but it is also beginning to pop up on the left wing as well as this HuffPo article proves. The more I read I keep thinking there’s got to be more to the story, that something this heinous cannot happen in a modern society. A State refusing medical treatment, especially one supposedly as “progressive” as Massachusetts? This story resonates with people on the Right who are naturally shy of government intervention especially when it comes to family life. For us it’s just one more step towards state control of every detail of our personal lives. But this argument usually arises when a parent refuses a life-saving medical treatment for their child, not when the State is barring the treatment. It should also raise alarm on the Left as well, since the State’s behavior – taking a child away from her family and forcing her to undergo psychiatric therapy – is a reminder of the mental health abuses the Left attacked during the 1960’s and 1970’s that appeared in the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

It’s also yet another instance of the State telling a woman what to do with her body. I’m sure if Justina wanted to have an abortion she would be free to decide what to do with her body. So why can’t she have the same freedom to choose another treatment?

It simply does not make any sense from any perspective. The only solution is to Free Justina Now.

 

Bullying Has Far Reaching Consequences

In seventh grade, I got quite sick with a rather serious case of strep throat leaving me bedridden for about two weeks. I had lost my father two years before, my mother’s sister was killed crossing the street near her home a few months after that, my sister’s fiancee died in a car accident, my favorite sister lost a child during birth, and two months later my niece with Down’s Syndrome, so special to me in ways that bring a tear to the eye just thinking about her now, would die on the operating table. Needless to say I wasn’t the most emotionally stable 13 year old. When I returned to school, I noticed immediately something was wrong. As I climbed the stairs kids were looking away from me, not catching my eye. As I reached the top of the stairs and opened the double doors several boys met me. “Welcome back Kirwin,” one said, then sucker punched me in the face. I fell backward through the doors onto my back.

Before I had gotten sick I had written a list of 10 people I didn’t like called my “Sh*t List”. This list contained the names of popular boys, jocks who called me names during recess and boys who pushed me around in gym – guys I didn’t like. I remember I added the last name, a boy I didn’t have any trouble with but who hung with the guys I didn’t like, simply because I needed to round up the list to 10. I don’t know why I did it, and it wasn’t the last time my writing would lead to trouble. I made the mistake of telling my best friends about this list that I kept in my desk (another mistake), and one of them, a transfer from another Catholic school, decided to take it out of my desk and betray me to those on the list in order to score points with the popular kids.

The last two years at that school were hell for me because of that list and the betrayal. I lost all my friends at school and was shunned by everyone. I remember standing alone in the corner of the playground playing a mental game with the digital clock at a bank across the street, seeing if I could judge when the minutes would change simply through feel without counting, desperate for recess to be over. Outside school my best friends including my personal Judas would hang out with me, but at school I was alone. For the rest of my tenure there I was at the bottom of the social ladder. Those wishing to climb it would push me around to appear tough, boosting their appeal with those at the top. To the girls of the class I was a non-entity, a weakling of no consequence.

My mother was devastated by the same losses I was going through, and she tried everything. We spoke to my teachers, the principal and the pastor. None could offer much help. The principal suggested I could transfer to another school, but then followed up the suggestion with the observation that the bullying and ostracism would follow me there. When my Judas gave me the nickname of the Italian slang word for “penis”, and all the kids in the class started calling me that, my mother suggested I call him the Gaelic word for outhouse. Nice try mom.

The only thing she didn’t try and which I was too scared to do at the time was encourage me to fight back.

Being bullied changed my life. It pushed me onto a deeply destructive path throughout my teens and twenties that finally culminated 13 years ago in the choice of sobriety or a life alone in the gutter. Before the bullying I was a stellar student taking advanced math classes dreaming of a life in Academia. Afterward all I cared about was Oblivion, doing almost anything to achieve it. My grades cratered. I sought the extremes of subcultures and the solace of artists and the drugs and alcohol they called their muses.  I suffered flashbacks, waking up with the faces of my 13 year old tormentors in my twenty-something year old mind. It took years of bitter experience, counseling and therapy to finally let go of the anger, the hatred of my tormentors, and the loss of my childhood brought about through Fate and the brutality of children.

With the birth of my son I put my personal experience to work. When he came crying to me about being bullied, I comforted him but I also told him, “Next time, fight back.” As he progressed through school I realized that fighting back against bullies was being discouraged. Teachers and school administrators would punish both children for fighting, refusing to make the effort to determine who was right and wrong, who was the victim and who was the victimizer. I learned an important lesson about public school systems: they always follow the path of least resistance and especially the path of least effort. If a fight broke out they had to have authorities who were nearby and paying attention to what the kids were doing. It’s far easier to not expend the effort to be vigilant and be alerted to a fight after one has started then simply punish both sides.

Imagine cops being called to a domestic violence situation and arresting both aggressor and victim because they didn’t want to take the time to investigate what happened, deciding it’s easier to throw both in jail. Will this deter the batterer next time? No but it will deter the victim from screaming too loud and alerting the authorities.

This is a terrible lesson to teach kids.

What prompted this little bit of soul exposure on the Internet? Bookworm Room’s post, Schools and parents who teach children to become chum for bullies. Bookworm writes, “I cannot believe that a mother told her child to be a punching bag for bullies.  Moreover, I cannot believe that a mother told this to her girl child. One of the primary lessons women learn in every self-defense class is this:  if you fight back against someone who is assaulting you, you are likely to suffer physical injuries, but you are also much less likely than the passive victim to be raped or killed.”

In adolescence I told my son, “Don’t worry about the School. I’ll take care of them. You just make sure that if you can’t avoid a fight, you inflict as much pain on your tormentor as possible.” I knew this from experience. A busted lip will disappear in days; shame lasts a lifetime.

Bookworm agrees:

 

Ever since my kids hit school, I’ve given them a single message: Never be the one to start a fight but, if someone else starts the fight, you make sure to end it. And don’t worry about the school’s subsequent response. If you had to use physical force to defend yourself, and if the school attempts to punish you, I will take the school on if I have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. I’ve never had to make good on this promise, since no one has ever physically attacked my kids. I suspect that, with my instruction ringing in their ears, they don’t walk around like shark bait.

 

I made the Kid a promise. If he gets in trouble for defending himself he has nothing to fear. I would hire lawyers to turn his principal into a Cinco de Mayo pinata in court. I would own the trailers his bullies called “home,”  have them moved to our property, set them on fire and roast s’mores in the flames. I’ve backed this up with personal appearances at the principal’s office whenever there was a whiff of trouble. He knows I have his back even when I’m not there, and that confidence itself has deterred trouble. Bullies smell weakness like sharks smell chum. The personal losses I suffered between 1977-1980 weakened me. Had Fate been kinder I suspect I would not have become a target and suffered such life-changing torment.

But the lessons of standing up to bullies go far beyond the school yard. My experience has made me extremely suspicious of authority, whether small town cops, multi-national companies or the Federal Government. It has driven me to stand up to bad bosses and quit jobs rather than suffer torment in the workplace. When a company pisses me off I will fire off letters or even go to court. Neighbors have tried bullying me and received letters from attorneys then been forced to reimburse me for my trouble.

Bookworm Room writes, “I always back up this instruction to my kids by telling them that, had Jews not been conditioned by centuries of oppression to avoid arms, put their heads down, and try to appease authorities, its likely that the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened.  Please understand that I’m not blaming those victims.  First, no one could ever have imagined what the Germans intended to do.  Second, the Jews’ behavior wasn’t a conscious decision.  It was the result of a thousand years of conditioning.  Israel, thankfully, while not blaming the victims, nevertheless learned the lesson.  Like my children, Israel won’t start a fight, but she will finish it.”

We should be teaching our children to fight back and not be victims. Bullies don’t disappear at age 20; they will always be with us so learning how to confront them should be taught as a life skill in our schools.

Family Matters

My elderly mother waits for a bed in a hospital hallway, an oxygen line in her nose, and her 92 year old body racked with fever. “I don’t know why the good Lord won’t take me,” she sighs to my older sister and her husband. My sister had to call in sick from her teaching job because she and her husband were awakened in the middle of the night by my mother’s frightened calls from her bedroom where she has lived for the past 8 years. “Men are banging on my head,” she shouted, the fever causing hallucinations as well as headaches. Another trip to the ER, another long wait for a medicare hospital bed, looking at cell phone screens and tattered magazine covers of healthy, young celebrities as the minutes slip into hours and the sunlight waxes then wanes in the window at the end of the hallway. My sister dials my number.

Seeing her number on my screen I immediately steel myself for the worst, as if such a thing is possible. Is mom gone I wonder as I fumble with my new smart phone, presenting me with multitude of choices (“Ignore call? Send a text? Shop for phones at Amazon.com? Decide quick because I’ll cut over to voice mail in 3, 2, 1.  Swipe right to answer?” Seriously?) I answer her call. “We’re at the hospital,” my sister begins, and explains mom’s latest scare. She’s tired, weary from seemingly endless trips like this that turn her day upside down. I hear it in her voice, and have learned to simply let her talk. “Mom told me to call you,” she said.  “I haven’t told anybody else.”

I’m about 1000 miles away in a different time zone. The others, three other sisters and a brother, all live within 20 minutes of the hospital yet I am the one called first.

At the age of 16 I saw my future, and I rebelled against it. As the youngest of six children I had gone from the earliest memories of family gatherings with everyone in attendance, through the death of my father to spending Christmas Eve at one sister’s household, then Christmas Day visiting another’s, ending with dinner at my brother’s house. When one sister needed help, my mother expected me to help. Baby sitting. Grass cutting. House repairs. I became my mother’s agent in her effort to keep her family together. At the same time I saw my mother’s love for me had no boundaries. She would do anything for me, at any time, and this scared me to death.

At 18 I moved to Chicago. Ten months later my mother drove all night and rescued me from an abusive relationship, bringing me to safety back home. A few years later I embarrassed myself and she was there, picking me up and cleaning up my mess.  At age 21 I tried again and have been gone since. I had to leave because I knew that if I ever got in a jam, she would get me out of it. I had to fail on my own. I had to clean up my own mistakes, not rely upon my mother to do the dirty job for me. I knew if I stayed I would never be strong enough to resist her seemingly boundless love. The temptation would be too strong to take advantage of her. Escape was my only option, and I took it.

First it was to California, then it was on to Japan. Then it was to Africa. She went an entire year without hearing my voice, receiving only the occasional letter regaling her of my adventures in the Bush. Then it was back to Japan and phone calls that were brief and infrequent. I had the excuse that they were expensive and she accepted it graciously, pleased just to be hearing from me. I told her about the Japanese and the strange food. She told me about the latest birth of a great-grandchild.

Then back to the United States with my own little family, but bypassing St. Louis to live 900 miles away among the Wife’s family in Delaware. Even though I lived closer to her, the calls were still infrequent, and the visits were only a few days once a year. Her health declined and she ended up living with my sister “Just until I recover,” she said. That was eight years ago, and one of my nephews now lives in her home. She’ll never go back. There are too many stairs and no friends or family nearby, the neighborhood now filled with refugees from Bosnia who speak poor English. They are decent people but the neighborhood that my mother knew in the 1970s and 1980s is gone.

I have learned that guilt is inescapable, and as I have aged I no longer run from it. I still only visit once a year but now I call twice weekly. I tell her about my chickens and my dogs, and she tells me about the deer my brother-in-law feeds in their backyard. When she’s sharp we talk about family history; when she’s not I listen to her tell me about her chronic back pain and her health.

My sister tells me that she has tried convincing my brother to stay at her house the three days she and her husband have to go to attend their son’s wedding in West Virginia in December. “He says he’ll think about it,” she spits. I’ve told her that a nearby nursing home can provide a short stay for our mother while she’s gone, but it’s clearly a last resort. Our eldest sister has to care for her husband who has been incapacitated by a stroke for 9 years. Another sister has the responsibility of caring for her grown son with Downs Syndrome. That leaves my brother and my second sister.

As the family genealogist whenever I visited my mother I came with a small video camera and recorded her talking about the past. My brother’s heart condition and my second sister’s rebellion against the family cover everything like shadows. I ask my mother what she was doing when she heard JFK was assassinated, and she frames her answer in the context or my brother’s illness. “It was November and he always tended to get sick that time of year,” she said on video taken two years ago. Of the hours of recordings I have taken over the past five years nearly half touch upon in some way the trouble my parents had with my sister and my brother’s heart condition. In 1966 he received open heart surgery, but that didn’t end the trouble. After that he constantly fought with my father, forcing my mother into the role of peacemaker or at the very least, peacekeeper. They hadn’t spoken to each other for at least a year when our father died a decade later. “It’s a terrible burden he has to live with,” my mother once said. And he bears it very well, I remember thinking at the time, having had a successful career in the Defense Department, married with three children.

This past Summer my mother ended up having a stroke and was in recovery at a local nursing home. I flew in to St. Louis with my son, and I spent as much time as I could manage with her. My brother found out I was in town and wanted me to come to his house or meet somewhere for dinner. I suggested he come to visit us at the nursing home. After several calls and messages back and forth he ended up visiting the nursing home, spending 15 minutes speaking to my son at the foot of our mother’s bed, before going back to “work” – a job he took after retiring from the government with a gold-plated retirement package. He also spends hours during the week at the hospital where he had his heart surgery, volunteering and tending the families with children in similar straights as ours was 50 years ago. I’ve heard he’s well liked and appreciated by the families there. I’m sure he is.

Then there’s the second sister. She married well, and turned her back on her family early on. She had two children, both of whom have also married well, and several grandchildren as far as I know. I haven’t seen any of them in nearly 20 years. She spends her time volunteering at a nursing home, where I also hear the patients love her. She never visited our mother during her eight week stay in the nursing home just 15 minutes away from her house.

The irony isn’t lost on my sister, as I listen to her cry her frustrations over the phone. There is nothing I can offer, not even “She’ll reap what she sows,” because honestly my second sister has lived a charmed life. She turned her back on her family, has made my mother cry countless times, and has suffered no consequences. From what I’ve been told my mother even took a beating or two from our father over her. No karmatic backlash for my sister’s behavior, nothing like “just desserts” or anything. Instead she has prospered and apparently succeeded beyond her wildest teenage dreams.

The call ends with “I’ll keep you updated throughout the day. Love you,” from my sister. She’s the one I used to point to the sky and say her name whenever an airplane flew overhead because she was a TWA stewardess. While the memories of my childhood aren’t the best, the good ones usually involve her. The trips to IHop with her and her boyfriend, the 45 singles of bands she thought I’d like, the birthday cards with more exclamation points and underlines than words. She is my “special sister” and has become all the more so because of the sacrifice she has made for our mother decades later.

It’s only occurred to me recently that my mother’s only failure as a parent was raising selfish children. These have gone on to raise even more selfish grandchildren. I hope that when her life comes to an end whether today or tomorrow or sometime in the future that she never realizes that. It would break her heart, and she has known too much of that in her lifetime.

I suspect that instead she will hear my beloved niece shout “Nana!” as she envelopes in her a warm embrace, my father, her siblings and her parents looking on, and she won’t care about our selfishness. Because of her sacrifice we, her children, have all turned out well. And that’s all she ever wanted. It will be our duty as her children to make our peace with that.

PBS Frontline: League of Denial Seals The Deal For This NFL Fan

I love American football. As a kid I loved playing pick-up games of it in our suburban backyards and touch versions in the street. Our city was cursed with the St. Louis Football Cardinals who eventually took their stinking-on-ice team to Arizona where they still suck, and most of my friends were from outside the area so I took to supporting their teams. My friend Ron H. was from Philadelphia, so I started rooting for the Eagles. But this was the era of the Steel Curtain, so I found myself cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers as well. In fact I liked almost all the football teams except for my hometown disappointments.

After my bohemian period during which I thought American football was jejune and bourgeois, I had fallen in love with a woman who rekindled my interest in the Philadelphia Eagles after we moved into the area. I’ve rarely written about the sport because I have nothing to say beyond the usual “Go Birds” and the attendant “Cowboys Suck!” that comes with being a Philly fan. After moving south of the Mason Dixon, I have paid hundreds of dollars to watch the Eagles and other NFL teams play on DirecTV every season.

But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.

I love the sheer athleticism on display. I revel in the impossible plays just like any other fan. And yes these men are paid millions to destroy their bodies, but does the lucre they are paid free us fans from guilt? We are being entertained by men damaging their bodies in ways we would not do ourselves, or allow our children to do. I didn’t let my son play football even when he expressed interest in the sport. At the time I was more worried about a broken neck or ruined knees. That was before CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that destroys the brain and is specific to the sports boxing and football. Soccer players don’t exhibit it, nor do baseball players or lacrosse players. CTE does not wait until players are in their 70s or 80s to exhibit signs; it has been found in the brain of an 18 year old football player.

I am no nanny. If you want to kill yourself with drugs or whatever, fine – do so just not in front of me because I have a conscience and I will intervene to stop you. That is the way I was raised. For the past few years my conscience has been stirring when I watch American football, and seeing this program on PBS pretty much seals the deal. The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.

Many of my friends have turned to European football known as soccer here in the States, and while watching the game seems about as exciting as watching a cat lick itself, at least I can watch it without my conscience stirring.

Perhaps technology can someday come to the rescue. Imagine: no penalties, no guilt, and as violent as we can make it. We could watch a true Steel Curtain descend on the opposing robot team and pulverize them, sending bits of plastic, steel and oil flying. Then, and only then will I be ready for some football.

Stupid Things

The text message came soon after the Wife arrived at work. One of her patients, a 17 year old boy, was in the ICU of a large hospital in a nearby city. She would be late tonight since she was going to make the hour long trip into the city to visit him. Details were scant. He had been in a dirt bike accident with injuries severe enough to warrant being airlifted from his rural home to the city. He is a good kid, right around the age of our child who happens to own a dirt bike.

The typical reaction to such stories is to blame the victim for his (and it’s invariably a “he”) stupid actions that resulted in the accident. But who hasn’t done stupid things as a 17 year old? And whose 17 year old has never done stupid things? Stupid things are what our children do, and most of the time they get away with it.

But sometimes they don’t and when they don’t very bad consequences follow. Nightmarish consequences for us parents.

The dinner will be cold when the Wife returns, and that’s okay. Better for her to share some warmth with her patient and his parents right now. She’s a doctor; it’s what she does.
———————————
She arrived at the hospital to the clipped sounds of a helicopter arriving, and by the time she made it to the ICU only a minute remained for visiting hours. She explained she was the boy’s* doctor, and apologized for arriving so late. The nurse smiled and led her down the hall to his room. She explained that over the weekend there had been six motorcycle accidents, six mangled bodies that had arrived along with the boy’s. Only two others besides him remained alive. His prognosis, she asked?  Several surgeries ahead of him. Worst of all likely paralysis.

She walked into the room and the first thing she noticed was her name on boy’s vitals monitor as his primary care physician. Pasted on the monitor was a Fox sticker, a brand of popular off-road clothing and accessories. Then her eyes fell upon her patient, and the lump where his left leg should have laid under the covers was flat. The rest of his body was swathed in various casts with leads and tubes dropping from his body. From beneath it all he smiled and said, “Ah, it’s my doctor.”

His grandmother stood up and welcomed the Wife into the room. She was a stern, strong looking woman who like many men and women her age had been forced to raise not just one but two generations of children. She explained the accident. The boy’s father had given him the bike years ago as a Christmas present, and as he had gotten older he had begun taking it on the road. He knew that dirt bikes were not made for the road. The knobbed tires were made to grip the sides of muddy hills but provided little traction on asphalt. But he had done it so many times that he had lost the sense of danger, giving him a false sense of safety. Early on a foggy weekend morning he took the dirt bike on the road as he had done many times before. This being haying season, large tractors are often found on roads throughout the day, moving from farm to farm to cut, spread and bale the hay eaten by the livestock in the state. By the time Brian saw the tractor it was too late. The bike slid out from under him but caught his left leg, flipping several times before dragging him under the tractor. The shaken farmer called 911.

The wife made small talk with her patient. They talked about how things, and she asked him how much he knew about his condition. He knew it was bad but like a typical 17 year old he knew he would come of it okay. He talked about getting back to school, seeing his friends, who already had begun to appear at his bedside, making the long trip from town. He had a future, and he was going to meet it. She said she’d check in on him in a few days, and left his bedside to speak to his grandmother in the hallway.

The grandmother was not as confident about her grandson’s future. Unlike him she knew what lay ahead, and so did the Wife. She began to cry, and so did the Wife. She is a mother after all too.

She left to the sound of chopper blades landing on the building rising above her, bringing more broken people, mangled dreams, and tears. Would the boy overcome the consequences of his stupidity? She had seen it happen before and would likely see it again. She kept that thought with her as she made the long journey home.

 

*Names and other identifying features and events have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Elementary School Math

There’s a neighborhood K-5 public school in the middle class suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. This school employs 18 teachers and 3 full time teacher’s assistants. It also has a staff of 2 full time special education teachers to help integrate special needs children with everything from autism to Down’s Syndrome into classes. So the 300 students who attend the school will be taught by 20 full time teachers and 3 teachers assistants.

This school also employs a librarian, a social worker, a guidance counselor, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist,  an assistant principal and a principal. I have ties that I still wear that are older than the principal who makes $130k a year, and the assistant principal probably makes $20k less.

Assume for a minute that all the teachers make the same, ignoring that there is some variation due to experience, skill-set and gender, but the teacher’s assistants make only minimum wage so we’ll ignore them for now. Let’s make the teacher salary a unit called “teacher“.

With some variation the librarian, a social worker, guidance counselor, occupational therapist, and speech therapist all make the same; assume each makes the same as a teacher, so that’s 5 teachers. The principal’s salary is the equivalent of more than two teachers salaries but the assistant principal’s salary equals less than two teachers salaries, so they balance out to two teachers each, making 4 teachers.

There are also four child psychologists based at this school. These psychologists do spend time at other schools, but those schools also have their own psychologists, some of whom visit this neighborhood K-5 public school. These psychologists are all Ph. Ds with each earning about 1.5 teachers  for a total of 6 teachers.

I’m sure non-teaching professionals provide some value to students, but it’s impossible to determine exactly what since there is no external pressure on these jobs. When budget cuts threaten, the principal doesn’t lose her job the music teacher does. One might think the vaunted teachers’ union that is such the bugaboo of the Right would protect the teachers from such cuts, but they don’t because the union leadership swaps out with school administrators in the district, so they don’t rock the boat because they don’t want to lose these positions when they come open. And although I personally love libraries, I recognize I love the idea of libraries. I devour books the way anacondas devour unlucky villagers, but I haven’t bought a book printed on paper in several years. More importantly, I haven’t used a library as a general reference resource in over a generation. Don’t get me wrong, as a genealogist libraries are crucial, but  few K-5 kids are pouring over baptismal records on microfilm from 150 years ago. If the school employs a librarian, does it also employ a blacksmith and cooper? If not, why not?

So we have 20 teachers that actually teach, and 15 teachers who don’t. Out of the 35 teachers the taxpayers of this community pays for it only receives 20 teachers, a loss of more than 42%. And that doesn’t even count the overhead of the school district, a vast sprawling enterprise that consumes a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer revenue each year serving 22,000 students.

That’s $11,364 per student. The school also has a teacher-student ratio of 1:15, yet no teacher earns the $170k that ratio would suggest but the superintendent earns much more than that himself. In terms of actual pay the teacher-student ratio should be 1:5. Why is it three times higher?

While the school’s teacher-student ratio is publicized, what is the school administrator-teacher ratio? I understand that some support personnel are needed for teachers and students, but what keeps this school district from hiring too many, and if the system becomes top heavy with administrators, how does the district rebalance this teacher-administrator balance? What prevents a school district from demanding hire property taxes then using that money to hire a “self-esteem co-ordinator“, another school psychologist or perhaps a pay raise for the superintendent?

In the private sector when a company’s middle management gets too big it is reorganized and people are fired. This pressure comes from shareholders who vote with their money; when the firm is doing well it is assumed to be well run and the stock rises. When a firm does poorly shareholders assume it’s not well run and drive the price down resulting in restructuring and layoffs. When a firm is poorly managed it usually becomes a takeover target the way a wounded seal becomes a meal for a shark.

There is no pressure like this in public education (or medicine – which is a future topic), so how can the taxpayers make a school run efficiently, guaranteeing that their money is used to educate children instead of paying for Caribbean vacations for principals and their spouses?

One of the elite private K-6 elementary schools in St. Louis costs $15,822. That’s less than a $4,500 difference with much better results and a teacher-student ratio of only 1:7. Part of this difference could be made up by disbanding the US Department of Education and applying it’s $70 billion yearly budget to students in the form of a voucher. More savings could come from disbanding Missouri’s educational department. It’s difficult to calculate what that savings would be because some of the State’s money helps fund individual school districts, but for argument’s sake let’s assume that the savings cut the $4,500 difference down to $3,000.  Would it be too much to ask parents to come up with $3k a year to pay for their own child’s education?

$3,000 is $250 a month. That’s a lot in some households, but somehow these same households manage to have cell phone service, cable, high speed internet, and various tattoos and piercings some of which cost thousands of dollars each. “That which is free is abused,” is one of Life’s great truisms, and forcing parents to pay for their children’s education, in the same way that Obamacare compels people to spend money on health insurance, makes them take a personal stake in their child’s education, one of the great problems all teachers face today. As for parents who have more than one child, most private schools offer discounts for multiple enrollments, and besides, why should the rest of Society pay for someone’s personal choice to have a large family? I own a large plot of land by choice, and I pay for that through higher property taxes and a bigger mortgage. I do not expect any type of relief from Society even though I am protecting the land from development and providing a sanctuary for wildlife on an important watershed in America’s Southeast. Now that I think of it, perhaps I should…

It’s a Boy!

The Tide Has Changed – Men’s Portrayals in Commercials

While waiting for a video to start at YouTube I was subjected to an ad that I couldn’t escape. Normally when forced in such a situation I open another browser window and minimize the window running the advertisement until it’s over, but something immediately caught my eye in this commercial so I kept watching it. I quickly realized I was watching History being made. Here’s the ad:

 

For decades Madison Avenue has treated men as buffoons in the laundry room and the kitchen, barely able to put two words together in a sentence without their wive’s condescending help. It’s as if advertising agencies are stuck in the 1970s while the rest of America has moved on.

In my household I do all of the cooking and most of the housework. I also did most of the laundry until I passed the task onto my teenage son when I got tired of doing midweek loads so that he could wear his favorite shirt twice in one week. And I happen to be extremely brand loyal to only a handful of products, and Tide happens to be one of those brands. I don’t think I’ve used another laundry detergent since returning to the States from abroad 16 years ago.

I’ve spoken to other men who have taken on what has been traditionally considered “woman’s work” for a variety of reasons. Some like me have done so because their wives work longer hours. Others do it because they like the independence that comes with keeping a household functioning. Still others, including myself, view it as yet another expression of a man’s mastery of his world. If I can replace the heating element of the clothes dryer, why shouldn’t I be able to properly launder the clothes that go into the appliance?

In the YouTube comments a commentator sees this advertisement as the continued feminization of men, but I don’t see it that way at all. I see a father sharing the joy of raising a child and building a bond with her that will last a lifetime and embodying the qualities of fatherhood. I see a man showing the masculine trait of being comfortable within his own skin and not worrying about what others think. I see a man who by extending the definition of manly to include what was once considered the domain of women underscores the independent spirit laying at the heart of what it means to be a man.

Being a man doesn’t mean taking on a role which has traditionally defined the sex; it means extending that role into new areas of living that prove the creative and positive nature of masculinity to women and to the boys who look up to them asking themselves what being a man in the 21st century means. It’s not switching gender roles with women but moving our identity to encompass new ground, and doing so quietly, with humility and confidence.

Yes it’s just a commercial, but its presentation was so different that not only did it keep me watching it in amazement, but served to give me hope that while men have been devalued and derided so often and for so long, perhaps attitudes are beginning to change. I’m cynical enough to not hold my breath, and in the meantime I’ve got to move a load of laundry into the dryer.

To The Father of The Girl I Drove Behind on a Rural Highway in the Rain

I was in the mood for stir-fry and decided to hit the local food market that seems to have everything you need even though the store itself is tiny, and I wasn’t going to let a heavy rain stop me from getting some fresh vegetables. On my way to the market I turned on a rural highway that runs quite straight between a secondary road and a small town where the market is. The rain was pretty steady, and even though I often take that straight-away at least twice a day and rarely drive the speed limit, the rain makes the road slick, and there is quite a bit of on-coming traffic because it is one of the main thoroughfares through the county.

Ahead of me the driver caught my eye because the road is straight yet the car weaved into the oncoming lane. At first I figured he or she was avoiding a puddle or a down tree branch, but then he did it again, and again. I’d come upon the wet tire tracks and they were clearly as much as half-way into the on-coming traffic lane.  The car was a late-90’s model Nissan, tan with a faded butterfly sticker in the center of the back window. I began to pay closer attention but I continued to make excuses. Perhaps she (because what man, at least in rural North Carolina drives with a butterfly sticker on his car) wasn’t paying attention because there was no on-coming traffic at the time, but that theory was blown when she stayed in the opposite lane while a black truck appeared at the top of the hill. I sped up and flashed my lights at her and the truck, hoping that either one of them would respond and avoid a collision. She swerved back into her lane a few instants before coming upon the truck, and I was pissed.

On this very rural two-lane highway my elderly neighbor lost her daughter in a head-on crash 15 years ago. Rural roads like this, two lane highways with only a double yellow line separating drivers moving 55-75 mph in opposite directions, are some of the most dangerous roads in America, and why rural driving is responsible for more fatalities than city or suburban driving. As the parent of a 16 year old in a rural area I am perhaps a bit more sensitive than others when it comes to the topic, but fear is only a problem when it’s unwarranted.

I sped up and hoped that I could at least get her license number, but I couldn’t safely catch up to her and see through the rain. As we approached the small town the speed limit drops in 10 mph increments until it’s 35 mph at the edge where a gas station and the food market sit, but she ignored the speed drops continuing on in the rain at 60+ mph, swerving several times along the way. The local police often hang out at the gas station, but of course today they didn’t, so her flying past it at 25 mph above the speed limit went on noticed by the Law. So much for also cornering her and confronting her personally if she pulled into the gas station or the market.

I debated calling 911. I’ve done so in the past but usually in places and at times when the police are more of a presence. Sunday afternoon in a small town in the rain with no license number nor a good description of the vehicle other than a butterfly sticker isn’t going to likely lead to her being pulled over. Thankfully someone pulled in front of her and at least made her slow down as she headed into the center of town, and so I pulled into the food market feeling frustrated and not very hungry anymore.

I don’t think she was drunk; drunk drivers usually don’t veer towards one particular side of a lane the way she did, but instead drift from side to side as likely to run onto the shoulder as cross the center line. She was too far ahead of me to see exactly what she was doing but I suspect that she was texting, looking down at her phone then looking up and jerking the wheel and over-steering. Even if I had confronted her in the parking lot I doubt I’d have done much good. I’m a middle-aged bald guy, making it impossible to leave any impression on people half my age or less. I’m pretty sure I’m invisible to them even if I am steaming mad.

So instead what I really wanted to do was talk to her dad, a man likely close to my age. On the way home with my bag of veggies I composed this to him.

I’m a complete stranger to you but there is something that binds you and me together. We both have a kid, and chances are you love your daughter almost as much as I love my son. What I saw today would have made your blood run cold because it sure scared me. The rain was heavy, the road slick, but your daughter was driving as if it were dry pavement seemingly more interested in something other than the 1 1/2 tons of plastic and sheet metal she was flying down a 35 mph road at 65 mph in.

Did you get her that car for her 16th birthday? Was it a graduation present? When you visited the car dealer and she was excitedly checking out the car that you would buy for her, did you imagine her lifeless body collapsed inside of it? Did you imagine me, a complete stranger pulling over and dialing 911 in a panic before running out and trying to pull her from the twisted wreckage?

Or how about the black truck she made a bee-line for at speed. What if she hadn’t looked up and corrected her driving? What if you not only learned that you had lost a daughter but that she had taken someone out with her, someone else’s child or a young family? You hear the local news; you know what goes around here. Things like this happen all the time. Those crosses and flowers along side our roads don’t get put there and tended for no reason.

But today you got lucky. Your daughter made it home and you’re none the wiser about what I witnessed this afternoon a few miles from my home where my teenage son is texting his friends about the cars he’s looking at. Ignorance isn’t bliss when every time that girl grabs the keys is a dice roll. For men like you and me the dice we throw have many more sides; the odds are in our favor. But those our children throw are much smaller with fewer sides, and the likelihood of our nightmare becoming real is much, much greater. Your daughter’s odds aren’t very good judging by what I saw today. I don’t know whether the failure is yours, or your wife’s or the state of North Carolina for handing that girl a license. But whomever is to blame the crushing pain that lays in your future will be yours alone to bear.

I can only hope – no pray and I don’t do that much given my beliefs – that you somehow see what I saw today for yourself, and get those keys away from that girl for her own sake, yours, and mine – because next time that may not be a black truck she heads for it might be my son’s, and in an instant we won’t be complete strangers anymore.

 

Book Review: Cannon the Brown Bear: An Illustrated Children’s Fable

I usually don’t review books, let alone children’s books, but every once in awhile something comes a long that deserves my admiration.

Cannon the Brown Bear: An Illustrated Children’s Fable is a very simply story about a bear who begins free and happy and who provides for himself. But then he starts to receive food handouts and even his den is dug out for him, and he begins to find himself unhealthy and bored and unhappy. So one day he takes back his independence and begins to rely on his own resourcefulness to provide for himself, and his life is much fuller because of this.

I enjoyed the book very much. Some may find this message to be political which is a shame. Maybe it’s because I’m old but I didn’t find the message very “political” at all. Is it right wing to teach children the value of reaping what you sow? Is it Republican for children to read fables that could have been read 2,500 years ago by a Greek like Aesop? Since when is learning to provide for yourself a political act?

And I particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrations were done by a child. As a fan of the classic illustrators like the Wyeths, I appreciate the artistry of the medium, and seeing it done with a child’s hand adds authenticity to the work.

If you are looking for a book for those in the 3-7 range, consider this one. It’s Kyle’s first work, and honestly, it’s one of the better first books I’ve read as of late. Kudos to Michaela for a job well done illustrating the work.

British Youth Paying Price Of Wakefield Vaccine Scare

Measles cases have soared in the UK, making it second in Europe behind only Romania in the number of cases. Last year the UK had 2,000 cases and so far this year it has had 1,200, putting it on track for another record breaking year. Of those sickened, about 20 have been hospitalized with serious complications including pneumonia and meningitis. In 1998 a paper published by Andrew Wakefield and others suggested there was a link between the measles vaccine and autism. As a result, measles vaccination levels plummeted in the UK, from 90% of children down to 54%. The measles epidemic now hitting the UK is a direct consequence of this failure.

I had a child when the scare hit, and I sympathize to a degree with the parents who thought they were doing right by their children by avoiding the vaccine. The parental instinct is to protect your child, and exposing him or her to dangerous agents intentionally, trusting faceless authorities to have done their due diligence and provide a safe vaccine isn’t easy, especially while no vaccine has zero side effects and every instance of those who did experience them gets press while nothing is written about those vaccinated and exposed to measles who were protected from the disease. Wakefield’s paper and the press he received from it fed into a natural suspicion people have for authority. Skipping the vaccine seemed sensible, especially since doing so had no immediate effect as herd immunity offered some protection for the unvaccinated.

Around my hometown of St. Louis there are several high schools and colleges run by Christian Scientists, a religious sect that believes in the power of prayer instead of the science of Medicine. While this may seem quaint or irrational to those of us in the 21st century,  at the time Mary Baker Eddy founded the group in the late 19th century Germ Theory had yet to become orthodoxy in Medicine and it wasn’t until the 1920’s that going to a doctor offered any benefit as opposed to staying at home. In fact hospitals at the time were good places to get sicker. Students at these schools are not vaccinated, and measles outbreaks are common and deaths from the disease are not unknown. Either God had an ax to grind with the Christian Scientists or measles vaccination was a pretty good idea. Perhaps the Brits would have benefited from the presence of this sect on their territory to see what happens when children aren’t vaccinated, but it’s doubtful. The specter of Autism is pretty powerful, especially when authorities have been wrong so often in the past.

But in this case they weren’t wrong; Dr. Wakefield was, and kids are paying the price for his mistake and their parents’ bad decisions.