Father’s Day

father

An interesting day in church today.  At the children’s sermon, the minister asked the children about their fathers, who they are, what they do, etc.  presumably to emphasize the role of the father in the family.  All in all, the children remained pretty unresponsive. One child finally responded, “My dad puts criminals away in jail.”

I’m sure I would be told that I am reading far too much into this, but it seems that the role of “father” has been greatly reduced.  The researcher in me took over and I came across Marlena Graves article from Christianity Today in February, 2012, “Role Reversal:  The Problem of the Increasing Marginalization of Men”.

Graves states, “Men in the West still enjoy vast preferences in most sectors of public life, including in professional hiring, government leadership, and, some charge, the church.”  A real boon to men that may be on a power trip, but not much solace to those of us trying to have an impact on lives.  Graves points to an overall decline in respect for men’s roles and offers great analysis and debate.  Maybe it was born out by the response of the children in church this morning.

The point of Graves article was a call for the end of gender wars.  “Let’s embrace biblical notions of shared power, humility, mutual submission and sacrifice, and the unfettered use of our spiritual and natural gifts within the family, church and world.”  An ideal, yes, but one worth striving for.  It’s taken hundreds and thousands of years for us as a human culture to recognize the value of this goal.  The value being that maybe not next year or the year after, but soon, children will voice as loving a response to “who is your father?” as they do to “who is your mother?”

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All together now – “We Are Family”

I was drawn to the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri on Michael Brown’s death and have been following it on Twitter. With mass media so biased in its reporting, it’s good to have a source like Twitter that appears, at least, to be an open forum for all to express their perspectives. I have long come to believe that there is no truth, there is only perspective.

There are many references on Twitter to diatribes on both the left and the right, so by reading both, you can sometimes get pieces of the events that took place. Unfortunately, it is intertwined with the prejudices on each side of the issue.  From reflections on the events of the last several days, some voices of reason are beginning to draw realistic conclusions. Reference:  little-league-world-series-jackie-robinson-west-and-michael-brown

I grew up in the 60s in white, middle-class Davenport, Iowa, a bedrock of farm implement manufacturing factories. My high school was 99% Caucasian, which was allowed because the high school on the other side of town was still 77% Caucasion. My first experience with a real live black person was in my assisting in the reading lab at the high school. I knew his name because I heard it often at the high school football games. He was a star player and a really good athlete. When he came into the lab for help, I was flattered that he would allow me to help him knowing his status in the school. He talked to me as one human being talks to another, and I never knew to treat him differently than anybody else. 

I was a bit of a wimp and a nerd in high school but he was one of the few people who never played these factors against me, and I respected him for that. He always showed respect to me, and that pretty much sealed it for me. Whenever I meet somebody, I see a human being, not the color of their skin. I don’t try to determine their ethnic background  because, seriously, what does it matter?

However, I am not ignorant as to other people’s bigoted beliefs. I heard enough of it expressed while I was growing up. Even today, some 50 years later, I will hear an opinion expressed against an entire class of people, and I will think to myself, “Really?  There are still people who think like that?”  Apparently.

I was having a hard time connecting with the sting of degradation, detachment and discrimination caused by such expression, so I picked up a copy of John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, and began reading it again. The sensitivity to the plight of the black person in the hundred and fifty years since Lincoln freed the slaves came rushing back to me.  I know why they are protesting in Ferguson. I don’t know if we will be able to eradicate all bigoted thinking, but I know we have to keep trying.

Convinced Against Your Will

“Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still.”
  — Dave Ramsey’s grandmother

American society has become polarized to the point of being dysfunctional. Abraham Lincoln lived in such a time, and quoted the Bible in saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

Our social medias have provided space for us to each express our opinion, and many do with little forethought.  I am always amazed to find conservatives on liberal sites or liberals on conservative sites screaming down the posts on those sites as if their comments are going to change the thought  and opinions on that site. “Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still.”

“This is America,” people claim.  “We have freedom of expression.”  I don’t disagree, because what would be the point of disagreeing with an opinion to the person who just said it.  I am of the opinion, that everyone’s opinion is to be respected, even if you disagree with it.  But that is just my opinion. 

That does not mean that I never get heated when an opinion is expressed that is totally contrary to my own way of thinking. However, the older I get, the more I try to keep my mouth shut in those situations. You may disagree. You may think it is important to speak up in those situations. “Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still.” 

And the older I get, the more I try to understand the basis of the other person’s opinion, because I have found that every coin has two sides. My wife is a champion of that. Working with preschoolers, she rarely acts on the complaint of one child without getting the other child’s story.  The same holds true with what a teacher or parent may tell her. Some think she is too slow to decide, when in fact, she is holding judgement until she has all of the information.

Using this principle in family situations can prevent a lot of isolation. When it comes down to it, regardless of what our opinions are, we are still family, and that should override most any issue that comes up. Keep love in your heart, and a civil tongue in your head. It’s old school, but it works.

The Seventh Habit – Sharpen the Saw

I came upon a man in the woods cutting down a tree. He was tired and irritable and when I asked him how long he had been there, he replied “all day”.  When I suggested he stop and sharpen the saw, he said “I can’t, I’m too busy cutting down this tree.” 

Pointedly obvious in its conclusion, this little story provides an analogy to what is wrong in so many of our lives. It is the seventh habit of  Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It is about renewing yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

For me, the most difficult issue is the physical. My work is very sedentary (I’m an accountant), so there are not a lot of requirements physically. During tax season, I melt into my desk chair. In the past, my attitude has been like Mark Twain’s, “Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I just lay down until it goes away.”  As I approach 60, I realize what a toll it has taken on me.

So grateful for these days of Google, I found Mayo clinic’s web site on core strengthening exercises, and for the last forty-five days I have made a morning ritual of exercising. My body is not grateful that I have this new found passion after 57 years of letting it go, but it is slowly beginning to respond with some muscle tone and stamina. I started by gaining weight (it’s true that muscle weighs more than fat), but the last week has been somewhat more productive.

Still the issue is not losing weight, but strengthening my core. And I have found that as the core muscles strengthen, so does the support to many of the internal organs. Can we hear a collective “well, duh” from the medical community?  The point being that it’s never too late to elevate a neglected area of your life.

It’s an old corny cliche, but none the less it is still true, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  So whatever you are waiting for to start an exercise program, to read or listen to or study what improves your mind, to take steps to make that relationship with your spouse or child or parent or whomever better, to embrace the person that you find inside, let it begin today.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Script

Some of us, even before we are born, are handed challenges we will face for the rest of our lives. It may be a physical defect, a lower mental capacity, or a personality disorder. We are judged the minute we are seen, and the reactions of those we come in contact with determines the view we take of ourselves.

As if that is not bad enough, often people are born into families of damaged goods. Let’s face it, only on TV in the 50’s and 60’s were people born into perfect families. Father knew best and Mother wasn’t too bad at it herself.  But such is not the case. So even if we are born with ten perfect little fingers and ten perfect little toes, it may not take long for those imperfect parental units to etch some of their imperfections into our souls.

So we may have been born the apple of our parents’ eyes, managed  our way through childhood with minimal scarring, and then wham, puberty hits, and any quirks we have now come into full bloom. Hormones run rampant and we think we can develop love interests. Some may add a person to their lives to fulfill a need, real or imagined, and that creates a dependency structure.

The journey through this life is rarely easy, and the path is not laid out before you. You are expected to blaze your own trail, and there are roots and stones and holes along the way where you will likely trip and fall. There are all sorts of animals and people darting in and out, a few  stopping to sniff at you to see if you are dead yet. Some of the people are true friends and some only appear as friends until they get what they want from you.

All of our experiences add up to the script we are now living, and the director is the voice we have developed in our head. Many of us have done well along the journey even finding a soulmate we can share the path with. While the trail can be difficult, we have found that it is well worth the effort.  We don’t cling to the past. When we fall, we get back up again and continue the journey. Sometimes we ignore the voice inside our head because it lives in the box of our comfort zone.

You can be fantastic. You can do well. But for many, it means not living out the script you were given. If you think your parents gave you a bum wrap, stop blaming them and get on with living out your life. And if you are a parent, stop trying to write the script for your children and let them be free to be who they are. That, by the way, looks a whole lot different than letting your children run the house and do whatever they want.

          May the road rise to meet you
          May the wind be always at your back
          May the sun shine warm upon your face
          May the rain fall soft upon your fields
          And until we meet again
          May God hold you in the palm of His hand
                        — Irish Blessing

Can this family be fixed?

Done with work and especially done with that guy or woman in the office that just doesn’t get it. If she really understood this business, she would never ask the things she asks.  Don’t know why you have to put up with her.  Just glad you can go home now, or maybe not. 

You want to pull into the driveway, but the kids’ toys are in the way. You walk into the house and there’s a bag on the table. What did he buy today?  He’s always spending money you don’t have. Maybe this has been going on so long, it’s all playing through your head even before you get home, so you go by the bar just to have one to take the edge off. So you sit in the bar stewing and fretting over your lot in life. This isn’t the way you envisioned it. 

You think about that person you married. If they would just be more understanding, more sensitive to how hard you work, all the things you do. Why don’t they see things the way you see them?  After all, what other way is there?  If they were just more kind, less crabby,  more loving, everything would be so much better.

Have you reached the end of your rope?  Are you done with that spouse?  Is it time to move on?  You’ll never be the person you want to be because of them … or can this family be fixed?  What would it take to make some real changes here?  Is it worth the effort?

The easy and the hard answer is yes, changes can be made. Hard because when you believe things will improve only if the other person changes, that perception is the problem. You have to start with the corner of the world where you have the most influence, and that is yourself.

Pull out that copy of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. When the seven habits become ingrained into your life, you will see change.

        1.  Be Proactive. Don’t be reactive.
        2.  Begin with the end in mind. Have a plan.
        3.  Put first things first. Prioritize your actions.
        4.  Seek first to understand … then to be understood.
        5.  Think win / win.
        6.  Synergize.  1 + 1 = more than 2.
        7.  Sharpen the saw. As the Boy Scouts say, keep yourself physically fit, mentally awake, and morally straight.

                           I’m starting with the man in the mirror.
                           I’m asking him to change his ways.
                           And no message could have been any clearer,
                           If you wanna make the world a better place,
                           Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.

                                      — Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard
                                           recorded by Michael Jackson

Unifying values

When the Olympics are on we thrill at the competition.  In so many sports, we see people going head to head one minute, giving hugs and back slaps to each other the next.  It seems like a kind of utopia with the spirit of the game taking presidence.

Of special interest are the team sports, teams that seem to play like a single unit they are so unified by a mission. Anyone who has played on a team, knows the work involved in getting to that single purpose.  Individuals don’t stop being individuals just because they are playing on a team, and it takes a top notch coach to get members to set their individuality aside for the good of the team.

Families are teams, teams often without coaches. Parents sometimes like to try to take the role of coaches, but that is a difficult role to fill when you have the interest of one team member over the other.  Children can be the unifying value in a family or disagreements over the handling of situations with children can destroy a family.  Children are innocent. They are the members who come to the team with one purpose in mind, making the team work.

We buy children all sorts of toys, put them in activities, spend money on elaborate vacations all in attempts to try to make them happy, when the thing that makes them the happiest is a family that loves each other and is committed to each other.  A team’s best season is the one where all the members are playing together and anticipating each other’s needs.  The season when no individual puts their needs above the team’s needs.  Now that’s fun.