Monday, February 20, 2017

Chivalry's Not Dead

I was recently making a short road trip to take something to one of my children; it seems to me that I run around more for my adult kids than I did when they lived in my house. Because I have reached an age where my body’s “storage capacities” are rather...diminished, it has become essential to make frequent stops and to be aware of those places where the aforementioned stops are possible. One doesn’t want to be faced with the prospect of a “rest stop” on the side of the road.

But I digress...

On this particular trip I decided to stop at a McDonald’s. I pulled, parked, and exited the car, making my way to the building. I arrived at the door at roughly the same time as one of the employees. I spoke to the young lady and held open the door for her. She attempted to defer to me, but I insisted that she go first, saying “my mamma taught me that ladies always go first.” The smile that spread across her face made whatever delay my chivalry caused disappear faster than a piece of chocolate at my house when my wife isn’t home.

Before heading back to the car I decided that I would get a small drink for the rest of the trip back (Root Beer, thank you, it’s caffeine free) and made my way to the counter to place the order. Who should be standing there but the young lady with the precious smile that I had encountered at the door earlier. We chatted for a moment; she thanked me again for holding the door for her earlier; stating that chivalry was not dead. I told her that we had tried to teach respect for all women to our sons. She looked surprised and thanked me for being willing to “break the mold” and that she hoped I would have a blessed day.  I returned her wishes and returned to my car.

I have two daughters; they are the joy of my life, even though they have both broken my heart by getting married and running off to other states to live. I attempted to consistently model for them the way a man should treat a woman, as a great and precious treasure. I mean no disrespect or demeaning towards women, I simply believe that a man, any man, should treat women with honor, and that honor should manifest itself in things like opening doors, deferring to women, and generally submitting graciously to a woman’s desires. As a matter of fact; we have tried to teach all our children to treat all persons with honor and respect, regardless of sex or color or age. We saw this lesson as being important enough that we taught our daughters to expect such treatment and to not be involved with a man who not treat her accordingly and we taught our sons that they would treat all women in that manner.

Why is this important? We were teaching our children that all life was important and worthy of honor and respect. We have attempted to raise color-blind children in regards to race or culture. All persons are created in the image of our Creator and by virtue of that fact alone are worthy of our respect. “Please”, “thank you,” and “yes sir” and “no sir” (and ma’am) are vanishing from our culture and are being replaced with a familiarity that only serves to demean the honor and worth of all persons. That sounds like an outrageous statement on the surface but I believe that we only have to look back over the last 25 years or so to see how our treatment of each other has deteriorated.

The change must and can only begin at home. Dad, start being a gentleman, not only with your wife but with all women and treat others with respect, regardless of any distinction that you might imagine. Mom, start expecting your husband and sons to treat you with honor and respect. Do not allow yourself to be denigrated...God made you special and you should be treated that way by your husbands and sons and any other men in your life.  If we are to see genuine, lasting change in our culture it must begin in our homes. It won’t be easy, but perhaps one day a young lady at McDonald’s will smile and thank one of your children for being so polite.

Then it will be worth it. 

Friday, February 10, 2017


I moved a lot when I was a kid and I by a lot I mean A LOT.  By the time I had turned sixteen I had lived in four different states and in over 23 different places in those four states. I know that there are a lot of folks who have lived in more places in less amounts of time, but most of them were members of the armed forces. My family was not in the armed forces or oil field workers, we just moved all the time.

My birthplace is Houston, Texas, but I lived there for only six months. My family then moved to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago we lived in what is called the “south side.” You know the south side; Jim Croce made it (in)famous in his song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” There is nothing unusual about that, lots and lots of people live in the south side of Chicago. What made our living in the south side, or at least this particular part of it was that we were Chicago’s south the mid 1960’s.  I’ll let that sink in for just a moment.

My memories of that time are generally good. My first best friend was a boy named Jimmy; the first girl I liked as a girl was named Susie. They were both black, in fact everyone in my kindergarten was black and everyone in my grade school was black; students and teachers.  The first church I ever attended was a black church. Yet in all that I never felt threatened or ostracized. But I must confess to you that I was not allowed to go to the playground at recess or to eat lunch in the cafeteria. My mother would later tell me that it was because of concerns for my safety around the older kids. I never felt slighted or in danger, to be honest I never noticed the difference between myself and all those other kids and teachers.

In the middle of second grade my family moved from Chicago to Little Rock, Arkansas. My life was about to change in more ways than one with this move. I vividly remember my first day of second grade at my new school. The principal brought me to my new class and introduced me, telling everyone that I was from Chicago. My teacher smiled down at me and asked my name. I responded, telling her my name and my mother’s and sister’s names.

At this point it’s important that you remember that I had been living in Chicago for the previous seven years. The words that came out of my mouth were the words of a young black child from the south side of Chicago, not a little boy born and raised in the south. To say that my teacher’s face registered shock and confusion would be an understatement.  I remember her looking up at the principal with a look of complete confusion. Clearly there was a problem with my communication skills.

So I was sent to speech therapy for the rest of the school year. I guess it worked because I’ve had people from Illinois to California to New York tell me that I don’t sound southern (whatever that sounds like). It’s an amusing story to tell on the surface, but it’s below the surface that it becomes a little disturbing and germane to our discussion.

There is a lot of noise made today about respecting other peoples and cultures, noise that is usually made by people who are intolerant of those who disagree with their point of view. Aretha Franklin sang a song with these lyrics: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...” The song is about a woman who wants her man to quit stepping out on her and to start respecting her as a person. That’s a noble desire. We all want to be respected. The truth is a different story altogether.

I was told as a child that respect must be earned. I have come to believe that statement is wrong, respect should be given to all based on the value that God had placed upon them. Yet our nation is rapidly becoming a land where respect is vanishing. Respect is our duty to each other, to allow for the existence of differing opinions, differing likes and dislikes, all while working towards the common goal of a better world. But that concept is no longer true in America. Our homes, our streets, and social media are incubators for disrespect and its first cousin, hate. We actively divide ourselves along racial, political and economic lines and are seemingly intent on the destruction of any and everyone who doesn’t fit our preconceived ideas.

What does this have to do with parenting? Where do you think our kids learn respect and tolerance (now there’s a word that’s been redefined in our time); the home. Parents, you are the persons primarily responsible for seeing that your children learn how to respect those who are in authority over them or who look differently than they do or who might have differing opinions. We primarily teach that through our examples. When was the last time you lost control of your emotions over a sporting event or a political discussion? Your reaction is the foundation that your kids will build on when they encounter those who are different.

We must demonstrate to our children how to live at peace within the structures of the law by living within the confines of the law. We must demonstrate to our children how to live respectfully with those we disagree with by finding common ground in which we can create a better world for us all. That begins by demonstrating our respect for others, regardless of race or religion or nationality.

Let us begin by engaging in respectful conversations in our homes and ball fields and in places like Wal-Mart. Treat those who serve you respectfully, whether cashier or waitress. Speak respectfully of the police and political leaders. Work at being a part of your community, respecting that others can believe differently about the “how” but be in full agreement of the “why.”

It is an understatement to say that we live in troubled times.  Our nation is rapidly becoming a war zone over personalities and politics. Sadly, most of this warfare is being encouraged and enabled by so-called “leaders” who are doing nothing more than trying to advance their own agendas. There is no room for such a lofty idea as respect, and it shows. Yet if we don’t learn how to live together in peaceful disagreement based on mutual respect our grandchildren will be left to sweep up the ashes. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Some Random Thoughts

After your relationship with Jesus there is nothing more important your relationship with your spouse. The familial relationship is the foundation of human society....always has been and the moment we see the final demolishing of the family we can begin the countdown to the implosion of civilization. But I do not intend to go quietly into the night, and neither should you. Just as we so often hear that we are just one generation away from the downfall of this or the destruction of that I believe that we are just one generation away from turning the tide. The work won’t be easy and it won’t be done quickly but it can be done. And it starts with parents.

First, we must fortify our marriages. I am the product of a broken home, a home that was broken long before my parents separated.  Their relationship set the bar of expectation that I carried with me into adulthood. It was many years and much hurt before I was finally able to overcome that example. Parents, it’s time that we modeled strong marriages based on biblical concepts of respect, dignity, and mutual submission. The stronger examples we give our kids the better our culture will become.

Secondly, we must fortify our homes against the onslaught of a culture that wishes to destroy us. Parents, we must take control of our homes again. Most of us grew up without a cell phone or a tv in our room or unfettered internet access. We turned out all right (for the most part) and I don’t think our children will suffer greatly without all that stuff either.  It’s time that we as parents and adults begin to control the content of what is beamed into our home. Television and the internet are not suitable baby sitters and their life advice stinks. Why don’t we unplug ourselves and our families for a least a short time each day and talk to each other.

Third, we must value our children. Parents, stuff doesn’t equal love. We have the most affluent but morally bankrupt society that the world has ever seen. Our kids don’t need new cars or designer clothes or the best and finest of everything. They need our genuine love, attention, and discipline. Adults are not raised in a vacuum. Our children need our presence, our attention, and our love. They can see when they have been replaced. When we value our kids less than our stuff we are simply creating a generation who don’t know how to value things or people.

The list could go on and on, but I don’t want to pile on you anymore than I have. The purposes of this blog are provoking thought and encourage discussion around the challenge of parenting.

What things would you add to this list?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Keep On Pedaling

One Saturday morning in the spring of 1975 I got up early and rode my bike to the Magic Mart parking lot in my hometown. I was participating in a bike-a-thon for the American Heart Association. This event was a fund raiser and I had recruited a number of people who were going to pay me a small amount of money for every mile I rode that day. I told everyone that I was going to ride 100 miles, and my journey was about to begin.

I remember that there were a lot of people of all ages at the starting line that morning. The organizers had laid out a 10 mile circular course that featured a checkpoint at the half-way point. The riders could begin at 7am and ride until 5pm or when they decided that enough was enough. After a short speech from the lead volunteer about the course and checkpoints, we began.

The first few hours were relatively easy, with the exception of the seat on my bike. There were plenty of people to visit with as we made our way around the course again and again. I figured that I would need to average 15 miles per hour to attain my goal in the time allowed. I rode my bike everywhere and made a concerted effort to ride longer distances at higher rates of speed in preparation for this moment. But I discovered that I hadn’t thought about how lonely this ride would be. After the first three hours or so the crowds began to thin and stretch out as more and more people dropped out and our differing speeds separated the riders along the course.

As more and more people dropped out and as the course became less and less populated I developed a strategy to help me achieve my goal. I would focus my attention on a landmark or a rider in the distance and then pedal until I caught them. I did not allow myself the opportunity to coast, I was determined to constantly pedal until I accomplished the smaller goal along the way to my ultimate destination.

I pulled into the start/finish area seven hours after I started, having ridden exactly 100 miles. There were still three hours to ride but I had decided that my backside was finished and went home. I was the only rider in Arkansas that year who rode 100 miles. I succeeded because I set a goal, trained with that goal in mind and kept that goal constantly before me.

Successful parenting is much like my bike ride that day. We must first remember that we are in a marathon, not a sprint. The raising of adults and not kids will take much more than the act of birthing a is a commitment to the long haul, a long haul with the goal of raising mature, responsible adults. We can never allow ourselves to forget that goal; we must keep it before us always. Every decision, every action, must be made with that goal in mind.

Preparation for being a parent is essential. When we learned that we were going to become parents we threw ourselves into learning everything we could about kids and parenting. We observed parents and their interactions with their kids (I was a Youth Minister at the time), making mental notes and engaging some parents in discussions about parenting. But beware; no amount of preparation can fully prepare you for the roller coaster ride that is parenting. You will need to pray and pray and then pray some more. The task is beyond you, but with the help of God you can accomplish the task.

Keep your goal always before you. There will be days when you wonder if it’s worth the struggle, when your children want to rebel or when you’ve reached a point of fatigue and frustration that makes you want to give up and give in. In those moments all you can do is just put your head down and kept pedaling. Keep that goal in front of you and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. Remember, as my wife once frequently told me: “The prize is worth the struggle. “

What did I get that day I rode 100 miles in 7 hours? I got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a mention in the local paper along with a very sore rear end. Those things are all gone now, I have none of them. Even more than those things, I gained confidence and a sense of pride in accomplishing a task that was worth the effort.

Parenting is like that. There will be long stretches of struggle and frustration punctuated by little glimpses of victory. But at the end of the struggle is the great satisfaction of seeing our kids become responsible adults who make a difference in the world.

And who knows, maybe someone will give you a t-shirt.

You can do this.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Don't Be Afraid

I was blessed to have the cost of my college education covered by grants and scholarships. But even though the major costs were covered by those sources I still had ongoing expenses such as books, supplies, clothes and spending money. I took care of those expenses by working, sometimes more one than one job. Most of my friends worked as well, in fact, I can’t think of too many that didn’t have to work when I was in college.  My freshman year I had one “regular” job and earned extra money in a couple of unusual ways. I washed clothes for the guys on my dorm room floor and changed oil in cars for girls. One of the things I did with some of my “extra” money was buying large golf umbrellas. During the spring I would cut class (this is NOT an endorsement of this type of activity) on rainy days and hang around the student center and walk girls across campus with my large umbrella. While that didn’t do a whole lot for my grade point average, it sure helped my social life.

I remember meeting a girl in college who didn’t know how to put oil in her car. Her daddy put gas in her car and checked the tires every Sunday (she went home every weekend) and sent her on her way. She asked me to look at her car one time because it was making a “funny noise.” The dipstick was dry...not a drop of oil on it.

While there may not seem to be much of a connection between my college life and successful parenting, a look just below the surface will tell a different story. I was able to capitalize on the inability of others to accomplish basic skills. I consider washing clothes and the ability to perform basic car maintenance (changing the oil or a tire) as basic life skills that every college aged person should be able to perform. I would allow some debate on the second (basic car repair), but I will not budge on the first. College aged kids should know how to wash their own clothes, among other things. We do our kids no favors when we fail to teach them these skills.

I think there are many reasons why parents don’t teach their kids these skills, but I think there are three primary ones: (1) not wanting their kids to fail, (2) the parents don’t want to look like bad parents, and (3) it takes time. I cannot tell you how many parents I have observed doing their kids homework or school projects through the years. There is nothing wrong with helping a child with homework or school projects, but there is a lot wrong with a parent doing that work for a child.

Parents should view the time their children are in the home as a time for training. Too many children are being raised as if they were living in a hotel with valet and room service. I have never met anyone who functioned well when raised in that environment. The training should begin early, with age and ability appropriate activities. Toddlers can be taught to put toys and dirty clothes away in toy boxes and clothes hampers. Older toddlers can and should be taught how to carry dishes from the table to the sink and how to help feed and water animals. The list goes on and on and the complexity and responsibility involved grow as the child grows.

Why do I consider this so important? Our kids need to learn how to fail. I have always felt that we have an unhealthy fear of failure. I believe that there would be no light bulbs or air planes or many other things we take for granted if the men and women of yesteryear feared failure the way we do today. When we fail to teach our kids how to properly handle failure we create adults who are incapable of standing strong through adversity and who cannot finish tasks, projects, and commitments. Success through failure requires preparation and practice. You wouldn’t set your dinner table with your best and finest china and then ask your five year old to carry their dishes to the table and you want to make sure that the bleach is nowhere near the detergent when teaching that ten year old how to do laundry.

We owe our children the opportunity to fail, whether in a homework assignment or a household chore. They, and we, may not like it now, but they will be better people in the long run. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Greatest Lesson You Will Ever Teach Your Kids

I played a lot of baseball when I was a kid. For years it was my favorite sport, both as a player and as a spectator. My first hero was Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. If you wanted me to do something for you the best way to ensure my agreement was to attach baseball to it in some manner. I loved baseball.

But baseball didn’t always love me. The game we played was different in a couple of ways than baseball as it’s played today. The first difference is a matter of age: there was no such thing as T-ball or any other type of development leagues. You started playing at age seven and that was that. The other difference was even more significant: there was no ten-run rule. We played a full nine innings no matter what the final score was. It made for some brutal losses as our team was not very good. We lost every game of our first two seasons but one, often by extremely discouraging one-sided scores.

I didn’t mind losing as much as I minded the post-game handshake. It seemed that most of the other teams really enjoyed beating us, and it showed in their mocking remarks during that handshake time. I remember one time that our coach simply pulled us off the field after one pretty bad loss because of the attitudes of the coaches and kids on the other team. The other thing that really bothered me was my dad. He had no tolerance for losing and he was always quick to let me know that I was failing him with every loss. I have no memory of him ever being encouraging or congratulating me on those rare occasions that I did something right. I eventually quit playing baseball mostly because of my dad.

The single bright spot of those first two seasons was my coach. Coach Katrosh was a wise and gentle man who understood that he was molding us into something far more important than a baseball team. He stressed to us the importance of giving our best effort and accepting that things would not always go the way we wanted. He insisted that we learn to lose with our heads held high, having given our best effort. Excuses were not accepted and we were expected to act like gentlemen regardless of how the game turned out. I learned a lot more about losing than winning in all those years I played baseball, but especially those first two seasons.

I have always tried to stress to my kids that learning how to lose was far more important that winning. We may remember the wins, but we will be more remembered for our reaction to the losses. This idea seems especially poignant to me in the aftermath of this most recent election season. I believe that losing is a great teacher because our lives will seldom go according to the plans we have laid out for ourselves. Winning creates hubris, an extremely dangerous form of pride that is incapable of recognizing one’s own shortcomings. Losing serves as an anchor, a reminder that we are not all that we might think our selves to be, that it takes work and commitment and dedication to win – and that sometimes even that is not enough.

My parent’s favorite sport was wrestling. I have vivid memories of watching my parents (and I) watching professional wrestling on TV. My parents hated one wrestler in particular, Fritz Von Erich. Once, during a particularly tense match, one of my parents got so angry with Fritz that they threw a shoe into the TV. Needless to say, I didn’t get to watch cartoons for a few Saturdays after that. My parents didn’t seem to take losing too well.

Why bring up those stories? My parents and Coach Katrosh set the examples that taught me how to deal with winning and losing. I learned from them, and many others, that being a good loser takes much more strength, character and patience than winning requires. Lest you think that I don’t care to win let me assure you that I love to win. Just ask any of my kids or the teams that I’ve coached or helped coach through the years.

Just as all those coaches and other adults modeled for me examples of both the good and bad way to handle losing, I have modeled for my kids and others how to respond to both winning and losing. We need to show, not just tell, our kids that effort and dedication and determination are the valuable life lessons, the things that will carry them far beyond the memories of a few wins here and there.

But how do we do it? How do we teach our kids how to lose with grace?

Play hard...and fair. Why is it that our society has come to celebrate pushing the limits? One famous NASCAR driver once said that if you weren’t cheating you weren’t trying to win. We need to demonstrate to our kids a respect for the rules.

Learn to praise...honestly. One of the reasons I don’t coach kid sports any longer is that more and more parents are interjecting themselves into games and practices simply to promote their kids to a level beyond their ability. There is nothing wrong with being proud of a child’s accomplishments...but keep it in perspective. Not everyone can be the captain of the team or the superstar. If your child is trying their best and having a good time be happy with that.

Keep it all in perspective. Nobody will ever give you a job because you scored a touchdown in a backyard football game or because you set a scoring record for your favorite video game. Education has always been and will always be more important than athletics. God is not going to tell anyone what their turnover to assist ratio was not good enough to get them into heaven. We need to hold sports success in proper’s good training but not a guarantee of future success in any endeavor.

Have fun! Life is hard enough by itself...Learn to laugh and always have the ability to laugh at others mistakes as well as your own (Ask me sometime about a particular game of Clue with my kids). Play is supposed to be enjoyable and when you can’t laugh and have a good time it may be time to give it up.

Thanks Coach Katrosh for teaching me that. I hope I have passed it down to my kids as well as you passed it on to me. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Worst Thing You Can Do For Your Kids

In the late 1930’s Europe was on the brink of war. Hitler had risen to power in Germany and was making noise about restoring the “Fatherland” to its former glory. He had broken the armistice that ended World War I and was gearing up a war machine like none the world had ever seen.  And yet many in Europe and the United States felt that Hitler was nothing more than a petulant child.  The British Prime Minister of the time, Neville Chamberlain, after meeting with German officials, announced that trouble had been averted. Announcing the Anglo-German agreement, his crowning achievement, Chamberlain said that this guaranteed “Peace for our time.” In less than a year war gripped all of Europe and would soon engulf the world.

I have experienced open heart surgery and its aftermath, but there have been times when parenting was more painful even than that surgery. Every parent knows the struggle of bending the will without breaking the spirit, and we have all had moments when we just wanted to give up. Those moments are pivotal moments, because it is in those moments that we are most tempted to take the easy way out, to give up and give in, to let our children have their way. There is no parent whose nerves have not been frayed to the breaking point and whose heart has not been broken by words like these:

“I hate you! You don’t love me!”

Our natural inclination in those times is to give in, to let the child have their way. We want our children to like us. There is nothing wrong with wanting our children to like us, but that is a lousy methodology for parenting. Yet that is precisely the method more and more parents are defaulting to in our time. I will not argue that appeasement, whether practiced by politicians like Neville Chamberlain or by the parents of a strong willed three-year old does not bring the short term benefit of “peace for our time,” but it only masks the greater trouble that waits just beyond the horizon.

Children need parents, not friends.

There is a reason that we don’t license 10 years olds to drive or allow 15 year olds to marry...they just aren’t ready for the responsibility. I don’t care to hear any arguments to the contrary...10 year old drivers in 2017 and 15 year olds who marry are, as a rule, unable to master the tasks or manage the responsibilities of driving and marriage (I know that some of you are even now thinking of exceptions to these examples....I don’t care. Would you trust your life to an unknown 10 year old Uber driver? Would you marry your 15 year old to another unknown 15 year old? I rest my case. Now sit down, be quiet and hear me can post your responses on the Facebook page).

Parents who parent primarily with the philosophy of ‘let’s be friends’ seldom have any self-discipline and rarely if ever utilize discipline with their children. They create self-centered children with no concept of or respect for others. These parents deny their children nothing and seem incapable of either understanding or using the world “no.” In short, they create dangerous children. These children are dangerous because they have no sense of authority due to the fact that no one has ever exercised any authority over them. They are dangerous because the know nothing of restraint, having generally been given anything they want so that they will ‘like’ mommy or daddy. The end results are tragically predictable: they grow up not liking their parents and having no love or compassion for them or anyone else and feel as if things like rules and laws apply to others but not themselves.

So what’s a parent to do?

How about be a parent...say ‘no’ once in a while...make the little ankle-biter wait until Christmas or their birthday for the latest ‘gotta have it’ toy or thing...expect respect for both parents and other adults...don’t tolerate back talk, sarcasm, or rude speech or behavior...let them learn to save their own money....expect them to get a job....make them do their own homework...don’t make excuses for them...ground them when necessary...even spank them when they need and deserve it (but only then).

Being a good parent is about doing the hard things and expecting our kids to learn to do hard things themselves. Too many parents today believe that if their kids don’t like them now that they never will. But the truth is that your kids need to respect you now....they will learn to like you later. Being a parent is in large part about shepherding our kids through transitions, and the transition from childhood to adulthood is not quick or easy or fun. But when we do it right our kids will recognize it and respect and love us for what we did for them.

Be their parent, not their friend. The time will come when you can be both.