Saturday in the park

If you are my age or a Chicago (the band) fan, you are thinking of the next line, “I think it was the 4th of July.” It is a beautiful Saturday morning and my daughter and her friend are slowly arising. Hearing your child or children laughing is the greatest sound in the world.

We have always had a home where our children feel comfortable having their friends over. It is a treat to meet your kids’ pals and hear them having fun. It also helps as a parent to know the friends of your children in our imperfect world with greater temptations than we had growing up. This is our safe haven.

My daughter is home from her freshman year of college and we are so proud of the woman she has become. She is interested in stopping injustice to people and the environment. She is well read and active at school and has made the Dean’s List twice. She loves her professors and they offer encouragement. I was sharing with Hugh on his blog that one of her professors applauded her for writing a paper that disagreed with the author’s position, which he said he usually only sees from upperclassmen.

My oldest son moved out a month ago and is rooming with a good friend. They have a tribe of friends that hang out and look out for each other. He has taken on more responsibility and is asking more questions about living on a budget, saving, insurance, etc. He is a fine young man and a good friend, but like many his age is still finding his path forward. Working two jobs 50 – 60 hours a week is wearing him out. We do miss having him here, but are happy for his spreading his wings.

My youngest son will be home at the end of next week completing his junior year. He has changed majors and colleges and is enjoying his eclectic college in the mountains. He is relishing being a scientist and exploring wildlife biology and the environment. He will only be home briefly as he will be interning this summer at a place that takes care of different kinds of wildlife. The college is perfect for him as it is work-study program where all students have to work 15 hours a week. Plus, it attracts eclectic people who I find to be a joy. It is ironic in a state that has passed an anti-transgender and LGBT law, his dorm has unisex bathrooms and showers.

I hope everyone enjoys their Saturday and all mothers have a wonderful Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

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What is really scary to me?

On this Halloween, I was thinking about what has really scared me in life and in the movies. I should note that nothing in the movies is as scary as what happens in real life. The only time it comes close is to show something that really could happen.

In a horror movie called “The Kiss,” about a parasite that would enter one body from another via a kiss, the scariest part of the movie had little to do with the larger plot. Early on in the movie, the husband’s wife was electrocuted in her kitchen as she fiddled with a shorting toaster at the same time someone spilled milk on the floor underneath her feet. The family had to watch her die, but could not touch her as they would have been electrocuted as well.

But, that is not even close to the seconds that seem like hours when your child gets lost out in a public place. My youngest son wandered away from us at the zoo when we stopped for a coke. He kept walking as we paused. Those twenty seconds to find him seemed like an eternity.

Or, when my oldest went into the restroom at the ballpark as I waited outside. He walked out a different entrance and did not see me. He did remember our assigned place to meet if we got separated and that is where I found him. These scary moments are burned in my memory.

Health scares make movie scares pale in comparison, as well. On my 44th birthday, I thought I was having a heart attack on my way to meet my family. Waiting in an ER room with wires attached is quite humbling and scary. I can assure you that you do not think of your job, but focus on your family and what you may not witness in the future and your not being there for them or watching your kids grow.

However, when your child has a health scare, it is worse as you can only react and make things better. You cannot take on his or her pain and anguish. And, that makes you feel powerless. Each time our children have had lengthy illnesses, issues or allergies, it has been a little scary.

I am writing this today as last night, we attended a funeral service for an 8 year old boy, who died of a rare brain cancer. He was the grandson of our neighbors and their family has been in anguish over his fight to survive. There is nothing worse for a parent than losing your child.

In the throes of his battle, this child taught everyone how to live and love more deeply. The service was a poignant tribute to this effervescent little person with a big heart. He helped others, especially his parents, live through this horrible ordeal.

So, the scary stuff is outside the movie theater. We deal with it the best we can with our faith, love and care. And, we do it one day at a time.

 

Only women bleed

If you were around in the 1970s, the name Alice Cooper conjures up a mental image of a hard rock star, who was one of the first performance artists. Yet, he also wrote and performed numerous hit songs. One of his more out of character songs is a poignant and troubling tribute to women who live a life they did not envision called “Only Women Bleed” which he wrote with Dick Wagner. Below are most of the lyrics, being shortened where he repeats the chorus.

Man’s got his woman to take his seed
He’s got the power – oh
She’s got the need
She spends her life through pleasing up her man
She feeds him dinner or anything she can

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed

Man makes your hair gray
He’s your life’s mistake
All you’re really lookin’ for is an even break

He lies right at you
You know you hate this game
He slaps you once in a while and you live and love in pain

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at all
Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed (repeat)

Black eyes all of the time
Don’t spend a dime
Clean up this grime
And you there down on your knees begging me please come
Watch me bleed

Only women bleed
Only women bleed
Only women bleed (repeat)

I write this song today as the suspension of Ray Rice, the football player who decked his then fiancé and now wife, was overturned yesterday. I have written before that domestic violence happens far too often in our country (and world) and we look the other way. It starts as a control issue, where the man (almost always) exerts undue power and influence over his significant other. Eventually, it can lead to violence. And, it is not unusual for the woman to hide it from others, as she is ashamed. There is also an esteem issue, where victimized women feel they deserve this maltreatment.

The song’s lyrics speak to the lack of self-esteem. Women will continue in such a relationship, even when they end up bleeding or beaten black and blue. If you are in such a relationship, please get out now, especially if you have children. If you know or sense a friend or family member is in such a relationship, provide a voice and suggest where she can get help. He will not change. He will say he will, but he will not. He will eventually put you or your children in the hospital and could kill you. Please get out now, as that is the only antidote.

The agency I volunteer with for homeless families gets about 30% of its single female parent families as a result of domestic violence. They are referred to us from a domestic violence shelter for families. There are places that can help. I have shared the story of a friend who along with his siblings had no idea their brother-in-law was beating their sister until he killed her. He also beat the children. I have not shared that I had a neighbor who knocked on our door one night with her daughter, getting away from her husband who had beaten her for the last time.

Women, you deserve better than to be maltreated like this. Your children deserve better than to be maltreated like this. Get out. Get some help. And, if I have not convinced you, re-read Cooper and Wagner’s lyrics above. Only women bleed.

Houseful of kids – we love the chaos

We always wanted to have a house where our kids felt comfortable in having their friends come over. Well, we have that house, and at times we laugh at the chaos, but would not have it any other way. My wife says we provide a soft place to land, but in essence we provide a haven where we do not judge; we just ask questions and listen. So the kids and now young adults keep coming by and it makes our lives and that of our kids much better. But, we have to be pretty flexible to make it happen, as gatherings often happen without much planning.

Our kids have benefitted, as they tend to be more introverted than extroverted, except with their friends. So, by having friends in our house for a weekly night of role-playing games or just impromptu electronic gaming or movie watching, makes them feel even more comfortable and inclined to ask others to do things. Plus, twelve years ago, we built a pool adding to a hot tub we already had. The final straw in the decision to build the pool was a friend said if you build a pool you will get to know your children’s friends. What is interesting, the hot tub is the final destination as kids will sit on the side, with some in the hot tub, and end the party with conversation and joking.

Another benefit for our kids is it gives them safe place to be themselves. We fortunately have a game area upstairs where they can gather. The greatest joy we have as parents is hearing our kids laughing with their friends through closed doors. Plus, they share their friends, so sibling rivalry is minimized. My middle child has benefitted greatly as he leads a role-playing game and has done so for over four years. Half the time, the kids are just hanging out, but he has kept it interesting enough that they continue to look forward to it. This has helped him be better organized and pursue his creativity. The sad part is with him at college, we don’t get to have the many friends over to play and make our house louder and more fun. So, as the summer ends and everyone heads back to college, it will get quieter.

Parents that have this kind of house probably have a smile on their face as they read this. If you are reluctant to have one of these houses, don’t be. The joy and camaraderie will far outweigh the negatives of less order. Plus, you and your kids will benefit. We know our kids’ friends and they know us. It is delightful. Trust me on this.

 

Another Gun Death in America – x year old kills z year old

Here is a fill in the blank headline which will make it easier for the reporter to insert the single digit age of the shooter and victim. If you need more than one digit for the shooter or victim, you can modify as needed. Two days ago, we had yet another gun tragedy where a child came across a loaded gun. But, these are not headlines anymore as they happen too often – here is only a small sample.

Arizona  – two days ago: A surprise visit to a friend’s home with his young son on Friday ended up being a deadly decision for Justin Stanfield Thomas. The 35-year-old Army Special Forces veteran and former Green Beret was shot dead by his 4-year-old, who police say found an unsecured gun in the living room of the friend’s home.

Kentucky – April 2013: A 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister to death in rural southern Kentucky with a rifle he had received as a gift last year, authorities said. The children’s mother was home at the time of the shooting Tuesday afternoon but had stepped out to the front porch for a few minutes and “she heard the gun go off,” Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. He said the rifle was kept in a corner and the family didn’t realize a bullet was left inside it.

New Jersey – April 2013: A 6-year-old New Jersey boy has died after being shot in the head by a 4-year-old playmate as their parents stood in the yard nearby, a local police chief said. Brandon Holt was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, according to Toms River police Chief Michael Mastronardy.

Minnesota – December 2012:  A 4-year-old boy playing with a handgun apparently shot and killed his 2-year-old brother in their Minneapolis home Wednesday, police said. Police were called to the shooting at a town house in Minneapolis’ Riverside neighborhood just before 1 p.m. and found the 2-year-old with a critical gunshot wound. He died in an ambulance at the scene, police said.

Indiana – July 2011: A 4-year-old Cedar lake boy died Thursday after accidentally shooting himself and a 2-year-old Connersville boy died July 14 after being accidentally shot by his 5-year-old brother, police said. A 6-year-old Martinsville boy died June 30 after being shot by his 11-year old brother, officials said. In each case, officials said the children were able to gain access to a loaded deadly weapon inside their homes.

Huffington Post  – December 2012: Before 20 first-graders were massacred at school by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., first-grader Luke Schuster, 6, was shot to death in New Town, N.D. Six-year-olds John Devine Jr. and Jayden Thompson were similarly killed in Kentucky and Texas. Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, died in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., while 6-year-old Kammia Perry was slain by her father outside her Cleveland home, according to an Associated Press review of 2012 media reports. Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.

If you want to get further depressed, just Google “Four year old shoots two year old” and see the pages of stories that pop up. I pulled the above stories from that gaggle of Google results. I wanted names with these tragic and avoidable deaths. I have cited a statistic before that according to the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, of every 100 children and teen gun deaths in the Top 23 wealthiest nations, the US has 87 of the gun deaths. That means, the other 22 countries have 13 gun deaths.

In preparing for this article, I saw one from a website geared toward the Conservative Right that said children gun deaths were exaggerated as a problem in America. I am sorry, but these words offend me. My friend Momma E had a great post the other day,  http://dje1231.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/a-true-pro-life-stance/ , that said the GOP is not a pro-life party, they are a pro-birth party. There is a huge difference. Among other things, you cannot stand by and witness these children or any gun deaths and say it is not a problem. What good does it do to promote life before birth, but let kids gain access to guns? That is the ultimate contradiction.

Irrespective of what the NRA says, we are well past the tipping point. Responsible gun owners agree. 90% of Americans want background checks. We should not stop there. We need recurring background checks on all transactions, even if no money changes hands. We need mandatory training for use and storage of a weapon. We need highly restrictive usage of assault weapons and magazines. We need to register bullets as the police force wants to do this to solve crimes.

The NRA is right on the first part of the famous phrase, but wrong on the second part – guns don’t kill people; people with access to guns kill people. But, even worse, children with access to guns kill other children and adults. The time has come. We need adults and parents to start making decisions expected of them. The constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness overrides everything else in the document and please note that life is listed first If our leaders do not value the lives of our children, then they truly do not deserve to remain in office as they are sentencing our young to die for no damn reason. By the way, according to the Children Defense Fund, over 125,000 children and teens have died in gun deaths in the US since 1979. That is not an exaggeration.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Piety does not trump criminality

My wife and I watched last night one of the most disturbing film documentaries we have ever seen, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Alex Gibney directed the documentary which talks with many witnesses in many countries about how priests routinely molested young boys for years with impunity. That is disturbing in its own right. Yet, the evidence is very compelling that the actions of these priests have been known for years at the highest levels in the Vatican, and efforts to take action were actually thwarted from Rome.

It is now available on-demand through HBO and I encourage each of you to watch Mea Maxima Culpa (which means through my very great fault). If you are raised a Catholic like my wife, the documentary will both break your heart and trust as well as making you furious that pious people would let this happen and then cover it up. If you are a parent, this documentary will break your heart even more. You see, in addition to raping hearing children, the priests preyed on deaf children who could not easily communicate with others what was wrong.

This is how the story of the molestations broke, as deaf boys, who attended St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee, had been molested for years by a priest named Father Lawrence Murphy. As adults, when no one would heed their pleas including the police, other priests, bishops, archbishops and even a Cardinal, they began putting wanted posters on car windshields with the Father’s picture and name on them. This was in 1972. People used to believe this was isolated to America, but Ireland had a huge scandal over priest molestation and the church handled it so poorly, the Irish government in a very Catholic country had to call the church on the carpet for tolerating pedophiles. Even in the shadows of the Vatican, a deaf school in Italy had the same issues as St. John’s in Milwaukee. And, stories of molestation have been and are being reported in many other countries and in the US, such as what is transpiring on Los Angeles and over time in Boston, where a significant sum of money was used to settle cases.

Yet, what the documentary reveals as even more troubling, is the Vatican has known about pedophile priests for years with some evidence going back to Spain in the year 400. And, to make it even worse, the current Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had all pedophile cases reporting into him. So, for some time, Ratzinger has had full awareness of the priests who were molesting children and led in the cover-up and attempted rehabilitation of the priests. You see, the problem was so significant, the church had a program to try to rehabilitate priests who were molesting children. Yet, the leader of the program wrote that it was his belief you cannot change pedophiles from preying on children and they need to be removed from their duties. His opinion was overruled by higher-ups in the Vatican and the rehabilitated priests were sent back to their parishes or to other parishes to molest again.

What also was revealed in the investigative stories is a contradiction that the US Archbishops did nothing. While they could have done much, much more and deserve a lot of blame, some begged Rome to let them take action and did so in writing. Yet, the Vatican would not let them do so out of good faith to a fellow priest. The troubling part to many of the reporters who were interviewed, some of whom follow the Vatican closely, was how certain church leaders focused more on the priests and saving the image of the church rather than the kids. The Archbishop in Ireland was caught on camera saying he is very busy in response to why he has not gone to see the victims and their families.

The Catholic Church has done an amazing amount of good for many in the world. We should not lose sight of that. The people who make up the church have donated time, energy and money/ goods to help those in need. And, for the number of priests who have done these evil things, there are countless others who do so much good.  Yet, these good-hearted Catholics deserve more than this from their leaders. I feel for the nuns and priests who have devoted their lives to the church to have their leaders breach the trust and faith of so many. I feel for those many parishioners who have the constancy of faith to keep them going to see them now have to question their spiritual guides. The position of priest is so important in the church, when the incumbent shames the role, they need to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. In these cases, piety does not trump criminality.

These pedophile priests are criminals and need to be prosecuted. They are actually worse than normal pedophiles as they betrayed the lofty trust placed in them and abused their authority as well as the rights of the victims. There are some who have called for Ratzinger (I cannot refer to him as pope at this point) to be tried for his crimes of cover-up. To know priests have done these horrible things and to not have taken action is criminal. One of the victims in Milwaukee has actually sued the Vatican without much success, yet he did bring suit against them. However, he gave up on his suit and recently joined with some other cases to get restitution for other victims and to prevent it from happening to future victims.

Unfortunately, it continues to happen. While these issues are of such great concern, the church continues to grow in South America and other parts of the world. A reporter who was chastised for her role in breaking the story, noted these countries are where America was on this issue back in the 1960’s. The victims dare not accuse a priest as they would not be a good Catholic. Their communities would quiet them just as the boys in Milwaukee were not heeded, even after they became adults.

I encourage you to watch this film. It will disturb you. We cannot tolerate letting people, but especially leaders, prey on children. And, it is even more paramount if the leaders are religious ones. They have a level of trust that makes it worse when it is breached. If we suspect something, we need to go to the police. To do otherwise, lets a pedophile harm another. To apprise the church would likely lead to more cover-up and denial than action. And, it does a disservice to all the wonderful priests who earn people’s trust every day. Most importantly, do it for the children. If we always remember that, we know the path, while hard, is the more righteous one.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

With due credit to Zero Mostel, I borrowed the title from one of his funniest movies to share some of my, my family and my friends’ more comical moments which you might find amusing. In some, I conducted the act, where others I witnessed. I hope you will enjoy and laugh with me, as I laughed the hardest on a few that I did.

1. Always have a spare quarter – In high school, I was fortunate enough to play on a good baseball team in a pretty competitive conference of large schools around the city. Where I grew up, there was a large river that had numerous toll bridges. Returning from an afternoon baseball game still in uniform, I was driving with a couple of teammates as we approached the toll booth. None of us had a quarter for the toll. As we debated our action strategy, we noticed the car in front of us included some of our teammates. Just before I got out of the car to ask them for the toll money, their door opened and one came back to ask us if we had any quarters, of which they had none as well. We had to ask a toll keeper for leniency as we begged our way through. Yet, we had to say, “you’re not going to believe this, but we don’t have any money either.”

2. Dueling Air Guitars – Before Rock Band, doing air guitar in public was usually not seen. It was something you did in front of the mirror. Keeping with the baseball theme, I was at bat in practice when two of my good friends who teased me for being a head-banger (hard rock fan) decided to have some fun. With one in right field and one in center field, they did one leg up, hopping air guitars toward each other passing in right-center field. Another friend who was pitching had to turn around to see why I was hysterical with laughter. My hitting was not strong during this at bat as a result.

3. Community Plays are dangerous – On a double date with a girl I really liked, we decided to go to a community play. Since it was in a church hall, they had these choral risers in place to create an amphitheater affect.We sat with fold out chairs in the back row about three feet off the ground. After a wine and cheese intermission, we re-seated with wine containers still in hand. As I tilted back and drank mine, I noticed my date was going forward. Actually, it was me going backwards as one of my chair legs was off the riser and I was falling. What became one of the loudest booms, everyone (including the actors) turned to see the big tall guy on the floor splattered on a folded up chair. Fortunately, the play had not restarted and even more so, I was not hurt. But, it sure was funny. I did get a another date, but we went to a safer venue.

4. Joseph, David what’s in a name? – When my boys were little they roomed together. We would always read a story to them and one of the books we read from was filled with biblical tales and songs. On one night, I left the book downstairs and decided to sing one of the songs from memory. You may recall the song, “Only a Boy Named David” telling the tale of his slaying of Goliath. Well in this case, I mixed biblical names and began “Only a Boy Named Joseph…..” After a couple of verses, my youngest boy who was about four, said “but… Dad, I ..thought…his… name…was…David?” to which we all burst out laughing.

5. Jumping on a bed can be dangerous – In another bed time reading incident, I decided to hurl my body onto my youngest son’s bed which was about a foot away from the wall. Unfortunately, my momentum carried me off the bed and down the foot crevice between bed and wall. Mom came hustling in to see what all the racket was as Dad was stuck trying to pry himself loose. Needless to say, sleep time was delayed due to the laughter which ensued.

6. You won’t believe what your son is doing – My oldest son is a climber and we have had some scary moments because of it. This was not one of them. My wife called me at work to tell me my son (hers too, but he was mine now) had climbed to the top of a forty-foot magnolia tree and in front of all of the neighborhood girls was peeing off the tree. She described it as a rainbow of urine. My wife was giggling so hard, she could not tell him to come down for a few minutes. And, just to have an extra witness, his Godmother was there as well.

7. Same son, another climbing incident – In our first house, there were built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves in the children’s bedroom by the door. Downstairs one evening, we heard this clump, clump, clump and went up to investigate. When we peeked in the room, we at first could not find him. On closer notice, we saw behind the door, he had thrown off the books and was sitting at the very top shelf with a big grin on his face swinging his legs.

8. We may not be permitted back in this store – At a local furniture store, my youngest son needed to go as my wife and I were looking for furniture. So, I walked him into the restroom and when he decided he wanted to go by himself, I checked making sure that no one was in there So, I walked outside and stood guard. For some reason, he decided the elevated wall urinal was a toilet and proceeded to do a number 2 in it. When I peeked in, I quickly grabbed him to take him to the toilet. Unfortunately, the missiles were flying so we plopped, plopped, plopped on our way to the toilet. After cleaning him up and making sure he was with his Mom, I said I will be a few minutes and told her about my new mission to clean up. That was some expensive furniture.

9. One word can make a difference – Back in the 1990’s, my company took pride in being a forerunner in offering mobile mammograms for our female employees. We were into wellness in a big way. As an aside, out of 9,000 screenings, there were 11 breast cancers detected that were caught early enough. I mention this as I was talking with someone on my team who led our wellness efforts. It was October and I made the point that we need a big push since it was “Breast Awareness Month.” My friend and colleague in her best dead pan voice, said BTG it’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

10.  Reading can make you sleepy – When my daughter was little, we read voraciously, sometimes three and four books a night. I used to lie beside her as we read so she could see the pictures, but Dad had a bad habit of falling asleep after a couple of books. I would awaken to her pushing me “Daddy wake up, I need to go to sleep.” After that I had to sit on the floor to stay awake. She banned me from reading lying down.

11. The Red Cardinals are different – My daughter used to have about 30 stuffed animals in her room. She named them all, usually with very interesting, whimsical names as she was pretty creative and well read. Yet, all were given female names. One day, my brother-in-law gave her a red cardinal. She proceeded with her normal naming convention. It hit me a few seconds later and I started grinning. She asked why I was smiling and I asked her a question I knew she knew the answer to. What color are the female cardinals? She started laughing and said I need a new name for this guy.

12. Missing child in the house – We used to have a Golden Retriever who liked to sleep on the oriental rug under our dining room table. It caught a nice sun in the afternoon and when it was cold it was very cozy. One day, we could not find my youngest son and looked everywhere. The doors had the dead bolt locks on, so he had to be in the house. After several minutes of frantic looking, we found him under the dining room table laying close to the dog, sound asleep. This is more “awwww” than “ha ha”  but I thought it would be good to close with that one.

Thanks for reading. Life is funny, so remember to laugh at yourself. If you are not laughing, you might be alone in your silence. And, don’t take yourself too seriously or one day you may find yourself cleaning up poop in a furniture store restroom. God has a sense of humor. Please feel free to share any comical moments that these stories may cause you to remember.