A pocketful of acorns

My wife and I were walking in the woods this morning and she came across a beautiful specimen of an acorn, brushed it off and pocketed it to take home. We both laughed as our children used to do this when they were little. Each time we went for a family hike or one where I took the kids out to give my wife some “me time,” I would return with a pocketful of acorns. Usually, fifteen to twenty acorns would make it home, sometimes filling both pockets in my pants, as I was the designated carrier.

To my kids, the acorns were treasures, something far more valuable than what they were. So, we would collect them until we had too many and they would forget about them. And, then when we went out again, we came back with more. I think it is the quest for acorns that made them special. Or, they just wanted a memento or souvenir of our morning walk. This morning, my wife’s acorn brought these memories back to top of mind.

When all is said and done, it is these memories that are mileposts in our lives. These memories are our “pocketful of acorns.” I cherish our family and it makes me smile when something happens which brings up one of these mileposts. Witnessing the actions of the children of our niece and her husband is one set of reminders taking us back to how our children acted. This is one reason I surround myself with pictures of our kids, especially when they were little.

My daughter, like many daughters, loved to wear hats and sunglasses. So, we have numerous pictures of her with a joyous smile in such attire. My sons loved their army men, Legos and hats as well, so we have pictures of them clad in hats or playing with their army men outside. I have one “acorn” of my youngest son, swinging on our swing in the back singing his own version of ACDC’s “TNT.” I have another “acorn” of my oldest son in his first Halloween costume as a clown and, just in case you did not know what he was, he would announce “I am a clown.”

I have another acorn of my youngest son asleep on his crib mattress at the bottom of the stairs after we put up a big boy bed and brought the old one down. My daughter left with us several acorns of her trying to wake me when I fell asleep reading her a story again and again. My guys left me with an acorn of laughing at me when I jumped on the bed to tell them a story and bounced off and down between the wall and bed.

Let’s do our best to remember our own pockeftul of acorns. They will bring a smile to your face, like it does to mine.


Wise advice from a mother to a daughter, but worthwhile for all

My friend Emily January who writes a blog called “The Bookshelf of Emily J.” is worth the read for anyone, but especially if you love books. Even if you have not read the book she is highlighting that day, you take away a great summary with her viewpoints that will lead you to pick up the book or leave you at least with a better understanding.

The link below is a terrific example of such, where Emily highlights the advice from a Zimbabwean mother to her daughter from the book “Zenzele, a letter for my daughter.” The sixteen pieces of advice that Emily highlights are quite profound. Whether you are a man or woman, poor or rich, Zimbabwean or some other nationality, these pieces of advice will echo inside you. You may do like I did and go back and read them again. Please enjoy and if you have not signed up to follow her blog, I would encourage you to do so. You will be better for it. Thanks Emily.


They did not invent families, people made families

The above is a quote from a grade school child who is part of a divorced family. For someone who is about nine years old, I think it speaks volumes. I caught a documentary on HBO that is called “Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for Parents on Divorce.” This show is both illuminating as well as heartbreaking. It also shows how kids have to grow up more quickly when divorce occurs.

As one young girl said, “First, you cry a lot and get scared. Then, eventually you learn to live with it.” The point of the quote is divorce requires you to make your family work. The parents and eventually step-parents can make the lives of the children miserable or the best they can be under the circumstances. A few rules came out of the mouths of these children which are helpful to reflect on, even if the parents are not divorced.

Don’t take out your anger with each other on the kids.

– Try to live close enough to one another, so it is easier to be with both.

– Remember to spend time with the kids.

– Treat the other parent as nicely as you can.

There are more rules, but these are the four key takeaways that I gleaned. On the second point, they asked one child where he lived and his response was telling – “I live in the car.” He is constantly being shepherded from one parent’s house to the other’s and to various events in-between.

Yet, let me add that if you erase the discussion about divorce and insert the traveling in the car for the second rule above, these rules can apply equally to parents who are not divorced. Think about it. If we do these things as parents, regardless of whether we are married or divorced, the children will be better served. My wife and I are by no means perfect and have made mistakes as parents. One of the things we insist on is being civil to each other in our house, whether it is among siblings or adults. Another is being on the same page. When an issue arises with one of our children, we parents talk about the best way to approach the child or apprise the other of what we said or did for reinforcement, validation or to ask “did I handle that well?”

The final point above is to spend time with your kids. This is something we all could be better at, the writer included. I would also suggest to not over schedule your children in team sports, plays, music training, etc. If your child is in three things outside of school at one time, that is at least one to many, depending on the amount of practice time. The parents and children get frazzled and are being chauffeured from practice to practice. What suffers is the family meals, which are one of the few areas we try to get right and I would highly recommend to any parents. Plus, frazzled parents make less effective parents as they are stressed and will say or act out in haste.

Being a parent takes an effort. If I could add one rule to the above it is to remember your sense of humor. Parents are not perfect, so we should not expect our kids to be. They will mess up and make mistakes. They will do stuff we did as children or will disagree with our points of view. I shared with our Australian friend Judy (who writes an excellent blog called “Raising the Curtain” at http://raisingthecurtain.net/ ) that my wife and I started sharing our mistakes with our children to show that we are not perfect, survived and learned from our mistakes and can look back on them and laugh. Our kids react well to these anecdotes.

“They did not invent families, people made families.” These words are quite profound. From the mouths of babes…

Why would someone hit my car in a parking lot and not leave a note?

I should have heeded the turned front wheels of the vehicle I parked next to when I pulled into the breakfast restaurant a couple of days ago. The only thing I remember is it was a white SUV type vehicle. Yesterday, after I backed my car out of the garage to get a ladder down, I noticed a small dent and white paint scratches on the  front right part of my car, made by a vehicle that was taller than mine. My speculation is my fellow breakfast patron (and it would have been a man, as I did not notice any female patrons in the uncrowded restaurant), backed out in a hurry and did not realize his wheels were turned and kissed my car with his left front.

The dent is not too bad, but is noticeable. Yet, what annoys me more is that there was no note and no one reentered the restaurant with a mea culpa. No one walked in and declared “who is the owner of the…….?”  It annoys me as someone decided that it was easier to just slink away. It annoys me someone would wrong another human being and not take responsibility. It annoys me how someone could be unaccountable. Of course, it would have taken more time out of both our days. Yet, it would have only been a trading of insurance cards and information. Now, I will be out my deductible to get the dent repaired.

Folks, I am far from perfect and make mistakes. We all do. I do my best to own up to them. That is what being accountable and responsible looks like. “I screwed up. I am sorry. Here is my insurance information. Please let me know if there are any problems.” This is what we owe each other. My hypothesis is the person got on his mobile phone when he jumped in the car (or before), started backing out, hit me, said “oh s–t”, looked around, corrected the car and drove on.

It should not be this hard. I wrote a post a few months back about a University of Toronto and University of California at Berkeley study on the impact of higher net worth and cheating. Here is a link:  https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/the-psychology-of-wealth-can-make-you-less-compassionate/. Through numerous measures, the study indicated a higher propensity to cheat if the person had a higher  income relative to others. The statistics revealed a 2 to 1 (and as much as 4 to 1 on same tests) higher propensity to cheat for high income individuals than those who had less. I am not saying the person who hit my car had high income. I don’t know. To me this is less relevant than the fact that people do cheat, even on unimportant things and for not significant financial gains. The loss here would have been time and maybe an increase in rating on insurance for the next year. The insurance company would have handled the rest.

I recognize this post won’t change someone’s stripes. I just ask that for those who do read this we encourage everyone to try to do the right thing. And, I when I do the right thing, I universally feel better about myself as I did what others expect of me. That is all we can ask – let’s be accountable and responsible to each other.

Football coach suspends team as a lesson in character

This may be one of the more adult measures I have witnessed by someone in authority in some time. It is worth sharing as we must always strive to treat others the way we want to be treated. Matt Labrum, the football coach for Union High in Utah, took a profound step to suspend his entire football team after witnessing and learning of poor behavior to others and an overall lack of accountability. With the support of his fellow coaches and, eventually the parents, he kicked everyone off the team and told them later how they could earn their way back.

The final straw that precipitated the action was some cyberbullying of a fellow student that was strongly believed to have been fueled or done by members of the team. Yet, before then, he had observed or been told of football players skipping class, showing disrespect to teachers and not being accountable to teammates. More on the subject can be gleaned by clicking on the attached link to Deseret News: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865587020/Taking-a-stand-Union-High-coach-suspends-entire-football-team-in-lesson-about-character.html?pg=all

The kids were devastated, but understood the message. We cannot tolerate poor behavior to others and you are responsible and accountable. Character is more than a word, it is something you earn by doing right by others. The team was told what they needed to do to earn their way back onto the team: community service, write an essay, and do day-in and day-out what we all should do – treat others like we want to be treated. The impact on these young men will carry with them the rest of their lives. Being a man is much more than being physically gifted. In fact, being physically gifted has nothing to do with being a man. It is being responsible and accountable. Per the line from “Rob Roy,” one of my favorite movies, Your honor is a gift you give yourself.”

What is also terrific about Coach Labrum’s actions is the echo effect it will have on others in the school and who are aware of this story. They will say to themselves, if it can happen to them, it can happen to me. So, please help me share this story by telling others about someone who is of the finest character – Matt Labrum and his fellow coaches. Well done.

I now have two 20 year-old children – when did that happen?

It cannot be. I am still young at heart, but the guy in the mirror whose face I shave seems to be not so young. But, now it is official. I have my second twenty-old child. But, I was just in college and starting my first job. How did I get older so quickly? I mean I still get acne for Christ’s sake. I do have one more who is only 16, but she will begin the college visit process in three months. Yikes.

I think today is a reminder that we are mortal and do not get a “do over.” We can change our path forward, but trust me young folks, it is going forward. Yet, we cannot look in the mirror too long. We need to enjoy our children and experiences. We should still pursue those dreams and embark on those journeys. We should journey down the paths and make new ones. I have found a wonderful set of kindred spirits on WordPress and other blogs who seem to have the same things keeping them up at night, but relish in the laughter of friends and families. I love to read their stories and anecdotes and reflect on their pictures. I get to be a mental traveler that way.

In six weeks, I will become the speed limit in age. Like Sammy Hagar, I may not be able to drive 55, but that will be the mileage on this old body. My gosh, I can start a pension. But, that cannot be me. I just had my first child. Then another, then a third. We celebrated my second son’s birthday before he headed to college, so the day of his real birthday has given me a chance to ponder. I have done some things wrong. I have done some things I could have done better. But, I lucked up and did some things right.

My bride has put up with me for 28 years, 29 if you count the year of dating. She is easily the better half. We have three wonderfully eclectic and interesting children who get along with each other. Our biggest rule is we must be civil to each other. Plus, they get along with (or tolerate) each other’s friends. There are a few strident personalities in the mix of friends, but my children learn to ying and yang with them. I heard my daughter tell one of her friends when we bumped into one of my oldest son’s friends at a festival, “you handled him well. You just don’t want to argue with him.”

For the most part we have our health. I still have to take a couple of pills to make sure the body works reasonably well, but we have been fortunate on the physical health side. I am excited for my kids. One is a rising senior in college and the second is a rising sophomore. I love when they do stuff on their own without a parent’s instigation. I love it when they tell you they have done something that is the right thing. I am working from home now in my current job and it lets me see this wonderful young person who is my daughter more. She is funny, smart and caring. Yes, she is a teenager, but the upside is well ahead of the downside.

On my son’s birthday, I wish everyone well. I wish the very best for him. He is man of many interests. That is cool. Happy birthday, Mr. D. Have a great sophomore year at college. Learn much. Have fun. Confirm or find your passions. Life is your oyster.



Dad would have been 83 yesterday

Dad’s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 83 years old. He passed away in 2006 and I think about him from time to time. Usually, it is a circumstance that he would have been interested in or it could be I just wanted him to help counsel my boys in college or my daughter in high school from a non-parental view. Mom kept his voice on the answering machine until this past year, when her machine needed replacing. She wanted a man’s voice to dissuade other from thinking there was no man in the house. I must confess, it gave me chills even seven years after his death to hear his voice on the answering machine.

I wrote about “Lessons from Dad” on Father’s Day, 2012. Here is the link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/lessons-from-dad/. Like all of us, Dad was not perfect, but he was a terrific mentor and role model. His funeral was very well attended by former workers and college friends, some couples who were still married, like my mother and father, who met in college. He was a beloved supervisor and the stories of his working alongside his colleagues overtime are many. But, also the stories of his staying up all night to smoke a ham and turkey in his smoker were many. He often would promote having picnics in the office where everyone brought something in. I would wager his colleagues did this at least four times a year.

Dad loved to cook on the grill or with his smokers. He also loved making Oyster or Brunswick stew. I used to tease him that he would always bring a wingless chicken in from the grill. He would sample the wings outside as he said they absorbed most of the seasoning. He also made the best roast beef on the grill. He had several approaches, but I have never found anything like it in a restaurant. And, like the picnics above, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter would always have him smoking a ham and turkey.

Dad was happiest when his grandchildren were over. He loved watching ball games with my older brother’s son who lived in the same city. Dad was a great athlete in college – basketball, baseball and track – so he loved to watch all, especially basketball and golf. He was married to my Mom for 55 years, so they were devoted to each other. His Achilles’ Heels included a couple of bad habits that would affect his health later on. He did cease the habits, but some damage was done.

Dad started smoking when he was 12 years old. That was not unusual in rural Georgia where he was raised. He did stop ten years before his death, but I believe it was due to direct doctor’s orders. This was a major reason he had blood circulation issues and several stents later on. He also drank way too much and, though, he also stopped this bad habit, some lingering effects remained. I will write more about this in a few weeks, as his youngest son had this bad habit as well. The only times he and Mom would have words is when he drank. And, the only times he would have lapses of reliability were when he drank.

Yet, setting those aside, my memories of Dad are very positive. He was my ball coach, my mentor and my inspiration. He was not perfect, but he was great. I love you Dad.

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.