Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

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10 Things I Hate to See ~ Especially In Black Folks

Mothers who cuss at their babies…. in public especially

Fathers who are absent from their children’s lives

Fathers who are present but may as well not be

Young people who are disrespectful to adults and older people. 

Adults and older people who don’t understand or respect the value and potential of the younger generation.  We have to learn to bridge the gap between the generations.  We can only do that together.  Each group has it’s reasons to exist.  One cannot function at it’s best without the other.

Saggin pants is one thing – I don’t have to like it.  But when the jenk is right above the knees and they literally walk with one hand holding the front of the pants up from completely falling to the ground….  What is up with that??

Tatoos on the hands, neck, face etc. when you’re young and don’t have any money and are looking for a job.

Folks who throw trash out the car window… That is some truly trifling shit. 

Folks who know their candidate of choice is whack, but refuse to speak the truth about it.

Folks who don’t vote because, “It doesn’t matter,” or “they are going to do what they do anyway.”  No the issue is that far too many of us (Americans) are apathetic and take far too much for granted, not understanding that the most astute constituents keep political leads in check.  When the public is uneducated or aloof, meandering about their miserable lives, then the few are able to control the fate of the many via the purse strings of lobbyist.  In other words, if there are 100 people voting in an election, and 80 of them are poor/middle class but astute, their votes will outweigh the value of any amount of money the remaining 20% could pay.  So do the math , get involved, educated. and participate.   

Pastor Rick Warren – A Faith and Visionary Leader

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama

A Model of A Man of God

This is truly a blog that I am happy to write about.  Over the weekend there was a historical event that took place.  In the home stretch of a presidential election, the pastor of a church was able to bring the two main candidates together under one roof – for one on one questioning.  Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA had both Obama and McCain at his church with a crowd of parishioners and onlookers.  Why am I so glad about this event?  Because in this age of extreme conservative evangelical ministers who want to stake their claim in the political game, Warren is a man who totally gets it!  

Most people know of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, after some 25 million copies have been sold.  Some may even know how he does not accept a salary from his church, how he paid back the salary the church had given him over a 20 year period one he started to benefit from the book, how he tends to preach most sermons at his church in blue jeans.  My impression of Warren took another turn when I saw him featured on Meet The Press last year.  (See Transcript) Listening to him talk about faith and politics was so refreshing.  In this day and age where men representing faith, mainly Christian faith come in the persons of Pat Robertson and James Dobson, guys who are dogmatic in their approach and single-minded in their schemes, Warren is a man who talks about his faith as a committed Christian man who has a worldview that is inclusive towards others in the country – even those who may not subscribe to his specific faith.  He understands that this time, this nation more than ever multi-cultral, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and yes multi-religious than ever before.  And yet we all have a stake in the plight of America and the direction we are to take.  He understands the big picture – and in that his love for mankind is actually a reflection of that of Christ himself.  Warren is a brother who’s spirit is attractive and therefore he is able to engage wonderfully with other people.  Now here is the best part.  Warren is not some ultra-liberal crack preacher who has an anything goes philosophy.  He has a set of values that are very fundamental to traditional Christianity.  The difference is that he does not behave as if he should damn the rest of the world to hell.  Neither does he act as if Christian beliefs are the only ones under attack these days.  Many evangelicals often play victim and act as if the whole world is conspiring against their beliefs.

As a result he was able to have enough influence to command the audience of THE two major candidates in the heat of the campaign.  In the sermon the following Sunday he spoke of how voters should respond to the candidates. 

Don’t just look at issues, look at character. Look at the candidate and say,  Does he live with integrity, service with humility, share with generosity, or not?’

This is much different from the approach I have heard for years where unless a candidate is dead set against gay rights, abortion etc., that vote is in effect a vote against God himself.  Warren understands like many of us that there are many other issues as well that are just as important to Christian and non Christian alike.  Issues such as poverty and education – these are American issues.  I would also argue that these are also issues of faith when you look at the complete teachings of Jesus.  Regardless a president has to be concerned about all of America – not just a segment that shares his faith – even as he holds dear to his own convictions. 

As good as the forum went, it wasn’t quite perfect.  In total fairness Warren had a set of questions and he used those same questions in the same order to both candidates.  Obama answered first.  And although McCain was said to be in a room tucked away until his turn came, it turned out he was not even in the building.  Where was the dear senator?  Somewhere tuned in watching the pastor interview Obama so that he could be ready for the questions himself.  As I watched McCain’s interview, I was surprised as to how easily he answered Warren’s questions – though McCain claimed them to be hard questions.  Some of them he seemed to rattle off before Warren could get the whole question out.  So as impressed as I thought I was with some of McCain’s answers, he was cheating and thus prepared with his script.  Look at the tape.  You can easily tell that there was virtually no reflection whatsoever – but a rapid fire of ready answers given.  Warren said initially that McCain was in another room.  Later he admitted that McCain was not in the building.  For the sake of my original point, I am going to give the good pastor the total benefit of the doubt here.  I believe he conducted an interview for the American people – specifically American people of faith with total honesty and integrity.  It was McCain who messed things up.  Of course Warren is too polished and graceful to accuse the senator – but he also knows that we can judge the facts and issues for ourselves.

Keep up the good work Pastor Warren.  I hope to meet you one day and enjoy some vigorous discussions.

The Best & Worst of Systems

 

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I was reading a column from one of my favorite columnist Sylvester Brown.  He talked about prejudice and a case he served on as a juror for.  This reminded me of an eye opening experience I had as a juror. 

When I got my first jury summons some years ago I remember talking to myself about this great opportunity to serve my community.  I checked in downtown and got my booklet which instructed me on the role of a juror and why I was there.  While waiting I read the book cover to cover.  Going in I knew that I needed to be impartial and to be ready to not allow my personal prejudices to dictate how I would rule on a case.  I was excited to say the least to participate in this most important of judicial processes.

Ahhh the case:

I make it past the first cut where we get to take questions from the attorneys.  The case consisted of a young male accused of selling drugs to an undercover police officer.  The young man was present with his attorney as was the prosecutor.  The laywers polled us by asking questions such as:

a) Do you know the defendant?

b) Have you had negative experience with police officers?

c) Would you need video or audio evidence to convict?

d) Are you more apt to believe a police officer over an accused individual?

Easy enough right?  Just tell the truth.  My answers to these critical questions:  I didn’t know the defendant.  I’ve had negative and positive experience with police officers.  If there was no video or audio I would only evaluate the that was presented.  I am neither apt to believe the police or the accused in any given situation.  Especially as it relates the case at hand.  My evaluation would be strickly based on the evidence presented.  See I had paid attention to my book – AND I meant every one of these words quite sincerely. 

Long story short I didn’t get picked.  Some of those who did however included a gentleman who said he would more than likely NOT believe the police under any circumstances.  And another who said he came from a family of police officers and was likely to believe anything the police would say.  These guys decided the case.  Eventually my time was up.  Three days of pay for reading a couple books, and hours of hurry up and wait. 

I learned a couple of sobering things about jury duty and the judicial system.  First of all the attorneys are not concerned about justice in the strictest terms.  The prosecutor wants a conviction.  Period.  He may have aspirations of being circuit attorney, attorney general, a senator or governor.  If he does not rack up a large number of guilty verdicts his chances for promotion are reduced.  At the same time the defense wants an acquittal.  Doesn’t matter really whether the person did it or not, but rather whether the prosecutor can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  The attorneys with the most aquittals command the lions share of retainer fees.  Its all a game and the jury are merely a part of the players.

Second, though a jury are supposed to be made up of peers.  I found that to be a mixed bag as well.  Listening to some of those people talk I knew damn well I would never want them sitting on any jury I was counting on if I was faced with doing time.  Lets just say many were without much depth.  Some only complained about not wanting to be there.   And that they would rather be home watching Judge Judy or something.  This was especially disheartening when I heard African-American women complain this way.  After all black folk get the brunt of the short end of the justice stick.  And while they don’t want to serve – let alone serve with honor they are the first to complain about the all white jurors who hung ‘Lil Ray Ray’ out to dry.  I gave them sisters a piece of my mind and explained to them that serving was an opportunity to have a say within their community and being an active participant in the justice system.  I asked if it were them on trial, or their sons or brother or cousin, would they want a juror with their attitude to determine their loved ones fate?  (Let alone if any of them were being tried themselves…)  Some shot me a look of death.  And others thought I had a good point. 

The conclusion is that we in America do indeed have the best system in terms of the idea and the model.  But there is no way to legislate righteousness and once the details are executed with people who have motives that may or may not have to do with truth or justice, the system can get out of whack.  Its a serious thing being caught up in the system.  If you have loot there is a better chance of having decent representation.  One can get investigators, doctors, psychologist, forensic experts ect. to speak on behalf of ones case.  But if your broke, the case can be as flimsy as a wet t-shirt at the Hooters beach party against you and you could still be a goner. 

Nevertheless, I advocate that those of us who are of sound mind, logical, reasonable, and compassionate should do all we can to serve on a jury when called upon.  We may not have the education that the lawyers have, but we still have the last say in most cases for common sense to rule in these complicated issues that effect people’s lives.  Be the juror you would want to have. 

Peace

A Call To Oneness – Listen up if your in “The Lou”!

 

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This looks to be an exciting and worthwhile project being put on by many committed men and hosted by “Shalom Church (City of Peace)” in Florissant.  You can click on the pics for a better look at the details.  There will be a panel discussion, workshops and a rally all coming up this weekend.  Activities and workshop locations vary throughout the area.  Call the number listed or visit the site for more information.