Saturday, April 11, 2015

Shame on Franklin Graham

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Gandhi

The face of Gandhi in old age—smiling, wearing glasses, and with a white sash over his right shoulder

Franklin Graham. 

If you are a Christian, you probably feel pretty strongly one way or another about Franklin Graham.  Take his recent facebook rant:

Listen up--Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority. Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear, and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority “because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” Hebrews 13:17

Truly spoken like a privileged white guy who doesn’t get pulled over for the color of his skin, the clothes he wears, the condition of his vehicle, the music he plays.  Spoken like a man who, if he ever was pulled over (or rather his driver) would feel nervous about keeping his hands in plain sight, about having to ask permission to reach into the glove box to get vehicle registration.  Spoken like a guy who has never had to live with racial bias or the threat of mistreatment by white police officers.  Spoken like a guy who probably doesn’t even know a Black person who has had to face an unjust system. 

It sounds like Franklin Graham believes that if you don’t want to shot by police, you should stop being Black.  

The mark of a good teacher, it seems to me, is the ability to empathize, to be able to put yourself in another's shoes, to see the world from another's perspective.  Entitled Franklin does not seem to have that ability.

Fascinating that Franklin says that we should obey authorities blindly, that unnecessary shootings could have been avoided by people (read: Blacks) simply laying face down on the pavement with their hands behind their backs would have avoided these horrifying events.  It is the Blacks fault because they didn’t obey.  Because they resisted.  Because they ran. 

They should simply OBEY.  And that Franklin invokes the B-I-B-L-E makes it the truth.  Because slinging the Bible around means you are speaking the WORD of GOD.  Right?  Because Franklin believes that FRANKLIN’S WORDS=GOD’S WORDS. 

That’s what Jesus did, right?  He blindly obeyed authority because it told him to in the B-I-B-L-E. (Hebrews is a New Testament book, which relied heavily on Old Testament quotes.) 


It was only because Jesus disobeyed the law that he demonstrated that he was greater then those laws.  He hung out with the unsavory, he interceded in the lawful stoning death of a woman accused of adultery (They were saying this, testing Him, so that they may have grounds for accusing Him.  But Jesus stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, he straightened up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  John 8:7 ), he healed the sick on the Sabbath, he flipped over the tables of the money changers in the temple (And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN"   Matthew 21:12).  The authorities were ticked at all of these and many more of his actions and words that revealed them (and those laws) as hypocritical.  Good thing too.

Many other great leaders who knew that the way to change wrong practices, practices that defied logic and righteousness, was to stand up to authority.  Indeed that is how most of the greatest changes in our cultures have occurred – by standing up to injustice.  How about the Sons of Liberty and the American Revolution?  There was some disobedience there.  How about Gandhi and his salt march – the beginning of the end of Britain’s wrongful imperialistic rule over India?  Lots of disobedience.  How about those who opposed slavery?  It was completely legal at the time.  Martin Luther King Jr.?  Rosa Parks and the other strong, brave, beautiful Civil Rights leaders who led our country out of oppression of minorities?  (Not to say that the battle for a free and equal society is over).  If not for courageous, strong souls who stand up for injustice, there would effectively be no change. 


I remember Billy Graham.   He was my wife’s grandmother’s hero.  He was an evangelist too.  But he wasn’t just a Christian leader.  He was a Christ like leader.  Sadly, his son Franklin gives Christians a bad name.  Shame on him.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

Heidi found this post on Facebook and insisted that I watch.  I love Fred Rogers.  I used to try to make it home to watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood with my boys when they were little .  I think I enjoyed him as much as they did.  It takes a few minutes to watch, but I defy you to watch the whole thing and not tear up.   

I found an old post about Mr. Rogers from my archive.  I wrote this about 5 years ago.  He was such a simple, complex, loving, honest, caring, straightforward guy.  

Last week I was looking for a quote by Fred Rogers. This was for a presentation at a big conference. I had read this quote before. It has to do with using what we learn about language and mathematics and how those powerful tools may be used for good or evil.

It took a while to find it, but along the way I ran across many wonderful ideas penned or spoken by the amazing Mr. Rogers.The guy was brilliant. His words were simple but elegant, easy to understand but deep.
The search for that quote reminded me of the time when my own boys were really young and we would watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood when I got home from school. This was before we had cable and the only channels we could pull in on the old rabbit ears were ABC, NBC, CBS and Public Television. Thank God for ETV for Kids. Watching Mr. Rogers with my boys was a treasure.His messages of love and self-worth were not just for the very young.

After all those years, reading his words again rejuvenated me. They reconnected me to that special time when Devin was about 3 and Colin 1 ½. Both boys in diapers and nothing else. That was such a special time for us. Such an intimate sharing. After the show we might hold on and watch Magic School Bus or head outside to romp around near the lakeshore.

All of this came flooding back as I read through quote after quote.What a smart guy. What an inspiration. Little kids hooked on Mr. Rogers were lucky. Grown-ups hooked on Mr. Rogers (and few of us would actually admit it out loud) were lucky too.

Finally I found the one I was looking for. When I first rediscovered the words it was pretty late. Heidi was already asleep. I read it aloud to myself to see if it would work to begin my presentation. I copied it word for word from the computer screen. For the next several days I carried it with me, pulling it out occasionally to practice reading it so when the time came to read it aloud to a big bunch of professionals, I wouldn’t choke up.

You know with the No Child Left Behind legislation and pressure on teachers and students to perform well on high stakes standardized tests, Fred Rogers words help me to keep it all in perspective. It’s not enough to merely be able to read. I want my students to laugh when they read something funny and to cry when they read something sad or touching. I want my students to read like they can’t wait to share something they have learned or well-crafted words they have read. I want my students to be moved by what they read.

Likewise, it’s not enough to merely be able to write. I want my students to be compelled to write, to convince, to share who they are and what they know. I want my students to choose their words wisely and to be able to move others by what they write.
So Fred’s words were perfect. They said, in few words, what it took me many to say. It is an honor and a privilege to share them with you.

"It's easy to convince people that children need to learn the alphabet and numbers. How do we help people to realize that what matters is how a person's inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life? What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of war or the description of a sunrise, and his numbers for the final count in Buchenwald or for the specifics of a new bridge" (Fred Rogers)

Friday, March 20, 2015

We Pray For Children

I read this poem a bunch of years ago.  I don't know it's history but I use it often when I speak to teachers about what our job really is.  I am a teacher of little kids.  I don't just teach math or reading or social studies.  I teach children.  This poem by Ina Hughes reminds me.

We pray for children
who put chocolate fingers everywhere
who like to be tickled
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants
who sneak popsicles before supper
who erase holes in math workbooks
who can never find their shoes


And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers
who never "counted potatoes"
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead
who never go to the circus
who live in an x-rated world

We pray for children
  who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions
who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money
who cover themselves with band-aids and sing off key
who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink
who slurp their soup

And we pray for those who never get dessert
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them
who watch their parents watch them die
who can't find any bread to steal
who don't have any rooms to clean up
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser
whose monsters are real

We pray for children
who spend their allowance before Tuesday
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food
who like ghost stories
who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub
who get visits from the tooth fairy
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime
who will eat anything
who have never seen a dentist
who aren't spoiled by anybody
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep
who live and breathe but have no being

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must
for those we never give up on 
and for those who don't have a second chance

For those we smother... and for those who will grab the hand of 
anybody kind enough to offer it.
                     Ina J. Hughes

At school we have a moment of silence every day.  "Please pause for a moment of silence," says the child who reads the announcement.  It used to mean nothing to me.  It was just this little moment where I would mentally prepare for the school day ahead.  Now I pray for children.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Hat

The Hat

I wrote this little piece last year when my third grade class was working on memoir.  

It was gray when I woke up; misty, foggy, cool – no, cold. Not a great day for the beach. It was chilly and gusty. The kind of day that made my ears ache when I went swimming. Michigan City, Indiana. 1968. I was 11 years old.

In early summer the downtown area was home to a bazaar, a fancy name for giant sidewalk/garage sale. All of the shops had racks and shelves of bargains outside. People were invited to bring their used clothing and household items and set up tables to sell their wares.

My mom was a bargain hunter. With seven children she had to be. My brothers and sisters decided to stay home that day. I’m sure they had better things to do. I wanted to go with my mom.

This was the kind of day my brothers and sisters loved to swim. There was a cold northwest wind blowing and the waves on the beach would be enormous, way over my head. I loved these days as well. There was danger involved in swimming these waves. They towered over you, threatening to squash you into the sand if you didn’t catch them just right. If you went out too far, the undertow could snatch you up and pull you out.

This latter danger was for people who didn’t grow up on the beach. Almost every day that the wind whipped up from the northwest during swimming season someone along the beach would be swept away. Chicago, Gary, Miller Beach, Porter Beach, the Indiana Dunes State Park, Beverly Shores, Michigan City. We would read about it in the paper, occasionally see a helicopter flying by on these days. When we did we knew someone had probably died. We pretty much knew what we were doing. We never ventured out far. Still there was the danger.

As for being smashed into the sand if we didn’t get on top of the waves we were body surfing, that happened all the time and we routinely walked back into the house with bad scrapes and sand rashes from this hazard. Those wounds were all right. Those scabs would become badges of bravery.

I got ear aches on these days. I could have worn ear plugs but that would be a sissy thing to do. So I chose to go with my mom to the sidewalk sale. With six brothers and sisters, I didn’t get much time alone with her anyway so this would be my chance.

The bazaar was very busy. Vendors, crowds of people, the smell of sausages and popcorn, laughing, bargaining, little kids clinging to their mothers’ dresses, occasional babies crying. Teenagers, parents, old people.

My mom let me wander around by myself for a while. There was a huge clock tower so, even though I didn’t have a watch, I could see to meet her at noon. I only had a quarter with me so I was just looking. I’ve always been intrigued by crowds, always been a people watcher even as a kid.

There was a table of old used clothes in front of St. Anne’s church. They were musty and wrinkled and piled on the tables not folded neatly or hung on racks as the clothes were in front of the stores. The poorer people were drawn to this area because the prices were so low. There seemed to be something for everybody. They were practically giving the clothes away.

One old man was wandering between the rows of tables. I’m not sure why I was drawn to him especially. He was one of so many. But I watched him carefully for the next few minutes. His clothes were very worn. Gray pants frayed at the cuffs and pockets. They were pleated pants. My mom would have called them trousers. Tired old jacket which could not have kept him warm on this chilly day. His fancy old dress shoes were terribly worn.  He needed a shave. His cheeks and throat were covered with short gray stubble.

He wore no hat and his head must have been cold. It was early summer, but that northwest wind… He was very bald and the gray fringe that surrounded his head was shaggy and blew in the cold gusty wind. He could have used a hat.

I wished that he had newer clothes. I wished he had a hat. In those few moments that our paths crossed I felt sad for him. I’m not sure why I remember him after all of this time, after all the years and distance; his windblown hair, his disheveled yet somehow classic clothes, his stubbly cheeks and the smile lines around his eyes. I don’t think I could pick him out of a lineup after all this time, but I remember the feel of him.

I wished he had a hat. It was chilly. His head, shiny on top, was blotchy from the cold. He must have been freezing with his threadbare jacket and his thin, worn pants.

As he walked down the long tables in what I thought of as the poor peoples’ section in front of the church, he would pick up one item then another. He would pick up a woman’s scarf, turn it over in his hands and, almost as if he were having a conversation with himself, would shake his head and return it to its place at the table.

Finally he came to an area on one table with hats. I was relieved. He needed one. There were stocking caps and baseball style caps, earmuffs and old fashioned felt hats like the one my dad wore to church. The old man stopped at these, meticulously searching through them for just the right one.

Why was I concerned about him finding the right hat? I had never seen him before, would probably never see him again. But I was mesmerized, silently urging him to find a comfortable hat to warm his bald head.

He picked up a gray felt hat with a wide brim. I think it’s called a fedora. He tried it on and it fit snugly. He sort of wiped his hand around the brim in an automatic gesture. I had seen people do that kind of thing in movies. They were rich people or gangsters.

The hat looked great on him. A lady at the end of the table was eying him suspiciously. She had a gray metal box in front of her – the money box. Perhaps she thought he would walk away with  the hat without paying for it. The old man didn’t look at her. I could tell that he was pleased with the hat. He had this dreamy faraway look in his eyes like he was remembering something from long ago. His fingers went around the brim again. He smiled a small stubbly smile, a satisfied smile, the smile of a younger man. It was the look of one who has found a jewel.

The money lady continued to glare at the little man. He reached up and took the hat off. There was a little piece of masking tape on the band inside the hat. A price tag. I couldn’t make it out but the man stared at it unbelieving. I could see his disappointment.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. All change. It surely wasn’t enough. I could tell by the look on his face. I wanted to buy it for him. I only had a quarter. It wouldn’t help much.

With a look of quiet disappointment and even embarrassment the old man put the hat back on the table - slowly, almost reverently. His shoulders drooped and he shuffled softly away. The money lady smirked.

All these years later I wonder why the image of the old man stays with me. Certainly I have witnessed sadder moments. On the news. In the papers. In books. So many tragic stories with greater magnitude. Why this man? So long ago and so far away.

Perhaps in a way this little story has served to make me aware of the small sufferings all around me. Perhaps this little memory reminds me of all the rich blessings in my own life. I am so blessed. I pray that I never take it for granted.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Keeping Me Warm

It has been chilly down here in the “Sunny South”.  Not unbearable.  Last winter in Chicago, where my brother Dan lives, I think they had 20 days (maybe more) below zero.  



They know cold.  Our cold has always been double digit cold and pretty infrequent.  Still, since we have lived Up North, we do have cold weather gear.

We keep hats and mittens in this old bench with a lid that raises and holds about two cubic feet of stuff.  I still have hats from WAY back in the day.  One is from an ill-fated hockey team from our days in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The Grand Rapids Grizzlies only lasted a season or two.  That was circa 1979 or ’80.  Who knew a knit cap could even last that long?

Anyway, I found myself with a random hat and gloves out of the mix.  When I got back I realized that the hat was one that my mom knitted just before she died.  She was always a knitter.  And sewer. And quilter.  And for a while, she made the most exquisite leaded glass.  She never really watched TV.  Her hands were always busy.  And almost always, they were busy making things for other people. 

Just before she died she went into this frenzy where she was going to knit 100 little caps for newborn babies for this project my sister was helping to sponsor in Kenya.  I think she made it to 60-something before she let go.  I’m guessing most of those 60-something caps are still in use.

At the same time she was working on a quilt for my nephew Mike.  It is a beautiful thing.  But her hands were not working very well at the end.  She had this vision in her head of how she wanted it to be, but her poor old hands could not cut with scissors.  One of the last times I went to see her at her “Tree House” in Brevard, NC, she was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to finish that quilt before she died.  She couldn’t use her scissors any more, but she could improvise.  She would make just a little cut and then use her teeth and the strength in her arms to tear the strips she needed.  Those she could still fit into the sewing machine.  I don’t now if it was the most artistic of all of the many quilts she made, but to me, her last quilt was the most beautiful. 

The gloves I happened to wear that night were once my dad’s.  They were driving gloves.  Does anyone even wear driving gloves anymore (besides my brother John)?  Jack O’Keefe died in 1989, just about 6 months after he retired from The Inland Steel Company where he worked almost all of his adult life.  In the early 60’s he took a job as a technical service rep.  He drove all over creation representing that steel company.  He loved his work.  You see, he was a real personable guy, the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with, to have a drink with, to have lunch with.  I wouldn’t say he was a schmoozer, but he was well liked by his clients and his work pals.  And that man drove.  And drove.  I’m guessing he put 50 or 60 thousand miles on the company car every year.  He also had considerable arthritis toward the end.  So… driving gloves. 

The gloves are worn now.  The fingers are worn through in a couple of places and the stitching in the finger webs has come loose.  But I think I can sew them up a little.  Maybe get a few more miles out of them. 

There was something comforting about wearing that combination of Ruck and Jack O’Keefe on that chilly night; something besides that yarn, spun like magic from the fingers of my old mom, and that old worn out leather, the same leather that comforted my dad’s arthritic hands, that kept me warm. 

That night I had a dream about my mom.  We were talking on the phone, like we had done so many times over the years.  We talked of school, and the family, and her home in the mountains.  We talked of the old days when we were all so much younger.  And just before the end of that dream, I asked her when she was coming down again for a visit. 

It was that question that brought reality crashing through that dream.  It was the question that woke me with my mom’s voice still in my ear and the image of her pretty old face in my mind. 

The next chilly evening, when I need to wear a hat and gloves, my choice won’t be quite so random.  I’ll have that old Ruck and Jack keeping me warm.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Parallel Conversations

Remember those rambling conversations on Seinfeld when the characters are talking about two entirely different things – as if they are actually talking to each other?  If the sound were down on the TV it would look as though the characters are engaged in a thoughtful exchange, but when you turn the sound up, Jerry is talking about not liking greasy food and George is discussing how annoying it is to have a loose button on his shirt.   Writing that kind of dialogue probably wouldn’t be that difficult, performing it might be a challenge. 

Seinfeld’s 25 greatest contributions to the English language

I think when my siblings and I get together we probably engage in parallel conversations a lot.  I might be talking about teaching and some funny anecdote from the classroom, and my brother Pat could be talking about fixing up a wrecked car that no one else would have figured could be salvaged.

The last time I was at the doctor’s office I was checking the calendar on my phone when this odd little conversation occurred on the bench next to me.  I am not very fast at the recording on the small keyboard with my thumbs.  But I didn’t have a book with me and didn’t have anything to write with.  I opened a new memo and text-typed this little exchange.  I missed a lot, I'm sure.  I probably looked deep in thought but was really just eaves dropping. 

An older gentleman is sitting on the sofa waiting to see the doctor.  Baseball cap, long sleeved shirt buttoned up to his throat, big worn out tennis shoes, age spots on the backs of his hands, big baggy trousers, rimless glasses, whiskery throat.

A little old lady walks in with a cane, parks herself on the opposite end of the same bench.  She has her snow white hair up in a bun on the top of her head, pretty, flowered, old fashioned dress, white cardigan sweater, the kind of little round spectacles that make her eyes look big.   Prim.  She wears nice shoes with stout heels.  Are they called pumps?  They look to be about the same age.

“Never been out of South Carolina.  Never saw the need,” she says, speaking in his direction.  “Nope, never saw the need.  Can’t see why people would want to wander around the way they do.”

“Yep,” says he.  “It used to be like Mayberry when I was a kid.  Mayberry.  Things were simple.  That kind of feeling is hard to find nowadays.  It’s just not the same.”  He looks straight ahead, but he seems like he is talking to her.  No one else appears to be listening.  He goes on.  “Got rid of my wife back in ’89.  She was always up to no good.  Didn’t give me no choice, really.  Just made a fool outta me.”

Little Old Woman seems to hear him and answers in her own fashion.  “My little granddaughter called me and said to look outside at all that snow.  I thought that was so cute.  She was all the way up in Michigan.  She just assumed that we had that same snow all the way down here.”

Little Old Man:  “I live in a old trailer.  It’s hard to keep that thing warm when it’s a cold outside.  It’s hard to live in a trailer."

Little Old Woman:  “Just imagine all that snow!  While our weather is balmy, down right balmy.  She looked out her window and said all she could see was snow.  She gets the day off school.”

Man: "‘Bout thirty years ago I did have me a house.  That thing was too much for me.  Of course my wife loved it.  She was always trying to make out like we was better than the neighbors."

Woman:  “I guess we haven’t had a good snow down here for many years.  Six years?  Eight years?  I don’t remember.  I’m sure glad we don’t have that kind of snow down here.”

Man:  “I would be a good maintenance man if my knee wasn’t so trick.  I did it for ‘bout thirty years.  It was ‘bout to kill me.  I didn’t have no benefits though.  No benefits at all.  At least now I got me a little pension coming in.” 

Woman:  “I was a school teacher for forty-two years.   Forty-two years.   Been retired for over twenty years.  Honestly, the kids have changed so much.”

Man: “I loved doin’ maintenance.  Wasn’t hardly nothin’ I couldn’t figger out if it got busted or just wore out.  They said I was a helluva fix-it-man.  That’s what they said all right.  One helluva fix-it-man”

Woman:  “Back then, kids were respectful.  Respectful.  They had to be.  If I whooped one at school, he got the switch when he got home as well.  Yessir, parents backed you up.”

Man:  “Never had no formal training at fixin’ things.  Just hung around my old man.  I suppose that was all the training a fix-it-man needs.  Real world trainin’.”

Woman:  “By the end of my time as a teacher you couldn’t even paddle the kids without signing a form and having witnesses and all.”

Man:  “Even fixed a heatin’ and air unit once.  Most people hadn’t even had no experience with air conditionin’.  But, yessir, I figgered it out just usin’ logic.  Logic is all it took.  Never had no formal trainin’ at all.”

Woman:  “Most times the principal did the paddling for us.  I would rather have done it myself.  That way the kids knew where it was coming from and for why.” 

Man:  “I fix all my own stuff now.  Couldn’t see hiring someone for somethin’ I could do myself.  Just takes a little common sense is all.”

Woman:  “Nosiree.  From what my niece tells me now you can’t paddle them at all.  Not at all.  Can you imagine trying to keep control without being able to paddle the ones who need it?”

Just before I left the waiting room, being called back into the inner sanctum, their conversations intersected. 

Man:  “Yeah, I guess that’s why I never felt so bad about never having no kids.  Never had to do none o’ that kind of stuff.  None at all.”

Woman: “Well I can tell you, sometimes a good paddling is just what those children needed. The good old ‘Board of education…”

If you had turned the sound down, it would have looked like they were conversating ‘bout somethin’ real interestin’. 

And I guess it was interesting for each of them to hear their own words, but I don’t think there was much of an authentic exchange of ideas.  More like two monologues running side by side.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Belt

“I didn’t mean it, Daddy!” said the little guy in the Lowe’s parking lot.  It was a pretty day.  Late afternoon, blue sky, balmy breeze for winter in the Southland.  “I didn’t mean it and I’m sorry!” 

“If you didn’t mean it then you shouldn’t have done it.” was the terse reply.  Dad’s voice was deep, low, menacing.  That voice held a promise of something dark. 

The child was three, maybe four.  He was being hauled along to Daddy’s truck.  Dad was moving faster than the little boy’s legs could carry him, so his toes were kind of dragging on the parking lot surface, sort of skidding along.  His left arm was being held straight up, his shoulder blade sticking out. 

Dad was grim.  We didn’t know what the child had done, but we had a pretty good idea what Dad would do.

“Daddy, don’t.  PLEASE don’t,” the little guy begged.  The mom trailed behind.  She had a resigned look on her face.  A satisfied look.  The kid was going to get what he had coming to him.  Heidi and I were going into Lowe’s.  I think we knew what was going to happen.  And it did.  Dad let go of the boy’s hand.  The little family was sandwiched between their truck and another car.   The child jumped around in panic and fear.  His eyes filled with tears.  Mom was behind him, blocking any potential escape.  When they were far enough away from the store, when they were in a place where few could see them, dad unbuckled his belt. 

“NO!” the kid said.  But Dad didn’t even hesitate.  They had been through this before.  “I’m sorry, Daddy.”  Dad pulled out his belt.  Slowly.  He was a big guy.  It was a long belt.  Black leather.  Then Dad grabbed the little one by the back of his shirt, up by the collar.  Again he lifted that boy almost off the ground. 

You know what happened.  You’ve seen it before.  We all have.

I am not saying that the boy was brutally beaten.  I suppose it could have been a lot worse.  He didn’t hit the kid bare-bottomed.  There probably weren’t any welts.  Mom stood there with her arms crossed across her chest.  Smug.  Satisfied.  The kid cried out.  I don’t know how many times Dad hit him with the belt.  A few.   It didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Dad hit his child with a belt.  Hit his child with a belt.  A belt. 

Heidi and I looked at each other and shuddered.  It was miserable.  What could we do?   Tell him that corporal punishment is wrong?   Ask what the kid had done and tell him that whatever it was – it wasn’t enough to warrant this kind of treatment?  Remind him that his child wasn’t an animal.  Tell him of the emotional residue he was likely leaving behind? 

And if we did intervene, how would Dad react?  Would he be embarrassed and toss the kid into the truck and whoop him even worse when they got home?  Would he tell me to mind my own f@%$ing business and hit the kid even harder? 

So, what we did, what I did, was wrong.  I didn’t do or say anything.  We heard the kid crying as we walked into the store.  It was haunting, you know?

I am not saying that I am the best parent.  I made plenty of mistakes.  Looking back – as both of our kids are men now, most of the parenting we do is being best friends, washing their clothes (as both seem to be laundry impaired), helping them pay rent and buy groceries and praying for them.  But when they were little they were never physically threatened or hurt as a way of disciplining.  I never spanked or pulled out my belt.  And they are OK.  They are better than OK.  They are good men.  We made it through the terrible twos, the sassy upper elementary times, the often self-righteous, indignant, in-your-face adolescent years.  We had some rough spots when we didn’t know what to do.  We were flying by the seat of our pants, right?  But hitting them never really crossed our minds. 

Still, I felt complicit with Dad’s crime.  I watched.  I listened.  I walked away.  The parents saw us standing there and it didn’t deter them.  Not at all.  So we just walked into the store to get our bird feed, our light bulbs, our HVAC filters or whatever.  But that image is left in my mind.  The sound of the little one’s pleading voice, the sight of Dad’s belt slowly unwrapping from around his waste, running through belt loop after belt loop until it was free and dangling from his fist.  The sound of the belt hitting that kid's bottom. 

And I wonder if that kid will grow up and whoop his own little kids for their petty crimes.  And what about when those kids are older and they have the will and strength to resist?  Will it go beyond a spanking?

Heidi told that story to our Colin, now 21 years old, when he came to visit last weekend.  He showed us this Louis C.K. thing on Youtube about parenting.  I won’t link it here as some of my younger friends stop by from time to time and it is filled with profanity.  Lots of it.  But I’ll include some of his words.  Because between all of the cuss words, there is a ton of wisdom. 

I like kids.  Parents, I’m not so crazy about.  Like this whole country, our thing is, it’s all about the children.  We have to do it all for the children.  And meanwhile, nobody gives a s#@t about how they raise their kids.  People put minimal effort into it.  They’re like consumers of their kids.  Like they want to call customer service, “Why does he play videogames all day?  I don’t understand why he plays videogames.”  Maybe it’s because you bought him a f*&#ing videogame.   You idiot.  Throw it away.  Who told you that was a good idea?...

And then the food we feed them tastes like insanity.  You used to be able to give a kid an apple, and they’d go, “Oh, thank you. I love apples.”  Kids can’t even taste apples.  Apples are like paper to them.  Because people force their kids to eat fast food.  I was in this hamburger place and this woman was like shoving french fries into this kid, “EAT IT!” 

The kid's like, “Mom, it’s salty, it hurts, I can’t eat any more.” 


We give them MSG, sugar, and caffeine.  And WEIRDLY, they react to those chemicals.  And so they yell, “AAhhh.”  And then we hit them.  What f&%$ing chance does a kid have?  We pump the stuff in there… “AHHhh!”


“’Cause I haven’t had actual nutrition in eight years, Mom.  I’m dehydrated.  Give me water.  Pepsi’s not water.  Give me a glass of water.  I’m dying.  I have sores on my tongue all the time…  Stop hitting me, you’re HUGE!  How could you hit me?  That’s crazy.  You’re a giant and I can’t defend myself."

I really think it’s crazy that we hit our kids.  Here’s the crazy part about it.  Kids are the only people in the world that you’re allowed to hit.  They’re the most vulnerable and they are the most destroyed by hitting.  But it’s totally OK to hit them.  And they’re the only ones.  If you hit a dog they’ll put you in jail for that s&%t.  You can’t hit an adult unless you can prove that they were trying to kill you.  But a little tiny person, with a head this big, who trusts you implicitly, f*&k them!  Let’s all hit them. 

And people want you to hit your kid.   You’re kids making noise and they’re like, “Hit him, HIT HIM!” 

We’re proud of it.  People say, “I hit my kids.  You’re damn right I hit my kids.”

“Why do you hit them?”

“’Cause they were doing a thing I didn’t like at the moment.  And so I hit them and, guess what?  They didn’t do it after that.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be taking the f$%&ing easy way out, would it?  How about talking to them for a second?  How is that…  What are you, an idiot?  What are you an ape?”…

“You hit him…  He’ll know.  That I’m stronger than him.  That it hurts when my hand hits his face.  He’ll know.  He’ll get some wisdom out of that.  Raising them right.”

I wish I could say that I am the perfect parent, that I know the answer to all of the difficult parenting questions.  I am not.  I can’t.  But doesn’t it make sense that if you hit a child; it also teaches the child to hit?  To wait until they can hit back?  To hit others who are weaker?  To get their own way through force? 

If we model violent behavior, doesn’t that make it right for kids to be violent?