Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Grown-Up Christmas Wish...In Memory of The Kids

I've thought of so many ways to begin this post because there are so many thoughts I want to tie together.  In the immortal words of Julie Andrews, let's start at the very beginning.  We all know it's been a little over 48 hours since we heard the sickening (literally) news of the senseless killings of innocents in Norwalk, CT.  The eldest of these was 56 years old, the majority, students, 6-and 7-year olds.  I must confess, as I read the story this morning to verify these numbers, I find it difficult to read as my eyes welled with tears yet again.  I don't mean to dwell on it or tear back the scab that is beginning to form as we heal, however we must.  We must not forget these children and educators, for if we do, we ourselves become numb to the gravity of the situation.  Make no mistake - this is a grave situation.  Make no mistake here, either - I am not talking about gun control, mental illness, the safety of our schools.  No, I am talking in broader strokes about our inhumanity toward each other as people.  By the way, my 'Wish' I mentioned is at the end of the post.  It's in the form of a challenge and I think you'll understand.

Fortunately, a friend posted something on Facebook that gave me the inspiration for this entry.  They simply said that they had been a recipient of a random act of kindness.  Someone in a Starbucks drive-thru, a man in the car just ahead of her's, paid for her coffee and bought her a cookie.  He then drove off.  Purely random, incredible, unsolicited kindness.  Sadly, we look at actions such as this as extraordinary.  I think that, in itself, shows where we are headed as a society.  It cost him little, yet made a huge impact.  It needs to happen more frequently.

 As I sat here this morning drinking my coffee, I watched commercials on television and thought about the shopping yet to be done.  Then, almost as quickly, the images and stories came flooding back.  Yes, many of us are sitting here with family today, yet there are 26 people whose funerals are being planned.  The majority of these are children.  That is simply not natural and something no parent should have to endure.  I imagine many of our own children were squeezed, kissed, hugged, and cried over in the past 48 hours than they had been in the past 48 days.  We need to do that more frequently, too.  I refuse to mention the name of the perpetrator of these acts.  If the national media wants to impress me, I will gladly sit and listen about each and every child that was killed.  If you want to give me a story, tell of the heroics of 27-year old Victoria Soto, one of the teachers, who died protecting her students.  Tell me about the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who died as she tried to stop the gunman.  I do not care why he did it, nor do I care to hear anything more of him.  Let the specialists figure out those facts, but for God's sake, stop making these people household names.  You're giving them what they wanted.  Stop it.  Now.

I used to be concerned, in my younger years, about what people would think if I said or did certain things or acted a certain way.  What I mean by that is, many of us (especially of the male gender) have been conditioned to tell our spouses and our families we love them.  It is noticeably rare that you hear two heterosexual males say, "I love you," to a friend.  Oh, how we've conditioned ourselves.  At this point, I have to interject that I have always been surprised and proud of how my son has handled this.  It's never fazed him.  When I was younger, I (like many of us, I think) hated my parents being around for fear they would embarrass me in front of my friends.  He, however, has never hesitated to tell his mother, father, and friends he loves them, even when he was in school.  Of course, he was the starting center on the football team.  Me, not so much.  No one was going to make fun of him.  Still, I have come to realize that what happened Friday could happen to any of us at any time.  Do you really want to be the one that left something unsaid to those that matter?  As I said, those were in my younger years.  I will gladly tell those that matter, especially as they have been in my life for many years, that they matter and I love them.  What's that?  You say you can't say it to another male friend?  Get over yourself - they matter, let them know how much.

Eldridge Cleaver once said, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."  Edmund Burke also said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  I choose think we, as a whole, are good.  I also think we need to do something.  Again, we'll have the gun control, mental health, safety conversations, trust me.  We all know they will come as they always do.  That brings to mind another famous quote by Albert Einstein, who said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."  We've continued to do the same things, repeatedly, and we've see the same result.  Am I the only one that thinks we might need to attack the problem from another angle?  Am I the only person that shakes their head when we hear these stories, thinks that we really need to address the problem, yet assumes someone else will take care of it?  Many of us do the same thing as we are too engrossed in our daily lives to try to make a real difference.  Knowing the demands placed on our time, as well as realizing our current efforts are not enough, we've got to find something...anything...that will allow us to affect change while not taxing our already-stressed schedules.  Therein lies the impetus for my wish.

Many of you are friends on Facebook.  I have to admit, there are many 'stories' and posts on that site that say, "Click if you hate cancer, scroll if you don't."  Please, people - we all hate cancer.  It's ridiculous.  "Click if you support our troops, scroll if they mean nothing to you."  "Click if you believe in God, keep scrolling if you don't."  I see many of these posts and, while we may or may not 'click', I'm going to challenge you to do something that will, hopefully, go viral and make a difference.  Here it is:

My Grown-Up Christmas wish if for people to remember this quote - "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.  You know why?  It's the only thing that ever has."  We seek change, yet know not how to go about it.  I'd like to see people share this with as many others as possible, then commit to a single random act of kindness.  To do this, daily, would make a huge impact, don't you think?  I can do it, my daughter or son can do it, my family can do it...and we will see a little change.  Think, though, of the amazing impact we can have if just the people reading this would do it.  How much time, and at what cost, did it take for someone to simply buy a cup of coffee for someone else?  We can all 'pay it forward' and we owe it to ourselves and, more importantly, our children to make the commitment.

There it is - my Christmas wish.  If no more children are lost due to senseless, depraved acts of violence, we win.  If teachers can go into a classroom and educate our children without having to shield them from harm, we win.  If we all get to the point where we actually show love, caring, kindness, and consideration to win.  Big.  We don't know how many Christmases we have left in our lives - none of us does - and this might be the solution that we haven't tried yet.  What we've been doing isn't working.  Don't we owe it to ourselves to at least try?  Thank you for taking the time to read and share this.  Thank you for doing something nice for someone you don't know.  Most importantly, thank you for beings friends.  Merry Christmas to all...and God bless us every one.

Until next time................

Friday, December 14, 2012

Typing Through Tears

It's been quite a while since I posted anything here which seems to be my new M.O.  There are those times, however, that make me decide I have to vent and let my feelings out if even to be put into words appearing on a screen.  Whether others read it or not, it helps me to say what I am feeling so I can come to terms with the incredible emotions being felt.  Today, of course, is one of those times.

The day started as any other Friday at work, my first call coming in from a co-worker who, somewhere during the initial part of the call, was perusing the online news feed of his computer.  "Oh, great.  Another school shooting.  Somewhere in CT.  Great way to start a Friday."  He was, of course, being very sarcastic.  We were sharing our thoughts at the unbelievable nature of these situations only briefly before moving on to the subject of work.  After a few minutes we ended the call and I began searching the web for information I needed.  When I brought up my homepage, it was then I saw the depth of the situation.  The reports at that time had 26 people dead - 18 students and 8 adults.  I was sure this was another high school shooting until.....I saw the photos.  Photos of children being led by policewomen in blue windbreakers and holding radios guiding a line of children that appeared to be in elementary school.  If the caption hadn't existed, this might have even looked like a line of children heading to a bus for a field trip.  Instead, it was a class being taken to safety, guided by these women.  These were...children!  I know that teenagers are children, too, though in these times that is easy to forget.  These children, though, are 10 years old and under.  Kindergarten through 4th grade.  How was this possible?

We know now that there are 20 children dead.  We also know there are 6 adults dead.  I say children, though we might as easily use the term babies.  I have a 16-year old daughter who, as any father will attest, will always be my baby.  The difference, however, is that she has seen things that taught her there is evil in the world.  She knows how to be 'streetwise' and aware of her surroundings.  These babies have not seen those things, nor do they understand the true concept of evil.  At least they hadn't known it until today.  As I turned on the television, my thoughts went immediately to my 5-year old granddaughter.  She spent the night with us the other evening and, best of all, wanted to bake cookies with me.  She fell asleep in front of the television and, after carrying her to bed, I tucked her in safe and sound.  In the morning, I got to relive times I had spent with my daughter when she was that age.  I gently woke her, helped her get dressed and brushed her teeth before whisking her away to daycare.  She talked the entire time we drove to school and I soaked in the memories like a sponge.  I was transported back to a magical time about 12 years ago that I had, to some degree, forgotten.  Today, though, I watched the television and openly wept.  I felt the tears run down my cheek as I said out loud, "These were just defenseless children, you bastard!"  I thought of friends and family that have young children and how none of us are ever prepared for the loss of a child in any fashion, much less at the hands of a sick, demented, twisted individual that did this for a reason no one can understand, nor one that can, in any way, be justified.

These were children whose main concern was what would be under their Christmas trees in 10 days.  They were thinking about what they'd tell Santa when he asked if they were good little boys and girls and what they wanted for Christmas.  They were thinking about the fun they'd have over their Christmas break.  They were, most likely, thinking about this being the most incredible time of the year.    Christmas, from this point forward, will be forever darkened for the families of the children that were in that school today.  This will forever be an anniversary of this tragedy and will take more than a little time to heal.  We will all, for some time to come, remember this as we did Columbine.

We'll spend the next few days analyzing and listening to details of why he did it, what he was thinking. We won't really care, though.  Babies have died needlessly.  We will talk about gun control and mental illness.  We will propose and pass legislation.  We will hear it on talk radio shows and national television.  We will discuss it at length and, in the end, it will happen again.  We will hear this news over and over again because we are drifting as a society, our moral compasses helplessly spinning.  I don't profess to have the answer, though I know it is not a gun control issue that requires more worthless legislation.  Every time we pass a new law, there are so many loopholes that we could drive a truck through them.  There are certain guns on the market that are not needed for self-defense.  This isn't the day for that conversation, though.  Today's conversation is how do we help, even in a small way, these families heal?

I am, and always will be, a fan of the television show, "The West Wing."  I have always thought the writing to be insightful and moving, while at times providing incredible quotes that fit our times and situations.  One such quote that I think describes how I feel tonight is this:

"All I know for sure, all I know for certain, is that they weren't born wanting to do this. There's evil in the world, there'll always be, and we can't do anything about that. But there's violence in our schools, too much mayhem in our culture, and we can do something about that. There's not enough character, discipline, and depth in our classrooms; there aren't enough teachers in our classrooms. There isn't nearly enough, not nearly enough, not nearly enough money in our classrooms, and we can do something about that. We're not doing nearly enough, not nearly enough to teach our children well, and we can do better, and we must do better, and we will do better, and we will start this moment today! They weren't born wanting to do this."

Mark my words, and I have heard it from others being interviewed today, this will happen again.  We need to stop asking why and become parents again.  I have asked over the past several years when we stopped being able to discipline our children.  I remember that spankings were thought to be detrimental to the child and that parents, if allowed to continue this practice, would far too easily abuse the child.  I'd like to go on record as saying it has gotten out of control.  I have seen children speak to their elders in a way that would have gotten me a quick meeting with my father's belt or hand.  I would have experienced punishment (and did) that made me learn my lesson which, truth be told, was needed.  We need to teach right from wrong and, though I am not an advocate of spanking and used it as an example, need to discipline our youth.  Would that have saved these children?  I don't know.  No one does.  I can say, though, that without discipline we are headed far off the course that needed to be set.  Making sure we discipline our children is a responsibility and not doing so is detrimental to not just them, but society as a whole.  Ask any of the parents of the children that died today.  Now, here I am ranting about child discipline, not knowing if it was a factor or not.  I can only assume, based on the previous situations we've seen, that it was.  Parents, too consumed with giving their children everything they ask for, have forgotten to give them the things they are truly in need of - our time and our love.

In another line stolen from the series, I'll paraphrase when I say, the streets of heaven are filled with too many angels tonight.  They are angles that should not be there but, rather, here waiting for that special day, Christmas.  They should be here, their nights filled with the anticipation of this holiday.  They should be snuggled in their beds counting down the days until that night, only 10 days from now, when they would pull the covers around them, fight sleep as long as they could, then drifted off only to awaken and run downstairs to see that the magic really exists.  These were babies and we cannot imagine, even as adults, the unspeakable hell they went through today.  Their friends and teachers that were fortunate enough to survive will never forget this day and will carry this with them forever.  We can only hope that they will honor their classmates' memories by learning respect and discipline.  We can only hope they will hold their own children close, later in life, and let them know they are loved every minute of every day.

I have ranted more than usual, written more than I should, and gone off on too many tangents.  Regardless, I feel a little better and my tears have dried for now.  I hope we all, from this point forward, do our parts to help each other do what we can to stop this madness.  We owe it to each other, if only through random acts of kindness that we commit as often as possible.

Until next time.............

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What I Remember...Not of THAT Day, But of That Time

I'm seeing tributes everywhere today. People stating that, "We Will Not Forget," or, "We Will Always Remember." Of course, we'll could we not? We, as a nation, lost our innocence that day. It wasn't the first time, either. A generation ago, our parents and grandparents felt a similar 'sting' with the death of Camelot. An 'ideal' was ripped from them and, together, they carried the scars of a November day in Dallas. Until 2001, we really hadn't experienced anything like that. Time, as it always does, moved forward...and so did we. Until.....

I was sitting in my car in a parking lot, talking on the phone with a coworker, when she told me a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I, of course, assumed it to be a small plane. As we continued our conversation, I heard her gasp and exclaim, "Oh, my God! I just watched another one hit the other tower!" Instinctively, our rational minds told us this was no accident. Across the country, we rushed to turn on our televisions and radios, while simultaneously calling family members to make sure they were okay. For the remainder of that day (and well into the next), we watched, over and over, as the planes flew into the towers. We saw the scarred landscape in Pennsylvania... and the gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon. Oh yes, we'll remember...and no, we will not forget.

For all these images, though, they aren't what I remember the most. While I mourn the lives that were lost that day, I prefer to keep positive memories…and there were many associated with these horrific acts. While it's easy to dwell on the surreal images of the jets flying into the World Trade Center.....I remember the flags. They were everywhere. Suddenly, and without a second thought, the American flag was flying from, what seemed like, every house in The country. it was flown over the rubble in New York, and used cover the hole in the Pentagon. For a brief moment in time (and something we should remember right now), we weren't Republicans or Democrats - we were Americans. We weren't black, white, or Hispanic - we were Americans. We weren't young or old, rich or poor - we were Americans. I remember, too, how selfless people were in their actions. We were kinder and gentler with each other. We actually made eye contact and spoke with others with a renewed, unified sense of American pride. It was almost as if, without knowing it, we had been transported back to the 50s. We respected each other and cared for each other, all while showing the world we are the 'United' States. Personally, and with the exception of the lives lost, I thought the terrorists made an egregious error and truly underestimated our resolve as a nation.

I mourn for the families that lost loved ones that day - we cannot imagine the emptiness they must feel. I also honor the heroes of that day - those on the planes, as well as the firefighters, policemen, and other emergency workers. That's something else I remember. While the freaks that perpetrated these acts were cowardly, we still have people that are willing to run INTO burning, smoldering buildings. 343 firefighters lost their lives that day, most of whom were asked to run INTO danger... and they never flinched. The same is true for the police and paramedics....and countless civilians.

That's what I remember. The flags that represented, at a time of deep national crisis, the embodiment of what our forefathers imagined for us 200+ years ago. We certainly made them proud and stood true to their ideals. I remember our heroes - men and women who, when asked, were willing to give up their lives for another. No, we will NEVER forget...for that day alone was one of my proudest moments to be called an 'American' and was a shining example of what we, as a country, stand for.

Until next time.....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Olympics Are Over - Here's How We Know...

I suppose I should have gotten to this sooner.  If I had, though, the "rest of the story," would not have presented itself.  I would have been stuck writing purely about The Games of the XXX Olympiad.  That, as we all know, would have been exceedingly boring, right?  Yes, I jest.  For it was in these games that we saw history made or rewritten repeatedly.  The most obvious example was Baltimore's own, Michael Phelps.  After assuring the entire world this was his last Olympics, we watched him become the most decorated Olympian in history.  Yes, he chose a sport that allowed him to be in a position to do so, however let's not forget - he had to perform to win the medals.  The final tally, as we've all been told, is 22 total medals.  Of those, there are 18 Gold.  Let's not forget the games in 2008, either, when Phelps challenged Mark Spitz's record of 7 Gold medals in a single Olympiad...and came home with 8.  He twice became the only man to win a Gold medal in the same event at three separate Games.  The list goes on...yet we've (supposedly) seen him for the last time swimming competitively.  There are many that hope, myself included, that he might consider Rio in 2016, yet another part of me wants him to ride off into the sunset so he can retire on top.  I liked his attitude, too, when told there would be many that would hate to see this particular retirement - "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."  Perfect.

We also got to watch the "Fab Five," in action.  Five young women dressed in leotards, their hair pulled back, looking ready to take on the world.  They were only teenagers, though they carried themselves with grace, dignity and confidence while exemplifying 'sportsmanship' to their competitors. Honestly, did our collective hearts not break for Jordyn Weiber?  She qualified 4th overall for the Individual competition, yet could not compete because only two athletes were allowed form each country.  Silly rule - change it.  We want to see the 24 best athletes perform.  We watched McKayla Maroney absolutely NAIL her vault for the team.  It should have been a perfect score...yet, we watched as she went for her individual medal and, though she is the undisputed 'best in the world' on the vault, she landed on....well, she sat down.  We gasped.  Still, we watched Gabby Douglas win a Gold in the All-Around, while Aly Raisman won for the floor exercise.  We were diggin' it.

There were other stories, lesser-known and told, that grabbed our attention, too.  One in particular that was aired on the Nightly News focused on one of our female weightlifters.  This young woman has always been big.  She had been teased and people made fun of her.  She also lived on $400/month while training and, at times, had to live in her car.  Why would anyone do that?  Why would they sacrifice so much?  Because, as she pointed out, she can call herself, "An Olympian."  It's a small, select group...and she is one of the few.  I respect that.  She wanted to represent her country...our country...on the world's biggest stage.  Impressive.

The most impressive story of these Games, however (I don't even need to say it, do I?) was a South African athlete...with no lower legs.  Oscar Pistorius.  Tell me again how bad your day has been.  Tell me the problems you have in life.  Tell me, again, how difficult things are and how hard it is to get motivated.  To watch him run was amazing, yet to hear the stories of his youth even more so.  His mother's words echoing, always, in his mind - "Disabled doesn't have to mean disadvantaged."  Powerful?  Absolutely.  I really enjoyed her brand of motivation when she told his brother, "Put on your shoes.  Oscar, put on your legs.  That's the last I want to hear of it today."  The most amazing part of this man, though, is illustrated in the picture.  He has become a symbol of hope for many small children and, more than many adults using empty words, is teaching them that there are no limits to what they can do.  It was, in short, an amazing Olympiad and all of England should be proud.  The world thanks you.

Then, however (and the rest of the story), we get an illustration of how that perfect harmony created every two years is only an illusion in the 'real' world.  It was a story written today regarding discrimination and harassment.  28-year old Imane Boudlal, a naturalized US citizen from Morocco, has filed suit against the Walt Disney Company.  In the suit, she is charging harassment and religious discrimination based on her Muslim religion and ethnic origins in North Africa.  She began working as a hostess at Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Resort in 2008.  She claims, too, that she was harassed by fellow workers and that Disney refused to accommodate her request to wear a traditional Muslim headscarf, a hijab, at work.  Ultimately, this caused her to leave Disney in 2010.  No, I do not have the dates wrong.  She left in 2010 and she is NOW filing suit.  Why it took two years to file this suit is beyond me...though I can imagine it might have something to do with the ACLU and an ambulance-chasing lawyer catching the story.  Okay, this is where I feel my constant disclaimer must be placed: I have nothing against practicing Muslims or, for that matter, anyone of ANY specific religion, race, creed, or color.  I just think that's a long time...don't you?  So...Boudlal claims the harassment began, "as soon as I started working there.  It only got worse when I decided to wear a hijab.  My journey towards wearing it couldn't have been more American; it began at my naturalization ceremony. I realized that I had the freedom to be who I want and freely practice my religion."

Wait.....let's revisit that for a moment.  If I read that correctly, she did NOT always wear a hijab.  She decided to do so at her naturalization ceremony.  She had been working without the hijab, then decided at a later time it was appropriate.  Disney, for their part, sought a compromise.  They offered her (with 4 separate choices) headwear that would both compliment her uniform, as well as allow her to accomplish her goal of covering her head in observance of her religion.  In addition, if she absolutely HAD to wear the hijab (something that she apparently did NOT), they offered her other positions that would be in an area in the back of the restaurant.  My point being - they tried to accommodate Boudlal and her religion.  They specifically made head coverings for her that she rejected. Why, if wearing the hijab initially wasn't an issue, would she reject their attempts at compromise?  I think we know why...and is an issue that is bothering many of us.  To all that want to practice their religions here, we are fine with that.  For those that beg our tolerance, we hear you.  For those that want us to accommodate your wishes, I have a few questions.  Why did you come here when you could have stayed in your homeland and worn this whenever you wished?  Why is it we always have to, "Press 1 for English."?  This is America and we are proud of the fact that we are a 'melting pot' of so many different societies, however we are Americans.  Period.  I wonder, as I have often in the past, what kind of tolerance we would receive if we were to go to your former countries and brought legal action against someone being intolerant of our religious beliefs or customs.  Yes, that's rhetorical.  We all know the answer...which is, quite honestly, why you are here.  Disney is an American company.  They have rules for their employees and should not be forced to bend to threats or legal actions.  The rule applies to all AND they offered a compromise.  Seriously, though...was it a compromise you wanted...or an opportunity to sue Disney and, like the new American Dream, rake in unearned millions?  When our ancestors came to Ellis Island, they came with a few dollars in their pockets.  The only real thing they had was hope and all they asked was an opportunity.  They did not come demanding we would do something for them.  They, rather, wanted to make something and help build this great nation.  Word of advice - you might want to try that...and see if the tolerance increases.  My bet is it will.  I'll stand beside you and help build 'our' country again...........

Until next time...................

Friday, August 3, 2012

True Colors - More Than A Cyndi Lauper Tune...and The Olympics

I have purposely waited, yet again to weigh in on this issue.  As with other issues, I chose not to have a 'knee-jerk' reaction, and to see how people on both sides of the issue acted and responded.  I am amazed.  Amazed, quite honestly, at how we treat each other, especially those that will tell you they are only pushing to 'be accepted for who they are' and are 'all about getting along equally'.  I'm calling bullshit.  Excuse me, but that is how fed up I am with the way people are treating each other and the so-called issue of hate.  Yes, by now you know I am speaking of the Chik-Fil-A situation and the comments made by Founder Dan Cathy.  First, let me clear this up and go on record - I have friends that are gay, both men and women.  I respect them and treat them no differently than others.  I had a cousin that was gay.  He died, not of pneumonia, but of AIDS, I think.  So you know I am not setting this up to be either pro-anything or anti-anything, there is the preface.  Okay...let's set the record straight, AGAIN, for those of you who simply want to push your agenda and twist people's words and actions to benefit your cause.

Dan Cathy was being interviewed by a Baptist magazine when he uttered those now famous words:

Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. "Well, guilty as charged," said Cathy when asked about the company's position.

"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

"We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

So there it is.  I have read those statements, read them again, and read them again.  I have looked everywhere, however cannot seem to find the part where they say they HATE anyone.  The man was speaking of the values of his company and his personal  beliefs.  They are Pro-family.  Please help me understand - I have read the list of organizations to whom they have donated money (their right, I believe) and I am struggling.  They gave money to the Family Research Council who has been controversially labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Okay, let's just suppose for a moment they ARE, in fact, anti-gay.  They may be - I do not know.  HOWEVER, we have to flip the coin to see the other side - gay and lesbian rights groups are upset because this group pushes an anti-gay stance....but wait, THEY'RE allowed to push a gay stance the same way?  Wait...I'm confused.  They are condemned for doing....the SAME THING you are doing?  What me, please.

I have heard that the groups to whom Chik-Fil-A donates are spewing vile, hateful messages.  I have to say, folks, that for the past few days I have heard more hate and vile spewed FROM the gay and lesbian community as they preach their own intolerance.  Again, let me restate - you will not see me being either pro- or against- either side.  I am merely stating observations.  They sell chicken sandwiches, believe they ought to be closed on Sundays, and are religious.  Why can we not accept that?  I hate to overstate the simplicity of this, but...If you don't agree, DON'T eat there!  You see, it isn't about what Dan Cathy said, nor is it about his restaurants.  One of my other observations is that, while certain groups are begging our understanding and our acceptance, they only want to do so with a fight.  There it is.  You have to admit, in the grand scheme of things, the gay and lesbian community has already gained far more acceptance than many wanted to give.  Compare this to 30 years ago.  Hey, compare it to 20 years ago.  Think you haven't made strides?  You have...but it isn't enough, is it?  Will it ever be? Let me ask the million dollar question - what is it you REALLY want?  You want the discussion, let's have it.  What would it take for the parades to stop?  What would it take for you to stop telling me (or us) we are inconsiderate of you?  Marriage?  We're getting there - do you really want me to give you the whole, "Rome wasn't built in a day," speech?  Oddly, the friends I have that are gay or lesbian never seem to be the people that are involved in these protests.  This, like the Pro-Choice/Abortion issue, only ever seems to attract the people that need to grandstand.  Yes, you folks really hurt Chik-Fil-A yesterday, huh?  They had record sales.  Today, however, when you staged your Kiss-A-Thon or whatever it was called, there were about two dozen people that showed up to kiss their significant other.  Know what Dan Cathy did?  Shook his head in he handed over another twenty sandwiches to the public.  Yesterday should have told you something and it goes back to my question - what do you really want?  If tolerance is the answer, then stop pushing your agenda on everyone.  Can you not see by yesterday's sales that there are still MANY people in this country that DO believe with Mr Cathy?  Listen, we are more than willing to be accepting...if you'll agree to stop making everything a fight.  You think you have to, however you might try actually having a conversation first.  Honestly.  Give it a try...then we'll talk.  For now, though, heed the opposite of Nike's words - JUST DON'T DO IT! (eat there, I mean).

While we're at it, I don't want to hammer the gay/lesbian coalition solely.  Next up?  Bob Costas.  Yes, Costas worked his media magic last night when sweet little Gabby won her gold medal.  Costas had to note that Gabby was the first black to win this medal.  As I've said before, I cannot be politically-correct so I will still say 'black' which, as far as I can tell, my black friends that did NOT come from Africa are okay with.  Costas also noted that, "Tomorrow, there will be young African-American girls all over this country wanting to take gymnastics now because they know they, too, can win the gold."  Bob, you're an idiot.  Personally, after three consecutive gold medals for the young women of our gymanstics team in the All-Around portion, I'd say there are scads of young women - white, black, yellow, purple, green - ALL knowing they can do it.  This is not about black or white.  This is about Red, White, and Blue.  I sat on my couch watching a young woman my daughter's age, having left her mother and move half way across country to be with strangers....JUST so she could be the best in representing her country.  As a matter of fact, you could take the entire "Fab Five" and paint them any color you want - I'd still be amazingly proud of the way they represented us.  Let's start with Jordyn Weiber - she got left out of the finals even though she placed in fourth in the preliminaries.  She is the reigning World Champion but the two-finalists-per-country rule (which needs to be changed, by the way) kept her out. Instead, we had a 4-way run at the title while others placing far lower competed.  is THAT the Olympic Spirit?  Jordyn, though, after a few moments of sadness, rose to the occasion and cheered her team on.  Rules, after all, are rules and she abided by them.  When Aly Raisman tied for third and was placed in a tie-breaking fourth position (another NEW rule from earlier this year) she accepted it...and said she was okay with being 4th in the world.  I've seen our swimmers congratulate those whom they've beaten and others do the same.  This is absolutely not a black and white issue, Bob.  This is an American issue.  Sadly, race relations will NEVER get better as long as we have the media continuing their sensationalizing of each and every moment...just for the sake of ratings.

I know this has been somewhat rambling, though I hope it is coherent.  I've jumped around but these issues ALL matter today and I wanted to touch on all of them.  The 'jumping' is what happens when there are too many thoughts...and my fingers cannot type quickly enough.  Please, folks, seriously...can we not treat each other with a little bit more care?  Can we not truly be more understanding and accepting?  I know we have differences - we always will.  Either we learn to accept our differences and get along or it's going to continue to be a bumpy, hateful, unkind road.  I know which I'd prefer...and which would be best for us all.  Let's try, if even for a little while, what do you say?

Until next time..............

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Saddened and Ashamed

I always thought of becoming a lawyer.  No, really.  I thought it would be a pretty cool gig...until I heard the jokes (and had first-hand knowledge of some lawyers).  You know, the ones we've all heard - "What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?  A great start."  Sad...but oh, so true.  Still, I thought it more of the process that was a calling, and having to actually debate.  That's it - the debate.  That is what I enjoy.  With that, I cannot imagine how easy it would be to debate some on the issues of the day.  Are these issues what have me "saddened and ashamed"?  To a degree, yes.  The thing is, I am more frustrated than anything, I believe.  Frustrated in the fact that people - everyday people with actual brains and minds and thoughts - are so easily swayed by the media.  I now realize, as well as have firsthand knowledge, of the fact that we are easily duped by the media in print, on the radio, and on television.  Yes...firsthand knowledge.  The 'sharing' is coming up - give me a few seconds to set this up...because I am ashamed and embarrassed about us as a society right now.  **WARNING: IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN OPEN MIND AND CANNOT READ FURTHER KNOWING I HAVE DONE MY RESEARCH, CLOSE THE PAGE NOW.  PLEASE.**

I hate and abhor child molestation and abuse.  Period.  Vile and disgusting and a theft that can never be repaid.  As a parent, I can state publicly that I used to live next door to a state trooper.  When my daughter was but two or three years old, he and I were sitting in my garage looking out to the street where the kids were playing.  He was telling me of some of the more horrific crimes he had investigated, including one with child molestation.  At that point, I politely informed him that, should anything even close to that ever happen to my daughter, he was to come to me first and make sure I was restrained.  Then, he was to go into my home and remove all weapons and ammunition.  Then...and ONLY then...could he tell me what happened.  I would, without question, be like Samuel L Jackson in, "A Time To Kill," where he avenged his daughter.  So w're on the same page, right?  You get it and understand?  Current events - Jerry Sandusky should rot in hell.  Period.

I have purposely not spoken out on this for a few months as we watched how it all played out, AND I wanted to let Louis Freeh do his job as an Independent Investigator into what happened at Penn State.  So everyone knows - I am from Pennsylvania originally, however I was NEVER a Penn State fan.  I went to Temple University and prayed for them to, at least once in my lifetime, beat PSU in football.  I then moved to Virginia and had a son that went to VA Tech.  My friends and former roommates went to Tech, too.  I pulled for them, BUT....I have ALWAYS been a fan of the Crimson Tide.  Since a kid growing up in PA, I respected Bear Bryant and the team in Tuscaloosa.  I respected Joe Paterno...BUT was not a disciple.  I respected him for what he meant to the game.  Hell, who wouldn't respect someone that did what he did for the kids that went to school there? A-HA!  There you are saying things that I have been reading and hearing this week - "He was a pedophile-enabler," or "He covered up child abuse - Louis Freeh said so and I heard it on TV!!"  There is the problem.  How many of you actually read Freeh's report?  Yes, I have.  All of it.  All 267 pages of it.  Was I bored?  No.  Was I curious? No.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing because, as I had grown up with this name being part of the school all my life, I found it hard to believe AND I was hearing conflicting reports from those that HAD read the report.

What was reported on television by Louis Freeh and others was his summary.  It should be noted, too, that the ONLY key witness he spoke to was Graham Spanier.  In his summary, he stated that, "It would be a reasonable conclusion," to assume certain things.  Call me fickle, crazy, or just a non-believer, but I STILL believe in Due Process.  That we are, fundamentally, innocent until proven guilty.  Again, let me reiterate - Child Abuse and Molestation is WRONG and SHOULD NEVER BE TOLERATED.  With that said, though, who among us (show of hands, please) would like to be accused of something like this (Oh, CAN and HAS happened) without your day in court?  Now, having said that, too - Jerry Sandusky was found guilty.  Due process at it's finest.  Schultz and Curley are yet to go to court, however they are charged with perjury.  Graham Spanier was forced out.  In ALL of the Freeh Report, I found mention of Joe Paterno having been told of an act of abuse and he reported it.  Yes, to the Campus Police...who, by the way, are a recognized police force in the Commonwealth with all rights and responsibilities of any other municipal police force.  He reported it...and Curley, Schultz, and Spanier did nothing to either inform the Board of Trustees, nor go to the Dept of Public Welfare.

I've heard a lot about the situation that started in 1998.  Here are the facts - this instance WAS investigated by the police.  There was also a psychologist involved that concluded that there was no sexual abuse at that point.  Then, in 2001, there were actually detectives in a woman's home AFTER her son had showered with Sandusky at the school that overheard him ADMIT to this.  Still, no charges were filed.  The current Governor, Tom Corbett, Attorney General of PA at the time, did NOT seek an indictment.  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  Now, Louis Freeh states in the report that, Schultz, Curley, Spanier, and Paterno were aware of the alleged instances of molestation, yet did nothing to protect the children from further acts?  I want to know where the police, investigators, Attorney General, and others were when THEY WERE AWARE of these acts yet still DID NOTHING.

I think what happened on this campus is a tragedy and a travesty.  There are many that need to pay, however lets make sure we get the right people AND punish everyone that had knowledge of, yet did nothing.  For everything I've heard about Joe Paterno having (by his own admission) not done enough, there are far too many that did NOTHING.  Graham Spanier, most notably, should be locked away.  Schultz and Curley should join him.  Paterno is dead.  If you read the report, you might have a difficult time wondering how the NCAA could exact the punishments they did.  You might truly have to ask, "Wait a minute - was this really a 'Paterno-initiated' issue?"  It was not - read the report.  You've let the media tell you what it says...and they only have 3 minutes of a 30 minute broadcast each evening.

Here's my final point, and one I am struggling with a lot.  I have heard many people screaming on the radio about how, "it's about the kids.  We need to stand up for the kids.  What Joe Paterno did is horrible and we need to protect the kids."  Joe Paterno did not rape little boys and, as far as I can tell, he and Mike McQueary are the only people that told anyone voluntarily.  I am struggling to figure out, though, how taking down a statue, removing his wins from a record book, or penalizing today's players is helping the victims heal.  If you're going to take $60 Million and give it to the families, I'd say it's a start...but I am guessing there is nothing anyone will ever do that will truly heal them of what happened at the hands of this vile scum.  Should something be done?  ABSOLUTELY - to the people that truly helped cover and conceal things.  The three I mentioned, the Board of Trustees, and the Governor of PA.  THESE are the people that let him continue doing these things.  To the fans and alumni of Penn State, I can answer your question, too - "Why Joe Paterno?"  Because.  Because he was the face of the school forever.  He ran a good program that was violation-free.  To indict the players - ANY of them - that played for him is unjust and unfair.  They did not do this.  As a matter of fact, the "Grand Experiment," as they say, is over.  Yet, just two days ago a report was released documenting NCAA football programs and their graduation rates.  I was proud of Alabama at #5...yet it paled in comparison to Penn State standing, still proudly because it is a statement about their players, at #1 with the highest rates in the country.

I'm sad and ashamed that we allow people to be knocked down because we are eager to see them fall.  Amazing that, in this day and age, we still cannot stand to see someone doing the right thing.  We just KNOW there has to be a scandal there.  Think what you want and take from this what you will.  I did not write in support of Penn State and I would gladly string up anyone harming a child in ANY way.    There is no way, after reading this report, that I believe the corrective actions of the NCAA were properly placed.  There are criminal charges to be filed.  While we all KNOW college football is big on these campuses, let's not make a statement just for the sake of saying college football has too much power.  Let's convict the criminals.  If we, as citizens, want to make this our Saturday calling and give the money we do, so be it.  That's a statement about us, not the school, and we're empowering these programs.  It's the same reason athletes are making 30 gazillion dollars after college - WE allow it.  WE go see them play.  I just think fair is fair and right is right.  It's the way I was raised.  Let's make our 'informed decisions' based on ALL the facts...not conjecture from talking heads on TV.  I was also taught to think for myself and get all the facts before reacting.  We need to do more of that.

Until next time..............

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Failure of A School District and Their Administration

The title of this post says it all.  I am, without a doubt, both shocked and embarassed by the school district I attended while growing up.  Their most recent actions have an entire community (from what I can tell, anyway) feeling the same way.  I suppose I should give a little background that will help explain why the feelings are so pervasive, then delve into what the school district has done.  When I was in elementary school, as with most of us, the educators asked who wanted to play an instrument.  Did you want to be in the band or did you have an interest in string instruments?  Even at the age of 9, I knew I was too cool to be one of 'those kids'.  Play an instrument?  Stay inside and practice while my friends were outside playing?  Nope.  Wasn't going to be me.  My parents found out long after the program had begun that I had decided, on my own, that I wasn't interested.  Not a pleasant night at home.  Then, as luck would have it, the band director recognized the future need of trumpet players in the high school program.  We were only in sixth grade, but the 'feeder' program was well utilized, and the music educators in the district communicated regularly.  It must be noted, too, that we lived in a small town of about 40,000 people that had three high schools.  The class sizes in the schools were small and the total enrollment when I graduated, encompassing grades 9-12, was right around 800 students.  This will play a part later in the post.  So, back to the story - I was in sixth grade and we had a chance to join the band program.  I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice so I signed up.  Fast.  There you have it, folks - I was a 'band geek' that played trumpet.  Yeah, I with it.

When we finally got to high school, the band director had spent years building the program and had begun competing at various marching competitions around the state.  Our freshman year, we were told there was a goal at the end of the season - we were going to head to the State Championships in Philadelphia held at Veteran's Stadium.  The year was 1975 (an eternity ago) and it was late August when we went started band camp.  No, nothing like the American Pie movies.  This was serious stuff...kinda.  We spent the last two weeks of August at the practice field by our high school, starting at 8:00 in the morning until late in the afternoon.  We eventually had the music memorized, the show on the field, and then continued to run through section after section perfecting it.  We continued to practice during the week, every Wednesday evening, as well as the hours spent after school.  By the end of the season, we were ready and headed to Philadelphia.  This little band walked onto the astroturf at Veteran's Stadium on a cold November afternoon...and proceeded to win the state championship in the Independence Division.  No big deal for many, yet one of the awards was the opportunity to march in the July 4th parade in Philadelphia, our nation's birthplace, on the country's 200th birthday.  In was a very big deal.

Fast forward three more years.  Not only was I in the band at that point, but some of my close friends had gotten me to join the Hanover Lancers, the oldest drum & bugle corps in the country.  More practice, more competitions, more fun.  A LOT more fun.  I had joined the orchestra as a trumpet player, too, and my closest friends shared these passions.  There, I said it.  Music mattered to us.  So here we were, three years later, and we'd spent the previous two years growing the program and rising to a different level as we had moved up a division and were now competing against larger schools.  We'd finished respectably those years while a sophomore and junior, but there were no other championships.  When I was a senior, I was joined in the band and orchestra by my sister.....who, it turns out, is a show off, too.  While I struggled to be proficient at one or two instruments, she proceeded to play clarinet, oboe, piano, saxophone, harp (yes, harp) and anything else she could to show me up.  She was good at them all, too, damn it...but, I digress.  So our senior year, our band director and staff decided we ought to try another goal.  This time, though we would continue to head to Philadelphia for the state title, it was decided we would also take a trip west.  Midwest, actually.  The Marching Bands of America National Championships were being held in Whitewater, WI.  They'd be held in June, I believe, which meant we would have recently graduated but (as with all schools) were still considered eligible for that year's competition.  In addition to the Grand national Championships, it was decided we ought to get a feel for the competition along the way.  There happened to be a competitive 'tour', held the week before we headed to WI, in Iowa.  The Mid-Iowa Combine was held in several different towns, several evenings in a row, where the same bands (typically) would compete against each other.  Think of it as a warm-up for Wisconsin and a way to gauge your competition.  The typical day consisted of waking up, usually on a gym floor or classroom in our sleeping bags, heading to breakfast set up by the parents group, then off to practice.  We'd practice until noon, then have lunch.  at some point, we'd load the trucks and buses, head to the town where we'd be competing, rest a bit, then practice again before getting dressed, warming up, and taking the field.  An entire week.  We loved it and I can honestly say it was one of the best trips ever.  We got to know people from NY, NC, MS, VA, as well as many other states, though there were certain schools with whom we developed a friendly rivalry.  After heading to Wisconsin and the University of Whitewater campus, we took the field on a warm summer night....and proceeded to win the second place trophy in our division and 5th place overall.  The only school in our division that beat us, Sylva-Webster from NC, was crowned National Champion overall so, it can be argued (we do) that the only school that beat us was the National Champion.  Again, of a school of about 800 students, our band had about 140 members.  Quite a percentage of the entire enrollment, don't you agree?  All this because George Rutledge, Charlie Brodie, and Bob Shreffler kept pushing us to excel.

The years following graduation had fostered a love of marching band that afforded me the opportunity to work with several high school bands, including the school in Atlanta where our director had relocated to start a new program.  I had the opportunity (one that I missed, unfortunately) to march with Spirit of Atlanta, a Drum Corps International corps.  If you ever want to really understand what I am speaking of, go to YouTube and search DCI or drum corps.  Watch the Blue Devils or the Garfield Cadets.  Any of them actually.  Tell you what, try the link below.  I think you'll be impressed.

So how does this tie in to the title of this post?  In the past several years, the enrollment in the music programs in my former school district have decreased greatly.  Now, as with many other districts around the country, there is a movement to eliminate the music program.  In Hanover, PA, the school district has decided to eliminate the band and orchestra from the elementary schools.  This was decided at a closed meeting with NO debate.  Students will not be able to begin until sixth grade now AND they must be deemed 'proficient' or 'advanced' on the PSSA's which, I imagine, are standards of learning tests.  The district, as I understand it, is trying to cut the orchestra program altogether.  This is where I have a HUGE problem and take issue with the administration.  I am not an educator...but I read and consider myself educated.  There are multiple studies showing a direct correlation between a student's aptitude and abilities and their involvement in the arts, notably music programs.  As someone who did not want to join the band, I can honestly say that I believe these actions to be a major error.  We have students today that are proficient at typing...on their cellphone.  I believe it is the responsibility of the district and the educators to foster the same love for music in today's students as was instilled in us, if not a greater love.  We are seeing lowered test scores every year, yet we are trying to cut programs that would enrich the lives of our youth.  We, as adults, ask almost daily what is happening to our kids today, yet we allow school districts to make ridiculous decisions.  Ironically, there never seems to be a shortage of funding for athletics (this coming from a very big college football fan), and we are continually noting the issues with sports.  Let me ask - when was the last time a tuba player suffered a concussion while playing?  Who was the last violinist to be accused of taking steroids?  When did one of them lie to Congress about what they were doing in the Orchestra pit?  You get my point....right?  I have to say, I am sorely disappointed in the school district (any district that goes down this path), and wonder what might have happened if they had considered this move in 1979.  How long it might have taken to run them out of office had they decided  our program needed cut.  It never would have happened because the parents wouldn't allow it, nor the students.  This needs to be reconsidered and changed.  Students need the arts and we, as responsible adults, should be finding a way to provide access for all.  

Until next time.................

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Do We Expect of Our Kids? In Support of Jessica Barba

If you do not know this young lady's name, you should.  Jessica Barba is a 15-year old freshman at Longwood High School in Middle Island, NY.  Jessica tried, albeit somewhat in vain, to make a difference.  Jessica followed the rules, thought outside the box, and participated in a class project in which the students were told to create a project about an important issue.  Jessica chose to do her project on, and raise awareness of, an issue that has been in the news a lot recently - bullying.  Before I delve into what, exactly, Jessica did for her project, I will be the first to admit that, upon hearing the initial reports and increased coverage of this issue, I was one that said, "Really?  This has been going on forever.  We've all been, at one point in time, exposed to bullying.  We've all either been a part of a group that has seen it, contributed to it, or (worse) been the victim of it.  Get over it - it happens all the time."  I will also be the first to admit (write it down!) I was horribly wrong.  The bullying we experienced as kids was far different than what kids experience now.  Kids, for some reason, seem to be more cruel and hateful in their bullying now.  What were seen as 'harmless pranks and comments' then are far more extreme now.  More importantly, the way these things are dealt with now are nore extreme.  Victims of bullying in years past might have gone home and cried.  They might have had to get a parent to calm them down and reassure them that it would be okay.  Today, kids are far more likely to do something drastic.  It seems, at least, that they are far more likely to exact revenge or, sadly, take their own lives.  The stories in the news are filled with these after-effects.  It is sad but horribly true.  This is an issue facing our teens and we, as parents, are struggling with how to address and cope with it for the safety of our children.  It is also a time when we often bemoan the fact that, "this younger generation never puts forth any effort and only makes the problems worse.  None of them are leaders enough to take a stand."  Enter 15-year old Jessica.

Again, thinking 'outside the box', Jessica created a fake Facebook page and made a six minute video about the fictional Hailey Bennet (played by Jessica) who lost her mother when she was three years old, was abused by her father, and was then left alone when her best friend moved away.  She gets bullied at school, is made fun of on the fake Facebook page, and eventually ends her life.  Keep in mind that both the video AND facebook page had disclaimers stating that Hailey was a fictional character.  What happened next is what caused the problem.  A concerned parent saw the page and, apparently, did not view it thoroughly enough.  The parent called the police, who then contacted the school.  On the FB page, Jessica (as Hailey) had posted updates stating that she wanted to be dead.  When called to the principal's office, Jessica was confronted with printouts from the FB page that did NOT include her disclaimer.  Though she tried to plead her case to administrators, the person that printed these pages did not scroll down far enough to include the disclaimer.  Her mother later brought the same printouts that clearly showed it, however school officials did not seem to care.  Here comes the really incredible part....

Jessica faced a suspension hearing at school today.  As I write this, I do not know the outcome, however I know what it should be.  The administrators stated that her video was, "unfortunate in that it created a substantial disruption in the school."  Good!  It should have!  We preach and harp and put the issue on television and tell the kids it is wrong.  Now, when one student does something that raises the awareness to an incredible level, we punish her for doing something to bring it to everyone's attention??  How hypocritical can we, as adults, be??  If this had been my child, I would be as incredibly proud of her as her parents are now.  I have watched and listened to my own daughter as she tells me how people would pick on a girl that is overweight or a young boy in a wheelchair.  When asked what she did (and later witnessed her behavior), she told me that she and some of her friends admonished the other kids for their behavior, then spent time with the victims of the bullying.  I have seen her sit with them at lunch when others would not, or spend time with them at school events when others turned away laughing.  Through all of it, she and her friends did what was right...and I told them all how proud I was for doing it, later admitting that I, being in the same position at their age, wasn't sure how I would have acted.  I may not have been the one saying things or laughing, yet I don't know if I would have so publicly displayed disdain for the actions of others.  Had my daughter made this same video that Jessica made, I would not only be fighting with the school but I would also be showing the video everywhere I could.  This girl deserves to be applauded not disciplined.  They should use her as a shining example of how to lead others and how to treat others. 

This is a time when our youth should, indeed, be shown that one person can make a huge difference, and Jessica can teach both children and adults alike.  We ask them to do the right thing, try to show them what the 'right things' are, then hope they follow through.  We, as a society, are aching for personalities like Jessica to shine and become examples for the world...and we're going to punish that?  We're going to stifle not only their creativity, but their desire to do the right thing?  If parents are going to feel compelled to monitor things like Facebook and report to the authorities, then we best be open-minded and see the "Big Picture."  Not only was Jessica's creativity silenced and punished, but they aslo (as noted by the NY Civil Liberties Union) took away her free speech.  America, it is time to praise this young woman and all others who not only think as she did, but ACTED.  We cannot continue to think for them - we have to let them soar on their own...and any young woman (or man) that thinks and acts as this girl did should be the example by which all others are measured.  Keep her in school...and have her teach everyone else...including some parents.  This is just my opinion, but this is the person that has the, "better hands," to which we will leave the world when we're gone.  I will feel perfectly content knowing people like Jessica will be in charge in the years to come.

Until next time..................

Friday, May 18, 2012

The 'System' Is More Than Broken

Too often, we complain about the system being broken, understand there are changes that need to be made, yet struggle with how best to do that.  Anyone with common sense should be able to look at certain situations and know they need to be rectified, yet there continues to be inaction for lack of knowing what to do.  This story is one of those illustrations.  Earlier today I was treated to some incredible reading material from a friend.  The title of the story was, "Man Who fathered 30 Kids Needs a Break - On Child Support."  Oh, yeah, I dare you to read that headline and not dive head-first into the story.  I began reading...and was shocked, appalled, angered, frustrated....all these no time.  Here is the story:

Desmond Hatchett, 33, of Knoxville, TN has fathered 30 children.  He's had 4 kids in one year - twice!  In 2009, after reaching a total of 21 children, he said he would not have any more.  I suppose we know how THAT turned out.  Since then, he's had nine more kids - 3 per year.  Some of the mothers took him to court as they said they were not receiving child support.  Of the mothers that DO receive support, some get as little as $1.49/month.  Yes...per MONTH.  This guy works a minimum-wage job and the state takes more than half his paycheck.  He began having kids when he was 18.  There's the story.  Period.  Oh, and the final statement in the article read that, "The state cannot do anything because he hasn't done anything illegal."  Nice.

Okay....time for MY rant.  I remember years ago, living and working in Philadelphia, when a pregnant woman came into the office with her three children.  She was out of work, collecting welfare and food stamps and I, being a bit forward, asked if she thought it was going to be difficult adding another child to the mix?  Wouldn't it be harder with 4 than three?  Her response has stayed with me for these past 25 years - "I get more money if I have more kids."  There it is.  The answer to, "Is the system really broken?"  Yes, it is.  I cannot believe it is ignorance, yet to have someone think they are getting more money if they have more children and not factor in the cost of raising that child, is beyond comprehension.  Yes, ma'am, I understand they give you another $240/month for that child (#4), but you realize it will cost you a total of $500.00/month to raise them as an infant, right?  (Yeah, I used a round number to illustrate my point - work with me!)  I'm sorry - math wasn't your strong suit?  Let me help, lady - they give you $240 and it costs $500.  You're in the hole $260 for every kid, every month.  So, in essence, you are actually LOSING money.  Capiche?  Of course, given the fact that you will let the child wear diapers for three days, only feed them every other day, and have no running water will allow you to cut costs.  Then, you'll have enough for when Desmond comes around again.  You'll be able to afford the crack or the smoke so you can get high and....**POOF**....another kid on its way.  Cynical?  Damn right, I am.  Oh, and are you ready for the 'Big Reveal"?  Wondering what he looks like?  Want to know if this is a TN southern redneck?  Here he is:

Here's the problem, my friends - WE are paying for this!  You're hearing this from a man that has not EVER missed a child support payment, nor do I have time for deadbeat dads.  Sorry, it's just the way I feel.  It's your child.  If you could be there for the fun part (whatever length of time that might have been), you'd better be there for the next 18 years.  It's the 'Yin' to the 'Yang' of those few fun moments.  For this irresponsibility to be allowed in our society today is utterly ridiculous.  If the government wants to know why we are ready to rebel, simply read this story.  I have no doubt these people are abusing the system - do any of you?  This HAS TO bother you!  I want my tax dollars going to the couple that, without warning and through no fault of their own, lost their job.  I want it to go to their kids so they can eat and be fed.  I want them to be able to sustain themselves until they can return to the workforce.  Do you want to know the best part of this group of folks, though?  They try to shy away from any help from the government.  I have a lifelong friend that was in such a position.  He did everything he could to continue to raise his children and NOT use the system.  He succeeded...and is now back in the workforce without ever having placed ANY burden on his fellow citizens.  Listen, I know it happens.  Like I said, it's always been a, "There but for the grace of God," kind of thing in my eyes.  I want to help those that are willing to help themselves when they are in need.  THIS, however, is NOT one of those times.

So the question is, how do we go about fixing it?  Court-ordered sterilization?  Mandatory birth-control?  I think we all know that will not happen for either solution.  Change the laws and put them in jail?  That system is already overcrowded because we, as a country, are too busy trying to fight a war on drugs we cannot win so we put stoners in jail.  By 'stoners' I am speaking of marijuana users.  Seriously, they are too tired to hurt anyone - why not leave them under house arrest?  Wow...I digress, eh?  I firmly believe we must consider, in cases like this, the sterilization option.  Yes, we could limit the funds we provide, but what of the earlier couple?  You KNOW it will then come down to a race issue....right?  I don't know what the solution is, but I cannot believe this is the only case like this in the US...and sadly, most of it IS a racial situation.  That brings me to one last 'off topic' portion of the rant - Star Jones.  Yesterday, on the Today Show, a few of the professionals they interview were asked about Mark Zuckerberg wearing a 'hoodie' to meet with investors on Wall Street.  While Donnie Deutsch and Nancy Snyderman both remarked that, like Steve Jobs and his turtleneck, this was Zuckerberg's "brand" and image, Star could not resist.  She thought it was interesting that only a few weeks ago Trayvon Martin, while wearing a 'hoodie', was gunned down and that it's because it was racially-motivated.  The hoodie, not the shooting.  Seriously, folks...if you want equality, stop playing the race card.  We have given everything we can, some more willingly than others, but to use 'race' for every issue is beyond belief.  Stop it...and go make sure Desmond Hatchett stops procreating, please.  Your fellow citizens, both black and white, will thank you.

Until next time...........

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Any Woman Can Be A Mother....But It's Special To Be 'Mom'

It seems to me I wrote about the same thing last year at this time...I think.  Ironically, while I still have the opportunity, I hope to continue writing it every year.  It's always this day, Mother's Day, that I think about that age-old question we asked when we were younger (and have all heard through the years) - "If there's a Mother's Day and a Father's Day....why isn't there a 'Kid's Day'?"  I heard it again just the other day and can now, being a parent, grasp the full enormity of the response - "Every day is Kid's Day."  When I last heard this response, I realized that, while growing up, every day was kid's day and it was made possible by our parents.  In most cases, it was made possible by Mom.  Let's face it, in most familial settings, it is mom that does the laundry, cooks for us and (if I have to admit it) was the parent of choice when asking permission to do things we thought were, shall we say, questionable.  The decision could have gone either way and we, as short, manipulative little salespeople called 'kids', knew who would be the easiest to whom we could sell our plans.  Yep - we always went to mom first....unless, of course, the old man was lying half asleep on the couch and paying little attention.  Then we'd ask his permission knowing that, at some point, we'd eventually have to reply with, "I DID ask you and you said 'yes' when you were reading in the living room!"  We'd get away with it, but this was a tactic that could only be employed on rare occasions.

Yes, Mom was our 'Go-to' person and now that I am a parent, I totally and completely understand the relationship.  That is why I am writing this for her.  It's a letter of gratitude, appreciation, and love.  I understand that I am one of those quite fortunate to still have my mother in my life.  Many friends are not so fortunate and some, I am quite honored to say, have been able to 'share' my mom.  It's who she is and what she does.  Growing up, she was one of those that my friends called 'Mom' when they came to the house or spent time with us.  While still a teenager, I will be the first to admit there were times when I didn't want to admit I even HAD parents.  It's normal, I think, but I realized my friends were good with it. My mother was the one person that, without question, has been the constant in my life.  She was the one that made sure we were taken care of when we were sick, were fed when we were hungry, were clothed and had a home.  She worked hard to make certain we wanted for nothing.  That's not to say we got everything or were spoiled - we weren't.  We did, however, always have the basics...and then some.

There have been times in my life (more than a few) when I have needed counsel and there is no one's opinion I value more.  She is a brilliant thinker and has that innate ability to play 'devil's advocate, always countering with a good argument and allowing us to see an issue or problem from as many sides as possible.  She taught us to think for ourselves and challenged us to always do better than we thought we could.  I must admit, at this point, it was I, rather than my sister, that was the biggest challenge.  My sister is an extraordinarily good doctor who always knew what she wanted.  I was the one that was sent to help my mother grow in her wisdom and patience.  Hey, it's an 'iffy' job, but someone had to do it.  I was, without question, her biggest problem because I was...adventurous?  Daring?  A pain in get the idea.

There are so many things I am grateful for that I cannot mention them all - they'd fill a book.  I know there are many of us, ladies, that feel the same way about you as mothers.  You might be friends, sisters, aunts, cousins.....but all of you, as mothers, are more appreciated than you know.  We appreciate the way you keep the household going when we are too tired or, quite honestly, lazy (Sorry, gents - I had to throw us under the bus a little.  The women were hoping for it and I'm playing to the audience).  We appreciate the meals you put on the table, the careers you have, and your thoughtfulness.  We are grateful for the love you show us even when (dare I say it) we don't deserve it.  We did not mean to make your lives, as mothers, challenging.  It's who we are, though, and you helped us grow through it all.  To my friends that are mothers, I'd like to say, "Happy Mother's Day," and hope it has been wonderful.  So with that, this simple note, I'd also like to say to my mother alone:

Dear Mom, 

I'll never be able to say 'thank you' enough.  I appreciate the person you've helped me become and the way you taught me to see the world.  I appreciate the determination you taught me so I would always stand for what I believe in, while at the same time teaching me compassion for others.  I love the fact that I am one of millions today that can say, honestly, that I have the best mom in the entire world...and I wouldn't trade her for anything.  You deserve everything good that life can offer and I appreciate everything you've done.  I love you more than you know.

Until next time...........

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Prom Weekend - My Memories for Britt

I've had several calls this week asking how things went this past weekend.  I had to stop and think about what I was being asked and, not having an answer, I was questioned further, "You know...the Prom??"  Oh, yes.  The Prom.  I have to admit, I should not have had to struggle for the answer.  As much as this was an evening and weekend for our children, it was something I won't soon forget either.  It started about a 1 1/2 months ago when I was away at our National Sales Meeting.  I had just gone back to my room to freshen up before dinner when the phone rang.  It was my daughter who was shopping with her best friend.  "Hi Dad," she started, "I just found the best dress for Prom."  There might be a father somewhere that was unclear about where this was headed, but I was all over it.  I was just about to ask the most important question, when she continued, "Yeah, and it's long and white but has all these cool colors, they're pastels by the way, and it's kind of strapless but not really because it has," she was saying until I interrupted.

"Britt, send me a picture."  She assumed, rightly so, at this point that she had me in 'daddy' mode.  She sent the picture and the dress was very pretty.  I'm her father.  It was pretty.  Period.  I know females could give a far better description, however I saw it as a pretty dress that she wanted for her prom.  I then asked the price, proceeded to drop the phone, regained my composure, and told her what other fathers did - "How do I pay for it?  I'm in Florida."  She assured me the lady would take a credit card over the phone (shocking, huh?) and handed the phone to the owner who promptly took my information.  Problem #1 solved.  I then listened, over the following weeks, how plans were being made for their weekend.  I knew the girls that would be going - Britt's closest friends - and did background checks on the boys.  Okay, not really...but you'd all understand if I had. 

I arrived in town the evening before prom and spent sometime with Britt and Mack, her recent 'bestie'.  We decided we'd see each toher the following day before they began THE preparations.  Again, being a father, I could only imagine.  I wasn't disappointed.  it was actually very sweet of them to allow me to tag along as they did.  First, Britt called early on Saturday morning and asked if I wanted to go to breakfast with them.  I met them 30 minutes later at the Silver Diner and they proceeded to lay out their entire game plan for the evening.  I think that was when the flashbacks began.  Watching them, listening to them took me back 35 years in an instant.  I had to laugh as I remembered this very evening so many years ago.  I pushed the memories aside, though, to be firmly aware of their grasp of the event.  After breakfast, it was time for makeup.  Okay, that wasn't part of our pre-prom ritual, but I'm sure the ladies remember.  The girls let me follow along to the mall where the Clinique Crew applied their wares.  That's just baout the time dad headed for Starbucks and promised to see them for pictures.  I left as the girls, dressed in sweats with their hair pulled up, began the process.

Fast forward about 5 hours.  I arrived at the home where everyone would meet for pictures just as the other parents arrived.  There were far more of us with cameras in hand than there were those deressed in gowns and tuxedos.  We parents are a funny bunch like that, though, aren't we?  I walked in the house to find my daughter so I could get a photo or two of her alone.  I was......I cannot think of the proper words.  Proud?  Amazed?  Taken aback?  All of these things, I think.  My little girl, suddenly, was not.  This was not the cute little thing that used to sleep on my chest, nor was it the girl that ran outside with her hair frazzled and matted to her forehead in the summer.  No, this was someone else.  Someone all grown up and beautiful.  Her makeup, so eloquently screwed up by the lady at the Clinique counter, had been reapplied by Brittany...and she did a stellar job.  her hair was curled and twisted and up on her head and simply...perfect.  We took pictures of the four couples inside, outside, near a fence, under an umbrella, pinning their flowers....all of it.  122 pictures in all.  I wanted more.  I remembered so many years ago when we had our pictures taken, went to dinner with our dates, then partied the night away after at someone's home.  35 years later, the tradition continues...though father's are more apt to bring firearms along to these sessions now.  I will say this about the ladies with whom I went to school - they were beautiful girls that have gotten more beautiful with time.  That's because we've gotten to know them more personally.  The girls today, however, are NOT the girls we went to school with....which, again, explains our brandishing firearms to keep these young men in line.  Yes, that is a joke, but only slightly.  The good news is, everyone had a great time and they allowed us, as our parents did a generation ago, to take the walk down memory lane.  The most special part of the day for me was when the kids were leaving for dinner.  Brittany, without being asked or prodded, turned to her best friend Mack and said (as she took my camera bag from my hands), "Here hold this and hold my jacket.  Now, take a picture of me and my dad as we walk toward the cars."  With that, she stuck her arm through mine and leanded into me a bit as we walked away.  Not sure she'll ever know how much that meant to me...or how much I was wishing, at that very moment, that her sweaty hair had been plastered to her forehead and she was six again.  I love you, Britt...and I'm glad you had a great time.

Until next time..................

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Handcuffing A 6-Year Old? Absolutely...and Here's Why.

I sometimes live for these kinds of stories as I know how polarizing they can be.  I like to hear the opinions of others as I simply point out what's been written or reported, then add my own take on the situation.  This is a great story simply because of the many facets involved.  Here, in a not-so-abridged version, is the story: Police in Milledgeville, GA were called to an elementary school on Friday for an unruly juvenile, 6-year-old Salecia Johnson, who was, "throwing a tantrum."  According to the responding officer's report, he found young Salecia lying on the principal's floor screaming and crying.  The officer also noted that, upon arriving at the school, he noticed damage to school property.  After trying several times to calm the girl, she, "pulled away and began actively resisting and fighting with me."  The Chief of Police later stated that, "The child was then placed in handcuffs for her safety and the officer proceeded to bring her down to the police station."  Now, before I leave you under the false impression that this child was lying on the floor crying and screaming because finger-painting wasn't going well, let me share the rest of her actions as noted by school personnel and the responding officer.  His report goes on to add that the child's behavior included throwing furniture, including a shelf which struck the principal.  She was biting the doorknob of the office and jumping on the paper shredder, as well as attempting to break a glass frame above the shredder.  Okay, I think it's safe to say this kindergartener was doing more than simply throwing a tantrum.  She was in full-blown 'tear it up' mode.  Here, in my opinion, is where the story gets polarizing.

Regardless of how this girl acted, her family said the police should NOT have been involved.  I know, I know....I'm getting there.  Wait for it?  So anyway, the child's aunt, Candace Ruff, told the CNN affiliate station that, "I don't think she misbehaved to the point where she should have been handcuffed and taken down to the police department."  Here comes another KEY POINT - the child was released to her aunt after numerous attempts to reach her parents failed.  The police department has still not heard from her parents, however (here it comes) the parents have found time to speak to reporters.  Her mother's questions to WMAZ were, "Call the police?  Is that the first step?"  She also wondered if there was any other knd of intervention the school could have attempted with her daughter.  The father, on the other hand, was quick with comments, not questions.  "They don't have no business calling the police and handcuffing my child."  The child, when taken to the police station, was never placed in a holding cell or jail cell, and her safety was the most important thing.  After being initially charged with simple battery of a school teacher and criminal damage to property, the Chief said today that the child would NOT be charged because of her age.  End of basic story - let's move on to my take on this.  Below is the link of the television interview.

Are you kidding me???  Before you ask, "Which part?" please know that I am talking about the child's behavior and the parents reaction.  This is why we have fewer and fewer people going into education.  We have removed corporal punishment from the schools, allowed children that are not being disciplined at home to act out at school, then blame the school for not being able to handle these juvenile delinquents.  Okay, this girl is six.  Does anyone think, especially with the reactions of her parents, that it will get better? I will be amazed if there isn't legal action taken against the school.  I will also be highly irritated if a judge does not slap the parents and throw out the suit.  In this case, I think the principal should sue THE PARENTS for the abuse by their child.  Yes....seriously.  We have teachers that cannot do their job and it affects MY child if they are in the classroom.  How these parents can justify the actions of their child or not see the severity of it still amazes me.  They could not be reached by the school, couldn't find time to call the police, yet spoke loudly and quickly to a television camera.  I wonder if the parents might have put the child yup to these actions.  Far-fetched?  I'm not so sure anymore.  It's time we either hold the parents accountable or change the laws.  If we don't want anyone touching their precious children when they are unruly and dangerous, fine.  The courts must hold them accountable.  If you won't discipline them at home, however, someone better.  This is why our children act this way in 2012.  No discipline at home, blame everyone else for the problems, then bitch when someone takes the initiative to fix it.  I think you all get my point.

Dear Mr & Mrs Ruff...and Aunt Candace,
It's time to take this girl home and whack her bottom a few times, put her in time out, take away the goodies you've given her all her life...ANYTHING that will make her understand her actions were horribly unacceptable.  This is the real world and there are real consequences for your actions.  My guess, though, is that the two (or three) of you had little or no consequence to your actions growing up.  You were raised in a time when you, too, could not be spanked because it's child abuse.  You grew up in a tie when you can swear at your parents...and they can do nothing.  You grew up in a time when you can threaten a teacher...and no one did anything to change it.  Please, for the sake of all of us (including your sweet little daughter), discipline her now so that we don't wind up on the wrong end of her toting an AK-47 through the suburbs OR she doesn't wind up in a dumpster because she acted this way to the wrong people.

Yeah, this is one of those situations that infuriates me.  Society is bearing the brunt of those that should not be parents in the first place.  This needs to stop.  Now.  Right now.

Until next time...............