Friday, June 16, 2006

On Fathers

My Dad wasn't the easiest person to live with. There were times I marveled that Mom stayed with him for nearly 50 years. Looking back, the sadness, disappointment and pressures of his past weighed him down heavily in depression for many many years. It wasn't called that when I was a kid. It was called "being cranky". There were days that my Mom would slave over a dinner, which we ate together, only to have him push it away an make a bologna sandwich. At the time, I thought he was being picky and wasteful and inconsiderate. Looking back, I wonder if he felt unworthy of a decent meal at home, when his job had been one of almost constant travel and sales. Raised through the Great Depression, his family wandered through the Texas Oil Patch following my grandfather's job changes. That had to have an effect on an only child. I suppose that hindsight is twenty-twenty. I wish I had been wiser and more forgiving of his moods at an earlier age. It's easier to recall the bad things, they don't hurt.

Although he wasn't the easy going Ward Cleaver type of Dad, and although he traveled, I will say that my Dad coached our teams, watched our plays and concerts and was there emotionally to the limits of conventional behavior of the times. He wasn't the warm touchy-feely Dad of today's sometimes unrealistic imagery, but he would support us to the ends of the world. Even as an adult, when I was dealing with a difficult problem at work or with my kids at school, he would say ,"Do you want me to go talk to them?" There was the unspoken offer of support. Unlike so many fathers who were wealthier or more successful or more famous, he was always there.

Dad never considered himself successful, which was a burden that he carried throughout life. The promise of his success in college never bloomed, largely because unlike the shakers and movers, my Dad was honest and he was loyal. He didn't think he should jump from job to job. His word was his bond. There was not a city in the Southwestern US in which he didn't know someone. And yet the Harvard-fueled business systems of the 70's and 80's only valued the young and innovative, over the loyal and hardworking. He was forced to change jobs many times and worked literally until he died. He never had a chance to retire. He never had the country home and leisure time. In many ways his work killed him in the end. He was scared when he sold our home in Dallas and moved my Mom to a small east Texas town. I suppose he was trying to recapture a simpler time from his ideas of small, safe, idyllic towns of his childhood. Instead, he and Mom ended up isolated from friends and church and family. It didn't have to be that way, but that is how it was.

It's easier in some respects to remember the bad. I can recall that without pain. What hurts is remembering the good. I laugh when I recall the time that the basketball game depended on my very scanty freethrow skills. He couldn't look from the coaches bench, but I made the shot. I remember how he was the first to see the brilliance in my youngest child who has had a number of learning difficulties to overcome. I remember the room divider he built from a picture I saw in a teen magazine. Rather than 2 by 4's he used thinner wood and the thing leaned dangerously and drunkenly around my bedroom as we laughed. I remember when he tried to put in ceiling tiles in an attic room. The hot Texas sun melted the adhesive and the tiles hung crazily from the ceiling. And we laughed. Bad jokes, puns, his enduring love and talent for playing trumpet. His stories of playing in big bands to work his way through SMU, his stories of meeting Bush 41 as a customer returning oil field supplies and getting cussed out when he told him noall that lingers as a thin ghost of his career in sales. Dad's patriotism, his interest in politics and his faith are all key things that I can recall. Even now I see his face, animated and talking- always The Consummate Salesman. I remember his love of chocolate and how he always had candy, even when he visited to watch the boys play football and soccer. I remember he loved my mom and he and I went shopping together every Christmas and Mother's Day. He sent her flowers and chocolate covered cherries and stayed even when times were bad. And there were bad times. When I was going through the cards after he died, there were messages from secretaries and office managers and customers that had known Dad for decades fondly recalling how he charmed them with his jokes and candy. And those memories hurt because they are gone and there's a hole inside that just won't be filled.

I don't think most people realize the hole left in kids whose fathers are absent. Whether due to lack of interest or travel or military responsibilities, kids who don't have fathers have holes in their lives. Fathers are often the ones who set limits, they often are willing to compete and to have fun. Fathers encourage daughters to be women of self-reliance, they encourage boys to stand on their own. We have a generation of children who are raised by women, and this is a brave cause, but children need men in their lives as well. Fatherhood isn't celebrated as much as Motherhood. I suppose, as with the matriarchal nature of Jewish heritage, this is because, you always known your mother. But Fatherhood should be important. Our young men need to know that they aren't just sperm donors and that their contributions in raising families and building character in children is just as essential as the nurturing recieved from mothers. I pity the children who have fathers who are absent emotionally or physically, and I pity the fathers who often try to reconnect years later when so much time was wasted and has passed.

Although he annoys me politically, I have always loved Cat Stevens songs. The lyrics of "So Very Young" and "Cat's In The Cradle" from the album Tea For The Tillerman express that need for Fathers so vividly. Those songs speak so clearly on the issues of Fatherhood and of Fatherhood Lost and Found. I didn't write this to depress people, or to lecture. I supposed it's a cautionary tale. Don't take the Father in your life, whether husband, brother, father or son, for granted. They are holding up half the world, just as Mothers do. Both are important.

In memory and love of my Dad, who died on Christmas 2002. I hate to say it, but at first I thought it was deliberate of him to "choose" to die on Christmas, to ruin the holiday for the rest of our family's lives, but now I know he had no choice and the only thing he really wanted was to be sure that we would remember him. I won't forget. Don't you forget either.

Cats in the Cradle
by Harry Chapin
A child arrived just the other dayHe came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, "I’m gonna be like you, Dad, You know I’m gonna be like you"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we'll get together then,
You know we'll have a good time then.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets playcan you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do"
He said "Thats okay"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said "I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then,You know we'll have a good time then.
Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
You know we'll have a good time then.
I’ve long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said "Id like to see you if you don’t mind
"He said "Id love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It's sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It's been sure nice talking to you........
"And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me..............
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
We're gonna have a good time then.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Trouble with The Beautiful People

Anyone who has ever watched a "Brat Pack" movie in the seventies and eighties, recognizes the cultural phenomenon of the Clique. It's been a factor in schools since time began, but never really exposed until Queenbees and Wannabees came out a couple of years ago. I have a few observations about "The Beautiful People" that I think hold true. As with most stereotypes, there are always the stalwart few that will be paragons of virtue and fly in the fact of conventional wisdom.

First of all, there are problems with the "Beauty Queen". She could be prom queen, or homecoming queen or even just an average winner of the local JayCees sponsored pageant. She's the girl who sets the pace, makes the unwritten law and calls the shots socially within the fabric of the social order of the school. She has good communication skills and frequently bamboozles authority figures by kissing up or giving the appearance of perfection, all the while causing havoc within her social set. Quite often she demands others exact social payment or act upon her desires, whether it's squelching the new girl that could be competition or stealing some beer for a party.No matter what their MO,B they seem to have this one thing in common, being viewed as "beautiful", they are often crowned with the mantle of intellectual and ethical perfection as well. That's a heavy load to bear and only a few really make the cut. The rest seem to use their beauty as both a crutch and a weapon. They call on it when confronted with nasty realities such as drunken behavior, cheating, theft or any number of crimes, as a means to create the appearance of perfect innocence. They use it as a weapon in the school, in the workplace, and if not stopped, throughout life, to bully and manipulate others. This is not to say that all beautiful women or beautiful men, if it comes to that, are suspect. But there's a certain echelon of society that thrives on empty beauty and imbues it with qualities that just don't exist. So you end up with cheerleaders that get drunk on the football field, or that beat up a girl for moving in on her guy or just generally obnoxious behavior in the classroom. If not stopped, these same people use their looks to control their environment, making sure that they get constant validation of their beauty. Beauty becomes the controlling factor in their lives and without constant attention, they become unbalanced and act out in strange and often illegal ways. I think this can result in ruined marriages, destroyed careers and damaged futures. When beauty, and by that I mean sexual attractiveness, becomes the ONLY ruling factor, then in order to convince themselves they are worthy, they resort to behavior that is illegal, immoral and unethical. This is a situation that produces people such as teachers who get involved with students, professors that get involved with students, or bosses that use their power to coerce underlings and vice versa.

I think that many of the "beautiful people" having gotten away with bad behavior for so long, are genuinely shocked when the rest of the world finds out what they are doing and slams them in response. When was the last time you saw a professional athlete arrested that admitted he or she was doing something wrong? Look at pro baseball and the steroid scandals. Look at the number of athletes on expensive scholarships that get caught doing everything from rape to theft to dealing drugs. Do they do this to get by or do they do it because for too long people have looked the other way and made excuses for their bad behavior?

And it isn't just the beauty queens and clique leaders, it's the class president, the cheerleaders, the kids that appear to be the clean-cut all Americans. The create this image, give you the behavior publicly that you expect, then go around behind your back and do all the things that the "good kids" supposedly don't do. Don't get me wrong, there are some terrific kids out there who happen to play sports and have leadership roles in the schools. But those kids are three dimensional and have more than just their athletic abilities and social skills going for them. Those kids are often smart enough to see beyond the games of high school and college and have larger goals in life. But the kid who can only run fast or jump high or who is only blessed with good looks and not much else has other issues to handle. Sometimes academically he or she are given way too much slack. Sometimes when he or she get in trouble with the law, it's overlooked because of his status on the team or because of their parents' status in the community. This is not to say that it happens at all schools.

Many schools try to be vigilant and maintain some standards, but quite often it's the parents that give so much leeway to our "beauties and stars". In our own community, the son of a county judge and an assistant DA was arrested two years ago for shooting at girls with a pellet gun. That case still hasn't gone to court. He was arrested again for shooting off a gun in his backyard-not commonly done in suburban settings. And now, finally, he's 18 and in jail for stealing beer from a store and beating up the owner. This kid didn't get this way overnight. At some point his parents let things slide. And the more they let him get away with, the more he pushed. This lack of moral clarity and personal ethics should be alarming to most people, but even my own kids see it every day in dealing with their peers. It makes it hard for the kids trying to do right.

I don't think that creating this false assumption of superiority does these kids any favors. And I think the reason we see so many Paris Hiltons' and Terrance Owens' are because when younger, these people were seen as being golden. They could do no wrong and even their transgressions were overlooked until the behavior became too outrageous for anyone to overlook. Andy Warhol said "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." With the advent of reality shows and other nonsense, there seems to be the vacuum in so many kids' lives where they feel the need for fame. That isn't what the American Dream was supposed to be about. But too many kids relate more to a controversial Eminem than they do to their own parents who work to provide them sustenance or people within their world that do what needs to be done and don't shout out for attention at every burp and snort. Once again it isn't every kid, but I think the children of the Hippy Generation, who were told they could do no wrong and that no decision was a bad one, are sadly in need of direction.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nuclear Power

I must admit a certain reluctance to having a reactor in my backyard. However, for many years environmentalists have been beating the drum of closing coal and gas fired power facilities. They like to point to wind power and water power. Sadly, most people know that these two avenues will never replace conventional power plants. The sources are too random and unpredictable which would mean power shortages and darkened grids. I think what is interesting is that this abhorrence for nuclear power came on the heels of a movie. The China Syndrome was a melodramatic little film about a meltdown at a nuclear facility. The political feelings at the time were heightened by the failure at Three Mile Island. People grabbed onto the movie's plot as factual, leading the closure and cancellation and delays in building of many nuclear facilities. Glen Rose, in Texas was caught in the middle and at the time due to additional studies, legal challenges and other nonsense, the cost of building it tripled. From what I gather, there have been few if any nuclear generating plants built since that time. Why? Europe has relied on nuclear power for decades with only the poorly designed Chernobyl as a blemish on the record. I think much of the reason we are not pursuing nuclear power is that the extreme Green factions have half the Congressional delegation in control. They would rather believe media hype over facts. Even some of the most strident environmentalists are beginning to realize that without oil, and they surely don't want us drilling in the Arctic Circle for the reserves there, we must have a reliable, sustainable source of power or civilization will return to the Twelfth Century as wished by various backward imams. Why not nuclear power? I read a very interesting colum today in the Dallas Morning News Op/Ed page. I would encourage you to read it, too. Then, after some facts, make up your own mind without the drama and fact-stretching of Hollywood.