What’s In Your Garden?

It’s raining again today where I live, which isn’t surprising given that I live in Washington state, which is part of a region known for its amount of rainy days each year. But, this post isn’t about rain as much as it is about what the rain produces: green grass. As I was sitting alone one recent morning enjoying a cup of coffee before my kids woke up, I realized that the rain was responsible for turning everything varying shades of green, even through the winter here. During the long dry summers the lush grass goes dormant and turns brown if not watered. My neighbors, however, have a sprinkler system that waters their yard every evening at 10:27 pm. Rain or shine. The lesson, though, isn’t that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even if it’s true in this example), but, rather, that the grass is always greener where you water it!

All too often in life it’s easy for me to forget to express my appreciation to the people in my life who love me. As a husband and father I try my best to use my words and actions to encourage my wife and kids, and I know that is music to my ears when they do the same to me. I can’t help being an incurable romantic, so I love it when my Facebook newsfeed contains posts by friends who are publicly expressing their appreciation for their spouses, children, parents or friends. I’ve especially enjoyed reading posts from a husband or wife that is bragging about something that his or her spouse did, said or accomplished. It’s such a simple act that has profound meaning. Genuine kindness and appreciation are the showers that bring life and health to relationships.

Just last week my kids helped me to prepare a small section of soil next to our driveway that we use each year to grow sugar snap peas.

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Rows of Sugar Snap Peas sprouting

We carefully removed the weeds and then planted the rows of seeds. In about 10 weeks we’re going to be enjoying some delicious sugar snap peas because you reap what you sow! The same is true in relationships. If I’m on the lookout for opportunities to tell my wife and kids how thankful I am for them or how much I appreciate something that they did, that’s going to not only strengthen our relationship but also help me to focus on the good in them. As a bonus, it will likely be encouraging them at the same time. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. I have a friend who posts three things for which she is thankful every Tuesday, calling it GratiTuesday. I love that attitude of gratitude that she intentionally writes about each week. I want to be a husband, father and friend that is known for cultivating kindness and gratitude in his garden of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the opposite of the attitude of gratitude is also true. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” probably happened because the people involved didn’t take the time to notice or appreciate what they had right in front of them all along.

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What’s in your garden?

I firmly believe that if we each spent a small fraction of the time that we usually use to complain about people and instead used that to water own yards or gardens, then we would see some beautiful grass, plants and flowers right in front of us. I know that I can complain about things to my kids or wife, but that only comes off as nagging or pestering and ultimately hurts our relationship. The reality is that if I’m looking for ways to be hurt or things to complain about, I can find them (or manufacture them) pretty easily. Yet, all that does is feed the negativity and create distance and hurt and separation in the relationship because I’m filling myself with contempt for my loved ones. On the other hand, when I choose to focus on the good and to communicate my love and appreciation, our bond is strengthened. I’m finding that looking for the good in my wife and kids is important when I’m not feeling in a particularly appreciative mood. I want my kids to see and feel what it’s like for their dad to love and appreciate both them and their mother, no matter the circumstances. My attitude of gratitude isn’t dependent upon receiving thanks and appreciation from others. It’s a choice that I get to make daily. Sometimes even minute by minute. In the end, though, I choose to be loving and kind instead of critical and ungrateful.

This notion of choosing an attitude of gratitude is actually based in scientific research by people much smarter and more educated than I am. I recently came across some articles from famous psychologists Gottman and Gottman that really confirmed what I had already been feeling and inspired me to be more intentional in looking for the good in my wife and kids (and others, of course). What follows is an excerpt from their findings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and take the ten or fifteen minutes needed to read the articles which describe their findings in greater depth. (Links to the articles are here: Business Insider article, Masters of Love-Atlantic article)

Perhaps your reaction will be like mine, both convicted encouraged and inspired by what you read there. I hope that your loved ones will appreciate the changes that they see in you and that you will notice how much better they also look once you’ve consistently been showering them with your kindness and generosity. After all, we reap what we sow. So, what’s in your garden?

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Daddy Cookies: Snitching Sisters

Last Saturday morning my two and a half year old daughter woke up and came downstairs to find me in the kitchen, where I had just emptied the dishwasher and was enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before everyone else would wake up. She climbed up into my lap and happily announced that she wanted to make cookies with me. But, not just any cookies, Daddy Cookies. As a rookie SAHD back in 2001 I realized that I really enjoyed making cookies with the help of my kids. I stumbled upon a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie recipe booklet for oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that were an instant hit with both my kids and me. I’ve tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (extra vanilla is yummy!) and added the secret ingredient, The Mixing Dance. My kids named them Daddy Cookies because it was much shorter and easier to say than the official full name. At any rate, I eagerly agreed and we started to gather the necessary ingredients and the mixer.

After she pushed a chair to the counter by the mixer we began to add our ingredients, starting with the two eggs fresh from our backyard chickens. My daughter is learning to crack eggs and does a pretty nice job for someone so little. (In a related note, her tiny fingers are excellent for picking out tiny pieces of shell.) Just after we added the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, butter, salt, vanilla and peanut butter and mixed them all up, my five year old arrived downstairs and asked if she could help. My loving two year old excitedly told her big sister that she could help us before I even had a chance to respond. I was really enjoying the fact that she was willing to share this baking experience with her sister and wasn’t feeling threatened by her sister’s presence. I suppose it’s what she’s always been used to, being the sixth of six kids in our family. Well, after we added the next two ingredients, the flour and oatmeal, my girls realized that they needed to snitch some dough. I don’t mind it but I do ask that they use spoons and that they wait until the mixer is turned off. (I know, I’m so mean.) I’ve been snitching raw cookie dough my whole life and have never gotten sick so please spare me any comments about that. I will admit that eating dough is one of my favorite parts of making cookies. All that was left was to add the chocolate chips and we would be set to scoop and bake the cookies. Except there was one small problem.

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My helpers

The can of chocolate chips wasn’t in the cupboard where it was supposed to be. With two teenage daughters and an 11 year old son in the house, I figured that there was one of three places it could be. Since my son was already gone hiking with my wife, I figured that we would check his room first. So, I told my girls that whoever found the can of chocolate chips first would get the first snitch with chocolate chips. My five year old declined, of course. My two year old, however, literally jumped at the chance to go into her brother’s room without him there (usually a no-no). As my two year old started to climb down from her chair by the counter, my five year old decided that it would be fun, after all, to get the chocolate chips and because she would be able to run faster than her little sister. As they ran through the living room I could hear their shrieks: delight from my five year old and dismay from my two year old. It grew quiet as they went upstairs into his room. I was already mentally preparing myself to not overreact or come across as harsh when the inevitable screams would resume in a few moments when one of them would have won the battle for the can of chocolate chips.

So, you can imagine how my heart delighted when those screams never happened and instead I heard giggling. I turned my head just in time to see my two little girls both carrying the jar of chocolate chips. I wish I could have captured a picture of them as they were both beaming broadly and were practically hugging each other and the can at the same time. It was so stinkin’ cute! My five year old told me that she didn’t want her sister to feel sad so she suggested that they both hold the cookies so they could both get the reward. Choking back tears of gratitude for such a kind and generous daughter, I knelt down in front of both of them and wrapped the two of them in a great big Daddy Hug. I told my five year old how proud I was of her for making such a kind and compassionate choice with her sister. They brought the chocolate chips to the counter and each put a scoop of chips in the steel bowl and we finished the final mixing as we danced one more time. As I spooned the dough balls on the baking sheet I noticed that my girls were both grinning and trying to “sneak” additional snitches from the bowl of dough. I feigned a growl as they both giggled some more and we all laughed. While my kids continue to get older I love knowing that they all have very fond memories of Daddy Cookies. 

Dining With A Homeless Man

If you’ve ever been to Seattle you’ve no doubt encountered one of the Emerald City’s biggest social challenges. Of course I’m referring to the homeless crisis. Recent data collected in late January estimates the current homeless population in King County to be well over 10,000, up 19% from last year

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(this graphic is from last year since the totals from the count on 1/29/16 were not released yet).

Like many major metropolitan areas in the United States, Seattle has tried to address this issue. In 2005 the city and county leaders annannounced a joint plan to eliminate homelessness in the area within 10 years. Unfortunately, the economy tanked and resources decreased while many people lost their jobs, driving up the need. (Check out these websites for much more information. 10 year plan and One Night Count) Anyone who visits Seattle has likely been approached by panhandlers or has at least seen people standing with signs asking for food, money or work. There are many tents visible underneath some of the overpasses and several homeless tent camps in the area. The most famous one is called the Jungle and was in the news last week because there was a shooting there that resulted in multiple homicides. Police believe that it was not a random attack and the investigation is ongoing. Sadly, the shooting took place while the Seattle mayor was making a speech about the homelessness problem facing the city.

My youngest three kids and I were in Seattle at that very time last week, having spent the afternoon at the Seattle Center, which is where the iconic Space Needle is located. We spent most of our time at either the Pacific Science Center or at the outdoor playground next to the EMP museum in the shadow of the Space Needle.

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Even though my kids, ages 11, 5 and 2, learned a lot of cool things in the science museum and had fun climbing at the playground, the most important lessons were learned when we stopped for lunch and dinner that afternoon. My kids had requested a lunch date at Pagliacci’s to get their amazing pizza. It’s pretty much become a tradition, if not an expectation, for us to eat there whenever we go to Seattle. It’s also located in an area that many homeless people frequent, hoping to cash in on the kindness of tourists. As we pulled in the parking lot near Pag’s I saw a man holding a sign indicating his need for help. As we walked past him I pulled my kids aside and asked them if they wanted to invite this homeless man to come inside the restaurant and share a pizza with us. They enthusiastically agreed and we turned around to extend our invitation. At first the man didn’t seem to understand our offer. But once he did, he eagerly picked up his small backpack to follow us up the block to the restaurant. I extended my hand to him and introduced myself and my three kids to him. Will (his name) smiled and walked along with us. I noticed people looking at us a little bit more than usual as we entered the restaurant and approached the cashier to order our food. As we sat down at our table Will started to sit at one next to ours. I invited him to sit with us as he was our guest. My ever talkative and outgoing 5 year old daughter took to him right away, trying to tell him about the fun she had playing Minecraft with her brother. She had taken to heart my admonition to treat him as just any other dinner guest. Over the next 30-45 minutes we chatted with Will and learned that he had been born in Norway, grew up in Texas and moved to Seattle to work on fishing boats, which had caused his knee injury that made him lose his job three years ago. He said he has a wife and four kids living in the San Diego area but didn’t really explain why he wasn’t living near them and I didn’t press the issue. He was polite, well mannered and soft spoken. As we parted ways after our meal ended I shook his hand again and wished him well.

Once we had returned to our car I asked my kids if they wanted to do that again on our next visit to Seattle and they all agreed that a repeat was in order. In fact, while we had been eating my 5 year old had tried to tell our new friend that he should come live with us because we have a nice home and “my daddy will make you whatever you want to eat”. I love her compassionate heart and generous spirit.

A few hours later it was time for dinner, and my kids wanted to grab burgers from another Seattle tradition, Dick’s Drive In. It’s located a block from Pagliacci’s and there are usually several people panhandling just outside the doors. In the past I have ordered extra food for them and this time was no exception. Just before I reached the door a man called out to me, asking if he could have my change on my way out. I asked if, instead, he would like anything to eat or drink. So, on my way back out to my car I gave him a hot chocolate and a handshake, during which I found out that his name is Greg. He and his buddy were together there in front of Dick’s, and while my kids and I ate in our van we watched the two men share whatever food they were given with one another.

While our actions will not solve the problem of homelessness in Seattle I would like to think that my children learned that homeless people are people, not just some problem or statistic that needs to be solved or moved somewhere else. Also, I want them to know that being kind to others doesn’t require a great deal of time or money. I think that it was also good for them (and me!) to hear that these people have families and hopes and dreams just like anyone else. I loved that this experience was so positive for them, particularly after they witnessed a scam artist in the parking lot when we were out shopping just a couple of weeks ago. Of the many values I hope to cultivate in my children, kindness and compassion for others are right near the top of my list.

I’m a Christian and I love gay people.

My name is Carl. I am a Christian. And I love gay people.

gay-marriage-imageIt’s been almost 48 hours since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional. Unless you live under a rock you’ve heard the news and have been able to read all about it. If you’re like me you have many friends who changed their profile pictures on Facebook to show that they’re celebrating this victory. I also have friends who are angry and upset by this ruling. This post isn’t about trying to convince anyone about gay marriage or the constitutionality of it in the United States. If you’re looking to pick a fight about either of those topics it’s not going to happen here. (I will delete offensive comments should anyone leave one here.) 1425699888986This post is a reaction and response to the many articles that I’ve read over the last couple of days which were authored by people who identify themselves as Christians and are against gay marriage. As a Stay At Home Dad I’ve been able to have some great conversations with my two teenage daughters about this topic as they’ve matured and begun to understand the complexity of this issue.

First of all, let me state that I am a Christian. I don’t hide that fact. I’ve been a follower of Christ since I was able to make that decision for myself as a 5 or 6 year old child. It’s an integral part of who I am. I am not ashamed of it nor do I blast it in others’ faces. I am not the “Christian right” or the 700 Club/Pat Robertson or Duck Dynasty or the Duggars. I am me. There are many times that I have been saddened by the actions of people who identify themselves as Christians because it seems as though their actions are not very Christ-like. While I cannot know their hearts I can see what kind of an impact their actions are having on their witnesses. As a father, I am acutely aware of how my actions must match my words when I’m interacting with my children as my actions speak so much louder than my words. This holds true for all of us, whether we identify as a Christian or not. My word or my reputation is only good if my actions back it up. If I claim to be a Christ follower then I should speak and act like one, right?

This is where I have a huge issue with the “Christian” responses to the SCOTUS decision that I’ve read the last few days. There seems to be a lot of energy and effort being put into fighting for the sanctity of marriage as one man and one woman. I’m reading about how the Bible condemns all gays because of this verse or that verse in the Old and New Testaments. Gay marriage is an abomination. Gays are going to hell. I’m in tears reading this judgemental garbage and hatespeak disguised as speaking the truth in love. Seriously. The Christian right LOVES to tell others just how right they are while missing a pretty big point. Their message is being lost because the very people they’re judging don’t care about what the Bible says. Moreover, the tone of the message is not one of compassion or love. It’s one of condemnation, judgement and condescension. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually like being on either end of such conversations. I feel like we as Christians have a great opportunity to show love to others here instead of hate and judgement. Christians love to throw around Bible verses to prove their points about the evils of homosexuality but seem to overlook the numerous verses that instruct us to not judge others and to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice…be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:29-32)

WHOA! What? Where is the instruction to judge and tell others that they’re going to hell because of their sexual orientation? As a dad, husband, and man, I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that as a Christ follower, the person that I follow and try to be like, in both my words and my actions, is Jesus, my role model. When the religious rulers of his time tried to trick him by asking him what was the greatest commandment, his response was twofold. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) It’s worth noting that there was nothing in his response about judging others. It was about loving God and loving others. In fact, Jesus had already spoken at length with his followers about NOT judging others because we are all guilty of sin and it’s hypocritical to point out the sin in others when we’re full of it ourselves.

That’s my second big beef with the “Christian” response to the SCOTUS ruling. Why or how does this ruling really affect the sin that is rampant within the church today? While Christians are busy judging others they’re overlooking the fact that there is a lot of sin happening that they’re not protesting. I could list all of the sins that the Bible talks about but that’s not the point. If Christians put just a fraction of the energy and efforts being expended now into an inward look they would see that there is a huge problem within the church community in areas like gossip, divorce, pornography, adultery, vulgarity, gluttony, lying, cheating, stealing and so on. The fact is that we’re all sinners. God doesn’t look at sins on a weighted scale. Sin is sin is sin. But we Christians love to look down our noses at others and smugly think to ourselves “I’m not as bad as him. I didn’t cheat on my wife.” Yet, how guilty would we be if our internet history or Netflix queues were made public? I have a hard time trying to tell others that they’re terrible people just because their sin is different than mine. We’re all sinners. And, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for all of us. We need to get over ourselves and thank God for his grace and mercy instead of judging others.

Finally, I love gay people. I love gay people because I believe that God made all people in His image and therefore they deserve my love. I’m no better than anyone else. I might be different and I might sin differently, but that’s not the point. I don’t have to agree with someone’s politics or beliefs to be kind and compassionate to that person. In fact, showing kindness and compassion to people who are unlike me is a way to put my faith into action. What good is my faith in God if it doesn’t influence how I behave 24/7/365? It’s not just a thing I do on Sunday morning from 10:00-11:15 am. My wife has an aunt who is gay. I’ve been married to my wife for over 22 years now and I can say that Aunt Eileen is one of the kindest and most compassionate people that I know.

Promise Keepers "Stand In The Gap" Rally, 10/4/1997

Promise Keepers “Stand In The Gap” Rally, 10/4/1997

She is generous with her time and money and love. When she lived near Washington, D.C., she allowed me (and 3-4 friends) to crash at her place in Maryland before and after we attended an evangelical rally on the Capitol Mall in October of 1997. Even though our beliefs were not exactly the same she and her partner chose to open their home to us, feed us and even bought Metro tickets for us before we arrived to make our travels easier the next day. I wonder how many Christians would lovingly open their houses up for a relative (and guests) who wanted to attend a GAY PRIDE event in a nearby city? Oh, she even socialized with us after we returned from the event, grilled some steaks for dinner and made sure we could watch ESPN. Yet, somehow, she managed to not lecture us about how our beliefs were wrong because they were different than hers. It’s really not that hard to treat other people with love and kindness and compassion.

In conclusion, as I’ve discussed this with my daughters and written about here, I’m disgusted with the very un-Christlike judgement and hate being spewed by people who call themselves Christians upon hearing of the SCOTUS decision about gay marriage. I’m sure that the enemy (Satan, not supporters of gay marriage) loves to see such divisive and angry comments being posted in social media sites all over the web. I don’t see how this ruling affects my calling to love God and love others in any way. My faith isn’t in the United States government or its ability to decide about gay marriage. My faith is, and always has been, in God. His grace and forgiveness grant my salvation and it’s more than enough for me. I know that I’m not perfect and yet I hope that others will know me as a man, husband, father and follower of Christ for the person that I am by my “fruits” of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galations 5:22-23)

****I would love to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written here. This is certainly a departure from my “normal” blog posts but it’s something that has been weighing heavily on my heart for a while, even before the SCOTUS ruling. Please keep your comments positive and constructive. If you liked this please share it with others. Thanks, Carl****

Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Five: Prom

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog.

Day Five: Prom

I really enjoy seeing when my kids show true kindness and compassion simply because they know it’s the right thing to do. My daughter E, whose water polo exploits were documented on my blog first in March and then a few days ago, put this into action a couple of weeks ago when she went to prom.

Ready to dance

Ready to dance

But this isn’t some romantic story of first love; nope, not at all. This is a story of friendship and being there for a friend in a moment of need. E, a sophomore, and her friend, C, a senior, bonded over their shared love of water polo. While they didn’t really hang out in real life outside of water polo they managed to become pretty good friends thanks to the long practices and social media. C had been planning to attend prom with a few other girls but her plans fell through just days before the event. E told me about her friend’s disappointment after water polo practice that day and she wanted to know if it would be okay to offer to be C’s “date” for the event so that she wouldn’t have to be alone for her prom. Of course I supported E and I told her how pleased I was that she would do that for her friend. It would’ve been easy for her to blow it off without trying to actually do anything to help out her friend. Instead, she stepped up and put her words into actions. Even though the two of them looked beautiful on the outside, I was more taken with their inner beauty; that which comes from the kindness and compassion within one’s soul.

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”
Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

I enjoy catching my kids doing something good and recognizing them both privately and publicly for it. Even more, I love seeing them grow into people who do not need to be told to do the next right thing…they just do it.

McDonald’s Playplace Judgement

On a recent Tuesday morning my four year old daughter woke up and promptly announced “I’m bored of staying home and want to go do something today.” As I’m the Stay At Home Dad she knew that would normally be music to my ears. Except that a couple of our normal go-to places (children’s museum and zoo/aquarium) were closed that day of the week. And it was too rainy and chilly for the park. So, I decided that it would be fun to bring the girls (and their 10 year old brother who is homeschooled) to a nearby McDonald’s Indoor Playplace after running a couple errands later that morning. We arrived there just after the noon rush to find about four other families eating and playing. Since my 4 1/2 year old is friendly and not at all shy she immediately found two other girls to play with.

My baby was excited to finally be big enough for the play equipment.

My baby was excited to finally be big enough for the play equipment.

My 1 1/2 y.o. adventurously climbed into and up the play structure and was making delighted squeals as she was finally big enough to go with the bigger kids. After I brought my kids their food they came back to our table to eat. Only there was one extra kid, another 4 y.o. girl I’ll call Z. She hopped right up next to my daughter and asked if she could share my daughter’s lunch. In my 14 years as a SAHD this was a new one for me. While I want my children to share, it’s unusual for someone else’s child to ask for food at a Playplace. I responded as nicely as I could, so as to not upset this little girl, saying, “I only bought enough food for my two girls so you should go ask your own mommy or daddy for some. I don’t know if you’re allowed to eat what we’re having.”

Without missing a beat Z responded, quite matter-of-factly, “My mommy doesn’t get me any food here. She says I should share with my friends.” I looked up to see her mom sitting at a booth about 20 feet away, completely absorbed in her phone call, as she had been since we had arrived. I noticed that Z was telling me this while she was chewing an apple slice we had “shared” with her. A moment later Z and my daughter bounded off to the play structure and played together some more. Minutes later my daughter announced (rather loudly, I might add) that she had to go potty. I picked up my toddler and held my older daughter’s hand as I opened the door to leave the play area and walk to the restroom. At that point I noticed that Z was trying to tag along to the bathroom with us. Again, as gently as possible, I told Z that she would have to ask her own mommy to take her to the bathroom. I couldn’t do that for her. Of course Z was already through the door, standing barefoot in the busy counter area. Thankfully, she complied and went back to her mom as we continued to the men’s room. As we were entering the stall inside the men’s room Z bounded in the main door to the restroom, followed by her mother. Still on her phone. In the men’s room! After passing the urinals she finally realized her error and exclaimed that they were in the men’s room and needed to leave. I chuckled a little bit at the absurdity of the situation. Judging her just a little bit as a bad parent.

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As we walked back into the play area and my daughters resumed their fun on the play structure, I was convicted of my own hypocrisy in thinking bad thoughts about this other parent. What did I know about her or her daughter? Had I made any effort to communicate with her? Sure, she was on her phone, talking or texting the entire time we had been there, but still, who was I to judge her? A couple of minutes later she finished her phone activity so I walked over near her table and began a conversation with her that went something like this:

Me: Hi. It appears our daughters are hitting it off pretty well. I just wanted to let you know about something that happened earlier. Your daughter asked to share some of my daughters’ food but I didn’t know if that would be okay with you.

Her: That’s fine. She can have anything.

Me: Oh. Well, she had an apple slice or two. But she appeared to still be hungry. Would it be okay if I got her something more to eat? Maybe a Happy Meal or something?

Her: Yeah. That would be great.

Me: Would you like anything?

Her: No. I’m fine.

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At that moment I realized how wrong I had been to judge this mom. I didn’t know her or her situation. We just happened to be there at the same time with our children. Maybe my purpose in being there at that time on that day wasn’t to be a judgy sanctimonious jerk but rather to do something nice for that little girl and her mom. I contemplated that as I walked to the counter to order a six piece chicken nuggets Happy Meal for little Z. After a few short minutes I brought the food back into the play area and handed it to the mom. She smiled at me and asked if we came there often, making an effort to have a conversation. We talked a bit more and she told me that they came to McDonald’s almost every day after her daughter was done with school since it’s only a few blocks away from her school. Then Z came over to eat her meal and asked her mom where the food came from. Her mom told her that I had gotten it for her and asked her daughter to thank me. After a few moments of hesitation she did as her mother had requested. My daughter asked me why I had gotten Z her own Happy Meal and I told her, simply, that Z seemed hungry and it was a nice thing to do for her. She was satisfied with that answer and happily played with her new friend once she had finished her food. As we got ready to leave my daughter gave Z a hug goodbye and said, as only she can, “Bye, friend. Hope to see you again!”.

Reflecting on that day almost a week later I’m bothered by how easily I started to judge this mom and her child. I’m sure we all do it every day. I know that I do. I also know that I shouldn’t. Instead of judging I’m going to try to be more compassionate and understanding of what others are going through. After all, that’s what I hope my children will do when they meet others. If I don’t do it, how can I possibly expect it of them? Thanks for the lesson, McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it!

Dad, what’s Ferguson?

“Dad, what’s Ferguson?”

Wow. Talk about a loaded question from my ten year old son. We were driving in the car last week and he asked the question after hearing the news on the radio. I was glad to discuss it with him and even happier that we had about 45 minutes more to our destination. I was tried to formulate in my mind how to present the facts to him about the events in Ferguson in a way that he would understand. I started to talk about racism in America and he asked a second question. “What’s racism?” Huh? How could he not know about racism? I realized that my son’s innocent image our country and people in general was going to be changed when he learned about racism in America, in 2014. I tried to put it in terms that he could understand without sounding preachy. Our conversations went something like this.

Me: How would you like it if I told you that you couldn’t be friends with your friend X any longer?

Son: Why not? He’s one of my best friends. I just went to his birthday party yesterday.

Me: Too bad. I don’t like him. He’s not a good influence on you. You can’t be friends with him.

Son: What? That’s not fair. I like X. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s my friend.

Me: Son, I like X. I like his parents. I’m glad he’s your friend. I said that to show you about racism. But there are people in our country who would not let their kids be friends with X because of the color of his skin. Because it’s different than theirs. That’s an example of racism.

Son: But that’s not right. Why would that matter?

Me: You’re correct. It’s not right and it shouldn’t matter. But people still act like that.

Son: Really? That’s not nice. It’s really not fair.

I wish that I could have given my son a response that would satisfy him and his desire for fairness. It made me sad, really, that my generation hadn’t done a better job of making real changes to eradicate racism. Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in our country. If the events happening almost daily don’t convince you then take a look at the comments on almost any article related to these events. The hate-filled language is disgusting. Embarrassing. Sadly, I’ve seen it from people on both sides of the issues. People should be ashamed of themselves for thinking, much less actually writing, such awful words. I tried to explain to my son that one way to try to stop the racism and intolerance was to be kind. Always. Be. Kind. I know that it sounds simplistic, but could you imagine what would happen if everyone, I said everyone, was actually kind to everyone else all of the time? The “Golden Rule” isn’t too radical, is it? Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Kind of revolutionary, right? I was able to tell my son that part of the reason I discipline him and his sisters is because I’m trying to prepare them for a lifetime of treating others with love and kindness because it’s the right thing to do. Being loving and kind never goes out of style.

 

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The second thing I told my son he could do to help stop racism in America is to be bold, like a lighthouse on a cliff.  To speak up when he sees and hears racism and to not tolerate it among others. Ever. Not even a little bit. I shared with him an example of when a close friend made a derogatory remark about someone working in a drive-thru and I called him on it. Right there in the car. He tried to justify it because a person of that same skin color had attacked his family one time when he was a kid. He claimed he was scarred for life. I called B.S. on him and challenged him to change that attitude for the sake of his kids. I wish I could say that my words caused an epiphany in my friend and that he did a 180 from that moment on. Even so, he knew that what he did was wrong and he knew that I wasn’t going to put up with it. Social media and the web in general have combined to give all of us a voice that can be used to build up and tear down. I’m disgusted by how many people make awful comments about what’s going on in the world. Spend five minutes online and the comments about pretty much any news article turn downright nasty pretty quickly. And it’s not just one side or the other of the political spectrum. It’s rampant among liberals and conservatives calling each other names and spewing hate. It’s got to stop. And it’s up to each one of us to decide that we’ve had enough and make sure that we each speak up boldly for the truth. Are you willing to be the light that not only exposes the hate of others but leads them to a better place?

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Thirdly, I had to tell my son that sometimes the police treat people differently because of the color of their skin. He was incredulous. I told him about the experiences of some black men that I know who recently shared experiences of being stopped and questioned by police simply because of their skin color. These guys are college-educated, middle/upper class, married and employed. Yet that didn’t stop the profiling. I’m trying to build empathy in my children so that they can begin to understand that everyone has a unique story to tell based on their own experiences. I’m obviously not black so I cannot ever fully understand what it’s like to grow up black in America. I can, however, listen to the stories of others and come along side them to stand up for what is right. I had to explain that we, as white men in the United States, enjoy a freedom or privilege that black people, and black men in particular, do not share with us. While we have a responsibility to obey the government and the authorities in a respectful manner, we also have a responsibility and a right to disagree with it when necessary. I grew up in a very white area of northeast Wisconsin and only knew one black person my whole childhood. I didn’t even know about the concept of white privilege until I learned about it in a School of Education class as a senior in college in 1994. I was 22. At that time I bristled at the notion that I enjoyed privilege simply because I was a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) male. I didn’t think I was racist or that I should have to apologize for my race because some people of my race were racist, either currently or in the past. I always thought that if you worked hard and obeyed the government and the police that you would succeed in the U.S. Over the last 20 years I’ve come to a better understanding that there is, actually, inherent privilege in being white. It’s sad that this is true.

We still have a lot of work to do. We cannot ignore this any longer and pretend that it’s a only problem within the black community. We need to work together. Not just black people. Not just white people. All of us. Together. After all, we’re all part of the same race. The human race.

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Below are several articles that I’ve found interesting, informative and enlightening over the last couple of weeks. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with each author but feel that it’s important to consider other perspectives than only my own. Be warned, though, that some of them are difficult to read because of the content and/or language used.

Ferguson, race and voices  http://www.morethancake.org/archives/8604