Category Archives: People

Being Gray

I am not exactly the black sheep of my family, but I am at least gray.  I am the most intelligent and most highly educated member of my extended family.  I am also the most intelligent and most highly educated member of my wife’s extended family.  It’s really awkward at times.

Just the other night we were watching a movie on television.  An easily recognizable actress appears in it, and my sister-in-law is not sure about whether she wants to keep watching the movie.  “I can’t stand her,” she says.  Apparently the actress plays a really obnoxious person in a TV series.  I refrain from explaining that when an actor plays a role, the actor himself or herself is not like that.  My sister-in-law is surprised at how nice this actress is in the movie that we are watching.  Ugh!

My brother loves Barack Obama.  When I ask him why, he says that he has restored hope to people.  When I ask, “Hope in what?” he cannot really say.  When I ask what the President has done to inspire such hope, he mumbles something about a black man finally holding such a high office.  Oh, and he closed that prison in Cuba.  “No, he didn’t,” I point out.

“Whatever!” my brother says.

My sister offers a different opinion of our President.  He has ruined the country, according to her.  “In what way?” I inquire.

“Well, he’s not a real American.  He’s a secret Muslim.”

I want to say that it must not be a very well-kept secret if she knows about it.  I bite my tongue instead.  Peace matters more to me than correcting my sister.

Most of my relatives are overweight.  I watch them eat junk food all day long and wonder how they can say that they do not understand how they got so heavy.

Most of them squander money on junk.  Then they complain about not being able to make ends meet.

I don’t fault anyone for having a low IQ.  However, it annoys me that my relatives and my wife’s relatives fail to make the most of the information available to them.  They make no attempt to educate themselves on politics or economics or health or anything important or useful.

It leaves me with little to talk about.  I don’t enjoy hearing about their recent trips to the grocery store to buy peanut butter.  I don’t enjoy hearing about the spark plugs that they recently changed in the lawn mower.  I want to talk about people’s thoughts and feelings about current events.  I want to talk about the meaning of life.

Learning Reponsibility

     I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten.  I didn’t even go to kindergarten.  However, I did learn a lot in elementary school, as well as in Sunday school and at home.  And in the Boy Scouts.  I learned a lot about responsiblity at that time, and I wonder why others did not.

     I learned that if I misplaced my pencil, it was my responsiblity to find it again or to get a new one.  Nobody else was obligated to give, or even lend, me his or her pencil.  Nobody was obligated to buy me a new one, except my parents, and they were probably going to require me to pay for a new pencil with my allowance money.

     I learned that the teacher did not give me a grade on a paper; I earned a grade on the paper.

     I learned that if I dropped a piece of paper on the floor, it was my duty to pick it up.  The magic trash fairy was not going to do it for me.

     I learned that if I broke something, I had to repair it or replace it myself or pay to have it repaired or replaced.

     I learned that if I promised to do a chore in exchange for a reward, then I could not back out later.  I certainly could not demand the reward without completing the chore.

     I learned that if I broke a rule, I had to face the consequence.  In fact, I learned that I should humbly accept the consequence that I deserved.

     When I look at some of the so-called adults around me, I wonder why they did not learn these things.  They think that somebody else should pay for their needs.  Somebody else should suffer for their mistakes.  Their employer is not “giving” them enough.  They should back out of obligations if they change their minds and do not “feel like” following through.  They should face no consequences for violating policies or even laws.

     What is wrong with such people?  Are the stupid?  Did they ignore what they were taught?  Are they able to ignore their conscience?

     I wonder.

What a Party

I attended a party two days ago.  It was primarily a birthday party for my stepfather, but we also exchanged Christmas presents, as many of the people there will not be together on Christmas day.  Among those in attendance:

  • my recently divorced sister, who probably committed adultery
  • my brother and his male domestic partner
  • my unwed teen-aged niece and her new baby
  • the father of my unwed teen-aged niece’s baby
  • a former brother-in-law and his new wife who owns a bar
  • my drug-using niece and her live-in boyfriend

There were other interesting characters present, not all of whom were related to me.  It was quite a mix of people!

I found it awkward to be around such a group of people.  I am a solidly, happily married man.  My teenagers are not mothers and fathers.  They live with us.  They hardly even go on dates.  When they do, it is with members of the opposite sex.

I love my family.  I do not judge a single one of them, although I am sometimes hurt by what they do–because I know that their choices sometimes harm themselves and others.  I cannot begin to tell you the soap-opera-like antics that many of them engage in.  I feel frustrated around them, because I know–absolutely know–things that would help them to be happier and healthier.

After the party I thought, “All I can do is love them.  That’s what Jesus would do.”  Then a second thought hit me.  Jesus was criticized for hanging out with the “wrong crowd.”  My relatives are the sort of people that he not only would have loved by default but the sort of people that he would have intentionally sought out and demonstrated love to and stood up for.  He would also have confronted them in regard to their sins, which I do not have the authority to do.  Primarily, though, he would have won them over with his love.  He would have welcomed them into his kingdom, if they were ready to enter it.

I have to remember to be more proactive about my love.  I cannot just indicate it by being present, but I have to show it more directly.  I am a sinner just like them.  They are loved by God just like me.  I hope that they understand that, but I need to do a better job of showing them.

Be Yourself, But Be Your Best Self

     That is the advice that I gave to my daughters recently.  They have been annoyed by certain people who do not like them very much.  It all boils down to those people not being able to appreciate or even accept differences.

     Daughter #1 is a very dynamic, flashy person.  She wears big, shiny earrings.  She has dyed her hair in several different colors.  She likes to pose for artistic photographs.  Many of her Christian friends and teachers think that she is immodest and vain.  Her mother and I think that she is simply expressive and full of the joy of life..  We honor and bless her for it. 

     Daughter #2 tends toward pessimism.  She doesn’t just see the glass as half empty, but she also sees specks in the water.  She is an introvert, although when she is comfortable with people she can be quite entertaining.  She loves to joke and laugh, but only in a small group of people that she knows well.  Otherwise, she is extremely shy and withdrawn.  Many of her Christian friends and teachers think that she is too gloomy and insecure.  Some have suggested that she is clinically depressed, but when we had her checked, the psychologist said that she isn’t.  She said that she is just a typical introvert, which can really bug extraverts.

     I have told both girls that they should be happy to be themselves and not think even for a second about the criticisms that have been lodged against them.  I have told them that God made us all different, and that people are wrong when they try to make everybody else in their own image–when they they to squeeze everyone into a box shaped exactly like themselves. 

     However, I gave them one little caution.  I told them that they should never use “that’s just me” as an excuse for being rude or unkind or insensitive.  I told them that their mother and I want them to be who they are but to be the very best version of who they are.  I also told them that sometimes we have to make compromises.  Although, we should never compromise in regard to our conscience or our identity, we can compromise on outward things.  Daughter #1 needs to dress a bit more somberly in situations where it is appropriate.  Daughter #2 needs to be a little more cheerful around other people.  I have told them that we should think of others and not only of ourselves.  After all, that’s what we want other people to do.

Overcoming Fear

When I was a boy I was afraid of almost everything.  I was afraid of my parents’ friends and would run into my bedroom or stand behind my father or mother whenever their friends came for a visit.  I was afraid of clowns.  I was afraid of Santa Claus, and refused to sit on his lap.  I was afraid to stand on ledges.  I was afraid of the dark and of the creatures that I was sure were just outside in the darkness.  I was afraid to order food at a restaurant or to return merchandise that I was unsatisfied with or to ask the librarian for help in finding a book.

I’m not sure why I was like that.  It makes me feel so wimpy to remember all of the things that I was afraid of then.  The various fears lingered as I grew older, although most of them gradually subsided.  I learned that most strangers are not going to kill me and that clowns are just people with makeup and costumes.  I learned that people in restaurants and libraries are there to help me and that they (usually) don’t mind.

One thing that helped me a lot was taking drama in school.  Even though I am still an introverted person at heart, I am not afraid of being outgoing when I need to be.  It is a role that I can play when I have to.  I know how to seem a lot bolder and a lot more confident than I really am.  At this stage of my life, I hardly know when I am acting or when the boldness and confidence are really a part of me.

One of my longest-lingering fears was the fear of confronting people.  For most of my life, I just could not do it.  I had a counselor during my mid-twenties who assigned me the task of thinking of somebody that I needed to confront and then going ahead and doing it.  I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t.  I was too concerned about everyone liking me and too apathetic to care about anything that much and too committed to keeping the peace at all cost.  The counselor dropped me as a client.  She said that if I would not do the assigned task, she could probably help me no further.

I have pretty much overcome that fear.  I have learned to be, as they say, assertive.  I still do not confront people often.  I still would rather keep the peacem if at all possible.  However, I can confront people, especially if I believe that a person or group is mistreating somebody else.  In other words, I am still not very likely to stand up for myself but very likely to stand up for somebody else. 

I think that I have overcome my fear of confrontation as a natural outgrowth of reaching middle age.  I no longer care about pleasing people for its own sake.  I no longer care if people “approve” of me or “like” me–unless they are liking me for the right reasons.  I do not care one iota about being cool.  In fact, I am very happy not to be.  I also realize that I do not want to compromise my principles or violate my conscience for the rest of my life.  Some things are worth fighting for.  Some things are worth the risk of hurting the feelings of others or of losing so-called friends.

Me and My Father

     I know that my headline is ungrammatical, but I don’t care.  It’s catchier that way.

     I glanced at myself in the mirror the other day, and I was surprised to see the face of my father staring back at me.  I have always known that I resemble my father, but the older I get the more similar I appear to him. 

     I am like him in other ways, too.  I am not competitive, although I enjoy playing games very much.  I like telling jokes, no matter how corny.  I especially enjoy word play and puns–to the point of annoying other people.  I laugh loud and long at comedy routines and at funny movies.  I am not bent on acquiring wealth or status or power.  I appreciate all things avant garde and strange.  I am firm in my opinions but tolerant of others.

     It’s not bad being like my dad–either in my appearance or in other ways.  It is spooky in some ways, but overall I am comfortable with it.  It’s not like I consciously chose either to be like him or to be unlike him.  Genes and exposure do what they do.  I am what I am, and it just happens to be that I am to some extent a chip off the ol’ block.

     I’m thankful that Dad is not too bad a block to have been chipped from.

When Our Children Fall

     I wrote about my son and how he had gotten into trouble at school.  On a scale of 1 to 10 he did something that I would consider about a 5 in seriousness.  It wasn’t the worst thing possible, but it was worse than talking out in class or plagiarizing a paper. 

     I am thankful for several things:

  1. My son told me what he did before I heard it from anyone else.
  2. He has acknowledged that it was wrong without making excuses or justifications.
  3. He accepts the consequences and admits that he deserves them.  I believe that he is sincerely remoseful.     

     From the very beginning I have tried to make sure that he knows several things.

  • I love him in spite of anything that he has done, and I would still love him if he had done something worse.  I would never reject him or abandon him.
  • I have done some pretty bad things in my life.  I cannot judge him or condemn him, although I cannot overlook what he did and treat it lightly either.
  • What he did is something that others have done and that others have been tempted to do.  He is not a strange monster but a normal human being–particularly a normal teenaged boy.
  • It is very bad, but it is not the end of the world or the end of his life.  He can learn from it and grow into a better person.
  • The guilt and embarrassment that he feels are appropriate and are two tools that will help him not to do the same thing in the future.
  • The consequences are not just to punish him for what he did but to train him in a better way to act.
  • Even though he feels terrible now and he is under some pretty severe restrictions, it will not always be that way.  The internal pain will subside, and the restrictions will be relaxed little by little.

I did something pretty terrible when I was a young adult, so I know exactly what my son is going through.  However, it hurts much worse to see my son going through it than when I went through it.

 

 

 

Personhood

Personhood is a more nebulous concept than it probably should be.  Throughout history certain groups have defined themselves as persons and defined others as non-persons.  Even when a de facto definition has not been in place, people in certain groups have in practice been treated as non-persons–or at least not as full persons.  I have been accused of not understanding racism because I am in a privileged class, and that is probably so, but my ancestors at one time were not treated as full persons by their Roman conquerors.  In a more recent time period my ancestors were not treated fully as persons by the Puritans of Massachusetts, because they belonged to fringe religious groups.  My point is that this issue of personhood is not just a black-white issue, as we Americans tend to make every such issue.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” he meant men, not women.  Furthermore, he meant white, landowning men.  Women, people of color, and really poor people were not really as equal as every other human being in Jefferson’s America.

At times and in places the mentally and physically challenged have not been treated as full persons.  I live in a place where children are still sometimes killed if they have a noticeable physical abnormality–out in the rural villages.  It is shameful to think that even in America the mentally ill and mentally challenged were mistreated and were experimented on like animals.

More and more, the elderly in America are not treated as persons.  They are put away in homes and left to die.  We even have localities where it is legal, depending on the circumstances, to help them die, supposedly for their own good.  It just so happens that it is convenient for the relatives, too.

Now I turn your attention to the unborn.  I remember each of the four times that my wife conceived a child.  Only two of the babies were actually born.  The first one’s little heart stopped beating at a fairly early stage, and my wife went through a spontaneous abortion.  The second one implanted in the fallopian tube.  The third one was a textbook case.  The fourth one threatened to be born way to early but managed to wait, thanks to medical intervention, until three weeks before her due date.

They were all, as far as we were concerned, our children.  We did not go to the ultrasound saying, “I wonder how our fetal tissue is doing” or “Let’s see how that foreign mass in the uterus is coming along.”  It was our baby, and not only did we see it that way and talk about it that way but all our friends and relatives did, too.  Were we just naive?  Were we romanticizing?  When I look at my two girls, who are now teenagers, I think not.  That little fetus is what they were then, and they certainly are not just blobs of tissue or a foreign mass.  (Although they seem to suck money from us the way they used to suck nutrients through the umbilical cord.)

If you think that a cluster of cells is all that is destroyed in abortion, you are seriously ignorant.  My wife’s spontaneous abortion occurred at about the same time that many women get surgical abortions, and actually before some do.  I assure you that it was not just a little cluster of cells that was expelled.  It had had a beating heart and tiny limbs at one time.

Mississippi is going to vote on whether to define a fetus as a person in their state consitution.  I hope that they vote to do so.  I wish all the other states would do so.

What about you?  If you have children, did you think of them as a baby or as a person only after they were fully born?  Did you hear their heartbeat and think, “How strange that a little unformed mass would have a heartbeat!”  Did you think of it like a tumor that could just as easily be excised as allowed to grow into the child that you have today?

Seriously!  Look into the eyes of your child or of somebody else’s child and let it sink in that that fetus in the womb is who they were then, and that most fetuses that are aborted could have become what that child is today.

I have heard people say that an abortion is just like removing a mole.  Yet no mole ever developed into a walking, talking person. 

I have heard people say that it is a part of the woman’s body.  If so, why does there need to be a cord between the two of them?

I have heard people say that it is a foreign invader–as if it is not the product of the woman’s own ovum and her lover’s own sperm.  As if it did not get half of its genetic material from her!  And as if, supposing she changed her mind after all, it would not grow to be a beautiful child that she would adore and care about.

We human beings have made this terrible error many times–colored people, women, disabled people.  Must we keep on making it?  Must we declare that since a human being is very, very tiny and still very dependent, it is not worthy of life?  That it is not worthy of respect?  That it is not really a person?

Advocate for Yourself

     I am part of an online support group for people who suffer from vertigo.  I am also part of a Facebook group for migraine sufferers.  (I suffer vertigo during migraine attacks.)  One thing that I have observed is how ignorant some people are of their condition and of treatment options.  I have also observed that some people almost seem content to suffer than to do the hard work of getting the help that they need.   I understand that attitude.  When you suffer from a chronic condition it is easy to succumb to despair and helplessness, but I don’t recommend doing so. 

Although doctors are around to help, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual patient to take whatever steps are necessary to get relief.  We must be our own advocates.  General Practitioners may or may not be helpful at first with certain conditions.  We might need to urge them to refer us to a specialist.  We might need to humbly make suggestions or ask leading questions.  Maybe if we prompt our GP, he or she will do a little research or tell us where to find out more ourselves.

The first thing that we as patients need to do is be clear.  We should keep track of our symptoms and describe them fully and clearly to the doctor.  The doctor can help by asking the right questions, but we must not hold back or speak vaguely.  I think it is good to learn as much as you can about your condition or suspected condition.  Just be humble when you talk to the doctor.  He really does know more than you, so don’t try to teach him.  Just make suggestions or ask leading questions.  If it does turn out that you really do know more than him about your condition or suspected condition, then either he needs to do some research for you or he needs to send you to another doctor, perhaps a specialist.

The second thing that we need to do is be persistent.  If the doctor is being vague, insist politely that you want a firm diagnosis.  Ask if some test can confirm what the doctor is thinking.  Once you are on a treatment, if it is not working, you need to go back.  Doctors often try one thing while realizing that it might not be the best thing in your case.  They know that a dosage might have to be adjusted or a different drug might have to be tried.  Alert your doctor to intolerable side effects.  The doctor should be willing to keep working on your case until he finds a workable treatment plan or until he decides it is time to refer you to somebody else.  If the doctor seems fed up or vague or says that your problems are all in your head, choose to go to a different doctor.

The third thing that we need to do is stay informed.  We should learn what tests are available and ask our doctor about them.  We should be learning what new treatment plans are available and request them, if our current treatment has not been effective.  We should learn what non-medical things we can do to relieve our symptoms.  We should know about the drugs we are taking–their various names, their side effects, how they work, and interactions with other drugs or food.  (Pharmacists are usually glad to help with that information.)  I have heard people say that they switched from one drug to another and been amused, because they were taking the same drug with a different name.  I have heard them say they were going to try an OTC supplement with a certain brand name, and I have urged them to just get a generic version of that supplement.  You don’t need to pay five times as much for B2 just because it has a fancy name on the label.  And if you are already taking feverfew or some other herb, switching to a different brand will make no difference.

It can be hard work, but think of it as a quest.  You are on a quest to cure or treat your condition and to have a better life.  It is worth it.

The Joys of Parenthood

     Lots of blog posts focus on the pitfalls of parenthood or on advice for parents.  I would just like to muse a little bit about the fun and pleasure that comes from being a parent.

     For me as a father there is no greater joy than when one of my children comes spontaneously for a hug.   My kids are at an age when they sometimes resist any overtures on my part to embrace them, but every now and then one of them, a different one at different times, will give me a nice hug for no reason.  It’s a simple thing but extremely satisfying.

     I like it when somebody tells me that one of my children is particularly polite or helpful.  My wife and I have modeled those traits and done our best to teach them to our kids.  The fact that they caught what we have shown them is very gratifying.  It’s not that it reflects well on my wife and me, which it does, but that it means they will have a better life.  People will admire them and enjoy being around them.  They are more likely to get what they need and want, because they are willing to show courtesy to others.

     I like to hear my children laugh.  I want them to be happy, and I want them to have fun.  I don’t want them to neglect the serious side of life, of course, but I do not want their life to be full of drudgery or to be overly intense.  There is a time for everything, and that includes fun and silliness.  I am happy that I have been able to give them some relaxation and some pleasure in their lives so far.

     I am glad that my children do not mind being away from my wife and me sometimes.  I want them to love me, but I do not want them to cling to me.  I want them to know that they can handle many things on their own already, and I want them to be independent someday.  I will always be there to help them if they need it, but I am glad that they need it less and less.  I have raised them to be confident and competent, and I am glad that they are.

     It makes my heart sing to see how well my children get along with each other.  They have their squabbles, but they are infrequent and quickly resolved.  That is what we taught them:  people will sometimes clash, but the best thing to do is to work it out and then forgive and forget.  We absolutely forbade yelling and hitting in our house.  When it happened, there were consequences, and we effectively taught them not to go down that road.  They really like each other, and they enjoy spending time together.

     I could list many more joys of parenting, but I have probably already exhausted your patience, friend.  If you have parents, why not give them a hug or a telephone call right now?  It will make their day.