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June 19, 2008

Fathers, Daughters and Sons: Some Thoughts

With Father’s Day still fresh in my mind, and the unexpected death of Tim Russert, I all of a sudden find myself preoccupied with thoughts of my children. I watched Tim Russert on the Today Show at least a couple times a week for as long as I can remember. I didn’t like his style, I loved it. He was one of my favorite journalists and I was really affected by the sudden loss of this engaging personality. Tim Russert’s death spirited me into a state of consciousness that I haven’t yet shaken. If you recall a recent blog of mine where I spoke of mortality, while not interested in going down that road again, some other thoughts that surfaced for me are what I want to share today as well as hopefully get a reaction from you.

Father’s Day is one of those days that help you realize how fortunate you may be to have children. On this day your children may spoil you, somewhat foreshadowing a future when as parents we may be feeble and desiring love and our children may be our saviors in that regard. I am fortunate enough to have three children. From my perspective, all you need is three. Only having two would under cut my joy when they are at their best. More than three would exacerbate my angst when they are not as considerate as I would hope they might be. Russert and his life’s partner Maureen only had one child, their son Luke. I watched Luke talk with Matt Laurer this morning and the majesty of their conversation affected me in so many ways. It was really impressive seeing the fruit of his parents’ labor reflected through the eloquence of their son. I can only imagine and hope (and yes, expect) that my children would represent themselves, their family, and all others invested in them with such class.

Father’s Day, the Russert family’s loss, and the quality of the experience with my children on Father’s Day made me realize that somehow amidst all the focus on dad is an opportunity for Dads to appreciate not only the love and attention they receive, but the “type of” love they get from their children as well as what they give. Both of my daughters lean on me, kiss me often and unexpectedly, and remove my hat to rub my shaved (not bald) head. My son occasionally leans against me, and occasionally will grip my shaved (not bald) head, but doesn’t rub it, at least not lovingly for any length of time. Now, I have never told any of my children that they will endear themselves to dad if they rub his shaved (not bald) head. So why is it that my daughters rub my dome as if they are trying to ascertain their futures, whereas my son rubs my shaved (okay, you get the point by now) head as if to make the statement that he has that level of access to dad if he wants it.

More importantly, when we have conversations with our children on Father’s Day and take them into conversations about being quality people, I wonder how many other fathers take the time to really consider the role we have in shaping our children. My father shaped me greatly by the things he didn’t do, which may be why it is so difficult for me to imagine replicating his parenting style. Conversely, my mother wore both hats for me, which is why she deserves a shout out on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While it is obvious that we must provide for our children since they didn’t ask to be here, how often do those provisions transcend food and shelter? What are your stories about how dad (or mom in his absence) shaped, mentored, or challenged you?

June 2, 2008

Double Entendre, or Something Similar: Unpacking the Notion of “Holier Than Thou!”

What do you think of Cornel West’s book title: Race Matters?

How about Michael Eric Dyson’s book title: Race Rules

Language is so intriguing. When Cornel West named his book “Race Matters” was he stating that his book was about matters of race, or that race is important? When Michael Eric Dyson named his book “Race Rules” was he stating that his book was about the rules of race, or that race dominates? Seriously, which type of person are you? How did you interpret these two titles? What might your seeing only one of the possible two meanings that I see in these titles indicate about how different we may be seeing the world?

Does the phrase “holier than thou” mean I am more holy than you and therefore can afford to be judgmental of you? Or does holier than though mean I have even more holes in my clothes than you, so I should be less judgmental? These questions I ask may seem a bit ridiculous because most of us would point immediately to the obvious answer in each case, right? Yeah, right! Isn’t that what makes the world go round? We get all of these different interpretations of things that we think are “so obvious,” until we realize that perhaps they really aren’t that obvious after all. When you consider how often we adopt a condescending posture towards people who do certain things that we think they shouldn’t, only to discover that we ourselves exhibited the very same or similar behavior, we never stop to think that it may be predicated on where we start from. If I start a conversation with you about West’s book “Race Matters” that takes you down a road of how it emphasizes “the importance of race” and you have a conversation with someone who believes West’s book emphasizes racial matters (occurrences), it is conceivable that you and that person I spoke with may not be anywhere near on the same page when the two of you attempt to discuss the essence of West’s book. Everything either one of you could potentially describe about the book could be flavored by your very different initial interpretations, and what you process from someone else’s take could also be seen through a filtered lens you developed from your knowledge.

Is it possible that the double entendre of language possibly influences some of our actions? I recall the scene from American Beauty when the military father tells his son how disgusting it is that gays flaunt their relationships (in response to a gay couple who recently moved into the neighborhood and subsequently attempted to introduce themselves to their neighbors). Later the military father witnesses what he thinks is homosexuality in his son and tells his son he would rather see him dead than gay. It turns out that the military father may have oppressed his homosexuality his entire life (hence his wife’s unrelenting vacant stare). Ultimately the military father kills his neighbor after he makes a pass at that neighbor and the neighbor reveals that he isn’t gay. Apparently the military father couldn’t live with the fact that he had outed himself to someone (his neighbor) who might tell others, or was just furious that he had been rejected. The larger point is many people cast aspersions at others for acts they have judged improper or immoral, and don’t take the time to discretely look at themselves. More so, when people hate, prejudge, demonstrate an ism, level of intolerance, inconsideration, or insensitivity, how many of us take the time to avoid reacting to the injustice before we give the seeming perpetrator the benefit of the doubt for simply having succumbed to being human? I know it sounds easy and is a great deal harder to do at times, but don't you think it can be done?

Many of us have extended congratulatory or celebratory pregnancy comments to the woman in the hallway or elevator only to find out she wasn’t pregnant. Though definitely not trying to make her feel uncomfortable about her weight, in the case where the woman doesn’t know the complimenter, how insincere might those comments sound to her? Is she wrong if she sees the so-called perpetrator as mean or evil? Have you ever done this, or something similar?

Many of us have asked a friend of ours when we were younger if they were going to attend this or that function or event, not even thinking that our friend (or when we were younger, their parents) may not have the financial resources to attend (no money, or perhaps no car). I work with students who range from being able to travel anywhere in the world (just by asking their parents for money) to students who have to save to get back to New York City when school ends in Plattsburgh. The range in their various realities and the accompanying assumptions that visit both disparate groups are as broad as they are daunting. Nevertheless, have you ever prematurely or immaturely assumed something about someone that you are ashamed of?

Many if not most people have forwarded on a joke laden email or passed on a rumor to a very close friend, lover, partner, or colleague that had something improper in it. We forwarded the correspondence or advanced the gossip because it definitely didn’t reflect on us and it didn’t necessarily reflect on anyone we actually knew, or anyone we “really knew” or consciously focused on. Most of us have done this at some point in our lives and should be thankful that we didn’t or haven’t yet really embarrassed ourselves by this type of behavior. While people need to understand the impact such behavior has on both the individuals negatively represented as well as their communities, few of us consider the motivation behind much of our behavior. Nevertheless, have you done the gossiping, forwarded the email, or anything similar?

Many of us have told a lie that we would like to get back the moment we said it. It probably came out of our mouths due to some unknown insecurity we have not addressed until we recognize how truly unconvincing the lie actually is if put to any type of scrutiny. Nonetheless, we told that lie. Yet, we are appalled when we hear that someone we held in high regard may have spoken an untruth! Have you ever done this, or something similar?

I challenge people all the time that their use of the words “straight,” “weird,” phrases like “that’s retarded,” or “that’s gay,” or attempts at convincing oneself that referring to a grown woman as “girl” are extremely problematic and are more often than not used by those of us that have no connection to the stereotypical members of these stereotypical communities often misrepresented through the use of these dysfunctional terms and phrases, or are truly ignorant of the role they play in exacerbating social injustices. So why do we continue to do all of these things? Is it because somehow we are “holier than thou,” whatever that means to you?