Friday, October 31, 2008

Thank Heaven . . .

We brought her home from the hospital Nov. 8, 1988. It was Election Day and that night George H.W. Bush would be elected President of the United States. (Who did he run against again?)

This coming Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, another Election Day, is her 20th birthday. She came home from college last weekend to do early voting in her first presidential election.

I speak of my lovely daughter, a sweet, sweet little ray of sunshine squeezed between two rough-and-tumble boys, and one of the nicest gifts I have ever received. Even though we could have known her gender prior to her birth, we chose not to, which made it all the more sweet when we learned some of the blue in the nursery would have to be painted pink.

She had my number from the very start. Any attempt at discipline was totally useless (since she was perfect in my eyes) so that had to be quickly assigned to her mother.

As a toddler we would dance to show tunes, the most memorable being "Beauty and the Beast."

"We'll dance to that at my wedding one day, Daddy," she once told me. ("Not if I have anything to say about it," I would think to myself. "Why would you ever want to leave me for another man?")

She was a nurturer from an early age, which still shows as she makes plans to be an elementary school teacher. She got her start at age 4 when we brought home her little brother. She already had a doll family and it was easy enough to add him to the group. And I might add that she has kept a watchful eye on him ever since.

As she grew into adolescence her leadership skills became evident. When she told me she wanted to run for class office before her sophomore year in high school, I encouraged her but told her to just do her best and not worry about winning or losing. She never had to worry about that because sophomore, junior and senior years, she never lost. She served her classes with distinction.

When she gave her high school commencement address, I was a nervous wreck, having given her a few pointers and listened to her rehearse. If she was nervous at all, though, she did not show it. I think it was right then, when she left the podium after her speech, full of poise and confidence, that I realized she had truly grown her wings and would soon spread them whether I liked it or not. It was reality-check time.

Three months later when we took her to college, her mother had to finally put me in the car and drive me away as I watched through a window into the stairwell of the dorm as my baby climbed those stairs to indendence. I will never forget that image of her, nor will I forget that a couple of hours earlier as I continued to give her last-minute instructions, she had told me she would really appreciate it if I would not make a scene when it was time for me to go. Well I did not make much of one.

Today, a sophomore in college and within days of being twenty years old, she is as sweet as ever and she continues to hold me in the palm of her hand. We talk often and she exuberantly tells me all that is going on in her life. She always has time for me.

She loves college and has blossomed there even more. Silly, unworthy boys seem to be giving her a lot of attention these days and I do not envy the one who one day will dare to ask to take her on a permanent basis. That will not be an easy test to pass.

Who could forget Maurice Chavalier's classic "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" which had to have been written on behalf of doting daddies everywhere?

"Each time I see a little girl,
Of five, or six, or seven,
I can't resist a joyous urge,
To smile and say:

Thank heaven, for little girls,
for little girls get bigger every day!

Thank heaven, for little girls,
they grow up in the most delightful way!

Those little eyes so helpless and appealing,
one day will flash, and send you crashin' thru the ceilin'!

Thank heaven, for little girls,
thank heaven for them all,
no matter where, no matter who,
for without them, what would little boys do?

Thank heaven,
Thank heaven,
Thank heaven, for little girls!"

Thank Heaven, indeed.

Happy Birthday Sweetie! Come home soon!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Loving My Neighbor

More thoughts on politics but with a twist at the end:

-- You can say what you want about “Joe the Plumber” and Obama’s statement about “spreading the wealth around.” Whether Joe is legitimate or not is not the question. Obama’s response is indicative of the fundamental difference of opinion he and I have about the role of government. He wants to punish you if you make too much money. He wants to give tax “refunds” to people who never paid taxes in the first place. I just don’t think that makes sense.

-- I thought Sarah Palin knocked it out of the park on Saturday Night Live last weekend. To be able to laugh at yourself, to be able to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” to be able to, when “being lied about, (not) deal in lies” (with thanks to Rudyard Kipling) – these are attributes worthy of a Vice President. I also caught a little bit of her address this morning to parents of children with special needs. All I can say is I love this lady. As I have stated previously, I do not think the McCain-Palin ticket will prevail. The circumstances, history and media fawning are simply not in their favor although, if ever there has been a time when I hope I am wrong, this is it. But we have all been enriched by getting to know Sarah Palin. She has done her country, state, family and gender proud. I predict we will see her again. I look forward to it.

-- Barack Obama is taking a couple of days off to go be with his grandmother in Hawaii who is gravely ill and may not even make it through Election Day. As I have said before, although I do not agree with his politics, I like Barack Obama and think he is a kind, decent person. His grandmother had a big role in his upbringing and he is not about to let his running for the nation’s highest office interfere with his being with her in what might be her final days. I like that.

-- I am accused of having a Pollyanna-ish view, but I believe John McCain, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are all good, decent people who have the best interest of this country at heart. Unfortunately, each in his/her own way has sold out to the nastiness of partisan party politics (and I look forward to a day when maybe that is no longer necessary), but I can still find a lot of good in all of them. McCain’s distinguished career as a Senator, his service to his country in the military and his ability to bridge division among his colleagues are all to be admired. Sarah Palin, although she has been treated cruelly and unfairly by the media and even by some of my blogger friends, represents so many of the things that are good about our country and she also represents a huge step forward for women. Barack Obama is a credit to African-Americans everywhere and has helped us move forward in race relations. His intelligence and pragmatism have served him well. I have always liked Joe Biden. His devotion to his family and his recovery from tragedy years ago are above reproach.

-- I still believe government is not responsible for fixing our problems. That’s what scares me about the Democrats and about having a Democratic President AND Congress. I am afraid it’s going to be Entitlement City.

-- Sadly, with the state of the economy and the focus on the middle class, there has been little if any talk this election season about the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Gone are the discussions about partnering with faith based organizations and the thousand points of light. But the “least of these” are still out there – the people who don’t worry about keeping a home but just having a place to sleep; the AIDS and Cancer patients who don’t have the family support to take care of them; the crack babies. And that’s just in this country. Read a little bit about what’s going on in Darfur. It’s enough to put all of this stuff in perspective.

-- And finally, as I have pondered the election and the plight of our country, I have been reading through the Gospels. Each of the writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – presents a different perspective on the life of Jesus, yet there is a recurring theme. Although it was a drastically different time when He walked the earth, many of the problems were the same. There were political divisions, economic challenges and oppression of the weak. And yet this guy who mysteriously claimed to be fully God and fully man challenged his followers to lead simple lives of service to others, to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds and love their neighbors as they loved themselves. The message was so radical, so completely earth-shattering, that He was put to death for it.

-- So that’s where I am today – trying to figure out what loving my neighbor as myself means for me. As much as I concern myself with the election and the economy, this is really much more important. I went to the Gospels for insight and oh my, did I get it. Am I willing to live a life so radical and earth-shattering, so much that I would die for it?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Whiskey Making and the Art of Raising Sons

Younger Son, who will turn 16 next week, has always provided the comic relief in our family. He has a wry sense of humor and a vocabulary that has always been beyond his years.

He has not always possessed, shall we say, “tact.” When he was about eight, his grandparents took him and his sister to the Jack Daniels distillery that is about an hour’s drive from here. The grandparents, to my knowledge, have never touched alcohol, but enjoy history and local culture and loved the outing with two of their grandchildren.

Younger Son enjoyed it too. So much so that, the following Sunday in church, it was reported that he took the floor in his Sunday School class and gave a very detailed narrative of the whiskey-making process. I assured the teacher (who was maybe a little too tightly wound and might have benefited from a shot of Jack himself) that, while I was not overly concerned about his becoming an alcoholic at such a young age, there would not be a repeat performance. I was able to finish that conversation with a straight face before I stepped around the corner and died laughing.

He has always believed in the benefits of a clear conscience. When he was younger and was reprimanded at school -- or church -- or by a friend’s parent -- or the coach of whatever team on which he was playing at the time (you get the idea), he was always quick to come home and confess, figuring the consequences might be less severe if he came clean before we got the call from the authority figure whose feathers he had ruffled.

He was probably right. It was hard to get too upset with him. His transgressions were always minor, involving typical boyhood mischief and/or running his mouth about something and continuing after a polite request to refrain from doing so. We have had numerous conversations over the years about “speaking when spoken to.” Eventually maturity took hold and, although he can still pontificate on most any subject and likes to have the last word, he has become a fairly responsible young man who is well liked by his teachers and peers.

He still sees the advantage of preemptive confession, though – even when he’s innocent.

He is on a two-day fall break from school. Three friends spent the night last night. Wife and I were in bed long before they were. We found this note in the kitchen this morning, next to a broken plate, one of those decorative types that hangs on the wall:

Mom, I know what you are thinking but this was not us. All 4 of us were in bed at the time this happened and Powell and I both heard it. I know that it is extremely convenient that this happened on a night that 3 friends slept over. The current time is 4:10. We were all in bed by 3:40. I’m sorry if this plate has some kind of sentimental value but please know that this was a freak accident which had no people involved. Love, David

The boy can spin as well as any politician I know of.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Evolution of Communication

I might have been the last person I know to get a cell phone. I fought it for years but a few years ago, when Wife upgraded us to the “Family Plan,” she handed me my phone and welcomed me to the family. Now, several phones and upgrades later, it is indispensable to me and I could not imagine life without it. But sometimes I wish I could.

I can remember living in a house with one telephone. This adequately served a family of four. It was on a wall in the kitchen and it belonged to the telephone company. It had a rotary dial.

Local callers could be heard perfectly. Long distance calls (which were very infrequent in my house) were a little scratchy and I can remember my dad hollering into the phone talking to his mother who lived out of town. But, generally speaking, parties on each end could be heard pretty well.

Eventually my parents got a phone in their room. We had really moved up in the world. Then we moved into a two-story house and actually had three phones. At that point we had defnitely arrived. Again, the phones belonged to the phone company.

I don’t remember there ever having to be any repairs made to any of these phones. The phone company never visited our house that I remember, other than for installation. We might have occasionally lost service during a storm but it was quickly restored.

Somewhere along the way the government intervened and broke up Ma Bell. It was about that time that we had to start buying our own phones. They were junk. One would last a couple of years at best and of course, once it broke you had to go replace it. I’m guessing landfills today are full of old, crappy phones.

As technology progressed, so did changes and advances in phones. Push-button keypads replaced rotary dials. Telephones became a part of home d├ęcor and Mickey Mouse could just as likely be cradling your ear-and-mouthpiece as the boring black or white nondescript base unit.

Wireless remote technology made it possible to carry the receiver and walk around the house unattached. Answering machines (now called “voice mail”) allowed us to never miss a call and “call waiting” gave us the ability to be rude and stop one call and take another. Eventually – and this one really sent me over the top – we were even able to tell who was calling us when the phone rang, allowing us to pick and choose what calls to take!

Then, of course, cell phones came along. They are great, but how many times do you get cut off in the middle of a conversation? How often do you hear, “I’m losing you” or, “You’re breaking up” when you are talking to someone? (“Can you hear me now?” is the question asked in the popular commercial, mocking the company’s rival carrier. In reality, though, neither is better or worse then the other). This never happened when the phone company owned the phone that resided safely in the house and was wired into the wall.

And of course obtaining cell phone service is like getting a bill through Congress. I long ago had to turn it all over to Wife after it became evident that I would be imprisoned for assault or murder if I had to talk to another representative who tried to help me decide what plan would best meet my needs and lifestyle. For the love of everything holy, all I want is a phone. It does not have to do anything but make and receive calls. It does not have to have a personal ring or be a certain color or anything like that.

And do you think these things are reliable? I could not even begin to tell you how many of them we have replaced in my family of five. We used to get the insurance but decided that was a waste. There are supposed to be warranties on them but of course they don’t apply when phones are dropped. Or immersed in water. Or thrown like a ball. Or slammed up against a locker at school. Or run over by a pickup truck.

Don’t ask.

I have suggested we discontinue home phone or “land line” service at our house since we all have cell phones. Wife disagrees, saying if we have an emergency, the 911 dispatcher might not be able to find us if we call from a cell phone. I guess she is right.

And since the emergency might well be related to my having thrown our cell phones into the street to allow vehicles to run over and crush them, it will probably be a good idea to have another option.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Good Friends, Good Times

I am ready to write about something other than politics. In fact I am today writing about something much more important -- the goings on in my family.

Older Son is a recent graduate of Auburn University and Daughter is now a sophomore there. Auburn played Vanderbilt this past Saturday (and, unfortunately, lost). We live about 20 minutes from the Vandy campus so we were a perfect stopping-off place for college friends old and new.

Well we were much more than a stopping-off place. They started drifting in mid-day Friday. By the time Wife and I left for Younger Son’s football game about 6 p.m., there were about a half dozen or so. Wife had made two big pots of soup which we left in the able hands of Older Son and Daughter to distribute.

We dropped by after the game. To say the numbers had swelled is an understatement. People were everywhere. The former pots of soup were bone dry. Several nice looking young ladies were engaged in a game of pool in the playroom. A couple of nice looking young men were not far away watching, generously offering their assistance. Several sat at the kitchen table nibbling on brownies. One young man asked Daughter what she was doing here, allowing as to how he knew both her and her older brother and had been invited by the latter, but did not know the two were related.

Younger Son stood firmly and said he was not leaving but Wife and I, when we had begun hearing of the possible numbers, had made arrangements to sleep at some friends’ house. We felt somewhat like the hired help, getting things cleaned up then leaving to go to our temporary quarters about 11:30 p.m.

We returned Saturday morning. We did not do an official body count but the estimate was about 25 sleeping at the house. Every bed and sofa was occupied. Makeshift arrangements of sleeping bags and recliners were in use also. We assigned boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and the only disagreements we heard were as to whose turn it was in the shower.

By lunchtime Saturday things were in full swing. We set up our tailgate tent in the backyard and set up a long table and chairs under a tree. It was a pretty warm day here in Middle Tennessee, so most opted to stay inside in the air conditioning. Other college football games were being broadcast so the hardcore football fans did not stray far from the TV. We think we served about 40 in all.

Older Son’s fraternity brothers and friends of legal age brought their ice chests with libations, which were confined to the back deck. I did not check IDs but invoked the honor and trust system that has, for the most part, served me well since becoming a dad nearly 23 years ago. And best I could tell nothing got out of hand. We made sure there were designated drivers when it came time to go to the football game which had a 5 p.m. kickoff.

Though the game had a poor outcome for us, the fun at our house continued. Wife and I again did the late night cleanup and she rolled out her famous homemade cinnamon rolls to rise overnight. We again went to our friends’ house to sleep, then returned Sunday morning to start baking. As the smell drifted through the house, bodies began to rise and make their way to the kitchen. I will tell with you with no hesitation that one of Wife’s cinnamon rolls just out of the oven with a cold glass of milk will bring tears to your eyes. You can’t do it every morning if you don’t want to gain a zillion pounds and see your cholesterol skyrocket, but for an occasional treat, oh my, it is sheer heaven.

The exits began mid-morning and by early afternoon most of them were gone. Older Son quickly went into cleanup mode, as much, I think, to assuage the twinge of sadness he feels that these friends are no longer a part of his everyday life, as to help us. But what a great heritage he has and, knowing his personality as I do, I know many of these friendships will remain strong.

Wife and I were worn out last night but also extremely gratified. We have made a lot of mistakes – more than we would care to count -- as we have been parents to three children, but one of the things we did right was to make a decision years ago to invest in their relationships and get to know their friends. It’s costly in more ways than one. Our house needs painting and we desperately need new carpet and I’m sure some of the people noticed that over the weekend. But as they left yesterday, hugging us and vowing to return, I don’t think those things were uppermost in their minds.

What I hope they will remember, and what I know I will remember one day when this house screams with quietness, is a home filled with laughter and good cheer, good food and good times. Memories of such things last a lifetime.