Let’s Stop Bullying (Attention Adults!)

This is my latest column in the Greenville News.  Bullying is at its worse, but most acceptable, when adults use it to intimidate people who disagree with them.



Let’s Stop Bullying

I well remember being bullied on the school bus. Many cold, wet mornings (a large portion of the year in WV, by the way) I found my junior-high self sitting in front of high school juniors and seniors who turned their class rings upside down, then used them to hit lesser life forms on the top of the head in a whipping motion. Turning around in pain and anger, trying to find my assailant, was pointless. ‘What are you looking at?’ they asked. It was a very long ride to school.
To this day, kids are still assaulted and treated badly by other kids. Children and adolescents are called cruel names and belittled by those who have more things or more opportunities. They’re told that if only they’ll wear these clothes, or listen to that music, engage in some sexual act or take that drug, they’ll be accepted. Bullying comes in many forms, it seems. And now we have the added joy of the Internet. No small number of young people have been mortified, emotionally traumatized, considered suicide or actually committed it in response to online slurs and cruelty, or embarrassing photos or video posted online.
These days, adults are supposed to understand, and teach their kids, that no one should be mistreated, harassed, harangued, belittled or besmirched in our hallowed school hallways for any reason at all. But something happens after we leave school. Suddenly, adults believe that bullying is OK as long as it’s about something that’s really, really important, and as long as the people they bully are different from themselves. It seems that in actuality, adults are the worst bullies around.
These days, in order to find bullying one need look no further than any discussion about politics (or frankly, culture, religion, science or almost anything else). I’m simply stunned at the way purported grown-ups with differing opinions can treat one another. Online forums and media comment sections drip with disdain. Those who believe ‘the wrong way’ are instantly labeled ignorant, or irrelevant, and often called names. Sometimes, people even wish death upon others.
In fact, that’s one of the clearest forms of adult bullying I see. ‘Well, if you weren’t so ignorant, you’d understand the truth.’ Even those with no particular knowledge of a topic consider those who disagree to be stupid, plain and simple; it’s a strange kind of ‘pseudo-intellectualism,’ in which the enlightened get to wear the mantle of truth. A truth largely determined by the crowd; not surprising in an era when truth is considered a personal choice like food on a buffet.
This sort of argument is everywhere. And not just in the Wild West of the Internet. Even noted political figures accuse their detractors, saying that they’re uneducated and backward or they’d see the truth.
Adults love to bully, no matter how much they pretend to hate the idea. We see it in its soft form in the recent video of celebrities reminding everyone else not only to vote, but who to vote for. They’re the cool kids. They may not be the smartest but they’re the richest and best; they’re sexy and sarcastic. Don’t you want to be like them? Remember, beautiful, rich, famous people are much better (and insightful) than regular poor people!
Comedians once entertained us with the universal, self-deprecating, slap-stick humor of everyday life. Now they, too, are the cool kids yelling their invective at everyone who dares to have an opinion off the mainstream. Biting and cruel towards those they don’t understand, they represent little more than a shinier, richer form of the old-school bully.
Bullies use words to great effect. Disagree with a candidate? You must be a racist, or a sexist. Disagree with a law? You must be a bigot or a fascist. Believe your God is real? You must be a fundamentalist nut! You don’t want to be a bigot or fascist or a nut, do you? Then just do like everyone else does and you’ll be so cool! There, now doesn’t it feel better to be like the crowd? (Now remember kids, you should always be yourself and follow your own heart. Until it takes you outside the bleating herd, that is.)
Robust dialogue is good for a nation. As in evolution, ideas diverge and produce more good ideas. The future of our freedom demands that we disagree. But bullying is the stuff of brutish children.
So let’s stop it, shall we?

EPIC Go-Live Day! And a prayer for wisdom…

Some dear friends of mine, at Busy Community Hospital, are having a momentous day.  Today is the ‘Go-Live’ for their brand new, shiny EPIC EMR.

For those of you outside the hallowed, creaky halls of medicine, EPIC is one of the most widely used electronic medical records systems in America.  It’s big, it’s expensive, it captures lots of data, integrates ER’s, hospitals, clinics, labs and everything else.  (Probably your cat’s shot records too.)

EPIC is also a company highly connected to the current administration; big donors to the President.  FYI.

The problem isn’t what you get out of it, it’s the cumbersome way you have to put it in.  In my opinion, for what that’s worth, EPIC is not intuitive. It takes a long time to learn to use it well.  I have never used it in a situation where it could be fully customized, but I’m told that makes it easier.  And admittedly, some docs and nurses truly love EPIC and are at peace with it.  I suspect they have implanted brain chips or have undergone some brain-washing.


Typically EPIC instruction occurs over weeks, as it has for my friends.  The first time I used it was in a busy urgent care, which was part of a large medical system.  And I learned it over one hour. On the Go-Live day.  So I’m sympathetic.

Thus, I have a prayer for those in the belly of the beast right now:

A Go-Live Prayer for those with new EMR systems.

Lord, maker of electrons and human brains, help us as we use this computer system, which You, Sovereign over the Universe, clearly saw coming and didn’t stop.

Thank you that suffering draws us to you.

Thank you for jobs, even on bad days.

Forgive us for the unnecessarily profane things we have said, or will say, about this process.

As we go forward, we implore you:

Let our tech support fly to us on wings of eagles and know what to do.

May our passwords and logons be up to date.

Protect us from the dreaded ‘Ticket’ submitted to help us.

May our data be saved, not lost.

Let the things we order be the things we have.

Shield us from power loss, power surge, virus and idiots tinkering with the system.

Give our patients patience to understand why everything takes three hours longer.

And may our prescriptions actually go to the pharmacy.

Keep us from rage and tirades.

Protect the screens from our angry fists.

May everyone go home no more than two or three hours late.

And keep our patients, and sanity, intact.

Great physician, great programmer, heal our computers.








The Presidency Won’t Change the Division

The first presidential debate is over, and all I can say is that these are interesting times.

The fact remains that whichever candidate wins the presidency, the nation’s polarity will not be suddenly reversed. We are spinning further and further from one another all the time, divided by many issues, by race, gender, religion, accusation and insult. Are we one nation anymore? Hardly. We’re many nations trying to control all the others.

The election itself cannot change that. Whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins, they are unlikely to do so by a wide margin. And they will make policies that nearly half of the country will find objectionable. Maybe both parties need to strive to bring unity more passionately than they strive for electoral, legal and legislative victory.


Wasps and other heartless minions of nature

We live in South Carolina.  Thus, we live in what amounts to a tropical rain forest.  Starting about April and ending about, say, November, you can almost hear the trees, bushes, brambles and vines growing.  The many layers of green can be overwhelming.  Trails we cut in the winter, fields we mow down, erupt as soon as the weather is right; verdant invaders who overtake all.  I have fought the battle of the weeds; and recently, I have surrendered. We had a huge DR brand brush cutter.  It was great at cutting thick stuff until it ran into Mountain Laurel.  The bushes simply forced the great 17 HP machine to climb the front and try to run vertically.

We have been through an assortment of weed-trimmers and lawn-mowers, most of which appear to be in league with the lawns and weeds, given their tendency to early obsolescence within one season of battle.

Our porch and utility building are the resting place of all too many devices.  The electric ones are anemic and raised the white flag early after their first uses.  (Even small weeds and grass scoffed.)  The gas powered devices are systematically destroyed by ethanol in the gasoline, which dissolves the plastic fuel lines and priming pumps.  I have used some herbicide, but from what I can see it’s more like a vitamin cocktail for my green attackers. I suspect that for our needs, a plane-full of Agent Orange might come close.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

We have chain-sawed and machete’d and axed our way through many trees and larger bushes.  I had a beautiful European brush scythe (bought by my wife as a Christmas gift), which the weeds found laughable and ultimately broke in two pieces.

This yearly war with nature is something that those in more urban settings may not get.  I’m speaking of those who love the manicured beauty of their local parks, or the well-maintained paths of national forests and mountain-biking trails.  Those things, my dear reader, are false advertising.  They’re ‘nature porn.’  Because nature is ‘in it to win it.’   And so far, may be winning despite our national obsession with the belief that humanity is destroying the environment.  Sure, we can harm the natural world with oil spills and air pollution, with deforestation and other grave errors.  And we should be good stewards.  But nature is still, well, nature.  And often as not, Mother nature laughs at us dismissively.

Around our place, she wins all the time.  I now have a hayfield where a yard used to stand. Why have I ceded the yard, you may ask?  Because nature has stinging insects on her side.  After a long summer of assorted attacks, with resulting pain, itching and swelling, I admit it.  The bugs can have the yard until the first freeze.   We have been stung by wasps in our bed, wasps on our carpet, wasps on the porch and in the utility building.  My son was stung mowing. So the last assault, when his mother was mowing and sustained seven yellow-jacket stings at once, well that was it.  ‘I give,’ I told my swollen, itchy bride.  ‘They can have it until it gets cold.’  I sounded retreat and never looked back.  Quitters may never win, but they do avoid painful stings and potential allergic reactions.

The weeds and wasps are an annual reminder that nature has a way.  Whether by freezing or melting, by stinging or biting, by erosion or earthquake, by lightning, flood or hurricane, she will have her way.  It’s a charming human affectation, the belief that we can ultimately deal her a serious body-blow.  Nature may fall down, but she’ll be right back up in no time, erasing careless humans from the surface of the world they thought they ruled.

So don’t judge me please.  I’m biding my time.  I’ll take the yard back, I really will; even if it means a grass-fire.  But I’m not ashamed to say that for now, the Green Flag of nature waves in victory, fluttering in the breeze around my house.

But once that flying, stinging, irascible security detail is dying or sleeping off the winter, I’ll be back.  And then we’ll see who’s more evolved!

Until October of course; we have an understanding.




The endless disdain of the left

I have written very little about this election cycle. It’s contentious and causes unnecessary divisions between everyone; strangers, friends, spouses, parents…probably even house-cats.

And I’m not here to sing the praises of Donald Trump.  I have said, and continue to say, that I understand those who have passionate objections to him.  But on the other hand, many of us find many reasons to object to Hillary Clinton.  And we aren’t stupid.  We have our own ideas, ideologies and desires for the future of the Republic, such as it is.  I don’t want to insult anyone.  But I’m getting a little weary of being insulted.  I am a middle-aged, white, male, conservative Christian of Appalachian heritage, who lives in Appalachia.  And I’m so tired of hearing people like me, especially men like me, insulted for the beliefs that are important to us,  some of which come from the fabric of our faith and culture, not from perceived hatefulness in the minds of our political opponents.

So I have to say, I’m very saddened by the dismissiveness of top Democrats.  Just this week Bill Clinton mocked people in WV (my home) and KY for not supporting his wife.  He called them ‘the coal people.’  Follow the link and see it for yourself.   He points out that he won those states and they prospered.  Yes, but times have changed and that prosperity, such as it was, doesn’t remain.  KY and WV face crushing poverty and addiction.  Any ideas on how to fix that?  Probably not.


Not to be outdone, Mrs. Clinton (ever the uniter) says that half of GOP candidate Trumps supporters are deplorable and are racist, sexist and homophobic.  Seems like a bad idea to me, but I’ve never been a presidential candidate.  Go figure.  I thought we weren’t supposed to stereotype people?  Oh, I forgot, you can be intolerant of those you consider intolerant.  You can judge people for judging or something like that. More likely, when you’ve lived your entire adult life in a political and ideological echo-chamber, when you are buffered on all sides by boot-lickers and sycophants, you can dare to insult and ‘other’ huge portions of the country.


This reminds me, of course, of former Secretary of State Clinton’s clear disdain for an entire region of the US when she said she was going to put a lot of mines and miners out of business.  (Admittedly, she was just echoingPres. Obama’s former plans.) Whatever you feel about coal and renewables, there was probably a better way to put it.  If I were running I’d say, ‘we honor your contribution to the greatness of this amazing country, and we respect the deep, proud traditions of Appalachia, but we want to move you in a new direction, toward even greater economic opportunity and security!  And we’ll find a way to do it without putting you on welfare!’  What do I know. I’m a doctor.  But then, I give bad news all the time so maybe I’m used to it.


And then there’s Rep. Pelosi.  Ah yes, the lady who so eloquently told us that white men vote for Trump because of Guns, Gays and God (‘God being a woman’s right to choose’…I could write for a while on that little bit of unintentional idolatry!)  She says they’re you know, not ‘college educated.’  (The horror!)  Careful Rep. Pelosi, it looks as if lots of those college educated men are making less than the troglodytes you are referring to who dared not to have a degree, but instead went to work in labor, trades, industry, private businesses or the armed forces.  The morons you disdain might actually have money to give to campaigns, compared with the kids who have diplomas in ‘Gender Studies with an emphasis on the effects of global warming on gender pronouns.’  Granted, when you get your coffee or need some yard-work, they’ll be happy to oblige.  Of note, she also says those monstrous uneducated white men actually vote against their economic interest.  I hear that a lot.  What she’s saying, along with all the other big players on the left, is this:  ‘I always legislate with my economic interest in mind.  Why doesn’t everyone?’  Of course, Rep. Pelosi is  extraordinarily wealthy, so the plan worked.  But what happened to ‘money isn’t everything,’ or ‘keep money out of politics,’ or ‘follow your beliefs?’  To the left, respecting one’s beliefs is only valuable if it means voting the right way.  And if money can change that, and make a conservative, blue-collar white man into a state dependent, then he should follow the money into servitude.


All of this is tiresome.  The ‘you’re so stupid because you disagree with me’ meme is un-American and is, itself, deplorable.  We all believe things for different reasons.  Some good, some bad, but insults don’t change any of that.

And when you insult men like me, who work hard to be good citizens, to be good at our jobs, to care for our families and obey the laws of God and man, you only drive the political, cultural and geographic wedges deeper and deeper.

Worse, when you insult an entire region of the United States, which has provided power and resources, workers and soldiers to the nation for hundreds of years, and treat them as irrelevant and expendable, as beneath your elite contempt, you only confirm their suspicions and make the election that much clearer to them.

Montani semper liberi!



Step away from the smart phone and learn something!

My latest Greenville News column.  Step away from the phone and learn something people!


Step away from the phone and learn something useful
Well it’s school-time again, and all over the land the kids are back at it. Little ones are surrounded by the non-toxic but highly addictive smell of crayons and the wonderful colors and textures of construction paper. The simple delight of a backpack, the joy of snack time with new friends, these are novelties sufficient to send the little ones into pediatric rapture. Or tearful fits. Either way, they’re learning useful things like shapes, numbers, the alphabet and how to get away with stuff when the teacher is looking the other way.
But even as the little ones are embarking on the long journey of education, I have a request for those in higher grades, all the way past college. You, also, should continue to learn useful things. And I don’t mean on electronic devices.
I say that because any visitor from another world would reasonably wonder about the strange relationship we have with our smart-phones, lap-tops and tablets. Are constant selfies evidence that humans worship themselves? Are the devices connected to some powerful leader who watches and guides us? (If an alien abducted humans to figure this out, would the humans look up from their phones and notice? Or simply post it to their Snapchat story?)
It seems to me that a lot of young people have decided that they needn’t actually know anything; they can just pull out their minor deity phone and ask it questions in a crisis. But here’s a dark secret: in many parts of America and the world, there isn’t a connection to the great Web. Furthermore, the Internet might not always be there! Don’t freak out, but our electronics can be compromised by solar flares. Or by Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons used by terrorists or other countries. Furthermore, in times of disaster our phone networks and the Internet could become hopelessly overwhelmed. At that point, you can’t look up: ‘what to do if Internet isn’t working,’ as you’ll be unable to use said Internet.
So dear young people, learn things that are practical and helpful. One of my children was proud to learn some basic plumbing on a mission trip. One cooks well. Another is in EMT school while going to college and is proud to know CPR and how to use a defibrillator. Still another prides himself on learning to pick locks and start fires while camping. (You never know.)
There are so many things I should have learned when I was younger! For instance, every summer my-weed eater consistently dies when I need it the most. Why didn’t I ask my grandfather or dad to teach me how to work on 2-cycle engines? I suppose I was too busy being a vacuous teenager who thought he knew everything. Like pretty much every teenager ever.
So even as you brilliant students are knocking out degrees and certificates in what are often highly specific areas of education, I’d suggest you all keep adding new skills. Learn first aid or become a first responder so you can help the injured who cross your path. Learn simple wiring, learn woodwork, learn how to fight a fire, build a shelter, find your way in the woods with a compass or raise an animal for meat.
Learn to operate a boat, rescue someone from water, grow your own vegetables, hunt, fish, fight off an attacker, cook a meal, use a generator, drive a piece of heavy equipment, dig a hole, cut down a tree or whatever other practical skill that interests you and is anchored in the unrelenting bounds of Internet-free reality. The place where food doesn’t just appear because you order it online, and help doesn’t always come just because you call for it.
The thing is, there are untold numbers of people, often older men and women, who would love to share their knowledge and experience with a new generation. Seek them out, talk to them and learn. You may not get a diploma or certificate, but you’ll never be sorry you have it. And you’ll always treasure your new knowledge.
Then one day, when your phone is broken and you have to cook a fish you caught to feed the wounded hiker you found and aided in the woods where you were wiring your cabin, I promise you’ll thank me.
Even if you can’t e-mail me to say it.

Are Our Candidates ‘Christian’ Enough? Theology And Politics.

Should our Christianity influence our politics?  Apparently only in some situations.  This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Not trying to push for one or the other candidate, so I’m not crazy about the title applied to it.


I’ve seen a lot of commentary lately that says Christians shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. They tell us that he does not, in any way, behave like a Christian. Some of these observations actually come from Christians and are not without merit. But the majority I have seen have been directed from more secular individuals towards Christians.
Instead of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), the question asked of the faithful seems to be WJVT: ‘Would Jesus Vote Trump?’ And it’s a good question, asked for a bad reason. What bad reason? Manipulation of believers for political ends.
It’s a weird election. I think most of us would like to press the reset button and start all over. But it’s August and these two are the main players in the farce which will raise the curtain on its last act in November. I understand both sides of the argument. In a country sharply divided, Trump and Hillary seem (on the surface) remarkably different. Whether they actually are, we won’t know until later. We’ll have to ‘elect one and see what’s in them,’ to borrow from Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
But I’m troubled by something. The same people who told Christians to take our religion and keep it out of politics (and largely out of public life in general) are now berating Christians who support The Donald because they aren’t properly employing their faith in the realm of politics.

Apparently, Christianity properly applied should be used as a screening tool to decide if a candidate is acceptable based on how closely he or she conforms to the popular notion of ‘Christian’ behavior.
I’m trying to imagine the outcry if, when appointing a Supreme Court Justice, a president opined, ‘I’m really not sure she’s Christian enough for the court.’ There would be no end of shocked citizens, deeply angered by a political decision based on Christianity.
I remember, not very long ago, when Christians applied scripture to the same-sex marriage debate. We were reminded in no uncertain terms that our beliefs had no place in the decision. Ditto for abortion. Christianity, it seems, has no place in policies regarding killing the unborn, and certainly shouldn’t play into decisions about whether or not to provide potentially abortifacient drugs! Take that, Little Sisters of the Poor! Silly Christians, keep your ideas and nutty beliefs to yourselves. This isn’t the year 1000, after all!
That is, unless we’re talking about the current presidential election, which is odd. For the most part, past candidates who were very Christian were also considered very unacceptable in the eyes of the media and the secular world. Candidates, for example, like Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist Preacher or Sen. Rick Santorum, the devout Catholic were far too ‘Christian’ to be considered for the presidency. Even Gov. Mitt Romney, Mormon, was just too ‘Mormon’ despite being a very nice, loving husband and father. Good grief, he was the Republican ‘anti-Trump!’
So by now many Christians have learned their lessons. In a grim political and cultural milieu, they have decided that maybe the loud fellow with the bad attitude, who says what many people are thinking, might just be ‘the guy.’ Besides, I don’t really think that Christians voting for Trump are under the delusion that he is representative of Christianity. They just think he might do things that are a little more in line with their beliefs, a little less likely to threaten their values. He might be ‘a little less bad.’ They know they may be wrong, that it’s a gamble. But those of us believers who know our history also realize that our brethren down the ages have been led by far worse (and far less ‘Christian’ ) leaders than either of the current candidates for Commander in Chief. And some of them were quite good for Christians in the end.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote for any candidate. Please, vote your conscience. But we should all try to have charity towards those on the other side, who support candidates for reasons probably more nuanced than we believe. (It’s much easier to call our enemies stupid than attribute any intelligent motives to their behaviors.)
And while I believe those who want religion to stay out of politics are ultimately unrealistic, they should at least be consistent. It’s terribly unfair to tell Christians to leave their faith outside the ballot box, but then condemn them for actually doing so.

Appalachia Deserves Our Respect (And Already Has My Love)

This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Birthday West Virginia!  June 20,1863.




Tomorrow is June 20th, a special day in the hearts of my people; West Virginians. On June 20th, 1863, West Virginia entered the Union in the midst of a bloody struggle for the soul of the young nation. It was, prior to that, the sparsely populated, wilderness-filled backwater of the elegant, beloved Virginia, soul of the South. After June 20th, however, it was…well, a sparsely populated, wilderness-filled backwater all its own. But a free state that rejected slavery!
Those who live in South Carolina are generally well acquainted with my fellow West Virginians. I have a theory that West Virginians share a gene which, at various times of their lives, causes them to have an irresistible urge to drive to South Carolina’s coast. In fact, when the mines close down for two weeks every summer, untold numbers of miners and their families head to Myrtle Beach, which has been affectionately dubbed ‘the coal miner’s Riviera.’ Some of my earliest vacation memories are of the Grand Strand. My wife Jan, a true ‘coal-miner’s daughter’ has similar memories.
If you doubt the connection between SC and WV, I have a vignette: my brother-in-law Dave worked in the WV coal mines as a young man out of high school. His early cell-phone plan included, as local calls, Huntington and Charleston, WV and (you got it!) Myrtle Beach, SC.
I write about this today because West Virginia is in the heart of Appalachia, which stretches from Southern New York all the way to Northern Mississippi (passing through the Upstate of South Carolina). Appalachia is defined as a ‘cultural region,’ and indeed it is.
More to the point, I write this because Appalachia is struggling. Although poverty has improved over the decades, Appalachia as a whole still faces financial woes, much of it made worse by those who are all too anxious to kill coal, but provide no other employment options for those terminated as part of an environmental purge. As if the ‘coal industry’ is only some vast robotic behemoth, and does not represent the hopes and dreams, and often the only financial possibility, for an entire ‘cultural region’ of America.
Appalachia is also struggling with rampant drug addiction and broken by the many funerals, ruined lives and crimes that widespread addiction brings in its wake. From pill-mills dispensing oxycontin to meth labs and imported heroin, the toll in lost lives and lost hope is crushing.
When Jan and I have traveled home over the years, deeper and deeper into Appalachia, up Highway 23 through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky and then home, it’s easy to see a place of magnificent beauty, resilient people and serious, inexpressible hopelessness. I never know if the drug abuse is the cause of the loss of hope, or the result of it. Cart, horse. It’s all tragic.
Sadly enough, America frequently just isn’t interested. Appalachian people are still acceptable sources of scorn for much of urban, coastal America. They’re live in ‘flyover country.’ Trailer-trash, hicks, rednecks. People who ‘cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,’ to quote a well-known political figure. When a culture is endlessly mocked and derided, its people get the message loud and clear. Don’t try. It doesn’t matter.
But this June 20th I’d like to speak for my ancestors, and the forebears of so many, who settled in the Mountains of WV and other portions of Appalachia after leaving the press and stagnation of Europe. I’d like to speak for those who still live there, and who find solace and connection in the ghosts of their ancestors, the starkness of the mountains and valleys, in the life, faith, culture and music of the cities and towns. Like me, they stay there because in Appalachia, the past and the present are difficult but inextricable.
And if nostalgia isn’t enough, let us remember Appalachian people keep the lights (and i-Pads, DVR’s and electric cars) on by mining coal. They also provide timber and produce, work in important industries and share their region for the recreation of any and all. All too many have also shed their blood in America’s many wars, and continue to boldly, proudly ‘stand on the wall’ around the world.
America loves to talk about its multiculturalism. And one of its greatest cultures is firmly entrenched, despite its pains and struggles, in the vast region we call Appalachia. It deserves our respect.

After Graduation, Love the Kids. Just Don’t Worship Them

Sam and Tyler K5 graduationhttp://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/05/22/ed-leap-after-graduation-love-your-kids/84556782/

Graduation is upon us once more. All across the area high, schools, trade schools and colleges are releasing their eager, bright eyed students into the the next phase of their lives. My wife and I have graduated several times, and have graduated two sons. It’s an emotional, beautiful time when Pomp and Circumstance turns moms into weeping messes of mascara and tissue, and dads into great, red-eyed lumps who choke back tears and say muffled things like ‘I…I’m fo prd ov you. I lvvv you,’ sniff, sniff.

The kids are emotional but boy, are they ready. They toss those hats into the air (as parents try to grab them as keepsakes) and they head off to jobs, or to parties or sometimes to pre-loaded cars headed off for the beach. Some go to their own weddings and some go to basic training, or their first overseas deployment with the armed forces. Big stuff all around.
But as I thought about the whole process I realized that one of the great dangers of a successful society (and by any measure of the world at large or history ours qualifies), is that we are capable of investing all of our worth as parents into the activities and successes of our offspring who are now springing off on their own.

As such, we forget something very fundamental. Once the kids grow up, they can largely do what they want. Just like most of us did. But what does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all those graduates with all of their dreams, like ’I want to do forensics,’ ‘I want to be a marine biologist,’ ‘I want to be attorney general,’ etc. may or may not do those things. Their dreams are useful guiding stars at first, but most of them will change course for a variety of reasons. Thus, I am not a full-time magazine journalist as I originally intended. Nor an Air Force navigator…probably good given my tendency to get lost.

We love to brag about what our kids will do. I certainly do. They are hints of the future, and sometimes we believe their successes will somehow atone for our own shortcomings, our own failed dreams. But it’s important to step back on occasion and realize that the future may look very different from what they, and I, and all of us, think it will be for them.

Second, they may decide that the educational path we hoped for them to follow isn’t right. These days, many college majors are a poor economic bet compared to heating and air or welding. My professional friends in medicine and law are particularly stricken by this. When one says to another, ‘Tim dropped out of USC. He’s decided he wants to be a contractor,’ there’s an almost palpable tension and a pat on the shoulder. ‘Well, he may go back to school later.’ Or he may be a wildly successful contractor. Or he may just like building things more than thinking about things that don’t interest him. Who knew?

Third, they will love and marry people we didn’t expect. Just like we did. We can have all kinds of plans for betrothal and hopes that they’ll find this girl or that guy. But in the end, as Pascal said, ’the heart has reasons of which reason knows not.’

And now the hardest, dear weeping parents, and many of you know this. They will make their own mistakes. They will lose jobs and ruin relationships. They will set themselves back. They will violate, sometimes, the law of man and often the law of God. This is called being human. For Christians, it’s tough realizing your kid is a sinner too. (In the secular, world, the equivalent might be realizing your liberal family raised a Republican and you have to love them anyway. Cheer up! Prodigals do return!)
Allow me to review: the kids will study what they want, work at what they want, love whomever they want and make big mistakes. The best we can do is show the grace and love throughout all of it.

But to love them well, we have to take them off the altar. Our worth as humans cannot be wrapped up in our children. That’s a terrifying and overwhelming idolatry and it holds them to far too high a standard.

So as they get those certificates and diplomas, remember they’re humans. Hope and fear, success and struggle in dynamic tension.

And love them.