College kids should know you love them…no matter what.

My column in today’s Greenville News.  Love on your kids when they’re in college!

Two of our sons began university classes last week; one a freshman, one a junior. After spending a wonderful Summer with them, Jan and I always find this a difficult time. It requires that we adjust to walking past empty rooms and accept the fact that they aren’t coming back home at the end of each day to scavenge food and tell us stories. Even their high-school junior sister misses them, although she is under the delusion that the house will be neater with brothers away. (Guess what, papa still lives here!)
Of course, we’re hardly alone. All over the state, nation and world, families send their daughters and sons off to be educated. And what a great thing! Broken parents everywhere have lost children to disease, accident, starvation or war and would love to simply have them alive, much less getting an education. I try to keep that in perspective when I feel sorry for myself.
However, as grand as college is, it’s a time of significant stress for our young people. Many are leaving home for the first time. This means great fun and adventure. But it also means a separation from those who have, for at least 18 years, been their constant supports and care-takers. It means leaving the comfort of the known for new places and new people. It exposes the kids, appropriately, to opinions that challenge their own. It introduces them to other kids from different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles.
In addition, their sudden unsupervised state opens them up to all sorts of opportunities for bad habits and bad decisions. All of this added together can be very difficult. This is especially true in a time when, for a variety of reasons, some young people seem to be maturing later than in previous generations.
Perhaps this is why colleges are reporting more and more students struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. University mental health clinics are always busy. And many kids end up dropping out or transferring to schools closer to home.
However, there’s one stressor we forget. When we send our kids to college we have high hopes and expectations for them. For years we’ve encouraged them, talked about college and even talked to our friends and family members about our kids’ academics. ‘Oh yeah, Joan here is going to Clemson and then med school; she’s going to be a surgeon! Aren’t you baby?’ (She nods her head nervously…) ‘Rick is planning to be an architect, right dear?’ Or a lawyer or an artist. We think that at 16, 17 (or even in their 20’s) they can plan their entire lives and it will all play out as scripted. That they’ll go to university, get that planned degree, go to professional school or grad school, get that awesome job and then we can tell everyone how great they did.
And yet, what if they don’t? What if they’re frightened? What if they’re tempted? What if they feel outcast? What if they get addicted? What if they get pregnant? Perhaps harder for parents (and kids) to accept, what if they aren’t ready, or just don’t enjoy the academic environment and find that they really just want a job and a family? What if, like all humans, they simply miss home and the places and people they love?
The thing is, we parents (and grands) must never let our children’s identities be completely tied to education or career. Because if is, and if it goes wrong, then the whole structure of their precious lives is shaken. I think this may be one of the biggest stressors of all. That is, their desperate fear of disappointing the ones who worked for them and encouraged them to move forward. It must be absolutely paralyzing.
Our children are valuable because they’re our children. That’s the most important and foundational truth they need to hear. Not because of their grades, scholarships, IQ’s, career goals, awards or anything else. And it needs to be followed by this truth: ‘My precious child, if you are unhappy, if school doesn’t work for you, if you change majors or change life-goals, it’s OK. You are not defined by any of it. I love you no matter what; you can always tell me the truth. And home is always here for you.’
So send them off to school with tears and joy! But always anchor their worth to the love of family, not the success or failure of their educational adventures.

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

Sam and Tyler K5 graduation

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.


Homeschooling Offers Families a Great Option. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

I have, in my house, a rising Tiger. Our second-born, Seth, begins his college career at Clemson this fall. He has always been, and remains, an amazing young man. He is filled with both passion and compassion, he loves learning, reads voraciously, is strong as a bear and is an outstanding musician. He makes our parental hearts swell with love and pride. Oh, and for the record, he looks like me and is thus incredibly handsome. What? His mother tells us that all the time so it has to be true!

Like a growing number of college students, Seth comes to the university from the home-school world. From the time he was in 4th grade, he was educated by his awesome mother (with a little help from me), and over time by wonderful teachers in several co-op groups, culminating in a few semesters at Tri-County Tech, receiving college credit as a ‘dual-enrollment’ student.

It appears to have been a good experience for him. His college acceptance letters came without a glitch, giving him several choices for his university education. And despite the constant protests to the contrary (by those outside the home-school world), Seth does just fine in the mystical ‘socialization’ arena.

I have always said that education can be accomplished with great success in any of several ways. Public school, private school and home-school all work just fine. But they only succeed to the extent that parents care and are involved in the educational process. All can fail miserably if parents are dismissive and believe ‘that’s someone else’s job,’ and particularly if moms and dads suggest that learning is drudgery, unnecessary, boring or somehow a form of oppression.

However, for anyone considering home-schooling, I would say that it is a fantastic way to spend time with, and really know, your children. Jan and I have emphasized learning from the beginning. But home-schooling allowed us to tailor the learning to the child. More than that, it allowed us that precious, ever dwindling commodity, time.

You see, our schedule was our own. Yes, the state mandates 180 days of school per year. But we could accomplish that in any way we desired. If we had a schedule conflict, learning could take place in the afternoon and evening. If we had the opportunity to take a trip during the ‘school year,’ we took it and learned in the car, in the hotel or at the National Monument. If I was working evenings, we could play and visit during the day and they could finish up later; or I could help with school during the day while Jan took a welcome break for lunch with friends.

Furthermore, we could design curricula for the interests of the children, whether it was learning Biblical Greek or taking bagpipe lessons. BB-gun team was a credit towards PE. Jan once applied for, and received, a grant of beautiful copies of art from the National Endowment for the Arts. The entire process was, in a word, flexible.

The reason this matters to me, as a parent, is that the world grabs our kids so quickly these days. They have school, of course, but culture tells us that if we want our kids to succeed, they have to engage in a vast array of activities. Beyond academics, clubs, teams and the ubiquitous Internet conspire with parental work and home responsibilities and seem to drive us ever further apart.

This endless motion sometimes robs us of the simple joy of being together; of eating and laughing, telling stories and just sitting quietly, basking in the presence of those we love most. My schedule has always been pretty malleable. But I feel deeply for the loving mothers and fathers who work second and third shift, and for whom any time with their children is rare and precious. For them, in particular, online or home-schooling could offer unimagined opportunities to enjoy their children while they can.

I wouldn’t trade a day of it. And Jan and I would do it all over again; and hopefully do it even better. But as Seth goes off to Clemson, and my remaining two children likely transition to public school this fall, I just hope that parents keep their options open. Even a year or two of home-schooling, strategically placed, can offer opportunities, memories, and bonding that they’ll never regret.

And never forget.


Enough sarcasm! Healthy kids need more than vaccines.

Thanks to the current Measles outbreak, the news is full of stories on vaccines and anti-vaxxers. The ‘blogosphere’ and ‘Twitterverse’ and all the other social media dimensions are buzzing with invective against ignorant unvaccinated savages and their backward science denial. For the record, I’m a pro-vaccine physician. My children have been and are vaccinated, despite being unsocialized homeschoolers.

I’ve had my own share of needles; physicians are mandated to have Hepatits B, Influenza and all the other standards. As a former Air Force Officer, I also enjoyed the singular delights of Typhoid and Yellow Fever immunization (although I managed to miss out on Smallpox).

Granted, I have been unimpressed by this year’s Influenza vaccine. Science and scientists are imperfect; sometimes vaccines are as well. If you don’t believe this, chat with someone who was paralyzed by Guillain-Barre’ syndrome after a vaccination.

While watching the many recent news stories and Internet posts on vaccines, the thing that has most intrigued me is the sense of superiority by those who are pro-vaccine. It’s the old ‘anything for the children argument,’ coupled with ‘everyone who disagrees with me is a knuckle dragging idiot.’ I think it merits discussion because there are quite a number of things that are good for children, but which are not so generally accepted by modern Americans.

For instance, it’s well known that modern kids don’t exercise enough. We are growing generations of overweight children because they simply don’t go out and play. Despite our knowledge of this, their parents lavish them with televisions, video games, tablets and smart phones and plant them squarely in front of convenient electronic nannies at the earliest possible convenience. From what I’ve seen in some of my pediatric patients, it’s much easier for mom or dad to text their friends or play poker if the toddler is busily watching Frozen on the i-Pad. What could go wrong?

Next, how about antibiotics? By which I mean this: well educated, pro-vaccine parents still go to the pediatrician expecting (and too often receiving) antibiotics for the viral head-colds their kids are spewing. ‘Whenever he gets this, his doctor gives him some Amoxicillin and he gets better every time, so I’d really like a prescription.’

Of course, he was going to get better anyway. What are they, anti-science? It’s well known that antibiotics are overused, for everything from head colds to cough, ear infections to sore throats. Sadly, my colleagues often cave to the pressure and steadily, more strains of bacteria are resistant to the drugs we count on to kill them.

Guess what else research tells us? Hold on, because this is going to be difficult. Kids are more upwardly mobile when they live with a married mom and dad. And even poor kids (in single parent homes) do better when they live in neighborhoods where there are lots of stable two parent families. I mean, you can deny it, but you know, science. Not only so, when dads are at home (you know dads, those old, out-of-date accoutrements from ages past), the kids are less likely to get into trouble with the law, with drugs or with promiscuous behavior; a few among a host of positive side-effects caused by involved, physically present fathers.

And of course, there’s the fact that promiscuity and depression in teens may be related. (Whether causally or not is debatable, but there is an association.) In addition, according to HHS, ‘four in 10 teen sexually active girls have had an STD which can cause fertility or even death.’ That is to say, our Hollywood inspired, cool parent take on teen sexuality, ‘everyone is doing it and that’s OK’ may be a little, well, unhealthy. Sorry, it’s science.

Finally, the cost of college is soaring and increasing numbers of kids are unable to pay back student loans. This is largely because, despite their amazing, expensive degrees in sociology, gender studies, multicultural studies, film and assorted other less than marketable fields, they simply can’t find good jobs. If we love our kids, and those kids aren’t on their way to really good, lucrative degrees, we should nudge them towards the trades that allowed their ancestors to prosper. In the current economy, they’d be better off as carpenters, builders, plumbers, welders, mechanics and all the rest. Think of those programs as ‘economic vaccinations’ in an era of epidemic financial struggle.

Look, vaccinate away. I’m for it. But if we really care that much about the kids, there are a lot of things we can and should do to secure their long-lasting health and prosperity.

Let’s have a lot more dialog and a lot less superiority in these discussions. And let’s remember that vaccinations are only part of a bigger picture that includes physical health, education, economics and the very fabric of our family structures.

Tagged, tracked and monitored. Life as a doctor ‘on the grid.’



Tagged, tracked and monitored.  Life as a doctor ‘on the grid.’


The non-medical reader may wonder what I am complaining about.  Of course, many of you have to be credentialed in your fields as well, whether law or accounting, law enforcement or public service, education, nursing or a trade.  But those of you in medicine know how difficult it can be to become credentialed as a physician, either by a state for purposes of a license, or by a hospital in order to be on staff.  As a locums provider, this is one of the true ‘banes of my existence,’ as every new state, every new facility has to ensure that I am not now, nor have I ever been an axe murderer, drug addict, drug dealer, sexual predator or anything else nefarious.

I’ve grown accustomed to the endless queries of my medical school diploma, my DEA certificates, my file in the National Practitioner Data Bank and all the rest.  I am no longer shocked when asked ‘did you graduate from college?  Did you graduate from medical school?’  I am comfortable with being fingerprinted over and over and I happily check all the boxes ‘no’ pertaining to my theoretical criminal history.

But one question finally got to me.  First some context.  I graduated from medical school in 1990 and started residency the following Autumn.

Question for state license:  ‘What were you doing from May 1990 until August 1990?’  My inherent smart aleck raised it’s angry head and I started to write:  ‘Joined anti-government militia for two months,’ ‘traveled with Taliban,’ or ‘pronounced myself deity and started cult.’  But then I realized the perfect answer.

Question:  ‘What were you doing from May 1990 until August 1990?’

Answer:  ‘My new wife.’

So, as a physician, there were three months where I wasn’t busily serving the medical industrial complex?  Three months when I wasn’t rounding, writing notes,  studying or otherwise kneeling before the great gold Caduceus?  Ghastly! What was I thinking after college and medical school?  Of course, the next question was, ‘what were you doing from June of 1993 to August of 1993.’  I had just finished residency, and was traveling with said wife, moving to a new state and studying for the National Board of Medical Examiners exam, Part III.  Part III I say!  The test those credentialing people expect me to take!

There were two months unaccounted for, when I was not on the vast medical radar!  Can you imagine the horrors that might ensue from an untracked, unmonitored, unproductive physician?  I shudder at the thought.

Credentialing is a pain. But it’s a bigger pain when all of us are treated as if we are criminals on probation rather than professionals trying our best.

Lighten up, people.  It’s a job.  It’s not a life.






God bless the night shift. My latest at the Huffington Post.   I went into an all night pharmacy recently, after getting off of work at 10 p.m. I had to pick up a prescription for my endless, insomnia-inducing cough. Walking up to the counter, I was bathed in the smell of cigarette smoke, carried on the coats of patrons. Eight of us stood by the counter, outnumbering the staff by 100 percent. I checked in and waited for my prescription to be filled. And in the eyes of the pharmacist and technicians, I saw exhaustion: physical and emotional. It’s a 24/7/365 world out there, and nowhere is it more evident than in anything related to healthcare. It’s easy for me to think doctors are the most weary. But that’s arrogant poppycock. I’m only a cog in the great wheel. Pharmacies dispense medicine all night because people are sick and go to the hospital all night. Nurses comfort the sick and ambulances run all night long, in weather and situations that make even the postman shudder. Furthermore, when it comes to safety, firefighters rescue the imperiled all night and police officers risk their lives and enforce the law at all hours. Power company workers repair lines and road workers keep highways flowing as rail workers run the trains on time and air traffic controllers watch the skies. And none of it stops at 5 p.m. Airmen, sailors, soldiers and marines keep watch all night as well, in dangerous and inhospitable places. At Christmas, we sometimes forget that packages are moving across country while we sleep, driven by tired drivers and pilots, sorted by fatigued men and women in shipping departments. God bless them, people are processing orders and doing tech support all night by phone and computer. Many restaurants, especially the kind frequented by those listed above, prepare, serve and deliver food throughout the watches of the night. Gas stations, hotels and convenience stores are always open and staffed by the weary. The list goes on and on. But the truth is, we have created a world in which some group of people always has to be awake at night. There’s really no going back to the time when the lights went off at 8 p.m and we were all in our beds waiting for the rooster to wake us to another rested, bucolic day of agrarian simplicity. Anyone who has worked at night, for any length of time, knows the toll it takes. I have spent more than my share of nights awake, working in the ER. I’m proud of that. I have learned to power through, to make the right decisions. Nevertheless, a few long nights and I’m weary to the bone; I hurt all over and I feel dizzy. My 50-year-old body crying out for deep, restorative sleep. It’s not just me; studies on sleep deprivation paint a grim picture of the physical and mental problems associated with fatigue. I knew what I was getting into as a doctor. But all too many people find themselves on nights, in industry or public service, because the new guy gets nights. And doesn’t get days until someone, or several someones, leaves or dies. Yes, it’s a job. They’re glad to have it. Certainly, too, some people just seem designed for nights. I’ve worked with them. They’re happiest working ‘third.’ They’re probably vampires. On the balance, though, almost everyone would rather work in the daytime or evening. Not only because we feel lousy when we’re tired. But because there’s a magic to being home with the ones we love. Tucking the kids in bed, sleeping with our spouses, locking the doors and turning off the lights — those are gifts to treasure. It’s hard to replace those things with white noise, fans and blacked-out windows. All of it is more pronounced during the holiday season. Admittedly, I sometimes enjoy the hospital at night, especially when it slows down and we can turn on a little music. And there is a beauty to driving to work in the darkness and coming home as the world wakes up. Still, it’s sweeter to be home with lights around the tree and Christmas movies on the television. So perhaps this holiday season, and even after, everyone who doesn’t work at night could just be a little kinder and a little more sensitive to those who do. If you have to call someone out, give them a tip or a snack. If you order in a restaurant, be a little kinder, a little gentler. If the problem you have can wait until morning, let it. The men and women awake all night are there, yes, and it’s their job. But a slow night is a rare wonder. And especially for all those who risk their lives at night to keep us safe, warm and comfortable, we should all say a special thanks and prayer for safety. Because being up all night is interesting, and sometimes profitable. But it’s almost never preferable. And I speak from experience.

The Nativity Scene is the Perfect Balance

Here’s my Christmas column for the Greenville News.  Merry Christmas to all!

When I was a child, one of my favorite things about Christmas was the nativity set. We had a toy shed, made of wood and moss. And we had the characters of the nativity, all porcelain and paint. It was pretty complete, actually. There were angels, three wise men (each of different races), various young and old shepherds, sheep, toy animals I added as the years went by, and of course, Mary, Joseph and the Holy Child in the manger.

I would kneel by the creche and rearrange the characters. In my child’s imagination, putting my face close to the tableau was a way of entering into the story. As if, by participating in the thing, I would be transported back 2000 years to Bethlehem of Judea; or could at least see it first hand through some special lens.

So I changed it from time to time, to be a part. I had Wise Men coming from the East and West, shepherds in front and back. I herded sheep, cattle and camels in among the scenes, and repositioned the blessed family in a variety of ways in the little stable. I seem to remember that I always wanted an angel on top, watching over everything.

Thinking back on this, it occurred to me how formative that was. I learned, from the Gospels, and therefore from my play, that the event was wide-open to mankind. It’s a remarkable story, you see. At the birth of Jesus we have a nexus, where the powerful, like Herod, are frustrated by the powerless, like Jesus’ family (and for the time, Jesus himself). We have a meeting place where poor, uneducated rural shepherds are not only welcomed, but personally invited by the shining angelic emissaries of the King. And we have a prophecy fulfilled, which drew the metropolitan, rich, educated elite we know as Magi, who learned from their ancient texts the magnificent thing that was unfolding. God the father apparently sent unique, specially prepared birth announcements to both groups; both the gilded and the simple.

Near the shed and manger, the chaos of mankind, its commerce, its laws and government, lies upon crowded hotels and packed roads, but nearby is also the emptiness of the desert, lit by the bright stars of the night instead of lamps.

In and about the blessed shed are cattle and sheep, goats and rats, and probably cats. Horses and donkeys are feeding. And yet above it, also part of the created order, are ‘a multitude of the heavenly hosts.’ Below, the dirt from which mankind was made; above, the heavens he longs for. All in perfect balance.

And there, in swaddling clothes, the child and his awestruck, dumbfounded, gloriously happy and moderately confused human parents; all safely ensconced in the will of the God who ordained it all, and in profound mystery also lies stretching and crying before them.

The perfect balance remains today. Buy your own nativity, or simply imagine it in a ‘thought experiment.’ Insert who you will into the scene. A business man and a peasant, a soldier and a peace activist. Insert a criminal and a victim, a politician and a struggling mother. Imagine yourself as a Magi, or as an angel! Pretend you are the parents of the child. See, kneeling, your bitterest ideological enemy; and see yourself, also someone’s foe. Come to the manger as a homeless man or a grieving widower. Place your dog there, if you will, or your horse. Pretend, if you find it all ridiculous, that you are Herod, searching in anger. At least you are searching.

Locate the scene in your old storage shed, your grandparents’ barn, in a homeless tent city or outside a warm hotel. Place it in Greenville, or in New York, in Pakistan or Syria, in the past or the future. Imagine it welcoming, a light in the darkness. But do not make it shiny or comfortable, rich or exclusive.

In time, you will see that the creche is the cross. The meeting place of horizontal earth and vertical heaven, of time and eternity, poverty and riches, loss and hope, fear and joy, cruelty and justice, lies and truth. All of it, right there, in the Nativity Set of my childhood. All of it, right there, at the birth of Jesus.

Where we all have a place in the story, if we only desire it.


The Best Way to Learn Tolerance? Raise a Teenager.

Here’s my latest at the Huffington Post!


If you want to understand tolerance, it’s helpful to have teenagers. I have four of them. Four wonderful, brilliant, engaging creatures brought to this earth by their mother and me. They are entertaining, they are well-read, they are courteous and insightful. And they are each, at times, surly, self-centered, lazy and stubborn. (You know; like every human ever born on this earth.)

I would give my life for any one of my children if they needed. I would stop a bullet, stand in front of a train or give them a kidney. I believe I’ve already demonstrated my love by watching ‘ironic’ sit-comes with them for hours on end.

But sometimes, well sometimes, they drive me absolutely crazy. And never more than when they think they know everything. Which is pretty much every, single day. It’s a huge conflict because their mother and I, in fact, know everything.

Not a week goes by that they do not remind their parents about another social injustice in the treatment of women or minorities, another philosophical quandary (are chickens sentient and if so, what about factory farming?) or the latest research suggesting video games are good for mind, body and soul (and give you a shiny coat as well). They quote statistics on global climate change, they argue with one another about licensing parenthood. And they seem to go out of their way to pick ‘hot-button’ topics to challenge the apparently irrelevant education and moral authority of their parents. In our house, ‘because I said so’ is a long lost trump-card.

This is particularly interesting because my wife and I are what you might call ‘conservative.’ Or what others would no doubt call ‘right-wing, Bible-thumping, Southern nut-jobs.’ In the colloquial, that is. And it’s even more interesting because our children were home-schooled. (I know! Can you believe it?)

Our children were raised in the Baptist church, in the sultry, Confederate Flag waving ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt’ (where damned progressives would go for eternal torment if they believed in such things). Our four kids, stewed for years in all things Southern, are each deeply concerned about their pet causes, among which are included social justice, renewable energy, global climate change, animal rights, fairness, equality, racism and feminism.

So as you might guess, we disagree on certain issues from time to time. But here’s the remarkable thing. Their mother and I may not always share their opinions, but we don’t love them one iota less. Nor do they love us less! Dinner conversations are always fascinating. We all learn from one another. They lift their Baby Boomer parents to new ways of viewing old problems. And hopefully (can you hear me Lord?) we anchor them in traditions and truths that have remained relevant for thousands of years and hundreds of generations of their ancestors.

I am so proud of them. I see in their eyes, and hear in their passionate words, the fire I first saw in their mother when we met in college. Their mother, who still has a t-shirt from the first Earth Day, and who was aggrieved to be born too late for Woodstock. Their mother who learned to tolerate a staid, gun-loving, tradition following Republican, who became their father. I became more like her and she became more like me. We ‘tolerated’ each other so well we ended up with four children in about seven years. And they’re like both of us. We all tolerate one another in abject, breathless, unquestioning love.

This is how it works. We can banter about the word ‘tolerance’ if we want. But it’s too easily a weapon of suppression. Tolerance is the word we now use to say ‘you have to agree with my views.’ However, as one sees with teenagers, tolerance in truth means to disagree, but to respect. And in it’s highest, most beautiful incarnation, to disagree and yet love.

We all change over time. I don’t know exactly how my kids will end up; where they will lie in the political, moral and spiritual spectrum of the future. But I know that even when we disagree, I’m proud of the people they have become through this wonderful mixture of reading, listening, arguing and discussing. (And no small amount of parental prayer.)

The thing is, if a bunch of rural home-schooled kids can grow into the kind of people who can endure the views of their parents without screaming, and if those parents can face the emotional and intellectual wanderings and pilgrimages of their children without shipping them off to boarding school, then there’s hope for a world of tolerance. As long as we understand that tolerance doesn’t have to mean agreement. But it does have to mean love.

Enjoy college! Prepare for life to quiz you.

This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Hey college kids!  Have fun, but pay attention.  Life will quiz you…

Welcome to college, young people! It’s an amazing time in your lives. These years will impact your life dramatically if you use them well. So, to help you along the way, allow me me give you some wisdom. First and foremost, get some wisdom. You are bright and capable, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be in college in the first place. But for all that, you still have a lot to learn; not only about your major, but about life in general. It isn’t your fault. Wisdom takes time, experience and a willingness to reflect and learn from others. You’re young, inexperienced and often think you know everything. (Part of that is just biology…the decision making part of your brain isn’t mature until about 25, so you’ve got that excuse for a while yet.) Read, reflect, think and be open to the guidance of those wiser than you.

Before you look at the ‘corrupt’ world of businesses, corporations, governments, social conventions, religions and all the rest and roll your enlightened eyes, remember that other people, often wiser and more seasoned, are all around. And once, they were as idealistic and ironic as you are. They just had to get jobs, raise families, endure sickness, fight wars, pay tuition bills and mortgages and all the rest. They know things. Avail yourself of their insight.

You’re going to have some wonderful experiences! You’ll meet interesting people and bizarre people (quite a few of those); people smarter than you and not so smart. You will take trips, have unusual jobs, display an odd fashion sense and engage in deep conversations over dinners in the dorms or apartments where you make your home.

Just remember that lots of other people your age who either can’t afford college, or aren’t interested in college, are also having ‘experiences.’ Some of them involve working in industry, working in trades, doing physical labor or engaging in public service. Others are in combat. Still others are starting families. Their experiences, dear ones, are not the in slightest inferior to your own. They are only different. No small number of them will make a lot more money than you, a lot soone. Be gracious and kind; they might hire you someday.

It seems obvious, but learn everything you can. Versatility and marketability are critical today. The degree you seek is nice, but it will be a very expensive wall hanging (much less interesting than that poster of your favorite alt band), if not backed up with actual useful information or skills.

Now, about your professors and instructors. Show them respect. They’ve earned it and they work hard at learning and teaching. Come to class, do the work, ignore your smart-phone. Do not, however, offer your teachers worship. They are human beings who can be wrong, and outside their own particular expertise they frequently are. It is appropriate for them to challenge you to think and teach you to reason. It is unprofessional and immature if they try to crush you and the beliefs that have long sustained you and your family.

Which reminds me, you still have a family. They love you, they miss you and they are spending remarkable amounts of money and effort so that you can learn and have ‘experiences.’ Love them back, in word and action. Answer their texts. Give them the time of day and listen to their wisdom and opinions. You might be surprised at how much they care about you and desire to help.

Don’t be stupid. Youth and intelligence do not confer invulnerability. Part of wisdom is knowing that death is no respecter of age, education or social class. Alcohol, drugs, fights and illicit sex are dangerous and can lead to life altering or life ending tragedies. And terrible, terrible YouTube videos. (Remember, also, that future employers can find you online. I think that’s all I need to say there.)

Finally, treat one another with love. In your youthful passion, please do not misuse another human being or trample their heart. Remember, too, that this is one of the best times to find a future spouse, so be careful to use your time wisely as you meet others and date. I met my lovely wife in college and I know that will never have more time to lavish on young love than now, so don’t waste it. Odds are, your future marriage will impact your happiness as much as, or more, than your education.

Jot these down. Life will quiz you as you go.

A degree isn’t all there is. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

My column in today’s Greenville News. Do we determine our ‘worth’ by the degrees we hold?  I hope not.


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My wife and I spent a lot of time in school.  Jan has a Master’s in counseling. I have a medical degree. Our poor kids are saddled with parents who really believe in higher education.  We were both driven, hard-working students who were horrified at the idea of failure.  Ultimately, those traits helped us to navigate the winding labyrinth of higher education from high-school on up.

In our culture, a college education is held in high regard.  Many Americans define themselves by their degrees.  And within that universe of degrees, many define themselves by their Alma Maters.  This is so much the case that parents spend shocking sums of money for their children to attend ‘the right’ pre-schools, so that they can go to ‘the right’ grade-schools, high-schools, and can then spend even more impressive amounts on ‘the right’ universities and graduate programs.  To many Americans, education is the essence of identity.  While I’m less concerned with the ‘name-brand’ aspect of the school, I want my children not only to go to college, but to have at least a four-year-degree.  And frankly, I’d prefer for them to have graduate degrees.  But I think I need to ask if I want that for the right reasons.

For quite some time, the political and academic policy-makers of our nation have been operating under the assumption that everyone should go to college.  We have student loan programs, grants and quotas and we go through all sorts of machinations to encourage college education (and its unfortunate natural association, indebtedness).

It’s a nice sentiment.  Certainly, a college education is a wonderful, valuable thing for some people. I’m not trying to discourage or devalue it.  But what I’m wondering is this:  do we associate individual worth with level of education?  And if so, why?

A college education hopefully teaches students useful skills and widens their perspectives on other people, on the past and the future.  But does it make anyone…better?  Does it make us moral?  Does it make us more valuable than anyone else on some fundamental level?

If our kids don’t go to college (and I address this particularly to those parents with degrees), will they disappoint us?  And if so, why?  Will we tell our friends that we keep hoping they’ll go back to school one day?  Will we (God forbid) give our ‘uncolleged’ children the ‘I’m so disappointed in you for not reaching your potential…’ lecture?  And if we do, will it be based on their earning potential?  Or their social status?  Or on our own pride?

Some in America believe that the way to stop people from committing crimes is for them to be financially successful…and educated.  Is that why we focus so much on college? Because if so, it’s a fallacy.  Rich, learned people have always been as capable of wrong as the poor and unschooled.

Or is it our modern confidence in educational institutions and educators themselves? For the last 100 years or so, we have been conditioned to believe that education properly occurs only in a formal educational setting, and is provided by professional educators.  (Not, of course, by reading books or experiencing life or doing a job well.)  Great men and women from history, open-source online education, the home-school movement and the public library are all evidence that one can be educated in many ways, to great effect.

Maybe it stems from a belief that the life of the mind is superior to the life of physical work.  Or that if we work with our hands and bodies, we are susceptible to injury and loss of income, but if we work with our minds, we are not.  Of course, people have strokes and head injuries and any number of neurologic diseases which render that line of thinking false.

One can do any job and be intelligent, or have any degree of education and be moral and good; or bad.  The lowliest laborer can be a sage; Socrates had no degree.  He was a stone-mason.  And I read nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that says ‘Blessed are the educated, for they are better than anyone else.’ The Constitution makes no such demarcations either.

Education is wonderful and elevates the educated.  But so does reading and work and travel.  As such, America shouldn’t be a place of educational aristocracy, but of educational diversity.

And most important, we must always struggle against the belief that anyone’s degree of worth is defined by the worth (or absence) of a degree.