Marriage is a work of art and a labor of love.

This column is dedicated to my lovely wife Jan, as tomorrow is our 25th Anniversary!


When we look at beautiful houses, or breathtaking historical structures like the Pyramids or the Mt. Rushmore, we are in awe of the craftsmanship, the beauty. Sometimes it seems that they simply fell from the sky, magnificent as they are, and suddenly occupied the spaces before us. It is inconceivable that the field, the mountain, the lot was once empty, once the domain of small creatures and weeds. It is unimaginable that the thing that rises before our eyes was once stone sleeping in the arms of the mountain, wrenched free by untold thousands; or that the lovely shapes of a beautiful home are made by wood that grew in the forest and was assembled in noise, and dust and sweat by builders.

Just so, when I look at older couples, I am in awe. I meet them all the time. ‘We’ve been married 55 years doctor! It has been a great life so far!’ They touch their hands together, smile and dote. The movements of their eyes, the laughter, the instant grasp of communication, it all seems so natural. As if, from the moment they met, the connection was made. The carousel switched on and springing to life in the darkness, full of music and color.

We forget that there were times when those charming people struggled. When he thought she was crazy, and she thought he was lazy and all of their parents wrung their hands in worry and folded them in prayer for the young couple. There were times when they had no money and others when they had no time. And there was sickness and struggle and exhaustion as surely as there was health and joy and adventure. A marriage is an edifice that rises up with great, and endless, effort. The construction of one entity from two is no small thing, and while the words are said as covenant, the building process may last a lifetime, even if it looks perfect to the casual passerby.

This week is our anniversary, Jan’s and mine together. On May 26, 1990, we were young and in love, we were nervous and excited and we walked down the church aisle. She was one year out of graduate school and I was one week out of medical school. We were a little crazy and a little thrilled. Before us lay a move to a new city, and the beginning of new jobs for both. We were, to use the above analogy, an empty field, full of building materials. It was for God, and our own love and effort, to make the structure; to make a family, a temple of good things, a unity to care for one another and survive and thrive in the world.

Anyone who knew us well during those early days would say that the construction was, at times, a messy business. There was romance and argument, conflict and communion. There were days and nights apart due to work and there were amazing trips together which united us. Like a house rising from the dust, we took shape. Later, in time, the house was ‘in the dry,’ and it was a matter of decorating and beautifying the marriage; the comfortable, well furnished rooms with trust and comfort and hope and laughter, and then to bring children and turn them loose inside it.

Our marriage has lasted this quarter century and grown better and more beautiful every single day. I would not trade it for anything, nor her for anyone. We belong together. We have become, in every way, our perfect match. (A thing, young couples, that is seldom discovered but usually made.) Oh, we still have work to do. A room to add, a wall to paint, a rough edge to sand. But all in all, the whole thing is simply magnificent. Time and effort, God and devotion will do that.

And to anyone out there wondering why they don’t have it yet, I say this: don’t put down the tools until you’re satisfied. Keep learning and growing and adding and building. And before you know it, you’ll step back and realize that the marriage you built looks perfect to everyone else. And you can smile at each other because you know that there are secret flaws. But that they don’t matter a bit because even they help hold the thing together, stick and stone, heart and soul.

So happy anniversary to my Wild Irish Rose! Thank you working with me all these years to get it right.

Grandparents raising grandchildren. (My column in today’s Greenville News.)

This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Have a wonderful evening.

They say that there may be children, born now, who could live to be 1000 years old. Can you fathom that? Some humans could continue to live for what would be well more than ten current lifetimes. We aren’t there yet. But this isn’t so far out of the possible. Some medical researchers are already talking about resuscitating those who die up to five hours after death. It involves special technologies that aren’t widespread, but it’s on the horizon.

Of course, if humans could live that long, who would we allow to do it? Would we choose only the best and the brightest, or the rich? Would we favor the genetically gifted? Would we, instead, grant fantastically long lives only to those willing to travel to other worlds through centuries of the blackness of space, spreading humanity to the far reaches of the galaxy?

Personally, there are some I would choose. For instance, if we could reverse the ravages of disease, if we could suddenly undo the physical and mental ravages endured by untold millions from injury, disease and inheritance, I would offer it first to them. I would pick those who spent lifetimes in wheelchairs, in hospital beds, unable to enjoy the wonders of this world except vicariously. Who better to spend 700 or 900 more years, walking, talking, working, loving? Who could enjoy it more thoroughly than those with the incredible perspective of liberated prisoners?

But another group comes to mind. And that would be the amazing, and dedicated, grandparents who are currently spending their old age raising their grandchildren. I see them all the time in the emergency departments where I work. For whatever reason, their children cannot (or will not) raise their own sons and daughters. And for reasons of love and devotion, of duty and mercy, grandparents fill the void.

Some are young grandparents; raising children again in their forties or fifties is not easy, but the memories are fresh. They still have much of the strength of years recently past. Others, however, are 60, 70 or more. Ordinarily, they would slow down and rest. They would take what little retirement they had saved and visit family, friends or places they always dreamed of seeing. Instead, out of absolute passion for the children of their children, they circle back around once more and start fresh.

They fight for custody, they change the diapers, feed and bathe the children. They take them to school, clothe them, care for them in their sickness. They help them with homework and take them on vacation. They protect them and indulge them. Sometimes, the original family is reinstated with time, or after troubles have passed, jail terms have been completed. Many times, however, grandparents are the only parents children will ever know.

If I could, I would grace these people with fresh youth. I would reset their cells, renew their joints, freshen sick hearts and lungs, build new muscle, eradicate the risk of death from cancer. I would fit them for the task ahead; for running in parks and swimming in rivers, for wrestling and jumping on trampolines. I would give them the strength they need to keep working to support their grandsons and granddaughters, the strength they desire to have fresh, unmitigated passion and capacity once more.

And then, when they had done that precious, monumental task, when they had modeled parenting and protected and cared for their descendents, I would let them start all over. I would reset them so that they could go to school again, try new careers, travel to new places. I would give them the ability to continue on in health, joyous in the knowledge that they did what was necessary, what was vital, for their vulnerable grandchildren. It’s a long way off, no doubt. But I can dream.

Just like I dream of a world where all children are safe in families. Where no child is abandoned or lost, ignored or wounded or left to his own insufficient devices. The grandparents I see who are raising their grandchildren have the same dream, and are willing to sacrifice to see it come true. And from what I’ve seen, simply being with their grandchildren is a kind of rebirth and extension, by necessity, of a bit of their own youth.

If I could give them 1000 years, I would. But it appears that for most, raising those children in safety is all the reward they really want.

Society circles back on sexual freedom.

 So is it still the sexual revolution or what?

A few months ago there was an interesting You-Tube video in which a young woman walked all over New York for a day, followed by a friend with a hidden camera. She was the recipient of a lot of ‘cat-calls’ and other inappropriate behavior. The video showed that men are often base, and sometimes scary, in the way they view, and react to, women. Nobody wants to be harassed or made uncomfortable by anyone’s comments. ‘Hey baby!’ is not an appropriate alternative to ‘good day.’   Here’s the link if you’re interested.

One of the latest issues facing interactions between the sexes has occurred on college campuses, which are now struggling with the issue of ‘positive consent’ as a way to protect against sexual assault.  That is, to be legitimate, a sexual encounter between students cannot involve alcohol and has to be approved at every step along the way with ‘positive consent.’ How this is to be defined is the stuff of much head-scratching. Does it require that a form be filled out and filed? An Office of Sexual Liaison? A video-taped statement?

While this seems to me a bit ‘over the top,’ I don’t mean in any way to diminish concerns about sexual assault. While sexual assault rates are falling, any sexual assault is a terrible crime, and one too many.

Both of the above illustrate what an interesting place we’ve arrived at in our culture. The sexual revolution of the 1960s informed America that old-fashioned sexual mores were out-dated and ridiculous. That sexual encounters were not things to be ashamed of, and that attempts to limit sexual expression were repressive. The oral contraceptive propelled the movement forward and the counter-culture gave us constant lessons that sex was no big deal. Women were as sexually free as men.

Suddenly there was sex without consequence, sex without commitment, sex without fear of pregnancy, sexual diseases all treatable with Penicillin (or so we thought)? It was, indeed, a brave new world. And those who said, ‘you know, this is immoral, unsafe behavior that will have bad consequences’ were laughed out of the discussion as narrow-minded, old-fashioned fundamentalists.

Now it appears that we’re circling back around. Men shouldn’t view women sexually. (Except in music videos or on television or in pornography or lingerie catalogs, etc.). And men shouldn’t talk to women in a way that suggests any sexual content. In fact, in many workplaces, a simple compliment like ‘that’s a nice dress,’ or ‘you look lovely,’ can be construed as sexual harassment. And men, and women, who were told that free sexual expression was the only way to live free of backwards religiosity are now told that they need an explicit ‘yes I want to do this’ from holding hands to home run.

There are great ironies afoot. We live in a society that glorifies every form of sexual expression from silky romance to leather-clad bondage; a society that sexualizes everything, from children’s Halloween costumes to fast-food ads. A time when sexual slavery is epidemic. Yet, in the midst of that, we find ourselves struggling with the harsh reality of objectification; with the pain of being used (or abused) and discarded. And we find men and women sometimes looking back and longing for a measure of respect and propriety that sees them as more than body parts.

But the other irony is that Christianity, often deemed morally antiquated, has always taught us to treat others with caution when it comes to sex. That we were not to look lustfully on others. (Which rather precludes cat-calls, I think.) It told us that we were not to enjoy another person sexually unless we were willing to commit to them exclusively in a covenant of marriage; a kind of holy positive consent, if you will. That we were to set boundaries on the incredibly powerful and wonderful thing that sexuality is. Even St. Paul said for men to treat younger women in the church as sisters, ‘with purity.’

We appear to have moved forward only to find ourselves backwards all over again. Maybe we’ll have to recover something from the past to make any progress. And so that all of our children can grow up to be treated with love and respect, rather than being used, abused and discarded.



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.

Don’t trivialize marriage

My column in today’s Greenville News concerns marriage, and its joy, importance and gravity.  Whatever you believe about marriage, please take it seriously.

Last month, beneath the low clouds of a cool October sunset, my brother and his fiancee were wed. The wedding took place at Lindsay Plantation, in Taylors, SC. Friends and family sat in folding chairs, in the lush green grass of a hill-top, while a violinist played softly, the sound carried on such faint wind as there was. Nature itself seemed to pause and watch with bated breath.

Our father performed the ceremony, which was brief but beautiful as traditional and personal vows were exchanged, along with rings. There was laughter during the sacrament of marriage, and there was also the solemnity of covenant.

And then, as there should always be, there was a party. Theirs was beneath great chandeliers in the former horse barn, open on each end so that cool air could flow through and caress the well-dressed, if slightly over-heated, guests as we ate, talked and danced the evening away. I spun Jan around the floor a while, reminded in the flush of emotion why I love her so much, and have for so long. Our four children were there also and visited with family from far away. I believe that young people should view holy things from time to time. They should be reminded that these things matter immensely.

It was just the way a wedding should be. A reminder of both gravity and levity. A promise and a joke. A prayer and a dance. And all of it witnessed and supported by those who love them both. Everyone should have such a wedding. No drama; all joy and light and hope. I think it was good because they both know that the wedding is simply the gateway. It’s the marriage that matters.

Nevertheless, we live in a world in conflict over marriage. Who should be allowed to marry? Who should do it? What defines it? What preserves and what destroys it? These are terribly important questions. But I won’t attempt to answer them; not now. It’s likely you can guess my personal beliefs, but that isn’t my point.

What I will do is this. I’ll make a plea. Whatever you, dear reader, believe about marriage don’t trivialize it. Don’t use it as a weapon or a form of theater. Never make it small or insignificant.

Whatever you believe about marriage, or who should marry, please, please make your marriage a bond that has consequence. Make it a thing of absolute commitment, with no wavering. Never say ‘we’ll try it and see how it goes.’ Any such thought is simply a path for escape; a way to let insignificant issues drive a wedge wider and wider between you and yours.

Whatever we end up believing about marriage, as a culture, I hope that we remember that it is a force for stability; a pillar on which civilization is balanced. The less certain it is, the more precarious that balance.

Whatever we believe about it, never forget that the children of a union, born or adopted, count on that marriage. It is their safe haven, the kingdom that is a family. And divorce is a civil war, a bloody revolution, a wild-fire. And the children may never full recover, whether they were young or old when the cataclysm occurred.

No matter our definition of marriage, it cannot be a thing entered, or abandoned, lightly, as if it were the prom or a drive in the country. It must have what I saw in my brother’s wedding. It must have promises taken seriously and laughter and joy taken even more seriously. It must be a feather as heavy as a stone.

Jesus used the metaphor of marriage extensively, and referred to the Church as ‘The Bride of Christ,’ and to himself as ‘the Bridegroom.’ This was no small thing, no casual use of language. His love was demonstrated in his sacrifice for all who would be his bride, in full expectation that she would be devoted to him wholly.

At Stephanie and Stephen’s wedding, there was great happiness all around. And I thought, for a minute, that if this was a prequel for heaven, some people might be in grave danger of not enjoying heaven at all.

Because to grasp the staggering joy of the covenant requires recognition of both the weight of the promise and the levity of the party. Our culture has to keep both in mind if marriages, and weddings, are to continue to be the things of absolute value they were intended to be.


Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

This was my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there!

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

Women today have choices about their future careers.  There’s hardly a field where women aren’t prominent, and that’s a wonderful testament to the diversity of our culture. But often, when a young woman states that her goal is to be a mother, there’s a kind of disappointment leveled by others.  ‘Do you mean after you go to school and have a career?  I mean, don’t you want to accomplish something?  For you?’

I understand.  Everyone has dreams and goals, plans for greatness.  And the friends and family of these future mothers have their best interests in mind.  They don’t want their loved ones to subvert themselves and give all of their efforts and talents, all of their youth to someone else.  And yet…

Who among us does not?  In a very real way, most of us are ‘ancillary.’  I think about myself and my fellow physicians.  We are not the end purpose of medicine.  We’re here to allow everyone else to stay healthy and navigate illness and injury, in order to go back to their families, friends and jobs.  We succeed to the extent that they need us less and less as they grow stronger and more robust.

The same is true in business.  If our young woman, with dreams of motherhood, should climb the corporate ladder first, well good for her!  But for whom is she climbing? First of all for her supervisors, maybe later for the board of directors (all of it financially rewarding, we hope) and in the end, even if she is CEO, she works for whom?  Her customers and clients.

Do teachers accomplish their great works for themselves?  They may find their work rewarding, but they teach so that children can move off into the world and find their own work, their own families and lives, can support themselves…usually by working for others.

Women in the military serve the nation.  Women in higher academia serve the future of the institutions, their academic disciplines and their students.  Hard working women in small businesses or large serve the ‘customer,’ who is always right.  And in public service, police, fire, EMS or others, heroic women serve the good of the public at large.

As artists, whether in music, visual arts or literature, women may be very independent, but they still hope to please critics and buyers, and hope to advance the quality and expression of their particular art media.

So I wonder, if a woman says that she wants to stay home and raise children, why is that somehow a lower path in so many minds?  That woman, who may or may not have worked for any of the industries or groups I’ve listed (a small sample of the whole) will turn her attention to caring for, serving the children she bears or adopts.  They will be her customers (although not always right), her public, her industry, her small nation, her medium of expression.

The markers of her success will be theirs. Their health and happiness, their ability to care for themselves as adults, their entry into the world and into their own families. Those will be the metrics by which she will judge success or failure.  And in some cases, when children are very ill or disabled, their comfort will be the product she produces for years…or for a lifetime.  This isn’t just emotion.  The intact family is a very clear and validated predictor of future health and success for children.

I’m not in any way suggesting that women who work are failing their children; not at all.  I’m saying that motherhood is more than cribs, cuddles and laundry, diapers, mini-vans and soccer practice.  It’s too easy to reduce it to a set of visual cliches, so commonly attributed to motherhood in our society.  What I mean is that motherhood is not a lesser path, or a mere supporting role.  There are no mere supporting roles, for we almost all support someone, work for someone, help someone or produce for someone.  Even the President is a servant of the people.

But the role of mother, in developing the children of the nation, is foundational.  And her work, for work it is, is essential to the future of the nation and the well-being of our citizens.

So when young women choose that path, at reasonable ages, with husbands and sufficient financial resources, we ought to encourage them.  Motherhood, you see, is a choice the world cannot afford to devalue.

Happy Mother’s Day!


South Appalachian Yoga…a craze to follow!

Jan, my very fit and lovely wife invited me to do some Yoga this morning. I elected to focus in relaxation techniques in the bed as she worked out. (Guys, what’s better than watching your wife do Yoga?) Yes, yes, I know I need to exercise. And I do exercise. Sometimes. But Yoga? Well I don’t think my ancestors (or I) were meant for it. It simply hurts too much. I rarely hurt my muscles lying in bed, you see. But as I listened to the smooth, silky voice of the instructor Jan was streaming on her i-Pad, I imagined something. I imagined the wonders of Southern Appalachian Yoga!

Stand with your feet one shoulder width (or muffin-top) apart. Now, reach up to the sky! This is called lighter at the Skynard concert. Slowly wave your lighter back and forth. Watch your balance and try not to capsize. Now, reach slowly down, down and pick up your imaginary burger. Hold it in front of you at arm’s length. It’s a Triple. Feel the weight. Put the burger down. Pull up your pants; nobody behind you needs to see that.

Legs two muffin-tops apart, now sit on your ATV. This is called ‘riding the trail.’ Grasp the handlebar. Work your wrist muscles as you drive down the trail in your mind. You hit a limb. Lie down on your back, arms and legs out. This is called ‘911.’ Relax and check every limb for injury. Breath deeply and contemplate this: did I take the roast out of the oven?

Roll over. Imagine the rifle in your hands; breath quietly as you sight that enormous eight pointer. This position is called ‘opening day.’ Good shot. Stand up. Reach behind you into the cooler, stretching for the beer to celebrate that shot! Reach for two; Bubba wants one as well. Hand it to him. He’s sitting on the ground.

Now, lie down again. Raise your back and hiss. This is called ‘copperhead at dawn.’ Bite your friend for good measure. Roll quickly onto your back and hold hands and legs in the air, with your mouth open and tongue out.

Then tip to one side, holding the position. This is called ‘road kill.’ Lie there a while and think about lunch. Or dinner. Stand up and take an Advil. You’ll be in shape in no time at all! Reward yourself with fried chicken. That’s Yoga!

Edisto therapy

I came to the beach anxious this year. I hadn’t been feeling well. My blood pressure up, my stress level high.  My stomach hurting, maybe from gastritis.  My wife and I brought our four children and eight others.  Not exactly stress-free, you say?  You’d be surprised.

The house we rented is across the road from the beach on Edisto Island, in SC.  It’s an older house, with a torn screen, doors that won’t lock and water that tastes vaguely like the ocean it sits near.  The disposal didn’t work. The doors and walls creak.  In the entire house, in which there were 12 kids from ages 12 – 18, there was one television; and not even a flat-screen!

Over the course of the past few days Jan and I have slept and rested, read and chatted, largely ignored by the endlessly laughing, chatting, texting, photo-taking, soccer-playing mass of young people.  In other words, except for providing the space (paying for it) and cooking, we’ve had a week-long date; the kind of date when husbands and wives lie down together with amorous intent then fall promptly to sleep due to chronic fatigue.  And then consider it a great evening!

We have, of course, spent our days by or in the ocean, letting the waves ease away our stress, and the sound of the ocean soothe our hearts with its ancient, cyclic music. We have body-surfed and walked the beach, and watched as our youngest two travelers did cart-wheels in the sand, and the older members of our band flirted and stood in an intimate circle sharing their jokes and their hearts with one another.  Watched as our oldest and his love walked hand in hand through the surf; a delight of young romance if ever there was one.

The weather has been perfect.  The rain has fallen a few times, and the evening wind has been the perfect temperature for blowing away the brain-fog I felt before arriving.  We have eaten well, but simply; spaghetti, tacos, sandwiches, shrimp and grits.  And we have been to a restaurant only once; but to the Piggly-Wiggly grocery store multiple times as our stocks diminished. Especially our stock of proper, drinkable water and pure ice.

All of it, though, has been one endless therapy session for me.  I have thrilled at the feel of the sand, the roll and song of the waves, the brush of the breeze, the youth and beauty and strength of these young men and women in our charge, the cool sheets in a small room with my warm wife, the paucity of television screens or other disruptive technology, have added up to a remarkable amount of relaxation that I can’t recall having in ages.

Here, this week at Edisto Island, I have embraced a reality that I rejected for too long.  That I am affected by this hectic, modern life. That my medical career fills me with anxiety.  That I worry too much.  That I see too many things that are bad and embrace too few things that are good. That I have defined myself too long by my ability to endure and rejected for too long the necessity of just being; of just breathing and sleeping, eating, loving and laughing.  Things which require no odd schedule, things which require no classes or certifications, no endurance of suffering, no plan to handle every contingency.

As I sat on the beach this evening, after walking with Jan and while watching Elysa and her friend Islay do cartwheels on the sand, I began to wonder.  What’s more real? This island and the peace of the ocean?  Or the chaos and uncertainty, sickness and struggle of the emergency room?

Is it possible, just possible, that this place (and these people) who put me at ease are more solid than even the most solid struggle?  Is it possible that to the extent that this place feels a little like heaven this week, that it actually is a little like heaven in comparison to the terrifying things I encounter at work?

I suspect that when we arrive in heaven, it will feel vaguely like this (though vastly better).  That the shores of the great sea will be composed of soft sand, firm breezes and clear water and that every bit of it will be so substantial, so ultimately real, that every stress and struggle of this life will seem misty and false at best; hellish at worst.  At least, if we can recall them at all in the midst of the blazing joy that will envelop us.

Speculation; but important.  Because I needed this week and these realizations.  And I needed the time to pause, in silence, free of news, free of worry, free of chaos, and listen to the laughter and the waves.

Because right now, I feel more real than in the midst of the most unreal horrors.  And that’s a blessing.

Children help men to become manly.

Children help men to become manly.

This is my column in this past Sunday’s Greenville News.|newswell|text|Opinion|s

I was talking with my wife Jan a few days ago about growing up.  More specifically, when does a man become…a man?  I suggested that for me,  it was sometime around the end of medical school and my time in residency that I transitioned from adolescence to adulthood.  After all, I was married, I had a job and I was a physician.  Seemed manly enough to me!

She countered.  She felt that it was fatherhood that transformed me fully into manhood.  And looking back, I agree.  Before then, for all I had achieved, it was still all about me: my identity, my success, my education, my career, my aspirations, my resume.  I was selfish and she was patient.

It made me think about modern manhood. Many bemoan the fact that modern men seem more and more trapped in extended adolescence.  I’m confident it isn’t true of all of them.  I know some very mature young men.  But too many don’t move forward. From the end of high school through their thirties (and sometimes beyond), they are far more concerned with themselves than anything else.

To some extent, this is appropriate for a young man. We come of age by discovering our strengths and weaknesses, by developing goals and skills.  But men need to move further.  ‘When I became a man, I put childish things behind me,’ St. Paul says in I Corinthians 13.  We usually associate that with toys and games, but it likely refers to selfish pursuits and the endless desire for pleasure.

The sexual behavior of several generations is ‘exhibit one’ of immaturity in our aspiring men. Sexuality is misplaced and twisted, so that their natural and reasonable desire for a sexual partner turns into a pattern of conquest and abandonment, leaving young women emotionally devastated and sometimes scarred by disease, or left with children to raise alone.  (After all, a man can’t be saddled with responsibility when he hasn’t ‘found the right one,’ or ‘found himself,’ can he?)

A vast harvest of fatherless children has sprung up from ‘sowing wild oats.’  Doubtless some of it is from generational wounds, as abandoned young men absorb the lesson that abandonment is normative.  And to be fair, the culture of womanhood has changed as well, and both are intertwined in cycles of dysfunction that lead to the same unfortunate ends.

I wonder, then, if we’ve done a disservice.  In pointing to education, career and pleasure as the sole goods for young men, we have made men unnatural.  Fatherhood is natural.  And by this, I don’t mean serial paternity or mere instinctual reproduction.  I mean the fatherhood in which a man loves and marries woman and together they produce and raise a child.

In that setting, something happens to a young man.  He truly leaves childhood behind.  He devotes himself to the safety and well-being of his wife and child.  I speak from experience when I say that, while I thought I understood love, nothing prepared me for the tidal waves of love that I experienced with the gift my wife gave me in each of our successive children.

I believe, wholeheartedly, that we have only scratched the surface of our knowledge of biology.  And also, that we as yet have very little idea of the confluence of mind, body and spirit.  But we do know that a young man’s brain doesn’t really mature until the mid twenties.  That’s when good decisions are formed and unreasonable risk averted.  Therefore it also seems likely to me that the immense chemical, emotional and spiritual stimulus of fatherhood further propels us from boys to men.  That’s not to say that one can’t be a man without a child.  But some event that requires absolute love, devotion and self-sacrifice seems to be necessary to the process.

It has been suggested that the ‘wild west’ was wild, in part, because there were many young, energetic and unconnected men with neither wife nor child.  I see a similar pattern at work today, in both rural and urban areas, as men produce children but are not transformed in the process.

But proper, committed fatherhood is an event that creates a man who will work for his loved ones, live for them and if necessary, die for them.  So as we remember Father’s Day, we should remember that as much as we fathers raise our children, they seem to raise us.  And take us from the children we were to the men we hoped to be.


Happy Anniversary Darling! 23 years and going strong!


May 26, 1990 was the day I married my wife, Jan.  So, since our Anniversary is now here, I want to say that I am truly the most blessed of all husbands.  She is my friend, confidant, lover, inspiration, cheerleader, comforter and co-conspirator in raising these four children of ours.  She is my GPS system, who keeps me on the right track on the highway and in my life.  And she is my buddy.  (Jan’s always been fond of saying ‘friends are friends and pals are pals but buddies sleep together!’)

We are home from our yearly trip to the beach with the kids.  We are all exhausted, sun-burnt and a little heavier than when we left.  We all still feel as if we’re in motion, the side-effect of five hours of car-ride from ocean to mountains.  We all will strain our ears in the morning to hear the waves that are now so far away.

We will, in the various ways only our family can, become busy once more with projects and work and learning.  The hectic pace of school will give way to the hectic pace of vacation.  But one thing will remain.  My love will be with me.

I am proud to call this beautiful woman my wife.  I am honored to live my life with her.  I am ecstatic that she is the mother of my children.

And today, I say, Happy Anniversary Baby!  You are always, all ways, on my mind.

I love you,