Friday, February 24, 2017

Thirty-four Years Ago

34 years ago, at this very moment, I became a father for the first time.

I had earned my master's degree in counseling just two months earlier, and when the doctor said "It's a boy!", my response was "I don't have a behavioral repertoire to deal with these contingencies!"

Everyone in the delivery room laughed; I laughed as well.  However, I was telling the truth, even if I didn't know it at the time.  I was just shy of my 30th birthday, and I knew nothing about being a father.  I knew some things I DIDN'T want to do;  everything else was just theory.

That turned out not to matter so much.  I really can't remember when I formalized my guidelines for being a father, but I know it happened well in advance of his first birthday.  It's possible that I had them in place even before he was born; I know that at least one of them was on my mind, even if I wasn't yet thinking of it as a  Basic Rule Of Fatherhood.

1.  My son was always going to know that I loved him.  I pledged to show him that with the way that I acted, and back up my actions with my words.
2.  My son was always going to know that I loved his mother.
3.  I was never going to be afraid to play and be silly with my son, even in public.
4.  I was going to be honest with my son, and any time I was wrong, I would admit it to him, and do what I could to correct my error.
5.  I would read to him, and play with him, putting his needs before mine.

Except for the very last item, I am confident that I complied  with the rules.  I might have had a shot at number five, if someone hadn't given him a wind-up locomotive that played music and made noise for all of 15 seconds before it had to be wound up again.

Over the years, I adopted new practices and applications of the rules.  However, the rules never changed, until the point that my marriage ended, and rule number two had the word "loved" replaced with the word "respected."

Did it work?  The answer to that can be found in my son's family.  If you were to watch my son, and his wife, and their two boys, you would see love in action.  He is a great husband, father, and role model.  That's due to him, and not to me; however, I did raise the child that became that man.

And so, in conclusion, I think I've dealt with those contingencies just fine.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Grandson's Name is Laughter

A short Bible lesson in modern language.
Abraham and Sarah were old, old, old; long past the time of child-bearing. It was a matter of grief.
Then one day, God shows up, with a couple of angels, and tells Abraham that in a year, Sarah will be holding a baby.
Sarah laughed.
And God heard her, and remarked on it. Of course, ya know, she said "No, God! I wouldn't laugh at You!"
Probably EVERYBODY laughed then! They would at my house, I know that. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I aren't nearly as old as Abraham and Sarah were; but, if God dropped in for a visit, like He did with Abraham and Sarah, and told Vanessa that a year from now she would have a baby? Yeah, she would laugh. Then she would cover her mouth and pretend she didn't, and then we'd all laugh.
(Ummm...probably, I wouldn't laugh. I would be too busy throwing up outside. I'm 63 years old! I've got no BUSINESS being a new daddy!)

Anyway, in a year, Sarah and Abraham had a new baby. And they named him 'Isaac,' which means 'Laughter.' And Sarah said, "Who would think Abraham and I would have a baby at this age? Isn't this the funniest thing you ever heard of? " And everybody agreed that God had made a GREAT joke, and everybody laughed.

A modern lesson in trusting in God.
I found out on Christmas Day of 2015 that Bess and Sam were pregnant again, with their second child. It's a wonderful thing to be a grandfather! Vanessa and I have LOTS of grandchildren, and we love every single one of them. And Bess and Sam are such GOOD parents, and their firstborn son Josh is a funny, bright little man. So we were all happy.
And then, on February 3, 2016, she goes in for a routine ultrasound, and found out she had lost the baby.
If you are a parent who has an adult child go through this, you know how bad you want to take your child in your arms and make it all better for them. But there is nothing you can do, except grieve.
And Bess and Sam grieved, and then started putting one foot in front of the other. On February 13, 2016, they went out for a date night.

It was a tough time for this young family, but they held together, and grew closer. Here's what Bess wrote late last night about her husband, Sam:
We've held tight to God and each other through all these things, and when we could have walked out on each other and never looked back, that's when 2 stubborn, hard headed people dug their heels in and decided we weren't going down that easy. We both have argumentative spirits, and we both like being right (unfortunately for you, I just happen to always be right) and on paper, we should not be together. It should not work. But whereas other people might think we might tear each other down, we just keep building each other up.
And frankly, as a father/grandfather, to hear these words coming from an offspring at a time of intense stress: it really just doesn't get any better than that.

And  EXACTLY one year after that date night,

This young lad was born. William Isaac Blackstone, 7 pounds, one ounce, 19.5 inches.

A year to the day of that first strong effort to restore themselves to normalcy.

And that's why my grandson's name is 'Laughter.'

Okay, I can sort-of hear a concern: If God is so good, why is Isaac in the intensive care unit? Why wasn't he born in perfect health?

Now,  if you are just using this as an excuse to grumble and fuss, I'm sorry; I have nothing for you. On the other hand, if you are really struggling with this, I have some wisdom I can share.

It's something I learned from a righteous man 16 years ago when I visited him in the hospital. He was in there because he had gone blind one morning in the shower. I couldn't figure this out. Why did THIS guy go blind? He has given his life to providing for rejected and abandoned children; I don't know ANYONE who has had more devoted action in their lives (except for his wife). 

I asked him: "Why did this happen to YOU?" And he answered me on two levels, the physical, and the spiritual. The physical level, I got, immediately. The answer he gave me on the spiritual level shook me to the core, but when I had processed it, I had a truth that has been a driving force in my life ever since.

First, the physical level: he told me he had just been lazy. He had known for years that he was overweight, and didn't do anything about it. No exercise, no diet control, he just kept on. And, eventually, his blood sugar was so out of control, he lost his vision (temporarily). It was an easy answer, and did not satisfy me at all. Well, it did, in the sense that I saw that he was taking responsibility for his own actions, and not blaming anyone for his own failure to be prudent about his health.

But the spiritual component: that was a shocker. He calmly said "I'm just not sure that God is concerned about the same things that we are concerned about." Something in me screamed at that statement, and I started to grow up a little.

"God has an eternal perspective," he said. "We are so fixed on what's right in front of us, that we ignore the things that really matter. What's more important? Our physical health, or our spiritual health? If going blind in the shower means that I become able to see things in the Spirit more easily, then it's a win."

I do not know how many times I have applied that righteous man's words to my own life. And I am the ONLY one who can do that; if someone else comes to me in a time of trouble, and tells me that God has a plan for this, I might just punch them in the nose. That is, I believe, a false comfort. But if I take the time to  look inside, and see what is really going on, then I have a chance of making it through the most horrible circumstances.

Lots and lots of bad things have happened to me since that day in the hospital room. I haven't always handled them well. But, in the worst times, at some point, I was able to get a little bit of God's perspective on things.

And now, I can rejoice, ALONG WITH my daughter, who wrote this as today dawned:

Lord, You're holy. I praise Your Name for allowing me to be William Isaac's mother, and I dedicate my sweet boy to You.
For You deserve all the praise, all the honor, all the glory, forever and ever. Amen!
And THAT right there? That is why my grandson's name is "Laughter." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You Never Know What Happens Next with the Minivandians

I was framing this post during my morning walk, and had a small hope of getting this blog out before 8:00 AM, but stuff intervened.

I wrote the review of "Tales of the Minivandians" more than two months ago, for selfish reasons. You see, the FIRST part of the book is a selection of tiny little tales, each one an example of what suburban families experience, but transported, with magic, to another place where swords and magic are a routine part of life. So, a story about the time the tree root system invades the drain line (and I have had to deal with that FAR too many times) is translated into a battle between a magician and a tree spirit.

I like the concept. There is magic and nobility in a PTA meeting....yeah!

Every story was funny, and delicious, and I just didn't want to read them all at once; it would be like binging on peanut brittle. So, I read enough to be able to write a review - the author DESERVES a review - and then, every night or so, I'd pick up the book, and read something else. This is how I recommend YOU read the book, as well.

The last part of the book takes a different approach. It's one, cohesive story, giving the background of the family. It's pure swords-and-magic, and it tells a good tale of bravery, fortitude, and other things that guys like me enjoy reading. Not gory and nasty, only creepy enough to make you get a tiny spooky feeling; good guys (of either gender) have values that hold up under stress.

I even had the title all picked out. I had half of the post written, mentally.

(Ummm...ideally, there is a transition inserted here. It didn't happen that way. Sometimes life doesn't give smooth transitions, even though they are a good idea in literature. But there isn't a transition in what I'm writing, because there was no transition in what I was living.)

And then: well, I didn't expect what happened then. I got a message that my new grandson was being transported to the nearest neonatal intensive care unit. He was a bit premature, and was still having some breathing problems, and the hospital where he is born is an old, country facility, so: off to the nearest first class place for babies, in Savannah, GA.

He's going to be alright. I spoke to his grandmother, who is a nurse, and she said she was coming back to Atlanta on Wednesday; if he was in real trouble, she wouldn't be doing that. So, he's going to be alright.

Got that?

But it served to remind me, one more time, about how fragile life is, and what a thin bubble we are treating as if it were 12 feet of reinforced concrete. There isn't a one of us that's safe; we are, literally, a heartbeat away from having our complacency come crashing down on our heads.

Some of it should NOT be coming as a surprise; every single one of us has a mother and a father who is mortal. We all are looking at a life which will contain some loss. And it's just goofy to think that we are exempt. Sure, that time can come earlier than we expected, and can be as a result of someone else failing to follow best practices; but, that's an additional source of grief, and not an exemption from it.

This isn't particularly romantic for Valentine's Day, and also has nothing to do with Tom Rogneby's excellent writing, but it seems to me that it's a good idea to be as kind as possible to as many people as you possibly can. I get it that there are some people that are so toxic, that there isn't much that IS possible. But, sooner or later, they are going to get slammed, or you are going to get slammed, and you may just possibly have need of that person, or they may have need of you.

Pardon me: I dither. I have no wisdom for you. Just keep breathing in and breathing out, and do the next right thing. If I come up with better advice, I will pass it along.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Hardest Part of the Redneck Biker's Day

I already had this post blocked out in my head during one of my morning walks.

Then my daughter called me about 20 minutes ago to tell me she was in labor with her second son, William Isaac. So, I don't know if I will have the same output as intended.
This just in: born at 1:48 PM, doesn't even have his weight done yet, is my latest grandson!

BUT: what I wanted to talk about was morning routine, and a helpful philosophy I developed over ten years ago.

The only transportation I had was a motorcycle. Those are wonderful devices, but they are NOT really ideal as a solo means of transportation. It gets really cold on a motorcycle, and when it rains (or worse, sleets) you are GOING to get wet, no matter how good your rainsuit is, even if you have a windscreen (which I did). And, for what seemed to be an interminably long time, it wasn't just ME going to work on the bike; I took my youngest son Moose to the high school, which was right next door to the middle school where I worked as a school counselor.

Moose at least had my bulk to huddle behind, somewhat. But, as he stood well over six feet tall by the time he was 14 years old, there was always some of him sticking out. If it wasn't freezing or raining, it was pleasant, and something we enjoyed. But on the otherwise days, we just...endured.

So, as a means of offering my youngest son some consolation, I started telling him at the end of the ride: "Remember, no matter what else happens, the hardest part of the day is already over." And with that, he would lope off to high school, and I would trudge inside to see what the day would bring.

The ride home was NEVER, EVER as bad. The worst we had to encounter was traffic. That's a non-trivial operation, by the way. You who sit in your cars have NO IDEA of how hard it is to balance a motorcycle with 500 pounds of Patterson Boys at the slow speeds we would encounter. But: at least it was daylight.

I'm not entirely sure, but I THINK my philosophy is the same. I've just moved the starting part a little it. The old bod creaks from time to time, but:

Once I've gotten out of bed, the worst part of the day is over. Everything else is gravy.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm Being Eaten By a Boa Constrictor (Shel Silverstein, RIP)

Here's the song I sang to 15 month-old Logan, friend of my 11 month old grandson Eliott last night, while his parents were out with Eliott's parents eating pie. I was baby-sitting, along with my gift-from_god, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. 12 year old Kenneth and 10 year old Alicia were there as well, but mostly their contribution was to not know how to control the TV, and to kick toys loudly by accident, right after we finally got the weeping babies to sleep.

If you haven't ever been responsible for two kids that age, here's how it goes at the end of the day: played out, the exhausted toddler lays down. The other toddler observes, contemplates, and lays down as well.

Do not be deceived. This is how they set up the ambush.

After about 10 minutes, just when YOUR jangling nerves have calmed, the first toddler jerks in his sleep, and wakes up crying. The second toddler is thus disturbed, and wakes up crying as well. So, in the space of three seconds, you go from peaceful baby sleep to two screaming bundles of joy.

I am not lying to you.

Do NOT attempt to get them back to sleep right away. It is a waste of your time and efforts. The youth are in full-stage sleep resistance at this point.

It's time to SING!

They didn't like Glen Miller. They didn't like The Birdies. So, while Vanessa managed Eliott, I sang this little song to Logan, based on Shel Silverstein's 'Boa Constrictor' from "Where The Sidewalk Ends."

I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
Boa constrictor, boa constrictor.
I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
And I don't like it one bit!

Oh, no, he's eating my toe!     (tickle Logan's toe)
Oh, me, he's eating my knee!  (tickle Logan's knee
Oh, my, he's eating my thigh!  (you gotta be careful here if it ain't your kid!)
And I don't like it one bit!

Oh, I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
Boa constrictor, boa constrictor.
I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
And I don't like it one bit!

Oh, fiddle, he's eating my middle! (tickle Logan's belly)
I'll be blessed, he's eating my chest (tickle Logan under arms. Yes, I know that's not his chest.)
Oh, heck, he's eating my neck!       (umm, you have this figured out, right?)
And I don't like it one bit!

Oh, I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
Boa constrictor, boa constrictor.
I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
And I don't like it one bit!

(here comes the grand finale:)
Oh, dread, he's eating my grmph! (rub your hand all over Logan's head and face)

Do that three or four or eight or twelve times, and they settle down again, and will eventually go to sleep.

Then the two sets of parents come back from eating pie, and stand there awestruck at the fact that two old people have two sleeping babies, cuddled up in their arms. And they murmur:

"It's the Baby Whisperers!"

Yeah. Being a grandparent rocks. But as much as I love EVERY ONE of my multitude of grand babies, ranging from he-who-will-be-born in the next three weeks or so, to he-who-is 17, I think maybe if God asked me if I wanted  us to have a baby at our ages, I'd ask for the deal Jonah got instead.

Shipwreck, three days in a fish belly, vomited up on land covered in fish slop, and then some street preaching in a hostile (of the 'kill you' type of hostile); or, spend the next several years with diapers, non-sleeping, fussy feeder, then 13 years of homework.

I'd give SERIOUS consideration to the fish.

On the other hand...when the little eyes light up, and the sweet little voice says 'Hi, Papa!' when I come into the room...

I'll keep the hand I've been dealt.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fried Chicken, Cheese Sauce, and Little Girls Becoming Grownups

First of all, I've got to say that making meals got a WHOLE lot easier since my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, bought us a small capacity deep fryer last month. In fact, there was only one thing we didn't like about it: it had a 1.1 liter capacity, and that meant I had to go through about four cycles to fry a chicken. So, we bought THIS one, which is a 4 liter model, and gave the 1 liter model to son Moose & daughter-in-love Anna as a very very late wedding present.

I needed some comfort food last night, after spending all day fooling around with good buddy Uncle Mylon and Diesel the Wonder Dog, trying to recover Vanessa's broken down car from the side of southbound I-75 in Atlanta. The first three solutions didn't work. (And just because the key LOOKS like the key to the Toyota from a distance, I will now check closely, because Hyundai keys are similar.) It's the alternator, by the way. And a word to the wise: when a red icon starts flashing on the dashboard, tell someone who knows how to do stuff. I'm just sayin.'

So, the comfort food I decided on was fried chicken. And in order to make sure there were plenty of left-overs, I bought TWO chickens.

And I decided it was time for Alicia Ann, who is 11 and in her LAST year of elementary school (sob), to discover that frying a chicken was something she could do. I cut open the bags, pulled out the giblets, and showed her how to rinse the chicken thoroughly, then place it in a colander for draining. I should have been more specific.
Alicia thought the giblets (gizzards, liver, heart, neck) looked disgusting. So, she left them in the rinsing pan, and washed them in warm, SOAPY water. Rinsing was NOT going to do it for these nasty little pieces! After an attempt to explain to her the wonderful benefit of chicken livers, I gave it up as a lost cause. These succulent bits went into the trash.
We set up an assembly line. I cut the chicken up, showing Alicia Ann where and how I was making the cuts, and placed them in the milk bath. Alicia took them from the milk, and dropped them into the bag with the batter components (4 parts flour, one part corn meal, salt, pepper, and Slap-Yo-Mama Cajun seasoning) and then dropped the battered pieces into a fry basket. When the deep fryer reached the proper temperature, we dropped the first fryer basket, and then started on the second chicken.

Now, those of you with more cooking experience than I have may already know what's going to happen. If so, give yourselves a gold star, a big hug, and kiss yourself on the lips. I had never cooked TWO chickens before, and did not realize the error I was making.  
Do you remember how you made glue in kindergarten? You mix FLOUR and MILK, and it makes a nice paste. And since we were dropping pieces of battered chicken into the two small fry baskets WHILE the big fry basket cooked ( and that took maybe 10 minutes, plus another five minutes additional cook time for three particularly meaty pieces), the two smaller baskets were forming a sort of sculpture. Glued together chicken pieces. It was okay, until I dropped them into the hot oil.

But then I had two baskets, each with a single large chicken structure welded to the sides and bottoms of the basket. I discovered this when I tried to dump the chicken, and NOTHING CAME OUT OF THE BASKET.

I fixed it, of course, and the chicken was delicious. Just: some parts weren't picture perfect. Even looked like they were chewed.

The rest of the dinner was french fries (Alicia's choice) and steamed broccoli florets. After steaming the broccoli, though, I thought it looked kind of bland. So: cheese sauce. I dashed into the man cave, and looked up 'Quick Cheese Sauce.' Easy peasy. Butter, flour, milk, cheese. In a saucepan, mix melted butter and flour together until smooth, slowly add in milk and cheese, stirring constantly,  Heck, I can do THAT, even if I have never made cheese sauce before.

A lot of butter and a HALF-CUP of flour later, I realized my error. I had a lovely, smooth ball of dough in my sauce pan. Fortunately, I knew what to do: I added milk to the dough, whisking continuously, until I had sauce-consistency again. Then I started stirring in the cheese. Just slices of American yellow cheese. About a half-pack of cheese, because it took a LOT to flavor that much sauce.

The broccoli dish wasn't really broccoli with cheese sauce; it was more like cheese soup with broccoli. And I still had a LOT of sauce left. Well, I believe some people have eaten french fries with cheese sauce. So I served the rest up in a bowl.

Vanessa and daughter Tobiyah RAVED over the entire meal. Kenneth and Alicia liked the fries and the chicken, but only ate the broccoli under duress.

Because she is still, partly, a little girl, Alicia Ann had INSISTED I cut the wishbone out as a separate piece of chicken (like my grandmother used to do) instead of including that as part of the breast meat. I'm good with that.

I don't mind going to extra steps in order to keep some vestiges of her childhood, as long as I can. At the same time, I feel a sense of accomplishment at making her an integral part of the meal prep, and providing one more aspect of the skill set she will need as an adult.

But I cannot promise you that I'm ever going to closely follow a recipe.

Well, today's Friday. Wear something RED if you can. Remember Everyone Deployed, until they all come home. (In memory of my brother, Garvin Ray Bell, biker, farmer, master of concrete, and evangelist exceptional.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An exceedingly short 'What May Happen!'

Two days ago, I ranted about A POSSIBLE future for public education.

Yesterday, I clarified that with my heartfelt tribute to the work and sacrifice of home-schooling parents.

And last night, I babysat for grandson Eliott. It provided an occasion for me to have a conversation with my firstborn son, Sgt. Eli Jordan Patterson, U.S. Army (retired). He is also the Dean of Students and teacher and coach at King's Ridge Christian School. I gave him a commie beer can daughter Tobiyah had brought back from Cuba, and he told me he was going to write a response to my commie post disparaging private schools.

So, that would be the FIRST guest post for Papa Pat Rambles.

Now, you MUST understand that there are HUGE demands on his time, because in addition to his for-pay duties, he is the full-time husband of the beautiful and talented Courtney, and the full-time father of two of the most handsome, smartest, and most delightful little boys EVER (Heath, 4; Eliott, 11 mos). Therefore, he may not hit any pseudo-deadline I fabricate for him. However, I DO hope he will give me something soon, because 1) then I won't have to, and 2) it will tie in well with what I have already written.

So that's on the way, maybe.

Tomorrow is Friday. If you can, wear something RED.
RED on Friday: Remember Everyone Deployed! (Until they ALL come home)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A short mild (non-rant) comment about home-schooling

Yesterday, I launched into a rant about education, specifically what might happen to public education if a voucher system gets implemented.

Home schoolers need a better statement on their behalf than my single comment that home schooling is TOUGH if you do it right. This is where I MILDLY do that. It's not under duress; So far, nobody has complained that I blah blah blah.  I have lots of friends who are able to home school, and they haven't complained about how tough it is, because if you are a complainer, you DON'T home school. The people who home school are the kind of people who ACTIVELY look for solutions, find them, and implement them.

Home schooling is TOUGH if you do it right. Here's what you HAVE to do, it's a state requirement: you have to have lesson plans which you turn in to the designated official in the public school system; you have to keep a log of the hours spent in direct instruction. There's probably a lot more, but those two things I know about.

You have to find and purchase books which cover the subject materials. That's probably easier to do today than it was 40 years ago; I know of two sources where you can get the package: ABEKA and Bob Jones. There have to be others, but those are the two I've had personal contact with. (note: 'personal contact' means I have seen the outside of a textbook in the floorboard of a car, or had someone tell me they used it.)

And you are probably going to have to adapt the curriculum. I attended a Mennonite church in the mid-80s, and they are a Peace church; no military service, etc. They home schooled their kids, and they had to edit the materials so that the martial aspects were removed. And if you remove something, you have to put something in its' place, which YOU have to invent.

And you are going to have to have MORE than passing knowledge of the subject material. Math wasn't your thing? Too bad! Deal with it! Anybody who has ever taught ANYTHING knows that you have to master material at a far greater depth than you teach it.

Home schoolers don't just teach their kids to read. They also teach them science, which includes chemistry and biology. That means they have to have a source for glassware, and microscopes, and chemicals, and frogs, worms, crawfish, and trays to dissect them in, and many of the chemicals can kill you dead if not handled correctly.

Home schoolers have to network in order to be successful. It's not just having a back-up plan for teaching; there are some group activities you don't want your kids to miss out on. Sports? Well, you aren't going to be able to provide your kid with a varsity football experience in home school, but you might be able to arrange some team sport activities if you network. (There are other options, of course: Little League, etc.) I have some wonderful, beautiful, talented friends who networked to provide their teens with a prom, field trips, and a high school graduation ceremony. I got to attend and participate in one of those, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

So, this is not written to try to scare you away from home schooling if that's what you want to do. Instead, I mean it as an homage to those brave and persistent parents who make it work. I STILL believe the voucher system is a bad idea, but the LACK of a voucher system has not stopped determined and capable parents for providing an education for their kids. My hat (if I wore one) is off to them; I couldn't do it.

I hope that somewhat clarifies where I stand on the matter. Be at peace.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Very Short Rant About Education.

Disclaimer: I have three college degrees, and worked in college admissions for seven years and in a public middle school for 16. I am not a disinterested party.

Every kid has a right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

I don't know how we are going to pay for that if the voucher system happens.

In my home town, lots and lots of people abandoned the public school system after grade school (those were neighborhood schools) and enrolled their kids in private schools. Then, when time came to approve a special purpose local option sales tax to rebuild/maintain the existing public schools, they voted NO NO NO NO NO!!!! and the public schools got worse and worse, increasing the flight of people who could afford it. And those kids LEFT in the public schools, getting a marginal education, went on to become the cops, firemen, plumbers, electricians, and all the other jobs holding civilization together that don't require college. Some DID go to college, anyway, but mostly the public school education they received didn't prepare them to do college-level work.

I have this information directly from the lips of a college instructor and long-time resident and fellow graduate of the public school system.

When I was working in the middle school, I saw a few particularly alarming and perhaps relevant actions by parents.

Action 1: The kid gets in trouble in school, with behavior and academic issues. The parental reaction, which took a long time to build, was to pull the child out of public school, and enroll them in a mediocre-at-best private school. While there may have been some benefits, such as smaller class size, too often the school they picked was HEAVILY tuition-driven, and they would go to almost any length to keep the tuition payments coming in. That included not enforcing standards on the child.

Action 2: (This one is far worse) In some cases, the parent would withdraw the problem child from school, and 'home-school' them. Now, home-schooling is TOUGH if you do it right. But a certain percentage of parents weren't doing it right; they weren't doing it at all. We'd hear about the kid running around the neighborhood, getting into trouble, during hours they were supposed to be in school. All the parent had done was get the school off their back. This isn't a theory I read about in a magazine; this is something I saw with my own eyes. And it happened when there was NO financial incentive for the parents.

What is going to happen if a nationwide voucher system gets put into place? I don 't know. But I would bet (if I were a betting man) that you'd find a lot of crappy parents salivating at the idea of having more disposable income. They'll pull their kids out of school to 'home-school' them, and use the money to buy a freaken parrot. Yes, I have seen a REALLY expensive parrot squawking and crapping in a dirty trailer, disgusting details I choose not to share.

And that money is no longer available to the public school system, and that means that the water main break doesn't get repaired, the AC doesn't get fixed (Georgia in August is HOT and you HAVE to have AC unless you have lots of windows, and moderns schools don't), the para-pro for the kindergarten class doesn't get hired (hey, guess what? not all kindergarten students can tie their shoes or zip up after a bathroom trip), and forget about modern technology.

Oh, yeah: what about transportation? Most parents have to work, and so the kids ride the bus to public school. Mine do, at any rate. Private school? Nah, they don't have a bus that circulates the neighborhood, picking up the kiddies and dropping them off in the evening. I guess rich parents can afford a solution to that. Middle class & lower income? What do YOU think?

Regardless, of what happens, schools will make sure the kids that show up get fed. For too many kids, that's the only meal they get all day. If they have chicken for lunch, they eat the gristle off the end of the drumstick; it's nourishment. Teachers will take whatever cut in pay they need to to make sure the kids get fed; wanna hear stories about teachers (and counselors) paying for the kid's lunch out of their own pocket? I could...never mind.

Don't let it bring you down. Just don't pretend it can't happen.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Go home, NFL, and take your commercials with you.

In the late '1970's, early 1980's, I was a big Atlanta Falcons fan. Then, in the early 1990's, I was a big Atlanta Braves fan.
Note the use of the word 'big.' I had been a regular fan of the Atlanta Braves since they moved to Atlanta in 1966, and a regular fan of the Atlanta Falcons since the franchise started, also in 1966. But for years (and years and years and years) both teams didn't do well, as a rule. But I was still a fan.
The Falcons got quite a few lucky breaks (and had the talent to take advantage of them) in 1978 - 82, and made the playoffs a few times. The Braves collected some astounding pitchers and a few stellar hitters, and essentially owned the 1990s as a dominant franchise. And that was when I was a BIG fan.
I lived for the scores. I knew who played each position; I suffered when someone got injured, and when the ump / ref blew a call.

I had to give it up. It had actually gotten to the point that I felt as if  -I-  had lost something personally when the Braves dropped a game. Since they were always championship contenders, all of their games felt important to me. They won the World Series in 1995, and it looked like that wasn't going to change. And I had to hear the scores!

Sometime in 1996, I realized:  I had entirely too much of myself invested in the games. I found myself dragging at work, for no reason; at least, until I processed it, and realized that I was feeling that way because the Braves had dropped a game. That was it for me; I was allowing myself to be emotionally affected to a great degree by something I had absolutely no control over. No matter how much I tried, even if I went to the game and cheered like crazy (which I did, from time to time), I could not impact the outcome of the game one bit. So, I gave it up, cold turkey. I stopped buying the paper so I could read the sports section. I stopped listening to games on the radio, or watching them on TV.  A dear friend (who had GREAT seats!) took me to a couple of Braves games and a Falcons game, but I enjoyed the camaraderie, and didn't give a fig for the game outcome.

It's been a good decision.

A couple of  weeks ago, I found out the Atlanta Falcons were going to the Super Bowl for the second time. I didn't care. I didn't even know who they were playing until Saturday, because it was on the front page of the newspaper I looked at by accident (more or less). And when my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA asked me if I planned on watching the game yesterday, I told her I'd rather take a nap. And so that's what we did.

The cat woke us up at some point; she may have been watching the game, because it turned out to be half-time, and she wanted something to eat.

Half-time: I care nothing about the half-time show, but I have enjoyed the commercials. So, we found out how to stream the broadcast on the laptop (no TV in the bedroom), and discovered Lady Gaga singing. I am not familiar with this young person, or with her work, but she seemed energetic enough, and had a powerful voice. So, we watched a bit. Then I heard the words : "I was born this way," or words to that effect.

Umm, lost me right there. I reject all labeling based on birth, in favor of those attributes and character we acquire based on our choices and efforts. So, I endured her high - energy performance, because SURELY they were going to show me commercials, weren't they? Turns out they weren't,  at least on that particular internet stream. So, Vanessa surfs around, and finds a Youtube channel, that had, we believe, the Superbowl commercials.

And I was glad that I no longer drank beer, because the Budweiser commercial wasn't those wonderful frogs, it wasn't even the furry-footed horses. It was a politically charged commercial about how immigration is good, thereby implicitly criticizing the immigration ban imposed by Trump against selected Muslim countries. Hey, Anheiser-Busch: those guys aren't going to drink your beer. Their religion forbids it.

There were other commercials, and frankly, I don't remember any of them except for the young man throwing Skittles through a window. Some of the commercials were straight-up selling a product; others were thinly disguised political statements. So, I gave up on the stinking commercials, too.

Hey, decision makers at companies with the political slant: who are you trying to please? Isn't football a Joe Sixpack sport? What's with all this elitist crap? 

I haven't looked to see if there has been any reaction to either the half-time show, the commercials, or even the game (and I live in metro Atlanta, so I may be surrounded by hung-over depressed people). But personally, I think this is win for me, in that it severed the very last reason I had to watch ANY sports event.

Yeah. That's my answer to "who won the Super Bowl?"

I did.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

To the Bus with Alicia Ann, and my first SJW encounter (sort of)

This morning at 7:00 AM, I'm walking Alicia Ann to the bus stop on the corner. This is something I'm doing for me, not for her; I have a goal of taking 8,000 steps each day, and a bus stop visit is worth around 800 steps.

I will walk Kenneth to the bus stop at 8:30, which is about ten minutes from now. That's 1 1/2 hours between send-offs. Friend Cedar   has the same issue. Oh, for the bygone days of yore, when we tossed everybody out at the same time!
Alicia Ann is a speed walker. She has ALWAYS been a speed walker. And since she's gotten so tall, her speed walking moves her rapidly ahead of me, with my longer, but slower steps. Asking her to slow down? Nope. Doesn't work. She just...zooms. I DON'T think it's because she doesn't want to walk with me; it's just... her pace.

She has an uncle Michael, an aunt Elizabeth, and a first cousin Esan, who were all track stars in high school, to the point that college scholarships were a reality. And she has ALWAYS beaten Kenneth, who is 18 months her senior, since the first time they raced for me five 1/2 years ago.

So, I called out to her rapidly moving back, "you ought to go out for track! You could be a Speed Racer! Go, Speed Racer, Go! Do you want to be a Speed Racer?"

She slowed, briefly. "I guess."

That's a long conversation for her in the morning, when she is not in chatter-box mode.

But she DID slow down, for about a second, and then she saw the bus coming, and so I yelled out my final instructions:

"Don't fall down! Don't have any fun! Don't talk to your friends! Don't do what the teacher says! Don't steal anybody's watermelons!"

These instructions, except for the first and the last, were first formulated in 1986, when I was dropping my three-year old first-born son off at the daycare center. He could cop quite an attitude on some mornings (this was before I instituted the no-stress plan), and he was fond of grumping that he was NOT going to have any fun. So, instead of leaving him with "Have fun!", I gave him the unexpected "Don't have any fun," along with the no-talk-to-friends, don't do what the teacher says.

It worked: he smiled. And, every day after, when I picked him up at school, I would ask him"

"You didn't have fun, did you?"
"Yes, I did it anyway?"
"You didn't talk to your friends, did you?"
  "I did it anyway!"
"You didn't do what the teacher said, did you?"

And we had a great time. Smiled all the way home, riding on the motorcycle in the North Carolina sun.

And then I had the encounter with my first, sort of, SJW: the head of the daycare center.

When I picked him up one day, she asked me to step into her office. She then proceeded to give me a rambling, incoherent speech about men not taking instruction from women, and I had no frappen idea what she was talking about. First thought: the boy had been acting up. So I call him over, and ask him if he had disobeyed his teacher. He innocently reported his innocence; nobody does innocence better than an innocent three year old, except maybe a guilty three year old.

Then the light bulb went 'BOING!' and I understood. Someone had overheard my morning instructions, and reported them. And the director thought I was a male supremacist (well, I might be, but not in that case). Back then, we called them 'male chauvinist pigs,' and that's what the director believed.

I did, of course, explain the situation to her, and apologized for the confusion, but it just wasn't convincing her. It didn't really matter, in that case. My kid still was able to go to the school, and he still did what he was supposed to do, and he got along great with his teachers and his pals. And I never had to deal with the director again; I think we avoided each other.

So, that's why, 31 years later, I still send off Alicia and Kenneth with the middle three nonsense statements. The first and last instructions? They were added much later by my daughter. When she left for school, she had to give me instructions as well. So, she told me not to fall down, which is a meaningful instruction to a kindergarten student; she was just wanting Papa to be safe. I think I added the last instruction, about watermelons, with the Moose, my youngest bio child.

Everybody needs someone to look out for them in the morning.

Happy Groundhog Day, and remember tomorrow is RED Friday. Wear RED, Remember Everyone Deployed, until they all come home.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mad Mike's Birthday: A Time to Laugh, A Time to Cry

I was in the sandwich line in the grocery store. In front of me stood a frail older man, wearing an oxygen tube, and sporting a 'Viet Nam Veteran' ball cap. Next to him stood a white haired lady. Both were somewhat bent over by age, but the man's posture somehow still was straight and tall.
In my pony-tail, t-shirt and worn black sweatpants, I stepped up to him and patted him on the shoulder.
"Thank you for your service, sir."
He took another look at me, and smiled. "You're welcome! I was in Viet Nam!"
Another look.
"And you?"
I stood to attention. I didn't MEAN to, it was in no way deliberate, but I popped up like I was on a parade ground.
"Yes SIR!"
"Viet Nam?" he asked.
"No sir, Viet Nam era, but I was in Germany. It was my job to grease the Soviet tank treads when they rolled across the Fulda Gap."
He laughed.
"I was in Germany, too. I was at Bad Tolz, so they had to get through me before you could grease the treads."
Bad Tolz was where the 10th Special Forces Group was stationed. The codger was a snake eater. He blew stuff up and killed people, and now he was pushing a grocery cart around Publix, just another old man to the uninitiated.
 And I can't quite remember how the transition happened. I just found myself talking to this old veteran and his white-haired wife about my son.
Look, I'm not going to tell the whole story right here, right now, mostly because I don't want to cry again. If you want to know why I love Mad Mike, you can read about it here  as a blog post or here  as an Amazon book review. Quick version: Mad Mike wrote a short story that I sent to my first-born son when he was in Afghanistan, and that short story helped my son make it through ...,

...Well, you have to read one of the links. I simply can't cry again, I don't WANT to cry again. And if I wrote more details, I would.
Just like I cried talking to the old snake eater and his wife in Publix, and continued to weep on the way home.

But today, we laugh. It's Mad Mike's birthday. My first-born son is back at work as the Dean of Students, history prof, and track coach at King's Ridge Christian Academy. He and his beautiful wife have given me two fine and healthy grandsons.

And I thank God for another day.

Happy Birthday, Mike!