THE BABIES, THE BELIEVERS, AND THE BIRD FLU …

Oprah told us it was the most important story on the planet.

I distinctly remember that phrase because I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s a big statement. She’ll probably do a whole month of shows on this.” Nope. That was the only show on it. One of the shows that followed it was the interview with Tom Cruise where he jumped up on the couch, and professed his love for some woman …I can’t remember her name. No follow-up show was ever done …on the most important story on the planet.

My point? The Bird Flu story was, indeed, NOT the most important story on the planet. In fact, nobody even remembers it, now. But we got awfully emotional over it for a while. We hugged our kids tighter and worried for our collective futures. After all …the Bush administration wasn’t doing ANYTHING to stop the Bird Flu. And that was borderline criminally negligent, given the circumstances.

The outrage over the Bird Flu was a classic case of drumming up something over which people could get angry and mobilized. Nothing more. The truth is none of us really knew anything about the Bird Flu. OPRAH didn’t know anything about the Bird Flu. The Bird Flu wasn’t any more of a threat than any other flu. But it pitted the sides against each other perfectly …for a few minutes. And sometimes, a few minutes is all you need.

Right now, the current outrage is the children being ripped out of their parents’ arms, on the southern border. My God! I am heartbroken! Okay, maybe not dramatically heartbroken …But I’m interested …let’s put it that way. How can I be so cruel and unfeeling? Because truthfully, I don’t really know what’s going on down there. And truthfully …neither do you.

I’m not as interested in the laws or the Trump policy or, believe it or not, what’s actually happening on the southern border, as I am in the responses to it. As I understand this situation, illegal alien parents, and their innocent children, are being processed separately, when they attempt to come into the country without documentation or a Visa or a passport or a work permit. Is the United States handling this the best way it could be handling it? I have no idea. Maybe not. Or maybe it’s doing an incredible job, given the circumstances. I honestly don’t know. And again …neither do you.

But the hand wringing and cyber tears and cries from the souls of those who just know “this is not US!” is what I’m focussed on. See, if Americans were really incensed about children being torn away from their parents, they would be out in force at every custody hearing, in every courthouse in America. Children are systematically ripped away from dads in this country every second, of every minute of every hour of every day. We’re pretty okay with babies crying for daddy and being taken away from him. Hey, just because he’s out of work or an alcoholic or he cheated on mom or he occasionally loses his temper and hits mom …should those things make a difference? I mean we’re talking about taking kids away from a parent. Right?

What about when mom is on crack and a baby is taken away from her and put into the system? Shouldn’t we get nauseous over that? Okay …maybe that’s a bad example. How bout this? How about when a girl gives a baby up for adoption in …oh …I dunno …Florida, let’s say. In Florida, a birth mother has thirty days to change her mind about giving up her child. So, are there cameras there on day 28, when a baby is ripped from its adoptive mother’s arms and given back to birth mom, who now thinks she can kick heroin once and for all? Do these people nearly faint with indignation then?

The United States government takes children away from parents EVERY. SINGLE. DAY, for any number of reasons and any number of existing laws. Right now, one of those reasons happens to be trying to enter the country illegally. Would I do it that way? I don’t know. I’m not privy to all the facts. Maybe I would or maybe I wouldn’t. Again, that’s not really the point.

What I DO know is my fingerprints and personality profile are on file at the FBI. If I screw up a little too badly, the United States can walk into my house and remove my adopted children without so much as a “nice kitchen.” They told us as much back when we were being processed. I would only hope all the protesters would come to my defense and help me get my kids back. But if Trump was doing something else someone decided to hate, I doubt they would bother.

The problem with a situation like this is that it’s a flashpoint for everyone’s political ire. And that makes it all worse.

And it doesn’t help when our stupid attorney General (who should be fired for a myriad of reasons, by the way) starts quoting scripture in defense of the most damning photo campaign since Abu Ghraib. Stop using Jesus for either side of this. Jesus didn’t work for the government and he didn’t have to deal with eighty thousand illegal border crossings.

This is a processing issue. Period. It’s not a referendum on anyone’s faith or lack thereof. If I hear one more person tell me how a “real Christian” should feel or think about this, I’m going to surf internet porn and drink whiskey and play my rock and roll records backwards until the evil spirits overtake me. I don’t care about how you think I should feel. I don’t care what you think Jesus would do. I don’t care how horrible you think Donald Trump is. The bottom line is YOU don’t really care about families getting torn apart anymore than Republicans care about terminally ill people being forced off of life support. You just need to feel like you’re on the side of the angels. You just need to feel like you’re outraged by the right thing.

If you are seriously crying and having a hard time eating, go to the border and offer to take in a child. Sponsor a family to come here legally. Lobby for laws in your state that shrink grace periods for birth mothers. That’s what I do. See, I actually know kids who were ripped out of homes. I know adoptive parents who’s babies were born and then the birth mothers skipped town the day after they held their children for the first time. Those aren’t just pictures to me. I know what it means. The difference is, those children on the border will most likely be reunited with their parents once the processing is over. It’s temporary. The stories I’m talking about are permanent. And no protestors marched for those families. because they weren’t a cause de jour, and they weren’t simple scenarios to direct outrage toward. They were complicated matters, just like I’m sure a lot of these cases on the border are.

If children remaining with families is your real passion, get involved right in your city …right now. Otherwise, this is just another reason for you to either defend Trump or hate Trump and these kids are nothing more than your own personal soap box to stand on. And next week, they will be discarded, because there will be a different outrage. And we will have all moved on.

And all of this urgency will vanish into the same place every other news story vanishes into …the hole where the Bird Flu lives.

R

 

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WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES …

“That should’ve been me walking down that aisle,” is a phrase I have a hunch is sometimes thought, when women are watching other women get married.

How many detoured dreams “should’ve” happened? How many perfectly constructed moments are wrecked by the “wrong person?”

I’ve had those thoughts about things in my own life. “If only” and “I should’ve” and “if I could do that again” are phrases I have uttered on more than a few occasions. And it’s difficult to reconcile what “should’ve been” with what actually is. One of the hardest things to do in life, is to grit your teeth and say, “this is the way it is supposed to be.”

Americans are oriented toward changing their station and righting wrongs and not accepting the status quo. I’m right there with ya, brothers and sisters. And yet, sometimes, the story being told is bigger and more complex than we can imagine. Sometimes it really isn’t about us. Sometimes, there are forces at work that are deeper and wider than we can see. In the midst of tragedies, this is the hardest of all times to get a thirty-thousand-foot view and see the ultimate good that might be coming of it. We don’t like pain and we avoid it. But sometimes pain is the corridor we must go through to meet our true destiny. And many times, we can’t take the people with us we thought would be there at the end.

And when it’s all said and done, the finished novel often reads nothing like you thought it would. The character have changed and the wrong circumstances happened to the wrong people. It just wasn’t written the way you wrote it in your head.

The healthy person accepts it, adjusts to it, learns from it and builds on the lessons learned. The unhealthy person keeps trying to re-write it over and over and over again, and make the outcome turn out the way they KNOW it should’ve turned out.

We’re watching this play out in politics, right before our very eyes. Donald Trump was not supposed to ever become president …and yet he did. He wasn’t supposed to survive his first year in office …and yet he did. He was supposed to start WWIII …and yet he hasn’t.

Of course we are all watching, with great interest, what is happening on the Korean Peninsula. It is truly unprecedented. I don’t like a ruthless dictator’s flag waving next to my beloved banner of freedom. I can’t stand the idea of an American president glad-handing a man with gallons of blood on his. But I’m watching and I’m listening and I’m reading. I did all those things with the last president …and the one before him …and the one before him …and the one before him. I trust that either the fate of this nation is in the hands it’s supposed to be in …or it was doomed from the start, anyway. We’re either a special moment in history …or we’re just another empire, destined to crumble and fall. So I watch.

But some people cannot move into this place. Some of my own friends are still clinging to the idea that Robert Mueller is going to show up at the White House with arresting officers and carry Mr Trump away in handcuffs. I’m not making any of that up. I have literally read these very words. And it reminds me of that guy in the song What A Fool Believes. He conjured up a relationship that never was a relationship. He was there, sure. She was there, sure. But her smiles at him didn’t mean what he thought they meant. When she touched him on the arm, that one time, it wasn’t flirting …she was just trying to move him out of her way.

And so it is with those who still cannot and will not accept the election of Donald Trump. It isn’t that they just disagree with him …which is fine and necessary for a robust republic. They literally believe he will be removed from office forcibly, and somehow the person who was “supposed” to be president will finally be sworn in, in his place. And I just want to put my arm around them and have a real talk. None of that is going to happen. It isn’t what you wanted it to be. And it isn’t going to be what you want it to be. It is what it is. And if you can settle a bit, you might notice that a lot of it is actually okay.

Bill Maher rooting for a bad economy to emerge, overlooks the most important thing of all …it would have to overtake a good one. And isn’t THAT the goal? A good economy? While Robert DeNiro was embarrassing himself and unravelling part of his “national treasure” status on national television, the object of his ire was making world history and maybe …MAYBE …saving western civilization in the process. I wouldn’t have written him into that role. But there he is. And it’s not what I imagined.

I don’t know how the Trump presidency will ultimately play out. I have often said, I’m agnostic when it comes to Trump. I may be the only one in America who can say that. But I do know that it is very hard to unseat a sitting president. People think Nixon was forced out of office because of impeachment. The truth is he was never impeached and he resigned voluntarily. He might’ve been able to fight it out till the end of his term …who knows. The point is, I’m living in 2018 …not 2016. The wedding is over and the two people who showed up at the alter got married …not the one sitting in the pews, who SHOULD’VE been up there.

If you constantly live in a world of your own making, refusing to accept the situation as it is, you will go insane. Does that mean you stop voting and stop speaking out? No. Does it mean you accept things you consider to be wrong? Of course not.

But sometimes, the way we thought it was supposed to turn out, isn’t what was supposed to happen at all. Sometimes, we’re wrong about it. Maybe Trump was the one guy who could talk Kim Jong Un off the ledge. Maybe a brash, foul-mouthed real estate developer from Queens was just the thing we needed for a certain time.

As someone who’s been wrong about how things should’ve played out, on several occasions …I’m willing to accept what is and watch what happens.

R

ABOVE REPROACH …

I promise you I will never stare at your breasts.

In fact, I don’t call them anything other than the scientific term (breasts), anymore. And I definitely won’t look at them. When women wear provocative and revealing clothing, I laugh and enjoy the game all the more. NO. I refuse to look at you. You can’t break me. It is an impossibility.

Why?

Well, for one, I’m a married man. Two: I’m at an age when it’s kinda creepy for me to be eyeing women in public. But three: I’m so paranoid about making a woman feel uncomfortable, that I refuse to acknowledge anything about her from the neck down. I will not be that guy. Men have gotten themselves in enough trouble as it is. If a woman and I are ever in a courtroom over harassment, it’s going to be about HER harassing ME.

For those of you cheering me on right now and saying “amen” and all of that, relax. This isn’t even really about my relationship with God or my wife or my “walk with Christ” or any of that stuff people like to say to make themselves look really holy and cool. In my case, it’s about none of that. I’m as much of a red-blooded man as the next red-blooded man.

See, I’m a social commentator. I’m a writer. I’m a student of the human condition. And I’m a champion of individuality and equal treatment for everyone. I also happen to be a conservative Libertarian. And if you are someone who sides with conservatives, you have zero room for error. ZERO. Anyone who calls themselves a conservative should know this and act accordingly. So, I don’t look at breasts. It’s one of the hazards of having certain political beliefs.

When Martin Luther King Jr was leading the civil rights movement, he would often tell his followers that they had to be better, kinder, less aggressive, more knowledgeable, better read, better spoken and even better dressed than their oppressors. And then, they simply had to show up and allow the cameras to show the world who was doing what to whom and who the better people were. The pictures of people in the way of the dogs and hoses, not returning evil with evil, was one of the most effective strategies in American history.

I am often asked how to win an argument. Well, first, don’t get in one. But the best way to win an argument is simply this: Be right. Be kind. Be quiet.

If you’re right, that includes not trafficking in hatred. Eventually, the other side will show their bias, and many times their own hatred and prejudice. Once that happens, no one has to ask who won the argument.

I always call on my fellow conservatives to be better and hold the high ground. Obviously, this rule has been thrown to the wolves with our current president. He likes the fight and he’s not afraid of the bottom land. That’s fine. He can do as he pleases. But I do wish conservatives would remember that when you’re trying to convince someone of color that you actually don’t hate them, they sometimes have a hard time reconciling that with things they hear or read. And all it takes is one out-of-context comment or one truly asinine statement to allow the powers on the other side to use it as verbal ammunition for years and years to come.

One of those statements in question is the latest tweet by Rosanne. I was never a huge Rossane fan to begin with. I didn’t watch her show when it was on the first time. But this time around, my daughter laughed at it and so we found ourselves viewing it on Wednesday nights. And to my surprise, I kinda liked it. I thought they were dealing with the struggles of the modern American middle class very unflinchingly. But it also made me laugh from time to time. Overall, I thought the show could’ve been good for the country.

But with one (probably drunken) tweet, all of its potential was swept away. Because Rosanne obviously allowed something sinister inside her to bubble up. And it has reinforced what every person of color thinks white people (of a certain ilk) has always thought about them. It takes the conversation of race 50 years backwards. So, instead of talking about policies and ideas and common goals, we’re back to talking about racism 101 again. And for me, it’s maddening.

Metaphorically, Rosanne stared at somebody’s breasts …in front of everyone …at church …for a long time …then grinned …then tried to touch them. It was stupid, unnecessary and it casts a shadow on those of us who just believe in low taxes and the fact that government might not be the best way to solve everyone’s problems. No, we can’t just believe that. Because of how politically charged the world is and because Rosanne publicly spoke out in favor of the president, we have to start defending our racial inclusion quotient all over again.

A lot of people are defending Rosanne and bringing up instances of hypocrisy from other TV personalities. That’s kind of like saying, “you looked at a woman’s breasts too!” Stop it.

The truth is if you are for smaller government, lower taxes, lower regulation, etc, etc, you should know that you have a target on your back …all the time. If you don’t know that, learn it. And if you ever want to be effective in the public arena of ideas, you will never get out of the starting gate if there is real evidence that you are a racist, sexist, homophobe, mysoginist, etc. Because that is already assumed, anyway. You’re already behind the 8-ball. So your behavior has to be so far above those things that your opposition will literally have to make themselves look completely deranged to make that case.

My personal code is that I don’t need or want the distraction of having to defend my love for all people. I want you to know that I start with the acceptance of you and your worth as a human being. Then, we can get to the disagreement without you thinking I just don’t like you because of something as silly as skin or plumbing or who you love or whatever.

And if we’re disagreeing, and you’re a woman …I will not look at your breasts. Ever.

R

EVERYBODY’S FAMOUS …

“I was born to do this,” is the most familiar phrase uttered.

If you spend any amount of time watching The Voice or American Idol, that’s the phrase you’ll hear over and over again. Coming in a close second is, “this could change my life.” Given these two phrases in such close proximity, we apparently live in a culture where nobody is born anywhere near what they were actually born to do. Fascinating.

Chasing dreams is a great thing. Everybody should spend some time in their lives doing just that. But sheer math dictates that everyone wasn’t born to be on stage and perform. We need a lot more people in the audience for the whole thing to work properly. Our current culture, however, tells everyone, everywhere that they are born to shine and succeed and stand out and be fierce and break ground and be heard. Nobody ever seems to be born to work in silence or anonymity. Those are the conditions from which we are to rise. That’s the life to get out of. Those are the bonds you have to break to get to the spectacular life you were intended to live.

In short, we’ve raised an entire generation of people who think they are supposed to be famous. But being famous isn’t what people think it is. And the desire for fame, without the desire to actually accomplish something, is rotting our cultural motivation.

The truth is there is a lot of really good talent out there in the world. My wife watches those vocal performance shows and it’s the reason I wrote a song for American Idol a decade ago (she asked me to do it). But in the sea of fully realized talent, there is precious little that is truly “special.” And what is special? Special is the thing you don’t see coming. It’s the thing that makes you stop and think …then, re-think. Special doesn’t necessarily make you say “WOW!” Special makes you say “oh …that’s what I’ve been missing.”

Was Tom Petty a good enough vocalist to win American Idol? Not even close. He would’ve never gotten a golden ticket to Hollywood. But I’d rather hear him sing Free Falling than the best vocal technician in the world. Tom Petty was born to do that. And he didn’t need a contest to tell him he was. He proved what he was born to do (and be) year after year, song after song, club after club, hook after hook, stage after stage. And what made him worth listening to is that he would’ve never allowed a TV show to tell him if he was good enough or not.

Being born to do something means having a love/hate (or, dare I say, real) relationship with it. It means having an intimate understanding of its dark side. And even after you know about the dark side …you saddle up and do it again. Because that’s what you do …for better or worse.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately. There’s one about Jerry Seinfeld that was shot in the early 2000s, right after his sit com went off the air. It follows him on his quest for new material and a return to standup comedy. We watch the iconic funny man forget his place in the new set and fumble punch lines and try wording the same joke several different ways. We also follow a young Orny Adams in his quest to become famous; to essentially replace Seinfeld in the rarified air of superstardom. While Seinfeld works methodically and meticulously in dingy club after club, Orny is glad-handing managers who can help him go places. He’s working on his “Letterman set” and climbing the ladder as hard and fast as he can.

Ultimately, Seinfeld polishes a solid hour and half into comic gold, while young Adams – clearly driven, clearly talented, clearly a workaholic – crashes and burns. The reason for the two disparate endings: Adams was trying to be famous …Seinfeld was trying to be funny. And THAT’S how you know if you were truly born to do or be something. You just be it. It’s just you. You cannot fake it.

I think a lot of us might actually be incredible salespeople, real estate agents, therapists, counselors, teachers, builders, managers, waiters, event planners, journalists or florists …trapped in the bodies of people trying to be famous for something else. But when you are truly born to do something, it will resonate with you and everyone around you. You won’t need validation. You will feel a vibration of truth in it you can’t simply get on a stage, drinking in applause. You feel it in a deeper place, somewhere beyond the noise of the moment. You’re not nervous anymore, because you know you’re in the right place. And when you’re in the right place …you can do no wrong.

We’re not all supposed to be famous. What if you become famous but you were supposed to change the world with a new teaching curriculum? What if while you were chasing a dream, you missed opening that day program for people with special needs (that was your secret desire) and all the people who were going to be changed by it forever …never were? What if while you were practicing for your American Idol audition you forgot to run for city council and fundamentally transform your home town? I wonder.

As a postscript, I watched an Orny Adams special a few weeks ago. He’s older and heavier and his hair isn’t as cool as it was 15 years ago (I feel him on all counts). He missed his “young-hot-comedian-with-his-own-show” shot. But in this special, he was more hilarious than he was as a youngster. And his act was as natural as breathing. Clearly, he dropped the facade and the pretense and took his life-beating like a man.

Only THEN …was he finally ready. And only by failing spectacularly …then turing it into something funny …did he prove what he was actually born to do.

 

R

HOAXES AND SPARTACUS …

Listening to Adam Schiff was actually a bit chilling.

I interviewed congressman Schiff this past summer, along with my Ghost Town Troubadour buds. We found him to be engaging and candid and an all-around nice guy. I probably don’t agree with him on everything (or maybe anything) but we did agree on some basic intellectual property rights issues. And we all shared a love for the American idea and American ideals.

And so it has been hard to watch him wade into the fray of all this Russian collusion/FISA warrant memo/congressional intelligence back and forth. Mainly because I can see the man I saw as calm, collected and rational donning his political-team-sport uniform and jumping into the game. And in the heated political back-and-forth of “oh yeah …well look at what YOU did,” Mr Schiff got punked.

If you haven’t heard the recording of the two Russian comedians who gained audience with Mr Schiff and then fed him a morning zoo routine about possessing nude pictures of President Trump and Vladimir Putin’s God daughter, well …let’s just say they got him pretty good. Part of me thought it was funny. The other part didn’t like this happening to a US representative.

He asserts that he knew it was a joke the whole time. And as someone who genuinely liked Mr Schiff in the short time I was around him, I hope that’s true. He seemed like a guy who would get the joke. But these days it’s getting harder and harder to tell where the lines of satire and real life intersect. So, I have a strong suspicion he thought, even for the briefest of moments, the phone call was real. It sure sounded like he thought that. And I would venture to say that some of that was based in a desire to believe what he was hearing. In some ways, we are all victims of that at one point or another.

It made me think back to the great American Idol songwriting contest conspiracy, of which I was a part a decade ago. I read things online about myself that I never knew. I learned information about my career and connections that was made up out of whole cloth, but based on half truths and almost truths. And I learned, through that experience, that we can see whatever we want to see or need to see, if we’re willing to spend enough time remaking it in the image we need it to be.

I was probably the victim of a Face Book hoax just today. When you see trusted friends, who are full grown, intelligent adults, doing something, you assume it’s true. The messengers matter. And the world we’re all living in is so brand new to all of us that you just never know when something is real or not.

All the “smart people” always go to Snopes to get to the truth. But I’ve always wondered why we all trust Snopes in the first place? If I wanted to manipulate information I would posture myself as the most solid source for objectivity on planet earth. We all know how that worked out with Wikipedia. Or do we?

In some ways, we’re all playing a big game of telephone. And I personally believe the grand joke on humanity is our inability to communicate truth and fact to each other. Or maybe it’s our inability to receive it.

Just as all this was happening, I was reading a rant asking how so many people on earth could put their faith in two-thousand-year-old documents that were written during some of the most violent times in history. Even as a believer, I occasionally ask those same questions. The process in which we’ve received and refined and translated and curated and proliferated the Bible has been long and winding to say the least. And no matter how much “evidence” you claim to have, eventually it all comes down to faith. There’s simply no way around it.

I’m fascinated with ancient Rome. And lately I’ve been particularly fascinated with the servile wars. These were uprisings among the Roman slaves. If I had been a Roman slave, I would’ve probably joined them. Or maybe not. Obviously, the most famous name among those uprisings is that of the Gladiator-turned-rebel-king, Spartacus. He freed people from bondage and led them on a blood-soaked rampage throughout Italy. He bled for his people, spoke of justice and freedom and ended up being crucified because of it. Sound like anyone you know?

Seventy years later another young man did the same thing. Only he didn’t bring the sword, he brought ideas and hope and something pretty revolutionary …love. While Spartacus brought the hope of vengeance to the downtrodden, Jesus brought the hope of redemption to everyone …even those in power. Spartacus came to free the slave. Jesus came to free the slave master. Spartacus came to even the score. Jesus came to end the score keeping.

In the world of Spartacus, all Romans were worth killing. In Jesus’ world all humanity was worth saving. Spartacus died for his followers. Jesus died for his murderers. It is a story like no other. And it transcends translation.

I’ve often said the main (and maybe only) reason I still follow Jesus is because of love. Love makes the chaos make sense. It helps me find equilibrium in an unbalanced world. It welcomes all …especially the unwelcome. And as one who feels unwelcome a lot, that resonates with me. That cuts through the years and misinterpretations and misrepresentations and false witnesses and yes …even the fake memes on Face Book.

When it comes to matters of faith, the facts and figures and details will be argued about until the end of time. As I get older I am more fascinated yet less moved by them. I’m more interested in spirit they convey.

My son asked me what God was when he was small. I told him that the bible said God is a spirit. It also said that God is love. So whenever you are around the spirit of love, you’re close to God. He seemed to understand that. I do too.

The face book hoax I fell for asked me to have my friends comment so I wouldn’t lose touch with them. As it turns out, that was unnecessary. But I sure did like hearing from them. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that makes the hoax a good one.

Maybe we don’t know all the details of Jesus. And maybe we don’t need to know.

Maybe the love part is makes the whole story worth while.

 

R

THIS IS ACTUALLY US …

I’m a left-leaning centrist …according to that online test I took. I’ll bet the guy who once called me a “right-wing nut job” would disagree.

We’re all more complicated than voting blocks, races and demographics. And we are definitely more complicated than our stereotypes suggest.

Some people tell me I live in the “whitest” county in Tennessee. Maybe that’s true on the surface. But my next door neighbor is Iranian. Two houses over the people are Iraqi. Across the street from them are African Americans (black people …shhhh) and just down the street from them is my son’s best friend, who is half black, adopted by a white, single mother, who is now dating a black man.

In my own house, there are three different races represented, as well as a rare disability. My point is …nothing is really one color anymore.

When I first heard of the ABC show “Black …ish” I thought to myself, “wow …are we still doing this? We’re still categorizing ourselves into these little groups, on national TV?” Then I saw an ad for something called “Fresh Off The Boat.” And it was about …wait for it …Asians. Then there was show about Jews (The Goldbergs). Then one about Irish people (The O’Neills …really? It couldn’t be the O’Flanterty’s?).

The only thing ABC is missing is an upbeat sit com about a family of Mexican people trying to assimilate in an ultra white city like …I don’t know …somewhere cold. Maybe Minneapolis or Billings, Montana. There has to be a hard working father (doing landscaping, of course) and a mom working down at the nail salon. You gotta have the disinterested teenage girl always on her smart phone, the confused, pubescent boy (doing the voice over from his now adult years) and a precocious youngest daughter who is miraculously wiser than anyone else in the family. Throw in a feisty grandma who sips tequila in the afternoon while watching her novellas, and you’ve got yourself a stereotype-laden winner …The Garcias! I smell Emmys …and burritos! Because, you know …Mexicans eat burritos. Get it?

Some of these shows may be really funny. And I’m not trying to disparage your show if you love it. We love the one with the kid who has CP in it. But taken altogether, these racial compartmentalizations sometimes seem stale and actually kind of insulting. We’re adults in 2018 …not children in 1955.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what exactly the secret sauce is in the show This Is Us. And I believe its amazing success lies somewhere in the fact that it treats modern Americans with some respect. It treats our racial and familial rifts as they actually are instead of as they are perceived to be, from a politically charged perch.

American life is complex and multi-dimensional. I know so many people who have adopted children of so many different races and backgrounds. So many Americans share last names with people who look nothing like them. We all have friends of different nationalities. We work with people not like us. It’s harder than it has ever been to cloister yourself with only people who look and think like you. And that’s a good thing.

But there still seems to be a vested interest by some, in some quarters, in people being ardent racists. A blatantly racist world is more comfortable in some ways. It offers more simplicity and less complication. It paints big signs everywhere. It allows you to never have to ask difficult or nuanced questions. And that can keep you in a safe, segregated place. The trouble is …the world is not as simple as we want it to be.

And once we travel outside the comfort zone, we learn that not all Jews are like this or that. We learn that not all Italians do this or that. All black people, all white people, all Asian people, all Mexican people …in the end …just wind up being people. And the real, human drama takes place far beneath the skin …no matter what shade it is.

Personally, I thought that by 2018 we’d be beyond all this surface stuff like skin color. It’s maddening. Like people arguing over eye color. It just makes no sense. And yet it gets infused into everything. If you believe the southern border should be secure and immigration to this country should be some sort of uniform system, you’re somehow a racist. I’ve never understood that.

Trust me, if millions of Canadians were pouring down from the north, completely unchecked, someone would declare a state of emergency until we could figure out what on earth was happening in Canada and why it was on fire. I wouldn’t find that racist …just good common sense.

I literally, LAST week read a quote from a clergyman who asserted that people who had disagreed with President Obama clearly could just never get over the fact that he was a black man. How insulting to them AND him. I’ve even heard that some people in congress want to stop using the phrase “chain migration” because it evokes images of slaves in chains. Really? Seriously? When did we all wake up in the third grade?

Most of us are past this. I’m 50 years old, from the south, and I have no idea what legal segregation looks like. I’ve never seen it. I had white friends and black friends in school. And we all drank from the same water fountain …in the south.

Does that mean there isn’t still racism in our country? Of course not. Just like there’s still rape and murder and theft, there are still terrible examples of evil in the world. There are still stereotypes. No one denies that.

But our national identity and the way most of us actually interact with each other …like, really interact …is so much more multi-layered and complicated. And This Is Us captures that in its story lines and in its characters. It recognizes that we all deal with each other one on one …not in groups or in protest rallies or on culturally appropriated sit coms.

We all find ourselves as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and aunts and church members and class-mates co-workers. And in those settings, we can often move forward faster than we ever can in mass marches or in public displays.

And maybe laughing together and crying together is better for us and more healing for our scars than just about anything else.

 

R

UNDER MY SKIN …

Doctors tell me it was probably the Mumps or possibly all the bouts of Rheumatic Fever.

Either way, I learned in my late 20s that I could not produce children. It’s probably a good thing I learned later. Just sayin …

There’s some psychological grief that comes with knowing you’re the last of you. You have to make peace with never having anyone say, “Oh my! He looks JUST like you!” You’ll never look into eyes that favor yours. You’ll never see your own personal traits emulated in another person. Even though you may have siblings, you realize that you (specifically) are now finite. Your bloodline is ending. There will be no genetic legacy of your time on earth. If you dwell on it too much it can be a heavy thing to consider.

Still, I always wanted to adopt children. I wanted to adopt long before I knew I couldn’t produce any. When I was a child, my family was invited to breakfast at a certain house. The family that lived in that house was filled with children …adopted children. They were all different ages and races and genders. I was wide-eyed with wonder at the collection of different people and personalities. I recall the breakfast being delicious and the kids all being engaging and warm. I remember my mother explaining (as best she could to a small child) why all the kids looked different and how they were all from various places but how they came together to form one family. I loved that day and that revelation.

After all these years, I couldn’t tell you where we were in the country or who the family was, but that experience stayed with me for the rest of my life. And I determined, that very day, that when it was my time to become a dad I was going to adopt some kids. And after a book’s worth of drama …I did just that.

My children were both adopted as babies. My son was two hours old when we first held him. So, I suppose they feel as much like biological children to us as is possible. AlI know is I love them both so much it makes my teeth hurt. And I cannot imagine my life without them.

I hug and kiss on them all the time. Just as they are pushing me away and acting smothered …I kiss them one more time. I want them to feel wanted …because they are. I’m always trying to overcompensate for a lack of shared biology. I know that none of my blood runs through their veins. So I try to make up for it with having extra affection run through their mind. I might be spoiling them. But I don’t really care. I know how they both entered the world and how easily both of their journeys could’ve ended in disaster. I try to constantly hug and kiss those thoughts away.

My daughter has a rare genetic disorder that keeps her in some (some might say) merciful ignorance about her past and where she came from. But my son knows he’s adopted and he sort of knows how it all came to be. My wife and I both know that he thinks about his biological parents from time to time. Sometimes he needs to talk about it. And it always breaks our hearts to some degree. Because we know that no amount of love and affection can change the fact that he will always wonder why he was ever given away. One day he’ll understand how brave, selfless and absolutely gut-wrenching his birth mother’s decision was. But right now, he’s just a little boy who wonders things. And we just hope he appreciates where he landed.

When I hug my children, I wish that I could hug away their attachment issues (every adopted child has them). I wish I could hug away their unanswerable questions. But I can’t. I can only tell them I love them so many times. I can only support them so much. I can only get so close. There are those who say blood bonds are stronger than adopted ones. And I try, with everything inside me, to prove that notion wrong. But I know that eventually, my son will have to make sense of his life and reconcile his DNA. And it breaks my heart that he has that journey ahead of him.

He wants to be like me in certain ways. But he’s not. And I often wonder if it is all just a matter of genetics. He doesn’t have the same musical ability I had at his age. And if I could give it to him I would gladly drain any talent that resides in my marrow and let him have it all, without question. But I can’t. All I can do is watch and cheer and hope he makes peace with himself one day.

These are all things every adoptive parent thinks about …all the time. Society is still one of bloodlines and birthrights. We always cheer on the kid looking for their biological family. The courts bend over backwards to make sure kids stay with their bio moms and dads …no matter how many times they get sent to rehab.

But behind all those feel-good news stories about the teenage girl who found her “real” mom in Idaho, there’s a tired, beleaguered real mom standing in the shadows, sobbing with mixed emotions; glad her child is finally getting closure, but heart-broken that her child never felt fully complete in her home. In our house, we’re always rooting for the parents who did the paper work and kissed the boo boos and fought the fight. Because we know their journey and how much love it takes.

I have a friend who heads a foundation called Music for The Soul. Music For The Soul creates projects that address specific topics like cancer or grief or even pornography, through song. I approached him a few years ago about doing a piece on adoption. The idea started with one song, but has turned into an entire documentary on the subject.

He was kind enough to allow me to co-write and perform the song “Under My Skin” that is the title of the project. All the people who worked on the song, Tony Morra, David Cleveland, Mark and Wanda Burchfield, all have adopted children. My brother shot the footage. He too has an adopted son.

I am a huge advocate for adoption. There are around forty-seven million orphans in the world. If you’re considering having children, maybe consider saving one already here as well. Trust me …they need you. And you might just need them. I desperately needed both of my children. And I’m so glad I found them when and where I did.

I can’t wait to see this documentary about adoption. I believe adoption is the answer and the key to the always rancorous abortion question. If you want to see abortions dwindle, offer pregnant women a great and loving alternative. It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that.

I’m including the video of the song, Under My Skin, co-written with Music For The Soul founder, Steve Siler. There are still some funds to be collected to finish the doc. If you feel led to contribute, I’m sure they would appreciate it.

In the meantime, I believe we should celebrate adoption every chance we get. And for those who are considering adoption but are on the fence, I say jump. The children won’t be from your blood …but they sure will get under your skin.

http:///www.gofundme.com/undermyskin

R

WHY I CAN’T TAKE YOUR CALL …

There was no clear way to diagnose it and we had no idea it was even a consideration. But, as is often the case, it was discovered through a routine process of elimination and had nothing to do with the original symptoms.

See, it was the third ear infection in a row for my daughter. And even as I’m typing this, I’m exhausted by thinking about simply recounting the whole, three-month process that led to her diagnosis of Strep. The trips to the doctor; the first medication that didn’t work and having to go back to the doctor to get a different one; the one medication that required her not eating dairy (when putting medication in her cheese is one of the main ways we get it down her – yeah …that was interesting) …all of it …is just stuff we don’t talk about most of the time.

The truth is we don’t talk about a lot of stuff that has to do with our daughter, most of the time. Honestly, we’re just too tired to re-live it to anyone. It’s over. She’s well. We’re fine. Let’s have a glass of wine and talk about YOU. You don’t want to know the actual details of our day. Trust me …you don’t.

Anyone who has children knows how much time they consume, especially when they’re small. All parents understand the struggle of raising kids. But what if your two-year-old never turned three? What if they kept growing physically …but not mentally? How would that look when they turned twelve? Or nineteen? Or thirty?

At the moment mine is fifteen, and I can tell you exactly how it looks and exactly how it feels.

My daughter is as intelligent as anyone her age. But she can only express and react at about a two-year-old level.

See, even though going to the doctor is a drag for anyone, it’s still a routine thing for most kids. For my kid, it requires two people (who are on their game), a de-activated iPhone, hair that is easily managed, clothes that aren’t too fussy, no jewelry, no hats, a waiting room that isn’t too crowded, without too many distractions in it, and a wait time that is under 10 minutes and a doctor that is cool with getting slapped at and having his or her hair grabbed. It also helps if the nurse is nimble enough to get vitals while someone is biting at the instruments and trying to kick him or her. When it comes to doctor visits, my wife manages the “doctor stuff” and I manage my daughter.

Without both of us, a simple doctor visit is almost impossible. We cannot get up and leave our daughter unattended. We can’t fill out paper work without her grabbing for the pen and paper and trying to throw them. We can’t let her sit next to anyone because she will (not might …WILL) pull their hair or grab their clothes or yank their glasses off or throw their purse. We are constantly on guard to make sure our 5’4’’, 135 lb. daughter doesn’t find a baby she wants to play with. At her size now, she could literally kill the child by just trying to be nice to it.

On “normal” days, my wife and I start our day at 5:45 am. One of us gets our daughter up and changes her diaper (we alternate days). Then, we clean her and take her to the bathroom (this is not always as easy as it sounds). We get her on the couch and make breakfast. Then we feed it to her, with all the proper medications going in at just the right times. Then we brush her teeth and brush her hair for her, take her to the bathroom again and put all of her school clothes on her …for her …while she’s flailing her arms and grabbing our hair and beating our backs and sometimes trying to run away. Usually, by the time she’s dressed, we’re in a full sweat.

We walk her onto the special needs bus at 7 am, and hold her arms from hitting other kids and aids until she’s strapped in and settles down. Then, we send her off to school and pray that she learns to move one inch further ahead today than she did yesterday. And we hope she doesn’t hurt someone. And we are terrified that she will be hurt. There is no time during our day that we aren’t concerned for her safety and the safety of those around her.

The bus returns at 3 pm, where one of us gets her off the bus and walks her in the house for a bath and some down time before dinner (IF she’ll settle down). If one of us isn’t there to get her off the bus, they will take her back to the school and notify the authorities. She cannot survive alone.

Once off the bus, we will check her notes from school then check her body for any bruises, bumps or cuts (as she cannot tell us about such things). Then we take her back to the bathroom (again) and help her relieve herself (this can take a long time) then we put her into the tub. After her bath (which is a physical work out and can be very hazardous), she will quietly (and mercifully) play on her iPad for a while until dinner.

Her meals have to be given at the same time every day. And we feed her similar calorie counts. Since she cannot tell us if she’s hungry or not, we have to guess. And since a bout of any stomach issue could result in a week’s worth of drama, we make sure her diet is fairly bland and predictable.

While eating we always encourage her to use the fork or spoon. She can do it, unless she decides it would be funny to sling the food onto the floor. And according to her …that is always funny.

Once dinner (and cleanup) is over, she can watch TV or play on her iPad a little more before bed. That’s if she doesn’t decide to take off through the house opening drawers and throwing all the clothes out or yanking the sheets off of beds or ripping phone chargers out of our phones. Some nights I take her to the mall to walk for exercise. The terrain is even and it is well lit. These are all serious considerations when walking with my daughter. A pothole could break her leg because she can’t adjust to such things the way everyone else can. She doesn’t have the natural impulse to break her own fall. Watching her navigate stairs is terrifying. And her brother is still traumatized by seeing her fall down them, that one day.

30 minutes before bed, she gets another snack to make sure her blood sugar is balanced for the night. Medications are given, her teeth are brushed and I change her into an overnight diaper (I usually do it now, because she’s too heavy for my wife to manage this part of the routine). Then her special-made sleep onesie is put on. She’s placed in her custom built bed and given melatonin to help her get to sleep. If nothing out-of-the-ordinary happens (and that’s a BIG “if”), she will sleep until 5:45  the next morning. And we start the whole process over again. Anything that my wife and I are going to do; any work that needs to get done; any projects that are unfinished; any money that is going to be made; any connections with friends that are going to happen; any time spent with our son, will have to be done in the hours in between my daughter waking, getting home from school and going to bed.

If ONE step in this routine is off by an inch, an entire day could go up in smoke. Once, my wife and I tried to go out on a date. A care giver put the night diaper on just slightly wrong enough that when we came home, we spent the next three hours washing sheets and settling my daughter down enough to get her back to sleep, at 1 in the morning. We both agreed …the date wasn’t worth it. We haven’t been out together since. That was two years ago.

My routine and life isn’t bad. It’s not as difficult as some people’s …not by a long shot. But it is ABSOLUTELY mandatory. Either me or my wife MUST be there …every second …of every minute …of every day. Because we basically live a young woman’s life for her.

My daughter can go anywhere we want to go. But when we get there, one of us will be “on duty” for the entire duration of the visit. That means we will be right on her, watching and attending her every move. We will be restraining her arms from hitting and grabbing and pulling. We will be blocking things she wants to put in her mouth. We will be guarding fragile items, such as anything glass. My daughter’s greatest joy in life is to watch things break. It makes her laugh uncontrollably. So she’s always in the mood to break something. People don’t like their things being broken. So, honestly? We don’t take our daughter out as much as we would like and probably not as much as we should. Quite frankly …it’s just too much work.

Folks often say, “hey bring your kids! You guys can relax.” That’s such a nice thought. But one of my kids is a full time job. I love her with every fiber of my being and she’s one of the best people I’ve ever known. But as long as she is in the room …I cannot relax. And I never will.

I think the world is full of good hearted people who want to help. So many times we are offered …well …something. People don’t know what to do or how to help. But they want to. And it’s always touching to us when they do. But the truth is there’s not much anyone can do. It would take weeks to train someone in how to manage ONE DAY with my daughter. And we’re both so exhausted, the thought of doing that makes us more exhausted. We also know that when they see what they’re going to have to actually DO? Well, some things are simply too much to ask of anyone. So, we smile and say “thank you” and know that we will be out of mind as soon as we are out of sight. And that’s actually ok.

The life we live isn’t the kind of life anyone wants to live. Everyone likes to pretend that nobody has to live this way. When we see those beleaguered parents in the grocery store, you know the ones …with their 30-something-year-old son, who is flapping his arms and giggling like a toddler, we whisper our prayers and walk away, relieved we don’t have to get too involved. I totally get that. I’m that way, myself. I like to run free. And people like my daughter are heavy weights strapped to your feet. No matter how strong you are, you’re just going to be slower than everyone else.

I probably have friends who get miffed at me because I can’t just run out and grab a beer whenever they call, like I used to. My live shows and travel plans have to be meticulously designed and curated so that I’m not gone from home too long. Because handling one regular day in my house, alone, is almost impossible. If something unexpected happens …it’s totally impossible.

“So, what do you want from me?” is probably your next, obvious question. Truthfully, nothing. My family, and in fact, MOST special needs families, don’t want anything from anyone. What we could use is some mercy from time to time. If I don’t get back to you as soon as you would’ve liked, I always hope you’ll understand. Everything else in the world (including ME) is way down on my priority list.

If my wife calls you on the phone and breaks down in tears a little too quickly for your taste, just go with it and let her rant. She needs to do it.

And maybe hesitate when you are about to drop some life-changing advice on us as to how to manage a situation you know nothing about. I’ll guarantee you there are issues with whatever you have read online, that we’ve already explored and ruled out for 5 or 6 different reasons. The only thing more frustrating to special needs families than the friends who have simply decided this isn’t happening and they can’t engage on your terms anymore, is the people who show up once every six months and try to help fix it for you. It’s well meaning, to be sure. But the deal is this …

The real issue with raising someone with special needs is, it is EVERY. DAY. There are no days off when you’re caring for someone who cannot care for themselves. Zero. And while everyone else can go back to a semi-normal house and re-charge after dealing with a special child, care giving parents cannot.

I guess all I’m trying to say is this: if you have someone in your life who has a child with a disability, grant them some grace. Their yard might not look like you want it to. Grant grace. They might have a short temper sometimes. Grant grace. They might be disheveled and not quite with you in the meeting. Grant grace. They may have forgotten a birthday or a school play or a scout activity. Grant grace.

And maybe instead of your church or school raising sixty thousand dollars to send some kids to Guatemala, to build a youth center (which is a great thing to do), think about that family with that special kid no one knows quite how to be around, and send them on a date night. Or invite their siblings to the movies. And if their siblings are a little weird to you or on edge or a bit awkward …well …try to understand that they live in a very different world and have a daily front row seat for a very difficult side of humanity.

And if you find yourself reading a blog that is too personal, too self-conscious, too self-indulgent and too long …maybe let the blogger off the hook just this once.

 

R

PS – And DON’T PARK IN THE HANDICAPPED SPACE IF YOU’RE NOT HANDICAPPED!

THE SAUCE AND THE STUFF …

It’s one of my favorite stories my father tells, from his quartet days. It always makes us belly laugh around the table. It’s funny because it’s true.

His trio was performing at a gospel music festival. In those days, they just called them “singings” or more appropriately, “sangins.” The trio was broke and threadbare and showed up in an old, white station wagon, pulling a trailer. Their gear was sub par, and at first glance it might’ve been easy to dismiss them.

As the story goes, they watched a group pull into the festival in a brand spanking new Silver Eagle bus. Everyone watched in awe as the members of this group unpacked the latest, greatest sound equipment and instruments. Dad recalls that everyone felt very intimidated by those guys. And they were just waiting for them to take the stage and own the night. As it turned out, dad’s trio was scheduled to go on RIGHT after this force-to-be-reckoned-with ensemble. And he recalls how frightened he was.

They looked serious. They were serious. Surely, this is what the “big time” looked and smelled and acted and felt like. And so, my father’s little rag tag team of music makers stood on the side of the stage and awaited their complete and total annihilation. They were having to follow this juggernaut. And he was sure it wouldn’t be pretty.

The super hero quartet emerged from their bus in expensive, matching suits (the true sign of a successful quartet). They had their game faces on, their hair spray-locked in, and they were ready to make that stage their own personal stomping ground for the next 45 minutes. As they walked into the spotlights and took their places behind the microphones, a hush fell over the standing-room-only crowd. This was going to be epic. Suddenly, the lead singer gave the drummer the nod to start. And as everyone held their breath in excitement, the drummer began playing eighth notes slowly, on the ride cymbal. Great misdirection! Next, they would no doubt explode into something mind bending. But the drummer just revved up and got faster and faster on the cymbal until he reached a certain tempo. Then, he seemed to be ready. What was happening?

The quartet launched into their first song …once the tempo was acceptable. And when they jumped in, it was …well …interesting. Three of them sang the melody (badly) and one of them sang bass …out of tune. At first, everyone thought it was a joke of some kind. They politely applauded after the song was over. Surely, this was some sort of comic rouse. But then, they started the second song with the drummer doing the same thing on the ride cymbal. And sure enough, they sang the second song in unison …with an out-of-tune bass singer.

By the third song, people caught on and started to get up and leave. They were seeing and hearing a group of people who were well funded and who looked right and acted like they belonged there, but who had no business on any stage, anywhere. No amount of money could cover that up. Their clothes looked amazing. But those clothes were filled with empty, talentless wanna bees. And it couldn’t be spun. It just was what it was. The sauce (the trappings) looked great. But the stuff (what they actually DID) was rancid.

All sauce …no stuff.

When they left the stage, almost everyone in the building had walked out on them. My father’s trio took the stage in their mismatched suits and with their hodgepodge of equipment, and proceeded to burn the freaking room to the ground. By the time they were done, the audience had come back in the building and had given them two standing ovations.

See, they were light on sauce …but they had the stuff.

We live in a world that is constantly balancing the sauce and the stuff. Some people have the sauce, but there’s no stuff there. Some people have the stuff, but their sauce is not fully cooked. I can relate to this. I’ve always concentrated on the stuff. And I have to run and lift and diet and coif and preen to get the sauce close to being right. As I age, I pretty much just focus on the stuff. The sauce is its own full time job.

The problem is, people really want both. If you’ve got the sauce AND the stuff, you’re what we call “the total package.” But sometimes, it’s hard to make out which is which.

In life, you have to learn to tell the difference between the sauce and the stuff.

Politically, I think we’re currently watching an object lesson in the difference between the sauce and the stuff. Every time I watched Barack Obama, during his presidency, I thought about that quartet from my father’s youth. Great presence. Great speaker. Inspiring. Winning smile. Aspirational figure. Iconic. Wonderful story. First minority president. Great sauce. But …

GDP that never broke 2% (which had never been done over an 8 year period in American history). Healthcare turned into more of a complicated mess than it originally was. Higher taxes on everyone. Crippling regulation on small businesses. Chaos in the middle east, sparking a Christian genocide. More displaced refugees on the planet than since WWII. Russia invading the Ukraine and Crimea. US ambassadors killed in embassy attacks. America’s credit rating actually lowered for the first time ever. No significant economic bounce in almost a decade. Wages and income on downward trends Every. Single. Year. That is the musical equivalent of having three people sing unison while one sings bass …out of tune.

That kind of a performance will usher in someone like a Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s biggest mistake was telling the country she was going to carry on the Obama legacy. See, we’d all already sized it up as all sauce.

In Trump’s case, the sauce is weird, undercooked and lumpy. But the stuff might just be there: Lowest unemployment rate in 18 years. Lowest black unemployment rate since they started keeping records of such things. GDP knocking on 4%. Stock market breaking SIX records in a year (and a new one JUST today). Taxes simplified and lowered and regulations rolled back. ISIS LITERALLY surrendering and being driven out of all the land it had acquired in previous years. North Korea finally being engaged head on for what they are …tin horn blow hards …and agreeing to sit down with the south Koreans for talks. I’m not sure that has happened in my lifetime. Some people (a lot of people) thought the engaging of NK like Mel Gibson’s character from Lethal Weapon was dangerous. I always felt inaction was more dangerous. Maybe it’s just me. Either way, something is working. And whatever that something is …hasn’t been working until now.

If you concentrate on the sauce, i.e. Twitter rants and weird statements and things like how we “feel” as a nation, or worse, what Dick Durbin (a man known to fabricate things) says the president said in a meeting, things look kind of bleak and dark. But if you look at the stuff …it seems to be working. Donald Trump was not my choice in the Republican primaries and I find his words (when he’s speaking off the cuff) to be quite frankly some of the strangest verbiage I’ve ever personally heard on the American stage. But his actions – the stuff – is what matters.

Great speeches are sauce. Well placed one liners are sauce. Acting “presidential” is sauce. Looking good at the podium is sauce. And we as consumers are obsessed with great sauce.

But if your stuff is over regulation, it doesn’t work. If it’s higher taxes, it doesn’t work. If it’s moral equivocation on the world stage, it doesn’t work. And even if you’ve got the perfect sauce …the crowd is going to eventually get up and walk out on you.

Because it might take a song or two, but people eventually figure out the difference between the sauce and the stuff.

.

R

WHY I’M DONE WITH FOOTBALL …

I thought I could be Drew Pearson.

I had pretty good hands and some good moves in our backyard, three-on-three scrimmages. And somehow, my two or three miracle catches, against my neighborhood rivals, convinced me that I could dream of becoming an NFL wide receiver. A month into Jr High football practice, however, convinced me otherwise. I didn’t have the body or the speed or the height or the “want to” to become a for real football player. But I gained a healthy respect for what those guys can do and how amazing some of it truly is.

So I, like millions of others, became an armchair quarterback and avid fan. I allowed my blood pressure to rise and fall with the fortunes and misfortunes of my chosen teams and cherished players. As I got older and passed the ages of all of those on an NFL gridiron, I started actually caring about those young guys and what might happen to them after sports. I allowed myself to emotionally invest in their lives and careers.

Not anymore …

Of course, for me (an unapologetic patriot), the cracks in the foundation started with Colin Kaepernick and his “civil rights” stand. The fact that a 27-year-old golden boy, who has had as privileged a life as anyone in America, was taken seriously and listened to and the fact that he had commentators furrowing their brows and shaking their heads “yes” in faux understanding and agreement and the fact that his flipping off the entire country (while scoffing at the fact that he was only being offered 5 million and not 14 million) was actually given any merit of any kind, had me rolling my eyes so far back in my head I could see my sinus infection. And the fact that the NFL itself took no action and fostered his protest into something that caused millions of viewers to tune out, bothered me a great deal.

Then, watching NFL players take a knee for OUR anthem (on foreign soil) while standing for God Save The effing Queen (in protest of President Trump), sent me into an existential tailspin from which I could not recover. Protesting a president is fine …unless you’re Hank Williams Jr and the president is Barack Obama, I suppose. That’ll get you kicked off MNF …but I digress.

The point is, the players started giving me fewer and fewer reasons to root for them. So, I stopped. Then, the NFL rewarded the man who managed all this chaos with the leadership skills and backbone of one of the adults not wanting to get wished into the cornfield in that famous Twilight Zone episode, with a new two hundred million dollar contract. That made my head explode.

All of that aggregated disgust has meant that I haven’t watched an NFL game in almost two years. And in a weird way, I think I’m healthier for it.

Being turned off by the NFL and disconnecting from football has given me a new perspective on all sports, and a new perspective on our culture as a whole.

When I got off refined sugar (fifteen years ago) my eyes opened to just how pervasive and insidious that substance has been to the western diet. I also realized that refined sugar is probably responsible for more deaths than any other substance out there …including drugs and alcohol. And now (almost two decades later) I still can’t eat a piece of candy without getting a migraine headache. Pies and cakes don’t appeal to me. Because I know what they are and I know what they’re not. And what they are NOT …is actual food. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back to consuming that substance, on any kind of regular basis, again.

By the same token, fasting (for lack of a better word) sports has opened my eyes to some things. As I fight and scratch to keep my family fed and keep a roof over their heads, I realize that we as a culture have decided what is valuable and what isn’t. What I do isn’t all that valuable. So, even though I may (MAY) be every bit as good at what I do as Aaron Rodgers is at what he does (ok …maybe as good as Ryan Leaf), our society has decided his value is almost infinite. Mine? Well, we’re pulling for ya, Reg. Hope it works out and you get another big hit. You (and people like you) can make us laugh and cry and think and you can move us with melodies and lyrics. But it’s not like you can throw a ball 60 yards. I mean, come on bro. It is what it is.

My son’s best friend was playing pee wee football, when he sustained his first concussion …at age 8. Apparently, he’s now well enough to put the pads back on. And that’s where football and our culture lost me.

It’s not just about NFL protests and people taking a knee. It’s not just about lop-sided, out of control salaries. It’s not about fat cat owners who look over their property with an unaffected pride that only comes with extreme wealth. It’s not about unchecked hubris and end zone dances. For me, the idea of sports and competition has engulfed us like a wildfire. And it’s not just in the pro ranks. It flows down to college, high school and little league. It has become our worship; our sacrament; the alter to which we pray. It’s where we place our treasure.

When we’re upset about the teachers’ raises but we’re excited about that new soccer stadium, something has gone wrong. When we yell and scream and threaten kids and coaches who are all doing their best, we’ve lost our way. When we are rabidly more concerned about our basketball recruiting choices than we are over the arts programs, we’re simply out of balance. And balance is something I’m desperately trying to find.

As songwriting salaries have plummeted 50 to 80 percent in the last few years, and no one has batted an eye, we songwriters know exactly how important we are to the culture. No need to say anything, culture. We’ve heard you loud and clear. Watching my brothers and sisters lose everything while millionaires argue with billionaires over a game, has left me not wanting to participate in the very system that feeds that kind of imbalance.

I don’t want your big, foam fingers or your overpriced beer or your jerseys with a numbers on them. I don’t want to watch your college bowl games that only create more heroes with chips on their shoulders and hall passes from spousal abuse. I don’t want to watch your high school games that are nothing more than gladiatorial training grounds for kids who can’t yet buy a beer.

No, I’m done watching leather get thrown around. I’m looking for something else to worship; something bigger and deeper and higher.

Of course, if my son decides to play …all bets are off.

R