BABY PICTURES …

Humans are the only living things on earth who know they’re going to die.

We’re aware of our ultimate demise. And that makes all the difference in how we live.

Most mammals spend their entire existence looking for food and water, getting out of the weather, mating and avoiding getting eaten. They really don’t know why they’re avoiding it, it’s just their instinct to keep living. I think that’s what makes life sacred. Every living thing has a hard-wired instinct to keep doing it. Anyway …

We’re the only earthlings who search for more than food and water and shelter and safety. We search for all those things too …but then we search for meaning and fulfillment and happiness. We question where we are, how we got here and (most importantly) why we got here. We seek knowledge and wisdom and truth. And these quests drive us through our lives.

The search for existential answers leads us to love and hate and politics and religion and marriage and divorce and alcohol and drugs and fame and fortune and Jesus and Buddha and Mohammad and Allah and everything in between. And I often wonder if even the most spiritual or smartest or most talented or most at peace among us find all the answers before they take their last breath.

Billy Graham died today. Maybe he did. But for the rest of us …

I’ve been working through my own existence and age for a few years, now. Every year (for about the last 5 years) I’ve tried to do something that scares me or challenges my assumptions or stretches my boundaries. This has all been by design. I have to admit …I’ve been trying figure myself out. What am I? Why am I? How and why did I decide this was what I was supposed to be? I’m not sure I’ve really known for some time, now.

On Face Book I decided to use a baby picture as my profile picture this year. There are so many things about my life that are coming to a crescendo or coming to a close or opening to a new beginning. And I thought a baby picture was in order to remind me of a few things …

Since I was 19, I’ve started every new year (on January 1st) by opening a notebook or going to my grease board or logging in to a computer file, and doing and assessment of unfinished songs, ideas, titles, etc. It’s just a muscle memory thing most professionals do, and I find it a nice way to start the year. This year, I went to my grease board and realized that I had no back log of songs or even ideas. I had no melodies burning me up. No hooks I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into. No “thing” I wanted to sing. The grease board was finally …solid white.

I said to myself, “this either means It’s time to start all over …or it’s time to quit.”

Songwriting has been a difficult road for me the past few years. They always tell you to be your truest self in your work and that will lead to your greatest success. I have always found it to be just the opposite. The more I have veered into my own way of writing and communicating, the less interest I have seen commercially. All my hit songs (including the big one) were written with something commercial in mind. The “being my truest self” has always been a hard sell. I’m reaching the point of having to maybe admit that I need to be more of a hobbiest than a professional.

My friend Chance Scoggins had a great quote about chasing his dream. He said, “at some point I realized that I was chained to a dream a teenager had. Not a grown man.”

So I’ve been asking little baby boy me, who made all the decisions I am currently living with today, if it’s okay for me to move on and grow up, finally. He just gives me that cold stare. But I think I’m making some progress. I think I’ve seen him crack a smile once or twice.

I have some time left on my current publishing contract. And I owe my publisher ONE more song. So, tonight I’m going to write that song on Face Book live. This feels like the ultimate throwing back of the curtain. This thing I’ve kept so close and held so tightly as my “craft” I’m going to just share with everyone …stupid, first throwaway lines and all.

I don’t really know what people are going to do for a living not too long from now. Technology has overtaken so many of the things we used to have need of. It’s playing out in the arts in a major way. If you had wanted to ask Al Pacino to teach an acting class for beginners, right after he’d filmed the Godfather, you wouldn’t have gotten past his agent. But now he’s teaching one online …for $99 bucks. Why? Because people don’t go see him (or anyone) in the movies anymore. The only movies we go see in the theater anymore are comic book/special-effect slathered car/plane/spaceship-chase movies. For a great (aging) actor, you are either playing the aging villain in one of those movies or you’re deconstructing your own world in some Netflix documentary-style gonzo re-creation of something.

Everything is currently being demystified. We’ve seen Al act …now we want him to show US how to act, Al. Because we can do it too. We just know we can.

And so, those of us who once upon-a-time made a living by concealing some form of magic and holding it hostage for money, are now showing the audience where the trap doors are. Because that has become more interesting than the show. That’s fine by me. It just means that the trap doors are no longer valuable.

Those trap doors led to me living a book-worthy story, that led me to writing this blog every week. For those of you who are faithful readers, I want to let you know that some changes are coming. I spend so much time working on this expression. And I truly love doing it. I feel like it’s almost a calling of sorts.

I’ve avoided earning a penny from this for the past 12 years. I’ve always wanted to remain free to punch in any direction without worrying about where it lands, be it subscribers or advertisers. But I am at a point of decision as to how to proceed.

I have a few options: I can scale back my time and maybe blog once a month. I can open the site up for “tippers” and rely on direct support from the audience. Or I can go after advertising dollars. I’m leaning toward the latter, but it would require a few thousand more direct subscribers. I’m pretty sure we can reach that goal. But it might mean I have to go all Gary Vanderchuck on you and inundate you with stuff you don’t really want or care about. Either direction I choose will require me getting out of my comfort zone a little and changing a little bit of who I am naturally. For someone whop believes in authenticity above all …it’s a concerning proposition.

In the coming weeks and months if you see changes associated with this blog (or my life in general), bear with me. I’m trying to let that baby grow up and make some decisions as a grown man.

I’m hoping he can do it. He’s been so young for so long.

 

R

PS – Follow me on Face book tonight to watch “the last song” get written.

WHY I CAN’T BE WRONG …

Sometimes, the most dangerous person on earth is …an expert.

Experts sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic and assured us there would never be another world war …RIGHT before World War II. Experts insisted the helicopter would never fly and that Donald Trump could never, under any circumstances, become president of the United States.

If you look a little further back, you can read where experts knew, beyond all doubt, that the world was flat. They also knew that bleeding someone was a pretty good way of curing a disease. You know …get the bad blood out. Experts did that.

I’m always more inclined to believe an expert who says, “this is what we believe with the current information we have …but we could be wrong,” than I am to believe someone who says, “This is settled. Period. No arguments!” History is simply too replete with examples of something “settled” getting turned on its head, for me to not leave at least a little room for questioning it.

The surest sign of a small mind is absolute certainty. As a story teller, I know that absolute certainty is a device used to create a twist. Everybody knows this. Just when all the teenagers are sure they’re safe in the shed …the monster is standing right behind them. Right after the lawyer makes his rock solid case and knows he has won the argument, the one piece of evidence he was sure would get his client off …is the one that puts him away. He missed a vital detail. And his absolute certainty created hubris …which created neglect …which was his undoing.

This concept is ubiquitous in our culture, yet we fall for it time and time again.

In current society, everyone has become an expert on everything. Those little devices we hold in our hands, that have given us access to all the known information on the planet, have taken all us regular folk to the intellectual high ground. Add to that political and religious echo chambers online, that allow us to bask and bake in our already held beliefs, and you have a culture of intractable know-it-alls. See, there’s a link to an article that totally reinforces what I believe. And here’s another one …and even another one. I MUST be correct in my assumption. A guy on youtube says so.

Since I’ve been shotgunning my opinions online (almost 12 years now) some people even look to me as some source of foundational truth and/or fact. I’ve always been very up front about being neither of those things. Heck, most of the time I’m not even sure if my grammar is correct …much less my opinion. But people need to be validated. Deep down we don’t really know if we know what we know. So, if someone says something we’ve always thought, then there must be some truth in it. And that is very comforting. I get it.

There are some places where being right is a must. Being wrong as a surgeon can mean life or death. Getting a public policy wrong can mean millions of people get poisoned water or tainted meat. In religion, your eternal soul is in the balance. So getting that wrong could be the difference in lounging on clouds while angels feed you grapes and being burned alive while worms crawl in and out of your nose …for all eternity. There’s little margin for error with those two options on the table.

Personally, I believe we get a little more leeway than that. But who knows …I could be completely wrong.

When we take a side on an issue these days, we are putting ourselves on a team. And one of the reasons our culture is so polarized is because there’s no grace from our team or the other team for being wrong. If you break ranks and admit that maybe a couple of more gun purchasing protections might not be a bad thing, your side disowns you. But worse than that, the other side won’t praise your newly evolved opinion. They will simply berate you for not getting to their truth quickly enough. You stupid jackass! I’ve been saying this for years! You JUST NOW realized this?!?!?! YOU’RE the reason those kids in Florida are dead!

It works the other way as well. If you swim against the stream and admit that cutting taxes might actually be a good thing, you won’t be welcomed with open arms by those who’ve preached it for years. You’ll be seen as lifelong opposition that has cost people millions of unnecessary dollars. YOU are why families lost farms. YOU are why my brother-in-law couldn’t get his business off the ground.

And so we remain in circular indignation. And we must be right …or we are the cause of some damage, somewhere. And there’s no forgiveness for that. Humans can’t process with that kind of guilt.

Three of the most liberating words in the lexicon are: I. Don’t. Know. It’s okay to say that …at least I think it is. I would love to see those words used a little more. It might help us talk to each other instead of yelling at each other.

It has been said that the opposite of faith is certainty. I like that and I think it’s true. At least for me it is. When I surrendered to the idea that all my political beliefs might not be the best beliefs, I understood them more clearly. When I came face to face with the harsh reality that I didn’t really know how to be a parent, I became a better one. And once I allowed for the possibility that there might not be a God, I found more faith in him. Because once you surrender your certainty, you have to rely on faith. And that faith becomes more personal than corporate. Instead of, “this is absolutely right. And if you don’t believe it YOU’RE wrong,” you have to say, “I might be wrong about all of this …but I believe.”

That liberation allows you to not have to win every argument or settle every issue. And it produces in you more grace and mercy for others who aren’t exactly where you are. And we all need that. I know I sure do.

Believing, while allowing for someone else’s doubt, is disarming. I tell my son all the time, “Buddy …I think it’s this …but you might prove me wrong.” I can’t tell you how many times he has come back to me and said, “Dad, you were actually right about that. I looked it up.” It gives him a sense of accomplishment without having been berated for his ignorance. The little secret is …I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind anyway. He had to get there on his own. And I’d rather allow him to do that than be the guy who always has to be right about everything. Nobody likes that guy.

The Russians meddled in our election because they knew they could. They knew that people on one side wanted to believe a certain thing. And people on the other side wanted to believe the opposite thing. And in that scenario all you have to do is photoshop some out-of-context pictures with some factual inaccuracies …and people will fight tooth and nail to make the propaganda true.

Maybe it’s time to ease off each other a bit. Maybe the people who disagree with you aren’t “idiots” or “insane” or (dare I say) “deplorable.” Maybe they’re just people who live in a world where they know they have to be right …or else.

Then again …I could be wrong.

But if you think that …you’re crazy.

R

THE BIG WHY …

It’s a moment that haunts me. I repent of it over and over again in silent prayers …to this very day.

After enough “advice” about child rearing and enough innuendo about my parenting skills, I decided it was time to have a battle of wills. This little 3-year-old girl (my daughter) was not doing as she was told. She wasn’t trying to walk or even pick up food. Obviously, we were simply coddling her too much. This had to stop. And tonight was the night.

I sat her in her high chair (that she should’ve been out of a year earlier) and placed the food in front of her. “Pick it up, Isabella. You know you can.” She just stared back at me in defiance …at least it looked like defiance. And she refused to pick up the food and eat it. But I was going to win this battle. And I refused to feed it to her.

She did all the things she always did. She swiped at it and threw it off the table and pounded her hands in it. And my anger rose. My being an enabling marshmallow of a father had turned my daughter into this thing that refused to do the simplest of tasks. So I got my alpha-male back up and swatted that adorable little hand. She looked at me like I was an alien …then tears welled up in those beautiful eyes. But I stood my ground, “go ahead and cry. Your cuteness won’t work tonight. You’re going to learn a thing or two, if it kills us both!”

So she and I sat there and battled it out for about an hour. I spanked and spoke sternly and refused to help and insisted and redirected and threatened and, at one point, I think I even “put my foot down.” But none of it worked. This little spoiled brat wouldn’t even feed herself a Cheerio. She refused to follow the simplest of directions. And after losing the battle, I resigned myself to the fact that I was just a horrible father.

I tumbled down the metaphorical hill backwards, remembering my own father’s stories of how he’d won those same battles with me and how it had forged me into a decent human being. Clearly, I couldn’t fill his shoes. I couldn’t even find his shoes. I was a weaker version of him. I had no business being a dad. And I was raising a monster who would probably end up worse than a Kardashian.

It would be another two years before I would find out that none of that was true. My daughter couldn’t perform simple tasks. But it had nothing to do with defiance or being spoiled or my parenting skills or my wife’s parenting skills or our enabling bad behavior or being a weak man or any of that. My daughter was missing a piece of a chromosome. She had something called Angelman Syndrome. And no amount of parental skill was ever going to overcome that.

As it turns out, my daughter was actually on the more advanced side of the Angelman Syndrome spectrum. And the things my wife and I had accomplished with her, without a diagnosis, proper medication or specifically designed and focussed therapy, were pretty freaking amazing. Had I known what she had, on that fateful night, I would’ve realized that she needed me …not discipline; that she needed more help …not more demands.

Learning about the “why” helped me understand the hows and whats more acutely and taught me so much about intellectual and development issues. But it also led me to learn about PTSD and other maladies we are just now understanding as a society.

My personal theory on the temperance movement (that led to prohibition), is that it was a direct response to massive PTSD issues. American men had just fought the Civil War and WWI and were drowning themselves in alcohol to numb the pain of something we wouldn’t even have a name for, for another seventy to eighty years. Well meaning do-gooders decided to blame the instrument …and ban it. That’s the equivalent of spanking a child with Angelman Syndrome because they refuse to walk. Only the “how” is being addressed. Not the “why.”

When you discover the “why,” mysteries begin to make sense. Two thousand years after the fact, we’re learning that Roman aristocrats drank wine containing heavy amounts of lead, due to how they made it. Is it any wonder they all seem insane to us when we read about them? They probably were insane …with lead poisoning.

Women in mourning, during the Civil War, would often die soon after their husbands. This was long attributed to “dying of a broken heart.” As it turns out, however, tradition dictated that they wear black for a certain number of days. The toxic dyes used in turning their dresses black was getting in their bloodstreams and poisoning them. The “why” was the most important question. And it wasn’t what anyone thought.

After every shooting in this country, we all retreat to our political corners and throw verbal rocks at each other. It’s exhausting. I’m not a gun guy or a member of the NRA. But I am a student of human nature. And I have been in rooms full of firearms. At no point have I ever heard anyone say, “look at all these guns. We should just go kill a bunch of people. Because …you know …we have guns.” It makes no logical sense.

And so I am always left with the question: why?

One thing we do know is that all of the mass shooters in the U.S have, at one time or another, been on physcotropic drugs. That is 100%. Shouldn’t someone consider that at some point? And maybe that should be a factor in whether or not you are eligible for a firearm. Obviously, not everyone who has taken these drugs is going to be a mass shooter. But shouldn’t it at least be a part of the conversation?

My other child has been diagnosed with ADHD. He’s a prime candidate to one day either becoming a regular man, barely hanging on (like the rest of us) …or a mass shooter. He’s white. He’s fascinated with guns. He’s addicted to video games. He’s a loner. He gets bullied. He thinks no one likes him. And yes, he is medicated. But he and I have constant conversations about reality and fantasy and the sacredness of life.

There is a certain WW II FPS (first person shooter) game he wants. All his friends already play it. But I’ve told him that he can only have it after viewing the film Saving Private Ryan with me. He is required to actually see and understand what that conflict was about; what real death looks like and sounds like and what the consequences of it are, before he casually ticks off kills on a digital score card. And to his credit, he still doesn’t think he’s ready for it yet. I’m glad he’s thinking about it.

I’m holding him as tightly as I can. And I’m always looking for any sign of a “why” that is too disturbing. Because, as I learned with my daughter, if you don’t have a why …the rest of it is pointless.

I got the the bottom of why my daughter wouldn’t follow directions. And it wasn’t a wouldn’t …it was a couldn’t. Learning the why has made all the difference. One day we’re going to get to the bottom of why we have so many mass shootings in America. And I doubt it will be as simple as access to a gun.

 

R

 

angels unaware/angelman syndrome

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

MAMMY …

I think she loved me. Although, I still wonder sometimes. She smiled at me occasionally and put her hand on my face, once.

All I know is she terrified me. She terrified all of us. Not one person in our family ever thought of her as an equal. No …she was superior to us. And we all knew it. We never spoke to her in anger and definitely never in a sarcastic tone. We listened intently to her. And we would’ve never thought of showing her any disrespect in any way. She was powerful and commanding and downright mean, sometimes. I would love to follow that sentence with, “but she was lovely and sweet and graceful and soft-hearted.” But that wouldn’t be a complete picture. She was kind and generous and loving …in her own way.  And she believed in the transformative love of Jesus. But she was a rock-ribbed badass who took zero crap and who would simply NOT allow weakness in her presence. To this moment, I’ve never met any man, anywhere, tougher than her.

I’m referring to my great grandmother. We called her “Mammy.”

When Mammy was born, women still weren’t allowed to vote. She would occasionally recall seeing a car for the first time. She was a rural girl from the American south, caught in a time less kind and less forgiving. She ran away from home at age twelve and married a twenty-seven-year old moonshine runner (I know …gross. But hey …it’s how I got here). Three years later (at age fifteen) she gave birth to my grandmother. A year after that, her husband (my great grandfather) was shot in the ass by federal agents. He died of gangrene.

By seventeen, she was a widow and single mother. Then, she married a railroad man at age nineteen. They say he used to get drunk and beat her. But, as the story goes, she tied him to the bed one night (with bed sheets) and beat him senseless with a baseball bat. She beat him until he swore he would never touch her in anger again. And, apparently, once his broken bones healed …he never did.

That story was supposed to always remain a family secret. But pretty much all the people who would be affected by it …are now dead.

The repentant beater died a few years later and left her with two more daughters. One of them was crippled by polio and couldn’t walk. She was only twenty five. Then, she married yet again. And on her wedding day, her new (and third) husband introduced her to his SIX children, none of which she had any idea existed until that moment. Still, she took all of them in and raised them as her own. Soon, she bore another son. Then …that husband died.

By the time I met her, she was on husband number four. I remember him as a kind man who kept quiet and did pretty much whatever she told him to do. But several years after I came on the scene, he died as well.

Mammy raised ten children and buried four husbands. She travelled the world and started over forty churches in Tennessee alone. She could rough in plumbing all the way from the street, do electrical work, hang sheet rock, play the piano and preach a sermon. I never – in the sixteen years I knew her – ever saw her back up to let a man do something for her. I did two cross-country tours with her in tow. She carried her own bags and moved as quickly as any of us. She was the first one up and the last one down. She intimidated me every waking minute of every day. And my whole goal in life became to get as strong as her, physically, mentally and spiritually.

As of this posting …I still haven’t gotten close.

Sometimes I think we’re further down the road than we are. I often discount racism because I wasn’t really raised around it in my immediate family. And so it’s always dumbfounding to me that there are still racists out there. I look at this #metoo movement and often wonder why more women haven’t kicked more guys in the nuts …but I digress.

I hear actresses give speeches, telling young girls how they can be whatever they want to be and how they are JUST as powerful as men, and I think to myself, “don’t we already know this?!?! Haven’t we known this for decades?”

But then I remember …I guess not everyone had a “Mammy” in their life.

Mammy was the embodiment of what a truly powerful person (not just woman) is. I fear what would have happened to a Harvey Weinstein had he tried any funny business with her in the room. She wouldn’t have been “one of his victims.” I can promise you that.

Mammy was a primary school dropout. She was a bit unrefined and definitely rough around the edges. But she was constantly trying. After her death, I remember going to her house while they were moving out her belongings. I walked over to a book shelf and thumbed through several books she had dog eared. One was on the anatomy of hummingbirds. She’d written notes in the margins. One was on the mechanics of the internal combustion engine. She’d made notes in that one too. She was still learning; still empowering herself; still refusing to allow her circumstances to dictate what she could and couldn’t do.

Through her example, Mammy taught me a few things: if I have to give you power …you don’t really have any. If I have to lift you into leadership …you’re not really a leader. If you have to keep telling me to respect you …you’re not commanding it by how you conduct yourself.

I don’t endorse everything my great grandmother did in her young life. I think her older, ordained minister self would tell young women to not get married at twelve and refrain from assault with a baseball bat. But the thing is this: she was thrown into a violent world and yet she didn’t allow it to break her. She refused to be a victim of anything. She didn’t attend marches or burn bras and she would’ve laughed at the idea of hashtags and “a sisterhood.” It would’ve been foreign to her to trust other women just because they were women.

Mammy had her own power, her own strength, and her own wisdom. She didn’t need inspirational speeches to motivate her. She didn’t stand against “patriarchy” or make symbolic gestures and she wasn’t appalled by and aghast at lecherous men. She just put them in their place and moved on. She definitely didn’t talk about abstract concepts like “the gender gap” all the time or how the deck was stacked against her (even though when she walked the earth, it actually was). She didn’t constantly go on and on to men about how she could do whatever they could do. She. Just. Did. It.

Maybe instead of #metoo we need #mammy.

That would be a movement we could all get behind.

 

R