Maybe we should all kneel

Music played. Stadiums packed. Mascots pranced. The NFL started up again this week, and millions of eyes were on the athletes — not for the long throws, the balletic catches or the bruising tackles, but to see if the players would stand, sit, kneel or even come out of the locker rooms for the national anthem.

I didn’t see the start of a game. We had other stuff going on. But I’m sure there will be approval and disapproval, angst and anger in letters-to-the-editor, opinion columns and every on-line forum imaginable. I’m sure the Twit-in-Chief will fan the flames once more, to try and distract Americans from his latest foible.

Frankly, it all seems a little pathetic.

You see, in Dallas Friday night, another young black man was shot to death by a white police officer. This one wasn’t by the side of the road during a traffic stop, or on a crime-ridden street corner. This time, the officer was just coming home from her shift and went to the wrong apartment. Apparently when she saw a strange man — a strange black man — in what she thought was her home, a misunderstanding that could have been comic escalated to the point that she drew her service weapon and shot him dead.

He wasn’t in her home; he was in his own home. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, or even questionable. Either the door was open, or he opened it when he saw her uniform. It may have been just an honest, tragic mistake by a tired young officer, or it may have been something worse. The Texas Rangers are investigating, and they will find out. No matter how it shakes out, it’s another tragedy — for the victim, his family and friends, and for that officer. It’s a pretty good bet her career is over. She may go to jail. No matter what happens, she has to live with the guilt of having taken an innocent life.

You just want to cry. But it’s time for all of us — of every color — to do more than cry or shake our heads and say, “that’s a shame.” It’s time for more than just black people, more than just athletes, more than just activists, to rise up and say that something is wrong.

I “back the blue” as much as anyone. I have friends in law enforcement, and I appreciate the hard, thankless work of police officers, sheriff’s deputies, the Highway Patrol, the FBI and everyone else who wears a badge. Many have given their lives in this service, and those losses are no less tragic than this one.

In fact, their heroic service is being undermined and overshadowed by these senseless, needless shootings. The vast majority of them would not, and do not, react this way in these situations. Something is wrong with the ones who do.

It may be racism, fear, fatigue, a lack of training, too many cop shows on TV, violent video games or violent streets — but there is something wrong with some of these police officers. It’s not a majority, or even a large number. But a fatal few have a real, tangible problem: a knee-jerk fear that sends them reaching for a gun when they see a black person in a place they don’t think he’s supposed to be.

Botham Jean was a good young man — a churchgoing, worship-leading inspiration to many of those who were privileged to know him. As I read about him, I wished I had known him. He came here as an immigrant from the Caribbean, earned a college degree, got an internship with a big Dallas company and was making his way. He had a big smile, a bright future, a family and many friends who loved him.

But the other lives taken in police shootings are no less valuable. The 14-year-old boy in the back seat of a car, the college athlete at a car lot, the kid playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland — sadly, the list goes on and on. I’m sick to death of learning after the fact that the victim wasn’t armed, wasn’t a danger, wasn’t threatening anyone. Before we give someone a uniform, a badge and a gun, we need to do a better job of vetting them and training them to recognize who is a threat and who is not.

I don’t know who it helps to take a knee during the national anthem. Maybe that gesture has served its purpose. It’s time to move beyond gestures and truly work on this problem, focus all our knowledge, all our data-gathering ability, all our passion on better screening, better testing and better training for police officers.

All Americans should understand that it does not dishonor our country or our flag to look at a problem honestly and take decisive action toward a real solution — one that will save the lives of innocent people and hard-working, overstressed police officers. It’s what we do. It’s why people like Botham Jean are drawn to this country in the first place.

Personally, I don’t care whether or not you kneel for the Star-Spangled Banner. I’m pretty big on free speech and the right to protest. But America would be better served if we all did a little more kneeling in a different context: prayer for the families who have had their loved ones gunned down, prayer for the officers who have to live with their rash, tragic actions, and prayer for our troubled country.

Don’t let these lives be wasted. Let’s come together and work on this problem for all the right reasons — to make life better for our protectors, and possible for our people.

Bridging the generations

I became a grandfather just a little over three years ago. Everything I’d ever heard about how wonderful it would be pales in comparison to how wonderful it is. In that little guy I can see my daughter, my son-in-law, myself, my wife, our other kids and traits from our son-in-law’s mom, his siblings and other family members on both sides. He’s got Papi’s eyes, Mommy’s mouth, Ya-Ya’s dimples… this goes on and on.

It’s amazing how God can combine the very best traits from the entire gene pool when he builds a kid.

But watching my grandson get taller, talk more and go faster gets me thinking in the other direction, too, back to the generations that came before him. From where I sit, that’s not so long ago. On our side, my dad was the only great-grand who didn’t get to meet Ben; he died in 2013, just past his 92nd birthday. My wife’s mom passed away a couple of months after her 87th birthday, but she knew and loved this little guy when he was a toddler. My wife’s dad is due to turn 87 this year, and my mom is 92 today. They get to see their great-grandson on a regular basis, and collect his sugar and his hugs, and he gets the great blessing of knowing them.

As of today, he’s got 358 years (and counting) worth of great-grandparents on his mother’s side alone. If his lifespan is in the neighborhood of theirs, he will see the dawn of the 22nd Century.

I must admit, that freaks me out a little.

I just took a photo off the wall-in-the-hall that shows all four of my grandparents sitting on a couch. The occasion was my first birthday (I must have been kind of a big deal). My dad, ever the labeler, put the birth-and-death dates of each of them at the bottom of the photo when he had it framed. It seemed a little weird at the time, but I’m glad he did it now. It’s an amazing reference point.

Three of my grandparents were born in the 19th Century — the 1800s. And I knew them, sat on their laps, made them laugh, banged in and out of their screen doors. It doesn’t seem that much of a stretch from them to the kid who runs all over my house, roaring like a tiger, climbing and hiding and dragging out toys. And it’s not so far-fetched to think of his grandchildren, or even his great-grandchildren — running all over his house, in a year where the calendar starts with 21-something.

What will that world be like? Could my grandparents, sitting on that couch in 1957, have imagined this one? It was a technological miracle that they could get in a car and drive nearly 2,000 miles on paved highways for a birthday celebration. What will be high-tech for my grandson’s grandkids?

As children, my grandparents pre-date automobiles and airplanes. They walked or rode horses or horse-drawn wagons if they wanted to go anywhere. Electricity and telephones were science-fiction. It was a huge deal that the railroad had just gone coast-to-coast.

My grandson knows only a world where everyone is connected by the internet, through a device they can hold in their hand. In his world, jets fly us anywhere we want to go and television live-streams the security cameras in our house when we’re away. What will his grandkids take for granted?

If this kind of thinking gives you tired-head, join the club. (It’s a big club.) But there’s a nugget of profound comfort in this generational thinking, too.

It’s a smile. I can still see my Grandpa’s, my Nonnie’s and my Boppa’s. They smiled at me because they thought I was funny, and just because they loved me. The smiles came down a generation, too: my dad’s, my mom’s, my mother and father-in-law’s — they never smiled quite so big as when we gave them grandchildren to smile at. We, and they, passed those smiles to our children, smiles of love, laughter at their endearing ways. Now we, and they, pass them on and get them back from the bright-eyed boy at play.

As sure as I am of anything, I’m sure he will smile on his children, and on his grandchildren. No matter where technology takes the world, that will not change.

After all, it’s our Father’s smile.

The dimples? Like I said, those came from Ya-Ya.

American values

There’s a scene in HBO’s World War II miniseries “Band of Brothers” that takes place at Bastogne, during what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. As the opening credits roll, you see a knife, chopping at ice. Chopping, chopping, chopping at hard, thick-frozen ice, chips flying as the knife gradually beats and cuts its way through. Finally, water splashes out and there’s a hole.

Then the camera backs off and you can see that the ice is frozen across the top of a tin Army mess kit. And you see a razor — one of those old double-bladed “safety” razors — plunge through the hole and swish around, then pull back out and go to the face of Major Richard Winters, commander of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne. No man who has ever shaved can help cringing when that cold steel scrapes against his cheek.

That brilliant scene was created to tell us something important about Major Winters. Here he is, war-weary, surrounded by the German army, living in a trench cut into the frozen ground, running out of supplies, taking artillery fire and losing brave men every day, and still… he shaves. With ice-cold water, he shaves.

It’s what I call an internal compass — the kind of character that simply won’t yield or give way to circumstances. No matter how barbaric, raw and evil the world all around him may become, Major Winters is going to be who he is. It’s why we won the war — not that the Germans didn’t shave, or didn’t have discipline, or didn’t fight hard. We won because there was something in the American character that knew right from wrong and would not yield.

In the hindsight of history this seems hugely heroic. To them, it was just standard procedure: doing what’s right, standing by the guy next to you, being true to your word, honoring your commitments, being the same man in war, half a world away, that you were back home.

Right now, we desperately need a resurgence of that American character in our leaders — in fact, we need it in every American. It has nothing to do with shaving, but everything to do with values. I believe it’s still there, in men and women all over this country: that internal moral compass that teaches us to say “please” and “thank you,” to hold the door, to help people pick up the things they drop. It lets us distinguish truth from lies, prompts us to defend the defenseless and fight injustice.

It’s as simple as that famous anecdote about Abraham Lincoln, when someone asked him, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”

“Four,” Lincoln said. “It doesn’t matter what you call it. A tail is not a leg.”

During World War II and at other times of war and peace throughout our history, there have been moments when it seemed that our country’s very survival hung on the common sense and character of a few brave people. Thank God they’ve been there.

Now, as our country sinks deeper and deeper into a crisis of our own making, we need leaders who embody the American character. We need leaders who can tell truth from falsehood and will speak truth to power, regardless of the consequences. We need leaders who will judge people by their actions, not tell us actions don’t matter and character is no longer required. We need leaders who understand the values this country was founded on and are willing to pay whatever price is called for to defend them.

It’s true that we have never fully lived up to those values, but that’s why we need them more than ever. Those values call us higher.

The world’s eyes are on us. They still believe in America. Do we?

The Media hipsters

A few years ago, after working late one evening, I was walking past the office of a younger, much cooler colleague (most of them were) when I heard music playing. It sounded interesting, so I stopped in his doorway.

When he looked up I said something like, “Hey, I like that music. Who is that?”

“Oh, no one you’ve ever heard of,” he replied.

That, my kids tell me, is the very definition of the term “hipster.”

They don’t wear what you wear. They don’t drive what you drive. They don’t do hair the way you do hair. They don’t eat what you eat. I could go on.

My friend, who is a great guy, is also the quintessential hipster. I think he didn’t want to tell me the name of the band because he really liked them, and if he’d told me who they were, there were only two possible outcomes. 1) I would have heard of them, and he would have to stop listening to them, or 2) I would have started listening to them, and he would have to stop listening to them. Either way, if he gives me that band, he loses it.

That’s because I, of course, am not only not a fellow hipster — I’m not even remotely cool. I’m an old white guy who drives a GMC pickup made before the millennium changed. My jeans come from Wal-Mart. I still comb my hair the same way I combed my hair in my 8th grade yearbook photo. You can look it up, but please don’t.

He’s my friend and all, but we CANNOT listen to the same music.

I tell you this because just recently, I’ve identified a new kind of hipster: the Media Hipster. Whatever you watch on TV, they don’t watch that. Whatever you read, they don’t read that. In fact, wherever you might get your news, you can be sure they get theirs somewhere else — somewhere much cooler, much more accurate and much more shocking than the news you get.

The real news. The news “they” don’t want you to have.

I first encountered this particular type of hipsterism in another friend — a dear friend — back during the 2016 election campaign. We shouldn’t have, but we got to talking politics, and she dropped a few bombs about Hillary, the emails, the other candidates and the vast conspiracy theories swirling around our man Don Trump.

After hearing several “facts” I absolutely knew to be untrue, I just had to break in.

“And where are you getting all this?” I asked.

“Oh, no place you’ve ever heard of,” was the reply. “I don’t get my news from the sources everybody else uses. These people really know what’s going on. They’re not part of the media. All they do is cover up the truth and tell you only what they want you to know.”

“Wait-wait-wait,” I stopped her. “The media? You mean like the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal? ABC? NBC? CBS? CNN? Those guys?”

“Exactly!” she said. “You can never find out the real news from them!”

“You mean the ones with the journalism degrees, the ethics, and all the years and years of experience covering government and politics? The ones who vet their sources and go directly to people who have expertise in whatever field they’re covering? The ones who win all the Pulitzer prizes, whose work is carefully edited before it’s printed or broadcast? The ones who put their name on their stories and can defend every word in court? The ones who brought down Nixon?”

Somewhere in here she began to sense I might not be on her side. The conversation ended soon after, and we haven’t talked politics since. As I said, I love this lady, but she’s representative of exactly what was going on in the last election campaign.

Now, of course, it has come to light that Russian hackers were filling the American internet with untruths during that time, trying to divide and conquer the country they couldn’t bring down with conventional weapons. And it wasn’t all Russians — there were plenty of Americans who were eager to go along with it all. Some still are, although FaceBook and other internet carriers are finally starting to realize that if they’re going to be “publishers” they have to take a certain amount of responsibility for the content of what they publish.

Now I wonder if my friend, or the millions of others who got caught up in that 2016 “news” cycle, will ever truly admit they were duped? Probably not. I would, however, be heartened to see the “fake news” guys chalk up a few wins over a president who, on average, has uttered or tweeted 7.6 false statements a day since he was elected. Most, by the way, although proven false, are still fiercely believed by his loyal base.

But you know what’s really ironic? It was truth that brought down the Soviet Union. Once it became impossible for the government to keep people isolated and ignorant, it was no longer possible to perpetuate the myth that communism was the ideal system. They could see for themselves the prosperity, the richness and diversity of a free society, with democratically elected leaders in submission to the rule of law.

The internet played a huge role in that. How ironic that now, the internet has become the tool of choice for those who want to destroy the United States?

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)

The alternative? I’m pretty sure that’s what our enemies have in mind.

But you didn’t hear that from me.

Time to change the way we look (at each other)

I am a white, middle-aged male — the very demographic that has been at the center of the firestorm over sexual harassment, discrimination and worse. I have not been elected, appointed or hired as Women’s Spokesman.

In fact, that’s my new favorite oxymoron.

But the ongoing discrimination against, and harassment of, women in the workplace and elsewhere is not just a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. Permit me, then,  to speak as a member of the vast majority of men who do not, have not, and would never use power or position to take advantage of a woman.

I have a mother. I have a wife, aunts, cousins. Daughters. Friends and family who are female, whom I love deeply and for whom I wish only the best. A faith that teaches me to see women as people, not objects. Children of God.

Certainly I have not always treated women as I should have. I did stupid things as a young man, fumbling along at the prodding of hormones, brain disengaged. I can only apologize, and offer no defense. Fortunately, finally, I learned to behave. Having a good mother, who prayed regularly, and going out with nice girls (my own age, by the way) taught me what I needed to know, helped prepare me for the strong, smart, amazing woman I married.

I thought the tone at the Golden Globes the other night was a tad preachy (like you probably think of this essay). I’m glad all these women who’ve been abused are finally speaking out, and the creeps who abused them are getting tossed out. But it should come as no surprise that a disproportionate number of these accusers come from the entertainment business. Historically, it is a business which exploits and objectifies women.

The media made a big deal about the black dresses. But many of them were also skin-tight, see-through, backless or plunging to the navel. I’ve been to lots of journalism awards dinners, but I’ve never seen that kind of display. In Hollywood, that’s the norm.

Certainly women have the right to dress however they want, but wouldn’t it be nice if it weren’t a requirement? Especially when the point is, “Look at me as a person, not an object. Look at my work, not my chest.”

But this isn’t about sex or sexiness. It’s about power. It doesn’t matter how a woman looks, or how she dresses, no real man would ever use a position of power — as a producer, a director, a CEO or a star — to try and coerce a woman into a sexual relationship. No real man would ever demean or humiliate a woman, use size or strength, wealth or fame or the threat of physical violence, harass or make a woman’s life miserable in some twisted effort to get something from her, sexually.

If that’s what it takes for a guy to have a “relationship” with a woman, he doesn’t deserve a relationship. He needs to go off by himself somewhere until he learns how to treat people. For some, including our nation’s chief executive, that somewhere should probably be a prison cell.

Not all of us merit prison, but all of us — men and women — are long overdue for this wake-up call. Our entire culture is way too focused on appearance. We need desperately to get beyond that, to change the way we look at, think about, and treat people.

We’re celebrating Martin Luther King Day Monday. How about honoring his legacy by dealing with each other based on the “the content of our character” — not skin color, gender, nationality, looks or anything else that’s merely superficial? How about we start looking deeper, living worthy of respect and treating each other with respect?

Maybe Hollywood should lead this fight. But it’s everyone’s fight.

Bathroom fears

Texas’ legislature is currently in special session to consider, among other things, a bill to protect you from going to a public toilet next to someone who was not born into the gender graphically depicted on the bathroom door through which you and they have recently passed.

You know. Stick-figure-in-a-dress or stick-figure-in-pants. It’s universal.

[Confession: I did violate this once, in Austin. I had just finished a long drive during which I had consumed a very large soft drink. When I pulled up at the hotel where I was going to a meeting, I dashed into the lobby, found the restrooms and, in my haste, took a wrong turn. I thought it unusual that there were no urinals, but hey, it was Austin. I entered a stall, took care of my business, and was washing my hands when I noticed vending machines on the wall behind me. I thought it highly unusual that they would sell feminine products in the mens’ room. Then, the “Ah-hah!” moment. Sheepishly (actually, gazelleishly) I dashed out, looked at the door behind me and confirmed my fears, then looked around to see if anyone had observed me. If this incident is the cause of the current brouhaha at the Capitol, I deeply apologize to all my fellow Texans.]

That little story, by the way, brings to approximately three the number of confirmed cases of bathroom-gender-jumping. I don’t think it matters to the crusaders that it’s almost always inadvertent. People like me must be stopped, through every available civil and criminal means.

The mere possibility that something like this could happen makes some legislators want to station armed guards at every bathroom door to check birth certificates and compare them to, uh, equipment. I can’t see those jobs getting a flood of applicants, but protecting the God-given bathroom privacy of every red-blooded, single-gendered American is worth a lot. This sudden, overwhelming threat to bathroom privacy has even kept the Texas Senate from dealing with less important issues, like funding public schools.

What could be worse than being at the urinal and some lady in a red dress comes and stands next to you? What if he/she doesn’t know that guys in that position don’t talk to each other? What if he/she doesn’t know guys don’t look at each other, either? Especially not at each other’s, uh, equipment? You’d hope it’s one of those restrooms where they frame today’s sports page over the urinal, so you could just read and avoid looking at him/her. But it could get ugly. And if it’s a lifestyle page, you better check and make sure you’re in the right restroom.

If you’re a woman, what greater nightmare could there be than to have a woman dressed like a dude, or a dude dressed like a woman, enter the stall next to you? (Okay, it could be worse. They could be wearing the same dress as you.) If you’re in a stall, you might not see them, but most of the time the door has enough of a crack that you get a glimpse as they pass. Either way, you can see their shoes, and women can tell a lot from shoes. Oh sure, they’d close and latch the stall door, but then you’d just sit there and imagine what he/she is doing in there! If you can’t imagine it, just stand on the toilet seat and look over the partition! You’ll probably be deeply offended! Him/her too!

Of course, in some scenarios, the offenders may actually be in the bathroom of their birth gender, which has been changed, and thus in compliance with the proposed law although their appearance indicates otherwise. They’re the true targets of this law. We don’t want them in the restroom of their new gender. We want them in the restroom of their original gender. But what if their dress and appearance matches the stick-figure on the bathroom door, but their equipment is not original? This cannot be determined by a superficial glance. We may all have to start carrying our birth certificates at all times.

In any case, just thinking about these horrors has a few lawmakers, and everyone else in their echo chamber, in a complete tizzy, unable to think about anything else.

I have LONG considered public restrooms extremely scary places. In movies, all kinds of bad stuff happens in public restrooms. Guys are always getting knifed, shot or beat up, threatened, blackmailed or otherwise mistreated in there. Sometimes they walk in on a drug deal, or catch James Bond peeling off his rubber face, or the Mission Impossible force is in there tunneling into the Vatican or something like that.

When it comes to bathroom business, like Superman I prefer a fortress of solitude. In fact, the series of doors that slam shut behind Maxwell Smart as he enters his office while the opening credits roll strikes me as just about right. My first choice is to take care of that business at my house. Only the direst emergency can force me into a public stall, and when it does, I enter in abject terror.

I’ve come to appreciate the “family” restroom — a one-fixture facility with a locking door. If forced into a multi-stall situation, you just hope no one comes in. If someone is already in there, you have a little bit of an upper hand in that you can choose your stall, and you know he’s nervous about you. But if you go in alone, get started and then someone comes in — all you can do is pray it’s not Liam Neeson thinking you kidnapped his daughter. But it probably is.

In that situation, no matter what’s going on inside me (and it must be bad or I would not be in there) I will go completely silent. I’ve even been known to lift my feet so if he looks under the stall doors he will think no one is in there. If I have to, I can hold that for an hour, until he takes care of his business, washes his hands, dries them, checks his hair and leaves. Thinking you’re about to die is a wonderful motivator.

[A word here about those self-flushing toilets. They’re evil. Once in Dallas, I had to duck into a restroom and change from casual clothes into a suit and tie. I stepped into the only stall, hung my suit on the hook, and began to get out of my casual clothes. To get socks and shoes off, of course, I had to sit down. When I stood up, it flushed. About this time, a guy comes in. He sees there’s only one stall and from his anguished gasp, I can tell he is in trouble. I hurry, and this does not help. I get the pants on, but I have to sit down again to put on the socks and shoes on. Sitting, standing, I trigger probably three or four more flushes while he’s dancing just outside the door, whining. I can see his feet hopping. Finally, he gives up and leaves. I hope he found what he was looking for.]

I won’t even go into the thinness of the toilet paper, the lack of working soap dispensers or the near-impossibility of trying to get your hands in front of the little electronic eye that turns the water on. And those noisy, supersonic hand dryers — who thought of that? If I see the hand dryer is made by Boeing I just wipe my hands on my pants and go.

By far the closest thing I’ve had to “fun” in a public restroom was in a museum in Denver where the sinks, triggered by hand motion, start singing “Row, row, row your boat.” There are three sinks, so you can theoretically flit from sink to sink forever, creating your own little choral round. I’m sure it’s cost them thousands of gallons of water.

I think society will eventually move away from communal bathrooms and go with all stalls and open seating, with no stick-figures on the doors. I’m already at home in that scenario, what with my Austin experience. But if I see a pair of heels come clicking in, I’m lifting my feet.

If it really is a woman, chances are she’ll be chatty. And the guys who wear heels? Scary.

Maybe this is how America becomes great again

Donald Trump may end up being one of the best things that’s ever happened to the United States of America.

Please note, I didn’t say he’d end up as one of the best presidents ever. I believe he’s possibly the least qualified and most poorly prepared person to ever hold that office — although in 230-plus years, we’re bound to have had a few who were in his league.

No, I’m not going to rant or recite a long list of bad moves I think he’s made. You can get that from lots of other sources. I’d rather project what may happen if he continues as he has begun.

I can, for instance, cite examples of people I know personally, who have completed the requirements for citizenship just since Trump was elected. One friend came here as a refugee and despite working to support four children, studied and passed the test — a test I’m sure many lifelong U.S. citizens would struggle with.

The other, a Hispanic woman, had lived here “without papers” for years, finding a niche, working and getting by. But the threat of being deported caused her to take action, and now she’s a citizen.

I suspect this scenario is playing out quietly all over this country. While demonstrators march and political passions are stirred over “sanctuary cities” bills, border walls and proposed travel bans, many who have been living in the shadows are taking the steps necessary to stay here. These new citizens will continue to work and raise their families in this country.

I suspect they will vote, too.

In fact, I predict that in the wake of Trump’s election, a great number of citizens who have ignored politics all their lives will become voters. Some of those currently in power are working to deny the vote to as many as possible, but I don’t think they will succeed.

The United States has long had a poor voter turnout compared to most other countries. Trump’s election may change that. I hope Americans finally realize we cannot afford ignorance and apathy when it comes to politics.

Didn’t we used to teach kids it was their civic duty to be informed and go to the polls to elect our leaders? That those who enjoy the blessings of this country have a responsibility to take part in the political process? If that definition of “citizenship” makes a comeback — if 70, 80 or 90 percent of American citizens voted — elections would start to look very different.

I’ll also predict that many of the laws we’ve come to take for granted will be strengthened by the assault they’re currently under. I think Americans want the environment protected. I think we want curbs on pollution, clean energy and reasonable restraints on corporate greed. I think we want the poor and the elderly among us to have access to decent health care.

I won’t be surprised if in the next few years it becomes law that presidential candidates must release their tax returns. And if a future Congress wants to put reasonable restraints on the president’s lavish travel expenses, I’m okay with that, too. Those who campaign on cutting the federal budget should first balance the budget for their office.

Our current president has made attacking the media a sport. I predict the people of the United States will at some point come to agree with Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

It may be a few years away, but I think Americans’ respect for the free press will revive. The press must earn it, but I believe they will — by continuing to do their job. Telling people the truth doesn’t make you popular in the short term, but they eventually appreciate you for it.

I believe most Americans want healthy school lunches, and they want public funding to stay in public schools. I believe most Americans want leaders who will work with each other, not just constantly attack each other while nothing gets done.

I think Americans want straight answers at press conferences and real leadership from our leaders. I think Americans want to respect their government, not listen to so-called “leaders” who tear it down without having the faintest idea what they’re talking about. I think we want to respect our neighbors, too — and to once again be respected by them as an ally who keeps its promises and holds up the light of freedom in a dark world.

Rather than running around beating our chests about how great America is, I think most Americans would prefer to prove that by our actions.

The United States of America is built on ideals that are bigger than any one person. Attack those ideals long enough, and hard enough, and Americans will return to them, stronger than ever. We’ve learned that lesson, over and over, throughout our history.

So Donald Trump may actually play a key role in “making America great again” — though perhaps not exactly in the way he may have imagined.

It starts with all of us learning what made America great in the first place.


This essay thing

Essay writing consists largely of people’s observations as they discover what others have known all along.

That doesn’t invalidate the craft. I can, for example, now place my daughter’s take on parenthood next to mine — written when she was a baby, leading us for the first time through experiences she is now having. I’m delighted to read hers, as are, no doubt, the thousand or so who follow her blog.

Observing and sharing are the soul of essay writing, whatever its form. And wherever we find ourselves on life’s journey, our observations are at least valid, almost always a launching pad for a reader’s own memories, and at best fresh and unique.

This process does not stop, by the way, until the journey stops. We are, all of us, constantly winding our way into places we’ve never been.

My wife and I have, for example, only in the last few years discovered what it’s like to take care of elderly parents. To liquidate the homes we grew up in, to sell, keep, throw away or otherwise disburse the accoutrements of our young lives. It’s hard, and even though it’s universal, that does not make our thoughts as we go through it any less valid. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see something others missed.

I recently traversed the Cascades for the first time, gasping at the beauty of the sheer, snow-laden cliffs and the gushing rivers. Is this, I wondered, why they call them the “cascades”? Am I the first to wonder that?

I also learned how quickly the climate can change. One minute you’re watching Bavarian dancers around a maypole in sunny Leavenworth, and scarcely an hour later you’re in a blizzard at Stevens Pass. A sign says the Pacific Crest Trail is just ahead, and snowplows have piled up the winter’s precipitation alongside a highway that was clear just a few miles back.

It’s nothing the Donner Party didn’t already know, but it was news to me.

I am, at 61, just now developing a taste for coffee — thanks, probably, to having a son-in-law from Costa Rica and two children who did tours of duty as baristas. We visited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica two summers ago and all I could enjoy was the aroma. If we went back now I would be sampling and savoring — albeit still with cream and sugar.

It’s common among people my age to drink coffee, but for me it’s new and kind of exciting. When coffee gets old I may have to investigate beer…

Also, I only recently learned that the word “peninsula” comes from the same linguistic root as a certain part of the male anatomy. Perhaps most of you knew that all along — but it was somewhat of a shock to me. Now there’s an entire geographic feature that I will never be able to look upon quite the same way again.

Florida! Please! Show some modesty!

On a tamer note, I and my bride (who knew about the geographical thing all along and took it in stride) are just two years into the grandparent experience, in which many of our contemporaries have been immersed for years. We are constantly sharing what we believe to be unique, awesome, wonderful observations with them — and as they politely smile and nod we realize they’ve been there, done that, and have a whole closet full of t-shirts.

Never mind. We’re going to keep on marveling at the wonderfulness. It’s fresh for somebody.

Man on a mission

Three-year-old boys wake up every morning and begin a search-and-uh-oh-I-need-to-be-rescued mission.

People my age were not designed to have one of these — it’s a privilege mostly reserved for the young and energetic, who can get onto and off of the floor without so much groaning, popping and creaking. But like medicine, in measured doses, it will cure whatever ails you.

Three-year-old boys are high-energy dynamos, dominoes waiting to be knocked over. They live life at 90 miles an hour and narrate every step. They devour reality, but seldom actually live in it. While you and I see them as small people, they see themselves as the largest, most powerful creatures on the planet.

They’re Iron Man, Captain America, Superman and Batman rolled into one. They can fly — just listen to the jet sounds — and when they run they make their own whooshing Ninja noises. There’s nothing they can’t climb, outrun or conquer. They learn something new every minute, and make up twice as much.

God built them close to the ground so that when they fall, it rarely results in injury. Although they sometimes cry — particularly if Mom’s around — for the most part they just inventory the boo-boos, pop back up and continue the mission.

If I fell, just once, the way ours falls 20 times a day, they’d take me to the ER, and from there to a nursing home.

Three-year-old boys eat a lot, and the feeding process leaves so much debris behind that you wonder if anything actually made its way into their digestive tract. Then they exercise their new-found ability to go to the bathroom and it’s confirmed that yes, some did. Quite a bit, actually.

Three-year-old boys bounce back and forth between inexpressible delight and unfathomable sorrow, sometimes only seconds apart. When you get down on the floor with them, delight kicks in. They will dash through the house and attack you from behind a hundred times in a row, and have no doubt that you’re really surprised, every time.

Wrestling is a sacrament, pillows are made to be tossed, and low pieces of furniture like chairs, couches, beds and tables are designed to be climbed upon and leapt off of.

Couch cushions, Mom’s purse, your toolbox, their toy box, food — it’s there to be deconstructed, unloaded, taken apart, examined, tasted, tossed. If you happen to have a soft bed, a trampoline or some other space you can safely toss a three-year-old into or onto, you can do that almost infinitely and he will never get tired of it.

But at three, more and more often, things seize their attention and hold it. The toy they’ve had for months suddenly becomes something else in their imagination and it’s the coolest thing ever. A book that was just an object to toss around is discovered to have actual writing and pictures. A stuffed animal gets a name, and a role, and becomes a constant companion.

Three-year-old boys are, above all, interactive. You read, sing and talk with them, not to them. They’re not interested in being entertained, but in entertaining. They don’t want to watch you do stuff, they want to help you. They want a job. They mimic you so perfectly it’s scary.

Three-year-old boys can get grouchy when they get tired, but if you promise them they can play in the bathtub — with rubber ducks and Miss Piggy and Elmo — they’ll gladly let you coax them into getting clean and ready for bed.

And if, by chance, you find that calm story about sleepy bears, and you read it often enough, and slowly enough, sometimes three-year-old boys will yawn a time or two and go right to sleep on your lap. Once they go, they’re gone, because they sleep just as hard as they play.

The only thing you can do at that point is rock them as long as you can, soaking up all the love, the joy, the energy, feeling the heat they’ve built up during the day dissipate into the atmosphere. Then you take them to their bed, kiss them on the cheek and bid them softly to have dreams as sweet as being awake was.

And you wonder who learned more that day, you or him.

Yeah. Everybody ought to have one of these.

The well-watered times

Some people thought it was the end of the world. I thought it was the center.

There was a lot to love about my West Texas hometown. Beautiful sunsets, fields of cotton as far as the eye could see, clouds sailing overhead like great fleets of ships — as well as a beautiful old theater, a big swimming pool, a bustling square. I grew up believing we had the best schools, the best basketball teams, the prettiest girls, the nicest people, the happiest dogs, the best Mexican food.

About the only thing we didn’t have was a lot of rain.

I don’t think I ever saw an issue of the newspaper that didn’t have a weather- or farm-related story. When we had a big rain, happy little frogs splashed across the top of the front page. In church, every prayer invoked the blessing of rain on our crops.

I never understood the songs about rainy days being bad days. Rain made us want to dance in the street — and we probably would have, except for the way most of us were raised to look upon dancing.

Rain was the stuff of life, a reminder that God did care for us — some years more than others. When He wanted to, he could shower blessings down on us, in soaking waves of sweet water from heaven.

Rain saved the crops, filled playa lakes, recharged the aquifer, baptized everything clean. After a big rain, I would make little boats and sail them in the wide gutter in front of the church across the street, then chase them as they joined tributaries, flowing down to the park where they fed a small lake that seemed like an ocean to me.

That, of course, was a long time ago. After more than 30 years living near Fort Worth, the West Texas rains of my childhood are just a vivid memory. But a love of rain is in my DNA.

For a couple of decades, we’ve made our home on not-quite-three acres west of Azle. Some years, dry winters coughed their way into dry springs, as we wondered if anything was going to leaf out, or if it was all just going to burn down to dirt in the summer sun.

Other years, the rain came in great cloud-borne buckets, and there were floods. I took pictures of guys canoeing into their garages, seeing what they could salvage off the top shelves. I remember standing on an old bridge, watching big round bales of hay take float, feeling them bump as they bounced underneath me on their way into the lake.

I guess I’ve learned not to get too down in the dry times or too high in the wet times. But I still believe, like the old water park commercial, that “good times are wet times” — and this year is one I’ll savor for a long, long time.

Every flower, every blade of grass, every tree on our place has all the water it needs right now. The irises put on a show this spring, and the azaleas, the Carolina jessamine and all the flower pots dazzled with color. Vinca and Asian jasmine have filled in every bare spot, trees are lush and the English ivy is climbing the walls.

For awhile, I thought my new redbud tree had missed the party.

I planted it in late winter, carefully placing it in just the right spot, mulching it and watering it thoroughly. But while all the other redbuds, all over town, were in glorious display, mine still hadn’t leafed out.

I thought about ripping it out of the ground and taking it back to the nursery. Instead, I stopped by one day, told the owner what was, or wasn’t, going on, and asked her what to do. She told me not to give up on it. Scratch the bark and see if it’s green inside. Water it, she said. Give it time.

She was right. First one bud, then another popped out and leaves began to unfold. It didn’t bloom this spring, but it’s put on a foot of new growth and big broad leaves that shimmer in the dappled sunlight. I can’t wait for next spring to see it join in the chorus of blooms.

It will always remind me of the well-watered times. And next spring, if I need to water it, I will.image