Thinking of My Dad on Father’s Day

“A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?” – Stephen Colbert

A few days ago was the 13th anniversary of my father’s death.  I’ve mentioned him before here and I’ve spoken of him as a hard man, and he was.

Today is Father’s Day, and I find myself wondering what he would think of me today.

I’ve owned my own business for 17 years now, and I think he would like that and be proud of me for it.  On the other hand, I never followed in his footsteps and pursued his business when he was alive and I didn’t pick it up and run with it after he died.  That, I’m sure, would be a big disappointment for him.

That’s how it was with him then, and that’s how it is now:  I never quite know where I stand.

Does the pride outweigh the disappointment?

 

I’ve always lived with the feeling it didn’t.

Unity and Diversity – Two Sides of the Same Myth (Part Two)

“World unity is the wish of the hopeful, the goal of the idealist and the dream of the romantic. Yet it is folly to the realist and a lie to the innocent.”
– Don Williams, Jr.

 

Last week, I wrote about how when we push for diversity, we end up erasing it.  I believe a similar thing occurs when we speak of unity.  Even as we talk about our desire for unity, we divide ourselves.

Historically, just about every nation has experienced racial and cultural divides.  Often, these have turned into bloody affairs with injustices and atrocities committed by those in power on both sides.

In the United States today, we claim that we want racial unity, however the evidence shows otherwise.  Are you a Mexican-American?  An African-American?  Italian-American?  Irish-American?

If different ethnic groups wanted unity, then they wouldn’t label themselves by their race or nationality.  In doing so, they automatically segregate themselves from the rest of society, creating an “us” versus “them” mentality.

We see this in religion as well.  As a church we want unity… kind of.  One of my all-time favorite jokes was told by the comedian Emo Philips:

“Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.   I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

I said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!”  And I pushed him over.”

I believe the problem comes from our inability to define who we are as individuals.  We are desperate to find some meaningful way by which we can be identified.  Somehow, we have to matter because in our hearts, we need to matter.  So, we pick something about ourselves, and cling to it for dear life.

We then surround ourselves with people who identify themselves as we do, thereby validating our choice in selecting what it is that makes us important.  If we lose that one thing – our religion, our nationality, our skin color… our favorite team, for that matter – we lose our identity, and with it, our value.

It’s seems that we want unity, but only within our own separate little groups.

Unity and Diversity – Two Sides of the Same Myth (Part One)

“I could be wrong, but I believe Diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.”
– Ron Burgundy

 

As I write this, the nation is embroiled in a heated battle over who gets to use which restroom. Even our president has weighed in on this all-important issue, threatening to deny funds to our schools if they don’t allow boys to use the girl’s locker room.

(Where was this policy when I was in high school?  I mean, I wasn’t even sure girls were actually ever naked, but I was very, very interested in finding out.)

Of course, the whole thing is absurd.

It has, however, initiated a train of thought which has led me to conclude that unity and diversity, or at least our desire for them, are myths.  Not that this is a conscious thing.  To the contrary, I think people sincerely believe they want unity.  I think people sincerely want to embrace diversity.  However, I don’t think we truly want want either.

A case in point is our current media-induced frenzy about gender self-identification.  The idea here is that we should value diversity by allowing individuals to determine for themselves what gender they are at any given time.  If we force a gender assignment, we are not valuing diversity.

The problem is that it’s not enough for us to recognize or respect the right of someone else to self-identify.  If that were the case, then the push would be for unisex bathrooms.  Instead, we are told we must each sacrifice our own gender identity in the process.  In effect, we are being forced to eliminate gender as an identification.

There can no longer be male or female… rather we are aggressively forced into the foggy world of gender neutrality.

We see this in areas of sexuality, as well.  It is not enough to say, “Men have the right to marry men and women have the right to marry women.”  If that were the case, I think it would be less of an issue.  Instead, you must celebrate the marriage and you must participate in the process, regardless of your own beliefs, if called upon to do so.

When it comes to sexuality, there can only be agreement.  Anything else is unacceptable.

We’re not just stamping out dissenting opinion or beliefs; we’re also eliminating the virtues that come along with achievement.

Kids who naturally excel at athletics are pulled down to the level of the least talented through the virtue of “participation” awards.

Those who have worked hard to get through high school, some of whom have had to overcome learning disabilities in the process, receive the same diploma as the apathetic kid who was passed along from grade to grade in the interest of preserving self-esteem.

In other areas, diversity is celebrated, but only for some.  People are allowed to be proud of their race, unless they’re white.  Religion is to be tolerated and have its flaws forgiven, unless we’re talking about Christianity.

As a society, we’ve been talking about diversity for decades.  There are all kinds of inspirational posters out there that pair inspirational quotes about diversity with pictures of butterflies.  We communicate this image of naturally diverse colors standing out in beauty.

Unfortunately, the image of our reality is that of  a giant blob that reaches out with tentacles to snare the individual and pull him down into the colorless muck below.

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Three

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

After two weeks of background info, I finally get to share this story about my dad… one time for sure when he achieved the perfect Dad Score of 10/10.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty hard and life in the Aggie Band is harder still.  Back then, a large number of fish would wash out.  I don’t recall exactly what the attrition rates were, but I want to say Corps-wide, it was about 35-40%.  I know in prior years it was as high as 60% and I’ve heard rumors of years when it was more.  When I was there, my outfit had one of the highest retention rates in the Corps, but one of the other three outfits in the Band started with 36 fish and ended with 14 – a 61% attrition rate.

Most fish reach a breaking point where they make the fateful Call Home.  During the Call Home, they tell their parents how hard it is… how it’s not what they expected… how this isn’t what college is supposed to be like… how high school band was fun, but this is just torture… how mean and cruel the upperclassmen are, especially the sophomores.

I’m not ashamed to say I made the Call Home.

It was probably two or three weeks in.  My dad answered the phone.  I asked to speak to my mom.  He must have known what was up because he said, “Why don’t you talk to me first.”

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I talked to him.  Once I started talking, I started crying, which surprised me… I didn’t realize how broken down I had become.

I told him how much I hated my life, how hard the Aggie Band was and how we had to do so much more stuff than the rest of the Corps and how our upperclassmen made us do things the CT fish didn’t have to do.  (Members of the Corps are affectionately known as CTs.)  I complained about not getting enough to eat and not ever getting enough sleep.  I complained about tons of other things.  I told him I wanted to quit.

Given his passion for A&M, I expected to hear something that started with “No son of mine…” and continued with a mandate of staying in the Corps and the Band.

He simply said, “Well, son. That’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”

I was stunned.  I think I was looking for permission to quit or, at the very least, being berated into not quitting.  I wasn’t prepared for his simple response.

I asked him what I should do.

He said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can decide.”

Then, he said, “I can tell you this, though: If you quit, you will spend the rest of your life knowing you couldn’t do this. You will end up quitting other, more important, things later on. If you somehow make it through this, you will know that you can overcome anything because nothing will feel as hard as this does right now. This decision is going to define who you are for the rest of your life.”

I think this might have been my dad’s finest moment as a father.  I can’t think of anything he could have said or done differently which would have been even slightly better.

To top it all off, he was right.

 

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Two

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Last week, I began telling a story about my dad… one time for sure when he nailed the whole “being a father’ thing.  To help understand this moment, I found it necessary to share a little bit about our common history at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty tough, and your freshman year is a lot like being in boot camp for nine months with the added bonus of being a full-time student who needs to actually make good grades.

Being in the Aggie Band, though, took the whole concept of making life miserable for the fish and turned it up to 11.

In addition to everything the other fish had to do, we had drill every afternoon from 1600 hours until formation and chow at 1830 hours.  The first half hour of drill was called “sectionals” where each instrument section (such as trumpets, woodwinds, drums, etc.) would work on their specific skills and maneuvers.  As it turns out, the vast majority of the skills and maneuvers in my section (woodwinds) involved having inspection-perfect uniforms, including combat boots polished to a mirror shine (we called it a “two-bulb” shine… the shine had to be so perfect, upperclassmen could see the distinct reflections of each of the two florescent bulbs in a dorm room’s ceiling light fixture).  The inspection involved a good 3-5 minutes and ended in doing push ups while getting yelled at by sophomores for the rest of sectionals.  The remainder of drill was spent perfecting the upcoming halftime drill for the week with a lot of push ups and getting yelled at thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes we missed formation.  Sometimes we got into Duncan Dining Hall just long enough to have five minutes to inhale our food before we had to report to our dorms for a quick shower and then Call to Quarters, which was mandatory study time.

Other things about being a BQ (member of the band) were harder, too.  When it came to our uniforms, the shine on our shoes, how we spoke to upperclassmen, our requirement to always have a fish buddy with us (you have no idea the abject terror one experiences when finding oneself the lone fish in front of upperclassmen)… in all of these things, and more, our upperclassmen held us to a higher standard than what we saw in the rest of the Corps.

For example, unlike the rest of the fish in the Corps, our upperclassmen required us to speak in unison.  You could always tell when a group of BQ fish were talking to an upperclassman because the first word was drawn out long enough for everyone to get into sync:  “Miiiiiiiiiiiiister Jones, sir!”  Looking back, I’m amazed at how we were able to organically develop a cadence in our speaking which allowed all of us to say stuff in unison.

Fortunately, this was made easier (a happy accident, I’m sure, as upperclassmen are loath to make fish lives easier) because as a fish, you’re only allowed to say one thing to an upperclassman when initiating a conversation:
 – “Mr Smith, sir!  May we have permission to speak sir!” (It’s actually not posed as a question.)

Likewise, there are only four fish answers:
– “Yes, sir”
“No, sir”
“No excuse, sir”, and
– “I don’t know, sir”

For the sake of accuracy, I need to be more specific about that last fish answer.  You’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  The correct form of this answer is as follows:

“Sir! Not being informed to the highest degree of accuracy, I hesitate to articulate for fear I may deviate from the true course of rectitude.  In short, I’m a very dumb fish and do not know, sir!”

Sounds like a fun life, right?  Hence the phone call to my dad….

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part One

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Like most men my age (or, perhaps, of any age), I had a complicated relationship with my father.  For the most part, I didn’t like him much.  He was an angry, prideful man and he had a gift for making me feel unworthy and instilled in me a feeling that I was a constant disappointment.  This wasn’t something he attempted to do.  In fact, there were many times where he would tell me that I was a constant source of joy in his life and that he was very proud of me.  But, that didn’t seem to ever sink in.

Unfortunately, this has defined my view of God and ended up molding me into the kind of father he was.  I’m not making excuses for my many failures as a parent; rather, it’s made me understand him far more and has enabled me to give him a lot of grace.  When I look at his life, from the time he was a boy all the way through to when I became a man, it’s no wonder he became who he was.  And in all fairness, he did a much better job than he should have been able to.

I was thinking about him today… about one moment in particular.  Without a doubt, this is one of the times my dad nailed fatherhood.  Seriously, his Dad Score was a perfect 10 out of 10.

To fully understand this – to know why he knocked it out of the park – you have to understand a little bit about him and me and some history we share.

My dad went to Texas A&M University and was class of ’62.  Of course, he was in the Corps of Cadets and he was incredibly passionate about his love of A&M throughout his entire life.  I went to Texas A&M as well (class of ’92) and I was also in the Corps of Cadets, but I also joined the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band (which is a major unit of the Corps).  And, like my father, I’m very passionate about A&M and love it dearly.

If you’re not familiar with the Corps, it’s an ROTC program.  But, it’s not like most.  Texas A&M is one of six Senior Military Colleges.  The Corps of Cadets at A&M is similar to the ones at The Citadel, VMI or Norich.  This means life is a lot like life at one of the service academies, but quite a bit tougher.  Cadets were supervised far less than at the academies, so there was more… ah… “creative” forms of instilling discipline into the freshmen (called “fish”).  The fish year was basically nine months of boot camp with the added stress of being a full-time student.

Being a fish in the Aggie Band, at least when I was there, made life in the rest of the Corps look pretty easy – with the exception of the guys in the Fish Drill Team.  If you’re not familiar them, look them up.  They’re absolutely amazing.

More about life in the Aggie Band next week.

Easter… Big Deal? Yes.

I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”  – Charles Colson

Today, Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection signaling His victory over sin and death.

Christianity is actually very, very simple and it all starts with one question:  “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

Most of us say, “Yes.  Of course, I’m a good person.”

 

But, you’re not.  Seriously.  You’ve lied.  You’ve cheated.  You’ve spread rumors about people, or participated in it.  You’ve hated.  You’ve deliberately hurt people… probably the ones who care the most about you.  You’ve been selfish and bitter.  You’ve been arrogant and condescending.

Yeah.  Me, too.

The basic foundation of Christianity is that you and I and everyone else who has ever lived and ever will live are people who do the best they can given the fact we carry wounds and scars from things we’ve experienced.  But, we still mess up.  A lot.

This is called “sin” which is a word that means “to miss the mark”.  Basically, we didn’t hit the target we were aiming at… or maybe we nailed the target, but should have been aiming somewhere else.

The Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”   We’re all in that place… we’re all equally and firmly in the category of “sinner”.

Unfortunately, there’s a price for those mistakes… not only in our lives today, but when we face God after we die.  The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death…”.  Not a very comforting thought.

But, here’s where it gets interesting:  the Bible also says, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Let’s say you’re in court.  You’ve committed some pretty bad crimes and you’re sentenced to life in prison or pay millions of dollars in reparations.

Let’s say this guy steps forward.  A guy who has never done anything wrong in his entire life.  And he looks at the judge and says, “Your honor.  You know me.  You know I’ve never committed a crime in my life.  But this person here is my friend and I love her dearly like I would love my own sister.  I’ve got a check here that will cover what you’ve ordered her to pay.  If there’s jail time involved, I’ll do that for her, too.”

This is what Jesus did.  He stepped forward, looked God in the eye and said, “Dad, you’re right, of course.  He did do those things.  He did act like that.  But, he’s a friend of mine and I love him.   Even though he did those things, and I’ve never done them, I’m willing to take the blame for what he did and suffer the consequences that should have been his.”

Most people have embraced perceptions about Christianity that simply aren’t true.  Christianity is not about judging others; it’s about loving others.  Christianity is not about abstaining from sin; it’s about being freed from sin.  Christianity is not about pretending to be perfect; it’s about accepting the fact that we’re not.

In essence, Christianity is understanding the I’m equally guilty of my sin as everyone else is of theirs.  It’s understanding that because of this, I’m no better (or worse) than anyone else.  And, most importantly, it’s about understanding that God loves me enough that He’s willing not to overlook my sin – but to pay for it Himself.

When Christ died, he took on my sins and yours and accepted the punishment on our behalf.  When He rose again, He left those sins in the grave forever.  Now, we can live as God planned us to… free of sin and judgment, secure in knowing we were each loved enough to have God Himself stand in the gap and take our blame.

Pray that God would know your heart and that you truly believe you’ve sinned and want to accept Christ’s gift of taking those sins away from you.  Pray that He would forgive you of those sins.  Pray that you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died to for those sins.  Ask Jesus to be your Savior.  Ask Him to be your Lord.

Praise God, He is risen!