“You gotta have some kind of back-up plan, right?”

So, this short video clip pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling since I was about 21.

Constantly.

Without ceasing.

It sometimes keeps me from easily falling asleep at night and it is often the first thing that I think about in the morning.

I first became aware that this sort of thing might be a real problem when my dad had some mini-strokes back in 1992 and I ended up running the family business for a while.  Nothing sobers you up like having the responsibility of making payroll for 27 people (people with families) and taking a hard look at the financial books and business prospects.  That’s when I discovered that new corporate-backed competitors were getting ready to obliterate independent auto parts stores nationwide.  They had already started opening up in town and my father’s only response was to continue doing business as we had done since the early 70’s, hoping that our service and long-standing relationships would trump corporate volume discount pricing.

It didn’t.

We got to sell our part of the family farm 12 years later when the floods came in 2004 and I learned that the way Dad had kept the last of his businesses open was to take $125,000 out against his and Mom’s house.  Not exactly the back-up plan I had hoped for.

Later, as I was finishing-up college, I worked with some friends and we did Christian summer youth camps.  When we became successful, I started noticing that people almost twice our age were looking to us as if we had the answer to where youth ministry and even the evangelical church, as a whole, were headed.  We were young and unmarried,  with no kids, no mortgages, and we had few responsibilities beyond keeping our grades up.  How could someone with all of the things we lacked in addition to a master’s degree possibly be looking to us for answers?  Didn’t they have a plan?  Didn’t they know where we were headed?

Next, I graduated and started working as a youth minister in Baptist churches.  Every staff meeting, deacon’s meeting, or planning session left me with an ever-growing sense that instead of “The Great and Powerful Oz” that there was merely some bumbling man behind the curtain to which I wasn’t supposed to be paying attention, because if I was paying attention I would certainly learn that he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing.  Was it possible that we were on a train with no engineer at the controls?

Finally, I started paying attention to national politics and the news, in general.  At that point, all of my suspicions were confirmed.  Things are out of control because a whole lot of leaders from just about every avenue of life have dropped the proverbial ball.  That’s when I had the exact same realization that Bruce Willis’ character had in Armageddon.

There is no room somewhere with people thinking shit up.

No brilliant answers are forthcoming…at least not for most of what is really ailing us.

I challenge you to take about an hour.  Lay down all of the patent answers and statements that you’ve been accepting from our politicians and our ministers and our media outlets.  The people that we’ve been trusting, like doctors, counselors, gurus and experts.  Put all of those people aside for just a few minutes and forget that they are telling you that they have a good idea for how everything is going to work out.

Now, take a look at the world.  Take a look at our country.  Examine the state of our communities.  Read today’s newspaper front to back.  Hit up Reuters and the Associated Press.  Look at the actual events, not the coverage.  Turn the sound off on your television and flip through all the channels and see what our kids and popular culture figures all look like.  Go to a public place and see how many people are interacting with the people around them and how many people have their face stuck in some sort of electronic device or have headphones jammed in their ears.

After doing all of that, I don’t know where you will end up, but I know where it has left me.  I think we aren’t paying attention.  I think that we are being distracted by people who are trying to convince us (as well as themselves) that they have it figured out.  I think that we are getting hollow platitudes.  I think that some of us need to find a way to walk away from most of the concerns of the American dream and start soul-searching for some better answers.

We need to realize that there really isn’t a room where people are “thinking shit up”…but there should be.  And those people that should be “thinking shit up”?  That should be us.

We are responsible for our own families.  We are responsible for our own faith.  Each and every one of us is responsible for being well-informed, so that we can make the appropriate choices.  More importantly, we need to be able to tell when we are trusting someone that has no contingency plan.

Really? This is some sort of surprise for you?

image

This particular magazine has been the bane of my existence today.  I normally wouldn’t get so upset, but it was everywhere.  It was even in the line at Lowe’s Home Improvement.  Lowe’s, a store that sells lumber and hardware.

Why should I let something like this magazine bother me, you ask?  Because this is the sort of thing that he is ruining young American women.  We are allowing the reinforcement of a stereotypical woman with poor judgement.

I barely know anything about  contemporary pop culture and even I know that John Mayer has had a string of bad relationships.  It has been covered in the tabloids, in the news, and comedians even make jokes about it.  In fact, Taylor Swift went so far as to write a song about the kind of person he is.

Anyone who wants to know what went wrong need only look at the man’s track record.  And yet somehow…somehow, we like to pretend that this is a situation that has a victim.  We like to imagine that Katy Perry has just ended up on the wrong side of love, when the reality is that she should have used better judgement.

This is one of the things that frustrated me the most during my final years of youth ministry. We live in a society that tells us that we can no longer make a decision about another person based on their track record because that would be “judging”.

I can’t tell you how many times I caught flack because I told some girl that her boyfriend was a loser and she could do better.  I would point out the young man’s past record with women advise that this was probably a bad decision. Too often, my advice is ignored and I was left to console the young lady somewhere down the road when the young man, inevitably, showed his true colors.

It has been said many times: “If a dog bite you once, shame on the dog. If a dog bites you twice, shame on you.”  I say that if you see a dog bite someone else and then you let it bite you, then shame on you the first time.

Please Buy One of These…and Learn How To Use It

A time-tested device for not looking stupid.
A time-tested device for not looking stupid.

I wondered what would rekindle the fire that drives me to write.  Would it be any of the number of currently trending political topics?  No.  Would it be some massive and controversial social issue?  No.  It turns out that what I really needed was to read a simple Facebook post.

The items that you see in the above photo are dictionaries.  For the uninformed they are books that contain alphabetical listings of words and their meanings.  These listings even come with handy phonetic representations which help with pronunciation.  I know what you’re thinking.  THAT IS AMAZING!  What an ingenious invention.  When did someone come up with such a thing?  Well, apparently the first ones came into existence around 2300 B.C.E  or over 4,300 years ago for those of you who need a little help with the math.

For those of you who have to have the “latest and greatest”, you may be surprised to learn that they have quite a number of FREE WEBSITES that work in exactly the same way and reference the same material.  In fact, most web services, browsers, computers, and word processing programs come with dictionaries built-in.

Quite simply, dictionaries are an amazing tool that make learning and communicating with a common language very easy…and yet there are a very large number of people who shun their use and insist on looking and sounding like complete morons.

As a public service I would like to take this opportunity to present several serious, salient, and pertinent questions, along with the correct answers:

  • Is it important to use proper spelling? Yes, always.
  • I have a teacher or parent (for the home-schooled) who says that effort is more important than accuracy.  Is that true?  No, they are allowing you to appear stupid and making you unemployable.  Good luck.
  • Is it cool or clever to use hip alternate spellings?  No, it makes you appear uneducated or worse, as someone trying to be hip (which is just sad).
  • What if my spelling skills aren’t that good?  Can I still post on the internet?  Only if you want people to know how little you value a proper education.
  • If my spelling skills aren’t good, what should I do to correct the problem?  I’m glad you asked.  You should BUY A DICTIONARY AND LEARN HOW TO USE IT.  You might also consider taking a course at a local community college in writing, grammar, and spelling.  Remediation always helps.
  • I’m still in school.  What should I do to improve my spelling?  Immediately turn off your computer and go to the library or someplace with no distractions and do your homework or read a book.
  • I’m having problems learning how to spell on my own.  Is there someone who can help me with that?  Yes,
    they are called teachers.  Find one and ask for help.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.  I would love to help.  If you have any negative feedback, please feel free to submit that, as well.  I would love to mark it up, correct the spelling and grammar, and then post it here on the site.

 

Parenting 2.0

Rock!
Rock!

Do you see this picture?  Do you know what it is?  THIS is what it looked like the other night after a song came on the radio with Sammy Hagar singing.  I asked my daughter who it was and she responded “The Red Rocker, Daddy.”  Today, she asked for ZZ Top by name and wanted “that haw, haw, haw, haw song” which meant that she wanted to listen to La Grange.  Other days, it is “Hey Daddy, I want to listen to hey ho, let’s go” and we are of to the races with The Ramones.

Sure, she still listens to little kid music.  She loves Veggie Tales and The Backyardigans.  She sings the songs that she learns at preschool and vacation bible school, so don’t think that I lock her in a vault with a radio set to the local classic rock station with the tuning knob removed.  It’s just that she listens to what we listen to in the car and around the house and she picks up what she likes and often asks for it by name.  I’ll never forget the day that I had to add Crazy Train to one of her programmable toys.  There is nothing quite as funny as a Fisher-Price toy with all its bright colors blasting Ozzy as a three year old listens and shows off her “sweet rock moves” for everyone.

When we first had her, I was scared to death.  The only experience that I had ever had around kids was with the teenagers with whom I had worked for two decades.  She was so frail and helpless and I was just sure that I would never figure out how to be a good parent.  Now, we’ve just had our second child (and the primary reason for the big gap since my last post) and I have had a little more one-on-one time with my daughter while my wife has been taking care of business with our infant son.  I’ve also taken some time to reflect and I think that I’ve found the one thing of which I am most proud regarding being a father.  I spend time with my daughter and I teach her about the things that I enjoy and feel are important.

I know that she has the rest of her life to develop her own interests and passions.  I am also aware that she’ll eventually learn about stuff that I find appalling from her peers at school or in everyday life.  There will be boys that I find stupid, lazy, and worthless that show up to try and take her out on dates.  There may even be a few boys that me and my friends have to bury in Pisgah National Forest because they have overstepped their bounds with my daughter.  However the future unfolds, I know that she will spend a lifetime learning things outside of my areas of influence, interest, and expertise.

My job is to do the best that I can to teach her about the things that I know.  I hope that when she is my age that she will be able to say that she knows all about what I like and what I’ve taught her.  That way, when I’m not around anymore, she will have a good idea of what I would say to her when she really needs some help.  More importantly, I hope that she will know who I really am, so that she will be able to remember who I really was.

My dad took the time to teach me how to work and for that I will forever be grateful.  Unfortunately, he always kind of figured that we would travel when he got older and spend our fun time together then.  It turns out that he had a leaky heart valve that caused some mini-strokes in the early nineties and I found myself running the family business in my early twenties while he recovered.  About the time that he was more or less recovered from the strokes, we lost the family business to a bad business deal and a massive flood and he had to go on anti-depressants for a while.  By the time he got back to normal from that, he had lost his hearing from being around engines, racing, and machine shops for decades.  Even with hearing aids, it is almost impossible for us to have a conversation lasting more than about three sentences.  It annoys him that he can’t hear and talking rings in his head because of the hearing aids, so I just get a lot of smiles and nods.

When I think of my dad, I always see him as he was in the nineteen seventies and eighties because that was when he could still communicate very well.  I love that guy, but I wish that I knew more about his life and his interests; who he was and what he did before he was my father.  I used to be able to glean a lot of that stuff from his close friends, but they are all dying off and I’m only left with sanitized stories that the family will tell.  Pretty soon, he and all of his peers will be gone and all I’ll have left are the memories.

I love Ernest Greene and I thank him for everything that he has given me over the years and I even named my son after him.  He is and was a great man who has seen and done some amazing things.  I just wish that I knew more about those things and what they were.  Hopefully, I will do a better job of conveying my life to my kids.

So, I wrote this article…

Monday’s article about mental illness and how we have and have not been dealing with it seems to have hit a nerve with a lot of people, as it has been shared and read well over 400 times by people in 5 countries.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with most people sensing that I sought to initiate a tough conversation that needs to be had in order to protect the general public, as well as the more dangerously mentally ill.  I’ve seen lots of the comments and discussions and not one called for any sort of witch hunt.  Everything that I’ve read was about people expressing care for the plight that this issue poses for the person with the illness, the parents and family, and the general public.

Then I get a scathing comment from an aspiring attorney so I checked out her blog…and her wisdom regarding her unemployment…and how she would appoint her dream office, so that I could get a feel for my detractor.  Her comment blasts me with what I have come to expect from the vast number of would-be experts and professionals who have never spent one hour, let alone months at a time, in a full-time setting with kids who have serious behavioral issues stemming from mental illness.  Here is what my ersatz Ally McBeal had to say:  “This is ridiculous, if not downright frightening and sick. It’s not time for a discussion about locking people up and separating them from society “for their own good.” It’s not time for a discussion about “humanely” denying people their due process rights and fundamental rights to freedom. It is time for a discussion about how people VIEW the mentally ill, how to treat them in such a way that they actually WANT to seek treatment (here’s a hint: locking them up isn’t going to make ANYONE seek help), and providing them with treatment that fits their particular circumstances.

I’m glad that Ms. McBeal took it upon herself to straighten me out.  It never occurred to me that the problem was how I viewed the mentally ill when I had to restrain a student that was throwing D-cell batteries as hard as he could at a female college student summer staff who might have weighed 105 pounds and was one of the kindest, gentlest women I have ever met.  I also should have taken the time to treat the student who was trying to molest another student in such a way the he would want treatment and not just separate him from the group by putting him in his own tent for the remainder of the course.  In fact, because of Ms. McBeal’s comment, I am going to have to contact every mentally ill student that I have ever stopped from committing felonious assault, attempted murder, and any number of sex offenses and let them know that I am sorry for violating their basic rights to due process and freedom.

Or not.

You see there are some problems with the assumption that I have some draconian attitude towards those with mental illness.  I can still remember cleaning defecation off a student in a river in Pisgah National Forest because he was having an episode, had soiled himself, and could not take care of his own needs.  At the time I was 4 days and 9 miles of hiking from my next shower.  Oh, and there was that time that I worked 60 days straight with no time off on a course with 8 students because my staff partner flaked-out and left the group for 6 days and I felt that it would be unsafe for the kids if I took more than an hour away from the group.  This suspicion was later confirmed when said staff partner had one of our students committed the day after I left on vacation, so when I got back I had her removed from the course and returned the student to the group.  I could go on, but that would merely be self-serving ego-stroking.  Simply put, I am an advocate for getting caring, appropriate, and effective treatment for the mentally ill.

Still, I’m glad the pre-bar exam McBeal made her comment.  It gave me the perfect illustration of one of the two most irritating problems with getting people with mental illness the help they need without endangering others.  My personal opinion (see how I did that to exempt me from litigation) is that there are way too many attorneys who want to project this idealistic notion of protecting the rights of the mentally ill before they hurt another individual…and then they want to sue them and their families into oblivion when one of these people hurts another person.  Everyone spends so much time with forms and audits and protocols and hearings that it is a very long time before the person with the dangerous mental illness gets any mandated treatment.  In actuality it is often several incidents into a problem before anyone can get the ball rolling on removing a dangerous person from the general populace because everyone is so busy covering their buttocks from litigation.

The other vexing problem is the parent with the checkbook; no real time for their child, no patience for the hassle, and definitely no concern for the safety of other children.  These lovely individuals merely write the checks that clean up the messy situations that their child creates.  They are essentially the same as a lot of bad parents, only their child has a dangerous mental illness and needs their time, love, and attention way more than anything else they can provide.  Yet these folks spend their time discounting the opinions of professionals, ignoring advice from doctors, and generally keeping their kids in the mainstream which is a danger to both themselves and others.

I’m going to keep hammering this nail and many others until people start paying attention.  This country has run off the rails in so many ways and until we start fixing some problems, we are going to continue to see the sort of destruction that we saw last week in Connecticut.  This is not about demonizing the mentally ill.  It is about completely changing the system to protect everyone…especially the patient.  In fact, the one person who keeps me in check when my life runs off the rails in someone who has been institutionalized with mental illness.  We all need someone to step in and take the reigns when we are out of control.  Why should we not afford the same kindness to the dangerously mentally ill?

If nothing else, THIS is something that I know…

I worked with youth from the time I was 18 until shortly after I turned 38.  During that time, I was blessed to work with a large number of special population children in a wilderness therapy and outdoor education program.  Special population is the nice, friendly, technical term for kids with some sort of psychological or psychiatric diagnosis.  For the most part, I worked with kids that were Learning Disabled and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (those in the business refer to this population as LD/ADHD for short).  Although there were certainly a lot of challenging times and students, I can honestly say that these were some of the sweetest, smartest, and most tenacious kids who were on their way to being amazing adults.

I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that there were some times that I was genuinely scared of some of my students.  There is this thing called comorbidity, which means that a person has one or more diagnoses or illnesses.  Sometimes we would have kids that were admitted to the program whose parents had not been honest and either neglected to mention or drastically understated the seriousness of their child’s mental illness.  These were kids that weren’t just LD/ADHD; they were diagnosed Bipolar or Oppositional Defiant Disorder or any of a number of serious mental illnesses or behavioral disorders.  I can even remember one student that we had to drive into town once a month to get a Lupron shot.  Lupron can be used as a form of “hormonal castration” to keep kids from being sexually predatory towards other children.  Think about that for a while and see if you don’t lose some sleep tonight.

To provide some context, I am just over six feet tall and during the time that I was working with these kids, I never weighed less than two hundred pounds.  My staff partners ran the gamut in both gender, size, and disposition.  The only times that I felt like I wasn’t the last resort on behavioral outbursts in the field was when I worked with my friend Brendon, who dwarfs me in both size and strength.  If you think it is disturbing to see a kid have a mental illness-related behavioral incident in public or in someone’s home, you should try being in the wilderness, thirteen miles from the nearest trailhead, and an hour and a half drive from the nearest working phone.  Live through that a couple of times and then talk to me about what you know about adolescent mental illness.

Please don’t think I’m down on kids with serious mental issues, either.  I once had a kid in my group that my staff partner had committed to a psych ward because he made her uncomfortable while I was on vacation for two weeks.  When I came back, he returned to the group and finished the semester…she did not.  Sometimes kids just need a caring advocate, but other times kids need serious intervention and their parents need help.  The problem is that for kids with dangerous mental illnesses and their parents, there is no real help.

I read this article that my wife found online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html  I have known parents like this.  I’ve seen them grasp at straws because they knew that if something happened to them that no one would be around to protect/guide/manage their child.  I’ve seen the pain on their faces when they have lost hope.  I weep for these sorts of parents.

I have also seen the other parents: the ones in denial, still trying to “mainstream” a child with serious behavioral and emotional problems.  These parents endanger the other families in their communities because they try to keep their children in a public school system that simply does not have the resources to adequately assess and meet the needs of their children.  These parents often find false hope and encouragement from mental health professionals in a post-deinstitutionalization system.

These mental health workers are constantly trying to keep these sorts of children and eventually adults in an out-patient care scenario because that is what is “humane” and that is what our mental healthcare industry has been doing since the 1970’s.  Since then, and increasingly so in recent years, it has been almost impossible to have people with mental illness committed to a long-term care facility.  We used to call these places asylums, but I’ll give you a $100 if you can find one psychologist or psychiatrist in this nation that will use that term today.  Mentally ill individuals that are in the midst of crisis or having serious behavioral problems are funneled into one of two places: Hospital Emergency Rooms or Police Stations.  If you don’t believe me, ask a police officer or an ER nurse.  In either event, the mentally ill person either ends up in a short-term psych ward until their release or in a jail cell.  Neither of these is an acceptable answer for people with long-term illnesses.

The tragedy in Connecticut has sparked much debate, mostly about gun control.  There are not words that can express how awful this tragedy is for the parents of those kids or anyone else in that community.  Everyone grieves for those lost.  My question is this: What is it going to take for us to finally talk about developing a tiered system of long-term institutionalization for the mentally ill in this country.

We need a system that can provide long-term supervision, accountability, protection and residential care for the mentally ill.  We need a system where those who need help with minor mental illness can check in and out and still have somewhere to sleep at night so they don’t end up homeless because they can’t cope.  We need a place where people with profound mental illness can get appropriate care and 24-hour-a-day supervision.  We need system that keeps both patients and staff safe.  And finally, although no one else seems to want to say it, we need a place where we lock the violently disturbed away in such a way that respects their rights and provides the care they need while protecting the general public.

I want people to wrap their heads around this set of facts and really think about them without any media spin.  The shooter in Connecticut has a brother that hadn’t spoken to him in two years.  He shot and killed his own mother and then gunned down a bunch of small, innocent children.  I’m willing to bet that somebody, somewhere knew that he was unstable.  James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado theater shooter had a history of mental illness.  It seems that lots of people were concerned about him and their own safety but that he was being shuffled around by the system.  We have seen a large number of murder-suicides in our country in the last several years and the trend appears to be increasing.  We simply can not escape the fact that we have mentally ill people that need serious long-term help and who need to be removed from the general populace for their own safety and the safety of others.

It is past time for us to have this conversation as a nation.  Let’s not let another group of innocents die before we take the time to figure out what we should do with our “emotionally disturbed students.” our “serious behavioral problems,” and our “criminally insane.”  Let’s talk about institutionalization.  Clearly, the out patient care isn’t getting the job done.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

I have to admit that I like watching “reality programming” on Discovery Channel.  I love shows like Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Fast N’ Loud.  Although there is certainly a lot of “Hollywooding-it-up” for television, I think that at the core, these are shows about people working and what that has a tendency to look like.

As a result of my love for Fast N’ Loud, I ended up watching this year’s bike build-off and last hoorah for American Chopper.  It was a four-way competition between the Teutels, Jesse James, and the guys from Fast N’ Loud (Aaron Kaufman and Richard Rawlings).  The rules were simple:

  1. Build whatever you like.
  2. You have 6 weeks to complete the bike.
  3. The bike must be able to pull itself up a 40 foot ramp.

Personally, I would consider these rules to be these easiest set of parameters for a motorcycle build-off in human history.  For men who are in the business of building custom motorcycles, these should have been a slam dunk.  Well…apparently not…at least not for Jesse James.

Jesse spent the weeks leading up to the build-off trashing his opponent’s bike building ability while lauding his own stellar skills.  Then, when 6 weeks was up, he asked for another 2 weeks.  When that 2 weeks was up, he then stated that he was not constrained by some “bullsh**, made-up television deadline” and that he would have the bike ready in time for the live show, thus giving himself over 10 weeks when everyone else had agreed on almost half of that.

How did this work out for the competition?  Well, Paul Sr. from Orange County Choppers used the extra 2 weeks to do some more finish work, so he benefited from the extension.  Paul Junior’s bike was done, so he just waited for the event.  The guys from Fast N’ Loud?  Well, I guess they worked on other projects, drank a few beers and took it easy.  Their bike had been completed in 4 1/2 weeks…well before the deadline.  In fact, Aaron Kaufman was so confident in his work that he hopped on the bike and drove it over 1,300 miles to Vegas, for the main event.

So, how did the voting go?  How did the build-off end?  I’m sure that for many of you it will be no surprise that Paul Jr. Designs won the event, with the bike from Fast N’ Loud coming in second.  Jesse James’ masterful design?  It didn’t even place.

I say all of that in order to say this:  My dad spent an immense amount of time during my childhood teaching me that it is unacceptable to be “a day late and a dollar short.”  As a kid, I thought that he was being too hard…as an adult, I couldn’t agree more.  Dr. Tom Jones, one of my college professors, used to close and lock the classroom door at 1 minute past the class starting time.  Other professors at my university would take 1 letter grade off of a paper for every day it was late.  Why all of this pressure  to be on time?  Because being late means that you’re unreliable, disrespectful of others, and quite often, just plain lazy.

I know that there are people out there that have no concept of time because I am one of them.  Still, we all develop ways of being on time unless we just don’t care.  All of us will occasionally be late because of circumstances beyond our control, but if we respect people, we will respect their time.

Last night, Jesse James did me a favor.  He reminded me that it doesn’t matter how much skill and talent that someone has unless they can meet a deadline.  He reminded me that we all need to play by the same rules.  Most importantly, he reminded me that people with his attitude are people that I would do well to avoid.