I hate to admit it, but…

Ashton Kutcher is hardly the first place that I would look for any sort of wisdom.  That being said; I was simply amazed at how “on-point” he was with this speech.  He killed it.  Especially, with his thoughts about opportunity.  It is so nice to see work ethic promoted in such a way.

Ernest Greene

Scan-111006-0024Not many people know this, but my dad has no middle name.

No middle name…no middle initial…nothing.

Just Ernest Greene.

It has never caused any inconvenience because, in Asheville, lots and lots of people know my dad.

He was nice enough to give me his name.  He and Mom just stuck “Stuart” on the front of his name and I suddenly had the customary three names that most of us have.  That single act has gotten me out of more jams and opened more doors than I can count.

“Ernest is your dad?”

That was the golden question that I knew was instantly about to make the remainder of whatever conversation that I was having much, much easier.  In fact, the only job interview that I’ve had since leaving the ministry and switching careers started with that question, lasted exactly forty-five seconds, and ended with me being welcomed into my new position.  Seriously.

People love my dad.  He was a great businessman and always did his dead-level best to treat everyone the way he wanted to be treated.  We would be eating dinner at a restaurant and he would see someone he knew and ask the waitress for their check.  He never stuck around to let them know he paid; we just got up and left.  He would go out late at night and on weekends to open up his store to get auto parts for service stations that had patrons who were stranded on the road.  He even paid several of his employees full salaries while they were out with injuries or sickness…sometimes for months on end.  He’s always been a devout Christian but I never once saw him make it an issue with anyone.  He just loves people the way he would like to be loved in the name of Christ and practices charity without publicizing it.  A lot of people could learn something from that.

There’s no “but” to the story of my dad, either.  He never beat me or even whipped me when I didn’t have it coming.  He wasn’t some closet drunk or anything like that.  We always had food on the table and good clothes and nice things.  He bought me my first vehicle and I can honestly say that most, if not all, of the good things that I have in this life are largely due to him.

Ernest Greene may not have been the most successful or most profitable businessman ever, but he has left a huge number of people in his wake that love and respect him for the way that he treated them.  I can only hope to be half the man that he’s been and I respect my dad so much that I did the same favor for my son that he did for me…I just slapped the name “Bruce” on the front of his name.  I thought it fitting.

Now, the doctor has given my dad somewhere in the three to twelve month range to live.  His kidneys are failing and dialysis won’t really prolong his life because of some heart issues, so he’s chosen to live what life he has left and spend it with his family.

I really don’t blame Dad for his choice.  Most of his old friends have been dead for years, the business is gone, and he can’t hear or see well enough to communicate like he used to.  Dad is eighty-one years old and this world bears scant resemblance to the world in which he spent most of his life.  He believes in a hard days work, keeping his word, and telling it like it is.  I imagine that Dad would be mortified and angry if he could still communicate well enough to understand everything that is going on in our country.

I love my dad and I’m going to miss him.  I’m forty-two years old.  I’m big enough and prepared enough that I’m not scared of much, but I know this: I’m going to feel a little less safe and a lot more alone in this world when that man is gone.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Lloyd Dobler…

So…that is the monologue that goes through my mind anytime one of my friends starts to pitch me on whatever particular multi-level marketing brand has captured their imagination (or their soul…you decide).  I would personally like to go back to calling these life-sucking, personal-relationship-ruining, predatory marketing schemes what they are: pyramid schemes.

I could write and deftly defend a thesis on why these pyramid schemes fail as a road to financial success, but I will leave that to Penn & Teller, as they have done a stellar job with that, already.  No, I would merely like to make one single point in my plea for a return to sanity.

If you are my friend, it is because I value you as a person and enjoy your company.  That does not, however, give you the right to sell me stuff or to enlist my help in selling your brand of stuff.

Now that we’ve gotten the main point out-of-the-way, I would like to let you know how I feel about said attempts at recruitment (or opportunities for AMAZING financial success for those of you who have been drinking the Kool-Aid).  I know that we all are living in a struggling economy and that good, solid, full-time jobs are hard to find.  I know that many of you have chosen a lifestyle of one working parent or home schooling your kids and want to have some sort of way to work from home.  I respect those types of choices and this is a mostly free country, so you have every right to make those decisions.  There is, however, one fact that I would like you to consider and that is this:

I, like millions of other Americans, work from a workplace.  I always have worked from a workplace and even when it was my job to sell auto parts for my father’s business, I sold them at someone else’s workplace.  I didn’t try to sell to them when they were “off-the-clock” and I surely didn’t try to sell to them while they were at home…that would have been rude.

I understand that you folks have listened to a very convincing sells pitch for your respective brand and that you really believe that your products or services are going to affect positive change in the lives of your clients.  Also, some of you folks are among my best friends, so please believe that I am trying to be as loving as I possibly know how when I tell you this:

You have become the dinnertime telemarketers of our generation.  You are damaging your relationships with people in order to create opportunities to sell your product or services.  Not only will you not get rich, but you will awake one day to find that you have damaged some of your most valuable attachments to people in this life.  Your companies have poisoned the traditional bonding activities of dinners and parties for the pursuit of sales and recruitment and even the expanding realm of social media is quickly becoming just another venue in which you can solicit.

Please.

I beg of all of you multi-level marketers.

Just stop.

Don’t invite me to dinner unless you just want to share a meal.  Don’t invite me to a party unless it is just to hang out and have a good time.  Don’t try to get me excited about an “amazing business opportunity” on Facebook.  I don’t want your products or your services and every second that I spend listening to your sales pitch is time that I’ll never get back.

Keep your supplements, your cell phone plans, and your juices or whatever other snake oil that you happen to be selling.  Before you approach me with anything, please apply what I like to call the Lloyd Dobler Paradigm.  I don’t want to buy, sell or process anything that you are selling.  If you can respect that simple philosophy, then we should be just fine.

I swear, the next one of you that approaches me with a multi-level marketing scheme will become the test subject for my reality therapy solution for those afflicted with involvement in such companies.  I will take your home address, cell phone number, email address, and Facebook account and fill out interest cards and forms with as many of your local door-to-door religious proselytizing sects as I possibly can.

A funny thing happened on the way to my last post…

So I sit down at the computer to do some writing for a blog post at about 10:30pm on May 22nd.  After about 20 minutes, the door to the back porch blows open and slams into the wall.  The sound of rushing wind continues for about 10 seconds and subsides about the time that I get the door closed.  Jessica, who had been asleep on the couch with Bruce, is startled and immediately gets up to help be check on what had just happened.

We check on Naomi and she is sound asleep in her bed.  Then, we check the back porch and everything has been blown around.  There is so much rain and so many leaves sticking to the screen that I have to open the door to see what is going on in the yard.  I am surprised to find several trees down and not be able to see to the parking lot.  Next, I check the office and I find that all of the keys for the properties that I manage have flown off the wall and that the light fixture in the ceiling has fallen.  At that point, I open the outside door on the office and I find that I am looking at the awning, which is now flat against the side of the house.  Finally, I go out the front door and I still can’t see the parking lot because trees are in the way.  At that point, I call my boss and the madness begins.

Just so you know, this is what things looked like the next morning:DSC00129 DSC00135 DSC00121We had apparently experienced a micro-burst tornado.

Fast forward to July and the madness has finally subsided and things are mostly back to normal.  Although both cars still ran and drove, they were totaled because the tree hit them both in the A-pillar which is integral to the unibody of both vehicles.  So I got to say goodbye to my Jetta, which had been an amazing car for the last 8 years and 200,000 miles and to my Jeep Cherokee, which was just awesome.  We’ve made a lot of progress on the vehicle front and they just finished all the repairs to our house, so it looks like things are returning to normal.

I just thought that I would take this opportunity to let everyone know where I’ve been and why I haven’t had time to write.  Honestly, you should expect several posts in the coming weeks, because a lot has been going on and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to put some thoughts out there.

Hey Facebook, I caught what you just did!

I don’t want to come off like someone with a vast assortment of tinfoil hats, but I caught something on Facebook today which disturbed me.  I have two friends who independently shared the same article within a couple of hours or so of each other.  It was this article, about being gay at Liberty University.  Now, I’m not attempting to weigh in on the issue of gay marriage, as I certainly feel that more than enough is being said about that from both sides and my natural inclination is spray both sides down with a water hose as one does to stop dogs from fighting.  What I’m attempting to do is demonstrate how Facebook and the media are trying to shape what you believe and how you feel with some creative editing.

Here’s the most concise version of what I’ve found:  I read both posts with reference to the article.  I thought that it was something which I would like to read when I had a minute, but it was quite long and I was busy, so I decided I would follow the links and read it at a later time.  Later, in about two hours, I went back to Facebook to find the posts.  Oddly, neither were in my news feed under either type of sorting.  Also, neither was in that little list of things on the far right corner…no matter how far I scrolled.  Finally, neither post was on either of their walls or timelines.  The posts were simply not there, like they had never existed.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.  I contacted both people and asked them why they had removed the post; assuming that there must have been some controversy of which they had each grown tired which prompted the deletion of the post.  Nope.  Neither one had acted to remove their post.

I had to do a Google search in order to find the article and read it.  After reading the article, it was plain to see that it was written by a gay person who was seeking to empathize with, educate, and perhaps lessen the tension between the polarized extremes of the gay marriage debate.  An article which seemed to say that many Christians (even the Southern Baptists at Liberty) show love and care for those with whom they may not agree and that many gays are closed-minded and judgmental when it comes to Christians.  It seems to be an honest attempt at helping everyone to get-along.

Here’s the problem with that article…it exhibits a stance that might actually increase cooperation and dialogue.  Cooperation and dialogue don’t sell papers or cause people to stay glued to the news channels.  Accurate and compassionate understanding of the other side’s members and positions doesn’t whip people into a frenzy.  Rather, these attitudes lead to harmony and an ability to move through and past the issues which divide us.  Making progress with these issues doesn’t make for good television and it allows us to unplug from social media.  Nothing makes one stay plugged into Facebook more than a good controversy over a posting.

So, with all of that in mind, here is my theory:  Facebook purposely edited those postings out of the timeline.  There was too much of an attempt to frame Christians in a positive light, so they killed them.  There are too many factions that have too much invested in keeping the American people at each other’s throats.  If a company like Facebook can go this far to control its content, then it isn’t a stretch for you to realize that the companies which control your media and entertainment are in the business of controlling how you think and feel about almost every subject.

“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.

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.