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How old am I? I can clearly remember a time when we were taught that all life was sacred, every person mattered and that the painful decisions of life and death were left to those afflicted, grieving families, their doctors and whatever faith leaders they sought comfort from. When did this all change? When did we become so calloused, so cold, so detached from the plight of others that we could allow a faceless state to be the ultimate arbiter of the time, location and manner of our passing? And how do they determine what dignity, our dignity, actually means at the time of our death?

Is there dignity in hope?

I have no idea what “mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome” is. I really don’t much care to know. No one should be forced to know; least of all a ten-month old infant. But the UK government, in its infinite wisdom and compassion, has decided that the parents of little Charlie Gard have forty-eight hours to convince them that he is worth saving; that he has some chance, a realistic chance, or they, the benevolent state, will forcibly end his life. And don’t get confused over my wording here; they aren’t going to hold the little boy down and smother him. Although, it certainly appears as though they could if they wanted to, being all powerful and righteous and stuff like that. No, they’ll physically restrain his parents as the young boy is allowed to die; how? Slowly wither away? Will they flip some magical switch and instantly end all his pain and suffering, and that of his parents? Not at home, not in the arms of his mother or father? Let’s get some clarity here. Just how does the state intend to offer this child a death with “dignity?”

Let’s face it, we’ve come a long way as a civilization in the fifty years or so that I’ve cast my shadow on this planet. We’ve been treated to break-through after break though in medicine, although there are far too many scourges we’ve yet to conquer. And because of that reality, we’ve also grown intellectually; or so we think. No, we’ve had our brushes with eugenics along the way. Thought we’d put that ugly chapter to bed, didn’t we? But what is this if not a branch of that, the next logical extension of “for the good of all.” And don’t be confused here, for what else is the rationale behind denying a child and his parents an opportunity, a hope no matter how slim, to prolong the life of a child? What harm could there be in letting a grieving, desperate parent fly to some willing medical center that is offering a chance; without any expense to the citizenry or the state at all? What is at stake here? Simple; power. The power to decide which groups deserve to live, which don’t. A power thinly disguised by the state as compassion, acting in the best interest of the child as if the parents were flying him to some dark, remote location to perform untold medical experiments upon him. No, we can’t take that chance. Let’s kill him now.

Power. A power that the state has taken great pains to cultivate and one they would rather not give up. What group of unfortunates will be next? How about those with advanced cancer? Should the state decide at some point, sorry, your medical support is done? No chance for you, no matter how slim. We have determined that and we know what’s best for you. Alarmist? Hardly. What convincing argument does the state have to sentence this child to a certain death when there are others, doctors in other parts of the world possibly, who offer hope. Not a guarantee, but hope. And at no cost to them. Because at the end of it all, that’s all medicine can ever offer us is hope. No guarantees. Deciding to withhold services is one thing; forbidding someone from getting them elsewhere, even for a glimmer of that hope is nothing short of euthanasia. The “group” here is those determined by the state to be “hopeless;” hopeless, because the state is all about destroying the concept of hope. Hope leads to people taking back power from the state. And it won’t be long before other groups will be “hopeless” for some reason or another. Soon it will be age; or ability to produce for the state coffers.

So, as I watch the papers and read blogs and comments, I see a number of people expressing concern and dismay; let the child go somewhere, anywhere, while there is still hope. But I am troubled by the rather large numbers of those who are expressing disdain for the parents; they need to let go, they’re making the child suffer needlessly. I’ve even seen them called selfish for holding out hope where the commenter has determined there is none.  But only those who are truly hopeless themselves never see hope. And I doubt like hell that the parents want to see this child suffer. And of course, there are those who are begging the parents to let the poor child die with dignity, a phrase already used by the state. Odd juxtaposition; if the child wanted to mutilate themselves, we’d be cheering the parents for tolerance and understanding. And just twelve months ago, it would have been perfectly acceptable to tear this child limb from limb, without any concern for whether he felt pain, only to be sucked out of the womb by a tube so his parts could be sold to the highest bidder. What type of dignity is that? This is where we’ve traveled. To this point; where a parent, struggling to save the life of an infant is given forty-eight hours to prove beyond doubt that he can be saved, but waiting forty-eight hours before deciding to tear him from the womb is unacceptable.

No, this is all about the ultimate power of the state; and the right we have given them to determine for ourselves and for those we love, to dictate the reason, the manner and the time of our death; and the definition of our final dignity at the end of our lives.

 

 


Another milestone, another tear. Should I have been prepared for this one, knowing it too was coming? I already faced the mixed bag of emotions when my eldest reached sixteen, realizing that the path I have chosen, the burden I have so eagerly, gleefully placed upon on my shoulders is coming to fruition. Fatherhood cannot be all rainbows, glitter and unicorn poop; one day you blink and she’s standing at the altar with someone you want to trust to love her and adore her with the same abandon that you have had her whole life. But the years have been kind to me; I have been part of the lives of two of the most beautiful souls I have ever come across. I could only have hoped that it would have lasted longer, ebbed away instead of hurtling away at the speed of light. Can’t we cuddle on the couch just one more time? We’ll see if we can find “Clifford” on PBS like we used to. Just us; no boys, no school, no Drivers-Ed, no world outside of “dad and daddy’s little girl” where I know you’ll always be safe and I know I’ll always be in your heart. We never heard the alarm of the dreaded “father clock”; can’t we linger just a little longer? I promise, I’ll make a ridiculously huge bucket of popcorn, just like I used to.

The things we remember make us who we are...

The things we remember make us who we are…

No, we can’t linger any longer. You’re running headlong into the world and I couldn’t be prouder. The memories we shared will forever play in my nighttime theater, old black and white reels of giggles and adventures. I remember when it wasn’t safe for me to kneel down on all fours to peer under the couch or a chair for a lost toy; it was always an open invitation for you to leap onto my back, demanding to be ridden around the living room until I was exhausted, breathless from the task and the uncontrollable laughter. It was always thus with you; you are joy incarnate, a deep resounding appreciation of life, love, friends and laughter. You are the light in any room; an easy, inviting soul. I can even see it in the eyes of your many friends who look to you for inspiration, acceptance or comfort. It is so rewarding to see you touch so many people the way you have touched me.

I may have been somewhat melancholy before; it is different with you. You are my baby, my last child. Yet, I only feel the apprehension of separation for you; I will always wish to be there for you. I’ll loosen my grip but I’ll never let go. But as I watched you grow into the young lady I now see before me, I took my own strength from your accomplishments, knowing that your depth of character, your remarkable intelligence tempered by a loving heart accompanied by a quirky, dry humor will endear you to many; I have yet to see you back down from a challenge, or fail at one. But your intelligence is only surpassed by your humility. The dignity you carry yourself with, and the deep respect and love you have for others is inspiring. Could I at least, in some small measure, claim that I had any contribution to the lovely soul which you have become? Or is that just vanity on my part? As I have said before, this is and has long been my calling:

I only want to be a good father. No greater responsibility can be placed on any man’s shoulders; No greater reward can be had.

I’m sorry, but I cannot allow myself to think that you have become the person you are now without me having some influence, however insignificant. A father’s pride I guess. Through the years, I spent many hours agonizing over if I was teaching you well, was I the father you deserved, did I do a good job…always agonizing over everything, every issue large and small, giving the same import to flowers that wilted to soon or pets that would pass unexpectedly. Did you have your helmet on? Were you climbing too high? Did you brush your teeth tonight? And through it all, you displayed a serene calmness, smile pasted on your face that seemed out of place for one so young; a lesson you took great pains to teach your father. I guess I always worried until the day you actually put the issue into perspective for me; “gee dad, I’m just not into all that drama.” I watch intently now as you navigate your life, seemingly frenetic to me, but barely giving you pause.

I only ask that you bear with me now. I’m sure I’ll embarrass you in front of your friends. Maybe I’ll get on your nerves asking about this grade, or details on this or that friend. Who are you with, when will you be back. You know, dad stuff. The stuff that lets me believe, lets me hope that I’m still important in your life, now that your life is so filled with things other than me. And always know that I am proud of you. I know you and your sister find it funny when I get all weepy; something I can’t control. Maybe a little too much drama.

But in the end, you are sixteen. And soon seventeen and then on and on. But the one constant is that I will always love you, I will always be proud of you. And I am more and more astounded by the person you have become and the possibilities that stretch out in front of you. My dear little Hannah; go on, get out there and own this world. I have no doubts that you’ll be successful in anything that you set your mind to. And don’t you ever look back.

Well, except once in a while to wave and to say “I love you, dad.”

After all, I still need a little drama…


I tried my best you know; being stoic. It just doesn’t work for me though, no matter how hard I try. If it’s not welling up in my eyes, it’s firmly lodged in my throat making it hard for me to get anything out without a quiver. You know; you’ve seen it. Whether it’s you bounding out on stage in your first ballet, your teeny little tutu fluttering, or as you walked across the stage to receive your scholarships, I’m sure you saw it in my eyes. I know sometimes it embarrasses you, so I try to keep it hidden. Well, at least under control. Usually with little success. The competing emotions make it hard to find a solution to keep it in check. Part pride; part sadness; sheer joy; muted concern. I can’t nail it down. If you can’t name it, you can’t fix it. It’s all part of the dad thing I guess. Let’s face it, you’ll never stop touching my heart until my heart decides to stop on its own.

Dads never let go.....

Dads never let go…..

I know I caught a little of it in your eyes too. As we decided where to hang your tapestry, your smile was interrupted briefly, very briefly, possibly only noticeable by those who study your face as constantly as I do. A small glitch, as if the signal had frozen and the feed hadn’t caught up. And just like that, it was gone, replaced by the boundless confidence and enthusiasm that bubbles from your personality.  We had quite a while to prepare for this day, you and I. From the hours we spent in the car canvasing different campuses, to the summer-long process of mom filling her checklist of the things you’ll need, we always knew we’d be packing the car full of your new life and disgorging it into some cramped, institutionally designed room where you’ll start the next chapter that takes you so far from us.  But it’s not just the distance. It’s the time; that vacant spot you’ll leave in our daily existence, the dammed inability for me to determine that you’re okay, that you don’t need anything, that dad can’t be there; even though it’s what I struggled to prepare you for your whole life. I guess I should have prepared myself. I was too busy denying it would ever come, as if I could put it off just by ignoring it and pushing it into the same dark corner of my mind where I hide the rest of my fears and disappointments.

But I can’t let my life be a series of events that I see in the rear view mirror of my past. I’ll always look back and see you; the first step, the first words, the start of school, the first date. It’s all there, letting me see where we came from as we map out where we go next, as if life always cooperates and things go as we plan. No, the rear view mirror only serves to remind me of how utterly fantastic and randomly wonderful my life has truly been. Every day, every event in that day made that particular day “the greatest day in my life.” Marrying your mom; greatest day of my life. The day you were born; greatest day in my life. Sharing a quiet paddle on the lake, the wildlife observing us as we awed at the majesty of it all; greatest day of my life. Every day with you has been just that; the greatest day of my life.

Perspective. I need perspective. Every little memory that fades in the rear view as I drive further down the road of my mortality was once an exciting, distant location looming larger in the windshield as it approached. Some of life’s little trips were meticulously planned; many were not. But I was always at the wheel, always in control, with the exception of the radio of course. Now I’m the passenger, maybe even sitting in the back as you steer toward your own destiny, trips and events planned and unplanned, always and forever heading forward in the direction which you have set for yourself, making memories that you’ll revisit one day in the rear view mirror of your own mind. And who knows, maybe you’ll find you get the same sharp, shortness of breath, the same hitch in your throat as you look forward toward destinations uncertain, peeking back into the memories that have set you on the journey which you embrace with full abandon today. And I’ll learn that going along for the ride now means that the greatest days of my life, from this point forward, will be those that you share with me, on a journey of your choosing, with days that will forever become “the greatest day” of your life.  I know you’ll have many; I know you deserve them. I cannot tell you just how proud I am. I like to think I have a way with words; there is however, no way to tell you just how happy I am for you.

So I turn the car away from the campus, the last images of your dorm peeking from the trees and obscured by the buildings that surround it. Maybe it was better that we said our good-byes quickly. Just the same, I peeked back in the rear view mirror, hoping against hope to get one last glimpse; maybe you were running after the car, maybe I should stop just to be sure you weren’t trying to follow me. No; you weren’t following. You’re on your own journey now, one that breaks my heart when I realize it’ll take you away from me and I’ll have to share you with a cold, uncaring, difficult world. But’s that’s only a dad’s perspective. Actually, you’re running headlong into a wonderful future, a fantastic journey that leads who knows where, to places I’ve only dreamed of; without fear, without hesitation, with the confidence and enthusiasm to achieve your dreams and your goals, ticking off one “greatest day” after another.  I know this because that’s the way we raised you. I can still see it in the mirror of my soul.

As I ponder how time will now move forward, I catch a glimpse of your sister’s face. She’s searching her own mirror, thinking of all the giggles you’ve shared, the things you’ve seen, done and accomplished together, sisters by birth, best friends by the tug of your hearts. And just as with the expression on your face in the dorm, whatever cloud darkened her face drifts away and instantly she’s back to the wide grin that she often wears.  She’ll miss you too, but soon she’ll have to face the windshield of her life and search into the distance for the journey that will take her from us as well. But this time, I’ll be prepared.

I plan to rip the rear view mirror from the car.

Lesson learned…..

 


No one knows when he died. No one knows how he died. Well, obviously someone does. Whoever wrapped his little body in a black plastic trash bag sealed with duct tape certainly knows. Aside from that, if not for a routine traffic stop, the only person who would have known that Quincy Davis was dead would have been the person who stashed him in the truck of her car ten years ago; his loving mother.

Who loved Quincy?

Who loved Quincy?

No funeral, no memorial, no grieving for Quincy. Apparently, his mother Tonya Slayton felt no remorse at all; well, she might have been a little annoyed at the inconvenience of him taking up valuable cargo space in her car, but other than that, she went on with her life pretty much as if nothing had ever happened. Or, quite possibly, it got a little better as she was no longer burdened with the very child she brought into this world.

Sorry, but children are, bluntly, inconveniences to many people. I see it all the time. Parents pushing their children into the arms of strangers, if not outright abandoning them to the streets. Keeping them busy in one activity or another so they don’t have to spend any face time with them. “I need a little me time, time with adults,” I’ve heard often. Take it for what it’s worth. I take it at face value. You can’t stand to be with your own children. Then again there are those for whom a child is nothing more than a conversation piece, a trinket, a possession, something they can put on display. Ask them just who their kid’s friends are, what their child’s favorite color is. Yeah, good luck.

No mention of the father in any story I have found to date; fathers are pretty damned inconvenient in society today too. What about siblings? No aunts, grampy or grandma? No favorite uncles, snot-nosed cousins, rambunctious best friends? No neighbors, parents of BFF’s, coaches, teachers, pastors, local friggin’ barbers? No one on this great green planet noticed the hole created by Quincy’s absence? Did no one ever hug this child, kiss his forehead, feel for him in their hearts? For God’s sake, what kind of miserable existence must this child have had before someone ended his life and he became a permanent fixture in the rear of his mother’s mustang? How could anyone, let alone a child, live day-to-day knowing that he was of such little value to anyone that he could vanish forever and no one would notice. Or care. And don’t think this wasn’t Quincy’s life. You know damned well it was. Just another expendable little life, brought into this world by another selfish cretin with a personality disorder so advanced that the stench of her own son rotting in the truck of her car had no effect.

Yes, it tears my eyes to read this. Catches in my throat. His death was probably quite violent, the final culmination of a life that was deemed absolutely worthless from the beginning. It was his mother who determined he was of no value to anyone in this world. As a result, there is no one to mourn him now.

Well, I mourn you Quincy. You deserve your special place in heaven. Rest well little man.


So I just put my eldest daughter on a plane for her first solo trip away from home to a young leaders conference in Washington DC. Due to the weather, the flight that was supposed to have been wheels up by nine a.m. finally departed at one-fifteen p.m. As if the trip wouldn’t have been stressful enough for the both of us of on a good day, the weather decided to add an extra level of concern for the both of us, as brave as we tried to be for each other. I waited in the boarding queue with her until the line started down the ramp, as she kept pushing her hand in the small of my back to shoo me away. She couldn’t bring herself to hug me in front of all the strangers surrounding us, her eyes probably every bit as moist as mine. Have a great time honey, daddy loves you. Farewell on this fathers day. Please come home again; I’ll lay awake until you do.

Dad has all the embarrassing photos...

Dad has all the embarrassing photos…

If you were to peer under my desk at home, you’d find a small shelf no wider than some of the largest books I have standing on it. You’d also find three rather non-descript storage totes, two the size of large shoeboxes, one the shape of a pizza box, only twice as high. The boxes are ornamental, fabric covered, and they match the decor of my office. They also contain some of my most valuable possessions. Every once in a while, or truthfully more often than that, I like to open one or more of these boxes and admire the riches inside, hold them, spread them out on the desk and marvel at their inestimable value. The irreplaceable collections in these little decorative storage bins certainly need a more secure location than the foot of my desk; maybe I need a small safe or a safety deposit box. Of course, that would make them less accessible and who wants that? No, the little storage bins will have to do. The two smaller shoe-sized boxes are labeled “Photos” and “Videos.” The larger box is labeled “Dad’s memory box.”

I don’t even have a camcorder that can play the little tapes anymore. I burned through that machine after years of abuse at recitals, band concerts, trips to the beach, and all around constant pounding on various playgrounds. The very first video I ever took with it is sound only; I was hiding in another room, trying not to distract my eldest daughter who was probably three at the time. As she busied herself with whatever toy was holding her focus, probably her blocks, she was singing happily, not loudly but very strong and clear. I couldn’t bring myself to intrude on the moment and I just let the audio catch her for what seemed like five minutes of one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. The dozens and dozens of other tapes are all like that, all neatly labeled with dates and in numbered sequence. I have to find some way to get them off the tape so I can view them.

It’s the same with the box marked “Photos.” Every digital picture I have ever taken of the kids is backed up on CD’s, all labeled by date and sequenced. I don’t even know how many thousands of pictures it holds. Enough to actually crash my Imac iphoto library several times. But I still follow the same ritual, year after year, event after event, chronicling each step along their journeys away from me with a melancholy mixture of pride and dread. It is as I had noted before, the unforgiving father clock ticking away unmercifully at the time we have left together as father and child. And I know my place, my charter; give them what they need to be able to fly away from me when they’re ready. Never be willing to let them go but be prepared to give them the push they need. Seems quite unfair, really.

If you were to pick up the box marked “Dad’s memory Box,” you’d probably hear a rattle before you opened the lid. Chances are that there’s at least one piece of macaroni rolling around the bottom somewhere, a derelict decoration straying from the dried glue that held it in place as a border or an accent piece on some beautiful artwork that depicts a breathtaking scene or a magnificent creature. Some of the animals are quite amusing and heartwarming; the stick-legged cat with the sausage body or the graceful unicorn with the beautiful mane that looks too long for the body. Of course because dad loves hippos, there are quite a few of them as well, most with a very wide grin of self-satisfaction.

We celebrate our fathers on father’s day, ostensibly to pay homage to the man who loves and supports his children, earning their love and respect for all he does. I may be biased by the relationship that I don’t have with my own father but that’s not what father’s day means to me, not as a father. No, father’s day for me is about the pride and joy that I have for being allowed by some greater power to have been trusted with this great responsibility for which I have never been trained, for which I was never fully prepared. Father’s day is always a reminder that the appearance of my own children into my life has made this life that much richer, that much fuller and that much more meaningful. Name another role that can instantly give you purpose and clarity; a role I never had to interview for, never had to prepare a resume for, a gift bestowed upon me before I was even remotely wise enough to understand let alone value it. The first time I had those chubby little fingers wrap gently around my index finger, my motto became clear; I only want to be a good father. No greater responsibility can be placed on any man’s shoulders; No greater reward can be had. As always, I will try to live up to my own expectations, and I’m sure I will often fail. But I will never cease to try; I am a father. It’s what we do.

I won’t tell them that the gift I wanted for father’s day was just to be a father to begin with. It feels somewhat greedy, taking gifts from the greatest gifts in my life. But I hope that they give them because they truly love their father; that they want to tell me in some measure that I have done a reasonably good job at this life-long endeavor, this journey with no map, task with no instruction booklet. I count the passing of each father’s day knowing that they will end when I do, not before, but each one more poignant than the last. For soon, father’s day will be a card from a great distance, maybe a cheerful call after dinner or possibly, a dinner out with an extended family. But I will still be introspective; worried that I didn’t get this or that right, that I made some awful mistake, that I didn’t deserve the love they gave me; or I wasn’t the father they deserved. And I’ll smile, thank them profusely for the gifts, letting them have their moment of devotion to their father, all the while secretly thanking the good lord that he put me here, in this place, in this role, giving me a meaning and purpose that many men seem to be missing.

For the greatest gift they could ever give me on father’s day, they have already given; the chance to be their father, loving them unconditionally, being a part of their lives, who they are, were and will become. They can, and I hope will honor me on this day. And I will bask in it, every bit. But later tonight in bed, when the house is silent and I stare at the distant nothingness fading into the night-time ceiling, I will as I always do, hope and pray that I was indeed, up to the task and am truly worthy to be called their father.

 

 

 

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