Stand by Me

Stand by me when I come to you on life’s winding road. Pegs A.Photo Ear 2 There

Fathering may be the hardest job because there is no defined role. Mothers carry you and bear you. Fathers were in the room—we know it. But what comes next? The game is changing. Fathers and mothers are rewriting the script every day, thank goodness, because both parents are more busy than ever, and now are taking on the role of online teacher in the middle of a Pandemic or trying to fill out a summer with fewer options available.

While stereotyping dads might be unfair, 21st century fathers seem to fall into a couple categories:

A race car driver who speeds around the curves, very busy in professional and social life. Some make pit stops to visit their wife and children, maybe inviting them for a spin around the track, but are not heavily invested in family life.

Athletes keep themselves in tip-top shape, which is a good thing that can prevent heart attacks later and free their children from being forced to care for them in their old age. They can offer an example and engage their children in softball, basketball, swimming, running, and bike riding. Great stuff as long as they are not the parent yelling from the sidelines, criticizing their offspring’s performance.

Excitement about a game when you’re five or ten should be the key motivator to play, not diminish your spirit. The challenge for fathers comes in when their child is still learning to field the ball or “see” it as it zooms to the plate. Being MVP may be a long way off, but baby steps could get you there or help you find your child’s true bliss. Any sport, even video gaming, brings out the competitive spirit, yet very rarely do any of us learn anything the first time out—it takes time, patience, and practice. That can be boring but learning determination and persistence might be among the most important lessons a father can convey.

That brings us to Teachers—a vital role for fathers. Imparting the knowledge a son or daughter needs before they venture out into a world that may not have a warm, cushy place for them after they leave home. Often the go-to cache of vital information imparted from father to offspring includes what he learned from his father and there’s value there. But the world is changing second by second, when in prior generations it moved forward day by day. A father will not always be around when a child needs to make some of life’s most important decisions. That is where critical thinking comes in.

A father might not always agree with his child’s decisions, but if his offspring can apply a consistent pattern of thinking, examining the choices with a clear lens, then the father knows he’s completed an important part of his job.

As a child matures, the father can become the Tree that can be in one spot, not necessarily immobile, but there, where he can be found to reach out, to listen, lend a hand, a hug, a heart-to-heart. The father can steady the child in the rocky times, remind him of his own struggles, how he overcame them, or accepted them and found a new focus.

The hardest part of being a father is learning when to let a child figure it out, not attempting to save them, so they can build the mental timber of experience they’ll need to piece out the tougher problems life will throw at them.

Fathers pull from this grab bag of roles, but their most important task is to help their child build the resilience to lead them through today’s challenging times where there are no simple answers and to prepare them for the future. Building confidence in one’s ability to problem solve and devise work-arounds when the first solution begins to crash and burn. That will build the confidence needed to overcome failure, to learn it does not always work out, but to persist and try again. Becoming discouraged under overwhelming circumstances is natural, but learning that you have the tools to analyze a problem and to reach out and ask others to join you in finding a solution—that’s a strength you can stand on.

Breaking the Pattern

Boredart. Zantangle Patterns. Community Art Project Tree.

I have set up a schedule during the Pandemic to help me get through the long day instead of meandering without a routine or moving endlessly without purpose. Get up, make coffee, write diary/read and email, exercise, eat, write 1000 to 1500 words, lunch break, calls, recumbent exercise, shower, dinner, Hulu, read, bed. Now that monotony has been shattered.

Now as the calendar turns onto the fourth month of separation in several states, a mirror of the nation’s racial injustices sharply focuses on the base cruelty and murderous acts inflicted upon blacks and other minorities throughout the last decade and well before.  Too many in the white “majority,” including myself, have registered our horror, but have not taken action to look within our own hearts, minds, and communities to remove racial barriers and work to achieve safety for all Americans.

Not a great risk for me to express my opinion, but for others, like Bubba Wallace, 26, the danger can be very real for this Alabama born, North Carolina-raised competitor. Walker is a NASCAR driver, which might come as no surprise from his nickname, but he is the only African American who races full-time in NASCAR’s Cup Series. He has risen to the elite ranks of the sport and came in second in the 2018 Daytona 500. He drives No. 43, the Richard Petty Chevy that the icon drove to seven Winston Cup championships. Walker takes it a step further by wearing Petty’s autograph tattooed on the back of his right thigh.

As a kid, he idolized NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr., a family favorite, who spoke out against displays of the Confederate flag in 2015. “I think it’s offensive to an entire race,” Earnhardt said after the shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a South Carolina church. “It does nothing for anybody to be there flying, so I don’t see any reason. It belongs in the history books, and that’s about it.”

Walker first became aware of the Confederate Stars and Bars appearing at NASCAR as a young driver, where the Southern symbol has been a fixture since the stock car racing originated 72 years ago. Reluctantly he accepted it as part of the sport. But seeing the video of an unarmed black jogger in Georgia being cornered and shot by a white father and his son compelled him to speak out. Then George Floyd’s death on May 25 gave Walker the final push.

A week ago Sunday after stock car races began via telecast with intentionally empty stands due to the Pandemic, NASCAR included taped messages speaking out for racial justice from Walker and seven-time Cup Series Champ Jimmie Johnson: “We are trying to deliver the message: Listen and Learn.” Then Walker went one step further.

Walker emailed NASCAR President Steve Phelps, telling him NASCAR needed to take a stand on the divisive issue of the Confederate flag—a symbol of hate to him and many other potential fans. “If we wanted to see change and create inclusion in the sport, I thought this was the perfect time for NASCAR to stand behind our message and get rid of the flag,” Walker was quoted. “They want to attend races, but they don’t because these see the old stigmas. They see it as a good ol’ boy sport and the racist undertones of that.” He also went on camera with CNN’s Don Lemon to reinforce his intention.

This week, within 48 hours of receiving Walker’s email–as protests throughout the country continued calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality–Phelps alerted NASCAR drivers that the Confederate flag would no longer be flown on cars or at NASCAR stadiums or events.

Reinforcing the ban is easier while the stadiums are closed to spectators. A greater challenge will occur when the stands open to traditional NASCAR fans. The sport sees Walker as a popular driver who will help bring in diverse fans, reviving the sport to build, rather than decline, in the 21st century. Leaving the 259-year-old Confederate flag behind may be a struggle for some Southerners, but a necessary step forward to unify the country and all the people who reside here.

Liz Clarke and Des Bieler, “NASCAR bans display of Confederate flag at all events and properties,” Washington Post, June 10, 2020

We are Better Together

Jennifer Pugh, “We the People,” Art Print. The words carry the message of America, who we strive to be. Various groups took these words to apply to them, but not to others. These words and promises of a unique nation are meant to apply to all. But they don’t. Today the job of ensuring that these words apply to all Americans falls to each and every one of us. Now more than ever before we need to work together to reinforce America’s promise.

This may be the hardest blog I have written. Because it speaks to our failures. Failure to address problems. Failure to understand others. Failure to understand my own responses. I am not new to seeing anguish and anger accelerate on the streets.

I was 18 in 1968, alone at home in Lafayette, Indiana, when I turned on the TV after work and saw what seemed to be the world on fire. The problems behind those blazes were not solved. Even three years later when I visited DC, the scars on 14th street were reflected by still ravished small businesses that never recovered.

We should not repeat this failure.  It has taken a very long time to reach this depth of chaos and we aren’t going to climb out overnight. Right now cooler heads need to work together and I know that’s a very tall order, but avoiding further loss of life and injuries is critical. Followed by ending the needless destruction of businesses that will only reduce opportunities in our communities and continue the cycle of economic failure.

This is one more thing the millennial and the younger generations will be addressing closeup and personally. But many in these younger generations show the flexibility and willingness to learn about people from different races, religions, and sexual orientations without the judgments that have come from earlier generations. Effort by state and local governments, as well as Congress, will be necessary to find workable solutions. But it will be through the large and small individual connections—making an effort to know each other as people with similar needs to make a living and provide affordable health care for our families, to educate our children and ourselves—that we will begin to understand each other.

Together we are neighbors, friends, family, and strangers from Seattle to San Antonio, Chicago to New Orleans, New England to Miami and everywhere in-between. We are part of the American experience, still struggling to live up to the phrase “We the People,” which does not distinguish between or among us. As we struggle to address excruciating threats to human rights, physical and economic health, we must all work together, joining to develop a myriad of solutions, to answer this greatest challenge to our democracy.

 We the People have overcome multiple struggles in the past, but maybe not using the heart, soul, and intelligence of each one of us. Now we must revisit our past, applying what we know now using a new lens, and gather ideas from every segment of our communities living together, despite the over-whelming challenges we face.

Because Americans are always better together than we are apart.