Don’t Let Them Down


“Don’t Let Them Down”

Last  Summer my wife and I toured the art galleries of Santa Fe, New Mexico.   I must admit, most of what what I saw there was a bit beyond me.    Please don’t think me simple.   If you had seen some of this stuff, you’d say the same thing.

But there was one sculpture that captivated me.   It was a bronze piece by an artist named Mackenzie Thorpe.   In most of the Thorpe sculptures and paintings scattered throughout the gallery, all the children had very large heads, while the adults had rather small heads.   This, according to the extremely well-dressed metro-sexual greeting us that day, was no accident.   It seems that Thorpe believes that our capacity for learning, for thought, is at its greatest when we are young.   As we grow older, that capacity diminishes.

It was after that explanation that I saw  the bronze statue titled “Don’t Let Them Down.”   The man in the statue  does in fact have a rather small head.   However, his feet (or should I say his shoes)  are extremely large.   In addition to trying to fill these extremely large shoes, the man  is pushing a stroller, uphill, and obviously in the face of some other seemingly insurmountable odds such as climate (as evidenced by the raincoat that seems to be blowing in the wind.)   Going backwards (or letting them “down”) is simply not an option, and  this guy  knows it.

I thought about my children.   I thought about what I am to them.   I never had a very clear picture of what a Dad looked like growing up.   There’s another story there, certainly.   But suffice to say that each day of my life I feel as if I’m blazing a trail.   I’ve been a Dad now for eight years.   Much of this time I’ve been convinced that being a good Dad meant showing your kids you loved them with words and actions.     I was certain that it meant spending time with them, loving their mother in front of them, and setting an example of how to treat friends, family, and the world in general.

But the man in this picture doesn’t seemed too concerned with treating the world in general.   He’s not trying to bond with the baby in the stroller.   He’s not trying to foster a strong self image for his offspring.   Instead, he is simply trying to move forward, despite the odds.   It made me realize that being a Dad (or a Mom for that matter) is not always about what the kids see.   There are so many responsibilities that must be addressed each day as a parent at a level far below a child’s radar.

dadsanddaughters.jpgWhether it’s paying the bills or keeping the house, taking out the trash or changing the oil, these things matter.   Renewing your car tags, saving for a rainy day, taking care of your own parents, and voting are all ways to be a parent.   These are things that will likely go unnoticed unless they go undone.

So even though the high “I” personality inside of me wants to focus on those special after-school moments with my children, I’m beginning to see how the less-glamorous moments, the often unseen, unspoken, unrewarded tasks we must face, are often of equal importance to the welfare and well-being of our children.

In short, our big shoes make it possible for those big heads to tackle the world, and we can’t let them down.

Love Letters

letterthumb2.jpgWhen I was younger, I wrote love letters.   They began simply enough with “check-yes-or-no” messages to one girl or  another.   Over time they evolved into sappy pieces of sentimentality that won the hearts of some, scared away a few others, and drew the attention of more than one concerned father.

What is it about a written note that speaks so well to a person’s heart?   On one of the toughest days of my new job, I sat at my desk to see a PostIt in plain sight.   The note simply read:

I’m praying for you friend.

That was March when my best friend dropped by to leave that bit of encouragement.   This is December, and that note is still there.   People delete emails and phone messages.   They keep notes and letters.  

Recently, my wife showed me a note from our oldest daughter, a love letter of sorts.   We’ve been working with our children to understand the concepts of teamwork and responsibility.   Darlene had asked our oldest daughter for example to help clean up the bonus room.

“But I didn’t make this mess.   This was RileyGrace’s mess!”

“I understand,” my wife had reassured her.   “But RileyGrace is doing something I’ve asked her to do, and I need you to do what I’ve asked you to do.”

“But that’s not fair!”

“No, it’s not.   Nor is it fair that I have to wash ALL of your clothes, even if I didn’t wear them.” (Score two for Mom.)

The next morning, Darlene began her morning ritual of bed making.   McKenzie protested and insisted that she be allowed to make her own bed.

“It’s not fair for you to have to make my bed.   It’s not your responsibility.”

Though admitedly taken with our daughter’s response, my wife (an oldest child herself) was overwhelmed with pride.   Later that day, she penned the follow “love letter:”

Wow! What a nice surprise to come in and find your bed made. Thank you. It really helped my morning.
I love you,

Very soon after having left the note, my wife discovered the following correspondence in second-grade-script lying on her bed:

Hey Mom,
I guess dispaline really does teach people a lesson. Thank you a lot. 1 (one)  lesson learned. About 100,000 to go.


Who would have thought one little square slip of paper, one small love letter from a daughter to her mom could be so powerful?   A few short words that speak volumes of wisdom, reassurance, acceptance, and most of all . . . love.

God Said What?

rgmouthfull.jpgIf you’ve read this blog at all, you know that I have children.   Three of them.   All smarter than me.   Even the one who still spits up and poops his pants.   I don’t deny this.   But now they’ve gone too far.   If I am to believe them, the smart ones, then God is now relaying messages for me through them.   Not in the grab-your-heart-that’s-so-profound kind of way.   I’m talking about real conversations between God and my children, all apparently  meant for my benefit.

RileyGrace (you knew this had to do with her, didn’t you?) was demonstrating her superior knowledge after church last Sunday.   She was telling me (poor uneducated father) that the something or other had to be a certain way because of this or that and the other thing.   (I pay great attention to my children when they speak.   Of this I’m proud).   Somewhere along the way, however, I discovered a flaw in her logic.   Now keep in mind, I don’t have many opportunities to be right, so I grab them when they speed past.

Yet RileyGrace was undeterred by my correction and remained steadfast in her belief. (This could be a sign of things to come).   Now any parent can tell you the  number one  rule of fathers and four-year-old daughters: Arguments are like quicksand, the harder you try, the deeper it gets.   I broke the rule.

My daughter, having just come from church and feeling empowered  by her ecclesiastical exploits, calls upon the scripture to support her argument.

“Daddy, the Bible says . . .”

Now, I didn’t get through 3 months of Bible drill by being slow with a King James.   So I quickly interrupted.

” . . . to obey your mother and father.” I finished for her.

“Daddy!” RileyGrace threw her hands up in front of her as if to stop me in my tracks, then continued.

“God is talking to me.”

Oh, so sorry.   Did not realize that.   How rude of me.   So I asked the next logical question.

“So, RileyGrace, what is He saying?”

“He is saying that I am right.”

Once again, I simply prove to be inferior.

If RileyGrace Had Done Blair Witch

rileyblairwitch.jpgMy kids . . . what can I say?   They’re prodigies.   Here you see my four year old is already trying her hand at Halloween cinematography.   Sure it’s been done.   But I must say, she’s hitting 11 on the scary meter with this one.

I know it’s a little late to be posting Halloween pix, but I frankly didn’t have much to say about the topic until now.   What changed?   I’m really not sure.   For me, the whole Halloween thing was always about ghosts and goblins and such.   Throw in a good horror movie, some really fresh candy corn (ever had that year-old stale stuff? YUCK!) and you’ve got a great excuse to safely pretend to explore the “other side” of good vs. evil.

What I noticed this year, however, was not so much about good and evil.   I saw in my children a different kind of duality.   And I can’t believe I forgot what this felt like.   Remember dressing up, becoming someone totally different?   Remember suspending reality for just a short time and truly believing you were in fact a $10 Storm Trooper from the star-ship WalMart?

kkandrg.jpgI saw this in my children for the first time this year.   And I don’t know how I could have missed it.   My oldest, McKenzie, is . . . well, the oldest.   She’s predictably over-achieving and strives for perfection in all she does.   So what does she choose for her costume?   A Geisha.   Now, I know what you’re thinking.   I thought it to.  ‘What?   My daughter is going trick our treating as an 18th Century Japanese prostitute?’   But let’s move passed this for a moment.   To my daughter (who I  sincerely hope  has yet to  define  the word’prostitute’)  this costume is  something entirely different.   To her there is only beauty, mystery, and perfection.   This is who she is, who she wants to be.   And I love that about her.

My four year old was a fairy princess.   I think that one speaks for itself.

meandmygang.jpgOur friends joined us.   Their costumes were equally telling.   McKenzie’s counterpart, the Ninja  formerly known as Brad, was telling all with those eyes of his.   Deadly,  yet adorable.   Here’s a kid that has the brain power to take over the world, but the temperament to give it all back to whoever needs it.   I was proud to have an ancient warrior to escort my little Japanese . . . uh . . . lady.   Then there was Bailey.   Another princess.   Again, no explanation needed.

Dude-man Bryant joined in the fun, but  wasn’t quite old enough to have developed an alter ego.   As for Logan and myself, we were embracing the true essence of who we knew ourselves to be – porch dwellers.   And scary ones at that.

dadandlogan.jpgNext year I will take note.   While there are many  who will wimp out with the traditional one-eyeball-hanging-out rubber mask and Daddy’s old overalls, I’m betting that there are a few whos’ masks will do more revealing than concealing.   I’ll also be watching to see what masks my children and their friends adorn.   What will those masks say about them?   Time will tell.   Until then, it’s just me on the porch eating Candy Corn.   Yum yum.

I Do Love That Man

Two years ago, about this time of year, I wrote the following . . .

Just hung up the phone with the man I affectionately refer to as “Papaw.” This would of course be my grandfather, my mother’s father.   In so many ways this man  has played a vital role in my life.   Papaw is the universal fix it man for everything tangible in our lives.   If it’s broken, he can fix it.   If it’s not broken, he can still fix it.

I’ve spent many years watching him.   There were times I wanted to be just like him.   I still do.   I learned a few years ago that a man’s worth  isn’t found  so much in what he knows, but in what he does with what he knows.   I also learned, thanks to Papaw, that style is relative, and that class (like still waters) runs incredibly deep.

The phone call was like many others before.   “Hey man,” he would say.   “What’s going on?” I would ask, as if I didn’t know. “Aw, just sittin’ on the couch.   Your Mamaw’s cookin’ supper.   I’ve been down at the shop fixin’ that [you could insert any item here] for [you could insert any person here, especially a member of his family].”   And so on and so on.

Papaw’s not much for in-depth conversation.   No deep transcendental thoughts on the order of the universe . . . no philosophical  musings.   No.   Just chit chat.   It is enough for my grandfather to simply have you on the phone ““ to know you are safe, happy, and without want.   This is the purpose of conversation for him, to know his family is safe.

On occasion, however, he will (much like today) pierce  my unsuspecting heart with a love  so so profound, yet so unknowing.   It is then  that he  is like hot coffee in a cup that’s too small.    When he  spills out, you’re gonna  cry – only in a good way.

“I’m glad you’re coming in for Christmas,” he told me, as if this were a new thing.   We come home every year.   In 32 years, I’ve never spent a Christmas morning away from this man.   “Maybe we’ll have time,” he continues, “to just be together.”   My eyes watered as I listened. “I just enjoy  being with you, just driving and talking.   Maybe we can do that,” he says.

OK.   That’s not fair.   I had no warning.

There are two things you need to know at this point:

1) Conversation is never easy between my grandfather and me.   On the surface, it’s like Bartles talking with James.   The older I get, however,  our conversations remind me  more  of the dialogue in a Hemingway novel.   So much not said. It would take, I suppose,  someone of tremendous perception to appreciate the full value of each sparse word, each pregnant pause.

2) Since the arrival of my children, quality time with my grandfather (no matter how dysfunctional) has been VERY limited.    My family’s  abbreviated trips back to Alabama are usually reserved for  time spent  spoiling great grandchildren.    Papaw/Brandon time is hard for both of us to come by.

BUT ““ if I can ever get him alone and  start chipping away at those walls he builds around his mind and his heart, I can (on occasion) probe just a little deeper.   It is then that I get just a glimpse into this man that contributed  so completely to my raising ““ this man who still remains such a mystery.   He was now giving me another such opportunity.

Thus, the tears.


“Sure, Papaw,” I chocked back.   “Maybe L’Rancho [local dive good for just such an occasion] will be open on Monday morning.   We could go get some breakfast.”   I couldn’t say much more.

If you could only see what I see, or rather what I can’t see.    It’s a strange thing  to love someone so much and know so little about them.   He has so much bottled up inside.   I’m sure to let it all out would in many ways betray who he is to begin with.   But to just glimpse into who he really is  . . .  that’s what I want.

I want to hear  about being a father  to my mother.   I want to hear about working at 15 to support a family, about  owning and operating a business, about  thriving, about surviving.

Somehow, when I read or hear about men who buckled down in the face of adversity, it inspires me to do the same.   While it takes a true leader to do the right thing in the absence of precedent, it’s important for posterity to realize that it can be done.   Others have done it.   Great men have done it.   I belive the potential is there for my generation as well.   We can be great men.   We are born from great men.

Yet we are a spoiled generation of quick fixes.   Microwaves, computers, credit cards . . . not all evil (except for the credit cards) but still not representative of the hard working delayed gratification that built this incredible nation.

Only briefly have I seen Papaw open up about alcoholism.   Only briefly have I heard him speak of hard work in tough times.    I would so love to  have another opportunity to look inside once again and build on these small but giant moments.   I have so much to learn, and he has so much to teach.


However, if  that time doesn’t come I can rest easy knowing that the really crucial  lessons have already been taught through his actions, and consistently so.

1. Love your family like they’re all you have, because they truly are.
2. If there’s work to be done, do it.   Then rest.
3. Don’t ignore problems.   They just get bigger.
4. Always keep air in the tires and oil in the engine.
5. Don’t shoot a BB gun when someone’s in your way.
6. Clean up extra food and crumbs, or suffer the wrath of ants.
7. Take care of other people’s things.
8. Take care of your own things.
9. Be on time.
10. It’s OK to wash your hair in the sink, if you have to.

And most of all, the greatest gift you can give your family is yourself.   Be there for them, even when it’s not fun, or when they’re not fun, or when you’re not fun.

When it’s all said and done, this is most important.

I do love that man.   And I know without a shadow of a doubt . . . that he loves me.

One Wedding and a Four Year Old

rileyblog1.jpgMy children have a way of focusing in on reality.   Beyond the drama and all the . . . well . . . pink, both of my girls have this innate ability to see past the trappings of adulthood and unearth the raw truth behind the things my wife and I have already begun to take for granted.

My four year old gives me the best example of this today seated in the very back row of a church during a friend’s wedding ceremony.     When you combine the number of weddings my wife and I have attended and even participated in, it’s not surprising that we knew by heart every song from the ceremony.   We knew every convention followed, and noticed every deviation from convention.   Not that we cared either way.   We just kind of go on auto-pilot at weddings.

Not my four year old.   While this is actually NOT her first wedding, it was clearly among the first in which she paid any kind of attention to what was being said.   As the preacher (that’s “minister” to everyone outside of Alabama) prompts the soon-to-be-newlyweds to utter those famous last words “I do,” my wife and I smile to one another in anticipation of what we know will be the couple’s answers.   Not sharing our clairvoyance, our  middle child whispers  with the subtlety of a weed eater, “I hope they both say  yes.”

A good point, I later thought.    Anything to the contrary might not have been very conventional.    Although, I must say that it would have made for a MUCH better blog post.

Following the ceremony  is the traditional  finger food and punch reception.   Of course  my daughter wants to wait in line (an incredibly long, perhaps record-breaking line) to see the bride, which I’m almost certain she has  confused at this point with one of the princesses from  the Disney lineup.   As we finally reach the young couple (having never even met the bride) my shy child leaps forward and embraces the “princess” with no less drama than if the two  had met running full  stream ahead  in the middle of a wheat field to  the soaring strings of theatrical background music.

rileyblog2.jpgSurprised but slightly amused by the show of spontaneous and rather anonymous affection, the bride kindly returns the hug only to hear my daughter ask the most probing, thought-provoking, socially  conscious question one could expect at a time like this,   “Could I see your shoes?”

So from the mouth of babes comes (as best I can summarize) the two following truths:

1. While one can never assume a “yes,” one can most certainly always hope.

2. Forget the vows, the cake, the flowers, the guests.   If you want a true measure of how long a marriage will last, check out the shoes.

I think I got it.

On Reading Faulkner

William FaulknerI read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in high school.   I even wrote a literary critique on the book.   Of course I merely compiled and reconstructed the thoughts of other noted scholars on the subject.   This earned me an “A,” and so I was happy. The End.

What it did not earn me was a true understanding of how this book, or any other by William Faulkner was to be read.   This is why, when I picked up this same book fifteen years later, I had no idea what I was doing.   I was expecting to read a Twain-esque account of the humor and absurdity of turn-of-the-century Yoknapatawpha, mixed with death and a few lofty social ideals.

That lasted until page two.

By chapter two, I turned the book upside down to see if it made any more sense.   Isn’t it a rule that if you use a pronoun it should be clear to what that pronoun is referring?   Isn’t it important to let the reader know with some degree of chronology the events leading up to a dialogue?   At least within 50 pages?

He (Faulkner – see, that isn’t so hard) didn’t play by the rules.   Which leads me to the first basic rule when reading Faulkner . . . get the Cliff Notes.   Or at least the online SparkNotes.   They’re very helpful for understanding at the very least concepts like  . . . oh, I don’t know . . . A PLOT!!!   But this reader’s guide will also be glad to tell you how to interpret the thematic elements behind what you’ve just read (read: how to think).

So, with the help of my online “aid,” I made it through a truly wonderful and fascinating book about the Bundrens and their journey to bury poor Adi.   Man, talk about your screwed up families.

I took some time to recuperate and re-organize my brain into proper lobe positions.   This took approximately six months, one John Grisham novel, one Nicholas Sparks novel, and a few Capote short stories.   After that, it was off to the races again.

Light In AugustMy next project, Light in August.   First let me say that this selection was solely predicated on the availability of audiobooks through my library’s online lending system.   I downloaded the book, transfered it to my PDA (thanks to my 1GB storage card) and committed my drives to and from work to the legendary author and his strange use of the “stream of consciousness” narrative.

I’m almost done.   While it helped that the actor reading the book is VERY good, I still had to break out the old SparksNotes bookmark in my browser.   I tried, really.   But by chapter four, I was as lost as last year’s Easter egg.   But this book has a rhythm.   It has a meter that can be followed for each character.   The language changes with each dialogue, much like As I Lay Dying.   And I finally understood the one thing every reader needs to have when reading Faulkner . . .

A lot of mental RAM.

If you are like me, you like to let go of useless information to make room for new useless information.   Normally, this is OK because any other author would give you clues to keep important details at the front of your mind.   To Faulkner, everything is important.   And he will most likely give you a detail in chapter one that will not make sense until chapter seven.   If you are able to piece together the seemingly random bits of data, you will most certainly find a very interesting, if not mind-blowing connection among characters and events.

My advice, read this book.   But don’t be afraid to follow every other chapter (or every other paragraph if necessary) with a glimpse at the SparksNotes.   If you’re like me, you’ll get the hang of it after a while.   And soon, you’ll not only be piecing together what you’ve just read, but you’ll actually begin anticipating what is coming next.   (Careful, professional driver on a closed course).

If you’re so inclinded, have fun.   And remember, Faulkner is best served  with a warm pipe  on a cool Autumn afternoon.   (But don’t tell my wife.)

Normal Is The New Rebellion

I was taught to be good.   I was taught to love others, mind my manners, be respectful, and above all . . . stay out of trouble.   Of course the later eventually became more about not getting caught than anything else.   But even still, I was a good kid.

Yet even during adolescence (which my wife might argue I never completely left behind) it was clear that I would never be the cool kid I wanted to be.   I was too satisfied with being good.   Too bent on being normal, unlike my peers who seemed determined to push every envelop.   I was too much of a conformist to contribute to any kind of real diversity.   I was traditional.   I was too “goody-goody.” I’m sure to many, I was on my best day simply artificial.

Now, I am older.   I carry much more responsibility, and I am glad to accept it.   Yet, some things never change.   I am still “normal.”  Middle class vanilla at its Baskin Robbins best.   A wife, three kids, a mortgage, you know the drill.    My politics are conservative.   I believe in local responsibility, state power, and limited federal government.   I believe in prayer in schools, in One Nation Under God (in whom I also believe we still trust).   I say “sir” and “ma’am” and mean them with respect.   I do not expect anything from anyone except that they do their part.

However, it seems to me that I have become the stereotype.   I am the “normal” that constitutes that which others would seek to redefine.   While some celebrate diversity as I do, there are others that care little for my way of life, calling it close-minded, antiquated, exclusive, even intolerant.   But who will tolerate me?   Who will look out for my way of life, my rights, my beliefs?

As a Christian evangelical (I think that’s what they call me know), as a conservative Republican, as  an  opponent to abortion and a proponent of prayer in schools, I have become the minority who’s  rights now need protecting.   And there are others like me, who (like me) are not used to  having to define and defend  what it is for  which  they stand.    For we were once normal.

Now,  to be what once was normal is to rebel against pop culture.    It is  to swim against the current of mainstream media.   It is to guard the eyes and ears, the hearts and minds of my children against that which others would call normal, that which I do not.

Strange as it seems, it has become clear to me that normal is the new rebellion.