Caught Between Generations

mamadaddy

I spent some time visiting cemeteries today. I’ve often excused my absence there by saying, “My parents aren’t really there. Their spirits live elsewhere. In fact, I can sense their presence quite often.”

Still, I needed to go. I was somehow compelled to go. I parked in the church parking lot and ate a couple of Chick fil-A nuggets before summoning the nerve to get out of the car. I hadn’t been in a while and was feeling ill-at-ease.

“What’s wrong with you, Jaynie?” My mother often called me that, and I could almost hear her asking me that question. Not wanting to disappoint her, I got out and walked to the gate. I pushed it open and headed right. Seconds later, I was staring at my parents’ headstones. Their names and birth and death dates were clearly etched on them. I stared at them for a few moments, incredulous that it had been over 15 years since I’d heard my father’s voice. I can still hear him saying, “Never better,” whenever anyone would ask him how he felt. That response always struck me as strange because he had emphysema and died of COPD. Breathing was a challenge, a scary and painful one (I think).

The main thing that struck me while standing there, however, was how names and dates reveal so little about what a person was really like. She could sing so beautifully. She could dance too. And she was a little zany at times. She was a real lady, and I loved her so much. So did my children. Even now, it’s Granny, Granny, Granny. What about me??? And my father had this cool walk. He sort of loped along in a casual stride, and my son walks the same way. Gulp.

Before I get too carried away, let’s move on.

I then went to another cemetery about seven or eight miles from the first one. My little grandson is resting there beside his great-grandfather, and I needed to see his stone today. His mama, my daughter Carrie, celebrates Spencer’s birth on December 8th of each year, and I wanted to let him know that he hasn’t been forgotten. I think the little angel healed a lot of family wounds. Maybe that was the purpose of his brief mission.

I’ve always loved my son-in-law, but the day that he told me they wanted to bury Spencer in Camden marks the day that I fell even harder for the guy.  He said he knew that there would always be family in Camden, and thus a reason for coming back here to bring Spencer’s younger brothers and sisters to visit his grave. What hope. What optimism. What faith. My daughter had already had two miscarriages and a stillborn child. And yet, Rich was confident that little Spencer would have younger siblings.

And Rich was right. I remember his statement every year when I go with Carrie, Rich, and their five children to pay Spencer a visit.

It was a day of connecting with family. Whether still walking the earth or abiding in holier habitations, people continue to affect each other. Caught between generations, my mind awash with memories, I again marveled at the web of connections.

Come Follow Me

mike walking

I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.

For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.

As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.

That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.

Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.

I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”

As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”

It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could.  People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.

Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.

Lessons from the Onion Field

One of the nice things about having a personal blog is that I can write about anything that crosses my mind. Therefore, this is sort of a hodgepodge blog of topics ranging from exercise and health to family and faith…and a ton of stuff in-between. For instance, sometimes the blog becomes a travelogue, and other times I might decide to pontificate on politics.

That said, today’s post is about a revelation (that’s what I’m calling it) that I got in church Sunday. I had been pondering an issue that someone near and dear to me was having, and then suddenly the speaker said a few simple things that provided immediate insight. He began by talking about the importance of families, and then he shared some relevant stories from his childhood. It was a fabulous talk, filled with several references to scriptures, pertinent articles, and personal experiences.

Here’s one of the stories that I particularly liked, probably because of the underlying lesson. As a young child, he and his younger brother had the task of watering onions on a huge family farm. The onion planting was somewhat experimental, and the adult males on the scene, the speaker’s father and grandfather, had rigged up some newfangled way of making sure that the plants were watered. Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t work as well as planned, and watering became a hot, arduous, and dreaded task.

“You might wonder why we did it,” he said. The speaker then went on to say that he and his brothers and other siblings clearly understood their role as children and the adults’ roles as parents and grandparents. “As children, we knew we were to do what our parents told us to do, and although we didn’t always like it, we also knew that it was eventually going to be for our own good. It’s the same type of relationship that we have with God. We need to do what he tells us to do just like children need to do what their parents tell them to do.”

That’s when it hit me—the parallel between God’s instructions and those of earthly parents. He doesn’t tell us to do anything that will hurt us or cause sorrow, and neither will our biological parents. Well, quite honestly, some parents are pretty crummy in their role, but not the ones I’m thinking of at the moment. I know, just as we all do, some people who are great at following God’s commandments to keep the Sabbath holy and  refrain from killing other people, and yet they totally diss their parents and their instructions to come home on time, do their homework, clean their rooms, and a myriad of other things.

Doesn’t this seem a little paradoxical? It could be that I’m expecting too much from children to truly understand the parallels between the two parental sources, our Heavenly father and our earthly parents. In any case, I’ll leave the explaining part to the grown-ups. For now, I’ll just say that children need to be obedient to their parents and to God.

TLC and Reality Checks

A lunch conversation brought to mind a few more thoughts about fathers and their importance in the life of a child. As we talked about the roles mothers and fathers, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time that they are indeed different. Mother Nature coded us differently from the “get-go’ and that 23rd pair of chromosomes continues to affect our thinking and behavior throughout our lives.

While there are exceptions to this, women are the nurturers. Men are the fix-it people, the ones who see a problem and want to solve it right away. Women want to make things all better, and men want to tackle the issues head on. This way of thinking even affects the way parents handle issues with their children.

Parents look ahead to the future and feel uncertainty, anxiety, and perhaps even downright fear when they consider their children stepping into it. The world is fraught with danger and peril, and each parent wants to prepare the child for it. Their ways of preparing youngsters for the world of tomorrow is different, however. Mothers are more likely to see the possible dangers and warn the child to be cautious and careful. Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely to tell the child to step up to the plate and be strong.

The different parental approaches remind me of the difference between justice and mercy. Both are good; both have their value. And yet too much of one without the other is potentially harmful for the development of a well-rounded and responsible individual. When our children were small and would wail, “That’s not fair,” I was inclined to commiserate with them and agree that while it isn’t always fair, that was just the way it was. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I’d say. Their father, on the other hand, would often quip, “Who says life is fair???”

Sometimes parents can switch off and take turns between nurturer and tough guy, but a child needs both approaches. He or she needs justice AND mercy. Sometimes she needs a big dose of TLC and sometime she needs a reality check. When my daughter Carrie was a college student, she was having a little too much fun, and her grades were slipping. I gave her some encouraging pep talks and reminded her of the importance of education. Truthfully, I don’t think it fazed her at all. Her father told her that if her grades didn’t improve, the gravy train was over. That got her attention, and she immediately began to turn things around.

Maybe some single parents are able to be both the nurturer and the task master, the one who tries to make things “all better” and the one who encourages the child to “man up” (even with female children). But me? I needed both  mercy and justice when raising children, and I think most households do.

He’s Really There for Us

I have dads on my mind again this morning. Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend? We need to. Any reputable human growth and development text will tell you that adolescents in single-parent households are at higher risk for poor academic performance, delinquency, violent behavior, drinking, and risky sexual behavior.

Even if the father is not in the home, he can be a force for good. It is the quality of his involvement that counts, not his mere presence. We all know fathers who  are hateful, ineffective, and abusive and whose families might be better off if they were to hit the road. I’m not talking about them. I’m referring to the ones who genuinely care about their children but for various reasons don’t actually live with them. If the dad provides financial assistance, fosters a close relationship, and practices authoritative parenting, his children are usually better adjusted than if he were absent.

I recall the moment when I first realized that single parenting was becoming more the norm. A dozen years ago, I had a pretty, petite, pregnant redhead in one of my classes. I was a bit surprised that she was beginning the semester because it’s been my experience that having a newborn usually takes more time and energy than the expectant mom realizes, and more often than not, she ends up withdrawing for that term. Sorry ladies, although there are many exceptions, that’s been my observation, especially if the mother is single.

And that was the case with this young mom. The moment she told me about her “boyfriend,” I thought, “Uh oh,” and  had that sinking feeling that her college career would be cut short. Indeed, I somehow knew that the course of her life was about to be altered in a big way and that unless her circumstances changed, she and her baby would struggle in a myriad of ways.

Little Junior was born, and after a week, there she was back in class. I was delighted and surprised. We talked after class, and she showed me some pictures of the baby. There was a young man smiling and holding the newborn in a couple of the photos, and she proudly told me that he was the baby’s father and her boyfriend.

“He’s really there for us,” she said.

“That’s good to hear, “I replied.

“Yeah, he doesn’t come every single day because he’s busy, you know. But at least every other day he comes over and gives the baby a bottle.”

Again I said, “That’s good.”

Did she finish the semester? No. Her son would be approaching his teens now, and I often wonder about their fate. Does the child’s father offer financial assistance? Does he still “feed” his son? Is the child angry or rebellious? Do they live in poverty? Did she go back to college?

 There have always been single mothers and absentee fathers. I just don’t recall it being so openly flaunted as it is now. I’m amazed at how easily a person can become adjusted to change, even if it’s not good. These days I’m often surprised and thrilled to learn that the couple is married, something that I used to take for granted.

Be a Dad

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill.

It started with Courageous. Then later that week, I saw a huge billboard with Simba and Mufasa, the words “Be a dad,” written across it. For several moments, I reminisced about The Lion King and its many great themes, one of which is the importance of “remember(ing) who you are.” The movie also said a lot about effective leadership and the power of example. I could go on and on about the attributes of the movie, but I couldn’t do it justice. It’s something you need to see for yourself.

The two movies made me think of other fathers, young and old, living and deceased, and their tremendous potential for influencing their children. Of my young favorites, there’s Rich whom I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post; my son Paul; and Ryan and Charlie, my husband’s son and son-in-law respectively. What all four of these young men have in common is the love and caring that they extend to their children every single day. All work hard and are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for their growing families. Their children look up to them and enjoy spending time with them.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of recent examples. My daughter-in-law Amanda says that she and Olivia Jayne will often go out on the balcony to wait for Paul when it’s time for him to come home. As soon as the tiny tot sees her father, she gets excited and starts stomping her feet. Recently, little Allie spent a couple of hours with us one morning before school started, and one of her favorite topics of conversation was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy (a.k.a. Ryan). And then there’s Hannah, Charlie’s oldest child. A sweet and precious child, she has often shown me a pearl necklace that her father gave her one evening when they went to daddy/daughter event.

Fathers of adult children are important too. Regardless of age, children need fathering, especially when it involves showing an interest in their lives and expressing a desire to spend time with them. As a quick example, my daughter Elizabeth enjoys monthly outings with her father. Whether shopping, enjoying a movie, or sharing a meal, his presence in her life clearly says, “I love you.” Then there’s my husband who talks with and sees his children on a regular basis. Last week, he spent one day hog hunting with Ryan and another day visiting with Lauren and her children.

Speaking of older fathers, last week I attended the funeral of an 84-year-old father, step-father, and grandfather. After the demise of his first wife, he married a friend of mine who had four young children, and for over twenty years, he’s been “there” for them. At the funeral, these four young adults sang a beautiful hymn in a tribute to Will.

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill. Even someone of presidential stature, Barack Obama, speaks of feeling a “father hunger” for much of his life.

Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend?

Emma and Her Date

On a scorching day this past July, I walked out of the library in Rincon, GA and heard a sweet little voice saying, “Hey Grandmama!” There she was, my blond, curly haired granddaughter Emma running towards me. She and her father had a daddy/daughter date that day, and they were dining on hamburgers and fries in the park. I looked up and saw Rich, my son-in-law, sitting at a picnic table in the park, and hand-in-hand, Emma and I sauntered over.  I sauntered; Emma skipped.

“Why did you guys decide to come here?” I asked. “Couldn’t you eat your lunch in air conditioned comfort?”

“Well, it was Emma’s time to choose, and she wanted to come here,” Rich replied. Emma climbed back up on the bench next to her dad and took a sip of her drink. I took a long look at my son-in-law, drenched in perspiration, obviously uncomfortable and thought, “That’s love.”

We chatted a few minutes and then I drove off. When I looked back, there they sat, Rich listening to Emma’s prattling, and Emma swinging her legs and happily telling her dad something important (to her).

I remembered this scene and others like it as my husband and I watched Courageous last week, a movie about men with the courage to step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibilities as fathers. Moved by the stories portrayed in the movie, we talked for the umpteenth time about how fortunate we are that our eleven grandchildren are being raised in homes with both mom and dad present, present in more ways than one. When I compare their young lives to that of millions of our nation’s children, my heart hurts.

Seeing the movie and thinking of its title reminded me that I too need to have courage to speak up, to do and say what I perceive to be appropriate in encouraging fathers to take their childrearing responsibility seriously. The children of America need a masculine influence in their homes, a person who can and will love, guide, protect, and provide for them. Yes, I know that mothers are perfectly capable of loving and guiding, but the children fare better with two adults, united in purpose, to raise them.

In the movie, one of the young men who’s part of a gang has been arrested. As he sits in the back seat of the police car waiting to be taken to jail, one of the officers leans into the car and asks, with concern, something like, “What are you doing?” Sad and vulnerable (at least in appearance), the young man simply replies, “Man, I don’t have anybody.” (paraphrase)  That one sentence contains so much truth and so much hurt.

Children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, and get involved with drugs. I know some people reading this want more specific data. They want percentages and statistics. I can find them easily enough, and maybe by the time I write another post about being courageous, I’ll have looked them up.  Or better yet, maybe you can do it.  The stats and facts are easy enough to find. It’s no secret that over 40 percent of children born in South Carolina are born to single mothers. Where are the dads? Where is their courage?