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Friday, July 24, 2015

The butchery of Planned Parenthood and why a man cares so much...

I only have one child.
I have a daughter. She just turned seventeen and she starts college this fall. That was without a doubt the fastest seventeen years of my life. It’s a blink.
It was made even faster because her mom and I divorced when my daughter was only eighteen months old. I was 34 when she was born and turned 36 just before I became a single dad. I had less than two years of tucking her in every night. Cooking breakfast. Birthdays and holidays as a family. I quickly became a once-a-week-and-every-other-weekend dad. I had a job that allowed flexibility so I often went to her daycare and later to her school to have lunch with her. On the surface it looked like it was for her, but it was for me. Wednesdays and every-other weekend was never enough. I am a daddy at heart and I needed to do the things that daddies do.
I loved my little girl from the very moment we found out we were pregnant. We were only married seven months at the time and we’d been practicing birth control like religion. But God had a plan…and still does for my little girl.
I carried the first ultrasound picture around in my wallet until she was born. I planned and dreamed and counted the days.
I had one habit that I started around the third month of my ex-wife’s pregnancy: I took a paper towel tube and pressed it against her belly every night as we were going to sleep. I said the same thing every night…”Hi Morgan, it’s your Daddy! I love you and I can’t wait to see you!”
Every night.
One night, around the sixth month or so, we were lying in bed and I pressed the tube against her belly and started my routine. “Hi Morgan,” I said, “It’s your Daddy…” And she kicked! I never even got the rest of my usual speech out. She recognized my voice and she kicked hard enough that it was visible to both of us.
It was a special moment for my wife and I and I’ve never forgotten the wonder of realizing that life begins long before the child enters this world.
She was about six months in the womb.
That’s the age at which these babies are being crushed and their precious little bodies sold off piece by piece so that these soulless monsters can enjoy big lunches and joke about buying Lamborghinis. My daughter…who knew my voice, was the same age as these little angels put to death in such brutal fashion. There is no difference between the two. Those little children were just as precious, just as beautiful, just as fearfully and wonderfully made as my daughter was.
I have been vociferous in my attack against Planned Parenthood for this latest despicable exposure into their inner workings. I’ve been applauded, for the most part, for the picture I posted on Twitter a few days ago. Here it is:

But I have also been viciously attacked. And it’s always the same rhetoric…I am just another man who wants to control women, and take away their rights…blah blah blah. I want to enforce my Faith on everyone else. I watch too much Fox News and listen to too much Hannity. They’ve even gone so far as to say “You probably beat your wife and control her too, don’t you?” Not knowing that I’m divorced, and that the divorce crushed me so badly that I never took the chance again. I just spent the next 16 years devoted to my daughter and trying to survive after losing my whole life in the 2008 crash.
I chose to still be her dad, even if I couldn’t be her mom’s husband anymore.
When this news broke and these two horrible videos surfaced, I was literally sickened in my soul. I mourned. I wore a heavy heart like a holocaust cloak. I knew that part of it was the sheer callousness of the two individuals. I knew it was the shock of the blatant despise for the life of those little babies. Not just disregard…despise. But it was a day or two later before I connected the dots and realized that the little babies they were discussing were the same age as my daughter that night she recognized my voice and kicked in joy.
I wondered if any of these little ones had ever come to recognize their daddy’s voice as well. I wondered if only a few nights before…maybe even the very night before…one of them had kicked for joy at hearing that voice and the voice of her mommy. I wondered if that little life was wondering where that daddy was when the horror began and her little body was being dismantled by a savage with no soul.
In all those abortions that happened last year and the years before in Planned Parenthood offices, there had to have been one. And one would be enough for me.
It’s personal to me. That could have been my daughter. Had my wife and I decided to go to PP and end her little life, that very same precious little angel who kicked when she heard my voice, could have been disassembled like a toy doll and the people “providing the service” would never have blinked.
The little leg that kicked in happiness because she’d heard the voice she’d come to expect, would have been torn off and sold for a few dollars.
For me, it’s personal.
Now you know why.

God help us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Divorced Dads and U2's "Song for Someone"

As a rule, I dislike music videos, unless they are live concert footage. Doubtless because I am a writer and I treasure words. I prefer to form a mental image in my soul from the words I read or hear, as opposed to having a meaning provided for me.
There have been exceptions, of course, but for the most part I have simply never found music videos to be as impacting, or evocative as the songs they characterized.
Sometimes, though, a director can create a video that encapsulates the lyrics without confining the impact. When that happens the result can be breathtaking.
Such is the case with U2’s Song For Someone.

Woody Harrelson portrays a prisoner, on his release day. He plays the role so well that I wondered if Woody had ever done time. The hesitancy. The fear. The doubt. The arrival of something so longed for, and anticipated, and yet so simultaneously frightening, was played with so much emotion that I wept throughout. There are few spoken words in this video –which is likely why it works so well- and this silence draws an enormous exclamation point on the character’s pain.
This is metaphor at its best. And for me…it was a metaphor for the pain that has come from divorce.
I have been divorced for almost sixteen years. My daughter was eighteen months old when her mom dissolved our marriage. I was thirty-four when she was born and had just turned thirty-six when I was forced into the world of divorced parenting.
For me it was prison.
I remember the first week without her, calling her one night, about three days after her mom had moved them into a house she shared with a co-worker. As soon as she got on the phone and I heard her voice, I collapsed in tears in my hallway. I tried to hide the sound of my sobs. I could only tell her I loved her, over and over. I couldn’t get anything else out.
There are men’s magazines that will prepare you for a fight over custody, and child support, and the distribution of assets, but they can’t prepare you for tucking your child in by telephone. Or how sleepless you’ll be, or the empty, aching hole in your heart.
I watched Woody Harrelson pace his cell, wash his hands, and take mementos off the wall. I did those things too. I took down every picture my wife had put up, but I couldn’t take my ring off for almost three years after the divorce.
I was still a prisoner.
I watched Harrelson flipping through a worn book of poetry, and then read a letter sent to him by his daughter –apparently many years before, when she was young- and I remembered the file folders and notebooks I still have. Every drawing, every note still filed away in a box in my bedroom. Scraps and pieces of the time with her, and the larger portion of time without her.
Divorce is a prison for a dad. For a dad that cares at least. I know there are those who abandon and disappear. I can’t speak for them. But it’s not most of us. Not by a long shot, regardless what the media and the feminists would have you believe. Divorce is a prison. I was its prisoner for 16 years.
The video progresses to Harrelson shaving nervously, trying to look presentable for his release. His jailer comes. He changed from his prison blues to his civilian clothes. The long walk begins. He pauses as he passes an incoming prisoner…maybe seeing himself all those years before.
I’ve done that. I’ve comforted my friends who’ve walked this path and through my divorced dad blog I’ve offered comfort to thousands of broken, hurting dads.
And seen my younger self in every one.
He pauses again as the exit gate approaches. He breaks down in sobs. Freedom is frightening when you’ve been imprisoned for so long.
The final minutes of the video are the most painful. Woody’s daughter picks him up outside the prison and he offers an awkward hug. She shrinks back from his touch and offers a handshake instead. Harrelson understands her hesitance and hides his disappointment. After enough time, you simply accept the things that come with prison…or divorce. After enough time you learn to mask your pain and disappointment from your kids.
They drive off, exchanging small talk and pleasantries and trying to hide the obvious and enormous uncomfortable air they are both breathing. I cried again.
My daughter is seventeen now. She was so young when we divorced that she only knows single parenthood. She had two Christmases with both her parents. She had three birthdays where we were celebrating with her. Once her mom remarried, I was the odd man out. I saw her once a week and every other weekend…but I didn’t tuck her in every night. I didn’t cook her dinner or help with her homework or take the training wheels off her bike. Her mom made sure those things never happened on my weekends or my Wednesday.
Now she is an adult and she lives with me. She starts college in August, and while having her full-time is better, and some wounds are healing, there are some that have simply become callouses.
In 2008 when the world collapsed and I lost my career and then my home, she lost too. She no longer had a home to go to with her daddy. I had to give our dogs away. We had no weekend visits. I stayed when leaving would have been easier, at least financially. I slept in the back of a 1996 Yukon and did odd jobs. I worked at rebuilding my life and mainly, I stayed in hers.
I could have moved back home and worked for my cousins or moved to North Dakota and made a ton of money in the oil fields. But I know human nature. You start making money and rebuilding your life and eventually that is your life. Then you become a telephone father, calling every few weeks to check in, dutifully sending a check and seeing your kid for two weeks every summer.
It’s prison all over again.
I knew this, so I stayed in Nashville, where we lived for seventeen years. I stayed. I shivered on a lot of winter nights and sweltered on a lot of summer nights. I walked. I went hungry. I studied in my car and got my bachelor’s degree. I wrote. I started a business. But I couldn’t do that one thing that would turn the corner for me and get me out of the truck and into a home.
In May of last year, my daughter and I moved here to Lynchburg, Virginia. In August I was hired by my alma mater and we started rebuilding yet again. In many ways, my daughter is the same as the daughter in the video. She loves me, and she knows I love her. But she missed so many important years after the divorce and even more after I became homeless. We’re not nearly as estranged as the father and daughter in the video but it feels that way sometimes, regardless.
I love my daughter. In my heart, I still see her as the ringlet-curled, little blonde girl she was when her mom and I divorced. Or when she was seven and life was great and I bought her a pony for her birthday and we had a nice home and a garden and two Springer Spaniels.
But she is not that little girl anymore.
She is a college freshman, and I will be fifty-two this fall. And in many ways, I’m still that prisoner, hesitantly facing release and wondering what is out there for me. I never remarried. Never really got close. I focused on my daughter, and being her dad. Maybe a few of those prison walls were my own creation because of those choices. I don’t know. But I know that most divorced dads feel this way. Most divorced dads feel like prisoners. Heck they even call it “visitation” when see have our kids.
Just like prison.
Most dads are nervous and insecure as their kids get older and they start staring into the vacuum left by the time they’ve missed. Most dads have some keepsakes and some mementos stashed away to remind them of a time when they felt like real dads.
Not like prisoners.

Woody, Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam…
I doubt you’ll ever read this blog or know of its existence. I don’t know if this is what you had in mind when you wrote the song and created this video. But this is how it hit me. And I think this is how a lot of dads are seeing this as well.

Thanks for that.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Organized Religion, and why people hate it

In recent weeks, the term “Organized Religion” has been thrown around. It’s been spoken with anger and bile by Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s been spit out by those who were on the winning side of the Gay marriage ruling. Now that some court clerks and officials have been forced to take a stand on their Faith, and defy the ruling and not perform marriages, those who wanted the gay marriage ruling have turned their anger from the lack of ability to get married, to those who disagree and won’t perform the service.
They blame “Organized Religion” a boogeyman, a farcical specter that provides a convenient point of focus for the hate they feel. They don’t want to have any resistance at all on this point so they turn their hatred toward anyone who disagrees with them. Simply winning the right to marry wasn’t enough…they insist that everyone else like the idea.  
Okay, I understand that to an extent. They feel they’ve been repressed for years and they need to gloat and make someone pay for having had to live in the shadows. I suppose I get that too. It’s human nature to want to gloat when you’ve been hiding for so long.
But they point their blame at “Organized Religion.”
The other trend these days is the growing cacophony of Believers who also attack the phantom of “Organized Religion.” They have grown bored with their church. Or they got their feelings hurt by someone in the Sunday School class. Or their kid didn’t get picked to sing in the kid’s choir.
Most likely, they heard something from the pulpit and it made them feel uncomfortable. Convicted. Challenged. They instantly rebelled against the Spirit of God and decided that this was all because the church holds to outdated teachings or old-school standards. The Bible demands real change in our hearts, and sometimes we hear a sermon that forces us to examine something about our lives and the next thing you know, we’re comparing it to the Inquisition, and demanding a new version of the Bible be written to eliminate the offending rule.
But to me, there is something very special about “Organized Religion.”
I grew up a fundamentalist Baptist. Not a Southern Baptist, but a fundamentalist. There were rules on top of rules and it choked my image of God. It caused damage. It did harm.
But that is not the fault of Baptist doctrine
That can’t be laid at the feet of Hubmaier. Or Billy Graham, or Jerry Falwell.
I have friends who were molested by Catholic priests. I have friends who were raised Catholic and after half a lifetime, were ground to a nub by the rules and regulations and the meatless Fridays. 
But that is not a blanket accusation of the Catholic Church.
“Organized Religion” is what my grandparents brought with them from Italy and from the Ukraine. It was, quite literally, all they had to their names. It gave them courage when they were at sea for weeks, heading to a country they had only heard of, and a life they could only dream about.
It gave them hope. It gave them a foundation. It was their compass. Their prayers and liturgy were the only things that made them feel as though God was along on this journey with them.
When they arrived here, the first thing they sought out was a church, where they knew they would find others who had the same ethnic background and similar heritage. On that boat, in the middle of the Atlantic, they were nameless, faceless, human cargo. But when they walked into the local Cathedral for the first time, they found a home. There were people who spoke the language, and they recognized the liturgy and there was a calming, peaceful, foundation to their world again. The came from halfway across the globe, and everything else was different, but inside the walls of the local church, the priest carried out the Mass in the same fashion as the priest did back in Italy.
My paternal grandfather was Ukrainian, raised Baptist. His family were Baptists in an overwhelmingly Orthodox country. They settled in the Rose Hill area of Chester among other Ukraine and Russian Baptists and it was their Organized Religion that tied the loose ends of the ropes back together. Monday through Saturday might have been frightening and desperate, but Sunday was familiar…because of that Organized Religion.
Germans found the strength to resist Hitler and the Nazis –albeit in small numbers- because of their Organized Religion. Bonhoeffer was one such man and his Faith drove him to protest the Nazi madness and eventually give his life.
Martin Luther King was an ordained Baptist Minister, and accomplished everything he accomplished because of the strength of his Organized Religion.
Last month, when a crazy, hate-fueled young man gunned down nine worshipers, their families response left the world scratching its collective head. They forgave. They could only do that, because of that Organized Religion they so deeply believe in.
There are those, even among believers, who say we need to do away with church. That meeting at home is what God intended and coming together is unnecessary. They cite the early church or the persecuted church. In both cases, meeting in homes was necessitated by persecution. Ideally, they would have done both, met in homes and come together on the Sabbath to celebrate as one.
But we have people who know better than the church fathers did. People without any formal training, who claim to have an insight that Paul, or Peter, or Jerome, or Justin Martyr never did. They had decided that they don’t like church anymore and rather than just own their rebellion, they claim a new revelation.
They forget that the history of this Faith of ours is written in the blood of those who met in public as a body, with one purpose and goal. They forget that Paul commands it. They disregard –or don’t know in the first place- the roots of the Church go directly to public, large group gathering. The early church was born in the synagogue and the Temple. Not in someone's living room.
(I am not against small groups, by the way. I am against them replacing the church body)
I have watched as Organized Religion has become the catch phrase for anyone who bears witness of their faith and who disagrees with anything anyone else might do, because of that Faith.
Gently, lovingly refuse to bake a wedding cake and it’s because of hateful Organized Religion. Speak out about adultery or drunkenness, and you adhere to Organized Religion and its antiquated ways.
I suppose I am guilty as charged. I hold tightly to Organized Religion. I trust it. Someone had to do the Organizing, and if you know history, it was the very men who walked with Jesus. They were the ones who set about codifying what we believe. They repeated to us, very carefully, what Jesus Himself had told them. They had an insight we could not. I trust them.
I hold tightly because I know what my faith has meant in my life. Even now, as I am struggling terribly with internal battles and doubts and problems for which there seems to be no solutions. But I have walked this road for over forty years now and I “know Whom I have believed.”
I find myself in another dark desert, calling out as I grope along, like a man feeling his way along the wall of a dark cave. “God…are you there?” I know He is. I know He is because He always has been. My not “sensing” him means not a whit. He is there nonetheless. I know this because I have experienced Him…and because I have experienced Organized Religion. I have experienced what lies underneath it. I know it’s Power. When my steps are slow and heavy and my prayers stick to the roof of my mouth, it is the foundation of Organized Religion that keeps me going. The base that makes up the liturgy and the sacraments. The written prayers and creeds and hymns connect me with the very first Christians. I take the same communion that Paul took. I speak the same Lord’s Prayer that Peter recited. And Jerome. And Francis. And my grandmother.
I read the same Bible that Wyckliffe died to reproduce. I am connected all the way back to the Cross of Jesus, because of Organized Religion.
More personally, it saved my life, long after it saved my soul. When I was living in the home of my grandparents, the son of an unmarried 20 year old woman and a 21 year old Army grunt in Vietnam, it was the Faith of my grandmother that I recall being the first love I ever felt.
It was Faith that walked me through difficult times year after year. Faith that brought me through the devastation of divorce, and the collapse of my career, and homelessness, and the painfully slow rebuilding process since then. It was the echo of the prayers of the saints who have gone on ahead, that whispered in my ear every time I fell and didn’t think I could get up again. It was the power of the words…the unchanging, timeless, hope-filled words of the Bible...that worked in my soul and re-created who I was time and again. A timeless book, thousands of years old, without contradiction or error. As old as history and as new and fresh as my next breath. This book is so living, so moving and so wonderful and maybe the best thing about it is that you are not obligated to believe it, or live by it. But please, don’t attempt to discount it, simply because you disagree with it. It has meant far too much to far too many people for far too many years. Hate it if you must. But recognize its legitimacy. 
At least be that honest.
This faith…this Organized Religion gave me a home when I was a boy trying to fit in. It gave me a home again, when it worked in the hearts of a family who recognized my loneliness and made me one of them. It gave me Faith –sometimes abundant, overwhelming faith, and sometimes just enough to survive one more long wearisome day- when I had crashed and burned after my divorce, and again when I was homeless.
This Faith saved my life. It’s saved countless lives. I’m sorry that sometimes there are people who do things and say things in the name of this Faith, which actually contradict that Faith. God is patient and He permits fools. We won’t see the score until the match is over. I’m sorry that this Faith stands in opposition to your life. It stood in opposition to mine as well, and so I fell on the Cornerstone of that Faith…Jesus. I fell on Him because He gave me that option. Because eventually, He will fall on those who have not fallen on Him. Falling on Him breaks you. It broke me. But when that stone falls on you…you are crushed. 
One is definitely better than the other.
This faith saved my life, and it saves it daily. It’s literally all I have. When my prayers return unanswered, it is the promise of that Faith that gives me enough hope to pray yet again. Because time has beaten on this Organized Religion, but has never beaten it. Centuries have come and gone and still this Faith remains. Powerful men have tried to destroy it, or silence it with ridicule. And still it brings new life.
Organized Religion -the saving Faith of Jesus Christ- is woven through the tapestry of the last 2000 years. Christmas is Organized Religion. Easter is Organized Religion. The faithful prayers of old ladies praying for their children and grandchildren is Organized Religion.
The Cross is Organized Religion at its headwaters, and it has made all the difference in my life.
It still does. I would die for it. I may have to if society continues on its spiral.
I will go out, with the prayers of the early fathers on my lips. Unashamedly holding on for life

…to my Organized Religion.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Day through the eyes of an Immigrant Boy...

Tomorrow is Independence Day.
I don’t remember my first one. But I remember almost all those that followed. I was raised in the generation who looked to this day as something sacred. Something special. Something hallowed and holy in the way that only patriot blood can make things sacred. I knew the stories behind the day. I knew the men who signed that parchment. I knew where it was signed. I grew up where it was signed. I wore that like a badge of honor…my hometown gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and for a while, our nation’s first capital.
My grandparents all landed here from Europe. My paternal grandfather, Joseph, arrived here from Italy in 1908. He was 12 years old. He’d faked a birth certificate, and stowed away in a steamer from the port city of Gaeta, near his hometown of Montecassino, Italy.  I wonder what he thought when he first saw the American coastline approaching. He didn’t arrive through New York, so he didn’t see the Statue of Liberty. He made his way south and found work on the railroad for a while. Eventually, he settled in Philadelphia, where he met my grandmother.
She was born in Naples and her family had immigrated not long after my grandfather arrived here. She lived next door to Mario Lanza during her childhood, until he left for fame and fortune.
Joseph was just a boy when he arrived in America. He was alone. He had no family. He didn’t know a lot of history. Philadelphia was a big city, even then. I was thinking of him last night. I never got the chance to meet him. He died when my father was still a boy. I thought about what Independence Day must have looked like to a kid from Italy, who was experiencing the awe, and fear, of real freedom for the first time in his life. I wonder if he’d ever seen real fireworks before. I wonder if he understood the celebration. I wonder if freedom felt different after his first Independence Day. I wonder if that day became more special as time went on and he came to enjoy our freedoms.
I wonder what thoughts ran through the mind of a twelve year old boy as fireworks exploded overhead and a nation celebrated.
My mother’s father arrived here around the same time as Joseph. He was born on a boat heading to America from the Ukraine. His name was Albert but he was nicknamed “Jake.”
His family arrived in Chester, Pa. not far from Philadelphia. He fought in WWII in the Seabees. He was a patriot through and through. I wonder what kind of stories his parents told him about Independence Day. I wonder what the day meant to immigrants escaping the hell of poverty and oppression in Eastern Europe. I wonder if the fireworks became an outward expression of the explosions of hope in their hearts. I wonder if the boom and pop and flash were larger examples of what this land meant to them every single day.
I know that for me this day still elicits memories and pride. I still get excited at fireworks. I still think of what the day meant. It’s more than a cookout and a ballgame. It’s more than a beach party and the start of a vacation. It’s a birthday celebration. It’s a time to remember when 55 men took it upon themselves to make a brave stand against tyranny, against oppression, against blatant disregard for the very humanity of the people who made up this country in 1776. It is a day to recall, and hopefully to reconnect to, the character and resilience that was willing to tell the greatest power on the world stage of the day, “Enough!”
It is a day to look inside and find the bravery that is woven into our national DNA.
I wonder if that is how two immigrant boys saw it, on their first Independence Day. I wonder how much more appreciation they held for it, given their very different perspectives on the day. I know that it didn’t take long for them to grasp the patriotism the day engendered. Both loved their country. Both raised their families to do the same.
When I look at the state of this nation now, I think that it’s this very special perspective on Independence Day that we are missing. I think…I fear, that we are one too many generations removed from those stories. From those men and women who once were boys and girls who stood in wide-eyed wonder at their first fireworks on their first Independence Day as viewed from inside this wonderful land. We are one too many generations from the stories at the dinner table on Sundays, about what it took to get here, and why that trip was worth it. We have forgotten that getting to this country often took incredible risk and was fraught with danger. It wasn’t an easy ride. It wasn’t a simple task. But dreams are always born from difficulty and hardship. Dreamers dream because they have nothing, but they see an opportunity and that is all it takes to foster hope. And this country was all about Hope.
The hope that only true independence can offer. No government can grant hope. Only God can offer real hope. God and the contents of our dreams.
Tomorrow is Independence Day. The birthday of my homeland. Thinking about how Joseph and “Jake” might have seen it…I have a renewed love for her. A renewed passion and appreciation for the chance she gave to those two immigrant boys so long ago. I love her for what she gave to me…a chance.
And so I say, “God Bless America” and a very Happy Birthday.

…from this immigrant grandson.