Five Parenting Myths–or Lies (According to Me)

I’ve been a parent for over 20 years now.  I’ve also been a child for 51 years.  So, I know a thing or two about parents and children.  Experience is, after all, the best teacher.

I don’t listen to parenting advice, because most of it is useless.  I also haven’t done any research on parenting, except for my own hands-on research with three sons.  As a result, anything you read here should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s unlikely that I know any more than you do, unless you don’t have children.  In that case, I know more about parenting than you will EVER know, unless you end up having kids.  As an aside, if you have dogs, I’m fine with that, but it doesn’t count unless you have to send your dog to college or it learns to drive a car.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stuff about parenting.  Most of it is wrong, at least for me.  As a service to my fellow parents and future members of the club, here are the Five Myths of Parenting:


I guess this is possible, depending on what kind of job you have.  I’m a lawyer, and it’s a pretty hard job.  I’ve worked long hours under tremendous stress.  Parenting isn’t nearly that stressful.

Have you ever heard of a “belt mucker?”  That’s a job in a coal mine where you clean up coal spills on the conveyor belt line.  You use a shovel.  Often, you work bent over or on your knees because there isn’t room to stand up.  Sometimes, the mine floor is so wet that you have to use buckets to clean up the coal and muck.  It’s a hard, hard job–much harder than being a lawyer and a hell of a lot harder than taking care of children.

Watch the film The Hurt Locker.  Think about being on a bomb squad in Iraq.  Helping Johnny with his homework doesn’t seem so tough, does it?

I saw a guy pumping out a port-a-potty the other day.   I bet he wouldn’t mind doing your kid’s laundry.

None of this means being a parent is easy.  Nothing worthwhile is easy.  Nevertheless, there’s a huge gulf between easy and the most difficult thing on Earth.  If parenting is the hardest job you’ve ever done, chances are you’re doing it all wrong.


We all like to think we’re doing our very best in raising our children.  That’s a lofty goal, but it’s not true nor is it necessary.  Is there anything you do that you always do the best you know how to do?  How about your job?  C’mon.  Everyone slacks off at work.  You take vacations don’t you?

The thing about parenting is that you’re always on the clock.  We all take breaks on occasion, and that’s okay.  Ever park your kid in front of the television?  I have.  My oldest son used to be hypnotized by Barney.  We need that sometimes.  Who among hasn’t sent one of the kids to a neighbor’s house just for some peace and quiet?  Again, it’s okay.

Here’s what we should do all the time:  Stuff. Something. Anything (assuming it’s not harmful).  Make your kids dinner, even if it’s crappy.  Ask them about school, even if you really don’t give a damn at the moment.  Feign interest in what they’re doing, even when you are much more concerned about yourself.    Go to their ball games despite them being poorly played or your kid not being any good.  Act like you’re interested.  Maybe this is the best we can do, but that’s doubtful.

Just do stuff.  Half-ass is okay.  Often, you’ll be totally on your parenting game and fully engaged.  When you’re not, just do stuff.


This is a double-edged lie–that you are responsible for the success of your children and the converse that you are to blame for their failures.  Although you can make substantial contributions to either outcome, you can’t truthfully claim credit.

Your kids are people–human beings even.  They make decisions.  They don’t listen well.  Some of them, despite being otherwise fine children, rebel against your advice.  I was like that.  If told to do something, I spent all my energy on finding another way to do it.  The older they get, the worse it gets, too.  Have you ever tried to force someone to do something?  It’s not easy.

Maybe your kid does well, because you’re the greatest parent on Earth.  Then again, maybe your kid has certain natural strengths and exploits them.  I have two sons who are excellent athletes.  Why?  They were born that way.  Another of my sons is as smart as anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s just how he is.  I didn’t train him to be that way.

Let’s say you send your kid to only the best schools.  Here’s a little secret that your kid probably hasn’t shared with you.  Kids at the best schools drink, take drugs and have sex with each other.  They do. If your kid wants to find a bad crowd, it’s right there.  You can provide opportunities for your son or daughter, but if he or she does well, give credit where credit is due–and it ain’t to you!

If you are fortunate enough to be able to provide the best for your kids–schools, clothes, houses, etc.–consider that your kids have many advantages.  In fact, they should do well under those conditions.  If you’re born on third base, you didn’t hit a triple.

The other side is that your kid may do very poorly.  Do you want the blame for that?  I sure wouldn’t.  The good news is that it’s probably not your fault.  Oh, you may play a part, just like with the successes.  You may be one of those despicable parents who do nothing for their kids.  If so, you’ve laid the groundwork.  Ultimately, though, your kid gets to own his or her failures.

Another reminder–here’s what you can do:  Something.  Just do something.  Try.  Give them some direction.  Set a good example.  Help them when they need help.  Be sure they go to the doctor.  Feed them.  Clothe them.  Just put forth a little effort.  Something is better than nothing.


I’m not suggesting that you ignore your children.  Of course, we all should try to shield our children from harm and do no harm to them ourselves.  That’s not the same as insulating them from the world.  That just can’t be done.

Nowadays, we’re bombarded with terrifying scenarios:  drug abuse, pedophiles, bullies, Internet stalkers, ungodly schools and general evil.  It would be nice to just spare our kids all of this.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  The world has a lot of rough edges.  And that is where we all have to live.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  If your kid gets bullied or just does something disappointing, it’s not because of bad parenting.  It’s what happens in the world.  Deal with the consequences, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you can smooth off all those rough edges.

We can’t hide our kids.  Bad things can happen to kids, just like adults.  Illness, accidents–even death befall kids.  Everyone who dies is someone’s child, you know.  Now, I realize this will step on toes, but even God won’t protect your kids from the world.  What makes you think you can?

If something bad befalls your kids, it’s not your fault–unless you did it.  The world is a tough place.

Again, do stuff.  You won’t always do the best you can, but do stuff.  Every little bit helps.


This is another lofty goal, but unrealistic for all but the truly deranged.  Think about it.  If your kids really are your Number 1 priority, that means they rank ahead of you; your spouse,  faith and job; and everything else.  If you have more than one child, you have to spread this maniacal devotion among multiple targets.  That’s a tall order.

I’ve heard many people say “My children come first.”  I doubt that’s true or even should be.  For example, I have a job and need it to feed, clothe and shelter my kids.  If I always put them before my job, I’ll soon be unemployed and spending ALL my time with them.

Are you married?  If so, you might think about making your spouse a top priority.  Here’s a radical thought for many:  Sometimes, your spouse should be your top priority.  If your kids rank ahead of your spouse, you probably have a fairly toxic relationship going on there.  Good luck.

There’s also a fine line between prioritizing your kids and making them think they are the most important people on Earth.  The latter is not good.  Kids are already self-centered ego maniacs.  They believe that the world exists for their entertainment.  Reinforce that for them, and pretty soon you’ll have little monsters.

Try this for a more realistic ideal.  Your kids should be a top priority.  Keep them in mind.  Just don’t let them choose the dinner menu or decide what time they go to bed or what the family watches on TV.  Just pay some attention to them.  My kids want my time–not all my time.  Just some of it.

So, I can sum up all I know about parenting with this:  Do stuff.  Some of it will be really good and pay off.  Some of it won’t.  One day, your kids will have kids and know just as little you do.  Then, they’ll think you’re a genius and may even seek your advice.  Do stuff.

© 2013

Be Fun and Offensive with My Family Lexicon

I recently had the dubious honor of listening to a self-important gas-bag blow about the poor grammar of my native Eastern Kentuckians.   While much of what he said is true, one could persuasively argue that it is more a dialectic question than one of grammar.  I’m not a linguist, so that’s beyond my analytical ability.  It did get me thinking, though, about how we all speak and how it is influenced by our surroundings.  For example, my mother railed against poor grammar, although I was not particularly receptive, peppering my language with my fair share of “ain’ts” and double-negatives.  (Whenever I hear a double-negative, I hear my mother’s voice:  “If you ‘don’t have no’ you really have some.”).  I realized that my family had its own language, which may not have been well-understood outside our small circle.

My father was the font of most of our peculiar dialect–a combination of sayings, words and colloquialisms. Here are some of the terms and sayings I learned growing up (and as an adult) which my family used liberally.

CRYIN’ RUBE:  Dad had a cousin named Ruby who, by all accounts, cried at the slightest provocation.  Thus, she was known as “Cryin’ Rube.” This pejorative was reserved for times when one of us kids cried for no good reason.  “Be quiet, Cryin’ Rube” or “Don’t be a Cryin’ Rube” would be Dad’s frequent response.  I’ve said it to my kids, but they don’t get it.

H.G.:  HG was another of Dad’s cousins.  One summer in the 1930’s, HG stayed with Dad’s family.  He was, as Dad said, a “muscle head.” (see definition below).  Dad described him as a “goofy-looking boy.” One day, HG was dancing on the front porch swinging a curtain rod around like a sword.  While dancing, HG inadvertently stuck the curtain rod into an empty light socket.  He was blown off his feet.  If I did something really stupid, Dad might refer to me as HG.  To be HG meant you exercised poor judgment or were just generally annoying.

MUSCLE HEAD:  We didn’t coin this term, but Dad used it often.  Essentially, it means that rather than having functioning brain matter, your skull is full of useless muscle.  This was often shortened to simple “muscle,” as in “Listen here, muscle….”

THE ROUNDTABLE:  The roundtable is where you sit when you have arrived.  You only get a seat if you are qualified (see Portfolio below).  “You are now at the roundtable” was perhaps Dad’s highest praise.  Impostors or wastrels need not even consider approaching the roundtable.  It’s invitation only.

PORTFOLIO:  Your portfolio is a list of your accomplishments, qualifications and general worthiness.  To be “without portfolio” was Dad’s way of saying that you just don’t measure up.  There is no room for you at the Roundtable.  In his later years, Dad was fond of saying (and saying and saying…) “I am my portfolio.  My portfolio is I.”  Outside immediately family, I doubt that was well understood.  My brother and I knew he meant that he would stand on his own accomplishments.  We knew this because he also said “I will stand on my portfolio.”  What really taught us was we call The Parable of the Washer Woman.  It went something like this:

If you are invited to the Roundtable, you will be judged on your portfolio.  If the washer woman approaches the Roundtable, they will review her portfolio, too.  “Let’s see, here, hmmm.  What are your accomplishments?  You are a WASHER WOMAN!  OUT!”  She is without portfolio.  If you have portfolio, you will get your seat, but you will earn your place.”

At this point, I should note that my father had no prejudice against washer women.  He was simply emphasizing that not everyone could sit at the Roundtable.  The titular washer woman lacked portfolio; thus, for her own good, she need not approach the Roundtable.  My brother and I understood.  Oddly, the first time my brother heard this, he thought it was a true story and was horrified by the treatment of the poor washer woman.  Don’t let that cause you to question my brother’s portfolio.  He has portfolio.  Dad said so.

HORSE FACE CUMPTON:  It would help if you had known my maternal grandparents, which is unlikely.  They were the finest of people but almost like a comedian team.  Papaw had a penchant for long, detailed stories which Mammaw constantly interrupted with irrelevant comments and questions.  Here is where Horse Face arose:

Papaw:  “When I worked in the mines at Benham, I worked with this fellow…”

Mammaw:  “Ireland (pronounced “Arlen”), who was he?”

Papaw:  “Muriel (pronounced “Merle”), you didn’t know him.  Anyway…”

Mammaw:  “What was his name, Ireland?”

Papaw:  “You didn’t know him, Muriel.  Back to  my story.  This fellow…”

Mammaw:  “I knew everyone at Benham, Ireland.”


Mammaw:  “Horse Face Cumpton?  Hmmm.  That name rings a bell.”

Maybe that’s not funny to you, but you didn’t know Mammaw, did you?  She was the same person who once asked a lady with the last name of Pigg if she was related to the Hogg family in Letcher County.

Anytime that I’m interrupted trying to tell a story, I feel the urge to yell “HORSE FACE CUMPTON!”  Sometimes, I do, and no one understands.

UNEMPLOYABLE:  We all know this word, but few of us use it as a noun.  Dad did, as in “He is an unemployable.”  Dad put great stock in people having jobs and, more importantly, being willing and able to have a job.  Likewise, he considered helping get someone a job to be the greatest kindness one can offer.  He referred to some folks as “unemployables.”  I have adopted this as part of my vocabulary.  One word of caution, be careful about when you use it. People don’t like being called that.

One night I called Dad and asked what he’d been doing.  He said “I just returned from speaking to a group of unemployables.”  I still hope that he didn’t really call them that during his talk.

LOWEST OF TRASH:  I’ve written before about my mother’s use of this term.  It’s bad enough to compare a human to refuse but adding to that the “lowest” of such human garbage is harsh indeed.  Unfortunately, sometimes that’s all that applies.

BANK SHOES:  No, these aren’t worn by bankers.  These are shoes fit only for wearing on a river bank.

STREAK OF THE CREEK:  Dad’s way of saying that you might be too backward to make it in the modern world.  “It’s hard to wash off a streak of the creek.”

SIMPLETON:  Again, not an original but so frequently used that it became part of my vocabulary.  It’s similar to “wastrel,” a word no one uses anymore.  Dad used it.  So do I.

KNUCKLEHEAD:  No doubt, this came from our family love for the Three Stooges.  Can be used interchangeably with “loggerhead” or “numbskull.”

DAFT:  Like wastrel, this fell out of favor a couple of hundred years ago, but we liked it.

THUMBS:  A pejorative term used for a clumsy person, as in “Be careful there, Thumbs!”  “Ox” or “Oxy” can also be used.

HORSEY:  A rather unattractive woman, usually large.  “She’s a big horsey woman.”  I try to avoid this one.  It just doesn’t go over well.

THIS ISN’T A HIGH SCHOOL DEBATE:  Another one of Dad’s which he adopted late in his life.  Translation:  Regardless of how inane or plain wrong what I am saying may be, do not take exception to anything I say, boy.  Ever.

HUMMAQUEER:  My brothers and I and our cousin were riding in a car with Mom on a drive in Utah.  We were discussing someone and Mom wanted to ask this question:  Is he a homosexual?  Now, bear in mind that this was several decades ago before “gay” was in common usage in our part of the world.  Also, I doubt Mom had ever said the word “homosexual.”  In fact, it’s unlikely that she had ever said “sexual” in mixed company.  To her credit, she wanted to prove she was “with it.”  Here is how the question was actually asked:

Do you think he’s one of those, uh, you know, uh…humma…humma…uh…hummaqueers?

You may be offended by this.  If so, my mother has been dead for many years now and likely wouldn’t have cared about your opinion anyway.  Of course, if that does offend you, then you certainly will be offended by the question my cousin asked her:  “Is that anything like a fagsexual?”

Political correctness and common decency prevent the use of hummaqueer these days.  That’s a good thing, but I still think it sometimes.

THAT CAT LOVES IT UP THERE:  Another cousin of mine was a rambunctious child.  After a long car ride, he leapt from the car, grabbed my Mammaw’s cat and threw it up on the roof of my grandparents’ house.  As he was being scolded, he shouted:  “THAT CAT LOVES IT UP THERE!”  This always comes to mind whenever I do something inexplicable and don’t have a good excuse.  For example, I once kicked in my son’s bedroom door and immediately thought, well, you get the picture.

This is just a partial list.  There were, too, the requisite cautionary tales and the tales of woe (walking to school, no new clothes, no Christmas presents, eating mush, etc.) all parents tell.  I’m sure your family has its own distinct vocabulary.  Think for a moment about the names you gave your grandparents–Grandpa, Pappy, MeeMaw, Moo Moo, Granny, etc..  Consider, too, the various humorous family terms for bodily functions and genitalia.  You can easily make your own Family Thesaurus and Dictionary.  If you’re foreign, you can even do a bi-lingual version.  Try it.  You’ll have fun.

Now, back to the Roundtable.

© 2013

My Kindergarten Commencement Address

I have already tackled the difficult task of preparing a high school commencement speech.  Not surprisingly, no one took me up on my offer to speak at any high school commencement. High school, though, is not the only ground upon which to impart my wisdom.

Perhaps I should speak to a college or university. Public figures and captains of industry often do that. Alas, I am neither. That goal simply isn’t realistic.

What about elementary or middle school grads? I didn’t go to a middle school, so I don’t know anything about that. As far as those entering high school, most of them are morons and won’t listen anyway.

This leaves me with kindergarten, that Petri dish of preschoolers ready to take on real school. I graduated from kindergarten as part of the Harlan Kindergarten Class of 1968.  It was my only foray into private school, as there was no public kindergarten in those days.  I graduated with a haughty sense of entitlement.


Your author’s natty attire belied his naiveté as a kindergartener.

I would have benefited from wise counsel in those days.  I now stand ready to educate kindergarteners on what lies before them.  To paraphrase the late, great drummer, Buddy Rich:  These people.  They are my kind of people. So, here goes:

Hello, kids!  Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today.  Today is an important moment in your young lives.  After today, you are no longer preschoolers.  You are students and shall remain so for many years to come.

As you are no doubt aware, “kindergarten” is from the German, meaning “children’s garden.”  It was created by a German named Friederich Frobel in the village of Bad Blankenburg.  Stop giggling!  That’s the name!  You’ll be calling the world ahead of you blankin’-burg soon enough. 

Up to this point, many of you have gotten by on your appearance.  You are, as we say, cute.  That will rapidly fade in elementary school.  We will lose teeth and become awkward as you grow.  Being cute means nothing.  Every misanthrope and human monster was once your age.  Look at this darling child [I hold this up for the audience]:


His name? Adolf Hitler.  Cute, isn’t he?

Many–if not most–of you are unprepared for school.  A great number of you are complete illiterates, unable to so much as correctly spell your full name.  Others are only functionally illiterate.  You cannot read even at the 1st grade level.  Your ability to understand or complete even a simple job application is nil.  Even rudimentary math is beyond your comprehension at this point.  As a result of these limitations, you are unable to function in modern society.  These handicaps, daunting as they may be, can and will be remedied in the coming years–at least to some extent.

Some of you now begin your long, slow trudge to failure–sad but true.  You will annoy your teachers.  You will gravitate to the worst of your lot and mimic their behavior.  Perhaps you will be the ring leader of a group of miscreants.  If so, make no mistake:  You can and will be written off at a young age.  The good news is that–for the only time in your life–time is on your side.  As unlikely as it may be, you can change your behavior for the better.

Many of you are angels or so your parents have led you to believe.  You are sweet and when you aren’t, you are simply misunderstood.  Your failures and shortcomings are not your own.  They are the product of misinformed individuals or society as a whole.  Your parents are failing you daily, but I do not expect you to understand.  Being egocentric as you are, you are comfortable with this arrangement.  This comfort sows the seeds of your ultimate downfall.  When you fall short of expectations at school, your parents will harangue your teachers, blaming them for your sloth and intellectual shortcomings.  Only when you are much older will you realize that your house stands upon sand.  Then, it will be too late.

Some of you are tethered to your parents like pets.  You never leave their sight.  They are determined to protect you from the evils of the world and the world itself.  They will often lunch with you at school.  Perhaps they will volunteer in your classroom.  Some may even seek gainful employment at your school.  They seek to smother you with their attention.  And they will succeed.

A few–and I hope very few–of you are little more than street urchins deposited at school by uncaring parents who neither deserve to have children nor any other human relationship.  There is good news for you.  It is possible–not likely, but possible–that you will encounter someone who can exert a positive influence upon you outside your home. School is the most likely place to find such a person.

You may be an only child.  By that, of course, I mean you are the only child in your immediate family.  YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY CHILD ON EARTH!  Just remember that.

Of course, you will encounter teachers.  In my experience, the good far outnumber the bad.  The good ones will care about you like no one outside your own family.  The bad ones will want to herd you on the next grade while they detest you almost as much as they do their dead-end jobs.  Most of your teachers do the best they can.  Your cooperation will help.

Your teachers may occasionally criticize or correct you.  That is their job.  That is how you learn.  This may be foreign to you.  Your parents may be the type who praise everything you do from feeding yourself to basic hygiene.  Your teachers shall prepare you for the real world where such tasks are not viewed as accomplishments at all.  In fact, society fairly demands you master them.

Your teachers also cannot praise your every move.  I have no doubt that all of you have drawn pictures for your parents.  Let’s say you draw what you called a “horsey.”  In reality, this horse resembles nothing so much as random scrawling with no form.  It is, in fact, completely unrecognizable as a horse or any other living creature.  When you present this picture to your parents they exclaim “Oh, what a pretty horsey! It’s beautiful!”  Such lies are meant to boost your self-esteem by lauding your crude art work.  If an adult produced such a drawing and insisted that it was horse, he or she would branded as mentally deranged.  Institutions and unemployment would be their future.

A decent parent would look at your drawing and ask “What exactly about that looks like a horse?” or “Why don’t we just call it a wildebeest or a fire hydrant?  Makes as much sense.”  I doubt that you have ever received such constructive criticism.  Those days are done.

No teacher worth his or her salt can engage in such foolishness.  If you declare that 2 + 2 equals 11, you cannot be praised.  You are not praiseworthy.

Despite what your parents think, there is almost no chance that you are a genius.  That you are able to distinguish letters of the alphabet means little.  It is axiomatic that most of you are average.  That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions.  Some of you are far, far smarter than your peers.  That will not change, although you shall be witness to many years of people trying to bring your peers up to your level or you down to theirs.  But you are smarter than these people, too, and they will fail.

You are now headed to a world where failure is, in fact, an option.  The good news is that the educational system is designed to prevent failure.  In addition to your teachers, there are counselors, tutors, study plans and even medication at your disposal.  Perhaps you are now addicted to amphetamines in an effort to help you pay better attention in school.  That might help.  Of course, the downside to living as a speed freak is well-known but better discussed at your middle school graduation.

No doubt you reflect today that time flies.  It seems like only yesterday that you soiled yourself simply because you knew no better.  For a few of you, it literally may have been yesterday.  In any event, those days are behind you now–hopefully.  A new day dawns.

You now leave the garden and head straight into the jungle.  Knowing your penchant for distraction, I have kept my words brief.  Some of you have picked your noses throughout my talk while others have squirmed with annoyance.  Welcome to the rest of your life.

© 2013

The Way of Te’o

I’ve never had a fake girlfriend.  Oh, I may have dated someone I thought was my girlfriend, but that’s not quite the same, is it?  (Turns out she was several people’s girlfriend, but that’s another story). Of course, almost every man has had someone he wished was his girlfriend.  Men don’t really talk about that, because it’s unmanly, but trust me it’s true.  There’s really nothing wrong with that unless you start believing that she’s your real girlfriend.  Then, she becomes your pretend girlfriend.  That’s when restraining orders start getting served on you.

Until a few days ago, only football fans knew the name Manti Te’o.  Now, just about everyone knows his name.  Why?  He has a fake girlfriend.  Or should I say “had?”  You see, she died of leukemia, but not really.  She fake died, which fake people can do.  Te’o says he’s the victim of hoax. Made up girlfriend. Made up love.  Made up death.  If so, there are some sick puppies out there who are definitely NOT Manti Te’o fans.

Te’o is a football player for the University of Notre Dame.  He is Hawaiian.  I know this because of the random apostrophe in his name.  He’s a linebacker and an excellent one at that.  He is also a famous football player–so famous that he was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.  It’s easy to be a famous football player at Notre Dame, but winning the Heisman Trophy makes someone really famous.  Ask Johnny Manziel.  He beat out Te’o for the Heisman.  A year ago, no one had ever heard of him.  Now, he’s called Johnny Football and dates a model.   She’s a real person or so it seems.  I’ve seen pictures of her.  Then again, Te’o saw pictures of his girl friend, too.


Johnny Football’s girl. Heisman winners date real girls.

It is beyond my abilities to unravel the Te’o mystery.  Here’s what I know.  It was widely reported that his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day last September.  Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to this, other than to note that it was bad deal.  Sports media beat it to death (forgive me for that).  I heard it about it every time I watched Notre Dame play, which was a lot because all their games are on TV.   Somehow, these deaths inspired Te’o to play better.  On January 16, 2013,–sort of a snarky sports gossip site–ran a story that the girlfriend didn’t exist and not just because she was dead.  She wasn’t real.

Notre Dame’s athletic director held a press conference where he, too, said she wasn’t real.  Te’o was the victim of a hoax.  The AD cried, because Te’o will never “trust” again.  He didn’t say that Te’o would never love again, but that’s possible, too.  Te’o has weighed in and agreed that he is a victim. Now, he claims that it was just an Internet relationship.  They never met, but he loved her.  Okay.

As more details pour out about this, it is all very confusing.  Now, Te’o and his school claim that it was all an Internet relationship–that the two never actually met.  What did Te’o know and when did he know it?  Why did he keep quiet if, as he claims, he knew it was a hoax on December 6, 2012?  It’s a bizarre story.

Naturally, the whole weird tale got me thinking about me.  What if I had a fake Internet girlfriend?  Could I have one?  What would it be like?  What would we do?  I don’t think I would do well with a fake girlfriend for a number of reasons:

  • I had a difficult time getting along with real girlfriends.  Fake ones probably are no different.
  • I try to keep this blog PG-13.  Enough said about that.
  • Te’o said he talked to her on the phone for 8 hours a day.  I can’t imagine anyone having anything to say that I could listen to for 8 hours.  The first 8 hour phone call, and I’m out.
  • I would like to actually see my girlfriend on occasion.  Call me weird.
  • I’m not an All-American football player, so I might be exactly the kind of guy who would need to date someone on the Internet.  Regardless, at some point, I’m at least going to Google her name.
  • One of the best things about a girlfriend, as I recall, is that they smell good and nice to touch.  Without that, I’d lose interest.
  • If a beautiful woman contacted me on the Internet and said she was interested in me, I would immediately assume it was a scam.  It’s not like I ever had that problem in real life.
  • I’m married and have been for some time.  Fake girlfriends probably don’t go over any better than real ones.
  • I’m sure a fake girlfriend would eventually want a fake marriage.
  • Fake divorce would follow a fake marriage, but I’m sure the fake wife would still get half my stuff.

My fake girlfriend is happy when she gets to work on my car.

So, I’m out of the fake girlfriend game.  That’s a good thing, I suppose, but it doesn’t stop me from pondering about how this could happen to someone.  If you’ve seen the documentary Catfish, you know it can happen.  I will confess, though, that some of the scenes in Catfish seem contrived to me.  Maybe not. Maybe this kind of stuff is just so weird that it’s unbelievable.

Common sense seems to be one’s best protection.  Here are some things that should be red flags:

  • Your girlfriend’s Facebook profile lists Hogwarts as her high school.
  • She lists Manti Te’o as a reference on her resume.
  • She calls with her condolences when your grandmother dies–and while she’s in a coma herself.
  • She claims to be a cheerleader at Faber College.
  • Every time you want to get together, she is either in a bad car wreck or has leukemia.
  • She says she’ll “just die” if you don’t win the Heisman, then she does.
  • She’s smokin’ hot, but trolls the Internet looking for a boyfriend.

These are just a few things which come to mind.  More importantly, though, is how to tell if someone else has a fake girlfriend.  In Te’o’s case it’s pretty easy now.  What’s not so easy is trying to sort out the truth from the fiction now.  I don’t know this young man and doubt that I will ever meet him.  But I’m a lawyer, and I know a thing or two about lying.  No, not me lying–other people.

When someone lies, it’s like looking at someone with a go-funny eye.  At first, you’re not quite sure what’s up, but something is off.  Then, you get it–“he’s got a go-funny eye!”  That’s how a lie works.  You hear it, and it’s not quite right.  Something is off about it, but you’re not sure what.  It might take some digging, but you can figure it out if you have time and patience.

As a father of three sons, I also know a thing or two about lying.  (That’s right.  Your kids will lie to you.  Sorry to bust your bubble).  As I write this, my sons are 20, 17 and 10.  I’ve learned to challenge anything that sounds the least bit implausible.  For example, a few months ago, one of my sons claimed that he was robbed of ten dollars outside his school.  Was I terrified?  No, because I didn’t believe it.  I had him come to my office and explain the story in detail.  Go-funny eye.  The time line made no sense.  Why would they steal $10 but not his phone?  He swore it was true, until several hours later when he admitted he lied.  He needed $10.  Why go to such lengths for $10?  How should I know?  I’m his father, not his psychiatrist.

I suspect that Te’o is in the same position. He’s telling a story now that just doesn’t fit.  Someone pulled one over on him.  Instead of facing the embarrassment of that, he perpetuated it.   If he did, he lied.  Something about the “he’s just a victim” story sounds wrong.  Not all of it–parts of it are no doubt true.  There are parts that just don’t sound right.  Go-funny eye.

Men my age like to call college age men “boys” or “kids.”  Te’o isn’t a kid.  He’s a grown man.  If he perpetuated this story after he knew it was a hoax, he is responsible for that.  It seems that no one at Notre Dame challenged Te’o on his story. Certainly, none of the journalists who swooned over his tale of woe did.  Maybe he just thought he’d get away with it.  Usually, that’s the point of a lie.

Like I said, he’s a grown man–with a fake girlfriend.  The more cynical of us note that defensive players don’t win the Heisman.  Maybe pulling at heart-strings would help.  Now, he’s the butt of jokes (I’ve come up with some good ones myself) and a media onslaught.  Of course, Te’o may be telling the truth.  If so, truth is again stranger than fiction.

© 2012

5 Ridiculous Things: A Random List

The older I get, the more I hear the same stuff over and over and over.  I guess that’s true of everyone.  What may not be true of everyone is that I don’t repeat this tripe, except to the extent that I make up my own stuff and spread it.

This is largely a phenomenon of the Internet meme.  A meme is an idea or thought which spreads from person to person.  It’s kind of like “word of mouth.”  The Internet has taken this to new level by giving us each access to many more people than would otherwise be available to hear our raving.  For example, this silly blog has been read by thousands of people in dozens of countries.  Why?  Because it’s on the Internet.

The Internet, via social media in particular, allows us to spread rumors and half-truths at the speed of light or at least very fast.  There is so much of this that we have websites such as devoted to debunking these myths.  It’s only natural that Snopes must even debunk rumors about Snopes.

I’m now prepared to debunk a handful or particularly irksome thoughts, ideas, etc.  Why?  Because I’m on the Internet, by God.

As always, I offer my view only.  It may be incorrect. You may disagree.  If you do, I respect your right to disagree.  You have the right to be wrong.  I won’t infringe on that.

Below are a few things I’ve heard too much about which simply aren’t true.  Believe them if you wish, but I don’t.  For our purposes here, that’s all that matters.

Here are just five that I don’t buy into.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  They were chosen at random for no particular reason.


Ever heard something like this:  Why don’t we treat the elderly like we do prisoners–free room and board; watch TV all day; exercise; and free medical/dental?  This outrage is based upon the notion that prison is great.  It’s great treatment and a wonderful life.  Prison, the thought goes, is too soft.

If you believe this, it’s safe to assume that you’ve never been in prison or talked to anyone who has been.  I’ve known a bunch of people who’ve been in prison.  They are universal on one opinion:  IT SUCKS!  I know a guy who spent three years in a minimum security prison on an Air Force base, one of the so-called “country club” prisons.  He said it was like “waking up in a nightmare every day.”

Here are few things that folks have told me about prison:

  • It’s filthy. No matter what you do, that doesn’t change.
  • You might be allowed to shower once or twice a week.
  • You use the bathroom out in the open.  That includes “major transactions,” too.
  • You are surrounded by violent, dangerous and often mentally ill people.  You live with them, eat with them and spend all the rest of your time with them.
  • Prisoners aren’t known for their fabulous teeth.  No citation of authority is necessary.
  • The free health care consists of seeing a doctor if you are clearly deathly ill (or dead) or if you have been grievously injured by one of your fellow prisoners.
  • The great exercise program consists of hanging out with the same dangerous people, except now they have access to a variety of implements which can be used to kill you.
  • It smells.  Bad.  That’s a common theme from everyone I’ve heard.  It just smells bad.
  • The food is generally horrific.  If you really step out of line, some prisons serve you something called Nutriloaf.
Nutriloaf--One of the many joys of prison life

Nutriloaf–One of the many joys of prison life

Here’s the bottom line:  Prison is horrible.  It’s a nightmare.  I’ve never met any ex-con who speaks fondly of his days in stir nor I have met anyone who wanted to go back.  If it’s such a great life, I suggest you go. The good thing about prison is that it’s really easy to join.

Maybe you know an old person in a nursing home worse than prison.  If so, it’s hard to imagine, unless you put them there because you hate them (see my comments below about old people).  In that case, it’s good enough for them.

By the way, you know what would really suck?  Being old AND in prison.


Here’s one you’re bound to have heard:  Don’t buy beer or cigarettes or get tattoos or cars or TVs if you’re on welfare.  It’s similar to Michelle Bachmann’s suggestion that the best way to get health insurance is to get a job.  Literally, these statements may be true.  Literally, but not practically.

Perhaps it would be better for poor people not to drink beer or smoke.  That’s probably true for the rich, too,  Tattoos seem to be a generally bad idea to me.  Why not take it a step further and just say that poor people shouldn’t buy magazines or soda or toys for their kids or clothes, for that matter?

I have never been poor.  I wasn’t born poor.  I wasn’t raised poor.  I didn’t pull myself up by the bootstraps.  I don’t even know what bootstraps are.  I’m not a self-made man.  Yes, I am successful, at least by most definitions.  But, I had a lot of advantages–college-educated parents and a comfortable upbringing for two BIG examples.  So, I don’t know what it’s like to be poor.  Most of the people who bitch and moan about poor people also don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

I grew up with poor people.  Some of my friends were poor.  They had one thing in common–they didn’t like it, and were at least slightly embarrassed by it. In Eastern Kentucky, poverty wasn’t uncommon.  We were in a melting pot.  The rich, poor and middle class were all together.  We went to school and church together.  You could be like my family and live well but have neighbors who were poor by any definition.  We got to see it up close, and it’s ugly.

Ever wonder why a lot of poor people turn to drug-dealing?  Was it a life-long ambition?  Is it because they want to accomplish something in life?  Nope.  It’s for the money.  Being poor isn’t good, and most poor people agree.  Yes, there are exceptions, just as there are to every rule.  I’ve known people born into poverty who didn’t aspire to anything better.  What I have NEVER known is someone who wasn’t poor but aspired to be poor, because it is such a great life.


It seems that I’m always hearing about how great everyone’s parents are (were).  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, etc.  On Facebook, there are innumerable posts requesting you to “like” them if your parents were saints or your best friends or fabulous.  Let’s be honest, some parents are awful.

Now, I had excellent parents.  They worked hard, cared about their kids and sacrificed a great deal for us.  I was LUCKY.  That’s it.  I didn’t choose them anymore than they chose me.  Someone recently told me that I’m wrong about that–that I was blessed to have good parents.  Perhaps.  But that begs the question:  If I did nothing to be so blessed, what did others do to be cursed with their parents? Nothing, you say?  Then, that sounds like luck–good and bad–to me.

I’ve known people whose parents beat them, ignored them or were just generally crappy to them their whole lives.  These are just horrible people who happened to achieve the none-too-impressive feat of procreation.  You know what these folks deserve for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?  NOTHING.   As I’ve quoted before, my father once said:  “When I was young, we had plenty of elder abuse, except we called it ‘revenge.'”

So, if you had good parents, good for you, just don’t blow too much about it.  You didn’t have anything to do with it.  If you had rotten parents, it’s okay, too.  You didn’t make them that way.


I’ve written before about hating rich people, so I won’t belabor that.  At the heart of that hate is the belief that the rich are bad.  They aren’t, at least no more so than the rest of us.

Warren Buffett is rich.  Super-rich.  Billionaire-rich.  He once said: “Of the billionaires I’ve known, money just brings out the basic traits in them.  If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.”  That makes sense.  Buffett doesn’t seem like to jerk to me.  Maybe he is, but it probably doesn’t have anything to do with having a silo full of money.

Let’s all accept one irrefutable fact:  We all want to be rich.  All of us.  If the rich are awful, then we all aspire to be awful.


It is a common refrain old people are a “treasure” or a “joy” or sources of “wisdom.”  If you were a miserable ass when you were young, there’s a pretty good chance that’s what you’ll be when you’re old.  Being a fool is likely to get worse with age, not better.  In fact, the older you are, the more people probably realize your true colors.  You just lived a long time.  Big whoop.  Charles Manson is 78.  Mozart died at 35.

Charles Manson, a wise and wonderful old fellow

Charles Manson, a wise and wonderful old fellow

Think about this:  Have you ever known an old person you couldn’t stand to be around?  Of course, you have.  He or she was probably a family member, too.  Some old people become mean with age.  Some were mean to start with and became old and mean.  Not all old people are cute or charming or wise.  Some are ugly, hateful and dumb asses.  It’s hard to outgrow those things.

Well, that’s five things that I have now stripped of their veneer of credibility.  Perhaps, you are an old, rich prisoner who aspires to a life of poverty.  As such, you might disagree with me.  Well, you’re wrong.  So much for your “wisdom,” Pops.

© 2012

The Wonderful World of My Mother

I have written here before about my Dad. Twice in fact. He was an interesting, quotable character and a fine, fine fellow. Great father, too. I haven’t yet written about my mother. Until now.

Why not? It’s not because she wasn’t a fine person. She was. Certainly, it’s not because she wasn’t a great mother. Of that, there is no doubt. The reason, I think, is because–unlike Dad–she is difficult to capture in words. But I’ll try.

Mom died in 2003. Her life was probably unremarkable by most standards. She was born on January 19, 1930 in Detroit. (Coincidentally, my father shared the same birthday, being born in 1925). Her parents were in Michigan, because my Papaw was looking for work. Shortly after her birth, they moved back to Eastern Kentucky. She grew on Island Creek in Pike County and in Cumberland in Harlan County. She graduated from Cumberland High School and then Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee in 1951. After a year of student teaching at Benham High School, she taught at Evarts High School in Harlan County for the next 30 years. She was a Home Economics teacher. She married my Dad in 1957, and they stayed married until her death. They had three sons, of which I am the middle one.

Mom in 1945 in Cumberland, Kentucky

Mom in 1946 in Cumberland, Kentucky

She had a brilliant mind. After her retirement, she became something of an expert on investing and taxes. She was my primary financial advisor. If my Dad was the engine that drove our family, Mom was the brains of the outfit.

She survived breast cancer and the resultant toxic chemotherapy, although she suffered neurological damage from the treatment which left her with a bizarre set of symptoms for the remaining 20 years of her life. She also weathered the death of her youngest son. Overall, she had a life like most folks–ups and downs, good time and bad times.

A rare photo of Mom with all three sons.  Your author is on the right.  Note my dutiful older brother holding the purse and bottle.

A rare photo of Mom with all three sons. Your author is on the right. Note my dutiful older brother holding the purse and bottle.

She was, by turns, funny and sad; inspiring and discouraging. She could make me angry enough to yell at her (which I would NEVER have done with Dad) and the next moment be kind and thoughtful. She was generous and genuinely tried to let me know that she cared. She probably wasn’t different from a lot of mothers in that regard.

What made her different, at least to me, were the things she said, the stories she told and the myriad eccentricities to which we all became accustomed. To give you a better picture, I’ve decided to share some of those:


Like most mothers, Mom had a vast library of cautionary tales which were repeated over and over and over…. Here are some of the classics:

Poor Cousin Stubby: Around the 4th of July, I would hear about Mom’s cousin, who lived in Chicago at some time in the distant past. He was just called her “cousin.” If he had a name, I’ve long since forgotten it. Cousin had a penchant for setting off dangerous fireworks. One year, he set off some particularly deadly explosive and “BLEW HIS FINGERS OFF.” That’s how it was always described to me. Not one finger, mind you (which still seems unlikely, unless he was playing with blasting caps). In my child’s mind, this meant every, single, damn finger. My little mind imagined Cousin fumbling about for the rest of his life with his stubs–all because of fireworks. Some years later, a short-fused firecracker went off in my hand. Other than making my ears ring and slightly burning me, it was no big deal. Oddly, I was a little disappointed at the lack of maiming. Just a little.

I actually did have a cousin who cut off his finger in a door. He was never presented as any kind of example. He was just an idiot.

The Medicine Cabinet Moron: We lived in a house with an old-fashioned bathroom. It had a steel tub and steel sink with a medicine cabinet over it. The toilet probably used about 10 gallons of water per flush. As a lad, I would climb onto the sink to access the medicine cabinet. This was, as Mom taught me, one of the most dangerous stunts a child could pull.

It seems there was a boy in an unspecified part of the world who also liked to climb on sinks. Coincidentally, he was about my age at the time. Sadly, he lacked my sure-footedness and fell while reaching for his medicine cabinet. He crashed to the floor, cracking his head on the tub. The result? “BRAIN DAMAGE!” No, he didn’t just split open his head. He had BRAIN DAMAGE. As a result, as Mom said, he became a moron. Not only that, but he was also a “VEGETABLE.” THAT, my friends, is a bad deal. I am now 50 years old. A few weeks ago, I was at my in-laws house (which is very similar to my childhood home). I looked at their medicine cabinet and could not help but glance at the tub to satisfy myself that there was enough distance between the two to prevent a moron-inducing fall. Oh, I didn’t climb on the sink. But I thought about it.

The Boy Who Made Out With The Toaster: I have had a lifelong habit of looking at myself any time I pass a mirror. This isn’t because I am particularly handsome. It’s just a habit. My Dad did the same thing. When I was small fellow, I used to look at myself in the side of the toaster. I know that’s weird, but the toaster had a dent in it, and you could treat it like a fun house mirror. Besides, I just liked doing it, okay?

There was once this boy who, like me, stared at the toaster. One day–for reasons I didn’t understand–he kissed his own reflection! Much like Narcissus, he was done in by his own beauty. How, you say? By ELECTROCUTION. That’s right, he was electrocuted. Immediately. Dead. Just like the other kid who tried to get his toast out with a fork. D-E-A-D.

Here’s a secret: After she told me that, I kissed the toaster. What the hell? Life on the edge. Don’t tell anyone about that.

To this day, when I see a shiny toaster (you know, the silvery chrome kind), I’m tempted to plant one on it just to see. I don’t. Usually.

Sputum: If Mom saw me touch the bottom of my shoe–even for a split second–she would say “Oh, there is nothing filthier than the bottoms of your shoes. You have walked in people’s sputum.” Not spit. Nor phlegm. Not even snot. Sputum. When I got older, I would do it just hear the word sputum. She’s the only person I ever heard say it.


Mom had a habit of saying the same things over and over about particular people or situations. I considered these to be her catch phrases. This is best described by the following examples:

Social Disgrace: This was something to be avoided at all costs. A social disgrace would bring shame upon your family name. Divorce was a good one. Marital infidelity was another. Getting arrested was a biggie. Mom’s description was “Honey, you know that’s a social disgrace.” I’ve done my best throughout my life to avoid these.

The Lowest of Trash: One big step below a social disgrace was behavior reserved “the lowest of trash.” This behavior included drinking, drugs, premarital sex, children born out-of-wedlock, foul language, poor grammar, bad table manners and general trashiness. Normally, this was used as follows: “Honey, the lowest of trash wouldn’t do a thing like that.” Often, a woman who looked like a “floozie” would be used as a living example of the lowest of trash.

Stomped-Down Moron: To be a stomped-down moron may or may not involve social disgrace or the lowest of trashiness. All it required was poor judgment. Then, Mom might observe that “You act like a stomped-down moron.” This is not to be confused with a brain-damaged moron.

As an aside, Dad once observed during an argument with Mom: “Anna, I know that it’s important for you to get the last word, but you’re the only person I know who has to get the last scathing insult in any conversation.” Stomped-down moron fell into that category.

He Wears A Diaper: My parents knew a man who became involved with a much younger woman. It was a social disgrace, of course. This guy was about Dad’s age, and the gossip horrified Mom. Naturally, she talked about it all the time. Every time it came up, her description of this fellow included this tagline: “He wears a diaper.” WHAT?!? Evidently, this fellow had suffered some sort of hideous medical condition or that’s what folks said, anyway. As a result, “He wears a diaper.” Sometimes she would say “You know he’s incontinent. He wears a diaper.” Did he? Who the hell knows? How would Mom know this? I have no idea. It’s not like he was a close family friend. He was just some guy they knew. I doubt that he ever told Mom he wore a diaper. Regardless, his name was never mentioned without reference to his diaper.

Some years later, I happened to be in Harlan on business. I was at the Hardee’s and guess who I saw? Diaper Dandy! We exchanged banal pleasantries. I must admit that I checked him out for any tell-tale signs of diaper-wearing. You know what? I think that man was wearing a diaper.

The Ugly Man: Mom went to college with a man so ugly, so repellant that he was denied admission to medical school. This man was so hideous that the mere thought of exposing him to the sick and infirm was a shock to the senses. Since Mom was quite a few decades too young to have attended school with Joseph Merrick, the famed Elephant Man, what could this man’s affliction have been? Bad teeth. Yep, poor dental work. So bad–or “deformed” as Mom always said–that he couldn’t cover them with his lips. It seems to me that if you couldn’t cover your teeth, the lack of saliva would cause them to rot. Maybe they did or maybe he licked them frequently. Either way, it had to be really gross. I tried to envision this man’s appearance, his grotesque twisted teeth protruding. By the way, I’ve seen a lot of ugly doctors. Think about how bad this guy had to be.


Mom had a number of peculiarities or eccentricities or whatever you want to call them:

Car Sickness: Mom usually got car sick when she opened the door of the car. Sometimes, she would just puke in a plastic grocery bag. (Oh, the word “puke” is only said by the lowest of trash). Other times, you’d have to pull over to let her “get some air.” Once, we when she was a child, her father drove their family from Pikeville to Cumberland, Kentucky. When asked at the gas station how far he had driven, Papaw replied: “Nineteen pukes.” Normally, when my parents came to visit my home in Lexington, the first thing Mom did upon arrival was go to the bathroom and vomit. My wife thought it was odd, but I was so used to it that I rarely even noticed.

Camera Shyness: I suspect that there are more photographs of Howard Hughes and J.D. Salinger than there are of my mother. She hid from cameras like you were the Paparazzi. She would turn her head, hold up her hand, run from the room–anything to avoid the camera. Future generations will wonder why we have so little photographic evidence of her existence.

I took this photo of Mom in 1990.  She is telling me to leave her alone.

I took this photo of Mom in 1990. She is telling me to leave her alone.

Burning Paint: She had no sense of smell or at least that was the claim. There was one notable exception to this malady: She could smell burning paint–and she often did. It was like a super-power. Unfortunately, she would smell it when it wasn’t present. Or maybe it was but only her heightened sensitivity. “John, do you smell that? I smell burning paint.” There was never any burning paint, as far as I know. Then again, I don’t know what burning paint smells like.

The Pre-Planned Funeral: A lot of folks pre-plan their funerals, but not many do it without the help of a funeral home. Mom did. Shortly before her death, she gave my brother detailed plans, including a budget. No embalming (“It’s not required and a waste of money.”) We followed her instructions with one exception. We didn’t tell the funeral home to get all the gold out of her mouth (“They’ll steal it, if you don’t.“). But someone might have:

After Dad died, I found these in a jar.  They were Mom's.  Maybe Dad fulfilled her final wishes.

After Dad died, I found these in a jar. They were Mom’s. Maybe Dad fulfilled her final wishes.


Mom had a vast reserve of maudlin stories, most of which involved her childhood. Here are the best–and most repeated–ones:

Jitterbug: She had a dog named Jitterbug. I don’t remember what kind of dog it was. Here’s what I do remember: Jitterbug go run over by a train or a big truck or something like that. It was horrific. The story had a tremendous build up of how wonderful and loved Jitterbug was. Then, he got killed. I hated that story.

The Bracelet: When Mom was a girl, her father bought her a bracelet. She got mad at him one day, took off the bracelet and threw it at him. He weeped. He didn’t cry or sob or tear up. He “weeped.” That’s how it was always said, like a Bible verse: “Daddy weeped.” My older brother so hated this story that he refused to listen to it after a while. (Dad, being cynical as he was, observed “Can you imagine what a cheap piece of junk that bracelet was?”) Nevertheless, Mom never got tired of telling it.

Poor Little George: Mom’s Uncle George was about the same age as she was. He had some kind of awful liver disease. He died when he was 8 years old while his parents were driving him to a specialist somewhere. This is a legitimately sad story. The kind of story best told once. Once.

Papaw: My grandfather–her father–was one of the finest people I’ve ever known. Kind, caring–just a nice guy. He did, however, have the cardiac history of Fred Sanford, having suffered innumerable heart attacks. Mom would recount some of those to me telling me how he barely survived each. Once, he had one while working underground in a coal mine. Again, he barely cheated death. My Dad’s version was much different: “When we got to Cumberland, your Papaw was flaked out on a lawn chair listening to a transistor radio. He didn’t look too sick to me.” Papaw later moved to Utah and any time we visited him, he cautioned that it could well be the last time we saw him. He reminded us of that, too. He died in 1998 at age 91. Oh, and I never knew him to have a heart attack.

So, that’s Mom. It’s easy to say you love your mother. I did, but I also liked her. She was funny. She cared about what happened to me. She always tried to help. She rarely raised her voice. In her later years, I don’t think she could yell. She spoke barely above a whisper, often prefacing her comments with “Oh, Lord, honey…”

When my younger brother died, sadness infected her like a bad cold she couldn’t shake. She got better but never well. Even with that, she was a good mom and grandmother. She is greatly missed but left me with a lot of good memories.

© 2012

Confessions of a Baseball Dad

I loved baseball as a kid. Loved it. Loved watching it, listening to it on the radio, playing it, reading about it. Before there were girls, there was baseball.  After girls, there was still baseball.

I’ve been watching youth baseball since 1998 when my first son started playing t-ball. Two more sons followed. My middle son has continued to high school and Summer travel teams. I don’t know how many games I’ve seen, but it’s somewhere north of 1000. My youngest, 10 years old at this writing, is just getting cranked up in the baseball world.  This year alone–among high school, Little League, all-stars and American Legion–I’ll probably watch over 100 games.

Why do I write this? Because I’ve learned a few things. Some by watching others, some by my own stumbles. I’ve always thought the best way to learn is through the mistakes of others, but life isn’t always that tidy.

I played baseball but not particularly well. I was fast, but that’s about it. I also had a stubborn unwillingness to work hard or take instruction. Couple that with limited natural ability, and athletic success was not within my grasp.  One day I might have kids.  Boys even.  They would play. I did have boys, three of them.

Like a lot of first loves, my baseball love faded over time but never died out. I wanted my boys to play. I wanted them to be good. I wanted them to love it. Baseball rattles, tiny uniforms and little bats were the baby gear I favored.  I wanted my boys to play baseball–and any other sport they wanted to try.  Sports build character.  Teaches life lessons.  I found out that all that is true, but I’m the one who may have learned the most.

Three Teachers

My oldest son didn’t love baseball. He liked it.  When he played t-ball, he figured out that if you threw the ball from the outfield, play would stop. So, he’d picked the ball up and toss it maybe 3 feet. Dead ball! It was one of many early signs that he was smarter than we were.  But, he liked playing and seemed to have fun in his distinctive low-key style.

I knew early on that my oldest son wasn’t going to be a ballplayer forever. Now, I suppose the dramatic story would be that I struggled with this and it tortured me. It didn’t, but he taught me.  He was supposed to love it, because I did.  But, he didn’t.  Now, I don’t think he played in order to please me.  It’s just something he did, like going to school.

He taught me that my kids can find their own way without me mapping out their every step.  He found his interests without much help from me. No, it wasn’t baseball, although he played until he was 15.  I enjoyed it, and I think he did, too.  But the things he loved were different.  He could draw.  He loved to read. He taught himself to play the piano (I certainly was no help with that).  He loves math. Again, I’m pretty useless with that, too.  He taught me what my Dad told me long ago about my kids:  “Find out what they like and learn to like it, too.”

In his last season of baseball, my oldest was used mostly as a pinchrunner.  I didn’t like that one bit.  I suspect he didn’t, either.  He showed up to every practice, every game and rarely complained.  He pinch ran, stole bases and scored runs.  For the first time, I admired one of my children.  He showed up and did his job.

My second–and middle son–was different. He loved baseball. He made me throw him grounders when he was 3 years old until my arm ached. He made up a game called “cool scenes,” which required me to give him increasingly difficult plays to make. He wanted to be catcher–the BEST catcher. So, we worked on it. He put on full catcher’s gear and I would bounce baseballs to him. Oh, yeah, he kept his hands behind his back and stopped them with his body. And he was 6 years old. He became a helluva catcher,  starting as an 8 year old catching 12 year old Little Leaguers. When he was 12, he was a one man wrecking crew.

If throwing baseballs at a six year old sounds extreme, it is. It’s also extreme to tell a 5 year old before his games: “Remember: You’re the best there is. Prove it. Kick their butts!” I did that, too. He ate it up and believed it. He also played like it.  I was from the Marv Marinovich School of Parenting.

With me, there was a problem with this approach.  It’s hard to reign it in. If you do that before the game and after the game, it’s hard not to demand it during the game. That’s problematic. I would yell. I would rage. I would want to strangle coaches, parents and opposing players. In short order, I started to become Monster Dad.

You’ve seen this guy. He yells. He paces. His face is red. He barks instructions or criticism between each pitch. His kid’s success is his success. Failure is an indictment of his parenting and, indeed, worth as human being.

I will say one thing for Monster Dad: This approach can be quite effective. Sadly, it’s downside is the creation of Monster Kid. At least–to some extent–that’s what I got. My son would fume, throw things and curse. Or he would exalt in his accomplishments far beyond their real worth. In other words, he acted just like I did.  Of course, I attributed none of this to me.  It was just his personality.

So, I had this kid who played ball the way I always wanted to. Hit the snot out of the ball; strong arm; fast; played all out. He also preened at home plate after home runs; threw helmets; and punched walls. Hmmm. How do I get him to stop this?  What will people think of me?

Well, in my case, I had to stop my behavior first. And I did. I shut my mouth. I stopped blowing up every good game into the greatest event I ever witnessed. I stopped critiquing his every move.   Turns out that some of it was his personality, but a big part of it was mine.  I had to change before he did.  I’m now the dad you rarely hear at the games and never hear yelling AT his kid.  If he has behavior issues (which is rare now), his coach will handle it on the field.  My job is after the game–in the car or at home.  I’m not perfect, either.  He could tell you that.  I still have my flare ups, too, but all in all I keep my mouth shut.

What have I gotten in return? A kid who matured into a young man. He’s still too demanding of himself but goes about his business on the field. Oh, occasionally, I’ll hear a helmet placed down none-too-gently or hear him muttering expletives on his way back to the dugout. That’s okay. Striking out is not the same as getting a hit.  I’ve matured along with him, and we both enjoy the experience. The only time he’ll ever get criticized by me is if I see behavior that has no place on the field. Then, he’ll hear about it from me, but it will be between us.  He still wants to be the best and works hard to be just that.  He’s more intense than I’ve ever dreamed of being.  I admire that.

My youngest found his own way. He is almost 7 years younger than my middle one. He watched his brothers play. He started swinging anything that looked like a bat from the time he could stand up. Left handed, too. Sweet swinging. He’d throw anything that resembled a ball.

My youngest never met Monster Dad. I just let him play. He’s good, too. Same physical attributes as his brother but little of the attitude. He’s egocentric, but all decent ballplayers are. When he steps on the field, he believes he’s the best player.  He has fun, smiles a lot and rarely hears his Dad’s voice during games.  He has his moments.  We’ve had tears and tantrums, but very rarely.  He plays hard and always has fun.  I admire that, too.

I used to attribute these differences among my kids to their personalities–which are very different, by the way. That was until I took a look at my own actions. Each child reflects–to at least some extent–my attitude toward him. I learned something from each of them. I can’t take credit for their athletic ability, though I’d like to do so. My influence came through how I dealt with each of them.  While I was dealing with them, they were teaching me.

Teaching Moments

I’ve seen towering home runs and lock down pitching. Slick fielding and laser-like throws. I remember my 10 year old coming in to pitch against the best team in his league and striking out the side on 10 pitches.  And an 8 year old catching a cut off in the outfield, spinning and nailing a runner at the plate. There have been many, many others. These are easy.

Now, for the hard parts. Strikeouts, game-killing errors, injuries, pitching meltdowns and countless others. Hey, you gotta be there for those, too.  How about your kid dropping the F Bomb on his way to the dugout? That’s happened.   Ejected from a game?  Been there.  Benched for throwing a fit?  Yep.  We’ve learned to say: “Hey, that sucks, but it’s over. Time to move on.” No one enjoys these moments, but they happen.  Suck it up.

It took me awhile to figure out something and apply it to my kids.  I don’t like being yelled at.  Ever.  For any reason.  If you yell, I don’t listen.  I just want to yell back.  It’s no surprise that my kids are pretty much the same way.  Honestly, aren’t most people?  I see the parents who yell and rage at their kids.  If you do that, take a look at your kid after you do it.  You won’t see a look of affection, I’ll guarantee that.

The highs are never as high as I think they are nor are the lows that bad.  I learned that watching my kids play baseball.  A clutch hit is great, but it doesn’t cure cancer.  A critical error is bad, but we still have everything we had before.  Relax.  Enjoy.  It’s just a game.  So is life.

What Have I Learned?

Left on their own, kids will play ball and have fun. Do you learn anything else? Do sports really build character? Maybe. Oh, there are kids from such bad backgrounds that any type of structure probably helps, but there aren’t a lot of those. The older they get, the more they see that working hard and being good at what you do pay dividends.  There are certainly benefits to that, but the sports world is not the exclusive proving ground for those lessons.

Everything isn’t a matter of life and death.  My kids aren’t the center of the universe.    I go to games to watch my kids.  Other parents show up to watch theirs.  If my kid has a bad game, I’m no better or worse parent than I was when the game started.  Simply put, we’re not all that important. I’ve never seen a really good athlete who wasn’t a bit of a narcissist. Would a star player really be okay with going hitless just because his team won? Nope. It’s just not reality. Youth sports feeds this. People slap your kid on the back and tell him he’s great. You do, too. That’s why some of those bad moments are okay. A little ego deflation never hurts

So, my kids have learned a few things, but the real student has been me.  Most of my life, I have been relentlessly critical of myself.  In my mind, a good day was fluke, and bad day would last forever.  No matter well I did something, it could always have been better.  The world, it seemed to me, was focused on what I was doing.  One slip up, and failure was sure to follow.

Turns out that I was wrong about all that.  If you strikeout, you get to bat again.  If you lose, you can play again.  Preaching to my kids to let things go and play the next game has had a positive impact on me, if not them.  I can’t tell someone something over and over without applying it to myself. Bad days, like bad games, don’t last forever.  There’s a next day, just like there’s a next at bat–even a next pitch.

In my case being a parent has built my character.  Taught me discipline.  Taught me patience, understanding, even empathy.  While I was trying to teach my kids these valuable life lessons, I was the one learning.  They were clean slates.  They didn’t have a lifetime of bad habits and ego-centric behavior to deal with.  I did.

So, here it is–what I’ve learned:

  1. Play to your strengths and don’t let anyone else tell you what those strengths are.
  2. Whatever your role, go hard.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best if you follow the first two rules.
  4. While you’re following the first three rules, have fun.

If I do these everyday, they’re all good days.  Thanks, boys.  Well, I’m done.  I have to pack for a trip to Georgia–baseball tournament this weekend.

© 2012