Men To Fathers

The bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe,” writes Chris Van Allsburg in The Polar Express.

“Never undervalue gratitude” I told our older son.  People do things for us all the time, and there are things in front of us we refuse to see. What better way to begin the 1st of my traditional holiday series as we remember before we go a step further, “things don’t change, we change.” Thoreau tells us that.  So whenever I get the chance, to share this story I do. It’s part of a ritual each year for me to either introduce or reintroduce it to those who read the column regularly.  Van Allsburg’s story reminds me of a time I think we all have forgotten.  It reminds me of a time when we have allowed too much negativism to enter our lives and forget about why we should do good.

Allsburg’s story reminds me, whether we are in a recession or not that our lives seem more touched by tragedy than by goodness.  We have the pleasure of living in a country that’s free. We forget that. We have the opportunity to see our kids grow to fulfill their dreams.  We forget that. For those of us who can enter any door of any establishment, we must not forget.  We must remember having to go to the back door of some establishments, have fountains we could drink from, or enlist to fight for a country that didn’t acknowledge our personal freedoms to vote, hold office, or marry who we loved.  We’ve come along way, and part of that has been become many of us whose blood, sweat and tears earned us a place in the most hallowed walls of our country never stopped hearing that bell.  I love The Polar Express, and next week I’ll talk more about how important gratitude is not just one day a year, but today I want to talk about being free to do the right thing, because it is the right thing.

Daily, either on TV or in the newspaper people I see or read about those who would rather be seen as victims, than share what they still have and possibly could become if they weren’t so jaded.  But we all are victims.   Everyday we choose not to do something nice makes us a victim to a society that has become jaded.  Jaded by politicians.  Jaded by TV and movies.  Jaded by the music we listen to and the icons we adore.  Jaded by dads who would rather father than be fathers.  Jaded by mothers who would rather leave their babies on the street, kill them in their womb, or keep them rather than let somebody [more able] raise them.  Does it sound like I’m angry?

I am, but I have mellowed a bit in my anger over the years, as I’ve tried to give back.  I’m angry at every person who has to wait for something bad to happen to do good, so I started doing more good.  That mellowed me.  I’m angry at every teacher who only contacts parents when their children are doing something wrong, rather than telling them when they’ve done something right, so I started going to some of these schools and acknowledging some of the children, and those teachers who needed to be encouraged, they were doing something right.  That mellowed me.   I’m angry everyone seems to wait for an Elf Louise, or ‘secret Santa’ to brighten the lives in our neighborhood, our offices, even our homes so I started my own ritual. I started putting out dollars in various places for people to find to make them think something they should know:  They’re special.  God loves them.  Things don’t change, we change.

The message in the book is about faith and belief.  It is a message “for all who truly believe.”  Each year as Christmas has gotten closer, I’m amazed at how my anger dissipates as I learn to believe in the things I’d forgotten to believe in.  Each year seems to bless me with being able to experience childhood I’d forgotten.  When kids really did believe they could grow up to be president.

Many of the experiences which made me who I am came before I realized I was an okay person, who, like dew at dawn I had a purpose and was destined to do something that made a difference, that no matter how strong the winds that bend us are, we can withstand it.   Me?  I grew, in many cases, marching to a different drummer.  It was a drumbeat that changed as I changed.  The little drummer boy I became seemed only to come alive when I could hear the bell–that ever so often fell silent. And why?  What caused the silence? I don’t really know.  Maybe it was because I didn’t want to think the bell had lost it ringer.  Maybe it was because I was too involved in trying to be something I was not, and I didn’t allow others to be with me. Maybe it was because I was scared.  That’s a big one!  Especially as I grew up as a black man.

Scared I was the only one listening for the bell to ring. Scared I could be wrong and everyone else was right. Scared I could never measure up to what society, my family or I expected of myself. Scared my faith was mislaid. But somehow my faith overcame my fear because I want my kids to see and hear every drumbeat I make, and I want to see theirs.  Kids are a powerful reminder that what I believe…they too will believe. What I ignore…they too will ignore as unimportant, insignificant, and meaningless. I became aware that an absence of laughter in their lives was because laughter was lacking in my own. I mellowed.  I started laughing.

Men are poor at telling things like it is.  But when things get tough, men can stand up to the plate, and swing.  We may not hit a home run, but for the most part, that’s not what our families want of us.  They merely want us to Stand up to the plate.  So stand up now.  Make a decision.  Do something that makes your child proud, as an offering out of love, and appreciation that you can do this without being forced. Just like “our father” did for us.

Remember it is more blessed to give than receive…so in honor of your child, why not give a dollar or a hug to someone, with a note, “Pay it Forward.” God did.

“…the biggest hurdle we have to leap is the one we place in front of ourselves. No one cares if you live or die unless you care.”
from Murder on the Pier,” by Jere Myles, [p. 142]

Archie R. Wortham, PhD
Educator & Writer

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