A Season’s Greetings Has New Meaning

The Christmas season holds a timeless and magical mystique to most of us, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof, in large part because of its power to invoke nostalgia. Christmas may have begun as a religious observation for Christians and people who subscribe to Christian based faiths but it has evolved over many years into something much different. Between the media bombarding us with constant pressure to find and purchase the newest and greatest gift, to the incessant parade of holiday movies and songs, to the office parties and obligatory gift exchange – Christmas has become ultimately a perversion of what it once was: a season representing a merciful gift and a time intended to conjure from our depths the best of us. But Christmas also holds its truest power over most of us when we think of our childhood and how it helped shape our little minds and personalities.
This last part is just as true for me as anyone else. When I think back to Christmas as a child I recall Christmas Eve at my grandma’s house or my aunt Delores and Uncle David’s place with succulent food that would tempt even the most finicky of feeders. There were tables full of traditional Italian dishes and delicious desserts decorating plates waiting to be devoured. All of us cousins running around and playing games while the adults opened a bottle of wine and drank coffee all the while laughing uproariously. I could hear my aunt’s laughter from the kitchen while my father timed his punch-line just right. My grandmother would be surveying the table and people at it to make sure their stomachs were full and smiles were prevalent all around. I recall Christmas morning unwrapping gifts with a fire going in the fireplace and my siblings make snarky and sarcastic comments about each other while Christmas music was bellowing in the air around us. I can remember some Christmas Eves spent with my mother after we ordered Chinese food and the old fashioned red, blue, and green lights flickered against the wall next to the tree. I remember the silent white flakes of snow falling gently outside and smelling Christmas dinner wafting just a few feet away. Christmas presented not only presents but a rare time of year when we were reminded of the power Christmas held, not just in the food or good times, but in the reunion of family ties. To know those were ties that bind, through hardship and sorrow and through high times of rejoicing, those family ties were kept life moving a direction with purpose.
As this last Christmas just passed I was struck by something different. Last year my daughter was just six months old and I was awakened to a new and even more potent comprehension of what Christmas was truly for, to be in the present and live for the day through the eyes of my truest love. My daughter’s first Christmas was a reminder of what the sacrifice of giving is intended to provide, the act of giving is a gift in itself. But this Christmas, my daughter being 1 and a half, she was more aware of the mystery and awe brought on by all of the traditional Christmas events and happenings for our little family. She was captivated by the tree when she woke up the next morning and saw the tree in all its glory (thanks to my lovely wife). The lights were glistening, the Christmas ornaments tempting to touch, and the angel on top changing colors demanding her attention. She quickly, but carefully, approached the tree looking at me in a dead stare as to “IF” she could touch it. I gave her a gentle but firm chide to touch “nice” and she began circling the tree taking in its grandeur. It was in her awareness yet her innocence that I realized *THIS* was her true first Christmas.
Biologically and based upon a calendar last year of course was her first, but this year her wonder and amazement was something to behold. I was once again reminded of the joy and beauty of what Christmas is truly for: the child in all of us and for those who are still children. I thought of the children who were witnessing a less than gracious holiday season for any number of reasons and that once such innocence is lost, it can never be regained. I realized this time in my little girl’s life is precious and this Christmas season was a powerful time to apprehend with conviction. Each day when I came home from work with the Christmas tree lit up, she would point to the Christmas icon in our home and say, “treeee” and I would pick her up and make our way to the tree. She would hold our her arm and with her tiny index finger point and say, “Thnowman”, or “Ithicle”, and her eyes sparkled with a belief in the beauty of Christmas that only a child can hold. I drank in each of these moments and didn’t deny a single request such as these, not only to share with her a Christmas memory, but to be honest for selfish reasons. I let the Christmas wonder take me over like I was that child and see it through her eyes and instead of me teaching her something about the great Christmas traditions, she revealed something lost in me. The profound contentment and happiness in the season of Christmas, not just Christmas itself.
To be sure our Christmas morning was full of gift opening and picture taking as she was another year closer to understanding the joy in unwrapping Christmas presents. While my wife and I may have purchased gifts for my daughter, and for each other, the greatest gift given to me this year was not just in sharing my time with my family it was in the revelation that Christmas was always intended first and foremost for children, and the child in all of us. Christmas will never be the same…and I’m so grateful for that fact because from this year forward I will strive to hold that child in me so I can always share it with her…my true reason for the Season, life’s most precious gift to me, my little girl. In a world where horrific human suffering continues, where greed crushes the average man, where basic values of decency are corrupted by selfishness all around, it is deeply refreshing to see Christmas through the eyes of an untarnished soul. It cleanses the year’s utter filth and the degradation of humanity I witness on a daily basis from the cluttered compartments of my mind and soul when I see the sparkle in a child’s eyes waiting for Christmas morning to descend. Christmas may not be a religious holiday for all of us but it can have an equal value and power if we just let the child within us…breathe. Let our child run free and with reckless abandon to revisit the place in our soul when magic and wonder brought out the best…the world could use a little more magic and wonder and a little less cynicism…maybe, a child’s heart is the solution to so much more. This I know, my child within and my child who sleeps soundly half a house away, will never be thwarted at Christmas time…it may be a time to celebrate a birth, but it will be a time when we recognize a resurrection of the child within.

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An Unimaginable Absence

The universe is filled with mysteries I will never understand. There are realities of science and math I cannot fathom. There are theories beyond my comprehension. And there are people whose lives are darker and deeper than my own; those are people I will not be able to relate to. But the decision, nay the very person, I have no interest in understanding is the man who chooses to leave his child behind. Men in the military, in law enforcement, or in the good service to others are NOT in this category as they pursue a type of cosmic justice that extends a barrier of protection and duty necessary to the development of mankind. But the men who choose to abandon their child or neglect the joy of being present in their life to the point of making a cameo appearance on special occasions, are men I can only call men based upon sexual organs. Men, who are truly men, will not willingly choose a life absent from their child’s existence.

Over the course of about a year I have had to work more hours due to the nature of the duties besieged upon my job title which has required more time away from home. My gorgeous little girl has been developing at break-neck speed during that time as she is just over a year old. As a result of my work obligations there are times I have missed entire days of her life. Days filled with smiles, awkward walking, food throwing, soiled clothing, high-pitched squeaks as she strives to talk, and endless moments of incredible bonding between Daddy and daughter. I would be lying if I didn’t say there are times when I resent the obligation and sense of duty I feel to be a true professional and honor my commitments instead of reveling in the bounty of my daughter’s presence. I know the job I have puts food on the table and a roof over her head, so in some ways I am honoring her by my job and loving her through providing for her basic needs. But the wondrous awe of her gaze and quirky ways that parade throughout her day, is a sight to behold and to me rivals any majestic landscape found on earth. And to know I have missed even a fraction of her life is at times soul-wrenching and purely painful. In fact, recently one night after working several extra hours and coming home to see her nearly asleep in her crib, I broke down and allowed myself the freedom to cry. Tears came rolling down as I imagined her day filled with walking and running through water pellets from the hose to keep cool on a hot day, sitting in her high-chair eating dinner, laughing as she squeezed her soft doggy animal, making funny sounds as she played with her toys, and laying her head on my wife’s shoulder as her strength began to fade. I wasn’t present for one day…just one day…and my heart was overwhelmed by the breaking I felt by missing those tiny moments with her. It crushed me, there are no other words to describe it….it felt as though the world’s weight sat on my chest and all I could do was cry. Her little whirs of breathing seemed like the whispers of God’s own mercy and I realized I’ve never known love like that before.

My one day’s absence was a culmination of a number of them over the course of about a year. I was struck the next morning on my way to the gym, “How do fathers leave their children by choice?” And it hit me: fathers don’t leave. Fathers stay. They stay for all the crying, whining, temper tantrums, fits of frustration, sleep deprivation, soiled clothing – not their own, wreaking diapers, crib construction, miles lodged walking the floor at night, unforeseen medical issues, doctor’s appointments, and food battles. Fathers stay, no matter the cost, no matter the pain, and no matter the sacrifice. If for no other reason, because the pay-off of “Daddy” from their innocent lips is priceless with no equal and no comparison. Fathers stay because they chose to conceive, one way or another every father chose it regardless of state of mind at the moment of conception, while their little one did not choose life…instead it was granted. And once embarking on the journey of survival, the child NEEDS their father for so many things, beginning with validation of love and acceptance. It becomes the cradled bosom of life-giving hope when a father’s hands are there, his words are strong and constant, and his heart is yielded to the unimaginable depth of a child’s love. So, how does a man voluntarily surrender his right and God touched gift of being a Dad? It is an unimaginable absence I cannot comprehend or even think of accepting.

We have a generation lost to early alcohol intoxication, drug induced hazes, teen pregnancy, horrible violence in schools, and toxic adults in every relationship they touch with an entire philosophy centered on “self”. The reason is unknown despite multiple studies and hypotheses, but could it be the absence of a true father? Could it be that simple? That so many problems existing in our society and culture today are directly tied to the unimaginable voluntary absence of a father? I believe it could be. Being a father, while I’m still new to this, can be the hardest thing a man has ever done…but it can also be his most crowning achievement. Men, if you choose to conceive life, you must choose to be a father. A father is not perfect, his mistakes will be in the multitudes before his child turns a year old, he is not all-knowing, as his ignorance will be blatant to all around him, and he is not all-powerful, as his total lack of control will be seen in the sorrows of his young one. But a father is PRESENT. A father never relinquishes his right and destined option of being a father. He maximizes the moments to be a father, however he may define them, so that the little person who one day becomes an adult is the type of adult both himself and others can respect and admire, full of integrity and possessing the traits of personhood that demonstrates a powerful contribution to the world them. A father doesn’t surrender…he never quits…he rarely misses the chance to be a father…he is a constant and unwavering anchor in the life of his child. A father doesn’t leave…he stays.

For all the mistakes I have already made and mistakes I’m sure to make in the future, later today I’m sure, I have my greatest hope in the eyes of my little girl. To one day, over a steak and glass of wine as she celebrates her graduation from college, have her look at me with her eyes welled up with tears and say “Thank you Dad”. Not for dinner or for college or for her natural intelligence (given to her by her Mom), but for staying. If all I can do is stay and be present, to partake and to witness the miracle that is her life….will be enough. For both of us. At times clarity has prevailed and it has dawned upon me that when all else fails, and answers to life’s questions are missing, I just need to stay. Stay and be the man my daughter is desperate for me to be, STAY and be a father. I’ve come to realize as I make every fateful attempt to teach her to be the very best version of herself….she is in the process of doing that very thing for me.

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Dedicated to My Wife

The road of life is hard and fraught with endless challenges. But the toiling daily labor that is living becomes enjoyable and rewarding when you can share it with a person who draws out the best of you while seeing the worst of you and who becomes a stabilizing force when the winds of trouble blow through your life. That’s why today, on my wife’s birthday, I choose to write about her. She is, hands-down, the most incredible woman I have ever met. She is beautiful beyond description and wonderful from the soul in ways I could only dream of being. My wife is the glue to our family as she stays home with our lovely little girl and takes care of the home with pride and enthusiasm. My wife’s wit and sarcasm provide humor when moments can be tense and her ingenuity and crafty ways are creative and yet thrifty. Her gentle touch can ease away an entire days’ woes and drain all my stresses. Her kind words can change entire week of problems and distractions. She’s busy about the home making it the place of safety and comfort from all the enemies to our peace. She tends to our daughter with constant concern and vigilance while being her playmate and teacher. She is the bedrock foundation for our family and there is no woman I could have chosen, and more importantly who could have chosen me, better suited to build a life with and to share all the future memories yet to be made.

My wife has demonstrated amazing character by coming to this country 13 years ago to care for her ailing grandmother. She didn’t know the language, had no friends, and left most of her family in Poland. She packed up a suitcase and chose to leave her comfort and familiarity behind. She was educated and ready to further her career when she made the trek to America and upon arrival found her education was invalid and therefore holds the status of any other person deemed “uneducated” in America as her credentials weren’t accepted. Instead, she went to school, worked two jobs, cared for her sick grandmother, and took care of herself. She led the way for her mother, father, and two brothers to come almost immediately after her. She didn’t come to America for a job or money or for love. She came out of loyalty to family. And that is exactly why I fell in-love with her. Her integrity and powerful character demonstrated exactly who she was and still is today. A woman that is powerful in her convictions, loyal to those she loves, caring and kind with a soft touch to those close to her, brilliant and creative, hard-working and enduring through hardship, passionate in her love, and committed to the relationships. Her values in life are the core of her persona and she is simply, the best. She challenges me to be a better man…the best version of a man I can become as a husband and father, and I only hope I can be her equal. I love you Magdalena, not just for what you do for me and our daughter, but absolutely for the person you were, are, and will become. Thank you….for everything. All my hope is abides in your eyes, until the day we pass….I am yours.

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Gettysburg Remembered

Tomorrow is July 4th, a day of hallowed honor in America to recall the moment at the birth of American history that declared our independence from Britain and begin our journey to democracy. The historic document that is the Declaration of Independence is one that has served as a blueprint for nations the world over to begin their own separation from tyranny and endeavor to find equality for their people. But July 4th, our line of demarcation that indicates freedom, was only the beginning with a Civil War yet to be revealed which was equally significant in our path to democratic solvency. The Civil War began in response to Southern states, the Confederacy, intending to secede from the Union as tensions mounted regarding several important issues, only one of which was slavery. Make no mistake, the Civil War was a monumental event in world history as much as it was for the United States, and the end result which was a Constitutional amendment to end slavery and provide liberty for all men rang the death knell of forced labor and servitude across the globe. And one very important battle on which many historians believe the Civil War hinged, and therefore the aforementioned direction of world history, was the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg was the bloodiest of battles in the Civil War, and as just stated, many believe to be a turning point in the Union Army’s favor. We celebrate our Independence Day tomorrow, July 4th, but without the Union Army turning the bloody tide at the Battle of Gettysburg, American history may very well be significantly different. While we eschewed the stranglehold of tyranny and the principles of a monarchy at the start of the American Revolution and held tight to the idea of a sovereign nation through a Civil War, we have done little to continue the fight of national unity. Through the race wars of the early to mid-20th century, to Jim Crow laws, to current bigotry against homosexual equality, to esoteric forms of continued hatred and prejudice against minorities, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, we are a nation in great divide. The veterans who have fought and died in all the wars America has had, including the most recent wars waged by the President and U.S. Congress, are to be honored for their sacrifice and their families embraced by warm and generous hugs of thickened American flags with their names etched on memorials for all time to recall their dedication. But the legacy left behind is not the freedom they have granted us, but the senseless chaos and bitter dividing line our society has created.

To truly honor the men, women, and their families who through centuries of personal sacrifice have granted us the joy of independence and liberty, we must once again wage a war. A war of words, thoughts, ideologies, personal philosophies, and social conduct toward one another that brings healing among the various divisions of races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and communities. I don’t believe we can sweep our current disagreements under a proverbial rug by smiling and speaking platitudes of “equality”. We must challenge the status quo of racial equality by saying to the African-Americans who use a sense of entitlement to proceed to the front of a welfare line, your heroes of color gone before you wanted more for your present and your future than a government hand-out. To say to the Hispanics, the history of this nation is incomplete without the acceptance that outrageous travesties were done to your people in the Southwestern portion of this nation and to accept that your ethnicity and color add to the array of flavor and appreciation for contemporary American culture. To say to the Asian-American population, while great injustice was done to the Japanese during the World War II internment camps and the Phillipino countrymen who were the actual first slaves to this nation in what is now the state of Louisiana and enslaved Chinese workers in Hawaii who harvested the sugar cane fields, this nation owes you a debt we cannot repay but your larger social construct exemplifies hard work and dedication to the culture change that can occur with focus and proper management of the opportunities afforded each and every one of us. In other words, as a nation let us own the mistakes our nation has made and the deep injustices swept down upon the shoulders of the oppressed at the hands of our previous law makers and legislature at all levels of government. But then, let us acknowledge that those injustices while remaining imperfect have been largely corrected and opportunities exist that if properly used can change the existence of an entire class of citizens. No more excuses, no more pontificating from the pulpits and ranting on talk radio programs about the finger pointing as to why a specified group of individuals or racial section are continuously denied a place at the larger socioeconomic table or at the bottom of the Constitutional ladder for equality.

America may need to make continual strides toward true equality and liberty blindly doled out to every citizen and sojourner without regard for their social position. However, when will the heavy burden of individual responsibility be placed squarely upon the shoulders of exactly that, the individual? At some point the sins of the forefathers must simply be drained of their sting and stop being passed on to us, their sons and daughters of freedom. At some point, a polarizing figure of minority descent needs to rise above the common discussions of frayed reasoning as to the lack of a general ethnic community and provide solutions. At some intersection of history, the finger pointing across the political aisle or across the border or from the wealthy to the less fortunate needs to end. Not just resolved…executed, never to be resurrected for the purpose of doing what needs to be done: unity for the greater good. America is no longer unique in its offer for equality, liberty, or justice. But America IS unique in HOW we have arrived at this place in the global schematics of political alliances based upon our nation being a leader in the development of democracy. Gettysburg serves as a reminder that this nation was once a great nation, full of potential and men of average standing doing extraordinary things. Gettysburg was a watershed moment in American history and this July 3rd, today’s date, serves as an equal reminder that without this day in history, the significance of July 4th may have been lost. A nation reaching the tipping point of broiling anger and self-loathing accomplished stability on the waves of bloodshed. And yet, with all the lives as debts paid to the brokerage of freedom, and the struggles of countless men and women and children in the pursuit of happiness for all races and relegated social groups, we continue to find reasons to divide our nation. We fight with words and ideas about the notion of equality and send painful barbs of sound-bites and essays at the cause of our malcontent persona within whole communities. Gettysburg brings a not-so-stark contrast to the current climate in America today: we’re still fighting the war of equality, over one hundred years later, we still search for reasons to divide rather than a rallying cry for unity. This must change….we, must change….our nation is overdue for greatness again, but without a one-ness of thought it’s impossible.

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Role Model for Women….Size Doesn’t Matter

In the social media saturated environment we live in today, all things said, photographed, recorded, and shared become fair game to everyone else. Facebook photos and soundbites, Youtube videos, Tweets rapidly racing across the internet, and text messages embedded with pictures and quickly coded messages bring information and imagery at lightning fast speed. So all the more pressure is applied to people of the 21st century regarding their physical appearance, and this notion is pushed to the extreme regarding adoloscent girls and young women in their 20s. The pressure has always been unjustly off-centered toward a woman’s image representing a calling card and general expression of her total value. Although, the pressure being applied to men to bulk up their muscle, tone their abs, and become a muscular torture device is quickly catching up with the image projected by magazines, movies, and mainstream media that women have been facing for well over a century in America. But sometimes a person or a few people take a stand against what is a despicable trend despite society’s seemingly wanton lust for it. And I applaud any woman who will bravely stand in the mirror, with the lights on, and proclaim herself to be confident and sure of her own image.

Melissa McCarthy is an actress who plays the character of Molly on CBS’ sitcom, “Mike & Molly”, and has been in several movies recent years that have gotten and are getting fans to the theaters. She appeared in “Bridesmaids” and “Identity Thief”, both of which received rave customer reviews for her wit and on-screen charm and has a new movie with Sandra Bullock due to be released this Friday, June 28th, “The Heat”. Ms. McCarthy recently took a stand against such an attempt to bully her into changing her body image and more importantly an attempt to shatter her self-confidence. Movie critic Rex Reed described McCarthy as “female hippo”, “tractor-sized” and “humongous”. Mr. Reed recently stated he would not apologize and went on to say, “I can only repeat what I have said before — that I do not have, nor have I ever had, anything personal against people who suffer from obesity,” and added in an email to Us magazine, “What I object to is the disgusting attempt to pretend obesity is funny. It is not remotely humorous, and every obese comedian who ever made jokes about the disease are now dead from strokes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.” And yet, I don’t see Mr. Reed taking such a stand against cigarette smokers or marijuana smokers both of which contribute to serious medical issues. I don’t see Mr. Reed poking fun or casting aspersions toward known drug users and recovering addicts in their movies. No, this definitely was personal for Mr. Reed as he has inherited a well-defined idea of what a leading lady should look like in movies and televsion and has kept his antiquated perspective while the world has passed him by. Mr. Reed’s small mind in nearly any other discussion of hate and bigotry would have been thrown from the rooftops by whatever political side he opposed or other social activist group working to dispell his opinion. But because it relates to overweight individuals, with the definition of “overweight” based upon some rigid set of guidelines originally established in a society where our nation was predominately farmers. At the time those guidelines were established we didn’t have the processed food we have today and “organic” was just another Wednesday night dinner. Ms. McCarthy is more than just brave, she is a woman who is also intelligent and appropriately responsive toward her bullies.

Ms. McCarthy had this to say in response to Mr. Reed’s critique: “I felt really bad for someone who is swimming in so much hate. I just thought, that’s someone who’s in a really bad spot, and I am in such a happy spot. I laugh my head off every day with my husband and my kids who are mooning me and singing me songs.” Ms. McCarthy went on to say that had she been in her 20s when such an unprovoked attack was levied against her, “it may have crushed me”. Ms. McCarthy responded in a way that demonstrates her integrity is far superior to that of Mr. Reed. Furthermore, she then took a moment to be honest that she had to work through a portion of her life when her self-image was still anchored in what larger society defined as beautiful. The mental and emotional place she habitates in her heart now brings resilience and inner peace with her entire person, including her body image. Ms. McCarthy demonstrated sympathy for Mr. Reed and rightly used the word “hate” to describe the type of hurtful and shallow words Mr. Reed used to describe her physical appearance and then the vulnerability to express that she has changed….for the better, as an overcomer of negative perception of herself.

This woman, this strong human being is the role model I hope my little girl truly aspires to be. A woman who bears down with her head against the wind and rain of life’s trials and finds the light within herself to see ahead. To see the future with bright hope and with longing, not for change but for progress. I believe my daughter is gorgeous and always will be in my eyes…but the eyes of the world are much harsher and less forgiving. I’m a realist, not everyone will see the angelic beauty in her eyes and in the limitless potential of her soul. So, what I will work tirelessly to instill in her young mind is the fortitude to remain true to herself, facing any challenge or obstacle. I want my daughter to be healthy in body, soul, and spirit. But I will NOT put those things in some prefabricated box designed to keep her in the boundaries defined by others. Social norms regarding acceptable behavior is justified and necessary. But social norms regarding the honesty of self, will never be determined by another person and I need her to know that. I need her to know that the substance of her character and the integrity of her person, will always hold greater consciousness of beauty than any physical trait she can possess. Ms. McCarthy is a role model not only for her success in her chosen craft, or even in her attitude toward her self image, but equally for her response to hateful criticism of something that is none of Mr. Reed’s concern. Melissa McCarthy acted in a manner that was peace-keeping and sympathetic toward a man who is obviously lost in his own bitter fog of life’s disappointments. Melissa McCarthy was gracious, honest, articulate, and completely unapologetic for her appearance, her choices, and her success. A woman such as this represents the finer aspects of what I hope my daughter’s generation honestly seeks to achieve in a variety of ways: integrity, intelligence, strength of character, and the resolve to be true to oneself regardless of the consequences. Raising a daughter in contemporary times is hard enough….but battling her demons of self image which may drive her to conform to expected appearances nearly impossible to achieve is a war I hope she never loses. Fact is, she’s beautiful…regardless of definition, by anyone’s standards.

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The Harmony of Dissenting Voices

There are moments in American history well defined by our society’s response to increasing social pressures, and today was one of those days. From this moment forward I will not express my opinion on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) but rather use this platform to highlight what I DO believe in…the freedom we sometimes abuse, the freedom of Free Speech. I am fully and whole-heartedly in support of each and every person’s right to express their thoughts and opinions no matter their position or how opposed it may be to mine. But I do NOT support the use of such freedom in the endeavor to bully others or thwart their valid opinion, no matter how much it may be diametrically opposed to mine. Today, I have witnessed so many opinions both for and against the decision made by America’s high court.

I have seen men and women I respect use the decision to thrust their “I told you so!” attitude in public forums and social media and men and women I respect use the decision to scream their religious indignation against the decision made today. What I would wish for all of us to do is use this ISSUE, not people, as a medium to heatlhy and intelligent discussion. I see the persecution of gay men and women as a horrid and disgusting display of religion and faith gone awry and I see the rights of those sexually oriented different than myself ostensibly trampled by those who proclaim Jesus as their Savior. However, I also see law-abiding and humble homosexual men and women cast aside by society using religious propoganda to keep conformity to heterosexual norms their main concern and faith-based initiatives castrated at their origin due to gay rights activists stampeding over the otherwise loving Christian groups who intend good things with their missionary oriented nomenclature.

I hope for our nation to heal…a nation to see the masses of religions, ethnicities, skin tones, political alliances, and sexual orientations as means to bring unity and not conformity. I cherish the ideals and thoughts of those who oppose my own so long as it is done with mutual respect and intelligent discourse. We need people to speak truthfully and sincerely with vulnerability on both sides of the debate. I welcome transparent discussion of those for equal marital rights and those who oppose gay marriage, not because I support either one but because I NEED the intelligent thoughts of others. This nation is great not because one group or sect or faction is always correct but because we bring balance through our divergence of thought and ideologies. America needs to heal…to stop the hate, to divert the passion from dissention to harmony, to bring our people together, to open our hearts and our homes to being ONE, under the beauty of patriotism TOWARD each other. Harmony as one definition according to Mirriam-Webster is: “an interweaving of different accounts into a single narrative”.

Harmony is what America needs. The United States in its beauty is how our nation finds ways to overcome as one people. I don’t want to see the Liberal Left attempt to bully the deeply religious groups opposed to gay marriage rights and I don’t want to see the Religious Right attempt to shame the gay rights activists back into the closet. I want to see each person freely choose their side without retribution, without guilt, and without threat of harm both physically….and verbally. I don’t want to see the triumph of those who celebrate this decision turn into a tide of hatred toward faith based groups who dissent from the high court’s opinion. Instead, let’s take this decision as an invitation for further discussion. Let’s allow the medium of love, which is where we find the nexus of this division among Americans, to be the reason we talk at the dinner table, in the coffee houses, at the water cooler, and yes in the Sunday schools about why we choose the social position we choose. Let us invite healthy and robust discussion without hate, without bullying, without rhetoric, and without ignorance. Let us invite intelligence on both sides of the debate, let us invite a broader notion of love and acceptance of all people, let us invite a general idea of harmony at the discussion table, and let us invite the power of healing between the sides of opposition so that the next generation doesn’t spend wasteful time wading through the murky waters of frothy venom whose only purpose is to poison healthy ideas.

Men like Neil Patrick Harris have my admiration and respect because he has conducted himself in a way that demonstrates true humanitarian efforts, while displaying true professionalism in his craft and being a well-spoken gentleman who has rightly attuned his focus in all the socially and politically correct ways to further his cause while remaining above the frey. I respect men like Joel Osteen who is pastor to one of the largest churhes in America and leads countless thousands in a labor of love and faith and has been an ambassador to acceptance despite his stance against gay marriage as a man of the cloth. Whether you quote the Bible to advance your argument or quote the Bible to discredit its beliefs, love is the basis for this heated issue of marriage. Love and compassion are the fundamental principles of New Testament faith and the basis for humanitarian efforts to grant equality to gay marriage. Interestingly, their common passions provide for vehemently diverging beliefs. But it’s the common ground which also grants the safe haven for discussion. It’s love and compassion which has generated some of the world’s most heralded people and some of the most important movements of social change. Maybe, we can lay down the weapons of hate and remind ourselves of the nature granted armament of love and human capacity for endless compassion. Therein lies our greatness, not in weapons of mass destruction or in world dominance, but in the boundless possibilities for compassion and empathy. It is our compassion that will provide the means for the next great social movement….but if we wander from the path of compassion, we remove ourselves from the journey of potential greatness. I need America to be great again, our children need America to be great again, and for that we all NEED each other….differences not be damned, but be welcomed…in the refuge of love and compassion. I extend the proverbial olive branch acceptance and compassion to those who endorse gay marriage and to those who reject it: as long as you can respectfully do the same to others…but hate in any form, I do not accept and I will not extend my hand nor my friendship unless we can build on the platform of love and compassion. Hope may be the catalyst for change, but it is through our differences, and not in our uniformity that we will achieve true compassion. Compassion is conceived in suffering and born out of a broken spirit and it’s in that space of brokenness that all of us can find equality. At some point we are all broken in some quiet, dark place of our lives and when that moment comes; is it judgment or compassion you’ll be seeking? Compassion breeds acceptance and acceptance yields freedom to be who you are, regardless of social position….America, it’s time to heal, and be free…truly free.

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A Year to Remember…and Forget

A little more than one year ago, our daughter graced us with her life to join ours. She is a little fountain of energy and constant smiles as new things amuse her and her curious mind is fervently spinning with each new nano second of information. Her laughter is infectious in the walls of our home and her tears are the drops of dew from God’s own sending. When she sleeps her deep sighs and peaceful whirs of beautiful rest cause our hearts to flutter. The joy that is her breathing, is boundless in its power and influence on just how wonderful a day ends, no matter its stressors or how fumugated the pungent stink of life’s responsibilities may remain like a fog over our heads as the day ends.

But the equal truth of suffering is just as powerful and relentless in the pursuit of life and development grows. Our daughter is precious and healthy…now. But shortly after we arrived home with her we found a daily struggle to survive the fourteen to sixteen hours of screaming she would spew without interruption except to take a one hour nap. I knew nothing of babies when my daughter was born, and I think I know even less now. My lovely wife was a bit more experienced than I was but we were both exasperated with the experience of our “bundle of joy” being more a cross to bear. She was magical in so many inexplicable ways, but nightmarish in so many others. We were sleeping less than four hours per night, she would scream to the point of being purple in the face for two hours at a stretch, and you could NOT put her down unless you laid or sat with her.

My wife and I decided to have her quit her job and be a full-time stay-at-home mom and wife. She relished the idea of being a home-maker and Mommy and I basked in the notion of her cooking, cleaning, and caring for our baby girl while I worked and came home to a happy home. Yeah, that was a fantasy on so many levels, not the least of which was a happy home. We certainly did our best to find the love and the patience with our daughter and each other, but a screaming child, with little sleep, added financial strain, and the normal stress of work and extended family created a culdroun of volatile spices we found nearly impossible to digest. What was a peaceful and tender relationship full of mutual support and loving kindness and positive words for one another was fraught with tension, curt responses, tight glances communicating frustration or disappointment, and many, many tears. We eventually found the medical solution after more doctor trips than I can fully recall and a referral to a specialist nearly 50 miles east of us in Central New York. But the trauma was done and the sweltering heat of pressure from a difficult baby was simmering in the home for months.

To make matters worse, our girl was one to be mentally sharp and requiring signficant mental stimulation from two months forward. She would not allow us to be in a different room without knowing what was happening. Her proclivity for inquisition created many crying and screaming moments of what was certainly anger at the feeling of “not knowing” what was happening and frustration of feeling uninformed and relegated to ignorance. When she began to be self-sufficient in the walker and then when she was able to walk, her world and therefore, our world changed for the better. She walked at nine months, because she was determined NOT to be away from anything she had an incessant need to be a part of and to be aware of the situations surrounding her. We had her on a phenonmenal routine and have encouraged a balance between independence and a careful, watchful eye of concern over her and making sure she is always safe and protected while nurturing her own identity. Yes, even at age one, I encourage her to find herself and be true, without apology and without exception.

The little dynamite child we call our daughter recently turned one year old. I reflected on all that was during that year. How much she changed, how much we have learned, and how much our lives have been altered by her presence. I reflected on how I have changed and how my marriage has changed. During this time of contemplation, a friend of mine who is in a long-term relationship asked about life with a child or children. He knows at some point he will have to marry the young woman he’s with if he intends to keep her and children have been a part of their conversations. So, he delved into the deep with that question, “What’s fatherhood like?”. I thought carefully, and paused to consider the weight of the question. I considered all the ramifications of the answer I could give, such as scaring him off from kids and thereby wrecking the relationship with his girlfriend, or encouraging him too much and him regretting his decision later. Ultimately, I settled on something to say that I wish someone had told me and yet, no matter what I said, it would be forever inadequate. I told him, “Take the most horrific experience you can imagine with a baby and child and multiply it by a 100. Because no matter how bad you think it can get, it’s 100 times worse. Take the most amazing and beautiful experience you can dream of to have with your child, and multiply THAT by 100. Because no matter how incredible anyone describes it to be, it easily 100 times more powerful and amazing.” I went on to explain that no one can prepare you for the immense amount of work, effort, dedication, and sacrifice required to make it just through the first year, let alone the rest of their lives. But, that moments of immeasurable joy and pride compensate multiple times over for all the pain you endure. And there are no words, of quantity or quality, to adequately express the profound love and grace you feel when the miniature person that is your child looks at you or says “Daddy” for the first time, or the sound of their laughter, or the clutch of their hug and the touch of their kiss on your cheek.

Our first year was one of two extremes: a darkness so thick and evil it provides insight to the reasons for actual insanity and a beauty so compelling and life-changing you know why people believe in God…because nothing this life altering incredible can be anything but divine. The two extremes rival in their characteristics and in their influence. There are days when if responsibility and ethics didn’t constrain your response, you would simply drive until you forgot your name and no one could ever find you…anonymity would be a blessing all its own. And there are days, when neither the wiles of Satan’s heart or the chasm of the Grand Canyon could be strong enough to keep you from the grasp of those tiny arms around your neck. The power of parenting is not in its joy or in its sorrows….its in the realm of knowing, both coexist equally and without surrender. Parenting is unlike any other force known to man: we willfully choose to suffer under the relentless pain of carrying the burden of another life because love and devotion to a carrier of our blood demands it. We choose to be living, albeit sometimes hollowed shells, martyrs to another human being while we love to depths only a parent can create and understand. Here’s to year Number 2 and the man I become between now and then.

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