June 30, 2010

“Now go out and get yourself some big black frames with the glass so dark they won’t even know your name, and the choice is up to you ‘cause they come in two classes: Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses…oh yeeaahh!…oh yeeaahh!…oh yeeaahh!”  -ZZ Top 

Sunglasses. If you’re an American, you wear them. Even if you don’t wear them often, you at least own them. So, they must be very important, at least very useful. Given their popularity, sunglasses are obviously very essential and must fulfill some need that mankind had been lacking until their creation. We are lucky to be Americans, lucky to be a part of the Western World rather then live in some country where you don’t see sunglasses as often. Otherwise we’d have to somehow make it through each day with out these handy little tools. But what exactly are sunglasses used for? What do they do?

To answer that we need to first consider what glasses are. Glasses are the mother of sunglasses, they were created first, and they essentially help you see. Two lenses held together by some metal or plastic that are rested on the brim of your nose with a little help from the poles that are attached and rest on your ears. When age gets the best of you and your vision begins to fade, or if you are born with bad vision, just go to the eye-doctor and he can adjust the lenses to your needs and you’ll be seeing clearly in no time. It’s quite a miracle! Glasses have been keeping intelligent people from becoming blind beggars for hundreds of years. Sunglasses are simply glasses with dark lenses; the best part is you don’t have to have poor vision to use them! So why use them? To block out the sun, that giant globe of light in the sky that helps provide life to our entire planet. They keep the glare out of our eyes. When our pupils are just not able to constrict enough, you can pull out your handy pair of sunglasses, rest them on your nose and in moments you are able to see again. You look that mean old sun right in the eye and… Well sort of, they’re not that good. Unless they’ve got UV protection! This is a danger that we are all in need of protection from, even though we really don’t know much about UV rays, scientists have determined they will burn your eyes out and give you skin cancer, and the intelligent people of our day wouldn’t lie. So we purchase the more expensive pair and we can ride down I-95 South from Wilmington (which really must be heading West) right before dusk with full confidence that since we have our sunglasses on we aren’t going to go blind. And who knows how many accidents have been prevented from wearing sunglasses and blocking out glare?

But other then these extreme moments, do people really need their sunglasses as much as they are wearing them? Walk down any American street, even when the weather is considered only “partly sunny” and you’ll find that most people are wearing sunglasses. Corey Hart even wears his at night; however, to this day, it’s not quite clear why. Consider how many different types and styles of sunglasses we have now! What is this phenomenon? Why are people so worried about their eyes? Are they that delicate? And shouldn’t somebody clue in those who aren’t wearing sunglasses? Perhaps they can’t afford them? Maybe the government should start a new program handing out sunglasses to poor people and educating the public about the dangers of UV light! Or maybe there is some other ulterior motive that causes these people to wear their sunglasses, even on a cloudy day.

Perhaps we can find out if we look at some of the different types of sunglasses. We have to start with those huge things that only old people seem to be wearing. These are large, dark, see-through plastic cases that fit over an entire pair of regular glasses, they make their wearers look like some kind of cyborg and only serve to make old people seem even more scary to little kids. Aren’t the elderly aware of clip-ons? Clip-ons are what they sound like, they are two flimsy lenses that clip-on in front of our regular lenses. However, most people under the age of 45 will chose to purchase a whole different pair of prescription sunglasses.

Prescription sunglasses are available in almost as many types of regular sunglasses. We’ve got sports wear; these are usually flashy and multicolored, and they look like they are somehow aerodynamic. They come with straps because in the fast paced world of sports they might fly off or your face. Mostly surfers and skiers who really need them for their work wear them. Ocean and snow are both forms of water and water reflects light, so it is essential that they avoid as much glare as possible. An intelligent consumer would want to purchase these, however much they may cost, because they are worn by someone to whom sunglasses are essential, they obviously will be the best kind. Never mind that intelligent businessmen will pay famous sports stars lots of money to wear their products so those intelligent consumers will then go out and purchase them.

Speaking of businessmen, what type of sunglasses do they wear? Sleek, modern, efficient looking lenses are the order of the day for professionals. These babies are durable, flexible and lightweight all at the same time!  Sunglasses are essential for these men and women because they tend to work in Center City where all the high-rises are made of glass and with out their sunglasses they may become disoriented from the reflecting light and not be able to find their way back to their clients.

Compare these to the wild and crazy types of sunglasses that the less important people on the streets and in the bars are wearing. These are the kind of glasses that can be found on Elton John’s dashboard and the more eccentric the better. Like all the other types of glasses, these are clearly only used to portray a type of image to everyone else. They are a mark of identity. They are saying to the world “This is the type of man or woman I believe I am, or at least I pretend to be!” Specific sunglasses enhance any aspect of a person’s personality that he/she thinks is cool. When people put on a pair of sunglasses they tend to strut their stuff a little bit more. They become just a little more bold and daring. Admit it, when you put on your sunglasses, and I know you have them, you think you are cool. At least a little more so then when you take them off. But how did wearing sunglasses come to signify coolness in a person? It’s simply that our modern day outlaws wear them: rock stars and movie stars.

Anyone who watches the movies knows that if a star wants to operate in normal society they need to disguise themselves so as not become run over by their fans. How do they do this? Well, according to those same movies, they simply put on a pair of sunglasses. Never mind the thousands of photos we’ve seen of them wearing sunglasses and looking cool. But this brings us to the real reason that Americans find sunglasses so appealing; they are masks. No one in our society can really allow anyone else to know who we really are, and our eyes are the windows of the soul; aren’t they? It is just safer to keep them covered. It’s not always a negative thing, sometimes we don our sunglasses and we become the Lone Ranger or El Zorro and we can save a damsel in distress with more confidence and boldness. Sometimes we are just trying to hold back the tears and the dark covering allows us some more space. Yet, some men use the covering to obtain more freedom to watch; while some women need sunglasses to cover up the damage done by a jealous man. Whatever the reason, ours is a society where everyone has something to hide, and sunglasses are just another expression of the many masks we wear to cover up our souls and to block out the glare of truth. Because when our eyes are used to darkness, the glare of light hurts, and when we are used to living in a lie, the light of truth hurts our souls the same way.

Peter L Richardson
October, 2002


-this essay is based on my notes from a teaching I gave on 8/10/06 for a weekend parenting conference some friends were running for my church. I was asked to give the “single dad perspective.” I felt inadequate then, and I still do today.

Me and my son, drawn by him many years ago...

Me and my son, drawn by him many years ago...

“Fathers will teach the next generation,
     or they will lose the next generation.
Fathers will speak to the next generation
     about the many providences of God
     in protecting and preserving them,
     or the next generation will be without hope.
Fathers will cultivate gratitude,
     or they will produce a generation of ingrates.
Fathers will walk beside their sons,
     teaching them to honor their fathers,
     or there will be no America left to defend.”
          -Douglas W. Phillips

There are those times when our Heavenly Father breaks through with such clarity that we cannot deny he has spoken to us. Such was one of those times for me shortly before my ex-wife and I were divorced. I will not go into my list of grievances I had against her, but I was bringing them before the Lord in an effort to make sense of the mess my marriage had become. Because he is a gracious God and because I was feeling anything but gracious at the time, I felt like he was directing me in a path I did not want to follow. In anger and frustration and with my finger pointed at the sky, I blurted out loud: “But God, she has made herself my enemy!!!” For a split second I felt a smug justification to walk whatever path I wanted, until the Lord retorted with: “And what are you supposed to do with your enemies?” This moment was the greatest revelation God could have given me for the walk I was soon to begin. I cannot for a minute pretend I followed this principle with her at all times, I am a man of flesh and bone as well as the spirit, and in this spirit-flesh war, I am not proud of the ground I’ve given up to the flesh. However, having this moment to lean on gave me the strength to respond in love at times when it really counted. There are moments in my over ten-year-history of divorce that I wanted to go in with guns and lawyers blazing, but the Lord bit my tongue and the Spirit turned my cheek in the right direction.

Divorce is ugly (it is one of the few things that God says he hates), and it usually never results in a happy ending. However, when at least one of the parties submits him or herself to God as much he or she is able in the midst of the wreckage, God can and will turn what is meant for evil into good. I can confidently say that despite all the dumb-ass mistakes that I and my ex have made over the course of our volatile relationship; God has brought us to the place that could be the best possible situation for our kids who are stuck living in the middle of a severed family.  I would like to share a few lessons the Lord has taught me over the years. I, by no means, can be considered an expert; so far, I have only a 50% success rate with my boys (I have a great relationship with one, while the other wants nothing to do with me), but if experience has anything to do with wisdom, these words might be worth your time if you find yourself in a similar situation or know someone who is. Please take them with a grain of salt.

You and your spouse split up for a reason, right? So it should be no surprise when the two of you end up having vastly different parenting styles. When this happens you need to again (and again, and again) respond in love while you learn to respect your children’s “extended” family.  The hard truth is that dads almost always get the short end of the stick when it comes to divorce, but you need to man up and make the best of the situation for your kids. One reason why it is so hard for divorced dads who want to be good parents is because there are so many “boys” laying their seed everywhere and not taking responsibility, partly because they never had a proper father figure of their own. If you are not the custodial parent you need to make your place of dwelling a home as much as possible. Even if you are stuck in a one bedroom apartment, you need to make a space that “belongs” to your children. They need something that they can claim as their own to feel confident that your place is home for them as well. When they are there, you need to spend time with them and do it on their level. It is very difficult to bond with your kids when you’re only around part-time, but it is not impossible. Plato famously said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation.” If you want to create opportunities for you children to trust you and talk to you, you need to play with them.  I once knew a father who put his kids up in the guest room at his house, they always had to unpack their clothes and toys from their mom’s place, and then he wondered why they would never respect him or want to come over.

When the kids are young, I think it is best to set down a specific schedule of the times you and your ex will be responsible for them. It avoids confusion and can prevent those moments when your kid is the only one who didn’t get a ride home from practice. I think my ex and I avoided a lot of conflict with the understanding that if it was my weekend, then I would be the one to make sure the kid got to his game, recital, friend’s birthday party or whatever. As the kids get older, I think it’s important to give them more freedom in choosing how much time they want to spend at each of their parents houses. This is an emotionally tough call, but it goes with the hard decision that every good parent has to make to offer their kids more and more freedom in order to let them grow up into responsible adults. If your child prefers your ex’s place to yours, you should respect that, but you should also ask them what you could do to make your place more accommodating. If you can’t (because of limited money), or you won’t (because of values), explain to them why. While they might not respect it in the moment, this is an opportunity to teach them to be financially responsible, or more importantly to make good moral choices.

Since you and your ex will likely have different sets of values, you are going to have to learn to be flexible with morality, but at the same time, you need to know what areas you are not willing to compromise in and draw a clear line of expectation for your children. In a healthy marriage, a couple will discuss the hard decisions and reason together in order to discover if one is being too strict or the other too easy. They can then come back to the child with a united decision. In a divorce you only get hearsay about what the other parent is doing, and it’s not always easy to hear. If you feel your child is in serious danger, you should confront the other parent; however, you need to accept that even in the white-picket-fence scenario, your kids will eventually walk out that gate and get all that temptation for corruption in one form or another. The best thing for any parent to do is to prepare their children for making the right choice when faced with sin rather than just try to keep them hidden from it. If you have rules that are stricter than your ex’s, you should be prepared to openly discuss why and explain your reasons for your “not in my house” policy. “Because I said so,” just doesn’t cut it. What is the point if you only tell them “no”? Your children need to be armed with the knowledge of why something is harmful to them, or why you feel they are not yet ready for something.

No matter what your ex (or her new spouse) does, or how she behaves, or what she says about you, you cannot disrespect her in front of your kids. This includes complaining about her with other people. You will need to find strong shoulders to lean on and strong ears to bitch at; you need to vent, but never do it in front of your kids. The Bible commands everyone to “honor your father and your mother.” If you dishonor your ex in front of your kids and in essence ask them to take sides, you are planting seeds in their minds that could eventually grow into sin. If you have any anger or jealousy towards your ex, do your best not to show it to your kids; take your grief to the Lord.

One major mistake that I see single dads and moms make, especially as their kids grow older (perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of a desire to be hip so they can get a younger, newer model for the role of spouse), is to try and be more of a friend to their kids than a parent. You can and should have a friendly relationship with your kids, but you are the parent, and you need to fill that role first. Frankly, even though it’s hard to find time, you need to go out and find your own friends. If you try to fill your emotional needs with your kids, you will lose perspective and not be able to make good judgments while you are trying to guide and discipline them. Of course, you always want your kids to like you, but if you are more concerned with them liking you than teaching them to make good decisions, you are only causing them harm, and you ultimately will lose their respect. The fact of the matter is you can’t make your child like you, or even love you, but you can demand that they show you respect, and if you do that, they will likely show other adults respect and become more successful in life in general.

On the other hand, you always must discipline in love and not in anger. This is something I had trouble with when my kids were younger, especially with my oldest son, and I’m sure this is one reason why he is resistant to have a relationship with me now. It has been a process, but first I learned to admit it when I overreacted, and at this point I have really learned to control my anger when I feel it coming. Disciplining in love is not as hard as it seems, but it can become complicated. It is simply stepping back and considering why you are upset and controlling your emotions before you respond. If your child has clearly violated your trust or done something that deserves a consequence, you need to consider what punishment will result in the strongest benefit for your child (not necessarily what punishment fits the crime).  What will teach him to make the right choice next time? The hard truth is this will be different for every kid and often different for each situation. With practice and time, responding in a calm and loving manner becomes not so hard; the complicated part is coming up with the best way to handle the crime! You will make mistakes and you will make them often. The important thing is to try to learn from your mistakes, and the most important thing is to admit you made one.

Whether or not you realize yourself that you blew it, or if God or a friend calls you out, or even if your kids call you out, when you are wrong: admit it! Some fathers have a hard time admitting when they are wrong out of a fear of losing authority, but the result is just the opposite. If you can’t admit when you make a mistake, everyone under your authority will eventually loose respect for you and stop paying attention to anything you say. When you admit your mistakes to your kids, you are validating their feelings of betrayal and respecting them as individual persons. This gives them the opportunity to forgive you and develop a stronger character. Your actions will also model humility, and when they make their mistakes, whether it’s out of just acting foolish or out of blatant rebellion, they will be more likely to admit they were wrong when confronted by you, and likewise, when they are confronted in their future relationships.

The last and most important thing is to model your relationship with God right in front of them. Pray, worship, and evangelize in front of them and with them. Especially, prayer. The Bible commands us to pray continually. My ex and I were just nineteen when we eloped. I remember having a conversation with a single friend while we were in our early twenties, and he was marveling at the impossibility of that command. I laughed and told him to just wait until he had kids; he would find that he could fulfill the command more out of need and desperation than obedience! The fact is we can’t control what happens to our kids; we can’t make them believe what we believe, and we can only protect them so much and hope to teach and influence them to make good choices and walk in the best path that God has laid out for them. All the earth belongs to the Lord, even your kids. The most powerful thing we can do for them is to cover them in prayer. Learning to practice spiritual warfare is required of good parenting. When they are young we need to pray with them, and point out to them when God answers their prayers. You need to pray with them for blessing over your ex, even when she just did something really wrong to you right in front of them. They will learn to bless those who persecute them.

Learn to model your parenting after God. He is our Heavenly Father, first as our Creator, second as we become born again in the Spirit and that mysterious relationship is restored. How often do we screw up before God and then cry out for mercy just one more time? Think about how He responds to you the next time you want to smack your kid upside the head for doing the same dumb thing over and over again. This is hard for some guys. We often see God through the flawed relationship we’ve had with our earthly fathers. We think God will respond to us with judgment and criticism because that is what our dads did. Ironically, this revelation is what often prompted me to get myself right with God and kept me on my knees. I know if my kids need anything at all from me, it is the legacy of Jesus. I don’t want them to blame God for my mistakes.

If you are still working on your relationship with your Heavenly Father, look into scripture that references God as a parent (for instance, the prodigal son parable). If you are having trouble having faith that the scripture is for you, watch fathers in your congregation that have had success with respect and love from their children. The Apostle Paul tells his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example. Pick men in the church that you respect and ask them to mentor you, or at least to be a sounding board when you need wisdom in a situation. There are three particular men in my church who I was lucky enough to watch and learn from. I saw God and grace all over their relationship with their kids, and I wanted it with mine. First, I just kind of observed and watched how they did things. Eventually, I had questions for them about why they did what they did. Now I call two of them my best friends, and I still go to the other one, who is old enough to be my father, for advice when I need it.

If you are freshly divorced, you are probably angry at the world and don’t want to spend quality time with anyone, but you can’t do it alone. There are some single parents who, out of guilt and/or a desire to hide from adult relationships, sacrifice every ounce of their personal time for their kids. You need a healthy support system. You need spiritual guidance, and you need practical advice and practical help. You need someone who will go out and have a couple of beers with you and let you whine all night, but also stop you from having any more than just a couple of beers. You need positive and wise friends and you need God. Without both, you can’t be a healthy parent.

Peter L Richardson

“After the war…”

Now that chaos has died down,
     we’ve called truce,
     drawn up our peace-treaties,
     and learned to negotiate like neighbors.
I think about the casualties of war,
     the survivors and innocent victims
     caught in the destruction.
It is they who are most deeply affected
     as the borders and boundaries
     change in their lives like the seasons.
How can they hold identity?
What heritage do they have to cling to?
To whom will they pledge their allegiance?
     But they do have choice.

I have fought long and hard and deep
     for this land.
To provide a place for them,
     a safe haven,
     a home.
The land won—a wilderness:
     A scorched scar on the earth.
But I have bled my fingers to the bone,
     broken my body like bread,
Filling the land and removing the stone,
Planting seed and building new home.

After the smoke is cleared,
After the infrastructure is finally
     coming together,
I receive the first fruits of prosperity
     for this new nation…
Fruit to provide for my people
     for the offspring…

Now that that is all done,
     what have I won?
The work so long and so hard,
     I wonder,
          do they trust me?
And what have I won,
     without their trust?

Peter L Richardson

(title dedicated to the Alliteration King: Neil Uniacke) 

Pocomoke River, January 2009

“Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
  Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
  To me the meanest flower that blows can give
  Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
          -William Wordsworth
               from “Ode, Intimations of Immorality”

A Gentle Whisper
          (I Kings 19:11-13)

I do not think we were meant to exist
          inside so much noise.
What would life be without the distraction
          of so many toys?
This solitude, this silence –though lost to our blood—
          it is deep in our spirit,
And though we strive and we strain for understanding,
          it’s only in the quiet
          that we can hear it.

Peter L Richardson


If I knew my way around these lost parts,
I would go much deeper into the dark.
Oh, the deceitful, mysterious heart!
          What a man longs for: the beauty, the art.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.
  God and the devil are fighting there:
  the battlefield is the heart of man.”
          -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Peter L Richardson

“Wild at Heart”

How I long to know the outdoors…
To make fire for warmth and for food,
To make knots for shelter and for protection,
To conquer the land with a map and a compass,
To climb up the mountain and canoe down the river,
To see the stars in all their splendor as God intended,
To feel the good solid ache of my bones
     at the end of the day
          around a fire with good friends,
               with my sons,
                    with my lover.

How I long for this!
To see the glory and the fury of the mountainside,
To rest under cool pines,
To swim naked in gentle pools,
To know the fierce beauty of the desert.
          This is what freedom feels like to me…

Peter L Richardson

Oh, the wonder,
          the splendor of youth!
Collecting shells in a bucket.
Would that we were able to see
          all God’s treasures he brings to us
While we stand on the shores
          of eternity.

Peter L Richardson

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” I Kings 19:11-13.