Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.  –Janie B. Cheaney

It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing- that’s the Lord’s test.  -Mahalia Jackson

Anyone can tell you about the detrimental effect of poverty on families. Some may even be able to articulate the downward spiral generational poverty creates for the children being raised in environments lacking in nutrition and proper nurturing, and living under the threat of constant danger. It is easy for those of us on the outside to make quick, dismissal judgments on the parents and their lack of motivation and seemingly lack of care for their children. Despite our sympathy for these poor kids, we often fail to genuinely realize that without significant intervention, they will likely grow up to become just like the parents who are judged today. Studies indicate that children of low social economic status are more likely to underperform in school and become involved in delinquent behaviors such as drug use and sexual promiscuity. It is also well known that children raised in safe, caring, and stable environments have the greatest chance of success. So how do you bridge the gap and break the negative cycle of poverty? It is a daunting task that requires man power that just doesn’t realistically exist, even with volunteers of the biggest hearts and the best intentions. However, one program has found a way to gather workers right from the communities and neighborhoods that need the most help. The program is based on the simple but, in this case, profound idea of mentoring.

Julie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Michalak, and Ellen Ames present a study on inner-city mentoring in an article entitled: “Inner-City Youths Helping Children: After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” The study identifies all the typical risk factors involved with inner-city neighborhoods in poverty, but they focus on the problems of peer bonding among friends who are involved in anti-social behaviors and therefore become negative influences. Rather than simply educating children about the risk of negative behaviors, the program involves collaboration between the youth, their families, schools and agencies within the community. It is based on the Social Development Model which “emphasizes bonding as a key protective factor in children’s resistance to problem behaviors.” This model theorizes that “Bonding is a sense of belonging…once children feel bonded to a social unit; they want to live according to its standards and norms.” Recognizing the strong influence of peer bonding, proponents of the Social Development Model screened older youth, who exhibited pro-social behavior, from the community and trained them to be mentors in after-school programs to younger children from the same community. Because mentors shared the same risk factors of the children they were helping, they received extensive training and support networks. They were also paid and they received consistent rewards and praise for their involvement in the program, which is called The Collaborative After-school Prevention Program. Mentors were assigned a group of no more than seven children, and while they focused primarily on social skills development, they also provided practical help with homework. Even though it was not required of them, most mentors became involved in other community activities like assisting in coaching sports teams, street clean up, and rebuilding community homes. In addition, more than 50 percent of mentors went on to college after graduating high school. And what about the younger children who were the focus of the program? They improved their study habits, stayed more focused on their homework, and improved their social skills. Equally important, it provided a safe place to be and kept them off the streets. As one mentor put it, “It gives them another place to be children. Out in the streets they can’t be children; they have to be part of the hood. They know how to load a gun before they know how to tie their shoes.” Perhaps the most successful result of the program was that the children also became bonded to the mentors and ultimately to the “pro-social units and began to internalize their standards for pro-social behavior. These protective factors should reduce problem behaviors,” which was the main goal of the Social Development Model.

In addition to the successful results of the program, research supports their findings. Studies show that children from low social economic status are at greater risk for many developmental problems. Often parents simply can’t be there for their children because they are forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, or they simply don’t have the emotional or mental abilities to care for their children. Kids who could otherwise be spending hours in front of the television or, worse, be out on the streets getting exposed to dangerous situations of drug use and possible violence, are in a safe environment learning both social and study skills. Another factor to consider, according to Kelvin Seifert and Robert Hoffnung in their book Child and Adolescent Development, families of low social economic status run a greater risk of child abuse (329). The emphasis on the bonding between mentors and the children in their groups would provide a safe place for a child to express his/her concerns to a trusted role-model; who could identify the problem and report it to the program directors. They also state that children from neighborhoods prone to violence tend to adopt highly aggressive behavior modeled by their peers (422); this program shows children, through their mentors, that they can make choices that result in positive consequences. Aside from family influences, children learn most of their social behavior from peers of their own age as well as a few years older (415).  This program offers children the ability to learn positive behaviors from older kids in their communities. The mentors have a higher chance of relating to their group members because they have shared common experiences and are working to overcome the same issues. Thus, the Social Development Model not only has proven results from its program, but the research also supports its effectiveness.

For those who take the time to implement it, a program like this could produce positive results for all members of the community. While students of both peer groups obviously benefit the most from this program with their new social and academic skills, and with the new friendships which will undoubtedly last for many years, teachers have a significant reason to invest their time in the program in any ways available. Students who go through the mentoring program will become more compliant and not only cause fewer disruptions, but with the training they receive, they will likely become positive peer role-models within their classes. These students, who may otherwise neglect homework, would receive regular help with it which would increase their ability and confidence in the classroom, and also result in better test scores for the teacher and school in general. Students and teachers are not the only ones who benefit; parents would have the confidence of knowing their children are in a safe place for at least a few hours a week. As their children increase in social skills, they will bring their new understandings of relationship to the home, and perhaps bring positive changes to the whole environment. The program could also identify areas of specific needs in the families, and point them in a direction to receive resources and help they otherwise might have been ignorant of. This program, if it is given the proper resources and funding, benefits the entire community.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing a program like this is getting the whole community involved: “The Collaborative After-school Program was a partnership among the YMCA, three elementary schools and one middle school, the department of social work at an urban university, a church, a child guidance center, an art museum, and the county probation department” (O’Donnell). That is a lot of support and a lot of collaboration. The task of gaining the support needed among local community centers is daunting in of itself, let alone coordinating and working together to make the program affective. I think it is possible to make it work; however, and very much worth the effort. This program brings together a vision I’ve been developing within myself for a few years now. I find myself disappointed and disillusioned by public school’s lack of ability to truly help out these neglected and abused children. We simply allow them to disrupt the educational process until they either shape up, or we ship them out, but there is no real help and evident care for them. On the other hand, I volunteer for an inner-city youth ministry at my church where we mostly just go and play with kids. While there is significant bonding going on, and I’ve seen very positive changes in many kids, we tend lose them in adolescence, especially the boys. A program like this would offer purpose for the older kids and give them a reason stay involved. I don’t know the best steps to take from here, but this article offers the direction I’ve been looking for in my desire to help out poor families in practical and lasting ways. I definitely plan to research this topic further.

Peter L Richardson
11/25/2006

O’Donnell, Julie, Michalak, Elizabeth A., and Ellen B. Ames. “Inner-City Youths  Helping Children After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” Social Work in Education 19.4 (1997): 231-241. Academic Search Premier. 21 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Seifert, Kevin L., and Robert J. Hoffnung. Child and Adolescent Development 5th Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 2000.

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Identity Crisis,

September 18, 2010

…a short autobiographical reflection on Adolescence.

Pete & Grandpop

During the transition from childhood to adulthood adolescents are faced with many new challenges in life. Not only are they changing rapidly physically but they are developing mentally as well. For the first time they find themselves pondering deeper questions such as “Who am I?” or “What is my place in life?” No longer comfortable in the role of a child and not yet an adult, adolescents are searching for places to fit in, searching for answers to questions of meaning and purpose, seeking to define who they are. In short; they are searching for identity. People who come from a strong and stable family and live in a healthy environment will experience the least anxiety about who they are. However, families that are broken or dysfunctional or even just unable to define a strong set of beliefs will most likely leave a child distraught and searching for structure and meaning in life. While there are definite skills and strategies parents can learn to help bridge their children into adulthood, the reality is that no family is perfect. Every person must face the challenge life offers to discover what he is made of and what he believes in.

Although they have managed to get past their problems, my parents were in conflict with each other when I was an adolescent, so I was unable to find any sense of identity from my family. After my sixth grade year I left a private school were everyone pretty much looked the same and moved to a public school in the seventh grade. This was a culture shock for me and it was really the first time that identity became an issue for me. Not because it was something I thought about, much less tried to define, but rather because “identity” was something that happened to me.

In the seventh grade I was still a boy. I didn’t fit in with most of the kids in school, but I found a group in which to find shelter with. We discovered that if you didn’t bother the popular kids or the bad kids, they pretty much left you alone. All we were interested in was getting through the day, so we could get home to our afterschool cartoons. When we got together, we played GI Joe, our bikes were still used for pleasure, and the topic of conversation was often about who would win if Batman or Spiderman would get in a fight. And I think we were genuinely happy. 

Eighth grade was when I discovered that girls weren’t really icky. But this new awareness also brought me to my discovery of who I was. Plain and simple, I was a geek. I couldn’t help but notice who was getting the girls attention, as well as notice the huge gulfs between us that marked our differences. I accepted my fate and took my place among the geeks and the nerds, but I wasn’t happy any longer.

Before ninth grade came around, I decided that I needed to be cool. I was tired of being teased and abused. I had already tried my hand with the upper class popular kids and was laughed out of that crowd, so I turned to the rebels of my generation; I had become a Headbanger. We were the kids with long hair, in black heavy metal t-shirts, jeans, jean jackets and boots, no matter how hot or how cold it got. We were the rebels of our time, but even then I knew the truth about us, we were all rejects of some form and we found this tough guy persona in order to hide our pain. Most of us were good kids, but once you adopt an identity like that in a culture that is full of stereotypes, you fall into what the expectations are for your group. By the end of ninth grade I was cutting most of my classes and getting stoned on a pretty frequent basis. I practically failed my freshman year, but that was okay; the important thing was that I had friends who were cool and nobody abused us. Besides, why would I want to identify myself with a bunch of snobs who were too good for me? I wanted nothing to do with their world and this society that centered on their selfish material interests and popularity games, so college and high school were of no importance to me.

Ironically, my drug use helped me find my way back to something like a purpose in life. Somewhere in tenth grade, I realized that I didn’t really like heavy metal all that much, but I had discovered some really good music from the late sixties and early seventies. I unconsciously molded into a hippie, but I was still stuck in the late eighties. I liked the concept of peace and love, and I admired the previous generation’s attempts to “change the world,” but I saw their attempts as failures. I discovered Jim Morrison of the Doors, and I began reading his poetry and tried to decipher his words. Jim Morrison was aware of the hypocrisy of his generation. He saw that mankind on his own was unable to create any true society of “peace and love.” He didn’t offer any solutions, but he made clear the problems in his time. He was also interested in spirituality and, to put it mildly, was a bit obsessed with the afterlife. Soon I started reading works by authors and poets who influenced Morrison, and in turn I began my own search for meaning and truth in this life. I also began writing my own poetry and expressed the ideas of my search through my works. I had slipped into an identity of a poet-philosopher, and I was completely at home there. I used to joke with my friends that it was too bad you couldn’t get paid to sit around and think, like those old guys from ancient Greece, but I really didn’t have any direction or confidence in myself.  Eventually, my poetry gained the attention of one of my teachers who made a large impact on my life. She took an interest in my work and challenged me to do something with my ideas.

“If there’s so much wrong with the world,” she would say, “why don’t you do something to change it.”  I would always answer her that there was no use; no one can really make any difference. In time she became a mentor for me and her praise instilled confidence in my abilities and added self-esteem to my identity. One day she boldly asked me if she had made any difference in my life. I answered in an absolute affirmative, and she asked why I thought I couldn’t do the same for someone else. She made me realize that since she impacted my life for the better, that human beings, including myself, really could make a difference in the world, even if it was just a few people at a time. She was the first person to plant the idea of teaching in my head. Though it has grown and been refined, this is the main identity that has stuck with me throughout the years. Because she saw something of worth in who I was, she made me realize the value in who I could become. I learned that my potential is much greater than the weaknesses that hold me back as long I keep the vision before me and continue to walk it out. I was lucky enough to receive these foundational principles in my identity as a teenager; they have stuck with me, and they have helped me define my beliefs and have helped to build my confidence in the man I am today.

Peter L Richardson
Fall, 2002

Freedom Outreach: A ministry of caring relationships among friends in the city. Passion for Christ. Compassion for People. Period.

Playing in Riverside.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

It all started with Rachel Coates: “You should volunteer for our Easter  Party.”

“But I don’t do little kids,” I said, “I’m called to teens and young adults.”

“Still, you should come and help. These kids are awesome.”

I felt the usual immediate satisfaction of serving God; after all, “it is better to give than to receive.” However, it was a slow progress for these kids to work their way into my heart. Because of a faithful few volunteers, a few of the kids who were at the party were actually regulars at our church service. It only took one time for us to meet before they would run up to me at church with joy and ask to sit with me during worship and to make me play with them after the service. Eventually, one of them asked, “How come you don’t play with us during the week?”

Freedom Outreach is an organization based at Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Volunteers from the church and community have the opportunity go into the projects of Wilmington, Delaware, including Riverside and Southbridge, once a week and play with the children in the neighborhood. The goal is to simply build relationship with the children on their turf, the places where they call home. Freedom Outreach also organizes bigger events like holiday parties held at the church, and Vacation Bible Schools and annual barbeques held in the neighborhoods. Once leaders in the organization build relationship with the children and their families, they are invited to a session at Camp Josiah in Port Jarvis, New York. The church partnerships with the camp and some members of the church sponsor individual children to help pay their way to camp, and the kids also help raise money for themselves through fundraiser like carwashes. One major goal of Freedom Outreach is to mentor the children until they are teens and then train them to become mentors themselves.

Building castles at Camp Josiah.

Becoming a regular volunteer for Freedom Outreach was pretty tough for me at first. The kids were tugging on my heart, but I had my own children to worry about, and I thought for sure with my busy schedule, the Lord would let me off the hook. But between the Lord and the kids working on me, I moved from just helping out with special events, to going up to play with the kids in their neighborhood on a weekly basis. God quickly began to bless me through it, but not in a way I expected. Between my job as a high school teacher, and working on my masters in an attempt to earn more income for the future, and helping to raise two boys as a single dad, life was full of stress. However, here was two hours a week I could just play with kids and not think about anything else. Instead of having one more thing on my schedule, playing with the kids in Riverside became a break that I looked forward to each week.

The kids have also kept me humble. It was hard to complain about American lower-middle-class frustrations when I got a weekly dose of the realities of poverty these kids face. Some have moms and dads in jail or on drugs or even both. Some have parents or guardians who are struggling to do their best for the kids they love, but they just can’t get ahead of their past mistakes. Either way, most of these kids have been exposed to, and even been victims of, the darkness of mankind’s soul way too early in life.

Because of the environment they live in, they can often be very challenging, but it is amazing to discover the childlike beauty that is still in action in even the most hardhearted of the children. When I see the wonder of imagination and the magic of their hearts at work in them, it enables me to have greater compassion for my at-risk students, only a few years older, when they act out in my classroom in anger and fear. I know these students once did not feel the need to smother the magic that is still hiding within them. When I see the courage these kids need to face life every day, it teaches me not to judge their adult counterparts who came to age living in the same fear and neglect. Despite the many disappointments these children experience, I can still see hope glimmering in their eyes, and after a time I have felt the genuine love that some of them have come to trust me with, and I came to realize what loving your neighbor truly means.

When I spend time in the city, John Wesley often echoes in my brain: “But for the grace of God, there go I.” For what is God’s grace to us were it not for the people he has sent into our lives to be his hands and feet and even his mouth? If more kids and even adults can learn there is a better way of life, a road to freedom that our God teaches us, the cycle of poverty can be broken in their families. Many Freedom Outreach kids are growing into mature children of God, and it is a blessed thing to be a witness of; however, many more still seem to slip through the cracks. It is hard for seed to take root in concrete and asphalt; however, when the seed is watered by love and truth from a caring person; the stone can erode and crumble into ground soft and tilled, and God can create miracles that cause roses to bloom.

If you would like more information regarding Freedom Outreach, or would like to support the ministry in anyway please go to:  http://www.vcfbarn.com/service/freedom-outreach/ 

Peter L Richardson
7/9/2010

“A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”   -Edgar Watson Howe

I’m so glad I was kid in the 70s and early 80s. We got at best a couple of hours of cartoons a day, and after that we were stuck doing our homework or even *gasp* playing outside with our friends until dark. When I look at what is popular on kid networks today, I cringe with sorrow. In the age of 24 hour entertainment, there is little depth in anything children’s networks produce, at least for boys anyway. Superheroes have turned into teenage whiny brats who spend more time trying to develop their “chi” or learning how to cast spells than getting down and dirty with the next bad guy who is threatening the world. Although very young, my kids were lucky enough to experience the tail end of the age of the comic book superhero before Pokémon came on the scene and ruined it all. With the exception of The Avatar, I have not seen one action/adventure cartoon that has any decent story development at all, nor any “heroes” with any noble qualities that I would want my kids to develop. In fact, some of these so-called heroes often act in ways that I would feel the need to punish if they were my kids. If the attempt is to make the hero more human, writers today take it too far. Why do we need make-believe heroes in the first place? Is it not because we all know that in real life we simply don’t measure up? Kids need heroes to look up to, to emulate and learn from. The day to day grind of reality is enough to drag down the spirit of any man, but when properly inspired, that same man can be a hero when push comes to shove. Yet, how can we learn to become heroes as men, if we don’t have good models to teach us as boys, and if we don’t have the opportunity to spend hours of outdoor playtime pretending we are the hero saving the damsel in distress, or even the world from utter destruction? When I consider the man I am today, I can trace back many of my positive traits directly to the influence of my childhood heroes.

“With great power comes great responsibility” –Peter Parker, aka: Spiderman.

Even in my earliest memories, Spiderman is a part of my imagination. I can’t remember my first comic or cartoon; he was simply always there helping this shy, rejected kid feel like maybe someday I could be a hero too. Peter Parker was actually the first teen superhero who wasn’t just a sidekick, and his creator, Stan Lee, revolutionized the comic book industry when he gave him real life teenage problems. But there is a difference between Peter Parker and the teenage heroes we see today. Instead of always being a self-absorbed and snotty, he learned from his mistakes, he strove to be a good person. Though he was interested in and awkward around the opposite sex, he didn’t obsess over his loves interests (at least not inappropriately). He didn’t use his powers for the self-satisfaction of kicking ass and gaining glory; he was a genuine hero who saw his gift of superpowers as a gift to the world. Any Spiderman fan knows the great lesson that Peter Parker learned from the tragic death of his Uncle Ben: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” What was most amazing about the Amazing Spiderman was that his powers didn’t really bring him glory, but they actually became a burden to him as he desired to just have a normal life, yet he still made the choice to sacrifice his time and limited resources to go out and fight evil and save the lives of complete strangers. Peter Parker was a geek at school; he was an outcast, but as Spiderman, he sought to protect the very people who rejected him when his mask was off. He could have had a chip on his shoulder, but he made the choice to be a hero. He had real life problems, but he still gave his time and energy to help others he considered to be in greater need. When Stan Lee condensed decades of story writing into three movies, the hero’s journey that Peter Parker takes, not only as crime-fighter in tights, but as a boy becoming a true man, is even more evident. In addition to protecting the weak and innocent, the call to love your neighbor, to do good to those who persecute you, to find the freedom that forgiveness brings our souls, yet all the while standing up for justice and what is right and facing the hard choices we must make in the process, is written all over those scripts. I never had a radioactive spider mutate my DNA, but the hours of comic book reading, and the time I spent imagining I was the web-slinger himself surely mutated my spiritual DNA, and now I’m a man who knows you don’t have to be perfect to be a hero, you just have to be willing to give what you’ve got, and when the situation calls for it, you need to make sacrifices in your own life in order to do the right thing and even help save people who will likely never offer any thanks in return.

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”  -Bruce Wayne, aka: Batman. 

My first taste of Batman was the old Adam West TV show, and the original Super Friends cartoon. In the first he was nothing more than a silly clown, and the latter a pretentious jerk who depended on his silly gadgets to survive. In my opinion, Marvel Comics definitely had better heroes and more interesting stories than DC Comics, so I never bothered with any Batman comic books. That is, until I discovered Captain Blues Hens, the local comic-bookshop. The first time my mom dropped me off there, I held my breath as I saw the rows upon rows of classic comics, and the walls lined up with every new issue released, even from comic publishers I had never heard of before! I found that the owners celebrated Batman as much as Spidey. I soon discovered why. The original comic book Batman had all the mystery and swagger that makes a villain appealing, but he was still a good guy. He was The Dark Knight, a protector of the innocent. In addition to just being one cool dude, Batman was special because he didn’t actually have any superpowers at all. All his skill was based on personal training. True, he would not have been able to accomplish the status of “superhero” if he was not rich, but in some ways, that makes him even better; he chose to use his riches to develop all his killer crime fighting equipment: the Batmobile, the Utility Belt, the Batcave all used up resources that could have been spent on women and drugs and multiple vacation mansions, but he used his fortune to help prevent others from becoming victims of crime. Of course he had his front of being a playboy, but that was just to ensure he kept his secret identity safe. His nights were not spent with loose women, they were spent bringing justice to Gotham City. Bruce Wayne was inspired to become a superhero when he was just a boy and his parents were murdered in front of him during a mugging. His father was in charge of a large successful corporation that was left to his young son too early. Luckily, Bruce had Alfred, the butler who was almost a member of the family, to raise him and take care of him. The young boy decided to honor his parents’ death by becoming someone who would prevent others from suffering the same fate. The idea of Batman was born. Batman is more than just the fancy gadgets paid for by his successful corporation. Think about it, he was still sharp enough to ensure that his father’s corporation continued to make money and provide for his crime fighting habit. He had to have the mind of an inventor and scientist to create all his crime fighting equipment; he also needed to develop his intuition and detective skills, and he needed a deep mental and spiritual strength to train himself how to fight and to know when not to. Batman was smart enough not let his grief from his loss affect his emotions when fighting crime. He knew to keep his head clear, and he followed a strict rule to never kill his enemy, no matter what. He understood the difference between justice and revenge. Batman teaches us that to be successful in anything, whether it’s fighting crime or running a multimillion-dollar-corporation you need self-discipline and self-control. He teaches us that while physical strength and skills are important, brains are almost always better than brawn. Batman usually defeated his enemies through outwitting them. Like Spiderman, he made great sacrifices for the protection of others, but he made doing good and being smart look bad-ass.

“It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.” –Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr.

What boy who grew up in the 80s didn’t don the fedora, the brown leather jacket and the whip? Indiana Jones allowed me to play dress up (minus the whip of course) well into my teens without looking too silly. I still own my first leather jacket I picked out as a cool guy teenager; it is curiously familiar to Indy’s. What makes Indiana Jones such a hero is his lack of heroic qualities that he learns to overcome as a flawed man who steps up to do the right thing when faced with danger. There is no mask needed here. Dr. Jones shows us once again that intelligence trumps brute force as he and a small band of faithful friends defy evil armies and prevent them from gaining more power to further their reign of terror in the world. Indiana Jones is just as excited, even giddy, to gain more knowledge and understanding about his craft of archaeology as he is to overcome the bad guys in his adventures. One of my favorite lines from the last movie happens in the midst of Indy wiping up some bad guys, when his son (unbeknownst to either of them at time) proclaims: “You’re a teacher?!?” Considering that Temple of Doom actually takes place a few years before Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is easy to see a progression of maturity and heroism in each of the four movies. In Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones is seeking adventure for the sake of “fortune and glory,” but he chooses to save a village in poverty instead. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he goes after the greatest archeological find ever, the Ark of the Covenant, and learns to sacrifice his find to save the ones he loves and for the greater good of fighting the evil Nazi regime.  Indy restores his relationship with his estranged father in The Last Crusade, in fact, he only goes on this adventure to save his father’s life.  His maturity culminates in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when he is finally able to step up as a true man and claim the woman he truly loves as his wife and begin a relationship with the son he unknowingly fathered with her. A typical movie begins with Indiana Jones on a personal quest either for himself or for his museum. However, eventually he has to make the choice to sacrifice his own goals and desires and possibly his life for the greater good. By the last movie, serving others is old habit. One other thing that is significant about Dr. Jones is that as a man of science, he still has a respect for the supernatural, and in his search for understanding through the study of ancient artifacts, he learns that there are forces in this world that can’t be explained by science or history alone. The original Indiana Jones Trilogy wet my appetite to search for truth in this chaotic world of ours. I wondered about different cultures both ancient and in the present, and I understood that the more I knew about the differences I have with others, the better chance I have of survival and peace with them. I also wondered about God’s role in our world, and whether or not he really cared about our tiny human affairs of evil régimes like the Nazis trying to take over the world. Indiana Jones played a legitimate part as one of the tools God used to invite me to seek him and discover who he really is.

“You don’t raise heroes; you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes…” – Walter Schirra Sr.

Parents who believe that the media they allow their kids to be exposed to doesn’t hold much sway over their hearts are fools. I see two extremes with parents these days. Some want to lock their kids down so tight they shun anything that involves any hint of the imagination. Others allow their kids to be exposed to almost anything they want. I was shocked to one day overhear a conversation between my son and his friends when they were about ten years old. They were spending the night and were complaining that I was being too overprotective because I didn’t let him watch South Park and Family Guy. Apparently all their parents felt that since the shows were cartoons they were for kids! Considering the kids’ knowledge of the content of the shows, I am sure at least a few were getting a steady dose. What a wonderful logic of parenting! The painful truth is that ever since our fall in the Garden, childhood largely consists of a loss of innocence into the harsh reality of the fallen world. We have the difficult task of encouraging our sons to hold onto their imagination and faith so they can enter the Kingdom of God like a child ready to submit to their heavenly Father, and at the same time raise them to be mature men of God, spiritual-warriors even, so they are ready for the assault the enemy of our souls will surely wage on them. All this while working out our own salvation—no small task. Parents who shelter their boys too long and stifle their imagination will raise adults unable to cope with sin’s tempations and unable to act against evil when confronted by it. Parents who allow their boy’s flower of innocence to be cut too early will raise adults who are stuck in perpetual adolescence, believing that promiscuity is the only way for excitement and vulgarity is the only way to make a joke. As parents, we bear the image of God to our children. That is why a young boy’s greatest hero is his dad. It is a high calling that we will most certainly fail at because we are human. That is why we must encourage our sons to have heroes who arouse their curiosity about life and truth and the right way to live. We need to set before them men and women, super or otherwise, who make good choices and feel the painful consequences when they don’t. We need to give them room to breath and explore and imagine, but we also need to make sure the world they are exploring has safe boundaries. As they grow older and learn responsibility and morality, we increase their boundaries little by little so when the day comes for them to leave through the gate, they have the inner strength they need to fight evil and protect good at all costs, to fight for a woman’s honor, not to take it from her and abuse it, and even, if called to do so, to lay down their lives for the greater good of all. Boys need to see what true heroism looks like; they need to be able to spend time imagining and playing the hero, so they can one day become men who will be the hero.

Peter L Richardson*
7/21/10

*Pete’s Disclaimer: I stopped collecting comics in 1991 when I sold my comic collection for money for food shortly after I dropped out of college (my first attempt). Comics were already well on their way towards a dark trend that was geared to an adult audience. Although, to my knowledge, Spiderman comics remained mostly unaffected, there are a number of Batman works that are definitely inappropriate for children, and in some cases even teens. As with everything, parents need to monitor what their kids are reading, viewing, playing, etc. and use wisdom to know what each child can handle and offer guidance with any material they choose to allow. There is a reason the Indiana Jones films are rated PG13.

Becoming a Father.

November 24, 2009

“But while he was a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  -Jesus Christ, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” The Gospel of Luke 15:20

There must be some spiritual substance that we cannot comprehend. Maybe it is biological and just runs through our blood and that is why we cannot control it. The sins of the father are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations (Numbers 14:18). This is even the case, it seems, when the father is nowhere to be found. How can this be? How is a man’s seed laid so deep in just one moment of climax, when we spend nine months incubating in our mother’s womb? Shouldn’t we be more like our mothers than our fathers? For me, I have my mother’s personality; it is true. However, I cannot escape my father. Somehow in my blatant rebellion against him when I was trying to prove my manhood to the world, I did pick up a bit of wisdom from the man; for instance, I have his solid and strong work ethic. Just the same, ask any woman I’ve ever been with and she will tell you: I also possess all of his faults to some degree. I think of my own children, my two sons, and when I consider the mountain of faults that I have possessed while raising them, I shudder with fear and shame.

My first experience with fatherhood came when I was only nineteen years old. I had befriended a woman who was pregnant at the young age of eighteen. She had no interest in marrying the father. When her son was four months old we were married, and by the time he could talk, he was calling me dad. I did not steal him from his biological father. That man just disappeared. He was a man in his mid-twenties who preyed on girls still in high school with the enchanting ability to purchase alcohol. A real winner. When this man stopped showing up for visits, everyone agreed it was better for the boy I began to call my son.

I was a good step-father; one of the best, but it wasn’t until three and a half years later that I truly became a father. That is when son number two was born. I am not saying that we can only truly be fathers to our biological children. On the contrary, I did my very best to love and cherish and provide for the first boy. As I made the decision to love, I did love, and delight in my child. However, something deep inside me changed the day my second son was born. There was a spiritual shift in my heart. It did not happen when he was conceived; it did not happen when my wife grew large and I could feel him kicking against my back at night; it did not happen until he came out of the womb and I saw him for the first time. It was at that moment I discovered the meaning of life. I held this tiny human being in my arms, all bloody and gooey, and I knew that I would fight off dragons and swim across oceans to protect him if need be. I knew I would clean his poop and throw up. I would listen to endless stories, answer endless questions, and laugh at pointless jokes. I would learn to play sports and read books that I hated because he loved them. I would take a bullet for him, and more importantly, I would sacrifice all my hopes and dreams, everything that I did not get to accomplish in my very short life, to ensure that he was able to succeed in his. I looked into eternity that day; I understood what my most important purpose in life was. And when I carried this frail human being out and placed him into his big brother’s arms, I looked into my oldest son’s eyes, and for the first time I saw the eternity in him. For the first time I understood the difference between adoption and sonship. All the love, all the hope, all the wonder so newly discovered in my heart for the son of my flesh, was poured out for and transferred onto this child I had so long taken care of. Where physics and logic might tell you that there would not be room enough for both, it was like the size of my heart exponentially doubled and then quadrupled in size to make the room. Truly looking into this child’s eyes for the first time, I knew instantly that I would sacrifice my life for both of my boys.

Our Heavenly Father is like that with us. Ever since our very first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, we have been spiritual orphans. By submitting to the snake’s authority, we chose to remove ourselves from the Father of all things, we stole his parental rights and claimed freedom, but we lost the blessing of inheritance in the process. With no place to call home, we wander a harsh and lonely wasteland. Unwilling to trust anyone around us, our first instinct is murder and survival of the fittest. But ever since Jesus was born, that pure and perfect Son who only did what he saw the Father doing, he began to forge the path to help us find the way back home again. In his perfection, he took the place of our punishment. He gave his life for ours, and he became the way. When the Father looks in our eyes, he does not see our sin and rebellion; he only sees the pure and positive possibilities: He sees all our hopes and dreams and his love freely pours out to us. We are not just adopted sons and daughters; rather, we are co-heirs and siblings with Jesus. Through Jesus, we have found our way to true sonship, and we finally have a father who will truly guide us into goodness and righteousness. In Jesus, all our sins are forgiven; even the ones passed down from generation to generation. However, to receive the blessing, we must make the choice to accept his authority once again. We must learn to walk in his ways.

Son number one is now seventeen years old. He is a man, so he tells me, and he does not need to follow any of my foolish rules anymore. I would probably agree with him, were it not that his rebellion started while he was still very young, and I fear he may have missed some of the most important lessons I offered him. What can I do? He will be a legal adult soon, and he will truly be responsible for all his own choices. He has made it clear to me that I am only step-dad at best in his eyes; he wants nothing from me, either good or bad, so I need to just keep my advice to myself. He will find his own way without me. Some of what he speaks is justified. His mother and I split up a long time ago, and he has had trouble trusting me ever since. In the wake of that title wave of destruction we call divorce, I have made many mistakes. I often chose the heritage of my earthly fathers over the heritage of my Heavenly One. But that, too, was long ago, and my redemption and restoration has been solid and true. My heart still glows with love for him, but it is also broken at his rebellion and rejection, but what can I do? He will be a man soon; he will be cast out into the wilderness to wander without the guidance of the compass of lessons he could have chosen to receive from me. What can I do? I will choose to do what I see the Father doing with all of us: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45. I will continue to provide for him and be there when he needs me, whether he acknowledges my existence or not. “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” Numbers 14:18. I will wait, and I will pray. I will look everyday for signs of his return, and when he comes home (for I have to believe that he will), no matter how long he has been gone, I will welcome him with open arms, and perhaps we will have a party in his honor, and I will even prepare the fattened calf.

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  Romans 8:14-17.

Peter L Richardson
9/28/09

Three generations...

“What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” -Robert E. Hayden

My earliest memories consist of staying up after dark and waiting for my dad to come home late from a hard day’s work delivering packages for UPS. As soon as my two brothers and I would hear the back door creak open, we would all run and pounce on him before he was fully in the door. Now that I have my own boys, I know what that feeling is like, and I know how it can put a bad work day into perspective. It helps me realize why I wake up and go back to the same place every morning. However, there were also times the creak of the door inspired fear. After a day of pushing my mother to the limits of her last nerve, I would hear the infamous phrase: “Wait until your father gets home!” I remember running in fear of his belt which was four inches wide, a half an inch thick, and at least two miles long; no matter how hard I tried to escape, it somehow always reached my butt.

When I was a child, I thought my family was poor because when all the other neighborhood kids got to choose from the treasures of the ice cream man, my brothers and I were ushered to the kitchen freezer for Flavor Ice. We never went to McDonald’s unless there was a special occasion; Mickie D’s was splurging and we rarely splurged. If we went to the movies, and that was a big “if”, it was at the cheap theaters where the floor was so sticky you had to tie your shoes tight so you didn’t loose them, and the film was usually out of focus and never quite lined up correctly on the screen. Often, the sound of the film being played in the next room came in louder and clearer than the movie we were watching. All my friends, however, thought that we were rich since my dad had a trailer and a boat at the beach. Because my dad forced us to make sacrifices in some areas, he was able to provide more in the areas that really counted. He had a reputation for being cheap, but in reality my dad just knew how to take a little bit and stretch it out a long way; likewise, this skill has been instilled in me to some degree. At times when I have found my financial boat sunk, it was principles I learned from my dad that taught me to tread water. I never had much of a collection of happy meal toys, and I don’t do well on movie trivia from the 80’s, but I have a deep connection to the ocean that my father helped to instill in me. Going to the beach and fishing with my family built foundations in my soul that helped keep me steady through many storms in my life. The ocean brings a peace and a healthy stillness to the soul that just can’t be bought from Mr. Slushy and McDonald’s or experienced in a cleaner movie theater.

Unfortunately, during my rebellious teen years, my dad also went through a midlife crisis. Chalk it up to bad timing, but the combination of my father lamenting the loss of his youth while I was struggling for my independence and trying to be a man kept us butting heads for years. Somehow my mother stood in the gap between us, as she simultaneously kept us apart and held us together through showing both of us an abundant love despite all the bullshit we put her through. Because of her strength, we managed to develop a very cold truce by the time I became an adult by legal standards. I managed to get a summer job at the beach, so my mother and I pretty much lived at our trailer while my dad came down on weekends and his vacation time. One weekend, my mom talked me into going fishing with her and my father. I was reluctant, but I missed being out in the ocean on the boat, so I gave in. At the moment before the boat was pulling out of the dock, my mom suddenly expressed, “Oh my, I forgot to get my clothes out of the washer,” and off she went. I was alone with my father. As was our habit, we didn’t speak to each other unless we had to, so when I went for the cooler and discovered there was only beer in it, I was pissed. When my brothers and I were young, it was our job to load up the cooler for the boat. My dad would tell us how much beer to put in, and we filled the rest up with our supermarket-brand sodas. This time my dad packed the cooler, and I assumed that he just selfishly packed himself drinks without thinking of me. When I began to complain, he silently reached into the cooler and pulled out a beer and handed it to me. “Oh.” That was the only word I allowed to come out my mouth, but in my heart everything suddenly got put right. I thought my mom had set us up to try force us to get along, but I realized that my dad must have been in on the plan. This was his way of making peace. After so much trouble and drama between us, this was my initiation into manhood. There I was, fishing and kicking back a few beers with my father. I let go of my pain and criticism. Later on, during that same summer, my dad’s brother came down to go fishing with him. When they came back, the only thing they had caught was a buzz. Sitting on the porch as the sun went down, they ended up getting a little lit up, and they began to tell stories about the good old days when they were in school. My younger brother Tom and I realized the correlation between their alcohol intake and the openness of detail in their stories, so we sat there ready at attention to make sure they never had to ask for a new beer. Tom and I just kept looking at each other and smiling. Dad used to be cool; we found out that he was really just like us.

It has been said that hard times reveal who we can really count on. The beers my dad and I had together so long ago didn’t magically take away all the issues we had between us, but after rushing into a poverty stricken marriage, having two kids way too soon, and then watching my life fall apart in a divorce, I have developed a growing respect, love and confidence in my dad. From help with busted water heaters and car engines that give up on life at precisely the worst moment to help with finances (but still holding me accountable to pay everything back), my dad has been there for me despite his frustrations at my refusal to pursue a sensible career like Chrysler. There is a poem I discovered during my first attempt at college right out of high school. I had yet to begin my own adventure into parenthood, so I didn’t really understand all the work and sacrifice it took. I spent a lot of time during my teen years just being angry at my dad for all of his weaknesses. This poem helped me to see my father with a new perspective:

“Those Winter Sundays”
by Robert E. Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

When I read that poem, I realized how much my dad really loved us all. How much he really loved me. Though my dad never really expresses himself in words, his actions prove true. There is a scripture that says, “Faith without works is dead” James 2:17. The word love could easily replace faith and it would be just as true and profound. Even though we don’t often see eye to eye, even though he doesn’t always understand my choices in life; when I am finally successful in all my art, I will be able to confidently say that I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my father.

Peter L Richardson
11/11/2000

and going back two generations…

“Ode to Pop”
(my grandpop, my dad’s dad, on his passing)

The clouds covered up the stars, the storms swelled,
Yet he navigated his great boat.
Through the mist and through the raging waters
He steered his old ship.
Leaving port, he travailed dangerously
Down river:
Past shallow bottoms, above jagged rocks,
He steered faithfully toward his ocean.

One hand firmly grasped the wheel,
One eye housed on the diming light,
Into the great fog he traveled,
The ship’s passing through the night.

Peter L Richardson
1/10/99

Grandpop, 1996. PLR

Rights.

September 30, 2009

Introduction:

Let me say right off the bat, I am a male. I have never experienced PMS, nor do I have any desire to. I will never really understand what women have gone through in their fight for equal rights, but I do understand, and respect, all individual human’s rights, triumphs, and beliefs –no matter who, or what, that person may be. Let me also say right off the bat that I am alive. The Lord has given me the breath of life, and that enables me to have any understanding and opinion at all. Living has given me the experience to be able to have the chance to triumph over my own boundaries in the world, and the freedom to develop my own beliefs. Quite frankly, what I respect and value more than anyone’s personal desires and, unfortunately, their personal tragedies, is the right to life. The gift of life.

I.     In a comfortable little apartment, in a comfortable little neighborhood, there lived a woman in her mid-thirties. Though she never had experienced true love, she was very content with her life. She had the convenience of her career and a group of shops right close to home, and she was very friendly with her neighbors; they took care of each other. She did not like to go out much at this stage in her life, but there was no real reason to. In the evenings she would read a book or watch television with a cup of tea; sometimes she would just lay about and dream. The woman truly loved life.

Down the street from the woman, a baby girl about three months in growth lived comfortably inside the womb of her mother. Though she never had experienced real life, and though she did not really understand it, she was very content with the protection she felt being surrounded by her mother. She had the convenience of sharing breath and nourishment with her mother, and she felt genuine love for her provider. The baby would spend her time kicking and playing, or sometimes she would just listen to the nervous chatter of her mother, memorizing the tone and rhythms of her voice. The baby truly loved life.

II.     One night, around midnight, the woman in her thirties was awakened from peaceful dreams by a man at the foot of her bed. As she sat up to scream, the man raised his left arm over his right shoulder and swiftly let it slice through the air to make contact with her temple. A sharp pain bled all the colors together –and she went black.

When she came to, the woman felt another’s flesh against her own. She tried to move but found her limbs were tied to the four bedposts. Upon opening her eyes, she quickly realized her situation and screamed. She screamed for her mother; she screamed for God, but with the thick strong tape across her mouth, all she could manage were low, quiet, muffled screeches. She was trapped. He was already inside her, and there was nothing she could do. Her mind turned from fear to rage; she tried to wiggle her way out, but she was pulled tight. She was helpless. When the man climaxed, she felt her soul connect with one that was cold and deathlike. Life became reduced to its most primitive stage: kill or be killed. Her mind became ultimate terror, and she again slipped into unconsciousness.

The next day, about the same time Sarah Johnson was filing a report of rape at the police station, the baby’s mother rushed to her appointment at the abortion clinic. She went straight to the receptionist.

          “I have an appointment at noon.”

          “Jaclyn Baker?”

          “Yes.”

          “Have a seat. The doctor will be with you shortly.”

The baby was awakened from a quiet slumber as her world moved a little off balance. Her mother tried to get as comfortable as possible with her legs up in the stirrups.

“This isn’t so bad,” she thought just before the anesthetic gained control of her mind. The doctor placed cone shaped rods in her cervix and stretched the muscle until the opening was large enough to work in. The doctor then put the tube of what is really just a powerful vacuum cleaner inside the mother and flipped the switch “on.”

For the first time, the baby experienced fear. Her whole world was being ripped apart. With the instinct to survive the baby fought back; she kicked, and she screamed. She screamed for her mother; she screamed for God, but the life was being sucked out of her. She was trapped. The vacuum already had a hold of her, and there was nothing she could do. She desperately tried to hold on, but she had no strength. She was helpless. When the vacuum finally ripped her from the wall of her mother’s womb, her mind became ultimate terror. Her soul was ripped apart from her mother’s. She traveled down the vacuum tube, quietly dead.

III.     Three years later Jaclyn Baker got a call in her office from Sarah Johnson. Sarah wanted to know if Jaclyn could pick up her son from daycare. She needed to work late that night, and she said she would appreciate the favor, because Jaclyn was the only one that Sarah trusted with her son.

They had met three months after Jaclyn’s abortion in the waiting room of a female psychiatrist who specialized in women’s issues. Sarah leaned over and told her how wonderful this doctor was; she said that her healing progress was coming along quite good. As she began to show, Sarah eventually told Jaclyn about the rape and when she found out she was pregnant. She said she wasn’t sure if she’d be keeping the baby or not –she had at least six months to decide on that –but she couldn’t imagine strangers raising a child that was hers, even if he wouldn’t have a father. The man was never caught. That first meeting, Jaclyn only said that she was there for personal problems. As they talked more about their careers and the weather and what not, they discovered how close to each other they lived. Eventually, they became best friends.

Sarah knocked on Jaclyn’s door a little after eight.

          “How was he?”

          “Just fine, as always. Just fine.”

They chatted a little more about his growing personality, and then Sarah Johnson whisked her son home to bed.

Jaclyn Baker cried herself to sleep that night, like she did many nights. She wondered who her baby might be. She wondered what her baby might have become. She missed her child very much.

 

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.
Psalm 139: 13-16 (NKJ)

 

 

Peter L Richardson
May, 1992