Gratitude: A New Perspective

November 20, 2011

(a personal narrative)



“There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”  -Ann Voskamp

I gave the wood a good strong knock to show the rot on my shed is only at the very bottom. Bent over, I couldn’t see the baseball sized hornets’ nest that had been built sometime in the spring. The angry mob dropped out of their cocoon like heat seeking missiles and swarmed about my head. I swiftly and calmly backed away allowing them to disperse around me, but one found his way between my glasses and the bridge of my nose. Stung: Right between the eyes!

“What a perfect end to a shitty day!” I half-joked to my dad.

He laughed, but immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit respond in my heart, “Was it, Pete? Was this day so bad? You should consider changing your perspective.”

It was Sunday, the Lord’s Day, a day of rest and fellowship. I spent the morning in worship at a church I was visiting, and I planned to spend the afternoon in food and fellowship with friends, but after a quick stop at home, I turned the key in my Jeep and she groaned deeply and died. I tried again. Same thing. I had a pretty good idea it was the starter, but I’m no mechanic, so I did what I always do in these matters and called my dad for help.

“Yeah, sounds like the starter to me,” he says, “but I can’t be sure unless I check it out, and I’m at least two hours away antique shopping with your mom. Try your brother.”

I give him my thanks and call my brother, who somehow managed to inherit all my dad’s skill and knowledge of home and car repair. “Sounds like the starter to me also, but I’m at work until 3pm. I can stop by after that.”

Nothing bothers me like waiting when I’ve got a task ahead of me. I want to reach into the engine and start tearing things apart, but I know it is wiser to wait for someone more knowledgeable than me to look at the Jeep. Still, I spend the next few hours looking up Jeep manuals on the internet and “how to fix ur starter” videos on Youtube. By the time my brother shows up, I am certain it really is the starter.

He brings his son who is excited about the prospect of playing his older cousin’s PS3 games. While his dad picks out a game he is okay with, I begin removing the starter. Of course, it is in an impossible place that only a contortionist with tiny hands and super-strength can get to, but eventually it’s off, and we are off to the auto parts store. I take the old starter with me because I’ll get a discount with it, and the manager insists on checking it on his bran spanking new “check all parts electrical” machine. It turns out the starter is good. Great. Something else must be wrong with the Jeep. Defeated, dirty and tired, we head back to my place brainstorming what else could be wrong, all of which would be beyond our ability to fix and would dig deep into my wallet, and probably beyond my ability to afford.

While the starter’s still off, we check the flywheel, which looks good, so I set about reinstalling the starter while he calls his wife to tell her he’s going to be much later than expected and to hold off on dinner for now. Just as I’m tightening the last bolt, she shows up with my niece and my parents. They have bags of food with them and they tell me to take a break for dinner. Before I do so, I decide to turn the key over so my dad can hear the dying groan the Jeep makes and get his take on the problem. However, instead of a pitiful moan, she roars like a lion as the engine fires up!! Surprised, I turn her off, and try again in unbelief, but she fires right up again!

“Let me try,” my dad says as he takes the key and pushes me out of the way. He turns the key over three times, and three times the Jeep starts with no problems. I have not had a problem since. I shower as my family prepares dinner, and we eat and fellowship in joy like it was a holiday. After dinner, I show my dad and brother areas in the house that need attention and work and get their opinion and advice on repairs when I get the hornet sting between the eyes.

God is teaching me this: Thanksgiving is all about perspective. It is a choice, an attitude, and a way of life. Unfortunately, I am only at the beginning of my journey on that way, but I am determined to walk it out and I am walking forward day by day. The day before my Jeep died, I went on a beach-trip with my good friend. The Jeep could have cut out when I was two hours away from home; it could have died at the church I was visiting; it could have died at my ex-wife’s house when I was dropping off my kids; it could have died at the gas station I stopped at just before going home, but it conveniently died in my own driveway. I spent my afternoon on my back and elbow high in grease, but I have more knowledge and skill than I did before. The repair could have cost me hundreds of dollars, but somehow it ended up only costing me time. I missed spending time with friends, but the time my family gave to me was more precious than any good time with buddies. Once again, they have confirmed they really do have my back.

The hornet sting put it all in focus. Without it, I might have missed the lesson; I don’t think I would have reflected on the day otherwise.  Life is full of circumstances we cannot control, but we have a faithful Father in heaven who is in control of the big picture. Our task is to learn to trust him in the small tragedies of life, so when the big ones hit hard we are prepared to run to him for comfort, wisdom and guidance. I can choose to look at that day and count up everything that I lost and continue to complain, or I can choose to focus on all that was preserved for me and all that was gained through the experience. It is all a matter of perspective. Is my Jeep fixed? Did God hear my prayers and make a little miracle happen in the insignificant details of my life? Was it just some connection that was loose or dirty and just need to be tightened or cleaned? Or is there a bigger problem lurking that will pop up some place down the road? I don’t know. I’m choosing to be hopeful; after all there is no check engine light, and she runs well at the moment, but if the Jeep breaks down again, one thing I know is that God is good. I can trust him to take care of me the next time anything unexpected happens.

Peter L Richardson


Children’s needs should come before our rights.

from the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom:
Jack Butler: My brain is like oatmeal. I yelled at Kenny today for coloring outside the lines! Megan and I are starting to watch the same TV shows, and I’m liking them! I’m losing it.
Caroline: Honey, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve been there myself, alright?
Jack Butler: Well, if you’re so unhappy, why don’t you say something about it?
Caroline: Because I wasn’t unhappy! Look, maybe I was a little confused, maybe I was a little frustrated, but I knew what I was doing was important, because it means something to raise human beings. What saw me through was pride.

Before the Feminist Movement was in full swing there were many unrealistic expectations for women, some that forced them to try to achieve impossible standards and some that denied their abilities, particularly in the areas of work, fashion, homemaking and marriage. In Nancy A. Walker’s book Women’s Magazines 1940-1960 she has reprinted many articles from and about women of the time. One from Ladies Home Journal in 1944 is entitled “You Can’t Have a Career and Be a Good Wife.”  The author laments that it is no wonder that couples get divorced when the wife goes off to work. Women were expected to stay home, and if they wanted a career, they were selfish. Of course, ideally, it is best for children to have a parent in the house; especially during their youngest years, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Women were always expected to look and smell their best no matter what the circumstances, perhaps the best expression of this is Elinor Goulding Smith’s mocking article “How to Look Halfway Decent,” in which she uses humor to counter the ridiculous expectation that a woman’s best asset is her looks. Our modern perspective of these articles makes many of them seem humorous (or maybe horrifying if you’re a woman); however, there is some real wisdom we can glean from a time when strong families were still the norm in America. Apart from some radical opinions, many articles on marriage had good advice for women. Most spoke about how to reach the ideal for trying to please your husband while acknowledging that women simply can’t always achieve that ideal, but they should at least hold it in mind and make the effort. The problem, like a California resident complained to Redbook in the 1945 column, “What’s on Your Mind?,” is that no one focuses on the woman’s needs and what the man can do to please her. Even in the article, “What Makes Wives Dissatisfied?,” women are given validation for their frustrations, but then the burden of change is still on them to fix their man; only submissively of course (in other words manipulatively). In my opinion, a husband and wife should look at their marriage as a partnership, each valuing the strengths of the other, while forgiving the weaknesses of the other, and mutually submitting to each other’s needs. When technology advanced with the mass production of new appliances, women began to have it easier, as Robert J. Knowlton testified in “Your Wife Has an Easy Racket!” This gave women the ability to move out in the world and experience new things, but it is ironic that the more toys we get to make life easier, the busier Americans become and the less time we have for our families. It still takes parents who are present to raise children. Two career families put more strain on the family, but they are possible if both spouses are willing to share the burden of the household and both are consistently putting their family’s needs before their own. My favorite article on homemaking was Dorothy Thompson’s, “Occupation–Housewife.” It is a real job, she argues, and a real testament to the women who do it well. There are many women who find complete satisfaction in simply raising a family, and they should not be mocked. Families who produce kids and then ignore them are not families.

Make no mistake. I am fully supportive of equal rights and opportunity for all women. As a man, I have, and will continue to if placed under their authority, submitted to women in higher positions with absolutely no reservations. So I feel women’s liberation has been good for America in many ways. But many feminists take their gripe too far. Some make staying home and raising kids sound like a jail sentence. I have kids, and I am divorced, so when my kids are over, I have had to be mom and dad at the same time. When my sons were younger and woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares, I had to comfort them; I had to cook and clean for them and clean up their puke; I had to teach them how to be men while at the same time learn how to be sensitive to their needs and understanding of their boo-boos. Taking care of the house and the family can be monotonous and boring work, but my boys are also the most wonderful aspect of my life. They still have years to grow, but I am proud of the men they are becoming. I can testify that being involved and raising them despite my divorce held me back in my career goals and dreams; I did not achieve my BA until I was in my thirties, and I simply still do not have the time to prove myself as a writer to anyone who might pay me. But these are just some of the many sacrifices I gladly make to put my sons’ needs before my own. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in life, but I know I have done all I am able to help them succeed. And that is a great satisfaction in my life. 1950s society was too restrictive for women, of that there is no doubt, and the effort to make the job of a housewife seem glamorous seems pretty ridiculous to me; no job is without weaknesses, and no job can bring complete satisfaction. However, some feminists make the job of raising children out to be a meaningless and pointless existence. What a blasphemy to the value of human life! The issue here is not the role of a woman, but the role of a parent. I am friends with a couple who have chosen for dad to stay home with the kids, and he is a man in all respects, and he has a great relationship with both his wife and his kids. And as I said earlier, if a man and woman can cooperate with each other and raise a family with two careers, more power to them. In our economy, many families are forced to do so, but if you’re going to neglect your kids’ emotional needs simply to climb up the ladder of status and smug self satisfaction (whether you are a man or a woman): don’t have them, and don’t mock parents who seek to raise well adjusted children into successful, well adjusted adults. It seems to me, there is nothing more important for the future of our society than that.

Peter L Richardson
original essay: 8/12/04

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

“He who loves his wife loves himself.” 

"Song of Solomon" by Susan Sanders

“How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.”   –‘The Lover,’ Song of Songs 7:8-9a.

“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” –The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:31-33.

It has been preached for ages that in a marriage the man is the head and that a woman should submit to her man, and there is ample Biblical scripture to support this; however, I believe that over the years men have often abused this authority given to them by God, and those who do are in danger of breaking the covenant made before God to love and cherish their wives “till death do you part.” I believe a closer reading of scripture reveals God’s call for a man to treat his wife as an equal; in fact, the authority that God gives men over women in marriage has little, or nothing, to do with their superiority, but rather is simply symbolic of Christ’s authority over the church. It is closer to the truth, in my opinion, that man’s authority over a woman does not equal superiority, but it reveals that man has a greater responsibility in the marriage to lay down his life for his wife as Christ does for the church. A man’s headship and authority is only as strong as his willingness to serve his wife in love and sacrifice. Therefore, there is a high call from God for men to protect their women.*

One of the hardest verses for women in the Bible is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Paul tells his protégé: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This implies that women bear the brunt of the curse because Eve was first deceived by Satan, but the scripture says that Adam “was with her” during that conversation (Genesis 3:6); why was he so willing to bite the fruit she offered him? We must trust that God’s judgment in scripture is just; however, men share just as much of the blame for mankind’s fall as women. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul discusses the complexity of the role of men and women in the church. He begins the passage with, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (verse 3). He then goes onto talk about how men and women should worship and minister in the church: men with their head’s “uncovered” and women with their head’s “covered.” This, I believe, is meant to be symbolic of the authority of Christ over his church body, because in verses 11-12, Paul states, “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Likewise, in Galatians 3:28, Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The authority that God has given men over women has nothing to do with merit. God is a God of order and he has designed marriage to symbolize the unity and intimacy he desires to have with those who choose to follow him, the church. Any man who attempts to use scripture to dominate his woman does not understand his call and role in the marriage and does not have the love of God in him.

This is the order that Paul lays out for us in Ephesians 6:22-30: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies…, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.”  However, in verse 21, in reference to the whole body of Christ, Paul exhorts us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Does this call for all believers to “submit to one another” become null and void when a (spiritual) brother and sister get married? I don’t think Paul is stating that. Most translators attach verse 21 to the section before verses 22-33, and separate it from the Paul’s instructions on marriage; however, I think the call for mutual submission is the introduction of the marriage passage. What Paul is making clear in his instructions is that in a marriage the man’s call to lay down his life for his wife is symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice for the church. In that sense the man represents the image of God as the person of Christ.

The notion of equality in marriage can be seen as far back as the Garden of Eden. When God created the Earth and everything in it, including Adam, he declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18. That helper was Eve. The Hebrew word for “helper” is “Ezer,” and the only other time it is used in the Bible is in reference to God himself being mankind’s “helper.”** In that sense, the woman represents the image of God in what I believe is the person of the Holy Spirit. In The Gospel of John, Chapters 14-16, Jesus later tells his disciples that he will send the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to guide them into truth and to comfort them when needed. Anyone who has been around a healthy marriage knows that the woman has the dual role of being the voice of reason when her man wants to go and do something impulsive and stupid, and at the same time she gives him comfort when the trouble of the world is overwhelming him.

Getting back to the Garden, Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This implies, or even states, that male and female together (working in harmony, of course) is the closest that mankind can get to representing “God’s image.” Apart from each other, males and females are only half the picture of God. We are incomplete; we are two pieces of a puzzle that fit together to form the full image of God.*** If we were the same, there would be no point in joining together. But if men on their own represent a piece of the Trinity in Jesus, and women are symbolic of the Holy Spirit, where does that leave the image of the Father? It is the very act of joining together in intimacy and procreating that gives a husband and wife the image of the Father. God’s first blessing and command to Adam and Eve is to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). God doesn’t just reveal himself to mankind as our Creator, but as our Father—as our parent. Though he reveals himself in the masculine, there are many passages in scripture in which God gives himself what are traditionally feminine qualities, especially, when he takes on the role as a parent. (i.e. “O Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34). This is the mystery that Paul speaks of when he states that a husband and wife in unity represent the role of Jesus and the Church. It is through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ that the Church is able to have the power to complete the great commission and to go into all the world and make, or produce, disciples of all nations. The more obedient the Church is to Christ, the more people will be drawn into the kingdom of God and be “born again of the Spirit” (John 3:1-21). This is why Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom (the Lover), and the Church the Bride (the Beloved). I can think of no better argument for equality in a marriage than this: that it is through the joining together of a man and a woman that the image of God is revealed in mankind. But though we are equal in value and necessity, we are not the same.

Scripture supports that men and women are wired differently in the way that Paul instructs a husband and wife to treat each other. He commands the woman to respect her husband, but he commands the man to love his wife. Paul’s not just talking about roses here; the Bible has a very hard definition of love (see 1 Corinthians 13 for a summary). It is good through and through, but it is work. A man truly loving his wife requires that he respect her also, but Paul emphasizes different actions from the man and the woman because both have different needs. However, each person’s needs in the relationship are just as valuable as the other’s. As stated in Ephesians 6:21, we are called to be mutually submissive to one another. It is when each spouse is looking out for the other’s needs and good before his/her own that they are truly expressing love and respect towards each other, and that is when their relationship will be most at harmony. It is when one or the other, or both, inevitably becomes selfish in their sin-nature that the unity and harmony breaks up, but Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6, Mark 10:9). When two mature believers in Christ join together in marriage before God and the church, it is for life. There are no escape clauses in God’s contract. A tearing apart of this contract is literally a tearing apart of souls. In this very teaching Jesus reminds us that the scripture says “the two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

True love requires intimacy, and true intimacy requires genuine communication. Both parties in the relationship need to be open and vulnerable, and both need to be willing to share and to listen. This is one of the reasons our society has such a high divorce rate now. Americans equate intimacy with sex and think that is enough to make a relationship work and make each spouse feel secure. In an appropriate and life long committed  relationship between a man and woman, intimacy will lead to sex, which ultimately ties the two souls together, but even in a marriage, sex without true intimacy is just an orgasm; the feeling doesn’t last. Too many spouses live their lives together, but they don’t really know each other. They never allow themselves to know and to be known; therefore, there really isn’t any relationship at all. This is how a successful marriage works: Both parties have full access to each other’s hearts—their hopes and fears. They truly know what makes the other one happy, and if each spouse desires to please the other more than themselves, then each will make the other happy and each will be happy. Unfortunately, sin has made each of us selfish, and it is not as easy as it sounds.

It works the same way with Christ, the Bridegroom, and his beloved Bride, the Church.  We spend time listening to Christ by reading the Word (the Bible) and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we communicate our heart to him through prayer, but it is through worship that we are able to be intimate with God. It is in the act of worship that our spirits are joined together in a deeper fashion with the Holy Spirit of God. God is with believers in his fullness literally all the time, but while we are in a sinful state, we lack full access to him because of our flesh, our doubt, or our just plain busyness. To use the husband and wife metaphor again, they both can be laying in bed together, but they must each choose to engage in intimacy if they want to become “one flesh.” Jesus, as the Bridegroom, will always be a gentleman as he pursues his Bride, so the bride must choose to allow him in. We can have this intimacy with our God anytime, but purposeful and focused worship gives us the opportunity to shut out the rest of the world and focus solely on the Lord as we give him honor, praise and adoration. When we approach our God in worship it leads to greater intimacy with him—our spirits touch the Holy Spirit more deeply, and we come away from the experience with greater healing and energy, and with more peace and spiritual strength. Just as a husband and wife need dates and intimacy to continue to grow together, we need special focused time with our Creator to grow in the fullness of maturity. This special time does not and should not be the same every time and for every one, but every Christian should spend quality time in God’s presence. Sometimes we need to cut loose and dance like a fool before him; sometimes sitting in silence and meditation will do. I think it just boils down to a true and personal expression of love.

Peter L Richardson

*Because of scriptures that talk about women being submissive to men, many modern readers of scripture look at the Christianity as sexist, but nothing can be farther from the truth. In the times the Bible was written, including the New Testament, most women were usually regarded as property. They were either owned by their fathers or their husbands. They had very little rights without the partnership of a man. Christianity was instrumental in teaching men to treat women with love, honor and respect, and while the Bible states that a women should not have authority over a man (I believe this is only in reference to spiritual authority in the church), there is evidence that both Jesus and Paul allowed women to take places of high importance in their ministries and in the church in general.

**see John and Stasi Eldrege’s book, Captivating.

***I want to emphasize that what I mean by incomplete is simply the picture or image of God in humanity. I do not want to imply that those who are called to be single are any less whole or valuable than those who are called to be married. Paul even tells us that those who are single have the freedom to focus on the Lord and on serving him in the kingdom, while a married couple must focus on their relationship and family needs. The puzzle analogy is a bit deceiving in that it takes a lot of work before and after the marriage vows before a couple can really fit together like puzzles pieces. It is a fallacy, I think, that a man or a woman can complete the other. Mature marriages start out with whole and healthy people who compliment each other, but are willing to make sacrifices in the areas where they don’t. Those who have already practiced “dying to self” for Jesus will find it easier to sacrifice their desires for their spouse when called upon to do so, but of course it all depends on help and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Peter L Richardson

“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*

*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.

-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

This Be The Verse
     -by Philip Larkin

They f*@k you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f*@ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin titles his poem with a declaration, with an epiphany that is almost a command: “This Be The Verse”! Straight away he seems to be declaring to us; “I’ve got it! This is it! This is the poem of poems: The meaning of life!” For what is the use of poetry, if it is not to discover life, the search of who we are and what it all means to be here, to be in existence. According to the Romantic Poets, poetry is the essence of life, it is what binds the universe together; poetry is the center. All things revolve around poetry and seen through her eyes there is a greater revelation in understanding our existence. It has been common knowledge since at least Shakespeare’s time that poetry is eternal, transcending all time, and Larkin’s use of classical English in the title takes us back to the Renaissance Period. It is as if Larkin is crying out to us to take this poem serious, that we are about to be let in on a secret that rivals even the revelations handed down by the classical poets of old! So what is this declaration of life?

“They f*@k you up, your mum and dad.” What? Is that it?! That I have issues because of my parents? Well that is nothing new, that’s not a deep revelation. Perhaps he hasn’t made his point yet. “They may not mean to but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra just for you.”

What is this first stanza saying? Our parents bring us into existence, and all they seem to be capable of doing is screwing us up. Even if they try to give us a good life, try to teach us to live good and be happy, they can’t. They can only pass down the faults they have and even add some extra ones to those. So not only do you inherit your parents’ bad qualities, the fact that they are screwed up will affect you in such a way that you have new bad qualities become a part of you. There is no escaping it. But here’s the good news, if you want to call it that; it’s not your fault! All those bad things you do, every mistake you’ve ever made, every complaint anyone has ever made about you, don’t fret, now you can just pass the blame back onto your parents. Think of the implications, if your problems exist because your parents f*@ked you up, then really you are not responsible for anything. If you are not responsible for your actions, then why bother; just do what you want, regardless of the consequences. It’s not your fault you’re the way you are, so why should you have any personal responsibility to change yourself?

Wait. What about this second stanza. Maybe there are more answers there: “But they were f*@ked up in their turn / By fools in old style hats and coats, / Who half the time were soppy-stern / And half at one another’s throats.” So… then, it’s not our parents’ fault. So whose is it? Oh, their parents! But wait, if our grandparents f*@ked up our parents who f*@ked us up, because they were f*@ked up in their turn, then it stands to reason, that our grandparents got f*@ked up by their parents and so on and so forth. So then, what Larkin is saying is that we are all a bunch of drunks who are always fighting amongst ourselves. And that each generation just hands down their depravity to the next with each new generation receiving a few more evils added on. There is no one good, no, not even one. What a downward spiral! I had no idea my life was so bad. There must be some way out of this!

According to Larkin, sadly, no. “Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf.” We are trapped. There is no way out. We are in prison, confined by our very existence. The world around us is a prison, we are held captive by our very thoughts, because of our inability to break free from them, they control us, not the other way around. Passed down from generation to generation our faults, our curses deepen like a coastal shelf, and no matter how beautiful we may think our reality is, it is only death grown onto death. We are slaves to it, death is in our veins, and our minds are trapped in depravity. What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?

Larkin’s advice? “Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.” Cease all existence. Oh, that’s nice, how pleasant. Since we are all slaves to these faults, to a depraved existence, then it’s true, we should all die. Just give up, because there is no way out. No hope of anything because we are all looking to f*@k every one because we are all f*@ked up ourselves. What Be The Verse? What is the meaning of life that this poem has to offer us? Nothing. This is the meaning of life, Larkin declares, that there is none, we just exist in pain and misery heading in no direction at all.

Larkin attempts to deconstruct the myth of the family in this poem. He rejects the idea that a father and a mother have anything positive to offer their children. He in essence destroys the nuclear family and ultimately deconstructs society and the status of humanity altogether.  But by doing so he creates his own myth of nihilism and apathy. The ideology of a family is supposed to be a safe place for human beings to grow up and mature in. Mum and Dad have some kids, love them, and try to teach them to how to get along in the world. In essence, how to be good subjects. Unfortunately, Mum and Dad themselves are not always good subjects, so we have someone like Larkin come along and try to dispel the myth of good parenting.

Yet in his attempt to break away from this ideological state apparatus*, as Althusser would call it, Larkin only creates his own. A new reality (a new myth), where good subjects know better then to bring a child into such an evil world. Since they will not likely, themselves, cease to exist at this point these good subjects allow themselves to become freed from the responsibility of growing and maturing into better people. Why? Because it’s not their fault they are f*@ked up, it’s their parents’ fault. Hence they immediately re-enter the ideological state apparatus they tried to break free from and become once again, bad subjects.

The idea that “it’s not my fault” is just as much a myth as that every family produces perfect subjects is. Perhaps we can’t break free from our world, the idea of reality that has been handed to us, but the truth remains that we have the freedom to make choices that shape the reality around us, for good or for worse. We have the responsibility to make choices that will not only benefit us, but those around us. We especially have the responsibility to make choices that will benefit our children.

Larkin’s title may also present us with a double meaning. It could also represent unrefined, vernacular speech indicating the speaker of the poem is ignorant and doesn’t know any better. For centuries poetry was held in high regard and even came to represent the meaning of life. Likewise, the nuclear family had been understood to be what binds society together, the center of our structure of reality. High poetic language could become mistaken for ignorant speech in the title. The high call of the family, Larkin may be saying in the body of the poem, is unattainable because of the ignorance of “your mum and dad.” But rather then take responsibility to be healed from the issues caused by his parents, Larkin makes the mistake of trying to remove himself from something that is too much a part of him. Instead of looking for solutions to change the problem he’s exposed, Larkin chooses to remain in misery, when he could have chosen to hand down joy to man. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…” Romans 8:5-6.

Peter L Richardson

*Ideological state apparatuses

Because Louis Althusser held that our desires, choices, intentions, preferences, judgements and so forth are the consequences of social practices, he believed it necessary to conceive of how society makes the individual in its own image. Within capitalist societies, the human individual is generally regarded as a subject endowed with the property of being a self-conscious ‘responsible’ agent. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity for perceiving himself in this way is not innately given. Rather, it is acquired within the structure of established social practices, which impose on individuals the role (forme) of a subject. Social practices both determine the characteristics of the individual and give him an idea of the range of properties he can have, and of the limits of each individual. Althusser argues that many of our roles and activities are given to us by social practice: for example, the production of steelworkers is a part of economic practice, while the production of lawyers is part of politico-legal practice. However, other characteristics of individuals, such as their beliefs about the good life or their metaphysical reflections on the nature of the self, do not easily fit into these categories. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organizations and, most importantly, the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate. There is, however, no single ISA that produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we derive this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councilor, and so forth.