July 28, 2015

Four reasons I enjoyed “To Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee

by Rod Smith

1. Unlike “To Kill a Mockingbird” it’s a very quick and easy read. If you are very familiar with the Mockingbird it is somewhat of a joy to meet the characters (a few at least) later in life. Yes, I know, it was written earlier. I was very disappointed that there is very little of Jem and Dill, and nothing of several outstanding characters who I will not name given some who will read this may still want to read the novel. Perhaps they’ve not yet been “invented” by the time Harper Lee finished ‘Watchman” and then started “Mockingbird.”

2. “Watchman” allowed me to identify in ways with both Lee and Atticus. I had not been able to do this before. Both are superhuman in Mockingbird. In “Watchman” she’s an imperfect writer and Atticus is a flawed man. I found this comforting.

3. I LOVED the portrayal of the struggles the adult Scout has in visiting home from New York. Her Aunt, Uncle Jack, and Atticus – especially her aunt – have ways of tugging on her that she thought were long gone with her childhood. Their hold on her stupefies the adult Scout. The author clearly knows how difficult it is to go home. I was chuckling out loud at Harper Lee’s fine and humorous understanding and portrayal of the intricacies and difficulties of family process.

4. Jeanne Louise Finch has to do what we all have to do to become fully adult – perhaps separate for a while; make up our own minds about important matters; even reject our beginnings (although I believe this is far from essential). By the end of the novel she achieves it. Her journey is not pretty; her process is painful. Yet, it seems that despite her challenging manner and despite the conflicts that rage within her, her family accepts the necessary transitions and stands by her as she does what she has to do to become fully adult.

July 28, 2015

Mothering Ends

by Rod Smith

“My son (23) seldom talks to me anymore. We used to be very close in his young years. He’s cut me out and it is very painful for me. He talks a little to my husband but it doesn’t seem to bother my husband too much. How do I get him to trust me again?”

Mothering ends.

Yes, you will be his mother forever but the acts of mothering him have ended – he’s apparently made that decision.

When the mother (or the father) needs to provide mothering (or fathering) more than the adult son or daughter wants or needs, there is a problem (for the parent).

Your adult son and everything about his future is in his hands.

It will be a good thing for him (and you) if he included you in his circle but he has clearly decided he needs more space than you were ready for.

This is one of the essential reasons I have encouraged parents to have a full life OUTSIDE of their babies and children from DAY ONE.

This said, I believe your son will return and include you in his life – once he’s shown himself that he is capable of designing his life on his own.

July 27, 2015

Driving While Black

by Rod Smith

Coaching my son about being stopped by a police officer and DWB…

It has been my observation that people drive as they live.

Fundamental 1: As the driver YOU are in charge of the vehicle. This is very important. When I am your passenger I am a passenger. Even though I am your dad and even though I’ve been driving for over 40 years YOU are in charge of the car. The car and all that happens in it is your responsibility when you are the driver. Let your friends who may be riding with you know this if it is necessary. Usually it is not.

Fundamental 2: If you are calm and you take care of yourself and you have a good attitude about life in general and outside of driving, your driving will not appear erratic or rushed or aggressive and you won’t attract undue attention. If you are ducking and diving in life you will be rushing, weaving in and out of traffic, showing off behind the wheel. People drive as they live. If you are erratic in life you will be erratic as a driver and you will attract the kind of attention that will get you stopped. Drive to get places. That is all. Do not drive to express anger, get even, or to show off. This kind of driving is dangerous and it is this kind of driving that attracts attention. It’s the kind of driving that will get you pulled over.

Fundamental 3: As an African American young man your chances of being pulled over for little or no reasons by the police are higher than they are if you were Caucasian and if you were Caucasian and older. This is a sad reality in the Midwest and this is the reason we have had so many discussions about it. Keep this is mind – it will be worse in some areas of the city and the state and you already have had some experience of this sad reality at your young age. Remember when you went driving with Marshall and when we went shopping for skateboard wheels.

Let’s move on….

If you see flashing lights or hear sirens or see any emergency vehicle (police, fire truck, or ambulance) traveling in any direction do everything within your power to pull over to the right as safely and as efficiently as possible. Join the traffic once the vehicles have passed and are closer to their emergency.

If indeed the siren and the lights were coming after you, just as soon as you are aware that it is you who is being stopped, do everything possible to stop as quickly and as safely as possible. No exceptions. From the very second you are aware it is you who is being stopped you are to do nothing but implement a safe stop as efficiently and as safely as possible.

Stop the car. Relax. Take a deep breath. Relax. Relax. Do not open the car door or make any sudden movements.

Open the driver-side car window, put any music off, and then place your hands at “10 and 2” on the steering wheel. If you have passengers they are to be still and quiet. Remember, you are in charge of the vehicle.

Greet the officer with a polite and calm voice and making eye contact if it is possible. It is usually not.

Try to establish the mood or the attitude of the officer and do not match it if it is in any manner brusque or aggressive. Things will escalate very quickly if you are terse in return with a terse officer. Here is a good opportunity to exercise the “opposite spirit” – ONLY if the officer is being unkind or yelling or brusque in any manner. It is your job to be quiet and polite and kind NO MATTER WHAT. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and so DO NOT be combative in any manner even if the officer is. You know several local officers very well and they know you well. In every case they are very decent and wonderful men. The officer who may pull you over is just as likely to be a very good person.

Once you have been pulled over it is likely the officer will ask you for three things: your drivers license, your proof of insurance, and proof of the car’s registration – and you routinely know exactly where all three are in your car and you request permission to retrieve them. Tell the officer where they are in the vehicle and that you’d be happy to get them from the glove compartment.

Once you have handed over your papers it is likely that the officer will go back to his or her vehicle and “run” your information through the on-board computer – and return with your documents. He or she will probably tell you at this point why you have been pulled over and will either give you a ticket or let you go. Be very polite either way.

It is very important that you remain respectful and kind and obedient and that you follow all instructions without question.

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July 26, 2015

Driving lessons

by Rod Smith

Driving lessons for my boys – tomorrow I will handle being pulled over by the police or DWB:

It is helpful to think of every other driver as drunk, unpredictable, and crazy. This approach kept my father accident-free for more than 50 years (although it is unsure how many he caused). This attitude will keep you alert and will go a long way to securing your safety and the safety of others.

Never ride in a car with anyone who is under the influence of alcohol or any legal or illegal substance or substances even if this person is not the operator – and I don’t care if it is your favorite aunt.

It’s not your job to transport drunk or drugged people.

Don’t drive any vehicle, not even a golf cart or ride a skateboard or bounce on a pogo stick, for goodness sake, if you have consumed anything that distorts, or potentially distorts, your judgment.

If you have been drinking or even if you feel you have been out too late, call me, use a taxi or Uber. I will NEVER refuse your call for help.

Don’t compromise your safety – even if it a very short ride in a very safe car in a very safe suburb.

Cars are dangerous missile in the hands of sane, experienced drivers, and the danger quotient radically spikes in the shaky hands of anyone under the influence of anything – even anger.

Treat cars and the privilege of driving (it’s not a right) with great respect.

If, from the minute you may legally drive and for at least the first five years, you never enter a car without humbly bowing for three to five minutes at the hood (bonnet), and then for three to five minutes at the trunk (boot) in quiet, humble reverence, with your hands folded in a typical stance of a person at prayer, you might develop the necessary awe cars and driving deserve.

Cars are like pulpits. They should be entered into in a spirit of humility and avoided by the proud, the angry, and blowhards.

Driving is for getting from A to B. That is it. It’s not for the music, or texting, or eating, or watching movies.

The journey is not the party.

Don’t make car ride into a party – there’s no quicker access to an ambulance.

July 23, 2015

Please Don’t Shoot

by Rod Smith

If you see my (black) son

any time of the day

or in the early evening

riding his (red) bike

please don’t shoot him.

He’s as free as the wind

and loves his (diverse) neighborhood

and knows it block-by-block

and so if you glimpse him whizzing by

on his bike

or weaving side-to-side

on his roller-blades

– which are the only things he really wanted

for his thirteenth birthday –

please, don’t shoot.

He’s really good at both

– bikes and roller-blades –

and I assure you he’s not trying

to get away and nor is he coming at you

and he’s definitely not dangerous.

Even though he’s

moving very quickly

and even though he’s black

he’s just making his way home

and enjoying the last few weeks of

his summer break from school.

Please don’t shoot.

July 23, 2015

Emotional Health

by Rod Smith
  1. The healthy person has the capacity to plan and execute a plan for the day, week, month, and even for the next many years. He or she can live and enjoy the present without neglecting the future or being stuck in the past.
  2. The healthy person has the capacity to play an integral part within a family, faith community, and a neighborhood simultaneously, without losing his or her individuality to any.
  3. The healthy person has the capacity to engage in meaningful conversations with peers – without turning the conversation to be about his or her own concerns.
  4. The healthy person has the capacity to learn new things from any source and therefore possesses the humility to know that the most unlikely of sources may well become the teachers.
  5. The healthy person has the capacity to “unlearn” habits and behaviors that have proved unhelpful or hurtful to self and others – or at least to keep them under necessary control.
  6. The healthy person does not get lost in love or parenting or religion.
  7. The healthy person knows the difference between “I” and “we” and is careful about how each is used.
  8. The healthy person goes “off line” from technology for days to be fully present for family and friends.
July 22, 2015

Workplace difficulties

by Rod Smith

When difficulties arise in professional relationships there are prescreening questions I encourage people to take a few days to answer – preferably in writing – before they enter into what may be necessary conflict or confrontation. The exercise usually results in creative solutions rather than in reactive or polarizing positions:

Who immediately (person, team, or committee) is empowered to address the difficulties? Avoid going above anyone or short-circuiting avenues already in place. Going “to the top” is tiring for “the top” and leads to mistrust.

What is my role in the creation of the difficulties? Difficulties do not arise in a vacuum. What have I chosen to ignore that has contributed to the difficulties?

• Am I making something personal that is not personal at all either about another or myself? Am I able to distinguish between what is about me and what is not?

• What can I do to present possible solutions rather than point out problems? Blaming others is seldom helpful or accurate.

• Am I regarding myself as one who is empowered and trusted or as one who is a victim? The former are usually inspiring to work with while the latter drain the joy out of the most inspiring of jobs and workplaces.

July 21, 2015

A lesson in enemies – note to self

by Rod Smith

My enemies are right – sometimes. Perhaps not about everything, but the parts that they are right about are often the only parts they see, and of course, become their focus. While they are trapped in this thinking (or the lack of it) they inhibit their own growth. Dialogue at this point is fruitless. You have to wait it out while all parties have time to grow (or not).

Everyone worth his or her salt (even a smidgeon) will have enemies. The wiser person will regard them as an opportunity for growth, love, an opportunity to better understand the inescapable human condition. Regarding your enemies as a gift, as teachers, a means to greater self-discovery, will give you a beautiful gift they probably did not intend to give.

Resist the urge to defend yourself. Try rather to learn what it is about you that warranted opposition and criticism. This does not necessarily mean you have to backtrack or back off or back down (although it might require all three) but it will teach you about negotiating the future with a message modified or intensified.

All holiness is immediate and local. The manner in which you treat your enemies is the measure of your character and integrity.

July 20, 2015

He watches like a hawk…..

by Rod Smith

“My husband insists on access to my phone, Facebook, emails, and watches my spending like a hawk. I understand some of this. His last wife was apparently unfaithful. His suspicious ways are driving me crazy and driving us apart even though I have NOTHING TO HIDE. How do I get him to trust me more and to give me a little freedom?”

You cannot get him to trust you more. That’s his load, his burden. He has to face his problem and his challenge.

His “suspicious ways” are his issue. The harder you try to appease him the more he will make you work to prove you are trustworthy.

People do not desire privacy because they have something to hide. People desire privacy because it is a deep, profound human need.

Love and control – these are desperate attempts to control you – cannot live side-by-side in the same relationship.

Submitting to his immature acts of control will be helpful to neither of you.

If possible, meet with his previous wife. I am sure you will discover that his controlling ways played a part in the demise of his past marriage.

Stay out of control – change your passwords, and refuse.

Love loves freedom and you will never know it while you attempt to appease a controlling man.

July 19, 2015

One year later our marriage is stressful

by Rod Smith

“My husband and I married young (19, 22) – exactly the age our parents married. They have been happy for many years. We’ve been married for just over a year and things are stressing us in ways we did not expect. He constantly talks about money and work when he was very carefree while we were dating. I constantly worry about security and safety and I can never relax. We used to do everything together and now it feels like he is longing a little for his single. Now we have to focus on having fun now. This worries me. No one warned us before we married about this and I am at a very low point right now.” (Edited)

Stay at it. Your evolution as a couple sounds very normal, even beautiful. Request that you and your husband have several meaningful and vulnerable conversations with your parents. You might find they endured similar struggles and addressing them cemented and undergirded their marriage for years they have enjoyed. No one warned you! Engaged couples seem quite unable to hear much of what they don’t want hear. Perhaps someone tried. Your marriage has terrific promise – work on your maturity, not on the marriage, and definitely not on him.

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