Ugly Christmas Sweaters and Predictable Dads

There’s an old Chet Atkins song called “I Still Can’t Say Goodbye”, a song about missing our dads when they’re gone. And there’s a part of the song where he talks about climbing up in the closet as a young boy to retrieve his dad’s hat…..because he wanted to wear his hat and be just like his dad.

I lost my dad back in May. Among the many other things he was to me, he was one of two people in this world (the other being my wife) that I’d go to in those moments of “Hey, I really don’t know what to do in this situation”. And he was the rock that I, along with all of our work family, leaned on in our family’s business.

As our first Christmas without him has approached, I’ve been reminded somewhat of how he was a creature of habit. But I’ve also had my eyes opened to the ways that many of those habits were driven by deeply held values. He had to be one of the most predictable men on the face of the earth. You always knew where he was going to be at certain times. And you always knew exactly how he was going to respond in certain situations.

And on the last day our store was open before closing up for Christmas Eve and Christmas, we could always count on him wearing two things: 1) An old Christmas sweater (that may have come from Baker’s Department Store in the 80’s) and 2) A Christmas hat of some sort that had the distinct look of “One of my grandkids got me this hat at their school’s Santa’s Secret Shop”. And as that last work day wore down we could count on him doing a couple more things: 1) Asking me, “Well son, did we get everything done that we needed to get done?” and 2) Hand delivering an envelope to each employee before they departed for the day.

In the envelopes were Christmas bonuses. Not a life-changing amount. But always enough to make a difference in the families of our employees. My dad was a generous man. And he was a humble man. It meant the world to him to be able to provide employment to others, to provide an opportunity for others to put food on their tables year after year. So much so that, as far back as I’m aware, he basically didn’t pay himself from the earnings of our business. He simply worked faithfully six days a week, year after year, to build something stronger for the future and to provide wages for his work family. A servant’s heart.

I do still long to be like my dad. I don’t try to fill his shoes. They were too unique. But I am wearing his Christmas hat today (no sweater-I don’t own one). And I’ll be passing out Christmas bonuses soon, just like Dad.

And I’ll be thinking of all those things he valued deeply that made him so adorably predictable: love of God and family, honesty, generosity, kindness, and consistent hard work.

And I’ll have a greater appreciation in those moments with my own four kids, when one of them responds to something I’ve said or done with a big grin and, “Dad, I knew that’s what you say”. And I’ll know that, if I value the right things, my kids (like me) are being richly blessed by having a predictable dad. And I’ll be blessed in knowing that I really am like my dad in some way.

Merry Christmas

Fatherhood, Life, And A Piece Of Toast

“Dad, do you want me to butter your toast?”

It was no great act of service on my part. My dad was lying in a hospital bed recovering from pneumonia. I knew it wasn’t easy for him, with some vision problems, to locate all the utensils and condiments scattered around his breakfast tray.

“Yeah, that’d be good, son.”

As I stood over him buttering the toast, I had one of those moments. Maybe it was deep gratitude for his loving and steady presence throughout my life. And maybe it was partly a realization of how fast life passes us by.

It would have been almost 35 years ago, but it really does seem like only yesterday. When my brother and me were home from college in the summers, we lived with Dad. And we got up and went to work with him five days a week. Of course there were no smartphones then, but I didn’t have an alarm clock either.

My dad was my alarm clock. I slept in our basement. Each morning, the light switch at the top of the stairs would flick lights on and off a couple of times and I’d hear a ring on his finger banging hard against the wall. This didn’t just mean it was time to get up. It meant breakfast was ready.

What was for breakfast? Usually cereal. Basic stuff, no marshmallows. Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, or Rice Krispies. And always……toast. Not from the toaster. Dad toast. Slices of bread spread out over a cookie sheet with chunks of stick margarine scattered randomly on top and broiled on the top oven rack for a couple of minutes.

Looking back at those days, I don’t think it was ever stated what the penalty would have been for giving in to my teen instinct to just roll over and go back to sleep instead of coming up the stairs for breakfast. I just knew it was time to get up because he said so.

Dad has never excelled in the area of giving clear instructions. But he lives his life in a way that makes it clear what is expected of his family and employees: Show up, treat others well, try your best, finish your work, and tell the truth.

What he has communicated well has been his love for his family. From those early days of reaching up to hug his neck and feel his rough stubble against the soft skin of the face of my childhood to those college days where I could now look him in the eye, I’m grateful for just how many days ended with, “I love you son”………”I love you dad”.

My oldest son finished college last week and will start working alongside me in the coming days. I may remind him of these details, but I hope I’ve lived my life in a way that, like my own dad, shows them to be true: Trust God, show up, treat others well, try your best, finish your work, and tell the truth………and things will work out fine.

I can’t remember the last time I fixed my son breakfast. And I don’t think I’ve evere had to drag him out of bed for work. But I do remember the last time we ended our day with “I love you son”………”I love you dad”. And I know that’s a big deal.

Things are different now with my dad and me when we part ways. His health is not good. Instead of two men leaning in for a hug, I’m now leaning down to kiss the top of my dad’s head as he sits in his recliner. “I love you dad”……..”I love you son”.

And I walk away overwhelmed. Gratitude. I’m thankful that my dad is my dad. Renewed purpose. I want my wife and children to always have that same adoration for me that his wife and children have for him. Not because it’s adoration I seek. But because it’s the fruit of a man leading his family in a way that’s pleasing to God. The impact of a godly father carries on for generations.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6:19-21

What’s Screwing Up The Kids

Here’s a question, especially for you dads out there (but moms need to answer too):

Do your kids see you as their biggest fan or their biggest critic?

Be honest. Think before you answer.

My wife, like me, grew up in the 70’s when dads had much different roles in their kids’ lives than dads of today. She’s one of the strongest and fearless people I know. Much of that comes from her faith and trust in God. But I know that a big part of that also comes from a truth she often speaks about her late father:

I always knew that he was my biggest fan. He believed that I could do anything.”

How would I answer that question? Probably with a bit of shame. Looking back, I know there were times, even though my intentions may have been good, that I constantly harped on what and how my kids could have done something better without balancing it with encouragement for the things they did well. Especially when it comes to sports, it’s so easy to unintentionally nudge our kids into a position of playing or performing to please adults instead of simply playing for fun and developing their own love of the game or passion for their sport.

Sure, we tell our kids to just have fun and do their best. That’s the message we think we’re sending. But it’s not the message the kids are receiving when we sit through their games (or even practices), coach them from the stands, and start on them as soon as they get in the car about what they did wrong or what they need to “work on” next. It doesn’t take much of this for kids to reach the point where they struggle to play because of the distraction of playing to please their parents. And for bystanders, it’s not hard to spot which kids are miserable because of it.

People pleasing is poisonous. And it’s especially poisonous to young people’s athletic experience. It can’t be beneficial to their mental health.

I started coaching middle school basketball 10+ years ago. Kids were different then. They didn’t have smart phones within their reach 24/7 from the age of 8. They didn’t have constant access to what everybody else is thinking or doing, false impressions of how great everyone else’s life is, or most dangerous of all……….constant access to other people’s feelings or impressions about them. But those kids, born around 1996 or 1997 did come of age with smartphones. And so many of them have been poisoned by people pleasing culture. New pressures to reach perfection in performance or appearance can’t be ignored.

Going back to my original question, I’ll add two more:

How many kids are growing up today with the impression that the whole world is their critic?

What effect does that have on their mental health?

I’ve never felt that I was a good basketball coach. But in recent years my mission in coaching has centered around one theme that I think has multiplied in importance in recent years; helping kids to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. No, it’s not okay not give maximum effort. No, it’s not okay to not listen and follow instructions or be a bad teammate. But kids simply can’t function in healthy ways if they living in fear of not meeting the expectations of parents, coaches, and peers. They can work their tails off and try to focus in ways that prevent mistakes. But they cannot be shooting for an unrealistic level of perfection that they’re never going to reach.

The kids who grew up in the times where we began mocking participation trophies are adults now. Are they softer than the generation before them? Yes, just as parents from my generation aren’t as tough as those from my parents’ generation. Life in general has gotten easier, so that’s to be expected. Are young adults today less equipped to overcome obstacles and cope with the stresses in life? Probably so. Why? Maybe because we parents gave them less responsibility, shielded them from difficult situations, intervened in every little problem at school, refereed their spats with friends, and at the same time sent them into athletic competitions with expectations of perfection, college scholarships, and complete warrior mentality. And we did all this while overlooking our own experiences that made us a little better prepared for adversity……fighting our own battles, fixing our own problems, and having the absolute luxury of having our parents simply dropping us off at the baseball field and leaving us to chart our own athletic path without being micromanaged. And oh yeah, there was no social media. We didn’t know what other people thought. And we didn’t care.

Gymnast Simone Biles was in that group of kids born in 1996. When she pulled out of the team Olympic competition for mental health reasons, it stirred a lot of comments. Some good and some bad. I hate to see Biles painted a villain. I don’t think she is. And I hate to see her painted as a hero for the way she pulled out of competition. I don’t think it’s heroic. But I do hope it brings to light some honest conversations about a question that always haunts me:

What all is going on in our current culture that is really screwing up our kids into adulthood?

Maybe this episode with Biles could be seen as a sign of the times. An eye opener to some of the things that really are screwing up our kids and affecting their mental health. Social media overload. Seeing the whole world as a critic. People pleasing. Unhealthy forms of pressure on kids. Stealing their freedom to fail, solve their own problems, and learn from mistakes and losses.

Yes, mental health struggles are real for kids and young adults. But I sure hope we are willing to do more to prevent them than we are to simply swing the door wide open for everyone to start walking away from difficult things and attribute it to mental health.

If we don’t change the things we’re getting wrong, just think about what the 14 year-old of today will be like in 10 years. It won’t be pretty.

It’s time to stop screwing up our kids. Yours. Mine. Everybody’s.

My Kids Are Privileged And It’s Not What You Think

I recently came across a treasure in a file drawer at work. A Christmas gift from around 1999 or 2000 made by my oldest daughter (she would have been around 3 or 4 at the time)…….for God.

Hindsight is an extremely valuable tool when it comes to parenting. We can always peek backwards to take notice of words, actions, or moments that we’d like to have a “do over” on……and make it a point to not repeat those missteps.

And we can look back and take notice of the things that we got right along the way……..and try to repeat those things as we move forward.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 15 years trying to help kids become better basketball shooters (without much success). When a kid uses good form and has a good release but the shot fails to go through the hoop, I find it’s important to speak encouragement, “That looked good. You’re on the right track. Keep shooting.”

But when a kid releases a shot that flies off their fingertips, finds the perfect arch, and touches nothing but net, I no longer have to encourage. The sound of the ball touching only the net tells the most important part of the story. I need only say, “Repeat”. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.

My daughter’s Christmas gift to God served as a simple reminder of some things that her mother and I have gotten right along the way as parents. Things that are worthy of repeating. And it reminded me that our kids are quite privileged…….but not in ways that you might think. Privileged in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with income or ethnicity or any kind of nonsense that gets floated around posing as serious thought. Our kids are privileged in values, some that are certainly worth repeating:

1) They were taken to church from birth to learn about God. And it wasn’t just that church attendance has been a priority. They grew up in a home where we tried to, and though we failed in different ways daily, honor God in all parts of our lives. How we speak to and treat one another and others. Patience, gentleness, grace, kindness, serving others. Yeah, like I said, we failed a lot in these areas. But we understood that the behavior you model carries more weight than the things you talk about believing in.

2) They have two parents that they witnessed getting up and going to work daily without fail. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your abilities to honor God (Colossians 3:23).

3) They have a mom and dad that stayed married and have been a consistent presence in their lives. Men and women have unique God-given traits that give them valuable strengths in different areas of parenting. It’s God’s design that man and woman raise children together. Doesn’t mean that people in alternative situations can’t do a fantastic job of raising kids. But God’s plan will always be superior. When mankind’s free will and sin alters God’s plans and makes a mess of things, it does not diminish the perfection of His plans.

4) We are a sports family. Doesn’t mean that everyone has to play or love sports. But it does mean that everyone has to respect rules and authority. Everyone has to be a team player, do their part and never fear doing more than their share. The world can get along fine without superstars but it’s always in need of more “great teammates”.

If you’ve benefited from growing up in a home where self-defeating values are avoided like the plague, what should you do? Apologize for it? Carry guilt for it? No, not hardly.

Maybe the best thing to do is repeat it with your kids. Take the things that your parents did well……..and repeat. Learn from the things your parents got wrong, and don’t repeat those same errors.

It’s heartbreaking to try to grasp the number of kids who are growing up in homes where the culture is lacking in love and gumption, and loaded with hopelessness. There are no easy answers, quick fixes, or government programs that can turn the tide for those kids.

But maybe a good step in the right direction would be instilling the value of every person thinking “I must be a better parent than my own were” (even if you were blessed with great parents).

Honest conversations about what is good and productive vs what is self-defeating……that would be a good start. Those conversations right now are hindered by a lot of nonsense about money, race, victimhood, and phrases like “victim blaming”.

Find out what works. Repeat it. Otherwise, we’re in danger of dividing up the population into two groups: 1) Those who plead for a permanent crutch or victim card, and 2) Those who self- congratulate for passing them out.

Go make your own privilege. It doesn’t cost a dime. And the further from God you walk, the harder it is to find it.

Anxious To Be Ruled

It just doesn’t add up. For four years we’ve heard the cries during Trump’s presidency. Authoritarian. Fascist. Totalitarian rule. Trump has to be guilty of all of the above. Orange man bad.

But if this were true, I would expect that this type of governance would result in a noticeable increase in the powers of government. That just hasn’t happened. The Trump administration may have failed miserably when it came to spending less money, but they did an admirable job of reducing the scope and regulations of the Federal Government.

Overreach of power within the branches of government? Yes, somewhat. Trump functioned much like his predecessor, with an “up yours” attitude toward the opposing party (toward both those in government and those in public). Obama just did it with more finesse.

So where are we now? With Joe Biden seemingly ready to take over the presidency, the strangest things are happening. Many of those who cried out against excessive presidential power are suddenly licking their chops at the prospect or surrendering ridiculous amounts of power over to the government.

Hey, let’s let the government completely take over health care (Medicaire For All).

Hey let’s let the government take over higher education (student loan forgiveness and free college…..for some, of course).

Hey, even though we called Trump an illegitimate president for four years, yelled of Russian interference, and thought the 2016 election was rigged, we don’t want anyone to question the 2020 results. Let’s collude with media and big tech to silence dissent. Free speech is overrated.

Hey, even though free market capitalism has proven to be the greatest path toward lifting massive amounts of people out of poverty, let’s pretend like government planning is a better path toward a strong economy. How about a $15/hour minimum wage during a pandemic when businesses are failing all around.

Hey, even though I’m the mayor in a huge mass of people yelling through a bullhorn to celebrate the victory over the bad orange man, you people need to not have visitors over for the holidays from other households.

Why? I guess people tend to get huffy about being governed by someone they don’t like. I get it. Trump is hard to like. But it doesn’t explain why someone would suddenly be willing to be RULED by someone they do like. Yeah, that’s right…….RULED.

Why? The allure of free stuff. If I’m struggling to afford medical care, I can’t turn down free. If I’m making $10/hour, $15 is going to sound great. If I owe $100,000 in student loans, debt forgiveness sounds pretty appealing. It’s hard to turn those prospects down. They all sound really good. But what sounds good often isn’t what is best. And following the path of what sounds good often ignores future consequences.

Beyond the questions of how much will these things cost and who will pay, there are other more pressing questions to consider:

-Is this really the role of government? If so, then we’ve reached the peak of voting money out of other people’s pockets into our own.

-How much liberty are we willing to sacrifice to get what we want? Once it’s handed over to government, it may be difficult to get back. Government programs tend to last forever, no matter how destructive they are.

Regardless of what we may have been led to believe, rich people do not get rich at the expense of poor people.

But the government does gain power at the expense of the people. Some people are willing to give up increments of liberty in order to have the government provide for them things that they need. Others are not.

Most institutions in the USA today are left-leaning or left-dominated (media, big tech, woke big business, public education, higher education, Hollywood, and celebrities in general). That’s a powerful wealth of influence. What’s the direction and results of that influence? Bigger government, more favorable views on socialism, hostility toward religion, and the undervaluing of liberty, personal responsibility, and the importance of traditional family units.

What institutions stand firm in opposition to this shift?

-The Church

-The nuclear family (a mom and a dad raising children together)

-Private enterprise

Big government and far left political positions tend to attack all three of these institutions consistently. Why? Because they are filled with people who refuse to surrender power to “The State”. Filled with people who value liberty, personal responsibility, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Opportunity over arranged results.

So pay close attention, my friends. Any push towards socialism or Marxism or even BLM teachings is a push toward giving up to “The State” things that should not be given to the state.

Finding Something To Smile About

From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere. –Dr Seuss

I don’t guess I get accused much of being a fun guy. Or a high energy person. Truth be known, I stay lost in deep thought so much that kids might accuse me of being like the cartoon character Droopy (if they had any idea who Droopy even is).

Though I may conceal emotion and excitement a little too well, I differ from Droopy in one major way: I love to find things to laugh and smile at. And I love spending time with people who make me do both of those things.

If I got to choose what to do with my time, my first choice would be standing on a beach, surrounded by my family, with a fishing rod in my hand. My second choice would be to be sitting in my recliner, alone reading books and listening to bad hair metal from the 80’s.

That second choice is the one that would get me in trouble. Doing what we “want” to do is often miles apart from what we “need” to do. My high school freshman son mostly likes staying home and learning virtually during the pandemic. It’s what he wants but it’s definitely not what he needs. Not what is best.

We might choose paths of convenience when tempted by them, but the truth is we need to be challenged. And more importantly, we need to find ways to place ourselves in the presence of other people to laugh, smile, learn, and share life together. But we are living in a time where it has never been easier to avoid other people. Avoiding people is a path worth avoiding.

Back in July, the principal at the middle school where I coach girls basketball approached me with the simple question of whether I was going to coach this season. At the time, because of COVID, it seemed doubtful that we would get to have our season. I was working from 70-80 hours each week and didn’t see things letting up. My answer to him was, “Sure, as long as we aren’t starting in the next couple of weeks”. We started in three weeks.

I mentioned earlier that I’m not a high energy guy. I had my doubts about pulling it off. Once practices began, most days consisted of working 8 hours, coaching 4-6 hours, and going home to work some more.

About a month into the season, I shared a strange revelation with my wife, “I’m putting in 16 hour days and I feel better physically and mentally than I have in a long time.

Soon after I understood why- the simple blessing of spending all those hours with other people. Good people.

I had a group of basketball players that seemingly couldn’t wait to get in the gym for each practice. They laughed a lot and they smiled a lot. And some of those smiles could always light up the room. The joy they created was contagious. It created a place that I always looked forward to returning to.

And what did this boring middl-aged man do for them in return? I took my mask off. Sort of. Coaches are required to wear masks at all times. But I chose to apply the “wear a mask when social distancing is not possible” guideline. I kept my distance, spoke clear instructions not through a mask, and I shared in the fun. When they made me smile or laugh, they could see me smiling and laughing. And when these young ladies, stuck playing by awkward guidelines at an awkward age in life made mistakes in games, they could usually look toward the bench to find their coach (with his mask pulled down to his chin) smiling and saying, “It’s ok”.

I know how abundantly blessed I am. I spend my work days with good people. I spend my evenings with great family. And I spend Sundays and other times with great church family. And I know those things keep me sane in these insane times.

And I spend the vast majority of my hours each day wearing a mask on my chin, not over my mouth. I want people to see me smile. I want to bring a laugh or a smile to every situation. It’s better to be unmasked, distanced, and human than it is to be up close, masked, and robotic.

I’m definitely not trying to offer reckless medical advice. I know everybody doesn’t have the option of working in gyms or open-spaced workplaces.

But I think we all have the option of making the place we’re at……..a place that other people want to be. Sharing smiles and laughter is always a good place to start. Stay out of other people’s space. Don’t stay out of their lives.

Wrong Time, Wrong Place, Lost Message

protest grayson

Photo credit: Tim Preston, Carter County Post

Other than a few years away for college, I’ve lived all of my 50+ years in Grayson, KY. Grew up riding bicycles and skateboards on its streets and sidewalks. Played basketball in every gym and baseball on every patch of dirt that passed as a baseball field. Raised four kids here. Coached more basketball games than I can count. Spent 30+ years dealing with the public at my family’s business.

I’m well aware of Grayson’s warts, problems, and shortcomings. Every town, large or small, has their share. But I’m so thankful that this is the place that I grew up and still call home And I’m thankful that this is the place where my wife and I have raised our kids.

This is my town. I know my town. These are my people. I know my people. And I love my people. And that’s why I plan to be here until the day I die.

Our little almost exclusively white town just endured an eventful weekend. I guess you’d call it a Black Lives Matter protest/march. The organizer, that we’ll call Dee (because that really is his name) posted a number of excessively long videos in the days leading up to the march. I can’t say that I was able to make it very far into any of the videos, but I couldn’t really get any kind of feel for what he was hoping to achieve with his planned protest. “Because racism” would seem to be the reason on the surface.

But I can tell you why I think it escalated from street corner protests into a full-fledged one day total disruption of small town life. Maybe it was a bit of male ego and bravado? Yes, Dee does seem to enjoy calling attention to himself. But sometimes the attention we demand doesn’t turn out to be the kind of attention that we crave.

In the days after George Floyd’s death, I noticed Dee leading a protest/rally on a street corner at Grayson’s busiest intersection. He seemed to have a fair amount of support and a decent amount of people standing alongside him. But then something changed abruptly. The crowds and the support dwindled. Why? Because his criminal past became public knowledge. The online comments and exchanged became harsh. The passers by in cars no longer honked and waved, but instead taunted him about his past and added racial insults that may have been withheld before.

At this point, any message of racial reconciliation become lost in the now muddied water. The message had simply become self defense. He was no longer the right messenger for whatever message he was trying to get across. And the crazy thing to me, the thing that sabotaged his efforts was that he wasn’t asking for grace. He was publicly demanding it (by his actions, not by his words).

God’s grace is freely given to those who repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their savior, acknowledging his death on the cross to pay the price for our sins and his resurrection giving us victory over death.

But human grace doesn’t work that way. We can’t simply demand grace of others. We can show remorse and humbly ask for it. But we can’t stand on a street corner and basically demand that others forget about our past.

People weren’t willing to ignore or forget the things that Dee really wanted them to overlook. The opposition grew. The taunts. The veil threats going in all directions. The wild rumors. The planned march/protest was swirling with talk of who all was going to show up heavily armed, in both support of, and in opposition to the planned “peaceful protest”.

But here’s the thing about peaceful protests. The organizers of a protest don’t have the power to determine whether or not a protest remains peaceful. Every peaceful protest doesn’t become a riot. But most riots actually do begin as peaceful protests.

I’ve seen citizens and business owners of our town mocked for what was called an overreaction to the upcoming protest. Car dealers relocated their inventory, citizens showed up heavily armed, business owners hid out in their businesses with intentions of protecting their property and life’s work by whatever means necessary. My family? We boarded up our store front before going home Saturday evening.

“Everybody is that scared of a single black man holding a peaceful protest? It might be because you’re racist.”

No. Some of us remember how many people poured into our town during the Kim Davis rally at the Carter County Jail fiasco five years ago (a rally centered around a Rowan County clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses for same-sex marriages).  Thousands of people poured into our little town to show their support or opposition to the events unfolding around her case. Not a violent or heavily armed crowd in that case, but still there was anger in those crowds. It was surreal to witness our town fill up so fast with people from all over the country.

Things are different now. People are pre-angered. Going through their days on edge, with a constant and heightened sense of frustration. Ever present complications and uncertainties surrounding a pandemic. Months of constant bombardment with news propaganda that served no purpose other than stoking racial tensions.

As the days leading up to the protest played out, one thing became clear; it seemed certain that a lot of angry and armed people would fill our town on Sunday. I checked out the Facebook profiles of people Dee had tagged in his organizing posts. Two were preaching type guys but one man’s profile made it clear that he was all about two things only: 1) BLM and 2) F___ the police.  Anti-police sentiment doesn’t fly with me and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t sit well with most people of Carter County.

Dee posted a lot of videos that were basically too long for any human to sit through. But there were mentions of the possibility of the NFAC showing up (a black militia group). In response, there was talk of other militia groups showing up in opposition. There was even talk of someone in our community reaching out to the Klan.

So after hearing the hate-filled angry and threatening words of an NFAC member at a protest in Louisville on Saturday, I went to bed that night praying that no one would die in Grayson’s streets on Sunday. Outside agitators and mob mentality create dangerous situations and those situations have been playing out across our country lately.

I don’t do hysteria. But there were enough wildcards at play that a lot of our town was genuinely concerned about the potential for violence and property damage. There has been a fair amount of silent anger toward Dee by people who simply want to be left alone and not have risk dumped on their lives and their town.

So why did this recipe need to be cooked up for Grayson, KY? It didn’t. Dee may have had good intentions, but those intentions reached a point where they stood zero chance of bringing about favorable results. He didn’t change the hearts or expose the nature of a racist town. He bulled forward with words and actions that ensured racist actors would show up from surrounding counties to provide opposition to him. And the way it played out, it wasn’t an indictment on the character of the town of Grayson. Instead, it was just a sad series of events that would have played out the same way in any city in Kentucky, and possibly the whole country. It was simply an open invitation for agitated people to show up and become even more agitated.

I stayed home on Sunday. I could stay home because I have a lot of trust in the first responders of our city, county, and state. I’m thankful for them. And I could stay home because I know that a lot of good citizens showed up to protect what is ours. I’ve been told that “rioting is the voice of the oppressed”, but that’s usually spoken by people who have never earned anything worth protecting. I’m thankful for those who showed up to protect our town from potential harm.

Sunday afternoon, I watched some of the events unfold on a Facebook Live feed. It was about what I expected. Thankfully it didn’t turn violent and property wasn’t destroyed. But it was terribly sad to witness. The anger in the air. A man trying to convey a message who didn’t really have any kind of clear message. There were constant taunts. There were racial slurs. And there seemed to be a whole lot of Dee and others left defending his criminal past. Knowing the people of Grayson pretty well, I got the impression that our locals showed up to grill him about his criminal record and argue with him over black lives matter vs all lives matter. And the majority of the racial slurs were hurled from out of town agitators……..that’s the very thing they showed up to do.

It was just sad. Hard to watch. As I went to bed Sunday night, I had this twinge of regret as the scenes of the day played over in my head. As Dee had stood in our streets being taunted, I found myself just wanting to see someone from our town with some level of respect or authority simply stand alongside Dee and say, “I may disagree with what you’re doing and saying, but I want people to treat you with human decency”. Dee dug the hole that he was standing in. But it hurt me to see people piling the dirt on top of him. I could have (maybe should have) been that person to turn the tone of an angry mob.

There were over 7,000 people watching that same Facebook feed that I was watching. And I can guarantee that a good portion of those were Carter Countians that felt the same sadness and concern that I felt. And that is the true character of our town.

To judge Grayson as some sort of backwards racist town to be ashamed of because of Sunday’s events might be about the same thing as basing your opinion on what you might have read on the Grayson Topix page a few years back. That’s not who we are.  So if you haven’t lived here for a while you might want to sit this one out. And if you’re young and outraged and feel ashamed, I can appreciate your passionate stance against racism. But at the same time, you might want to consider seeking a little better understanding of the people who truly make Grayson what it is and extending a little grace to your hometown.

And Dee, you’ve brought a fight to Grayson in a manner that has zero chance of producing any positive outcomes. It’s a fight that we didn’t ask for and don’t deserve. It serves no purpose other than directing attention to Dee. It’s brought division to our people. If you dislike this place, then don’t stick around. If you want to stick around and raise a family here, just cool it. You’re doing nothing to combat racism. You’re mostly just losing any chance of making allies out of the people who stand the greatest chance of extending you the most grace. Dragging a whole town into an empty pursuit only serves to wear out your welcome here really fast. So please stop digging holes.

You want grace? Humbly ask for it. You want to change racist hearts? Don’t do it with protest signs and bullhorns. Do it with relationships and by patiently earning the respect of others just like others before you have done in this town.  You want attention? There are better ways of doing it than by disrupting the lives and livelihoods of people just trying to earn a living and navigate difficult times. Want to be heard? Then start listening……to wise council. Otherwise, you might be on your own. And on your own isn’t a good place to be.

Stop with the protests. Grayson isn’t your enemy. But you’re making it awfully tough to be your ally. As Governor Beshear says, “Stay home”.


Hey, Coach

During a recent conversation with my wife, we stumbled onto an odd truth:                        the perceptions, both good and bad,  we had of our teachers and coaches 30+ years ago as kids and teens proved to be accurate and remain mostly unchanged today.

The ones I respected then, I respect now. The ones that I thought were just bullies then, not much has happened to change my mind.

“Did it not occur to some of them that we would eventually grow up and be their peers?” Maybe it didn’t. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they’re just not nice people.

Thankfully, the number of names that I would toss into the “not nice” category would make for a very short list. But the names on that list (a secret one, of course) do serve as a healthy reminder……to be kind. To never fail to earn the respect of the kids that I’m privileged to coach or mentor at church. They’ll be adults someday.

I still see a couple of my high school teachers pretty much every week at church and usually have an opportunity to pause and say “hello” to them. In high school, these ladies were kind, they cared about me, and they cared if I learned. And those positive memories come to the surface every single time I smile and speak. I’m assured that those teachers had a positive impact in my life, and I’m thankful for them.

I attended a high school basketball game recently, and took a seat by myself in upper level seating in my old high school gym. After a few minutes of play during the JV game I spotted my old high school coach down on the floor level and decided to go speak to him at halftime. But before the half ended I found myself surrounded by a group of young ladies. A group of 6 or 7 of my middle school basketball players invaded my quiet space.

On the surface, it could have seemed like they were being pests. But the truth is, it made me feel pretty special. Not because a bunch of middle school kids chose to gather around a slow moving, dad joke spewing, boring old guy. But because I was reminded that, because of the time I’m privileged to spend with these kids, I’m a pretty important guy.

I glanced across the gym floor to see my coach getting settled in at the media table, getting set up to do the radio call for the upcoming varsity game. He’s a pretty important guy in my book. And I couldn’t help thinking, “If he looks up here and sees me surrounded by this slew of kids, does he see his own impact in it all”.  His legacy. The number of kids that he coached that have become coaches. And all the kids that those guys have coached that have gone on to coach?

I’ve always had great respect for my coach. And I still address him simply as “Coach” and I always will. I’m well aware now that my time with him and my team have made me just a little bit better at being a dad, a husband, a boss, a servant of my Lord, and a coach.

I turned on my radio tonight to catch the end of my school’s first round district tournament game, and heard Coach Baker doing the analyst work for the broadcast. It was a close game. As the final minutes played out, I kept hearing him use unique phrases that I often use when coaching. And in the final minute, with East Carter playing defense in a tie game, I heard the phrase that was burned into my brain in high school, “Just play good position defense”.

East Carter hung on in the end for a dramatic win, and I started texting with my son, who’s away at college, after the game (my coach’s son coached my son in high school). He had listened to the game on the radio as well. So I just had to ask him if he noticed the comment about “playing good position defense”. And I knew that he had. He’d heard it plenty from me in his middle school days and as we’d watched games together on TV. And I’m sure he heard it all through high school as well. But what he may not have understood is the impact that Coach Baker has had on pretty much every single coach that’s ever coached him. That’s a legacy.

Coaches. Teachers. What’s it gonna be?

It’s okay if people don’t like you. That’s to be expected if you’re a leader. It’s even okay if people think you’re a jerk. But it’s not okay if people think you’re a jerk and they’re right.

I’m thankful for coaches and teachers in my past that earned my respect and never lost it. I want to be one of those people.

In the coming years, I’m hopeful to be greeted regularly on the streets, gyms, and in churches by both men and women……….who just smile and say, “Hey, Coach”, while good thoughts and memories stir inside them.

Hey Coach…….If you get to read this…….sorry I didn’t speak the other night. I was doing some important stuff…….just like you.


Gratitude-For The Person That Hangs A Hoop…..And The People That Haul You To Practice


I sat a mesh ball bag down on the gym floor and watched the chaos ensue as 7th and 8th grade boys scrambled to get their favorite ball. “I want the Wave.”  “I want the Evolution.” Everybody has a favorite basketball.

I flashed back to my favorite ball from childhood. No it wasn’t any kind of premium indoor/outdoor ball like these kids were fighting over. It was an old rubber Spalding,  ball with all the tread worn off. I thought it was the greatest ball in the world because it was the one ball that would “put the net up” if you shot a perfect swish from the baseline.

Thoughts of childhood immediately brought me to thoughts of gratitude. I hoped these kids in the gym with me were thankful for their opportunity for “gym time” and for the fact that they had a bag full of mostly new indoor basketballs that still had their grip. A friend that I used to coach middle school basketball with reminded the players often, “Be thankful for your gym time. Thank the people that make it possible. Thank the people that get you here every day.”

Gym time had a different meaning when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. Organized basketball didn’t exist for the most part. 7th and 8th graders could play a whopping 10-12 game schedule for their school team. 6th graders gathered at an elementary school gym on Saturday mornings for some basic instruction and some 5 on 5.

The neighborhood pickup games were a huge deal back then. Call your friends or walk through the neighborhood knocking on doors to gather up a gang. Pick your own teams and call your own fouls. Settle your own conflicts. Deal with playing on teams that were stacked terribly against you. Call out the kids that shot too much and passed too little. And yes, sometimes kids really did get mad and “take their ball and go home”.

There were no parents telling us we needed to work on our jump shot or ball handling, or parents out on the court rebounding our shots for us and correcting our form. We just had a strong desire to play because we loved the game. Loved the game enough to shovel the snow off our court on winter days just to get some shots up or get a game going.

Yes, we always had a hoop up at our house when I was a kid. And I can remember each and every one, even remember the day that my dad put them up. A homemade backboard with a hoop bolted to it on a small patio behind our carport. A larger court built against a creek that became a neighborhood gathering spot. And at a second house later on, a goal mounted to a utility pole in a gravel driveway, a goal mounted to a tree in the backyard, and eventually another concrete court that my brother and I used in our high school years. I can clearly remember watching my dad with excitement and anticipation, ready to start firing up shots……but also watching fearfully as my dad used seemingly unsafe methods to get each of those backboards hung. I honestly feared that my dad was going to get seriously hurt just so we could play ball.

I couldn’t begin to list the number of reasons that I’m forever thankful for my parents. But today, I’m just extremely thankful that my dad made sure that, wherever we were, my brother and I always had a basketball goal up to shoot on.

I’m wrapping up the second year of a small basketball league that loosely resembles the backyard pickup games of old. Two days a week of 90 minutes of scrimmaging and “official” games on Saturdays, 4v4 with no coaches. Some of the kids just truly love the game of basketball. Some of the kids just really need the physical activity and to experience the benefits of competition. And it’s my crazy opinion that reaching a certain level of competence in basketball does something for young people’s overall confidence….the way they carry themselves.

I feel privileged to take part in that confidence building. It’s a labor of love for sure. I recently told another league organizer, “I don’t care if a single person thanks me for running this league, but I will listen to exactly zero complaints.”

And that’s just partially true. I don’t need to be thanked. But kids do need to be thankful. They need to recognize all the times when parents and others do things for them that they don’t really have to do.

Our players got to play a scrimmage game against a local Christian school team last night. Their coach makes it a point to tell all the players from both teams to go around the stands and thank the people that brought them to play. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally (especially for teen boys).

In the absence of gratitude, entitlement takes over.

No, I don’t need to be thanked for the things that I do for my kids. But my kids darn sure better be thankful for what they have and what’s been done for them. And I have to recognize it and make swift correction when attitudes of entitlement start to appear.

Growing up, I’m sure I wasn’t as grateful as I should have been for all the basketball goals my dad hung. But now that I’m older and wiser, I’m extremely thankful. I still love the game of basketball. And I love kids…….even middle school kids. And I know that the act of my dad putting up those crude goals long ago is something that’s being paid forward still today.

I’m grateful. For my dad. For the game of basketball. And for kids. And if I’ve got your kids in the gym with me, I promise to rip their tail ten times worse for being ungrateful than I would for any basketball mistake they might make.





You Gotta Start Somewhere


I’m not a hoarder. My wife says I am, but anyone that’s been married long enough knows that hoarding is a relative term. But unlike concert shirts and Levi’s from the 90’s, paper records of any kind is definitely something I don’t hang onto.

During a cleanout and organize effort this week, an envelope surfaced containing an interesting history of my first couple of years of teenage checking account history. There was a multitude of checks written to a pizza restaurant that I still frequent three to four times a week. There were plenty of $10 checks written to gas stations from a time when $10 could still get you a fair amount of gas. And there were even a check written to a friend that I paid to type up a senior research paper for me.

Maybe the most interesting thing was the deposit tickets. Specifically the amounts that I was bringing home for a 40 hour work week. A big fat $107.65 in July of 1986, just after I’d graduated from high school (minimum wage was $3.35/hour).

It’s not that I didn’t do good work or do hard work. I was doing cable TV and satellite dish installations, mostly doing the things that the older and more experienced guys preferred not to do. Running cable lines through brier and chigger-infested fields. Crawling under houses with wet foundations and clearance that only a skinny teenager could navigate. Digging post holes, mixing concrete, and digging by hand through packed down gravel driveways.

It’s just that I was doing work that didn’t require any special skill other than a willingness to work, along with some degree of physical fitness. My skill set couldn’t demand higher wages and there wasn’t more money available to pay me if it did. I eventually left for college and my workplace functioned fine without me.

Of course I wasn’t living out on my own at the time, so my expenses were minimal, other than pizza and gas. But it would have been pretty absurd at the time to insinuate that my employer would have been obligated to give me a better pay rate if my life situation was different. If I’d had a wife, kids, and a full basket of living expenses, it wouldn’t have changed the reality of my limited skill set. And it wouldn’t have changed the limited funds available for payroll expenses.

So how did we reach this point where it’s hard to avoid all the talk about a government mandated “living wage” or $15/hour minimum wage? I don’t know how we got here, but I’m certain that it’s a dangerous place to be if we don’t use our brains and reverse fields. To believe that these ideas can simply be breathed into being without disastrous consequences is wishful thinking to the extreme.

Beyond the correlating price hikes associated with unsustainable minimum wage hikes and beyond the damage that small business will suffer, there’s the rather large matter of making a whole lot of people unemployable. When the government basically makes it illegal to pay workers what they are worth, then those entry level workers simply won’t be hired. It’s that simple.

At any given time, there are millions of teenagers who are finishing up, and many times completely wasting,  a perfectly good public or private K-12 education. They’re not going to learn a trade or go to college and earn a degree that pays. Their best hope is to simply get a job, any job, regardless of pay, and learn what it means to work. When entry level wages are inflated to false levels, those kids won’t be hired…….ever. No employer is going to pay $15/hour for someone that can’t produce. It’s just not going to happen.

Those who lack skills will be deprived of any opportunity to develop skills, work ethic, and learn what it means to hold down a job. And they’ll be cursed to depend on their parents a little longer, and perhaps the government for their whole life. And maybe that’s just what some political movements desire. Dependence.

$3.35 an hour. No, I wasn’t learning a specific skill back in the 80’s while earning that wage. I was learning what it means to work. Show up every day and follow directions. Respect authority and pull your weight. Don’t ever just do enough to get by. Be willing to do unpleasant things and give your best effort. Don’t create messes and problems for your co-workers to finish or clean up.

Work ethic. It’s not exactly on the rise as each generation of workers changes to the next. So how do young people learn to work? Well, by working, of course (and by being made to believe that they MUST work). We need to be able to pay them what they’re worth while they learn. Because you gotta start somewhere.