Monday, June 22, 2009

Elephants and Dads

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. His life was shaped by the absence of a father, and he writes pognantly about it. FATHER'S DAY is a great time to refelect on how important good male role models are in our lives.

“I learned a great deal about myself while watching a documentary a few years ago about elephants in a wildlife trust in Africa. There were twenty-five elephants, all of them orphans, and they had been brought to the trust twenty years before. They were becoming teenagers– in elephant years. The girls were adequate, getting along with the other elephants, but there were a few boys who were causing a great deal of trouble. The narrator talked about the frustrations these few elephants were feeling because they had gone into early musth cycles, which showed up as a green pus running down their right hind leg. This phase produced aggressive and violent behavior, the elephant equivalent of sexual frustration.

The narrator in the documentary said the elephant musth cycle beings in adolescence, and normally lasts only a few days. But among these orphans, the musth cycle was disrupted and had become unusually long. These elephants were taking out their aggression on rhinos that bathed at a local mud pool. An elephant would slowly lumber down to the pool, enter near a rhino, then spear it through the side with his tusks. The elephant would then lean his gargantuan forehead into the head of the rhino, holding the beast underwater until it drowned. The filmmakers followed these orphan elephants who were always on their own, staggering about the wildlife refuge, fueled by a pent-up aggression they couldn’t understand. They weren’t acting like elephants– they didn’t know what an elephant was supposed to do with all his energy, all his muscle.

Occasionally, two elephants in musth would meet, and the encounter was always violent, going so far as to uproot trees in the fray of their brawl. When both beasts, bloodied, lumbered their separate ways alone– without a family, without a tribe– I couldn’t help but identify. I have never killed a rhino, or much of anything for that matter, but there have been times in my life when I didn’t know exactly how to be. I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about. I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. Life was a confusing series of emotions rubbing against events. I wasn’t sure how to manage myself, how to talk to a woman, how to build a career, how to– well, be a man.

To me, life was something you had to stumble through alone. It wasn’t something you enjoyed or conquered, it was something that happened to you, and you didn’t have a whole lot of say about the way it turned out. You just acted out your feelings and hoped you never got caught.

Watching television that night, however, the narrator began to speak of a kind of hope for these elephants. Elephant development, apparently, begins very early. Female elephants are only capable of having children once every two years, and during those two years between babies, the young are cared for obsessively by their mothers. They are fed, sheltered, loved, and guided in their learning of basic survival.

It is only at the first musth cycle that a young male elephant leaves his mother and enters into the African wild, searching for a mentor, a guide. The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance. Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends. The older and younger begin to travel together, to find food together, to protect each other– the older one teaching the younger what elephant strength is for, and how to use it for the benefit of himself and the tribe.

Watching television that night, I wondered if humans aren’t like that, too. I began to wonder if we guys were designed to have a father, whose very presence would cause us to understand more accurately what our muscle is for, what we are supposed to do with our energy.

You have to wonder, don’t you? Some statistics state as many as 85 percent of the guys in prison grew up without a dad. This is sobering to me.

And so watching the documentary, I began to wonder if those of us without dads aren’t making mistakes in our lives we wouldn’t make if we had a father to guide us. I wondered if there isn’t a better paradigm for our existence– a way of being men, a way each of us could truly embrace if it were instilled in us by a man who spoke with altruism and authority. I wondered if people who grow up with great fathers don’t walk around with a subconscious sense they are wanted on this planet, that they belong, and the world needs them. And I wondered this: Is there practical information we are supposed to know about work, women, decisions, authority, leadership, marriage, and family that we would have learned if there were a guide around to help us navigate our journey? I wondered if some of the confusing emotions I was feeling weren’t a kind of suspended adolescence from which the presence of an older man might have delivered me.

– Excerpt from To Own A Dragon, by Donald Miller (pp 31-34)

"If you are a dad, thanks for being a dad, thanks for loving your kids. They need it, by design. And if you have a strained or absent relationship with your dad, take all the comfort in the world that we have a father who has not neglected us. The job of our earthly fathers has always been to introduce their children to their “real” dad. And as insufficient as your earthly father was, take comfort in the fact your “real” dad fathers perfectly. We are not victims. All of our trials are blessings. What an incredible opportunity to introduce people to their real father."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 10, 1950

I called my Dad yesterday morning on his and mother's 59th anniversary. I asked what he was doing for the day, and he laughed and simply said, "Oh, I have a little plan." My brother Dwight stopped by last night and talked to him. Here is his blog about Dad's day. Happy Anniversary, Dad. You and Mom are the best ever.

JUNE 10, 1950 (Dwight’s Blog, June 10, 2009)
Fifty-nine years ago today a man named Jim married a beautiful girl named Marie. That would be my father and mother. You probably have heard the saying, “They were made for each other.” Well, nothing could be truer of them.

They were very intentional on serving one another and considering the other’s interests above their own.

I have heard my dad say that he knew of no greater woman than my mom, including his own mom. That is quite a compliment for any woman. She was the apple of Dad’s eye, and Dad was the apple of her eye.

I stopped by today to see my dad . I asked him how it was going, and he said it had been a great day. He had worked all day. He said, “I have been listening to music and working. I have swept the floor, dusted the furniture, mopped the kitchen floor.” He said with a twinkle in his eye, “I did it just in case Mother would come back tonight.”

If you knew my mother, no one kept a house like her. It was her style. I know why Dad did what he did today. It was a way of showing honor to his wife, my mother, for all the years she took care of him.

Before I left he wanted me to listen to a favorite song:

I am going to a city,
Where the streets with gold are laid;
Where the tree of life is blooming,
And the roses never fade.
Here they bloom but for a season,
Soon their beauty is decayed;
I am going to a city,
Where the roses never fade.
Loved ones gone to be with Jesus,
In their robes of white arrayed;
Now are waiting for my coming,
Where the roses never fade.
Here they bloom but for a season,
Soon their beauty is decayed;
I am going to a city,
Where the roses never fade.
Here they bloom but for a season,
Soon their beauty is decayed;
I am going to a city,
Where the roses never fade.
Where the roses never fade!

I prayed with him and thanked him for the great example of a marriage that he and Mom had given me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


My father is a WWII Vet, 101st Airborne Division, US ARMY. He was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, and jumped in Normandy on D-Day. He has the scars, the memories, and the Purple Heart to prove it. On May 30 he was invited to go on an HONOR FLIGHT for WWII vets, sponsored by a local VFW post, to Washington, DC to see the monuments, and experience the thrill of being in our capital city. 119 of them (30 in wheelchairs)and their volunteer escorts left Akron-Canton airport at about 6 a.m. for an unforgettable day. After a day of touring, they returned home at about 8:30. The reception to welcome them back was overwhelming for me---I can only imagine how it felt to them. The halls of the airport were lined with hundreds of people of all ages, cheering, waving flags, was amazing. There were dozens of small children who had raised money through bake sales to sponsor the flight. There were Viet Nam vets (Rolling Thunder Motorcycle club), paying tribute and honor in a way they themselves did not receive. There were current members of the military, dressed in fatigues, blessing the acts of sacrifice that went before them.

In an extremely self-centered era, this whole experience was amazing. It celebrated self-less sacrifice--in the vets themselves, and in the people who came to honor them. These were not the great and mighty who have memorials built somewhere to individual acheivement. These were ordinary men who became often unnoticed heroes. And the people who gave up their evening (and actually gave up the Cavs game) to come give them a hero's welcome were heroes themselves. They made an incredible impact--one that was not noted by the world, but was forever recorded in the annals of unselfish living. It was unforgettable to me. I read a statement this week that sums up what I saw and experienced: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." George Eliot in MIDDLEMARCH.