The Man Who Gave in Secret

The Man Who Gave in Secret

When I was still a grandpa at the Children’s Village, a man came to shampoo the carpets in my apartment. I had agreed to pay him $100, which, considering the condition of the carpets was a bargain.

During the course of his work he asked me about the Children’s Village. “What kind of place is this anyway?” I told him it was a home for abused and neglected kids. “Really,” he said. “You guys help these kids?” “Well we try our best,” I replied.

When the guy was done with the carpets, I pulled out my wallet to pay him. “This one is on me,” he said. “I have kids of my own at home. Thanks for doing what you’re doing.”

Please don’t write this off as just another feel good story and go back to reading about the woman who was mugged in Oakland and the coach who abused kids on his basketball team.

I think it is important for us to pay attention to the good things that happen in our lives. If we but open our eyes to see, we are inundated with the goodness of people all around us and many times we choose to ignore it.

There is way more goodness out there than we realize so what’s up with our tendency to focus on the bad? We scan the newspaper or the Internet and our eyes fall on the seamy side of life. We wallow vicariously in the scuttlebutt about the preacher who cheats on his wife or the politician who cheats on his taxes.

But, you know something? You’re messing with your mind when you remain unaware of the dude down the street who is a Big Brother to a troubled kid or the retired teacher who helps with the adult literacy program.
In the early days of the computer, they used to say “garbage in; garbage out.” If we concentrate our attention on the garbage that enters our minds and ignore inputting the good stuff, no wonder we feel depressed.

Recently, I was honored to read the words of a 12 year-old boy who had been beaten so badly by his drunken dad that the boy had to be put in a group home. “I know my dad did bad things to me,” he wrote, “but I forgive him, cuz I know nobody is perfect…and he is my dad.” True story; beautiful young man. Folks, these kinds of stories are all around us.

I am not nor have I ever been a member of the Pollyanna Society of America. Hell no, as a Catholic priest for ten years, I have heard the confessions of some tough hombres. I know our dark side but refuse to let either myself or my fellow human beings be defined by our shadow. We are the creation of a kind and loving God and that goodness is in us and around us.

Want to know how I am so sure? Because one day I happened to meet this carpet installer who gave up his fee for a bunch of kids he didn’t even know

Old Dads and Fathers Day

Old Dads and Fathers Day

Standing in front of me at Church last Sunday is an older man flanked by his two grown-up daughters. Each woman has her arm linked with dad. They remain close like that during the whole service. Occasionally, I notice, the young women giving the first love in their life a light squeeze.

When we talk about Father’s Day, we usually are referring to young dads, the thrill it is for them to at the side of their wife at the moment of birth, the wonder all young dads feel the first time they hold a newborn babe in their arms. For me and I suspect for many dads, there is nothing to compare to those first precious days of fatherhood.

But, as I watched the interaction of the older dad with his daughters, I was reminded that fatherhood is not a one-time miracle. Being a dad is forever. Watching your girl grow up, being with her as she grows into a young woman, being with your boy as he transitions into manhood. The miracle continues even as your own hair turns gray and you have lost that spring in your step. Your kids are always your kids.. In their eyes and yours, you never lose even one iota of your fatherhood.

Kids yearn for a “forever Dad.” Lord knows and the kids know that dad is far from perfect. But he is there for them. He is their life possession. He is the man who wrestled with them when they were little, who set limits on their teenage folly, who is grandpa to their own kids. Dad was there to teach his boy how to tie his necktie and to assure his daughter that she can do anything a boy can do. And if he belches a bit too loud or lets his bare behind show when he bends over to repair a leaky faucet, well so what. Nobody said he was perfect.. But dad is their dad. He belongs to them and they to him. The bond is never really broken.

My own kids are away from home this father’s day and I will miss them terribly. Yet, I know we are closely connected and we will give one another a big hug when we do see one another again. Because, you see, the relationship between a dad and his kids may change through the years but never dies. I may be “poppy” to my daughter’s kids, but, to my daughter, I’m still Dad.

A Kid With Integrity

A Kid With Integrity

True Story. I’m taking this tall Afro-American teenager out with me to help him look for a job. A friend had helped him with his resume and it looked pretty good except there was little to show for his work experience.

“Alonzo, that one paragraph, that’s all you have?” “Yea, it is what it is,” he replied. “Nothing else?” I inquired. Then Alonzo said, “My mom wanted me to put down that I had worked for her in her cleaning business. That would have made it sound a little better but”….he hesitated. “So why didn’t you?” “Because it wasn’t true.” “In other words, it would have been a lie?” “Yep,”he answered.

We rode in silence for a while. Then, Alonzo glanced at me. “Did I do the right thing?” “Alonzo, what do you think?” “Yes, I feel that I did.” he reflected. “Maybe nobody else would have found out I lied but I would have known.”

Wow! Was I hearing things? Here is a kid who respected his word, a word, I might add, that did not from the mouth of an altar boy from an intact family but from a kid who had been around the block a few times. Alonzo is the progeny of a run away dad and an abusive mom. He was raised in a series of group homes and foster homes. He never even knew who his bio mom was until he was nearly fifteen years of age, only to find out that she is an addict and a drug dealer.

So how do you explain the honesty, the integrity of a kid like Alonzo? We think we know people but we don’t. Somewhere, deep within the soul of this youth was a sense of character that I could not begin to explain. He didn’t cheat, not because he was afraid to be caught but because he would not be true to himself. This young kid discovered something about life that manages to elude so many in our culture. When we lie, when we pretend to be someone we are not, we diminish ourselves.

I felt humbled to be in the presence of a young man like Alonzo. I thought to myself how many privileged kids would have hesitated to tell a little lie to get ahead? When you get down to it, we are all getting pretty dam blasé about telling the truth aren’t we? We may not admit we lie. We say we MISSPOKE, as though that’s any different.

Our heroes betray us, whether John Edwards or Tiger Woods or hundreds like them, but a black teenage kid from a dysfunctional family stood head and shoulders above them all. “If I had lied no one else might have known but I would have known.” Words like these are not the words of a boy but a man, a real man.