First, some truth ... some people don't like me. The media tags me as 'extreme,' attempting to link me in the public mind to 'Muslim extremists,' to paint me as unreasonable. Political blogs say I'm unpopular with my congressional colleagues, which is supposed to be insulting - perhaps they believe that Congress is like middle school where popularity is some sort of goal or marker for success. Some, even in the Republican party, have called my efforts to make significant change self-serving. These things, these sticks and stones, are not the truth.
Here's the truth. My views on abortion, on the second amendment, on immigration, on government spending, on national security - they are all squarely aligned with the majority of Americans. They are not, however, aligned with the media or the pop-culture brokers, so it's understandable that many people have the perception that my positions are extreme. The Republicans are not the extremists in this race.
As for being unpopular within Congress, well, that happens when you take strong, principled positions. It's no different than in any other job, really. Congress is famous for having a lower like-ability rating than used car salesmen. I like to think I'm one of the good used car salesmen, the one who tells you about the oil leak and the transmission that slips, and who refuses to 'tote the note' when I know you can't afford it. The sales manager may not like it, but at least I can sleep at night.
In regard to being self-serving, I have to admit, that truly offends me, but politics doesn't have the designated safe spaces of a gender-studies conference, so let me address that head on. Yes, I've used attention getting tactics, but that is only because leadership didn't lead. Yes, I've been abrasive and vocal and demanding, but only on critical issues that needed it, where we should not go-along-to-get-along, where the easy path is the wrong path. Some battles are too important to avoid for political expediency.
And now, let's talk about rules, about how they are elemental to civil society, about how those that disregard them are declaring themselves to be greater, better, or more important than you. This is the great divide in our society, those who play by the rules versus those who think they are above them.
Do we really need to make the list? Unconstitutional executive orders. Violation of federal regulations on retaining information. Backdoor hiring of advisers. Hiding relationships with lobbyists. Selectively enforcing immigration laws. Cronyism in general. Political donations propping up Planned Parenthood. Refusing to prosecute IRS officials caught persecuting citizens for their political beliefs. Do you need a list? Do you not see this everyday?
If you have ever observed a situation where an average Joe would be punished, but the politically connected or the famous and influential are not, then you recognize the injustice of the governing class, the privileged class, and 'for thee but not for me' justice. You see the biased reporting, the 'if-Bush-had-done-it' or 'if-a-Republican had done it' inconsistency in the headlines, the infidelities dismissed and even praised for some, which would cause a decent man life-long shame. You see it. We all see it.
Here's what I want you to know about me and rules. I follow them. When my critics refer to a 'failed filibuster' or a 'failed attempt to shutdown the government' please note that in those attempts, I followed the rules. I did not circumvent them to get my way. I did not consider myself above them. Those efforts may not have accomplished what they were intended to, but neither did they violate the rules. They were not unprincipled. You don't take shortcuts. You don't make your own rules. I follow the rules. I challenge the Democrats to make the same pledge, and I hope that Democratic voters recognize the power of this pledge, that though we may disagree, as President, I will abide by the Constitution and we will work to earn the respect of all citizens by upholding the law equally, for everyone.
And finally, let's talk about earned success. On the campaign trail I've not been shy in bragging about my roots, the work and solid foundation of my parents, the opportunities that America provides and that I took advantage of. The Democrats would tell you that 'earned success' is not possible, that the game is rigged by millionaires and billionaires and corporations and big this or big that. They call me extreme and unpopular and arrogant because they cannot afford for me, a product of American opportunity, to succeed, just like they cannot afford for a food stamp family to break the cycle or for a young woman to realize that the most powerful pro-choice comes before conception or for young people to learn that education and success does not require indebtedness.
The Democrats have spent decades deconstructing the family, the incubator of earned success, and undermining the path smoothing power of personal responsibility. All of our current societal woes, from urban violence to economic insecurity to foreign policy chaos, can be laid at the feet of failed Democratic plans and policies, and the Republicans who enable them by putting politics ahead of principle. Government cannot make you successful, but it can get in your way. Billionaires and corporations are not scheming behind the scenes to prevent you from reaching your goals, but they can use an oversized government to skew the market to their advantage.
The government cannot make you perfectly safe or permanently comfortable. It can, however, create an environment that allows you to be your best, and then get out of your way and let you do it. My goal is to rebuild your trust in the American idea, and your belief in yourself. I'm asking for your vote, not because you can count on me as a compromiser, a consensus builder, slickly manipulating the levers of power to advance an agenda, but because we believe in the same principles - honesty, the rule of law and personal responsibility. I'm asking you to cast your vote for principle, not promises and personality. America does not need fundamental change, it needs to return to fundamental principles.
at 12:52 PM
And so I find myself searching for something to say, something that needs to be said, something pithy, and preferably something of timeless value. I've got nothing. I've had a little over 18 years to share what I know about how to live and survive with this baby boy that's become a young man, and now it seems too late to cram in the last crucial bits, as if I have any to share anyway. I've lived my life in much more of an observe and react mode than a plan and execute mode; there's no way I can piece the journey back together and extract the wisdom, primarily because not a lot of wisdom was involved in the first place.
Like the imminent test, at this point he either gets it or he doesn't. Poor fellow. He should've picked better parents.
Oh, I have tons of practical advice. For example, set your drink limit at two, though in my personal experience, once you get to two, three is inevitable. Or, it's perfectly fine to meet and marry a woman of the north, aka: a Yankee, as long as she is wealthy enough to make up for that deficiency. Or, try to memorize a few snippets of Shakespeare or Shelley (not the Frankenstein one); it might come in handy. That sort of advice has some value, but I'm not sure it's appropriate for this significant life change. I know my college years were a clear line of demarcation, and I expect his to be the same. It's a shame that all I have to offer are jaded observations, not the words to live by that I've always wished had been clearly given to me.
I say that, wishing for words to live by, because somehow I think it would have made the journey easier to have a compass point, a guiding light, something more concrete than 'Please God, help me make the right choices today.' There have been many times in my life when I've sat and wondered "where to next?" or "how did I get here?" or "how did I get here!" and for some reason I think it might have been better if I had known what was next, if I had known what choices had landed me in this particular trouble or that particular delight. But now, thinking back on the jumble of turning points, the risks taken and those not, the over-thought and what-the-hell decisions, I realize mine was not to be a well-planned, comfortable journey. And I wouldn't trade it. I own it. It's mine.
I suppose, in a pinch, that would be my advice, Griffin. Own it. That attractive young woman in your freshman English class? Ask her out or don't, but own that decision and don't regret it. Take the course that requires more effort, or don't. Just admit it was your choice and if, later on, it turns out to be a poor one, make a better choice next time. Throughout life we all have the option, the choice, to become a better person, to improve ourselves, to change our course for the better. In our current society, heading off to college is the perfect chance to do that. I love you, but you are not perfect. You will make bad decisions. Own them. Do better next time. Take advantage of this opportunity; it seems the stakes get higher the older you get.
And now, in a sort of metaphysical "Dad, please stop talking you are embarrassing me" way, I'd like to share something that may be helpful. Or it may not. You decide.
Throughout my life I have encountered what I call "all right" moments, when it simply feels like I am in the right place, doing the right thing. In a weird way, Matthew McConaughey's catchphrase,
I remember sitting on the back porch of a ratty old rent house on Avenue A in Denton, Texas, with Dr. Matt doing his best to grill some on-sale sirloins on a home-made hibachi and thinking, "I am where I belong."
I remember humbly asking for my job back, after quitting from some immature snit that I immediately knew was not right, and David Johnson graciously letting me come back.
I remember being at the gate at the Atlanta-Hartsfield airport on Labor Day weekend 1982, waiting for your mother to arrive, who at the time was my long-distance girlfriend, and thinking, "I have to ask her."
I remember driving home from Baylor Hospital in Dallas in late September, 1996, in your mother's Lexus, with the moon roof open and the radio blasting, and being absolutely certain that we were ready for the big change in our lives that had just happened.
I remember riding in the pickup with you in March 2001, shortly after my father's funeral. You were 4 years old and out of the blue you said "The good cowboys always get the girl, don't they." And I said "Yes. Yes they do."
I remember waking up with what seemed like an imperative to-do one day, to introduce Pastor Cheryl to Uncle Neil. I frequently thank God for that one.
I remember sitting at a picnic table in a park in Frisco, praying for a sign in our search for a new pastor at Bentwood Trail, and a few minutes later seeing a purple lightning bolt on the projector screen, just before Pastor Elizabeth began her sermon.
I remember meeting your mother in the garage, the day she came home with her biopsy results, and she hugged me and she cried and she wanted to know how we were going to tell you. And despite me being as scared as she was, I knew I was in the right place, and that she was wrong to be worried about you. I knew you would be a strength and a comfort for her, not a source of concern.
And now, today, tonight, as I sit listening to random music, sipping on that second drink, or maybe the third, trying to put something coherent together, because writing is now what I do to deal with these life-changing way-points, I realize that you have already given me the "all right" moment. It is Bach, Suite No. 1 (click to hear).
I listen to it daily. It's a minute forty-seven, just a snippet of you playing saxophone at church, and I long to hear more. I want to hear the full piece. I want to know how it ends. I want to be awed by your musicianship, and wonder "was that a mistake, or intentional?" I want to say "this is mine, I made this possible," but I know it's yours. That you own it, and that it, and what it represents, is all right. Your talent. Your work. Your choices. It is the evidence of your path so far, and it gives me comfort that it's gonna be all right in the future.
at 10:45 PM
Along the way, between Quanah and Childress, the sun began to set. It was not one of those majestic, cloud and color infused sunsets. The sky was clear. I was headed west, very aware of the entire process as the sun slid down behind the A-pillar on the windshield. Once it started it didn’t take long. The mostly flat terrain put the horizon at the limit of my sight and I realized that light from the sunset could be seen for 180 degrees, growing fainter at each end. The glow was in front of me. The horizon in my rear view mirror was much darker. I have noticed that phenomena many times, always while driving, and almost always while heading home.
Late Monday afternoon I started the drive back. This time I had company; Elizabeth hitched a ride back. Instead of taking the most direct route, we went a bit out of our way and stopped in Alanreed. My parents are buried there, well, their ashes are, and when I get the chance I like to stop, pay my respects, say a quick prayer of thanks and simply absorb the time and place. It calms me. It helps me remember who I am.
The cemetery in Alanreed is just off of Interstate 40. I have yet to visit without hearing semis rumble past. It sits on the slope of a hill. Overlooking the interstate I see rolling ranch lands, some scrub brush, some tough old cedars, wash outs and draws and barbed wire fences. The trucks and other highway sounds never bother me because they belong, and besides, the scenery transports me back in time to pickup rides with the windows down along dusty roads, and horseback riding while watching out for soapweed and prickly pear, smelling horse sweat and leather. I taste the dust, feel the heat and sweat or the cold and chills and smell the grass, the dirt, the always sharp and dry air.
We didn’t stay long, just long enough for a review of family members by marker and my short time traveling experience. And then we were on the road, joining the traffic parade, for a short while on I-40, formerly known as Route 66, and then a jog south on Highway 83 at Shamrock to catch Highway 287 in Childress. Two eighty seven is a highway I know well, including all the places where speeding tickets are likely, where to find reasonably clean restrooms and where to change lanes to get ready to exit.
The sun seemed to set early on us, going down for good somewhere between Shamrock and Childress. On the dark drive back, instead of music and scenery pushing my thoughts, this time, with company, they were pulled from me as Elizabeth asked questions, prompting me for stories that she knows I love to tell. The good ones, of course, she’d already heard and I had to catch myself a few times, to stop the re-telling. Elizabeth and I have traded stories before, and it seemed a waste to tell an old one. This seemed to be a time for new stories, for exploring, for reflecting and searching for an understanding of the past as preparation for the future.
I’m always careful in the telling, searching my memory for details, feeling around for the right emphasis, aiming for the right mood and tone. The listener? Well, they are on their own to glean what they might.
The driving was, in the everyday sense, an unremarkable 12 or so hours, there and back. In the grand scheme, in the bigger picture, it was a wonder, like so many common things are and yet, we rarely recognize it. I’ve known for a long time that there are always more questions than answers. It’s trips and times like this one that help me understand that we don’t have answers to the biggest questions, we only have stories, approximations of answers, and they, sometimes, for a discerning listener, will point to the truth.
at 4:03 PM
Our son is applying to several universities. I will be tickled if he attends any of them; they are all good schools. But in the process of researching, visiting, evaluating and applying I've developed a new, to me, appreciation of my son, and the man he is becoming. Some of what I see is concerning, but mostly, I'm proud. I think he's a fine young man, which, I imagine, makes me no different than any other parent. How I came to this new appreciation is not terribly unique either. We spent spring break driving from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, just me and the boy, visiting various schools and having some long talks while driving, when he wasn't overly involved in video games or texting or sleeping. We took another school exploration trip in the summer, this time with his mother, which added another dimension to my observations. Since then we have had many discussions on the pros and cons of all the schools and our friends have quizzed him on his plans. It's interesting to learn what he thinks is important which, unsurprisingly, doesn't match up exactly with my thoughts. In any case, I can see the transition coming from following Mom & Dad's lead to following his own. A little scary, yes, but equally exciting. I suppose I should begin the story, now that you have the background.
A traditional feature of the Rice University application is "the box." It asks the applicant some generic sort of question and they are asked to put something in "the box." The prompt this year was "what appeals to you?" and applicants were asked to upload an image or graphic that appeals to them. No explanation, no rules, no penalty (theoretically) if you choose not to; it's just another way for the admissions counselors to see something 'outside the box' of the admissions process. I would have posted a picture of a bell ... a-"peal"-ing ... get it? ... but he has a bit more invested in this process than me (at this point) and probably would not be receptive to my punny suggestion. Instead, out of the blue, on Sunday, he asked me if we had any pictures of the pipe organ at church. I could not imagine what he needed pipe organ pictures for, and then he explained.
"I have to upload a picture of something that appeals to me for the Rice application. I've thought about it a lot and I think the church organ is what I want to use. It's music and engineering, combined, the two things I'd like to study in college."
Hard to argue with that logic so, dutiful father that I am, I went in search of pipe organ photos. I was
shocked at how many we had ... everything from the elevation drawing to components before the organ was assembled (see above) to various worship and festival services to a group of African students dancing and singing in front of it. Our applicant wanted a photo that reflected both music and engineering, so we combined a couple and came up with this:
I've often described our son as having a math and science mind, with the eyes and ears of an artist, and I think his choice for "the box" reflects that pretty well. Now, as flattering as all this may seem for the boy, it's not really the takeaway I get from this story. Let me explain.
As I was walking in to church that Sunday morning, I took two steps from my truck and heard the
When I shared the dog walker story with my Sunday School class one friend pointed out that the dog walkers were probably making sure their dogs weren't pooping. Our pastor commented that she would not be surprised if that was the case because 'we spend our lives surrounded by the glory of God, but are too busy looking for sh** to notice.'
at 6:45 PM
At Lamar Elementary the first bold soul to rise and approach the pencil sharpener, new Ticonderoga or Oriole or Velvet held high to announce their intention, would often start a procession of students suddenly aware of the need for immediate maintenance on their primary tool. A dull pencil is functional, but a sharp pencil has a point, an edge, to write crisp answers and draw clean lines. The smell of wood and graphite shavings, chalk dust, layers of institutional floor wax all combine to form the incense of a fresh start and students returned to their seats, recharged from the brief respite, better equipped for the next challenge. And just like that, a common task becomes ritual, necessary maintenance becomes larger than its practical purpose. The sharpener says, 'Wake up and smell the pencil shavings. You are equipped for the task at hand.'
Time does what it does and the new becomes a nub, harder to hold, inconvenient, inefficient. The nub is worse than the dull and so, at times, we avoid the sharpener, conserving efficiency, preserving convenience, stretching the resource. In college there were no pencil sharpeners and no one would disrupt a class for the sake of a wooden pencil anyway. Stuck with a yellow number two, no sharpener in sight, I often resorted to angling it close to page, grinding the lead against the paper while rotating the barrel to produce a fine, though unevenly tapered and weak, point. Or the pen, there was always the pen and a wide variety of them, too. Felt, ball point, roller ball and the timeless, tempting fountain were all available and attractive alternatives. Who needs a sharpener? Why we haven't even mentioned mechanical pencils, with their built in storage for extra lead AND erasers. The sharpener, ignored and invisible, sits quietly and says, 'I'll be here when you need me.'
We graduate, from jumbo pencils and Big Chief tablets, to Bics and loose leaf pages, to whatever-pen-you-want and spiral notebooks and finally, ultimately(?), to bytes in memory and messages in the ether. There truly is no need for pencils or sharpeners. You can even draw with a Bamboo Pen that has neither bamboo or ink; its versatility limit is in the user. You can become an expert on the "Dexter No. 2" without lifting a pencil, its origins, successes, competitors and demise are surely documented somewhere, and likely just a thoughtful search phrase away. The handwritten note, the quick scratching of arithmetic with its take-aways and carries and guzintas, the completely-unrelated-to-any-scale map drawn on a scrap, the phone number on a matchbook ... all these are unnecessary, anachronistic, a certain indicator of the unsophisticated. The sharpener, now few and far between, patiently waits saying, 'Trust me, I still work.'
On my desk, among the clutter, sits the pencil sharpener I use. It's electric, from China and of unknown
Finally, please recognize that you, like the pencil, are a simple, purpose built machine. You may think that your purpose is biological or economical or political, and you may very well achieve those things. For something higher, you'll need a good sharpener.
at 7:06 PM