While growing up I must readily admit that the activities of others didn’t distract me very much from the goals that I set for myself…while modest, they were achieved. I watch my students and listen to them talk and I find their take on friendship to be disquieting.

I stated to them that a friend doesn’t ask, or expect, you to do things that are against your morals. A friend doesn’t take you places where you are put in danger just for arriving. In addition, a true friend doesn’t expect you to hold their hand during their bad behavior. For example, if you are trying to quit drinking, they don’t ask you to be the designated driver. Further, they don’t take you to places where you’ll be tempted. In addition, if they are really good friends they will quit too.

I have students whose friends take them to places where they know trouble will erupt. They get taken to places where all are aware fights will occur. A true friend doesn’t endanger you. Matter of fact, they will do what ever is necessary to get you not to go. They would hate to see you hurt. A true friend has your best interest at heart, not just their own selfish desires. And, if a friend does go “bad” they understand when you don’t call or drop by. They don’t expect you to condone their bad behavior.

I understood when I wasn’t invited to parties where drinking and drugging was going on. They also understood why I wasn’t there. I cannot understand what friendship is supposed to be these days.

The kids say “they got my back”. I say they wouldn’t need too if you hadn’t been endangered by their behavior. A true friend takes the “rap” for you, not just shaking their head as you go down. When I was in the military, having your buddy’s back meant you took the bullet. And, you did everything you could to keep you and he out of ANY danger…not charging into it when you didn’t have to. It is not a test of friendship to drag your friend to a fight that you both happen to survive.

A true friend won’t let you drive drunk, drugged, or without a proper license. A true friend keeps the drunking and drugging away from you. How sad for so many that “party” means alcohol, drugs, and fights. Don’t sound like fun to me. Why must we change our personalities just to have fun? Why must we lower our inhibitions to have fun? Inhibitions are there to keep you from…oh, yeah….GETTING HURT!!! Isn’t that what we all want…less pain, emotional and otherwise???? I have known a great many people over the past nearly half-century and none of them regret missing out on that one “drunken escapade” that eluded them. No, more often than not, they regret that one “drunken escapade”. And, of all the escapades how do we know, in advance, which one will be the one to be regretted? Then why risk it? You are the only you you get…..haven’t we lost enough young people??

Most of the kids today think that we are all so old and weird, with so few redeeming qualities. If they feel this way, why do they follow my generation down the path to divorces, abortions, smoking, alcoholism, addiction, and regret??? Can’t they learn from our mistakes? Or, did they, in fact, get stupider from our glorious leadership example?? Why is the child who saw the chain-smoking parents and didn’t smoke so often the exception??? Are we so stupid that we follow blindly in the direction that we are led without regard to the consequences??

While I will admit that many of today’s kids are wonderful, and have learned a great deal from our stupidity…too many have not. Why is it acceptable in many people’s eyes that some “have to learn the hard way”, when too often learning that way leads to heartache and pain??? Didn’t we want save them from this??? Boy we did a very poor job of it didn’t we?? The pain, regret, and disappointment of poor choices is being revisited on our future generations…could this be the payment due for our transgressions while we are here??? I hope not.

What is wrong with us? Are we, and our children, so desperate to ally ourselves with celebrities that we assign our allegiance to anyone who strikes a chord with us? Witness the current fascination with Paris Hilton. If she were in any of our “normal” families, those without great wealth, we wouldn’t be happy with her behavior. But, our fascination with the living pales miserably when compared with our fascination with some former living folk.

I remember when Elvis died. For more than 10 years, we were all witness to a parade of folk who swore they had seen the dead man. He was seen worldwide. He was seen in small towns. He was seen in laundromats. It is fascinating that his “living” quarters were never identified. He seems to have been living on a cloud…never to surface again. Nope…he really was dead…no matter what we wanted…

I am reminded that Elvis’ fan club wasn’t the only one to be caught up in rumors, fantasies, and wishes that never came true. Tupac fell to an assassin’s bullet in 1996. Today, 10 years after the fact, we still have people claiming he faked is death and will arise. Some of these fans argue with great passion, as if their passion will bring him back. Unfortunately, it won’t, the object of their affection is well outside their reach. But, they still believe. As though belief will change things. Like their Elvis fan counterparts they are often the least educated, poorest read, and most easily led blindly along. They tend to be blown with the wind from one trend to another.

How disheartening must it be to find that there are “secrets” around every corner that you cannot get in on. They always seem to be hiding things from you. There are so many little secrets for those that skip over the “big” words in the newspaper. Those “big” words aren’t important, your friends can tell you all you need to know…of course. If not they, then the TV will tell us, or the never-lying internet, or maybe our illiterate uncle or aunt. But not, God forbid, a……book….eeeeegggadd that horrible word. Why would we read a real book, or even expand our vocabulary to include those “big” words….

I cannot fathom how hard for these people must be, but I have taught some of their children. They are full of suspicion, superstition, hearsay, and blind guess work. They put faith more in the fantasy’s of their illiterate friends than in the books that are so mysterious. For those of us who are tasked with the enlightenment of the next generation, it is very difficult to fight our way through all of this. when your friends are the ultimate authority…it doesn’t leave much room for teachers and such.

While I do not believe that the behavior of the parents is a direct cause of a child’s behavior…it can help to lead them along a certain path. I just wonder how many books their parents read. I wonder if they realize that most people, like the coroners involved in the cases mentioned above, are, almost without exception, people of honor who take their oaths of office as a sacred trust. And, as scientists, the pursuit of the truth is a cause that transcends all other concerns, and that would include and bribes that might have been bandied about. But, of course, that would mean trusting people you don’t know, who may not be part of your immediate society, and/or family. Thus, they cannot be trusted.

If the trust of these types of people cannot be given, then who can be trusted to tell the truth??? Magazines that are in the business of titillating the public??? Websites that make their living by keeping rumors going?? By listening to those who know as little or even less than the children I teach. I agonize daily of the ignorance of those around me. How hard must it be to go through life feeling that everyone knows “it” but you??? “They” are keeping it from you. “They” are the reason you can’t accomplish. “They” are the ones that don’t try to understand you. It is “their” fault that you are an outsider!!!

Could it be that maybe our lack of understanding is our own fault??? And, maybe that of those that care about us?? A good teacher can teach a student to read using a phone book….but, only a student that sees worth in the knowledge, and is willing to work hard to acquire it. Where does that work ethic come from?? When does it arrive?? Can it be instilled at will?? Who is in charge of doing so??

And…for those that don’t understand…we, who care about your understanding, will do our best to give you all the effort we can muster. But, you will have to try to. You may have to do things that aren’t fun. You may have to work hard. And, at least from here, the assault on ignorance will continue…and we’ll work on those “big” words.

Today, as often happens my students and I got in a discussion that covered a variety of subjects, from superheros to drug use. And, during these discussions it amazes me to find that they cannot readily accept someone like me. They find my behavior quite bizzare. The cannot imagine someone who has lived the life that I have led.

When discussing smoking they often find it paradoxical that while I had chain-smoking parents I have never done so. I never even tried it. I was afraid, as I tell them, that I would like it and become addicted too. I never wanted to smell like them. I never wanted a burning pacifier to rule my life. I remember them not being able to go certain places because smoking wasn’t allowed. They, my parents, thought that I was some kind of “fresh air nut”. Well, a fresh air nut I am. I like breathing. I do not like suffering, as so many have with smoking. I cannot imagine having the difficulties that so many do, due to their desire for a pacifier. I never did like one, even as a child.

Of course, my students don’t see it as a pacifier. No, it is a measure of adulthood. So, I ask which shows our adulthood more, giving into desires that we know will hurt us or standing firm against the pressures that society can bring?? They, of course, don’t like it put that way. They cannot fathom someone who just didn’t see the need. They cannot fathom someone who chooses not to and follows through. What does that say about our society? What does that say about my generation?

My generation often marvels at the youth of today and their indulgence in wanton behavior. Where do we think they learned that self-restraint was not an option? Where do we think they learn that going along, because everyone does is OK? Well, sadly, they learned it from us. How many people do we know that got into trouble because they simply went along??? How many people do we know who have been in trouble and can’t figure out how they got there? Far too many.

My students cannot fathom someone thinking prior to acting. They cannot fathom someone who sees others having fun and choosing not to join in because the “fun” includes consequences. They are under the same impression we were under, hey you are only young once….so have fun now….’cause it ends soon. How sad must their parents’ lives be?

I ask the students, if the fun ends at adulthood, why do so many continue to exist? Why not end it all when you graduate high school? They respond that most of the adults they know are angry, frustrated, sad, and depressed. These people don’t have fun. They have drudgery. My response to them includes the tale of a number of gentlemen much older than myself who, while in their 70s, still look forward to tomorrow with great anticipation. These old guys expect to continue to challenge themselves and have fun…..regardless of age.

The best days of our lives should always be before us…..regardless of our age. We should not give up, give in, or relent in our pursuit to challenge ourselves. Without challenging ourselves we begin to wither and die. It doesn’t have to be so. We can lead our children into an adulthood not crippled at the start by smoking, drinking, and drugs. Not because we are so righteous, but because we want to be strong and proud for a long lifetime…not just while we are young.

Further, how pathetic are we to show our children how weak we really are so easily. Sure, they will know we are weak…in so many ways…but, do we really need a pacifier to reinforce the notion. Yes, I know quiting is hard….my father quit….the day he died….he couldn’t manage it before hand. How do we expect our children to be of a strong will and mind if a tiny tobacco plant rules over us…or a bottle….or a pill….or a…well, you get the picture. We fail so often, in so many ways…business, academics, sports, relationships, etc. must we include addiction as part of that. While I realize that addiction can be treated as a disease…it is a disease that we do not have to suffer. If we do not indulge, we never become addicted. Is it easy to go against the flow…no? Is it easy to face reality sober….no. But, don’t our children deserve our sobriety?

I am accused, quite often as you might guess, of being antisocial, but what most people mean is that I am not like everyone else….I don’t just go along. True, I am not a sheep. I don’t follow just because….of course, this particular trait didn’t always serve me well in the military. Being a goat isn’t easy. But, it seems to me the sheepiness of others is much harder….. At least around here, there do be goats about.

As a teacher I am constantly asked how I think the children today are? I am bombarded with condolences for my job, due to the perceived difficulties that must be happening with the children. I am often made aware that the children I teach must be the worst ever, according to the adults I run into. Well…..

As I stood today listening to the tale of one of the youngsters it occurred to me that the adults in this child’s life must not understand at all. While many of our parents today are doing a wonderful job and their children are well-adjusted and responsible, far too many are not. I often am the recipient of the poor behavior that began because “my mom and I had a fight this morning….sorry” when that behavior is bad enough for me to have to get administration involved. I cannot imagine sending my child off into the day knowing that the last thing I said to her would stir her anger all day. Sure, we’ve had our days, nights, and weekends, where we didn’t agree or get along too well. But, she always knew that she was still my “one and only”.

The lack of respect displayed between the children and their parents is amazing. They call their children horrible names and then can’t understand why the child stays mad. They expect the child to overlook what they said, or did, out of anger yet they keep telling the child not “to speak to me in that tone.” Shouldn’t we as adults model the behavior we want to see in the child? Shouldn’t we be the ones to calm down first, after all we have seen many moments of frustration and know that they will pass?

I cannot imagine responding to my child as other parents do. I saw a woman screaming at the top of her lungs at a child in a store. She was demanding that he stop whining and put down the toy he had asked for. I was standing immobilized by the display. As the tantrum of the child, and that of its mother, grew in intensity, I was sure I knew where he learned the behavior. Do we ever stop to think about the way our children see us?

I remember thinking that some of the questions children are asked make little sense, yet we expect them explain themselves fully. I actually heard a father ask his son if he wanted him (the father) to hit him (the son). I thought “why would he want that?” What a stupid question!!! And this father will be amazed when the child hits his little brother…wondering where in the world he learned that.

Do we understand how bad the words that we say hurt the people we love? I have been in the presence of so many crying children, I know that few of the parents I see realize it. Most of them say what ever comes to mind….or at least to mouth. They never even guess that their child may be suicidal. They never understand why the child sneaks out at night. Yeah, like why would the child want to be away from such a monster? Then, often, the monster attempts to explain that “I was just mad…sorry.” Sure, I guess the child merely erases that from its memory.

This is not written to impune all parents. I just feel so sorry for both parties. There is only one greater relationship on Earth than parent to child….that being the one between the parents….and yet people tear both relationships apart over and over. What do they get for all of their trouble? Better wives, husbands, and children….it seems they only get greater anger and frustration from all corners. Do we really want our children to approach us in fear? I have seen large teenage boys tremble at the approach of their mother….terrified of her force of personality and authority. I have actually heard fathers state that they wanted their sons to “respect” them…..that isn’t respect…..thats fear. They are not the same. We wonder why our children have become so violent. Yet they aren’t the ones shooting at others who cut them off on the highway. What do we desire of them? What could possibly be more important than securing the love of our children? Oh yeah, we have to be right!! Is being right worth the tension in our families? Is being right and forcing a child to do our bidding, worth the wrath that child simmers until the explosion occurs?

At some point both parties must remember that it is the family that does the burying. It is the family that is to supply the scaffolding that is the main support for the child’s future. Without that support we all run a great risk of collapse. I have actually seen a parent viscously scolding a child, becoming a screaming spectacle, over insignificant things (like candy at the store, uncleaned rooms, unmade beds, etc). What will these parents do if the child wrecks the car later in life? I’m sure the child wonders the same thing.

Too often in parent teacher meetings we, teachers, exchange quick knowing glances as the parent explains why things have gone wrong. Too often the behaviors that we see in the kids are there, older, grayer, and usually angrier.

After all of these years teaching, I’m not sure that children have changed all that much, but I am sure parenting seems to have changed. The levels of frustrations in families of all socioeconomic levels seems to be rising. How many tears must we all shed? How many angry words can pass between us? How much pain can the hearts of all stand? Must we find out??? Must we be sure to be the major heartache in our child’s life? While it is never a one-sided affair, it cannot be overlooked that it is the parent who holds the position of authority and thus, the position of the greatest responsibility.

Today we learn that it was a deadly New Year’s Eve in Denver. Broncos player killed in drive-by shooting was the headline at CNN. Another drive-by. Wow, what brave souls they were. Sneak up along side, firing at unsuspecting people. That is nearly as brave as “jumping” someone with 5 or 6 of your “tough” friends. The cowardice of the bad guys here in the U.S.,never ceases to amaze me. My students constantly tell me that I don’t understand how things are these days. I have traditionally attempted to tell them that things haven’t changed that much….maybe I was wrong. I truly don’t understand people who murder indiscriminately. How does that make them feel powerful? It is very easy to kill. Many people kill themselves accidentally, so how hard could it be?? To kill is such an easy thing to do. Learning to live with those we dislike is very difficult. The man who punches the annoying drunk in the bar is not nearly so tough as the guy who goes to work each day with someone he hates. The worker understands that those who depend upon him benefit from his self-restraint. He is not a selfish child who cannot thing of anything better to do than lash out. How much frustration do our people carry around that allows them to lash out in such a fashion? I have students who spend their days an nights either fighting, discussing fighting, or being concerned about who is “looking” for them. What kind of values are we giving these kids? Many of their fathers are absent or telling them “not to take stuff” from others. When did we become so thin skinned?? I have many friends whose parents grew up in the U.S. prior to the 1960s, and they were black. It was a difficult time for them. In order to survive they had to learn to overlook the slights of others. They had to keep their eyes on what was important…their families. How much of a father is a dead man? How much of a father is a prisoner? How much of a father is someone whose only response seems to be violence? I understand the 3-year-old who cannot come up with any other response to frustration, but haven’t we learned anything?

Maybe my children are right, I truly don’t understand. I don’t know that I want to. I don’t want to know why people hate some one “from the other ‘hood” simply because his family choose a different street. I don’t know how they can’t see that if mommy moves…their hood changes. I don’t understand how they can’t see that the person who kills someone else gives up control over their lives to the dead guy. The dead guy, much like an ex-spouse, never leaves their minds. And, chances are, the dead guy was someone they wouldn’t have crossed the street to spit on. Why must we make sure that everyone understands we are mad or frustrated? I think most everyone is, to some degree. Why do we think our frustration is so important that we must lash out? Do we think that we are so important that the world must notice? Could it be that we were allowed to throw too many tantrums when we were young? Could it be that we were abused when we were young? Could it be that we cannot see that we are following the path of the fools that raise us? If we thought it was wrong for mom or dad to hit us, why is it OK for us to hit others? If we thought it was wrong for mom and dad to hit one another, why is no OK for us to lash out? Can we not learn from the mistakes of others, or are we so stupid we must learn the same hard lessons on our own? If so, what happened to imagination? What happened to trying to be better than the generation before us? Why not try to make our families proud of us, in the U.S., right Here.

It is amazing how the simplest things take us back to childhood.  If we are careful we are able to see the amazement in the eyes of others.  This past year Disney released “The Little Mermaid” again, this time on DVD.  Along with the release came another round of merchandising.  Because it is my daughter’s favorite Disney film we went crazy….Little Mermaid this, Little Mermaid that….most, not all of it was very inexpensive.  Today my daughter received all of those gifts….not anything fancy…just simple plastic doodads.  And, for many 20-year-olds this would have meant nothing…save the fact that her parents didn’t care enough to buy “real” gifts.  Yet, if only for a few moments, the little girls who squealed with delight so many years ago at Ariel’s escapades returned for a visit.  I was able to see the glee of a 6-year-old again in my living room.  For, if only for a moment, she had returned.  The anxious, hurried, studious, and driven college student was replaced by the sparkling hazel eyes and dimpled hands of the little girl from so long ago…..  It is amazing to see this happen to her.  It is amazing that so many of us have lost the ability to return to our youth, even if only for a moment.  We have lost the joy and amazement that the eyes of a child can see.  We stare at the world through eyes, often, that have grown cold and lifeless through years of drudgery.

And, we believe that is all that the world now offers.  We have lost our true inner child.

Freud spoke of the inner child as though it was an unruly part of ourselves that was difficult to tame,given to fits of selfish abandon.  Maybe our inner child is more.  Maybe it is our ability to let go of our facade and view life through eyes untainted.  Without the worry that someone might see our reactions.  Without the worry of losing face.  Most of the small children I have known do not get too upset about being wrong, failing the first time, or looking too silly.  But, as adults we cannot do so.

As we age we take on the mask of adulthood and begin to play the roles that the mask requires quite often without questioning what has been lost.  The mask blocks our emotions from others and therefore from ourselves.  We lose so much when we can no longer laugh with the child within over silly things.  How do we expect the world to be a better place when even our emotions are hidden?  Are we that scared of one another?

I know I have been frightened many times to think that someone might be able to see through the mask that I wear so well.

Might they be able to see the me on the inside?

Unfortunately the world has taught many of us to shield ourselves, and our emotions, from a world that seeks to make us its victim.

We have learned that life can be cruel and hard.  We have learned that too often life cannot be trusted to take our most heartfelt emotions with the care then deserve.  Who taught us this?

It seems to me that it wasn’t “life” , but it was those who lead the way.  Those older than ourselves.

Through their actions, choices, and fears they left a legacy of fear, distrust, and often hatred.

The question, then I suppose, is what are we leading our children into?

Are we destined only to see the joy in their eyes as infrequent episodes within lives hidden behind a mask?

It is my hope and desire that you, and yours, share the joy of life together in this season of celebration.

Take off the masks an laugh with abandon.