Thursday, October 29, 2020

Of Course There's a Parenting Manual

As I approach 50, and my two kids enter college and high school, I look back with pride and a bit of relief that I didn’t screw this up.

My wife Julie and I were talking recently about how we got to this point, and the one thing we recalled about getting ready to welcome our first child is memories of reading. We read and talked a lot about parenting before we started doing it. Just like we always did before planning a trip, we researched, heading to the bookstore and library in search of what was known about the experience we were about to embrace. Obviously it helped that we were both educators and natural readers. It has also helped we somehow have two incredibly amazing kids. In fact, at times my wife and I sometimes admit we might have no idea if we actually are good parents because in some ways we haven’t really parented; but that really only means we haven’t struggled with managing behavior. In reality, we have parented every minute of our kids lives, even when that meant giving them autonomy and freedom. 

Parenting is undoubtedly an uncertain and ever-evolving series of events, and most parents will advise newbies that you can never fully prepare for what comes next. However, that doesn’t mean there is no store of knowledge and wisdom about parenting. Sadly, too many people feel we are destined to be flying blind and living in a state of crisis management throughout the childhood years. I recall an episode of Oprah years ago where one of her guests lamented to Dr. Phil, “you know, there’s no parenting manual.” Both Oprah and Dr. Phil nodded and smiled, exclaiming, “That’s right, there is no parenting manual.” It’s not like the hospital gives you a user's manual as you head out the door, right? Julie and I just looked at each other, dumbfounded. “Of course there is a parenting manual,” we protested to the TV. In fact, there are dozens that sprang to our minds without even doing an Amazon or Barnes & Noble search. 

Being a Gen X child of a 70s upbringing, I remember hearing my mom talk of Dr. Spock, the pediatrician whose 1946 bestseller The Common Book of Baby & Child Care influenced post World War II parenting. Granted, there is much discussion these days of everything Dr. Spock got wrong, but there is no denying the influence and significance of the book that was grounded in a simple faith in the parenting instinct and that gave confidence and support to millions of young parents by reminding them “you know more than you think you do.” Dr. Spock had plenty of detailed advice on how new parents could raise and nurture their children into adults. His somewhat revolutionary tome broke with traditions in parenting by encouraging parents to not follow strict rules but to see their children as individuals. It’s sort of an adaptive model. For Boomers and Gen Xers, this was the definitive parenting manual used to raise two generations. 

In contemporary twenty-first century America, the bookshelf on parenting self-help has greatly expanded. Beyond the basic parenting manuals, the industry has grown into numerous specialized genres of primary importance such as feeding your child and getting him or her to sleep. There are books on literacy and emotional intelligence and allergies and toy selection. There is no shortage of books on discipline, with full manuscripts devoted to the questions of whether or not to spank (Helpful Hint: No). In fact, two enterprising parents and “parenting coaches,” (yes, that’s really a thing), Carole and Nadim Saad actually wrote a parenting manual called Kids Don’t Come with a Manual, a bestseller which has since become a series. However, if I am advising a future parent, I think it has to start with the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which should be a mandatory baby shower gift, and it should always be paired with What to Expect the First Year.  If we reflect and look back on our experience, the next most significant book Julie and I read was Proactive Parenting. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a single manual or book; it could easily be a website with multiple resources like The Guide to Modern Parenting

These days the parenting manuals most often are not manuals and guidebooks, as much as they are memoirs of success and failure. They share tips on how to raise children the French way, or they are occasionally self-congratulatory books that sing the praises of being a tiger mom or the hipster dad. As the parents of a couple successful children, my wife and I have often fielded not only compliments but queries about what we did, or more importantly how we got our kids to act as they do. Well, we never did anything to get them to act that way. However, we have read and talked a lot about parenting. And as educators, we have admittedly witnessed and discussed a great deal the parenting choices of others.

Much can be learned from the wisdom and experience of others. So, that’s the crux of my parenting advice. Yes, there is a parenting manual. And there is one that is perfect for you and your child. Read it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

As Long as We're Talking ....

“As long as we’re talking” was the mantra of my father, a man who worked in negotiations for thirty years. And I think often of his words in times of local and national debate. As I reflected on him this past Father’s Day weekend, I crafted a piece of commentary framing my dad’s words against a society in desperate need of greater communication. And, I was thrilled when the CS Monitor recently published the piece in its Home Forum Section. The response has been very positive, and I am so honored to be in the Monitor and to see my dad's words and legacy receive some attention. The piece begins like this:

My dad was a great talker. For a man who spent 30 years in personnel and labor relations, the most important thing to him was communication. It was a skill, an art form, a vocation, and a passion; it was the essence of his lively and loquacious spirit. Communication was his credo. “As long as we’re talking ...” he’d say. Everything would be OK, as long as we’re talking. It’s particularly important advice to heed in these times, when people seem more likely to shout.

Dad and I probably said too much in some discussions. We said more than we needed to as we tried to get the last word. We said things better left unspoken. But, for all we did say to each other, I know now, after he passed just shy of his eighty-fourth birthday, that for all our time speaking, we hadn’t talked nearly enough. And I’d give anything for one more chat.

It’s been a year now, and we’re still talking. Well, I am. He listens. And I really miss his voice. And I lament all the time we didn’t talk, the stretches when our politics got the best of us, the days and weeks we didn’t communicate. I can still hear his voice and his laugh. And now that he’s gone and I’m fifty, I hear him in my own voice. Despite his long successful career and a fifty-year marriage that produced three kids, Dad was fond of saying “I still haven’t figured out what I was put on this Earth to do.” He said that well into his seventies. He was always thinking about what came next. But we all knew why he was here - it was to talk.

So let’s try to start talking. And keep talking. Because as long as we’re talking ...

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Disappointment of Cory Gardner

He had such potential. And unaffiliated Colorado voters had such hope.

Recent news of the Republican Party cutting funding and minimizing effort for the re-election campaign of Senator Cory Gardner indicates the GOP expects him to lose, and if he does it’s because character is non-negotiable.

Cory Gardner is an astute thinker, engaging campaigner, and capable legislator. At age forty-eight he was a prime example of Generation X politics with independent thinking unbeholden to institutional gatekeeping. Originally a Democrat, Gardner clearly had the background and open mind that is popular in Colorado where unaffiliated voters outnumber both parties. In 2016, Senator Gardner pledged to be a representative to the people of Colorado, and that requires a political independence from party politics he simply doesn’t have. 

And he failed the test. He failed to read the political climate. He failed to understand his home state. He failed to represent the people of Colorado, not just the Republican Party, the fourth district, and his hometown of Yuma.

And it really is all about character, not his but that of the man he failed to stand up to like he promised. The Republican Party is hurting, and it’s a result of capitulation to an arrogant blustering egomaniac who is the furthest thing from the party of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Sound moral and ethical character, a sense of decorum, a decent respect for appropriate public behavior, and a foundation of integrity toward the responsibility of governing, these are the qualities that honor the legacy of the Republican Party and the values of conservatism since the time of Eisenhower. To think that the party of Ike and the Gipper is now beholden to a man like Donald Trump is truly gut-wrenching. 

And Cory Gardner could have taken a stand. Like Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, the man from Yuma could have been a powerful countermeasure to the consistently embarrassing and often outrageous behavior of Donald Trump. Gardner could have been the blocker that a center-right nation hoped former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was going to be. Alas, a seemingly strong, smart, independent thinker like Paul Ryan is now out of politics, and it seems Cory Gardner will join him soon. And that is a real shame. Because all it took was a little guts, a little integrity, a little moxie, and a little faith that voters in Colorado wouldn’t object to him objecting to the unacceptable words and actions of the man who has tarnished the Grand Old Party and the mantle of conservatism for the past five years.

Gardner would like to have been a popular compassionate conservative like George W. Bush who was known best as “a guy you’d like to have a beer with.” And he may be that kind of person. The problem is his opponent John Hickenlooper is that guy too, and he has been since he was an independent businessman behind the bar at his own brewpub. And he remained that guy as a popular, moderate mayor in liberal Denver and a pro-business governor for the entire state. By contrast, Gardner failed to meet the challenge and the bar of leadership expected by moderate independents and those who are conservative but not Republican. And like most Republican politicians at risk for losing their seats, it’s his capitulation that is the problem. 

For the past twenty years on the Colorado political scene, Democrats have done a far better job of playing the moderate and appealing to all Coloradans, as opposed to just their party faithful and primary voters. From Bill Ritter to Ken Salazar to Michael Bennet to John Hickenlooper, they have led with a pragmatism, a statewide vision, and a leadership quality voters can trust. On the Republican side, Aurora mayor Mike Coffman is the GOP’s only elected official who has come close to listening to all voters and adapting to serve his entire community. Coffman was re-elected numerous times amidst a diverse and changing district, though he ultimately lost out to Jason Crow in 2018, likely because of the same capitulation to an increasingly disappointing Republican Party that forgot the values it holds most dearly. 

Gardner and the Republican Party were willing to sell their souls for the promise of court appointments and tax cuts, but they failed to realize the cost. If you are willing to sacrifice your values for a political deal, then people will realize you probably never actually held those values in the first place. Cory Gardner had two years to learn from Mike Coffman’s mistake. He had two years to stand up to Trump, to call out the behavior. He had two years to sternly, loudly tell the President his behavior does not represent the values of conservatism, the values of the Republican Party, and the values of the people of Colorado. But he said virtually nothing, and he no longer deserves the seat Coloradans entrusted to him.

Perhaps Yuma has a mayoral election coming up.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

What Happened to the Conscience of a Conservative?

Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush:

Those names evoke character, integrity, ethics, conviction, respect, and a deep abiding faith in the American people and in the nearly 250-year-old American experiment in self government. These icons of political leadership are the mantle of the modern American conservatism which traces its roots back through Russell Kirk to the foundational ideas of Edmund Burke. The essence of this belief system, which is not an ideology or a political platform, is a faith and trust in stability, permanence, prudence, a moral/ethical order, and the institutions that establish and maintain the opportunity for individuals to live free and independent. These men and these ideas were, at least through the 1980s, the common thread of the Republican Party.

What has happened? And how was it even possible?

There is no logical, rational way to square the presence of Donald Trump in this tradition or the party. I cannot fathom how anyone can align that shell of a man with the names Eisenhower, Goldwater, Reagan, and Bush. From the time of Burke, sound moral and ethical character has been the standard and the non-negotiable quality of a conservative, prudent sometimes to a fault. Yet today we have news that the former White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, an honorable and decorated military hero and honest man had this to say about the current President:  "The depths of his dishonesty is astounding. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life."

Kelly's words are terribly sad, but not surprising, given what we have witnessed since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in true media info-tainer style back in 2015. At that time, I heard from many trusted conservatives who brushed off the media attention with comments like "he's not a serious man." But the campaign became quite serious, and he has done serious damage to the country and a political party in four brutally long years. Even now as men like Senator Ben Sasse begin to heed and parrot the warnings of Mitt Romney and Jeff Flake and George Will and David Frum and Evan McMullin, it's too late to forget what we've seen, to forgive what the Republican Party has allowed.

And yet, still, I struggle to understand how people can look back to the legacy of Ike and the Gipper and somehow still stand silent like Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, or worse acquiesce to acceptance or outright praise and even endorsement of a truly harmful egomaniac. Basically, what has happened is capitulation. It's been a selling out of values and ideals in exchange for legislative and governmental policy gifts. And that makes me rather sad because the "Conscience of a Conservative" rests upon firm moral conviction, and those beliefs are sacrosanct and non-negotiable. Those beliefs have no wiggle room and no latitude for the abrasive, aggressive, inappropriate, unethical, and embarrassing words, behaviors, and actions of Donald Trump.

For someone who grew up in the Reagan era and worked on his first political campaign for a pious and ethical man named George H.W. Bush, the reluctant acceptance and ultimate embrace by the GOP of Trumpian politics is simply beyond the pale. Decorum and manners and "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" should be the bar and standard for our behavior and even our politics, and that's why I am saddened by attacks on the career of Joe Biden. It's one thing to challenge and criticize a candidate's positions and votes, but I cannot fathom Ronald Reagan or the elder Bush tearing down a person's forty-year career just to win an election. Yet that's what I see in commentary and social media, and it's simply a reflection of a political party that has allowed itself to become as mean and contemptuous as its current President.

And, that's what it means to be a Republican, but not a conservative. For, whatever anyone wants to call that man's beliefs and behaviors, they are not conservative. And anyone who passively accepts, or worse condones and endorses his behavior and his continued power and influence is quite simply not conservative, not in the tradition that dates back to Burke. Thus, even if voters, legislators, and commentators seek to justify their capitulation based on party platform and legislative agendas, that is no excuse for remaining silent. To not assertively and regularly call out and condemn the outrageous and embarrassing behaviors of the President is to, in fact, embrace his actions as acceptable. And they're not. Republicans could have accepted the policy achievements while still daily challenging, scolding, distancing, isolating, and condemning every transgression, every insult, every slight, every evasion, every obfuscation, every inappropriate and unethical word. That is what character and integrity require; that is what the conscience of a conservative expects and demands.

And, so I ask now and will continue to ponder for those who are moderate, independent, and/or conservative but not Republican, "What happened to the conscience of a conservative?" And when will the Republican Party be a welcome place for conservatives who have a conscience? When will people who claim to be conservatives and who claim to be the legacy of Goldwater and Reagan finally say, "Enough." Character and manners matter, perhaps more than anything else if we hope to maintain a civil society. To that end, the only answer to a man like Donald Trump, and any future candidate who seeks to follow the politics of chaos and disruption, is "No."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Scalia, SCOTUS, Originalism, & Politics

In regards to the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and her "qualifications" for the role, there are really only two considerations for me: a candidate who is a qualified jurist and the Senate understanding its role to advise and consent. With those two conditions, the public circus around the issue should end hopefully soon with Barrett's appointment to the Court. Granted, I am traditionalist who stands on precedent, and to that end I would have preferred two things to happen: one, for the Senate to delay the hearings until after the January inauguration of the next president, and two, for the nominee to be a bit older and have more years of experience on the Bench. Alas, neither is to be, and that's OK. However, the public discussions of Barrett's judicial philosophy and the influence of Antonin Scalia on her thinking has many people talking about Scalia and his legacy which will be nothing less than profound. 

Antonin Scalia is undoubtedly an intellectual giant in terms of judicial philosophy, and his professed belief in Constitutional originalism will have every bit as significant an effect on the Court as the years of Warren Berger did. However, with the discussion of originalism raging on Twitter and talk-media, I have a a few qualifying thoughts. Specifically, Scalia's position is valid and relevant and really quite thoughtful, if not brilliant. There is much to like and believe about it, at least as much as there is about the Berger Court's work in the idea of the "living Constitution." In all honesty and fairness, Berger can also be considered an originalist, if not at least a textualist (likely influencing Scalia's philosophy), and whose work could accurately be described as "living originalism." That said, my concern and criticism of the Scalia impact is based on the ideas that in numerous cases Scalia was not, in fact, the originalist he claimed to be, that he did quite literally legislate from the Bench in ways he and others have criticized others, and that his beliefs in no way put the Court and its rulings above politics but actually were quite political and in reality politicized the Court as much as Berger and much more than others like Holmes.

Some key moments in Scalia's non-originalist legislating are, of course, the Citizen United case on campaign finance, the Heller case on the second amendment and private ownership of firearms, and finally the unprecedented and quite inappropriate meddling of the Court in the 2000 election Florida recount. I simply cannot find a justifiable originalist argument for the belief the corporations are people and that money equals speech. Corporate personhood could never have been fathomed at the time of the Constitution's drafting in the manner that it exists today, and it was in no way intended to be included in the Constitution's "We the People ..." If Scalia bases his beliefs that the document should be applied with its "public meaning," then he would never have supported corporations retaining the same personal rights as an individual voter and taxpayer, and he would never have confirmed freedom of speech rights on monetary gifts. In fact, in light of today's absurd money machine fueling political campaigns an originalist would be more likely to equate campaign "donations" as nothing short of legalized bribery.

As far as Heller goes, I'm still waiting for a Republican (and I say that by distinguishing conservatives from the political party) to explain how Scalia's clear political victory was an originalist position. Both Justices John Paul Stevens (and Steven Breyer) and Antonin Scalia crafted "originalist positions," and I can't fathom how Scalia's is "more originalist" or better originalist than Stevens' or Breyer's. The textual reference to "a well-regulated militia" and the correlation to "the security of the state" is so clearly the foundation of the rights and subsequently so far removed from private home handgun ownership that it's tough to see how Scalia could circumvent it, how he could claim an originalist view, and how Republicans and the NRA can reconcile that as anything other than a political and legislative application of a living Constitution. Additionally, the case was decided 5-4 between two "originalist arguments," so how can that be anything but political when the Court was so clearly divided along the political leanings that both parties have aligned to the justices. Impartial, objective, and unbiased readers of the case? Hardly seems accurate, does it? Finally, the Florida recount was pure politics, plain and simple. 

So, while I have a genuine appreciation for Scalia and the ideas of originalism/textualism, I remain disappointed by the actual politics behind the curtain of Scalia's impact and intention. And that doesn't mean that I oppose Barrett's nomination, or Scalia's for that matter. Again, the bar is qualified jurist, and they both meet that standard. It's the politics and the disrespect for the tradition and the institution that is most troubling. I've grown weary of it, and it's one of the few things that leaves me less than hopeful about the continued promise of the United States.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

"Checking into the hospital" -- not a luxury most of us have

As I would say of anyone who has is facing a serious and potentially life-threatening medical issue, I wish all the best and a speedy recovery to former governor Chris Christie as he battles Covid-19. 

Christie tested positive this week, having become infected amidst the outbreak at the White House, which has been linked to the Supreme Court nomination announcement, an event during which most attendees including Christie ignored CDC guidelines as they intermingled in a large group with few masks and little social distancing. Following his public revelation of a positive Covid test, Christie then announced that in "consultation with his doctors" out of caution because he has asthma (not mentioning being obese) he would "check himself into the hospital."

That phrasing struck me as odd. It sounds like he's just spending the weekend at the Four Seasons. 

Hospitalization is a very serious decision, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has killed a million people worldwide. In all my experience and understanding, hospitals are not places you simply "check into" like you've booked an appointment at a spa. And, even if they were a place you could just get a room any time you'd like, most people do not have the resources or the access to 24-hour attention to their health, just out of precautions. Oh, that the health care system were so accommodating. In fact, immediate access to health care is the wish and desire of millions of people. For most of us, that option is prohibitive on multiple levels. And even for people hospitalized, it would seem Christie is receiving unusual access to care. Reports indicate the hospital has started him on the anti-viral drug remdesivir "as a precaution." Yet, all news reports indicate the drug is reserved for only the most serious Covid cases that aren't responding to regular treatments. So why is Chris Christie given access to this drug unnecessarily at a time when most people suffering from Covid don't get it, and when some people who are symptomatic are still struggling to even receive a test, much less have access to immediate high level hospital care?

That question, of course, brings up another:  Is Christie's explanation that his symptoms are mild and the hospitalization is cautionary an accurate portrayal of his situation? Or is he far sicker than he indicates? If that is true, then Christie or his office needs to clarify the decision of his doctors. As stories continue to surface of people being denied tests, denied hospitalization, and denied their right to life, the disparity in care is a troubling side effect of the nation's poor pandemic response. If some Americans are suffering and dying from limited access to health care while Chris Christie is receiving the drug remdesivir simply as a precaution while his condition is not actually at the serious level, the public needs to know, and the governor and the system need to be held accountable for the inconsistency.

The news of Christie's hospitalization and extensive special treatment is simply another example of problems in the American health care system, and the rather crass attitude of far too many contemporary Republicans on the subject. Of course, I don't fault anyone who pursues and is able to receive the best medical care they can. But I am suspicious and critical of anyone who would actively inhibit changes to a health care system in order to limit any expansion or funding of the very access they demand and receive as a matter of privilege. As an asthmatic, like Gov Christie, I am deeply concerned and at risk for complications from respiratory illnesses. Unlike Christie, I am sure, I have a high-deductible health insurance plan which comes with the added burden of a $12,000 deductible. As a public employee (like Christie was for many years), I do not have the resources to pay $12K out-of-pocket "as a precaution." And that's why I am bothered by the word choices of former Governor-turned-corporate-lobbyist Chris Christie in relation to his hospitalization for Covid.

To conclude, I truly wish all the best and restored health to Chris Christie. In addition to his feeling better, it's my hope this experience also leads him to revise his views and actions on health care in the United States.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Congress Should Live Together, But Not In Dorms

The partisanship in the United States is hurting our communities and our common identity as neighbors. Our political leaders, often in conjunction with the info-tainer side of media, are complicit in, if not outright responsible for, this divisive atmosphere. In response to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Senator Ben Sasse, I have a proposal for how our congressional leaders can help us heal, and it was featured in Merion West Magazine. Click on the link for the full piece; below is the intro:

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska recently launched a fascinating critique of the dysfunctional state of the Senate with his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for among other things the abolition of the 17th Amendment. In his proposal to “Make the Senate Great Again” by eliminating the direct election of senators, he suggested various reforms to return a sense of collegiality and debate to the esteemed legislative body. Perhaps the most compelling idea focuses on the need for senators to have legitimate bi-partisan cross-the-aisle relationships to promote real collegiality. Specifically, Senator Sasse believes senators need to live together in order to work together. The suggestion is not only brilliant, but knowing Americans will never give up electing their representatives, the idea of senators living in a single community may be the most feasible aspect of his proposal.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Edward Hopper's Early Paintings & defining America

 A stir rippled through the art world this week on news of an exciting discovery about the works of Edward Hopper. British graduate student Louis Shadwick, who is researching his doctorate on Hopper, has concluded three of Hopper's earliest works are far from original and are, in fact, copies of other artists' work. Shadwick was researching early influences on Hopper, but with the eye of a real art sleuth has instead learned that Hopper learned his craft by copying others, perhaps even following instructions from an amateur painter's magazine. While it is not at all unusual for young painters and art students of this time to learn by copying, or reproducing, previous works, it is rather unprecedented to learn this of Edward Hopper, who has long been considered a true American original.

Even as I'm only recently getting into art as an interest and passion, Hopper's iconic Night Hawks has long been a favorite painting of mine, with its stark image of three individuals "alone in their thoughts" at a late night diner. It is an eerie and poignant image of Americana for me, and I've always been intrigued by Hopper's mesmerizing portrait of stoicism and individuality. So, while I was intrigued by the story of Shadwick's discovery, I was equally fascinated by the insightful commentary in the New York Times by art critic Blake Gopnik.

Noting that copying paintings was common before the "freedom of modern art," Gopnik is intrigued by Shadwick's wondering about the "Americaness" that Hopper lived in and was influenced by. It's a concept we have long grappled with as a country and an identity, and I've long been interested in the artistic portrayals of the "lone American." From the frontier hero of James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumpo Leatherstocking tales to Huck on the raft "lighting out for the territories" and Holden longing to protect innocence from the phoniness of the world, the rugged individualism necessary to carve out a living amidst a wilderness is part of the American story. And, the concept of innocence and individual integrity identified by RWB Lewis as "The American Adam" has been our myth and our legend. It's Gatsby reaching out to the green light, and it's a contemporary America wondering if we "can't all just get along."

If even Hopper is not, in fact, quintessentially American, then what is this national idea we seek to identify and define ourselves by. In the past decade or so, it has become a conflict to determine, in Gopnik's words "does it need to be made great again or does it need to face up to its failures?" These are serious questions, the kind which customers in late night diner might be pondering. And we've been thinking about it for at least as long as early American writer Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crevecouer asked "What then is this American, this new man?"