Tuesday, October 29, 2013

“The Daddy Date” by Garris Elkins

When I became a father, God blessed me with a daughter and a son.  We have prayed for each of our children since the day they were born.  One of the great joys of being a father was to do special things with each of my children that would be specific to them as a boy and girl.

As my daughter approached her Junior High School years, I wanted to make sure she knew what it meant for a man to love and respect her as a woman. For her first decade of life, Anna was able to watch me interact with her mother.  She saw my successes and failures as a husband. I wanted the developing young woman inside my daughter to emerge with a healthy perspective when it came to relating to men.

At the time, we lived in Newport, Oregon, a small coastal town.  Our town was a destination spot for tourists and was filled with wonderful restaurants.  I knew the time had come for our first Daddy Date and selected a quaint little Italian restaurant in the Nye Beach area and made reservations.

For all her life, I had watched Anna grow into a wonderfully grace-filled person. What her mother had modeled for her in her developing womanhood was exercised later as an adult resulting in wise decisions when it came to dating.

I remember, as a teenager, when Anna was going on one of her first dates. We were going to have a talk about the right time to come home. I was about to have the talk when Anna said to me, “Dad, I think I want to be home by 10 – I have something I need to do for school tomorrow and don’t want to be out late.” It is a tremendous blessing when kids make decisions like this. To be honest, I was ready to say, “Be home by 11.”

When the day arrived for our Daddy Date, I made sure to dress up a bit.  I washed and cleaned the car.  I wanted Anna to see that I anticipated my special time with her and that I was investing in that time before it arrived.

When Anna came out of her bedroom she looked beautiful.  I took her by the arm and walked her out to the car and opened her door.  She was smiling, as was her mom who stood in the doorway of our home waving goodbye.

Once we arrived at the restaurant we were led to our table and ordered dinner.  As our dinner was being prepared, I asked Anna questions about her life.  I complimented her.  I focused my attention on her.  This was an occasion to love and appreciate my daughter, but it was also a form of mentoring to make sure my daughter could see the kind of man God wanted to send her way – a man who was interested in her, loved her and appreciated her. This is what fathers should instill in their girls so that when men enter their lives later on they will know the real from the fake.

Fathers create strong images in the minds of their daughters. Some of these images can be good and others not so good.  Our daughters will leave our home carrying these images into their dating and married life.  It is so important that a father send his girl forward in life with images of what a healthy dating life and marriage looks like.

A Daddy Date will eventually lead to real dates when fathers are not present. Our girls will date young men who have yet to make the transition to manhood.  It is in these places where a young man is not fully developed in his godliness that the gift of honor and love a father sends with his daughter becomes a protective barrier against harm and abuse.

When Anna and I finished our main course, we ordered dessert. The evening was coming to a close.  On the way home I felt good about our date.  When we arrived home, Jan could see by the smiles on our faces that we had a wonderful time.

In the years that have followed that first date, Anna and I have had other Daddy Dates.  Some of these took place in between dating seasons with men who were not her father.  I always felt like the investment Anna and I made in her life would help her navigate her future romantic interests.  These investments also helped this father live with the peace that comes from knowing that his daughter was ultimately in God’s hands. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

“Mr. Fischer's Paddle” by Garris Elkins

I grew up in one of those wonderful little hometowns we nostalgically read about today that once dotted the landscape of 1950’s America.  My hometown was Campbell, California. The grade school I attended in Campbell was called San Tomas Elementary.  I attended that school for six years – from Kindergarten through sixth grade.

The principal of the school was Mr. Jack Fischer.  I liked him even though he was a very visible authority figure.  In the late 1950’s my father learned to play golf.  Dad got so good at golf that in 1961 he won the California State Amateur title in his handicap at the famous Pebble Beach golf club.  During that time my father had met Mr. Fischer on a local golf course and they played a few rounds of golf together.

In grade school, I wasn’t a problem child.  Apart for clowning around from time-to-time, I never got in much trouble.

One of my best friends at school was a First Nations boy who was a foster child. His foster parents had a great yard filled with fruit trees. One of the trees was a pomegranate.  I remember crunching down on my first taste of a pomegranate that was handed to me over the fence by my friend.

Playgrounds are interesting social environments.  There seems to be a pecking order and established social classes that are maintained by little people who really don’t know what is taking place sociologically. Playgrounds are places of friendship and love and at other times they can become places where prejudice and hatred become visible.

One morning during recess a group of boys began to pick on my First Nations friend.  They called him names I had never heard spoken before and I had no idea what they meant.  From the look on my friend’s face I knew the words were bad. My friend was getting shoved around.  Since he was my friend, his problem was also my problem.  I stepped up beside him and we began to defend his honor and his body from the blows that were coming upon him.

After a few moments of schoolyard combat we heard the dreaded whistle.  The teacher assigned to supervise our recess time was running towards us blowing her whistle and yelling, “Stop fighting!” Once she arrived, our “almost a fight” quickly broke up.  We were all told to go to the principle’s office.

I heard stories of what happened to kids who had to go to Mr. Fischer’s office.  One day I had passed his office and saw his paddle.  The whole school told stories about “the paddle”.  In those days teachers could paddle kids.  This was not just any old paddle – it was a cricket bat.  It looked like a baseball bat, but instead of being round it was flat.  Mr. Fischer must have known something about aerodynamics because he had drilled holes in the paddle to vent the air flow and increase the speed of the paddle as it approached the butts of young boys who disobeyed.

I was the last of the boys in line to go into Mr. Fischer’s office. To me it felt like I was in line for an execution.  As each boy entered the office, I heard Mr. Fischer’s raised voice and then a loud smacking sound.  I knew I was about to die.

When I entered Mr. Fischer’s office, I was told to sit down.  Mr. Fischer asked me what happened on the playground.  I explained the situation.  Mr. Fischer had the paddle in his hand.  When I finished talking he said something that I don’t remember and then what happened next took me by surprise.

Mr. Fischer went on to tell me that he and my father had played golf together. He told me how much he liked my father.  None of this conversation was making sense to a grade school kid waiting to die.

Mr. Fischer said, “The boys outside are expecting you to get spanked. Do you want to get spanked?”  The look in my eyes screamed, “NO!” Mr. Fischer said that he would not want anyone to think I was getting special treatment just because my dad played golf with him.  He said he would hit the sofa with his paddle.  When he hit the sofa he needed me to cry out like I was getting the beating of my life.  I was more than happy to oblige.

Whack!  The cricket paddle struck the sofa and I let out a blood-curdling fake cry.  I couldn’t believe it.  I wasn’t going to die.  Not only was I not going to live, but Mr. Fischer and I now had a secret.

All the other boys who got punished that day looked really serious. None of us ever talked about what happened in Mr. Fischer’s office. 

Years after that fateful day, Mr. Fischer died. The school continued on for a few more years and then it was condemned. The entire school facility was eventually torn down and a city park was built in its place.  When it was time to name the park, people spoke up and said the name of the park should be Jack Fischer Park in honor of Mr. Fischer. The respect people had for this beloved man was very visible and vocal throughout the community.

I visited the park several years ago.  I found myself getting choked up as I stood in the park and watched little children run and play on the ground now dedicated to the memory of this wonderful man.

As I watched the children play something dawned on me.  I began to realize I might not have been the only kid who was told to yell and pretend they were getting spanked while standing in Mr. Fischer’s office. The more I pondered what happened to me those many years ago, the more I realized this was probably the modus operandi of Mr. Fischer when it came to disciplining the kids he loved.

While standing in the park, I tried to visualize the image of the long-gone elementary school of my youth. As I saw that image emerge from the fog of my memory, I also saw the prominent placement of Mr. Fischer’s paddle in the school office.  As I think about that paddle today, I realize it may have been an advertisement of a threat he rarely carried out.  I came to this possibility because many of the voices who asked the park to be named after Mr. Jack Fischer were some of the very same boys who years before were asked to keep a secret while they were given an imaginary paddling.

While Mr. Fischer was not my father, he did bestow upon me an understanding that fathers should give their sons. Sometimes the best correction for a young life is not accomplished through hard corporeal punishment, but rather through engaging a young life in a very unexpected way and winning his respect and admiration.  This respect and admiration will last long after we are gone. 

“Mr. Bobbitt” by Garris Elkins

In high school, I took an English class from a teacher named, Mr. Bobbitt.  Mr. Bobbitt seemed “old” to me – he must have been about 50 when I was one of his students.

In class, Mr. Bobbitt would never let us use the word, “good”, to describe anything.  He said the word revealed nothing about what we were discussing.  “Good” was too generic and lacked definition.  In class when a student would say something was good, Mr. Bobbitt would stop the conversation mid-sentence and say, “Please describe what you mean when you use the word ‘good’”. I really enjoyed this aspect of Mr. Bobbitt’s class because his request to flesh out the definition of something described as “good” led to some interesting stories in class.

What really surprised me about Mr. Bobbitt was one day when he showed up at one of my swim meets to watch me race.  He walked down from the bleachers to greet me after one of my races.

When Mr. Bobbitt showed up poolside he looked a bit out of place. He did not seem the type of person who would like sports. The coaches, parents and swim team members were all dressed appropriately for a swim meet, each in casual attire.  Mr. Bobbitt was dressed like an Oxford professor.

As Mr. Bobbitt talked with me, I began to appreciate the fact that he was there with me.  I was not sure what to do or say. Deep down inside, I felt a bit honored that he had come.

When the next race started something strange happened.  Firing off a pistol started each race.  When the loud bang of the pistol went off, Mr. Bobbitt ducked down violently like a bullet had just been fired over his head.  I thought the gunshot must have simply surprised him and he would know it was coming and be prepared when the next race started.

Over the course of the next hour, I saw Mr. Bobbitt duck down each time the pistol started a race.  Because his reactions had become very obvious, Mr. Bobbitt explained why he was ducking down each time the starter pistol went off. 

Mr. Bobbitt had been in World War II.  He was an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Europe.  He was in the heat of deadly battle.  He had experienced the horror of war and the reality of someone trying to kill you.  He had been trained to make himself as small a target as possible when bullets were fired.  This is why he still had a reflexive response to duck down at the sound of a gun shot.

In the remaining months of English class, I looked at Mr. Bobbitt with a greater level of respect.  I appreciated him as a teacher and him helping me understand why things needed to be described beyond the definition of “good”.

What really touched me most about his life was when he attended my swim meet.  I could tell it was very painful for him to be around loud noises that reminded him of war.  I could only imagine the pain inside his heart and mind when the sound of a weapon cracked.  Maybe he saw images of friends dying.  Maybe he saw a German soldier fall to the report of his own rifle.  I will never know because it was not for me to ask.

Mr. Bobbitt taught me something about the value of supporting someone even when it is painful to do so.  Mr. Bobbitt could have easily left the swim meet at the first report of the starter pistol.  A quick explanation to me of WWII would have been enough as he walked away and I would have understood.

What touched me then, and still touches me today, is the value of his remaining in a painful situation so he could honor me by being present in my life. Mr. Bobbitt must have heard 20 loud pistol reports that day and he ducked down at each one. 

To the other people who were poolside, Mr. Bobbitt must have looked strange, but not to me. The events I watched that day was the story behind the definition of Mr. Bobbitt when I say he was a good man.

Friday, October 25, 2013

“Correcting Mistakes” by Garris Elkins

My father was not a strict man.  Not much bothered him.  Maybe it was because he was 42 years old when I was born.  I was the first of two boys born to my parents.  In some ways, I was raised by parents who were the age of young grandparents.

Over the course of my childhood there were many fishing trips. Some of these trips evolved as the trip progressed.  Dad would stop at a store in a small mountain town and hear someone talking about how good the fishing was just over the distant mountain and off we would go to find out.  Once we went fishing near Lake Tahoe and dad heard the fishing was really good in Canada and we ended up fishing in Kamloops, British Columbia.

On one of these evolving adventures, we rose early in the morning and packed up the truck camper and departed from our current campsite located near the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Dad wanted to have breakfast at a little diner in the small mountain community near our campsite before we hit the road.

Entering the diner was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting.  This was the late 1950’s when cars had carburetors and families had one phone and no answering machines. The diner had red-checked table clothes, big salt and peppershakers and a waitress who called each customer, “Hon”.

When my father traveled with his two sons, he liked to do manly stuff with us.  One of these manly things was to have steak and eggs for breakfast. My father was proud of my brother and me. He seemed to feel at peace with his two sons in tow.

On this particular morning, my brother and I had lagged behind in the restaurant.  Mom and dad paid the bill and went out to the truck.  On the way out of the diner, I noticed one of those Open-Closed signs hanging from the front door.  This was one of those small signs that hung by a string that a waitress would flip to the appropriate side when she would come and go to the diner each day. It was still early morning and the sign would be advertising “Open” for many more hours.

As I walked out the door, I flipped the sign to read, “Closed”.  I felt pretty cocky as I walked to get in the truck.  When I got inside the cab of the truck, I could tell things were not quite right.  Dad looked at me and said, “Go back and fix the sign.”  I said, “What”, trying to distance myself from my stupidity.  I argued at bit and then started the long march back to the door of the diner.

When I got to the diner door, I was humiliated.  I tried to do the sign flip without being noticed.  To this day I am not sure anyone in the establishment knew the sign had its status changed.  I turned the sign back over and walked back to the truck.

Dad didn’t say anything more to me about the sign. I learned a lesson and paid the price of my disobedience.

At the time, I would never have thought of this, but little roadside diners in touristy locales rely on the passing tourist traffic to carry the business.  A casual drive by a little diner with a “Closed” sign on the front door would have someone driving on by looking for something that was open.  My act of foolishness would have cost someone a livelihood.

My father had me do the right thing, not only for me, but also for the business.  As a boy, I was beginning to realize the ripple effect of my actions.  Fathers help their children see the consequence of their actions.  Consequences that cost a child something, like a humiliating walk back to a diner to turn over a sign, have a value. 

Some of the most profound correction we bring to a child is not physical or by denying them something – it is involving a child in a corrective activity that helps them fix what they messed up and hopefully see the larger picture. 

The day my father told me to return to the diner his simple request began to forge in my mind towards a respect for other people.  I never turned another sign over in a restaurant.

After that day, my father’s correction helped me see the value of honor for waitresses, owners of little places struggling to make it and most of all for me.  My father was forging a yet to be revealed man who would someday love his own children enough to make them go back and correct their own mistakes.