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HERE’S TO THE LOSERS AT VANCOUVER

No, that’s not a misprint. It’s just that there were a lot more losers than there were winners at the 21st Winter Olympics. And thanks to our digital age, when a hundredth of a second may separate a Gold Medal winner who can then earn millions in endorsements from a loser who is forced by that fraction of a second to return home to cold shoulders—well, this makes the Olympics not only fascinating but riveting.

As for the venue, my wife and I love Canada—we have to. It all started when a Canuck named Duane captured our daughter Michelle’s heart and ventured into the lion’s den so he could ask permission to marry our daughter. His voice was near breaking, just as mine was when I asked Connie’s father if I could marry her. We have to be kind to Duane, for we may need him when we move north because of global warming. And we have two half-Canadian grandsons who, like their father, are rabid ice hockey and soccer players/fans. The three of them would have sulked for four years had Canada lost to the U.S. in that ice hockey Gold Medal match. It lived up to its hype, that thing so rare in sports: an absolutely perfect match between two great teams.

Another reason I measure my life by Olympic showdowns is because they accelerate life to the breaking point: when so much is at stake, when you have trained to the exclusion of everything else for four long years, just to prepare for a few minutes of action, the pressure to succeed may become all-consuming. And since so many nations value winning Gold over everything else, the system guarantees a disproportionate number of broken hearts.

It’s mighty difficult not to overreact when all your dreams are but shattered shards at your feet. Like Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko did when he lost Gold to Evan Lysacek in Men’s Figure Skating. Lysacek really rose in my estimation when he refused to take the bait when interviewers tried to get him to balloon Plushenko’s cutting words into a feud. Merely smiled and said he’d always admired and looked up to Plushenko—and still did. Then there were those who broke, like U.S. skier Julia Mancuso who was already green with jealousy over her beautiful teammate and Sports Illustrated swimsuit pin-up girl/Gold Medal Winner Lyndsay Vonn getting a disproportionate share of media attention. When Vonn crashed into a fence and thus aborted Mancuso’s run for Gold., Mancuso’s cup boiled over into spiteful words. As for me, I self-righteously condemned her for such poor taste—until I remembered something even more ignoble in my own past. The time I’d desired a college division chairmanship so bad I practically lusted for it. So when one of my best friends got it instead of me, in my raging jealousy I wrote him a note that pulverized any joy he might have had over landing the position. That ill-fated note destroyed our friendship, and represents one of the defining moments of my life, a Rubicon if you please, when I was forced to re-evaluate all my life’s priorities. And then there was U.S. Figure Skater Rachel Platt who was unfairly downgraded by judges in their evaluations. And how could anyone forget the sight of the great Dutch skater Sven Kramer who was only seconds from Gold when he discovered his own coach had given him the wrong lane instructions—and there he sat, head in his hands, all his dreams bleeding onto the floor.

And even that queen of figure skating herself, lovely Kim Yu-Na of Korea, admitted during the competition (before she won Gold) that she was terrified of failure, convicted as she was that so high were expectations that if she returned to Korea without that Gold Medal, her fans would abandon her.

For all these reasons, my heart goes out to the losers at Vancouver, for they are the ones America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, must have been thinking of when she wrote these lines:

“Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory.

As he defeated—dying—
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!”

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THE DEVALUATION OF MEN IN AMERICA TODAY

There’s a commercial airing as I write these lines, that says it all: Mom and Dad racing each other through the city streets in order to be the first to get a red box of McDonald goodies to their waiting son.  Completely out of breath, the father gets there first, only to see the boy look beyond his father to his mother, and say, “Thanks, Mom.”

For a long time now—generations in fact—, the media has orchestrated what seems like a calculated devaluation of fathers, of men.  It was obvious to me even during the thirty years of research that I poured into my book on the impact of television on the American psyche: Remote Controlled (Review and Herald Publishing, 1993); it is blatantly obvious now.  It is a moot question whether or not we men deserve it—it is a fact of life that men are consistently portrayed as being clueless about life; and women as those brave souls who sacrificially (and sarcastically) spend their lives mopping up behind their bull elephants. Watch virtually any sitcom, any movie, any commercial, and the trashing of men is obvious.

The price?  Last week’s blog addressed it.   The price is that men have come to believe the continual devaluing of their species—even to buy into it.  Quite likely, a man may even have written the McDonald commercial.  Just watch them: men are portrayed in the million plus commercials each child is exposed to during his/her growing up years, as bumbling klutzes, incompetent, inane, with the constancy of a rabbit; interested only in sloshing beer, couch potatoing in front of TVs during 24/8 sports (vicariously, of course), and so on.  Is it any wonder that so many boys are growing up effeminate, unsure of what it is to be a man, a father?

And because of our skyrocketing divorce rate, the norm today is no longer the nuclear family, but single-parent families.  Because the media devalues marriage itself, over one-third of all children are now being born out of wedlock.  Not surprisingly, given that it’s almost impossible for one parent to be equally effective in both mother and father roles, to say nothing about trying to do all this while also keeping a roof over their heads, working around the clock at several different jobs, shuttling the kids from one activity to another, at a near frantic pace—the children get shortchanged on all levels.

I spoke at a grandparenting conference not long ago, and was stunned to discover that today one third of all children in America are being raised by their grandparents!  The same percentage as out-of-wedlock children (with tragically obvious implications).  I interact with such grandparents a lot, and they are overwhelmed at having to be the primary care givers twice in life, when they no longer have the energy or emotional reserves for such a demanding role.

So, it’s no wonder boys are falling between the cracks.  For, in single-parent homes (the vast majority of the primary care givers being women), there is no dad to play ball with when the boy comes home from school; no dad there to mentor him, to teach him tough love, to build up his self-worth, to enforce behavior limits, to help steer him away from substance abuse, to show him what it means to be a father, a husband (99% of how we treat our spouses as adults is predicated on how our parents treated each other)—and, not coincidentally, to provide enough family income so the boy can feel a college education is part of his birthright.

I am not discounting the valiant efforts so many fathers who share joint custody of their sons make to compensate for their absence in the boy’s primary home, but it is not the same—it is not the same.

The strength of a nation is not money, prestige, possessions, or military power—it is the home.  Around the world, emerging powers such as India and China are flexing their muscles, and investing billions in higher education so that their children may grow up to help dethrone America as the world’s superpower.  Already, in areas such as engineering (traditionally a male preserve), the balance of power is shifting east away from America.  More bad news for the untold thousands of American men who have doomed themselves to minimum wage jobs by their failure to value higher education.

We cannot retain our world-wide leadership without once again valuing our boys as much as we value our girls.

But I’ve only addressed the tip of the iceberg so far.  Stay tuned for next week.

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CUANDO VAS PARA CHILE

Because of the 8.8 earthquake in Chile this week, I’m throwing in another blog ahead of Wednesday’s.

Last spring, Connie and I (and our cruise buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp) took a cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile, our first opportunity to get acquainted with a country that had been only a name to us before.

The result: we fell in love with Chile and Chileans. Unquestionably, the most poignant moment for us took place just a few miles from Chacabuco.  We had just watched Chilean folk dancers swirling around inside a club house—all the while we’d been gobbling up their delicious (and fattening) empanadas. After dancing a while as couples, the dancers delighted our cruise party by circling through our ranks, waving white handkerchiefs, searching for someone of the opposite sex to dance with them; this amalgamation of Chilean young people and travelers went on for over half an hour.

Finally, it was time to re-board our bus, and our group began filing out.  Unfortunately, we chose to exit during the most haunting song I’d yet heard in Chile.  I stopped, sensing something unusually poignant in the lyrics and melody.  I asked one of the bystanders what it was called, and was told in Spanish that it was “Cuando Vas Para Chile,” a song they sing to travelers so they’d remember and come back; a song so loved it is all but their national anthem.  Afterwards, I got on the mike in the bus and told everyone what they’d missed: our farewell song.  A song that ostensibly is about a loved one, but in a deeper sense the real loved one is that 2,500 mile-long slender strip of a nation, with incredible diversity and beauty.

So it was that we left Chile vowing to return, to get better acquainted with a people who’d captured our hearts in little more than a week.

Thus, now we can visualize the widespread grief that has rolled across Chile in waves since the earthquake devastated the country’s second-largest city, Conception.  True, everyone is aware they’re living on the Pacific Rim of Fire, a vast volcanic zone plagued by eruptions and earthquakes.  But, like most of us here, Chileans just take each day as it comes, hoping this day won’t be the one where it happens.  Unfortunately, Saturday turned out to be just that.

To Connie and me, this particular earthquake wasn’t merely the next earthquake after Haiti—but heartbreak for a people we now loved.  Real people who were no longer mere abstractions to us.  Not coincidentally, the people who make possible, more than any other, our being able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables all during our winter months.

So how can we not respond to their great need?

Si vas para Chile
Te ruego que pases por donde vive mi amada
es un casita, muy linda y chiquita,
que esta en las faldas de un cerro enclavada. . . .

And the song concludes by noting that Chilean villagers will always seek out the traveler and make of him a friend. . . .just as they do.

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We're Losing Our Boys. . . And Men

How I wish they’d been wrong—but they weren’t.

About twenty years ago, Newsweek did a cover story on boys, pointing out widespread concern about something scary that teachers were seeing in classrooms across the country: boys bailing out of the educational process at an ever earlier age.  Mesmerized by the pied pipers of the media and sports, boys were all but ceasing to read, write, or grow intellectually.  If this trend continued, pundits warned, boys will bail out of college and higher education as well—and that would have devastating consequences in terms of the future of our nation.

Ever since reading that study, I’ve been intensely aware of the problem whenever I’m in the presence of students, young or old.  I speak and read to elementary students quite often, and it’s almost always the same: girls are excited about authors, books, ideas, and growth; boys generally make little effort to stifle their yawns.  Of course, thank goodness, there are exceptions—but that’s what they are: exceptions to the norm.

I strongly suspect most parents don’t realize the price their children will pay during the rest of their lives for permitting the media center to replace the home library, the electronic tentacles of cyberspace to replace the daily story hour.  Studies reveal that if a child doesn’t fall in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever take place at all.

As to the price we’re paying at this moment in history, just listen to David Brooks (The New York Times, Feb. 17, 2010):

“We’re looking at an extended period of above 8% unemployment.  The biggest impact is on men.  Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men [my italics].  Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).  So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis.  The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.”

Brooks notes that “men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity.  Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. . . .  For decades, men have adopted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy.  Now they are paying the price.  The working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction.  For decades, young people have been living in a loose, under-institutionalized world.  Now they are moving back home in droves.  We need to redefine masculinity” [my italics].  For the first time in American history, women will be holding down the majority of our jobs—besides being the primary caregivers, as daughters, mothers, and wives.

At the rate we’re moving, it can only get worse for men—and for the women who depend on them.

I do have some answers, but they are long-term and will be anything but easy to achieve.  There can be no quick fix to a problem of this magnitude!

I shall continue the dialogue on this issue with next Wednesday’s blog.

Stay tuned.

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We're Losing Our Boys. . . And Men

How I wish they’d been wrong—but they weren’t.

About twenty years ago, Newsweek did a cover story on boys, pointing out widespread concern about something scary that teachers were seeing in classrooms across the country: boys bailing out of the educational process at an ever earlier age.  Mesmerized by the pied pipers of the media and sports, boys were all but ceasing to read, write, or grow intellectually.  If this trend continued, pundits warned, boys will bail out of college and higher education as well—and that would have devastating consequences in terms of the future of our nation.

Ever since reading that study, I’ve been intensely aware of the problem whenever I’m in the presence of students, young or old.  I speak and read to elementary students quite often, and it’s almost always the same: girls are excited about authors, books, ideas, and growth; boys generally make little effort to stifle their yawns.  Of course, thank goodness, there are exceptions—but that’s what they are: exceptions to the norm.

I strongly suspect most parents don’t realize the price their children will pay during the rest of their lives for permitting the media center to replace the home library, the electronic tentacles of cyberspace to replace the daily story hour.  Studies reveal that if a child doesn’t fall in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever take place at all.

As to the price we’re paying at this moment in history, just listen to David Brooks (The New York Times, Feb. 17, 2010):

“We’re looking at an extended period of above 8% unemployment.  The biggest impact is on men.  Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men [my italics].  Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).  So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis.  The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.”

Brooks notes that “men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity.  Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. . . .  For decades, men have adopted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy.  Now they are paying the price.  The working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction.  For decades, young people have been living in a loose, under-institutionalized world.  Now they are moving back home in droves.  We need to redefine masculinity” [my italics].  For the first time in American history, women will be holding down the majority of our jobs—besides being the primary caregivers, as daughters, mothers, and wives.

At the rate we’re moving, it can only get worse for men—and for the women who depend on them.

I do have some answers, but they are long-term and will be anything but easy to achieve.  There can be no quick fix to a problem of this magnitude!

I shall continue the dialogue on this issue with next Wednesday’s blog.

Stay tuned.

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"Now He Belongs to the Ages!"

So famously declared Secretary of State Edwin Stanton after our martyred sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, breathed his last.

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and CourageI have studied and researched Lincoln all my life, but it was not until recent years that I had the audacity to write a book on his life and legacy: Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2008). Before writing a single word, I studied 60 more books on Lincoln (many penned by those who actually knew him personally).

I had certain specific objectives:

• I wanted, in the process, to discover for myself whether or not Lincoln was all I had idealized him to be over the years. Since we all have feet of clay (human frailties, if you will), I was more than a little apprehensive about what I might find when I dug deep into his life.

• I wanted readers of the book to consider it a spiritual experience. To that effect, I daily prayed the Prayer of Solomon, asking God to grant me divine wisdom that day, that the words would be His, rather than mine.

• I wanted to write a book, not just for scholars (there are untold thousands of Lincoln books out there), but for the average person who takes one look at the blur of books about Lincoln on bookstore shelves, and sighs, “Never in a lifetime could I fully digest all that—I want to really get to know the man—in just one book.” I wanted my book to be that book.

• I wanted the book to be as unputdownable as I could make it.

• I wanted it to be that rarity among any author’s books: the one brainchild you love so much you go back to it again and again, never tiring of it.

• I wanted the reader to feel, at the end of it, that s/he now really understands the complex but fascinating world Lincoln lived in.

• I wanted history to really come alive.

• I wanted to feature one of the greatest ever compendiums of Lincoln quotations.

• I wanted to include some of the most moving stories about Lincoln.

• I wanted there to be plenty of Ah-hah’s, even among Lincoln scholars: I didn’t know that! You know, I’d never even thought of that before. Wait until I share this with ____!

• I wanted all age groups to love it.

• I wanted readers to return to it again and again.

• I wanted the book to meet such a special need in the hearts, minds, and souls of readers, that no one would want to see it die (go out of print).

• And I wanted to be able to honestly say, looking back at it later, “It was worth having lived—just to have written that one book.”

The responses so far have been —– oh, to tell you the truth, I’d far rather hear your responses.

“Washington was a typical American, Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country – bigger than all the presidents together.

We are still too near his greatness, but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.”
                                        – Leo Tolstoy

 

Please visit our web site for more details on the book, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage.