Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them – a reflection on the death of a polarizing figure

I do not revel in the death of any human being.   I know that even those that we may “hate” or “dislike” have loved ones that would miss them if they were no longer around.  That having been said, I was reflecting today on the death of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, known primarily for protesting at the funerals of our fallen soldiers.   At the risk of going against what I just said, I am glad that Mr. Phelps will no longer be around to be a major distraction with his homophobic, disrespectful, and outrageous comments and actions that he did “in the name of God.”

The damage this man has done is almost irreparable, not only because of the hurt he inflicted on so many people, but because of the stereotype that he perpetuates to others about the lives and beliefs of Christians.  There are way too many people who look at this man, who perverted the central message of Christianity for his own vain purposes, and assume that all Christians have the same tenets and beliefs.  He is no more a typical Christian than the sadistic terrorists of 9/11 are typical Muslims.

It pains me to see people paint with broad strokes based on what they may see one or two people doing.  Some people that know that I am heavily involved in the Boy Scouting program automatically assume that I am homophobic, when nothing can be farther from the truth.  People see my lovely daughter Erica and my son in law Shaun and assume that because they have tattoos and piercings that they certainly must be drug users.

I would be lying if I said that I have never jumped to these types of conclusions.  I may never had said this out loud, but the first time I saw Shaun with his Mohawk, and found out he played in a metal band, I instinctively said to myself – “Not with my daughter, you don’t.”    But I allowed myself the chance to know him, and he has been an absolute gem of a husband to my daughter.  I would not trade him for anyone else in the world.  I love that kid.

People who make snap judgments based on limited data don’t understand.  This is not what it is all about.  We all have different beliefs, values and tenets that guide our actions on a day to day basis.  You can disagree with my beliefs, but don’t categorize me as a hater because we don’t feel the same about politics, religion, music, sports, etc.   I value you for who you are, not for what you believe.   Admittedly sometimes as Christians we get a bit judgmental.    By the same token those who are not believers are just as guilty of being judgmental of those who profess a religious belief, thinking we are all looking down our noses at them.

So the death of this man takes away one target.  Unfortunately, many other are in line to take his place.  And this happens on both sides of the political and religious spectrum as well.  Some conservatives would freak out to know that I don’t believe that all liberals are like Bill Maher.  (by the way, I think he is the flip side of the coin to Phelps).   If he were to lose his audience, someone else would jump in his place and start making snap judgments and overly broad characterizations.

So what’s my point?  I was reading something important in Matthew in the New Testament the other day.  Whether or not you accept it as scripture, the lessons in Chapter 7 bear repeating.

. 1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.     (pretty straight forward, isn’t it?)

 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (some people call this karma)

. . . .

12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.  (We know it as the Golden Rule)

. . . .

and finally, when you get right down to it, this is what my point is:

 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (Actions speak louder than words)

If we are going to talk the talk, then we need to walk the walk.  I hope that I can live my life by that adage.  In the end, I want to be known not for my worldly accomplishments, but as a good son, a caring brother, a faithful and loyal husband, a loyal friend, and a loving father and grandfather.     Can’t we all try to do this?

Jerry Jones is an idiot

My very first memory of the Dallas Cowboys had to have been in 1962 or 1963.  It had to have been one of those years because Eddie Le Baron was still playing quarterback.   Since that time, when I was 6 or 7 years old, I have followed the Boys without fail.   My heart broke when they  lost to the Packers two years in a row in the championship, including the Ice Bowl.   I really despaired when Jim O’Brien  kicked the field goal for the Colts that beat the Silver and Blue in the Super Bowl.     I was as happy as anyone when they won their five Super Bowls, and still rooted for them when they went 1-15 in Jimmy Johnson’s first year.

High or low, good or bad, champions or not, I have always supported the Cowboys with little or no complaint for 50 years.   Even when Jones fired Tom Landry in the shameful way that he did, I followed the party line that it was all in the best interests of the team.   When the Cowboys of the 90’s were arrested , or involved in drugs, or found with hookers, I nonetheless continued to give them my support.

Quite frankly, when the “general manager” of the Cowboys made mistake after mistake in personnel and coaching decisions, I still held out a faint hope that it would all work out in the end.

That time is over.   Jerry Jones is an idiot.   Making Kiffin as assistant head coach for defense instead of firing him?  Really?   After leading one of the worst defenses in team history, if not NFL history, you PROMOTE the guy?   After forcing Bill Callahan on Garrett as the play caller last year, you bring in one more person to call plays, but leave Callahan as the offensive coordinator, even though Callahan wanted to leave to go to Cleveland?  Even the most loyal fan has his/her limits.  Mine has been reached.

I hereby place all my friends and family on notice.  Please do not give me anymore Dallas Cowboy memorabilia, clothing, books, etc.     I will not spend one more dime on the Cowboys, nor do I want anyone that I know to do so either.  Jerry Jones will not benefit financially from me or my family until he fires that moron that is his general manager.  I am not holding my breath.  Jones’ ego is so bloated that he will never admit making a mistake.

Will my boycott make a difference?  I doubt it.  There are plenty of “sheeple” that will follow Jerry to the very end as he drives this once proud franchise straight into the ground.

Fifty years is a long time to follow a team.  I cannot and will not change my allegiance to any other team.  It’s just not in my DNA.   There are plenty of band wagon jumpers that do that from year to year anyway.   As much as Jones makes my skin crawl, I still want the Cowboys to beat the Redskins, Eagles, Giants, 49ers, Steelers and Packers.  It is what I have always wanted, it is what I will always want.

I am not resigning as a Dallas Cowboy fan.   I just refuse to line Jones’ pockets while he turns the Cowboys into the Oakland Raiders.   If Jones had a sudden epiphany and actually hired a football savvy guy to run the team, I would be the first to jump right back in.    In the meantime, I hope my Cowboy regalia is high quality, because it is going to have to last a long time.   I don’t imagine Jones finding a brain any time soon.

It should have never worked – a reflection on two very important lives.

It should have never worked.   She was a naturalized American citizen born in Campo Madera #2, Chihuahua, Mexico, with two little boys.  He was a former moonshiner from Cedartown, Georgia.

She came to the United States at an early age to work as a maid, married a soldier who left her alone while the boys were young, and worked a lot of hours at a hospital in El Paso to support her sons.

He ended up in El Paso after working several different jobs and a couple of marriages that had gone bad.

They met when he came over to her house to share Thanksgiving dinner with the family.  Apparently they had a mutual friend that got the two of them together.  Talk about a blind date.  Since she did not have a phone, he just showed up for dinner that night.    What could have been a rather awkward meal actually turned out rather well.   He came over the next night to take her out for dinner and made big brownie points with her sons when he brought over two model car kits for them to work on.  When they complained they did not know much about cars, he offered to take them to car dealerships on Saturday so they could see what the cars looked like.   That’s right; he dated her sons as well.   Took them to see cars and bought them cheeseburgers. Still, it came as a big surprise when they got married 3 ½ weeks after they met.

The marriage lasted 36 years, ending only when she passed away from a long struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  In those 36 years there were a lot of ups and downs.  They started off poor, as many young couples do, but worked their way up slowly to a rather comfortable position in life.  He retired from the railroad, she retired as a respiratory therapist.  They raised her kids together, and never once did he call them his stepsons.  They were always “his” boys.    To them he was always their dad, and they called him dad from the day they got married.

It wasn’t easy.  There was a rather wide difference in culture, upbringing, and religious backgrounds.  He was raised in a very dysfunctional family and trust was an issue for him.   That caused a lot of strife in the relationship, but they worked through it. Together they achieved a lot of their personal goals.   But then she got sick.

After several years of struggling with her disease, she passed away 12 years ago  on January 28th.  He clearly missed her after her passing.  His four years as a widower found him sad and confused.   He moved 700 miles from one side of Texas to the other side of the state to avoid seeing daily the things that reminded him of their life together.    Unfortunately it also left him far away from his sons.

He died alone on the back porch of his house; he was found 24 hours after he passed. I still remember the call that I got telling me that they had found my dad.  That happened eight years ago and I still miss him to this day.    My dad made a big impact on my life, and I miss sharing the details of my life with him.  He taught me a lot – mechanics and home repair, being a hard worker, and how to love your kids.   We did not always agree.  In fact, we argued a lot.   But we both knew we loved each other, and I am glad that the last words I said to him were “I love you Dad.”   Those words apparently came the night before he passed.

My mom was a huge influence in my life.  She taught me about love, about sacrifice, about love of country, and the need to get an education.   There is so much that I would love to share with her – my highs and my lows, my problems and my blessings.   I wish she were here to share the experiences in her life that always made a difference in how I looked at things.

It’s funny, most people thought that the relationship would never last.  They seemed such an odd couple.  But they had love for each other and shared that love with their boys. My brother and I will always be grateful.  I miss them both dearly.

A daughter is a day brightener and a heart warmer. ~Author Unknown

Nobody wants to see their daughters get out of the little girl stage.   They are cute, lead uncomplicated lives, and they adore their daddy.  Unfortunately, there is no way to stop it from happening.  They get older, start getting other interests, and they eventually start liking boys.  An anonymous author once said:

Daughters are like flowers, they fill the world with beauty, and sometimes attract pests.”

I have had those “pests”  hang around, and it was tough to let go when my girls told be to quit scaring them away.  

They marry, leave the house, and start having babies of their own.   It was tough for me when my daughters’ mom and I divorced.  I was not able to be around them on a day to day basis.  I missed some of the growing up that they do, especially the little things.

I am grateful that my youngest daughter Jessica, who was only 4 at the time of my divorce did not let that affect our relationship.  She has always wanted to be a daddy’s girl and wanted approval from her old man for the things she did.  (Special note:  Erica, my oldest daughter and I have our own special relationship and this is not a comment on the status of that relationship.)

Jessica turns 28 today.  She has turned into a beautiful young lady, a wonderful kindergarten teacher and a fantastic mom.   It is hard to be a divorced single mom, but she handles it with a lot of class, patience, and sometimes with tears, but she handles it well.  Although Round Rock is only 81 miles away, I do not get to see her and my granddaughter Chloe as much as I would like.   I miss them.  I miss not being able to be there and hug her and console her when the single mom routine gets her down.

But I am a proud dad.  She brightens my day when she calls.  She will always be my favorite youngest daughter.  Happy Birthday sweetheart. 15859_625225650875_1977861_n

He Chose to Love Us

He came to meet my mom on Thanksgiving Day.  He joined us for dinner, and afterwards he took my mom out on their first date. He came back on Friday and gave my brother and I both a model car kit for us to put together.   When we told him we did not  know much about cars (we were 10 and 8 at the time) he took us out on Saturday to have cheeseburgers and to go look at cars.

Less than a month after this set of events, he and my mom got married.  To this point we had been raised solely by my mom, with occasional help from my grandmother and grandfather.   My grandfather, who we called Papi, was the only male influence in our lives.

We asked him what he wanted us to call him, since he and my mom were married now.  He said we could call him Don.  We asked if it was OK if we called him Dad, and for the next 35 years he was our “Dad.”

People were often confused about our relationship.  We never called him our stepfather – he was our Dad.    He never talked about his stepkids, we were his “boys.”  So when they called him “Mr. Bullis”  or they thought we were the “Simpson” boys, we just shook it off and kept on going.

Life was not always easy with this new relationship.  At times we were quite downright ornery with him, and I regret that to this day.   While our friends played on Saturdays, we were fixing up used cars to resell or collecting scrap metal for extra money for the family.  We had chores to do everyday before my mom and dad got home.  We were not allowed to have the TV on during the day and had to keep ourselves busy. We had an old swimming pool in the backyard that needed to be torn down and filled in.  Guess who did it?  Yep, my brother and I.

So was he a tyrant?  As kids we thought so.  But when we change out a clutch in a car, rebuild our brakes, or do major repairs around the house now, we have him to thank for our acquired skills.  When I find myself working my rear end off on a project, I know I got my work ethic from him.

After my dad passed a way a few years ago my brother made an amazing statement.  I don’t remember the context, but he said that the most important thing that he learned from my dad was how to love.  What an awesome legacy.   And my brother was absolutely right.

You see, he did not have to love us.  He loved my mom, and we came with the package.  Too many step-parents don’t realize that much of what they see in their new spouse is the love that they have for their children.  My dad chose to love us.  He chose to call us his boys.  He chose be our dad.    And that is what he will always be to me.  My dad.  I had a biological father that I don’t really remember all that well since he left when I was less than two years old.  But my dad was there as I grew up, got married, and had a family of my own.

Today my dad would have been 80 years old.  I wish he was still around to see what my life has become.   I wish I could share with him the joy of being a grandpa.  I want to show him how I built my raised garden beds from the lumber of the deck that I tore down.  He probably would have shown me how to do it better, but I would have loved the feedback.

Three days from now will be Fathers Day.  I don’t need a special day to remember him.  He remains in my heart every day.    I miss you Dad.

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We should be dead

Anyone with a brother, especially a little brother, knows the kind of trouble you can get into as kids. I lived in a much simpler time when my brother and I could be out all morning roaming the neighborhood, come home to eat lunch, be gone the rest of the afternoon, eat dinner, and then stay out late until our mom called us to come in. Usually we waited until she called us by our full names, then we knew she was serious.

So while we were safe from the kind of creepy predators that seem to be everywhere today, we were not safe with the kind of stuff we did together. I can count a number of times that “but for the grace of God” my brother and I were not seriously hurt or killed. To say we were adventurous does not begin to cover it. The following just barely covers a small fraction of what we did.

My brother and I were extremely excited when a weather balloon landed at Munday Park, which was just down the street where we lived. When they came to pick it up, the workers gave us the big paper parachute that came with it. We used it like drag racers to slow down our bikes as we whipped down the street at what we thought were incredible speeds. After a while we thought it was boring, so we had to come up with something more exciting. A few blocks away, close to our friend’s house, was what we thought was a really big water reservoir. It was a couple of stories high so we climbed to the top with the intention of jumping off with the parachute, expecting it to help us glide down smoothly, just like we saw on TV. I strapped myself to the parachute, approached the edge, and got ready to jump. My wonderful little brother Art, in a sudden burst of inspiration, suggested that we try a dry run with a rock to see how well it would work. That suggestion met with an argument from me, because after all, we used to make our own little parachutes with plastic bags and attached them to our little army men. After tossing them high in the air they floated down very slowly and made cool landings. Surely the same thing would happen with me, wouldn’t it?

He finally talked me into it, and we attached a rock to the parachute and dropped it off the edge. The rock, which could not have weighed more than 8 or 9 pounds, went crashing down and broke into numerous pieces. It took me a long time to catch my breath after that.

Another time my brother and I fancied ourselves to be little pyrotechnicians. We discovered the wonder of dry ice and the great amount of gas it threw off when we put it in water. We had to find a way to make things explode. We looked and looked and finally found an old bottle of Ban roll-on deodorant. We took off the cap, filled the little bottle with dry ice, put water in it, put the cap back on, and ran away waiting for it to explode. It didn’t. We waited and waited, and still nothing. So what did the smart older brother do? I walked over to the bottle, put my face right over the top of the bottle to see what was happening, and turned to tell my brother that nothing was happening. As I turned my head to talk to him, I felt the ball from the deodorant bottle go whizzing by my ear and, as far as I could tell, into outer space. We never did find the ball, but at least it did not create a nice little hole in my head.

We grew up in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso, a very short distance from what is now UT El Paso. During the construction of I-10 in the area, a large number of drainage tunnels were built near the freeway. Of course my brother and I and our friends thought it would be a good idea to start at one end of those tunnels and crawl to the other end. In and of itself it would not be dangerous, but we did it while huge thunderclouds were gathering just before a driving rainstorm. We got out just before the downpour started, which filled the tunnels in less than a minute, washing everything out into a drainage area. We got beat for that one, and not by our mom. She called in our grandfather to punish us. Not good.

When we moved to the Lakeside area, our back yard bordered some irrigation canals that used to service the area when it was farmland. We discovered that by digging into the side of the canal and again down from the top, we could make a cool little furnace to burn things. We lit fires and threw all sorts of stuff in there to watch it burn. What kind of things did we throw in there? How about half full spray paint cans? We would poke it with sticks and sharp objects to make the paint leak out and catch fire because it made a cool looking little torch. Of course we stuck our face right up in there to take a close look. Why didn’t it blow up and shoot shrapnel all over the place? God only knows.

One more example, I will write about others at a later time. We found out that we could break into my dad’s shop and access his acetylene torch. What did we need a torch for? No, we didn’t weld anything or cut metal. When you mix a little acetylene and oxygen in a balloon and ignited it, we got a nice little bang out of it. We experimented with a lot of different ways of igniting it, and found that a little bit of steel wool attached to a 9 volt battery would set off the balloon. My dad went nuts thinking that his torch set was leaking, and took back a couple of tanks and at least two sets of gauges complaining that he was losing gas. It wasn’t until years later, when we were grown that we told my dad what had happened.

So why was this dangerous? Well of course anytime you use the words kids and explosions in the same sentence it is a recipe for trouble. Our trouble began when my brother and his friend Dennis bought an extra-large balloon. Not sure if it cost us a nickel or a dime, but it was much larger than the others we used. When fully inflated it probably was the size of a large pillow. Anyway, it would take a lot of acetylene and oxygen to fill it, and I knew (for a change) that it was not a good idea to blow this one up in our yard. The option? Have Art and Dennis take the balloon to Dennis’ backyard to blow it up.

For whatever reason I decided that I was not going to go along with this one. They took it to his backyard, which was across the street and three doors down. They dug a nice deep hole, wired up the little steel wool fuse, buried it, and put little green army men on top of it. I was at home when I heard the thunderous boom and I felt the windows rattle. Oh Crap! They have got to be dead. When I got there, Dennis and Art just sat their stunned. Dennis’ dog Pancho was cowering in a corner. In between bouts of spitting dirt out of his mouth, Dennis kept mumbling “My dad is going to kill me. My dad is going to kill me.” I could see why. Instead of a little hole that existed when they buried the balloon, a much larger, wider hole now existed.

Every one of these accounts is true. The ironic part is that my mom told us if we hurt ourselves she was going to kill us. My friend John Orchard likes to say that God protects children and fools. We were both.

How did he grow up so fast?

I actually became aware of him before he was even born. His mom worked at the same law office that I did, and our office was throwing a baby shower for her. Molly was probably 6-7 months pregnant with Sam. Fast forward a few years – Molly’s husband had passed away and Molly came back to work at the same office. It was at this point we became friends. I would go by her house and Sam, who was probably 4 or 5 at the time, would run to the door and jump up in my arms.

I had no idea at the time that this would be the beginning of a journey of several years. Eventually Molly and I progressed from friends to husband and wife, giving me the opportunity to be a dad to a young boy. Since I only had two daughters up to that point I had not had the opportunity to do “guy” things with a little boy. I got to do the cool things that dads can do, like play “pull my finger”, burp the alphabet, and watching countless soccer games. It was because of Sam that I got involved in Scouts, which I continue to do even now that same is a senior in college.

Along the way I had a lot of great memories. Taking him to the store where he informed me that he “needed” that bag of sunflower seeds. Camping out with him at the Cub and One and watching him at the archery range. Checking out at the grocery store and having the clerk tell me how much my son looked like me.

I can’t say it was always easy. As with most kids he had his dark moments and more than one instance that reminds you of why some animals eat their young. But he has been a great kid.

There was not a prouder dad anywhere the day he received his Eagle Scout award. He flirted with the idea of attending Texas A&M, but when he accepted his invitation to go to the University of Texas he made this Texas Ex very proud. Now I sit here knowing that in less than two months he will graduate from college and go out into the world. It seems that he was just a little boy last week, and now he lives on his own in Austin, and I anticipate he will be moving far away soon. I already miss having him around the house, the thought of him possibly moving hundreds of miles away is a bit disconcerting.

Tomorrow I get to go see a play he wrote and directed, a second play that he is acting in, and a musical that he directed for a friend. He is an amazingly talented young man, and I love him a lot. It is also his birthday today. Happy birthday son.