How Our Fear of Abandonment By Mom and Dad Can Inspire Us to Survive the Bad Things We Must Face in the Woods

Illustration and cover design by Michael Reibsome

I told a story about two children abandoned in the woods. It is an homage to Hanzel and Gretel, a fairy tale told in the time when children were frequently abandoned in the woods when families had too many mouths to feed, and parents had to choose between leaving their children to die alone in the forest, or watching those children starve along with their siblings.

But my story is about us, today, in America. The idea of children abandoned in the woods by their parents stuck with me because that’s how I feel our political parties treat the people they supposedly represent. We have become something of a burden to their plans and, not knowing what else to do, they have left us to fend for ourselves.

In my story, Sally and Billy, the abandoned children, are terrified as night approaches, and bear witness to an atrocity. Their lone glimmer of hope comes in the form of a kitten they rescue. But just as they figure out how to comfort each other, the kitten is stolen away.

The children do everything they can to save their poor little kitten. They do this with a pure desire to do the right thing, and they help each other figure out how to overcome the obstacles in their path.

They do this in spite of being abandoned by their parents.

I believe that is what Americans will do for each other, even as we bear witness to atrocities on a daily basis, and in spite of what our political parties have done to us.

Yes, I realize that we constitute the political parties, and that many of us, individually, do not like other Americans. But, taken as a whole, we have a desire to do the right thing for each other. When America welcomes and supports those with the greatest need, it benefits all of us. Supporting each other strengthens our communities, helps us improve local government, and, ultimately, gives us better state and federal lawmakers.

But it won’t be easy. We are pretty deep in the woods at this moment.

Fight or Flight

Sally and Billy must overcome great challenges and personal hardship. They are accosted, in the story, by Big Baby, a narcissist despot who doesn’t like to share.

We also must survive a leader who doesn’t like to share.

A novella may not seem like a significant step towards solving the worlds problems, but it’s all that I have to offer at this time.

Sally and Billy in Babyland is a fable for our times, a political satire that offers a view on the world through the perspective of children abandoned in the woods who cling to the hope of a better future.

So may we all.

If you’re interested in this political satire/fable, it’s available right now on Amazon. If you like it, I hope you’ll leave a review.

This post was originally published on Medium, where I write about writing, creativity, and productivity.


Father Knew Best Mostly–Four Maxims For Better Living

It ain’t easy being a parent, and you do the best you can with what you got. I wasn’t the brightest kid in the litter, and my dad tried to teach me well. I thought some of his methods were a little goofy, just as I think my kids think I’m goofy too.

In his own way, my father tried to teach me and my brothers about how to look out for our own best interests, and to eat right, and to exercise. But his teaching method was to speak in the form of exaggerated maxims. They can be confusing, but they were memorable.

One day he saw me putting chocolate syrup on ice cream, and I buried it in so much Hershey’s that you had no idea there was even ice cream underneath. This led to maxim #1:

  • If you put enough chocolate on dog poop, you’d probably eat it.

This was mostly meant to discourage my use of chocolate syrup, as opposed to helping me find a way to eat dog poop. I know this because he’d say the same thing when he saw me put chocolate in my milk.

What he didn’t know is that I put Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my chocolate milk, and then stirred in a scoop Nestle’s Quick. How I miss those days.

My brothers and I drank a lot of soda pop. Coke when we could get it, but usually Faygo or whatever was in the house. If we weren’t drinking milk with chocolate syrup in it, then we were pretty much drinking pop. This led to maxim #2:

  • If you soaked baloney in soda pop, the baloney would dissolve.

He was convinced that the acidity in pop would eat flesh like one of those amoeba bacteria things that destroys your face and brain at the same time.

We tested that theory one summer afternoon, and poured some Coke over a slice of baloney in a bowl. We left it there all day while we watched game shows in the morning, and old movies in the afternoon. Around three o’clock, we checked, and the baloney was intact.

In a related experiment, if you put a slice of coke-soaked baloney between two pieces of rye bread, you have yourself a pretty tastey sandwich.

As kids, we spent a lot of time sitting around watching television. I was not a physically fit kid. I was a chubby, but happy kid. There was always a chocolate milk mustache on my lip, and pop stains on my shirt. This led to maxim #3:

  • Everybody should be able to do a chin-up to save your own life.

He emphasized that life-saving part in an attempt to motivate me to get up from the couch, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t imagine the scenario involving a chin up. I mean, the television was there on the floor, and the refrigerator was right in front of me.

So he installed a chin-up bar in the kitchen doorway. I couldn’t go to the refrigerater for a slice of baloney without first passing beneath the chin-up bar. Every time he went by, he’d grab the bar and do a chin up, and say, “Look, kid, just do one.”

But I couldn’t even hang on the bar for one second. Not a second.

I was the youngest in the family — I was the baby — the CRY baby. Anyone touched me, I pretty much cried until my mother came to my rescue — with chocolate syrup and ice cream.

My brothers would punch me just to see me cry, and I would tell him that it hurt. This led to maxim #4:

  • Anyone should be able to hold their hand in a flame for five seconds.

I think that one was really an expression of the frustration he felt being a fit, athletic man with three slugs for sons. He was looking for something, anything to motivate us. We may have been stupid kids, but we weren’t crazy, so we never took him up on that dare.

He was right about a few things, though.

  • A Chin-up or Two…

I finally began to exercise and move around once I grew up. Now I can do that chin-up, and a push-up to go with it. I hope I don’t have to save my life with it, but it’s nice to know I can call upon it if needed.

  • Water water everywhere…

I don’t drink soda pop anymore. I finally realized that it is not a good choice, and can do things to your pH balance. It turned out he was essentially correct — neither the pop or the baloney were good things to eat. My only regret is that Coke has already come out with a baloney flavored soda. It’s being test marketed in Slovakia, where baloney was originally intended to ward off the evil spirits of Vlad the Impaler. Oh, and I guess Pepsi has a version called Garlic Baloney Light to compete with it.

  • The chocolate thing

He was definitely correct that I put chocolate on too many things. There’s only so much sugar a body can take, and then it becomes toxic, like listening to C-Span for more than an hour.

But I realize the lesson he was teaching was not so much about chocolate, or even dog poop; instead, it was about caring enough about someone that you’ll try, or say anything to improve their life, even if their too dumb to take care of themself.

Which brings me to his most important, but unspoken, maxim:

If you say something funny to someone you love, and say it because you care about them, they may remember you long after you are gone from this world.


How to Embarrass Yourself Before a Live Audience in Church

I once dreamed of playing the accordion for fun and profit. I was attracted to the instrument by its weirdness. It groans and sighs and hisses in anger to produce music the way that wealthy Republicans make laws in the House. And if you squeeze them the wrong way they make a very, very foul noise — just ask any prostitute after the Republican Party’s convention.

What dumbfounds me about accordions is how difficult they are to play well. Your left hand and right hand play different parts of the music, and do so in a different way (keys on the right, buttons on the left). The music is also written so that, in the bass clef, notes below C are the chords you play, and notes above are the individual notes. This is in addition to playing the melody written on the treble clef with your right hand. You also have to squeeze the bellows, and ensure that your phrasing is such that you don’t get caught fully extended and needed to reverse direction at the wrong time.

I came to it late, and gave it up after a couple of years. I hit a plateau, and decided I was not going to invest the time necessary to go beyond that level of skill.

Which brings me to my recital in 2007. About half-way through, if you can bear to listen that long, you’ll see how to embarrass yourself before a live audience in a place of worship, with no place to hide.


Soccer Death Match 2013 — The Hoosier vs. The Wolverine

I recently had an altercation with another parent at a soccer match. The kind that brings the officials, the tournament marshal, and all the other parents into the melee. It’s all fun and games, they say, until someone loses an eye.

I’ve watched soccer from the sidelines for thirteen years. Soccer is not as violent as other sports, say hockey or football, but it is a contact sport. The players mix it up. Things happen on the field that make parents on the sideline get excited.

When the players were kids, the parents were typically concerned about the well-being of their own kid. The parents would yell at the coach or the referee for allowing the other team’s bully to attack their darling little Fontelroy on the field.

In the middle years, as the kids approach adoloscence, the parents are more interested in their child’s abilities, and their child’s competitiveness, and the performance of his or her teammates, and how that performance reflects on their own child. During this period, the parents are still concerned for their kid’s safety, but are just as likely to yell about the poor pass offered by a teammate, or the referee missing an offside.

In the later years, now that my son is technically a man, the sport is fast, the players big and strong, and the contact is often full out collisions. It’s amazing they aren’t seriously hurt each time they go out on the field, or that a fight doesn’t start.

At a recent game in Indiana, my son got into a challenge for the ball, and the opposing player sucker-punched him in the gut. My son retaliated with a forearm shiv to back him off. As often happens, the referee saw the retaliation, and called a serious foul against my son.

The opposing player’s father cheered the call, and went on to call my son an idiot. I took exception. (I’m the only guy who gets to call my son an idiot!)

I confronted the man. It wasn’t the first time I raised my voice at a parent or a coach, but I hadn’t done it in a while.

You Have To Be Ready To “Go”

When you confront someone like that, you have to be ready to go all the way with the challenge. You can make snide comments from your own seat, surrounded by friendly parents, but I don’t bother with that–it’s a waste of breath to me. If I walk over to yell at someone, I have to assume he (or she) will punch me in the nose. So I go there ready to take that punch and return the favor.

My Mother Was a Mudder

I often forget how the previous generation, as embodied by my father, was willing and able to use fisticuffs to settle a disagreement. My father threatened many an umpire, coach, and opposing player or parent. My father got out of cars to fight someone that cut him off while driving. My father got into fights at weddings.

I’ve only been in a couple of arguments that escalated to punches. David Urbanik sucker punched me in the gut in the fourth grade (I ran away) and some guy in a hockey uniform punched me during a match, but I never, ever really threw a punch in anger. I even had a drunk swing at me in a bar because the girl he was sweet on was sweet on me, but I was able to deflect the punch and drove the drunk home later on.

Third Man In Rule

While I confronted the parent about calling my son an idiot, one of the other parents jumped in and told me to go to my own side of the field. So I yelled at him. Luckily, one of the dads from our team joined me in this walk to confrontation, and better still is that the escalation stopped.

I had my say and walked back to the other side of the field. But I kept an eye on that guy the rest of the first half.

Second Half Show Down

At the start of the second half, the guy who called my son an idiot confronted me. He walked over to our side of the field. I gave him my full attention, and tensed my muscles in anticipation of a scuffle.

“I’d like to apologize,” he said. “I was out of line, and shouldn’t have said what I said.”

I also apologized. I shouldn’t have gotten angry about it. I probably could have just said something politely, and asked him not to be mean or rude.

We shook hands.

The game went on.

The battle of Carmel, Indiana ended in a negotiated settlement.

The soccer match ended two-to-one in favor of the good guys.



The Meaning of Life Revealed

The meaning of life — it’s a big scary question. There are billions of stars in the galaxy, and billions of galaxies. So what about poor little us, quietly abusing our planet? What matters us, and, more importantly, what matters me? Why am I here?

People have struggled with the meaning of life for thousands of years. One of the best expressions of that struggle is in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 9-11.:

What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

The author of Ecclesiastes, crudely summed up, suggested that we should enjoy the pleasures which life offers. Eat, drink, and be merry, to over-simplify, and don’t worry too much. You may recall the song, “Don’t worry, be happy.” That song hit #1 on the charts. It echoes our frustration with answering the big question — what is the meaning of life?

Just being happy is a nice idea, and I spent quite a few years in a fat, drunk, and stupid mode, but that didn’t get me close enough to the big picture. I felt like I was missing something. So in my search for that meaning, I found some suggested upgrades to that approach.

But We’re Human

Being human means we have an amazing one-two punch: self-actualization, and self-determination. We can discover who we are, and we can decide what we shall do. We may pursue whatever we so desire to pursue.

The Pursuit of Happiness — It’s an Inalienable Right

If pursuit of happiness is in the Declaration of Independence, you might think that it’s a fine thing to do. But that phrase, “Pursuit of Happiness”, was a compromise from the original, “Ownership of Property,” which was a euphemism for owning slaves. Pursuit of Happiness was put in its place. So I don’t think the founding fathers wanted us to chase joyful distractions during our waking hours.

A State of Permanent Happiness Cannot be Achieved

Pursuing joyful distractions can not lead you to a place where you will always be happily distracted. The problem with fleeting distractions is that they are fleeting, so we have to keep looking for new distractions. It’s not a lasting happiness.

Lasting happiness requires three things:

  • Something to do
  • Something to love
  • Hope for the future

It works especially well if we care about the something, and our hope involves that same something in the future. For instance, caring for your family or friends gives you plenty to do, involves lots of love, and will develop in the future based on the care you provide.

A job that helps others improve their own lives, or helps the community, can also fulfill the three elements of happiness. But if you don’t have such a job — say, if you work in the insurance industry — you may, at times, be unfulfilled in your work.

The trick about being human is that the self-determination is our gift that allows us to attach meaning to our lives, and to choose activities that support that meaning. For instance, I am a father and husband. I believe part of my purpose here on earth is to help raise my children, and share in their life. I am meant to do that.

Not everything we have to do in life is fun, like changing poopy diapers, unplugging toilets in our home, or fixing things that break around the house, but if we attach the larger meaning of caring for family or loved ones to it, it gets us closer to lasting happiness. The drudgery of work can also be attached to that larger meaning. It can help us be happy in the moment knowing that the nasty part of our jobs is caring for our family.

You May Not Know the One, But You Get to Choose the Other

Like the author of Ecclesiastes, you may not ever understand God’s reason for giving you life. That may be frustrating, or baffling, or even discouraging. But we were given that one gift — free will — for good reason: that we may decide a meaning of our own.

If you decide that your life is meant to connect you more closely with your family, friends, or community, you experience a deep and lasting happiness from the good work you accomplished, and from the gratitude and favor returned by those you have helped.