Ramblings from the Dad Side
Dave Nicholson writes Ramblings from the Dad Side — a recurring feature in our Break Time e-newsletter. Dave, his wife Deann, and their five children, ages 7 to 17, are living (and loving!) the homeschool life in suburban Chicago.
Although written from a homeschool dad’s perspective, Ramblings is for anyone who wants a short read that is thoughtful, encouraging, and always entertaining.
Contact Dave: Ramblings@home-school-inc.com.
Chances Are (6/25/2013)
Inspiration Strikes! (4/2/2013)
I’m Feeling… (3/5/2013)
Is that why you did this? (2/12/2013)
Random Thoughts on MLK…Hope Lives! (1/22/2013)
Who’s Got the Glue? (1/8/2013)
Word Theft and Sorrow (12/18/2012)
Grumblings from the Dad Side (11/13/2012)
Protection Racket? (10/30/2012)
Party On! (10/16/2012)
Tickling Our Ears (10/2/2012)
What are you afraid of? (9/18/2012)
No Place Like Home… (9/4/2012)
Here We Go Again (8/21/2012)
Blundering Forward (8/7/2012)
When I was your age… (7/17/2012)
To ask, or ask not… (7/3/2012)
Giving It Up (6/19/2012)
The Bridge (5/22/2012)
Thinking About Chuck (Colson) (5/8/2012)
Wisdom…Or Not! (4/24/2012)
I’m Tired… (4/10/2012)
Who Are You? (3/27/2012)
What Do You See? (3/13/2012)
Alt, Control, Delete (2/21/2012)
Do We Need the Department of Education? (1/31/2012)
Small Victories (1/17/2012)
Who’s Driving and Where Are We Going? (1/3/2012)
Hey, Who’s Driving the Pearl White Sedan? (12/6/2011)
The Best Laid Plans (11/22/2011)
You Want to Teach My Daughter What? (11/1/2011)
Can Bob Play? (10/11/2011)
Big Plans for…Me? (9/13/2011)
Our Children: Legacies Under Construction (8/23/2011)
What a Mess! What Do You Do? (8/9/2011)
Homeschoolers…An Odd Lot? (7/26/2011)
Buried Treasure, Gear-Head Style (7/5/2011)
Ramblings from the Dad Side – Premiere (5/31/2011)
By Dave Nicholson
My brother-in-law, Mike, opined to me 20 years ago that vacations are meant to be taken, if at all possible, in two-week chunks. His theory was that it takes a full week to become fully disconnected mentally from the worry of what might be happening on the job in your absence. Once that first week of separation was accomplished, the second was then available to lounge in blissful ignorance/denial of the chaos potentially manifesting itself back in the real world. I’m not sure whether any support for his theory is available from the medical or psychological communities, but I can say that when I arrived back at work earlier this month following our annual (one-week) vacation, I wanted one thing…more!
Our vacation paradise this year was a hilltop cabin in beautiful West Union, Iowa. Over the course of the week our over-stimulated brains settled into the rhythm of the countryside around us. Turkey and deer wandered the property around us and the roads were mostly empty save for the occasional tractor ambling along between fields.
We took turns plinking at targets with our Daisy air pistol, played endless games of Farkle and cribbage, read books, and even took naps if the spirit moved us. Each afternoon at about 3 p.m. we’d take the quarter-mile trek down the hill to the Turkey River. With inner tubes in hand we approached the water like a family of ducks jumping in one at a time to embark on the peaceful hour-and-twenty-minute float downstream to our exit point a few hundred feet from Bob’s Bar.
The first time we completed the tube trip, it was just me and my 16-year-old son, Josh. As we arrived at our destination and pulled our tubes out of the river, I took my cell phone out of its waterproof baggy and tried to call home for someone to come pick us up but couldn’t get a connection. We trudged up the road towards home and that was when I first saw Bob. He looked to be in his late 60s and had a slew of weed whackers and lawn tractors spread out across the lawn. When I asked if I could use a phone he motioned for me to follow him into the building adjacent to the shop which was when I discovered that, in addition to repairing lawn mowers, Bob also ran the local gun sales and repair shop.
Bob handed me the phone but my attempts to get an answer were fruitless. I resigned myself to the three-mile walk back home and had turned towards the door when Bob spoke: “I was thinkin’ about closing up anyway, guess I’ll just give you a ride up to your cabin.”
I would have kissed him, but that would have been awkward. On the ride up the mountain we learned that in addition to the engine repair shop and the gun shop Bob had also just bought back the little bar across the street that he had built 30 years earlier and then later sold. I also learned that he was working 60 hours a week to make ends meet but had no real complaints with life.
Now that I’ve been back from vacation for a couple of weeks…I want more…and less. I want that second week at the cabin, but I also want to make more time with my family outside of scheduled vacations. I want to get better at carving out times for a little spontaneous Farkle while being less concerned about picking up emails after dinner. I want to be more like Bob, and be willing to seize opportunities to interrupt my own schedule to give a river-soaked man and his teenage son a ride. I want to be less like me who gets so caught up in my own busy-ness that I miss opportunities to better connect up into the human race.
I hope that each and every one of you has the opportunity to get away with your families for a little (or big) vacation this summer. There is joy in the journey, and so much more.
Chances Are (6/25/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
This past weekend was a good one for our family. With a 40% chance of rain on Saturday, we pushed forward with the graduation party planned for my eldest daughter, Darby. Pulled beef sandwiches and hot dogs on the grill provided nourishment for about 80 guests milling about between our gathering and the one going on next door for our neighbors’ son.
The volleyball net was up and kids who I remember being too young to walk were spiking their elders with no sense of guilt in evidence. A game of Ultimate Frisbee erupted between the parties with adults, teens and even a few youngsters racing up and down the field careening off one another in pursuit of the red chunk of plastic flying so often just out of reach. Some wondered how many games we should play as they took a break and wiped sweat from their faces, while others wondered more urgently how there could be so little oxygen available in such a large outdoor space.
When the celebration finally broke up and the mosquito hordes had escorted each of the guests and their families through the darkness to the relative safety of their automobiles for the ride home, we Nicholsons were left to contemplate the last of the cleanup in the kitchen and realized, once again, how blessed we are to have friends to help celebrate our milestones. As I sit here now, typing in the living room, there is a box full of cards left by well wishers that Darby didn’t get a chance to open before she took off on a missions trip to Tennessee. She caught her ride at 5:10 Sunday morning and was gone before I woke up.
I love my daughter. I love her independence, her adventurous spirit and her love of our family. I love her compassion and joy in the people that are walking through life with her. I love the woman that she has become and the plans that God has for her. I love that we actually got her through high school without turning her over to the government school system…whew! That 40% chance of rain equals a 60% chance of ‘I don’t think so.’ Happy Graduation Darby. See you when you get home!
By Dave Nicholson
Like many of you, I spent a significant portion of Tuesday morning watching with morbid fascination the tornado devastation coverage coming out of Moore, Oklahoma. The facts are pretty straightforward:
Just before 2:30 p.m. in Moore, Oklahoma, the tornado sirens went off. A half-hour later, the EF5 level tornado hit the ground and stayed down for 40 minutes while its 200 m.p.h. winds cut a swath of destruction 20 miles. The twister was a mile wide at its base and kicked up a cloud of debris two miles wide. Done…right?
Except that the devastation wrought by that 40-minute rampage will echo in the lives of those in its path long after the debris is mopped up. There were direct hits on two elementary schools including Plaza Towers Elementary which was all but destroyed, and where seven children lost their lives. Hundreds of houses were leveled, property destroyed, and livelihoods lost.
The effects of catastrophe, whether acts of nature like Oklahoma or more personal upheavals like a major illness, are clearly physical, but they are profoundly mental as well. They have the unpleasant effect of destroying our illusion of security and control.
We humans tend to spend a great amount of effort on building structures, physical and otherwise, to protect ourselves and our stuff from a dangerous world. We build houses to keep out the elements and secure them with locks to keep out invaders. We stash money away in retirement plans and gold coins in safe deposit boxes as a wall against dependence or poverty. We might even take advantage of our second amendment rights with a pistol or two locked up in a safe, just in case, and then we buy insurance on it all to cover the risks we might have missed.
But then Oklahoma happens. Or Hurricane Sandy last year. Or Joplin the year before that. Or New Orleans the year before that. And then we realize, if only briefly, how little in control we really are before we go back to rebuilding the illusion.
To any who care to listen, I would suggest that while saving for the future is prudent, protecting our families is our certain responsibility, and buying insurance is obnoxiously necessary, we temporary inhabitants of this rock hurtling around a minor star in a giant galaxy will never obtain the control we crave because we were not designed to. Live life in the moment. Pray for those who grieve in Oklahoma and so many other places. And grab your kids for an extra hug as they go hurtling by you this afternoon. It’s a good day.
By Dave Nicholson
There are certain moments in our lives when we know, in that moment, that something fundamental has changed. Milestones that we get to look back on and grasp that everything was somehow different afterwards.
For you, maybe one such milestone was your 13th birthday when you realized that you weren’t going to get to be a kid forever. Or, maybe it was the first time you climbed into a car as the driver without a white-knuckled adult there telling you to slow down. Maybe it was when you registered for the draft, turned 18, or got your first paycheck. Perhaps it was the first time a pet passed away and you realized that furry best friends don’t last forever.
I had a milestone moment this weekend and was fortunate enough to grab it briefly as it went by. To watch it and turn it over in my mind a few times before letting it go.
On Sundays after church, we often end up with a medium to large size group of teenagers at our house playing football, soccer or simply hanging out. I’m not sure whether it’s the size of our yard, the company, or the fact that we tend to feed them well, but they keep coming back.
On this occasion the group decided to play Ultimate Frisbee and was short a player so I got invited in. I’d managed to mess up my foot a month ago in a rough-housing accident with my seven-year-old but I was almost healed and figured I’d show them some of my famous moves from college. As we lined up, my fifteen-year-old, Josh, was on the other team, facing me. From this angle he looked taller than he had just a few minutes earlier and it struck me that one day this kid might actually outrun me!
As we launched the throw off and engaged, I picked up Josh. The sides appeared pretty evenly matched and for about ten minutes we had no score. But all of a sudden, a long throw went downfield towards our goal. I began the long race for the disc but out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a tall, skinny blur passing me on my left who ultimately burned me for the score. I hung in there for another fifteen minutes or so, but in the end, the pain in my foot combined with a curious shortage of oxygen in the yard made it advisable for me to retreat to the safety of my living room.
Do I put part of the blame for my defeat on an insufficiently healed foot? Of course! But the truth is that I got a glimpse of what all of us ultimately need to want out of our parenting experience. We all want our kids to learn and grow and thrive, and as home school parents we often have a particularly intense picture of what that looks like. But I’d never given any thought to the idea that, as we pour into our kids, we are striving to enable them to outrun us. To provide a next generation with skills, wisdom and faith that equips them to engage the world and live life not as we do, but better. I like that idea…it’s a good milestone.
Inspiration Strikes! (4/2/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
Have you ever been inspired? I don’t mean just watching a world-class athlete perform and being amazed or hearing about the success of some missionary in Uganda and wanting to give them a big thumbs up. I mean seeing, or hearing, or intuiting some truth and being so intensely moved that you actually get up and do something about it! To see that old blues player make a guitar sing and then dig out your old Fender and work to make that happen for you. To see the athlete move and be motivated to move yourself off the couch and into the gym. To see the difficulties and suffering of others and not just feel bad, but to get involved in finding a solution or start writing checks to support someone who has already jumped in.
My most recent inspiration came from my friend Tom who is in his early 60′s. He has always loved cars and over the years has re-built and refurbished many of them in the pole barn in his backyard. He’d even done a bit of racing at one point, but figured at his age, he was done with that sort of thing. And then, his son introduced him to the ChumpCar World Series. You can read more at ChumpCar.com, but the gist of it is that some folks think the world of auto racing has been stolen from the common man and they’re looking to take it back. The rules are simple: get a car that’s worth less than $500, knock out all the glass except the front windshield, get a couple buddies together who can turn a wrench, and get ready to roll. The endurance-style races run from seven to thirty-five hours.
Tom told me he spent about three hours in a beat up Ford Focus averaging 90 miles an hour, came in nowhere near the front of the pack, and had the time of his life! His story made my heart sing so I began searching for former gear heads in my pool of friends and acquaintances to gather a team. At this point, my inspiration has run into a bit of a roadblock as the spouses of my middle-aged potential partners in speed are proving to be somewhat less than enthusiastic in their support of my plans. I’m still inspired, but it does appear that following through is going to take a bit of perseverance. Hopefully, more on that in another column.
Over the years, I’ve been inspired to action by a wide variety of individuals. But I’d like to suggest that, for many of us home school dads, the greatest source of ongoing inspiration has been our stressed out, frustrated, conflicted, sometimes depressed, tenacious, loving, ever-hopeful and committed home school mom spouses. We just forget sometimes to realize it or to pass on that little secret if and when we do. They are mirrors that reflect not just our selfish shortcomings, but also the servant leaders they know we have the capacity to be. They are our biggest cheerleaders, urging us toward lives that are more charitable, more engaged, more sacrificial, wiser, and more worthy. Take a look, let her know, and get inspired!
I’m feeling… (3/5/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
I felt whiny today. I’m not sure what triggered it, but about mid-afternoon I began to think: Why is it that my business partner, Ken, is on vacation with his wife at a spa in Arizona while I’m here in frigid Illinois waiting for a snow storm to wipe out my plans for the day? Or, why is it that my spot in the parking garage is the only one that has a leak over it that dribbles weird unidentified fluids even when it isn’t raining? And why is it that my teenagers can instantly recount every parenting error I’ve ever psychologically damaged them with but are unable to remember to close the garage door at night when they come in? Finally, with my expanse of despair widening, I lamented with a groan: And who is it that keeps taking all the orange jelly beans out of the candy bowl?
For some reason I seem to get caught up in this idea that life is supposed to be easy and that our difficulties are some bizarre deviation from normalcy. But, when you look at history, easy has not often been the word that most would use to define the human condition at large. I would do well to remember that I’ve been blessed to live at a specific point in history in a specific geographic location where, for a time, relative affluence has become the norm. So, maybe I can rewrite my whiny opening paragraph:
I’m so grateful for a business partner whom I can trust to watch my back. I’m sure he’s enjoying the warmth of Arizona, but when I walk out in the morning to seven inches of snow coating the landscape, it’s going to be a sight to behold. If I manage to get in to work, how cool is it that I can actually park inside and not have to scrape the ice off the windows before I head home? I’m grateful for my kids, and while they’re not perfect, thank goodness they’re not as goofy and self-centered as I was at their age. And the pink jelly beans aren’t that bad…but I’m staying away from those weird red ones with the poison food coloring!
Is that why you did this?(2/12/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
Back when I was in grade school, 40-plus years ago, my mom used to take us kids to Saturday movie matinees at the Sun Valley Mall in beautiful Concord, California. We’d wait in long lines that snaked from the ticket booth up a dark stairway and overflowed into the blistering heat outside. The wait to get in and seated seemed a lifetime, but back then, everything that crossed the big screen was good: The Aristocats, The Gnome-Mobile, Blackbeard’s Ghost, The Jungle Book…what’s not to like?
Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve discovered that all that crosses the big screen is not perfection. My tolerance for teary chick flicks has been almost entirely depleted, whatever small interest I ever had in the horror genre is gone, and Leonardo DiCaprio bores me to tears. You can get my attention with a wronged-good-guy (Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, or even Will Smith) getting mad and setting out to right the world with a few thousand rounds of ammunition, but those guys are all getting older and I’m getting tougher to please.
Given this lack of patience with non-action films, it may surprise you to learn that one of my most memorable movie experiences of all time was with a film that didn’t even bother with weapons. Back in 1989, Deann and I had been out to dinner and decided to catch a late movie. Nothing jumped out at us from the Drury Lane Cinema marquee so we ended up wandering into a movie called “Field of Dreams.” From the moment that voice whispers from the corn, “If you build it, he will come” until the final scene where Kevin Costner says, “Hey, Dad, you wanna have a catch?” I was enthralled.
One of my favorite scenes comes near the end of the movie when the Sox players are heading back into the corn and Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson) turns to James Earl Jones’ character and asks if he wants to come with them. Costner is flabbergasted and launches into a rant on how he’s done everything he’s been asked to do without ever asking “what’s in it for me?”
Liotta responds: “What are you saying?”
Costner: “I’m saying, what’s in it for me?”
Liotta: “Is that why you did this? For you?”
When I think about our home educating experience over the past 10 years, I’ve got to admit that I sometimes felt a bit like Costner’s character. We wandered into the field of homeschooling dreams having no real idea how to build any of it. As opportunities presented themselves and “whispers” happened, we tried to listen and move forward as best we were able. We made treks to home school shows and attended support group meetings at the local library. We’ve spent money and time on field trips, co-ops, college prep programs and project fairs and sometimes, when you’re tired, it’s easy to wonder, just for a minute, “What’s in it for me?”
The good news is that when Liotta responds with “Is that why you did this? For you?,” the answer that generally comes pretty quickly for us is, “No.” This is hard stuff and the responsibility is huge. But the home school movement…that’s you and me and hundreds of thousands of others…is in the process of turning out a generation of thinking, counter-cultural kids that could change the world. What’s in it for us? I’m not sure. But that changing the world thing is an interesting start.
Random Thoughts on MLK…Hope Lives! (1/22/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
This past Friday evening, I was driving home from a quick outing to the grocery store and flipping through the radio dial when I stumbled upon a discussion between three women on the (currently) omnipresent topic of gun control. As I listened, I discovered that one of the participants was Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and daughter of Dr. King’s younger brother, A.D.
As the discussion paused for a station break, my thoughts drifted to the MLK holiday on Monday and the elevation of racial politics that seem, to me, so counterproductive to achieving Dr. King’s objectives of reconciliation and opportunity without regard to skin color. I try to listen at least once each year to the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. King on August 28, 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial. If you’ve not listened to it recently, I would strongly recommend that you consider viewing it with your children on YouTube. The rhetoric is timeless, the delivery is inspiring, and I think it’s important to hear and see what the man stood for in his own words, and remember.
As I turned into my subdivision, the host of the show returned and attempted to liven things up a bit with a few questions of Ms. King on potential gun control legislation. Her response brought to my mind an echo of her uncle as, with reason and conviction, she spoke truth to hysteria in calm tones. Seeking to educate and persuade rather than incite and divide she said, “We will not end violence by trying to take away guns. We will not end violence by trying to demonize guns. We will not end violence because human beings are selfish, unloving, fearful, fallen creatures who will find ways to strike out against others. The problem is us. The answer is Him.”
Well spoken…I think her uncle would be proud.
Who’s Got the Glue? (1/8/2013)
By Dave Nicholson
Family life is not always a bowl of cherries. Whether you’re a kid or a parent, a sister or brother, or even a grandparent who visits and then escapes to the refuge of your own home, you know that the interactions among the members that make up our families are complicated. Functioning homes are full of people trying to carve out a place for who they are individually while constantly bumping into others who don’t necessarily share the same agenda. I once read that living in large cities breeds psychosis due to the persistent and inescapable proximity to other people. If that’s true, families are probably hazardous to our collective mental health as well.
That said, the family is and has always been the basic building block of society. It was designed to be so. When families are functioning properly, children are being raised and trained up to eventually become responsible participants in the world around them. Parents are charged with the huge responsibility of communicating to their children the values, morals, and traditions of the family and the culture. Children learn best the importance of honesty, hard work and commitment through observation of a mother and father who are committed to each other and model these behaviors and values.
Unfortunately, the family as the foundational unit in our society has been unraveling for decades and the process is accelerating. The values of the sexual revolution have tinted our collective worldview and have been amazingly effective at elevating the concept of personal freedom (freedom from responsibility) as the highest ideal. Multiple generations of young people have now carried into marriages and “live in” relationships this misguided idea that it’s “all about me” and the results have been catastrophic.
We can debate what the actual failure rates for marriages are, but it looks like for every two marriages that happen in a given year we get one divorce. Painful as these dissolutions are to go through, the long-term effects on the fractured family members are significantly worse, especially if there are children involved.
Based on a 12/25/12 article by Luke Rosiak in the Washington Times, “in every state, the portion of families where children have two parents rather than one has dropped significantly over the past decade. Even as the country has added 160,000 families with children, the number of two parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million US children (1 in 3) live without a father, and nearly 5 million without a mother.” Mike DeCaro of the National Fatherhood Initiative says, “We have one class that thinks marriage and fatherhood is important, and another that doesn’t….”
I would suggest to you, homeschooling reader of this rambling, that you are part of a movement that is the bedrock underlying the idea that the institutions of marriage and fatherhood are actually important. When you educate your children at home, you instill in them an understanding of how important they are to your family unit and how much personal value they have to you. You have the opportunity to develop a relational “glue” between them and their siblings, and have the capacity to carry your family unit forward intact even when things get difficult. By denying the government educational complex access to them for as long as possible, you have the opportunity to pass on to them your values and your worldview in a manner that they can reach back and grasp onto for the rest of their lives. We even get the opportunity, in our own stumbling way, to attempt to model for them marriages and relationships that are not “all about me,” but about sacrifice and “other” centeredness that are essential for families to last.
While we as homeschoolers may not always be as functional as we’d like and our often “always on” family relationships can get a bit frayed, your persistence in this endeavor of building into your building block is worthy. You’ve got the glue; apply it well.
Word Theft and Sorrow (12/18/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
I don’t usually seem to have a big problem with words, but today I’m tired. My mind is a bit numb as I grapple with the idea of children who won’t be with their families for Christmas this year because a madman marched into a school and started shooting.
Facebook pages and media channels are stricken with grief and loss and disbelief and rage that such insanity is possible. Deep inside, our hearts break. Everyone who has even contemplated being a parent shudders and asks, “What if that happened to MY kid?” How utterly unbearable.
My friend, Perry Marshall, posted some words on his Facebook page that made me think so I’m going to borrow (appropriate? steal? glom?) a big chunk of them to share with you here. I’d call it a reprint but since I left a big chunk on the cutting room floor for lack of space, I’ll call it a major case of “plagiaristic sampling” and hope Perry forgives any artistic license I’ve taken and accept my thanks for the words.
There are undertones — both spoken and unspoken:
“This happened because Americans have some sicko love affair with guns.”
“If just one of those teachers DID have a gun in his desk, that raging lunatic would have never made it past Kid #3.”
“The world is descending into chaos. Everything is getting worse and worse.”
“Yeah I know it’s tragic, but look at the outpouring of love and support and people who stop EVERYTHING they are doing to come and help.”
“What kind of God allows such senseless tragedies to take place?”
“If people would just love God and love their neighbor as themselves, none of this would have ever happened.”
“The government needs to take stricter measures and pass more laws.”
“We need to invest more in mental health.”
“This kind of stuff NEVER happened when I was a kid.”
But today, I’d ask you how this affects YOUR hope – YOUR outlook – YOUR action – YOUR job in the world? Days like Friday sorely tempt us to abandon hope and give in to a creeping sense of helplessness and victimhood. But when you do that, evil wins out. If a madman in Connecticut adds to YOUR hopelessness and poisons your resolve to help other people, to grow your business, to teach your children…you’re capitulating to tyrants. But if the madman in Connecticut inspires you to love your kids more, to pour more goodness into them and send them into the world as bold adults who know who they are and whose they are… unconditionally loved as precious children of the most high God…then evil loses. Good wins out.
Despair begets despair. Enthusiasm begs enthusiasm. So…if this tragedy is eroding yours, donate $5 or $50 or $500 to some charity, church or school in Newtown, Connecticut. If for no other reason, do it just to prove to yourself that you possess power that Friday’s killer cannot take away. Then, get on with building the world we all want for our children. Peace to each of you as we move forward.
By Dave Nicholson
When people find out that Deann and I educate our children at home, one of the questions they always ask is, “Why?” Why would we deprive our children of proper socialization, the tutelage of properly trained teachers and other positively enriching features of the government school system? As I look around my world in the Chicago suburbs, I’m amazed that they even need to ask. To understand my perspective, you’ve got to take a closer look at the adults who are in charge of running this place!
Some of you may know that here in Illinois we have a saying that “our ex-governors also make our license plates.” The most recent Illinois governor to hit the clink was the flamboyant Elvis-wannabe, Rod Blagojevich. Rod was first elected governor in 2002 and by the end of 2005, numerous scandals brought his approval rating down to as low as 36%. You’d think that would cause a problem for a re-election campaign, but in 2006 the population of Illinois determined that a crook in the hand is worth two in the bush and the electorate handed “Blago” another four years. Strangely enough, his success in a mid-scandal election was largely due to the expenditure of approximately $27 million on a campaign strategy focusing on purported links between his challenger and the corruption of former Republican Governor George Ryan. (Mr. Ryan currently resides at the Federal Correctional Institute, Terre Haute, Indiana.)
Blago’s second term as governor was to have ended on January 10, 2011; however, his December 9, 2008 arrest on federal corruption charges (including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as well as solicitation of bribery for his attempt to sell the senate seat vacated by Barack Obama) cut his term short. Mr. Blagojevich currently resides just outside the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado, in his suite at the Federal Correctional Institute, Englewood.
Now, the great thing about Illinois politics is that everything seems to be linked to everything else. Before Blago was removed from office, he was scrambling for money to support a lifestyle that wasn’t easily supported by his measly governor’s salary. So, when Barack Obama’s senate seat became available in November 2008, Mr. Blagojevich began to search for someone rich and/or connected enough to purchase a cushy senate seat until it was up again for re-election in 2010.
A variety of names were put forth as perfect for the seat but 2nd Congressional District Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. apparently wanted it more than most. According to an ongoing federal investigation, recordings with Jackson taped by Blagojevich identified him as a candidate willing to “pay to play.” While the federal investigation percolated, Mr. Jackson continued to engage in unseemly behavior including prostitution, at least one marital affair, and an unfortunate diversion of campaign funds for personal use. On October 12, 2012, federal prosecutors and FBI agents launched a new criminal investigation of Jackson involving financial improprieties. Still, the electorate took little notice and Jackson was re-elected to his congressional seat on November 6th with approximately 71% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, even in Illinois crooks sometimes get what’s coming to them and Jackson resigned his seat shortly thereafter citing mental and physical health problems.
A special election has been scheduled to fill the seat vacated by Jackson and a wide field of contenders has begun to be fleshed out. They include Jackson’s wife Sandi, previously ousted Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, and former Representative Mel Reynolds who was convicted and did time for sexual assault, bank fraud and lying to SEC investigators. Given the track record of Illinois voters, my bet’s on Reynolds.
So, back to the initial question: Why is it so important that we home school our kids? Lots of reasons, but one of them is certainly that I believe that our culture is in a state of decline being accelerated by the failures of the government-operated school systems. Kids are not being taught to think critically and seek truth, but to embrace politically correct drivel as a useless substitute. I’ve said repeatedly that the home schooling movement is the hope of this country. Without your commitment to passing on your values, your dreams, and our collective history to your kids, we as a society are destined to continue producing adults who vote into office useless nincompoops to lead us. It’s time to break the cycle. School is in session and you’re making a difference. Thank you!
Grumblings from the Dad Side (11/13/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
As the election season landscape fades quickly in our collective rear view mirror, we now get to turn our attention to the road ahead and it looks like there’s going to be no shortage of bumps and potholes. As a numbers guy, I’m grumpy about the fact that we’re likely embarking on another four years without a federal budget. As a homeowner in a broke and clueless state, I’m grumpy that my fellow citizens refuse to throw out a political class that thinks installing video poker machines in bars and slot machines at the airports is a legitimate path to fiscal stability. And, as a home educating dad, I’m grumpy that forces hostile to my homeschooling worldview now seem to have an even bigger place at the policy table at both the state and national levels.
So, what’s a dad to do with his angst?
One interesting option I’m contemplating was described on page 24 of my November 3, 2012 World Magazine: Dispatches > Quick Takes section.
The brief piece tells the tale of Mr. Stephen Gough of Scotland who apparently suffers from some grumpiness and angst of his own. While Mr. Gough’s issues of dissatisfaction are clearly different than mine (he objects to the fact that Scottish law prohibits him from hiking in the buff), his active and sustained campaign to raise support for his cause and precipitate change stands in marked contrast to my own tepid whining. For six years, this so-called “Naked Rambler” has refused to put on clothes while he wanders Scotland’s Highlands and Lowlands nude to protest the laws that forbid him to do so.
Clearly, naked wandering by home school parents around the country is not a method we would advocate as effective in raising sympathetic awareness of the issues we find important. Such tactics have, appropriately and repeatedly, landed Mr. Gough in jail and a similar outcome would await any of us foolish enough to embrace such goofiness.
That said, too many of us in the home educating community are just too busy to take an active part in the public discourse. We (I) have a tendency to grumble about topics ranging from elections and legislation to pop culture and public discourse, but then retreat to the perceived safety of our support groups and co-ops and hope somebody else handles it. That might work for a while, but ultimately we are not called to hide and wait to be rolled, but to be salt and light to a messed up world that desperately needs our participation.
Until the next election cycle hits, I’m going to keep my clothes on and work on my grumpiness issues. The bumps in the road ahead aren’t going away, but the American experiment is alive and well and we’ve got work to do to keep it that way.
Protection Racket? (10/30/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Because most of our readers receive Break Time as a result of their membership and use of our free homeschooling tracking system, we have found that many are not aware of our linked sister sites. They include our online curriculum and bookstore, powered by the fine folks at CBD, and HomeschoolReviews.com, the largest repository on the web of user-generated curriculum reviews. This massive archive is not only a great free resource when choosing curriculum, but also a wonderful opportunity to share your insights on various curricula you’ve used with your family.
Within HomeschoolReviews.com, one can find our heavily trafficked community forums where users can seek and share information on a wide variety of topics. One of the more active forums is a relatively freewheeling spot called ‘Chit-Chat.’ Here, topics have ranged from recipes to teenagers behaving badly to, most recently, the race for the White House. The rules are pretty simple on Chit-Chat: Be considerate and keep it clean. In general, I’m glad to say that our participants are able to enjoy the relative freedom of this loosely moderated site because some of the same worldview characteristics that led them to home school in the first place guide their words here. However, an interesting set of events occurred last week that got me thinking.
Since mid-September, much of the conversation on Chit-Chat has revolved around the election. While this has certainly been a very emotional season for many, for the most part, the conversations have been respectful and reasonable. At one point, a thread about one of the presidential debates broke out onto which several people posted comments that were clearly inappropriate and in violation of site rules. Normally, these posts would have been caught quickly and deleted by moderators. But in this case, a major server upgrade resulted in the posts remaining in place for approximately 24 hours. Worse yet, during this time period, a relative newcomer to our forums was shocked and appalled that such posts were tolerated. As this tsunami gathered steam, the visitor decided not to attempt to contact the moderators, but instead to copy the offending posts and email them to each of our advertises with a suggestion that they might want to reconsider their relationship with us. Ouch!!
Thankfully, our supporting advertisers are amazing organizations. Because they understand who we are, the worldview that drives us, and our commitment to the advancement of home education, the consequences were not catastrophic. That is not to say that there were not consequences. Political discussions have been banned on our boards and moderation tightened. In short, in order to better “protect” our users, their freedom has, to some small degree, been diminished.
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that while this small curtailing of freedom on one of our sites was probably not significant in the overall scheme of things, it is symptomatic of what I see as an overall trend away from freedom and towards ‘protection.’
When it was determined back in the mid-1970s that safety belts which might save lives were not being worn by many Americans, laws were put into place in most states mandating their use with penalties for non-compliance. Similar laws have been implemented in many states regarding helmet use for motorcyclists. Would I, at this point in my life, go without my safety belt in the car or ride a motorcycle without a helmet? No. Is it a good thing that lives have been saved by these laws? Yes. Is it the place of government to ‘protect’ us from our own foolishness? Of that, I’m not so sure.
As anyone who’s ever watched a mafia movie knows, a ‘protection racket’ is a scheme where the more powerful party (the mob) suggests to the weaker party that they might want to surrender some resources in exchange for the ‘protection’ services of the stronger party. Certainly, a legitimate argument can, and should, be made for our government to extract dollars from the pockets of its citizens for purposes of building and maintaining infrastructure and providing for the common defense. But as the ‘protection’ services we as a society are called upon to pay for are expanded to include more questionable hazards such as obnoxious speech, thought, or bovine flatulence, it begins to look a lot more like a racket.
If we as a people cannot learn to be respectful of others, to be civil in our discourse, to value our freedom, and not be so eager to exchange it for the empty promises of ‘protection’ from our politicians, we will not be free for long.
Party On! (October 16, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
My eldest daughter, Darby, is on a home school girls’ volleyball team. This past Saturday, Darby’s team participated in a big tournament at a sports complex in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Deann was the mom-on-call for the scorekeeper position. They left together on Friday afternoon pledging to return home late Saturday evening.
Generally speaking, I love when my wife and daughter get an opportunity for some time together, but this Saturday was scheduled chaos: my small men’s group meeting at 6:30 a.m. followed by overlapping soccer games at 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. at different fields and then…the birthday party! Yes, our little guy was turning seven, and his reward for another year of successful aging was to be a gathering of 10 other similarly sized boys from our home school co-op who would run around and break things in my house while Deann relaxed in safety at a remote athletic event.
As I prepared for the first arrivals, I reviewed “the list.” Hot dogs and beans for dinner…check! Streamers and decorations done by sister Keri…check! Cake baked by brother Josh…check! The plan was coming together with the only wild card being the “activities” I had prepared to keep the hordes entertained for the couple hours until dinner was to be served.
The first parents arrived 10 minutes early to drop off their young men with the others arriving shortly thereafter in a caravan of minivans and SUVs. I’d promised them all that I would attempt to keep bloodshed and broken bones to a minimum but with my 12-year-old daughter as the only moderating female force in attendance, I wasn’t sure how successful I’d actually be in the effort.
As the last of the parents drove away, I gathered my newly formulated army of young men and marched them across the old cow bridge over Salt Creek to our first event at the local playground. As they waited expectantly in the wood chips, I produced our Banzai Samurai Swords and announced we would be doing challenge battles in 30-second spurts. If you’ve never seen a Banzai Sword at your local Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s basically a three-foot long piece of one-inch PVC pipe pushed through a similarly sized length of floating pool noodle. The combatants hang onto their “swords” by a handle sticking out of one end and basically beat the snots out of each other for about 30 seconds…no head shots allowed. As I watched them by turns do battle and cheer each other on, I was very glad that Deann was not around to watch.
Over the next hour or so, we engaged in a variety of goofy events including soccer, “beat up Josh” (the 15-year-old older brother), and several very messy variations of egg toss on the cement in our cul-de-sac. When the rain finally came and pushed us inside for cake and presents, the group was battered but not beaten. Tuckered out, but all smiles from the exertion and the silliness.
Later that evening, after the party guests had gone, I sat quietly, thinking and awaiting the return home of my wife and daughter. I realized again how grateful I am for the home educating parents of these young men. They are parents who will not only let me lead their boys to risk life and limb with Banzai Swords, but also allow them to build a catapult, shoot a BB gun or even jump off a roof to learn how gravity really works. They are parents who are willing to do hard things as they strain forward to equip their kids to be who they were created to be. I’m glad you’re there, you inspire me!
Tickling Our Ears (October 2, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Our youngest son will be turning seven this week. Sammy is a wonderful kid with a fascination for the world around him and a love of any activity that involves physical movement. Over the last couple of months, Sammy seems to have developed a peculiar inability to hear certain communications from his mother. If she calls from the kitchen saying, “Brownies are ready,” he materializes almost instantly. On the other hand, “Have you cleaned your room yet?” posed from three feet behind him while he’s playing LEGOs seems insufficient to pierce his concentration.
While it is certainly possible that Sammy’s ears are stuffed so full of wax that only certain words are able to slip by the blockage, my suspicion is that we are more likely dealing with a classic case of “selective reception.” Unfortunately, it appears that this condition is genetic and has affected successive generations on my side of the family. When we visit my parents, and mom wants to start a game of Hand and Foot, neither my dad nor my eldest son seems capable of hearing the request. But a whispered suggestion that the pool table is open in the basement results in their heads popping up like a couple of dogs hearing a high-pitched whistle. Even I seem to be affected by this condition. Assertions by our office manager that my floor is not a filing cabinet are barely heard while a muttered comment about giving the staff the rest of the day off with pay instantly garners my attention.
As curious as this condition is for my family, what alarms me is that it also appears to be manifesting itself throughout the country, on both a national and local level. One example I’d put forth is that of the Chicago public school unions which recently ended a strike that left 350,000 kids with a week-long vacation. The teachers started off in February looking for a 30% raise over 24 months! It is worth noting that the average Chicago public school teacher makes $76,000 annually before healthcare, pension and other benefits. The average cost per student in Chicago is $13,000. The rational response to that request from a virtually bankrupt city was No Can Do! Instead, the teachers’ union heard “Have you cleaned your room yet?” and continued pushing for the cash.
Politicians have long known that the public has a low tolerance for grown-up issues like fiscal responsibility, and that such discussions have a tough time slipping past our collective ear wax. But discussions of how the federal government might be able to arrange forgiveness of our student loans, cancel our mortgage, or give us free healthcare all while arranging for someone else to get the bill for the goodies…these are topics that tickle our ears and pique our interest. These are conversations that call to us (“Brownies are ready”). We should run, quickly, to sign up and get our share before someone else takes it all. They are a call to selfishness, to getting while the getting is good.
I’m going to be working with Sammy on his selective hearing/earwax problem. He needs to be able to hear that there may be brownies out there but only if he does the work required to get that reward. I want him to know that there are more opportunities available in this country than have ever been available to any other population in any country in the entire history of the planet. He needs to understand that being the first in line to get his “fair share” of the stuff being handed out is probably not a goal worthy of wrapping a life around.
Non-homeschoolers I talk to seem to be stuck on the question of whether or not a guy like me can properly teach my children physics. The more important question is whether the government-run school system is even vaguely equipped to teach our children a worldview that allows them to hear the bigger questions and come to conclusions that don’t scream “It’s all about me.” The answer is no, so I say let’s just move forward. Enjoy the brownies…they are coming.
What are you afraid of? (9/18/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
This past weekend we made a whirlwind trip to Minnesota to attend a nephew’s wedding. We packed Friday evening and were on the road by 8:45 a.m. Saturday morning with two of our kids, Keri and Sam, tucked contentedly in the back seat amid piles of coloring books, pillows and stuffed animals. Our two older kids were left behind with the minivan and some survival cash wondering whether we had given them a passport to adventure or were depriving them of something big at the wedding. Seven hours later, we were pulling into the underground parking garage at our downtown Minneapolis hotel. We spent an hour getting unpacked, cleaned up and wedding presentable, with Keri looking very spring-like in her flower print dress and six-year-old Sammy proudly sporting a blue clip-on tie and sneakers.
The venue for the wedding and reception was a 100-year-old manufacturing plant which had been converted into an event facility. The character of the place had been carefully left intact with the towering interior walls giving visitors the curious perception that they might be in a medieval cathedral which doubled as a grainery during the week and an after-hours dance club on the odd weekend. Following the ceremony, which was as unique as the facility itself, the crowd cleared out while the staff converted the place from a church to a banquet hall. When we were moved back in for dinner my daughter looked on, wide-eyed, at the splendor of the place. As a numbers guy, I could only be grateful that I was a guest and not the dad who was footing the bill. It’s going to be an interesting conversation when Keri asks why we’re having her reception at the local VFW….
Once dinner was finished, the cake served and guests sufficiently re-caffeinated, the band began to play. Sammy sidled up to the stage and watched, fascinated. Our older kids play instruments so the concept of loud music wasn’t foreign to him. But seeing a weirdly dressed, long-haired cover band perform was a new one for him. After three songs, the lead guitar player noticed the little blonde kid watching him from the side and wandered over (wireless and still playing) for some audience interaction. He reached out to Sam offering him a fluorescent green guitar pick which was hesitantly accepted. He made strumming motions inviting Sam to come on up and play, but fear overcame fascination and desire — after a few swipes at the strings, my would-be musician retreated to the safety of dad’s lap to re-group.
A few minutes later, an aunt asked him to dance. Sam’s response was a quiet, “I’m going to watch.” When I had to leave him briefly with one of his uncles to track down another relative, I returned to find him on the fringes of the dance floor tapping his feet and twitching to the music but still turning down invitations to jump in with the other dancers. I could see that he desperately wanted to participate but fear was, once again, holding him back. Eventually he turned to me and said nervously, “I’ll dance if you will.” I instantly grabbed his older cousin, Lindsey, and we were off. Sammy spent the next hour developing the most interesting set of moves I’ve seen in a while and by the time we left for our hotel, he knew that, contrary to his initial fears, he could do it.
When you and I look at a six-year-old boy’s fear of strumming a guitar or dancing at a wedding reception, we seek to help him see past it because we know the excitement and joy he will experience when he does. But, what are you afraid of? I’ve always been scared of being stuffed upside down and sealed into a sleeping bag. But for a lot of homeschool parents, especially moms, claustrophobia is nothing compared to the fear that they are not up to the job of educating their children at home. This fear sometimes drives them to homeschool conferences or local support groups in a very positive quest for new ideas and curriculum. But it also drives too many to eventually give up and turn their children over to the government school system.
I encourage you to know that, with very few exceptions, you can do this. Like a young boy with a drummer’s heart itching to jump up and down to the music, we all need to feel the fear and do it anyway. We need to see past our own insufficiencies to the end results that we build into our children through home education. We need to understand the strength of the relationships that we forge with them, and how that strength will ultimately play out in their lives as they move out in confidence to build stable careers, marriages, and families.
It’s a great time to be involved in a movement that’s growing continually stronger as our public schools fail in ever more spectacular and expensive ways. Feel the fear, but then just jump in and do it! The school year is officially underway and it’s time to dance!
No Place Like Home… (9/4/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Several weeks ago, I was on the phone with a longtime friend and client in Sayreville, New Jersey. As we discussed her retirement planning questions, it became clear that the issues she was grappling with were more complicated than either of us had expected. I suggested that maybe the discussion would be more appropriately handled face to face. She agreed, but added that the odds of her jumping a plane from Newark to Chicago for a meeting at my office were somewhere between zero and none.
“Not to worry,” I told her. My high school hometown of East Brunswick is but a few miles south of Sayreville and I would use her as an excuse to spend some time with my sister, Carin, and her family. It would also be an opportunity to re-wander the town to which so many of my “good old days” and “oh, did I really do that?” memories are tied. My friend readily agreed.
When I got home that night and described “the plan” to Deann, it quickly became apparent that there were going to be some minor modifications. You need to understand that my wife loves community and time together. From her perspective, a trip to Costco with me and our four kids is quality family time and the same trip without the kids along qualifies as a date. A two-night whirlwind trip to New Jersey…that’s dangerously close to being a romantic getaway!
We scoured the online travel sites for discount airfares and booked a flight to arrive at LaGuardia Airport at about 2:30 p.m. If we traveled light, had no flight delays, caught the shuttle in NY to the rental car facility without incident, and rode like the wind over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, we might actually beat the rush hour traffic and reach East Brunswick in time for dinner with my sister. The race was on!
I hadn’t been back to New Jersey in over a decade and as we cruised down the interstate I found myself humming the old Simon & Garfunkel tune about “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all…gone…to look for…Amer…ica.” At exit #9 we paid the toll and turned onto Route 18.
In the pre-rush-hour traffic I realized that my last trip hadn’t included much sightseeing. The exit signs for Milltown Road and Rues Lane were unchanged but the change in the character of the place was astounding. HyWay Music and Bella La Pizza had survived, but Mickey’s Donuts, Chet’s Liquor Locker and dozens of other single-owner strip mall businesses were nowhere to be found. As we moved off of 18 and down Cranbury Road, I saw streets and houses linked to people and events that I hadn’t thought about in 25 years. Whatever happened to John Umpleby, my fellow cage cleaner at Cranbury Veterinary Hospital? What about Mr. Michaud, the colorful English Lit teacher who taught Moby Dick by standing red-faced on a desk grasping an imaginary harpoon and screaming, “Call me Ishmael!” What about that girl (whose name now escapes me) I fell in love with for five minutes while she talked me into donating a pint of O-Positive at the high school blood drive?
As we walk, skip and crawl through the daily challenges we confront in our roles as adults in general, but specifically as parents who have chosen to educate our children at home, it is sometimes tempting to look back and long for the freedom and simplicity we remember. However, in doing so, we conveniently forget that those days had their own challenges. Singer Bryan Adams did this as he looked back at the “Summer of ’69″ and recalled those as “the best days of my life.” Bruce Springsteen sings about high school “Glory Days” contrasted with the emptiness of adult life looking backward from a bar stool.
The truth is that we were not created to look backward and long for old glories or dwell on old hurts. Your past is prelude and preparation for the challenges, pain and joy that you are going to face today, tomorrow and the next day. Your decision to home school your children was a line drawn in the sand that acknowledged the fact that it’s no longer all about you. And, as you pour yourself out in the process of building into your children and family, you will radically change the trajectory of the lives around you and become a person who will not need to look back with regret at what you might have been.
For Deann and me, the trip to New Jersey was wonderful time together. We got to recharge a few old relationships, eat and laugh together, do a little cruising down my memory lane, and even fix the retirement planning problem which was the original reason for the trip. But now that we’re home, it’s time to move forward. No looking back, no regrets. For us, and you, let’s make it a great year.
Here We Go Again (8/21/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
School is officially in session at the Nicholson house, effective yesterday. The requisite pens, erasers and crayons have been acquired, curricula have been purchased (online at HSI’s co-branded CBD site, of course!), Heritage Home School Co-op tutoring sessions are set, as are soccer schedules for three plus volleyball for one. Let the chaos begin!
The kickoff of a school year is certainly a bit overwhelming, but this year was particularly so for our 17-year-old, Darby. She opened her day yesterday with Physics at 8 a.m. and ended with a three-and-three-quarter-hour night course in sign language at the local community college. When she and I arrived separately at the house following the busy-ness of the day, it was 10:30 p.m. and we had a bit of time to share challenges and decompress. Eventually, the conversation turned to a question from Darby on student computers in the tutoring sessions and whether they were a boon to note-taking and retention or a potential distraction (spider solitaire anyone?).
I had to laugh as I considered my answer and recalled for Darby the computer technology available during my college years of the early ’80s. My first exposure was “Intro to Fortran” as a night course. In this nightmare of a three-hour class we would map out if/than schematics and then make our way to the “typing room” which held about five desk-sized keyboard machines. After waiting for my turn to access one of these monstrosities, we would feed in a punch card and painstakingly type out commands which the machine dutifully applied to the card in the form of a series of unreadable holes. Hours later, we would troop to the computer terminal with a pile of 10 to 500 cards which were presented to the computer operator with a care and reverence normally reserved for precious gems and fine china.
The operator would then feed the pile into the terminal while the student silently prayed that no disastrous misfeed would occur and send the hapless would-be programmer back to the typing room. Assuming all went well, the student would depart, leaving the pile-o-cards in a wooden cubby-hole which the operator would eventually match up with output from the dot-matrix printer that would show up anywhere from 30 minutes to a day later. The real fun came in when the output would come back blank or incomplete, meaning that there was either an error in the logic or, more likely, an apostrophe erroneously inserted where a colon or comma should have been. Suffice it to say, there was never any danger of my enrolling in more advanced classes offered like “Advanced COBOL Programming for the Soon-to-Be Clinically Depressed.”
My daughter has a wonderful capacity to absorb information from a wide variety of sources including her dad’s goofy college rants. However, I could see from the look on her face that grasping the concept of a real world where technology was not ubiquitous was a stretch. No cell phones from which to text last-minute changes in plans? No typing term papers on a laptop while lounging in a recliner and toggling back and forth to Google for info? No ability to post last weekend’s Camp Awana pictures to Facebook? I’m pretty sure it was the same look I gave my grandma when she told me about how when she was a little girl, the water for cooking and cleaning came into the house in a bucket that a kid carried in and that a bathroom was a shack in the backyard positioned over a hole in the ground.
But the future successes (or lack thereof) of my eldest daughter or her siblings in their studies, career endeavors, or eventual marriages are not going to be contingent upon the technologies currently at their disposal any more than mine were a result of my access to indoor flushing toilets or hot and cold running water in the kitchen sink.
Parents have been training up their children in the way they should go for generations and the key variable to success in the endeavor has generally not been access to the most current technology. More often, the key has been their parents’ ability to instill in the next generation a right and moral understanding of the world in which they find themselves and their place and purpose in it. To help them know that they are loved unconditionally and have intrinsic value because the creator who authored their existence says so and not because of any grades they might earn, games they might win, or deeds they might do.
As we move into the academic year, chaos is coming. I encourage you to embrace it, roll with it, and maybe even find an opportunity to actually realize you enjoy it. This craziness is a noble calling and you can do it! Have a great year!
Blundering Forward (8/7/2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Over the past several summers our family has had the wonderful opportunity of vacationing on a small lake in southern Wisconsin. A friend rents us his house which has been refurbished in a relaxed, cushy fishing lodge motif that reflects his love of the area. Between the fire pit, family card games, lakeside bocce and the foosball table, even my best efforts to sustain some residual work-related stress levels for more than a day or so have been doomed to failure.
Despite all the fun to be had on shore, one of the biggest advantages for us is the set of ski boat keys left on the counter by our absentee host. While I am completely convinced that owning, transporting and maintaining a boat of any size or type entails a level of effort and expense beyond anything a reasonable person would want to endure, being able to borrow such a vessel during vacation is truly a wonderful thing.
Prior to our arrival, we had been warned that this summer’s drought had resulted in a lake water level that was approximately 14 inches below normal. While this depth reduction (hardly more than a common ruler!) may not sound like much, it became impossible to get the boat anywhere near the docking station so a new “parking space” on a sand bar about 40 yards from shore was established.
The problem with this arrangement became quickly apparent as my family discovered that the sandy bottom of the lake, upon which they were happy to walk, didn’t actually begin until you crossed over about 15 yards of muck submerged in six inches of water. Over the course of our entire vacation not a toe of any family member or guest touched the mucky bottom. Instead, I loaded them into canoes and, with rope over shoulder a la Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen,” slogged through the mud to the safety of our vessel.
Once on the lake, there was pure joy — tubing, knee boarding and wake board adventures — until, of course, that Saturday when I discovered a submerged pile of rocks underneath the boat’s propeller in a place where no rocks had any business being.
The next day, as I stood on the sand bar surveying the three blades of the prop that were each a third shorter than they had been at the start of the week, I debated where to go next. Replacing the prop for my host looked simple enough…how much trouble could I get into messing with a cotter pin and a big nut? However, having never worked on a boat engine, I was hesitant to experiment on someone else’s toy and no local marina had been willing to send someone over to do the work.
As I drove back to the house after my final failed attempt to find help, I pulled into a roadside vegetable stand in front of a small farm. When the heavily tattooed young lady running the stand approached me I said, “This may sound a little strange but….” By the time I finished my sad tale she was on the phone with her boyfriend who just happened to be a mechanic. Not only that, he had missed her, was coming to visit, was within about a mile of the very spot I was standing, and was available for side jobs. Imagine that!
By early afternoon, Tony and I were standing calf deep on a sand bar pulling off the propeller. Thank goodness I didn’t venture it on my own as we had to do some adjustments on the fly that I certainly didn’t have the tools for. That said, within an hour we had completed the work, my able accomplice was paid, and the boat was ready for launch.
So, you might well ask, what on earth is my point in all this Rambling? Two things: First, I’m just grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have work that I can take a vacation from. I’m grateful for friends who are willing to share their home and toys with me. I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers willing to step up and help me out of a jam. Second, it’s a great illustration of how I can be completely out of control and by simply blundering forward things work out in spite of me.
That’s the way I often look at our home schooling experience. As much as Deann and I attempt to control the process through curriculum selection, play dates, or chore charts on the wall, it turns out that our best efforts are all too often derailed by events and circumstances beyond our control and chaos ensues. But in spite of our imperfections and inabilities, we don’t seem to have managed to completely ruin any of the kids yet. In fact, as we blunder forward through the obstacles that present themselves, both we and they seem to be growing through the experiences. I suppose sometimes we just need to be able to step back far enough from the tears and frustration to see beyond to what’s really going on.
As we move towards the end of summer I encourage you to know that you probably can’t control the daily outcomes of your home schooling efforts any better than we can; be content with managing the inputs as best you can. When you have the opportunity to get the prop on right when all appears to be lost, be amazed and rejoice. And when all else fails, blunder forward. You may not end up where you planned but getting there will almost certainly be an adventure.
When I was your age… (July 17, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
I got my first personal radio as a 6th grader in the mid-1970s and immediately fell in love with it. I’d fall asleep to the limited AM playlist of KFRC San Francisco and pretty quickly heard my parents complain that it was “too loud.” While Jim Stafford singing “I don’t like spiders and snakes” or Mac Davis doing “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” might not sound particularly edgy today, the rejection of the Tchaikovsky and Dean Martin records spinning on the family Magnavox console stereo were my first rebellious steps towards being far smarter than my parents.
I became a fan of K-Tel records with their eclectic mixes (Jud Strunk’s “Daisy A Day” on the same LP as Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes”), but as my appetite for electric music expanded, it became clear that I needed bigger speakers. I became something of an audiophile as I haunted the local Montgomery Wards stereo department and squirreled away cash from odd jobs to acquire my first component system complete with turntable and 8-track tape deck! The speaker acquisitions continued — my parents bought me headphones.
By the time I hit 9th grade, I was convinced that my parents were cultural illiterates, due in large part to their inability to accept Kiss performing “Cold Gin” as high art. I was on my own in my musical pursuits. As I mulled my next epic stereo component adjustment, my counsel on the topic was Tim, a high school junior who cleaned cages with me at the local veterinary hospital after school. When my dad put forth the possibility that the setup I was considering might actually be hugely overpriced, I remember asking him, “Are you suggesting that Tim doesn’t know stereo?” He just shook his head and left the room, leaving me to contemplate the collective brilliance of myself and my peers.
On the first day of 10th grade, I wandered into Mr. Munyan’s English class along with 35 or so other culturally relevant sophomores. The professor was nearing retirement and was rumored to be a bit quirky. As we found seating, he sat on the desk at the front of the room staring first at the ceiling, then to us, then back to the ceiling. Eventually the crowd settled into an uneasy silence as we waited for our brave and dedicated leader to speak.
After a few moments, he turned watery eyes back to us and asked, “Does anyone here know what the word ‘sophomore’ means?” No answer from the audience. He said, “The word ‘sophomore’ means Wise Fool. Look it up.” He went on to explain that while at this point in our lives we thought we knew it all, we didn’t know squat and best pay attention and learn while we had the opportunity. We laughed. Clearly, he had no idea what he was talking about.
Over the years I have hopefully become somewhat wiser and less foolish. However, given that at the start of the new school year I will have a sophomore son of my own, there are likely differing opinions available on my progress in those areas. As I wander ever further into my role as “father of teens” I am ever more convinced that I am completely unprepared for the part. At this point, giving them away seems not to be an option. Embracing the adventure is the only rational course of action if we wish to survive it mentally intact. I had assumed that, with the death of disco, there was no remaining way that my kids could annoy me with music. But as I look at some of the tunes my son wants to dabble in (Rap? Ugghh!), I have a newfound sympathy for my parents. I have become culturally irrelevant.
If, like me, you have somehow managed to genetically replicate the rebellious teenager you once were and, at the same time, become your own father replete with pasty white legs, dark socks with your short pants, etc., take heart! In the midst of the turmoil that seems to inevitably accompany our kids’ process of transition to becoming viable adults, your decision not to turn them over to the local government school system speaks volumes to them of your commitment and love, even if you are a bit culturally challenged. There is no doubt that our teenagers sometimes see us as a bit outdated and hopeless, but at some point, odds are that a light will go on and they’ll realize that maybe we’re at least a little smarter than they thought. If it takes until they’re in their mid-20s for that realization to kick in, don’t give up. They need you and they’re worth the effort.
To ask, or ask not… (July 3, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
In mid-1992 the Presidential campaigns of incumbent George H.W. Bush and his challenger, Governor William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas, were in full swing. The US economy was struggling and, with a national unemployment rate stuck in the 7.5% range, the Clinton campaign was intent on making that fact “the” issue of the campaign. I, on the other hand, was blissfully ignorant of national politics as I pounded out 13-hour workdays crunching numbers with an eye on the next rung of the corporate ladder dangling in front of me.
One early morning I found myself on the elevator with the Regional President of the company for whom I was so diligently sacrificing sleep and the conversation turned briefly to the upcoming election. My question for the big guy was not deep: “Any suggestions on who I should be voting for come election day Mr. Rooney?” His simple answer was, “If you don’t find anything especially compelling from either candidate, vote your wallet.”
While that “vote your wallet” approach has a certain logic in a capitalistic, representative republic, I must confess that his answer was oddly unsatisfactory, even though it did seem to be an almost perfect fit with the “all about me” lens with which I admittedly tended to view the world at that time of my life.
To Mr. Rooney’s credit, what he meant was not that he believed my voting choices should be based upon which career politician could best “bring home the bacon” to my Chicago home district a la Dan Rostenkowski. Rather, he was saying that whichever candidate could best provide an economic environment in which our business could thrive should get the benefit of our support. It wasn’t so much “all about me” as “all about us.”
In January of 1961 President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous inaugural address with its signature line, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Sadly, “what your country can do for you” has become the path to power for politicians as they compete to convince us that a vote for them will bring not more effective or efficient government, but a bigger piece of the pie to each of us personally.
While the federal government has the right to fund its’ activities by levying taxes on the activity of citizens, with the Supreme courts’ decision last week it now apparently also has the right to raise funds by levying taxes on inactivity. That is, to levy a tax on citizens who elect not to purchase government-approved health insurance or not eat their recommended daily allowance of broccoli or not drive a sufficiently fuel-efficient automobile.
Several weeks ago I would have thought this impossible. However, after watching the process unfold with morbid fascination, it occurred to me that maybe the US population is very close to being more interested in security than in Declaration of Independence-style enumerated freedoms. I read in an article recently that approximately 48.5% of US households receive some type of government aid. If that is true, just under 50% of the population nationally has a vested interest in the government not behaving responsibly and continuing to fund its’ outsized spending either by further increasing debt or taxing “others” to assure we don’t have to give up our piece of the pie.
In our country where the freedom to live, worship and speak are core values, many have worked and grown to become successful beyond their wildest dreams. However, with that freedom comes the risk and opportunity for failure, heartache and poverty. To those willing to work, I believe we need to provide hope and a hand up. For those unable to do so, I believe we need to provide a safety net of private and public support. However, for those who misinterpret the freedoms expounded upon in our founding documents as a promise of a government-provided lifestyle or opportunity, a reality check is probably overdue.
As we prepare to celebrate the independence of this great nation, I pray that we will collectively recoil and run from the siren song of a government so powerful that it can give us whatever we want. For that government is, to quote Gerald Ford, also “big enough to take from you everything you have.” I’m thinking the “ask not” path provides a much brighter future for our kids, our country and the world at large. Have a great 4th.
Giving It Up (June 19, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Years ago I attended a two-day seminar on the stimulating topic of Charitable Remainder Trusts. For those not familiar with CRTs, they are a tax planning tool that allows an individual to obtain tax relief in the sale of highly appreciated property in exchange for a significant future contribution to a favorite charity. I know, too exciting for words, but bear with me.
It turns out there are quite a few older folks who own an investment asset they no longer want but hang on to because of the large tax bill that would be generated if it were sold. The typical example would be a piece of real estate that Grandpa bought 40 years ago for $10,000 that is now worth $100,000. He’d love to sell it to finance annual cruises for him and Grandma, but the idea of paying a 20% tax on the $90,000 of profit makes him want to gag so he’s decided to hang on to it and let his kids deal with it after he’s gone.
The CRT allows Grandpa to donate the property to the trust and not pay tax on the $90k of profit when it is sold. It further allows the trustee to invest the proceeds and send the annual income to Grandpa so he and Grandma can continue cruising which makes her especially happy since she never liked that particular piece of property anyway.
However, there is a catch. You see, once the property is given away to the CRT to generate income, that interest is all that Grandpa can ever get from the assets. He can never touch the principal and upon his death, the assets go to charity. The simple fact is that while the tax savings story is compelling and often raised by advisors, in the absence of charitable intent few are willing to part with the assets regardless of the tax reasons for doing so.
I have no problem with Grandpa preferring to ultimately leave that property to his kids and grandkids instead of to his church or other qualified charity. But I am concerned about the fact that the level of charitable intent seems to be so low in our culture as a whole. I once heard a great talk by a gentleman who argued passionately for the concept of tithing. “Save 10%, give 10% away and have a great time spending the rest” was his theme suitable not just for church audiences but for anyone looking to lead a more balanced and contented life. That wisdom was echoed in an August 2011 article published in Psychology Today in which Linda Wasmer Andrews wrote, “Although it might seem counterintuitive, there’s evidence that giving away even a small sum may help ease your financial stress.”
In the face of an amazing variety of expenses vying for access to my checkbook each month, I have a tendency to clutch ever more desperately at whatever meager wealth it contains. However, if my first response to a tight financial situation is to cut off charitable organizations whose missions I believed in enough to commit my treasure, I’m probably doing a disservice not only to the organizations but to myself as well.
Somebody once told me that if I wanted to be a weightlifter I was going to need to lift some weights and keep lifting over time even when it got hard. Put another way, if I lifted weights consistently, over time, I would become a weightlifter. The idea is that what you do impacts who you become. In the same way, if I want to become a generous and giving person committed to ideas bigger than myself, the way to do so is to work those giving muscles consistently even when the check writing gets painful.
Many of us are not in a position to harvest the benefits of an expensively drafted and funded Charitable Remainder Trust. But virtually all of us have the capacity to develop those giving muscles and become people who engage and impact the world with the treasure with which we’ve been entrusted. Giving it up isn’t easy, but if we can get this one right, life changes.
Facebook? (June 5, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
I have a Facebook page. It’s not that I particularly like Facebook, but my younger sister felt it was absolutely necessary that I have one because she’d been able to reestablish contact with her best friend from third grade after 40+ years of separation. I log in once a week or so and am amazed at the number of people crawling over the site posting old pictures and sincerely wishing each other a ‘happy birthday.’ Being appalled at the amount of time it takes simply to read through all the posts that accumulate from Facebook denizens between visits, I had steadfastly limited my role on the site to observer and acceptor of ‘friend’ requests…until recently.
Due to my place on my very social sister’s ‘friend’ list, I had become available to a variety of individuals dormant in my memory banks for three decades. Some elicited fond memories while others raised the specter of embarrassing old pictures and stories that my children shouldn’t see or hear until they’ve got children of their own.
With most of these new-old ‘friends’ there was an initial exchange of pleasantries, but the conversations fizzled out after a couple of updates and settled into the annual pattern of ‘happy birthday’ when the reminder pops up. However, one lady from high school who I liked very much years ago manages to post a prodigious amount of stuff on matters that I find myself compelled to respond to, in spite of my intense desire not to.
The most recent such post was forwarded from a friend of hers who had put together a chart showing how ‘anti-family’ our country is relative to other more compassionate countries like Latvia or Sweden. The measure of our national failure on this particular chart was paid family leave in general and paid leave for delivering a baby in particular. Based upon this chart (which I would want to warrantee for accuracy) the typical Latvian mom who had a baby was provided 16 weeks of paid leave from the government. At an annual salary of $24,000 that works out to a government-paid bonus of about $8,000 per baby. The bar on the chart for Sweden showed 60 weeks! Assuming the same annual salary of $24,000, the Swedish baby would be worth about $30,000 — clearly significantly more than the Latvian baby. My new-old friend’s obvious enthusiasm for the numbers towards the Swedish end of the spectrum and her desire that we backwater clods in the USA emulate them was too much for me. My Facebook silence was broken!
My attempt to point out that sending each of the approximately 4 million babies born annually in our country home with the $8,000 of Latvian-level government money would be disastrous given our current budget difficulties was met merely with the assertion that, obviously, being the father of four children had not made me ‘family friendly.’ From there I quickly discerned that my credibility with her as a nice guy was blown and the ensuing silence made it clear that my foolishness had been suffered long enough. The conversation was over.
I believe that my friend has a heart as big as the sky. I believe that her compassion for the financial difficulties of young families bringing children into the world is real, and she believes that if only misguided people like me would help her and others to create a government as compassionate as she is, resources could be consolidated to create a world that would be a better place for everyone. A world where no one goes hungry and no one is without a home. Where no one is left behind in the economic race of capitalism and consequences for bad decisions are properly mitigated.
Unfortunately, the world is a messy place full of sharp objects that cut and bruise. Where fallen people scramble for power and resources and rebel against the Creator who put them here to steward the place. It’s a place where any government, given sufficient resources and power to inflict its vision of utopia, will ultimately turn to tyranny as freedom dies. I pray that, in this country where we still grapple freely and openly with problems political, economic and philosophical in the public square, my friend eventually figures out that her country is not a Facebook community suitable for remaking in the image of Latvia or Sweden, but the last, best hope for the world.
The Bridge (May 22, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
If you were to travel west on I-90 from downtown Chicago, after an hour-long drive and a few key turns you would eventually find yourself in my neighborhood. The ranch style homes were mostly built in the late ’50s and ’60s, and because the subdivision is in an unincorporated area, the large lots are joined by confusing and winding streets unadorned by sidewalks or streetlights. It’s a pleasant place.
In the springtime, when the floods come and the greenery surges forth, it’s easy to get the impression that we are in some remote country setting unencumbered by the rules and dictates of other suburban residents. However, the casual neighborhood visitor would be wrong to make such an assumption. In the absence of membership in any larger incorporated township, more room has simply been made available for local government in the form of our homeowners association.
During the last 60+ years this regulatory structure has resulted in rules and covenants that preclude me from certain activities including building a second story on my house, using the yard as a dumping ground for rubbish, and raising or breeding poultry. I do not agree with every rule on our association books (fresh eggs, anyone?) but the board members charged with monitoring and enforcing them are members of the community and responsive to the concerns of the residents so the grumbling level is relatively low.
That all changed last week when a government official outside the community determined that the condition of a 60-year-old bridge inside the neighborhood needed to be addressed. The initial plan of reasonable repair to assure safety quickly morphed via government groupthink into a grand plan to tear down, completely rebuild and widen the bridge, and straighten the road to improve traffic flow. Unfortunately, the parties to the project saw the plans through significantly different lenses.
The government engineers and their elected bosses with allocations of state money looked at the bridge and saw an opportunity to be heroes by correcting a problem not just with the bridge, but with undesirable inefficiencies in traffic flows. Those in the community looked at the proposed plan and saw the elimination of a natural and desirable choke point in the road which serves to increase safety in the neighborhood by keeping speeds low.
When the association meeting commenced last Wednesday, the government reps presented the plan in detail, confident that the large crowd assembled would quickly see reason once they understood the wisdom behind the plan as written and the magnitude of the gift that was being given. But when the crowd proved to be informed, eloquent and organized in its opposition, the attitude of the presenters seemed to change significantly. Where the presentation had opened with paternal benevolence, humoring the locals by sharing the grand plans, when opposition arose, the disdain for the intellect of the locals became evident.
I get to whine regularly among friends with whom I share a common worldview about the tendency of governments both here in the US and globally to overstep their bounds. But I must confess that being informed by a government representative, just a level or two above the association level, that they know best how to run the affairs of our neighborhood shocked me and ticked me off!
It seems to me that the writers of our national Constitution intended for problems to be addressed first by free individuals, then by communities, then by local governments, then state and national governments as necessary. At this point we are seeing a tendency in the opposite direction as our state and national governments consolidate resources and power at levels ever further away from the citizens they impact and where they are used to make policy decisions which are inflicted on citizens “for our own good.”
How the bridge conflict in my neighborhood will ultimately play out is anyone’s guess. But I would suggest that the outcome is, in principle, important to citizens far beyond my subdivision. Dennis Prager often states that “the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” The question of how small we’re willing to be in exchange for government benevolence will not be resolved easily. But I’m glad that at least the discussion isn’t over yet.
Thinking About Chuck (Colson) (May 8, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Chuck Colson died last month at the age of 80 from complications related to an intracerebral hemorrhage. For those of you not familiar with Charles “Chuck” Wendell Colson, he served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He was known as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man” and ultimately served a seven-month sentence in an Alabama state prison on obstruction of justice charges related to the Watergate burglary.
During his time in prison, Colson became aware of what he saw as injustices to prisoners and significant shortcomings in the rehabilitation system. He became convinced that he was being called by God to prison ministry with an emphasis on promoting changes in the justice system. Following his release in January of 1975, he founded “Prison Fellowship” which is today “the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.”
I first ran into Colson over a decade ago. My wife decided to visit her parents in Iowa for a long weekend while I stayed at home to catch up on some work. Driving to the office that particular Friday I heard on the radio that Mr. Colson was running a “Worldview” conference at a hotel in Chicago in conjunction with a group called the Wilberforce Forum. On a whim, I called in and made a reservation. I have no idea why I made that call or what I expected to hear, but the power of the intellectual arguments made from that stage on topics ranging from bioethics to politics to intelligent design to slavery left me stunned and motivated to confront and engage a postmodern world intent on convincing my kids that truth is relative.
Others have experienced the power of Mr. Colson’s arguments for Judeo-Christian worldview through his 30+ books (try How Now Shall We Live available in our online store), his weekly Breakpoint radio addresses, and the Angel Tree ministries that connect parents in prison with their children through the delivery of Christmas gifts.
So, who was Chuck Colson? For a large contingent posting on internet message boards following his death, he was simply and forever “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration” as Slate Magazine’s David Plotz once described him. But those who fixate on a 40-year-old caricature miss the bigger story of a life redeemed.
There is no question that Colson was, at one point, a criminal and abuser of the power entrusted to him. But Chuck made a fundamental decision that took him in a different direction and, over time, he became a man of integrity, honor and love who understood his brokenness and leveraged it into a life that impacted thousands upon thousands for the better. He will be missed.
Wisdom…Or Not (April 24, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Ten years ago my eldest daughter, Darby, was heading into her third year of AYSO soccer. She was on a new team, with all new players, and a new coach whose daughter was on the team as well. On opening day, as the little girl munchkins gathered on the sidelines sporting their bright red jerseys, my wife and I found choice spots to set up our lawn chairs. We were ready to observe and cheer what was sure to be a compelling “bunch ball” contest.
Since the acquisition of the coach had been last-minute there hadn’t been time for practice, and to the best of our knowledge, no name had been selected for the team. With fifteen minutes to go before game time, my daughter came skipping across the field soliciting suggestions for an appropriate team moniker. Given the color of the uniforms and the elevated cuteness level of the participants, my wife suggested the “Sweet Strawberries” and sent Darby skipping back from whence she had come.
The game quickly commenced and after a scoreless first period our star came running excitedly to advise us that the name for the team had been decided. While she wasn’t sure exactly what the words meant, she did know that for the remainder of the season she would be a proud representative of…the Blood Sucking Vampires. As our firstborn raced back to her teammates, Deann and I sat dumbfounded.
Let me say that I really appreciate volunteer coaches. Over the years, our kids have learned and grown under compassionate, talented, dedicated dads who take off work early and pour themselves into these youngsters. They don’t get paid, the plays they call are largely ignored, and they tend to put up wonderfully with overzealous parents so I’m inclined to extend a lot of grace with regard to coaching styles. However, as I wrapped my brain more thoroughly around the Blood Sucking Vampires brand name, I turned to my beautiful bride and said, “Sounds like I’m going to need to have a talk with the coach.” She could only nod as I stood up and headed across the field.
As I neared the spot where the coach was reviewing his roster, he looked up and greeted me with a handshake and a questioning look. I figured I didn’t have a lot of time before the next period started so I got right to the point: “Coach,” I said, “You’re going to want to give a little more thought to that team name. Blood Sucking Vampires isn’t going to cut it.”
As I recall, he mumbled an “okay” and went back to his roster. The good news is that at the end of the second period, Darby ran over and happily advised us that the upgraded team name for the season would be the “Ladybugs.”
I don’t want to make too big a deal over one goofy decision by a volunteer coach. However, I have become convinced over the years that this situation is typical of a society that is smart, but not very wise. Our public school systems, modeled on the assembly lines of Henry Ford, perpetuate the problem with scope and sequence models that emphasize test scores but have little ability to train children in the deeper values of faith and family that hold a culture together.
Thanks for your commitment to your kids as you make the sacrifices necessary to educate them at home and grow them not just in knowledge, but in character, and courage, and wisdom. You — and they — are the hope of a nation.
I’m Tired (April 10, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
On Sunday, we got a last-minute invite from my daughter’s friend to join her family for Easter dinner. We didn’t have plans, and since I quickly realized I would likely be called upon to do little but eat and loaf, I readily accepted. In retrospect, it’s amazing how far off my assumptions of leisure deviated from how the day actually played out.
The meal was wonderfully eclectic and I managed, over multiple visits to the buffet, to eat far more than was reasonable. As we relaxed around the table after the meal — my plate courteously removed by our host lest I be tempted to inflict further damage on his food supply — I was content to sip coffee, engage in clever conversation, or maybe even start up a card or board game should anyone begin to feel particularly energetic. Interestingly, the best laid plans have a strange way of going awry when children are involved.
Within 20 minutes of my plate being removed, kids of all ages began to reappear, floating barbaric ideas like “street hockey” or “full-court basketball.” To make matters worse, my host, 10 years my junior, thought this was a marvelous idea. Somehow I was cajoled into a minivan and soon found myself in an enclosed half-court street hockey rink at a local park. And I don’t play hockey!
The teams were quickly split into “punks” vs. “geezers.” The old guys were outnumbered by the punks, five to three, but based on a measure of combined team body weights, we were probably pretty evenly matched.
I won’t bore you with the painful details, but suffice it to say, the geezers went down, 10-7, at the hands of our ungrateful offspring. Having somehow managed to keep my outsized dinner down, I packed up my share of the kids and headed back to the house. I enjoyed much of the hockey process but honestly, I was tired.
When I arrived, our wives were still gathered around the table comparing notes on school issues. One was discussing her family’s recent decision to move their oldest son into a local Christian school for his Junior and Senior years. It was clear, by the conversation, that it wasn’t so much that she wanted to stop his schooling at home, she was just tired. Not in the physical way that I was tired after the hockey match but in the emotionally exhaustive way that can set in over years of pouring yourself out for your kids.
My wife, Deann, and I believe to our core that we are called to our home schooling, but I must confess to the occasional daydream of shipping the teenagers off to military school if, for no other reason, than to simply slow down the pace of life. Thus far, we have controlled the urge to take any action.
For many moms who have been filling a multiplicity of roles in their home school households for 5, 10, 15 or more years, the level of “tired” can sometimes get overwhelming. If you’re among this group, I offer these words of encouragement: “Well done!” From my perspective, every year that you kept your kids from the government-run school system was a gift that they’ll keep forever. You read to them, coached them, and showed them how much you love them, with both your words and your dedication. When you were tired you kept going with the help of support groups, co-ops and online education.
Not every home school family will take every child to high school graduation at home. Not every family can nor should. However, I believe that families who care enough to take the process as far as they can — through 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th grade — have the capacity, as a group, to raise a generation that could change the very character and fiber of the country.
I don’t know how far you will be able to take the process. But even if today is the last day of your family’s home schooling adventure, what you’ve poured out of yourself in the process was not in vain. You’ve made a difference that will only be truly calculated from a more eternal perspective.
Who Are You? (March 27, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
For the past 10 years, I’ve been part of a men’s group that meets every other Saturday morning at 6 a.m. As we’ve gotten older and fewer us have children’s soccer games to get to by 8 a.m., there has been periodic talk of adjusting the time to a more reasonable hour. But when you’ve been stuck in a good rut for as long as we have, you hate to mess with it.
Two weeks ago I was on my way to our regular meeting. Half asleep and munching contentedly on an egg and cheese sandwich from the local bagel shop, I was jolted awake by the unwelcome sensation of crunching. I’m sure there are some places in this wonderful country where breakfast bakers spice up their specialties with corn nuts, Grape Nuts (remember Euell Gibbons?) or maybe miniature jaw breakers, but here in Palatine, Illinois, breakfast sandwiches are not supposed to go “crunch!”
As I spat the offending non-food bits into my palm and peered at them briefly – I was still driving after all – in the darkness I realized it was a tooth. Actually, it was two pieces of my right front tooth. I lost the original when I was 16 during a conflict with the bottom of a pool after a too-deep dive. Since then, the replacements have fallen out every 10 to 15 years…just long enough between occurrences that I’m still shocked every time it happens.
Given that I wasn’t in pain and that I was to lead the study that week, I continued on to my meeting anticipating that my “friends” would be sympathetic to my plight. However, I quickly discovered two things:
1. My right front tooth is absolutely essential to pronouncing “s,” “th” and even “f” sounds.
2. You never know who your real friends are until you show up with an unexpected speech impediment at 6 a.m.
I spent the next several hours being mocked and ridiculed while attempting to lead these “friends” through our study. The best response I could come up with was a Daffy Duck-esqe “You’re dethpicable” which served only to encourage the abuse.
The good news is that last Tuesday, my dentist affixed a temporary tooth and the permanent replacement should be installed in a couple weeks. The interesting and unexpected problem for me was the dawning realization that a significant part of my perception of who I am is apparently rooted in my ability to produce the sounds represented by the letters s, f and th. Worse yet, if my perception of who I “am” could be so easily damaged by removing a tooth, how would I fare if more significant aspects of my life were tampered with, and not just temporarily? How about my ability to work and provide for my family? My ability to drive a car? To get up from a chair and walk across the room? Hmmm…looks like I’ve got a little further self-examination to do here.
So, who are you? Apparently, as a home school parent, you’re not one who values overmuch the good opinion of a culture demanding access to your kids for proper institutional training. I hope that you’re equally passionate about battling for your children against the culture’s insistent message that what matters is the external and the “stuff.” If I, as an old guy no longer hoping to be a ‘chick magnet’ can be swayed by the lie of the external, you know our kids are struggling as well. Hug them. Tell them the truth. That’s who you are.
What Do You See? (March 13, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Our neighborhood is a curious place. Prior to moving here 10 years ago, I spent two years, off and on, driving through the sub-division looking for an opportunity I could (almost) afford. Large wooded lots, the absence of sidewalks and streetlights, and an unfathomable twisting and winding street layout drew me in to look at houses built in the mid ’50s far better left to others with stronger rehab skills.
When I finally found the mid-sized ranch at the end of the cul-de-sac next to Salt Creek, it seemed to me a magical place. The fact that the basement had just finished drying out after the most recent “100-year” flood or that the kitchen sink drained into a bucket didn’t faze me. Even the residents seemed to embrace the strangeness of the place as the homeowner’s association welcoming committee (of one) showed up at our door bearing gifts — a map of the neighborhood and two coffee mugs inscribed with, “Plum Grove: A Unique Place to Live.”
However, even the most unique things in our lives tend to become commonplace as we live and breathe among them. Both the child’s whine of “I’m bored” and my own when it came to the occasional basement seepage are reflections of our ability to miss the amazing beauty and complexity of the creation around us.
During an interview with Marvin Olasky (World Magazine, 3/10/12) author Nate Wilson nailed it when he said, “I want kids to realize they live in a fantasy world: They should not finish a novel and think, ‘Now back to my un-magical, boring existence.’ This world is crazy. The grass outside is made out of thin air by sunlight. Heat from a ball of fire in the sky turns into carbon dioxide, air grabs some heat from the sun and rips the carbon out and makes itself a leaf. It’s not made out of the dirt; it’s made out of thin air. We’re on a rock flying at Mach 86 around a ball of fire in the sky.”
Whether you live in a crazy neighborhood like mine, on a farm, or in a city, this world is truly a magical place if we only have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. There is a danger that we, as parents swamped with the complexities of everyday life, become dulled to the glories of the world around us. Worse yet, as we lose the ability to see, we also lose the urgency to instill in our children a proper understanding of the gift of this place that God has given them.
As spring hits, I encourage you to find the time to take a walk. Breathe in, breathe out; look around. The place may be broken, but in many ways, it’s still very good.
Alt, Control, Delete (February 21, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
Recently the country became aware of the tale of Tommy Jordan and his 15-year-old daughter, Hannah. In case you missed it, Mr. Jordan of Albemarle, NC, had become aware of some inappropriate Facebook behavior on Hannah’s part and so he grounded her. She’d gotten angry and subsequently posted a profanity-laced “private” rant on the profound difficulties (chores) of her life, the evil of parental units, and the general unfairness of life as a teenager.
What Hannah apparently forgot was that dad is an IT guy and the verbal assault on mom and the house ogre (dad) was discovered. In response, Mr. Jordan filmed and posted a You Tube video of himself sitting calmly in his Adirondack chair out in a field, smoking a cigarette and explaining to his daughter and her Facebook friends (and their parents) the inaccuracy of Hannah’s perception of reality. The climax of the video is when Jordan pumps nine “exploding hollow point” rounds from his .45 caliber pistol into his daughter’s computer and signs off with a folksy, “Have a good day, ya’ll.”
Now, as a former kid who loved anything that went boom, and as an adult who has more than once berated a frozen computer and longed for something more satisfying than “Alt, Control, Delete,” there is a certain attraction to the idea of pulling a “Dirty Harry” on an offending laptop. Pure joy of the action aside, however, I’d like to make a couple of observations and invite your comments.
1.) Teenagers always have been, and always will be, an interesting species. Existing as they do, between the dependency of childhood and the perceived freedom and power of adulthood, conflicts with parents and other authority figures “holding them back” can be tough to avoid.
2.) Pop culture has derided dads for decades as clueless props (Homer Simpson, anyone?) and advocated an “anything goes” worldview for your kids. Criticism is muted for permissive parents, but heaped upon those fathers who would attempt to set upon boundaries to help their kids grow into responsible adults.
I don’t know anything about Tommy Jordan other than what I’ve seen on the You Tube video along with about 28,154,135 other curious onlookers. However, what I see most is a dad struggling with the daunting task of raising up a strong-willed teenage daughter straining towards the siren song of the culture.
Whether or not you or I need to destroy a laptop at some point may ultimately depend, in large part, upon the strength of the relationships we dads forge with our children. My hope for Mr.Jordan is that his actions result not in more rebellion on the part of his daughter, but in some long discussions that yield a stronger, closer and more respectful relationship. My hope for you is that in your next confrontation with a computer, “Alt, Control, Delete” will be more than enough persuasion to move the conversation forward.
Do We Need the Department of Education? (January 31, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
For years I’ve been receiving a free monthly newsletter, IMPRIMUS, from Hillsdale College in southern rural Michigan that is simply outstanding. There seems to be little doubt that the ever-expanding power and influence of government is chipping away at our liberties, and the world-class thinkers highlighted each month in this publication explore the issues with extraordinary insight. I would strongly encourage you to visit their website and join their mailing list.
I just finished reading the January issue featuring Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute and a speech he gave entitled, “Do We Need the Department of Education?” As a homeschool dad/principal, I’m pretty receptive to the proposition that government-run schools are inefficient and produce a product that is marginal. But the question posed in the article wasn’t whether the federal government’s oversight of education was efficient, but whether it is even constitutional.
In the speech, Murray posits that “the framers of America’s limited government had a broad allegiance to…the concept of subsidiarity” which means that “local governments should only do those things that individuals cannot do for themselves, state governments should only do those things that local governments cannot do, and the federal government should only do those things that the individual sates cannot do.”
While the federal Department of Education did not come into existence until 1980, Murray argues that large scale federal government incursion into local education began much earlier with President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs of the 1960s. In 1965 Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education Acts in an attempt to correct disparities between test scores and academic achievements of white and black students. While the objectives of the legislation were admirable, the results four and half decades later are hardly compelling arguments for further federal intervention.
Murray writes that, “The most famous part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was Title I, initially authorizing more than a billion dollars annually (equivalent to more than $7 billion today) to upgrade the schools attended by low-income families. The program has continued to grow ever since, disposing of about $19 billion in 2010.” He further states that, “Despite being conducted by people who wished the program well, no evaluation of Title I from the 1970s onward has found credible evidence of a significant positive impact on student achievement.”
Is the Department of Education constitutional? I don’t know for sure, but I do believe it is at the core of a bloated government-run education system which soaks up huge amounts of tax dollars while failing miserably in its objective of preparing children for a life of productivity. The home is now, and will continue to be, the ideal local, low-cost environment for educating children. I don’t know what your particular struggles are as you attempt to properly equip your kids for the future, but I do know that you are the principal of subsidiarity in action and that you are a big part of the solution to what ails us as a nation.
Small Victories (January 17, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
I love my house. It’s in an unincorporated section of town where they don’t bother allocating funds for things like sidewalks and streetlights. We back up to a creek that gets uncomfortably close during “hundred year floods” but the front yard is big enough to operate a home-made catapult without undue risk to neighbors’ windows.
What I don’t love quite so much is that the 55-year-old house regularly requires patches and repairs in order to keep the place comfortable. If you happen to be a fix-it guy this probably doesn’t sound especially problematic. But for me, a guy whose training in home repair is limited to four years of metal shop in high school, it can be a bit more challenging.
Our most recent adventure involved the sump pump. Our laundry room is in the basement. If you pull back the recently ironed clothes hanging on the line you might notice the outline of a door in the old pine paneling. There’s no handle, but if you press on it a spring-loaded latch will release and you’ll be able to walk into the 4′ x 10′ space where the most impressive feature is the sump hole and related plumbing snaking towards the ceiling.
Last week, my wife Deann wandered downstairs to check on the laundry and sounds that would be appropriate only within the confines of a drive-through car wash began to emanate from behind our “secret” door. She peered into the semi darkness of the pump room and observed what she later described as a “geyser” erupting out of the separated pipe four feet over the pump. Apparently it had been going off periodically, just like Old Faithful, for some time and the volume of water everywhere was quite the sight.
Upon my arrival, I was directed downstairs to apply my vast ark welding experience to the correction of this unfortunate problem. To make a long story short (too late!), I figured out that a broken back flow valve was sealing the pipe and the pressure from the blasts was causing separation at the check valve. A quick trip to the hardware store provided the replacement part and within 10 minutes, I was basking in the sweet sounds of water running through a pipe rather than out of it.
While you plumbing guys and gals might roll your eyes at my glorying in the completion of such a simple task, I look at this success as a small victory that takes me one step closer to competence in an area where I currently have little to none. As I review the bone dry floor of the secret room, it occurs to me that plumbing and home repairs are not the only areas where my training and experience leave me short. The unfortunate truth is that many of us were vastly under-prepared for the adventure of parenting to begin with, and as our children become older and more complex we are confronted with the overwhelming task of guiding these sometimes unwilling charges towards objectives in which they sometimes haven’t even been able to see the value.
I don’t know how far along you are in the process of preparing your kids for eventual launch. What I do know is that each of mine seems to be hurtling towards that launch regardless of how well I’ve equipped them. Do I worry about the long-term effects my imperfect leadership has on the kids? Of course. But I also make sure to revel in those wonderful moments with each of them when I know I got it right. Small victories, but if we line up enough of them we might actually get a handle on this parenting thing in time to give out some useful advice regarding the grandkids.
Who’s Driving and Where Are We Going? (January 3, 2012)
By Dave Nicholson
What can you say about 2011? Tornadoes, tsunamis, assassinations, Arab uprisings, global financial instability and political scandals…just another successful trip around the sun for planet Earth, but quite bumpy for we humans hanging on for the ride.
As we leave the year behind, we also say farewell to a large contingent of our fellow travelers. Peter Falk died last year (age 83) as did Jack LaLanne (age 96). Anyone else have a mother who worked out with Jack and a chair in front of the black-and-white TV? Elizabeth Taylor is gone (age 79) along with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (age 56). Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian (age 83) has now had the opportunity to debate with his maker whether assisted suicide is a good idea, and boxing legend “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier died in November at a much-too-young 67.
However, not all of the notables we left behind were of the “rich and famous” variety. Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson started up his ministry in 1958 and impacted the lives of thousands through his bestselling novel, The Cross and the Switchblade. He died in April at age 79. We also lost Frank Buckles, the last surviving veteran of World War I at the ripe old age of 110. On a decidedly less peaceful note, Pakistani legislator Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down in March of 2011 by a local Islamic group upset with his opposition to Pakistan’s anti-Christian blasphemy laws. We also lost linguist and trainer of missionary translators Eugene Nida (age 96) who oversaw literally hundreds of bible translations during his long tenure as executive secretary of translations for the American Bible Society.
Many of those who were taken from us in 2011 — famous or otherwise — led big lives focused on big themes of generosity, compassion, love and faith. Others, not so much. While I’m thinking that our 2012 trip around the sun is likely to be another wild one, it’s a good ride to be on while it lasts and I’m looking forward to it even if it’s likely to get a bit bumpy. My hope for you in the coming year is that you and your kids learn big things in big ways. Even if you don’t have the trip mapped out quite perfectly and are feeling a bit out of control, the adventure is in progress. So hang on, push forward, and have some fun!
Hey, Who’s Driving the Pearl White Sedan? (December 6, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Last Saturday, my 14-year-old son and I took a drive to the local indoor shooting range to do a little target plinking. Neither of us is a spectacular shot, but it’s fun to be together and laugh at each other’s relative ineptitude at this particular sport. After an hour at the range, we headed through the parking lot towards our car and were greeted with a most unpleasant sight: the “ding.”
Right there on the driver’s side stretching across the intersection of the rear door and the back quarter panel was a six inch streak of white paint (with matching dent) covering my car’s black gloss finish. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, you know that the thought process runs from denial (That’s not a dent, is it?) to acknowledgement (Hey! That’s a dent!), to anger (Hey!!! Who put that dent in my car?!?). My eyes swept the parking lot for accusing traces of black paint on a pearl white vehicle but no match appeared. I checked my front windshield for a “Sorry!” note but there was nothing.
As I stood in my irritation over the lack of integrity of the driver who did this evil deed, I was mentally transported to an evening 30+ years ago when at age 17, I took a friend’s sister to a late movie in my parents’ Pontiac Safari station wagon. Driving down the narrow streets of my date’s darkened neighborhood, cars crowded on both sides, I heard an unhappy sound rise above the FM radio blaring over the speakers. I stopped the car and walked back to the spot where the sound had invaded my music. The damage to the car I scraped wasn’t major, but even in the darkness I could see a six-inch scratch across the paint.
I wish I could say that I left a note on that car’s windshield or, better yet, had the courage to walk up to the door of the darkened house and wake up the owner to make amends and arrange restitution. Sadly, I made a different decision, one quite similar to that of the schnook who left his white paint on my black finish. It’s a decision that I look back on with regret and would dearly love to make right.
When people ask me why we homeschool our kids, it’s easy to respond with something about the quality of education or peer pressure or safety just because those are the types of answers that non-homeschoolers can most easily wrap their brains around. But at this point in my life, I can’t just leave it at that; the reason we homeschool doesn’t have that much to do with education as they understand it. The real reason is that Deann and I want to instill in our children an understanding of core principles, not just information. We want them to understand that truth is not relative. There is right and wrong and it’s desperately important that they know the difference. When they come face to face with difficult choices, even more important is that they will have developed the capacity and courage to choose rightly.
Neither the government-run school system nor the culture is much interested in teaching concepts of absolute truth and integrity at all costs. Post modernism and relativity are all the rage, and with those defective tools being utilized as a primary basis to make decisions, we should certainly not be surprised that notes are not often left on windshields at the scene of parking lot mishaps. I believe that you and I as parents who educate our children at home have the capacity to change the culture, the country, and the world by virtue of the children we launch into it. We have the opportunity to lead them into an understanding of the world and their place in it that allows them to live life with integrity and without regret.
So, who dented my car? I don’t know and probably never will. Is it annoying? Yes. Does dealing with it rank anywhere near the top of my “important tasks” list? Not by a long shot.
The Best Laid Plans (November 22, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Several months into her fourth pregnancy in mid 2005, my wife Deann floated the idea of “home delivery.” Given my bride’s propensity for ideas that turn my life upside down (having children at all and homeschooling are two that come to mind), this one didn’t come as much surprise. I was drawn into this adventure without any significant kicking or screaming. Our doctor, a specialist in home delivery, would be there for the birth along with a midwife who would arrive hours beforehand to coach us through the experience. What could go wrong?
On the morning of October 3rd, Deann knew the day had arrived. I dutifully contacted the doctor who came by to perform a quick exam. He advised us that everything looked fine, the baby’s current quarters were satisfactory, and checkout would likely not be occurring for at least another four hours. Asking that we keep him updated on the timing between contractions, he assured us he’d be back in plenty of time for the delivery and headed back to his office to catch up on paperwork. While my mom and Deann’s friend Kate kept the other kids occupied and “nested” I played my designated role as the calm and reassuring husband. Things were going so smoothly that when the call came advising us that the midwife would be delayed, it didn’t even phase us. We played backgammon and waited. I love it when a plan comes together!
Several hours later the contractions started coming more quickly than authorized by the plan. I called the doctor who said he’d be over within 30 minutes. About that time, we also got word that the midwife was still with her prior delivery and wasn’t sure of her arrival time. Not a problem. The plan was still in place; we’d just have to play backgammon without her.
Twenty minutes later, the doctor had not yet arrived but the contractions were coming hard and fast. I advised Deann that this was not a good idea and that she should consider slowing down the process to move back into compliance with the plan and restore my comfort level. Her response was not completely unsympathetic, but I will not detail it here. From that point on everything moved very fast — I ended up as the designated catcher for my son’s delivery with mom and Kate ably assisting. Within minutes of the delivery the doctor (who had gotten stuck in traffic) rushed in and took the little guy off my hands.
It’s now been six years since that wild day and I’ve often laughed about our “plans” which went wrong in so many ways, but turned out so right. In reflecting on that day, I’m reminded of how, in spite of our best efforts, control over the events and circumstances of our lives is ultimately not ours to possess. I surround myself with structures to control my exposure to the elements, insurance products to control my exposure to catastrophic events and attempt to accumulate money as a buffer against any other miscellaneous event which might occur. But in the end, control is elusive and fleeting at best. I would encourage you to plan well, but to not forget to rejoice in the present and all its uncontrollable chaos. The Great Planner is ultimately in control and his plans for you are good. Have a great Thanksgiving.
You Want to Teach My Daughter What? (November 1, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Last week our neighbors invited my wife and I, along with a couple hundred of their closest friends, to a “free” dinner at the Cotillion Banquet Hall to learn about a not-for-proft group called A&M Partners. While I like a good banquet-style chicken-and-green-bean meal as well as the next person, “free” is often open to interpretation, and this type of event generally seems to end with an empty spot in my wallet where my money used to be. However, when our polite declination was met with sad faces, I agreed to attend.
It turned out to be a fascinating evening. A&M Partners was founded toward the end of the Bush administration with the help of a five-year grant. The express purpose of the organization was to develop supplemental “health” curriculum for public and private school students, grades 7-12, which promoted the advantages of not becoming sexually active as an unmarried teenager. Apparently the authors of the curriculum currently in use did not realize that kids who abstain from sexual activity have a significantly lower likelihood of becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In addition, it turns out that those who delay such activity and then get married seem to have higher satisfaction with their partners, lower rates of depression and overall happier lives.
As a homeschool principal, I have elected to exempt my children from mandatory exposure to government school curriculum that is too often the outgrowth of misguided social experiments. However, given that the vast majority of children in this country do attend public school, we all have a vested interest in what is taught there.
What really surprised me at the A&M dinner was learning that shortly after the presidential election of 2008, the new administration announced that abstinence education was not effective or helpful and that all funding for the A&M project and those like it was to be terminated. Given that independent studies are showing that children who are provided the information on abstinence do experience significantly lower incidences of pregnancy and STDs, it is difficult to conclude that attempts to eliminate such information from government school curriculum has much to do with the well-being of children.
While the ideas of “let it all hang out” and “if it feels good do it” are firmly integrated into our cultural entertainment structures and our politically correct government systems, the message that early sexual activity for our children is not only unavoidable but to be applauded is not one I’m willing to buy into. I don’t know a dad anywhere on the political spectrum who wants for their daughters (or sons) early promiscuity and the physical and emotional ramifications that so often follow. But many don’t know how to fight back and have given in to the opposition’s arguments of inevitability. Organizations like A&M Partners are under-funded ‘Davids’ supporting us against a worldview with ‘Goliath’-sized government backing. They are fighting for our kids, our families and our culture and they should be applauded, supported and joined.
Here are some resources that you might find worthwhile as you equip both yourself and your kids to think through these issues:
Web: Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership – www.ampartnership.org
Book: The Case for Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher (available in our online store, powered by CBD)
Video: Sex Has a Price Tag – an amazing six-part series with Pam Stenzel talking with teenagers. She pulls no punches so watch it yourself first. (available on YouTube)
I keep telling my wife that I’m not prepared for this stuff. But with two children who have morphed into teenagers and two more who will eventually, the world is knocking loudly at our door. We’re committed to pushing through the cultural noise and doing what we know is right for our kids. I trust that you are as well.
Can Bob Play? (October 11, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
I was eight years old when, in the summer of 1969, my parents uprooted us from our home in Concord, California, to move across town to a new subdivision in the foothills of Mt.Zion. It probably wasn’t more than a 15-mile move, door to door, but to a third-grader leaving behind a short lifetime of accumulated friends and experiences; it felt like a giant door closing on everything I’d ever known.
As the moving truck pulled out of our new driveway, and dad hacked at the packing tape on the moving boxes, mom took mercy on me and told me to take a walk across the street and introduce myself to the boy living in the blue house on the corner. She thought his name was Terry, and was sure we’d be good friends. A few minutes later I stood at the door. As I contemplated whether to ring the bell or knock, I could hear the barking of a large, hungry German Shepard clamoring to get at me through the mail slot. I was quite sure, at that moment, that I did not want to meet Terry and the only rational thing to do was sprint back across the street to the relative safety of dad and the packing boxes.
Imagine my horror as I then watched my hand, unbidden, move toward and push the doorbell. Footsteps echoed in the hallway as I stood, frozen in time. As the door opened, the German Shepard’s nose and teeth appeared and then disappeared as a hand pulled the beast back and ordered him into the recesses of the house.
It turned out the owner of the hand (and the dog) was an attractive 30-something-year-old mom. As I looked at her, I stammered out the words that kids have been asking at doors for generations: “Can Terry play?” While it turned out that my new neighbor’s name wasn’t Terry (thanks, mom), those words, often repeated on the same doorstep over subsequent years in hopes of starting up a game of sandlot football, hotbox or other dangerous endeavor, were the start of a great childhood relationship.
Fifteen years ago, nearly three decades after my “Can Terry play” trauma on the doorstep, I met a man at a seminar named Bob who was in his late 70′s. Our relationship was, at first, professional but over time grew into a wonderful and valued friendship. Every time I would go to Bob’s house, whether to drink coffee and talk business or to meet for a round of golf, as my hand moved towards the doorbell, I would get a barely controllable urge to ask, “Can Bob play?” I don’t think I ever actually let the words out (his wife would have thought I was truly nuts), but they were always there, lingering dangerously close to usurping more adult doorway conversation.
As I write this, I’m mentally preparing to attend Bob’s funeral in the morning. At age 93 his body finally wore out and the cancer got him. I watched him go from walking nine holes to some unwelcome medical procedures and ultimately to a nursing home for some short-term assistance. But he died last Friday, and I’m sad.
I know that all things in this life eventually wind down and end. However, while my third-grade move across town ended life as I knew it at the time, that end gave birth to new friendships, new joys, new laughter. In the same way, I am grateful that this end for my friend, my brother, has given birth to a life for him that’s new and exciting and scheduled to run far beyond a scant 93 years. While I’m hoping to hang around this world for quite a few more years, to grow old with my beautiful bride and watch my kids grow up, we’re all going to leave here eventually. When that day comes for me, I’ll be looking forward to ringing a much more important doorbell and asking, “Can Bob play?”
Big Plans for…Me? (September 13, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
I make my living helping people make plans…about investing money, paying their kids’ college bills, or where they might want to retire. I help them make plans regarding what charities they might want to support, what kinds of insurance they might need, or how they might negotiate the purchase of their next car. I make plans, that’s what I do. And in most cases, the plans I help people develop seem to work out pretty well.
So why is it that the plans I’ve laid out for myself over the years have so seldom produced outcomes that even vaguely resemble what I thought I wanted to achieve?
1. As a 23-year-old newly minted college graduate, my plan was to get a job, play often with friends, and consider marriage no earlier than age 35. That plan was rendered “not achievable” when, at age 25, I fell madly in love with my wife to be and was married one year later. Plan Achievement Status (PAS): Fail.
2. At 26, my new bride and I made plans which included a newly doubled income, no children, early retirement and extensive travel for two. That plan was derailed when she developed a fascination with the infant fashion statement known as a “one-sie.” We currently have four children (ages 4-16) in our single-income homeschool dwelling. Plan Achievement Status (PAS): Fail.
Now, I would be the first to admit that my original plans as outlined were a bit shallow and my life is certainly far richer as a result of my failure to carry them through to completion. The question remains, though, of why I failed.
I think my plans failed because they were all about me. They were my ideas of what I thought I (and others) should do to make me happy. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans weren’t designed to spend endless time focusing on ourselves. We are creatures of community who are at our best when focused on others and not endlessly preoccupied with ourselves. We see examples of this every time there is a natural disaster and volunteers put aside their plans to put forth both time and treasure to help those in need.
As a homeschool dad, you and your teacher/spouse have embraced a plan that most often is pretty clearly not about either of you. It generally doesn’t involve a double income, expensive vacations, new cars every couple years, or an early retirement. Instead, it involves pouring yourselves out for those around you, often at the expense of your own well-thought-out plans.
Jeremiah spoke some words a couple thousand years ago to a banged up group of people enslaved in Babylon that could easily be those of most homeschool parents to their kids. “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Planning is important; I make my living helping other people do it. But I think that the less those plans are focused exclusively inward on me, the bigger and more impactful life gets. Good luck with your plans. There are big things waiting for you.
Our Children: Legacies under Construction (August 23, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Well, summer is over for the Nicholson family. On Monday, we started our new school year. We did, however, manage one last summer hurrah with a weekend church outing to Camp Awana in beautiful Fredonia, WI (www.campawana.org). For those who have ever been to a kid’s camp, I don’t have to describe the amazing variety of ways that an adult can truly damage himself/herself physically in this environment. A mere two days later and my thighs are still aching from hours in the gym playing broom ball. Throw in the available volleyball, bicycling, blobbing (check out YouTube for this craziness), archery golf (yep, golf with weapons), paintball, tennis and just plain walking from one end of the camp to the other and you have an active kids’ paradise that makes an adult yearn for the invincibility of being 16 again.
While limping around the mess hall on day two of our stay, I discovered a picture of Lance “Doc” Latham, born March 21, 1894, in Dentonville, PA. Doc founded Camp Awana in 1954 while pastor of the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago, and since that time, thousands of kids have been blessed by their time at this amazing place. Doc died in 1985 at the age of 91, but as you survey camp property it’s clear that he left behind a legacy more than worthy of his time. His beliefs about the world and eternity led him to take action that leveraged his impact far beyond the time he spent walking on the planet.
And so I bring to you the legacy question: When you and I have gone on to meet our maker, will our footsteps over a lifetime leave any imprint? As homeschool dads/principals, each of us — individually and collectively — is in the process of building a legacy that has the potential to change the future of our towns, our nations, and ultimately the planet. Big talk, I know. But as I’ve noted before, removing your children from the institution of government-run education is a revolutionary act that will change the trajectory of their lives. It will change the way they think, how they prioritize, how they value the people and stuff in their lives, and how they engage the world as adults. You may not leave behind a camp that helps shepherd other people’s children towards a life worthy of living. But as you prepare your children to launch “like arrows in a warrior’s hand” into the world as adults, you are building a legacy that can ripple through generations. Doc’s legacy was outsized, but it is entirely possible that your kids may stand on the shoulders of such giants and accomplish deeds as yet undreamed.
I encourage you to choose your curriculum carefully, to discipline with discernment, and lead your family day to day with humility and wisdom. Most of all, I encourage you to engage your kids with the understanding that they are, indeed, our legacies under construction. Let’s build them well.
What a Mess! What Do You Do? (August 9, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Unless you’ve been lounging in a sensory deprivation chamber for the last couple months, you are most likely painfully aware that our country is awash in federal government incurred debt. How deeply awash? A quick Google search brought me to the website www.CivicDaily.com where I found the following information:
According to the Office of Management and Budget, our federal government in 2011 is projected to bring in approximately 2.174 trillion dollars in tax and other “revenue.” Unfortunately, that income amount is approximately 1.645 trillion dollars short of what is projected to be spent.
Since 2009, the United States has greatly increased its reliance on borrowing to fund government spending. In 2000, the United States federal government saved 13 cents for every dollar it spent, while this year, White House budget projects show 43 cents of every dollar spent will be borrowed.
Obviously, no household could run for long on a budget where 43% of spending had to be put on credit cards. But the U.S. federal government is not a household like yours or mine. The politicians running the place over the past couple decades generally got in by promising their constituents goodies and the political careers of those who don’t deliver are often short lived.
This is big stuff, dad (Mr. Home School Principal), and I’d like to suggest that if you haven’t spent much time helping your kids understand the politics and fundamentals of money, now would be a very good time to start.
Here are some ideas to get you ready for your discussion:
First, check out www.USdebtClock.org. There’s enough data here to scare the bajeebers out of anyone willing to take a little time to understand the numbers that increase crazily as you watch. …$46,766 of current federal debt (and growing) for every man, woman and child in the country…Yipes!
Next, read Honest Money, Biblical Principles of Money and Banking by Dr. Gary North. I know it sounds dry, but it’s a great primer on the history of money, how it should work, and the dangers of government control of the production of currency. It’s written at a high school level and is available for $7.79 in our online store, powered by the fine folks at CBD.
Also, read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard J. Maybury. In this book, Uncle Eric guides you through a variety of complex economic concepts in a simple and entertaining manner that will equip you to answer those knotty questions your kids toss at you. It’s suitable for reading out loud to your kids over 12 or so and is also available in our bookstore ($13.49).
The actions that our political leaders take over the next several years to address our nation’s fiscal problems will impact future generations in ways that are frightening to consider. Our children are arrows that we are launching into the very challenging future. Train them in a proper understanding of the world around them and they’ll not only survive the ride, but potentially have the capacity to change the trajectory.
Homeschoolers…An Odd Lot? (July 26, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
You may not believe this, but there are still a few folks around my area in the Chicago suburbs who believe that those who choose to educate their children at home are a little, well, odd. And, while I know I should probably be doing my best to assure these concerned folks otherwise, I must confess to a sometimes uncontrollable desire to shock them still further with selected tales from our homeschool household.
Sometimes, I’ll tell them that we haven’t had a TV in the house with access to cable programming for 13 years. No! they’ll gasp. What about the children? What about the History Channel? What about the Nature Channel? What about Hannah Montana? Sometimes I’ll tell them how I let my 12-year-old son play with power tools on his own to build functioning catapults that throw stuff across the front yard. In disbelief they mumble about cutting off fingers or putting someone’s eye out with a poorly launched potato. Maybe I’m a bad person, or maybe there’s something more going on here.
A few weeks ago I picked up a publication in the “take one – free” rack outside the local Blockbuster called Homeschool Magazine. In it, I read a fascinating article by a woman named Diane Flynn Keith titled, Yes, My Grown Homeschooled Children Are Odd – And Yours Will Be Too! In the article she states that, “… you can even pump them full of standardized curriculum and their homeschooled experience will still be so far outside the norm that they will always think and act differently than those who attend traditional schools.”
She continues, “How could it be any different? They haven’t been indoctrinated in the same way. They have not been steeped in the popular consumer culture to the same degree…. they haven’t been grouped and sorted according to age and academic track…they haven’t been trained to respond to the bell and do assignments without question…they haven’t had to surrender their individuality and will to an authority figure who may not have their best interests at heart…they haven’t been conditioned to be passive and compliant or dependent upon others to tell them what to do or how to spend their time.”
I believe that the “different-ness” of the home school experience is likely to produce Godly, free thinking, independent, entrepreneurial kids who could change the world, and that’s exciting stuff. The logical next question would be, what about you? What kind of parent would engage in such a counter cultural, anti-social endeavor?
Ms. Keith winds up her article with a couple of great answers there as well. She says, “…the very act of homeschooling questions the power of government and societal norms. By choosing to homeschool you have set an example for your kids to defy conventional wisdom and not accept the status quo.” And, “…if you have dared to challenge government schooling… I suspect you aren’t normal or especially well socialized either…we’re either deliberate, accidental, or reluctant social misfits who imbue our children with a set of values and beliefs that resist the siren songs of government schooling, pop culture and social engineering.”
Are we, as home school parents, a bunch of weird, counter cultural, improperly socialized rebels? I don’t know. Are we different? Absolutely, and that is a very good thing.
Buried Treasure…Gear-Head Style (July 5, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
In 1979, I was 18 years old and in love with my Pontiac. No, it wasn’t a ’69 GTO Judge or a vintage Grand Prix. I was in love with my black 1962 Pontiac Star Chief. Four doors, red bench seats, and about as long as a football field. The prior owner, an elderly lady who (of course) only drove the car back and forth to the store once a week, had let the oil run out and the stock 389 had seized up, only to be replaced with a Tempest 326 power plant by some disturbed mechanic with a strange sense of humor.
I don’t know how long she owned the car after the engine surgery and before it appeared in the back lot of a New Jersey auto parts store with a “For Sale” sign in the window. However, the 326 did have an unnerving tendency to start the rear wheels spinning when accelerating from a standing stop. My guess is that a few inadvertent burnouts from the parking lot of the local Super K-Mart would have been sufficient to trigger a move to something more sedate for those once-a-week shopping trips.
While my relationship with the Star Chief ended tragically with a low-speed curb collision, a bent frame and a one-way trip to the scrap yard, it also left a hole in my heart that is only occasionally salved by trips to the Volo Auto Museum and similar car tales from others with happier endings.
Given this history, I read with great interest the story of a trashed 1963 Pontiac LeMans that sold on eBay in November of 2008 for $226,521. You can look up the details online, but the gist of it is that the owner of the car had put it in storage but died before doing any restoration work. The car apparently passed to the owner of the storage facility in exchange for unpaid storage fees and was put up for auction by him with an opening price of $500 and a ‘Buy It Now’ option of $4,000.
Car buffs spotted the car and speculation bubbled that it might be one of only six 1963 Pontiac LeMans Tempest Super Duty coupes ever produced. By the third day of the auction, bidding hit $50,000 and by the close of the auction, the winning bid came in at $226,521 — a long way from the $50 cash I pocketed after scrapping my beloved Star Chief.
The “eBay LeMans,” as she has come to be known, has now apparently been fully restored (click here to view the photos).
I love a happy ending.
So, let’s wrap this one up with a very risky wife/auto analogy: Twenty-three years ago, I married my beautiful wife. Was she of more value to me then than my own fantastical high-performance, limited-edition 1963 Pontiac LeMans Tempest Super Duty coupe? Yup. Over the years, have I sometimes been guilty of forgetting how truly valuable to me she is, both as my friend and helpmate? As the mother and daily teacher of my children? Absolutely!
Some things increase in value over time. Apparently, the ’63 LeMans Super Duty coupe is one of them. I would suggest that another is your relationship with your home educating spouse and, with proper maintenance, one that will far outlast the metal of even the most lovingly restored Pontiac.
Ramblings From the Dad Side (May 31, 2011)
By Dave Nicholson
Dateline: Summer 2003. Our first daughter, Darby, was eight years old, and we had just completed our first exciting/exhausting year of homeschooling. Rest and recovery for all was the name of the game, and the local pool – with its sparkling blue water – beckoned like a tropical paradise through the protective wrought iron fence around its perimeter. We quickly made the decision to join. With my signature on a hefty check and bad photographs affixed to our new pool passes, we were ushered through the front gates – swim club members for a season.
Step Two: Swim lessons to be administered by the staff of expertly trained 17-year-old lifeguards on duty. A solid understanding of how to avoid inhaling significant amounts of water is an important component of survival (and fun) in a deep-water pool environment, so Darby and her five-year-old brother quickly found themselves enrolled.
Lessons for the older kids went fine, but for the littler ones, it quickly became evident that the teenager running the swim program was no match for the half-dozen munchkins under her care who continually wandered off in pursuit of dead bugs, submerged toys, and other less identifiable debris floating in the shallow end of the pool. At some point, my frustrated wife elbowed me in the ribs saying, “YOU were a lifeguard, YOU swam on teams until you were 18…AND you’re a homeschool dad now!”
There it was. In that moment I knew that life had fundamentally changed. My children would no longer be enrolled in teenager-proctored swimming lessons. No longer would I be an average, everyday go-to-work dad whose frazzled wife would homeschool our children. I had been sucked in to the craziness as an official participant and that, in retrospect, changed everything for the better.
Over the balance of that summer, I worked diligently with my eldest daughter on her stroke. I got my five-year-old son to swim across the width of the pool without psychological damage, and convinced our three-year-old daughter that the security of my waiting arms made facing the jump from the edge of the pool okay.
For all those dads who initiated the discussion of homeschooling their children, you amaze me. For those, like me, who had to play catch up on the concept with their wives but eventually got it, well done! For those who are still trying to figure out what their spouses have gotten them into, I would encourage you to “cannonball” into the homeschooling pool and engage in the process. While you will almost certainly be rewarded with the occasional kid-inflicted blast of chlorinated water up your nose, on balance, the water’s fine and your kids are more than worth the effort.