Thursday, June 16, 2016


I am always amazed at how regimented we are when it comes to holidays. Month after month becomes year after year as we march in step to some invisible calendar god's prescribed holidays for people and events we must recognize with a greeting card, a party, a picnic, or a religious service. Anything to have us all celebrate some aspect of our lives at the exact same time.

You know what I mean. Halloween decorations of orange and black are replaced immediately with the red and green decorations of Christmas. You go to the grocery store on February 15th to look for 50% off gummi hearts while the chocolate Easter bunnies are being unboxed and hopping onto the shelves. Once one calendar event is over, another takes its place;  it is a bizarre twist on Mufasa's "Circle of Life." I know this sounds somewhat cynical, but this merry-go-round of calendar events does have an interesting effect on people.
I knew Father's Day was coming up so I went to find the right card for my son, going to a local store where I found the Father's Day card section squeezing out the dwindling selection of graduation cards. As I was shopping, I could not help but overhear a frustrated mother talking to her child as she poured through the rows and rows of Father's Day cards. "Just hold on a minute! I need to find a stupid card for your father that says something nice in it!"  Well, damn. I quickly moved to the other row, then, after picking out a stupid card that said something nice in it, I headed home, thinking about what I really knew about Father's Day. How DID this holiday begin?

As you probably guessed, Father's Day sprung out of Mother's Day, but did you know the latter is a holiday which has its origins in post-Civil War efforts to unify mothers of the Union and the Confederacy? Mother's Day eventually became a commercial holiday then President Wilson made it a national holiday in 1914. There are several stories about the origins of Father's Day and how it sprang from the need to honor fathers as well as mothers. In 1910 in the state of Washington, Sonora Smart Dodd wanted to honor all fathers in tribute to her own father, a widower who raised six children after his wife died in childbirth with their six child. Another story is that Father's Day began in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1908, when Grace Golden Clayton petitioned a Methodist church to hold a "father's day" for 362 men who lost their lives in a coal-mining accident. Father's Day never became an "official" national holiday until President Nixon made it one in 1972. Father's Day is  actually celebrated all over the world on various dates throughout the year: Russia in early February, Brazil in the heat of August, and Thailand at the end of the year in December.

I want to go back to the two origin stories. Sonora Smart Dodd desired to honor her father, a man who had no choice but to raise his children by himself after the death of his wife. In the United States today, approximately five million children live in a single-parent home without a mother. Grace Golden Clayton asked the Methodist minister to honor those 362 men who died in a mining accident. Today, one third of children in the United States, 15 million, grow up with no father in a single-parent home. Together that is over 20 million children in the United States who live in a single-parent home, many living below poverty level. Understanding the history and significance of Mother's Day and Father's Day speaks to the importance of both parents in a child's life and underscores the challenges facing single-parent families.

In our haste to march to our set schedule of holidays, it is probably not too hard to fail to appreciate a deeper meaning behind Father's Day, a one day holiday on a Sunday in mid-June. How easy it is for us to rush out, scan through cards for one that says something nice, sign it, seal it, give it to a father we know, then move on to our next holiday.

On this Father's Day, what can we do to honor the fathers in our lives in the spirit of what Dodd and Clayton were attempting over one hundred years ago? What can we do that speaks to the importance of fathers or father figures in our lives? Can we be more creative than giving our father a signed card and random present? Can we recognize the substitute fathers who have stepped into our lives or the lives of others? Can we appreciate the fathers who have had to raise children by themselves? Keeping in mind the fifteen million children in the United States without a father in their lives, can we see a child who is in need of a father-figure and be one for him or her? Can we take a moment to consider the best qualities of a good father and strive to make those part of our lives?

My Father's Day Dedication

For Father's Day I want to dedicate this blog post to fathers that I know or have known in my life. First, I want to congratulate my son Robert who has become an incredible father. Robert is raising his two children Justin and Kaylee in North Carolina. He has become a hard worker, a good provider, and a great role model to his kids. Next, I want to recognize my brother Jim who does so much for his children Chris and Emily while finding time to lovingly guide and support his nieces and nephews. Finally, even though my father passed away over thirty years ago, I still appreciate all of the love and dedication he gave to our family.

Happy Father's Day!

Works Consulted

Monday, June 13, 2016


I have sorted my files, stored the glue sticks and scissors, discarded all memos about meetings, placed the chairs atop the tables, and locked the door behind me. Another school year is over, and I am ready to recharge my batteries.

Anticipating the summer, I had built a stack of books I have been wanting to explore but never found time or energy to read amidst the essays, practice AP tests, or student projects that grew uncontrollably from the bottom of my in-basket on my desk during the school year. As most people tend to do, I choose books which open doorways to worlds beyond mine. Some of the worlds can be wildly fantastical while others are starkly realistic. 

Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy captured my attention one evening as I was exploring Amazon for books that would pique my interest. This book made it to the top of the stack immediately. Maybe it was the subtitle "A Story of Justice and Redemption" that intrigued me.

Bryan Stevenson is an attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization which challenges the justice system's punishment and treatment of the poor and disenfranchised. This group has advocated for people wrongly condemned to death as well young people who were tried as adults then were sentenced to life in prison. Throughout Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson reconstructs one of his first cases as a lawyer, confidante, and friend to Walter McMillian, a man condemned to die for a murder he did not commit. The novel is more than just the account of McMillian; it is the account of a young lawyer who found his purpose in life while exploring the meaning of justice and mercy.

Walter McMillian and Bryan Stevenson
I always use little sticky notes to mark passages for, as I explain to my students, "over-arching themes," insights that extend beyond the text to connect to the audience or to make a larger point beyond the context of the book. (One day I may actually stop doing this.) I firmly planted that first sticky note on page 14 during Stevenson's introduction to the true stories he was about to recount. Stevenson begins this novel by establishing his motivation for taking his path in life. He recalls when his grandmother imparted a message to him after one of her numerous, everlasting hugs: 

" 'You can't understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close' she told me all the time."

This is what Stevenson does throughout Just Mercy. He brings readers in "from a distance" to tell us Walter McMillian's story, Marsha's story, Charlie's story, and the story which I found incredibly heartbreaking, that of Joe Sullivan, a severely mentally-disabled man who was convicted at the age of 13 of sexual battery and was sentenced to life in an adult prison without the chance of parole. By the age of 39 he was confined to a wheelchair and is still in prison. 
Joe Sullivan
Joe Sullivan
I could not help but "get close" to these people through Bryan Stevenson's passionate and brave efforts to help them. I have to admit there were times when I asked myself if all of these stories could possibly be true, but unfortunately they are. I found myself personally researching many of the people Stevenson includes in the book in an attempt to discover what eventually became of them.

"We are all bodies of broken bones." Stevenson references this Thomas Merton quote, then reflects himself:

"We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent. I desperately wanted mercy for Jimmy Dill and would have done anything to create justice for him, but I couldn’t pretend that his struggle was disconnected from my own. The ways in which I have been hurt—and have hurt others—are different from the ways Jimmy Dill suffered and caused suffering. But our shared brokenness connected us.” 

Bryan Stevenson's book has taken me on this unexpected and thoughtful journey, helping me "close the distance" between my life and the broken people Stevenson encountered throughout his mission in life. It is important that all of us take time and energy to close the distance with others for that is the only way we can make a difference in the world.

Bryan Stevenson

I would encourage you to take a moment to watch Bryan Stevenson's TED TALK and perhaps even read his compelling book. You will not regret either choice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


"I have to stay to the end; I have come this far."

I kept repeating this to myself last Saturday at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, WV, while I moved in and out of the thunderstorms that interrupted and delayed the over seven-hour State Championship baseball game between the Maroon Knights of Central Catholic High School and Wahama.

"I have to stay to the end; I have come this far."

Parents and coaches encourage children to become involved in athletics at a young age, promising that they will reap the benefits of teamwork, skill development, perseverance, and sportsmanship. Those are intangibles which are hard to deny, eventually becoming the staples society hopes young people will carry with them into adulthood. So we as a community attend the games not only to support the young people playing the game but to acknowledge this learning process in action.

Anyone who has ever taught school probably knows that, as a teacher, I am running on fumes at this point in the year, and the last thing I wanted to do was trudge two and half hours away to watch baseball games. CCHS had just conducted baccalaureate and graduation the previous weekend then concluded the school year with our underclassmen exams and final workdays by the following Thursday. I was toast. TOAST. Still, I just knew in my heart that I simply HAD to go because sometimes I need to slam on the brakes and experience a moment.

While the team played tremendously in the state championship, they eventually lost by one run after an incredibly long rain-delayed game. That championship game served as a poignant contrast to the remarkable comeback victory on Friday. There is no way on earth I could possibly recap the game from Friday; it is has become an emotional blur for me. Metro News covered it perfectly.

Metro News
So several colleagues and I joined the families, friends, and alumni at APP this weekend to bear witness to the lessons the team had learned from Head Coach Jamey Conlin and his assistants: the teamwork, the skills, the perseverance, and the sportsmanship. The Maroon Knight players and coaches did not disappoint, but in their own way they taught the Central faithful even more important lessons about our own lives.

Thanks to Doug Costain

The team reminded us that life goes on regardless of how sunny or rainy a day it happens to be, so we must always choose to put on our tattered uniforms and weathered baseball caps to ready ourselves for the game at hand. 

We do not forget that these young adults and coaches representing our Central community face personal difficulties and obstacles far more challenging than a tough opposing pitcher, a red-hot batter, or a bad official. As each and every one of us does, these players and coaches face doubt within themselves, the fear of the future, the loss of a loved one, the illness of a person close to them. We should not disregard our own personal obstacles, but we must recognize the obstacles our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis. 

This weekend the Maroon Knight baseball team reminded the entire Central community how we all can work together, love each other, and support each other, wholeheartedly embracing each day, whether it be sunny or rainy, in order to experience moments that will last a lifetime.

"I am so glad that I stayed until the very end."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Anyone who knows me can attest to my affinity for the long-running BBC science-fiction drama Doctor Who. The Doctor is a Time Lord, the last of his kind, traveling through time and space as he offers assistance to those in need.

As I was considering a title for my blog, I found this quotation from the Doctor Who Christmas Special: 

"In 900 years of time and space
I've never met anyone who wasn't important."

Much like The Doctor, we all travel from time to time and place to place throughout our lives, but do we attempt to find the best in people, to recognize what makes them tick, to understand their importance in this world? Do we stop at points in time during our journeys to learn life lessons from those around us?

Periodically we do need to apply the brakes to our hectic lives by taking time to reflect upon the importance of those around us: our families, friends, colleagues, pets, or even strangers.

This is what I want to do as I travel through my own time and space. I want to take a moment to appreciate those I encounter, express gratitude to those who have have taught me life lessons, then share these experiences with others.