Bob Dylan was born 75 years ago today. I must admit that, despite being a musician and lover of music, I never really delved into Dylan’s music. As a teen in the 80s and 90s, I owned his greatest hits collection. The one with the blue and white cover and a silhouette of his head and hair. I learned to play and sing some of those songs — particularly “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It was good music and I appreciated Dylan’s songwriting. That was about it.

One day I was away at college and was really wanting to be home. Not just for a visit, but I wanted to move back home. I didn’t like school, I didn’t know anyone except for a handful of friends from high school who had all joined a fraternity (something I had no interest in), and I had no idea why I was there or what I wanted to do with my life. This was 25 years ago, yet I vividly recall lying on my twin bed, alone in my cell of a dorm room on a rainy Saturday morning, wishing like hell that I was home, when “Like a Rolling Stone” came on the radio.

I had heard the song many times, and I liked it a lot. But that particular day I really heard it. It was like it was written for me. I had always had friends, done well in school, and was expected to be successful at whatever I chose to pursue. Yet here I found myself floundering in college, with no direction or interest. Dylan’s song spoke to me that day as it crackled through my cheap mono radio.

How does it feel? How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. 

It would be kind of cool if I could say that, as the triumphant organ solo faded out, I rose from my bed, threw my few belongings in an old duffle bag, and jumped on the first train home. That’s not how the story ends, though. While Dylan’s song tells the story of someone falling from social grace, it is equally about dealing with uncertainty, isolation, and the unknown. I realized that I wasn’t alone at all — I was actually very similar to many others. Most of us are sometimes lost for a number of different reasons. That was very comforting.

So instead of some dramatic, romantic result, I simply decided to just keep on keepin’-on as well as I could. Boring, I know, but sometimes that’s the best (or maybe the only) choice. They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. I think sometimes that means learning to roll with life, rather than running from it. Happy birthday, Bob. Thanks for helping me out that day so long ago — and when I still occasionally feel a little lost now.

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Photo Credit: A Photographer

Dear Open Letter Writers,

I write to you today about a very serious and scary subject. Yes, it’s the “open letter” that you like to write. Disguised as a sincere letter addressed to a person or group of people, it quickly becomes little more than a mean-spirited rant and attempt for attention. You fill your so-called letters with opinions (or just downright lies), along with a couple of lame facts you find through extremely questionable sources. Your propaganda includes played-out clich├ęs like “wake up America” or “we’re not buying what you’re selling.” You use broad generalizations, big words, and way, way, way too many adjectives. You think you’re better than the rest of us, and that you’re somehow responsible for saving humanity. You throw around words like you, us, and we, yet you don’t even know us, let alone know how we feel. You’re hateful and condescending. You’re overly dramatic. You refuse to ponder any idea that might seem slightly novel (that means new). You are intentionally hurtful, just to amuse yourself. You think you’re so clever, brilliant, and smart.

Well let me tell you something. We aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. There is nothing clever about an open letter. They are everywhere, and have been for far too long. I bet you didn’t know that, according to Wikipedia, the open letter has been around for thousands of years? Not so brilliant now, are you smarty? Or did you know that between 50%-80% of open letters are written by people between the ages of 30-60? Abhorrent. I could obviously give you a lot more information about this, but I think even you get the point. You make me physically ill, you elitist scum.

Maybe you should consider writing in a unique style, about something interesting for a change. Oh wait, you don’t have the skills required, you pathetic beast. No, you will stick with the open letter because it’s all you can do. You’re appalling in every way — and, quite frankly, the reason America is going to hell in a hand basket.

It’s time you wake up and smell the coffee, you sadistic serpent. We won’t let your open letters continue to divide our nation. Half of us, give or take, are in total disagreement with you, but we agree with me. You’re all bark and no bite, but I’m a pit bull, baby. I won’t waste everyone’s time with a lot of words, but instead will get right to the point. When you get right to the point, it’s easier to make said point, and grab people’s attention. If you were more educated you would probably be able to grasp such a simple concept. But you probably only took a few online classes at the local community college. You’re repugnant.

I’m proposing a ban on open letters. The future of our country depends on it. Trust me when I say that I have many, many, many people backing me on this. So be ready, you odious piece of refuse. It may not happen today, this week, or this year, but your days of writing demoralizing, despicable, and disgusting open letters will be ending very, very, very soon. God bless America!

Sincerely,

The Rest of Us

 

Photo Credit: Audrey Bowers

There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard about today being National Teacher Appreciation Day, which is a shame and a bit ironic. I’ve been working as a substitute teacher all school year. I’ve been to a number of different schools, and have interacted with many teachers. What have I learned? We are so lucky to have teachers, and should never take them for granted.

The majority of uninformed people seem to think teachers have it pretty easy. They mostly babysit all day and get summers off. Sure, they don’t make much, but why should they? If you fall into this category, let me try to enlighten you a bit.

Being a teacher is a largely thankless job. A teaching degree with a state teaching certification usually requires more than four years of college (without a Master’s Degree, which is highly recommended), classrooms are typically too full, resources are almost always very limited (many teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money and are not reimbursed), oh and yes, the pay is not very good. So bad that many work a second job in the summer.

Teachers are educators, mentors, and friends. Sometimes they are more involved than parents in their students’ lives. They spend evenings and weekends planning lessons and grading papers. They deal with bullies, offer a shoulder to cry on, break up fights, inspire our next generation, and get vomited on. Teachers are expected to keep students in line and well-behaved, yet routinely get harassed by uninformed parents for mistreating their kids. It’s all in a day’s work. Oh, and the pay is not very good.

How bad is the pay? Depending on the source, an average elementary school teacher makes about $44,000 a year. To put that in perspective, let’s look at the average pay of a few other professions:

Accountant – $66,000

Physical Therapist – $82,000

Chef – $53,000

Computer Systems Analyst – $86,000

Podiatrist (yes, a foot doctor) – $121,000

Cartographer (correct, a map maker) – $61,000

Teachers are largely responsible for preparing our children for adulthood, yet they make significantly less than a cartographer. By the way, no one with a cell phone uses a map anymore.

I ask many of the teachers I meet if they like what they do. Almost all of them say yes. Not one has ever said they like their job because they get the summer off. They don’t usually mention that they wish the pay was better (although I know they do). Most admit it can be very frustrating. However, I can’t think of an instance where a teacher hasn’t mentioned that their job is rewarding.

I was talking to a younger, male teacher about a month ago. “I could go make a lot of money and probably still enjoy my job — maybe even like it more,” he said. “But I’m doing this because I have a chance to make these kids’ lives a little better.” I believe this to be how most teachers feel, and think it helps define the type of person that most teachers are. As a father of two school-aged children, it certainly makes me feel a little more at ease.

Teaching may be an underpaid, largely thankless profession, but teachers seem pretty happy to me. They should be, they have the opportunity to genuinely make the world better. On National Teacher Appreciation Day — and every other day — I’d like to offer a very sincere “thank you.”

Girl Power!

May 1, 2016

  
I believe one of the most important responsibilities I have as the father of a daughter is to instill a sense of confidence and belonging in her. Sadly, we live in a world where women are still often treated as second-class citizens. Even in the good ol’ USA, women make less money than men, still can’t join certain clubs and organizations, and continue to be the butt of inappropriate (yet widely accepted) jokes. I hope things change by the time my six-year-old is an adult, but I want her to be prepared to stand up for herself and expect nothing less than equal treatment in the future.

My son is twelve. He’s a great kid, but he’s also at an age where he tends to occasionally be a jerk. As a matter of fact, he’s usually a jerk and is exceptionally good at it. As older brothers (and sisters) tend to do, he picks on his much younger sister quite often. I picked on my little sister at that age (and maybe still do a little now), so sometimes I don’t do as good of job of getting on him about it as I probably should. I do, however, try to consistently remind my daughter that she should stand up for herself at all times, regardless of the circumstances. That being said, she typically gets upset and simply tells on her brother when he is mistreating her in some way.

Today was different. My youngest hadn’t even had a chance to take a bite of the banana with peanut butter (a rare healthy snack that she actually loves) that I had just made for her, when the jerk grabbed it and took a bite. My daughter stood up from the table, narrowed her eyes on her big brother, and sternly said, “Listen, if you want some of this there are bananas and peanut butter right here in the kitchen. Make yourself one, but stay away from mine!” My son and I were both totally taken off-guard. “Um, okay, I’m really sorry,” he genuinely muttered. I was just speechless. Slowly, my daughter turned her fierce gaze towards me. “This is girl power, dad. Get used to it.” Luckily I was able to keep from laughing — as it was very funny — but I couldn’t hide my pride. This kid’s gonna be just fine. 

There’s a quote By William James that I like to keep in mind when it comes to parenting:

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

I truly hope my fellow fathers of daughters are doing all they can to empower their young girls. Our generation has an opportunity to make great strides towards equality for our children. Let’s work together to make it happen.