What I’ve Been Learning About “Father Wounds”

Married mom and dad best for children

I’ve been mildly obsessing over this topic for the past few months.

Recently I went to an intense and unusual men’s conference. There was almost no verbal teaching there. Instead it was very hands-on and experiential. That weekend I saw man after man experience emotional release around the issue of his relationship with his father. Some of these were mature Christian men who had been stuffing their feelings down for decades. Since then I feel I’ve been noticing the father wound issue everywhere, in friends, family, and strangers, and in seemingly every movie I see.

On the ride home from the conference, our carload of guys debriefed each other and compared our experiences for 12 hours. When I got home I wanted to learn more. I began meeting with all of my adult children to be sure I hadn’t wounded them as I had seen so many others wounded. I thought I’d share with you some encouraging thoughts that have come out of all of this.

First, it would be more correct to speak of “parent wounds,” because it’s not only dads that mark their children with unmet relational needs. But it is true that it is more often dads who are absent, whether physically or emotionally, from the lives of their children. However, I want to hasten to add here that the point of this post is to encourage you! Whether you are a parent, or whether you aspire to be one, I would like to hold up the following vision before you:

It is not unusual in Christian circles to think of children as a gift from God. In fact, the scriptures explicitly say this (Psalm 127:3-5.) I don’t know that Mollie and I would’ve had 5 children if not for believing this. However, I think it is also true to say that we as loving parents are a gift to our children. If this was too obvious to point out in earlier generations, I would suggest that is no longer the case. As a parent I hope that you can see yourself this way. If you fulfill your parenting role well, your children will certainly grow up to see you as among the greatest of their earthly gifts. More importantly, they will have a much better chance of entering adult life without the emotional baggage that weighs so many people down.

What a parent wound is and is not
As I’ve talked with other dads about this, I’ve sometimes sensed some uneasiness around the topic. Perhaps this is because we are all aware that none of us are perfect parents. We all know it is inevitable that we will let down or hurt our children. But when I speak of parent wounds I am not referring to the occasional mistakes that we all make. Parenting well is not about being flawless. Furthermore, sometimes we’ll intentionally need to make decisions that will disappoint our children. But our children can understand and forgive these hurts if they occur within an overall context of love and affirmation in our family culture.

Rather, when I speak of parent wounds I’m referring to wounds that occur as a result of a regular pattern of deprivation; the withholding of good, healthy, emotionally rich relational expression from parents. If parents do not give their children a secure sense of being loved, accepted, and valued, those children will very likely seek these things elsewhere in a variety of unhealthy ways.

Since we all do make mistakes, humility is an essential part of loving, in both marriage and parenting. A parent who will admit a wrong to a child, and ask forgiveness from that child, is an amazing role model! Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the words, “I was wrong” from a parent.

What was your “normal” as you were growing up?
To a great extent, much of family culture seems to be passed down, for better or for worse. For obvious reasons, we tend to repeat what was normal in the home in which we were raised. Think of your own upbringing. If you had a parent who rarely or never verbally expressed his or her love to you, it is likely that parent grew up in a home where love was never verbally expressed. For such a parent, verbally expressing love may feel awkward, forced, or perhaps unnecessary.

Realizing this can help us break the cycle of deprivation with our own children. We can learn from our own parents either way – whether their example was great or poor. Rather than conforming to a poor example, we can commit to be conformed to the image of God in our parenting. I would like to think that parents who are followers of Jesus would naturally excel at creating a family culture of love and acceptance, but unfortunately, dysfunctional patterns from our upbringings can easily assert themselves if we don’t keep our heads in the game.

It IS possible to do this well!
I recently finished a book by PhD psychologist, John Trent, and Gary Smalley entitled, The Blessing. It’s not a new book but I think the message is timeless. The authors contend that children naturally look to their parents to confer a blessing on their lives. If this blessing is withheld for whatever reason, those children will almost certainly feel a deficit in their being, and may spend a lifetime seeking to compensate for what they feel they never received from their parents. Trent and Smalley describe the parental blessing as consisting of 5 parts:

  • Meaningful and appropriate touch
  • A spoken message (because silence creates uncertainty)
  • Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  • Picturing a special future for him or her
  • An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Do these things resonate with you as they did for me? If not, imagine withholding one of these things from your child. Think of your own upbringing. Can you think of ways that your parents expressed these things to you? My parents were better at some of these than others, but I can clearly remember feeling, for example, their “active commitment,” not only to me but also to my three siblings. One of the ways they did this was by attending our events and involving themselves in the things we enjoyed.

My daily reminder
Over the years when our kids were still young, Mollie and I attended several parenting conference with our church. During one of them in particular, I consciously chose to take home a practical suggestion from one of the speakers. He said,

“Every day, give each of your children a loving look, a loving touch, and a loving word.”

I figured even if I only managed to do this once a week for each kid, the cumulative effect would be very great. So I wrote out a small reminder in abbreviated form and kept it on my nightstand where I would see it. It’s been there now for years. I felt a little sheepish that I needed a written reminder to express love to my kids, but I know I am prone to getting busy and forgetting things. I wrote it in abbreviated form because I was afraid one of them might wander into our bedroom someday and see my reminder, and feel like my expressions of love were items on a “to do” list and not from my heart. I still have my note, now a bit worn:

reminder to love every day

Do whatever it takes to remember. I wish you all the best in creating a rich culture of life and love for your kids! You can do this as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or caregiver as well.

I can testify to the power of parental blessing. My dad was an “uneducated” construction worker, while I was a skinny, weird, sensitive little artist kid. My mom was only schooled as far as the eighth grade and never even learned how to drive. I doubt if my parents ever read a parenting book. Nonetheless, they created a home environment that met my and my siblings’ relational needs as small human beings created in God’s Image. That truly is a profound gift.

Soon I’ll share some research on how wounded people have shaped our culture.

If may offer a postscript that might appear to be just a wee bit self-serving, reading storybooks to your kids every day is an enjoyable way to cover at least 3 of the 5 aspects of blessing our kids.
(They don’t even have to be my books!)

New Video Release: The Reason for Christmas

From a human perspective, the coming of Jesus changed the course of human history. From a divine perspective, the sending of Jesus was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promises, and His final answer to human pain, suffering, and all disunity, including the most profound division of all, which is death.

While on earth, Jesus preached the arrival of His kingdom and the promise of spiritual rebirth and resurrection. We see this now in partial fulfillment, and those who believe look forward to the future “uniting of all things, in heaven and on earth, in the Messiah.” The Judeo-Christian scriptures refer to this as the explicit will and plan of God (Eph 1:7-10.) This plan is in keeping with the Bible’s description of God as Life, Light, and Love.

The specificity and verifiability of biblical prophecy is unique in the world. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the book of Isaiah was indeed written and virtually unchanged for hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus. As knowledge advances in the fields of textual criticism, archaeology, and science, the case for the reliability for the Judeo-Christian scriptures becomes better, not worse. For the honest seeker, the 21st century is a great time to be alive.

A couple of years ago I created a short video with the help of a couple of friends. The video was designed to be an intro for one of my live painting performances, themed around Christmas. Last weekend I performed this piece again and realized that the video could also be viewed as a stand-alone piece, so I am putting it out on Youtube.

If you would be so kind as to view it, this would help my Youtube rankings! I think it might also encourage you. Plus my friend Linda Joy has a really cool accent.

Feel free to share this. If you would like to show it before a large group, such as a church congregation, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. I would like for you to credit me by using my kids’ book website, if you wouldn’t mind: http://www.BigPicturePublishing.com

Speaking of my storybook website. I’m still fulfilling orders for my newest book, The True Story of Christmas. (It is favorably reviewed in the current issue of World magazine!) While this book does not parallel the video, it does tell the Christmas story in the context of the big picture. But it doesn’t include creepy, unusual Christmas imagery like the video does. Like this:

nebuchadnezzars-dream

Image of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by the Hebrew prophet Daniel.    From the video, The Reason for Christmas – artwork by Scott Freeman

Okay. Now you know you have to watch the video. You could also subscribe to my Youtube channel while you’re at it.

Video Credits:
Writing, graphic design, and artwork by Scott Freeman
Video editing by Bree Hottinger
Voice acting by Linda Joy

Thanks for your support!
You can view my original children’s storybooks HERE.

Why Bruce Jenner Is Not A Woman

Is transgenderism anti-woman

I’m not making fun of Bruce Jenner. But I’m not celebrating either. I have some questions first.

I admit I have no qualifications to write about this. (I haven’t even had my sex talk yet.) But what are we supposed to do? By the time “the experts” start asking the right questions, the revolution will be long over, and then there will be no putting the gender genie back in the bottle. Since the news media are too busy celebrating to do their jobs, I thought it might be helpful to state some facts, and ask some honest questions about the basic facts of life.

Recently I read this in Yahoo Celebrity News:
“Bruce Jenner has been changing his appearance for months, leading to speculation that the former Olympic athlete is becoming a woman. A source for People magazine claims that’s exactly what’s happening,..”Bruce is transitioning to a woman…” (Erin O’Sullivan)

Actually, no, Bruce is not becoming a woman. For people to say so is an insult to women, and demeaning to the female gender.

Since it’s a full time job to keep up on the constantly changing, politically correct terminology around transgenderism, I’m simply going to attempt to be fair, honest, and as sensitive as I can be, and that’s going to have to be good enough. I ask the reader not to read any hostility into my questions, since I actually am committed to valuing transgender people. I think gender dysphoria is a real thing that people don’t choose, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Why it is anti-woman to perpetuate the idea that a man can become a woman
There is something fundamental at stake here: A grip on the basic shape of reality. I would hope that my readers would be offended if I were to refer to a women as a “cunt.” I hope we would agree that this is demeaning to women because it attempts to reduce a woman down to nothing more than a vagina. But at the end of the day, the transgender community seems to be doing something similar. If a dude thinks that buying himself a vagina through “sex reassignment” surgery is going to complete his transition to womanhood, I think it just shows that he is thinking like a dude.

The male reproductive package is relatively simple compared to that of women. One cannot simply trade in a penis for a vagina and call it a sex-change. It’s not an even trade.

Compared to that of men, the female reproductive package is very complex and all encompassing. A girl’s reproductive system dramatically announces and asserts itself at puberty, and continues to do so cyclically throughout her entire adult life until she reaches menopause as an older woman. Her reproductive system pervades her entire body, inside and out. Whether or not she wants to, she must think about her body on a daily basis. Often it demands her attention. If she becomes pregnant, for months she lives minute by minute with the reality that a living being is growing inside of her body; a body that was designed to bring new life into the world. During the birthing process, her body naturally takes over, bringing her through the transcendent and intense experience of childbirth. After birth, first the colostrum, and then the breast milk produced by her body, is the best possible source of nourishment for her baby, delivering exactly the nutrients, minerals, prebiotics, and antibodies that her baby needs. These biological realities, to a greater or lesser degree, must necessarily shape the psyche of every woman.

There is simply nothing like this for guys.

Does the fact that we can now chemically and surgically alter our bodies mean we can change our sex/gender? No. It’s true that “sex reassignment” surgery can construct an authentic-looking vagina, even retaining tissues that enable many MTF (male to female) transgenders to experience orgasm during sex. But at the end of the day, it’s still a hole. It doesn’t connect to a cervix and uterus. There are no ovaries, no cramps, and no menstrual cycles. No possibility or risk of pregnancy. No (naturally) lactating breasts. A surgically constructed transgender vagina must be regularly dilated every day, for life, so that it doesn’t close up.

But what if a biological male identifies as female? This is a real thing.

I think we have to delicately ask, “How does a dude know what a woman feels like on the inside?” What if his idea of “feeling like a woman” is only a cartoonish caricature of femaleness? How would he or anyone else know the difference? We have to take his word for it, and I’m not willing to do that because people are wrong about stuff all the time. He may not “feel like a man,” but what does that mean?

Someone may ask, “Can’t we all live and let live, and let these people do whatever they want if it makes them happy and they’re not hurting anyone?” Yes. People are free today to do whatever they want, obviously. If only that were enough for them.

Why Gender is not a Social Construct
The hip, liberal viewpoint now is that sex is biological, but gender is not. Gender is supposedly a changeable, fluid continuum, and every point on that continuum should be celebrated. There are supposedly as many genders as there are people. But here is the deal: This is an opinion. It’s one, novel way of looking at human sexuality. There has been no new groundbreaking scientific “discovery” that there are a zillion genders (1). It’s a political perspective. It is every bit as legit to hold the opinion that there are only two genders – male and female – and that anything “in between” is disordered. But sexual liberals don’t like that viewpoint because they think it’s exclusionist and mean. It’s not – it should go without saying that people with disorders should not be shunned or hated.

Can we say that near-sightedness, far-sightedness, color blindness, macular degeneration, people with cataracts, and people born without eyes are all simply experiencing different ways of seeing? Are these simply all different points on a continuum that should be accepted and celebrated? Here is why worldview matters. Those of us who believe in a Creator and an intentionally designed universe would say that our eyes were designed for seeing; that there exists an ideal of perfect vision that is good. Do we therefore hate blind people? Of course not.

This is not obvious to everyone. In an accidental, mindlessly evolved universe, things cannot be objectively good or valuable – they simply exist. There is no ideal because there is no purpose to life. I once actually had a conversation with an evolutionist in which he found himself having to argue that working eyesight was not good. He could only say that he preferred having eyes that see, in our present context, but that blindness might someday be an evolutionary advantage. So for him, his preference for organs that actually function according to design is simply a cultural construct. I am of the opinion that this is wacky thinking, and I’m not sorry.

How can we know that gender is not a cultural construct? Because gender is similarly based in biology. Only women have the biological equipment necessary for gestation and childbirth. That’s not cultural. It’s been true in every culture for all of human history. Childbearing is a uniquely female, gender role assigned by our biology. A woman may or may not choose to embrace that role for whatever reason, but this doesn’t turn that gender role into a cultural construct. She may or may not exhibit stereotypically feminine behavior, but that doesn’t either confirm her gender or throw it into question.

Why should the binary, heterosexual system of human reproduction be the standard for defining human sexuality? Because of the fact that the continued existence of humanity has always depended on it. This means something. It means that binary heterosexuality is a good, healthy, proven, whole, and self-sustaining system. To be self-sustaining is part of what defines good. This is not to say that those who deviate from it should be taken out and shot, but neither should we go redefining marriage, sex and gender to help them feel better about themselves. At least not yet.

There remains much to be learned about gender dysphoria before we start breaking out the party hats and dismantling western civilization. I realize that transgenders – people whose gender identity does not match their natural biological gender – find relief in having a sexual category where they fit in. But what if it’s not a true category? What if this is not a natural phenomenon that we should be normalizing? This is a big question. If the transgender movement is correct, then when babies are born, doctors should stop biasing the way parents think about them by announcing, “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” Because we won’t really know. Apparently, we still won’t know even if the child wins a gold medal in the Olympic decathlon as an adult man.

One possible cause of gender dysphoria
It is possible that environmental factors may cause or contribute to gender dysphoria. There are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) prevalent in our environment and food now that weren’t there just a few generations ago. If a fetus developing in utero is subjected to such chemicals, which are known to damage or inhibit normal sexual development, could this account for an increasing number of children and adults experiencing gender dysphoria today? We can’t say for sure because more research needs to be done.

But will the research be done in our hyper-politicized environment? Have you ever heard anyone in any media even mention EDCs? I’m guessing that transgender people would prefer to think of themselves as the vanguard of a new, revolutionary, liberated human sexuality rather than as people with birth defects.

Radical Feminism, Transgenderism, and Postgenderism
An alien visiting our planet might assume that a movement called “feminism” would embrace the essential and uniquely feminine role of childbearing. But no, radical feminism sees this biologically defined role as innately oppressive, and the idea of the nuclear family as something from which we must be liberated. Pregnancy is practically seen as a weapon used against women. Therefore, the gender feminist camp of the feminist movement, far from being offended, is heartened by transgenderism, gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, abortion-on-demand, and pretty much anything else that helps to subvert the ideal of lifelong, loving, heterosexually monogamous marriage. It is in the interest of radical feminism to obliterate the connection between sex and reproduction in general, and women and the innate role of childbirth in particular.

Here is a vision of equality by radical feminist author, Shulamith Firestone, from her seminal postgenderist work, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970:

“Humanity has begun to transcend nature: we can no longer justify the maintenance of a discriminatory sex class system on grounds of its origins in nature…The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes equally, or independently of either…the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally…For unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family – the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled – the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated. We shall need a sexual revolution much larger than – inclusive of – a socialist one to truly eradicate all class systems.”

Yes, you read that right. Women cannot be equal with men until their biologically assigned role is overcome through technology, and the nuclear family is abolished. This is at once an admission from the Left that left-wing sexual politics cannot work in the natural world, and also a beaming example of the astonishing arrogance of atheistic humanism.

This explains why we see a curious refusal on the Left to associate sex with procreation, and childbirth with the female gender. This is why we see a campaign to keep gender superficial and interchangeable between sexes. It’s part of a utopian political movement.

So what do we do with each other?
With such fundamentally clashing views competing in our culture, how can we all co-exist? The answer is actually very simple – pluralism and freedom. (Here I use “pluralism” to mean the intentional co-existence of competing ideas.) If you’re reading this and you’re a transgender, or gay, or feminist person, I hope you are happy. I really, really do. I don’t bear you any ill will at all. But if you need me to celebrate your viewpoint in order to be happy, that’s going to be a problem for you. If you intend to use the power of government to force your ideological agenda on me, that’s a serious problem for all of us. We need to all be free to carry out our lives, according to our beliefs, in the free marketplace of ideas. Then we will see how this all shakes out.

I think it would be very helpful if we would all go out and meditate on our COEXIST bumper stickers. Then, if you’re looking for a profound movie, I recommend The Giver.

Relevant links:
1) Why Johns Hopkins Hospital Stopped Doing Sex Change Operations
2) Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent

Sign up to learn about Scott’s extraordinary children’s storybooks designed to instill a biblical worldview: http://www.bigpicturepublishing.com

I Don’t Get It. I Solved the Abortion Debate But No Guys Signed Up.

We’re coming up on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion-on-demand legal in the America. I think we should all be celebrating because I have arrived at a solution that would solve this contentious debate. But instead, NO GUYS have signed up on my Facebook page. None. Except me, but I only liked my own page to get the ball rolling. One like. The ball is just sitting there.

I even came up with a cool logo. Here it is:

The Male Solution to Accidental Pregnancy: VasectomyIt’s a quadruple entendre:

  • It forms a “V” for vasectomy.
  • It cleverly symbolizes scissors, for the snipping of sperm ducts
  • It forms a peace sign; a symbol of the end of the contentious abortion debate in America.
  • Plus, if you use your imagination, it kind of looks like a rabbit. Because, dudes, if you follow my prescription, you will be free to indiscriminately have sex, like rabbits, yet without proverbially “multiplying like rabbits.”

On my Facebook page, right next to the flying pig, it says:
I BET I CAN’T FIND 50 SEXUALLY ACTIVE, SINGLE, HETEROSEXUAL AMERICAN MALES WHO WILL VOLUNTARILY UNDERGO A VASECTOMY TO PROTECT THEIR PARTNERS.

The name of my page is, The Male Solution for Unplanned Pregnancy: Vasectomy

Here’s an except from my “about” page:
For decades I’ve been baffled as to why girls and women must be the ones who bear the brunt of the consequences for irresponsible sex and accidental pregnancies. Or why they put up with it. Women are always the ones who take the pill. Women are always the ones who get pregnant. Women are always the ones who get abortions. Guys, aren’t you tired of feeling like jerks?

The solution is so simple. If you’re a sexually active single male, GET A FREAKING VASECTOMY, or else give me a good reason why you shouldn’t. Be a man. Get sterilized. The world doesn’t need your genes…

(There is also a short FAQ section where I made up my own frequently asked questions.)

After two years my page has only one like.

I don’t get it. This just makes so much sense. Why isn’t a groundswell movement forming? Let’s say you’re a sensitive, caring, 21st century guy. Obviously if you’re going to have sex with someone, you must at least like them a little. You might even tell them you love them. So what’s the deal? Given the fact that birth control so often fails, why would you risk putting a woman at risk for an unwanted pregnancy when you could so easily and permanently do something about it?

I know, I know. The actual guys that I’ve had this discussion with have a problem with the “permanent” part. Because they might want to have kids someday. Well, that just breaks my heart. Exactly how does that thinking go? If I help to create a new human life when I’m not ready to care for it, then it’s okay for my partner to have that developing life terminated. It’s a woman’s choice after all. (And, I might add, what a horrible, no-win choice it is for her.) But if I am ready to care for and raise the child I helped create, then apparently that new human life is then valuable. Maybe even a miracle! Hmmm. Surely you don’t need me to point out that this is magical and asinine thinking.

My dad once told me, “Son, if you’re not ready to raise a child, you’re not ready to have sex.” Wow. Really?

Well, I’ll admit I’m extrapolating a little bit because what he actually told me was, “If you don’t have time to clear the snow off your windshield, you don’t have time to drive.” But it’s the same idea.

The truth about sex.
(I just want to see in print what I’m about to say, even if I do have to write it myself.)
I’m going to make a radical and controversial statement here. Especially for intelligent, educated people, it may necessitate a paradigm shift. I feel like I’m going out on a limb here, because I’m apparently way outside of the mainstream on this. But…(deep breath)…here goes:

Sexual intercourse often leads to pregnancy.

I’m serious. In fact, if you want to make a baby, the way you do it is to have sex! I know – weird! You engage in the same exact behavior to make a baby as you do when you only want recreational sex! And sex is normally supposed to be just recreational, right? Like in romantic comedies. It’s like a human right for all consenting human beings, right? We know this because in movies, if two people fall in love, it would just be bizarre if they didn’t have sex with each other right away. And unwanted pregnancy is never a concern for cool people in movies. And movies and TV shows are practically a handbook for life and a mirror of reality.

Some of my (usually European) acquaintances use the phrase “fall pregnant,” as in, “A friend of mine recently fell pregnant.” As if pregnancy is caused by a virus, or some mysterious unknown cause. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and BAM – a nasty case of pregnancy hits you from out of nowhere. It could happen to you.

Speaking of pregnancy as a disease, in conversation I have had otherwise bright, educated, young liberal men and women refer to the developing fetus as a parasite, and a tumor. (Apparently a tumor with eyes, a brain, and it’s own heartbeat.) This is desperate denial.

The truth about Evangelicals and sex
Here is another widely misunderstood truth that I have never seen correctly articulated in liberal media:

Evangelicals really don’t care who you have sex with.

Yes, really. Obviously, if you don’t claim to be a follower of Jesus, why would we expect you to behave like a follower of Jesus? It’s your life. You are free to have sex with whomever you want. We aren’t, and we’re just fine with that. However a problem arises when you want to make us participants in what we consider to be unethical sexual behavior. For instance when a liberal presidential administration wants to force us, as doctors and nurses to participate in elective abortions. Or force us as closely held corporations to pay for certain birth control methods that we might find unethical. Or use our tax dollars to subsidize the nation’s largest abortion seller, Planned Parenthood. Yet somehow in all of this, we’re the ones imposing our morality on others! More magical thinking!

We wouldn’t dream of forcibly imposing our beliefs on the rest of the culture, even if we could, because forcing external compliance only fosters resentment and resistance. We just ask that social liberals extend the same courtesy to us. It’s called pluralism and religious freedom.

The truth about fundamental human rights.
At this point, pro-legal-abortion people will argue, “You social conservatives say you don’t want to impose your morality on people, and yet you would overturn Roe v Wade and use government to force women to have babies. What happened to ‘limited government’?”

Well, limited government is very different from no government, which would be anarchy. Evangelicals tend to really like America’s Constitution and founding documents, and we want a government in line with them, which would by definition be limited. A primary role of good government would be to guarantee fundamental rights for everyone, while also guaranteeing basic freedoms for everyone. Guess what the most basic right of all is – the foundational human right upon which all others depend?

I think we have to agree that it is the right to life. Because dead people don’t have rights.

Evangelicals love the line from the Declaration of Independence about people being endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; the first being life. We actually believe this. This means there is a transcendent Source from which our rights are derived. Human governments do not create rights. If one powerful group can dehumanize and render expendable a weaker group of people, then the rights of all people are potentially at risk.

Here’s the deal. Abortion-on-demand does violence to the idea of the sanctity of human life, and it does so with governmental approval. Once we begin qualifying when human life is valuable, we put ourselves in the horrifically arrogant position of deciding who deserves to live. As a civilized society we cannot allow that it’s okay to end a life because it is an inconvenience, or because it’s not sentient, or not self-sufficient, or not useful, or not fully functioning, or for any other subjective reason. We know exactly when a new human life begins, and if we don’t value life from that beginning point, then we have started down a nasty slippery slope, and the next thing we know, we’ll wake up one day to find we’ve been sleeping with Nazis.

So the Evangelical “obsession” with abortion is not about us objecting to the way people have sex, or wanting to control women’s bodies, or being anti-birth control, or whatever other crap the Huffington Post dreams up. It’s actually a healthy obsession with wanting to promote a culture of life, rather than a culture of death. It’s a desire to see a rising tide that lifts all boats.

The truth about biological life
I’ve been closely following this debate for decades and I’ve rarely seen anyone on the Left acknowledge the truth about the fundamental question underlying this debate: “When does a new human life begin?” The fact is, before there was abortion-on-demand in America, everyone knew the answer to this question. Here’s the answer:

A new human life begins at conception.

This is observable. It’s the reason doctors can calculate pregnancy due dates, every day. A sperm cell by itself will never become a human being. An ovum by itself will never become a human being. But put them together and – boom – you have a new biological entity with 46 chromosomes that is a developing human being.

But suddenly, after Roe v Wade, the question of when a new life begins became a mystery!
However, regardless of the wishes of Liberalism, the facts of life have not changed. The reproductive act continues to lead to reproduction, and abortion continues to end a developing human life.

I admit, this sort of thinking does dump cold water on the “sexual revolution,” since the shape of reality is that sex leads to pregnancy. Radical feminism and sympathetic sexual liberals must have abortion on demand in order to fulfill their vision of radical “equality”, and they necessarily need the power of government to help them. And yet, the campaign to deny and reshape biological reality in the name of civil rights turns out to be neither compassionate nor humane, and will continue to undermine a culture of life. It is really not the fault of pro-life people that sexual liberals want to create a reality that doesn’t and can’t exist – that is, sex without consequence.

It’s also not our fault that our worldview actually works in the real world, and that of social liberals doesn’t. The Liberal vision of sexual freedom is parasitic, unsustainable, and hurtful. It works great in movies, but sucks for a lot of people in the real world. The Evangelical worldview of sexual freedom within the confines of marriage is self-sustaining, in accord with the real world, and doesn’t hurt anyone. Ironically, it looks dorky in movies. Go figure.

It’s your choice if you want to be single and sexually active. But if you’re a dude, don’t pretend to respect women unless you’re willing to put your money where your sperm ducts are. A vasectomy costs a few hundred bucks – far less than surgery to sterilize a woman. Start a crowd-funding campaign if you can’t afford it. What are your options? Even if you responsibly use birth control, if it fails, your partner will be no less pregnant than if she had been trying to get pregnant. It happens all of the time. Something like 50% of pregnancies in America are unplanned. Now is the time to be logical. Be a man! I can’t think of a better way for you to celebrate Roe v Wade than to get a vasectomy.

Sexual Revolution

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Dad Notes: The Safety Police

Cowboys & Indians

The author as a politically incorrect child, apparently unable to choose a side.

I read an interesting article at the gym last weekend that resonated with me. Both the artist and the dad part of me liked it, mostly. My wife can tell you that for years I have railed against “the Safety Police.”

I don’t know exactly who the Safety Police are, but apparently they hold positions of influence, because pretty much every playground in America is now coated in rubber, and padded underneath.

The article was about fostering creativity, courage, self-confidence, and problem-solving skills in kids. Hanna Rosin, the author, contends that the current trend of parents scheduling every minute of their child’s lives with closely supervised activities is robbing them of the chance to explore and take risks in life. (See full article here.)

Her article is centered around a visit with her son to something called an “adventure playground” in Wales. Such playgrounds are designed to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with a minimum of adult supervision from the trained adult staff. The idea is to allow kids to experience a sense of danger and risk, and to learn how to deal with these situations themselves. These playgrounds include an area with moveable elements such as tires and wooden shipping palettes. She describes another area where some kids were starting a fire in a metal drum. Part of the playground runs steeply down into a shallow creek, and includes a rope swing, which may or may not get you across.

Stay with me here. I’m not on a campaign to litter our playgrounds with glass shards. I just think it’s a worthwhile discussion.

Rope Swing

Dangerous…

I think of my own childhood, which included long, unsupervised hours away from my house and my parents, engaged in creative play. Admittedly, some of my activities with young friends were less than brilliant, but that’s kind of the point. We figured it out and lived to tell about it.

Sand Dune Natl Monument

…also dangerous.

I think of my own kids. How often – regularly, in fact – Mollie and I would be outside somewhere and we would hear the words “Hi Mom!” But these words would sound much farther away than they should’ve, especially coming from overhead. We would look skyward to find our second-born son high in a tree, as high as he could possibly go. (Higher than we were comfortable with.) Of course, as soon as his little brother grew old enough, he was right behind his big brother.

There’s no question that there was very real risk there. But it never seemed quite right to me to tell them, “YOU KIDS GET DOWN FROM THAT TREE RIGHT NOW!” even though Mollie and I wondered out loud to each other if all of our children would make it to adulthood. I guess I’m still not sure whether or not we should’ve forbidden extreme tree climbing. I do remember instructing them to make sure that they always had a firm grip on a strong branch so that they wouldn’t fall.

At one point in our downstairs bathroom, the bathtub contained one turtle, two large toads, and several garter snakes, all found in and around our inner-city yard. (The kids thought it was great that these animals couldn’t escape the tub. Eventually we released them when the bathroom started stinking.) None of these animals were dangerous, but I suppose it still seemed exciting to the kids since a certain percentage of the population is either freaked-out or grossed-out by such creatures. We did instruct the kids to always wash their hands after handling the reptiles because there is a real risk of contracting disease from the salmonella bacteria carried by reptiles.

Rosin quotes early childhood education professor, Ellen Sandseter. She has concluded that children have a sensory need to experience (perceived) danger and excitement. Sandseter has identified 6 categories of risky play, including exploring heights, and exploring on one’s own.

I have to think this must be true of a lot of kids, based on what I’ve seen in myself, in my own kids, in conversation with others, and in watching other families. And I don’t see any reason to ascribe this “need” to our sin nature.

Rosin also cites the research of Kyung-Hee Kim, an educational psychologist who has found that over the past decade American children have become:
“less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” The largest drop has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way. Practicing psychologists have also written about the unique identity crisis that this generation faces—a fear of growing up and, in the words of Brooke Donatone, a New York City–based therapist, an inability “to think for themselves.”

Given the context of the article, it seems that Rosin thinks over-protective parenting is the culprit.

What do you think? Are our children over-protected? How do/did you as a parent strike a balance between safety and controlled risk with you kids? How do you avoid being a “helicopter parent”?

At the recent release of my new kids’ book, THE COCKY ROOSTER, I described its underlying theme as “the need for young children to submit to their parent’s loving authority in a broken and sometimes dangerous world.” In my opinion, it is essential for loving parental authority to be in play first before we can responsibly allow our young kids the freedom to explore, and to have their own “lion and bear experiences.” Such experiences will prepare them to go out and face giants someday. But risk is always part of the picture. Even as adults, living a life in submission to God-given authority, and to God Himself, does not equate to a life free of risk. Being under right authority helps us to discern the difference between foolish and worthwhile risks (Prov 10:23.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Long's Peak Summit

My daughter, Sierra, on the summit of Long’s Peak, elevation 14,259 ft.

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Should Parents Influence Their Children? (Duh.)

Image

This week I want to share an article with you that I think is well worth reading:

The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books
— Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer, The Wall Street Journal

The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on March 12, 2013, sponsored by the College’s Dow Journalism Program.

On June 4, 2011, the number one trending topic on Twitter was the Anthony Weiner scandal. I happen to remember that, because the number two topic on Twitter that day—almost as frenzied, though a lot less humorous—had to do with an outrageous, intolerable attack on Young Adult literature . . . by me. Entitled “Darkness Too Visible,” my article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult—books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age—a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.

Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life. Those of us who have grown up understand that the teen years can be fraught and turbulent—and for some kids, very unhappy—but at the same time we know that in the arc of human life, these years are brief. Today, too many novels for teenagers are long on the turbulence and short on a sense of perspective. Nor does it help that the narrative style that dominates Young Adult books is the first person present tense—“I, I, I,” and “now, now, now.” Writers use this device to create a feeling of urgency, to show solidarity with the reader and to make the reader feel that he or she is occupying the persona of the narrator. The trouble is that the first person present tense also erects a kind of verbal prison, keeping young readers in the turmoil of the moment just as their hormones tend to do. This narrative style reinforces the blinkers teenagers often seem to be wearing, rather than drawing them out and into the open.

Bringing Judgment

The late critic Hilton Kramer was seated once at a dinner next to film director Woody Allen. Allen asked him if he felt embarrassed when he met people socially whom he’d savaged in print. “No,” Kramer said, “they’re the ones who made the bad art. I just described it.” As the story goes, Allen fell gloomily silent, having once made a film that had received the Kramer treatment.

I don’t presume to have a nose as sensitive as Hilton Kramer’s—but I do know that criticism is pointless if it’s only boosterism. To evaluate anything, including children’s books, is to engage the faculty of judgment, which requires that great bugbear of the politically correct, “discrimination.” Thus, in responding to my article, YA book writers Judy Blume and Libba Bray charged that I was giving comfort to book-banners, and Publisher’s Weekly warned of a “danger” that my arguments “encourage a culture of fear around YA literature.” But I do not, in fact, wish to ban any books or frighten any authors. What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.

Books for children and teenagers are written, packaged, and sold by adults. It follows from this that the emotional depictions they contain come to young people with a kind of adult imprimatur. As a school librarian in Idaho wrote to her colleagues in my defense: “You are naïve if you think young people can read a dark and violent book that sits on the library shelves and not believe that that behavior must be condoned by the adults in their school lives.”

What kind of books are we talking about? Let me give you three examples— but with a warning that some of what you’re about to hear is not appropriate for younger listeners.

A teenaged boy is kidnapped, drugged, and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he comes across a pair of weird glasses that transport him to a world of almost impossible cruelty. Moments later, he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?”

That’s from Andrew Smith’s 2010 Young Adult novel, The Marbury Lens.

A girl struggles with self-hatred and self-injury. She cuts herself with razors secretly, but her secret gets out when she’s the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. Kids at school jeer at her, calling her “cutterslut.” In response, “she had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.”

That’s from Jackie Morse Kessler’s 2011 Young Adult novel, Rage.

I won’t read you the most offensive excerpts from my third example, which consist of explicit and obscene descriptions by a 17-year-old female narrator of sexual petting, of oral sex, and of rushing to a bathroom to defecate following a breakup. Yet School Library Journal praised Daria Snadowsky’s 2008 Young Adult novel, Anatomy of a Boyfriend, for dealing “in modern terms with the real issues of discovering sex for the first time.” And Random House, its publisher, gushed about the narrator’s “heartbreakingly honest voice” as she recounts the “exquisite ups and dramatic downs of teenage love and heartbreak.”

The book industry, broadly speaking, says: Kids have a right to read what- ever they want. And if you follow the argument through it becomes: Adults should not discriminate between good and bad books or stand as gatekeepers, deciding what young people should read. In other words, the faculty of judgment and taste that we apply in every other area of life involving children should somehow vaporize when it comes in contact with the printed word.

I appeared on National Public Radio to discuss these issues with the Young Adult book author Lauren Myracle, who has been hailed as a person “on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression”—as if any controversy over whether a book is appropriate for children turns on the question of the author’s freedom to express herself. Myracle made clear that she doesn’t believe there should be any line between adult literature and literature for young people. In saying this, she was echoing the view that prevails in many progressive, secular circles—that young people should encounter material that jolts them out of their comfort zone; that the world is a tough place; and that there’s no point shielding children from reality. I took the less progressive, less secular view that parents should take a more interventionist approach, steering their children away from books about sex and horror and degradation, and towards books that make aesthetic and moral claims.

Now, although it may seem that our culture is split between Left and Right on the question of permissiveness regarding children’s reading material, in fact there is not so much division on the core issue as might appear. Secular progressives, despite their reaction to my article, have their own list of books they think young people shouldn’t read—for instance, books they claim are tinged with racism or jingoism or that depict traditional gender roles. Regarding the latter, you would not believe the extent to which children’s picture books today go out of the way to show father in an apron and mother tinkering with machinery. It’s pretty funny. But my larger point here is that the self-proclaimed anti-book-banners on the Left agree that books influence children and prefer some books to others.

Indeed, in the early years of the Cold War, many left-wing creative people in America gravitated toward children’s literature. Philip Nel, a professor at Kansas State University, has written that Red-hunters, “seeing children’s books as a field dominated by women . . . deemed it less important and so did not watch it closely.” Among the authors I am referring to are Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Ruth Krauss, author of the 1952 classic A Hole is to Dig, illustrated by a young Maurice Sendak. Krauss was quite open in her belief that children’s literature was an excellent means of putting left-wing ideas into young minds. Or so she hoped.

When I was a little girl I read The Cat in the Hat, and I took from it an understanding of the sanctity of private property—it outraged me when the Cat and Thing One and Thing Two rampaged through the children’s house while their mother was away. Dr. Seuss was probably not intending to inculcate capitalist ideas—quite the contrary. But it happened in my case, and the point is instructive.

Taste and Beauty

A recent study conducted at Virginia Tech found that college women who read “chick lit”—light novels that deal with the angst of being a modern woman—reported feeling more insecure about themselves and their bodies after reading novels in which the heroines feel insecure about themselves and their bodies. Similarly, federal researchers were puzzled for years by a seeming paradox when it came to educating children about the dangers of drugs and tobacco. There seemed to be a correlation between anti-drug and anti-tobacco programs in elementary and middle schools and subsequent drug and tobacco use at those schools. It turned out that at the same time children were learning that drugs and tobacco were bad, they were taking in the meta-message that adults expected them to use drugs and tobacco.

This is why good taste matters so much when it comes to books for children and young adults. Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave—what the spectrum is. Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms—and as the examples above show, the norms young people take away are not necessarily the norms adults intend. This is why I am skeptical of the social utility of so-called “problem novels”—books that have a troubled main character, such as a girl with a father who started raping her when she was a toddler and anonymously provides her with knives when she is a teenager hoping that she will cut herself to death. (This scenario is from Cheryl Rainfield’s 2010 Young Adult novel, Scars, which School Library Journal hailed as “one heck of a good book.”) The argument in favor of such books is that they validate the real and terrible experiences of teenagers who have been abused, addicted, or raped—among other things. The problem is that the very act of detailing these pathologies, not just in one book but in many, normalizes them. And teenagers are all about identifying norms and adhering to them.

In journalist Emily Bazelon’s recent book about bullying, she describes how schools are using a method called “social norming” to discourage drinking and driving. “The idea,” she writes, “is that students often overestimate how much other kids drink and drive, and when they find out that it’s less prevalent than they think—outlier behavior rather than the norm—they’re less likely to do it themselves.” The same goes for bullying: “When kids understand that cruelty isn’t the norm,” Bazelon says, “they’re less likely to be cruel themselves.”

Now isn’t that interesting?

Ok, you say, but books for kids have always been dark. What about Hansel and Gretel? What about the scene in Beowulf where the monster sneaks into the Danish camp and starts eating people?

Beowulf is admittedly gruesome in parts—and fairy tales are often scary. Yet we approach them at a kind of arm’s length, almost as allegory. In the case of Beowulf, furthermore, children reading it—or having it read to them— are absorbing the rhythms of one of mankind’s great heroic epics, one that explicitly reminds us that our talents come from God and that we act under God’s eye and guidance. Even with the gore, Beowulf won’t make a child callous. It will help to civilize him.

English philosopher Roger Scruton has written at length about what he calls the modern “flight from beauty,” which he sees in every aspect of our contemporary culture. “It is not merely,” he writes, “that artists, directors, musicians and others connected with the arts”—here we might include authors of Young Adult literature—“are in a flight from beauty . . . . There is a desire to spoil beauty . . . . For beauty makes a claim on us; it is a call to renounce our narcisissm and look with reverence on the world.”

We can go to the Palazzo Borghese in Rome and stand before Caravaggio’s painting of David with the head of Goliath, and though we are looking at horror we are not seeing ugliness. The light that plays across David’s face and chest, and that slants across Goliath’s half-open eyes and mouth, transforms the scene into something beautiful. The problem with the darker offerings in Young Adult literature is that they lack this transforming and uplifting quality. They take difficult subjects and wallow in them in a gluttonous way; they show an orgiastic lack of restraint that is the mark of bad taste.

Young Adult book author Sherman Alexie wrote a rebuttal to my article entitled, “Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood.” In it, he asks how I could honestly believe that a sexually explicit Young Adult novel might traumatize a teenaged mother. “Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?”

Well of course I don’t. But I also don’t believe that the vast majority of 12-to- 18-year-olds are living in hell. And as for those who are, does it really serve them to give them more torment and sulphur in the stories they read?

The body of children’s literature is a little like the Library of Babel in the Jorge Luis Borges story—shelf after shelf of books, many almost gibberish, but a rare few filled with wisdom and beauty and answers to important questions. These are the books that have lasted because generation after generation has seen in them something transcendent, and has passed them on. Maria Tatar, who teaches children’s literature at Harvard, describes books like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Books, and Pinocchio as “setting minds into motion, renewing senses, and almost rewiring brains.” Or as William Wordsworth wrote: “What we have loved/others will love, and we will teach them how.”

* * *

The good news is that just like the lousy books of the past, the lousy books of the present will blow away like chaff. The bad news is that they will leave their mark. As in so many aspects of culture, the damage they do can’t easily be measured. It is more a thing to be felt—a coarseness, an emptiness, a sorrow.

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as if it does not matter.” That’s Roger Scruton again. But he doesn’t want us to despair. He also writes:

It is one mark of rational beings that they do not live only—or even at all—in the present. They have the freedom to despise the world that surrounds them and live another way. The art, literature, and music of our civilization remind them of this, and also point to the path that lies always before them: the path out of desecration towards the sacred and the sacrificial.

Let me close with Saint Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:8:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

And let us think about these words when we go shopping for books for our children.

 

Copyright © 2013 Hillsdale College. “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”
Imprimis (im-pri-mis), [latin]: in the first place – SubsCriptiOn free upOn request.