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manhood

Saturday Morning Cartoons

I have a hard time convincing my children now that once upon a time, kids had to get all of their cartoon swag on between the hours of 8am & 12pm on Saturday Mornings…  and that was IT!… I mean sure, there were some occasional afternoon cartoons, but they were largely re-runs you’d seen before a hundred times.  In the days before Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, etc…  All the best cartoons were on Saturday mornings…  And this was long before Al Gore invented The Internets and even longer before the advent of streaming on-demand anything…  Times were simpler then…  Kids needed not have an anxiety attack over which cartoon to watch & when…  There were three stations & a 4-hour window of time… and it did not yield to anyone

That last part used to make me so mad on a weekly basis…  Because where I grew up, there were always lots & lots of chores to get done on a Saturday… and that usually meant I’d miss most or all of my cartoons.  Oh sure… I’d try to drag out breakfast as long as possible… But inevitably, there was a barbed wire fence to mend… or a field to plow… or a barn roof to repair… or any number of other things that come up on a small farm and they would not wait!…  At least that’s what my dad told me…  And so the cartoons all too often had to…


At roughly the turn of the century, The Industrial Revolution forever changed the American family.  More specifically, it radically changed the relationship between fathers & sons.  For most of human history, sons grew up working side by side with their fathers on a daily basis, for the good of the family.  They learned multiple crafts & disciplines working at their father’s side, but more importantly, they learned about manhood.  They learned what it took to be a man and eventually, they developed not only the necessary skills, but also the confidence in themselves that manhood required.

But the Industrial Revolution ended a lot of that natural progression for boys in the 20th century.  For the first time in human history, and in quite large numbers, fathers left home to go work at the factory or the mill in pursuit of a better life for their families.  It was a noble effort… and one that has brought about most of the creature comforts we enjoy in today’s modern world.  But the impact on each generation since cannot be underscored.  And it has compounded over the years until today, where as a society… we can no longer even agree on what manhood should even mean…


So like I said…  Saturday morning was chore day at my house.  And if the chores were all done, there were always small projects to complete.  It was so bad that friend of mine just knew… Sleepovers on Saturday Nights were gravy…  Sleepovers on Friday Nights?…

danger-will-robinson

Danger Will Robinson!… If you slept over at my house on a Friday Night, you were getting sucked into whatever chores or projects Saturday had in store…  And no one got a pass!…

I whined & complained about this INCESSANTLY!!!…  in my own head that is…  Because if I had ever voiced any of these concerns out loud, I would have woken up in the following week… as I should have…


I kind of doubt that it was intentional on his part, but at the same time… I should’ve given him far more credit for this & much sooner than I actually did.  Because the simple fact of the matter is that those Saturday mornings were the best “fathering” moments of my entire life.  Dad worked a lot of hours Monday through Friday, but Saturdays?…  That was our time… I wish I’d understood this better at the time…

Most every significant “manhood” skill that I ever learned, I learned on one of those Saturday mornings.  Straightening bent nails led to driving straight nails, which led to building a shed or siding a barn…  So building a deck onto my house later in life…  That was actually a joy for me to build and secretly a huge source of pride…  Plowing a field, led to driving a truck and mastering a stick shift… which is becoming a lost art form…  Fired my first rifle… my first shotgun…  both on a Saturday… And now, I can pick off boyfriends at 100yds without hesitation…  Build or repair a septic system?… Plant a garden?… Wire a house circuit?… Okay, actually that last one was all me, but here’s why…


In the early years, I was just the helper… Go get me this… Go get me that…  Hold this board… and so on… For the most part, it was just the two of us working together…  Somewhere around age 10 or so, we developed this unspoken game where I tried to anticipate what tool or thing he would need before he would ask for it… Oh my word, I can’t even describe the thrill I would feel when I anticipated correctly & handed him the tool/thing as he was in the process of asking for it…  To pull that off… I had to assess the situation, understand what was happening, see where the work was going, foresee where the potential issues were, and act in advance of the need to make the job more successful…  It’s no wonder that I ended up becoming an Engineer as a career choice…  I was solving problems & improving processes before I ever reached middle school.  Then at some point late in high school, he’d actually start asking my opinion on how to approach some jobs we were engaged with…  It was a huge boost of confidence for me going into college… And confidence was something I needed in droves at that point in life…


So yeah… wiring the house circuit?… That was all EE101…  But I never would’ve been in those Electrical Engineering classes in college without missing  those Saturday Morning cartoons…

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Baxter’s Story ~ My Story (Part 4)

From a January 30th, 2016 Facebook Note…  See Parts 1, 2, & 3 for the backstory…


Its funny what you remember from your childhood. Take this picture above… I have always hated that picture… It might be because of that haircut… which I didn’t get to change until high school. Or it might be because it reminds me of how much hair I used to have. Or maybe its because this picture MUST have been given out with free Tide samples at JC’s Grocery, because every friend, relative, & acquaintance from my hometown seems to have landed a copy of it somehow. I have worked DILIGENTLY to keep this picture off of Facebook. It was easy in the early years of FB, but increasingly harder as more & more relatives, friends, and elementary school teachers migrated onto this platform.

I also remember that the house I grew up in was approximately 25 yards from the edge of Highway 158 when I was a wee lad. Then the state decided to put in a turn lane and 25 yards turned into 10 yards somewhere around the late Elementary School years.

conway-house

I remember that distance really well because it made pets EXTREMELY problematic.  You see, we did not do indoor pets in my house. That was just a thing… Pets, unless they swam in a bowl or a tank, were for outdoors. And really… fish are more decoration than pet. So, I cannot really remember how many dogs we attempted to have growing up, probably because each experience ended up the same way… with that dog dead in the middle of Highway 158. We had better luck with cats… Not with all of them mind you, but enough to be statistically significant.

But I do have one very vivid memory of the last dog we had while I was growing up. He was a mixed breed (see my last post), but if I had to name it… I’d say he was a Yellow LabraBeagle… I don’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember the names of most of my pets growing up. That’s not a small detail btw… But anyway, this memory is etched permanently in my brain…

It was the summer of ‘79… I say that because I’m pretty sure I was younger than 10 and I was definitely wearing shorts… and I really like that Bryan Adams song… In truth, it could’ve been ‘80 or ‘81… (my sister later confirmed it was 1980)

I do not remember what I was doing at the time. I was outside my house, playing I think… and my dog was nowhere around. I heard an extremely loud YELP and my big ears pinpointed it to my left and at least two neighbor’s yards away… And it was definitely my dog… I took off in a full sprint and arrived in one of our neighbor’s yards… My dog was under the rear wheel of a mammoth car I did not recognize. He was alive, but he was not moving. A lady I did not recognize started apologizing… At least, I think she was apologizing… But I’m pretty sure she was also the voice actor for that school teacher in all the Charlie Brown cartoons.

They say that wounded animals can act in unpredictable ways and frequently bite people that are trying to help them. I did not know this at the time and it totally would not have mattered. I was moving to pick up the dog out of complete reflex… He did not bite me though. I scooped him up in my arms and ran for home. I remember that one of his hind legs was drooping very badly (it was broken)… And I distinctly remember his blood running down my right leg as I ran…


Let’s pause here & acknowledge something… My dad came from a completely different era than most of my readers can imagine. He was a man’s man that grew up on a farm in central NC… And when animals got hurt on a farm in the mid-20th century, they did not take them to fancy hospitals to be patched up while you sipped complimentary lattes… There was no money for that sort of thing… That animal usually got put down, depending on the nature & severity of the injury.

Now I did not know any of that at the time I arrived in my yard. All I did know was my dog was hurt badly and needed help. I’m standing there with this dog in my arms, his leg broken, his blood all over me, pleading without words… PLEASE DO SOMETHING!!!

And my dad did what a REAL man’s man does… He came through for me & we took that dog to the local vet. Doc Brown patched him up & he wore a little makeshift cast on that leg for awhile. He healed up pretty good… just a minor limp to show for it… And then one day not too far removed from that day in the summer of ‘79… ’80, he must’ve gotten interested in some vehicle that was going down Highway 158 and…


Now flash forward about 35 years to Sunday and I’m standing there holding Baxter’s body in almost exactly the same way as I did the other dog in 1980. He’s wrapped in a towel that was completely soaked in his blood. My coat that I’m wearing is now also covered in his blood. I am not running like before… Instead, I’m watching R run… Down the hill towards home… Completely hysterical… Tears streaming… But she is not running home to get help like I did… Doc Brown was a VERY gifted Vet, but there was nothing he could’ve done to help Baxter that day.

I watched R run down that hill… I turn to the right & see my wife talking with the other family… She is BARELY holding it together… And I think… “DEAR GOD… HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME THROUGH IN THIS?”… There is no voice from Heaven that responds. Something else does happen though, but its for another entry… Maybe tomorrow’s…

Come through?… You cannot be serious… Its all I can do to not stand in the street & cry like a toddler. I can see R made it into the house… And I can see my wife is winding down whatever conversation is happening off to the right… And I’m still standing there, holding Baxter… My only thought at this point is, “I can’t let either one of them see him like this.” So I walk slowly down that hill… Its still pretty icy… Somewhere in between, I realize I’ve got to bury him and it cannot wait… I carry him around to the back yard and set him down… I’m returning to the garage to get the shovel and see that my wife has made it back now… That’s good… R won’t be alone…

She says, “We need to take pictures…” My heart stops… I know she’s right, we don’t know how this thing will play out… And that means I have to take the pictures…


>>>STOP… I’ve left most of the details of the other family ambiguous intentionally up until this point because there’s a whole other entry I need to make there. That’s unfortunately left a lot of gaps in the story for people to fill in on their own and I need to clear this up for the moment. That other family is CRUSHED!… They not only had to see the whole thing play out in front of them on their front lawn… They also had to make the decision to put those two dogs down. They have made this thing as right as they can for now, I promise… and my heart breaks for theirs as much as it breaks for my own family’s.


Pictures… right… I have to take pictures… So there I am, unwrapping Baxter in the snow to take pictures. I want to throw up now… Not because of what I’m seeing in front of me, but because the weight of it ALL is starting to settle in… I turn Baxter one direction & then the other… And it is HELL!… There are so many wounds that I cannot tell where the killing blow landed. There is a very large hole in his jugular though, so I’m guessing that was it. Based on what R later tells us, we believe this was the first blow, so at least he didn’t suffer long… Finally… all the pictures are done…

Now, where to bury him?… Well, live in a typical subdivision, so the options are a bit limited, but I settle on a spot just behind our yard through the woods a little bit. The ground was hard and covered in ice & snow. It took awhile to dig that hole, probably because I had to stop frequently to wipe snot & tears off of my face. I laid him as carefully as I could in the hole, paused and spoke words of truth over him. I’ve buried lots of animals over the years… never felt compelled to do that before. I covered him up gently and took a step back.

I need to make a cross or something to mark his grave. I’ve NEVER done that before… I find some old pallet wood I had left over from some wine racks my wife asked me to make for Christmas the year before. I cut a short piece from a longer piece, then nail them together in the shape of a cross. I wrote Baxter across it with one of those fat Sharpie’s I found in the garage. And then I take it back to his grave & drive it into the ground.

My wife shows up about this time… I tell her its done and then she points out the bloody towel laying in the snow. I hear R coming… I manage to fold that towel faster than any other laundry in my life and somehow, manage to find a section of it without much blood on it to leave folded out. R is almost there & I decide to take no chances so I toss the towel behind a tree where she can’t see it. Now we’re all there, standing around Baxter’s grave… We had an informal burial ceremony right then & there. It was mostly blubbering & crying… Later on, we added a wreath that had been made from the clippings of a Christmas tree. It had hung on our front door through the Christmas season. We picked it up the same day we got our tree. Baxter had gone with us that day to pick out out the tree… He had an awesome day & was the superstar/VIP of that very busy tree farm… It had been a perfect day…


A tragic thing happens to most of us as we grow up… We tend to lose little pieces of ourselves along the way to adulthood. Sometimes its in large chunks… And sometimes its 1,000 paper cuts… Sometimes the pieces are taken from us… And sometimes we willingly give them away… But worst of all is that many times… we don’t even know that it has happened.

For instance… I willingly gave us musical training when I was in the 6th grade… Because I thought playing piano was for sissies… Then I bought my first electric guitar when I was 19 & fell in love… Now I wonder what my musicianship would look like if I hadn’t given up on it… Or would I have found my love of guitar sooner?…

I also gave up Singing in public when I was about 5 or 6 years old… Must’ve been something traumatic, right?… No, not really… I just couldn’t stand how uncomfortable it made me. So I told myself, I couldn’t really sing all that well. Even worse… I convinced myself I sang quite badly… Trying to sing out of the Methodist Hymnal helped reinforce that too… Those hymns are theoretically written in keys to fit the “average person”. But I was constantly having to switch octaves mid-song because it either went too high or too low. Pretty soon I just mouthed the words like the older men did. I bought that lie that I couldn’t sing for about 30 years. God eventually pulled it out of me kicking & screaming. Now I LOVE to harmonize and I’ve got a good ear for it. I lead songs at church every so often and I love that too. But every time, that fear & discomfort are still loud & present. I just choose to feel the fear & do it anyway… God takes care of the rest…

And then there’s writing… I NEVER EVEN GAVE WRITING A CHANCE!… I figured out pretty quickly that I could absolutely crush it in Math & Science and that was enough to get me by. We humans tend to glam onto things that work for us and Math & Science were my B-’s… So Writing never stood a chance… Who knows how that could’ve turned out differently?… Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan…

Gave up on Jesus too!… For about 12 years or so… I couldn’t reconcile the faith I grew up with to the world I lived in. How could God allow ____fill in the blank___? At the time, I didn’t truly understand that Evil I talked about a few days ago. Didn’t get that spiritual warfare was happening all around me. I was literally Neo in The Matrix before he took the red pill… (pause to give credit to John Eldredge on that analogy)… I found my way back eventually, but it was touch & go for awhile there.

Back to Baxter… I realize now that at some point in my childhood, I gave up on pets too. Now, we continued to have pets after that Yellow LabraBeagle died. And we’ve had plenty of pets over our married years too. And I loved them all to some degree… but always at a distance… Always with something held back… I realize now that at some level, I was expecting that they’d inevitably end up in the middle of Highway 158.

But Baxter was having none of that… Without even knowing it, I did try to hold back at first. But it didn’t last long. He wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, I loved him deeply and I held nothing back. And I didn’t realize that either until he was gone.

God had a design in mind for each of us. And we usually manage to screw that up… giving away what isn’t taken from us… Or life does it for us in chunks & papercuts… But “the Glory of God is man fully alive!” ~ St. Irenaeus.  So we must fight to get those chunks back… We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. ~ Philippians 2:12… We must commit to being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory ~ 2Corinthians 3:18…

Baxter reminded me of this in the most beautiful & tragic way possible. And that’s really when I realized what I had to do for R. For while this would forever be a defining moment for her… I refuse to allow it to be a RE-defining moment for her. God defined her perfectly and I will fight like hell to help her hold onto that as long as I have breath in my lungs. That is how I come through…

So dear reader… What chunks have you lost, or had taken away over the years? What papercuts became so relentless, that you just gave in & bled out? What have you willingly given up & now regret? Jesus can heal all of these wounds if you invite him to. And even if you don’t, he’ll keep pursuing you… Its what he does… Beauty from Ashes…


Continue on to Part 5 here

The Hazards of Dukes

On Friday Night, January 26, 1979… The Dukes of Hazard premiered on CBS as a mid-season replacement.  It went on to air 147 episodes and became the staple of CBS’s Friday Night lineup through 1985.  And it had EVERYTHING a 7 year old boy could want…

And when I say that, I’m talking WAY beyond the obvious things like the car chases, the impossible bow & arrow shots from moving vehicles, or the fact that something had to blow up every other episode.  It had a spirit of rebellion that resonates with every boy on the journey to manhood.  It was about doing the right thing, no matter what the cost seemed to be.  It was literally Good versus Evil every Friday Night.  And somehow…  impossibly… GOOD ALWAYS WON!!!…  Seriously folks, this was weighty stuff that was packed into each one hour episode………  There was also Catherine Bach…


One of the iconic events in every episode was the Duke boys jumping their 1969 Dodge Charger over some river or through some barn.  Somehow, no other car in Hazard County could figure out how to make those jumps, but the General always stuck the landing & kept on going.  Now in reality, they estimate that they destroyed somewhere close to 300 Dodge Chargers filming all those seasons of the show.  Because back in the day, there was no such thing as CGI…

But these car jumps were not the biggest thing about the show that resonated with me. When this show was in its prime, I was still years from even driving a car.  And the car I would start out driving was barely capable of jumping cracks in the asphalt.

For me, it was always about Bo & Luke, jumping out of the loft of some barn to catch the bad guys… JUST BEFORE they got away.  It didn’t happen in every show, but often enough that it became a thing.  And THIS I could relate to!…  I knew barns!…  I knew how to jump!…  I’ll pause here while everybody catches up with where this is going…


So long before my cousin & I would jam on electric guitars during family get-togethers, we found other ways to entertain ourselves.  Like playing “Dukes of Hazard” of course…  And my grandfather had a sprawling farm in central NC that provided the perfect backdrop.  Seriously.. I’m talking cows, chickens, tractors, the whole nine yards…  And of course, the centerpiece was… THE BARN…

I can’t recall what I was really thinking as I stood in the loft that day.  Probably that there were bad guys getting away & I had to do something.  I do remember looking over the ledge of the loft at the ground below only once…  Because I can still hear my own voice ringing in my head 30+ years later…  “That doesn’t look so far…”

So without much more thought than this, I jumped…  And I accelerated to the earth below at 9.8 meters/second square…  Or 32.2 feet/second square if you’re too American to embrace the Metric System.

Either way… 12 feet later I hit the ground with a THUMP…  I jumped up immediately, but I was wobbling around like Michael Spinks after 91 seconds with Mike Tyson…  I think I stumbled past my cousin and at this point attempted to form a word…

Prior to that point, I had no concept of getting the wind knocked of me… Like I didn’t even know it was a thing…  I gasped for air, tying to form words… ANY words…  If I’d been old enough to curse, those are the words I would have chosen.  But no… I had to flop around like a goldfish that jumped out of the bowl for a good 2-3 minutes before air finally returned to my lungs.

And that was when I realized that my right ankle hurt like HELL!…  But I wouldn’t have said it like that at the time, because curse words hadn’t been invented yet.  Fortunately, there was nothing broken, but it was one vicious sprain that had me hopping around 2nd grade on one foot for a month or more because I hated those crutches…


It’s a sobering moment when a boy realizes he doesn’t measure up to his heroes.  And it doesn’t matter if your hero is Bo Duke, Bruce Wayne, or Michael Jordan… Sooner or later, we all have to face the fact that we fall short of those guys in one way or another.  Sadly, some boys get stuck right there & never really grow out of it.  They never recognize that their heroes are flawed too, if not entirely fictional in the first place.  And as a result, they never ultimately find the power & strength that they do possess and that the world desperately needs.  But this is another blog post for another time perhaps…


My landing point for this post instead is this…  I’ve rarely leaped as freely as I did that day…  Whether its been relationships… or career… or my faith… The world taught me I had to be cautious in these things.  That I needed to move slowly and anticipate all the possible outcomes.  Otherwise, I might end up hurt… flopping around on the ground, gasping for air.

But that’s not how we’re called to live… We’re called by Christ to live with boldness… Not reckless, but also not fearful… And so I’ve spent the last 13 years UNLEARNING all the things my first 31 years taught me.  And so I push myself out onto the ledge more frequently now & I try to give less thought to outcomes…  And occasionally, gravity still wins…  But quite often, it does not… And the bad guys get caught!

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