One Question That Can Change a Kid’s World

When I meet with teens in addiction recovery, they know the first question I’m going to ask.  I always reserve a portion of our time together for one seemingly insignificant inquiry:

“What’s something that made you laugh?”

This past week, a couple of girls had a uniquely silly experience, and one of them made a point to take note of it.  “We have to remember this to tell Bert when he asks for something funny!” she’d told her friend.  And they had.

Both girls were laughing so hard, it took several minutes of gasping and happy-tear wiping to tell their funny story.

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Before the X-Plan, We Had the Net-Plan

(From Bert’s practical parenting side …)

Decades prior to devising the X-Plan, I was fighting a different battle as a greenhorn stay-at-home Dad.  Long before I was worrying about my teenagers surviving an unpredictable world, I was locked in another epic battle.

The Footwear Fracas.  The Stocking Struggle.  The Battle of the Booties.

Yes. Socks.

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An Open Apology for our Mental Health Issue

My friends, I owe you an apology.

I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting.  Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.

I am broken.

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Shootings Have Increased with More Gun Laws, but… #ReaganWasRight

After 2017’s Las Vegas shooting, my 20-year-old son texted me: “If your generation doesn’t do something about this, we never will.  You guys still freak out every time there’s a shooting, but this is normalcy for us.”

His words shot me down.

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Racism’s Revenge

I had a high school history teacher who was a Vietnam vet.  He once informed us, “Just so you know, I did tours in ‘Nam.  Tick me off and I might pull a gun and kill every one of you.  And I’d get away with it, too.  Just shrug and say, ‘Sorry.  Flashback.  I thought they were a bunch of gooks.’”  His head bobbed up and down when he spoke as if pounding the words in like nails.  A matter-of-fact expression on his face.  Left eye pinched into a half-wink.  Just like someone taking aim through rifle sights. Continue reading

Participation Trophies

It’s taken me some time to comment on coach Jeff Walz’s rant about participation trophies because … well, to be honest, I am (as coach says) “a loser.”

I have a “participation trophy” from youth football.

My team had a perfect season, a feat few athletes at any level can celebrate.  Even the worst teams screw up and win a game a two.  But not my football team.  The Enslow Bulldogs.  Perfection.  Not a single win.  Never even close.

I have the trophy to prove it.

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Why Teachers Suck …

A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.

“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed.  “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”

“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged.  “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”

teacher2I bristled.

Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher.  Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches.  I know their battles and the wounds they carry.

“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim.  I found that, no, he didn’t.  I fear most Americans might be as clueless.

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How to Train Juvenile Delinquents

Ask most adults their purpose in life and they’ll look at you like you’re wearing a clown costume at a funeral.

I recently asked a group of teens in drug-recovery, Can you remember a time when you did something really well and you enjoyed doing it?”

I gave them time to talk about it—what they’d accomplished, how they’d felt.  Most came alive.  One talked about sports.  Another shared about working on a truck engine with his father.  He recalled discovering his mechanical skills (and how good it had been to connect with his dad—I detected some brokenness there).  Some sat quietly and tried to avoid eye contact.  Their silence revealed plenty: Continue reading

Spoiled Brats at the 9/11 Memorial

After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.

“Bert, over here.”

She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools.  Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name:  Paul W. Ambrose

We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed.  We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud.  From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype.  Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General.  Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.

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