A Dog, A Cat & the Love of a Woman (Euthanasia & Family Pets)

When you ‘ve been married as long as my wife and I, it seems as if you believe the confluence of life suggests you know most of what there is to know about a person. But to my surprise I’ve learned something new and so wonderful, I just had to write about it.

Cindy and I have been at odds the past couple of years about two of our three animals. We have a dog and two cats. The dog, Peanut, is now over 15 years old and the cat, Sweetie, is estimated to be 23 years old. The children are grown and kind of gone (you know that boomerang thing the sociologists talk about does really happen), but here we are with these very old animals. I don’t know if you’ve had much exposure to old cats, but they’re unsightly to look at as they get older. The hair loses its luster and comes out in clumps. I joke about how the kitchen floor reminds me of the wild west , somewhere in the desert of Arizona as the  combination of hair of the three animals coalesce into a tumbleweed like ball and they blow about the kitchen bouncing and rolling in the wind when people and animals move about the room. The cat’s existence for the past 5 years consists of laying on a small rug mat in the kitchen for approximately 23 hours each day. She only moves for two reasons. One is to plead with someone to give her a very small dish of milk and the other is to scurry to the basement to do her business. But 23 hours she does not move for anything. Sweetie was an incredible hunter in her day. She loved to catch all sorts of small creatures, bite the heads off and then deliver them on the stoop of the front door.  She was so pleased with herself and wanted all to share in her accomplishments.  But I remember the day she decided to use her stealth and creep up on a rather large Canadian goose in our back yard. What Sweetie didn’t see was the 3 or 4 other geese not too far away. As she moved in on the goose, the other geese quickly formed a circle around Sweetie and the hunter was now at risk of being the hunted. Once the geese were in position around Sweetie, they moved in unison, gradually tightening the circle around the cat. Sweetie could see what was happening and looked for an opening and jumped over one of the geese and sprinted up the dirt road between properties to the safety of the barn. Peanut, has had trouble the last couple of years. She developed a tumor and when we took her to the vet and the professional opinion was to make Peanut comfortable because she doesn’t have long. The dog was having trouble keeping her food down and on more occasions than I would like to count, could not make it outside in time to do her business, leaving a trail of urine from one end of the kitchen through the hall and into the foyer on her way to the door. A solution that my wife devised was to grind up Peanut’s dog food in the blender to soften it and then feed her very small portions 4 times a day. This kept the dog from throwing up her nourishment. To handle the incontinence, Peanut was put outside many, many times a day. We tried to read any and every cue that she may need to relieve herself. Peanut is a full-bred English Shepherd with an incredibly loving temperament. She definitely had that herding instinct going and would nudge any one of us as if to push us through the gate of the pen where dogs put humans to keep an eye on them. She was great with children, all children regardless of age. It was almost as if she knew small children were frailer. Small children would tug and pull on her tail or long hair and occasionally poke at her with toys. But she’d not respond unless they were being too intrusive and then she’d just remove herself.  Peanut was also an athlete. She was a powerful, speed demon and if you weren’t careful, you’d find yourself on the ground pushed over by this small train. Once when we were catching Frisbee, Peanut decided to get in on the action and leapt in the air to take a throw from one of the children. When the kids saw this, they immediately began training the next amazing Frisbee catching dog. And Peanut could catch everything high and low. She’s speed past the Frisbee and slow down to catch it by slightly turning her head. She could jump three to four feet in the air to snatch the throw almost effortlessly. But being an English Shepherd she hated to be alone. We would joke that if Peanut had her way, she’d be in one of our pockets peeking outside, completely content that she was almost attached at our hip.

So, with the health and age of the animals moving in a deteriorating direction, my wife has had to go to great lengths to care for them. And this means recruiting other family to care for them if we went out of town. I have no trouble enlisting someone to look in and feed Peanut and let her out, but remember, this  was a several trips a day proposition. I didn’t think it was fair to inconvenience people to that extent. Cindy’s sister, Julie and Julie’s daughter, Katie, are saints in that regard. I would like to say that I loved these animals, but when they became more work than I thought was reasonable, euthanasia sounded like a great option. So, the tension between my wife and I has been brewing and intensifying around the animals for a few years.

Now, I do admit that on more than a few occasions, I would make insensitive comments about the animals, show my disdain for them when I had to use a toothbrush to scrub the stains Peanut left in the carpeting and a general disgust developed. Cindy would become frustrated with my attitude telling me that how I treat these animals in the last years of their life may foreshadow what my experience may be. And in a sarcastic but joking tone, I commented that “If I ever get this bad, you have my permission to just take me out back and shoot me.”  Cindy would respond, “Buzz, be careful with what you say. You know, you’re going to reap what you sow.”

Well, through a series of negotiations, Cindy finally agreed that it was time to put the animals down. Peanut could not get up or down easily as her hips were giving out, she had trouble with steps and the tumor was getting quite large creating an asymmetrical lump on her backside. Cindy began calling vets and humane society to check on options. She decided that she wanted to be present and have Peanut and Sweetie go at the same time. Now you may ask yourself, “why would Cindy want to put them down together?” I failed to mention that Peanut and Sweetie became best friends over the years. It wasn’t always that way, in fact, I played a game and would tell Peanut to “get the cat” and she would run around the house frantically looking for Sweetie and then paw at her, lick her and engage in a kind of animal roughhousing. Sweetie would have none of it and generally showed her contempt by smacking Peanut on the snout with her clawless front paw as if to say, “don’t touch me!” Our third animal is a cat, Millie, that came to be with us when Natalie, our daughter, could no longer keep the cat because her husband did not like this particular animal. Well, we decided to accept Millie into our family. The dyad of Peanut and Sweetie quickly turned into a triad and Sweetie wanted nothing to do with this new animal. Millie would get frustrated trying to play with Sweetie and for some reason, Peanut began running interference keeping Millie from Sweetie. It got to the place that Sweetie would sleep near Peanut because she could ensure that Millie would leave her alone. And when I would play my game telling Peanut to “get the cat,” she would go up to where Sweetie was lying. Then she would turn and look at me as if to say, “don’t make me do that, I feel sorry for her. “ In fact, Peanut got to the place where she would not listen to my command at that point. She would go to Sweetie and stand there. And no matter how many times I said it or how I intonated the command, she would not comply. Her loyalty to Sweetie went beyond protecting Sweetie from Millie. And Sweetie would occasionally show her affection by rubbing herself on Peanut’s chest as if to say thank you. So, Cindy wanted them to go together.

For whatever reason, as the arrangements were being explored I offered to be there when this was supposed to happen. But my wife’s response was different than what I expected. Cindy said, “I don’t want you there. It would be hypocritical. They way you have bad-mouthed these animals, it wouldn’t be right.” I had never thought of myself as hypocritical in this matter, but I knew I was officially in the “dog house” in our relationship. She was correct that I had little empathy for the animals at this point, but that does not mean that I did not value them or the contribution they had been to our family all these years. Cindy wanted Peanut and Sweetie to be put down together and then buried together in our back yard. Well, I told her I didn’t want to dig a hole to bury these animals right now, but I did want them put down and sooner the better. That was not the thing to say. I was actually digging a deeper hole for myself than the one I would have dug for these animals through the frozen tundra. Back and forth we went, talking about how to do this, mis-communicating every step of the way. For example, I told Cindy I would do whatever she wanted with regard to the animals. I suggested that maybe we should cremate the animals as opposed to bury them as it would buy us time for the winter to end and the ground to thaw.  I thought Cindy said she thought this was a good option. She thought I said I would dig the hole even if it was frozen. We argued about what we thought each had agreed to and somewhere she decided the cremation option was ok, as long as Peanut and Sweetie were cremated together.

The day arrived to do the deed and my sons decided they would join their mother so say goodbye to the family pets. Just prior to their leaving, we prayed in a circle and thanked God for these precious animals and their love and loyalty all these years. My wife invited me to join them at the vet’s, but I could not bring myself to go. At this point, it was more about my concern that I would say something stupid and ruin the moment as opposed to being stubborn given her dictum. I am not above being stubborn, but I don’t think that was the case here. So, they left!

About an hour and twenty minutes later they came through the door and I was surprised to see them so soon. Scott came in first and although he was not crying when he came through the door, he began to cry. He was followed by Cindy, then Tommy, both with red faces and tears that suggested they’d been crying for some time. Everyone came in and I asked, “How’d it go?” Cindy spoke about how great the vet and hospital were. “They gave us all the time we wanted or needed. Noone tried to hurry us along.” She went on to describe the process. An attendant took Peanut into another room and outfitted her with a catheter in her front leg. And from what Cindy reported, Peanut did not fuss. Then Sweetie was taken into the same room, but the process did not go as well. Cindy and the boys reported hearing “blood-curdling cat screams” coming from the room as Sweetie fought the attendant’s efforts to put the catheter in. In fact, Sweetie scratched the vet’s assistant with her back claws and drew blood. The animals then settled in with Peanut on Cindy and Scotty’s lap and Sweetie on Tommy’s. They put in three different needles starting with something to relax the animals. Peanut went peacefully and closed her eyes. Cindy reported that the attendant commented on this stating, “She was ready to go.” Sweetie died with her eyes open in some ways symbolizing the catheter scene just moments before.

I was moved by this experience, but not necessarily in the way you would think. As my wife and I layed in bed together that night holding one another, I commented to her on something I’ve intuitively known but saw in a more tangible way. “Babe, You know something? You know how to love well.” She began to cry again in my arms. “I’m not trying to make you cry, but watching the way you love me, the kids and even these animals, I marvel at how well you love!”

I can’t help but think about God’s love during this occasion. On one hand how his eye is on the sparrow including Peanut and Sweetie and on the other that these animals represent a different interpretation of “the least of these.”

Imagining Peanut in the arms of my wife, I can only hope that if I die first, and assuming that it is not with a catheter in my leg to deliver my demise or me looking down the long barrel of a shotgun, I would like to die in the arms of this woman who knows how to love deeply.

What a fortunate man I am! Thank you, God. I love you, Babe!



Filed under Marriage & Family, Parenting & Kids, Uncategorized

CRITTER CAPERS: Aunt Betty and the Mice PART II

From time to time when our parents wanted an opportunity to get away for an evening, Aunt Betty would come to the farm and babysit. She was actually my mom’s second cousin, but they grew up together and in a sign of respect, we children referred to her as Aunt Betty. Now Aunt Betty had to weigh every bit of 300 to 350 pounds. For a big woman, she was quick on her feet but could be somewhat awkward. We children loved our Aunt Betty because of two things. She was very warm and pleasant and she was an incredible cook. When we visited her home, she always had a freshly baked cake to share. And as a child, the cake looked like it had been built proportionally to Aunt Betty’s frame. It was huge! Now Aunt Betty brought one of her cakes with her for the visit and I hoped to get more than the one piece that children usually are allowed.

Aunt Betty was deathly afraid of mice. So, Aunt Betty asked me during dinner if I would mind staying awake with her in case the mice came out of the stove. So, after Aunt Betty settled my younger brothers and sister Diane at bedtime, Aunt Betty and I settled ourselves in the living room of the farmhouse for the evening. She could tell that I was struggling to stay awake with her. So, she pleaded with me not to fall asleep. I tried to stay awake as best I could. As we sat there, Aunt Betty shook me and said, “Buzzy. Listen. Can’t you hear that?” Sure enough, I could hear a faint scratching noise coming from the kitchen. We stood and peered around into the kitchen to have a peek. On the stove were two very small mice trying to get crumbs from under the electric burner. The scratching sound was from their tiny fingernails reaching for the small flecks of food from dinner. Aunt Betty turned red and panicked at the reality of her fears being in the next room. “Buzzy, you’ve got to do something!” Go in and shoo them away! Make them go away! I knew what would happen so I said, “Sure, Aunt Betty.” Just walking into the kitchen, the mice squeezed down into the stove through the opening between the porcelain top and the electric circular burner. I announced to Aunt Betty, “They’re gone now.” Aunt Betty peeked around the wall and seemed relieved at their disappearance. But at the same time, she continued to be anxious wondering when they would reappear. “Buzzy, you must stay awake.” And towards this end, she asked me if I wanted anything to eat that might help keep me awake. Food was a great motivator for the children in this family. And like any youngster with a sweet tooth, I saw this as a great opportunity. Now I didn’t want to go straight for Aunt Betty’s cake, so I thought I would start off with something little. “Oh, Aunt Betty. Why don’t you get me an apple. I think that will keep me awake.” Aunt Betty said, “Sure! I’ll get you an apple right away.” To be in the kitchen for the tiniest of moments, Aunt Betty would move in and out of the room as quickly as she could. It was funny to see Aunt Betty run as fast as she could to the refrigerator, because her body weight would jiggle. I remembered thinking this must be what Santa Claus is like getting around, you know, that belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly. Well, it wasn’t only the belly shaking, the arms and legs jiggled in a similar way. I remember that Aunt Betty always wore muumuus, which I’m sure was for comfort, ease of mobility and in this instance it seemed to work well for quick bursts into the kitchen. Many of the adults in our extended family were very large people. Girth was not viewed as a negative the way it is today. Our family viewed it as kind of a plus. To be large was like bigger than life. And then there was the jolliness that is usually associated with Santa. Big people were fun!

Well, after I finished the apple I went in for the kill. “Oh, Aunt Betty, Could I have a second piece of cake?” The cake Aunt Betty had brought to share was a white cake with coconut frosting and there were very thick layers of frosting between four cakes. She said, “Sure, Buzzy. Right away.” And she ran off to the cupboard. And true to form, she brought me a hunkin’ piece! I wasted no time getting this down thinking about whether I could parlay this into ice cream, too. Twenty minutes later, I queried, “Oh, Aunt Betty, why don’t you get me a dish of ice cream? That will help me stay awake.” And she said, “Sure, Buzzy right away.” And she ran off to the freezer to get some ice cream. Rather than the food working to keep me awake, it actually did the opposite. I could not hold my head up and began to fall asleep on the couch.

Buzzy Sleeping on Couch

Aunt Betty was not happy, especially when the sounds started up again. I did not hear them the second time because I was asleep. “Buzzy, Buzzy, get up. Can you hear them?” She tugged on my arm and I kind of came out of the grogginess to find myself being pushed into the kitchen with Aunt Betty directly behind me. She managed to put a broom into my hands and wanted me to attack the mice on top of the stove. When I didn’t move quickly enough, she took the broom and started swinging at those mice. I can only imagine what those mice thought when they looked up to see this large woman in a brightly colored muumuu swinging a weapon of straw at their heads. Swoosh…Swoosh… back and forth she swung the broom. They dove into the stove. I don’t think she hit either of them. Aunt Betty turned from the stove to me. She said, “I brought you everything you asked for and you didn’t stay awake with me like you promised. Buzzy, are you a man or a mouse?”  I looked down at the kitchen floor pondering Aunt Betty’s question and shrugged my shoulders. I then looked up and said, “squeak, squeak.”

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Filed under Humor, Stories from my Childhood


My extended family and I were recently at Kennywood Park for a school picnic, which made me think about my own Kennywood memories. When we Pittsburgh baby-boomers were children, there was nothing more exhilarating than the annual pilgrimage to Kennywood. Kennywood is an amusement park that goes back to the turn of the last century when blue-collar city dwellers would take a streetcar for a picnic in the countryside at the end of the trolley line. An amusement park followed and it is one of a handful of amusement parks listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
Kiddieland was the area of the park where young children began their Kennywood delight that included rides like the Turtle, the Whip and a miniature Ferris wheel, which had seats in the shape of little cages so the ride wouldn’t lose any of its preschoolers. One of my favorites, the name of which I cannot remember, was a miniature one-person train ride that ran on rails that looked just like train tracks. You powered the one-person train car with your arms. You sat with your feet forward and pumped your arms in a circular motion like you would on a bicycle. My brothers and I could make those cars go fast. And even though we were not supposed to bump into the car in front of us, we treated the experience like they were bumper cars. I was removed from the ride more times than I care to remember, but we would go back whenever the ride workers changed preventing recognition. We were definitely little hellions.

Then there was the food! Kennywood had pavilions to accommodate the picnic goers and all the families brought coolers of food, snacks and drinks. It was like Christmas, Easter and the fourth of July all rolled into one, a veritable edible paradise.
The park’s long history meant that grandparents had their own Kennywood memories that made the family elders as excited in anticipation of the school picnic as the children were. Our grandfather was a custodian at the high school and made sure we had plenty of tickets to ride, from the opening bell til well after the official close of the park. You could see the little kid gleam in his eyes living vicariously through is granchildren as the only ride his body could handle at that point included the Train, the Old Mill and the Potato-Patch. Yes, our family counts food stands as a ride, especially when tastey treats result in oohs and aahs only comparable to screams on a roller-coaster.
(As a sidebar, these oohs, aahs and screams, make we wonder who came up with the expression, Kennywood’s Open” to refer to one’s trouser zipper being down. As a child and even an adolescent, the meaning was completely lost on me. But through the years, I’ve never heard “Coney Island’s Open” or “Disneyland’s Open” or “Six-Flags’ Open.” If anyone knows the actually history of the expression, I’d appreciate a comment. Oh, by the way, I do get it now and find it more than apropos.)
Now, this brings me to an experience I had at Kennywood in the spring of 1968. I was fourteen years old and worked weekends and summers with my father in his brother’s construction company, Matta Fence. Matta Fence had a maintenance contract with the amusement park to install and repair fences. We had installed stockade fence in the train ride to simulate a fort, symbolizing the various forts during the French & Indian war that were prominent in the area’s history. The ride focused on some historical information from Braddock’s defeat, which occurred just across the Monongahela River from the park and not far from my home. Noah’s Ark had various chain-link arrangements within the ark to keep people from the displays. This spring was different in that we were installing a new fence around the new rollercoaster that replaced the Pippin. It was called the Thunderbolt and looked mighty fast and fine. As we dug holes to set the terminal posts and made wheel barrels of concrete, I could found myself trying to get brief glimpses of the rollercoaster car moving through its paces. The engineers were testing the ride to get it ready for opening day. As the noontime break approached, the engineers saw my interest and asked me if I’d like to take the coaster for a spin. I looked at my dad for his approval and given that it was lunch time, he smiled and nodded me to go with the engineers. I was anxious to get into the car and took the front seat, like most avid coaster riders. The three or four guys looked over the car and pressed the wooden bar that released the car for the ride to begin. I was thinkin’ to myself that I was taking the maiden voyage of the Thunderbolt and was probably the first person outside of the designers of the ride, the engineers or Kennywood employees to have this opportunity. There’s nothing like a little adolescent egocentrism to make a kid feel special. Like the Pippin, the Thunderbolt comes out of the gate and drops down a hill immediately after the ride begins. After a hill and additional drop, the car starts up a long hill. As it makes that distinct clicking sound of the gears while the car is pulled skyward, I try to look across the river to see if I can spot my house in North Braddock. As the coaster was being built, we saw the structure gradually extend above the horizon. When completed, the white planks looked pasted onto a blue sky. As the car levels off at the top, it starts down and hits the fastest of curves. This ride was originally designed to go through that curve at almost 70 miles an hour. A few years later, the engineers modified the speed to keep it to under 60 as the higher speeds were challenging many riders. When I went down the hill and into the legendary right curve, this coaster was clearly the fastest ride I had ever been in. The ride continues up and down and I notice my dad and some of the men walking away while I am still on the ride. I never gave it much thought, knowing that surely someone will be on the platform to let me off the ride. As it slows and comes around the turn that pulls it into the shelter where the loading platform is located, there is noone there. The coaster slows and then begins to go around for a second trip. I am both excited that I am going to get a second run on this new ride and curious that noone is sticking around to look after me. Well, my initial concern fades and I settle into fully enjoying this rollercoaster for the second time. It was as fast when the third, fourth and fifth time came around as the first and second. After three times around the track, my enjoyment begins to change to nausea. The ride quickly moves from the rush of elation to worry that I am going to be sick. I now find myself bracing for the drops and using the long hill as a breather from the fast, shaking movement. I hold onto the car with my arms extended outside, draped over it to minimize my experience of shaking inside the car. I thought to myself that this must be what it is like to be seasick.  I now realized that they all went to lunch and had decided that they would return after the entire break was over. I watched for anyone to pass by the ride, thinking that I might be able to get their attention by waving and maybe get some help. But noone ever passed by. When my dad and I took our lunch, it was usually an hour and I was praying Kennywood was not so generous. Maybe I would get lucky and their lunchtime would be a half-hour. 30 minutes came and went. Around and around and around the track I went. I’m actually getting nauseous as I write about it, re-experiencing the ride. I lost track after 17 or 18 trips. As lunchtime ended, I saw the men sauntering back across the midway towards the platform. As I can recall, the men were of two age groups, 30s or 50s. They took the same positions as they had when the ride began and I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was when the ride finally came to a stop. I staggered out of the car like a drunken sailor on a moving ship struggling to find my balance. Everyone was laughing and one fella asked me how I liked the ride. I don’t remember what I said but quickly proceeded to find the stake-bed truck, which was NOT moving and layed down in the cab on the front seat. My dad came over, smiled and commented that it looked like I had had enough.
The maiden voyage that seemed like it would last forever was finally over! Afterwards, I wondered about whether it was like a cruel joke, where someone lures you into participating in something that you thought would be fun and then it becomes anything but. I didn’t expect adults to do this. Kids, I wouldn’t put past this kind of stunt, but not adults. It IS funny now, but it wasn’t then. Robert Hetrick, a friend of my brother’s was up visiting and at the park with our family. He thought it may have been a kind of hazing ritual like an initiation rite that guys sometimes use with novices. It’s possible, but in this case, what’s the point? Well, are there any Kennywood memories out there?
Kennywood Park continues to be one of my favorite destinations, in spite of my eternal Thunderbolt ride. My wife and I chuckled when we were eligible for the senior pass (55 and older). And yes, I find myself oohing and aahing over the fries at the Potato Patch and putting my hands in the air when the train goes around a curve. That’s about all I can handle now. But thank God, that at least for the foreseeable future, Kennywood’s Open!!

Here is a link to a portion of a WQED video on youtube about the Thunderbolt. The cameraman is clearly in the front seat to give you the right effect.


Filed under Daily Adventures, North Braddock, Parenting & Kids, Stories from my Childhood, Uncategorized

Gershwin’s “Summertime” performed by Dr. Tom Matta with the Mercyhurst Jazz Ensemble

I’ve been noting my fondness and love for gospel. But I must admit, there is absolutely nothing that beats singing with a live “jazz” band. I would love to sing gospel with one, but any of the ol’ songs from the early days of jazz, rhythm & blues or big band will do in a pinch. I had just such a chance twice in the last two years.

It started with my son who was attending Mercyhurst College where I teach. He’s been a boy with a beat in his diaper. He literally stood in front of the huge speakers from my stereo system putting out the Funk brothers sounds of the Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes, Smokey Robinson and others. He would stand there, diaper hanging low, a real-real low-rider, if you know what I mean moving back and forth, up and down right with the beat. So, this youngest child of ours becomes the piano playing, baritone sax maestro of the family. He actually did some training with Bruce Johnstone, the legendary baritone sax player who was with Maynard Ferguson for a number of years. Actually, I was able to attend a lesson Johnstone conducted with Scott and I will never forget it. He invited me in with Scott, my son, and had me take a seat. He then proceeded to turn both music stands around so that both Bruce Johnstone and my son, Scott, would place directly in front of me. And then they began to play. I may not have had a diaper on, but I was a low-rider for the next 50 minutes as they blew those notes into my chest, my lower torso, legs and feet. I could barely keep myself still as not to distract the two of them.

I digressed to give you some context for our family’s love of music. Scott, played with the Mercyhurst Jazz Ensemble all four years he did his undergraduate education. During his junior year, he asked me if I would like to audition for a Cab Calloway standard and I acquiesced. There was no way that I would approximate Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,”  but with the help of the other son, I soon came up with some moves of my own. And the mint green Zoot Suit definitely became part of my signature image.

You can take a look if you like.

Well, Scott is now doing graduate work at the University of Missouri in Columbia but an opportunity presented itself through the help of one Jax Brown and Dr. Scott Meier to audition for “Summertime,” the classic Gershwin tune from Porgy & Bess. I broke out the Zoot Suit once again and joined a number of other vocalists in the third annual Vocal Jazz Extravaganza. There are two videos here. One is a wide version and the second is more of a closeup, if you are up to it. Thanks go out to my son, Tommy for coming from Pittsburgh to the show and he and my wife took the two different shots. Enjoy!


Filed under black gospel, Gospel Music, Music

Are you ready for some Gospel Music?

Well, it’s 2009 and I want to take the time to clue you in to some of the best gospel numbers and artists out there. Some of these are a couple of years old, but most are fairly recent. A number of them are done with a traditional gospel feel while others are very contemporary. There’s no mistaking how these songs of struggle, prayer & praise will move you and make you ponder God’s love, tenderness, grace and redemptive power through Jesus Christ. I’ve used Imeem to give you a listen, but you can go to iTunes for all of these. Imeem permits you if you signup to listen to the whole cut and iTunes gives you about 30 seconds, but many times that’s just enough to tell the difference between a so-so number and one that moves you. The Lord is good! Enjoy. Feel free to tell me what you think after you’ve had your chance to listen to some of these. And if you know of something that I just can’t live without, feel free to clue me in. You can never have too much of this music!


Jesus Promised Me A Home Over There by Jennifer Hudson http://www.imeem.com/jenniferhudson/music/Est035I3/jennifer_hudson_jesus_promised_me_a_home_over_there/           

Up Above My Head (There’s Music in the Air) by Ruthie Foster


Joy by Ruthie Foster


Mercy by James Ingram


I Want Jesus to Walk with Me by Eric Bibb


Just in the Nick of Time by Spencer Taylor & the Highway QCs


God is a Good God by Bishop Paul S. Morton, Sr. & the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship Women’s  Mass Choir


Clean Inside by Hezekiah Walker & the Love Fellowship Choir


What Did You Do? By Paul Porter


I’m Free by The Charlotte Chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America


Jesus is Sweeter by Nicki Tucker


God is Good by Regina Belle


Get Up by God’s Image


Coming Home by Lizz Wright


Walk with Me, Lord by Lizz Wright


Sit Down, Servant by Mike Farris


Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep by Bruce Springsteen


Gotta Soul by Cynthia Jones


I Understand by Kim Burrell, Rance Allen, Bebe Winans,  

Mariah Carey & the Hezekiah Walker’s Love Fellowship Choir


            Sweeping Through the City by Shirley Caesar



Filed under black gospel, Gospel Music, Music, My Hobbies, Philosophy & Religion




          Most cultures have rituals or experiences to toughen boys to withstand the hardships of life. In our postmodern culture those rituals are more nuanced and subtle, but if we try to stay attuned to them, they can become apparent. The challenge for the culture, community or family is to toughen the boy but not so much that he loses important capacities that we associate with the best qualities of humanity.

While I was in the midst of working on my dissertation, which was a treatise on masculinity making, I came across a wonderful experience with my son. The township we live in was exploring starting a little gridder football program at the time. When signups came, I was thrilled that my 9 year-old son wanted to play. All the boys were so excited! They had seen football games on television at the college and pro level and had gone to some of the high school games. But what a shock it seemed to be to them when adult men began encouraging them to be aggressive and hit. The coaches were smart in that they started by having the boys hit coaching dummies. These are large vinyl or leather bags with soft padding filler that made hitting more like a push. The practices moved from the boys being asked to hit or tackle the dummies to encouraging them to hit each other. The coaches would admonish the newbies with clichés like, “Men, it’s either hit or be hit. Give the blows or take the blows. Which is it going to be? I want you to slam into your opponent with all your weight, all your body, become a missile.” The shock for the boys was tied to seeing these adult men yelling for them to be aggressive and letting go of the tendency they had to restrain such impulses. The message by the coaches created some dissonance in the boys. At home the boys, in all likelihood, were instructed by their mothers and fathers to “be careful.” Or they were told “keep your hands to yourself” or “don’t hit your little brother” (or sister). In this new setting and arena, they are being encouraged to remove the restraints and “have at it!” And the coaches, consciously or not, use their voice and posture to train the boys what aggressive football player behaviors look like. They provide ready models to emulate. The coaches are trying to teach, whether intentional or not a kind of hypervigilance that is framed as focus with regard to the game. But as the coaches get louder and more passionate, the boys, in the first several practices look more and more concerned. At one point, the coach is imploring the boy to hit another boy with reckless abandon and the instruction is fostering resistance. “What’s the matter with you, son? Are you concerned you’re going to hurt him? That’s why you wear all these pads. You can’t hurt him. He’s well protected.” The coach is saying this as he’s pushing the other kid around like a rag doll. At certain points, most of the boys on the team showed concern and it was evidenced by the expression in their face and eyes. When you looked in their helmets, the whites of their eyes represented a disproportionately large part of their face. They were frightened and their faces seemed to say, “Where’s my mother? There’s been a big mistake made. Mom and dad, you don’t realize that you left me with crazy people! Get me out of here!” But in a matter of weeks, these boys learn to hit one another in preparation for the season and upcoming games. A few boys have trouble embracing this skill as a part of who they are and one actually quits because of it. But the great majority of boys on this team learn the necessary football skills and are proud of it.

The day of the first game held great anticipation by my son as well as his teammates. The game begins and before long our team goes on offense. Now the coach communicates offensive plays to the team by rotating players from various positions, in with new plays and out after each play is finished. Sure enough, the coach sends in a pass play that is to be thrown to the tight end. The play works beautifully! The quarterback takes a short drop and lofts the ball a few yards downfield. My son catches it and scampers down the sideline for a score as a fellow father yells “Rumble, Scotty!!” The team goes on to win their first game. And as the father of this boy who scores the first touchdown of the team and season, I am proud as a peacock.

At that time, I had a gray 87 Cadillac Sedan DeVille and was not above engaging in some male display behavior. I mean, after all, here were a couple of football studs, right? I put all four windows all the way down, turned up the Motown to almost blaring and playfully elbowed my son on the drive home. We were having a warrior whoop! What was interesting is that he was not into my exuberance for his performance or the team’s victory. He seemed pensive, almost reflective, as reflective as a nine-year old boy could get. After we pull into the driveway of our home, he gets out still in uniform and spots our cat, Sweetie. Sweetie is a black cat with white paws and white snout. He calls Sweetie to him and in what appears to be a very intentional way picks up the animal and gently holds and squeezes her to his chest and up under his chin. He puts the cat down and continues towards the house and a flowerbed. My wife had an area of flowers that the children were permitted to pick and pull so as to preserve her other garden arrangements. Sure enough, like Ferdinand the Bull from the cartoon, my son picks a couple of flowers and carefully looks at them and takes a whiff of their scent. We go into the house and I don’t think anything more of it other than to log it away in my mind and memory.

The morning ritual in this house with our children had always consisted of me getting up early to make coffee for myself, tea for my wife and sitting in a club chair in the bay window with that big cup of coffee just off the kitchen. The children would come down the stairs, look into the area where I was seated, make eye contact with me and run and jump into my lap. We would cuddle, snuggle or roughhouse depending on our respective moods. This morning was no different. I hear Scotty come down the stairs and see him look into where I am seated. I nod the “ok” sign and he comes running and jumps up into my lap. We squeeze, tickle and snuggle there and after several minutes we both pause for a breather. Tickling and cuddling can be hard work! My son is laying with his head in my lap and looks up at me. I can remember gazing at this “cute as a button” towhead with big blue eyes. He proceeds to ask me the most profound question anyone has ever asked me prior or since. “Dad, is it ok for football players to snuggle?” Just writing it, I’m forced to pause at the multi-layered meanings behind this boy’s question. When one parents, there are those moments when everything slows down and this was definitely one of those. I was stunned, momentarily, recalling what just happened the day before. I found myself thinking over and over again as the nano seconds ticked by, “what is he really asking me.”

          It was at that point that I realized his exposure to football became a kind of “rite of passage” for him and he was asking as he begins this process of becoming a man, was he required to be different now. “Am I to leave the soft world behind me?” To be a football player could mean that it was now time to be TOUGH, which is in contrast to sensitive, caring, affectionate or relational. Must he leave those very capacities that characterize the richness of being human behind him? Granted, to embrace his tough side may mean he would leave the vulnerable or powerless feelings associated with the world of childhood but on some level he recognized that it would result in a diminished self, a self with less awareness of his empathy and compassion for others, a private thought life that results in less reflection, a disconnect from self and others and he did not want it if it was his choice. It is why I paused so long before I responded. I squeezed him gently and said, “Yes, it is ok for football players to snuggle. Son, you will always need or want someone to be close to.” It’s funny, I watched his entire football career and he drove the coaches crazy because he was so-o nice. He’d block some lineman or linebacker and if he happened to knock them over, on occasion he’d offer his hand to help the opposing ball player to his feet. The coaches would yell, “Quit dancing with the enemy. Save that for after the game.” I love football, but I raised him to be a wonderful, caring person that would one day be a great husband and father. Did my message to him stick? I think so, probably not from our discussion in that moment, but the way his mother, our extended family and I have loved on him, we layered in a kindness you find only in gentlemen. This moment in the life of my boy happened so quickly and I hope it marked him. What I know is that his question left an indelible mark on his dad.


Filed under Daily Adventures, Marriage & Family, My Specialties, Parenting & Kids

Uncle Dan’s “Pearls of Wisdom” for his nephew, Scott, who is off to grad school

I mentioned in a prior posting about a mentoring ritual for our sons where we gather the significant men in his life and speak words of wisdom at a particular milestone. For my son, Scott, who left in August to attend the University of Missouri, his Uncle Dan’s words were wonderfully simple, direct, and funny, delivered as only he could.

By the way, Uncle Dan or “Bugsy,” who has his own PhD in marriage & family therapy, has his own professional website. Check it out!!


  1. Coffee is your friend!
  2. Keep a sense of humor
  3. No classes before 10am.
  4. If you have to have a class before 10am, go back to rule 1: Coffee is your friend!
  5. Good writing is hard work.
  6. When all else fails, take a nap.
  7. Keep a sense of humor.
  8. When a nap doesn’t work and all else fails, go see a movie.
  9. Read about others through biographies and autobiographies. There you will find others have thought, felt and been through similar circumstances since the beginning of time.
  10. Pizza Dough” metaphor. Your dad, Buzz told me this one when I was in grad school. To prepare you for this field, you will be stretched and stretched again. When you feel overwhelmed and like you can go no further, remember it’s just a process of preparation to do what you love.
  11. Do things that keep your morale high. This example comes from your Uncle Jim. While he was going on for his doctorate, he bought a hat that he wanted. He didn’t need it, couldn’t afford it, but bought it anyway. Do little things to pamper and take care of yourself.
  12. Keep a sense of humor.
  13. You are going to a major university. Enjoy all the beautiful women there!
  14. There is a world beyond the United States. Learn about it and travel, asap!
  15. My biggest tip is to take risks. Anxiety and fear will not kill you.
  16. Follow your heart.
  17. Dream BIG!

This is your time! CARPE DIEM!!! (Seize the Day!)

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Filed under Daily Adventures, Marriage & Family, My Specialties, Parenting & Kids