Yesterday I attended the funeral of a good woman I never met. I know she was a good woman because she and her husband raised three good kids one of whom I mischievously refer to as "the only evangelical, conservative, Baptist, Republican I trust."
As minister and family stepped to the lectern and told stories about my good friend’s mother, I listened closely to discover the secret to her success as a mother. Was it her Baptist faith? No, I know other parents who shared her Baptist faith who did not succeed at parenthood. Was it her perky, positive, cheerful demeanor? Well, it didn’t hurt. Everybody said she had a way of bringing sunshine with her wherever she went but I’ve known people like that who couldn’t seem to raise even one child you’d want as a neighbor, employee or boss.
I’m at that age where the generation that raised me and my friends are being buried and what I fear is that their parenting secrets are being buried with them. My good friend whom I call “the only evangelical, conservative, Baptist, Republican I trust” doesn’t know this but had I been able to return to WV before his mother’s illness, I had planned to interview her –with her surviving husband, of course – to see if I could uncover some common denominator, some common parenting trait or style that successful parents all share.
It’s not politics. “The only evangelical, conservative, Baptist, Republican I trust” had one Democrat parent and one Republican parent. I’m a liberal Democrat and I would like nothing better than to find a strong correlation between being a good person and being raised in a liberal home but the truth is, I know a lot of liberal Democrats who failed as parents, whose own kids hate them and whose friends and neighbors hate them for raising the kind of kids they raised.
I’m not an expert but, right now, if I had to hazard a guess as to what all good parents did in common I’d have to say it has something to do with spending time with their kids, communicating with their kids and being involved in their kids' lives. I didn’t use the word “love” because even parents who failed to raise good kids think they love their children – and maybe they do, but I once heard a “parenting expert” say that, to kids, “love” is measured in time and attention.
I hope to get to know my friend’s dad.
And I hope to interview my friend and ask him why he thinks he and his sisters turned out to be good, productive people.
I have no children so this is easy for me to say, but I think if you bring another human being into the world you have a responsibility to society, as an act of good citizenship, to raise that child to be a good member of the human race. To do otherwise is, I think, no different than to expose your friends and neighbors to dangerous toxins. You see, I don't think you get to raise a kid for 18 years then, when he grows up to become an embarrassment to his parents and a burden or threat to society complain that the kid wasn't raised to be that way. My position is - and a lot of people won't like this - oh, yes he was. Unless you can show that wolves raised your child or that you didn't have nearly total control of your child's life for, say, 5 or 6 years then at least partial control for another 12, the kid turned out exactly as he was raised to turn out.
I'm a systems thinker. I know that every outcome is produced by a system that is perfectly designed to produce the outcome it produces.
If I were a judge, I would use the bench to, in some way, punish not only the young ruffians and scofflaws but also their parents. Here's my reasoning: If I plant a tree which eventually overhangs my neighbor's house, becomes diseased, and I then falls on my neighbor's house, I am responsible for the damage caused to my neighbor's house. The same goes for raising children who become threats, burdens or nuisances to society.
Do you remember the teenage reprobates in Pike County, KY, who used a truck to chase a herd of horses to exhaustion then shot the horses? Oh, buddy, if I were a judge and those reprobates appeared in my court their parents would be on trial, too. They may not have actively taught their kids to torture animals but, somehow, they raised kids devoid of any compassion or conscience and unleashed these monsters on an innocent herd of horses and on a community that probably knew the teens were monsters but could expect no protection until the monsters did something that attracted media attention and forced law enforcement to step in.
In an effort to provide cover and comfort to church members who raised homosexual children or liberal children or atheist children, I once heard a fundamentalist preacher say that Proverbs 22:6 is mistranslated and does not promise (or threaten), as it appears to, that kids will eventually turn out the way they were raised to turn out. I can't read Proverbs 22:6 in the original Hebrew nor can I put my hands on the "original manuscript" (neither can your pastor) so I can't comment on whether or not "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" is a mistranslation but I do know this: while parents of atheists or liberals or homosexuals may be looked upon as parental and Christian failures by their contemporaries at certain fundamentalist and evangelical churches, Bible-quoting parents of gay or liberal or atheist kids are not the ones with some explaining to do up at the Bible Center Church. No, it's the parents of straight, church-going kids who grow up to rob their employees' retirement funds and neglect and ignore their kids or torture animals who should be ashamed of their parental handiwork.
Oh, and people who say they want our nation "run according to biblical principles" might be surprised to learn that Deuteronomy 21:18-21 prescribes that parents of incorrigible children take their bad seed to the elders of the city and have them stoned to death. The text reads: "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and, though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee; and all Israel shall hear, and fear." (ASV)
I think the cure for all this theocratic foment on the Republican right is more Bible reading. Yes, I am convinced that if more Republicans read their Bibles there would be far less enthusiasm for a return to biblical public policy.
And while I’m looking for that common denominator that all good parents share, I will also be looking for an opportunity to get to know some of my other friends’ parents before their parenting secrets are buried with them. And I’m happy to say that one of the parents I hope to get to know is a retired chemical engineer who has been driving conservative, evangelical Kanawha Valley pastors crazy with his 28-page tracts proving, beyond doubt, from Jesus’ own words that Jesus was an economic liberal. This tractarian raised a fine son whose selfless work for the underprivileged and total lack of regard for his own supplication has led me to call him “the man with one pair of pants.”
But when I have interviewed fine parents and their kids, liberals and conservatives, believers and unbelievers, I don’t expect to find that good parenting has anything to do with faith or politics. I expect to find that it has something to do with paying attention to and spending time with their children.