Things I learned from my fathers

And it came to pass that Orihah did walk humbly before the Lord, and did remember how great things the Lord had done for his father, and also taught his people how great things the Lord had done for their fathers.

Ether 6:30, The Book of Mormon
I hated haircuts in high school. Circa 2003.

My dad taught me that it’s ok to cry. He cries at meaningful events – weddings, funerals, and baptisms – and doesn’t try to hide it. He also cries in movies. Well, I think he does. I do. Showing emotion has been a natural and comfortable part of life.

My dad taught me diligence. I can think of few times when he’s been idle. He would turn on football games on Saturdays, but he couldn’t just sit and watch. He ended up doing dishes or leaving the room altogether to take care of whatever work needed doing that day.

I’m not in it, but pre-awesome hair. Grandpa Williams is on the far right.

My Grandpa Williams taught me not to sleep in. If I slept in at his house (or my own when he was visiting), I’d get a cup of cold water poured on my head.

My Grandpa Williams taught me to love my daughters. I remember watching him brush my sisters’ hair. It was his example that helped get me to sit down and brush my daughters hair.

Seriously, I hated haircuts. Circa 2002.

My Grandpa Pulsipher taught me to be wise with money. The oldest of 11 kids, his parents supported the family by selling ice cream. He helped care for his younger siblings and eventually paid for college by joining the Navy. That care has led to generations of college graduates and self-sufficient families.

My Grandpa Pulsipher taught me to be respectful. While I’m sure he has said unkind things in his life, I haven’t heard them. He respects his country, his wife, his family, and those around him.

All three of these men have taught me different lessons about how to be a father. Perhaps most important, they have shown faith. They love and respect God. They let that faith guide them in how they raised their children. It has played a central role in the good relationships they have with their children.

I’m grateful for these men. If I’m half the father any one of them is, then my kids will be in good shape. The more I learn, the more I understand what a unique opportunity it is to have such wonderful men in my life. I’m trying not to waste it.

Still don’t like haircuts, but I comb my hair now.

Individual Accountability

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

Ronald Reagan,
Speech at the Republican National Convention, Platform Committee Meeting, Miami, Florida” (31 July 1968)

I’ve seen this quote posted a few times, usually without additional commentary. I assume that those posting it are responding to the arguments around systemic racism, particularly within our policing and criminal justice systems.

I grew up within a 20 minute drive of the Ronald Reagan Library. I’ve been a number of times. I’ve always enjoyed reading and listening to his words.

But something bothers me about this quote. It seems to support the idea that we simply need to create punishments for crime and then let people face the consequences. Society cannot or should not bear responsibility for the decisions people make.

But what if society does shape the decisions people make? If it shapes the way we think, do we have a responsibility to look at how that shaping is done? Should we then seek to shape it intentionally?

To help me answer these questions, I thought of parenting. Do I have an effect on my children’s behavior? When they misbehave, is that solely their choice? Or did I create an environment that contributed in some way to that misbehavior?

This is a major debate. You may have heard it phrased as “nature vs. nurture.” My own conclusion is that “nature vs. nurture” is a false dichotomy. Portraying it this way obscures the questions that I find far more interesting and helpful – how does the interaction between an individual’s personality and that individual’s environment lead to the choices they make?

Maybe some day I’ll write a post about this drawing on research, but for now you’re stuck with my anecdotes. Take it for what it’s worth.

The way I treat a child will change how that child behaves. If I am grumpy and raise my voice at my kids, it’s a lot more likely they will be raising their voices at each other. If I don’t take time to play or read to them I notice that they make poor choices that day.

This doesn’t mean that good parenting inevitably leads to good choices. Or that bad parenting inevitably leads to bad choices. That thinking leads to lots of parental guilt, because no matter how hard I try, there are days my children act out. There is still individual accountability. But good parenting makes good behavior a lot more likely.

The same can be said for society as a whole. Good social structures – good government, good schools, good criminal justice systems – will be more likely to lead to good choices by the populace. I believe this and act on it. I go to church because I believe that this is a good institution that results in myself and those attending with me making better choices. I chose a neighborhood with a good school because I believe good schools will be good for my children.

Of course, “good” as a qualifier is problematic. It’s way too vague. But I think it is sufficient to communicate my point. We want good institutions – we want a good society – because we believe that society influences our lives.

If this is true, then there is nothing wrong with striving to improve our institutions, which requires pointing out their flaws and then acting to fix them. Doing so does not deny individual accountability. In fact, refusing to do so is a denial of that accountability.

Democracy is an acknowledgement that we have responsibility for each other. We are founded upon the premise that government can do wrong but is less likely to do so when we all participate. We are also founded upon the idea of crafting a “more perfect union,” which requires that participation. Refusing to acknowledge the flaws in that system by arguing that it denies “individual accountability” is simply a refusal to acknowledge our own accountability within society.

For my fellow Christians, this is also a religious responsibility. We are called to love each other. We are called to serve each other. We are called to heal and support one another. We are not asked to simply save ourselves, but to do all we can to save the world.

So, was Ronald Reagan wrong? Not necessarily. But perhaps pithy quotes are inadequate vehicles for truth.

Black voices I learned from

I have lots of thoughts I could share, but I think the most valuable thing I can do is share black voices. These voices have helped me see a side of America that was largely invisible to me for much of my life:

Malcolm X, the 1992 film.

The History of White People, by Nell Irving Painter.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Blood Child, and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler.

The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin.

I’ll be expanding this short list this year and in the coming years. There are lots of lists out there I’ll be pulling from, but I’m also open to recommendations. It always helps to know a friend enjoyed or learned from a movie or book!