Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Father’s Day Season

 

My Father’s Day season was darkened and overlaid by the father whose life was white-washed to make him palatable in the book and movie “The Great Santini.” Author Pat Conroy says,

“My father may be the only person in the history of the world who changed himself because he despised a character in literature who struck chords of horror in himself that he could not face. He had the best second act in the history of fathering. He was the worst father I have ever heard of, and I will go to my own grave believing that. But this most immovable of men found it within himself to change.” (page 392—My Losing Season, Doubleday, 2002)

I have spent weeks with the book examining my own winning and losing, parenting and husbanding. I have measured again and again what I carried into my boyhood and from my boyhood into adulthood. I have been overwhelmed by writer Conroy’s description of being beaten and belittled. I am not surprised that he dealt with nervous breakdowns and did not do well in his first two marriages. My greatest surprise is that he survived at all, let alone became the man he became.

Ironic that I finished reading the book on Father’s Day. The book about basketball which disguised the main theme: becoming a man in spite of vicious, brutal fathering.

Pat Conroy’s father is said to have been the best basketball player ever to attend St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. He brought the one-handed shot to Iowa.

“With my father’s great gifts, he could’ve taught me everything about basketball I’d need to know…. Instead, he taught me nothing, and I went to the Citadel not knowing what a pivot was or how to block out on a rebound or how to set a pick to free a teammate for a shot or how to play defense. A beautiful shooter, a fierce rebounder, a legendary defender, my father chose not to pass these ineffable skills on to any of his five sons. We grew up overshadowed by his legend and that legend did not lift a finger to help us toward any patch of light of our small achievements might have granted us.”

Growing up in such a house affected Pat Conroy’s view of marriage:

“The way I loved became bruised and disfigured—which is my fault and not Lenore’s, and I do not blame her for this. If Lenore had been a country, I would have married North Korea, this is how murderous, cut off, and isolated….”

Pat Conroy said,

“I could take my father’s fury and had proven that over and over during the long, forced march of my debased childhood: it was his laughter and mocking contempt that unmanned me completely, that I would do almost anything to avoid.” (239)

“He looked at me as he always did, as though the mere sight of me filled him with revulsion.”

So I come away from Father’s Day season with a fresh razor edge knowledge that there is nothing a father can do to wound or destroy kids more than practicing:

  • Sarcasm
  • Cynicism
  • Criticism
  • Contempt—even disguised as teasing
  • Withheld praise
  • Lack of expressed affection
  • Unhealed personal wounds and brokenness

“It…never occurred to me that I would carry my childhood in a backpack to spread its coarse havoc and discord far into my adult life.” (p. 393)

Consider Winston Churchill’s father who ignored his son, probably hated him. He rarely spoke to him and refused to acknowledge the frequent cries for attention. Young Churchill was shipped off to boarding school as if to get him out of his parents’ sight. One cannot hear this story without marveling that Churchill did not become a brutal, hateful person passing onto society and his own family what he had experienced from his father. Instead, he became a world leader and at the time of his death was deemed the “Greatest Man in the World.” He packed a different backpack.

Lord Randolph was a well-known politician who had a disease causing his brain to deteriorate. Young Winston did not know his father was ill. Had he known he could have filtered the savage emotional and verbal abuse. Instead, the rejection came at him full force.

It is said that Churchill made a choice. Instead of reacting and owning the constant negative evaluation, he chose to extend the best of his father. He made a choice. One of the first losses for the abandoned, neglected or abused is the ability to make choices. The self-survival instinct is to hide. The ability to choose—a profound ability.

Sorting through my backpack.

©2016  D. Dean Benton     Writer, Wonderer

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Speaking of Men

THE VALUE OF UNCLES

 

One tribe of Native Americans says than an uncle is an un-renewable natural resource.”

My Uncle Francis died at age 95. He was from the Great Generation. He did not finish high school, but graduated from college while in the military. He became a pilot of B-24s. The book Band of Brothers written roughly about George McGovern was Uncle’s story.
Francis was the youngest of five siblings. My mother was third in that line. They all learned a stern work ethic from their father. They learned family and love from their mother. Because of the age disparity, Francis learned to cook, clean, and all that my generation calls “his feminine side” during the time spent in the house with his mother. He was, in spite of that, a man among men. Recalling him, I first thought of his hands.
He was a Christian—serious follower of Jesus—a father, husband, gardener, entrepreneur, pilot, military man, patriot, role model, grandfather, golfer, friend. He was also a mentor using his military connections to empower at least one young man who worked for him to go the Air Force Academy.
He stayed in the military as a reservist-trainer while operating a gas station, rental properties and then as the “king of renters.” He rented U-Haul trucks and trailers, everything for weddings, digging holes and throwing an up-scale, china goblet kind of gathering. My cousin said he once borrowed a stereo from her room to rent.
His hands had grease in all the creases. Lava soap was in the station’s bathroom, but Lava didn’t cut the stain. His fingers became gnarled from the mechanical work.
Francis was affectionately called “Smitty” by many. He was called “Papa” by his biological grandchildren and those who came with his cherished second wife. My sister and I called him “Uncle Francis.” Mom thought we should speak the honorable title. To his death, I expressed my affection with the word “Uncle.” He showed what a good uncle is. I am self-condemned by the fact that I am not a good uncle.
Several of his nephews worked with him. He “adopted” several non-biological boys and men whom he taught. I worked for him off and on depending on school, and other factors. I was not his best employee. I learned several important things from Francis about life and business.

SERVICE

At his life-celebration, all the pictures featured his military uniforms from his induction into the air corps to his retirement as a Lt. Colonel. There are other pictures of another uniform. He is wearing his Cities Service cap, suit and leather bow tie.
He took serious the name Cities Service. It defined his approach to business. He bought the station at age nineteen at a high visibility corner overlooking the Des Moines airport. It was the hottest spot in the summer, the coldest place in the winter and because it was in the primary flight pattern, it was the noisiest. All who worked there learned a voice pattern interrupted by jets on their way up or down. He sold the station when he went to war and bought it back when he came home.
Francis had instinct I tried to define and adapt. When I asked him about it, he looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. I was not yet a teenager when we were with his family on a major holiday. It was unseasonably, extremely warm that day. After dinner, he and I got bored. He asked me, “You want to go pump some gas?” He explained that the warm weather would push people into their cars to ride around. Everyone else would be closed.
He was pleased that we set a record at his Cities Service station for selling more gas that afternoon than any comparable afternoon. At that early age, I knew he possessed innate knowledge I would benefit by learning.

FULL SERVICE

Between Francis and my mother, I learned what full service meant. As convenience stores began to appear, he frequently reminded me what “full service” meant and how we demonstrated that on the driveway with checking oil and cleaning windshields, asking to check tire air pressure. In the car wash bay, it meant cleaning the inside of the windows and wiping down the door frames.
Something you offer. One of the rigid rules was that a waiter or service man never said, “Will that be all?” We always asked, “What else may I get for you?” or “What else may I do for you?” In later days, it would be called “value added,” but at our businesses it was how we did full service.
Something you give. It was not just about business, it was a character trait. Francis would instinctively know what to buy, when to sell. He was an early investor in companies we now consider natural landscape companies. He planned to retire at age 55. He retired at age 57 freeing him to do other work and to travel worldwide.
One summer, he plowed up his backyard to plant cucumbers. He got a contract with a pickle company to provide quality cucumbers which Heinz would make into pickles. They provided free specialized seeds. Then he hired me to pick cucumbers. I’m a city boy. I knew nothing about harvesting cucumbers and his training didn’t help. At the end of the first day, he fired me. I was missing too many cucumbers. I was costing him too much money. In addition to his AAA contract to haul broken cars, his U-Haul business, a full service mechanical garage and a fast-paced gas station, he became a cucumber picker. He hired me back after some extensive training about looking for the hidden cucumbers.
It was an important lesson. I’m still talking about it 60 years later. I learned you give full service to your employer. Uncle was a workaholic. His businesses were his mistress and second wife. He and each of his siblings measured their personal value by how hard they worked and they all did work hard and not without personal cost.
Each of his siblings were serious, independent, fundamental, missionary Baptists. Francis and his family were Methodists. We wondered about their theology and salvation. It was a quandary to me. Francis seemed to express the most joy. When he retired, he came into a different dimension of faith in Jesus Christ. He became fascinated by faith visionaries. I think he regretted not investing in television stations. I know he invested in television ministries just as his mother had invested in early radio preachers and singers.
Francis ministered in his church and in prison ministries.

Before Moses died, he blessed each of the tribes of Israel. He spoke of their characteristics and their special places in God’s plans. Five years ago, friends, family and my cousins gathered in Overland Park to celebrate Uncle’s 90th birthday. He blessed me during that weekend. I cherish his words and desire to grow into them.

We celebrated his life yesterday. He was an unrepeatable natural resource.

©2012 D. Dean Benton

 

The Inner Voice

I’m finishing writing a novel: When Whales Sing. In the section I’m working on, the inner circle of the Southwood Tribe meets to determine curriculum and essentials for healing, restoration, release and self-management. In other words, how to walk in the Spirit with both feet on the ground on which we are living.

Of the hundred plus books I’ve read in the past months, especially non-fiction, the central message has been to recognize the inner voice, monitor it and determine the source of the words. Yesterday’s blog from Lance Walnau talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Ephesians 6:12. The topic is: guard against new negative strongholds that become restrictive and controlling.

“Remember: the battle zone is in your thought life.”

“Paul says one of our primary weapons is the power to inspect and take thoughts captive as they enter our mind.” Walnau goes on to call this an “interrogation process in which we take a thought captive ‘at the point of a sword.’”

That is a working weapon for an adult or person old enough to process thoughts. What if the stronghold(s) was built prior to speech? Or cognitive skills? Like 2nd grade? Like in an atmosphere of abuse or…. The most fortunate kid is the one whose parents read to him/her. That one factor gives that kid a huge life-long head start. Restoration is wonderful as we search for the on-ramp to the super highway God intended for us.

I took a break from writing and went to the waterfront to read. My mind was spinning with the power of negative inner voices, strongholds and monitoring self-talk. I’ve been reading Pat Conroy’s memoir My Losing Season. He traces the reason for the losing season to a jealous coach who was described thirty years later by Conroy’s teammates as “a black hole” who crushed men’s spirits with his brutality, jealousy and negativity.

In a Citadel game against Old Dominion, Conroy heard a voice within that told him never to allow the coach to speak to his core being. The decision to heed the voice changed the basketball-writer’s life. But then the coach beat on his spirit and Conroy caved.

The hour at the riverfront was terrible. I can’t imagine the motivation of a leader treating those he is responsible for as that coach did.

The voice returns. Being sensitive to the source of any inner voice(s) and questioning whether the Holy Spirit or a dark spirit or just a mind on an afternoon jog, I determined that Conroy was hearing a real voice—I have no solid answer, but I wonder if it was the Holy Spirit.

“Hey, pal…let’s go over it again. (Coach) is bad for you. He gets under your skin. He lowers your morale. Got it? Do I make myself clear? One more time. Tune (coach) out. Play the game because you love it. You’re thinking too much. Don’t think. Play. Get into the rhythm of the game and let it flow though you. Be natural. Be loose. Get yourself back. You’ve lost yourself.”

Conroy writes, “It was a voice that would come and go for years until I realized what it was, the truest part of me, the most valiant flowering of my character, a source of pure light and water streaming out of unexplored caverns within me. Unlike me, this voice knew nothing of shyness or reserve or shame or despair.

“Because I was taking a course in abnormal psychology and because my family produced psychotics the way some families pass down freckles, I wondered if that unbidden voice was a sign of paranoid schizophrenia. But the voice offered advice too good to have any connection with mental illness. The voice knew what was good for me.”

My Losing Season, Pat Conroy, Doubleday, 2002. Page 217

The staff at Southwood is counseling, pouring into, walking alongside several broken people—children and adults. Whatever else is in the discipling curriculum and training, they will train how to hear the Voice of the Holy Spirit and discern dark voices injected into mind and soul by events, words, experiences and wrong interpretations—taking every thought captive at the point of a sword. I can think of nothing—NOTHING—more important.

©2016 D. Dean Benton—Benton Books & Blogs—Bentonministries.com

Furnishing the Inner Room

Describing his time sitting on the bench as a second team basketball player, Pat Conroy “explained” why Colossians 3:16 has been important to me lately.  I now have blueprints for “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

“I cheered as I retreated to the country place I keep behind my eyes, the place I return to in times of danger and despair, the hermitage and refuge I kept secret to all but myself. I employed it as summer house, lecture hall, resort and private lair. In the madness of my terrible boyhood, it was the den I fell back on when my father beat me with his fists, when the plebe system tore me apart in the soft places, when the screaming of the coaches grew too loud our hit too close to home. I was the only one with the key to this inn of interior peace that I had built on the other side of the retinas and corneas and the soft tissues of my face. It is a manse of solitude and shade and refuge. It is the place I go to every day to write the books which explain who I am to myself.”

My Losing Season, Pat Conroy,  (Doubleday, 2002) page 163.

A long-term White House employee says that Lady Bird Johnson had a place in her head where she went when President Johnson became loud and obnoxious. There she found privacy and peace.

Dr. Al Andrews asked Jon Acuff, “What do your voices tell you?”

Since most of us have such a room where voices taunt, abuse, encourage or teach us, does it not make sense to decide what the voices should be saying? Since that room occupies space rent free, should we not call the staging person who will decorate the room to benefit us?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…” (Colossians 3:16a).

Where will that “word” dwell? An inner room where you and the Holy Spirit determine content and what tone the voices take when they speak to you.

Furnishing the inner room.

©2016 D. Dean Benton     Benton Books & Blogs     Bentonministries.com

Words at Lunch

Working on my manuscript When Whales Sing which had a different working title for 10-12 years. I couldn’t go back to sleep at 3:45 when I awoke with the thought: I’m going to have to dump most of the writing of the past months. The book is about marriage, recovery from ugly experiences, hearing God’s voice and being problem solvers.

The writing of Pat Conroy has become my best resource. It was not intended to be on the research list. Let me share what I read this morning: Conroy was entering his senior year at The Citadel. At a lunch with his mentor, academic advisor and teacher. The conversation:

“This is your last season as a basketball player, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “I stink at that, too.”

“You say that about yourself as a writer. You say that about yourself as a basketball player. May I give you some advice? You are far too young to know this, but your life is precious and your time is short. For reasons I don’t understand, you are deeply unhappy, and it pains me. Know this. I think you could be special if you only thought there was anything special about yourself. Someone has taught you to hate yourself. Mr. Conroy. I value our friendship very much.”

(My Losing Season, Pat Conroy, Doubleday, 2002, Page 144)

Conroy says his father’s fists and his mother’s voice were the bookends of his youth. In between, thankfully, were a few such people and conversations over lunch.

As I have read the research that plays out in When Whales Sing, those who carry bruises and wounds, bad habits and self-depreciation are rescued from the sharks when someone cares enough to speak words such as, “…but your life is precious.” Some of us have friends who are brave and loving with a penchant to encourage. Many of us are limited to the words of Jesus and the people he speaks through in the Bible. They are singing whales.

Blessed to hear. Anointed to speak.

©D. Dean Benton         Benton Books & Blogs       bentonministries.com