On Father’s Day

This is a re-posting of a post I wrote for my old blog.

This feels a bit like writing a grown up version of the five sentence essays I had to write in kindergarten, about my hero. The truth is, though, that it’s roughly the same thing I would have written for Mrs. Snellgrove at Girard Elementary School in 1992. Because it’s still about my dad. My father was my hero when I was six, and the twenty years since then haven’t changed anything. My father has spent every day of my life teaching, correcting, and supporting me, showing me what a man should be, and laughing with me. I think every day about how unbelievably blessed I am to have my dad, and my heart breaks for people who have been robbed of that.

When I was two, my parents divorced, and we moved in with my grandmother. The way I understand it, dad was broke. Beyond broke. And Christmas was coming, not long after we moved back to Dothan. My father has always been a musician, playing drums and guitar in various bands in his 20’s, and has always had instruments as long as I can remember. That Christmas, my dad loaded up all of his drums and guitars and amps, and took a ride.

To a pawn shop.

Where he sold the things that he loved, to buy his children Christmas presents.

I could stop writing there. Because that alone tells you everything you could ever need to know about what kind of man my father is. But my dad didn’t stop there, so neither will I. Over the next 20+ years my dad worked (and continues to work) jobs that gave him chronic stress headaches, and incessant tension-related neck and back pain, to keep the lights on, food in our stomachs, send us to camps and on trips, and buy us more Christmas presents. But it hasn’t been just his traditional role as a provider that continues to make me proud to call my dad my role model and my hero. The way that he models his respect, and affection for, and his patience with my step-mother has been the guidepost for the way I treat women in my own life. When I went on my first real date in high school, he helped me wash and clean my car, made sure I had enough money to pay, and made double sure that I knew to open her door and walk on the curb-side of the street.

When I played football in high school, I was at best second string. But Tim Lee was always in the stands. Even for away games, in cold Tennessee November, he drove sometimes over an hour to sit and freeze on the off chance that I might see the field. Dad did the same when my brother and sister were in the band, years before I was there. He and mom never missed a game or performance. And when I moved to Georgia, and six months later resigned and moved home, dad was there with a U-Haul, paying no mind to the 3.5 hour drive or the $200 in gas, each way.

My father’s most substantial contribution (far above the emotional support he has given me) to my life has been to do his best to make me a man who is wholly and utterly in love with Jesus. And he has done that by example, by being that man himself.

I could go on, but I believe the point has been made, and taken.

My dad is my hero. He was my hero when I wrote nearly this same thing when I was six years old in Alabama. And he remains my hero, my best friend, and my biggest fan.

Get Busy Learnin’ or Get Busy Dyin’

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I am a philomath.

I only know I’m a philomath because I Googled what it’s called when a person craves knowledge and possesses a love for learning.

I Googled what to call a person who craves knowledge. That is both the pinnacle of sad nerd-hood and an intrinsic definition of philomathy.

Since I was young I’ve wanted to know everything. When most 12 or 13-year-old boys were hoarding naked women under their beds, I had encyclopedias shoved under mine. I faked sick more than once as a kid so I’d have an excuse to sit inside and read The Hardy Boys or The Hobbit. My step-mother forcing me to go outside was not altogether uncommon. I didn’t have a phobia of fresh air. I wasn’t afraid of bugs. I didn’t even particularly dislike playing outside. The great, glaring deficiency of the outdoors in my puerile (and chubby…Lord was I chubby) mind, was that my books were inside. So was the chemistry set I got for Christmas. And the short-wave radio kit I got for Christmas the year before.

In one particularly harrowing instance of going outside I, drunk with new bike pride, set off to gloat to my friends about aforementioned new bike (also a Christmas present). Even at a young age I understood that a bicycle gives you carte blanche to completely disregard all rules of the road. So, through the stop sign at the end of our street I went.

And head-first into the windshield of a 1993 Geo I went. Unless we’re all experiencing the most literal instance of Ghost Writing in history, I survived. But The Great Geo Collision of ’97 solidified one thing: you don’t get hit by cars if you’re reading the dictionary or drawing. The pursuit of knowledge had proven its virtues once again. I was a little Fatty McButterPants, but I was smarter than all the fast runners and the good climbers.

And thus my childhood continued. And a totally myopic childhood it was, too.

Fast forward 15 years into the here and the now. I now have forgiven outside for getting me slammed into by a green hatchback. I love to be outside now. And I still want to know everything about everything. I’ve written about being a well-rounded man before. And at the root of that pursuit is my thirst to know.

It’s why I chose a very practice and process oriented major like Public Relations, and a minor in Classics. Greek and Roman art, mythology, ancient history and Latin, to balance out Writing for Public Relations, and Campaign Management. I also wanted to do a Political Science minor, but I’d like to graduate before Jesus comes back, so I skipped that one. But that’s what iTunes U is for.

It’s why I watch cooking shows, and cocktail videos, and Ken Burns documentaries. It’s why I listen to NPR and read the paper and rent textbooks from Chegg during the summer when I’m not taking summer classes. It’s why I brew beer and roast coffee. It’s why I’m taking fly-fishing lessons. Whatever it is, if I don’t already know about it, I want to know.

I hope that more than coming across as a self-important exercise in how much I know or how smart I am, this comes as a plea. I’d consider myself pretty intelligent, but the gaps in my knowledge are manifold. There’s so much that I don’t know. For every book I’ve read or article I’ve clicked there are a thousand more I have no idea about. What this is supposed to be is a cry for more people to yearn to know. To know anything and everything. Learning is one of the greatest joys in human life.

And I’m not just talking about classical academia. Learn about cars, learn what makes push-rod suspension on a Lamborghini do what it does. Learn about art, learn how to make furniture, how to make killer scrambled eggs. Learn Chinese dynastic history, learn which plants in the woods kill you (looking at you, Chris McCandless), learn about Mahler and Mozart.

If you hear or read a word you don’t know, look it up. If your friends discuss a movie you’ve never even heard of, go find it and watch it. You might hate it, but now you know.

Be your own teacher. Thank your teachers and professors for the cursory knowledge of the world they’ve given you, and build on it. Take your own quest to know and to understand into your own hands. You’ll be amazed what the world holds when you know what you’re hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling.

You’re Going to Hate This (or To Live and Die in Dixie)

Dixie BBQ (IG)

I grew up drinking sweet tea out of a Mason jar. Really, I did.

I also grew up cane pole fishing for catfish at my great-uncle Red’s pond.

I spent my summer days at the lake, more often than not arriving in the bed of a truck with a bag of barbecue Lay’s in one hand and an ice-cold Coke in the other.

I can remember eating peaches off the tree, and muscadines (we called them scuplins) off the vine, still hot from the Georgia sun at my Grannie’s house.

Few are the things I cherish more than a bourbon, some good ‘cue, and Dixieland Delight loud from the speakers.

My childhood was a country song waiting to happen. Grits and sweet tea and pretty girls and college football and church; all that. And there’s no other culture I can imagine that I’d rather have grown up in. And there’s no other culture I’d rather live in as an adult. So this will steal the breath right out of the lungs of most of you:

Southerners, we need to get over ourselves.

We are not a chosen people. We are not superior to every other area of the country. Our food is not intrinsically better, and our landscapes are not inherently more ethereal and majestic. We are not quite so special as we believe. There are other breathtaking places, and interesting people, and good food, and deep traditions elsewhere in this country. People everywhere wear bow ties, and some of the best bourbon I’ve ever had was from New York. I won’t lecture about what E. at Just A Pinch of South dubbed Sugarbaker Syndrome after an old post of mine, but the point is, being Southern isn’t a schtick. It’s not a bit. It’s a culture that all of us love, and love dearly. But we desperately need to take our love of the South with a heavy dose of reality, and get a life while we’re at it.

I can’t imagine how many people are angry at me right now. But, it’s true; a psychiatrist would tell us all we have delusions of grandeur.

I am eternally partial to life in the South. And I’ll be a Southern culture apologist until The Lord claims my last breath on this Earth as his own. But part of being an apologist for something, is being realistic about what it is, and what it ain’t.

Can we be adults for a moment and face some realities? Can we do that just for a bit?

We bought and sold human beings, treated them like cattle. We didn’t really snap out of the treating them like cattle part until about the last 20 or 30 years. Statistically we’re fatter, poorer, sicker, and less well-educated than the rest of the country, and America isn’t even at the forefront globally anymore.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I honestly believe that this hyper-egotism we have is a defense mechanism. We’re trying to convince ourselves that there is no place better on God’s green earth than the space south of Mason and Dixon’s line, and we’re compensating far too heavily for the things that we know aren’t so shiny on our cultural resume. And it’s manifesting itself in constant talk about sweet tea and country music. Bow ties and bourbon. And most of all, a really weird self-important evolution of Southern Exceptionalism.

Here’s the most beautiful thing of all, though: That doesn’t change a thing for me. I still have dreams of living out my days in Alabama, married to a radiant woman with an accent that’ll make a man’s knees buckle. I plan to hunt, and fish, and read Faulkner and Flannery, and smoke pork shoulders, and take my grits with butter and cheese. I’ll forever hate Auburn and love the Braves, and complain about the conspicuous absence of sweet tea anytime I’m forced to travel north of Kentucky. But let the South be the proverbial spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of life a little easier to swallow, rather than every minutiae of your being.

I say, for me, knowing what’s a fabrication, what’s a myth we’ve made, and what’s simply a love of place that’s stuck to my soul makes everything all the more incredible.

Sorry I’m Late (or Ad Astra Per Aspera)

My life is in a weird place. I’m 27, I’m in college, and I live with my parents.

For the four of you who stuck around after that because you’re willing to see past the basement dwelling, Cheeto crumb covered, Call of Duty playing, sweatpants slumming wad of gross that you just pictured, I applaud you. And I’m grateful.

I’m 27 because I was born in 1985. Not much control over that one.

I’m in college because when I was 22, after 2 1/2 years of community college, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and no desire to take on debt to float aimlessly through school. So I left school to float aimlessly through life. Young men are rarely known for wise life choices.

Fast forward to 2010 when I moved to Georgia to be the student pastor at a Methodist church. My plan then became to attain in-state status, and attend UGA, because I was only 45 minutes or so from campus.

Fast forward again to January of 2011 when, in what is generally regarded as a pretty shady deal, I was asked to resign. I moved back to Tennessee, into the house I’d moved out of with my former roommates.

And then came the depressing realization that I didn’t have in-state residency status anywhere; I hadn’t lived in any state for 12 continuous months. I was a man without a home. For tuition purposes at least. So I waited. Another year. In August 2012 I made it back to school after a 4+ year hiatus.

I live with my parents because after I moved back to Tennessee, all my roommates flew the coop 6 months later. Two went to work a summer camp in Hampton, Tenn. One got married (I didn’t like that dude anyway. Peace.) Which left me and one other sad soul to pay for a house that was over a grand a month. Which is easy stuff when 5 guys live there. Not so easy for two.

So I had to make the wretched call that so many 20-somethings have made in the last 5 years or so:

“Hey dad. Listen…I…kind of have nowhere to live.” My dad, being the stand up guy that he is, asked me if I needed help moving my stuff back to the house.

So here I find myself. 27 years old, living like a 20-year-old. Having sand kicked in the face of my pride every day. But working, getting a degree, taking up new hobbies, and looking down the road.

Looking down the road to Birmingham. Or Athens. Or Nashville. Cities I love, and that love you back when you’re young and hungry to prove yourself. And my God, do I have proving to do. To myself. To the people who heard I was 27 with no degree and living with my parents, and wrote me off. To my parents, if for no other reason than to reward them for constantly telling me to forge ahead, always, and stop holding myself up to the blueprints and the timetable of what a man is supposed to have accomplished and what he is supposed to be by a given age.

I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t wish I were making loads of money, living in a great, vibrant southern city, making a name for myself in my career.

But this, what I’m doing now, and what I’m working toward, is what I have. I’ve met people, and I’ve done things, and I’ve loved and I’ve lost, and I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. I’ve taken to the road, and I’ve written songs and played them in the tiniest coffee shop you can think of, and stayed up all night and slept all day. I’ve sung worship songs in living rooms on arbitrary Tuesdays because God isn’t only good on Sundays, and I have friends who share that opinion. I’ve kissed and I’ve held, and I’ve drunk (and reaped whisky’s reward) and I’ve watched baseball, and I’ve written poems. I’ve spent my Halloween on Meeting Street dressed as Harry Carey and Teddy Roosevelt (separate years). I’ve eaten biscuits and gravy with a homeless man named Beau at 1 a.m, and I’ve hunted and fished, and hiked, and slept under that great beyond in a hammock by the Thompson River on the clearest night I can ever remember seeing in my life. There’s not a thing in life I believe that I’ve missed.

So I’m here.

A little late. But I’m here.

Let’s get started.

Guess who’s back (back again)?

For those of you who are brand new: welcome. Hopefully I’ll reward your investment of time, a precious commodity in these days, with something worthy of being read, discussed, and shared.

For those of you who read A Gentleman’s Journal, I have to apologize. I have to apologize for the state of that blog over the last few months of its life. In the last year, I wrote what I considered some of my best posts. I also let it fall into a state of neglect, and as I’ve said many times, people who are invested in a blog and care to read the life of a person they’ve never really met deserve much better than content for content’s sake. So I stopped writing there because I had nothing new to say, that wouldn’t be completely off message there. It was as much lack of inspiration as it was the necessity for a re-branding. I had written myself into a corner by focusing too narrowly at the start.

Another factor in the demise of A Gentleman’s Journal was what that word had become. When I started that blog, I wasn’t on Twitter or Tumblr. I simply started a blog with the intent of being a nice guy, who was courteous to and conscious of those around him and wanted others to do the same. I was far beyond oblivious to the fact that there was a contingent of people who were using the descriptor “Gentleman” as currency in a bankrupt sort of saccharine sweet, idyllic, but completely fictional world related in name only to the South that I grew up in, and love. “Gentleman” was a completely empty word. It no longer had anything to do with the sort of person my father and my grandmother had taught me to be, and I refused to have my name tied to that kind of, well, the only word that describes it is vapidity; it’s completely void of substance.

What I’ll try to do here, is be more general. That will give me the freedom to write some things that I never wrote on the old blog, simply because it couldn’t be mutated or spun to fit the parameters of a blog meant to help men be better.

I love a lot of things. From classical Latin to arguing about why Dale Murphy’s omission from the Hall is the greatest travesty in sports, the things that I want to talk about to anyone and everyone who’ll listen are manifold. Thus, there should be no shortage of novel things to talk about.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for coming back. Or for joining me for the first time.