Broken Windows Parenting


“It was an accident!”

My son’s explanation was the same as millions of others little boys throughout history who found themselves in trouble. On this day and in my son’s case the explanation was true.

He was playing across the street in the neighbor’s yard. His friend had a new boomerang which he had eagerly shown to our 6-year-old son. Like any self-respecting little boy, he threw it, hard. He and his friend watched as it flew in a graceful arc, spinning majestically through the air until it came to a sudden stop against the window of the neighbor’s garage. The boomerang remained in one piece, the window did not.

“It was an accident!” my son repeated his defense, obviously fearful of my paternal wrath. To his surprise, I was not angry.

“I know it was an accident, and you are not in trouble,” I said. I saw the fear begin to leave his eyes, slowly being replaced by hope. “You are not in trouble, but the window is still your responsibility. You are going to have to pay for the window.” The hope faded.

“But I don’t have hardly any money!” he replied.

“How much do you have?” I asked

“Seven dollars”

“Okay, you can give me the seven dollars and I will pay for the rest.”

“But it was an accident!”

“I know it was an accident. But the window is broken and it has to be fixed, and that costs money. Someone has to pay for it, and because you broke it, you have to pay for it. Even though it was an accident, you are still responsible.”

My son was unconvinced but obedient. We went home and gathered all of his change and took it back across the street. The neighbor reluctantly accepted our payment. He felt badly for my son and quietly told me that we did not need to pay. I told him that we had to, because my son needed to learn the meaning of responsibility.

I thought of this story this last week when my dog was attacked by another dog. The dog’s owner offered the same defense as my 6-year old had proclaiming, “It was an accident!” It was obvious that to him the lack of intention absolved him of any obligation to remedy the situation. Because it was “an accident” he owed me nothing.

It was clear to me that his father had not taught him the meaning of responsibility (or the he had had failed to learn the lesson when his father tried to teach it). He truly believed in his "accident defense.”

He is not alone in this belief. It is clearly shared by the person who did not leave a note when he dented by car 6 months ago and by the vast majority of people who bounce checks in my office. Most people do not think of the consequences of their actions or the impact on others. Their primary goal is to avoid responsibility.

What can be done? How do we get people to accept responsibility for their actions?

I do not know how I can get other adults to take responsibility for what they do, but I do now how to get future adults to take responsibility for their actions.

One window at a time.

  • Bart

Attacked By a Bum


“You mother &$%#! Don’t you ever come back here again! This is my park. If you come back here again my bros and I will mess you up! Mother…”

The profanities and threats continued as the man, a vagrant, strode toward us across the parking lot, clenching his fists, his face contorted in rage. Lisa and I, each with one of our dogs on a leash, backed away as he approached. We were frightened, our fear only partially assuaged by the presence of our dogs and other park visitors. His anger was intense.

I had incited his rage by my actions a few days earlier during another walk in the park. It was a Sunday, and there were several child’s parties going on in the picnic area. Bounce houses, barbecues, balloons and balls abounded, and the joyous laughter of children filled the air.

I noticed the man about 50 feet from one of the bounce houses. He sat shirtless on the ground with a syringe in his right hand as he considered where in between the fingers on his left hand he wanted to inject himself. He was clearly in the process of getting high. (I assumed it was heroin but was sure it was not insulin!) Without even thinking I heard myself exclaim loudly, “Seriously? There are children 50 feet away!”

Appalled that he would so brazenly use drugs around children I grabbed my cell phone and quickly took a picture. Certain I was observing a crime in process I called the police, convinced they would share my concern and respond to my call. I was mistaken. I waited, at a distance, for over 15 minutes for the police to come. I never saw them arrive.

They must have arrived sometime later, as intermingled with the profane threats hurled our way a few days later were declarations that I had wronged him. “You liar, tell the police I was shooting up when I wasn’t!” was one of the refrains.

As he yelled his threats from across the parking lot I pondered what to do. I was not confident that the police would respond to a call but felt compelled to call anyway. I did not want to yield dominion of the park to such a man. This time they responded. A policeman came to my home a short while later. He seemed genuinely bothered by my story but offered little reassurance. “You can file a report,” he said, “but nothing will happen to the guy.”

He went on to explain that recent changes in California law had rendered the man’s blatant drug use and subsequent threats on my person mild offenses on the level of a parking ticket. All he could do was issue a citation, which would almost certainly be ignored. This, he told me, was the way things worked now. He then shared with me the uncomfortable truth that almost all of his fellow officers were planning to leave the state as soon as they qualified for retirement. For them, the war was lost and the bad guys had won.

In spite of his discouraging words I encouraged him to file my complaint and confront the man. “He needs to know that this is not acceptable,” I said, “If there are enough complaints maybe someone will do something.”

I do not know what followed, but I have not seen the man in the park since.

This week I had a different sort of encounter with a transient, even more frightening than the first. This time it was my daughter and I walking our dogs. We had taken them to a small park in a neighborhood a short way away from our home and had rounded the corner onto a street heading towards our house.  We were walking on the sidewalk along a row of parked cars when from behind a small cabover camper came a snarling pit bull. Before I could react the dog was upon us, growling and biting at our dogs. Sadie, our shepherd mix, rose to our defense, bravely biting at the other dog as I forcefully pulled her and Kona away and out of the other dog’s reach.

I saw that the pit bull was tied to the back of the camper and briefly thought I had backed away far enough and that we were safe. I looked for the owner and sawvhim across the street talking to another man. The owner turned at the sound of the dogfight and ran towards us from across the street, yelling at his dog as he came.

His dog ignored his commands. With a powerful lunge the pit bull broke free from its chain and attacked again. I vainly tried to pull my dogs away, spinning and tugging as Sadie again did her best to defend us all. The man finally arrived and grabbed his dog and pulled it away.

“I’m sorry,” he cried, “It was an accident!”

I was not interested in his excuses or apologies. He had foolishly and irresponsible left his violent dog unattended. I do not recall all that I said, but I remember telling him that it was dumb to leave his dog alone and that I better never see his dog unattended again. Remarkably, I did not resort to profanity.

I looked quickly at our dogs, and not seeing any blood, continued toward home. Sadie, powered by adrenaline, seemed unhurt. It was not until we were home that we discovered the extent of her injuries. She had deep puncture wounds in her chest and a tear on her back near her shoulder. It was clear that she needed medical attention. Lisa took her to the vet while I walked back to talk to the man about Sadie’s injuries.

I found him standing on the sidewalk next to his camper, talking to a friend. In as calm a voice as I could manage I said, “I realize it was an accident, but as a result of your mistake my dog has been injured and we are taking her to the vet. You are responsible for her injuries and I think you should pay for her treatment.”

“I’m homeless,” he replied, “I don’t have any money.”

And that was that. There was nothing I could do. I called animal control, but all they did was leave me a form to complete. The animal control officer told me that no action would be taken against the man or his dog.

The care of Sadie’s wounds required her to be sedated while the cuts were cleaned, dressed and sutured, at a cost of nearly $700. By the time we got Sadie home, Kona was displaying signs of injury, refusing to bear weight on her hind leg. Close examination revealed that she too had been bit. The next day saw $300 more in vet bills when she received care.

The man and his dog simply drove away. His foolishness and irresponsibility cost him nothing.

The last few days I have been ruminating about each of these encounters. I have come to the conclusion that they each reveal the root cause of the “homeless problem” facing our nation- the benefits of unaccountability. Both men did something clearly wrong, yet neither faced any consequences for their actions.

This is the reality for nearly all who choose to live on the streets (and for the vast majority of vagrants, it is a choice). They have withdrawn from civilized society, have cast aside the obligations of citizenship and any sense of responsibility for their actions or to their fellow man. They pay no taxes, utility bills or rent. They do not need to show up for work, answer to a boss, or meet any deadlines. They do not in any way contribute to society. They do what they want, when they want.

They often ignore basic hygiene and cleanliness, leaving their trash and excrement scattered around for others to collect. Many use drugs whenever they can, and often cast their used needles on the ground for others to retrieve or step on. They commit misdemeanor crimes with impunity, knowing they will be back on the streets before the officer completes his paperwork. They support themselves with gifts of food and money from strangers without shame or consequence, and many receive government aid.

While others may consider their quality of life unacceptable, many of them are content with their existence. It is the life they choose. They do not have to answer to anyone else, not to family, friends or supervisors. This freedom from accountability outweighs the discomforts of being homeless. They do not want to be a part of our world.

Their choices impact the lives of law-abiding citizens, but these citizens have little recourse. The legal system now sides with them, as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that there is a right for people to sleep in public places unless someone else provides them with a free place to stay. According to the courts, it is up to the rest of us to support their existence.

What can be done?

The debate about what to about this problem rages in newspapers, city council chambers, courtrooms, and even churches. Good people who care about the plight of their fellow man struggle with what to do when they care more about this plight than those who endure it.

If this problem is going to be solved it will require hard truths to be faced. For me, I am going to start by changing the words I use to describe people who choose to live on the streets. I am not going to call them “homeless” any longer. That term implies a desire to find a home and the responsibilities that come with it.  (consider- no one calls a retired person or stay-at-home mom “jobless”). Only those down on their luck individuals who are truly trying to get back on their feet deserve to be called “homeless”.

For the majority of street people who do not want to participate in society, I now choose to describe them with terms that reflect their choice. Language should communicate the truth of things, and as a society we have not been truthful about the nature of the problem. We need to use terms that reflect reality. Many of these people are not “homeless”. They are vagrants, transients, and bums, on the streets by choice.

If these vagrants are to ever rejoin society, they will have to learn to follow the rules of civilized society, to accept the responsibilities the rest of us fulfill every day. When we give them money, food, and other support we keep them from having to accept these responsibilities.

 If we are going to solve this problem, we must first begin by acknowledging the truth of it. If we don’t the problem will only get worse.


Our Hate Parade


What would I have to do to make you hate me?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, it would probably take a lot. You have read stories about my family, about my struggles, fears, and my desire to be a better man. You know that I care about people, try to take care of them, and want to do what I can to help them. If you believe these things, you may be predisposed to like me, to think good of me. Hating me would require a marked change in your perception and understanding.

What would it take for you to hate a stranger?

For many Americans the answer seems to be, “Not very much at all.” Consider recent events,

A group of high school boys went on a school trip to Washington DC. They were standing near the Lincoln Memorial waiting to be picked up by their adult chaperones. Before they knew it, they were hated. They were called vulgar names, mocked and insulted. Because they were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats.

While they were being mocked by members of “The Black Israelites”, a Native American activist approached them, pounding a drum. He walked right up to one of the boys, chanting and beating the drum mere inches from the boy’s face. He stood there, an awkward grin on his face, clearly uncomfortable. Some of his friends, similarly behatted, chose to respond to the taunts and affront by chanting school slogans. Brief clips of the interaction were released online, clips which painted the boys in an unfavorable light.

Almost instantly the boy and his friends were hated by countless strangers. On social media and in traditional media the boys were called racist thugs, losers, scum bags and worse. Their parents were threatened, their school defamed.  The question comes to mind, even if they were wrong, is what the boys did worthy of hate?

This type of hate has been a part of our culture for years now. Most will not even recognize the name “Memories Pizza”, but its owners will never forget the firestorm that led to the closure of their restaurant. In 2015 the state of Indiana passed a law providing a religious exception from certain civil rights regulations. In response to the law’s passage a news reporter sought out the Christian owner of Memories Pizza, asking him if as a Christian he would cater a gay wedding (because so many wedding receptions have pizza). The owner, who had never been asked to provide pizza for a gay wedding, answered the hypothetical question in the negative, saying he would not.

His hypothetical response had real world consequences. When the report came out he was deluged with hate. The Yelp page for his business was inundated with negative reviews from angry people who had never been to his restaurant. Complete strangers made it their mission to destroy his livelihood. One woman Tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton with me to burn down Memories Pizza.” A man who started a GoFundMe to support the owners received death threats.

Memories Pizza is now out of business, destroyed by hate.

My own family has been impacted by hate. One relative severed ties with a brother because he had not voted for Hillary Clinton. The fact that he had not voted for Donald Trump either was irrelevant. If you did not share the relative’s political viewpoint, you deserved to be hated.

I struggle with this aspect of current culture. I am an opinionated man with strongly held convictions. Not a day goes by that I do not interact with someone who disagrees with me or who considers my opinions and beliefs to be foolish. I disagree with these people and think many of them hold positions that are worthy of contempt, yet I don’t hate any of them. I wouldn’t try to deny them their livelihood nor would I wish them harm. Some of them are patients I love and care for. Generally speaking, I find it hard to hate people.

Shouldn’t hate be hard for all of us?


Thanks for reading and sharing, and for not hating. You can subscribe to the blog by clicking on the subscribe link, thus getting posts in your email. Questions and non-hateful comments are welcomed.

The Dangers of Identity


The 58 year-old woman knows something is wrong with her body, has known since the age of 4. The Cambridge graduate believes both of her legs do not belong to her and dreams of being paralysed from the waist down. Her belief is so strong that she has searched for physicians who would be willing to severe her nerves so she can fulfill her dream of becoming her true disabled self.

There are others like her, able bodied people who feel as if they are living a lie. Psychiatrist Michael First has identified dozens of people who feel the same way. One, Michael Comer, says he has “rejected” his left leg since the age of 6. His feeling that his healthy leg should not be there is so intense that he eventually dropped a concrete block on his leg in the hope that he could damage it to the point where amputation was required. To his great disappointment doctors were able to save the leg.

While the number of healthy people who “identify” as disabled is not great, they have gotten attention to the point where there is a push to recognize the disorder as a legitimate medical condition. The term “Body Integrity Identity Disorder” has as a result entered the medical lexicon. Unsurprisingly, there is now debate in the medical community as to how to respond to these people. Should their “identity” be honored? Or should they be treated as mentally ill? How should doctors respond? If it is a valid medical condition, is it medically ethical to remove a perfectly healthy limb because a patient feels it doesn’t belong?

According to one author in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the answer is a resounding “yes.” In the abstract for his article on the issue Anahita Dua states, " a discourse on how the accepted notion of harm does not apply to apotemnophilia (BIID) is developed to justify the position that amputation is indeed medically the ethical choice”

This is the place we have reached in our society. A person’s feelings are now the most important factor in identity, and these feelings must be recognized by society, no matter how absurd, preposterous or harmful they may seem to others.

There is one question that seems to be persistently ignored. “What if someone’s feelings are wrong?”

I have always considered feelings unreliable. When my children were growing up I had conversations with them about the danger of following their feelings. I asked them, “Is it possible to feel something strongly and believe something deeply and be wrong?” In each of these conversations they both answered in the affirmative. I then asked them a follow up question. “When you feel something strongly and believe something deeply, how do you know if you are wrong or right?”

This is the heart of the matter. We have all experienced times when we were certain of something that later turned out to be wrong. Many of us have experienced adverse outcomes because we acted on mistaken beliefs. We all, if we had been able to listen, would have benefited from outside counsel pointing out the error in our thinking.

And yet here we are, living in a society where the problem is not that someone wants to cut off their leg, but that anyone else would question the desire. How did we get here? How did feelings become the ultimate determinant of morality?

It seems to me that it is the rejection of truth that is the root of our current problem. Turning away from the idea of moral constants, and of moral certainty, has led us to where we are.

There was a time in our society, and in western society at large, when there was a common understanding of right and wrong and a common agreement as to Who it was that defined right and wrong. While there was always debate on the nature of God, there was a near universal agreement that there was a God and that it was He who made the rules.

It was understood that there were good actions and bad actions, good people and bad people, and there was a way to measure and identify each. All of the realms of human existence and relationships could be assessed in the context a transcendent moral law.

These concepts and ideals are being rejected today. In their place a new morality has arisen, individual in nature and focus. Right and wrong are no longer determined by God or a universal code, but instead by each person for himself. Each man and each woman is in charge of their lives, their destiny and their morality. We each get to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

With the idea that each person gets to decide for themselves comes another concept, the idea that no person gets to judge the decisions of anyone else. Asserting the right or ability to judge the actions of another carries with it an undesired consequence, the right of others to judge me, and no one wants this.

Deference and “tolerance” become the order of the day. Think you are a Furry beast? Or that your left leg should be removed? Who am I to question it you? Feel like you are a woman born into a man’s body and want your perfectly normal genitalia removed? I must support your belief without question or be damned as an intolerant bigot.

Evidence that we have reached the place where mindless, unquestioning support of the feelings of others is required can be found in the response of the medical community to issues such as transgenderism. Researchers are searching for a medical explanation to the condition, for a biological explanation, for evidence that people are “born this way.”

They forget that being born with something does not make something normal. The vast number of genetic diseases and illnesses speak to this truth. Normal is not defined genetically, but socially. As an extreme example, I doubt that discovering a “Murder gene” would suddenly make homicide acceptable!

So what do we do? How do we respond?

While it is possible that we have reached the point of no return, that society has gone so far over the feelings cliff that reason has been permanently abandoned, I do not believe that absolves me of my personal responsibility. My role remains unchanged. My job is to “speak the truth in love” and accept whatever consequences society decides to hand out.


A Close Encounter of the Furry Kind


A few weeks back we joined several friends and participated in the ALS Walk to raise funds for research into the crippling fatal disease (one of our friends is currently battling the illness.) Thousands of people showed up in support of friends and loved ones whose lives had been impacted by the condition. As we gathered with our friends in preparation for the walk, garbed in our matching blue T-shirts, we noticed another group gathering in completely different attire, a group of Furries.

There were about 50 of them, and their costumes were extravagant. Most wore full body outfits, coming as dogs, cats, birds, and cartoon dragons. (I would say it looked like a convention of college mascots except for the fact that college mascots don’t tend to be anime in appearance.)

When the walk began they were at the front, selfie sticks in hand, paw, or claw, and they all walked together. I assumed that were walking in remembrance of a Furry friend who had died from the disease. After the completion of the walk they again huddled together, arms around each other, in a large circle, hugging and consoling one another.

When we completed the walk my wife and I went over to a nearby food truck to get a drink and some breakfast. While we were in a line one of the Furries got in line behind us. He/she/it had apparently broken off from the herd in search of sustenance. We did a very poor job of trying not to stare at the Furry as we bought our food, after receiving it we stood to the side as the Furry approached the counter. Its full body costume was adorned in white fur, topped with the head of a bird. Its beak was yellow-gold, with black fur around the eyes. On its back were two small wings. A tail went out from behind, arching back and up into the air. I think it was supposed to be a cartoon dragon.

“May I take your order?” said the man in the food truck. “Caw, Caw,” the Furry replied. The obviously confused food truck man repeated his question, and the furry cawed back the same reply. It then turned and walked away. Lisa and I looked at each other, and said in unison, “What the heck?” It was an unforgettable encounter with weirdness.

I went home that night and did what any red-blooded internet connected American would do. I googled “Furries.” In the Wikipedia entry on the subject I found a lot of information including this remarkable sentence-

Some furries identify as partly non-human: 35% say they do not feel 100% human (compared with 7% of non-furries), and 39% say they would be 0% human if they could (compared with 10% of non-furries).

What struck me was the word identify. The word has come to be very important in our culture, and has had a profound impact on our politics and our social interactions. We live in a world where increasing emphasis is being placed on how people see themselves, with less emphasis on what they actually are. 

The Furry phenomenon allows us to step back and consider the ramifications of this societal change. As is often the case, taking a thought or process to its extreme can provide important context. Furry identification as part-animal represents such an extreme of self-identification. One can rightly ask, “How much deference and respect am I required to give to someone who identifies as a dog?”

I have first-hand experience with this scenario. When my son was two he went through a dog stage. He was obsessed with the movie 101 Dalmatians. My wife made him a spotted costume for Halloween and he wore it all of the time. When he wore it he went into full dog mode he would often answer our questions with “woof.” It was cute, but after a while it became annoying.

While we tolerated the behavior in our cute little son, I don’t think anyone would expect us to tolerate the same behavior in an adult. It would be rather difficult to care for a patient who responded to my interview questions with barks or chirps!

As absurd as this extreme is, it is informative. It raises the question, “How far must we go to accommodate identity?” A question I will answer in an upcoming post.