Just a few weeks ago, I was confronted with one of those dates that’s more than a little difficult. September 8th was my dad’s birthday. He passed away on November 30th, 2009. His birthday was one of the “important” dates little Markie had to learn as a child and it has always had a permanent entry on my heart’s hard drive. The birthdays of the Helton Five were on my syllabus for childhood. Dad’s was Sept 8th, Mom’s was July 4th, Brian’s was November 28th, Joy’s was January 17th, and Mark’s (who bears a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt) was May 23rd 🙂 Four of us are still here…still trying to live life and do the things the humans have to do. Dad’s death was a hard thing for all of us. I promised him we would try to continue on…and we have…with some days being better than others.
As the 8th came and went, I found myself not only thinking about my dad and missing him…I was also remembering some of the basic lessons he and my mom tried to pound into the little Helton kids. Of course, this was done back in the day when parents felt a real responsibility to teach their kids. Mine were dead serious about the task. Today, the new and improved parenting model calls for parents to step aside and let the child make up his or her own mind about anything and everything. My parents were definitely not the step-aside kind of folks. Every year about this time, I tend to get very nostalgic. I remember conversations, spankings, groundings, privileges granted, privileges taken away, and so on. Anyone who has lost a parent or parents does something similar I’m fairly certain. My parents were not those who held “family meetings.” Nor were they the folks that asked us how we felt about doing the chores assigned to us. “Backtalk” was always greeted with the threat of impending death. The exaggerated sighs and the rolling of teenage eyes seemed only to cue up the music from Jaws. The interior of the Helton castle walls largely consisted of Mark, Brian, and Joy doing what was asked of them. Once the Lords of the Manor had issued a command, the Helton kids were to put on Oscar-worthy smiles and pretend that there was no greater joy on this earth than the very task we were just asked to perform. “Clean the bathtub”….No Problem! “Mow the Yard”…I thought you would never ask! Dust the furniture…You know I was just getting ready to do that very thing! Run the vacuum cleaner…my prayers have been answered!!!
Obviously, this author is lying through his teeth. I had great parents. But I must admit I grumbled more than the Israelites following Moses around in the desert for forty years. Mom and Dad were tough as nails at times…but they had to be…3 kids within a year and a half of each other could make life hard beyond description. But woven into the things no kid likes to learn were life lessons that I still believe in today. As I started thinking about those lessons, I was struck with the crazy realization that much of what I was taught no longer applies…or, at the very least, it appears that way. Let me say up front, before I say another word, this is not an easy thing to write about. My dad’s death and my mom’s current health are weighty enough subjects…but to trot down memory lane and come to grips with the fact that what I was taught…what they spent their lives pouring into me (and my brother & sister) is now meaningless is almost too much to even consider…much less write about. But I’ll take a quick stab at it…
Allow me to share a tiny handful of things that come to mind. Let’s start with respect. According to Peggy and Wendell, the Helton kids were to be respectful of everyone…and I do mean everyone. It didn’t matter if I was at church, school, Kmart, or a restaurant…I would have to always stay in RESPECT Mode. Truth is, there was no such thing as a time when I didn’t have to be respectful. Words like sir, ma’am, thank you, and please were not just appropriate…they were expected. These days, the message seems to have flipped…instead of being respectful, I am to be respected. The sin is no longer attached to how I treat others…but rather how others treat me. It’s a nice little approach that’s turned many folks into monsters. Nothing rattles a professional athlete, musician, or a Hollywood celebrity like being disrespected. In this new world, kings and queens abound…with unceasing tongues and stone deaf ears. I get to be “whatever” I want…do whatever I want…say whatever I want…and the humans that are blessed to be in my life have the great task of respecting me. I’m sure my parents meant well…but what were they thinking? (Poor creatures) One day down the road, if such a thing as an honest history book is in print, I hope it will point out this obvious trend…where we were free to disrespect any and all…and yet no one was permitted to disrespect the great “me.” I hope it makes more than a few folks scratch their heads.
Mom and Dad were also big on loving and appreciating the United States and everything associated with it. My dad served in the Army as a young man…he also had brothers that served in the military. God and country meant something…and to dishonor either was an absolute no-no. In our house, the president was to be on the receiving end of our prayers…not our criticism. They explained to me how hard the job was and how important it was for our family to support the president, regardless of his political party affiliation. Our unity gave us all strength…or at least that’s what I was told. No one person could please everybody…but tearing him down was not an option. When the nation was going through the now infamous energy crisis during the years of the Jimmy Carter administration, my parents gladly supported the president’s approach and we started saving energy any way we could. Quick showers, turning off the lights, and not standing there with the refrigerator door open were just a few of the things we practiced at our house for the good of others and the nation. We could play inside or outside…but running in and out was forbidden. The somewhat fanatical response of my parents led me to believe that President Carter had called them personally and made such a request. Over the years, I have found myself admiring their behavior through that span of time. Thankfully, we don’t have to do that anymore either. Today we have the luxury of only praying for the president if, and only if, he is the guy I voted for. We don’t have to respect the person or the office anymore. How liberating this is! Today we can say whatever we want to about the president and his family. Today, children are blessed with the honor of watching adults verbally assault anything and anyone. We can make the president the bad guy in every story and we can teach children to laugh at his efforts. I’m fairly certain our kids today are taking notes. The future should really be interesting with many of our young ones now immersed in the language of hate. I find it most ironic that the same folks who cry foul when disrespected are now the very ones who love to dish out disrespect. Even now I am thinking of some NBA and NFL stars who lose their minds if someone…somewhere fails to give them the proper respect. They pout like children when this happens. But they spring to life in bashing anyone and everyone when the cameras are on…the first family in particular. The president doesn’t deserve support…but a man that can dunk a basketball or complete a 40 yard TD pass does??? This new way of thinking is truly eye-opening. Yep, my parents were “out there.” They made life harder than it needed to be.
Along the same line of thought…I was taught not only the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but also to respect the flag for what it actually represented. Mom and Dad often reminded us of how blessed we were to be growing up in this country. Most of the teachers I had during my school age years apparently thought the same way. But, again, those efforts were apparently wasted. Today the nation is now the lucky one…to have folks like me and some of you living in it. I am so thankful those old-fashioned values are no longer needed. I mean who really has the time to “count their blessings?” Making pledges and standing during salutes are not needed in a day like ours. Who wants to waste their time trying to be a good, supportive citizen when all of my personal wants have not been met. That’s the real crime. A weak nation pales in comparison to a deprived me. Thankfully…we now get to burn the flag…kneel in protest…forget the past…we’ve come so far. Again, our kids are watching and taking notes. Tim Tebow was laughed at by many for kneeling to pray on the football field after a big play. Some parents were terrified their little ones might try to commit the same travesty. But when a handful of NFL dudes decided to kneel during the national anthem over racism, they were deemed heroes. Don’t get me wrong, Christians and decent human beings should be able to call racism and social injustice sinful…for they are! But millionaires kneeling during our national anthem did not address a race issue or an injustice. Rather it only destroyed a picture that had been in the works since 1776. The millionaires returned to their Porsches after the games were over and a new and younger generation realized all they were taught in school and at home meant very little. They assured us their motives were pure and that our forefathers would surely support them if they were here. I’m sure the six brave marines who raised the flag at Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 would understand our thoughts on this. I’m sure the veteran I met when visiting Pearl Harbor many years ago would understand as well…along with the 1,102 soldiers still entombed in the USS Arizona. Now that our country is under new management, the millionaires who play sports and the Hollywood elite nestled up in the entertainment industry are now the best teachers. We don’t make a move without them. These folks tell us all we need to know about God and country…family and politics…faith and faithfulness. They speak…and we listen. It almost never goes the other way. The irony is almost laughable…we don’t have to respect leaders, employers, or neighbors…yet this new group demands your respect…all the while encouraging us to disrespect those who birthed and raised us…they can spew hate like it was lukewarm water…and heaven help us if hate is spewed back in their direction. My parents would have spared themselves a lot of work and heart-ache if we had implemented these new rules years ago.
Finally, as if my parents haven’t already left a bad taste in your mouth…they also took some time to teach the little Heltons some things about God and the Bible. According to them (and the Bible) teaching us about God was in the parental job description. Both held various positions in our church. Teaching, leading, singing, and a few other pertinent words ending in “ing” were simply part of our home life. The church building was, in essence, God’s “house.” The Bible was God’s “Word.” My misguided parents supported groups like the Gideons who came to our schools and gave us New Testaments. I can’t recall anyone being offended by these guys. We didn’t think of them as ramming their religion down our throats. Truth is they seemed to love the kids and were trying to help all the kids to have some solid footing beneath their feet. I knew very well, even at a young age, that not every kid had that opportunity. Dad told me that God had spoken to us in His Word. Whatever God had said overruled the words of any human running around. Thankfully, this belief has been addressed, too, by those in the know. I don’t need anyone to tell me anything about “god.” I get to mold and shape god into anything I want “it” to be. We don’t need a god that speaks…we need a god who listens…and then does as commanded. The Bible is a good book to be sure…but no one has the authority to tell me what I should believe. Since I am right nearly 100% of the time, the contents of the Bible offer a person of my caliber very little. Our new leaders have taught us this. They deny the Bible as authoritative…since no one could possibly be right about everything…except themselves…as they speak with authority. Millions gobble up their words like birds following breadcrumbs and shouting “amen” the whole time. Sadly there are many out there who claim to speak “for” God…yet they ignore, deny, or alter what the Bible says. It must be ok though. Many of those guys and gals make millions and have thousands of followers. So I’m sure it must be a good thing. Mom and dad actually believed God had created the world…and everything in it. Even the pesky humans were created by this same God. Apparently, this God loved us so much that He sent His Son…His only Son…to die for the sins we had committed. And after He arose from the grave, He told us to take this “gospel” to the whole world. So glad that pressure is now off of us. My poor parents fell for all that nonsense as they tried to raise and teach us. I mean the Great Commission was an important part of Christianity way back in the first century…when people really needed to hear the gospel and certain people felt compelled to share it. These days, a person’s faith is a private matter. Sin is no longer a concern…and since it’s no longer a concern, we no longer need to concern ourselves with things like forgiveness, mercy, and grace…or this Savior called Jesus. Jesus is just a part of the Christian religion…much like the other religions in the world. Today, we have the luxury of picking one or more…or none at all. I mean they all take us to the same place. We just sometimes take different roads to get to that place. Just follow your heart…it’s never wrong. While it’s true Jeremiah 17:9 mentioned that the heart is deceitful above all things…he was talking about hearts way back then…not hearts today. Our hearts are just fine and dandy. How did my Mom and Dad get this so wrong? I almost feel sorry for them. Genuine sinners might really need salvation…but since we are most definitely not sinners, we can back off the Jesus stuff…He’s just the founder of one of the world’s many religions…He will be there if and when we need him. We don’t have to concern ourselves with things like love…after all…Whitney tried to tell us the greatest love of all was learning to love ourselves…and history has shown we are very good at it. These days, love is what makes a Subaru. We get it. We are all set. Now let’s move on.
I miss my dad…more than I can say. But at least I don’t have to worry anymore about failing to remember what he taught me. I can keep him in my sentiment file…but his words can now be tossed in the recycle bin…along with the words of others who tried to help our nation throughout our history. When the bin gets full…just empty it…and start over. The recycle bin is large enough to hold Bibles, prayers, Sunday School lessons, martyrs of the Christian faith, wisdom from parents and teachers, and all the other unnecessary lessons from those who came before us…along with pieces of fabric with stars and stripes. I hate that my parents went to all that trouble…but I can’t be angry. They just didn’t know any better. I’m proud of their efforts…don’t get me wrong. I think it’s noble in a nostalgic kind of way that they believed in God, Christ, Salvation, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and all that religious stuff. Hard to believe that literally millions used to believe the same things. They went along with the crowd back in their day…and now we get to go along with the crowd in our day. It’s “kinda” the same thing…I think.
I’m sure you can tell this is a different type of blog for me. I don’t normally write like this. The sarcasm was intentional…hopefully it will cause us to think. Our nation is changing at an unprecedented rate. Anything old is to be rejected. We are people of the new. What worked for our nation since it’s inception is now taboo. The grand truth is that we are somehow better than all who’ve come before us. The previous generations needed guidance, Bibles, churches, and parents. We, thankfully, do not. Quarterbacks, point guards, Golden Globe nominees, comedians, singers with colorful rhymes, and news outlets armed with hate, sarcastic self-righteousness, and self-proclaimed omniscience…have replaced the old guard. Our forefathers asked us to follow because we believed in things and walked as children with conviction. Our nation once asked it’s citizens to care about more than just ourselves. Schools, churches, and families made similar requests. The new guys demand we follow whatever trends they set before us. We don’t have to think, feel, or believe anything…just do as we are told…and all will be well. One can have beliefs…just don’t act on them. Jesus might very well be the only way a person can be saved…but you can’t tell anyone. We can believe whatever we want just as long as we do what the mainstream says. We might well have to burn a few sacred writings that highlight our past. We might be tempted to change our names so we can’t be identified with those steeped in the nonsense of yester-year…but that’s an easy thing to do…it only takes seconds. We can do it…and get right back to the game, the movie, the song, or the news. In reality, we should be thankful. They’ve done the hard work for us. They stand ready to tell you how to feel and how to vote. They’ve given us words we can use and words we can’t. If we adore and praise them…we have a shot at a good life. The best part is we get the privilege of further empowering the already powerful. It’s a win-win.
Let me close by setting the record straight. I love my parents and I’m grateful they chose the path they did. Their lessons and approaches might seem outdated for a generation as great as ours…but that does not make them wrong. By no means do I wish to say that I always agreed and complied with Peggy and Wendell. But I am thankful for their efforts and I know for certain that at least some of their lessons survived history and remain intact in the Mark of 52 years. I’ve tried to pass on some of those dated lessons to my son and my circle of friends. Like Mom and Dad before me, situations pop up all the time that call for decisions to be made…to stand my ground or to comply and follow suit in footsteps of the masses. But in many ways, that’s the task at hand for all of us, is it not? Every generation of folks has to decide what’s real, what’s not, and how to proceed. It’s always been that way. Joshua told the Israelites they would have to make a choice…they could do what they wanted…but as for him…and his family…they would follow the LORD. Paul would later tell Timothy that a time was coming when people would not want to hear the truth…and would follow after myths. I can’t help but think Paul was spot on. Joshua inspires us…Paul instructs us…and Jesus calls us…Perhaps we should consider trusting folks like that…and the folks that believed in folks like that. A professor of mine once said, “we are one generation away from being godless in this nation.” I used to think that was an absolutely crazy thought. These days, I think that professor was much smarter than I initially thought. My parents and some of those older folks didn’t want that to happen on their watch. I don’t want it to happen on mine. In short, as we consider those from our past as “misguided”…we plunge deeper into the abyss ourselves. We’d better be careful…or we’ll take our kids and grandkids with us. Our children…grandchildren…and those coming behind them need a shot at truth. We are supposed to make sure they have it. Some folks used to believe the truth was worth fighting for. I guess I’m hoping a few folks still do.
Blessings and thanks for reading.