A Plea To Parents

When I have my sentimental moments, few emotions remain as real as do significant separations. I can recall vivid details of the last day of grade school, the last day of high school, the last day of college. I remember exactly where I was standing and what I was wearing the moment my dad closed his eyes for the last time. As the drummer in many orchestras and bands, and as a participant in many plays and theater events, I remember the last performances. Taking a kid to college, watching a friend retire, helping a close friend pack to move away–these moments lay heavy on one’s heart.

Give kids something to believe in -- and belong to.

We pile up statistics about the effects of single-parent homes and the results of divorce on kids, but we don’t weave the idea of separation and its effects into our strategies for improvement. Why not? So many of our anti-drug campaigns are about what one shouldn’t do. Now that our president’s wife is telling kids what they should and shouldn’t eat, there are more commercials and ads telling kids what they should and shouldn’t do. Lazy Americans are told to get up and get moving. This may be all well-intended, but have we put forth a positive message about leading a different life? I’m not so sure.

Belonging To A Group

I find the way to reach my kids, employees, supervisors and friends is to appeal to each on a personal level. A good example was recently in Cleveland, where some churches, once considered staples of the community, were to be closed by the Catholic Diocese, as monies were nowhere near plentiful enough to support all of the individual parishes. As parishioners banded together to resist these decisions, it was apparent they were truly enjoying the common cause and camaraderie. Most of these churches were in neighborhoods where families grew up together. Men and women who once came to church with their grandparents were now going to church with their grandchildren. The right to have their church remain seemed almost absolute in their minds. There was no wavering, only one over-riding emotion, a sense of entitlement found in belonging. “This is mine and you cannot take it from me. These people, this neighborhood, this experience, this feeling–it’s mine and I belong here.”

And belonging is so important. When I walk the halls at work, smiling and nodding to fellow employees, there is a sense of belonging to a greater good that makes me feel confident in my work. As a park and recreation employee for 27 years, I have worked to give people a balance with nature. I am far from irreplaceable, and I am by no means perfect at my job, but for now, on my watch, I have kept my end of the bargain by providing a reliable product to the people of Greater Cleveland. I belong here.

A Basic Need

My first real experience at belonging was organized sports. In junior high school, I was fortunate enough to letter in football, baseball and cross-country. At the end-of-the-season awards banquet, I stood beaming, clutching my pin, shoulder to shoulder with the other lettermen. As parents applauded our collective effort, I remember the warmest sense of pride. I never wanted to relinquish that, and therein lies the lesson.

When something becomes so personal like that, one desires it more and more. Consider all the kids who have carried guns into school to take revenge on those who made fun of them. Consider the class bully, who is really just a lonely, misguided kid taking his problematic life out on someone who is innocent and defenseless; the bully likely finds himself on the other end at home.

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