Sunday, May 9, 2010

What is it to be a mother?

It’s a valid question, in light of the impending holiday (Mother’s Day) and all. And, in all honesty, I’m willing to bet that most of the people that I know would never think of asking themselves this question. Why not? The answer is obvious: the woman who gave birth to them is, in most cases, the woman who raised them. A pretty simple concept, to say the least.

But, for me, that isn’t the case. And I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the case until I was 23 years old. You see, up until that time, I thought and believed that my biological grandparents were my actual parents, and that my actual biological mother was my older sister. All things considered, finding out the truth was quite an Earth-shattering experience to say the least, and the only reason I found out was because I needed my birth certificate as part of my application for the U.S. Air Force. At the time I found out, I had such an array of emotions – doubt, disbelief, betrayal, anger, sadness, rebellion, philosophic introspection – that I was literally a mess for almost an entire calendar year, if not longer. To some extent, part of me is still a mess, and a small part of me will always be a mess – if only because the process of getting your whole familial structure taken apart is something that takes some getting used to. Nonetheless, the struggles I’ve had in trying to get through this are for another post or another conversation, whichever happens first.

Almost five years removed from that life-changing discovery, however, I feel something different – I feel thankful. I feel such a sense of gratitude towards two women who, in conjunction and somewhat unwittingly, worked in tandem to bring me to where I am today. I was never without a mother figure; I was never abandoned, and I was never neglected. I was loved, I was disciplined, I was taught, I was encouraged, and I was supported. When I was sick, I had someone there to take care of me. When I needed something, I always got it. I had someone to show up for parent-teacher conferences. I had someone to sign my parental consent forms. I had someone to go to my football and basketball games, and to my high school, college, and Air Force Basic Training graduations. They sometimes were the same person, but often times they weren’t. At all times, though, I had a mother figure there. It just so happened that, when I think about it retrospectively, I had two of them to take on the role as needed.

Most importantly, though, I had a mother right there. Just like most everyone else. In that sense, I wasn’t any different than a lot of the kids I grew up with and went to school with.

But, as the heading of this post asks – what is it to be a mother? Is it just something biological, or is it something more? Obviously, many women in the world adopt children and take on that motherly role, completely eschewing the entire biological concept. But, in my case, the biological and the sociological were right there  alongside one other – one woman brought me into the world, and another woman brought me up (for the most part) in the world. And I’m thankful to both of them for what they’ve done, in all proportions that they’ve done.

I don’t write this because I want to play the victim or gather sympathy points; I’ve made peace with all this a while ago. I write this because of the fact that being a mother is such a powerful thing, and is often taken for granted by people unless they face some sort of crises involving their mothers. Needless to say, this realization is not something that I would like to take for granted any longer.

My biological mother is a great and loving mother, as my two younger biological sisters (both of whom are definitely the best thing I’ve gained since learning about my “real” familial structure) can and readily will attest to. And while I never had that 100% direct mothering experience from her like they did, I can say that I’ve experienced enough glimpses of it over the years to have been a substantial benefactor of her mothering. She played the cards she was dealt as best as she could, and she was still able to ensure that her three children were able to grow up in a loving, healthy, and positive environment even though she had to relinquish responsibility of her eldest child (me) when she was just 16 years old. At the end of the day, I’d say she came out way ahead in the parenting department than many women in her same predicament. As such, she deserves all the credit in the world for what she’s done with her life to date.

At the same time, the woman who raised me (my biological grandmother) took on an extra responsibility out of a sense of love and obligation. She was the one who was there for me everyday – to help me with homework, take care of me when I was sick, to try and show me some semblance of faith, and to just, well, be a mother. And she did a damn good job of it, and did so because she cared - not just for me, but for her daughter (my biological mother) and her overall well-being. She did the heavy lifting for the sake of the family, and frankly I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.

So you’ll excuse me if I’m not too big on sending flowers or Hallmark cards – right? Who do I thank? I mean, really, who do I thank? This isn’t meant to start some philosophical debate about the concept of motherhood or whatever, but I really can’t be fair in saying “Happy Mother’s Day” to one woman and not the other. Frankly, it’s hard for me to do so. It’s awkward. I’ve had 23 consecutive Mother’s Days where I had one person to consider, and now I’ve had 5 where I’ve felt awkward about the concept of motherhood because I didn’t know what to define “motherhood” as.

But you know what? I don’t think that I need to fit the concept of “motherhood” into one pre-conceived category or another. For me, the concept of motherhood transcends biological and sociological statuses. For me, motherhood is simply about being there. And I’ve been fortunate and privileged to always have someone there, in one form or another, to be the mother that I need at that particular time. Frankly, the sentiment is doubled because of the fact that I have not one, but two, women who function in that motherly role for me.

So, I’ll sum it up with this to my mothers; Happy Mothers Day. Thank you for everything. And I love you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I haven’t blogged in a while…

sorry. I’ll try to do better.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

To all the parents and teachers…

who chose to “shield” your children from President Obama’s speech today, you people that reacted to it, labeling it as “socialistic indoctrination” – even before hearing/reading it – you are idiots. Bonafide, 100% USDA, home-grown idiots. I feel sorry for your children for having parents like you. Your closed-mindedness, repressed racism, ignorance, and insecurity as a parent and/or educator are appalling.

If you or someone you know are one of these parents, I am not apologizing. I don’t care any longer about offending or pissing people off, because it’s utterly clear that some people are utterly incapable of intelligent political discourse. I am not pulling any punches any longer. It is absolutely absurd that our country is in such a state where people are afraid to let their kids listen to a speech from the president. A speech emphasizing the value of education and hard work. A speech encouraging resilience and being able to overcome challenges. A speech that, it seems, too many parents are afraid to give their own children.

Say what you will about political stances, but it is never a bad thing to encourage the younger generation to work hard and value their education. That’s all the president wanted to do. The fact that the conservative media at Fixed News, as well as paranoid parents and educators (and some politicians), went berserk over this without knowing the content is a testament to how stupid some Americans are, and how they seem to desire to make their kids as stupid as they are.

And you know what? Even IF the President sprinkled in some of his so-called “socialistic agenda” into his speech, it is YOUR job as a parent to elaborate your disagreement to your kids. It is YOUR job as a parent to answer your kid’s questions about politics should they have any. The fact that some parents reacted the way they did makes it evident that they are not secure enough in their parenting skills to have an honest discussion with their kids about politics.

Personally, I think some of this has to do with racism. I think that such a reaction is a direct manifestation of some people’s racist perspectives. Would these same people react the same way if the President was white? Hmm…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A few thoughts regarding political stances…

It’s pretty self-evident that there are a myriad of political views here in America. Amongst my friends on Facebook, for example, the views range from the ultra-conservative, to the ultra-liberal, and to a completely different axis that leads to apathy and indifference (which I sometimes envy, because all the thinking I do at any given moment often drives me up the wall) and all points in between. I’m not saying any of these stances are bad; I’m just highlighting the range that exists.

What I’m really interested in at the moment is how people – in general – arrive at their particular political stances? For example, how does someone arrive at the conclusion that small government is best, or that capitalism is downright evil? Why do some people uphold the Constitution of the United States as the authority – legally and intellectually – on all things political, while some question whether it’s worth re-examining in today’s context, and possibly worth altering?

But back to the main point. I’m interested to know how people have arrived at their political stances because, at face value, I don’t believe that a lot of people can legitimately answer this question. I believe that if asked, many Americans (possibly including some politicians) would be stumped, or would stammer out some sort of pre-fabricated talking point that they got from the media. And this is not meant to insult anyone’s capability to learn and think critically, but I do think this is sorely lacking in much of the political conversation going on today.

My reasons for even wanting to ask this –very generally, of course – is all of these town-hall meetings going on lately regarding healthcare, and all the subsequent extracurricular activities going on at, or as a result of, these meetings. Unfortunately, the media isn’t helping in any way to calm these people down, so they’re gonna continue. And while I completely respect the right to free speech and assembly, I have to ask: what are these people really mad about, i.e. what’s the heart of the matter for them? Have they formed a coherent political framework in their minds? How so? And have they thought through the ramifications of their views, and taken them to their logical ends? A little bit of critical thinking never hurt anyone. I’m just sayin…

As an aside, one of my pet peeves is people being disrespectful while someone else is trying to speak, so even just seeing and hearing the cacophony at these meetings would be enough to piss me off. Constitutional rights aside, whatever happened to being respectful? As much as we sometimes get upset with politicians, there’s no need to make death threats. That, to me, is un-American; I think we’re better than that.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard; I think it’s somewhat apropos…

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

U.S. troops: modern-day mercenaries?

"The fact is, they [mercenaries] have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend..." - Machiavelli, The Prince, Ch. 12

I’m a big fan of The Prince by Machiavelli; I think it’s definitely a must-read for everyone even remotely interested in politics (and it’s a fairly short read as well). The above-mentioned quote comes from a chapter in which Machiavelli discusses the ways a ruler goes about defending his territory. Machiavelli puts forth the options of 1) using one's own army, 2) using mercenaries, or 3) a combination of the two. A mercenary is defined as the following by

1. working or acting merely for money or other reward; venal.

2. hired to serve in a foreign army, guerrilla organization, etc.

With Machiavelli's quote and the first definition (since the second definition is irrelevant to this discussion ) in mind, I ask the following: are there some (emphasis on some) members of the United States Armed Forces who are, essentially, modern-day mercenaries?

Let me say this: US troops (especially the ones who have been, or are currently, deployed to war zones) display such courage, loyalty and selflessness that the label of "mercenary" seems blatantly disrespectful (which I don't mean to be by any means) if taken merely at face value. For many people the discussion stops here, because for them to even speculate that US troops are mercenaries is a big slap in the face to those who have given their lives serving this country.

Fair enough. But here’s the million-dollar question: why do most people in this day and age join the military to begin with? Is a sense of patriotism the prime motivating factor for enlisting? For some (like the late Pat Tillman), yes, but I would speculate that this does not ring true for quite a few, or perhaps even for the majority. A steady income, the possibility of travel, educational opportunities, medical benefits, financial perks (such as reduced interest rates for loans, student loans being paid off or deferred, etc) and the like are more than likely the main reasons for people joining the military. I know they were mine and I have no shame admitting it, because I know that I would have never joined if there weren't any perks to joining the military besides the steady pay and at least 4 years of job security (barring any court-martials or early discharge, of course). Many would probably echo my sentiments.

So, with all this on the table, does that make me - and other military folks who, like me, joined up primarily because of the perks - a mercenary? I'm really not sure. One the one hand, I would fight for this country if needed, and there is no way I'd ever jump ship to another country's military, or illegally assist another country's military (or militia or non-state actor), no matter how much they offered me; my services are for sale, but only to one buyer.

On the other hand, if the military reduced base pay or threatened to remove perks such as the G.I. Bill or other educational opportunities, there's no way I'd stay in longer than my current contract or, if I wasn't already enlisted, there'd be no way I'd enlist to begin with. I certainly didn't join for the base salary alone; my last job paid way better than the military. But it didn't offer a G.I. Bill, travel opportunities, or tuition assistance to get my master's degree even without using the G.I. Bill.

Serving in the military is first and foremost a job, and our modern-day society dictates that having a job means one is compensated monetarily. Being a soldier in and of itself requires payment, so that negates the idea that a soldier is a mercenary simply because he gets paid. But when some members of the US military (myself included) join mainly for the perks, at what point (if any) do they cross the line from being a soldier into being a mercenary?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sometimes you need to burn a bridge…

instead of trying to repair one.

Earlier today, I made a quiet decision that, in hindsight, was a long time coming: I cut ties with someone who I thought was one of my best friends. I’m not going to name names, or get into the details of the why, but it was basically predicated upon a gradual and eventual loss of mutual respect. Or, at the very least, I lost all respect for this individual.

And you can’t have much of an acquaintanceship, let alone a friendship, without respect.

The thing that’s strange for me is that I feel good about it. I don’t feel regret. I don’t feel sad. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I just don’t have the time, energy or willingness to try to fix friendships that are falling apart at the foundational level. Life’s too short to cling to pent up animosity and what not. The blame can be distributed depending upon the perspective, I suppose. It is what it is.

So, sometimes you need to burn a bridge instead of trying to repair one. This is one of those situations for me, and I don’t think I did the wrong thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

As an addition to my previous blog entry…

This video clip is from the movie “Booty Call” (fair warning: it’s not one of Jamie Foxx’s finest moments) that pretty much captures the essence of the Religious Right’s hypocrisy. Props to the late, great Bernie Mac (he plays a judge in the movie).

The clip is from 1:32 to 3:38; watch the rest at your own risk.