June 21, 2018

If only these simple things were a way-of-life

by Rod Smith

Things I really wish were a way of life in our various communities:

  • Mutual respect expressed in the common courtesies of “please” and “thank you” and in  greetings as simple as a friendly “hello” and “good morning.”

  • Handwritten thank you notes and cards for kindnesses received.

  • Offering seats on busses and trains to anyone and everyone even a day older than you are.

  • A helping hand with opening and closing doors or carrying packages.

  • Friendly chit-chat with strangers in queues or waiting rooms or in airline departure areas.

  • Respect for teachers and respect for elders and a general sense of humility rather than entitlement.

  • Listening without interrupting.

  • People who clean up after themselves.

  • Children who do not interrupt adults when adults are speaking.

A readers’s response:

“Your column this morning brought memories of my late father flooding back. His way of life was exactly the way you describe you wish it would be today. He was kind, caring, polite, and greeted everyone, no matter who they were. He stood up in buses and trains for anyone requiring a seat. My sister and I were brought up to behave in exactly the same way and it certainly has not done either of us any harm. Unfortunately, I only had him in my life for my first fourteen years but he lives in my heart always.

“A few years ago I was given a gift by one of my niece’s school friends. I was amazed at how fascinated she was having received a hand written ‘thank you’ note from me, delivered by post, to her home address. Apparently, my note was the only one she had ever received in all her twenty-one years. This saddened me. There is something so personal and special about writing or receiving a letter written on beautiful notepaper.

“I agree with you Rod, how wonderful life would be if we all adopted this way of life.”

Thank you for your beautiful letter.

I am often amused when my sons’ good manners are regarded with suspicion!

June 20, 2018

Our story – live, for you?

by Rod Smith

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Thanks for your interest in the Smith Family Story. Thulani (20) and I travel and speak about our lives and topics relating to adoption, healthy family relationships, healthy communication, and race. My second son Nathanael (16) usually travels with us. Speaking to an audience (although he has) is not (yet) his thing.

I am a single Caucasian South African, reared under Apartheid. My two African American sons, neither of whom did I expect to parent, have been with me since each was newborn. Together, we have traveled extensively, upwards of about 30 countries, where I have taught Family Therapy.

During the summer of 2014 while we were in Swaziland and in South Africa. Thulani (16) began, quite spontaneously, to share the platform with me.

Thulani’s ease with an audience, his comfort in telling his moving story, opened my eyes to the power of my intentionally sharing the platform with him in the future.

Our preferred topics relate to Race, Adoption, Empowering Adopted Children, and Parenting from Strength, Love, and Power, and Trans-racial Adoption and Parenting.

My daily newspaper editorial column, which focuses on healthy family relationships and healthy living, has appeared in South Africa’s, The Mercury, for the past 17 years, making it one of the longest running editorials in that country.

We live in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

Our presentation style is very relaxed. We do not dump a rehearsed message. We are highly process-oriented – working with the people and topic at hand. I have addressed crowds of 5 to 5000 and Thulani and I together have addressed thousands of people, adolescents and adults, in South Africa.

Our preferred one-time events are those that help YOU raise funds or awareness for a beloved cause. Our fees include travel, accommodation, and a negotiated honorarium. We also do weekend camps, preach at churches, and teach Sunday Schools.

Please contact me at RodESmith122@gmail.com or call USA 317 694 8669. You may also reach me through http://www.Facebook.com/RodESmith.

 

June 18, 2018

Parenting teenagers….. observations

by Rod Smith

Note to self, of course):

• He or she who escalates has already lost, be it the parent or teenager. Ramping up the stakes, intensifying emotions, blitzing ultimatums, and offering irrational choices, all suggest it’s time for outside help. The one doing the ramping (parent or teen) will probably be who will have to apologize.

• The parent or teen who magnifies or exaggerates observations, conflicts, or issues (“the sky is falling”) is probably the one who’ll be sizzled as things escalate. Inner turmoil perplexes judgement. Calmness, objectivity, and dialogue, win over dramatic displays. He or she who steps aside to calm down usually prevails, be it adult or child.

• The parent or teen with the ability to compartmentalize will find it to be a life-saver (because it helps day-to-day functioning). He or she who habitually compartmentalizes is probably in denial. Losing sight of the “big picture” can be helpful in the moment but is seldom helpful in the long term.

• The parent who seeks to teach or preach under all circumstances may be better served by brick-wall-head-knocking. The parent who asks “what can I learn” and “what will increase my capacity to love” will be transformed by parenting. This requires the humility to acknowledge that some growth may be required on all fronts, not just the child’s.

June 16, 2018

Writing a column: things I’ve learned

by Rod Smith

“You and Me” is probably the longest running daily column by one writer in South Africa. Although no one appears to be able to confirm this, no one has suggested the name of another column that has lasted longer. The column was suggested and named by then Mercury editor, Denis Pather in March, 2001. Although we met for the first time in his office when I mooted the idea of writing for his paper, we have been friends since.

I asked for a “weekly” spot. He suggested it run daily.

Within the hour of our second meeting a headshot was taken, a design was confirmed, a price discussed and established, and “You and Me” was up and running within the next two days.

I have learned from the experience of appearing daily on your editorial page for 17 years:

• Readers develop the habit of reading the column and become faithful followers with many telling me it’s the only article they consistently read.

• Readers love to see their letters in print even after often ruthless editing. People tend to write very long letters, include far too many unnecessary details, and cover too many issues. My job is to boil each letter down to one central issue without losing the tone or the essence of the original letter.

• The smallest pieces of helpful advice can become cornerstones of change. It’s amazing to hear what sticks. It is often not what I regarded as important.

• Readers are often seeking “outside” permission to do what it is they want to do or to do what they know is right and good and wholesome.

• Some action or suggestion that feels radical to the reader may not seem radical to me. This often cuts both ways.

• Every reader has something to teach or show me, especially the readers who take the time to chastise me for my strong opinions or for my tone. These are often people expressing what I really need to hear.

• Readers sometimes express that they know me, and I often feel as if I know them, even when we know we have never met. The daily “meeting” with my writing in the newspaper gives a sense of intimacy (as if I am my work) albeit over thousands of miles. Many write about my children and ask about them with such loving warmth that is often moving.

Here, paraphrased, is something a woman said to me at a public meeting in South Africa in 2013 which made it all worth it: “I resented you when I was 15. My mother would cut you out and put you on my mirror. I grew up with you! Now I’m cutting you out for my own daughter.”

I was amazed to be inducted into the Circle of Valor (2013) for community service  in a community in which I have not lived in for close to three decades. It was my joy to travel the South Africa to receive this award. I think it speaks to the power of technology, the power of the written word, and the longing we all have to belong, to be recognized, and to have a voice and have it be heard.

June 14, 2018

I’m sad; not unhappy

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / in response to yesterday

“How can someone who has everything, a beautiful loving family, a loving partner, and living in a beautiful home with all her animals be so sad. Not unhappy, but sad!”

I’d suggest a few sources for potential pursuit:

You may have a purely medical issue. A doctor may be able to help.

You may have stored uncried tears from an interruption in life: a loss, unwanted change, an event you faced by “pulling yourself together” when falling apart would have been useful. Unexpressed or ignored emotion doesn’t dissipate, it ferments. Then, it drives and steers to territories often unhelpful. Dig deep; go back years. There’s no expiry date when it comes to grief ignored. A good psychologist could assist.

For all the love you enjoy in your family and in your home and with your animals perhaps you’re missing being part of an intimate peer community. A group where lives deeply meld and mutually discover added support and meaning. A good church could help.

Finally, sadness, while uncomfortable, may not be an enemy. It’s often the food of the novelist or the impetus for chasing a worthwhile cause. I look forward to hearing how you perhaps will capitalize on yours and use it as transformative fuel.

The picture (of course it not going to appear in The Mercury):

I finally have the full set of Rhino Ties from TAFT University. Thank you Toni List Ricker and Sophie Ricker for these remarkable gifts.

June 14, 2018

The greatest gifts we bring

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Thursday

The greatest gifts we can offer each other as spouses, intimates, friends, and as colleagues:

• The truth as we perceive it: knowing that events, feelings, circumstances, history, and responses to everything are in the heart and the eye of the beholder. Everyone has his or her own set of lenses, lenses colored and distorted by a myriad of variables, immediate and historical, which are shaped by rational and irrational life-experiences. Even though we may not agree on the truth and its precise shape, offering another truth, as he or she knows it, is a gift of love.

• The time to be heard: knowing that being heard and understood do not necessarily mean agreement. Hearing, too, is in the heart of the hearer. Everyone’s ears are filtered through a myriad of variables and experiences, some immediate and some ages old, but the gift of love we each can offer is the willingness to put aside differences and listen.

• The freedom and space to be distinct: knowing that there exists a strong pull toward sameness in thinking, feeling, and interpreting, and a strong pull toward togetherness. It’s a gift of immense value when we open our hearts to those in our spheres of influence and encourage the love and the exercise of freedom divinely imparted to every person.

June 13, 2018

Are you desperate?

by Rod Smith

If you are desperate, perhaps wondering if life is worth living or even contemplating ending yours, there are a few things I would like you to know:

  • You are more loved and treasured than you probably realize.
  • Your voice is your most powerful weapon. Let someone know about your experience.
  • You have abilities and talents you are yet to discover.
  • Your life is a novel worth writing.
  • If you are still breathing you have the capacity to love.
  • Even if you have encountered rejection and faced failure for most of your life you still have the capacity to forgive and to love. Both capacities come with the human package.
  • There are people who will listen if you let them know you want to talk.
  • You have probably already faced more demanding challenges so you do have the resources to face this one.

You are correct if you respond with, “He doesn’t know me” or “he’s thousands of miles away.” Being far removed does not mean that I do not care. And, I am not the only one who cares. Please, let these simple thoughts seep into your being and perhaps become stepping-stones for you to find hope.

June 12, 2018

Adoption

by Rod Smith

Things I’ve Learned – about adoption

I was approached by a woman who changed my life. She requested that I rear her unborn son as my own.

The rest, as it is said, is history.

Adoption is a beautiful institution. It’s as old as humanity and can be as enduring as the best and most powerful expressions of love. I find it impossible to believe that somehow I would love my children more were they biologically my children.

I think this kind of thinking is nonsense but you will meet it at many a turn.

Many people will insist on attaching “adopted” onto every mention of my children as if we all need constant reminders. I have learned to (usually) ignore this despite finding it quite amusing.

Children are quite comfortable talking about adoption, if the parents are. My sons freely tell people they are adopted and appear to have no idea that there was a time when people tended to keep such things secret. Our openness, of course, may be fostered somewhat by the fact that I am Caucasian and each of them is not.

In every adoption there is a set of biological parents and the adopted parent(s) – all are very powerful in the life of the child. Sometimes I feel that the absent parent wields greater influence than the parent who is present. Sometimes it feels the other way around.

These forces are not static.

Birth moms and dads usually remain intimately connected to the child even if they never see the child again. This is an invisible connection that defies distance and time, and, if the adopted parent tries to ignore this connection, or even extinguish it, the adoptive parent will learn about this connection the hard way.

Rather acknowledge it than try to deny it or get rid of it.

I had to immediately decide I was sufficient for the immediate (the nights, diapers, bottles, illnesses, teething, potty training, strollers, cribs) and long-haul (sports, school, homework, university, and so much else both expected and unexpected).

This was, I hope, not some arrogant assumption, but a decision that was and is essential to my survival.

It’s about faith, not self-sufficiency.

Who needs an insecure and unsure dad?

I had to decide that I was enough for each child.

While far from perfect, the role is mine and I was, and I am, and I will be equipped to play it.

I decided very early in the process that I would protect my children from behind. I would stand back so my sons would have to clear their own paths rather than my submitting to the pressure of going ahead and somehow doing life for them.

I believed and subsequently saw that parenting, nurturing, and knowing what to do would download into me in the manner software can be downloaded into a computer. I would have it (abilities, understanding, wisdom) whenever I needed it.

Given that my children are black I decided that at the slightest hint of racist attitudes or comments made by anyone ever in their circle of influence, I would remove my children from the ugliness no matter what the source of the bigotry.

This has (almost) never been necessary.

I resolved that each son’s future would always be in his own hands: that I’d offer each the very best of what I was capable but that ultimately the success of each (and potential failure) was always in each boy’s hands.

I decided I would focus on encouraging our strengths rather than spin my wheels trying to improve our obvious weaknesses.

I decided I would lead my children from my strengths and my love of adventure rather than through a coddling empathy or a misplaced sympathy that could emerge within them for having been adopted by a single man.

I knew I was taking on a mammoth task and that I was doing so alone. While the help and support and love of an immediate community and family has been irreplaceable and essential, I had to remind myself that if all was lost, if all were unavailable, if all ran for the hills, the joys and responsibility of rearing my children would remain mine and mine alone.

June 11, 2018

Are you whole?

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Wednesday

Are you whole? What does whole look like in a person’s life? How does one know if one is?

I think it has everything to do with how we treat ourselves, treat others, and, and here’s a big one, how we permit others to treat us.

Doormats are as unwell as bullies, perhaps even combating similar issues.

Brokenness, weakness, vulnerability, and humility will be evident in a whole person – just as there will be the evidence of a strong backbone and an assertive voice.

Whole and pushover cannot co-exist.

To be whole is to be fully human, and the journey toward wholeness, the ever-incomplete journey, is often paved with pain.

He or she who is whole treats all others, despite rank, wealth, position or the lack of each, with mutuality, respect, and equality – and expects no less from all others.

The whole person welcomes ALL – shows hospitality to all, and is yet discerning when building potentially deep relationships.

The whole person appreciates his or her community and neither elevates nor underplays his or her place within a community. Whether the platform is an immediate family, whether the audience is a handful of neighbors or a fan club, the whole person understands that his or her wholeness is inextricably, inescapably linked to being part of others.

No one can be enduringly whole while cut off from community.

June 9, 2018

Giving children a fighting chance…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Wednesday

Freely give your children a fighting chance… – note to self –

Let them off the hook of being the constant focus of your attention. Maintain a life that both includes and excludes them. Do this for the good of all. Parent your child for you child’s wellbeing, not for your own.

Babies need space. Build it into your daily parenting routine.

Children thrive with freedom. Structure hours of it. Make it as essential as healthy food.

Cramped, stifled, or smothered teens will demand opportunities for independence. If they don’t have it, they will kick against anything and anyone to get it. Tough as it may be, make freedom easy for your child so he or she never has to fight for it.

Young adults will flee, if it is necessary, to find the room to become self-sustaining and interdependent. Expect it. Welcome it. Facilitate it. Celebrate it. Do this and the inevitable journey of becoming fully adult will be as much a pleasure for you as it is for young adults.

It’s better to accommodate, facilitate, and celebrate, every person’s natural urge for space and freedom and autonomy, before it becomes a tug-of-war. Before it gets ugly. Before feelings are hurt and relationships are unnecessarily damaged.